Guest Post by Anita Finlay
This is the first of Anita Finlay’s articles about her Mediterranean cruise.
Cruising the Mediterranean — The story begins in beautiful Barcelona!
Bleary eyed after a twenty-hour journey from Los Angeles, we retrieved our suitcases from Barcelona airport’s carousel and aimed ourselves at the nearest cash machine to stock up on euros. Armed with travel tips gleaned from Rick Steves’ Mediterranean Cruise Ports, my hubby, our friend, and I opted to haul our cruise wear onto a shuttle bus into the city, avoiding an expensive cab ride. We stood all the way and held on for dear life — not unlike bull riding in a bumper car.
Arriving at the famous Plaça de Catalunya early Sunday morning, we corralled our luggage, trying to figure out where the heck our hotel was. Like us, many other visitors were wheeling their bags through the streets. Unlike us, they seemed to know where they were going.
As usual, my husband and I fell into our vacation backwards. Eight months of anticipating a luxurious Mediterranean cruise did not involve any prep that was useful on our part – like learning conversational Spanish! Our friend, on the other hand, was a better and far more experienced traveler. But even with her colorful street map, we were confused. I thought I’d better pick up my slack so I told them to hang with the luggage while I foraged for our hotel without our large spinner suitcases in tow. Thinking my swell sense of direction couldn’t work in a strange country, I nonetheless headed in what seemed a logical direction, then made a less logical right turn. Two blocks and many questions of shop owners later, I found myself in front of the NH Calderón Hotel.
Victorious, I raced back, praying that when we went to ask after our rooms, the hotel clerk would take pity on weary travelers arriving six hours in advance of check-in and give us our keys anyway. She did. For a reasonable price, you got a smallish but modern, utilitarian room with a view and a fabulous breakfast. “But you cannot get the free breakfast today. Only tomorrow…with the room,” she said.
I laughed. “We’re not greedy.” We thanked her in English and used the catch-all (and one of our only Spanish words) — Hola!
I hated to admit that I first felt like a fish out of water. We couldn’t even figure out how to get the lights to work in our room. Desperate, I used my smartphone as a flashlight to find my way to the toilet. I then had to return to the lobby and bother the clerk to “turn on the electricity.” She looked at me like I was daffy. Then she told me to insert our key card into a wall slot by the light fixture to get the power to come on – a smart energy saving feature now commonplace in Europe, apparently.
“Thanks,” I said. Oh, and … “Hola!”
Grousing all the way back to the hotel room, I felt like the accidental tourist, and a pissy one at that. We were not off to a great start. I forced myself to remember what we were there to do. Relax. Learn something new. Discover a people and culture we did not know. Stop expecting this to feel like home and make it home – at least for a little while.
Unfamiliar amenities notwithstanding, we were grateful to be allowed to park ourselves early and everything felt better after a hot shower.
Freshly scrubbed, we met up with our pal and headed for Barcelona Cathedral to watch the noon time patriotic Sardana dances, where hundreds of locals formed circles in the large square, jumping and dancing almost in slow motion to live music in front of the stately church. We photographed the inside of the stunning cathedral and its majestic statues and sculptures, not to mention swans grooming themselves in the colonnade.
Then, making our way through romantic and picturesque side streets of Barcelona to La Plaça Reial in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, we had lunch at a place called La Crema Canela. Eat there. That’s all I can say.
We ordered tapas family style and picked at each other’s plates. I had pesto risotto (risotto cremoso de pesto con queso cheddar) garnished with sun dried tomatoes and white cheddar along with the house white wine. This was the most piquant and richest bowl of comfort food I have had in ages. We fought over the last bite.
The rest of the city was likewise sumptuous and charming with its winding, narrow streets and old world architecture. We wanted to make the most of our day and a half in Barcelona before boarding the Celebrity Equinox for our cruise but got caught in an afternoon rain shower and hurried up the Ramblas back to our hotel. Yes, we actually walked in the rain in Spain.
Napping away our jet lag, we didn’t head back out until almost 8 pm, where the sun was still bright in the sky. Bathing in “golden hour,” we went in search of another of Mr. Steves guidebook recommendations – a snack of churros in hot chocolate – cheap, decadent and not to be missed. After walking the Ramblas all the way to the Waterfront and back again, we took in the beautiful port and, along with throngs of tourists and locals, enjoyed the “human statues” that speckled our walk. Don Quixote was our favorite. His glowing cloth costume had his “horse” attached to him and when you graced his bucket with a coin, he and his steed would rear up suddenly, scaring all onlookers. He was quite the show.
When it was finally dark at 10 pm, we sat at a sidewalk café for some paella and sangria, chatting with the friendly staff and watching the world go by.
We made our way back to the La Plaça Reial, a gorgeous esplanade with high ceilinged apartments and French doors nestled atop restaurants and cafes that spilled out onto the plaza where only pedestrians were allowed. While my husband and our friend busied themselves with their cameras, taking pictures of every lovely angle of the place, I wandered around the quad, tearful and joyous. Breathing in the warm night air, I slowed down enough to realize I was halfway around the world and at the beginning of a fabulous adventure. The giant palm trees swaying in the plaza offered a touch of the familiar. It finally sunk in that we were on vacation.
By midnight we figured we’d better aim toward our hotel. The bed in our room was like sleeping on a soft brick, but my husband and I were so exhausted, we ignored it.
The next morning, after a generous breakfast at the hotel, we made our way to La Boqueria, an open air market where shop owners displayed fruit and local delicacies so artfully, we planned to make a calendar of the pictures we took of their colorful wares.
