The final stop on our Med cruise

The overnight voyage from Monaco to Barcelona was quite rough with 35 to 50 knot winds and swells of 4m though the Gulf of Lion. The conditions lasted from 10:30pm Sunday night to 6:30am Monday morning. Our arrival into Barcelona wasn’t until 2:00pm so we had a pretty relaxed morning on calmer sea conditions once we were up. Both of us had slept fine despite the night conditions. If would have been a difficult night for anyone who was sensitive to the rolling motion of the ship.

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  • Monday May 14, 2018

    Arrival in Barcelona and a trip to Montserrat

    We went for breakfast in Windows Café at about 8:00am after which we found a comfortable spot on the open deck to sit and read as Azamara Quest drew closer to Barcelona. With more time on our hands we took advantage of the opportunity to take lunch in the main Discoveries dining room. It made for a nice and different lunch experience for this trip.

    Barcelona would mark the end of the cruise, but we’d have one more night on board after our afternoon here. It wouldn’t mark the end of our vacation, though, because we had planned to stay in Barcelona for a few more days post cruise. That lessened the sadness as the cruise drew to an end. Also, with the fact we’d be in the city after the cruise we took the opportunity to take a tour outside of the city for our first afternoon here.

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      Sculpture by Josep Maria Subirachs

      Sculpture by Josep Maria Subirachs

      Our destination was that of Montserrat, a mountain range about 48km west of Barcelona and home to the Benedictine abbey of Santa Maria de Montserrat. On the initial approach it is clear to see how the range got its name - meaning “saw mountain” in the local Catalan language. The peaks of the range as a whole gives the appearance of a serrated edge.

      We were arriving by bus, but it was also possible to ascend the height of the mountain by cable car which we thought would have been an interesting experience. Perhaps for another visit to Barcelona. For this trip we wouldn’t be going all the way to the top peak of Saint Jeroni at 1236m, but even at the height of the lookouts at the level of the monastery the views were spectacular. It would be easy to come to this location just for the view and then leave. The monastery appears to hug the mountain near the top and at first glance looks fairly modern. It was founded in the 11th century but most of what is seen today is the result of rebuilding done in the 19th and 20th centuries.

      Before entering the abby we were struck by the sculptures by Josep Maria Subirachs. The style of them was unmistakable from the similarity to his work on the Passion Façade of Sagrada Família. We hadn’t yet seen the Gaudí designed church on this trip, but remembered it well from our previous visit to Barcelona in 2006.

      La Moreneta

      La Moreneta

      We wanted to see the famed statue of Our Lady of Monserrat or more commonly known as the ‘Black Madonna’ or ‘La Moreneta’ so we made the choice to join the line of people that would take up up a marble staircase to the raised Niche at the back of the impressive church. They were certainly prepared to have a lot of people wanting to do this with how crowd control was set up, but we were thankfully here on a day when we could almost approach directly. It still took a while for us to make our way up the single file line on the stairs to reach the small Niche and walk past the statue. Looking the other way gives also a good view of the church through an arched opening. The origin of the statue isn’t known for sure, but the carved wood sculpture is most likely from the 12th century. Some sources have it dated older than that, possibly the 8th century. The 95cm tall statue is protected by a clear cylindrical tube but there was a small circular cut out to expose the right hand of the Madonna holding an Orb. The Catholic faithful clearly wanted to touch or kiss the hand. Umm, not us. After we filed past the statue we made our way back down to take in the church from ground level. Impressive, to say the least.

      We finished off our time with a look through a nice gift shop and one last look at the incredible views before meeting back with our group at the bus to make our way back to the port and our final night on Azamara Quest. It was about 6:30pm when we made it back to the ship. We did a bit of packing up before heading for dinner in the main Discoveries dining room. The timing work out good for us to make it to the 9:30pm show of Azamara Quest singers and dancers in the Cabaret Lounge before returning to our room to finish off our packing. Most if not all of the people on our deck had done so and left their bags outside in the hallway for the staff to collect before we had gotten back to our room. We weren’t that eager, it seemed.

      Our day had been a good one and a nice way to end the cruise portion of the vacation. It felt good to us that we’d be staying longer in Barcelona to get to enjoy more of this beautiful city. It would have felt quite different had we been planning to head home directly from the cruise.

