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Posts tagged ‘Barcelona’

Travel Log: European Cruise-Italy, France and Spain PART 4

The trip to Naples was the one I was most looking forward to. In particular because we would be visiting Pompeii. I had read about Pompeii in grade school from a book my sister won as part of a summer reading adventure through one of our city library programs. I had hoped we would be visiting Pompeii in the morning before it got too hot, but we went to Sorrento first. Upon meeting our guide, I thought that he was pretty good until he mentioned that he had been married three times and that he liked his latest wife best because she didn’t talk. He went on to express that women should remain at home and their only job was to bear children. I was shocked. I’m not sure if that’s a cultural thing, but it’s still unbelievable to hear and that type of misogyny should be put to an end by running the offender over with a bus. Or something equally horrible. To get to Sorrento is a scenic drive up a rather steep and narrow road up a cliff. Once we arrived, we were taken to a furniture shop and given two hours to explore. There really wasn’t much to see for us in Sorrento so we walked down the main streets and looked at the churches and stuff before returning to our meeting place almost 45 minutes early. The only thing I considered purchasing was from the furniture shop that we first went to. It was a handmade music box. However, I didn’t think it was worth €130 for something the size of a chocolate box.  From there we headed off to a farm for lunch. All the ingredients for our lunch had either been grown or raised there. Our starter was a couple slices of salami, one slice of prosciutto, green and black olives, basket mozzarella and bocconcini. I could only get down the bocconcini, the salami and prosciutto had too much of a raw meat taste, I can’t stand olives and the basket mozzarella was flavourless. The main was a lasagna noodle sliced lengthwise with a tomato and dried cheese sauce. It was good, but I would have preferred it a little more al dente. Dessert was a cream puff with some lemon zest and smothered in more cream. Then came the famous limoncello. GAWD that stuff is strong! They gave us two demonstrations at the farm. One was how the mozzarella was made. The other was how they made limoncello as well as other fruit and nut liqueurs. By far the walnut liqueur was the strongest, described by my dad as tasting like brandy. After that we headed back to the bus and we were off to Pompeii.

We stopped in a cameo shop while our guide bought tickets and this really racist Italian American lady held up the group by like half an hour because she was buying a cameo and turned off her radio.

We saw a lot of interesting places in Pompeii including a brothel…with stone beds…I can’t imagine how uncomfortable that would have been. What if you hit your head and died?! Anyways we also looked at some of the places the “big wigs” lived at. Fancy…There was a lot of walking, but that’s what I prefer anyways. And under the hot sun it was painful to stay standing in one spot for very long. Pompeii is so big that we only got to see the highlights. I might want to come back when it isn’t s hot to slowly explore what the entire town-city has to offer.

After such a tiring day all I wanted to do was sleep, but instead we had to pack and have our bags outside our staterooms before 10pm for disembarkation the next day. We were picked up at the terminal by a car from Hotel Seccy, the hotel we would be staying in in Fiumicino. The hotel was lovely. It had an antique-historical charm. The only things I could complain about was that there were weathered tiles in the bathroom making it look like it was dirty, the bedet taking up too much space again, and that there was some weird splotch/stain on my bed cover.

We were starving and there had been recommendations that the pizza place next door was amazing. But surprise, it doesn’t open until 7:30pm. So instead we walked to the sea/riverside and got some pasta. This is where I learned what scampi really were. Like huge shrimp or shrimp on steroids. Mini lobsters really. The pasta here was a lovely al dente. Would definitely come back to tried their fried fish/seafood special. For dinner I think my dad went overboard…we had scampi risotto, penne carbonara, calamari, chicory, fried mixed seafood, a mushroom and sausage pizza, tiramisu, and biscotti. Seriously. SO full! The only complaint I have is that Italians take their time with everything so we went in at 7:30 and didn’t leave until about 9:30. The restaurant only had 4 other tables and we were the first to arrive.

As Fiumicino is a small fishing village, seafood was in abundance, which was great, but because it was a small fishing village, it doesn’t get many tourists which in turn means many of them can’t speak English. This was the first time during the whole trip that we couldn’t rely on English or Chinese to get by. Yes, we spoke Chinese in Italy…with owners of souvenir shops in Rome and two Chinese restaurants in Rome. We got by with pointing and one lady (the one at the pizza place) was impressed I was able to find the Italian equivalent for my English order. What got me was that they had an English menu but no one in the place could speak or read English.

The one thing I think I love most is the Caprese Panini I had in Rome on our second day there. It was glorious. Caprese Paninis are the best things in the world. It was the last thing we bought at the airport before we headed back home.

