Change of strategy

Energy to pull off visits to the ports on our own fizzled right after our first stop, when Joe came down with a nasty cold. We skipped a visit to Malaga, Spain so Joe could recover. We took a short walk in Arrecife, Canary Islands and strolled on the beach, dipping our feet into the cool waters of the Atlantic. That was all he could handle. One last stop remained before our ship headed across the ocean for seven days, and we tried to make the most of it: a day in Tenerife, Canary Islands.

The towering, 12,200’ Mount Teide, dropped to a volcanic landscape. The distance from the ship’s dock to Mount Teide National Park presented a challenge – but finding a few others who wanted to do the same trek and sharing transport seemed do-able – until it wasn’t. Joe was still recovering so we changed our strategy by reserving two seats on a cruise tour bus heading up to the park.

Joe rested and looked out the window. Beth snapped photos of the ever-changing landscape as the bus climbed from sea level to 8,000’. All the photos (below) were taken from the moving bus unless noted otherwise.

Canary pines, a tree endemic to the Islands, grows only up to a 2,000’ elevation.

Canary island pines, a tree endemic to the Islands, grows only up to a 2,000’ elevation.

We waited for Mount Teide to lose its cloud cover, but it never happened (which we understand is rare on the sunny Canaries).

We waited for Mount Teide to lose its cloud cover, but it never happened (which we understand is rare on the sunny Canaries).

At a café stop on the way up the mountain, we photographed a perfectly preserved extinct volcano with greenery growing in the crater.

At a café stop on the way up the mountain, we photographed a perfectly preserved extinct volcano with greenery growing in the crater.

he base of Roque Cinchado is breaking apart faster than the top so, at some point in the future, the formation will collapse. We photographed when the bus stopped briefly for us to walk around the rock formations.

The base of Roque Cinchado is breaking apart faster than the top so, at some point in the future, the formation will collapse. We photographed when the bus stopped briefly for us to walk around the rock formations.

The dried white-green plants contrasted nicely with the black volcanic hills.

The dried white-green plants contrasted nicely with the black volcanic hills.

Is it minerals and oxidation that cause the coloring of the hills?

Is it minerals and oxidation that cause the coloring of the hills?

When we returned to the Celebrity Equinox, we snapped a last look at Tenerife before we settled into deck chairs by the ship’s pool.

When we returned to the Celebrity Equinox, we snapped a last look at Tenerife before we settled into deck chairs by the ship’s pool.

We’re sorry we didn’t get the opportunity to see Tenerife as we’d originally planned, but aren’t we lucky Celebrity offered us a backup tour? Seeing the mountain and volcanoes was definitely worth the tour excursion fee.

 

November 2014

 

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TO DO: cathedral, palace, and wifi

We decided to make the final leg of our around-the-world trip a transatlantic cruise – our first major cruise. The ship we chose, the Celebrity Equinox, had 5 ports of call along the way – all new places we’d never been to before.

We’ve taken time on our long trip to stay in each of our destinations for many days, but now – on the cruise – we’d have only a fraction of the day to see a city. Time and budget restrictions became a travel planning challenge! Since wifi on the ship would be slow, unreliable, and expensive, we did our internet research before we boarded. Our first stop at Palma De Mallorca would test our plan. We hoped it would work.

We woke up early, with a little “bump” as the ship settled in to its berth in the harbor. After breakfast, we walked off the ship and took an immediate wrong turn, following other passengers as they led us straight to their tour bus. Redirected, we soon found the sunny walkway along the harbor and headed for the Palma Cathedral, 45-minutes distant.

cruise stop in Palma De Mallorca

We entered the old historic city and stopped to enjoy shaded plazas with water features and contemporary sculpture.

The steps up to the cathedral and palace had water fountains at each landing.

The steps up to the cathedral and palace had water fountains at each landing.

The Gothic cathedral towers over the city. Construction lasted for hundreds of years and was completed in 1587. Work on old cathedrals rarely “finishes,” and Antoni Gaudi redesigned the altar area in the early 1900s, and, more recently, Miquel Barcelo fashioned a side chapel with the (rather strange) backdrop of a cave.

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Palacio Real De La Almudaina, across from the cathedral, was built earlier in an entirely different architectural style to be the Moorish palace for its Walis (governors). When the Moors knew defeat was inevitable, they opened the doors to the palace and let King Jaume I and his army enter in 1229. Ever since, it has been a summer palace for the Spanish royal family.

We stood on the palace terrace and admired its strategic setting in Palma De Mallorca.

We stood on the palace terrace and admired its strategic setting in Palma De Mallorca.

A last look back at the simple lines of the palace before we started walking back towards our cruise ship.

A last look back at the simple lines of the palace before we started walking back towards our cruise ship.

We had one more stop to make before returning to the ship: a café to sip a cold drink and use its wifi. Our path took us through the old city, looking for just the right place to stop. When did we realize we were some distance above the harbor on a road leading further away from where we wanted to go? Lost so soon! We pulled out a sketchy map, provided by the cruise ship, and decided to take the road leading the wrong way as we (rightly) guessed it would eventually intersect with a road leading back down to the harbor.

cruise stop in Palma De Mallorca

As soon as we turned up the road, we saw “Sense Titol” by Manolo Paz on a little plaza.

cruise stop in Palma De Mallorca

We crossed the canal before heading back to the walkway along the harbor. The clouds looked ominous.

