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We arrived in Barcelona on the morning of June 5  – at the end of our amazing ten day cruise. After collecting out luggage we took a taxi to our hotel, The Avenida Palace which had been recommended by our travel agent. The hotel is very close to Plaza Catalunya and Las Ramblas so it proved to be very convienient during our stay.

We spent an 3 incredible days in Barcelona. We went non-stop for the entire visit but had an incredible time.  Winsome had done  significant amount of homework on Barcelona and with the help of her cousin Lana, our travel agent and others had pre determined some of the ‘must see’ venues in the city.

After dropping off our luggage at our hotel we spent the day walking around Las Ramblas & Plaza Catalunya. We enjoyed Las Ramblas and seeing how the mood of the street changes depending on the time of day. We were very concious of pickpockets as many of our friends and family had fallen victim on their visits.  Fortunately, we escaped without getting robbed. La Boqueria, the market on Las Ramblas is a very large market and should not be missed.  The sights, sounds and smells are incredible. We enjoyed walking up and down the numerous isles and checking out all the various stalls. The colours of the market are vivrant and Lionel really enjoys this type of photography – ‘street photography’, taking pictures of  people going about their daily lives.  Along our walk around the city we were fortunate to stumble across the Picasso Museum and ventured inside where we greatly enjoyed the amazing artwork.  Occasionally sitting on the outdoor patios & enjoying tapas and a drink while  watching people walk by was about the only relaxing time we had.

As recommended by Winsome’s cousin, Lana and our travel agent we purchased a two day pass for the Barcelona Bus Turictic.   It runs from 9 am – 9 pm and has three routes throughout the city and allows you to Hop On and Off as many times as you wish at any of the 45 stops. The bus arrives at each of the stops about every 5 minutes and  there are a number of interchange stops where these route overlap allowing you to change for one route to another along the way.  There are two main routes the Blue and Red, and each takes about 2 hours if you were to stay on the bus the entire time. There is a third route, the Green route, which only operates from April to October.  An informative printed guide about what is at each of the stops is issued with the ticket, as well as a discount voucher booklet to be redeemed at main sights and landmarks around the city.  This is an incredibly well run service which takes you to most of the significant attractions and we would highly recommend for anyone visiting the city.  Most days we were on the go from before 9 am until after 8 pm. By the end of each day we were totally exausted and did not have the energy to seek out any of the amazing restuarants for which the city is known and ended up eating at places close to the hotel.

One thing that really stands out in Barcelona is the mind blowing archecture by Antoni Gaudi. His work is prevelient  everywhere in Barcelona. When Gaudí graduated in 1878 from Barcelona’s School of Architecture, its director announced to his fellow teachers, “Gentlemen, we are here today either in the presence of a genius or a madman.”  The following link will take you to a great Time Magazine article on Gaudi from 2002 :,9171,216477,00.html#ixzz20JYJp1Jm

While we enjoyed most of the attractions we visited in Barcelona there were a few that really stood out.

The Sagrata Famila

The Sagrada Família, Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece, is one of Barcelona’s most popular tourist attractions. Construction on this church will continue for at least another decade, but it has already become Barcelona’s most important landmark. La Sagrada Familia is one of Gaudí’s most famous works in Barcelona.  It’s a giant Basilica that has been under construction since 1882  and it’s not expected to be completed for another 30 to 80 years.

The idea for the construction of a new church was launched by a devout organisation whose goal was to bring an end to the de-christianisation of the Barcelonese, which had started with the industrialization and increasing wealth of the city. The organisation purchased a plot of land in the new Eixample district in 1877. The architect Francisco de Paula del Villar designed a neo-Gothic church and led the construction which started in 1882.  One year later, the modernist architect Antoni Gaudí took over as lead architect at the age of 31.  From that moment on, Gaudí devoted most of his life to the construction of the church. Instead of sticking to the original plans, Gaudí changed the design drastically.  The neo-Gothic style made way for Gaudí’s trademark modernist style, which was based on forms found in nature.  When he died in 1926 only one façade (the Nativity Façade), one tower, the apse and the crypt were finished.  Because Gaudí was constantly improvising and changing the design while construction was going on, he left few designs and models.  And most of these were destroyed in 1936 during the Civil War.  Still, architects now have a clear idea of what Gaudí had in mind. The last version of his design called for a church 95m/312ft long and 60m/197ft wide. The church will be able to accommodate some 13,000 people.  When finished, the Sagrada Família will have a total of 18 towers.

