Day 48. A different route was chosen for our drive back to Pisa though some very hilly and winding roads. The landscape changed the further north we got, with many more trees, hills that were more rugged and grapes replaced by olive trees. The trees were heavy with black and green olives just waiting to be picked.
A detour to the hill town of Volterra took us up a very steep climb and offered great views from the top. A stop just long enough to stretch our legs and walk around and then back on the road to make sure we were on time. If we are more than a 1/2 hour late we are charged an extra day on the car.
We found one of the few Roman ruins that we have seen here in this small town.
Very pleased with ourselves we check the car in, no dents or marks and a half hour early, not getting lost.
A short train ride into Pisa central and then we took the next train to Florence. We had planned to go into town to see the leaning tower but decided that we just wanted to get to Florence right away instead.
Our hotel is spacious and clean and only two blocks from the Duomo, which is in the major tourist area in Florence. We went out for a walk down the pedestrian road which was very crowded with tourists from all over the world. The stores and cafes look fantastic. A few stalls are on the side streets selling leather goods and scarves etc.
Our walk takes us to the Ponte Vecchio, a well known medieval bridge in Florence which dates back to 996. Shops selling gold jewelry are lining both sides of the bridge and there are many people and vendors here tonight.
We look forward to exploring more tomorrow.
Day 49. We had prebooked tickets for the Uffizi Art Museum for 930AM. This is one of the most famous and oldest museums in the western world so it gets very busy.
The museum is overwhelming. Paintings and sculptures by DaVinci, Raphael, Botticelli Rembrandt just to name a few. After an hour of seeing so many amazing works of art your head is spinning. We took a coffee break on the roof for an hour and then went back to discover more masterpieces for the next couple of hours.
I think that visiting this museum would be better over a few days to really appreciate the art in smaller pieces. It was one of the most amazing galleries we have ever been to.
After lunch we went back to the room for a few hours and then walked the streets for a few hours before dinner.
I love to people watch and notice that the tourists must get up in the morning and say to themselves " I want to be comfortable" and dress accordingly.
Italian women on the other hand must wake up and say " I want to look Fabulous" and they do. They throw together items of clothing that shouldn't work but do, and look amazing. They have such a sense of style. The men throw sweaters over their shoulders, wear bright scarves looped around their necks and expensive looking shirts and shoes. If they wear glasses the frames are very colorful, and some quite outrageous for the age of the wearer. I love it.
There is also a lot of passion on the streets. Lovers young and old practically making out on the streets You will be walking behind someone and they will just stop and get into this very heated embrace. We are so conservative at home.
I went shopping tonight for a short while and did end up finding a pair of boots.
Day 50. The Duomo was on the agenda for this morning and so we lined up early and got inside when there were not too many others there. What a gift. The Duomo, or cathedral, called the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, is huge and unlike the others we have seen. The building was started in 1296 and finished being built in 1436. At the front of the cathedral is a dome that has wonderful paintings on the ceiling.
The tour groups and throngs arrived. We all do what I call the tourist shuffle. Cows to slaughter. We MOOOVE slowly from place to place in a huge crowds shuffling our feet.
Doug and I sat on a bench for a while and just looked around at this extraordinary building. We can see the dome from our hotel room and it is a great landmark. When we don't know which way is home, we just look up for the dome.
I love watching other tourists. I turn around and there are about a hundred or more all with their cameras pointing up to the ceiling, a few more hundred iphones doing the same thing. It makes you wonder exactly how many of the same photo there are in existence.
We wandered next door to the museum but there are under construction and only a half of a dozen or so works on display.
Day 51. Tonight we fly to Barcelona on a low cost flight so we packed our bags and left them at reception for the day. I have been reading reviews of the airline and I barely slept last night worried about our luggage being over 23Ks as they will charge you $20 for each kilo you are over. That can quickly add up to negate any savings on the airfare. You can also bring 10K as hand baggage which they weigh and measure at the gate however. We have no way of weighing our luggage so we spend the morning throwing out any thing that we didn't need. I wore most of my heavy jewellery and three lawyers of clothing. More on that later.
We had tickets to the Academia where the statue of Michalangelo's David is. The crowds were not too bad and the museum also had other paintings and statues that we found very interesting.
David ,however, is a masterpiece. I thought, " yeah, I have seen pictures, and I even saw the copy that is in one of the squares in Florence, how great can it be?"
We sat and just marvelled at it for close to 45 minutes. The perfect body made from marble. It is truly magnificent. Every vein and muscle is so perfectly carved. You wonder how on earth he could have made this from one huge piece of marble. And a piece that was turned down by many other sculptors as being too narrow and imperfect.
We were very glad we went and it really is worth seeing in person. We could not take pictures of it, so this is the copy in the square.
Exploring Florence for a few more hours until it was time to take our cab to the airport. Florence is a huge city. We did not realize how big because we just stayed in the old quarter. Our cab driver is very skilled at driving as it is a real challenge in Florence with the narrow roads shared by bicycles, pedestrians and other vehicles.