  • Tuesday May 15, 2018

    From Azamara Quest to The Serras

    For our final morning on Azamara Quest we were up early for breakfast in Windows Café. All guests needed to vacate the rooms by 8:00am, so that had to be taken into account. As we had noticed on every other cruise, the mood for this final morning was so very different than every other day with the guests sad to leave and the staff mentally moving on in preparation for the next group of guests who will arrive that afternoon.

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      With the way the disembarkation of the ship was arranged in timed groups depending on post cruise plans we were scheduled to leave Azamara Quest at 9:00am. The cruise terminal was an efficient operation and it was easy for us to locate our luggage and make our way out of the terminal building. We had seen when we first arrived in Barcelona that there was a large taxi stand outside the building so we made our way directly there to grab a taxi. We knew we didn’t have far to go, but we weren’t interested in dragging our luggage any further than the taxi stand.

      With the way the roads were designed near the hotel we actually had to drive past the hotel in order to approach it from the correct side. Without luggage it might have been quicker and easier to get to the hotel on foot. For the last part of our vacation we had selected The Serras as our hotel. From the first moment we were pleased with our choice. For the early morning check in we knew our room wouldn’t be ready, but the welcome was terrific. We sat at a table while one of the concierges made the check in arrangements and we were offered a drink. It was a bit too early for cava so we opted for what turned out to be an excellent coffee served with some chocolate. The staff was exceptionally friendly and the hotel manager came to great us while we were going thought the check in. We really liked their operation. Even without seeing the room yet we were impressed by this place already. Our concierge also helped us book some events for our stay in Barcelona as well as some dinner reservations after some discussions about the types of places we’d like. It was good to get some of that taken care of right off the bat.

      White Geese in the cloister of Barcelona Cathedral

      White Geese in the cloister of Barcelona Cathedral

      With our luggage stored away for us we set off to stroll around Barcelona for what was a beautiful morning. The hotel is located in the Gothic Quarter, so in mere moments we were enjoying the sights of the historic centre of the city. We wandered through the narrow lane ways to reach the Barcelona Cathedral and then just abled around Barcelona. We had been inside the cathedral on our previous visit to Barcelona, but we thought it would be nice to go inside again. We are glad we did, it was nice to view the Gothic cathedral again and it wasn’t too busy for this Tuesday morning. It was constructed between the 12th and 15th centuries. Along with the Gothic grandeur of the cathedral interior it also has a secluded cloister where 13 white geese are always kept. The significance of the number of geese being related to Eulalia of Barcelona for whom the church was dedicated: Catholic tradition holds that Eulalia was 13 years old when she was martyred during the Roman era in Barcelona. It was a nice return visit that was at a bit more leisurely pace than we recalled of our first time here. From the cathedral we continued to walk through some of the small and interesting streets in the Gothic Quarter with no particular plan outer than to enjoy the stroll. At about 12:30 we received a call from The Serras that our room was ready and we adjusted our stroll to head back that way.

      Welcome to The Serras

      A nice welcome to The Serras

      When we returned to the hotel we were first given a tour of the facility. The building itself was beautiful, dating back to 1846. What makes it special is that it was the location for Pablo Picasso's first studio in 1896. The open rooftop terrace was a place we knew we’d be enjoying while staying here. When we reached our room we were very pleased. Well appointed and stylish. On a table a note with some cava, local cured meat and biscuits made a nice welcome indeed. We could make do here, no doubt.

      We didn’t linger too long before heading back out towards La Rambla for a stroll along the beautiful tree lined pedestrian street. We figured we should grab something to eat so we stopped at a café for a light lunch and continued our initial walking tour of Barcelona. It is the sort of city you can just enjoy by strolling around it. We made our way back to the hotel for a refresh and our first trip to the the rooftop terrace for drinks and snacks. It was fabulous. We could make out the stack of Azamara Quest in the view towards the port, so a momentary twinge of sadness in an otherwise great experience. It would have been easy for us to have stayed here for until we needed to get ready for dinner, but we force ourselves to get going again. This time we made our way towards the Barcelona beachfront. Along the way we passed the restaurant for our first evening’s dinner.

