Frank R. Hall and Associates
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A Dream Cruise – Venice to Barcelona

This is about the cruise Patricia and I and our friends John and Mary Ellen Mohler, completed on May 8, 2004. It's my custom to write one of these travelogues on each of our trips to entertain our friends (we hope) and keep a record for our own future enjoyment. As time goes by, they seem to be getting longer and longer, for which I apologize. One friend told us he hadn't had a chance to read our “Fall Color Cruise” effort because, "I haven't had a free weekend." Unfortunately, this one's even longer.

A BRIEF OVERVIEW: This trip covered 22 days and took us to nine countries, although in two (England and Germany) we never got out of the airport: to wit London Heathrow and Munich. We flew into Venice on Wednesday April 21st spending three days before boarding the Oceania Regatta for a 14 day cruise with stops in Dubrovnik (Croatia), Corfu (Greece), Sorrento (Italy), Bonifacio, Corsica (France), Naples, Livorno, Portofino and Civitavecchia (Italy), Monte Carlo (Monaco) and Marseille (France) before finally arriving in Barcelona (Spain) where we spent another three days.

Sound like fun? It was! But, it was also tiring with only two "at sea" days during the whole cruise, one of which was devoted to packing our bags. We all agreed we would have appreciated one or two more days of rest.

FREQUENT FLYER MILES: We've been hoarding United Frequent Flyer miles for years. Until now we've used them to upgrade to Business Class on long flights. We owned a couple of hundred thousand United FF miles when they filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy last year. That made us very nervous about our mileage stockpile, so on our last two trips we used the miles for the whole air fare, not just the upgrade.

When you're using FF Miles for free a ticket, you’re at the mercy of the carrier about your flight schedule, and you may end up on a "Travel Partner." In our case we were assigned to an Air New Zealand flight from LAX to London Heathrow, Lufthansa from London to Munich and "Air Dolomiti” from Munich to Venice.

Ever heard of Air Dolomiti? Neither had we.

The first two legs went smoothly then in Munich we found our Air Dolomiti plane to be a rather elderly propeller driven aircraft that held about 60 passengers. Looking at a map of Europe, you’ll see flying from Munich to Venice you go over the highest peaks in the Alps. Gasp!!

We were apprehensive, but, it turned out to be the smoothest flight of the trip. As a smaller plane flying at lower altitude it provided absolutely fabulous views.

Returning we flew Lufthansa from Barcelona to Munich and connected to a direct flight from Munich to LAX. Coming home it took about 17 hours from beginning to end. Not bad, as it had taken us about 20 hours to get to Venice, thanks to layovers.

On the other hand our friends, the Mohlers, whose miles are with American Air Lines flew from LAX to Dallas, Dallas to Raleigh/Durham, Raleigh/Durham to London Gatwick and Gatwick to Venice taking about 24 hours. It was even worse for them coming home.

Our advice? Use your miles for upgrades and book the flights you want.

MONEY MATTERS: The Euro is now the currency for all the countries we visited except England and Croatia. Currently one Euro is worth about $1.20.

In the pre-Euro days you dealt with multiple currencies and multiple exchange rates. This led to a lot of costly mistakes by us tourists. Several years ago a friend of ours while visiting Lisbon, paid $500 for an alligator wallet. He thought he was paying $50. A little later, he decided it was such a good deal he went back and bought another one. He didn’t find out he’d put the decimal point in the wrong place until his wife opened their Visa bill. Boy, was he in the “Dog House.”

Those days are in the past. But, the downside is in those “Old Days,” almost every merchant in Europe would accept your “Yankee” dollars in lieu of the local currency, now hardly any do. I used to carry dollar bills to use as tips in Italy, now if you plant one or even two on the outstretched palm of your bellhop he’ll look at you as if you’ve just spit in his hand.

In the really “Old Days” a person could take along Packs of Marlboros to use as tips, but no more. Today, a Spaniard pays $2.40 for a pack of American Cigarettes, about half the cost in California.

One problem with the Euro, in my view, is there is no bill denominated below a five. There are one and two Euro coins, but except for pennies, nearly all the coins are about the same size. You have to be careful.

Another major change is the proliferation of ATM machines. Now, in any country in Europe, you can pop your ATM card into a machine bearing any of the symbols on your card and get Euros in cash – and at a very favorable exchange rate. There are even ATMs in most major airports. This has nearly done away with the need to carry Travelers Checks or to exchange your currency into Euros before you leave.

Before we left I went into the Santa Ana Office of Wells Fargo Bank and asked for $50 traveler’s checks. They didn’t have any. I had never heard of a bank not having a supply of traveler’s checks.

POLITICS: You’re not going to believe this, but, during the entire time we were gone no one asked us about treatment of prisoners in Iraqi prisons.

Not a single person asked about George Bush, John Kerry, Bill Clinton or Al Gore. There was only one politician they wanted to hear about, Arnold Schwarzenegger. In Italy by Italians, in Spain by Spaniards and on the ship by Australians (who represented about a quarter of the ship’s guests), literally everyone wanted to know about “Arnie”, when they discovered we were from California.

There’s a lot of graffiti in Europe even, tragically, in Venice. Barcelona’s graffiti artists are particularly prolific. We asked several people in different countries about the graffiti and were told that political comments represented a small percentage of the total.

If not political, what was the message of these graffiti artists? “Our Football (Soccer) team is better than yours!”

