Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mediterranean Madness Part III, Barcelona Continued

Barcelona continued...
One of the hardest things we had to plan was our hotels in Barcelona for the day before the cruise and the day after.  Many of the hotels in Spain don't accommodate Four people; if you needed more space, you got a second room.  Since most of the rooms we were considering were running between 100 - 200 Euros each night, two rooms was going to significantly increase our expenditures.  But, Sarah, excessive planner that she is, found two hotels within our budget and desired area that would accommodate up to four people to a room.  She fussed with the details for a long time and when she found a rate she liked, she jumped on it.  In our opinion, we weren't going to find a better deal.  So, we ended up with reservations at the Hotel Regina for 150 Euro per night.  We were right off Plaza Catalunya and just at the top of Las Ramblas, a street famous for it's touristic shopping.  We found a great location!
One corner on Las Ramblas 
At the end of our tour Jordi dropped us off at the door to our hotel and gave us a recommendation for dinner.  We thanked him for a wonderful tour and proceeded to check in to our room.   Check in was quick and easy.  They do take all of your passport numbers down for the tourist tax and I had to fill out a form as the head of household stating that my children are under age 17 (they were exempt from the tax).
No matter where we go our children seem to enter a hotel room and then immediately detonate a dirty bomb.  They seem to explode upon entry.  I'm sorry we forgot to take pictures before we turned the kids loose.  But these pictures will work, I hope.  They have to.  We have no others.
We were so tired by this point; we actually had the discussion that we might just skip eating entirely for that day and go straight to bed.  But, Sarah and Caitie were starting to get headaches, so we summoned the strength to walk the two blocks to the restaurant.

Sarah's sister, brother-in-law, and parents as well as several of our cruise critic roll call buddies had been in Barcelona for several days already and had been posting pictures of the wonderful tapas and sangria.  We were determined to not to get on the ship without having sampled the food.  Jordi recommended Ciudad Condal, it was just a few blocks from the hotel.  
 It was very easy to find and we were quickly seated.  We sat for a few minutes examining the menu but were so tired that nothing was making sense to us.  The waiter finally came by (he was from the Philippines and spoke perfect English) and we explained that we had been up for 30 hours, did not know what we were doing, but really wanted to try some tapas and sangria.  He suggested we let him choose some of the more popular items to bring us.  This sounded like a plan we could get behind!  We tried some delicious tapas.  Unfortunately, it is a blur.  I know there were some bread and ham type meat.  There were veal medallions on toast.  There were papas bravas (fried potato wedges with a creamy sauce and red pepper sauce).  The kids had some mini hot dog and hamburger tapas.  The sangria was delicious but went straight to our very tired heads.  It turned out to be a great meal.  We were satisfied with our tapas experience.  On the way back to the hotel the kids spotted a Burger King.  We stopped and picked up some nuggets and fries to carry back to the hotel in case someone woke up hungry at a strange time.  We didn't have to worry about that because as soon as the kids got still they were down for the count!
Seth fell asleep playing his game and Caitie went down while drawing!
That night we went to bed at 6:30 and slept soundly until 4 AM.  Hotel Regina is a very nice hotel, and the rooms are comfortable, the beds, which were all single beds, were comfortable, and I suppose the bidet was comfortable, if that's possible.  One quirky thing about the hotel was trying to figure out how to turn on the lights.  We walked around hitting every switch and looking for a breaker box, but then Sarah remembered reading that your key card must be inserted into a slot on the wall.  We did that and, "voila" the lights came on!  Very clever, so long as you don't lose your key.  Plus, it helps you remember to take your key with you when you leave your room. 
When we woke up (at 4am) it was much too early to get going so we used the excellent hotel Wi-Fi to FaceTime my parents back in Texas.  Of course it was midnight to them so we woke them up, but they were glad to hear from us none the less.  We chatted for a while and got ready for the day.  We left the hotel about 8AM to walk around the town.  We ambled down a very quiet Las Ramblas until we found La Boqueria.
La Boqueria Market...well, a small portion of it. 
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Various shots of the market...
A great place in the market to stop for breakfast.
We wandered around the market marveling at all the item being set up for the day.  We found a little spot at the back of the market to have some breakfast.  Churros y Chocolate!  Delicioso! And the coffee was also fantastic.  The kids ate the chocolate with a spoon!  

