12 May 2011

An Epic Travel Adventure

What better way to start off this new travel blog than with an epic fly-cruise adventure to Europe?! This could quite possibly be THE travel adventure of my lifetime. The experience was mega because I don't get to go so far away often and for so long. But more than it being a 14-day vacation in the Western Mediterranean, this is the first time I travelled with my mum and stepdad.

This trip came as a result of winning a cruise-n-blog contest held by Royal Caribbean on board the Legend of the Seas. The prize was a 7D/5N fly-cruise on board the Liberty of the Seas to Spain, France and Italy. Since I get to go for free, I thought of taking my parents along. It was a hard decision made pretty easily.

It's hard because I'm paying for both of them. As you can imagine, the trip costs a bomb and I don't make a lot of money. But the decision was easy because they are the people I love. I wanted to spend a very memorable time with them before age or the unpredictables claim either of us.

So here we are, all ready to discover Europe and new frontiers in our relationship! As much as my documentation of this trip will be filled with detailed costings, tips and info, it will also be a record of what we went through as a family.

Day 1 : 22 Apr 2011 This is our FIRST EVER family trip!! Frankly, I have doubts about spending 14 days together, sleeping in the same room, constantly in close contact for so long. My parents and I get along superbly well but this trip was still a test on each other's patience.

Our virgin family vacation helped me see and accept some aspects of them I haven't previously realised and I'm sure they've made many consessions and pardons for me as well. Sometimes, we wish that our family should be like this or like that before we can love them. Well, things can always be better if we fail to see the best that they already are.

We all have our goodness and shortcomings. Through this trip, I'm closer to stop wishing them to be something else and start appreciating them for who they are. I think my family is as good as it can get... hiong goong geok (athlete's foot) and all!

Day 2 : 23 Apr 2011We arrived at the Frankfurt airport after a 12.5 hours flight from Singapore. There was a huge drama on flight featuring my mom! Will share about it in an upcoming post. I had a pretty huge shock.

Day 2 : 23 Apr 2011 The first hotel we stayed at in Barcelona was Hostal Les Torres. As I got the trip arrangements confirmed pretty late from the cruise side, all the cheaper hotels in Barcelona city area was already fully booked due to the Holy Weekend (Good Friday and Easter). Thankfully, I managed to find Les Torres which was cheap because it's 30 minutes from the city. But it turned out to be a pricey mistake.

Day 2 : 23 Apr 2011 Les Torres is located in a suburban town known as Martorell. This charming place is famous for the picturesque Pont del Diable (Devil's Bridge). It took us quite some getting lost but we finally found the medieval bridge.

Day 2 : 23 Apr 2011 On our way back from Devil’s Bridge, we came across a street procession in the old part of Martorell town.

23 April is marked as the death date of St. George (Sant Jordi), the patron saint of the Catalonians (people in Barcelona are of the Catalonia community). This important festival is known as La Diada de Sant Jordi.

Day 3 : 24 Apr 2011 The other place that is not too far from the small town of Martorell is the mountain monastery called Montserrat. If you take a train from the Plaça d’Espanaya station in Barcelona city, it takes about 1 hour to get there. From Martorell, it takes only 15 minutes. Montserrat is definitely a must-go!

Day 4 : 25 Apr 2011 The start of our 6D/5N cruise onboard Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas! The ship is a monster! Weighing in at 200 tonnes with 15 decks of everything, it’s a sailing island!

Day 4 : 25 Apr 2011 On the first night, we were welcomed by a parade of Dreamworks’ characters from the animated movies Shrek, Magadascar, and Kungfu Panda. Imagine watching a parade onboard a ship!

Day 5 : 26 Apr 2011 Our first port of call was at Cannes, France. Took the half day French Riveria shore excursion from Royal Caribbean and got a glimpse of the home ground for the Cannes Film Festival. Also got to see the beachfront or cliff top villas of the rich and famous. What a red carpet experience!

Day 5 : 26 Apr 2011 There are many spectacular shows onboard Liberty of the Seas that are of very high standards. There’s a musical remake of Saturday Night Fever, ice skating show, movies, and a lot more. Nights are filled with great entertainment onboard the cruiseliner.