SURFING THE NET:Before leaving, I spent a lot of time on the internet researching our “ports of call” and I found many websites devoted to Venice and Barcelona. To research restaurants and accommodations I found and to be very helpful. I discovered provides critical “reviews” of Cruise Ships, very helpful in deciding if we wanted to take this cruise. You’ll be amazed what you can learn for free with the help of your friends Yahoo and Google.

WHAT’S IN A NAME A question. Why do we call Venice “Venice” instead of “Venezia” the way the Italians do?

We English speakers simply ignore what they call their cities and apply our own variations. So we have “Rome” instead of “Roma,” “Naples” instead of “Napoli,” “Venice” instead of “Venezia” and, worst of all, “Florence” instead of “Firenzi.”

The point is, become acquainted with the real names of the cities you’re going to visit , or you’ll be lost when you look up at the Schedule Board in that Italian Railroad Station.

VENICE: This was my third trip to Venice, (Patricia has been there even more often) and I hope we’ll be able to go again and again. There is just something about the place that mesmerizes you and draws you back. What struck us immediately this time was Venice was swarming with tourists, and “season” hadn’t even started yet.

Venetians whine that their city is becoming the “Disneyland of Europe,” indeed millions of people now visit Venice every year, while the population of the place has declined from a peak of about 300,000 to around 60,000 now. Most of the people who work in the City, live in Maestre across the Lagoon because the cost of living in Venice is so high.

We love the Piazza San Marco and selected our Hotel, the “Bauer” to be close to it. It was an excellent choice, our room had a balcony overlooking the Grand Canal and it was a short walk to the Piazza. Venetian purists hate the Bauer, thinking its architecture too modern and out of place. But, don’t let them talk you out of it. You’ll love it.

Piazza San Marco, the “Heart of Venice,” is huge, about the size of 4 contiguous football fields. The focal point is the Cathedral supposedly atop the grave of St. Mark, himself, whose bones were rescued from the Turks in the 11th Century. How they’re sure they got the right bones in those pre-DNA days we can only speculate.

The Palace of the Doges, rulers of the ancient City State, is adjacent to the cathedral and both are dominated by an enormous bell tower. Around a hundred years ago the tower collapsed. There was no earthquake or other natural calamity to explain the tower’s collapse; it just sort of “gave up” after about 900 years of ringing bells. Maybe it was the cumulative effects of all those sound waves. The rebuilt tower is sturdier, they say.

More numerous in the Piazza than tourists, are the pigeons. One of our guidebooks noted that if anyone would closely inspect one of these birds, he’d find they’re infested with lice. People buy bird feed to have their photo taken covered with pigeons trying to pluck the birdseed from their hands. Yuck!

The same guidebook indicated that once, years ago, the Venetians tried to thin the bird population by mixing specially treated feed, designed to make male birds sterile, into their regular feed. They covered the square with the stuff. The pigeons, no where near as stupid as previously thought, gorged on the untreated feed and left the rest, resulting in a heck of a mess for street sweepers and failing to alter the size of the pigeon population in any significant way.

Unlike past years, however, the tourists flooding the Piazza San Marco this time weren’t Americans and Japanese – they were from other parts of the European Union. The common currency and the “open borders” have made visiting Venice by a Parisian like a Californian visiting Las Vegas. No sweat.

Legend has it British humorist Robert Benchly telegraphed his travel agent on arrival in Venice, “Streets full of water. Please advise.”

What sets Venice apart from every other city is that it’s not just on the water – it is “of” the water. The city is a series of islands, separated by canals. If you want to drive there you’ll have to leave your car in a giant parking structure outside of town.

Is Venice sinking? In a way.

The water level in the Lagoon is rising which in winter causes flooding, worse in some years than others. We were told that in December of 2002 you could row your boat across Piazza San Marco. But there was no significant flooding this past year.

Venetians have moved most of their valuables to the 2nd floor of their townhouses and it is not at all unusual to find the ground floor of a residential building completely abandoned while the upper floors of the same building are crowded with residents.

Prime Minister Silvio Burlesconi, who has been in office longer than any PM since WWII, has a plan to solve the problem. But, Venetians are skeptical. The way I look at it, if the Dutch can reclaim their land from the North Sea, the Italians should be able to solve this problem. Maybe they just need a Dutch Engineer as a consultant.

In Venice, you walk. You can take a gondola ride for fun, but that’s not the way you get around. There are water taxis and a very dependable, low cost water bus system that will take you where you want to go. But, there are so many things to see in Venice, around every corner is some new piazza to explore, it would be a shame not to walk it.

We visited the Museo Ca’Rezzonico, formerly the Villa of the Rezzonico family and recently opened as a museum. Most interesting were furnishings from the 17th and 18th centuries including an exhibit of pianos and harpsichords from those periods.

We attended a Vivaldi Concert featuring his masterpiece, “The Four Seasons.” There is a small concert hall in the Piazza San Marco where concerts of the most popular Venetian music are performed nightly. As you might surmise, Vivaldi was Venetian. The Vivaldi Concerts are every other night alternating with Italian Opera excerpts. We loved it. Two of the restaurants in the Piazza also have outdoor orchestras which fill the Piazza with music day and night. Are we having fun yet? Indeed, we are.

