Thursday, November 3, 2016

Western Mediterranean - a review

We tend to be do-it-yourself vacation people.  We planned a Western Med cruise, but before we could get on the boat, we had to make it down to Barcelona.  We took the opportunity to stop along the way and see some things we had missed, since this was our last trip before leaving Europe.  First up- a quick stop in 
Frieberg, Germany
 Beautiful little town in the Black Forest. 
They used stones  to make signs in the cobblestone.  They are removable so that when a shop owner moved shop they could take their sign with them.

 Max trying to imitate the statue.  Not bad!
 Lovely little typical Bavarian town- Two thumbs up.
Next stop (overnight) 
Lyon, France
After taking a tour of old town, ala Rick's Steves, we headed up the hill on the funicular - We loved this ride!
 to the top- to see the castle and church- from the outside, because we are tired of paying for castles and churches!
 We also walked and saw the old Roman amphitheater that they still use today for shows.  Isn't it beautiful!
Lyon was a nice place for a quick stopover, but I'm not sure what you would do if you were there multiple days.
The next day we headed to 
Provence, France
Which is an area- not a city.  We actually stayed in St. Remy de Provence where Vincent Van Gogh painted Starry, Starry night, among other paintings.  We stopped first at Pont Du Gard and had fun in the museum 

and our walk down to the aqueduct.  I really wanted to go swim under it, but our swimsuits were in the car and Rob was not up for it.  You could swim or rent a canoe and paddle under it.  It was an amazing site!

Then onto St. Remy and the "hospital" Vincent was in when he painted Starry, Starry night.
 another of his paintings- they had a walk with a bunch of them.
Can you see the Starry, Starry night tree?  So cool!

The next day we went to see the Lavender, and the pretty little hill town of Gordes- both were amazing gorgeous even though we got scolded for parking where we shouldn't have and the lavender wasn't quite in bloom yet!
 Isn't the Abbaye Notre-Dame De Senanque with the lavender fields outside beautiful! And if you got there before 10 you could walk around and see everything but the inside of the abbey for free!
The hilltop town of Gordes- it was definitely more breathtaking than this picture shows!

We also made it to Arles.
They had a walk that took you around the city and showed you the paintings that Vincent made of the city and where he was when he painted them.  You just followed the Van Gogh signs on the sidewalk around the town.  Really a neat way to see his art.   If it had been in a gallery, we wouldn't have gone.
 Some of his paintings were of the crowds in and around this bull games ring.  France doesn't have bull fights- where they kill the bull, they have bull games where they try to get the ribbon off the bulls horns without being gored.  Unfortunately, it was one of the few days they weren't holding a game!
A park he painted with the painting in front and the park behind.
We really enjoyed Provence.  When we came back through at the end of the cruise, the lavender had started to bloom, but Rob refused to let me get out and take a picture.  We were making a mad dash home at the time!  Provence was a favorite.  I wish we would have had time to relax and enjoy it along with the Riviera a little more!

Our last stop in France was at 
The medieval walled city- occupied by Celts, Romans and Visigoths.    It has 53 towers and barbicans, inner and outer walls, and square holes all around where wooden platforms could be fitted to protect soldiers and make it so they could launch projectiles down on the hordes below.  And yes- there is a game of the same name!
We thought it was pretty cool.  The boys walked all over the walls and parapets.  I stayed mostly on the path.  Europeans don't do a lot of safety measures- it's at your own risk!

We bought a macaron in France before we left.  Emma and I were going to share so we bought the big one!  Be forewarned-  the big ones have a jelly filling instead of a cream filling.  We ended up throwing it away and Emma ended up having a small allergic reaction to it.  We found out later it did contain almond paste.

 A "motorcycle" gang came up from Spain to  see Carcassonne, too!

We were not happy with our hotel, but the fort was worth 2 thumbs up!

Finally we made it to 
We really enjoyed Barcelona.  It is so clean and well kept up. There were running paths everywhere and tons of people out running all the time.
Max had to buy a Barca soccer jersey as soon as possible.  He is a Neymar fan- and he can tell you all about why he is a Neymar as opposed to a Messi fan.  He knows what he's talking about with sports.  One time Sam tried to contradict him on some football (American style) fact and found out that Max was right.  Don't question Max's sports knowledge- he will beat you down!
 Found an Emergency candy shop- such a cute idea.  Emma, Max and Joe all got bottles of emergency candy with a sticker for when to take it.  Max's was for "in case of a ninja attack."   I don't remember what the other ones were for.

 This is Barcelona's version of the "bridge of sighs", but has a totally different reason for it.  It took the royal family to the chapel without having to go down among the ravel!
 Had to stop at the Hard Rock and get some good 'ole American food!
 We loved the light men in Barcelona- they look very muscular- as opposed to the ones in France that look like emaciated stick men.
 Christopher Columbus showing you the way!
La Sangrada Familia by Antoni Gaudi- now you know why things are called Gaudy!

