Category Archives: Mediterranean

Livorno and Pisa

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If you have one day in Livorno and have not been to Tuscany before you really must go to Florence (called Firenze locally). It is one of the great cultural centers of Europe and Italy. The historic center is easily walkable. Whether you want to shop, enjoy the cuisine or view the architecture and art of the city, Florence welcomes its visitors warmly. Pisa and its famous tower get a lot of press, but Sienna and Lucca are even more interesting in my opinion. Livorno has something to offer, but only stay there if you have already visited Tuscany and Florence.

Four Moors

Four Moors Statue at Livorno

Our Azamara cruise allowed us two full days docked at Livorno, so we decided to spend some time in the historic port city and take a train to Pisa, which I had not seen before. Livorno (called Leghorn by the Brits) is a relatively new city (16th Century) established as the port by the Medicis who lead Florence during its time of pre-eminence. Livorno was a free port and people from other countries in Europe, Asia and Africa settled there to do business. Jews and Muslims had vibrant communities and there is still a rich Jewish tradition in the city.

Walking across the bridge from the port area to the city, the first thing you see is a rather strange statue of Grand Duke Fernando Medici who lead an expedition to defeat the Berbers or Barbary pirates. The statue shows a rather dapper count on a pedestal with the muscular and nearly naked pirates chained below his feet. The statue is considered a masterpiece, but for the pirates, not for Medici. Piracy was a way of life in the Mediterranean through many centuries and one not unique to North Africans. Legitimate traders were often the pirates when it was convenient.

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We took a hop-on, hop-off tour of Livorno which is an inexpensive way to get an overview. Because it was a Sunday, the city market (one of Europe’s largest) was closed as were several other attractions. Also, because of recent flooding in which six people were killed, the funicular up to the top of Montenero was not operating so we were unable to visit the Shrine of our Lady of Grace – one of the area’s most popular attractions. So instead of hopping off we only hopped on. Nonetheless we enjoyed the drive along the Esplanade and hearing about the history and culture of the Livornese. East of the port area is a recreational shoreline with public spaces, marine parks and historic mansions facing the sea. We passed by the Italian Naval Academy and saw the trainees (men and women) marching. The other historic areas of the city are the Old Fortress just west of the massive port, the many canals now filled with recreational boats and the New Fortress at the center of the canal network. Some people take a short canal tour by boat.

Sunday night our cruise included a wonderful concert at the historic Goldoni Theater in Livorno featuring the Three Tenors of Florence.

Livorno Train Station

Livorno Train Station

On our second day, we took a pricey taxi ride to the train station – two miles for about $19 – for the 12 mile train ride to Pisa – round trip for two for about $13. Donna had taken students many times to Pisa. I can report that the tower is still leaning and a brilliant white and there is some nice shopping along Via Francesco Crispi the main road between the train station and the tower. The walk is about one and one-half miles. It is a pretty city and worth a short visit.

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We got back in the early afternoon and walked back to the ship, watching the local school kids being picked up by their parents.  Not far from the ship we found Volte, the restaurant in the port that our cab driver recommended. Donna ordered Lobster with pasta and a tomato sauce. I had the cacciucco (cah-chu-co) which was a spicy tomato-based fish broth with a huge portion of seafood – octopus, palombo (a small shark), mussels and langoustines. It was excellent as was the local flat bread with olive oil, salt and oregano. Donna had the Ponce afterwards – strong coffee with rum, brandy, sugar and lemon zest.

Cacciucco

If I had it to do over again, I would do the same things, but change the order. On Sunday, we should have gone to Pisa – a tourist town where stores would have been open on Sunday. And then on Monday the Livorno market would have been open as well as other Livorno attractions. Oh well – live and learn.

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The Amalfi Republic: 3 Sparkling Jewels

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Amalfi Panorama by Jensens

Amalfi Panorama by Jensens

Cradled in the narrow valleys that empty into the bay of the Bay of Salerno on the south side of the Sorrentine Peninsula are the jewel-like towns of the Amalfi Riviera.  One hundred or so years ago these elegant tourist towns were sad old shells with storied histories.  A millenia before that they were the epicenter of Italy’s mercantile economy.  Improbably this forbidding landscape produced merchants who dominated trade in the Mediterranean long before the rise of Genoa, Pisa and Venice.  And the wealth of the citizens built churches and villas of exceeding beauty.

