Sunday, February 5, 2017

Days 12-14: Barcelona and Andorra

Day 12: Barcelona

We arrived in Barcelona in the morning, and as with everything else on the cruise, disembarkation went smoothly.  After checking into our hotel, we took one of the sightseeing bus tours around Barcelona.

For those of you wondering what Obama has been doing since he left office 

Barcelona has some of the best architecture in the world.  A lot of the top sights were designed by Antoni Gaudi, and are just plain weird.  There is also a lot of strange public artwork.

Not designed by Gaudi, but impressive, nevertheless

3 buildings designed by Gaudi

Casa Mila (La Pedrera), designed by Gaudi, and built between 1906 and 1912

Sculpture by Joan Miro

Plaza Espanya -- the round building is a bull ring that was converted to a mall

Sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein

For those of you looking for pictures of the Sagrada Familia Cathedral, designed by Gaudi, we didn't go by there, having visited it on our last trip to Barcelona.   Here's a picture stolen from Wikipedia (yes, it's still under construction).

Sagrada Familia

We got off the bus in the historical center of Barcelona and walked around, and back to our hotel.

A cathedral in the center of town

Our hotel was near the Plaça de Catalunya, the main square in modern Barcelona.

Plaça de Catalunya

El Corte Ingles, a department store on Plaça de Catalunya

Our hotel -- Roomate Pau (I don't name them, I just stay there)

After resting at the hotel we wandered back out into the city.

Mercat (Market) de Santa Catalina

They still have a graffiti problem in Spain

In the Barrio Historico, we stopped in at the Museu de la Xocolata,  the chocolate museum of Barcelona

This is made entirely of chocolate

As is this....

After leaving the museum we walked around the old town.

Old walls dating to Roman times

Barcelona Cathedral

Local architectural touches

Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, dating from 1329

Inside the Basilica

Inside the Basilica

Inside the Basilica

Next we headed for Las Ramblas, the main pedestrian street in Barcelona.  Neat architecture and art all around.

Along Las Ramblas

Liceu Opera House, dating from 1847

Interesting architecture along Las Ramblas

Another neat storefront

Day 13: Andorra

Today, we took a trip to Andorra, a 3-hour bus trip from Barcelona.  Andorra, located on the border between Spain and France, is another of those tiny European principalities, and qualifies as country number 116 on my list.

Andorra--at the red marker

Our journey began with a trip to the bus station.  Along the way, we encountered a group marching in favor of Catalan independence.  (Catalonia is the region in Spain where Barcelona is located).  The marchers seemed to be mostly our age.

Catalan independence march

Arc de Triomf, not to be confused with the one in Paris

Taking a break after a long morning of marching

When we got to the train station, we purchased the bus tickets from a machine.  When we boarded the bus at 10:00 AM, they asked for our passports, which we smartly had left in the hotel safe--after all, Andorra and Spain are both in the European Union--who would need a passport to travel between them?  Well, as it turns out Andorra is not in the EU.  Fortunately, we were able to get a refund for our tickets, but unfortunately, this was the last bus from that station until 3:00.  Fortunately, I remembered that there was a bus to Andorra at 11:30 from the main railway station, halfway across town.  So we dashed back to the hotel, got the passports, and took a taxi to the other station, in time to catch the bus.  Needless to say, they didn't ask us for our passports.

Heading across town to the train station

On the way to Andorra

A town in the foothills of the Pyrenees

Another town, near Andorra

The principality of Andorra is the size of a large U.S. county, and the capital is the city of Andorra La Vella, which has a population of about 23,000.  For the record, Andorra is about 8 times bigger in area than San Marino.  It's principal "industry" is tourism, consisting mostly of skiing and duty-free shopping.

There's not much to do in Andorra La Vella except to walk around the town and wander into the shops.  Unlike San Marino, Andorra gets a lot of tourists in the winter, mostly for skiing.

Andorra La Vella

Andorra La Vella

Government Exhibition Hall

The "old town" of Andorra La Vella is very small, consisting of what appeared to be only a handful of buildings.

