May 4 and 5: Rome and Barcelona

Rome

This was Cunard organisation at its slickest. We entered the Theatre to wait for the call for the coach to Rome at 8.15 and at 8.25 we were on the bus. We were on Rome On Your Own and after a journey of about an hour and a half we were dropped off, very conveniently, next to the Coliseum, and with six and a half hours to ourselves.

We walked for miles. But first we found a cafe far enough away from the Coliseum so as to be half affordable. But even then we paid as much for coffee and pastries (19 Euros) as we’ve paid elsewhere for full meals. Then, using the wonder that is Google Maps, and now using data exactly as if we were at home and without additional charge, we meandered along.

We found the Trevi Fountain first. We first saw it in 1974 when I was just nineteen, we had been going out for just a few months, and I was armed with the technology gadget of the year, a Kodak Instamatic Camera. All that had changed was that the advent of digital cameras and irritating selfie sticks meant that there was a lot more posing for photos with selfies particularly preponderant. Getting these snaps without a hundred heads intruding was quite a triumph:

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We walked next to a wet and grey Spanish Steps:

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As the rain became heavier, we dodged into MacDonald’s for a while to escape the worst. When we left, by now in rain gear, Jan found a pretty and inexpensive handbag as we wandered toward Piazza Novona. I had a recommendation for lunch from The Rough Guide and we intended to find the anonymous side street on which it was situated. But in the event, we did the touristy thing, and ate in Piazza Novona, on a covered terrace. The food was mediocre and of course expensive. But the sun came out as we ate, watching the theatre of the Piazza. It was a brilliant break: the best thing we could have done.

After lunch, and with Jan staggering somewhat having ordered a trio of desserts, and having been presented not with three mini desserts, but three pretty much full sized portions, we meandered on to Campo Fiori. We got there later than planned and the flower, vegetable and food stalls were beginning to pack up their produce. But it was still beautiful and lively. After that we had to race back to the Coliseum to find our coach amongst the hundreds parked there.

A great day.

Barcelona

We’ve been lucky enough to visit Barcelona a few times, most memorably on our daughter’s first birthday and on a day trip from Salou where our family spent our first foreign holiday in 1985. We’ve been a further time or two since, and so we decided, for a change, to take an early morning, half day, excursion to the Monastery in the mountains at Montserrat, where the famous Black Madonna is revered each year by millions of pilgrims.

We had breakfast in our room, the first time we’ve done that for some weeks, before going to the Theatre to be shepherded onto our tour bus. We hate the shepherding and hanging around inherent in excursions, which is why we do so few. This reminded us why – we think – that’s the sensible thing to do. First we’re escorted off the ship – not being trusted simply to leave the ship and find coach 14, which was our vehicle for the morning. On the coach we’re given maps and counted over and over again until it’s established that we have the right number and we’re driven to Montserrat, suffering the most banal commentary including “Coming up on the right is my favourite shop, Primark.”

On arrival we leave the bus and then stand around while the guide gets our entry tickets, finds replacement maps for those who’ve already lost theirs, and carries on with an introduction to Montserrat apparently designed for toddlers. We make painfully slow process and spend much of our time standing and waiting on what is a cold and grey morning on the mountain. We detach ourselves from the group and do our own thing. It’s only because we do that we are able to see the Black Madonna, the queue for which is about twenty minutes long when we join it, but an hour or so long by the time the rest of the group get to it.

Thankfully. Montserrat was beautiful, even on a cold, misty and grey morning. It’s perched, almost impossibly, on the side of a mountain and with glorious views below:

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And the Black Madonna is indeed beautiful:

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As is the Monks’ Basilica:

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We were back at the ship for about two-thirty and left immediately for a walk down Las Ramblas. For the first time in 4 months I was dressed in trousers and wearing a jacket.

Las Ramblas was a bit of a disappointment. There were many fewer flower stalls than we remembered from previous visits and no caged bird stalls at all. Instead, stall after stall sold the same tiresome tourist tat (and I generally like a bit of tourist tat). Even lunch was a letdown. As the rain increased once again we dashed into a lovely looking Tapas Restaurant. But we did so along with about a hundred others and the place was soon cramped and damp. And the tapas, all beautifully presented, were mediocre.

Back at the ship I watched some Premier League Football (Everton v Southampton) before a pleasant dinner with our four regular table companions (two having become irregular attendees) before watching Die Hard on the cabin TV.

 

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martinandjansjourney

62 year old male on the edge of retirement and giving that a trial with a four month break. Not our first Cruise, but certainly our first and only World Cruise.

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