Day 6 : 27 Apr 2011 Lean on me. What I meant is really I want lean muscles on me rather that the fats I'm accumulating from all that feasting onboard. Our next stop was in Pisa, Italy, and I dropped by the Leaning Tower for a quick photo before zipping off to Florence.

Day 6 : 27 Apr 2011 Fall in love at the Uffizi. In love with art that is. The art cupid stuck an arrow in my heart for European paintings here after I understood & saw the evolution of artists' styles in the different periods of the middle ages. No photography is allowed in the gallery so all I had was this street artist dressed as cupid... or do I?

I'm not very law abiding sometimes. heh heh... If you would like a brief glimpse of what the gallery looked like (brief because I am respectful of the rules after all), leave a comment here saying "sì" & I shall post up some shots I sneaked during the tour & share the lessons I learnt in art appreciation such as the famous Birth of Venus painting by Botticeli.

Day 6 : 27 Apr 2011 The great thing about guided tours is that you get to see a bit of everything. Problem for me was, I've already been to Leaning Tower of Pisa, seen the visage of the Florence Catheral & taken tons of pics (back then with a film camera so you can imagine the cost to develop the photos) so seeing them again didn't excite me. My preference was to see the inside of the cathedral but there's no time for a long queue was snaking at the entrance. Next time perhaps.

Day 7 : 28 Apr 2011 I'm always awed by St Peter's Square whether I'm watching it on TV or in my previous visit. Despite the glorification of reverance for its architectural marvel, this second time didn't have the impact of the first.

I had very, very much wanted to see the Sistine Chapel but unfortnately, the Imperial Rome shore excursion package doesn't cover it. Well, perhaps it's something that I will go back to Italy again for a future visit. That is if I can still stomach a long haul flight.

Day 7 : 28 Apr 2011 The most famous fountain in the world, Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi)! It is said that if you toss 1 coin in it, you'll come back to Rome. I'm not superstitious but when I was here 1997, I tossed a coin in & here I am 14 years later! If you toss 2 coins, you'll find your true love, & 3 coins gets you a divorce. Guess how many coins I threw in this time? Heh heh... Hope it works!

Day 7 : 28 Apr 2011 Can't quite recall the actual name of this place but it is the ruins of the Roman centre of politics. Important decisions were made here including the death sentencing of criminals. Even in shambles, I could still feel the air of authority it commands in its glory days. There's always this feeling whenever I visit ancient ruins... it's like the formless concept of time has become solid. And I could touch it, wrap my arms around it, hold it.

Day 7 : 28 Apr 2011 The imposing Colosseum was out final stop of the Rome excursion & even though I've been here before, I didn't have an explained tour of the interior the last time. After this visit, I appreciated the role & symbolism of the massive arena as an early form of political propaganda and the fact that gladiators were ugly men! Nothing like what Russell Crowe would have you believe they look like.

Day 8 : 29 Apr 2011 Yup, you saw it right, I was surfing for the first time in my life and it’s on a ship! That’s two firsts at one go. I didn’t stand upright for very long though because it's very hard to keep balance. But falling down is the part that is most fun!

Day 9 : 30 Apr 2011 Ciao Liberty of the Seas! It's been an amazing experience onboard & all the shore excursions were superb with knowledgeable guides expounding on art history and their significance to the progress of European civilisation. Service was top-notch on the cruiseliner and truly, what the ship has to offer in terms of cuisines, entertainment & activities made getting to the various port-of-call all the more fun! I even told my parents it's a sin to leave the ship for the land tours.

Day 9 : 30 Apr 2011 Checked into Hosteria Grau after unboarding Liberty of the Seas & I was very pleasured to find that it is just near door to the 'Orchard Road' of Barcelona, La Rambla. It is a great value for money place to stay but it sits at the junction of a network of small streets that is home to a faculty of the city's university & what seem like an alley popular with punk rock culture.