Our bags were each 14 lbs less than the maximum. Can I take some clothes off now and repack? Too late.
Our knapsacks were also under weight. All that worry for nothing. THe flight was good and we arrived in Barcelona at 9PM
Barcelona. What a surprise this city was. It is so huge, the cab ride from the airport cost more than $50.
Our hotel in on the Ramblas which is a very popular walking area with many hotels shops and places to eat lining the streets. A wide pedestrian area in the middle is flanked by streets on either side and many trees to offer shade in the heat of the summer. This well used walkway is always crowded with young old as well as many families. Tourists and locals alike are found here.
It was a very long day and we went straight to sleep.
Day 52. After breakfast we walked the Ramblas and came upon a large indoor market. Once again it is similar to Granville island but larger and extremely crowded. We bought some fruit for our day and wandered around looking at the different types of fish fruit and offerings.
As the city was so big we decided to do a Hop on Hop off bus tour and got the two day pass. Today we did the green route which took two and a half hours and we did not hop on or off, just enjoyed the tour.
We went past many different areas of Barcelona, as I said it is huge, and past a large marina with thousands of boats, some of which were large yachts. They have a very big aquarium here with the water tunnel above so that the fish, sharks and rays will be swimming all around you. We did not have time to visit however.
Barcelona is on the coast and they have developed a cement pathway along the many wide beaches that go for miles. People are walking , jogging, skateboarding roller blading and biking on this wide promenade. It looks like it is well used. There are a few people sunbathing and a number of sailboats in the water.
The architecture is so diverse. If you were a student of design this would be a great place to come. The buildings are all different. There is no area where only one style is permitted. You will see Art Deco next to modern next to Gothic. It is really quite spectacular to see all the different styles together.
We got off a few stops before home and went to the cathedral of the Holy Cross and St. Eulalia, also known as the Barcelona Cathedral. It is a gothic cathedral and seat of the Archbishop of Barcelona Spain. It was completed between the 13th and 19th century and quite fantastic.
I was here in 1973 and don't remember too much about the trip but do remember this cathedral and wanted to see it again.
Doug and I went inside and marvelled at the paintings and interior design.
On our walk back we came upon another indoor market, this one was more of a cross between Whole Foods and Granville Island and offered many varieties of cheese, nuts, vegetables and what ever you wanted.
A restaurant was attached and we stopped to have lunch. The design and atmosphere reminded us very much of being in Granville Island.
Later that evening we went out to find a place to do our laundry. The fellow there convinced us to let him do it for only a few Euros more and it would be ready in an hour and a half. How could we refuse?
A few doors down was the Gaudi Palace. Gaudi was an architect and has designed many buildings around Barcelona. They are very distinct and quite unusual. After giving him his diploma, his teacher at school said," he is either a genius or a lunatic".
It was a great time to visit, 7PM, because there were very few people there. We had seen extremely long line ups for many of his building's today and did not want to spend the day queuing up.
His design is fantastic and so unique. He used metals, leather and wood all at once. This was a home (palace) commissioned by a wealthy industrialist to be built by Gaudi. The price of admission included an audio guide which was very informative and there was a short film about his life to give you a better understanding of who this man was. We spent just over an hour touring this work of art. The chimneys for the many fireplaces were colorful pillars on the rooftops
Our laundry was done, we dropped it off at the hotel and went out searching for dinner. We found a square lined with restaurants on all four sides. Doug wanted a paella but most only make them for two and he wanted seafood and I vegetarian.
We managed to find one in an out door seating area and the paella was fantastic. It took forever to arrive but worth the wait and fun to people watch in the meantime.
Day 53. The orange route was explored today on the bus tour. The top of the bus offers great views and the temperature is nice and warm today. This route took us through a different area of the city and then up to the top of a hill to see a wonderful panoramic view as well as where the gondolas leave from to take you over the city. If we had more time I would have loved to do that.
The summer Olympics were held here in 1992 and at the top of the hill is the massive indoor pool and stadiums. Nearby are the old buildings and exhibits from the World fair that took place here in 1929. We also pass a huge art gallery that would have been worth a visit had we had the time.
The bull ring was on our route. Not used any more and now a shopping centre, I can remember seeing a bull fight in this building in 1973. Linda and I were cheering for the bull, which did not go over well with the other spectators. It was a horrible event and I am glad this building is now closed.
Lunch was at another of Gaudi's buildings that had part of it turned into a cafe. Doug wanted to go back onto the bus tour 'green line' again. I went part way and then got off to shop for a few items needed for our cruise, toiletries etc.
This evening, our last in Barcelona, was spent walking the small streets looking for a place to have dinner. We found a small one and once again had paella which was very good.
It is Halloween today and many children out dressed up going from shop to shop. We see a number of young adults in creative costumes as well and there was a party atmosphere in the air tonight.
Day 54. Barcelona deserves at least a week in my opinion. There are so many things that we would have liked to have done here. Today however, we leave for our cruise towards home. We will make our way to the ship around noon and start our 16 day cruise to New Orleans. I am excited but nervous about this next chapter.