Our last Port, and last full day of the cruise were spent in Marseilles. I had read on the cruise critic forums that a free shuttle brought guests to the Old Port area where there was a fish market, flower stands and other local shops. So as we walked off the boat and found out the shuttle was 12 euros each, I was beside myself. Apparently some cruise lines must charge people for the shuttles upfront as part of the overall cruise price, so that all the shuttles are free. It’s smart for them because not everyone takes the shuttle into the Port. I was really outraged about this nickel and dime stuff. Not just because we were spending $36 to go into a town that I didn’t really have an action plan for, but because it made us go through euros quicker than we had planned. Every time you take out money, you get charged for it, so if I had known that we were going to spend nearly 100 euro just to get in and out of the ports, I would have taken more out at once.
Anyway, the Old Port area was a 20 minute ride from the new port where our ship was docked, so at least they weren’t charging us for a shuttle when we easily could have walked. We arrived in the Old Port just in time for the fishing boat to start unloading their spoils. It was interesting to walk around and see all of the locals buying fresh fish for dinner that night, alongside some of the prettiest bouquets I have seen in a while. We walked through the streets and stalls and then turned up toward Fort St. Nicolas. It was closed to the public, but you could hike up pretty high to the lowest fortifications and get a great view of the old port just absolutely packed with sail boats.
As we walked back down through the streets, I did some shopping - lavender soap from the nearby region of Provence, and shoes. We walked all over the streets of Marseilles shopping for shoes. They were really cheap too, I mean literally like $12 for an adorable pair of shoes. It was very confusing because Dan was telling me I could buy as many as I wanted. Does that sound like Dan to you? I only got 1 pair though, apparently everyone in France has the same size foot as me, so they didn’t have very much in my size. One shop that we waltzed into was quite expensive. Louis Vitton - we probably could have gotten a keychain for like 75 euros, but it hardly seemed worth it when the crazy street vendors in Livorno were selling knockoff purses for about 15 euros. Also, everyone knows I would never own something like that. 2000 euros to carry a bag with someone else’s initials all over it? No thanks.
We got back to the boat around 5 or so and enjoyed a fairly calm night. We had to pack all our stuff and tag it so that someone else could carry it off the boat for us the next day. The most fun part of the evening was probably the 45 minutes I spent in line to get the paperwork to secure our VAT refund. The boat charges you upfront for the Euro zone tax, and then you have to get the paperwork on the boat to get your refund in the airport. The line was quite long - apparently, no-one wanted to leave their money in Europe.
The Cruise director said that everyone had to be off the boat by 9 a.m.. Carnival turns these boats around in a matter of hours. Isn’t that nuts? They get 4000 people off the boat, they clean it and set it up for the next 4000 people within a matter of 3 hours, that’s insanity! Anyway, we woke up at 6 so that we would have plenty of time to eat and be ready for our debarkation time of 7:30. I was pretty bummed to be getting off the ship. It was the end of sunny lounging, the end of outrageous amounts of food, and the end of English… which is something that I really enjoy.
It was all so seamless, I mean we didn’t stand in line, we didn’t wait for our bags, we just walked right off, “ding”-ed our cards for the last time, picked up our luggage with ease and got into a cab. I know it seems like a silly thing to be so impressed by, but if you have ever undertaken some kind of corporate event, or wedding or anything like that, you get very impressed by things that are well-coordinated.
Our cab driver had a bit of a struggle finding our next hotel - he said he had never been to that street before and it was on the outskirts of Barcelona, near the University. But they let us check it early - 9 am early, and our room was in fact a suite. We walked into what looked like a conference room and got very confused. But around the corner were a separate bedroom and living room complete with a free minibar.
Dan decided to take a quick nap while I tried to figure out how it was possible for me to have gone over my 300 MB data plan in a matter of 4 days, so that was a fun way to start things off. In case you were wondering, I still haven’t figured it out.
When I went back into the room to find Dan still sleeping, I complained about how bored I was and said we should get busy in Barcelona for the day. So we walked to the metro and headed downtown to find one of the shops I wanted to visit - Art Escudellors. They only sell products made in Spain, specifically, Spanish tiles. I bought some decorative letter tiles to spell out Sadlon, since Dan says I have to change my name the moment we get home. Dan really liked that store, he said it was quite a good time to look at tiles for 30 minutes. I was able to make it up to him by going to his favorite new place in Barcelona, a hole-in-the-wall pizza shop where we had 2 beers each, an empanada, and 2 slices of pizza for 7 euros.
