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Day #8: Barcelona, Spain

Like Rome, this was our 4th trip to Barcelona and more-or-less a repeat of our other one-day visits as a port of call. Could we have done something different? Sure. But, we’ve found this a nice way to revisit a city that we deeply enjoy.

We started by taking a taxi to Parq Guell. Unfortunately, no tickets were available for the day (despite arriving at 9am!). Oh well. From there we walked to Sagrada Familia. Guess what? No tickets available there either. Oh well. We’ve visited that before too.

We then walked to the Eixample where we viewed a number of the Modernista masterpieces.

We then spent the remainder of the morning and early afternoon exploring this area and the Gothic Quarter, which is quite evocative with its narrow alleys and warren-like feel.

We then crossed Las Ramblas to have lunch at Guell Tapas in El Raval. Here’s Libby enjoying a delicious cava (sparkling wine) sangria:

Lunch was equally good.

I think we could eat tapas every day for a month and remain happy perfectly happy.

We returned to the ship by 3:00 and had dinner in the ship’s Pan-Asian restaurant by Roy Yamaguchi. I had sushi, which was great. Emerson and Mom also seemed to enjoy their dinner, but Libby didn’t love her dishes (having tried them, I tended to agree they were kind of “meh” at best).

Day #7: Palma, Spain

With our scheduled arrival only in the afternoon, we spent a leisurely morning on aboard the ship. I worked on some presentations before returning to the Butcher’s Cut with Libby for brunch, which was both delicious and a great value relative to the cost of an evening meals there.

We returned to the cabin to find that they has delivered two chocolate ships models to us (another–slightly bizarre–perk of our status).

We docked in Mallorca and departed the ship around 1:30pm. It’s a bit of a walk along the waterfront from the cruise terminal to the historical city center, but it was a pleasant enough stroll. I especially enjoyed looking at the various boats and yachts, which always puts in the mood to buy one (not that that’s a good or wise thing).

Mallorca is surprisingly lovely. I say that for no particular reason. I mostly just thought of it as a holiday spot for Brits. Thus, we came with no real preconceived notions or expectations, which is usually a good setup to like a spot.

We visited Palma’s cathedral, the Royal Palace della Almundaina, the Palau March (which was something of an eclectic art museum with an especially alluring and elaborate nativity scene on display), and the Museu Fundación Juan March (which housed modern and contemporary paintings).

We then enjoyed a lovely dinner of Spanish tapas at one of the local restaurants, called Tast, in town. The food was excellent!

After dinner, we walked around Palma a little more to soak up the atmosphere and then took a taxi back to the ship (which cost only 6€ one way for all of us vs. 12€ per person round trip with the ship’s shuttle bus!).

Today’s box score: +1 country — Mallorca (Spain)

Day #6: Cannes, France

After a number of cloudy and rainy days in Rome, we awoke to a sun-kissed sky in the Cote d’ Azur.

Having been to this part of the world a few times, we didn’t feel especially rushed to take the first tender ashore (though we had priority tickets) nor did we feel the need to rush out of town to places like Nice or Monaco (been there, done that).

Nope, we decided to spend a leisurely day in Cannes itself, exploring the seaside town and enjoying a nice lunch.

The waterfront is swoon-worthy in terms of its beauty and its yachts.

Like this Azimut:

The location of its famous film festival is a bit less visually attractive:

The road along the beachfront is lined with luxury hotels and shops, as well as chic and expensive bars and restaurants overlooking the bay. I guess if you’re going to spend $35-40 to eat a hamburger this isn’t a bad spot in which to do it.

For our part, however, we found a nice wine bar that was a few blocks inland that was quite enjoyable for eating a a cheese and charcuterie plate washed down by a nice glass of a dry Provençal rose.

In the mid-afternoon, we walked up to the oldest part of town for sweeping views of the city and bay:

Back aboard ship, we enjoyed dinner at the Butcher’s Cut, which is Seaview’s speciality steak restaurant. Libby and I ate for free as one of our Voyager’s Club Black level membership benefits. The dining experience was otherwise $39/pp. for a three course meal with additional charges for various “upgrades” and/or the option to pay even more to order entirely a la carte.

Truthfully, speciality dining aboard ships had become increasingly expensive. While it’s often far superior to the included fare, I find it increasingly to be less good value for money. But, we can afford it and enjoy it… so c’est la vie, I suppose.

