Europe Trip – Marseilles (Day 5)

The second stop on our cruise was in Marseilles, France. Given that it was France, I was expecting a very nice city, like Paris. I was a little disappointed.

Our excursion was called “Scenic Marseilles” and basically involved riding in a bus around the city with two stops. We stopped once to take some pictures of Château d’If, a relatively famous fort on an island just off the coast of Marseilles that has featured in a number of stories and movies.

Château d’If

The second stop was at the Palais Longchamp where we had about 20 minutes to run up and look at the architecture but didn’t have time to do much else.

Palais Longchamp

The tour ended a couple of blocks from the old port. The guide said we could return to the bus at a certain time and they would take us back to the cruise ship. Alternatively, we could catch the Royal Caribbean shuttle at a specific location, which she showed us.

A few of us opted to explore Marseilles for a few hours. We first stopped at a bakery. After getting medialunas in Argentina, which kind of look like croissants but are way better, I have been itching to try a croissant in France to see if I’m not making a fair comparison between the two breads. The croissants we had in the bakery were good, but we’re all still partial to Argentinean medialunas. However, the pizza they had in the bakery was both cheap and delicious (perhaps the best we had on the trip).

Enjoying a French croissant.

From there, we caught a bus up to see the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, which stands atop a prominent hill in Marseilles. It’s a beautiful Byzantine church.

We spent a good hour walking around and through it.

Here’s a short video clip of the music that was being sung while we were inside:

After the church, we headed back down through Marseilles and caught the shuttle back to the cruise ship.

That evening, we saw a show (or two) on the ship. I think we actually saw one of these the night before, but the time stamps on my photos indicate that they were both this night. We saw a magic show with Hector is Magic, a Spanish magician. His sleight of hand tricks with cards were good. The other tricks were pretty easy to figure out. (Side note, while Hector is a decent magician, he’s not much of a rock climber. The next day, while in Cinque Terre, we ran into Hector while hopping on rocks in one of the small towns, Vernazza. Hector lost his sunglasses while trying to get a photo and didn’t notice. Toren saw the sunglasses fall, climbed down to find them, and returned them to him. You’re welcome, Hector!)

We also saw a diving show. The Oasis of the Seas is big enough that it has a water theater at the back of the ship where they stage diving shows. The shows were pretty good and included divers, synchronized swimmers, and slackliners.

The water theater at the back of the ship.

(Brief reflection on Marseilles. If I’m being honest, this was probably the least interesting shore excursion. I’m sure a long stay in Marseilles might prove otherwise, but it didn’t seem like there was a lot to do here. Additionally, the city seemed a bit dirty and was covered in graffiti. I kind of sound like a crotchety old man telling kids to get off my lawn with my criticism here, but I think it was the contrast between Paris and Marseilles that left me feeling like Marseilles wasn’t what I was expecting.)

Europe Trip – Mallorca (Day 4)

Rosemary arranged for a very nice excursion while we were in Mallorca. We boarded a catamaran with about 50 other people and headed out away from the city to a nice area where there was no development, dropped anchor, and everyone got to jump in the water and swim around. The water was really clear but a little chilly. Not thinking in advance, I forgot to bring our masks and snorkels but they had some for purchase for relatively cheap on the boat, so we bought a couple and had a nice time swimming around:

The three of us on the catamaran
Where we went swimming.

We got to swim for about an hour then had lunch on the catamaran. The trip to where we went swimming took about 45 minutes. It was about the same going back. Several of us decided that we wanted to walk around Mallorca for a bit before heading back to the cruise ship. When the catamaran docked, we started walking along the main road. We eventually found a staircase leading to a small park where we took some fun pictures.

After our stop at the park, we walked a little longer than grabbed some cabs back to the cruise ship.

Europe Trip – Boarding the Cruise Ship (Day 3)

Rosemary (Debi’s mom) arranged a transfer to the cruise ship from our hotel. Getting checked in and the luggage situated took a bit, but we were on the ship by about noon. We made our way to the buffet and grabbed some lunch, then started taking advantage of all the offerings on the ship. We were on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, which is an enormous ship with lots of offerings.

After lunch, we went to the rock climbing wall where Debi, Toren, and I (and several other nieces and nephews) all climbed the wall.

Ryan (in red) and Toren (in blue) on the climbing wall.

Most of the kids were excited to go swimming, so we got them ready as quickly as possible and let them swim for most of the afternoon.

One thing we always do on cruises with my in-laws is enjoy dinners in the main dining room. The food is typically very good and we enjoy the service. I have to be very careful not to over-eat, but it is a nice chance to enjoy good food, excellent service, and chat about our daily adventures. We got started with our daily dinners that first night.

