Saturday, November 20, 2004

Athens to Barcelona- October 2004 plus Transatlantic Lisbon to Ft. Lauderdale-11/04

Athens to Barcelona-October 2004

On the plane from Boston to Munich I met a young girl returning home to Bosnia; she had been an au pair for a year with a family in Marshfield (south of Boston). However, she seemed to know her way around Boston quite well, having frequented the various clubs. Her English was very good. Naturally, I told her my son had been to Bosnia through his job as a newspaper photographer. We continued on with our connecting flight to Athens. We had an interesting experience of watching the changing of the guard at the Parliament building; one has to laugh at oneself standing around watching the exaggerated ceremonial procedures. I don't recall doing that before. We enjoyed a respite of tea and sandwiches at the Grand Bretagne; the foyer/lobby, un jardin d'hiver, has been enlarged and beautifully redecorated. A propos, considering that I was in Athens shortly after the Olympics, I expected the city to be much cleaner; there was horrific traffic congestion and noise and it was expensive; prices in restaurants were comparable to those in Boston.

Our transfer to the ship was an excursion along the coast of the Aegean to Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon, breathtaking scenery, and then back to Piraeus, where the ship was docked. On a day at sea we sailed along the Adriatic coast and docked the following morning in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Crystal provided a complimentary shuttle into town. It is an intact medieval walled city on the Adriatic along Croatia’s Dalmatian (west) coast; a beautiful mountain serves as a backdrop for this antique, medieval city. The city was totally encircled for 8 months and bombarded many times by the Serbs during the Civil War in 1991-1992. The people of Dubrovnik expected to escape this because of the historical importance of the city. It must have been devastating for the people because, in addition to the pain and suffering, it destroyed tourism. However, they have restored a great deal, and all is calm. There were 3 large American cruise ships in port. The Old City was crowded with tourists. I did not climb the 120 plus steps in order to walk along the walls! Many, many people chose to do so; the steps were packed with people climbing the stairs on one side and the other side was packed with people descending. The city’s fortification was completed in the 13th century and has remained relatively unchanged. Indeed, the city walls are in excellent condition and today prevent invasion by automobiles!!

We continued to sail along the Adriatic coast to Zadar, Croatia, a city of 76,000; yet I had never heard of it before. It was a very short walk into town. It is a very charming city, with many historical monuments, also surrounded by city walls, with towers and 2 city gates, one built in 1543 and the other built in 1573. There is a Five-Sided Tower, dating from the 13th century and 5 wells, which used to be the water supply for the city. There are 30 churches, but the most important is the Sveti Donat (St. Donatus) Church, which was built at the beginning of the 9th century. The city's University was founded in the 14th century, and the 1st novel in the Croatian language was written here; additionally, Zadar published the 1st newspaper edition in the Croatian language in the 19th century. My understanding is that previously Latin was used. Very interesting to me was that school group after school group came to the pier on field trips with their respective teachers to see the big American cruise ship. It was so much fun to see school groups of all ages from little children through high school age. I know full well how students love field trips, if only to get out of going to classes! And, of course, I stopped to talk with a number of them. Cell phones are ubiquitous. There were also throngs of native adults at the pier. This is the first time Crystal has called on this port; indeed, the Serenity is the first American cruise ship to ever stop here! This was a big news event in Zadar. They allowed a small contingent of newspaper and TV photographers and reporters to board the ship to take a tour. Just by coincidence, honestly, it was by coincidence that I was the only one in the fitness center and on a treadmill when they came through the gym and they snapped and video graphed away as I very willingly smiled for them. And, of course, I proudly volunteered that my son was a news photographer. Unfortunately, I did not see the local evening TV news or the next morning’s local newspaper.

We were told that 97% of the population of Croatia is fully literate. All prices are given in both Kuna and Euros; they accept both currencies and they also accept credit cards. However, I found that it is not inexpensive. I looked at a lovely scarf that was priced at 40 Euros.

After another day at sea we continued on to Venice, the jewel of the Adriatic. I will never forget the incredible awe I felt the first time I sailed into Venice. I was looking forward to experiencing that magnificent view again. Despite that this was late in the season, St. Mark’s Square was crowded with tourists. I felt sorry for 1st time visitors who had to wait in long lines to enter the Basilica or to climb to the top of the Bell Tower; also, the Moorish Tower with its famous clock was obstructed because of restoration work. I contented myself meandering along narrow, winding streets, crossing over bridge after bridge. It was fun getting lost (although you really can’t get truly lost!) and wending my way back to the Square. Of course, I revisited the Rialto Bridge and The Bridge of Sighs that connects the Dogi Palace to the Prison, and I imagined how the condemned one felt as he glimpsed the outdoors through tiny windows for the last time.
Bridge of Sighs

Our 2nd day in Venice I did something that I have always been curious about: I visited the Hotel Cipriani. This is an extremely exclusive island hotel. Its only access is by their private motorboat. I simply walked up to their private dock in St. Mark’s Square and in my best Italian requested a ride out to the hotel. The Captain, young and handsome in his impeccable uniform, was very gracious. It was about a 15 to 20 minute ride. The hotel and its grounds are luxurious. I walked through the gardens, pathways, examined the huge swimming pool, the various public rooms and restaurants and bars. This is a perfect hide-away for someone like Prince Charles cum mistress and others of his ilk.
Hotel Cipriani

Again we sailed along the Adriatic coast down to Taormina, which is on the Ionian Sea. We used Crystal lifeboats as tenders to the port of Giardini Naxos; from there we shuttled by bus to Taormina; then we took an “elevator” to the 7th level. Taormina was developed on a hilltop; the scenery along the coast with Mt. Etna in the distance is magnificent. However, everything has become so commercialized: just imagine, shops in Catholic Sicily are open on a Sunday! Here in Taormina it was summer weather: very warm and sunny. This was the 2nd time I have visited this port. Another time I think I will just stay on the ship and relax.