The Columbus statue is pointing at India, in case you wondered.
We continued our walk down to the Columbus statue, then back up Las Ramblas and off through the Barri Gotic.  We ended up at the Barcelona Cathedral.  It is a magnificent structure.  There was no charge to enter the Cathedral but proper dress was required.  Luckily we were properly covered and allowed to enter. 
After our visit to the Cathedral we headed back to the hotel to pack up for the cruise.  We got back to the room and gathered our things and checked out about 11:45.  We had prepaid this room on so we only had to pay the tourist tax which was a couple of Euros.
Random shot.  Who knows?

We went out to the street to find a taxi and there was one sitting right there!  We started loading our bags into the back then I noticed the meter was already running.  Hmmm....we realized then that someone had called for this cab and we quickly took our things out of the trunk.  We didn't want to pay that extra charge (if you have the hotel summon your cab for you the meter starts when he gets the call).  We only had to wait a couple of minutes for another cab to pass by and we snagged it.  Loaded up and headed off to the port. 

The cab ride to the port was 15-20 minutes and cost about 24 Euros for the four of us. We arrived just after noon.  This was a departure from our normal cruise routine where we get to the port as early as we think we can get away with and end up sitting, waiting for them to let us board.  We were able to check in within minutes (they did keep our passports which are returned after the stop in Turkey) and walk directly onto the ship.  No waiting.  It was great.  We did stop at the duty free shops after check in and buy two bottles of Cava for about 10 Euros each to carry on board.  Cava is Spain's version of Champagne, and is quite pleasant. 

Once on board we headed to the Windjammer where we got some lunch and found some family.  The rest of the family had been staying in a different hotel in Barcelona and had spent several extra days there so we actually did not see them until we boarded the ship.  Then went to the stateroom, which was ready.  Our luggage had already been delivered to our room!  All five pieces!  And it was only about 1:30! 
Chris and Mich (Sarah's sister), and Chris' mother, Meg.  Chris playing putt putt with his father, Chris, Sr. and grandpa, Mr. (Bill) Bellamy.
We're ready to roll...or sail! 

Now I will mention the only big disappointment on this cruise, our stateroom.  We had originally booked a balcony.  Then in an effort to save money dropped down to an ocean view.  A few months before the cruise I caught a rate that gave me a balcony guarantee for the same price as my OV so I switched.  The rooms were assigned and we got 7154.  I found out about the white ship structure that would be just off my balcony, didn't really bother me.  We like the balcony just because it's nice to be able to step right outside from the room and not have to go to another deck.  But it was the configuration of the 3rd and 4th berths that made this room almost unliveable.244  
We squished the hide a bed back a little to move around the room.  Once someone is in it, you are landlocked!
When the four beds were out you could not get to the bathroom.  We have sailed many times with our kids in the same cabin and until this cruise Carnival held the honor of the worst layout but that has been handed over to this cabin!  I know it is not the case for all RCCL ships because we have not had this issue before.  But now it is a question Sarah will definitely ask.  The balcony was a definite plus though!  In fact, the balcony was almost exactly the same size as the stateroom!
The main dining room and our table.  Mike and George Anne are Sarah's parents. We had a great time eating every night with her folks.

The rest of this day was spent exploring the ship and unpacking.  We went to our first dinner in the main dining room.  We had early seating and all of our reservations had been linked.  They put us as two tables (one for 10, one for 6).  This worked fine except it would have been nice if the same server had been working both tables.  As it was, the table for 10 was always finished much faster than our table of 6.  This made coordinating after dinner activities more difficult.  But it wasn't a big problem.  After dinner we went to the Welcome Aboard Show featuring Sasha and Luis (Gauchos).  In retrospect, I would have gladly skipped this show for some extra sleep.  Not good.  After the show it was off to bed.  We were still feeling the effects of the jet lag and we had to be ready for Cannes, France the next morning!

Now, about Barcelona...  We loved it!  It is a beautiful city with a rich cultural and historical past, and it is a city with a vision for the future.  I can see why it is the third most visited city in the European Union, with Rome being first, and Paris second.  I would have to say, though, the city is a bit schizophrenic.  With the ancient influences of Rome, the fortifications of the Catalonians, and the bizarre and partly insane designs of Gaudi, there was so much contrast that we had trouble making sense of it.  Perhaps being so exhausted, that's the way we interpreted it.  But when you are sleep deprived, and then you stand in front of a Gaudi designed building that has the appearance of melted wax, it is hard to keep a firm grasp on reality!

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