Cruising Europe on Independence of the Seas

Aboard Independence of the Seas

After cruising to Gibraltar, Barcelona, Villefranche (Nice, Monte Carlo) Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Cagliari (Sardinia); Malaga, Lisbon, and Vigo, we returned to Southampton today and said goodbye to Cason, Julia, Petter and Kristina. What a fabulous time – everybody went home a little plumper than when they left…here’s the short form of what we did…

Gibraltar: Wonderful historic town, quaintly dug out of the “rock.” We walked about a half hour from the ship to the pedestrianized downtown, full of jewelry shops, tourist stores, English pubs, and a few shopping stores for the locals. We walked past the Trafalgar cemetery, noting that many British sailors who perished in that formidable battle are commemorated here. At the end of town is a funicular to the top of the rock, where we stood in line for about an hour, and realized we would never get up and back before the ship sailed. So we strolled the botanical gardens instead.

Barcelona: The ship arrived at 7:00 in the evening to stay overnight, so Ole was able to come ashore with us as we ambled on Las Ramblas, thoroughly entertained by most imaginative human statuary. The 7 of us ended up in a tapas bar, sipping sangria and sampling Spanish. We found the Barcelonans to be extremely friendly and helpful, and the Catalonian language unintelligible. The next day, while Cason and Julia went to the cathedral, Petter and Kristina wandered the old medieval city, Suzanne and I took a subway pass to El Diagonal, and went shoe-shopping. We discovered an incredible building by Gaudi, an architect of the early 20th Century that was either a genius waaaaay ahead of his time, or completely bat-shit crazy. Here’s some further information that illustrates my point…

Villefranche: If we ever decided to live again in France, I would most definitely consider this tiny little town on a perfect rocky cove my piece of heaven. Real estate prices be damned…what I loved about it was the organic way the old medieval buildings seem to grow right out of the rocks. Cason, Julia, Suzanne and I hopped a train into Nice – about 12 minutes and 1.5 Euros away – to find the makings of a picnic. God smiles on the French. Perfect baguettes, 4 kinds of cheese, parma ham, duck liver pate and sausage, and two bottles of perfect rose were spectacular as we sat in the grass of a city park and watched the world go by. Doing the math, our picnic cost $90!!! Full and happy, we opted to take a taxi back to Villefranche – same 12 minutes, but this time 35 Euro (about $50). Sticker shock is setting in…

Livorno: Unfortunately for us, Ole had auditors aboard, and their review meeting was this morning. We were hoping to get off the ship with him at about 8:30, but it ended up being closer to 10:00, leaving Petter, Kristina, Ole and I only about 5 hours to try to cram in the leaning tower of Pisa and a quick dash through Florence. Luckly, Pisa was only about 15 minutes away by train, but we decided to walk to the tower (about 30 minutes in an increasingly warm day). Our friend, Neil, had said that though it sounds cheesy, it really is very interesting. He was right. There is a project underway to clean the tower, with explanatory boards around illustrating exactly how it stays up. There must have been 10,000 tourists there by 11:00 am, each of them taking a turn to assume the “holding up the tower” pose. Cracked me up. We took a city bus back to the train station, for the hour’s run to Florence. By the time we arrived, it was nearly 1:30, and all aboard for Ole was 5:00, meaning we only had about 90 minutes to see this spectacular city of Michaelangelo and the Medicis. As luck would have it, an English-speaking taxi driver offered to accomplish the impossible, giving the four of us a private taxi tour of the highlights. He was a great guide, really knew his stuff, and made sure we made the 3:27 train to get Ole back on time. All the tour did was whet my appetite to spend hours and hours in this amazing city.

Cagliari, Sardinia: Thank goodness it was Sunday and the city was largely closed…otherwise we would have been exhausted! Petter and Kristina took a stroll through the little market; Cason hiked up to the old fortress, Julia spent the day by the pool onboard, and Suzanne and I went to the department store, La Renacente (VERY high-end) and ended up in a small alley drinking local beer in an outdoor café. Across from the café was a local handicraft shop that featured specialty food items – sausages, cheeses, breads, wines, olive oils, wine and cordials – which two delightful ladies insisted we sample. All in all, a beautiful experience. One of the highlights, though, was watching 5 tugboats position the QE2 in her slip, this being the last summer she will be in service.

Malaga: We were exhausted, stayed onboard the whole day. This being a tourist business is just too much to take!

Lisbon: Perhaps the most interesting approach of any of the ports, we cruised up the river for about an hour before docking at the commercial port, passing a monument to explorers like Magellan, Vasco da Gama, and King Henry the Navigator. It’s a beautiful work that looks like the prow of a ship sticking with the key players all standing at attention on deck. Cason was kind enough to front us all for lunch along the waterfront – featuring olives and beautiful salty cheese as an appetizer, followed by good old baccalao. What a guy! The ship provided a shuttle bus for the 15-minute ride into town, where all of us took Lisbon at our ease. It’s a remarkably beautiful city, with medieval gates, pedestrianized streets, and decoratively tiled buildings, with lots of development going on along the waterfront. We stopped in at a shop called Casa da Ceramica, oohing and aahing over some gorgeous decorated porcelain pieces, enough so that Suzanne fell in love with two painted cranes to take home as a souvenir.

Vigo: Located in the northwest corner of Spain, this is a port that reminded us very much of Seattle. The literature says it’s home to the largest fishing fleet in the world, and a quick exploration of the old part of town found us strolling past rows of oysters, crabs, shrimp, langostines, and every kind of fish you could ever want. The weather also reminded us of home – gray, overcast. And the aroma??? Aah, eau de Pescadores!

We all had a wonderful time together – saw the ice shows, sang karaoke, ate and drank our brains out, and thoroughly enjoyed each others’ company. We were able to stuff Petter and Kristina in an available cabin, but Suzanne opted to camp out with us rather than stuff herself into the third bunk of the anniversary suite!

Saturday morning came all too soon – said goodbye to Cason and Julia, Petter and Kristina – Suzanne’s staying on for another two weeks.


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