Amalfi by fisticuffs

Amalfi by fisticuffs

What we love now about this locale, the dramatic green and rocky coastal shapes, contributed to its ancient success.  During a time of pirates and Muslim invaders, the ancient Duchy of Amalfi had a defensible position.  There is no large open port area and there was always escape to the hills.

The first jewel of the Republic was Amalfi itself.  Central and inviting, in 1000 AD the city had a population of 70,000. Now there are only about 5000 residents.  The coastal beach and marina narrow quickly between two rocky slopes.  The upper valley was the home of Amalfi’s small manufacturing with foundries and paper mills, powered by a fast moving stream.  At the shore is what remains of the Arsenal (1059), where the Amalfitans built, repaired and stored their merchant and military vessels.  In the mid-14th century much of the huge facility was destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami.  What remains is now an historical museum displaying artifacts of the republic’s heyday, model ships and a Compass Museum with samples from the middle ages through NASA.

Amalfi Cathedral by Sudodana2048

Amalfi Cathedral by Sudodana2048

A 5 minute walk from the beach is the Amalfi Cathedral named for St. Andrew whose remains are contained in the crypt.  Typical of many Italian churches, the Cathedral blends elements of the original Romanesque style with later renovations and additions.  The overall exterior style is Norman-Arabic with bits of Byzantine and Gothic thrown  in to create a surprisingly harmonic whole.  The interior is primarily baroque with 5 huge frescoes by Andrea dell’Asta, including the Martyrdom of St. Andrew from the early 18th century.  The bell-tower was built at an odd-angle to the rest of the Duomo and is topped by a distinctively Arabic looking copula.  It features colorful majolica tiles, typical of domes in this area.  The beautiful Crypt of St. Andrew and an older basilica are connected to the Cathedral.

Besides wandering the narrow cobbled alleys and shopping for local crafts such as hand-made paper, the other attractions in Amalfi are the Cloister of Paradise, the white stone passageway where the nobles of the city were buried, the Museum of Hand-Made Paper and the Mill Valley where lemon trees and a rain-forest microclimate offer a lovely walk.

Villa Cimbrone in Ravello by Jensens

Villa Cimbrone in Ravello by Jensens

The wealthiest merchants of Amalfi built villas in the scenic hill village of Ravello.  When the economic power of Amalfi waned both towns fell into ruin for several centuries. Ravello was rediscovered by British visitors who used the ruins of ancient villas to create a paradise of their own.  High above the coast, the fortress like villas of Cimbrone and Rafolo offer incomparable Mediterranean views amid formal gardens and medieval ruins.  Wisteria covered arbors enhance the affect.  This is where luxury meets the drama of nature.

For a more festive and less historic seaside experience, Positanoat the beginning of the Amalfi road offers a resort town ambiance with wide beaches and coastal cafes and restaurants overlooking the beach.  The stunning majolica dome at the Church of Maria Assunta enhance many of the photos of this much-photographed location.  In Positano flat ground is very limited so the 4000 residents have built their homes, inns and restaurants on severe slopes so that the colorful buildings seem almost to be built on top of one-another.

Positano by Jensens

Positano by Jensens

Though any one of these three jewels is a lovely full day wander, the road between them would be a shame to miss.  Known as the Amalfi Drive it begins in Sorrento on the northern coast of the peninsula, but the most famous stretch is between Positano and Amalfi where the Romans cut a path along the coastal cliffs.  Very narrow, the drive is difficult for tourists especially for drivers who want to enjoy the views.  It is a far better idea to get a local tour guide to take you.

After the fall of Rome and before the rise of Venice and Genoa, hidden Amalfi was the center of a thriving culture whose remnants can still be seen on the stunning Amalfi Riviera.  It would be a shame to miss!