Success! We stopped at Cappachino Grand Café, downloaded email and the daily newspaper on our iPad using Witopia, while we sipped our drinks. No sooner had we started the walk back to the ship than a few drops of rain came down. We picked up our pace. So far on our trip we’ve had very few days of rain. Could it really rain today? Yes, the rain came down and only let up a half-hour later – just as we approached the covered boarding area.

We enjoyed our day in Palma De Mallorca and realized that, while it wasn’t our usual style of slow traveling, we’d been able to really see the cathedral and castle, got a good amount of walking in, and even managed to download “The New York Times” to read that night. A good day!

 

October 2014

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Settling into our home (literally) on the ocean

Fourteen days. That was the upside or the downside – depending on just how well our first cruise went. First impression? We steeled ourselves to face a crowd and long lines at check-in, but, within fifteen minutes of arrival dockside, we were whisked through and found ourselves with champagne glasses in our hands in the ship’s lounge. That was unexpectedly good.

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The Celebrity Equinox, docked in Barcelona

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Champagne at 11am

The rooms were still being readied for the passengers, so we wandered around the ship trying to discover all the places we’d want to spend time (or avoid) during our cruise.

We loved the little seating areas and most days would have our breakfast at one of these tables.

We loved the little seating areas and most days would have our breakfast at one of these tables.

We played our first of many games of bag toss.

We played our first of many games of bag toss.

We planned to head up to the lawn for a game or two of bocce every afternoon.

We planned to head up to the lawn for a game or two of bocce every afternoon.

The fitness center appealed to us as well as the Solarium, a warm enclosed area with pool and hot tubs. The library was a big disappointment, with very few books and nothing of interest. How did we miss that casinos and specialty stores took up so much space on lower decks? We knew we’d avoid them.

We came up to the Oceanview Café – Deck 14 – at lunchtime. Guests wandered the serving islands and grazed the choices. For the most part the food quality, serving sizes, and healthful choices were better than we expected. For travelers like us who’d been away from home for a long time, the ship offered foods we’d not had for some time. How yummy to have a baked potato with dinner, Mexican food for lunch, and sushi for a late afternoon snack?

When we booked the repositioning cruise, we chose a room in the least expensive category – an inside stateroom with no window. We figured we’d be out of the room a lot so we’d make do. We held our breaths as we unlocked our stateroom for the first time. Our room turned out to be much larger and nicer than we’d expected – a great place to call home for 2 weeks.

First impressions moved the Celebrity Equinox up a notch in our estimations, but we still had 13 more days to cruise. The test had just begun.

 

November 2014

 

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Never, Ever

We always said we’d NEVER take a cruise until we were so old it was our only travel option. Never, ever. We’ve always planned trips where we walk or hike a lot. We want beautiful scenery but on a budget. Cruises wouldn’t satisfy our needs. Until one did.

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How did we change our minds? In preparation for taking our extended trip, we read many blogs to get insights on the best way to travel round the world. One blog mentioned traveling back from Europe to the US on a repositioning cruise to save money. Really?!

We didn’t believe it so we crunched the numbers for ourselves. If we got the least expensive stateroom on the 14-day Celebrity Equinox cruise from Barcelona to Ft Lauderdale, the price per person is $1,038. That amount covers room and meals for 13 days as well as transport back to the US. The comparable cost for 13 days lodging and food plus airfare would have been $1,608. So, that would leave us $570 each to cover a few extras on the cruise and still have some money saved.

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Even with money saved, would a cruise be worth it? A cruise slowly travels across time zones so goodbye jet lag. We realized that days spent on a ship, writing and cataloguing photos, might allow us to finish up all trip documentation by the time we arrive home. We thought that wrapping up all that, before we start a social whirl of friend and family visits back in the US, would be helpful.

We won’t miss flying. When did we last enjoy taking a long trans-Atlantic flight with cramped upright seating to come home from a vacation? The long delays on our last flights won’t be missed either.

Will we get enough exercise and walking? Can we eat healthy food and small portions? Will we be bored? Those questions had factored into our decision to “never, ever” take a cruise. We’re not sure about the answers to those questions, but we’re going to find out. Stay tuned….

 

October 2014

 

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Not just alive, but vibrant

We discovered a big reason everyone says, “Barcelona! You’ll love that city!” It took us a few weeks to figure out just where the magic comes from.

The shops in our neighborhood are mostly small and carry a wide variety of merchandise. They’re not in the least the cookie-cutter, big-chain stores that we’re used to. The windows and signage tempt shoppers with their wares.

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Obach Sombrereria (berets) – Joe and his purchase
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Coses de Casa (fabrics, towels)

 

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Marioneta Travi (marionette store)

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PoloPalo (gelato pops)

 

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DSC01135Lluis Manuel Sabeteria (espadrilles)

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Life in the city has an upbeat rhythm. People stroll the city streets – sometimes shopping, meeting friends at little cafes, out on an errand. The old narrow lanes are mostly car-free and often lead to open plazas with trees and outdoor café tables. Sometimes you’ll see a little playground for children encircled by a low fence.