      When we were booking the events earlier in the day we learned that Barcelonians eat dinner a bit later than was our norm, so we figured to acquiesce and booked our meals for 9:00pm. We returned to our room at about 6:30pm and figured it was a good time to enjoy the cava left for us. A nice early evening treat. The restaurant was an easy walk from the hotel so we didn’t need to leave early. It was a nice evening stroll to the seafood restaurant suggested by our concierge. We had a little bit of trouble communicating with our server who spoke as much English as we did Spanish, but we made do and had a good evening. True to form, people did seem to arrive later than us for dinner, although there were plenty of tables in use when we arrived too. The way back to the hotel in the lovely Barcelona evening was very enjoyable. The end of a great day with anticipation of more to come.

  • Wednesday May 16, 2018

    Parc Güell & Museu Picasso

    We decided to start the day with breakfast at the restaurant in the hotel. Very nice. We could see ourselves even enjoying a dinner at this place. If we were staying a bit longer, perhaps. As it stood now we had our dinners already booked. We had a set timing for the morning with a booked timed entry tickets for Parc Güell.

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      To get to Parc Güell we figured it best to take a taxi, and we arrived a bit ahead of our scheduled entry time in the park space designed by Antoni Guadí. We had arrived just slightly early of our entry time but they wouldn’t let us in until the correct time so we had to kill a bit of time on the outskirts of the park before we could enter.

      View from the main terrace of Parc Guell

      View from the main terrace of Parc Güell

      The Parc is named for Eusebi Güell, an industrialist and entrepreneur who originally asked Gaudí to design the space as high end real estate after buying the land in 1900. The project was a commercial failure and in 1923 about five years after Eusebi’s death the Güell family gave the land to the city of Barcelona. It opened as a park in 1926 and is considered a World Heritage Site. It is an enjoyable place to visit with a number of elements of Gaudí’s mosaic designs. There is plenty to take in at the park, or just take some time to relax in a tranquil environment. Worth a visit to be sure.

      Arc de Triomf

      Arc de Triomf

      When we left the park we made the decision to walk back rather than take another taxi. The advantage to walking from Parc Guéll rather than to it was that our route away from the park would be mostly down hill. It also gave us the opportunity to see some more of the city as we made our way back to the Gothic Quarter. It was a nice walk. We wanted to see the Arc de Triomf, so we made sure our route took us that way. The arch was built as the main access gate for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair and stands at the north end of a wide promenade called Passeig de Lluís Companys. Quite beautiful.

      As we got closer to our destination we made adjustments to the route to take in a visit to Museu Picasso. We are so glad we did. This was a true highlight. The museum is an attractive space made up of five adjoining buildings that date back to the 13th century. The buildings are impressive, but more so is the extensive collection with an advertised 4,251 works of art from the formative years of the great Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. It was an amazing place to visit and take in the art.

      We were feeling more than a bit hungry at this point so we set of in search of a place to grab some food and settled on a place we could sit outside to enjoy some tapas in the sunny Barcelona afternoon. It was nice to enjoy the food and wine but also nice just to sit down after the touring so far this day. Fully recharged we heading back out to continue our walking tour of the city for the remainder of the afternoon. Like the day before we had dinner booked for 9:00pm so we didn't need to be back to the hotel too early. The plan for the rest of the day was casual touring of the city. There were plenty of things to enjoy just walking through Barcelona. It is a beautiful city with so much to see.

      No late afternoon or early evening return to The Serras for us was complete without a trip to the rooftop terrace for some drinks accompanied by some snacks. It was a fabulous way to close out the day’s touring and start the preparation for the evening. It was a place we could have easily stayed longer each time we visited it. We did, though, need to get ready for dinner so there was an actual limit to our stay this time.

      We returned to the area of La Barceloneta near the beach for dinner this evening. As we walked there from the hotel it was interesting to pass all of the street vendors selling their arts and crafts along with the plethora of knock off fashion items. This location appeared to being doing brisk business in running shoes this evening. Like any other area selling these sorts of wares it was easy to spot the lookouts placed strategically to announce the arrival of police to the area. Dinner was very pleasant at Restaurant Barceloneta. A great location, good service and food. An enjoyable evening to be sure. It was also a very nice stroll home in the late evening back to The Serras.

  • Thursday May 17, 2018

    Sagrada Família & Fundació Joan Miró

    We opted this morning to grab a quick breakfast rather than take breakfast in the very enjoyable restaurant inside The Serras. Our thought was to get things moving a bit quicker. We settled on a coffee shop near by in the Gothic Quarter. The spot we picked was in Plaça de Sant Jaume. It is a significant square in the old city with the Palace of the Generalitat de Catalonya (Government of Catalonia) and the Casa de la Ciutat (City Hall) facing each other across the square.

