Exploring Barcelona

by Bob Hoelscher 16. November 2011 19:30

In my humble opinion, Barcelona is one of the most interesting and beautiful cities in Europe. Many Mediterranean sailings depart from or conclude at its excellent, state-of-the-art cruise ship complex, so visitors frequently have the opportunity to spend a few days visiting this incredible destination before or after their shipboard adventures. 

There is literally so much to see here that one day. As the capitol of Spain’s autonomous (since 1975) region of Catalonia (Catalunya), the city’s residents proudly consider themselves to be Catalonians rather than Spaniards. 

Barcelona has done an outstanding job of successfully combining its historic and modern elements. On one hand, the ancient cobbled streets and narrow alleyways of its Gothic Quarter (Barri Gòtic) lead to such incredible architectural riches as the massive Gothic-style Cathedral, the adjacent Royal Palace, and picturesque squares. On the other hand, there is the bizarre but fascinating and chronically unfinished La Sagrada Familia (Holy Family Church), the renowned creation of the city’s great architect and native son, Antoni Gaudi, as well as his equally strange Casa Milà and Parc Güell. 

The city’s historic and fascinating downtown pedestrian and shopping street, Las Ramblas, leads from the Columbus Monument to the Plaza de Catalunya, where one can find the massive and traditionally European El Corte Inglés department store. And yet, not that far away is the ultra-modern, harbor front Maremagnum shopping and adjacent aquarium complex.                   

Also among the city’s top sights are its great Picasso Museum, the incredibly ornate Liceu Opera House, and Montjuïc, the mountain park west of the downtown area, which overlooks the city.  All together, the city boasts more than 50 significant museums.

Dining (especially late dining) is also a passion here, so finding your fill of authentic tapas will pose no problem. Getting around is easy, either by taxicabs or the excellent public transportation system.  Or, if you prefer, the on/off, double-decked and brightly colored Bus Turistic provides a convenient way to see all the important sights with a minimum of hassle. Regardless, Barcelona is a city that you’re sure to enjoy exploring!

Antoni Gaudi's Holy Family Church

Antoni Gaudi's Parc Guell

Las Ramblas

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Three Great Spanish Ports

Palma de Mallorca, Balearic Islands

by Bob Hoelscher 16. November 2011 19:27

Principal city of the largest of the Balearic Islands, Palma is surely also one of the most upscale, chic resort retreats of the Mediterranean. The waterfront is lined with luxury hotels and apartment buildings, and I doubt whether I’ve ever seen a port filled with so many (literally thousands) of high-end sailing and motor yachts.

Wealth is evident here wherever one looks. The island of Mallorca itself covers some 1,350 square miles, and has a population of 800,000, a number that swells to 1.5 million during the “high” summer season.

The heart of the city is its Gothic Quarter, home to Spain’s second-largest Gothic cathedral. The interior of the structure is particularly magnificent, and contains several features added later that were designed by Antoni Gaudi.

Next door is the suitably impressive Almudaina Palace, which has been a popular retreat for Spanish kings through the centuries due to the area’s superb climate.  And from this point, the elegant shops and boutiques that line the main streets of Es Born and Via Roma are but steps away. 

Other points of significant interest on the island include the elegant resort of Port Andratx, the manor houses of La Granja and Son Marroig, the lovely village of Valldemossa, and the unusual Caves of Drach, which reportedly contain the largest underground lake in the world.

Village of Valldemossa

Cathedral's main altar

Yachts and hotels lining harbor

The Andalusian Coast’s Malaga

by Bob Hoelscher 16. November 2011 19:17

On a relaxing cruise along the Mediterranean coast, I discovered Malaga. A popular tourist destination and the largest city on the Andalusian Coast, Malaga is home to roughly 670,000 residents. If one comes by ship, it is also the usual gateway to ancient Granada and the world-famous palace of Alhambra, the last Muslim stronghold in Spain. 

Malaga, the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, is conveniently near to beautiful beaches and charming villages like Mijas and Alfarnatejo. Nearby also are the prestigious resorts of Marbella and Puerto Banús, extensive vineyards and wine cellars, as well as the picturesque town of Nerja. Nerja is home to important subterranean caves that are among the largest in Europe. Excursions to all these and more should be available aboard your ship.      

Like Barcelona, Malaga boasts a significant Picasso Museum and a splendid Cathedral, built between 1528 and 1728, which combines element of the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles. Overlooking the city and offering majestic panoramic is the imposing Castillo de Gibralfaro, constructed by the Arabs during the 14th century. 

Lovely parks and gardens can be found adjacent to the downtown area, where shopping is also a popular visitor pursuit. Although the bustling port area here is relatively close to the downtown area, there is some bad news of a temporary nature. Cruise ships dock close to very substantial freighter operations, and the entire complex is torn up in the midst of a major reconstruction project, so walking into the city is all but impossible, requiring the use of a port shuttle bus at €5 per person round-trip.

Roman ruins

Statue of Pablo Picasso in front of the building where he was born

View of city from Castillo de Gibralfaro

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Three Great Spanish Ports

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