By the end of this trip I was tired and sick. Like a coworker said, “You have to work in Europe.” This didn’t feel like a vacation. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed every minute of it, but I was exhausted after all of this and needed a vacation from my vacation, but unfortunately I don’t have that luxury. It’s nose to the grindstone and I just have keep on working just to get by. One day I’ll go back and take my sweet time going from city to city. And the next time I visit Italy, I will go to Venice.


Travel Log: European Cruise-Italy, France and Spain PART 3

Our first stop in Spain was a small island called Majorca (pronounced Mah-york-ka). Since the island was so small we went to about three places in total. The itinerary sounded great before we started: a pearl factory, the Caves of Hams, and Porto Cristo. I had expected the factory to be like what I had seen about six years ago when I went to China, but I know now I shouldn’t have compared it to that awing experience. In China, the factories put a grain of sand into the oyster to irritate it enough to induce the production of a pearl. Here, they were purely synthetic. They take this rod that looks like it’s made of plastic and heat it to about 600°C and form it into whatever shape the design of the day calls for. After that we rushed off to the Caves of Hams (pronounced “ams”). Stalactites are not my favourite things in the world and creep me out a little bit. Combine that with my inability to walk with slippery uneven terrain in the dark makes for a whole lot of clumsy. On the Sea of Venice, a large pool of water within the cave with an interesting “island” we were treated to a light and music show. While images of opera singers singing pieces by Mozart were projected along the walls, some actors dressed up with Venetian masks came towards us on a boat, went once around the “pond” and returned to the back of the cave, but not before hitting the wall and disappearing from sight. I strongly believe in obeying the authorities, something I missed saying about the Vatican was that when we entered the Sistine Chapel, talking was prohibited. Apparently people don’t understand what that means and even with the security personnel telling them to shut up, they kept on talking. I find that to be very rude, especially in such a holy place. Here a similar thing happened. We were clearly told not to touch anything or take pictures with flash. Yes, it is inconvenient and you get horrible photos, but there is a reason why they ask you not to do it other than so that they can make money. Let’s just say I did not enjoy being blinded in addition to all the other handicaps I already had against me. After the caves we went to Porto Cristo. There wasn’t much to see there and this was the only time we had been able to stop for souvenirs. We had worn runners to walk through the caves more easily so heading down to the beach to fill our shoes with sand wasn’t something we wanted to do. Instead we sat on a bench and stared out into the water and at the opposite shore and the boats giving tours of the area. We observed everything closing at 5pm and wondered how a business could survive closing so early, especially restaurants and food stalls.

This was our first night eating dinner at the buffet. Love my chicken strips with honey mustard.

The next day we arrived in Barcelona. The cruise staff kept warning us that theft was so high in Barcelona, but I really was like whatever. It doesn’t matter where you are and who you are, if you flaunt yourself and your wealth and don’t take care to secure your belongings, you’re going to be robbed. Immediately when we arrived in Barcelona (well when I went onto my balcony, not when I was in Barcelona and still in my room), I started sneezing. I didn’t feel cold and thought nothing of it until I arrived on the shore and my eyes started watering like they normally do when I get allergies back in Calgary.

The tour in Barcelona was a quick city highlights tour. The most beautiful thing we saw was Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. It was huge and it’s not even finished yet! Four of the bell towers, on what appeared to be the front of the basilica, looked like they were formed in a cave. It look really cool. We got some free time and I was able to buy a shoulder bag for myself to replace my old one that is ripping because it was a hand-me-down. Since the tour was only for half a day, we got to go to Taste to see what they offered for lunch. My starter was a popcorn shrimp with cocktail and tartar sauces and it was phenomenal! My only complain was that the shrimps were diced, but at the same time I didn’t mind since it saved me from cutting them and allowed me to douse each piece in sauce. I was happy that it was lightly breaded, unlike the calamari had been. Valerie’s scallop gratin came in a dish made for escargot with the same garnishings and way of preparation. It was pretty good. My main was country fried chicken and the portion size was huge! I couldn’t finish it all and felt bad wasting since packing it away for later wasn’t an option.

The day we were in Barcelona was the night we had a show. It was the only show we had to pay for so I hoped it would be worth it. It was called Cirque Dreams and Dinner and it turned out to be the worst possible experience ever. We had paid for premium seats, but they seated us at the worse possible spot ever. We couldn’t see anything because we were seated on the side the performers had their backs to. I sat down in a place and wasn’t told that I wasn’t supposed to sit there and the waiter just treated me like shit the whole night. When I asked for water he’s said to me that he was getting there and that I had to be patient. If I f***ing paying you extra money you better treat me better. It was this incident that was the last straw for me. I will write a review later specific to the cruise ship, but I will not be returning because of that incredibly rude waiter. It was a set dinner so we had prosciutto with mesclun and cucumber and a caprese salad. It was not good. That’s all I’m going to say…just not good at all. The entree was a surf and turf (tenderloin with shrimp and potato wedges and broccoli). It was so salty that I finished both my iced tea and water and the guy didn’t come to refill my water, geezus! Dessert wasn’t any better. They gave us a trio: red velvet cupcake, chocolate and praline cake, and some mango jello thing. The red velvet cupcake was so smothered in icing I couldn’t find the cupcake and when I did, there wasn’t much of it. The mango jello thing is something you can find at a Chinese buffet in Calgary. And the chocolate and praline cake was the best thing all night. Honestly, this was the biggest disappointment ever!