Sicily: The Mediterranean Heart – part 2

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Cefalu Catherdral's Christ Pantocrator Mosaic by The Yorck Project

Cefalu Catherdral's Christ Pantocrator Mosaic by The Yorck Project

Sicily was occupied by Arabs for 250 years, until the Norman Roger I captured the island.  His son Roger II became the first King of Sicily ruling from 1130-1154.  His reign was characterized by openness to people of different beliefs including the Muslims and Orthodox Christians.  And he built several great churches including the royal Palatine Chapel in Palermo and a large church at the tiny port of Cefalu.  These constructions blend Norman, Byzantine, Romanesque and Arabic elements into the simple elegance of the Sicilian style of that era and feature stunning religious mosaics such as this one of Christ Pantocrater (righteous judge and lover of mankind) at Cefalu.

Roger II’s grandson William II built the great church at Monreale, considered the masterpiece of Sicilian Norman architecture.  William was the last of the Norman rulers and the following centuries say Hohenstaufen (German), Aragonese-Catalan (Spanish) and Bourbon (French) kings.  During this period of foreign rule, the Sicilian culture began to emerge as a result of the influx of Italians during the Norman period.

In the late 17th century the Black Plague,  a series of Etna eruptions and finally a devastating earthquake shook Sicily and destroyed the cities of Catania and Acireale on the eastern coast of the island.  What was built from the ruins in both places is a stunning flowering of Baroque creativity which in the case of Catania has warranted the UNESCO World Heritage designation.

Catania Cathedral by Louisvhn

Catania Cathedral by Louisvhn

History and architecture are certainly a major part of the appeal of Sicily, but its geology is equally important.  Dominating the eastern half of the island is Mt. Etna, the world’s most active volcano.  Because the pressure from beneath the surface is relieved regularly the volcano is not the time bomb that Mt. Vesuvius is.  So the threat to life is not significant and approaching the smoking cauldrons is a relatively safe and common activity for tourists.  The massive mountain which has resulted from the outflow covers over 450 square miles and is over almost 11,000 feet tall.

The culture of Sicily has long focused on food.  The fertility of the valleys and challenges of the terrain have created a culture of independent spirit and creativity.  While it is certainly possible to find haute cuisine on the island, the most famous items are often served by street vendors.  The most famous street food of Sicily is arancina, a fried rice ball flavored with saffron and filled with meat sauce and vegetables.  Other popular items are stewed octopus, sea-urchins and snails.  And for those with a liberal SOA (Sense of Adventure) you could try the Caldume, frittola (fried animal parts left over when the butcher is done) or Stigghiola (grilled beef entrails) both of which are liberally spiced.

Sicilan Blood Oranges by allentchang

Sicilan Blood Oranges by allentchang

The beaches of Sicily attract thousands of Europeans each summer and each has its unique character.  Below Taormina in the area around Giardini Naxos is a popular and scenic bay filled with swimmers and sunners offering nice restaurants and facilities to suit any taste.  Or you can take a cable car down from Taormina to Lido Mazzaro to another lovely beach.  For an urban beach you can hardly do better than Mondello near Palermo.  Harder to get to but accessible from Palermo or Trapani is San Vito do Capo at the end of mountainous northwest corner of Sicily.  And for a black beach on the island of Vulcano an excellent choice would be Spiaggia Sabbie Nere, surrounded by the dramatic Aeolian islands (where the ancients traded for obsidian).  The list of Sicilian beaches is endless, but that should get you started.

Finally, there is natural Sicily.  This is an island of mountains and valleys with ancient villages dotting the landscape and offering stunning views of the island Mt. Etna made.  The most popular area for discovering nature is Etna itself.  You can take a 4-wheeler journey through the lunar landscape of the craters.  Or you can hike the trails and see villages that are from a byg0ne era.  Another popular area for getting close to nature are the Peloritani Mountains near Messina in northernmost Sicily.  Besides Beaches the Aeolian islands off the north coast of Sicily and the Egadi islands to the east of Trapani offer nature in dramatic settings.

Sicily is a great destination to touch history, to see beauty both natural and man-made and to relax and enjoy the wealth that nature provides.  If you haven’t been there already maybe it’s time!

