Mediterranean Cruise: France and Barcelona
Sea Day 2
As with the first sea day, sea day 2 was LIT. However, it was notably bittersweet seeing as this was our last sea day. Caroline and I were determined to make the most of our final sea day. That of course meant kicking off the day with some cardio and scrapping the workout class. We showered up and made our way into the main lobby where we watched Zenric participate in the line dancing. Caroline, being Caroline, dropped her water bottle from the third balcony where we were watching - thankfully she didn't nail anyone in the head. Later on, we joined forces with Zenric & co. again and had an intense rematch in cards and ran into the cruise mascot (is that a thing?).
Most of the afternoon, we remained in our stateroom bingeing movies and tv while reading the Princess Patter (the newsletter delivered to us daily) before getting ready for formal night. SOLID DAY. And just like that, we bid adieu to sea day, easily one of the highlights of the trip in general.
Ajaccio, Corsica, France
Wowowow they really embrace the fact that Napoleon was born here. We stepped off the boat and BOOM everything had the famous French leader's name plastered all over it. It was kind of funny. Caroline and I could care less, we were far more concerned with style.
Setting foot into France meant upping our style game. We toiled over picking the perfect outfits the previous night and constantly went back and forth before making our decisions. As we made our way into town, we immediately realized we'd made a HUGE mistake; we should have worn all black. *facepalm* Our blunder was an ameteur move. Everyone around us looked so chic and we laughed about how much time we had spent to not blend in.
Also, I don't know what we were thinking, but we had bundled up, nay layered, yet it was all too much. By 11 am the sun was out in full force and I was regretting the fact that I had chosen to wear a cardigan and now had to carry it around with me.
There wasn't a plan or set walking tour for the day, so we made our own tour navigating the pastel pedestrian streets.
I'm trying to emphasize the amount of Napoleon we saw here. We wandered into a square and heyo there's a Napoleon statue. Classic.
Well, I will say, that Napoleon must have had it made as a kid because the beach here was absolutely stunning. The yellow sandy beaches looked enticing and we debated with ourselves if we should run back onto the ship and change into bathing suits.
Along the main drag, we found a cute little local farmer's market with produce from all around the island. We marveled at the nuts, olives, persimmons, and crates of other vegetables. There were wine, bread, and cheese booths galore. Even the butchers stepped up their game by wheeling out meat slicers for the freshest cuts.
The beignets kept catching our eyes, so we broke down and bought some. BEST. DECISION. EVER. I mean to the naked eye, they look like sugar doughnut holes, but they're so much more than that. It was the perfect doughy goodness filled with a little cheese curd inside. Sounds weird, but hear me out, they were excellent. We had to keep ourselves from splurging on getting a dozen.
The highlight of the island (or at least Ajaccio) is Musée Fesch, which is home to an impressive amount of Italian Renaissance and Baroque art. No idea why it is predominantly Italian, but I'm not complaining. We'd casually wander into a room and our eyes would meet a Botticelli or Titian chilling on the wall. Like what?! I attempted to school Caroline on what I had learned in one of my Art History classes, but in the end we decided to admire the art.
From the museum we hit the shopping. French fashion and style is impeccable. We popped into multiple boutiques and shops in search of the perfect souvenir/belated birthday present for Gina, yet had to keep constantly remind ourselves this was for GINA not ourselves. We came up empty handed unfortunately, but found the cutest little places.
Along the shops where we failed to find a gift, we did find an adorable cafe where we relaxed for the rest of the day. Corsica was great - a place I definitely want to go back to. Fun fact, Corsica is home to one of three turtle sanctuaries in the world. I'm coming back for those turtles!
TBH I don’t understand why we didn’t go to Marseille or Nice, but not my call. After an embarrassing fashion faux pas the previous day, we dressed in black and white to match the French style. Because this ship was MASSIVE, we docked at a neighboring harbor and took water taxis to the main city center. Literally the bumpiest boat ride of my life and for whatever reason we sat in the front of the boat and bounced over waves. All I can say is nauseating.
On land, we searched for a cafe because 1. we had to use the bathroom (mainly Caroline) 2. we needed actual coffee and 3. wtf were you supposed to do in Toulon. We knew nothing. A speculative plan fell through where we were going to meet up with one of Caroline’s old friends and tour some of the neighboring cute villages, so we were back to square one.