Parc Guelle
Parc Güell is one of the world’s most intriguing parks.  The park’s colorful main staircase and the fanciful pavilions that were designed by Antoni Gaudí look like they belong in some fairy tale.
This popular park started out as a development project.  Eusebi Güell, a well known Catalan industrialist, acquired a 17 hectare (42 acres) large hilly plot in the Gràcia district, north of Barcelona. He wanted to turn the area into a residential garden village based on English models.  Sixty housing units as well as several public buildings were planned.  In 1900 Güell commissioned his friend and protégé Antoni Gaudí with the development of the project. With the support from other architects including Josep M. Jujol and his disciple Francesc Berenguer, Gaudí worked on the garden village until 1914 when it was clear the project was a commercial failure: Güell failed to sell a single house. In 1918 the city acquired the property and in 1922 it was opened to the public as a park.
Two houses were completed as well as pavilions for visitors and park keepers. The pavilions, designed by Gaudí, seem to be taken out of Hansel and Gretel, with curved roofs covered with brightly colored tiles and ornamented spires. The staircase at the entrance of the park is also designed by Gaudí. The dragon-like lizard at the center of the with trencadis-ceramics decorated staircase is the best known symbol of the park. A connecting flight of stairs leads to another famous feature of the park: the Gran Placa Circular. Originally intended as a market place for the residents, this plaza is bordered by what was known as the world’s longest bench. The colorful ceramic serpentine bench, designed by Jujol, twists snakelike around the plaza.  The view from the plaza is spectacular, you can see as far as the Mediterranean Sea. The whole platform is supported by 86 huge columns, creating a hall beneath the plaza, known as the Sala Hipòstila.
We look forward to returning to Spain one day and visiting other cities.  A colleague from work, Martin,  has pledged that he and his future, but yet to be found wife will take Winsome and I on a driving tour of Spain.  Not sure which I am looking more forward to, meeting this lucky lady or the tour!

Livorno, Italy

June  2, 2012

The Riveria spent two days in the Italian port of  Livorno.  On the first day we did a tour of  Florence and on the second day we did a tour of  Pisa.

Our tour of  Florence

Located on the River Arno, Florence, or Firenze, is a true, classic Italian city and the birthplace of the Renaissance. Built around Il Duomo, one of Italyʹs most fascinating Cathedrals, Florence offers the some of the most spectacular art museums, architecture and photo opportunities in the world today. Florenceʹs artistic wealth can be attributed to one family in particular; the Medicis. Rulers of the city for over three centuries, they were directly responsible for the cultivation of Renaissance art in Florence, as well as the vast quantity of spectacular buildings that remain standing to this day.

This tour will depart the pier for the drive to Florence, where guests will walk to the Galleria dellʹAccademia. Upon arrival, you will find the sheer colossal size of Michelangeloʹs statue of David to be truly awe-inspiring. Nestled in a vaulted space that permits a free and unencumbered view from all angles, the grandeur of the statue is further enhanced by its turned head and intense gaze. Built by the Medicis in the late-16th century, the Uffizi is home to the most revered picture gallery in Italy, with representative works by the Italian masters Cimabue, Giotto, Duccio, Simone Martini, Masaccio, Paolo Uccello, Piero della Francesca, Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo. You will also see the exquisite works of Flemish, Spanish, Venetian, French, and German artists.

After visiting the two museums, you will enjoy a delicious lunch at the Hotel Savoy or Grand hotel Baglioni. Both properties offer unparalleled luxury and style in the heart of Florence. The venue locations are centrally located in close proximity of the museums and Florenceʹs main fashion streets, making them an ideal base from which to visit the key attractions of this beautiful and historic city.

After your sumptuous repast, some free time will be made in the afternoon to browse the world-class shops of Via Tornabuoni and Via della Vigna Nuova, including Armani, Bulgari, Dolce & Gabbana, Gianni Versace, Gucci, Prada and more.

At the conclusion of your unforgettable day in Florence, you will re-board your coach for the return drive to the pier and ship. 

Ask people what they remember most about Florence and it will most certainly be the statue of Lionel oops David.  The sheer size of this work of art is incredible. We were not allowed to take photographs inside the Galleria dell’Accademia so the picture below was taken outside of a replica. Go figure, Winsome took more pictures of David than Lionel did!!!

This was once again another very long tiring day as the bus drive from the ship into Florence was 2 hours – so another 4 hours on the road.