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So, you ask, what is it that sets the old historic section of Barcelona apart from other cities? The answer was rent control for all those little independently owned shops. We read an article in “The New York Times” saying small shops in Barcelona have had their rent controlled since 1964. That protection allowed the shops to flourish.

We started to think of other places we’ve been. Very few cities have shops like those we’ve seen in Barcelona and certainly not as many. We know many factors work together to contribute to a vibrant city. One factor in Barcelona: its small shops that give character and life to the historic district.

According to the article, rent control has ended now after a 20-year period allowing property and shop owners to negotiate new rental agreements. Changes are taking place. Some of the small shops are closing or moving since the rents are now unaffordable. Some big chain stores are moving in. Will Barcelona be able to keep its small shops and maintain its way of life?

The magic of Barcelona for these last years is a lesson for other cities. It’s great to be a healthy city, but even better to be a vibrant one. Now Barcelona confronts how to maintain it.

 

October 2014

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A park where no one bothers looking at the greenery

We love to visit parks to see plantings, trees, and birds, but that’s beside the point at Barcelona’s Park Güell. Everyone makes the trek up to Park Güell for one thing: to take in Antoni Gaudi’s inspired conception of what was supposed to become a 60-lot housing development on a barren hill in the early 1900’s.

Viaducts were built as roadways on the hillside with walkways underneath.

Viaducts were built as roadways on the hillside with walkways underneath.

The Portico of the Laundress is a “colonnaded pathway where the road projects out from the hillside, with the vaulting forming a retaining wall which curves over to support the road, and transmits the load onto sloping columns”. (Thanks to Wikipedia for that explanation.)

The Portico of the Laundress is a “colonnaded pathway where the road projects out from the hillside, with the vaulting forming a retaining wall which curves over to support the road, and transmits the load onto sloping columns”. (Thanks to Wikipedia for that explanation.)

We took stairs up to a large open plaza with a serpentine bench ringing the exterior. We visitors gathered for the view and to sit on the tiled bench.

We took stairs up to a large open plaza with a serpentine bench ringing the exterior. We visitors gathered for the view and to sit on the tiled bench.

We walked back down steps to discover what was holding up the bench and part of that open plaza where we’d just been: massive columns with tiled mosaics on the roof.

We walked back down steps to discover what was holding up the bench and part of that open plaza where we’d just been: massive columns with tiled mosaics on the roof.

A fence becomes a decorative garden art-piece.

A fence becomes a decorative garden art-piece.

The Porter’s Lodge windows are ringed with orbs of colorful tile.

The Porter’s Lodge windows are ringed with orbs of colorful tile.

Who wouldn’t want to live in Park Güell? Apparently, Barcelonians showed no interest in living there in the early 1900’s. Only Gaudi and Eusebi Güell, Gaudi’s patron and owner of the land, lived in the park. After Eusebi Güell’s death, his heirs sold the park to the city, and Park Güell opened to the public as a civic park in 1926.

Gaudi’s failure in developing a property that would attract potential homeowners has blossomed into a highly successful city park and tourist attraction. A visit to this park shouldn’t be mistaken for a visit to a classical garden. When we pored over photos that we took during our visit to Park Güell, only a paltry two images were of the greenery.

 

October 2014

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Keep Yours Eyes Open

We kept our eyes on traffic as we crossed a busy street in Barcelona and then almost ran into a huge bubble floating nearby. Where did that come from?

The bicycle rider managed to avoid the bubble in his path.

The bicycle rider managed to avoid the bubble in his path.

A short distance away the bubble-maker sent his bubbles aloft with children at the ready to pop them all.

A short distance away the bubble-maker sent his bubbles aloft with children at the ready to pop them all.

Not far away we saw public water faucets and each featured its own artwork.

Is the water safe to drink?

Is the water safe to drink?

Pigeons are everywhere in cities but this little boy took delight in cautiously feeding them.

Pigeons are everywhere in cities but this little boy took delight in cautiously feeding them.

Another day, we walked toward the beach in the late morning, not on a prescribed route, but with a general sense that if we headed south we would find the sea.

We didn’t expect to see a colorful roof like this so we detoured to read the signs.

We didn’t expect to see a colorful roof like this so we detoured to read the signs.

Back on track, we walked until the blue Mediterranean Sea came into view. The beach!

The warm sun and the gentle waves rolled up to the beach.

The warm sun and the gentle waves rolled up to the beach.

We hitched up our pants and walked along with feet in the cool water. No shells in sight. Then, we spotted a piece of sea glass.

By the end of our walk, we had our treasure: the perfect souvenir for our stay in Barcelona.

By the end of our walk, we had our treasure: sea glass – found on the beach – the perfect souvenir for our stay in Barcelona.

Walking back from the beach we felt elated by all we’d seen in our first days in Barcelona. All we had to do was keep our eyes open and look around.

We admired the tree-lined lane on one of our walks.

We admired the tree-lined lane on one of our walks.

 

October 2014

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