Monday, March 19, 2012

Traveler Al's "Almost a Last Hurrah" Voyages - Barcelona

Anonio Gaudi's - Sagrada Familia Cathedral
End of a Voyage, Start of a New Voyage

The Constellation took one more sea day to reach the end of my Voyage to the Holy Land.

The stateroom stewards passed out complete instructions for disembarkation early in the day.  I took the next few hours repacking and preparing my luggage for the move from one cabin to another cabin for the next voyage – the Trans-Atlantic Crossing. 

I also took the time to set up my gratuities for extra services received by the excellent staff of the Constellation.  Most cruise lines now collect $10 to $12 per day for the bulk of the gratuities to staff.  I like to give extra for the people who help me personally – I gave $30 for the two stateroom attendants, $5 to the sommelier in the main dining room who always had a glass of diet cola with ice waiting by my place at the dinner table, $5 to the dining room maĆ®tre di, $10 for Benito the assistant dinner waiter and $20 for Elston the main waiter for our table.  I passed out those extra gratuities that evening.
The ship’s crew work hard – usually 12 to 14 hour days, sometimes in split shifts, 7 days a week with just a few hours off in ports. They work on 5 to 6 month contracts and then receive their air fare home for 6 week to two month breaks before returning for another contract period.  Middle class passengers, such as me, are the beneficiaries of their hard work – otherwise taking a cruise would be only available for the ultra wealthy.

At least one passenger from each family or group was asked to attend a general disembarking briefing in the ship’s large theater.  At that briefing full details were given about what to expect the following day during the disembarking procedures, going through immigration and customs and so forth. 

I would be a “back to back cruiser” – a passenger not disembarking in Barcelona, but staying for the next voyage of the ship.

Disembarking passengers received color coded and numbered luggage tags.  The colors and the numbers were based on the passenger’s ongoing transportation arrangements.  Those passengers who had air flights departing before Noon were the very first passengers to be disembarked.  Their luggage would also be sorted out below decks to be in the first carts of luggage that would be taken to the Barcelona arrival hall baggage claim area.

Everyone disembarking in Barcelona was advised to put their luggage that was not their hand carried luggage out in the hallway next to their stateroom door by 11PM the night before arrival.  

People were reminded to leave their next day’s clothing, medications, passports and wallets out of their luggage or risk not having those items until after they had reclaimed their luggage at dockside the next day.  

Evidently it is not uncommon for people to forget to leave travel clothing out of their luggage - causing them to have to leave the ship wearing a Celebrity bathrobe!

The “back to back” cruise passengers who were continuing on the ship across the Atlantic Ocean were given special multi colored luggage tags with their new stateroom numbers - with the instructions to keep all pieces of their luggage inside the cabin overnight.  The cabin attendants would move the pieces to the new cabin during the day while the ship was vacant of passengers.

The final dinner of the Holy Land Cruise was that night.  A special treat of Baked Alaska was served to all in the dining room.  The Baked Alaska was presented in grand fashion with all the waiters parading the beautiful deserts with embedded cups of flaming brandy around the entire dining room and then served to the clapping passengers.  All of the meals on the cruise were just amazing.
Elston and the Baked Alaska Desert.
The ship would once again require extra time for cleaning and disinfecting during the time in Barcelona. Back to back cruisers would not be allowed to re-board the ship until after 3 PM in Barcelona.  Celebrity allowed the 350 or so back to back cruise passengers to take any one of the long tour excursions offered at the port with no charge.

I selected to take the city tour of Barcelona again. I had taken the same tour in 2009 on my last departure from Barcelona. The other choice was to take a tour into the Pyrenees’ Mountains to visit the monastery at Montserrat. Now that I look back on it, I wish I had chosen to go to Montserrat.
On Sunday, November 20th the ship arrived in Barcelona.  The weather was beautiful. 

Disembarkment went very well.  The "back to back" cruise groups departed about 9 AM. Our group went up to the city park that overlooks the city for an overview. On the way we passed many of the buildings built for the Olympic Games and the International Exposition held in Barcelona.  These buildings and other sports venues are still in use by the people of Barcelona.  


Catalonian Dancers Statue - Barcelona is the capitol of Catalonya

Ornamental detail work on buildings is quite common in Barcelona
Intricate ornamental work on a light standard in Barcelona

Downtown Barcelona - The old Plaza De Toros (Bullfight arena) is on the right.

The Plaza de Toros has been converted into a modern enclosed shopping mall

New shopping mall from the renovated bullfight arena

Click here for more information about the International Exposition in Barcelona

Large public plaza - Downtown Barcelona.
Middle Tower for the Port - Viel Aerial Tramway

The bus drove us by a number of buildings designed by the famous architect, Antonio Gaudi.  Gaudi specialized in designs that were derived from nature, making his buildings look almost as if they grew from the ground, like trees or exotic plants.  Gaudi seems to have discovered that nature loves fractal based designs – before fractal equations were in wide use.   He preferred to build scale models of his buildings and then testing them with various loads of weight to find the best solution for the building’s structure.  In this way he found that weight was carried best using inverted catenary curved arches.

Gaudi’s most famous building is La Sagrada Familia, the Sacred Family cathedral.  The cathedral is finally nearing completion and is projected to be complete in 2025.  The form of the cathedral is based on Gothic, but uses the inverted catenary arch which does not require flying buttresses and allows the use of bricks to carry the load of the building.  Writers tell us that the interior is like entering a beautiful forest.   

Sagrada Famila Cathedral - Front

Unfortunately, I have never been inside the cathedral.

Sagrada Familia - main entry  (reflection at the right is from the bus window.)

Someday, I must return to Barcelona to spend time with Gaudi and all the other forward looking designers who worked in the city.  A quick tour just does not do the city justice.
Detail of the cathedral - rear entry side

Cathedral's rear entry - Bookstore is to the right in this photo

Detail of ornamentation - rear of cathedral over the bookstore

The buses dropped passengers off at a small plaza near the old Gothic quarter of the city for those who wanted to have some personal time to explore and shop.  I watched a street artist perform by creating large, beautiful, iridescent soap bubbles in the air and had a soft drink at a nearby Burger King.  

Bubble busker (street performer) - Barcelona, Spain

The tour ended about 3 PM just as we were able to re-board Constellation and check out our new cabins for the new voyage.

Barcelona, Spain - The Cruise Port Area - Main part of the City is off to the left

We left Barcelona for Alicante, Spain at dusk. 

I was very lucky that I was able to use the same dining room table for the new voyage with Elston as our waiter.  

As a “veteran” of the last voyage - I found I had to restrain myself from volunteering information about how the ship worked etc. to the new set of passengers’ an easy behavior to fall into.

Next – Alicante, Malaga, Spain and the Alhambra Palaces

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