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      Clearly for this day something big was happening because many TV news crews were setting up all over the square. The server at the café didn’t know what was the reason for the pending news story, but with the high political tension between Catalonia and Spain it could have been anything. There was also people gathering for what could be either a show of support or to stand in protest. Hard to tell the difference at this point in the day. It was a fascinating breakfast time view. It turned out that this was the day that Quim Torra was sworn in as the 131st President of the Government of Catalonia. The office had been suspended on October 27, 2018 following the Parliament of Catalonia declaring independence from Spain to create the Catalan Republic. That independence was struck down by the Spanish government and some of the Catalan government leaders including the then President Carles Puigdemont fled the country. In the wake of the independence movement there were also at least nine Catalan politicians in jail based on the banners we had seen hanging from buildings around Barcelona. It would have been interesting to watch the day unfold at this location, but we had things to do and places to be. We had a timed entry booked for Sagrada Família, so we plotted our walking route to get us there in good time.

      Approaching Sagrada Familia

      Approaching Sagrada Família

      It was a beautiful morning to walk in Barcelona. it was nice to be able to approach the famed church with some nice views here and there from a distance. Even in its unfinished and construction site look it is still an impressive structure. To think that the large central spire has yet to be built it stands to reason that there is no doubt it will be incredible once finished. In fact, only 8 of the planned 18 spires have been finished to date. We had enough time to walk around the perimeter first before we went to the main entrance. We took the audio guides offered and followed the route suggested by the guide which started at a large scale model of what will be the completed church.

      The cornerstone of the basilica was laid on March 19, 1882 and the current projections put the building to be completed by 2026 with the exception of some of the decorative elements that could take another 4 to 8 years after that to complete. The significance of 2026 is that it will mark 100 years since the death of Antoni Gaudí in 1926. If the current projection is correct then that will make the structure taking 144 years to complete since the laying of the cornerstone and if they hit the midpoint in the range to finish the decorative elements then that would put the whole project at an even 150 years. There are no estimates of the total cost of construction to date, but the current annual construction budget is thought to be €25 million per year.

      As a post-cruise note:
      In October 2018, after two years of negotiations, Sagrada Família agreed to pay the city of Barcelona €36 million in instalments to clear its debt to the city for not having the appropriate building permits going back to 1897. Fines sure do add up. As we read in one source: an IOU more than 100 years in the making. The deal should make way for the city to provide improved public transit and facilitate development of nearby streets to the basilica.

      Tree-like columns in Sagrada Familia

      Tree-like columns in Sagrada Família

      It was consecrated as a Catholic church in 2010. Everyone calls it Sagrada Família, but the full official name is Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Família. Once inside the views are mesmerizing. It took some self control to go in sequence as directed by the audio guide. It would have been quite easy to get distracted. We did need to be mindful of the time we’d need to head to the elevator to go up the towers on the Passion Façade so we interrupted our tour of the main level when we thought we needed to join the line. After the elevator ride up we needed to walk up some steps to make it to the level where a bridge joins the two central spires of the four spires on the Passion Façade. The set up is duplicated on the Nativity Façade at the other side of the church. We enjoyed the views of Barcelona from this vantage point. When booking the visit to Sagrada Família we booked going up the towers on the Passion Façade so that limits the view a bit. Perhaps on our next visit we’ll go up the towers on the Nativity Façade. Once we were done enjoying the view we made our way back down to the main church level. The elevator was only for the way up, so to head back down it was a long and narrow winding staircase with small landings every so often. There was always a window at the landings, so it was good to pause for a quick look and photo opportunity. Once back down to the main level we continued the audio guided tour. A word that came to mind so often as we toured is spectacular. The design of mostly stone has an organic presence. The massive stone columns supporting the vaulted roof and spires above give the appearance of tree trunks and branches. The use of natural light from the outside combined with the shapes of the interior surfaces add to the organic feel. And the colours shining through the beautiful stained glass windows looks amazing with cool colours on one side of the nave and warm colours on the other. If there is just one must-see thing in Barcelona then for us it would be Sagrada Família.