After another day at sea, sailing on the Tyrrhenian Sea, we arrived in Monte Carlo and Nice, which are on the Ligurian Sea. We spent the morning in Nice on an included tour; we made a stop at the Russian Church; we visited a very interesting monastery from the 14th century with paintings and a mummified body of a saint, St Victory, which was transferred from the catacombs in Rome. It is interesting to note that the guide had to insert a coin to illuminate each of these artifacts. We had a coffee break at the very famous Negresco Hotel from the Belle Époque era (On a previous visit I had the tasting menu in their famous restaurant, Chantecler.); we toured the flower and produce markets in the Vieille Ville; then we had a wine and cheese tasting stop, where the tour guide entertained us with 2 songs that Edith Piaf made famous. Nice was part of Italy, that is to say, a part of the region of Piemonte before Italy was unified by Garibaldi and I Mille (He had 1,000 soldiers; they were also called Le Camice Rosse ((The Red Shirts)) in 1860 or so (I forget the exact year; indeed, I have forgotten so much.); as a result, the Italian influence is evident everywhere. Nice became a part of France by a vote of the people. The Nazi’s occupied the city during WWII, and there are monuments everywhere dedicated to those who perished. For anyone who had never been to Nice before, this was a very cursory tour.

I spent the afternoon in Monte Carlo, the capital of the principality of Monaco, which covers only a three-mile stretch of the Mediterranean coastline. In fact, Monaco is so tiny that it could fit into half of New York’s Central Park! And Monte Carlo is so small that even I would not get lost! In 1297 François Grimaldi successfully captured this area by disguising himself as a Franciscan monk and seizing the fortress in Monaco. The Grimaldi dynasty has continued its reign for 8 centuries. I revisited the world famous Casino, designed by the renowned architect Garnier, who was also the architect of the famous Opéra Garnier in Paris. Curiously enough, all Monegasques are forbidden from entering the casino’s gaming rooms! And all other guests have to show their passports in order to gain admission! No, I did not try the slot machines or the gaming tables! The beautiful formal gardens at the rear of the building were obstructed for agrandisssement. I revisited the Hotel de Paris, an absolutely exquisite establishment. I did not revisit the Palace or Princess Grace’s tomb in the Cathedral of Monaco.
Hôtel de Paris-Monte Carlo

After another day at sea we docked in Barcelona, which is located on the west coast of Spain, La Costa Brava. It is the 2nd largest city in the country and the economic and administrative capital of Catalonia. It is intensely Catalan and yet open to the world. Perhaps it is my imagination, but the city seemed more intensely Catalan than I remember from previous visits. I seem to recall that signs had been in both Spanish and Catalan, but no more; all signs are in Catalan only. I was able to read the signs, but I could not understand the spoken language, which I heard everywhere. Indeed, the only time I heard Spanish was in answer to my greetings, questions (I always have questions.), ordering in cafes: "por favor, señor, un cappuccino descafeinado; es muy importante para mí, señor, descafeinado, por favor." "!Vale, señora, no se preocupe!", responded the waiter.

Barcelona is the home of Gaudi whose buildings are the most startling statements of Modernism. His La Sagrada Familia, a famous landmark, a striking and surreal church, is still unfinished, and I doubt that it ever will be completed. Park Guell is one of Gaudi's greatest achievements, a fantastic array of undulating benches, sculptures, grotto, mosaic pagoda; it also houses the Gaudi Museum. I am not an aficionada of Gaudi.

Pablo Picasso spent his formative years in Barcelona. The Picasso Museum is one of the city's most treasured museums and houses about 2,500 of his paintings, engravings and drawings, donated by Picasso in 1970. His early paintings show the artist's admiration for Van Gogh, El Greco and Rembrandt.

We strolled the 1-mile pedestrian promenade of Las Ramblas with its street entertainers, flower vendors, rare bird vendors, news vendors, café vendors and, unfortunately, a great number of young gypsy girls working in teams. I was very impressed by the innumerable mimes, the most creative and innovative I have ever seen; the mimes in Place Tertre, Montmartre, pale in contrast.
On the day of departure the airport in Barcelona was a veritable zoo. The lines were miles long, or so it seemed. I might add that security seemed to be laissez-faire. Our plane was over an hour late leaving for Paris. We arrived at CDG at 1:00 PM; my connecting flight to Boston was at 1:15. Although I had to "run" from Terminal 2C to Terminal 2F, I made it along with about 5 other passengers! However, the French being French, 4 agents had to have a telephone conference with the pilot before allowing us to board! And then only after passing through detectors again, a wand check, taking off our shoes and whatever else they could think of. With a sigh of relief I sank into my seat for an uneventful flight home, realizing full well that my luggage couldn't possibly be on the plane!

However, my luggage arrived at my front door on the following day. On November 9 I flew back to Lisbon to board the Crystal Serenity again for a magnificent 11-day Transatlantic Crossing from Lisbon to Ft. Lauderdale. This time I was seated at a table for 8 plus the Deputy Captain, a charming gentleman who will be leaving in February to assume his appointment as the Captain of a Japanese cruise ship.

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