Day #5: Rome

Note: I’ve noticed the images and text of some of my prior posts are kind of, to used the technical term, “screwed up.” As I’m already behind by many days in my posts and am working off of only an iPhone — I’ll have to fix these issues later. Apologies to my loyal readers… all 3, maybe 4, of you. :-)

Today was our final (partial) day in Rome.

Since we only had the morning available and had already visited most of the major sights (and St. Peter’s was a non-starter for the morning due to the Pope’s audience), we opted to visit something a little less on the usual tourist path: Villa Farnesina.

It also had the advantage of being only about a 30 minute walk away along the banks of the Tiber. The villa is most well known for its frescoes, including those by Raphael.

Following our visit, we returned to the hotel, grabbed our luggage, and departed for Civitavecchia around 1:00pm. It’s a little over an hour from Rome go the port and costs about 150 euro (for a mini van sized transport; it’s a bit cheaper if you just need a sedan).

Our cruise is aboard MSC Seaview, which is an entirely new cruise line and ship for us.

First impression: all seemed fine, though a bit “unorthodox,” to us. The boarding process was efficient yet “quirky. ” What do I mean? It’s difficult to say exactly (as the ship is nice and new, the crew friendly, etc.), but MSC is just a “bit different” as a European/Italian cruise line compared to what we’re used to from their American competitors. For instance, children (with permission) are allowed to check themselves out of the kids’ club at a much younger age. Likewise, food selections and eating venue times seem to appeal more to European tastes. Drinks too are handled in a more European way (i.e., you’re more likely to be paying for coffee and water in dining venues).

One of the stranger aspects of this MSC cruise (which seems to be a feature of many of them) is that you can start/end your cruise from numerous ports. So, we started in Rome. But other folks will come and go in other ports, including Cannes, Barcelona, etc.

We’d only experienced something like this once before in Alaska, which could either be a 14 day round-trip or a 7 day northbound or southbound journey (as it was for us). This just makes for a different vibe on a cruise, as there’s no clear beginning or end as a collective.

We had dinner in the Main Dining Room on the first night. The food and service were fine to good: nothing especially memorable (good or bad).

Since MSC matched our elite status with other cruise lines, we’ve moved to their top-tier loyalty level (Black Card) immediately. This gave us a welcome aboard bottle of sparkling wine and chocolate-covered strawberries.

Our balcony cabin (#12104) is nice and new with some thoughtful touches, though I’d like more contrast between the furniture and the carpet and a bit more storage space.

Arguably the best part of this cruise is the itinerary, which features a port of call on every single day. That’s highly unusual and very efficient in terms of using vacation time for sightseeing well. Of course, it also means no real downtime either, which might be as much of a “bug” as a “feature” at the moment for me.

Day #4: Rome

This morning we had a 9:30 reservation at the Galleria Borghese, known first and foremost for its collection of Bernini sculptures and Caravaggio paintings. It was a relatively short walk from our hotel across the Tiber, though it involved hiking up the steps from the Piazza del Popolo.

The view is worth the effort:

You’re not allowed to take photos inside the Borghese. However, I couldn’t help myself from taking a couple of surreptitious snaps to remind me of a special exhibition they had on that interspersed the works of Lucio Fontana with their permanent collection.

This gives something of sense:

The exhibition really appealed to me for two reasons. First, I’ve always like the juxtaposition of modern / minimalist / contemporary art in traditional settings and vice versa. Second, I’m an admirer of Fontana (who’s “slashed” canvases are most familiar to me) — thus it was great to see a wider range of his oeuvre.

After the Borghese, we decided to stroll along Ancient Rome, which meant heading for the Coliseum with stops at a couple of churches along the way.

First, more Bernini at Santa Marie della Vitoria…

Next, a visit to the Basilica Papale Santa Maria Maggiore…

Then to the Coliseum…

A walk along the Forum…

And, a view of the Capitoline Museum.

I then found a little place for a late lunch a few blocks from the Piazza Navona, which had delicious pizza and pasta.

After lunch, we headed back to the hotel as I had a few late afternoon conference calls to take and emails to write for work, which is something I try to avoid when traveling but haven’t been able to on this trip.

For dinner (which starts between 7:00 and 8:00 at most restaurants in Rome), we went to a Japanese sushi and noodle place that was excellent (when I’m Rome, I guess?!?).

My sushi:

After this, we went to the local pastry shop for some cannoli and other delights.

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