Cruising Part II – {Barcelona, Marseille, Avignon}

Sleeping in felt like heaven.  We were so glad to have a relaxing day ahead on the ship. After the breakfast buffet, the boys jumped in the pool and had a great time swimming and goofing around. The wind picked up and it got a little breezy so they warmed up in the hot tubs.

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Cade and Tyler rode the Flo Rider again with Lynn while I took the little boys to the 3-D movie theatre.

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After lunch we played a little competitive round of miniature golf and spent the rest of the day lounging around.

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We ate in the dining room again since the food was much better than the buffet.  Thankfully they were great about not making it last too long since we wanted to check out the variety show.

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A world record holder for balancing stacked crystal glasses amazed us, especially since he was performing on a moving ship.

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Sprinkles, the cupcake shop, was our late night treat.

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Another beautiful sunset and we were done for the day.  The boys were surprised to find towel animals in their room.

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Day 4: Barcelona, Spain

I’ll admit, I had high expectations for this day since I’ve heard so many rave reviews about Barcelona.  We had opted not to do a formal tour since Lynn had been before and we were pretty sure we knew what we wanted to see and could navigate the area.

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We should have known things weren’t going to go smoothly from the start.  They wouldn’t let us off the ship until after 9:30 am since it was a transfer day for most the people on board.  We were one of the few families that boarded in Rome.  Long story short, the lines at the port to get a cab were a mile long with everyone trying to get to the airport.  We couldn’t get our group out of the port until we wasted enough time to desperately jump on a random city bus not knowing where it would take us.  Thankfully we were dropped in the city center and took some time to wander down the streets while trying to flag down a cab large enough to fit six people.  We love admiring the different style and architecture of each place we visit–it’s all so unique to each region.

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The city was extremely busy and finding a taxi was a challenge.  Finding one large enough to fit us all was impossible.  We finally gave up after wasting so much time and got two cabs to take us to the Sagrada Familia. This was the one sight I absolutely had to see while here.

Under construction for the past 132 years, this grand Roman Catholic church is unbelievable.  Gaudi was commissioned as the architect and his unique Gothic style only completed about one-fourth of the project.  Since then, many architects have continued with the project and you can see the different styles as you walk around the massive church. I couldn’t wait to go inside, so we joined the lengthy line of tourists wrapped around the building (cursing myself for not getting tickets online), but willing to wait it out as long as it took.  Just as we were nearing the entrance we were informed that they had sold out for the day.  What?  It wasn’t even noon!  Being a Sunday, they had to close early for a special event.  I couldn’t believe it.  I did my best to get tickets, but there was no use.  So completely frustrating.  Looks like I’ll just have to come back again.  They’re estimating it will be finished in 2026.

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We got two cabs again and decided to head down to the beachfront.  Something crazy was going on that afternoon because the traffic was ridiculous and our taxis got lost trying to take side roads.  It was rough.  We finally made it to the beach and just walked along the sand trying to make a new game plan.  The beach was packed with people.  We noticed a few too many topless sunbathers and decided it was time for lunch.

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Wanting a true Spanish lunch, we found a little restaurant that served seafood paella.  The kids weren’t big fans, but they did enjoy the gelato afterwards.  It’s been interesting to see the different ways they serve it in Europe.   IMG_0187   IMG_0188   

We spent the rest of our time strolling down the beautiful, tropical boulevard and shopping for souvenirs in the little outdoor markets.

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Back on the boat earlier than normal, we watched the Madagascar welcome party for all the new guests that joined the ship.

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Our favorite part of each day is around the dining table–reminiscing and sharing our favorite parts of the day, laughing and trying new foods (except for Nathan who eats the same meal every night here).

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As if they haven’t had enough ice cream all day.  Don’t worry, they can’t finish it all!

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The little boys claimed their favorite part of the entire cruise was staying up til midnight to watch the Lego movie on the outdoor big screen while sitting in the hot tub in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.

