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Mediterranean Cruise, day eleven: Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona was the final port in the Noordam’s Mediterranean Explorer itinerary. The Noordam docked at 8:00am and remained docked overnight. There was no set all-aboard time, though passengers were assigned disembarkation times for the next morning. A roundtrip tickets on the port shuttle was 3 Euro and allowed you to return to the ship at any time, day or night. For my first time in Barcelona, my number one priority was to experience the architecture of Antoni Gaudi, and more widely the Spanish version of Art Nouveau: Modernisme. As I’ve discussed in earlier posts, the best way to cover a lot of ground quickly is with the guided hop on hop off buses. If you score a seat on the open air second deck, you’re in for a day full of stunning photographs. The Bus Turistic, as it’s called, is a short walk from where the port shuttle drops you off. There is a small flea market to explore on the way, which is one of my favorite things to do at home or abroad. We paid 36 Euro for a two-day pass, there are three different lines you can ride all over the huge city, and headsets for the guided narration are included in the ticket price.

The Bus Turistic is a conspicuous, but efficient, way to explore a large city like Barcelona. © 2014 Gail Jessen

The Bus Turistic is a conspicuous, but efficient, way to explore a large city like Barcelona. © 2014 Gail Jessen

Our first stop on the bus was the world famous La Sagrada Familia. This structure is easily the most famous in a city full of well-known and well-beloved landmarks. Construction began in the late 19th Century and is still not completed. The construction is funded entirely by the congregation, pilgrims, Gaudi devotees, and ticket sales. The cathedral was Gaudi’s crowning passion and he dedicated 43 years of his life to the work, most intensely at the end of his life when he cloistered himself in the workshop onsite. He is also buried in the cathedral itself. As an intensely devout Catholic, Gaudi was quoted as saying, “I will serve god through architecture. I will build a bible in stone.” Gaudi was walking home from his evening prayer ritual on 10 June 1926, when he was hit by a trolley. No one recognized him. He was rushed to a hospital for poor (many times anonymous) patients, where he died after receiving the last rites.

When Gaudi died in 1926 only one tower was complete. Today there are eight towers, four at each entrance to La Sagrada Familia. © 2014 Gail Jessen

When Gaudi died in 1926 only one tower was complete. Today there are eight towers, four at each entrance to La Sagrada Familia. © 2014 Gail Jessen

Much of the stone work on the exterior is in the shape of flowers and bunches of fruit, representing Gaudi's love of nature. © 2014 Gail Jessen

Much of the stone work on the exterior is in the shape of flowers and bunches of fruit, representing Gaudi's love of nature. © 2014 Gail Jessen

Gaudi’s primary inspirations for his architectural style are nature and light. He is known for his organic shapes and hand-formed style. It is very clear that he studied nature intently and sought to replicate the elegant logic of those patterns in his design. The moment I stepped foot in Sagrada Familia I gasped. I’ve seen thousands of photos and have studied it for years, but nothing could have prepared me for that moment. It’s powerful. Most people couldn’t make it three steps inside before they also gasped and threw their heads back to stare at the ceiling shaped like a forest canopy. You know instantly that this is something special. I love Europe and I’ve traveled all over the region extensively, so it’s with the pure love of an architecture buff that I say even the most stunning of cathedrals can begin to look the same after a long time abroad. After two hours in Sagrada Familia I was still seeing new details, still finding new points of light for photographs, and still slowly shaking my head at the brilliance of it. It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

My first step inside the legendary cathedral. I’m not religious, but I instantly felt as though I’d made a pilgrimage to this space. © 2014 Gail Jessen

My first step inside the legendary cathedral. I’m not religious, but I instantly felt as though I’d made a pilgrimage to this space. © 2014 Gail Jessen

The details go on and on in La Sagrada Familia. I spent two hours there, took over 100 photos, and feel as though I barely scratched the surface. © 2014 Gail Jessen

The details go on and on in La Sagrada Familia. I spent two hours there, took over 100 photos, and feel as though I barely scratched the surface. © 2014 Gail Jessen

Gaudi’s ceiling is meant to replicate the feeling of a forest canopy. The organic feeling ing the cathedral is a powerful experience. © 2014 Gail Jessen

Gaudi’s ceiling is meant to replicate the feeling of a forest canopy. The organic feeling ing the cathedral is a powerful experience. © 2014 Gail Jessen

Don't skip the museum below the cathedral. Well curated displays explain Gaudi's influences and demonstrate their integration in the final construction. © 2014 Gail Jessen

Don't skip the museum below the cathedral. Well curated displays explain Gaudi's influences and demonstrate their integration in the final construction. © 2014 Gail Jessen

A quick logistical word about tickets to the cathedral: Buy early and buy online. They sell out quickly. Unless you’re spending many days in Barcelona, you could miss the chance to enter the cathedral. They sell the tickets by the hour at which you’re allowed to enter the cathedral. If you want to go up in one of the towers, they sell out even more quickly. Again, buy online and buy early. Do not wait in a two hour line in the hot sun only to find out the next available entry time is two days later. It happens. A lot. Buy early and buy online and don’t miss this masterpiece.