One day we strolled to La Fenice’, the famous opera house, because our guidebook said it was surrounded by antique stores. We thought there might be tours of La Fenice’ available, but we were wrong and we didn’t find many antique stores either, but we did find the only new construction we saw in Venice, a large condominium complex. We also found the home occupied by Mozart during his time in Venice as well as the home of his arch-rival Salieri just two blocks away.

Then we also decided to take a gondola ride. It cost about $40 a person for the 4 of us to crowd into a gondola and although we’d all done it before, it’s always an adventure. Our gondolier didn’t sing, but he did whistle for us and we did convince him to join us as we all sang “That’s amore.” The ride lasted about an hour and took us past most of the City’s landmarks, including the Rialto Bridge. We recommend it, but, don’t be surprised if you see a dead rat go floating by. We did.

We also shopped and shopped and shopped. Venice specializes in the famous Murano Glass, the slightly less famous Burano Lace, Carnival Masks, and of course, Italian designer clothes and shoes. Happily they all accept Visa and American Express.

FOOD IN VENICE: It’s said you can’t find a bad meal in Italy. That’s true. It also might be said it’s hard to find an inexpensive meal. There are lots of little wine bars and pizza places that serve excellent food. But when in Venice, nearly everyone wants to go to Harry’s Bar.

Founded and still operated by the famous Cipriani family, Harry’s Bar was the Venetian home of Ernest Hemingway, and other notables. The food is truly great, and many tables have a view of the Grand Canal, but you can count on spending $100 apiece or more for lunch. If you have to ask how much a dinner might cost, you probably can’t afford it.

For dinner, another restaurant we liked was Ristorante Alla Borsa on Calle delle Veste. John and I had veal while Patricia and Mary Ellen shared a pasta dish. All were excellent and the bill was about $60 apiece, including, of course, a bottle of wine.

Since Venice is Northern Italy, you’ll find more white sauces than red. Surprise, surprise, one of the local specialties is liver and onions, outstanding and unlike anything you’ll get in the States. Another specialty is Pasta Fagioli, the bean and pasta soup.

A final word on Venetian food. The Italians want to savor their food and don’t want to burn the roof of their mouth in the process. So, most food is served warm, not hot. Get used to it, you’ll like it.


DUBROVNIK: Our first stop was Dubrovnik, Croatia across the Adriatic from Italy. Until 1990 Croatia was part of Yugoslavia. After the fall of Communism it was one of the first states to declare it’s independence. The Serbs, who were trying to hold the country together, declared war on the Croatians and shelled Dubrovnik – the first time in centuries the historic city had come under enemy fire. The damage from the war has been cleaned up and the medieval center of the city has now been completely restored.

Ultimately, the former Yugoslavia broke up into pieces and there are now six separate states where once was one. Prior to World War I Dubrovnik was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then was made part of Yugoslavia (the name means: the Union of all Slavs). Our guide pointed out that the World Press keeps talking about “Ethnic Stress” in the Balkans. She said, “It’s not Ethnic Stress, we’re all Slavs. It’s about religion.” And, indeed it is. The Croatians are Roman Catholic, Serb’s are Eastern Orthodox and Bosnians are Muslims.

In spite of the “Ethnic stress,” some parts of Yugoslavia have come a long way since leaving Communism. Slovenia recently joined the European Union and Croatia will soon. Their major opportunity for economic stability is tourism; so, they are very, very nice to you. Since Croatia has a very large percentage of the coastline in these parts, they’re billing themselves as the “Adriatic Riviera,” and it is indeed beautiful.

In Dubrovnik, we took a tour of the old walled city. Built originally in the 14th Century and rebuilt in the mid-17th after an earthquake flattened the place, the walls were aimed at protecting Dubrovniacs (no kidding, that’s what they call themselves), from the Venetians and the Turks who were vying for supremacy in the Adriatic. They prided themselves on being great negotiators and traders. That’s how they survived.

We toured a Franciscan Monastery and the Cathedral. I asked our guide if the Communists had allowed these old religious institutions to function during their rule and she said, “of course.” I told her when we visited Russia we learned the cathedrals and churches that had been shut down by the Communists and used as warehouses and even arms depots. She said, “You must be mistaken, the Communists were tolerant of all religions.”

Later the same guide referred to the Communist period, as “The time when we were all equal.” No need to wonder about her political affiliation.

When the tour was over, while Patricia and Mary Ellen shopped, John and I found an “Irish Pub” (no fooling) and had a beer. Later we bought an ice cream cone and listened to a street musician dressed like “Will Scarlet” in the main square playing a mandolin and singing the songs of Simon and Garfunkel, in English, no less.

We enjoyed our short visit to Dubrovnik and think you’ll enjoy yours too.

CORFU: Northernmost and greenest of the Greek Islands, Corfu was our next stop. We were anxious to return to Corfu since our Greek Island Cruise ten years before. This time we elected to take a tour of the “Achilleon Palace,” one of their major attractions.

Built as a sort of “getaway” for Empress Elizabeth, wife of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria (the Emperor never set foot in the place) the palace is dedicated to the Greek God Achilles. After Elizabeth died by an assassin’s bullet in 1892 it was purchased by Kaiser Wilhelm who vacationed there until his fall from power in World War I. Owned by the Greek Government after that, for many years the palace was operated as a Casino. The beautiful gardens were home to outdoor roulette and card tables, which were featured in the James Bond film, “You Only Live Twice.” They claim it was the only outdoor casino in the world. I have to admit I’ve never seen another one.