Monreale Mosaics by tango7174

Monreale Mosaics by tango7174

Sicily: The Mediterranean Heart – part 1

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Sicily's Aeolian Islands by Giovanni

Sicily's Aeolian Islands by Giovanni

The prehistoric cave paintings in the Grotto del Genovese on the island of Levanto near Trapani show that Sicily has long been the home of a creative and spiritual people.  And when men began searching for rare obsidian to create weapons and tools the people of the small volcanic Aeolian islands (UNESCO World Heritage Site) within sight of Sicily became trading partners with Greek and Levantine sailors.  Sicily, the Mediterranean’s largest island, sits like a lump in the throat of the great sea.  It was the closest European outpost for Carthaginian traders and an unavoidable resting point for Greek and Phoenician sailors traveling from the civilized east to the copper of Sardinia and the silver of Spain.  Early Greek traders took the circuitous coastal route avoiding open waters and eventually reached the Straits of Messina.  The locals seizing an opportunity began collecting a toll of as much as 10% of the cargo becoming wealthy.

Segesta Temple

Segesta Temple

Sicily was a breadbasket for centuries to the Greeks and to the Romans.  The Greeks set up coastal trading centers to bring luxury goods to the Sicilians in exchange for their grain.  The many tribes of the island became wealthy and rivalries resulted.  When the people of Segesta felt threatened by nearby Selinunte, the Athenians were invited to defend the Segestans. Ambassadors were sent and the Segestans served their guests on golden plates at many Segestan homes.  Impressed by the local wealth, the Athenians agreed to come to the aid of their Sicilian allies.  What they didn’t realize is that the golden plates were moved from house to house behind their backs.  The resulting battle brought the Peloponnesian War to Sicily.

The Romans and Carthaginians began the Punic Wars in and around Sicily.  As with the Greeks, the Romans were invited into the conflict by the Mamertines of Messina who felt threatened by Syracuse which was backed by Carthage.  Over 120 years and 3 wars, the Romans created their powerful navy, took control of much of the Mediterranean and destroyed Carthage.  This pattern of playing an important role in larger conflicts has continued into the 20th century.  The Normans battled the Islamic Saracens here.  And Mussolini’s fascists fought the Allies across Sicily.  These conflicts have left their scars, but the Sicilians are resilient and over and over have rebuilt.

Concordia Temple at Agrigento by poudou99

Concordia Temple at Agrigento by poudou99

The Levantines, Greeks, Latins, Arabs, Normans, various crusaders and finally the Italians have invaded the island.  Though often politically subjugated, the indomitable island people have remained resolutely Sicilian, subsuming their arrogant invaders into a cultural stew.  No matter the political landscape, Sicily remains Sicily and the Sicilians retain their uniqueness.  This blending is heard in their language and is seen in their glorious buildings.

Roman Women in Bikinis at Piazza Armerina Roman Villa by Disdero

Roman Women in Bikinis at Piazza Armerina Roman Villa by Disdero

In Agrigento, near Syracuse, are the largest and most impressive Greek ruins anywhere. This UNESCO World Heritage site includes the Temple of Concordia (left).  At Segesta, not far from Palermo and Trapani, there is a single temple built by the locals in imitation of the Doric style. It is arguably the most complete of all Greek ruins of the golden era.  And between Segesta and Agrigento are the ruins of the Acropolis at Selinunte, which offers a huge quantity of fallen columns and several recognizable temples.  Beyond those 3 places there are also remnants in Tyndari and Taormina including Greek theaters rebuilt in their original style by the Romans.  These two sights offer more than just ruins they offer dramatic sea and volcano views from high cliffs.

From the beginning, fortresses were built on high coastal promontories like Erice and Milazzo.  And successive invaders captured these defensive positions they built and renovated.  The castles we see today are blends of various eras of Sicilian military history.  And they offer some of the islands most stunning views.

The Romans have also left renowned art and structures, particularly in the center of the island at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Villa Romana del Casale at Piazza Armenina, which offers lively and beautiful Roman mosaics including one with women in what we now call bikinis.  There are also Roman ruins at Biaglo near the church-filled village Castroreale. (Continued in Part 2)

Cruise Shipping Miami – 2012

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Anne-Marie and Delphine from Var and Toulon

Anne-Marie and Delphine from Toulon and Var

I just spent last week talking to tourism officials from many parts of the world at Cruise Shipping Miami, a convention and trade show where suppliers and ports show off their stuff for all the cruise lines that are located here in South Florida.  A large portion of the show is technical displays by ship builders like Fincantieri, engine companies such as Rolls Royce and other companies that provide services to Cruise Lines.  This isn’t why I go, but it is a lot of fun to walk around and see the huge displays and machines.  Its a lot of engineers talking to cruise line executives about what their next ship will look like…pretty cool stuff.