Well from our research, we discovered that Toulon is kind of a sleepy tourist town. We had the trusty Princess Patter with us as a guide and slowly marked off all of the recommended highlights.
The must-see here was the farmer's market. And let me just say, it was massive. I like to spend my free time at farmer's markets on the weekends (yes, I'm basically a grandmother) but this one stretched for streets upon streets. As we thought we approached the end, the market spidered off down a side street and continued with clothes and purses.
We had exhausted our interest in the farmer's market after seeing eggplant for the fourth time and found our way into an outdoor walking mall. For some reason, a lot of the stores were closed, but we did find one of our favorite stores of all time called VIBE. V hip, v trendy, v us. Were so into everything there, I almost broke down and bought a millennial pink colored t-shirt with an embroidered croissant for 40 euros, (it was a moment of weakness OKAY) but caroline backed me off the ledge of taking the plunge and purchasing it. IT WAS CUTE THAT'S MY EXCUSE.
Tired of shopping around and with not a lot to do, we turned the side street into a mini photoshoot.
Meandering the streets and alleys led us to find well-developed arts district in Toulon. There were murals and banners, the whole shabang. The streets were lined with artisan shops and studios displaying the wears. Gawking at all the paintings made us contemplate how to get a piece back with us to the U.S.
We slowly - and I mean slowly - took our time to cross off our little list from the Princess Patter before the photography museum opened. Of course, everything is on European time, so it opened much later than the time on the door. During this time, we'd been waiting to use the bathroom here since it would be free. Well, karma had other plans in mind and we both almost got locked in the bathroom. That's what you get for old European buildings.
This was our shortest day of the trip and we went back to the ship early to gorge ourselves on burgers which we had held off for most of the trip. Short day and a huge time crunch becasue we had to be on the boat by 2:30 (dumb). What's the point of a few hours?!
¡Barcelona! VIVA ESPAÑA. The crown jewel of the whole trip! This was the other city I was most excited for and the main reason for this trip in general. Lola wanted to see La Sagrada Familia in all of its glory. People always tell me they LOVE Barcelona, and I now understand why. Merely walking around certain cities you become overwhelmed with joy and just sort of know you belong there and that you'll love it.
Well it wasn’t the most glamorous start to the day, rolling off the ship with all of our luggage before 8 am, but we made our way onto the tour bus that would cart us around the city showing us all of the sites and buying us time until we could check into our hotel. The tour company was out of small, reasonable vans, so our eleven person tour group took up a 60 person capacity bus. Logical, I know.
Right off the bat, we zoomed by the beach and were treated to sweeping views of the city. Into the city center, passing major landmarks like a statue of seafaring Columbus, Las Ramblas, and a multitude of historic buildings. From there, we headed into the hills.
First stop was an overlook at the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. Instantly, we could see the whole city sprawling from the hills to the sea. La Sagrada Familia towered above the apartments as well as the yellow cranes working on the unfinished cathedral. The bus weaved through the rest of the olympic park where we caught glimpses of equestrian, rugby, football (soccer for the Americans), and runners enjoying the sunny day.
Back in the main part of town, we circled city blocks finding little hints of Gaudí’s work scattered on nearly every corner.
Before heading over to the ever popular Park Güell, one of Gaudi’s finest projects, we made a pit stop at a Unesco protected (honestly, whole theme of the trip) Hospital de Sant Pau. No idea why this isn’t a more popular stop, but it was truly a hidden gem. The brick facade towered over us and we caught glimpses into the the courtyard where patients could spend time with nature.
Up the hillside we went, the bus heading straight for Park Güell. The park was one of the many innovations conceived by Gaudi. It was intended to be Barcelona’s first private neighborhood with grand plans for house plots, parks, and amenities, but the whole concept was ill received and his investor, Güell, was the only other tenant. Tragic. What remains is an artistic playground full of Gaudí infrastructure, the bending buildings and carefully laid mosaics from recycled items. There is a definitive whimsical quality, almost like Hansel and Gretel gingerbread house.
A successful outing for a taste of the major tourists spots, the tour wrapped up and we were dropped off at our hotel and settled in.
Itching to make most of what little time we had here, we ventured out to the Gothic Quarter. What a challenge it was to get there, but we made it and were completely exhausted. We (lethargically) made our way through the Picasso Museum.