The Palace has been restored and, for the last twenty years, open to the public. Elizabeth had excellent taste, and the place is beautiful. The gardens, focal point of the tour, are dominated by a 20 foot statue of Achilles who gazes down on a magnificent vista of coastline and Corfu Town several miles away.

When we returned to Corfu Town to do some serious shopping, we found most shops closed – as in most of Europe, shops close in the afternoon and don’t reopen until 5 PM or so. Instead we sat in an outdoor café and enjoyed some liquid refreshment.

The major crops on Corfu are Olives and Cumquats, those tiny citrus fruit that look like miniature oranges. They are very proud of their Cumquat liqueur, which we sampled, and their Cumquat marmalade. Try it if you see it at Trader Joes, it’s great.

One unique thing about Corfu, the streets seem to be home to numerous very friendly, but lazy dogs. They lie in the middle of the street in old town and everyone simply walks around them. Occasionally a passer-by will pat one on the head and get a friendly wag of the tail in response. We never saw a leash on the Island of Corfu, but, then, the dogs of Corfu don’t seem to need them.

By the way, at the Port of Corfu there is a very well stocked Duty Free Store, one of the few we found in a Port facility. We love Corfu and will go back someday.

SORRENTO – CAPRI: Our next stop was Sorrento, one of the most beautiful towns in Italy. Since we’d been here before, we elected to spend the day on the Isle of Capri.

What a mistake that was, the biggest disappointment of the trip.

After a crowded hydrofoil ferry ride of about 40 minutes, we climbed into mini-busses and traveled to the village of Ana Capri at the top of the island. It was absolutely mobbed with people, most also on mini-busses. John and I took a ride on a Chair Lift to the top of the highest peak on the Island. The view was great and we got some terrific photos, but again, it was very crowded.

Our tour guide recommended a restaurant for lunch that, he said, wasn’t a “Tourist Trap.” It turned out to be a “Tourist Trap.” The food was good, but the place was packed with other tourists whose guide had promised them it wouldn’t be a “Tourist Trap.”

After lunch, Patricia and Mary Ellen tried to find bargains while John and I sat in an outdoor café on the main square, drank an $8 cappuccino and watched the mobs elbowing their way past one another.

We learned part of the problem, the annual “May Day” celebration was near and many students were on “holiday.” Like Ft. Lauderdale in the U. S.A., Capri is where Italian teenagers go for “Spring Break.” John struck up a conversation with one group of kids from Rome; one girl had passable English and translated for the rest. They were fascinated by John’s digital camera and wanted their picture taken to see the result afterward on the camera’s tiny screen. Luckily, John didn’t tell them we were from California, or we might have been there all day talking about “Arnold.”

When the “girls” were finished shopping we stood in line for 20 minutes waiting to get on a funicular to take us to the dock, then spent another 30 minutes standing in a huge line to get the next ferry. Naturally it was standing room only. While we visited other crowded places on this trip, Capri was the worst because it’s a very small place and there’s nowhere to escape.

We had planned to spend an hour or so in Sorrento, but when the ferry finally docked it had begun to rain, so we gave up and returned to the ship.

As a final insult, that damned hydrofoil ferry went speeding by, as our tender approached the ship, creating a wake that almost sent a couple of old ladies crashing to the deck.

Good bye and good riddance, Capri.

AMALFI-NAPLES: The bad weather continued the next day and our Captain elected to dock in Naples instead of tendering into Amalfi as planned. As our original tour was also cancelled, we elected to take a bus trip from Naples along the Amalfi Coast to the little town of Amalfi. We were all very glad circumstances forced the change because the drive along the Amalfi Coast, especially with an experienced Italian Bus Driver, is not only one of the most picturesque and beautiful experiences you’ll ever have, but, it’s an “E Ticket Ride,” as well.

We had always heard that Naples was unsafe for tourists and it’s true around the waterfront. However on the short bus tour we took of Naples, we saw enough to make us want to come back. A beautiful Palace and Opera House, numerous museums and a spectacular Castle which dominates the harbor all appear worth visiting. And, I don’t need to tell you that Naples is the birthplace of Pizza.

Our bus stopped at a “Cameo Factory” on the way to the coast. Cameos are a very big industry in Italy, and they are extremely well crafted and beautiful. Naturally, we had to have one.

The bus, climbed into the mountains covered with lemon and olive trees. The sides of the mountain also seemed to be cluttered with rolls of nets, which our guide explained are spread under the olive trees at harvest time. It turns out they don’t pick olives, they literally shake the tree until they all fall off. The net catches the olives when they fall.

When we emerged onto the coast road, we were treated to miles and miles of spectacular views. Our driver, Pasquale, took hairpin turns in stride and numerous times had to squeeze by other vehicles with only a fraction of an inch to spare. Then, there were those insane Italian motor scooters whizzing by. What fun!

We finally arrived in the Village of Amalfi where we had lunch at a very nice restaurant. John and I enjoyed a “Glace” in the square while the ladies shopped in great shops.

Pasquale was not allowed to take the “Coast Road” back, so we took a more direct route. And all agreed the Amalfi Coast was a highlight of the Cruise.