There were 2 other shops that I wanted to go to, but since it was Sunday, they were closed. In better news, Sunday is free museum day in Spain - after 3:00. So we headed to the Picasso museum where we learned about the artist, and his life in Barcelona. At the end of the exhibit, Dan and I both concluded that he “just kinda gave up.” I figured that maybe he got sick of painting, so he started getting wild with it and charging outrageous prices thinking “there is no way people will buy this garbage for this price, and if they do, then I will be filthy rich.” My favorite Picasso, Mujer con Mantilla, was a good example - I thought - of when he first started to get experimental, but way before he got out of control.
I guess some people like that stuff, but personally, I figure I could do it, then it’s not art.
It was pretty late in the day when we finally got around to having dinner - pizza, in case you couldn’t guess. We sat outside drinking casually while everyone around us tried their best to kill themselves and give me emphysema. Stupid Europe, letting people smoke all over.
Back at the hotel, we found 3 English channels on the tv - BBC, CNN and RT, which is a Russian channel. Google “Estonia” and “Bronze Night” if you want a disturbing history lesson sometime. Speaking of lessons, the last ever bull-fight in Catalonia took place in Barcelona on day 13. There were riots in the streets after it was over. Apparently there is still some attachment to the notion of bullfighting as a cultural tradition. But the animal rights activists don’t feel the same way.
Who didn’t see that one coming?
We did not get up early enough to have breakfast at the hotel. Instead, we had to walk across the street to Starbucks where a Café Mocha is not at all what you think it is going to be. We ate light and got moving towards Montejuic - or at least towards the general area. Turns out, you can’t really “hike up” the mountain. At least not in the way Dan and I thought you could - on a trail. There are, however, 4 different types of public transportation you can use to get there. We walked all over the area trying to figure out how to get to the fort at the top, only to find a metro stop about 80% of the way up. Dan was not pleased with me for making him hike, and he didn’t find the “challenge” to have been worth it.
But once we made it to the top, we got a great view of the port, the beaches and the rest of the city. I thought the hike just made it more interesting. Though, when the color from my tank top stained my t-shirt because of the excess sweat - I did get a little irritated.
After a shower back at the hotel, I had to drag Dan back into the city center. He wanted to lounge, but I was starving, and anxious to buy more shoes. We took the metro downtown again, where I thought I might die because I was so hungry.
With luck, as we climbed out of the metro up to street level, there were some familiar golden arches just begging for me to come inside. And so we did, and it was great. I really love McDonalds - I might have a problem. But I knew it would be inexpensive, and it would fill me up.
Then I was able to secure another book, in English mind you, at the FNAC bookstore. And finally, to really make the day worthwhile, I bought 2 more pair of shoes. The first pair, which are brown boots, are rather uninteresting. But the second pair - so exciting - are authentic, made in the shop I bought them from espadrilles. If you don’t know what an espadrille is, they are the rope-soled shoes that sometimes have ribbons that tie up your ankles. The pair I bought do not have the ribbons, but they are still very cute… but you already knew that, because you know that I wouldn’t buy ugly shoes unless they served some great function.
Anyway enough about my shoes. We finished the night with gelto and beers in the Plaza Catalunya, just people watching. Here are some of the comments we made (to amuse yourself, guess who said what):
“These people are just not proportioned. Look how long her torso is compared to her legs?”
“Seriously, everyone here is going to die from lung cancer. I just can’t understand it.”
“Can you imagine how crazy it must have been here in the 80’s?”
“Did you see that? That homeless guy just drank out of the ½ empty cup!”
“There are no really fat people here. I mean seriously look - not one.”
“Where do you suppose all of these dogs pee?”
We had to check out of the hotel by 12, but our train to Paris didn’t leave until 8 p.m. Unfortunately, there was not a whole lot we could really do. So Dan sat in the lounge working while I melted out at the hotel pool. It was a good thing I found that English book, or the day would have been really boring. Instead, I read about the history of Britain, which is something that I’m sure everyone finds as riveting as I do.
We had a great lunch at a place that reminded me of panera. It was cured ham with cheese on a slim baguette smooshed with tomato pulp and garlic. Seriously, so delicious. I feel bad for these Spanish people who come to America and order a ham sandwich - because it simply cannot compete. Another thing that they probably find terrible in the US: orange juice. Everywhere you go in Barcelona, they made fresh squeezed orange juice.