Their pride of presentation made every teacake a work of art. The first chocolatier we came to offered interesting goodies the likes of which we had never seen. We bought a few treats for the ship!
It sounds like all we did was eat. I can assure you we did not gain an ounce in Barcelona, or during the entire cruise for that matter. Every port we visited, there was not one hill we did not climb, no nook or cranny we did not investigate.
Late into the morning, we forced ourselves to leave the Ramblas and head back to our hotel. Checkout took all of three seconds. We stuffed ourselves and way too much baggage into the world’s tiniest taxicab. Picture twelve clowns getting out of the miniature car at the circus and you’ve got the idea. It was our only cab in a two week vacation. Our cabbie was a delight and no matter how limited his English, with a few well-chosen words, he was able to give us his views on a great many things, political and social.
No sooner did he drop us in front of our ship than the staff of the Equinox whisked our luggage away. In less than 30 minutes, we were checked in and aboard, sitting in a beautiful atrium with champagne, toasting the journey to come.
Look for more about Anita’s Mediterranean cruise coming soon on TWS!
Part Two: History Amidst the Bustle of Italy
Part Three: Mykonos and Santorini — Enchanting Greece
Photos courtesy David Givens and Shelby Heard.
About the author:
Anita Finlay is the author of the Amazon bestseller Dirty Words on Clean Skin in which she shares the nasty truth of contemporary misogyny and tells it like it is for women aspiring to power. Anita is a frequent commentator to the top syndicated Jerry Doyle Show, ARNN, Epic Times and The New Agenda. She has also frequently been named editors’ pick on BlogHer.
I loved reading this. It reminds me that it’s always a good thing to learn bit of the language. It’s nice of them to let you check in early. Enjoy the cruise!
Thanks, Salika Jay, the cruise was amazing and we were so grateful for the hospitality and kindness of the people we met in the five countries on our itinerary. I look forward to sharing more of that experience with you in the coming weeks.
Grrr I will never take that airport bus again! I did that last time I was in Barcelona and it was dreadful….and I stood all the way too. It was Fall, but there was an unexpected heatwave and I was so bad tempered by the time I arrived at the airport I was spitting feathers! Haven’t taken a cab for a while but didn’t find them too bad on past experience though.
There is sooo much more to see in Barcelona! You need to go back!!!
Yes, I know Linda. This was the prequel to our cruise. Hope to go back someday soon for a longer stay!
I really like your post. It brought back memories of Sweeney’s and my short stay in Barcelona which seems like a long time ago though it was less than a year. I had a number of chuckles on your excellent descriptions of common travel “stuff that happens”. With all the travel we’ve done since Spain, my memory is less clear than I remember. We liked the Gaudi buildings and especially the “block of discord” with the 3 adjacent buildings exhibiting clashing styles of the architects. We also liked the Gaudi pavers and the city’s embracing style. The Context Travel Tour we took exploring style in Barcelona was really helpful. The “leaving no stone unturned” is similar to many of our experiences. We just got back from 3 weeks in Italy and didn’t gain weight though I ate minimally double what I might eat at home.
Hi Mr. TWS! Thanks so much for your comment. We learned a bucketful on this trip and as wonderful as our adventure was, it grows even sweeter in hindsight. I am so proud of us for treking through on foot, as it were, rather than bus touring around!
Totally enjoyed your day and a half in Barcelona. We leave for our Spain/Italy vacation Thursday and will be in Barcelona for a few days. Thought I knew it all but didn’t know about the dancing in front of the Cathedral at noon. Laughed at your room light experience only because I did that too. One time I couldn’t for anything turn the bathtub or shower on, fortunately Allan could.
Love the photos and your story. Looking forward to more!!
Elaine!! How wonderful that you are going! Can’t wait to share Italy stories with you! Bon voyage!
Anita: also wanted to mention that Rick Steves is always with me when I travel. One time I met him in person and told him that he has been traveling with me for decades. He said that we went way back!! I made a comment on his first radio show several years ago. Obviously, I am a Rick Steve’s groupie! He has never let me down!
Take care. Elaine
Yes, he really does get THAT specific and was really helpful to us. Highly recommended. His guides are great — just bring your magnifying glass!
Travel isn’t always glamorous and it sounds like you were reminded of that. But the amazing experiences far outweigh the stuff that happens along the way. I like how you said to stop thinking it would feel like home.
Thanks, Jennifer. As soon as we ate at La Creme Canela that first afternoon, I just surrendered to the experience. These two weeks were something I will always remember — can’t wait to share more with all of you.
Great article 🙂
Thanks so much, Muza-chan!
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I’ve got married in Barcelona. Everytime I read about this great city, it transports me back to that wonderful moment in my life. Thanks.
Congratulations, Laura! So glad this brought back great memories for you.
Reading your post took me back to Barcelona where I spent a semester learning Spanish. As a matter of fact, I just wrote a post about it so my memories are fresh in my mind. I ache to return and see it again now that so many years have passed.
I prefer to take a taxi or airport limo precisely because I hate having to lug suitcases, and like a little luxury when I can. But the last time in the UK, my sister talked me into taking the train to Paddington Station. Great ride but she didn’t tell me about all the stairs I had to climb – during morning rush. Luckily, I had a smallish suitcase. Even so, I was exhausted by the time I caught up with her.
Marcia, Europe seems to be built for fit people — if we had to climb that many stairs in America, people would protest! lol…I actually loved all the exercise, so that we could eat our way through the Mediterranean and not gain a pound! Glad this brought back good memories. I look forward to going back to Barcelona and spending more time getting to know the city. This was a nice introduction.
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