St. Stephens Church, dating from the 13th century

The other side of the church

One of the few older buildings besides the church

Another view of the Government Exhibition Hall (on the left)

If you are looking for watches, cigarettes, liquor, or jewelry, Andorra is a great place to visit. Otherwise, not so much...

Avenue of Duty Free Shops

Apparently cigarettes are unhealthful--who knew?

Andorran street art

Fine Andorran Cuisine

An uneventful 3-hour bus ride took us back to Barcelona, where we arrived in time for a fashionably late dinner.

And thus ended our trip.  Final grades as follows:

  • Rome: B+ --  Fascinating, but try to go in the off-season
  • San Marino and Andorra: C -- Only worth the trip if you're collecting countries
  • Viking Sea:  A -- Possibly the nicest ship I've been on 
  • Tunisia, Algeria, Valencia: Incomplete -- need to go back and spend more time
  • Xativa: B+
  • Barcelona: A -- possibly my favorite city

Friday, February 3, 2017

Days 10-11: Algiers and Valencia

Day 10: Algiers, Algeria

The Viking Sea is the only cruise ship that visits Algiers, and this is only the second stop that the ship has made there.  So our presence in town was a pretty big deal for the citizens.  Here a few shots of Algiers from the ship.

Unlike in other ports, we were only allowed to leave the ship if we were one one of the ship's tours. So we opted for the free tour, which was bus drive around Algiers, with only one stop, at the Martyr's Memorial.  As was the case in Tunis, security was tight--we were in a caravan of 5 buses with a police (or military) escort.

Some buildings along the shore

I believe this is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

After about 15 minutes, we arrived at the Martyr's Memorial, which is on the east side of the city.   The memorial was finished in 1982, and is in the shape of three palm leaves.  There is a statue of a soldier in front of each leaf, representing different periods in Algerian history.

Next to the memorial was what appeared to be a shopping mall and a large open plaza.

A view of part of the plaza and apartments from the memorial

East of the memorial, they are building a mosque, which when finished, will be the second largest in the world.

The mosque is the big tower in the center

This is where they grow satellite dishes

From the memorial, there were good views over the main part of Algiers.

That was the extent of our "off the bus" activity.  The rest of the tour was a bus ride through central Algiers.  Other than the Martyr's Memorial, there didn't seem to be any real tourist attractions.  To top it off, since it was Friday (the Muslim sabbath), there weren't many people in the street.  However, there was a lot of nice French colonial architecture around the city.

Housing in central Algiers

Some Algerian transportation

French architecture

Since we were effectively the only organized tour group in town, we got a lot of attention from folks on the street.

The Algerian Navy (or part of it, at least)

Eventually, we returned to the boat for some swimming under the roof, and some twilight views of Algiers.

Algiers at dusk

Day 11: Valencia, Spain

Today, we signed up for a ship excursion to the town of Xàtiva, about 50 miles south of Valencia, which is the home of the infamous Borgia family.  So all we saw of Valencia was along the route in and out of town.

Valencia and Xativa

Port of Valencia, as seen from the ship

A street in Valencia

Although we didn't get to central Valencia, we did pass by the City of Arts and Sciences, which consists of several museums, a planetarium, and an oceanographic park.

Museum of Sciences

L'Hemisfèric -- IMAX Cinema, planetarium and laserium

Another view of the Museum of Science

L'Umbracle -- a landscaped walk with plant species indigenous to Valencia

The whole complex

Countryside between Valencia and Xàtiva

They have graffiti issues in Spain

Xativa essentially consists of three parts--a modern section, located in a valley; an "old town" located partially up a hill, and the Castle of Xavita, located on the top of the hill.

Modern part of Xàtiva

Old Town

Castle walls

Inside the castle walls

View of the modern part of town from the castle

Brenda Cannon Kalt in front of her namesake

We're in Spain, not China

A crypt inside the castle

Not-well-preserved castle wall

Castle dungeon

Panoramic view of old and modern Xativa

View of the countryside, looking away from the town

Castle walls as seen from below

Back in the modern part of town

Eventually we made it back to the ship, where, after dinner we took in an ABBA tribute show, apparently a requirement on Viking cruises.

After that, we stumbled to a lounge to watch a Filipino rock band.  (It would appear that all rock/pop bands on cruise ships are Filipino).