Day 5 - Barcelona
Back to Barcelona for me, so the local options didn’t appeal, and my July visit had brought me to the cathedrals of Terrassa and Sant Feliu. When planning for this port call, I had Elisa find me a driver to take me near the French border with Catalunya. So after a light breakfast in the lounge, I was on the pier about half an hour after we docked, and met my driver from Chofix. Never got his name, as he didn’t really have much English. It was a quiet ride to Vic. We dropped down from the hills into town and crossed the river, at which point he indicated I should walk to the cathedral. Along a near dry riverbed the riverwalk was full of trees and kiosks set for an open-air market. My immediate suspect was a tall sandstone church. It was the Temple-Sepulcre de Sant Antoni M. Claret.
Locked and not the cathedral, I opened up Maps and found I needed to head around a few corners. The Catedral de Sant Pere de Vic has a Romanesque facade with an open patio up 6 steps. Two side doors bracket pairs of columns framing the central opening under a statue of St Peter. A seven-story bell tower stands at the rear left corner.
The left door was open, and I was soon in a dark nave, the presbytery half of which was filled to the ceiling with scaffolding. An opening had been left for the pews to have a view of the main altar. The side aisles have elaborate murals reaching to the ceiling, with chapels in arched cuts in the outer walls. Thick ribbed dark gold-colored square columns rise to the bare stone vault. The presbytery was lit by a hanging circular light.
Heading down to the crypt, the short round columns supported capitals and the ribbed ceiling. It was a quiet sacred space, still used for services. Back upstairs, the space behind the presbytery was used as a museum, but had probably been an ambulatory. Of particular interest to me was a carved altarpiece. With four tiers, the top three depicted scenes of the early Christian era, while the bottom row has small statues of the early Doctors of the Church and the Evangelists. The adjoining signage refers to the Tetramorph, and an explanation of the symbolism of the gospel writer’s symbols. Large oil paintings stood against the corners of the room’s walls, depicting Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I missed visiting the cloister.
Exiting the cathedral, I chanced an alternate foot route, winding up at the bridge I’d initially crossed and found my driver. We left Vic and joined the flow on the motorway. I noticed that the early December foliage changed color from oranges to yellows as we progressed eastward. In addition, there we passed through a half dozen or so tunnels cut into the hills.
Once we’d climbed towards the cathedral, the narrow streets prevented getting too close. I exited, and was soon confused. Entering the large church I first encountered, I paid for admission to it, a basilica, and to the cathedral. The Basilica Sant Feliu of Girona is huge, with a high vault and sits on the hill slightly below the cathedral.
Minimal adornment except in the shrines, there is a lovely reredos of the virgin surrounded by the Apostles in the altar space. Multiple sarcophagi are situated around the nave, with some embedded in the walls.
Exiting and coming around the walls of the hill, I came to a rank of forty stairs below the Catedral de Santa Maria de Girona, a belltower on its corner. After climbing the stairs, I found a cobbled stone plaza wrapping the cathedral on two sides. Entrances on the west and south faces emptied to the plaza. The west facade has a sole round window set above the single paired doors, with seven statues in niches framing the doors. On the south face, an elaborate series of arches step their way to the door; windows fill spaces in the tower and side walls. Inside, the nave space is fairly empty, with chapels carved into the outer walls, filled with gold ornaments and statues behind iron gating.
An arch, reaching to the vault, separates the nave from the presbytery (rather than a transept or crossing.) An ambulatory surrounds the altars, a stunning silver baldachin standing over the main altar. Set in the nave, dividing empty floor space from the wooden pews is a large wooden organ casing. In the corner, a few steps down took me into the cloister - a large grass patch with a well and a single tree in the square, the walk defined by delicate double columns and curved arches. On the upper level was a display of stained glass recovered from the cathedral.
