Day 3 on the Costa Del Sol...

First off Happy Halloween from Spain and ahoy from the Costa Del Sol and the middle of Day #3 of our transatlantic voyage.  Everything, so far, has been exceptional.  Royal Caribbean has treated us as royalty-  from our generous state room to great activities, sumptuous dining, interesting port lectures and truly stellar performances.  It has already been incredible and it's only our third day (eleven more to go).

We have met some very delightful fellow travelers as well.  Most are very experienced cruisers.  One outgoing seatmate, Marie, told us that this is her 54th sailing and her enthusiasm was infectious.

Yesterday, we began the day with a long walk, a trip to the gym for a 'documenting' step on the scale (a "before" to know what affect two weeks at sea will have on us) and then we disembarked.  We wandered about in Cartagena- a deep natural harbor and strategic spot on the Mediterranean, home of the Spanish Navy and a whole lot of history.  We were delighted with its walled city center and its beautiful, as well as historically significant, architecture. 

Evening was a reception with the Captain, great photo opportunities, dancing and "The Supreme Divas of Motown."  Nothing disappointed! 

Today, we walked a few miles along the Costa Del Sol before strolling the beautiful streets of Malaga, birthplace of Picasso and one of the last of the Moorish cities to fall to the Catholic Monarchs.  The Moors left behind several beautiful fortresses, palaces and mosques while the Spaniards graced the city with baroque churches, plazas and a bustling harbor.  Sunny blue skies greeted us with the warmest of ocean breezes.

Tonight we will dress for Halloween and if we can stay up late enough, we'll go to a Halloween Party.  There is far too much to do but we are doing all that calls to us.  We will post blog entries as often as possible.  With internet costing $.58 per minute and having a slow connection, our interaction will be limited.  Just know that we are enjoying it all and are truly happy cruisers.

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We've set sail...

Later this afternoon we will leave Barcelona for home on a 14-night Transatlantic cruise from Spain to Florida. We set sail on the Liberty of the Seas with several stops in Spain along the way:  Cartegena, Malaga, Cadiz then on to the Canary Islands with stops in Tenerife and Santa Cruz before finally landing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Nov. 12th.

I have never been on a ship for longer than a week.  This should be exhilarating, if not a little unnerving, after not seeing land for several days. 

Please wish us "fair winds and following seas".

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Big heads...museums...amazing fountains!

We began our day with Adrian in the Gothic Quarter, the center of the old city of Barcelona. Despite several changes undergone in the 19th and early 20th century, many of the buildings here date from Medieval times. The Barri Gòtic retains a labyrinthine street plan, with many small streets opening out into squares.

We came here to see a shop I had read about in the airline magazine- El Ingenio.  Rumor has it that El Ingenio was Salvador Dalí's favorite store and after a quick peek inside, that sounds about right. As you enter the antique storefront, we were transported to a circus of color and magic. Since 1830 this small workshop has been dedicated to paper-mâché sculpting.  It has been a classic for costumes, puppets, carnival masks and gadgets for all ages. The gigantic paper-mâché heads are the stars of local fiestas and parades.

We then went to CaixaForum Barcelona Social and Cultural Center for their exhibit on the Ballets Russes (1909-1929), created by Diaghilev (1872- 1929) dictator, devil, charlatan, sorcerer, charmer was a man whose unique character and driving ambition caused a ferment in European culture. His greatest achievement was his dance company. Created a century ago, the productions of the Ballets Russes revolutionized early 20th-century arts and continue to influence cultural activity today.  This exhibit was amazing with costumes, illustrations, programs, film footage and in-depth history. 

After a day of many miles of walking we concluded our touring at the magic fountain of Montjuïc (first performed in 1929 during the Great Universal Exhibition). The magic fountain is a spectacular display of color, light, motion, music and water acrobatics - if you mix all these elements together in just the right combinations, you end up with pure magic!  This "show" is on most top ten of "must sees" in Barcelona.  Adrian has been here for almost a month and this was his first time seeing it.  Truly magical.

We then returned to our hotel for a bottle of Umbrian wine we had brought from Spoleto.  It was the perfect way to end our visit and say "see you soon" to Adrian.  Tomorrow we board our ship to head home.  What an adventure!

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Our day in Barcelona...

Yesterday was one of blue skies and warm sunshine. What a difference a day makes... the blustery rain did not stop us from meeting Adrian for lunch and then strolls around town (we met him in Spoleto but he's from home  He is here studying viola under an exceptional maestro and we all planned to connect again when we returned to Barcelona.

The unique structure standing very erect between us is a recent addition to the Barcelona skyline- the Torre Agbar.  It was built in 2004 and is 474 ft high with 4400 windows. It was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel,  The tower has 33 floors of offices and is called Agbar Tower, because it was built to consolidate the offices of the
Agbar company, who occupy the top half of the building.

The architecture here continues to impress us.  One of our favorite architects is someone we just "met". 
Enric Sagnier i Villavecchia (1858-1931) is one of the most outstanding Catalan architects from the late 19th and early 20th century. His work is the reflection of a period of great transformations, the result of the enterprising spirit of the bourgeoisie.

All through town we see his work and those of many others.  It is a treasure hunt and we keep finding riches.