Also there are the ports, large and small, unknown and popular.  The world’s most popular ports are there making sure that they don’t lose their place.  Miami and Fort Lauderdale had huge displays.  New Orleans was giving out Mardi Gras beads and had a band playing some cool Orleans Rhythm and Blues.  Actually the whole place is rocking, with Scottish bagpipes, South Pacific drum ensembles and other musical styles.  And there are lots of ethnic nibbling foods and beverages.  Belgium had chocolates and truffles.  Greece had stuffed grape leaves and feta.  Turkey had bowls of Turkish Delight.  As always Spain had their great lunch with paella. And of course the French had wine.  I had a wurst in the Germany pavilion.

Tolga Ergun from Sinop, Turkey

Tolga from Sinop, Turkey

This was my second year to go there to promote the site.  It was really nice seeing the same people I met a year ago.  Back then I had only a few pages and even less traffic.  But now that things are really cooking, so naturally they were interested in the site.  The ports are helping me select the best businesses to promote at their port.  That was my main goal – to get the local experts to share their insider knowledge and help me make local connections.

Who did I talk to?

  • I walked over to the Sicily booth and met Daniela Mezzatesta from Palermo for the first time.  She found her colleagues, Maria Cristiana Laura from Messina and Valeria to sit down with me.  Daniela shared her passion for her island’s wonderful food and gave me a wonderful picture book about the street food of Sicily.  I couldn’t show my wife some of the pictures (Anthony Bourdain type items if you know what I mean!).  Everyone I know who visits Sicily raves about it.  I can’t wait to go back to see the places I haven’t been.
Silvio Ferrando of Genoa

Silvio from Genoa

  • In my search for someone to talk about Portofino, I found Silvio Ferrando from Genoa.  “Why aren’t we talking about Genoa?”  he asked me.  Portofino is about 40 kilometers south and is a truly tiny place that only the smaller ships can go and they still have to anchor off shore.  On the other hand, Genoa is one of Italy’s great cities, with an exciting history and a vibrant historic center.  His was a good question.  And I’ve been to Genoa, so I know what a great place it is.  Silvio gave me some good insider tips about Portofino and Genoa, too.  Did you know that Genovese (and Ligurian) are not considered Italian languages?  Silvio’s father and uncle speak the local language and he can’t understand them when they are speaking the local language.  That’s so different than the US.  Silvio was extremely helpful and gave me some great suggestions and encouragement.
  • I talked to a few ports outside the Med including my my favorite booth in the Middle East – Oman!  It was good to see Nasser’s smiling face again.  “Have you created a page for my Port Qaboos?”  I had to confess I had not.  “You must!” he told me. So I promised it would be very soon!  Who could say NO to Nasser with his amazing smile and disarming manner.  We discussed the special culture of Oman and how Omani trading ships have connected India, East Africa and the Middle East for centuries.  I am looking forward to seeing him next year and being able to say YES this time.  And perhaps a visit to Muscat is in my future!
Nasser bin Rashid Al-Sabqi from Oman

Nasser from Oman

  • And of course there were my friends from Var, Delphine Beudin and Anne-Marie Blum.  It was great to see how busy they were.  This quieter part of the French Riviera offers famous St. Tropez and the big port city of Toulon, but also many lovely boutique ports such as Sanary-sur-Mer, Bandol and the scenic island of Porquerolles.  These two have been cheerleaders for my website since I met them in Cannes in 2010.  Delphine promotes all of Var’s ports and Ann-Marie is responsible for the Toulon airport and ports encouraging the lines to do turnarounds there.  Var is a quieter part of the Provence Coast…a little slice of heaven where I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time.
Maria Cristiana Laura, Valeria (I lost her card) and Daniela Mezzatesta

Maria Cristiana from Messina and Valeria & Daniela from Palermo

  • Sinop, Turkey is a lovely spot on the Black Sea I haven’t posted on the site yet.  They have a few cruise stops each year.  Tolga Ergun was there promoting Sinop and two smaller ports, Ordu and Giresun.  Its a tough job to get the cruise lines attention even if you have an interesting place like Sinop to represent.  Tolga made a strong impression talking his home with its Fortress Prison, the excellent archaeological museum and the stunning waterfalls not far away.
  • My Venetian friend Fillipo Olivetti set up a meeting with Francesco from Venice, Anna from Ravenna and Antonio from Catania representatives who were very open to promoting their local businesses on my site.