BONAFACCIO, CORSICA: If Capri was the biggest disappointment on the trip, Bonafaccio was the most pleasant surprise. A Mediterranean island, Corsica is part of France and is close to the Italian island of Sardinia which you can see easily on a clear day. It’s well known as the birthplace of Napoleon, but, Corsica is also a vacation playground for Europeans.

The island is primarily limestone, which accounts for the incredible coastline, carved by the sea. To it’s benefit, Bonafaccio was built on a cliff, and the harbor is almost totally hidden from potential enemies. The fortress in Bonafaccio was at one time the headquarters of the French Foreign Legion.

You can walk up to the top of the island if you are a real masochist. Most people take a little auto-train which gets you up to the “Heights,” then you get off and explore the place as you come down. A photographer’s dream, you can get spectacular pictures of houses teetering on the edge of the cliff.

Even though it was May Day, most shops in Bonafaccio were open and we enjoyed exploring them as we strolled down the steep streets. Finally we took an ancient stairway down over 175 steps. How do I know the number? John counted them.

In the harbor there is a wonderful little waterfront with many restaurants on the water, and numerous shops to tempt you. We had a great lunch at “Le Goulet” before shopping.

One suggestion on eating in France particularly if you don’t speak French, most restaurants have a “Prix-Fixe” menu which includes an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert. Often included are the restaurant’s specialties. As long as you’re willing to be a bit adventuresome, just close your eyes and order the special Prix-Fixe Menu. You won’t be disappointed. At Le Goulet not understanding much on the menu, I ordered Prix-Fixe and received steamed mussels, sautéed calamari and crème caramel for desert. All out of this world.

After we left the restaurant, Mary Ellen discovered she left her sweater and John went back to retrieve it. When he arrived back at the Restaurant the owner introduced him to a man he said was the “President of Corsica.” John was impressed. The “President” wanted to hear about Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It was a beautiful sunny day, so we strolled the waterfront, stopped for a “cool one” and took the tender back to the ship.

We’ll go back to Corsica if we have a chance.

LIVORNO-LUCCA: Our next stop was Livorno, which is the port for Florence (Firenzi) and Pisa. Most of the prepackaged tours were ones we’d been on before, so we opted to arrange for a car and driver to take us to the ancient walled city of Lucca.

The thing about Lucca’s walls is that they are wide enough to plant trees on top of them and there is a footpath where you can walk completely around the city without ever getting off the wall. There was a motorcycle rally going on in the town when we arrived, but, after awhile the bikers all went roaring off into the sunset, returning Lucca to peace and quiet.

It was Sunday, so most shops in Lucca were closed, but, we did find an excellent little restaurant, “Al’ Olivo” where we ate a wonderful lunch. I had Tagliatelli (spinach pasta) with artichoke hearts that was out of this world.

When we returned to the ship we spoke with some of the ships passengers who had signed up for the package tour in Florence. When they got there they discovered that the Italian Museum workers were on strike and they were unable to tour the Pitti Palace or the museum where Michaelangelo’s David is on display. Bummer!!

Italian workers do like to “flex their muscles” to let us know “who is in charge” and it’s not unusual to find some service you take for granted is shut down because of a strike.

Livorno is a huge port. When we pulled in that morning we noticed a gigantic cargo ship of the Grimaldi Line (Grimaldi is the family name of Prince Ranier), unloading automobiles which were being driven down a ramp and parked in a nearby parking area. When we returned from Lucca, the Grimaldi Ship was still unloading cars and now there were literally hundreds of identical cars parked in the parking area and the cars were still being driven off the ship. Hours later when our ship left port the cars were still being unloaded. The economy is “booming” in Italy.

CIVITAVECCHIA-TARQUINIA: Civitavecchia is the port for Rome and many passengers took tours of the Vatican, but, since we had “Been there – Done that,” John and I elected a tour of an Etruscan museum and “Necropolis” or burial site in the nearby town of Tarquinia.

The Etruscans occupied much of the Italian peninsula before the rise of Rome. They were traders and the museum exhibited items found in the ruins of Etruscan homes from Egypt, Carthage and Persia. Etruscan artifacts indicate a close association with Egyptian culture and they may have been descendants of Egyptians who came to the Italian Peninsula about 900 BC.

At the Necropolis we climbed down into several tombs to see the intricate wall art. So far, 6,500 tombs have been located in the area, but, only about 50 have wall art, which was reserved for the very wealthy. The sarcophagus in which a wealthy Etruscan was entombed was decorated with a depiction of the “late lamented” reclining on his or her side, a departure from other cultures where the deceased is sculpted on top of the sarcophagus flat on his or her back.

The Etruscans flourished in the area from about the 7th Century BC until conquered by the Greeks in the 3rd Century BC. The Greeks in turn were conquered by the Romans in the 2nd Century BC and soon the Etruscans just sort of disappeared, assimilated into Roman society. Don’t feel too sorry for the Etruscans, though, they had taken the land away from the Villanovians, about whom we know little.

After our Etruscan adventure the tour took John and me to an Italian Olive Farm, where we sampled local cooking and wine.

Vincensa, our tour guide here was interesting – an African-Italian. Her Father was in Mussolini’s Army, which conquered Ethiopia in WWII. He settled in Ethiopia after the war and married a local woman. They and little Vincenza fled Ethiopia when the Communists deposed the King in 1970. They settled in Tarquinia, her father’s birthplace, where they all still reside.

