A Building Most Beautiful

It was a rainy, gloomy day as we sailed into the bay of Monte Carlo and docked in the Harbor. Some of the guests went sight-seeing and some treated themselves to a day of reading, napping and playing cards. Frankly, it was a relief to have nothing to do except just what you wanted to do! Husband Brad would have no rest, so he set off in the rain in search of a drugstore and to see up close the work being done to be ready for the Monte Carlo Grand Prix.

The day was topped off with a gala dinner for all the “world travelers” at the famous brasserie style restaurant Cafe de Paris. This is in the Hotel de Paris next to the legendary Grand Casino of Monte Carlo. The Cafe has been remodeled and is extremely modern. (I miss the old Grand Baroque “look.”) Cocktails and dinner were served in the stylish rooftop venue which was all white – walls, linens, china and beautiful floral centerpieces. Dinner was simple but delicious. A “log” of goose liver pate, a boneless chicken leg/thigh in some marvelous sauce and a dense chocolate mousse with passion fruit ice cream made the meal. And the matched wines were superb.

Some went next door to play at the Casino and the rest took their full tummies back to the ship.

The next day, we sailed into Marseille (known as Marseilles in English) in Provence. This beautiful city is the second largest in France to Paris and was founded by the Greeks in the sixth century B.C. The harbor itself is home to the remains of ancient walls, Roman docks and temples. Most interestingly, medieval structures stand alongside modern buildings and restaurants. Two large ancient forts flank the entrance to the old port, Fort Saint-Nicholas on the south and Fort Saint-Jean on the north.

There all sorts of churches, abbeys and museums and a palace or two to visit, but for our one day in this port, we chose an excursion to Cassis. It is located on the southern edge of France between Marseille and Toulon. Loved as a vacation destination by the French, it is a cross between a fishing village and a beach on the Riviera. Part of this town’s appeal is the opportunity to visit its calanques (new word to me) which are a series of coves nestled between high limestone cliffs.

Much of its charm is attributable to the pastel colored buildings and narrow cobblestone lanes that lead from all directions to the harbor. These lanes are lined with charming restaurants, creperies, ice cream shops that include the best passion fruit flavor known to man, expensive beach wear and jewelry, and art of all sorts and description. One store was all candy, like gummy bears and sour apples displayed in 50-gallon barrels.

It was too bad that the day was more than a little “fresh” as the English like to say when they are describing “colder than expected.” It was cloudy too, but the rain held off until we climbed back up one of the lanes to get back into our coach to make our trip back to Marseille where we discovered that city’s enormous waterfront ferris wheel in another part of the harbor. Good thing we are going to be back here again next year or husband Brad would have jumped out of the coach to ride it – and would probably have missed the ship’s sailing to Barcelona that evening.

Barcelona is one of my favorite cities because of the Cathedral of the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) designed by the renowned Antonio Gaudi. The United Nations World Trust protects many of his structures, and this iconic church is one of his most famous buildings. He began work on this incredible building in 1882 at the age of 31. He realized he could never finish this enormous project. He would die in 1926, the result of a streetcar accident.

Many architects and builders worked with his drawings, and the building is still under construction! Craftsmen work on it daily. During the Spanish Civil War in 1936, citizens worked day and night to save this beloved cathedral from fire that raged through the port.

It is one of the most awesome, incredible, creative works of art that is also utilitarian. It alone is worth a trip to Barcelona. Thousands of people flock to visit La Sagrada each day; Catholics, atheists, people of all religions come to visit this incredible church as it is both church, art and museum.

We went online months before our arrival and bought our tickets. It cost 24 euros each for a senior ticket and audio description system. We had been there several years ago and knew that hundreds of people visit each day. Our memory remained fresh and we had to see the newest construction.

It has been called the “cathedral of fragments.” It was a first experience with what has later been called “collage.” I think of the fantasies of Aladdin when I see it.

Gaudi counted on an active and direct collaboration with architects, sculptors, potters, stone masons, etc. To me, it is the grandest, most glorious, creative, beautiful, thought-provoking edifice in the world.

There are tall intertwined stone towers with gilded crowns and columns. Each façade tells a story. Currently, two of the three façades are finished, the Nativity and the Passion. The Glory is still under construction. There are “lifts” to take you up into the completed towers.

There are no pews. Folding chairs are set up in a roped off area in front of the main altar. Anyone may enter this area for Mass or to just sit and marvel at the beauty of what has been completed. There is a museum in the basement.

If architecture and beauty are your “thing” then this is a “must-see.” You will remember it all your life. I hope to live long enough to see this glorious homage to Christianity completed and visit it once more.

We then had a day at sea to recover before sailing into the harbor at Gibraltar. It is a tiny rock of only 2.6 square miles! To the ancient Greeks and Romans, it was one of the two Pillars of Hercules, set up by the mythical hero to mark the edge of the known world.

It is a British Overseas Territory and shares its northern border with Spain. It is densely populated and has over 30,000 residents!

An Anglo-Dutch force captured Gibraltar from Spain in 1704 during the War of Spanish Succession. It was ceded to Britain “in perpetuity” under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. During WWII, it was an important base for the Royal Navy as it controlled the entrance and exit to the Mediterranean Sea, which is only eight miles wide at this point.

Today, Gibraltar’s economy is based largely on tourism, online gambling, financial services and shipping. It contains many tunneled roads, most of which are still operated by the military and closed to the general public.

Instead of a formal tour, and because it was a Sunday when most shops are closed, we opted for a leisurely stroll from the ship across the downtown to the cable car station. The ride to the top of the rock took six minutes, where we were immediately greeted by Gibraltar’s famous apes. Cute and nasty at the same time, these creatures are not original to Gibraltar. They are transplants from years ago. They will steal out of your backpack or purse, snatch your sunglasses, and have been known to bite with their very viscous teeth.

After a ride on the cable car back to the bottom, we took a cab back to the ship for lunch.

Next stops are Cadiz in Spain, Lisbon and Funchal, Madeira in Portugal. Then we head across the Atlantic toward the good old U.S. of A. VT

Photos courtesy of Carla Sue Broecker.