Exiting, off away from re-entering the nave, was a shrine with 4 stunning tapestries. Returning to the nave, I made another circuit, trying to get a good picture of the cathedra. Labeled the chair of Charlemagne, it dates back to the turn of the ninth century. It is set on a plinth behind the high altar and its gold reredos. A few more pictures and one off the balustrade overlooking the stairs, I texted the driver with my location (in front of the Museu de Girona). He needed coordinates, something I don’t know how to do, so he sent his and I walked down the steps and slight incline of city streets to rendezvous.
When Elisa made the arrangements for me, my request had been for the two cathedrals we’d visited. I had the car and driver until 3:30, and it was then just after 1pm. I had a backup location not too far away, and asked if we could go to Sant Marti d’Empúries on the coast. He said sure, and we were soon back on the highway until it peeled off northward for the Pyrenees and the French frontier, leaving us flat country roads.
The GPS took us around the town to a sloping road that ran to a park over a beach and the hill where the Església de Sant Martí, the former cathProtos edral of Ampurias (500-715) stands, its back to the Mediterranean. Now a simple small-town church, it was closed that Tuesday afternoon. The only visible window was a small rondelle set above the entry, the remained of the exterior stolid white stone blocks.
We left the town and sea behind, first heading west with the Pyrenees out my passenger window, before turning southbound towards Barcelona. For the last 5 kilometers, we were in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but I was back to the ship nearly on time, despite the ship’s departure time being 8pm.
Walking through duty free I collected a 2017 Ribera del Duero Crianza (red Spanish wine) and more chocolate. Once clear port and ship security, I went up to the pool deck and pushed the zoom lens to get a few shots of Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família. A scoop each of chicken-, tuna-, and egg-salad from the buffet tied me over until supper.
Once the solo lounge opened up, I had Nuh, the bartender, open the wine which was delicious. Once the later portion of the group left for early dinner, I continued chatting, with Andy joining me when we left for Manhattan for dinner. Too long a wait, we went down a flight, and joined a group of solos, filling a table of 8. Tortilla soup, sausage with gnocchi, iceberg wedge; the veggie main and the cheese plate to conclude the meal. I managed to consume the full bottle of wine from duty free! And I was together enough to back up the photos and fill a full page in the journal.
Day 6 - at sea.
Breakfast at Taste was Shashuka again, something new for me and a sure favorite. Spicy vegetables in a tomato base, two poached eggs and sour cream, served hot. Delicious. I sat with Scott and Toni from northern Kentucky, having a great conversation. Soon thereafter, at 11, the CruiseCritics / FaceBook groups held a Meet&Greet, where the 100+ attending met some of the officers as they introduced themselves to the group. After lunch I retreated to the library to attempt to read. When the Internet Cafe help desk opened, a steady stream of folks queued up to complain about the loss of “free” minutes because they couldn’t figure out how to log off completely. (Shutting down before getting a confirmation that the logoff took place, probably.)
At 5, to the Solo Lounge where I chatted with Jan from Newcastle-on-Tyne while sipping a JWB. Then I headed to my cabin to freshen up - my lunch companions had invited me to join them for dinner at Cagney’s, so I wanted to wear a collared polo and my sports jacket. As I had 4 specialty dinners prepaid, this was a good use. Joanne (San Diego), Deborah (Charlotte) and Doug, who I think of as the Michigan guy, met me out front and we were soon seated. After perusing the wine list, I asked for a bottle of a ‘22 Chateauneuf du Pape (aka CdP) to accompany my filet mignon. The side, garlic truffle French fries (extra crispy, of course,) was sublime! Dessert was raspberry crème brûlée, truly divine!
Day 7 - Cádiz
Up and out to the lounge for a quick breakfast of coffee and a croissant, before heading to the Epic Theater to rendezvous at 8:45 for the excursion. Called, we headed out to the pier, but still it was a half hour later before the bus of 50 had boarded. We had decent weather. The excursion was originally set for Arco, but due to the main plaza there being under a full rebuild, we set off for Medina Sidonia. As we rode away from the port, the old city disappeared into the mist. We climbed a modern bridge and passed salt flats as we moved towards the flat agricultural fields. When we reached Medina, a “white village” set at the top of a rise, we left the bus outside the city gates.