      Next on our agenda was a tour of the Sagrada Família Museum which gives some fascinating insights to the basilica and is well worth the visit in its own right. We finished off our touring at Sagrada Família with a look at the Sagrada Família Schools that were constructed in 1909 primarily for the children of the workers constructing Sagrada Família. Like any other place one visits the exit was through the gift shop, but this one was really quite something. We didn’t rush through it on our way out.

      We strolled from Sagrada Família in the general direction back towards the hotel, taking in some of the local shops. Rather than stop for lunch this day we found a café selling nice looking sandwiches that we bought and ate as we strolled through Barcelona. We made it back to the hotel for a quick pit stop and then set back out. This time we needed to grab a taxi to take us to our next destination of Fundació Joan Miró located in the Parc de Montjuïc.

      When we arrived we could see a small group of protestors standing outside the entrance. They were striking museum workers who informed us that only half of the museum would be open for viewing. Considering this was our last day in Barcelona we decided we’d go in anyway. We are pretty sure there was considerably more than half of the museum open to see. We did get to see an impressive collection of Miro’s works on display. Even if we didn’t see it all it was well worth the price of admission. We left the museum to walk through some of the park with some great views of Barcelona from this elevated position on Montjuïc. We could see below us not too far away what was once a bull ring that we did a quick internet search to find it is now a shopping mall. We decided to walk towards it. To get there we went past the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. We opted against going inside - perhaps for a future visit to Barcelona. The building and surrounding architecture were impressive all by themselves. Known as Palau Nacional, it was originally built as the main site for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition. Leading to the building are two wide exterior staircases with beautiful cascading fountain between them. Very picturesque.

      Drinks at The Serras

      Drinks on the rooftop terrace of The Serras

      We continued towards the Las Arenas de Barcelona as the sky started darken with the threat of rain for what up to then had been a beautiful day. The sense of what it was as a bull ring is really only visible from the outside. Once inside it looks like any other shopping mall. We didn’t linger inside too much. There is now a platform at the top of the structure that would give a 360° view but we opted not to try it this time considering the changing weather conditions. We grabbed another taxi to take us back to the hotel during a brief rainfall that cleared nicely by the time we reached The Serras.

      Having not had a proper lunch made it easy justification for more food and drinks on the rooftop terrace. Linda was very much enjoying a new to us spin on Sangria - called Tisana de Cava that is made, as the name suggests, with cava.

      For dinner we had a table booked for 9:00pm at Merendero de la Mari located at the Palau de Mar. We sat outside in their nice terrace area with lovely view of the harbour and part of the city as well. The dinner was excellent as was the service. It was our last meal for this trip and it felt special. A fabulous evening. We had only a short stroll back to the The Serras and we decided to put the final touch on the evening back on the rooftop terrace before retiring for the night. The end of a wonderful final full day in Barcelona.

  • Friday May 18, 2018

    Heading Home

    We woke early to prepare to leave The Serras and Barcelona. We figured we’d need to get a taxi by about 8:30am to make it to the airport in good time for our return flight home, so we didn’t have a lot of free time for this morning. When we arrived at that airport it was a quick process to check in and then we made what turned out to be a big mistake. There was a sign that we ignored indicating that the shopping and services for international travel was on the pre-security check side. Without taking in the meaning of that sign we went through security to find out that we had access to very little in advance of our flight home and once through security there was no going back. The sign we ignored might have said that, too. Considering we hadn’t had breakfast we were a bit miffed. We did eventually find a café close to our departure gate, so we were able to something.

    For the home flight we had booked it on Air Canada’s budget line Rouge to get the only direct flight home available. We had flown Rouge before so we were aware of the style and service. The only way we’d fly Rouge is with their top level service called Premium Rouge which is more or less a premium economy level service. The flight home was fine and we arrived in Toronto in the early afternoon. The process to deplane and get through passport control was one of the quickest we had experienced returning home. It wasn’t long before we had collected our luggage and made our way to the limo stand for the ride home. The end of what was a lovely vacation starting in Rome on May 3rd and finishing in Barcelona on May 18.

    Pretty sure not the last time for us in the Mediterranean.

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WHITEonline is the digital home of Gary & Linda White. We’ve been married since 1980 and live just outside Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Linda was born and raised in Toronto while Gary was born in London, England and moved to Canada at the age of 11. We enjoy travelling and taking photos while we travel. WHITEonline provides the opportunity to share some of our photos & experiences.

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