Friday, August 30, 2013

Sunday, June 23rd part 1 - Montserrat!

Today we were sharing our tour with a mom and her daughter who we met on cruise critic. We used Barcelona Day Tours for their Barcelona and Montserrat full day private tour. The ship docked at 5 am since it was a disembarking port for passengers leaving the ship as their port of call, but our tour wasn’t until 9 am. 

We met our group and left the ship, finding our guide Marta very easily among the incredibly busy and super crowded port! Marta whisked us away and onto a large van, actually more like a small bus and off we went.

Our first stop would be Montserrat. We drove for about an hour. Marta talked the whole time – mostly to my dad who must have asked her a million questions! 

As we got closer to Montserrat the views became just amazing. We started to climb the mountain and the higher we went the more beautiful. It seems that each day we go to somewhere even more breathtaking! 

We traveled up the winding road – up and up and up! There were people hiking it, riding bicycles up, and even some cable cars…we were happy to be on our little bus!

We finally made our way to the monastery at Montesrrat. 

Marta took us all around. She showed us all of the different buildings and told us the historical significance of each.

We stopped in the Basilica and it was just beautiful.

Mass was just starting – we peeked in and it was packed – wall to wall! I managed to snap some pictures above everyone's heads though!

We decided to not stay to listed to the famous Children’s Choir sing, it would have been about a 45 minute wait until they started and we didn’t know how far back we’d be since it was so crowded.

So we decided to split up. Alex was itching to climb. He saw trails and paths and mountains to climb! He and Keith went off to find something with some adventure!

The other family with us and I wanted to take the funicular up higher on the mountain and walk the trails up there.

My parents and Megan – they weren’t sure. They went off with Marta, but whatever they planned, it didn’t work out and they ended up on the funicular with us!

We went up even higher and the view was even better! My new traveling companions and I took a path around the huge rock face and looked out below. When we were actually down there looking up we had commented about how amazing it must be to be up there – and now here we were!

As we were standing there, a couple of guys came by in there rock climbing gear – they were going to scale this big rock!

Ok – there’s adventure. We’re just walking on the path!

This is that big rock from the Monastery level - if you zoom in or look closely you can see people climbing up that rock and about a quarter of the way up the rock there is a small ledge, that's where we were walking!

We think Marta intended us to go further – she mentioned some other big boulder, but we knew if we were going to make the next funicular down we had to turn back.

We met up with my parents, Megan and Marta who were at a picture viewing spot and enjoying their views up there. We went back down and found Keith and Alex who had gone on a hike up to a chapel way up on the mountain side. Marta was pretty surprised that they had made it there and back in the amount of time that they did! She said it was a pretty intense hike! She doesn’t know Alex and Keith!

We had a quick lunch at Montesrrat before leaving and we headed towards Barcelona. So far it’s been a pretty amazing day!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Palma de Mallorca, Saturday, June 22nd

Today we will be visiting Palma de Mallorca! I had never even heard of this island until I saw the itinerary for the Epic. We don’t dock until 1:00 pm and we are in port until 8:00 pm. Sure we’re in port for a long time, but I found the times to be pretty unusual. I didn’t want to do a ship tour and trying to find something “unique” here was difficult with this strange time frame. 

Finding a day out on a boat was a challenge, since we really wouldn’t be out and about until at least 2:00 – by the time we could get to a dock somewhere. It seemed sort of late in the day for a beach day too. I knew the family didn’t want to see cathedrals – so what would we do here in this Palma de Mallorca?

Well, here it is, I’m up at 8:00 am! I actually slept in a bit! Everyone else is still asleep. I went out on the balcony and saw some lovely islands!

I checked the Daily to see what was going in this morning – it’s pretty much a half a sea day! I went to get breakfast in the Garden CafĂ© and enjoyed eating outside. Then went back to the cabin to get everyone up. Don’t waste this beautiful morning!

Keith and I went and got some chairs by the pool and I read. The kids went and did their own thing. For a bit they played the big chess game. Then Alex went to the teen club. I believe they were doing some version of Pictionary. I think Megan went back to the cabin. 

So, back to our day in Palma! We docked right on time at 1:00.  By the way, Palma is on an island that is part of Spain....

We docked and got off the ship by 1:15. Disembarking on the Epic was simple as could be, most days! The only confusion was at some ports it wasn’t always clear which deck they were using to walk off. Some days stairways were closed off that were open on previous days. I’m sure they made announcements, but we never heard them in the cabin. If there was a way to hear them, we never figured it out. 