I had wanted a sandwich and chips for lunch - can you tell I’m ready to come home? So I was pleased with the sandwich, but I was really excited later on when we had salt and vinegar chips for dinner. Oh yes, we treated ourselves to a top-notch meal on the train.
We left the hotel with all of our luggage stuffed into this little taxi around 6 p.m. The “concierge” had suggested we leave at 6:30, but I figured it was easier to be early than to miss the only overnight train to Paris. So we arrived at the station around 6:30, put our bags through a metal detector and walked through the door right onto the Platforms. From the time we got out of the taxi to the time we sat down near our train platform, we had walked 50 yards and passed about 2 minutes. So I guess that’s a lesson on traveling out of Barcelona via train from the Estacio de Franca. No need to arrive early!
With our excess time, Dan walked down to a little grocery store and purchased the chips, and some questionable pre-packed items that I will never eat. We sat around for a while and finally boarded the train around 7:45. We had our own private “car” with 2 bunk beds. We barely squeezed all of our luggage in there, but it worked well. We had been saving the one netflix dvd we brought over with us to watch on the laptop during the train ride. That was a good call by Dan, we would have been exceptionally bored if we didn’t have that. I would highly recommend bringing dvds if you plan on taking an overnight train.
We were a bit worried about sleeping through the night, what with the really loud train, and the weak air conditioning, but after some Tylenol pm and bendryl, we managed to sleep. Granted, both of us woke up a number of times, but it wasn’t that bad, I would say it was a fairly inexpensive way to get from one place to another and get a night’s sleep while traveling. Our two tickets for a private car cost $350 and included breakfast. Flights would have been faster, but we were able to keep our luggage with us and only spent about $75 more to take the train than to fly. Keep in mind, if we had flown, we would have had to get a hotel for the night. Finally, we were on the last leg of our trip.
We woke up on board about an hour before we arrived in Paris, with just enough time to have breakfast and for me to get really grossed out in the bathroom. Not to get graphic, but there is only 1 toilet per car.. Men stand to pee, and a train doesn’t stay still. Yah, it was nasty.
In Paris, we got off with all of our luggage and walked to Avis which was right outside the station. Then things got rather interesting. We were able to get a car that would fit all of the bags, unfortunately, it wasn’t exactly what we had hoped for.
My phone was dead and we were over the data allotment anyway, so no google navigation.
Avis was simply out of GPS devices.
There were no automatic cars.
The car had a manual transmission.
We were able to secure directions from the man behind the counter. He printed us out a mapquest or something. However, he printed them out in French.
Can you see where all of this is going? Does anyone remember why I spent so much money buying Dan a GPS 6 years ago? Because I didn’t think our relationship could handle any more stressful rides in the car with me giving directions and Dan shouting at me the whole time. So this was shaping up to be really interesting.
I think all of my warning about how terrible it was going to be made Dan feel sympathetic, because he managed to not yell at me until after we got to our hotel. Yes, we made it, no getting lost, no Angry Dan appearances, just a relatively painless set of guesses and boom, we made it!
When we arrived at the Hotel, our room wasn’t ready o we decided to go for a little walk in the park nearby, and then sat down to lunch at the restaurant that is in the hotel - which is more like an Inn. Lunch was good, we didn’t really know what we were ordering, since the menu was in French, but Dan ended up with a cheese, potato and salmon casserole, while I had smoked ham and gooey cheese (not my favorite thing) on top of thick French bread. The portions were out of control huge and I don’t understand how Dan was “starving” only 4 hours later. I guess the nap we both had after lunch really worked up his appetite.
At this point in the trip, it is worth while to note that we are both a bit cranky, so naps are generally a good idea.
Anyway, post nap we decided to go out and find the French Westinghouse and see where I could catch a train to Paris. After a few mishaps, we did figure out where he had to be on Day 17. We also had dinner: pizza with “buffalo wings” if you want to call them that, and French fries.
I am really sick of pizza. Especially the “pizza” that is served in some of these places we go to eat. But it’s easy to order and Dan likes it, so whatever.
We returned to the hotel where Dan had to kill a GIANT spider that crawled in our window. Also, I’m fairly certain that he is not happy with my decision to sleep with the windows shut tonight.
On day 16, I’d rather be hot than get eaten alive by a French spider.