The following day we were at sea. Unfortunately the sea took a turn for the worse and we weren’t able to go wall climbing as per our original plan. We did manage to find a giant chessboard and started playing on that until the wind started knocking over our pieces and we gave up. Originally we were also going to play some board games as an alternative if the weather was bad, but by the time we got down to grab a game to play, they had all been taken.

Stay tuned for the final installment of this trip in Naples, Sorrento and Pompeii as well as our return to Civitavecchia and our stay in Fiumicino.

Travel Log: European Cruise-Italy, France and Spain PART 2

When we arrived to our stateroom, we were greeted with a strange yet visually appealing curvy sight. The T.V. was on playing some kind of informational video on safety at sea, but we mostly ignored it to explore the room. The toilet and shower were split and were their own separate “rooms. The shower was more of the kind we were used to in Canada, unlike the ones at the Palatino Hotel, which had half a door, the shower head had a very small range and there was a bedet…which took up more space than was necessary since we didn’t need it. We headed up to the top deck to grab a quick lunch before we attended our mandatory safety drill where they just talked at us. I remembered thinking in a real emergency we’d be screwed, we had no idea where to meet. Dinner was at one of the complementary restaurants, Taste and it was a bit of disappointment. Again, for the money I paid I expected better service. It took over 40 minutes for a server to come refill our water and the restaurant was barely half full and it still took them at least 25 minutes to come out with each of the courses. The food wasn’t even that good either. I ordered an calamari and arugula salad that was supposed to come with tomatoes, olives and red onions. There was one ring of onion (like the tiny centre ring). a cherry tomato halved, three microscopic olives, and the batter on the calamari was oily and heavily battered. I was not impressed. Norwegian Cruise Line not the first cruise line I’ve been with, the first was Celebrity Cruises. Firstly, there was no set dinner time, it was first come first served meaning that at times there would be a ridiculously long line up to get into the complementary restaurants. If you didn’t want to wait for dinner in a nice restaurant, then you could make a reservation at the specialty restaurant, but had to pay a cover charge ranging from $15-$30. As I would find out, the food in this restaurant and the Manhattan Room (the other complementary restaurant with the exact same menu as Taste except more formal), was consistently either over-seasoned or under-seasoned [should probably be reading salt not seasoning, although sometimes it was the seasoning].

The next day it was off to Florence and Pisa. Technically the port is Livorno, so it was a bit of a drive to get to Florence. It was supposed to be a good day, but the guide sped through the streets without once looking back as she led 40 tourists who have no idea where they’re going through the crowds of locals and other tourists. I was terrified by the idea of getting left behind in a country I didn’t know how to navigate, with a language I couldn’t speak. We met up with a local tour guide who looked like one of my university profs and that really helped. For lunch we went to a palace. It was freaking amazing and food was great! The portions were fairly large in comparison to what we had been served locally in Rome. After lunch we looked around a bit more before heading off to Pisa. I wasn’t looking forward to seeing the leaning tower. It really wasn’t that interesting anyways and the guide didn’t give us enough time to get far enough away from the tower to take one of those leaning pictures anyways, so it was a bit pointless. In the end, we returned to the ship 30 minutes later than the time we were supposed to have sailed because lunch took 2 and a half hours!

The next day we arrived in Cannes. Lucky (or unlucky) for us, the Cannes International Film Festival was going on at the same time. Meaning there were swarms of fans and locals and tourists pushing along the streets to catch a glimpse of a movie star. We headed to shore early like many others in hopes of glimpsing someone, but alas, no luck. In the afternoon we went on our excursion to Grasse and St. Paul de Vence. In Grasse we visited a perfume factory and there were so many scents that we wanted to buy. However, the guide had only given us 30 minutes before we had to be back…which was no time at all considering the tour/lecture part took 20 minutes and the line up for the bathroom took 10…

Before long we were in St. Paul de Vence. It was a quaint medieval village that had many art galleries and shops along the streets. The whole time I walked along those streets, I imagined myself there in the middle ages. How horrible it must have been! If the streets were this slippery in the hot sun, I couldn’t imagine what it’d be like in rain or snow! Assuming that they get snow that is. Also, to make matters worse, the entire town is pretty much going all uphill until you reach the point of view, which is a scenic point that overlooks the surrounding countryside and a cemetery. This is a place I would most certainly return to. I would love to explore the small street at my own leisure. Of course a command of the French language would be a big help to me. Maybe I’ll upgrade my French before I return.