We ended up booking another tour with Tours by Locals. We had used this company in Florence as well. I had actually booked this tour first, and then booked the tour in Florence. In my tireless quest to find something just a bit different – I found Kym who was willing to customize our day to fit whatever we wanted to do. Which to be honest – I had no idea what that would be! I told her about our group, our likes and what we had already done this trip. She came up with a pretty darn nice day! We had corresponded several times leading up to the tour to confirm our plans and we met right on time. Her husband, George was our driver.

As soon as we arrived she pulled out 6 hats for us and insisted that while they might feel a bit silly – it was our gift from her and let’s all wear them for the day. Ok – this was going to be a bit different, but fun for sure! She also gave each of us girls a fan to keep and to keep us cool. It was another hot day!

So what did Kym and I come up with for our day in Palma? Well – we didn’t plan on going to the tourist caves! First, we’ve been to caves before…and second, our day was going to be a bit more unique. And involve some Mallorcan food and wine! Tapas here we come! Somewhere along the emails I had mentioned to Kym that Keith was a chef, so she also had a part of the day planned for him as well.

Off we went! Kym was originally from California and had been living in Palma for years now. Her husband from Canada. They met in Palma and while George does the tours as a side business, I believe Kym focuses on them full time. 

We drove out of the city and for about 30 minutes to an estate which was a beautiful winery. Yup, we’re doing another winery tour today!

And here we are - in our hats and with our fans! Aren't we the crew!

The daughter of the current owner, Isabella, gave us a fantastic tour of the property and of the winery itself.

The house there is part of the property, and Kym said her sister or maybe it was her cousin...lives there now. They all work at the winery.

At the time that this estate, or villa, was built it was common to have their own chapel on the property for the employees of the owner. So Isabella's family now has their own little chapel!

This is the courtyard inside the entrance of the villa.

The sundial on the wall inside the courtyard.

We moved through the property towards the vineyards and the wine production area. I'm not sure what this building was - but it looked pretty cool!

Megan gets into her Spanish mode for some Spanish wine and tapas!

We began to tour the fermentation areas

This was so interesting to compare to the winery in Chianti. This one was a small, family run winery as compared to the one in Chianti. This one produces about 46,000 bottles a year and only has their immediate family working there and the one in Chianti produces over 250,000 bottles a year. However this one here was far more modern in its appearance. It was a newer production facility and I assume they will grow in their volume quickly! Wine is a big product in Palma and it’s very inexpensive.

After the tour we went to their beautiful gardens and had Mallorcan tapas and wine on the patio.

Here Isabella is explaining the different foods we'll be getting as well as the wines. 

This setting was so peaceful! Kym and George sat with us and we talked about the island and they told us stories about their lives. It was like dining with old friends! 

I didn’t write down what we had to eat, but again there were cheeses, meats, and several other tapas items. If I remember correctly there were probably seven or eight different items to try. This time everything was brought out together. We tried four different wines I believe. 

We left there feeling quite satisfied! But our next stop was what Kym had planned for Keith. She and George are members of a food club and they often go to one of the more exclusive hotels on the island. She had arranged for the chef there to meet with Keith to show him the kitchen and just chat with him about “chef” things in general! I thought this was such a kind gesture. Keith always likes chef talk and it was such a nice break from the daily sightseeing! So we went to the Gran Hotel Son Net.

We toured the lobby and common areas and then my parents and I sat on their lovely terrace overlooking the hills and towns while the kids swam in their beautiful pool. 

Keith and their chef spent some time talking and just relaxing. 

He showed Keith their fresh herb garden, talked about where they get their wines, went over their menu… It almost looked to me like a job interview without the pressure!

When we left here we had a very short time to go into Palma for some brief souvenir shopping. The quest for the magnet, postcards and oh – the 3rd pair of Alex’s sunglasses was now cracked. The lens had popped out! Pair one, broke at home before even leaving. Pair two was left on the van we used to transfer from Rome to the Navigator, pair 3 – well, that has lasted us what – 2 weeks now! But now we’re looking for sunglasses in Palma. Found a pair for about 15 Euro. Ok – let’s let them last the rest of the trip please! 

A square in what I guess would be downtown Palma. There were several vendors set up selling goods along the other side of the square.

This is a really old olive tree -it's believed to be over 800 years old!

I really loved the buildings here!

We all really enjoyed our day and I think Kym did a great job planning a unique day for us in Palma de Mallorca! It was much appreciated!

We got back to the ship at around 7:00

We could move on to our next adventure! But before we do - some night pictures of the pool deck on the Epic!