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Our groovy Gaudí day in Barcelona...
Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (25 June 1852–10 June 1926) was a Spanish Catalan architect and the figurehead of Catalan Modernism. Gaudí's works, which reflect his highly individual and distinctive style, are largely concentrated in Barcelona and today we went to learn more about him.
Our first stop was Casa Batlló.  From the outside the façade of Casa Batlló looks like it has been made from skulls and bones. The "Skulls" are in fact balconies and the "bones" are supporting pillars. Gaudí used colors and shapes found in marine life as inspiration for his creativity in this building with the colors chosen for the façade being those found in natural coral.  We were impressed from the beginning.  We had no idea of this man's talent. 
La Pedrera (Casa Mila)  is a masterpiece of architecture by Gaudi. Its wavy brick work look like cliff walls and are made from limestone. The building undulates with curves and concave with dark iron balconies. The roof is spectacular and its chimneys have been dubbed the "witch scarers"  (we found them to be rather phallic as the photo of the chimney Salt & Pepper Shakers, available in the gift shop for 32, show).
This monumental church, la Sagrada Família, it is Gaudí's most exemplary work and the most famous. It is as symbolic of Barcelona as the Eiffel tower is to Paris. Gaudí started work on it in 1883 after replacing another architect and dedicated his life to it to the point of actually taking up residence on-site. He was obsessed with this project, planning three exquisitely ornate façades devoted to the Nativity, Passion and Glory. Each was to be crowned by four towers. When asked why he fussed so much about the tower tops Gaudí replied, "the angels will see them". Sadly he never lived to finish it. On June 7 1926 Gaudí was hit by a car. He died three days later at the age of 74. As you can see, the church is still being constructed.
The park was originally part of a commercially unsuccessful housing site, the idea of Count Eusebi Güell, whom the park was named after. It was inspired by the English garden city movement; hence the original English name Park. The City bought the property in 1922 and converted it to a municipal park. It was Gaudí who had the responsibility of designing the park and he chose to develop it as a network of twisty roads following the contours of the rocky hill on which it was to be developed. The entire park gives of an ambiance of Disneyesque proportions with its mosaics, bird nests in the terrace walls, roadways that resemble pine trees and colonnades.  We found it absolutely whimsical and the perfect way to spend the day.
If ever there was a city that could put a smile on a traveler's face, Barcelona has to be it. Anyone that has seen its magnificent beach, open parklands, amazing sculptures on street corners and spectacular Gaudí architecture would be hard pushed to imagine the city as it once was before the 1992 Olympics - a wasteland with high rises and derelict blocks. You don't need to spend your time at museums in Barcelona, because the city itself, beautifully designed, very colorful and even eccentric, is the main attraction.  We are delighted we get to spend a few days here to explore it all.

Ryan Air...rules regulate the fun!

We are back in Barcelona after a day of travel.  We had a very positive experience with Ryan Air.  It is a very interesting airline with many rules and regulations, all of which are clearly defined when we purchased our tickets.  We found ourselves defending this low cost company most of the time we were in Ireland.  For Steve and me to fly to Ireland, round trip from Barcelona, was only 127€ total.  How can anyone complain for that great of a deal?

The biggest argument was regarding the luggage allowance and their surprise when the rules were enforced at the boarding gate:

Strictly one item of cabin baggage per passenger (excluding infants) weighing up to 10kg with maximum dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm is permitted. (handbag, briefcase, laptop, shop purchases, camera etc.) must be carried in your 1 permitted piece of cabin baggage. Extra/oversized cabin baggage will be refused at the boarding gate, or where available, placed in the hold of the aircraft for a fee of £40/€40. If you are unsure, check at the Bag Drop desk before going through security.

It was a great flight but now it's late and we're beat.  Tomorrow we will embark on a thorough explore of this amazing city.

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Goodbye Ireland...

Our time here has come to an end.  We came to Ireland with an extra suitcase of clothes to get us through our three weeks here.  It was our intention to donate them when the trip ended.  Today we had to pick from a dozen worthy charities to receive our hand-me-downs (This is a country of many charity thrift stores.  I wish I could shop).  In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I chose the pink bin!  What a great country.

When planning this trip, we thought 20 days would allow us to see it all.  Even though we traversed over 3,000 km of Irish countryside, there is so much ALL here still to see.  We have definitely left enough for a thorough return trip.

Tomorrow we return to Barcelona for four nights.  The adventure continues in yet another language.

In Irish blessing:
May brooks and trees and singing hills
Join in the chorus too,
And every gentle wind that blows
Send happiness to you.

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Our last full day in Ireland...
We spent our last three nights here, in Athlone with the great innkeepers, Brian and Mary at Cornamaugh House.   It is like being in a wonderful Irish family.  The O'Haerrs have been very happy here.
The Royal Canal is a canal originally built for freight and passenger transportation from Dublin to the River Shannon at Cloondara where we stopped to see this beautiful stone carved harbor.  Work commenced in 1790 and lasted 27 years before finally reaching the Shannon in 1817. The total length of the main navigation is 90 mi, and the system has 46 locks.  What a scenic and functional waterway that we followed for miles.
Roscommon Castle was built in 1269 by orders of Henry VIII. In 1641 the Parliamentarian faction gained it until Confederate Catholics under Preston captured it in 1645. It remained in Irish hands until 1652 when it was partially blown up by Cromwellian "Ironsides" who had all the fortifications dismantled. It was finally burned down in 1690 and thus it gradually fell into decay.  Located in a scenic park, right in the middle of town, it was a wonderful way to explore history first hand.  Wild.
We ended the day with some amazing "locals" in Sean's Pub having a pint and hearing some great stories.  It was the perfect way to end our Irish adventure.  We have loved this country.  The people are welcoming and warm.  The history is incredibly intense and interesting.  The food was total comfort and delicious.  We are so happy we made the decision to experience the Emerald Isle.

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