One of the exciting things about Cruise Shipping Miami is seeing what new destinations are coming in the future.  I went to Cruise Shipping Med in 2010 and discovered Igoumenitsa, an exciting destination in northwestern Greece very close to Corfu.  From there cruisers have access to some wonderful attractions including Meteora.   Thomas and Costas did a great job promoting the port and now Holland America has scheduled 2013 stops there.  This week I met Konstantinos Tzovaras, the President of the Passenger Terminal.

The representatives from up-and-coming ports I met this week included Celal Ulas from Cesme, Turkey; Aykut Terzioglu from Izmir, Turkey; Olivier Costil from Brest, France; Antonio Tzagkarakis and Manioudaki Stella from Chania, Greece; Panagiotis Georgiadis (a former fighter pilot) from Kavala, Greece and Isabel Valdes Heugas from Gijon, Spain.  These are all fascinating places already posted or soon to be posted on my site.

As many of you know, I love to read fiction from other cultures.  I had a chance to talk with several representatives from Tura Turizm (the Turkish company building a much-needed new cruise port and terminal for Istanbul). One was Cigdem Oner who has a degree in English-language literature and talked about reading one of my favorite American authors, William Faulkner.  She recommended Sait Faik when she heard I really enjoyed Orhan Pamuk’s book Snow.

That’s one of the great things about these shows…meeting people from around the world who share your passions.  Whether its food, history, art, reading or shopping you can find someone who shares your interests.  It’s not exactly travel, but it might be the next best thing.  In 2013 it will be even better since I’ll have even more friends there!

Barcelona: 4 Unique Experiences you might miss

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Barcelona and Catalonia are proud of their uniqueness.  Color and energy define this city and region.  Why follow a straight line when curves are more fun?  Barcelona treasures its past and looks forward with inspiration.  It is a city with soul.  The most famous of all Barcelonans was certainly its iconic architect, Antoni Gaudi, whose vision continues to inspire the city almost 90 years after his death.

FC Barcelona's Camp Nou (photo from Oh-Barcelona)

FC Barcelona's Camp Nou (photo from Oh-Barcelona)

Gaudi was a devout and conservative Roman Catholic, who designed radically non-traditional buildings.  While his structures often seem light-hearted, they are built using complex and formal geometry and innovative technologies. His greatest inspiration was not the works of other architects, but the works of nature which for him were the creations of his God.  His life and work encompassed both the conservative and the radical, the scientific and the imaginative, quiet meditation and exuberant display and traditional forms with modern decoration.  So it is with Barcelona.  The ancient culture and language of Catalan are honored in a city that lives each day looking forward to a bold future.  So what should you do if you find yourself in Barcelona?

There are the obvious choices: viewing Gaudi’s immense Sagrada Familia. Walking La Rambla. Taking the funicular up Monjuic. But there is so many other choices. Children, art lovers, sports fans, shoppers, gourmands and active tourists have too many choices.  One day is just not enough…and two probably won’t cut it either.  There is a lot of information available about Barcelona.  I wanted to tell you about 4 experiences that might be your best choices, especially if you’ve already been to Barcelona and want to try something a little different.

Book the FC Barcelona tour – Few cities are as passionate about sports as Barcelona.  Camp Nou is the home stadium for FC Barcelona and is the largest in Europe.  If you can get tickets to a match DO IT.  FC Barcelona is the most honored team in all of Europe so the whole experience is a show when you are surrounded by the locals!  The most interesting part of the FC Barcelona tour is visiting all parts of the stadium. There are two kinds of tours: the basic tour of the public areas and the Plus tour with behind the scenes areas. You should rent an Audioguide headset that explains the areas in English.  Even if you are not a soccer fan, the stadium tour is an eye-opener.