 He never saw this church finished- because guess what- it still isn't!  They only way it can be finished is if the apartment building next to it is knocked down and they aren't too keen on that idea!

 Beautiful square in the heart of Barcelona
 Els Quatre Gats- famous for the people that hung out here- like Picasso and Guadi
 Tiled drinking fountain
  A little Picasso for you.  Yep- sorry- don't get why this guy is famous!
Where the Bishops got to hang out 
 Roman ruins in the Gothic quarter
 This is believed to be the spot where Columbus was received by royalty when returning from the new world.

 This one had "rum" pouring out at one point and smoke coming up a couple places

 The Block of discord.  3 different modernist designers all trying to out Guadi each other!  This took us forever to find.  Finally a lady stopped and helped us in very bad English, but since we had zero Spanish- she was doing better than us!

Wish we had come to Spain earlier so that we could have seen more.  We loved everything but the traffic in beautiful Barcelona!  This is a definite- go and see!

Finally we boarded the boat

We went on one of Carnival's newest boats- the Vista.  It had this cool sky coaster 

 Emma thought these Voodoo dolls were hilarious.
 The boat also had waterslides and a high ropes course.  Our favorite game was their 4 way table tennis.
 One of the last days on board we woke up to towel animals all over!  

 The ice carving is always super cool!

Sam tried Frog legs and Max and Sam both tried Alligator balls- not an anatomical part of the alligator, just balls made of alligator meat!

Definitely would go on this boat again.  The waterslides and the coaster and the table tennis and the high ropes course and everything were a blast.  The food was great.  People were great.  Not too much partying.  5 Stars for a middle class family experience!

We stopped in 


Don't recommend it.  It was dirty and disgusting.  I refused to get in the water.  We found boards with nails and a bloody bandage right at the waters edge.  The boys still buried each other, but I just sat there until we could leave.

  Maybe it would have been better farther away from the ship.  We took public transportation to what were supposed to be nice beaches, though.  Maybe inland is prettier.  But my experience was Double Yuck!

Next up:

Again, we took public transportation- this one was a little on the tricky side, but a good cab driver directed us even though we told him no several times to taking us around.  We should have tipped him, but we were really trying to concentrate at the time.  The port is not user friendly!  We made it where we were supposed to go though and got on a really old train to Pompeii.  Such an amazing place.  The sculpture are all new made to spice things up, but super cool anyway.
 We took the Rick's Steve's tour instead of paying for one.  I think it gave enough detail and we were certainly done walking by the time we finished it. 
 See Mount Vesuvius in the background?

Loved Pompeii.  I know they say Herculaneum is better- I wouldn't know, because we only did Pompeii, but I can recommend Pompeii.
Next up

So not actually Rome, but the jumping off point to Rome.  We had been to Rome and crushed it already, so we didn't move a muscle to get off the boat.  We just enjoyed everything there was to enjoy that day on board!  If you want to know what I thought of Rome, you can go here!

Again, we had gone to Pisa a number of times and enjoyed Florence and Tuscany and Cinque Terre  already.  We were just going to stay on the boat, but eventually I convinced Rob to come with Emma and I to see the city.  We did a little walk on a map they gave us at the Information booth around the town and then bought some fun leather purses! 
The green one is much more minty color than this shows.

Next up was Marseille, France.

  We walked our way over to the old port

 and took a taxi boat 

out to Chateau d'If.- It looks just like a huge Sandcastle, doesn't it?

  It was the setting for The Count of Monte Cristo.  It was originally a fort, but then turned into a prison.  Alexander Dumas had a grandfather who fought with Napoleon.  In fact he was one of his top Generals.  He fled, while the other one was assassinated and then his dead body was put into jail here on the island by a very crazy Napoleon for 18 years!  The Count of Monte Cristo was actually based on a real guy, Pierre Picaud.  
The other famous thing that happened here is a drowning of a rhinoceros!  I know- weird!  The rhino was a present to the Pope and it stopped on it's journey here for several weeks.  After the ship left it hit a storm and went down with Rhino in tow.  They have drawings of the famed Rhino. 
 This was a really cool fort- 2 thumbs up- just wish we had more time there.  The boats called every 2 hours and if you didn't get on one, you had to wait another two hours!  We probably only needed another 30 minutes.

Mallorca, Spain

Our final stop was the island of Mallorca.  It was beautiful and had great beaches.  We took public transportation again, because we are cheap and knowledgable like that to a good beach that wasn't too far away.  It was almost perfect- the boys got a little more education on breasts than they wanted, but hey, that's Spain for you!

The next day we were back in Barcelona and headed home at breakneck speed.  It was an amazing adventure.  Highly recommend for anyone.  I wish they had skipped Italy and gone over to Gibraltar  and up Spain instead, or over to Portugal- we never made it there.  They probably have those options, but they probably cost a whole lot more!  Maybe next time when someone else pays for me!