Come back tomorrow to read about my adventures in Spain. Including an allergic reaction to Barcelona!

Travel Log: European Cruise-Italy, France and Spain. PART 1

As some of my readers know, I recently returned from my cruise through Italy, France and Spain. We flew out on May 10 and arrived at the Fiumicino airport (AKA the Leonardo da Vinci Airport). I would have to say that Leonardo would be very disappointed that such a unmodern airport has come to bear his name sake. However, it didn’t really matter, I was tired and just wanted to get to the hotel to get some food and rest. When we arrived at the Grand Palatino Hotel, the service was very poor. No one was willing to help, we had to approach them and ask and even then, they seemed reluctant. For the price we were paying to stay there, they should have been tripping over themselves to come help. We arrived at the hotel around noon and check in wasn’t until 3pm so we decided to grab a bite at the hotel’s restaurant. There was no one in sight. Literally we walked around the restaurant peering around corners into other rooms before some guy was like “Can I help you with something?” Hmm, i wonder what a bunch of tourists peeking around a restaurant means? Anyways, we were finally seated and given menus in English, luckily. We made our orders and it took forever for anything to come. I had a ricotta stuffed ravioli served with “scampi.” When it came, they just looked like normal shrimp with their heads on. I didn’t realize that this wasn’t really scampi until later, but I’ll get to that when I actually describe my encounter with “real” scampi. Thought they were giant ravioli, I couldn’t forgive the fact that the shrimp was not fresh (it had that powdery consistency that seafood shouldn’t have if it is fresh) and for €18, I expected it to be a little better than what it was. Of course, i was also to learn that in Europe a lot of places serve fairly small portions. My sister is not a fan of pasta (ironic since we were in Italy, but she’s never liked pasta) so she ordered a duck breast dish. It was bad to put it mildly. The duck breast was completely dry and the vegetables looked and felt like they had been boiled in oil with oil poured on top prior to being served. For such a “high quality,” elitist kind of restaurant, that was disappointing and we would not be coming back.

Our first day there, as I said were dead tired. I had slept one hour. I woke up 6am Calgary time. We arrived in Italy at 11am local time (3am Calgary time). However, they wouldn’t just let us rest. No, they made the most of the money we paid by having a quick tour of the area around our hotel and our guide showed us restaurants we could eat at that were close to the restaurant which i found to be really nice and considerate of the guide to do that for us. She also bought us some gelato. So yummy! I was very happy even thought I was tired. We turned in early that night without dinner because we had to be up at 6am the next day to start off for the Colosseum. We were told that we would be getting a wake up call. It never came. Apparently the computer system responsible for that was broken…wow…okay…great job hotel, great job. Luckily my parents got us up in time.

Our hotel was located near the historical part of Rome therefore it wasn’t far for us to walk to the Colosseum. A word of warning: don’t take a picture with the gladiators wandering outside. They will charge you. And if you really want to take a picture with them, ask them how much they charge before you do get a picture otherwise they will charge you something ridiculous after like €40 and you can’t say no. Although I wonder if just deleting the picture will do it. Anyways, as beautiful as the Colosseum was, I couldn’t forget all that had happened there and it made me a bit sad to walk through there. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have to fight. Especially for those poor unarmed Christians…

After the Colosseum we headed to the Roman Forum, which was also within walking distance. It was a pretty hot day to be walking around in the open air, but the greenery and flowers were beautiful. We got to see a lot of Roman Pagan Temples which were only preserved because of it’s conversion into a church when Roman Catholicism reigned supreme.

After that, they gave us the afternoon off to explore Rome on our own.

The next day we explored the religious side of Rome. Our first place to visit was the Vatican Museum which then led to the Sistine Chapel, From there we went to see San Pietro’s Basilica.

Again in the afternoon, we got free time to explore Rome.

Technically, after each of the excursions mentioned above there were additional excursions that we could go on, but by that time in the day we were all too tired to go on anymore and didn’t want to spend anymore money. I would have liked to have seen the opera, but as half my family was against it and were unwilling to pay €100 to go, I didn’t go either.

From there we headed to Civitavecchia, the port of Rome, where our cruiseship would set sail. Well, no, technically it had already picked up some passengers in Barcelona and then got here. I think it goes on a circuit, so you can get on in Barcelona or Rome/Civitavecchia depending on which one you want to spend a few days in or is closer or which ever city you like better.

Now here’s the unfortunately thing. The photographs I took for these three days is completely gone. There was a malfunction with my camera and I lost all 130ish pictures. I’m really mad and sad at this, but at least my sister’s got some of the pictures.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s part detailing the visit to Florence, Pisa, and France.

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