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Day 5: Marseilles, France

With the debacle in Barcelona, we opted for a new strategy for the day.  The little boys weren’t too excited to sight see again, and we didn’t have a tour lined up and worried about fitting in a cab.  So they were thrilled to stay back on the ship in the kid’s club while we took the older boys out for the day.  I had a list of all the places I wanted to see, so we took our chances and found a cab driver willing to drive us around for the day.  He spoke about as much English as we spoke French, but we somehow were able to communicate.  Thankfully he had a book of Marseille sights and we pointed while he drove.

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Avignon

Our first excursion was out to Avignon, which took about an hour.  I was hopeful it would be worth the long drive and it ended up being one of our unexpected favorite places. The lovely Pont d’Avignon bridge was the first thing we saw when we arrived.  Built in 1177, this medieval bridge once connected the Pope’s territory to France and was the inspiration for the nursery rhyme “Sur le Pont d’Avignon” (On the Bridge of Avignon).

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There is so much history here with the earliest settlers dating back 5,000 years.  The entire city is enclosed by many different enormous, ancient stone walls–even from the 1st century.  Here’s Lynn right outside the city wall’s entrance.

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The Palace of the Popes, a 14th Century Gothic palace has quite a story.  During the 14th century, Pope Clement wanted to leave Rome and eventually chose Avignon as his permanent residence.  Avignon’s popularity and population multiplied to 40,000 people and became one of the largest cities in Europe at the time.  Over the next 100 years, many Popes resided here until the Great Schism which divided much of Europe to choose between the Roman or Avignon Pope.

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The setting was complete with the most beautiful music played by a street performer.  We would have loved to spend more time wandering throughout the village, but time was ticking and we had to move on.

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Provence

Next up was wandering the charming streets of Provence.  We stopped for a quick snack of quiche and salad and made a loop around the main city area.

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Marseille

Circling back to Marseille, which is France’s second largest city, we found a tiny little bakery across the street from the incredible Longchamps Palace. Longchamps Palace was absolutely stunning!  I love the symmetrical, perfectly manicured grounds, sweeping staircases, sculptures and fountains.  Built as a celebration of the Canal de Marseille in 1839, it took over 30 years to complete and once housed French Royalty when they visited Marseille.  It now consists of museums and parks and remnants of the zoo that once existed.

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The Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde was our next stop.  It is THE symbol of Marseille.  Built on the city’s highest point, it is known as the Lady of the Guard, protecting the city.  Partially a lighthouse, a fortress, and sacred church, it can be seen all throughout the city.  This year marks the 800 year anniversary of the first church built in this spot that once served as a lookout for Romans.  In the 16th century, a fort was constructed here to further protect the city – now the foundation for the church.

I love the unique contrasting stone colors, similar to those we saw in Florence.   Bullet marks and shrapnel scars are still visible on the northern parts of the church from the intense Battle of Liberation in August 1944 as well as the remains of a tank that was struck halfway up the hill.

August 15th, Assumption Day, marks the annual pilgrimage that still takes place here.

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The upper interior has the most ornate, decorative designs, intricate  tile work and art with an abundance of gold leaf.  Most interesting to see is the maritime story telling of its history with little boats hanging from the ceiling and a lot of nautical art throughout the church.

 

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Atop the  bell tower stands a 30-foot tall gilded Virgin Mary, admired by locals as “the good mother” who continues to protect their city.

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The 360 degree views of Marseille were amazing from this vantage point.

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In the distance, we saw the island of Chateaux d’If, once a prison and the setting for the famous book The Count of Monte Cristo.  If we had more time, we would have taken the boat tour out to it, something the boys would have loved I’m sure.

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Feeling guilty to have left the little boys on board, we rushed back expecting them to be ready to join us, but they both said, “We’re not ready to leave–come back in a couple hours!”  With face paint, crafts and tales of fun games and ice cream–they had more fun there than they would have with us.

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Jace wasn’t happy about washing off his super hero face for dinner.  We ended the night with a pretty good magician’s act and geared up for more adventures in the morning.

 

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