PORTOFINO – SANTA MARGHERITA LIGURE: At last bad weather caught up with us. While we had a few drops of rain in Sorrento and Amalfi, the weather had, by and large, been terrific. When we arrived in Portofino it was raining and as the day progressed, so did the intensity of the rain. We tendered into Portofino where we quickly toured the little town. We then decided to get a taxi to take us to Santa Marghetita Ligure a larger town, a fifty-Euro taxi ride away.

We toured the Church in the Main Square and stopped in several shops, but as the rain continued to get worse, we sought refuge in an outdoor café – “Ristorante Palma,” on the beachfront road. Here we took our time eating our Pizza while we waited for the weather to let up. It never did.

Finally we called our Taxi driver to bring us back to Portofino where it was raining harder than ever and the wind turned our little travel umbrellas into junk in no time. We finally made it back to the Tender only to find that the seas were so rough the Tender couldn’t tie-up to the ship. This was a bit unnerving for we 70 or so rain-soaked tourists. After taking several cracks at it and nearly crashing into the side of the ship, a more experienced ship’s officer came aboard, and taking over from the helmsman, took control and saved us from capsizing. Another “E” Ticket Ride.

Needless to say we were glad to see the last of Portofino although we all agreed we’d like to go back on a sunny day.

MONACO-ST. PAUL DE VENCE: Our next stop was Monaco, home of the famous Casino, Monte Carlo, named for the mountain on which it sits, “Mount Charles.” We booked an afternoon tour to St. Paul De Vence, a picturesque little town overlooking nearby Nice.

In the morning we strolled into town to look around. We stopped to have our picture taken at the Monaco Yacht Club and saw some of the most impressive yachts we’ve ever seen. The largest of these was the “Lady Moura”, seemingly only slightly smaller than our cruise ship, it had a special feature, a helicopter parked on the bridge. I have no idea who owns the Lady Moura, but I’d sure like his name and address for our “prospect” list.

After I wrote the above paragraph my Assistant, Theresa Beard, looked the Lady Moura up on the internet. As you might guess it’s owned by a Saudi Arabian businessman Nasser Al-Rashid who berths it in Majorca. It is indeed the largest privately operated yacht in the world at 344 feet. There are 5 larger yachts, but they’re all operating as cruise ships. Unfortunately, my plan to put Al-Rashid on our prospect list is too late as his heart and fortune are already pledged to his alma mater, the University of Texas.

Monaco, is second only to the Vatican as the smallest country in Europe, was preparing for it’s famous Gran Prix and we wandered through a portion of the street that had been set aside as the “Pits.”

To get to St. Paul De Vence that afternoon, our tour bus went through Nice, famous as a Riviera playground. Nice has a wonderful long waterfront, but we saw no bathing attire, as there is no sandy beach in Nice. The beach is up the coast a ways at Cannes. For 500 years Nice was under the protection of the Italian Duke of Savoy and didn’t join France until 1860. Our tour guide said Nice is more Italian than French and we certainly saw more Italian Restaurants than we’ve seen anywhere else in France.

St. Paul De Vence is a walled city on top of a hill overlooking Nice, about a 45-minute drive from Monaco. It‘s an artist’s colony, where Picasso and Matisse painted and Marc Chagal is buried here. Numerous galleries grace the narrow streets. It’s a great place to shop and we found many opportunities to use our Visa cards.

John and I watched a group of men playing a local version of Bocche Ball which they called “Petanque.” It’s a cross between shuffleboard and horseshoes using iron balls tossed or rolled with great skill by the participants. There seemed to be a lot of tour busses at St. Paul De Vence and I wondered if these local guys were paid to play the game to entertain the tourists. Not a bad way to make a Euro.

MARSEILLES: Our last stop was billed as “Provence,” where Marseilles is the capitol, but as the second largest city in France, an unemployment rate of 14% and a Muslim population exceeding 40% it looks more like Algiers than Provence. We took a city tour, which included the church atop the highest hill in the area, Notre Dame de la Garde, and enjoyed a fabulous view of the city. We stopped by the Longchamps Palace and snapped some photos but didn’t have time to go inside.

Our bus got caught in an awful traffic jam, thanks in part to English “football” fans in town to watch Newcastle play Marseilles. Because of the traffic our scheduled lunch stop was reduced to about 40 minutes. We dashed into a little Bistro hoping to get a baguette sandwich, but it turned out to be Algerian so we had Cous Cous instead. Very tasty.

In the event we return to France one day, which we very much hope to do, I think we’ll skip a return visit to Marseilles.


BARCELONA, THE REPUTATION: After 14 days of cruising we arrived in Barcelona, a place we’d never been. We were both excited, but apprehensive. Everything I’d read about Barcelona told of a vibrant city, with a terrific nightlife and a reputation as the Modern Art capital of the World. The Picasso and Dali Museums are at the top of every guidebook’s list of things you “simply must do.”

Our problem is, Modern Art is not our “bag.” We have spent hours in the “Met” in New York without ever being tempted to visit “MOMA.” We like the Impressionists, but, that is about as “far out” as we get.

To make things worse, “Night Life” for me ends around 10 PM, just about the time Spanish Restaurants are opening for dinner.

No worry, Barcelona has a lot to offer to everyone, including an old duffer like me.

SPANISH TIME: Perhaps it’s because they are on the Western edge of the European Time Zone, so that even in mid-summer it’s still dark at 6 AM and the sun doesn’t set until around 9 PM, or, maybe it’s just the Spanish culture, but, no people anywhere keep the strange hours the Spaniards do.