The stained glass windows face perfectly west and east, flooding the cathedral with colorful light all day long. Even in the two hours I was inside I watched the light change dramatically, a tribute to one of Gaudi's primary inspirations. © 2014 Gail Jessen

The stained glass windows face perfectly west and east, flooding the cathedral with colorful light all day long. Even in the two hours I was inside I watched the light change dramatically, a tribute to one of Gaudi's primary inspirations. © 2014 Gail Jessen

On the doors of the cathedral the Gospel of Matthew is carved in bronze. © 2014 Gail Jessen 

On the doors of the cathedral the Gospel of Matthew is carved in bronze. © 2014 Gail Jessen 

I watched many visitors rub certain words repeatedly as they passed the doors. My guess is that this contributes to the polished gold tones. © 2014 Gail Jessen

I watched many visitors rub certain words repeatedly as they passed the doors. My guess is that this contributes to the polished gold tones. © 2014 Gail Jessen

The scale of the cathedral is mind blowing. Visitors wander around slowly with their heads thrown back, bumping into each other, smiling, and going right back to staring at the ceiling. © 2014 Gail Jessen

The scale of the cathedral is mind blowing. Visitors wander around slowly with their heads thrown back, bumping into each other, smiling, and going right back to staring at the ceiling. © 2014 Gail Jessen

Jen and I rode both the red and the blue lines of the bus in full loops so that we had a sense of the city’s scale and key sites. We planned to make another loop and exit the bus at certain sites, but to be honest, it was time for tapas. We decided to wander the Barri Gotic in search of anything that looked authentic and interesting. Barcelona was founded as a Roman colony in 15 BCE and the Gothic Quarter is the oldest section of the city, built on the site of those Roman ruins. The neighborhood is still a political and cultural nerve center. The Catalan government headquarters and Barcelona City Hall are within a stone’s throw of the ancient cathedral…and amazing tapas. Dinner in Spain starts late, usually around 8-9pm. Tapas, or small plates meant to mix, match, and share, are served earlier and continue to be served late into the night (or should I say into the early morning). You’ll typically pay a surcharge to sit outside, but it’s well worth it to watch the locals go about their business and socialize with their friends.

We planned to walk off all the olives and freshly-made cheese by taking Las Ramblas down to Columbus Circle (the port). Las Ramblas is a long pedestrian street lined with trees, cafes, flower shops, and vendors of every kind. My favorite memory of Las Ramblas is the giant, ornate street lamps. Barcelona has earned the distinction of the pick pocket capital of the world, and Las Ramblas has the highest concentration of incidents. We felt perfectly safe and because it’s Spain, there was plenty of foot traffic even late into the evening. Don’t let the hype scare you away from this gorgeous experience, just be street smart.

Looking up "la rambla" (local shorthand) from Columbus Circle. © 2014 Gail Jessen

Looking up "la rambla" (local shorthand) from Columbus Circle. © 2014 Gail Jessen

The rest of our night was less exciting as we went back to our Noordam stateroom to pack for the journey home. Passengers were required to leave their luggage outside their stateroom door by 1:00am, with specific luggage tags attached. The Noordam crew shuttles them away and they are waiting at a specific drop point in the cruise terminal. The disembarkation process the next morning was one of the smoothest I’ve ever experienced. The breakfast buffet was crowded and felt a bit rushed, but the entire process was simple and clear. Listen for your luggage tag color / number combo over the PA system and head to the gangway on deck 2. Done.

I anticipate contributing more Live Voyage Reports on The Avid Cruiser. Until then, follow my other travels and adventures in real time on Instagram and Twitter @fourthirtyam. As a reminder, the Noordam Mediterranean Explorer Live Voyage Report landing page leads you to each day’s post and will always be available to you.

I hope you enjoyed your virtual vacation. Until my next Live Voyage Report destination…bon voyage,

gail

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Mediterranean Cruise, day nine: Provence, France