After dinner, Rosemary had reserved tickets for all of us to see Cats, which was being performed that first night. Most of us went, but a few opted out since they had seen it before and were not keen to see it again. As a fan of musicals, I was familiar with a few of the songs and really enjoyed them, but had never seen it. Debi had seen it on Broadway but was fine seeing it again. I will admit that the first act left us all… disappointed. I’m sure the acting and singing were fine compared to other productions, but there is no coherency to the story. Toren’s intermission review was pretty accurate, “I like shows with a premise.” Almost all of the people in attendance got up at intermission; much less than half of those who were there at the beginning of the show stayed for the end. It was actually their loss. While the coherency of the play didn’t improve all that much (no one knows what a Jellicle cat is), the symbolism and meaning of the play became more apparent, there was a really good dance number, and the more well-known songs were also in the second act. By the end, we were glad we stayed and actually enjoyed the musical. Would we see it again? Meh. Probably not. But it was definitely worth seeing it once.

Europe Trip – Barcelona (Day 2)

It was the birthday of one of my nephew’s and he really wanted to go kayaking. So, we went kayaking. I think we all were hopeful that sea kayaking in Barcelona would give us a lot to see, kind of like when we went sea kayaking in Alaska. We were also under the impression that, like Alaska, we were not going to get wet. Both of those assumptions were wrong.

We ended up renting the sea kayaks from Centre Municipal de Vela de Barcelona, which is located really close to the Olympic Park in Barcelona. What we didn’t realize is that the kayaks had holes in them so water could drain out, but that also meant that sea water could come in. We also weren’t allowed to go to the nearby beach because people were swimming there, which meant we were relegated to paddling out around a concrete barrier and then coming back. We basically got to see the concrete barrier, some buoys, some big ships in the ocean, and each other. Additionally, the water was freezing and there were really big waves on the ocean. Collectively, what this meant is that we got really wet, really cold, and didn’t get to see much. But it was good exercise. The sea kayaking took up most of the morning. We found a nice restaurant for lunch where that same nephew ordered squid (which he didn’t eat, so the uncles finished it off).

After that, we got on the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus and got to see quite a bit of Barcelona. I was so impressed with the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and the fountains in front of it that I suggested we get off there. We did and spent a good hour enjoying the views and taking photos. Here’s a photosphere in front of the Museu:

The Museu really is an amazing sight with views of most of Barcelona and fabulous fountains:

I enjoyed the view enough I shot some footage of the waterfall just to keep as a loop.

A view of the museum below one of the waterfalls.
The view of the fountains from the museum.

We even managed to get a group photo:

We then got back on the sightseeing bus and returned to our hotel. After a quick chance to drop off some stuff and refresh ourselves, we headed out to a nice, small Italian restaurant for dinner.

Europe Trip – Barcelona (Day 1)

My in-laws took the whole family on a trip to Europe again (see the previous trip). This time, we flew into Barcelona, spent two days there, then embarked on a 7 day Royal Caribbean cruise with 5 ports of call: Mallorca, Marseilles, La Spezia, Rome, and Naples.

The trip started off with some “excitement.” Most of us were supposed to meet at JFK airport in NYC (on the evening of the 13th) and fly to Barcelona together. However, due to weather issues, there were big delays into and out of JFK. The family flying in from SLC weren’t sure if they were going to make the Barcelona flight, so they got re-routed through Paris. We ended up meeting Steve (Debi’s brother) in NYC and we all flew together to Barcelona, landing around 10:30 am the next day. We arrived just a little before another part of the family, so we waited for them in the baggage claim. Once they arrived, Rosemary (Debi’s mom) had arranged for a transfer to our hotel. Those who got re-routed, unfortunately, ended up getting really delayed in Paris and didn’t get in until about 10:00 pm that night (almost 12 hours later).

After we got settled in the hotel, we went for a walk. Our hotel was just a few blocks from Placa de Catalunya, so we stopped there first. Here’s a photosphere I took there:

We were all pretty hungry, so we found a nearby restaurant and tried the famed Spanish paella. It was, meh.

Spanish paella for three. It was fine, but I wouldn’t move to Spain to have it regularly!

From there, we headed for a walk down La Rambla, which was quite nice. We stopped for some treats along the way, walking all the way down to the Christopher Columbus statue and the port. We took a different route back, heading through Barri Gotic (the Gothic neighborhood) to our hotel. Given the limited sleep most had gotten on the plane, pretty much everyone was keen to get to bed early. Toren, Steve, and I went out for food, finding a nice little Italian place that was cheap but had good pizza.

A couple of quick reflections on Barcelona…

Perhaps it was the areas we were in, but we didn’t see a lot of parks and places for kids to play. There are plazas in front of churches, but most were paved and did not have areas for kids to play.

The wide, clean streets and fascinating architecture made walking in Barcelona quite pleasant.