On our last night, there was a scuffle between over zealous football fans & riot police just below our hotel room's balcony! I took a video. Will post later.

Day 9 : 30 Apr 2011 After we dumped our lugguages at the hotel, we wasted no time in exploring the surrouding area & seek out the Picasso Museum. Our search brought us to one of the main arterial roads in Barcelona, Via Laietana, which is parallel to the famous La Rambla road.

I lost count of the beautiful neo-classical buildings with heavily friezed balconies & wrought iron doors lining this long stretch of scenic built landscape. Tucked in a little street just off Via Laietana is this cultural gem, the Palau Musica Catalana. We didn't go in but the facade was interesting enough for attract me to snap a few pics.

I didn't even know it is one of the tourist stops until I encountered groups blocking my view for nice clean shots. I think that showed how extraordinary the building decor is that it can draw people without them knowing it's a registered sight in Barcelona city.

Day 9 : 30 Apr 2011 The Picasso Museum was hidden in a small alley within the labyrinth of Barcelona’s streets. Perhaps it was due to the lack of a guide to explain the artistic genius of Picasso to me for I really didn’t know how to appreciate his work. To me, most of them look like they have been drawn or painted by the elephants in Chiang Mai.

Day 10 : 1 May 2011 Rambling along the famous La Rambla street in Barcelona and admiring the many freeze artists along this very busy avenue.

This artist dressed up as the creature from the cult classic, Aliens, is a hot favourite amongst tourist. Toss a coin and he’ll come ‘alive’ to pose for a photo with you. He’s so cool!

Day 10 : 1 May 2011 A visit to the famous musical fountain wasn't planned in my itinerary but since we had time & the fountain was only a less than half hour walk from our hotel, we decided to visit the Font Mágica de Montjuïc. Best spontansoue decision we ever made! It was like an avenue of cascading waters running down from the hill to the stretch of street below with a massive fountain in the middle. Love the grandeur & atmosphere here!

Day 11 : 2 May 2011 We've been blessed with blue skies & cotton clouds for our trip so far but today was grey & rainy. Planned to make this a Antoni Gaudi day by visiting his great architectural works - Casa Batllo, Casa Mila & Sagrada Familia. Unfortunately, the dull weather will make the photos colourless & flat so we decided to not waste the expensive entrance charges to these monuments & come back again the next day. This photo represented the key to open up heaven for light to pour through. And thank God, bright skies returned the next day!

Day 12 : 2 May 2011 Skipping entrance the day before was a gamble that paid off. The weather was great for photos of this very beautiful but rather eccentric creation by Antoni Gaudi.

Called Casa Milà, it is known locally as Le Pedrera, which means ‘The Quarry’. This is also where the most photographed roof in the world is found. More pics and a detailed post to come…

Day 12 : 2 May 2011 Renowned for being the masterpiece that never got completed, the Sagrada Familia (Church of the Holy Family) is the definitive icon of Barcelona.

Building works started for the Roman Catholic church started in 1882 and is slated for completion only in 2030!

4 May 2011 : Day 13 Last day in Barcelona & a perfect end to the trip at the Park Guell, Gaudi's masterpiece of an outdoor park with his trademark organic forms fused with bold imagination.

Day 13 : 4 May 2011 Park Guell was the last stop of our epic family vacation before taking the flight back to Singapore, reaching on Day 14, 5 May. After spending 2 weeks together, our uncoordinated wardrobe is beginning to sync with each other in colour. A sign that we're more united as a family and in tune with each other perhaps?

So, that’s a quick summary of all that my family has seen. The photos and short quips are just a prelude to the full fledged blog posts that will follow in the coming weeks, or even months!

I brought back 35.5 GB of photos and videos from this trip so it’s going to take me a while to sort through and organize the materials, as well as do supplementary research to ensure that the information I provide is accurate at the time of post.

I hope this will pique your interest to follow what’s to come on this travel blog about Barcelona and Liberty of the Seas. More importantly, I would be very gratified if the information provided at this site could help you visualize what to expect and make it easier for you to plan your itinerary.

Thanks for reading!

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