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Cruising through Europe

  • Posted On: 9th May 2013
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Cruising through Europe

It has always been my mother’s dream to see Europe by ship. My mother loves cruises and has been persuading her family members to accompany her on a cruise for some years now. Having watched the film “Titanic” once too often, I unfortunately had developed a aversion to cruises, imagining that all of them ended with passengers jumping onto life boats or hanging onto the side of the ship singing a soulful version of “My heart will go on” as they sank into the sea. So it was after some persuasion that my mother convinced me to accompany her on a cruise through Europe earlier this year. I am so glad that she managed to persuade me, because it proved to be one of the most delightful holidays of my life! And our ship did not sink.

After several mishaps, including a flight delay and misplaced luggage (the perils of travel!!), my mother and I arrived in Barcelona in mid-April. Our journey on the Royal Caribbean cruises was scheduled to start in Barcelona and end in Venice after covering some of the best sights of Europe. Watching the gently dilating hills of Andalusia amidst the hues of dawn, as we landed in Spain, was the nicest welcome to Europe. I was reminded of various passages of Paulo Coheolo’s “Alchemist”; however my mother, being of a more practical bend of mind, was more concerned about finding our luggage (which we eventually retrieved from the airport a day later). Since our cruise was due to start two days later, we had time to explore the city of Barcelona before we set sail.

With its rich, well-preserved history (that mingles quite beautifully with modernity), Barcelona has an air of pomp and dignity that engulfs all its visitors. The renowned architect Antoni Gaudi has played a pivotal role in the appearance of modern day Barcelona. We visited the Parc Guell, where Gaudi lived. Inspiration from nature is woven into the design of the structure (lizards and reptiles are favorite in this park’s design!). Gaudi featured again in various exotic buildings we saw in Barcelona: the Casa Batllo, La Pedrera and the famous church, the Sagrada Familia. Be they dragons, the Egyptian pyramids, plants of the forest, waves of the sea or religious symbols such as the cross, Gaudi managed to weave inspirational ideas into stone structure with an imaginative twist. The 1992 Olympic Games were hosted by Barcelona and part of the city was remodeled prior to the Olympics, including its beautiful beaches and Port Vell. The sprawling Olympic facilities are set on a hill close to the MNAC collection of art and are quite an inspiring walk down memory lane. Another interesting site in Barcelona is the Placa Catalunya, the nerve center of the city and the La Rambla, a busy promenade leading to the waterway.

After two days of bumping along Barcelona’s busy streets by bus, we moved to a far more luxurious form of transportation – a cruise ship. Our ship was called “The Splendor of the Seas” and did not fall short on its promise. The ship contained two swimming pools, an indoor theatre, library, numerous restaurants, various cafes and tea rooms – and to my mother’s delight, an indoor shopping mall. All these wonders were initially lost on me, as looking at the sea from the deck brought all the most dramatic scenes from “Titanic”” to mind. My only desire was to climb into bed and hide in our cabin, with the hope that the five days would pass without mishap. I was still in the cabin when we set sail and the hills of Barcelona were lost amidst the swirl of the sea.

Living on a ship is like living in a five star hotel – with a great view from every single window.My mother soon threw herself into the various activities offered on board: handicraft classes, dance classes, dinner with the Captain and a music show. It took me sometime to emerge from the cabin and overcome sea sickness. My favorite spot on the ship was the deck, from which we could see land ebb and surge. Take-off parties were held there every time we left shore, so it was a place with plenty of food, fun and entertainment.

Our first stop was the French city of Marseille, famous for its quaint port and fish market. Marseille is located in the region of Province, one of the most scenic areas of France: the rocky countryside, interspersed with vineyards, fields of lavender and olive groves have inspired the paintings of Paul Cezanne and Vincent Van Gogh. The city has been somewhat marred by industrialization since Van Gogh’s time, however it is still has an unbeatable charm. The Notre-Dame de la Garde, or Cathedral of Notre Dame is one of the most magnificent sites in Marseille. From the site of the cathedral, the visitor has a panoramic view of the city, harbor and surrounding mountains.

From France, we sailed through the night to Italy. Our first stop in Italy was Florence, one of the most beautiful, picturesque cities I have ever seen. Every nook and corner of Florence is like something out of a medieval painting. We passed the Cathedral and Baptistery, Signoria Square, Palazzo Vecchio, Church of Santa Croce and Michelangelo Square, with its magnificent scale and expanse of sculpture. For my mother, Florence offered her something she had waited for all year: Italian shoes and handbag shopping. Florence may remember the sight of two ladies (one wearing a large red hat), charging through the streets of Palazzo Vecchio carrying multiple shopping bags.

Our next stop was Rome. Entering Rome was like entering the pages of a history textbook. The city, home to ancient landmarks such as the Forum, the Pantheon and the Coliseum demands a certain level of respect. When walking through the streets of Rome, one cannot but be impressed by the ingenuity of the human race. Nor does Rome lack contemporary style and sophistication, with plenty of shops, restaurants and side walk entertainers. The fountains of Rome, particularly the Trevi Fountain, were my favorite spot. In the heart of Rome is the smallest (and one of the wealthiest) states in the world, the Vatican City, with 1000 citizens all connected within the Church. The Vatican City mints its own coins, prints its own stamps and keeps its own army of Swiss Guards. And yes… various sites in Rome and Florence featured in Dan Brown’s novel
“The Davince Code”…

Our next stop was in Split, Croatia. I did not disembark and spent the entire day reading on deck, overlooking the breathtaking Croatian coast. This too is a luxury in itself! Our last – and prettiest – stop on the cruise was Venice, the city of water ways. Once the center of political power and wealth of the Doges, it is now believed that Venice is a city sinking below the sea. We took a tour of Venice on a water boat, and I marveled at how this city had withstood the passage of time with its curious way of living. Coffee and ice cream are two of Europe’s greatest gastronomical delights and my mother and I did not lose this opportunity to sample what Venice had to offer!

At Venice we also disembarked from the ship for a final time. This time our luggage was intact with us when we arrived at shore. It was sad to be leaving the ship, not only for the fun-filled lifestyle it offered and variety of people around the world who we befriended over meals and sitting around on the deck, but also because it was a wonderful, relaxed way to travel. Every night we would go to sleep after dinner and entertainment, and in the morning disembark in a different city and follow a different adventure.

For anyone who has a chance to take a cruise, I would certainly recommend it. Many thanks to my mother for making it possible.

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