Stores and Offices open Monday through Saturday around 10 AM. They stay open until 1:30 or 2 PM, then close down for 3 or 4 hours, reopening in the neighborhood of 5 PM and closing at 8 PM. Everything is closed on Sunday.

The restaurants open at 9:30 or 10 PM and are not really crowded until after 11 PM. Most nightspots are dead until Midnight when things really get going until 3 AM or so.

No wonder Spanish store clerks all seem to yawn when you’re speaking to them.

OUR BARCELONA ACCOMODATIONS: We arrived in port on Saturday morning and were whisked by bus to our hotel, the Princesa Sofia. It is a very nice hotel, but we had trouble understanding how it became a “4-Star Hotel.” The food and service were excellent, but the rooms could have used new carpet and drapes at least 5 years ago. Our room reminded me of my last stay at the Sheraton Four-Points in Lubbock.

The major downside to the Princesa Sofia is it’s a $10 taxi ride from the center of town.
But, then, everything in Barcelona seems to be about a $10 cab ride from everything else.

GETTING AROUND IN BARCELONA: Friends who’ve been to Barcelona advised us to use the “Underground.” It’s supposed to be terrific and inexpensive. Unfortunately I tend to be claustrophobic in subways, so we spent a lot of time in taxis.

The map of Barcelona says it all, instead of referring to addresses as “321 Main Street,” for example, it will say “Numero 321 a Diagonal 68.” The major streets all seem to run diagonally to everything else and when you’re riding in a taxi you’re never really sure where you are. AND, don’t think your taxi driver doesn’t know it. Several times it cost us $12 or $14 to get somewhere that cost us only $9 the day before.

One tip if you’re planning on driving yourself - Barcelona, like Lisbon, requires you to get over to the right in order to make a left turn. Really!! We once ended up driving around Lisbon for an hour trying to get to a hotel we could see to our left but couldn’t seem to get to.

LAS RAMBLAS: The famous “Walking Street of Barcelona,” in the historic part of the city, was our first stop. It’s a street with a very wide cement strip in the middle on which nearly everyone in Barcelona seems to stroll in the afternoon and on this Saturday it was mobbed. There were many vendors with permanent stalls. Post cards, tee shirts and the usual tourist stuff were on sale, but there were some unusual items too.

One group of stalls offered live birds for sale. There were your usual pet shop birds, from Canaries to Cockatoos, but there were also exotic birds from all over the world including one stall offering Emu chicks for sale.

There were also street entertainers. In many parts of the world from Buenos Aires to Paris we’ve seen street-mimes who paint themselves and their clothing in an effort to get you to photograph them, for a fee of course. No where has this art progressed to the point it has in Barcelona. There was a Gold Elvis strumming away on his guitar lip-syncing the Elvis Songbook and a White Angel complete with wings available for a “Photo-Op” on the steps of the Cathedral. There were dozens of others, seemingly every few yards along Las Ramblas.

There is also shopping on either side, but you’d better be careful as you cross the narrow one-way streets. Cars and motor scooters have the right-of-way and they get great satisfaction in “buzzing” tourists.

THE SIGHTS IN BARCELONA: Barcelona is second only to New York City when it comes to great buildings to gape at. On your first visit to New York, you probably found yourself gaping at all the tall buildings. In Barcelona the buildings aren’t so tall, but they are beautiful you’ll find yourself strolling slowly, head tilted back. This, thanks to an Architect named Gaudi.

Gaudi was born around 1880 and worked through the first half of the 20th Century. His buildings are everywhere in Barcelona, no two the same. One tour guide referred to him as the “Frank Lloyd Wright of Spain.” I disagree; Mr. Wright couldn’t hold a candle to Sr. Gaudi. His buildings have a Moorish influence, a gothic influence and a modern influence all at the same time, yet they are all unpredictable and beautiful, too. No straight lines on Sr. Gaudi’s buildings. He even started a Cathedral, “La Sagarda Familia,” in 1896, which remains unfinished today and is one of Barcelona’s biggest tourist attractions. They now estimate it may be completed in 2050.

WHAT TO DO ON SUNDAY: Patricia and I like to attend Mass in the Cathedrals of major cities, and that’s what we did in Barcelona. The original Barcelona Cathedral, was built in the old, Gothic quarter in the 14th Century. The Mass, still conducted in Latin, was an all male, all clerical affair. We thought there would be a large group in attendance, but except for tourists and a lot of very old residents there weren’t many there. Western Europe has become so “secularized” that you’ll seldom see young families in church in any major city.

According to our guidebook, there is an authentic Catalonian dance exhibition following 11 o’clock Mass. We hung around to watch and sure enough an orchestra appeared and organized itself. We assumed there’d be a costumed troupe of Dancers, not so – anyone who wants just joins right in and there were about 50 folks “high stepping” when we left. Whether they were “Authentic Catalonians,” or not, we’re not prepared to say. But they all seemed to be having good time.

While most stores are closed in Barcelona on Sunday, the Gothic quarter, which we walked through after church, was packed with open-air markets and street musicians.
The place was swarming with people. One band composed of English kids played very good Dixieland, while one of the kid’s mothers circulated in the considerable audience selling CDs. The leader of the group was a mini-skirted girl, the only female, who played a mean clarinet. We dropped some Euros in their hat.

