This segment of my spring break begins with the train ride to Barcelona. There really isn't much to say about the train ride. It was fairly uneventful. The only thing that was kind of a disappointment was the lack of a dining car. Back when we lived in Germany, we took a high-speed train (the ICE train) to Berlin and had lunch in a dining car. It was really cool and more fun than sitting in the regular seats.
Moreover, there were no compartments on this train, so we sat in regular rowed seating. Mine was nice because it was just one seat by the window. For you to get a picture, it was three seats per row with an aisle down the middle. Just one seat is the way to go in my opinion. You have the benefits of both the aisle and window spots and you don't have to talk to anybody, which is a benefit for me anyway. I like to read while on a train, plane, or bus and having an alone seat eliminates the problem of appearing rude. The signs of an introvert.
Once we arrived in Barcelona, we took a cab to our hotel. My parents had giant suitcases for the cruise so that's why we didn't take public transport. The reason for the giant suitcases is that there were several formal nights and such on the cruise so they had to bring several changes of clothes. Luckily sundresses roll up really easy so I just had my backpack and duffel bag. My mom brought me a couple formal dresses, but I could have been fine for both nights with the black dress I brought. Still, it was nice to have that variety. But I'm getting ahead of myself again.
We didn't really do anything after the hotel. We arrived at 11 or something so we pretty much went to bed after checking in with the wifi.
One thing I feel that I need to establish that I forgot to mention in my Pamplona post, is that my Spring break was also my Easter break. While we were in Pamplona, it was Maundy Thursday and so EVERYTHING was closed. Same in Barcelona surprisingly enough. It was Black Friday and a lot of things were closed. We tried to go to La Boqueria, a famous outdoor market in Barcelona, but it was depressingly empty. I mean, it's nice that people took the day off, but we really wanted to buy some food at La Boqueria. Ah well.
Even though La Boqueria didn't work out, we were able to see La Sagrada Familia. If you ever go to Barcelona, you definitely want to see La Sagrada Familia. However, make sure you buy your tickets online. The line for that is always so long. If you buy the tickets online, you can go right in. We also got a tour so we knew what we were looking at. I also recommend that.
The tour was cool because the guide spoke into a microphone and we had headsets so we could hear her. That way, you not only can hear her and have a person giving the tour, but it's not as loud in the cathedral. For a little info, La Sagrada Familia was designed by an architect by the name of Gaudi in the early 1900s. He died a while back, but La Sagrada Familia is still under construction. The reason you have to buy tickets is because all the money goes toward the completion of the cathedral. It's very modern and different looking than your average cathedral.
We tried to go to La Boqueria after our tour of La Sagrada Familia, but as I've said it was closed. So instead for lunch, I wanted to find a place that had a "Menu del Dia" or Menu of the Day. You have to have one of those if you're in Spain. We went a little off of Las Ramblas and found a Middle Eastern restaurant with a Menu del Dia. I had wanted a Spanish "Menu del Dia" but we were hungry and it all turned out really tasty anyway. A Menu del Dia is a preset menu with several choices for your first and second course and then desert. It's normally a good deal.
After our lunch, we headed back to the hotel to go to the port. We took a cab right up to our boat. We weren't sure were it was, but I told the driver that it was an MSC cruise (she didn't really speak English). When we pulled up to harbor, it was obvious which one was ours because it was a giant boat with MSC on top. It was a good thing we took a cab because it was pretty far away from the nearest metro stop. With all the baggage, it would have taken forever.
I'm going to skip talking about the cruise ship part as I'm devoting a blog post to just the ship and moving on to our first stop in Marseille, France.
They parked the cruise kilometers away from civilization, so we had to walk until we could catch a bus that would take us into the town central. On the last MSC cruise we went on, back when we lived in Germany, if the boat parked far away from the nice part of town, there would be a complimentary shuttle to take you in. This round, however, there was a shuttle, but it cost 15 euros a person to use it. So not worth it. Therefore, we walked.
Once we got to the bus stop, there were a bunch of other people from the cruise getting on it as well. Finally the driver just let us on without making us pay and drove us to a spot somewhat near the town central where we could catch another bus to take us to the sailboat harbor/city center. It was an adventure for me to try to understand French using my limited French ability and understanding of Spanish. I found, as I did in Paris, that I was able to ask something in French but inevitably I'd respond in Spanish. For instance, "Sí" instead of "Oui." Ah well. Luckily there were nice French people who took sympathy on us and explained to us in English what we had to do.
None of us really knew much about Marseille before going. We didn't really have an agenda and my Rick Steves' Europe book didn't say anything about Marseille. However, we saw from our balcony (yes, balcony!) this gorgeous cathedral on a hill, so we decided we'd like to get up there and see it. So we took a bus to the center, then caught another one up the hill. It was crazy steep, so we were glad we took the bus.
As it turns out, Marseille has it's own Notre Dame. The hill-top cathedral is called Notre-Dame de la Garde. I had an epiphany on the way up: "Notre Dame" means "Our Lady" and if I'm not mistaken we have cathedrals/churches called Our Lady of blah de blah as well. "Garde" means what it sounds like, "guard." Since we didn't have a guide, most of what I know about it is assumption or deduction, but the cathedral was set up as a fortress as well. It had walls, a draw-bridge, and, of course, an excellent view of the port and city which all serve excellently for attacks--by both land and sea.
Since there were no invaders as of that day, we peacefully walked around the fort/cathedral and took lots of pictures and looked around the place. When we entered the sanctuary, we just sat in pews in awe for a while, taking it all in. While I can't help but think cathedrals are often too ornate, I do understand more now the concept of sanctuary. You almost enter a whole new world while in a cathedral. You can forget where you are and just be in the cathedral, looking at all the religious symbols. I'd like to learn more about the symbology so as to understand cathedrals better.
Once we had our fill exploring, we took a bus back down the hill to the city center/harbor. When I say harbor, I mean a small, sailboat harbor. The harbor for big boats was in the middle of nowhere, like I said earlier. We ended up going to a little café and ordering "café au lait" (France's version of a latte) and using the free wifi to check in a bit. I ordered a crepe because I hadn't packed a sandwich like my parents did for lunch (they made sandwiches from stuff at breakfast). It was a delicious Nutella crepe.
After sitting at the café for a while and people watching, we went out by the harbor and had a picnic. I ate some fruit I'd brought and they ate their sandwiches. While we were eating, my dad asked me, "Is that the Pokemon theme song?" I paused to listen, and sure enough it was. There was a group of musicians performing not too far from where we were and the song they started was the Pokemon theme song. It cracked me up and so I went to investigate. It was this group of drunk, French band nerds playing various instruments for a crowd of people. Some were in their underwear. It was the strangest, funniest thing. I watched them for a little bit, until one of them started walking around with a hat heckling for money. I was not feeling like being heckled, so I went back and sat with my parents to enjoy the music from a distance.
After walking around a bit more, it was getting to be the time to head back to the ship. We caught the bus back to the bus stop that would take us to the other bus stop by the harbor. Yes, complicated, I know. Anyway, once we were out of the city center area, Dad wanted to find a supermarket where he could buy some Nescafe to take on board. I talk more about this in my cruise blog post, but I'll just say that the coffee was nasty on the cruise so Dad wanted to see if Nescafe would help. We found a little hole in the wall store and bought a thing of Nescafe. After that, we caught the bus back to the main harbor area and walked the 2 kilometers or so back to our ship.
Thus concludes the beginning of the cruise. Next up, Italy!