A cloistered Convento de Jesus, Maria y Jose was our first pause, to hear about the pasteleria the Augustinian nuns produced and sold at a doorway, all on the honor system. A bit further up the hill brought us to the square where the belltower rose over the main church. Access was through the museum, which was closed. We heard more about the history of this portion of Andalusia, and then were given about a half hour to wander. We all started in the mercado, with two fishmongers garnering attention. I wound up taking pictures of entryways, as I appreciated the brilliant blue, white and yellow tilework.
Shops were only starting to open when it was time to regroup. No trinkets or chocolates, and none of the clothing or shoe stores appealed to me. We met at the town square and continued walking away from where we entered town, meeting the bus on the opposite side. More terrific vistas over the spreading countryside, as the cloud cover had been rising or burning off throughout the morning.
Our second stop would be in Jerez de la Frontera, which I had visited in 2018 after my bicycle tour in Andalusia. The bus took us across agricultural flatlands, and then the city rose ahead of us. The bus passed the Moorish fortress, not pausing to allow any photos. We rolled through part of the town, taking a switchback to be able to turn right into the sherry house Gonzalez-Byass, known for its Tio Pepe products. The three buses of English-language tour members alighted in the courtyard, were divided into smaller groups with a guide who took us first into a large covered space lined with casks decorated with the ensigns of the Spanish regions and the 200+ countries where their products were sold. Our guide was a former Brit, but her microphone was flaky and it was difficult to follow her patter. After the introduction, she walked us into the warehouse where the casks were stacked in long rows, long aisle running off the central axis to the distant walls.
Low lights, my camera did its magic. Out the far end, we walked under a grapevine-covered space to stairs which took us up to the museum-like space which was lined with family heirlooms, memorabilia, vehicles and more stacked casks. Then out to another shaded walkway, down a cobbled alley and into the tasting space. Unfortunately, walking near the rear of the group, a French-Canadian quartet carried on a full-volume conversation in Québécois. We passed representations of the Tio Pepe logo, a stack of red-painted caned chairs shaped to look like a Christmas tree. The passengers from the buses merged as we were directed to find a seat before the three tastes were explained. A fino, a cream and Croft Twist, a popular slightly effervescent light beverage, were tasted with a small dish of crackers. Then we had an opportunity to visit the Tio Pepe retail store, to which about a third of the groups perused product and souvenirs.
Meanwhile, we had twenty minutes to wander around the limited space outside, affording me photo opportunities. Back on the bus, we headed directly back to the port in Cádiz, arriving at 2:15. I was traveling with fellow solo Laura. She had done some serious purchasing and needed to return to her cabin. We were going to walk into the old city together, but the security queue was huge, so I sent her through while I headed off on foot towards the cathedral. Primarily pedestrian streets, I passed numerous small shops filled with tourist trinkets. Christmas market booths lined the stairs at the foot of the front of the cathedral. I checked at the ticket counter into the cathedral for directions to the old cathedral Parroquia de Santa Cruz (Catedral Vieja de Santa Cruz).
When I’d included a picture of the old cathedral in the Cathedrals to the Glory of God I used a shot from the belltower, as I wanted to display its proximity to the sea. Now, reflecting that it might have been a wrong choice, I wanted to get a new view for the next volume. Unfortunately, the church was closed, but I was able to get good photos. I took shots along the seawall before I took an alternate stroll back to the passenger port.
By arriving later, after the excursion bus crowds had passed through security, my trip through Duty Free and security was a breeze. I stopped in O’Sheehan’s for nachos and a beer, before climbing to my cabin. When the solo gathering began, I arrived with my copy of the photobook, sharing it Jan, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne while I enjoyed a JWB. The crowd thinned with the departure of the early diners, and by the time I was ready to eat, I was solo and heading to Taste. As I was escorted to my table, the pair of women from Tampa called out, asking me to join them. Dinner was pea soup, 6-layer salad, BBQ beef and the cheese plate. My bottle of CdP was retrieved so I had a glass with my meal. Afterwards, I headed to the cabin - despite gaining an hour overnight, I was ready to relax horizontally.