Sunday, November 30, 2008

Travel Blogging III

Dateline: At Sea off Africa. This is my first chance to add to the travel blog since Rome. We were late boarding the ship as she was late into port, having hit some very rough seas the night before. How rough? She sustained some minor damage, broken windows and the like. I guess many passengers were scared.

First day out we moored in Livorno and motored to Pisa. Pisa was neat, small in area and very atmospheric. Normal pix of the leaning tower don’t show that it is, in fact, the detached bell tower of a large church or basilica. The church leans some but the tower leans plenty. At the other end of the basilica is a separate building called the baptistery, which is a perfect wedding cake of a building, circular, heavily decorated, and topped with a dome. Everybody comments that the Italian countryside looks like California. Yes, but it is wetter than CA.

Second day out we were supposed to moor at Cannes and motor to Monaco. Cannes didn’t happen – a combination of rough seas and winds from Africa made it infeasible to tender passengers ashore so we skipped Cannes and sailed slowly toward our next port: Barcelona. It was a shame to miss the Riviera.

Barcelona is a charmer, a clean city without super tall buildings and with the oddest cathedral you will likely ever see, the Gaudi. The Gaudi is gaudy, no doubt about it. It resembles what you’d get if you crossed a gothic cathedral with the Watts Towers in Los Angeles. Way weird. It is still under construction, I might live long enough to see it completed. The rest of the city has charm, and we saw it on a lovely day, which helps. There is other odd architecture in Barcelona, must be something in the water.

Next day we spent at sea, cruising the coast of Spain, and the following day we came to Gibraltar. For a guy who spent his youth reading World War II history, and his adulthood reading sea yarns like the stories of Hornblower, Bolitho, and Jack Aubrey, visiting Gibraltar was a hoot. We took a tour of the World War II tunnel complex and it was amazing. Canadian mining engineers dug 30+ miles of tunnels in The Rock, and people lived, worked, and played in the tunnels. I had no idea that the limestone of the rock is so porous that after a rain outside it rains inside. We were told to take our umbrellas and it was a good thing. Gibraltar has, for most of its history, been a fortress, pure and simple. It is that no longer, now it is a British outpost that is booming, building going on in many places. All this irks Spain, which has never renounced its claim to Gibraltar.