The Picasso Museum doesn’t allow pictures and I forgot to take any sneaky ones because I was too engrossed in the beauty of Picasso’s work. We strolled from room to room admiring his sketches, muses, blue period, case studies, and even pottery (!).
Picasso's case studies of Las Meninas (by Diego Velázquez) will forever have my heart and be a goal of mine to acquire bits for a personal collection I will one day own. Completely tired from the early morning and touring, and the fact we had barely eaten, we opted for an early dinner, even by American standards. Around the corner from the museum was a quaint tapas restaurant where we scoured the menu and gorged ourselves on the fresh seafood.
Caroline and I split off from the group and wandered and wandered and wandered. We made our way further into the Gothic Quarter admiring the cute shops and restaurants, and how we wanted to eat tapas at every single place. My god tapas are life changing.
Strolling down Las Ramblas, we eyed potential souvenirs and stumbled upon some of the demonstrations for Catalonia secession. People were draped in yellow and red, flags waved in the air, as helicopters zoomed above and newscasters covered the scene. In the days prior to our arrival, Caroline and I would actually post up in our stateroom and watch BBC to get the latest updates on the secession. As the days neared, the politics of it all intensified and it had escalated. We were witnessing history.
We kicked the day off by rolling out of bed early on a Sunday, roaming the streets for any restaurant to be open for a late start city. Through our search, we had found a little bakery where we plotted out our day.
Caroline and I opted to wander around before meeting up with everyone at La Sagrada Familia for mass and our tour. We set our sight on the Arc de Triomf, which was literally around the corner from us. Um like how did we miss this??? Incredible. Amazing. The bright red arch loomed over everything and we still questioned how we didn't see it from afar.
Our stroll took us to the ritzy fashion area where many of the stores were unfortunately closed. Caroline was devastated by the fact that we didn't go into a ZARA while we were in motherland of the store. To trounce our disappointment, we scouted out a place to eat a mid morning snack.
We combed the map and a list someone had given us, before settling upon Tapas 24. Prior to the trip, we had been told to eat huevos and "throw the diet out the door". Huh, strange. Huevos are just eggs...lmao WRONG. We realized how wrong we were when the waiter brought out a mountain of fries, Iberian ham, and scrambled eggs all soaking in butter. My GOD it was so good. Thank goodness we were walking everywhere because that dish can easily cause a heart attack.
It’s a new mark in my life: pre-huevos and post-huevos. Not joking, life is not the same after having them.
In a sticky situation timewise, we meandered towards the cathedral and stumbled upon a futbol game and watched with the locals before arriving at the cathedral.
Back at La Sagrada Familia, we made our way to the crypt for Sunday mass. Like whoa, how cool is it to go to church in one of the most celebrated cathedrals in the world. Gaudí is also a flipping genius and it was neat to see his work in use. This place was his life’s work.
Post-mass we fueled up with a quick tapas lunch. As fate would have it, we got a Filipina server and the grandparents of course started asking questions in tagalog, classic Filipinos. We rounded back to the cathedral for our tour to enter the church itself. It was completely awe inspiring. Gaudí had an incredible vision.
Seeing the inside wowed me even more. I was NOT expecting it to be like this. It felt almost modern and new with a nearly white interior. The columns were slender and carefully carved, and the stained glass windows covered every available wall. Our tour happened to be in the late afternoon as the sun was beginning to set, basking the apse and nave in a rainbow of colors.
Part of our tour was to go to the top of one of the towers which treated us to a sweeping 360 degree view of Barcelona.
The downside was descending the 400 steps that happened to be a spiral staircase. We made it and had time to take in the beauty of the church.
Our time in Barcelona was quickly ticking away and OF COURSE we hadn't found a little present for the people we really needed to get souvenirs for. After a massive paella dinner, Caroline and I ran out for some last minute gifts. Literally last minute. As we wandered around in the store, they announced they would be closing in a few minutes. BUT we were successful!
The evening ended with us packing and attempting to fit all of our items into suitcases. This would take us into the wee hours of the evening only to have to wake up at 3 am to head to the airport. What an ungodly hour. I bopped from Barcelona to Paris to Seattle and breezed through customs (thank you global entry!) and crashed hard that evening.
WHAT. A. TRIP. TRIP OF A LIFETIME.
But in all seriousness, I’m really happy that I was able to go on this trip. It was very kind of Lola and Lolo to take me and spend quality time together. Caroline was okay too. Until next time Europe!