We emerged from the Gothic quarter to discover we were at the beginning of “Las Ramblas.” Even though the street vendors and all the stores were closed, there were still many folks out for a Sunday stroll.

That evening we arranged to go to a Flamenco Show at “Cordobes,” a Flamenco Dinner Theater, on Las Ramblas. The first show was at 10 PM, followed by shows at Midnight and 2 AM, in typical Spanish tradition. Naturally we attended the “early show.” I’ve seen Flamenco shows in Spain, Argentina and Hollywood. With 2 male dancers, 4 female dancers, 4 singers and 2 guitarists, this was by far the largest and best I’ve ever seen. And, they perform on Sundays, too.

EATING IN BARCELONA: For us oldsters, who nod off by 10 PM, eating in Barcelona can be a challenge. We did eat at one excellent restaurant, “Bota Fumeiro” which, because many tourists go there, was open at 8 PM. It is touted as the best seafood in Spain and you won’t get an argument from me. It was great.

The rest of the time we were saved by Tapas.

Tapas are becoming popular here in the States, touted as sort of a snack. In Barcelona one can easily make a meal out of Tapas served in “Tapas Bars” designed to “take the edge off” your hunger in the long period between lunch at 2 PM and dinner at 10:30 or 11.

Tapas are actually single serving entrees. With a group of four you simply order four tapas, and everyone shares. Our first Tapas Bar was “Jose Luis Cerveseria” on Saturday night. We shared Scalloped Potatoes, Fried Brie, Shrimp Cocktail and Fried Cod, a very satisfying meal.

On Monday we did Tapas again, this time at “Txalaparta Euskal Taberna” where we shared 2 kinds of Potatoes, Asparagus, Prawns and Calamari plus a terrific home made Flan for desert. It was great.

We highly recommend substituting tapas for your evening meal, unless you can adjust to those late night starting times.

Most Americans are surprised to find Spanish food is so bland and not at all like Latin American. In Barcelona, however, the food is more spicy and tasty than we found elsewhere in Spain. We liked it a lot.

A caution for oldsters, if you order “Decaf” coffee in Spain you’re going to get a cup of hot water and a packet of Nescafe. If you don’t like it, find a Starbucks.

One last thing on food, we always get a “Big Mac Attack” when we’re away from home. After 3 weeks in Europe, we succumbed on Sunday and ate lunch at McDonalds on Las Ramblas. We’ve now in McDonalds on five continents. Can anyone beat that? Does anyone want to?

SHOPPING FOR THOSE TAKE HOME GIFTS: Patricia and I spent time at nearly every stop trying to find perfect gifts to take home. We just couldn’t find anything appropriate. Finally on our last day in Barcelona we went to a Lladro store. You can always count on Lladro for the perfect gift.

ROTARY: As a lifelong member of Rotary, which encourages you to attend meetings of other clubs when you travel, I looked up the Barcelona clubs on the Rotary International website hoping to find a convenient club meeting.

I found several Rotary Clubs in Barcelona and one, “Barcelona Diagonal,” meets for lunch on Monday. So, I put on my coat and tie, inserted my Rotary pin in my lapel and grabbed a taxi to take me to the very nice hotel where they meet. Barcelona Diagonal has about 25 members, mostly business executives.

There was another American Rotarian couple there that day, from Boone, North Carolina. The husband and wife were both past presidents of different clubs and were there to celebrate the completion of a joint project between the Spanish and North Carolina Clubs to provide voice-activated computers for a home for paraplegic orphans. Talk about having two strikes against you, being both an orphan and a paraplegic, this home is the only one of its kind in the world.

When you're a foreign visitor it’s Rotary’s custom to assign you a host that speaks your language to make sure you have someone to talk to. My host was Jorge Bernades, President of the company makes most of the traffic lights in Spain. A very gracious man, Jorge insisted I was his guest and refused to let me pay for my own meal.

It's also traditional for a visitor to "exchange flags" with the club he visits. I took along a banner from my Sierra Madre club for this purpose and brought home to my club their banner. I was asked to say a few words, which I did, in English with a few words of my High School Spanish. They were enthusiastic in response although I was convinced few of them understood much of what I said.

The meeting started at 1400 (2 PM) with orange juice served to members as they arrive. At 2:30 everyone sits for lunch consisting of 3 courses: a salad, the traditional Spanish Paella (rice and seafood) and dessert. Naturally there was a different wine for each course. At 4:30 we were still having coffee and no one made a move to leave. The typical American club meeting lasts no more than 90 minutes.

Jorge and I sat at a table with several wives of Rotarians who were there to act as hostesses for their American female guest. Typical of many Spanish clubs, there are no female Rotarians in Barcelona Diagonal. As soon as the wives found out I was from California they wanted to know all I could tell them about "Governor Arnold." Jorge translated for us. One woman wanted to know if "he is a better actor or governor." I told her I never considered him a terrific actor, but I sure did like him better than the old governor. Another woman wanted to know if I could get his autograph for her and was disappointed to hear I wasn't among Arnold's intimates.

I love attending Rotary Clubs in foreign countries. I've been to clubs in Canada, France, Australia and Holland in addition to Spain. It's always the same; you come away with many new friends.

ADIOS BARCELONA: Would we go back to Barcelona? In a New York minute.



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