If you are familiar with FC Barcelona you will also want to visit the museum which includes displays regarding the history of the club.  Audioguides are recommended in the museum as well.

Poble Espanyol - Spanish Village (Photo by Amadalvarez)

Poble Espanyol - Spanish Village (Photo by Amadalvarez)

Tour the Spanish Village on Montjuic – El Poble Espanyol was an open-air museum built for the 1929 World Exhibition to represent the 15 different regions of Spain. Because it was so popular it was not closed after the Exhibition closed.  Today, it is an opportunity to view the architectural styles of many regions in a compact outdoor museum that will appeal to all ages.  Craft workshops are open where demonstrations of glassmaking, leatherworking, engraving, jewelry making and other crafts can be viewed.  The village offers a variety of children’s activities and attractions. Barcelona’s most popular Flamenco show is within the Village.  And if you want to eat or drink there are restaurants and two nightclubs. For Spanish visitors this is one of Barcelona’s most popular attractions and you can enjoy it with an Audioguide which explains the details in English.  Admission is around 10 Euros for adults with discounts for children and seniors and in the evening.

See Gaudi’s lesser masterpieces– While the 4 designs by Gaudi (Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, Casa Mila and Casa Batllo) in Barcelona offer the most famous masterpieces by the architect, there are a number of other buildings that offer a broader perspective on his works, demonstrating a wider spectrum of influences that will intrigue those who want to explore his inventiveness more deeply.

Gaudi's Casa Calvet (photo by Mary Ann Sullivan)

Gaudi's Casa Calvet (photo by Mary Ann Sullivan)

  1. The oldest of his important works is Casa Vicens, built starting in 1883 for a brick and ceramic magnate in a style strongly influenced by Moorish design.  Interior not open. (7 KM from port)
  2. Just off La Rambla is the Palau Guell built 1886-8 for Gaudi’s friend the industrialist, Eusebio Güel.  It was his first large scale work and displays the direction of his imagination at the beginning of his career.  Tours are 10 Euros.
  3. Casa Calvet was built between 1898-1900 in a more traditional style than most of Gaudi’s designs.  There is an excellent gourmet restaurant on the first floor where the Calvet family offices were housed. (3.5 KM from port)
  4. Casa Bellesguard was another impressive home built by Gaudi (1900-08).  It is influenced by the Catalan Gothic Palace that once stood in the area with a striking tower and a strong vertical impression.  Interior tours are not available. (11 KM, 20 minutes from the port)
  5. Colonia Guell is an industrial zone in the suburbs of Barcelona (19 KM from the port) that features a crypt that was originally intended to be topped by a church.  It was recently renovated an reopened to the public.  The style is among the most organic of all Gaudi’s works (1908-16).

Travel to the Salvador Dali House-Museum in Portlligat, Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres and Gala Dali Castle in Pubol– If you are a fan of surrealism, modernism or Salvador Dali and you have visited Barcelona before, you might consider the 2 hour trip to Figueres to see these 3 fascinating sites.  To see all 3 sites you will need to stay overnight, but you can probably see 2 in one day.

Dali Theater-Museum in Figueres (Photo by Kuxu76)

Dali Theater-Museum in Figueres (Photo by Kuxu76)

The house-museum is a series of buildings connected by narrow hallways and built on different levels. It is an extension of his personality, both personal and public.  It is what you would expect…completely unpredictable, unusual and vibrant with unique creativity.  The labyrinthine home was built over a period of 40 years beginning in 1930s.  Dali lived there until his wife Gala’s death in 1982 when he moved (taking his wife’s remains along) to the castle in Pubol.  Reservations (11 Euros) for the house are a must as a very limited number of visitors are admitted on a scheduled basis.

The Gala Dali Castle at Pubol features the tombs of Salvador and Gala, their cars and the place he designed to honor his wife.  Bought in 1969, it was a wreck of medieval construction.  Dali used the crumbling condition to create an inventive space to display his memorial. It is a testament to his love for his wife. Admission is 8 Euros.

The Theater-Museum in Figueres is called the world’s largest surrealistic object in the world.  The items in the museum were specially designed for it.  Opened in 1974, it was built on the ruins of a 19th century theater that was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War.  Tickets are 12 Euros and include admission to the Dali Jewel exhibit, which is also in Figueres.