Florence is a beautiful city and we greatly enjoyed the museums. The works of the Italian masters are magical but by the end of our visits we were possibly skirting with Stendhal Syndrome, the giddiness and confusion supposed caused when one looks at great works of art.  The condition is named after 19th century French Author Stendhal who wrote of feeling utterly overwhemled by the Renaissance masterpieces he saw during a trip to Florence in 1817.  Thanks Ken for making us aware of this syndrome!  Also pictured below are the beautiful Basilica di Santa Croce  and the Duomo di Firenze.

The Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) is the principal Franciscan church of  Florence, Italy. Situated on the Piazza Santa Croce to the east of the Duomo, it is best known for its Florentine artwork and its tombs of illustrious dead, including Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli.Built in 1294, to a design by the great architect Arnolfo di Cambio, the Basilica has lived through seven centuries of history, augmenting its artistic heritage as a result of exceptional contributions, to the point of becoming one of the best-loved and most visited sites in Florence.

The Duomo di Firenze, the Florence Cathedral, was built between 1296 and 1436. The cathedral is one of the largest in the world. Its imposing dome, attributed to the Florentine architect Filippo Brunelleschi, still dominates the city.

June 3  2012

Our tour of Pisa

Once a great maritime power and the rival of Venice and Genoa, Pisa is best known today for the famed Leaning Tower. This tour begins at the Piazza del Duomo, which is a revered World Heritage site containing four of masterpieces of medieval architecture-a cathedral, baptistery, campanile (the Leaning Tower) and cemetery. Your first stop is the Duomo, the five-naved basilica within the Field of Miracles. Begun in 1064, the vast interior contains granite columns, mosaics, and a magnificent pulpit carved by Giovanni Pisano. The Romanesque Baptistery, the largest in Italy, has an immense interior that produces peculiar acoustics. Another highlight is the magnificent Romanesque campanile, which took nearly 200 years to construct, but began to tilt as soon as the third level was completed because the settling sub-soil was unable to withstand the towerʹs weight. At the northern end of the complex lies the walled cemetery, which while damaged during World War II, has been largely restored to its original magnificence. After this portion of the tour, you will have free time to wander through the historic heart of Pisa for shopping and other diversions. 

Lionel really wanted to climb the tower but unfortunately our guide did not inform us that we should sign up as soon as we arrived in the square.  By the time the guided part of the tour had concluded and he went to sign up the first available slot was after the departure time of the tour bus.  In the picture below:  On the left is The Baptistry, a building used for baptsims and is dedicated to John the Baptist.  In the middle is The Duomo, a medieval cathedral dating back to 1064. The building to the right, the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the most photographed buildings in Europe.  They began constructing it 1173 and it was built over the course of 177 years. Shortly after construction started the southern part of the building started to sink due to poor subsoil and a weak foundation. Construction was halted for over 90 years to allow the building to stabalize before completing the construction.

The Duomo

Winsome looks up from the floor of the Baptistry


Friday, June 1, 2012

Our tour of Rome

Discover the Eternal City from the comfort of your air-conditioned coach, taking in some of the city’s most beautiful and historic monuments. You will see the Pyramid of Caius Cestius and the ruins of the great Circus Maximus, where the Roman chariot races were held. View the Forum, the Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum, the symbol of the power of Imperial Rome. It’s one world famous attraction after another. There is Venice Square, dominated by the huge and impressive monument to King Victor Emmanuel II, the gorgeous Piazza della Popolo, the Aurelian Walls, built to defend Rome against Barbarians, and the lovely Borghese Gardens. Then, after free time for lunch on your own, you will visit the spectacular Vatican Museums, beginning in the magnificent Pine Cone Courtyard. Then, passing through the Candelabra Gallery, the Tapestry Gallery, and Geographical Maps Gallery, you will come upon the breathtaking Sistine Chapel. Here, you can behold the brilliantly restored Michelangelo frescoes of the Genesis and Last Judgment, as well as the other priceless masterpieces adoring the chapel walls. Your tour continues into Christendom’s largest church, St. Peter’s Basilica. Here, you may admire the gilded papal canopy suspended over the high altar where the pope celebrates mass, the splendid gilt and bronze throne in the apse, and Michelangelo’s most glorious work, the intensely inspiring Pietà.

Rome was one of our longest tour days lasting over 10 hours with over 4 hours spent in the bus. After the bus tour through the city where we could only take pictures through the bus window we had some free time to explore before re-joining our group to proceed to the Vatican. Our walk took us to two popular attractions:

The first one being the Scalinata di Spagna, or Spanish Steps, which are located in an upmarket area of Rome, and join the Piazza di Spagna with the church of Trinita dei Monti with its twin towers that dominate the skyline. The church was built in 1502 by Louis XII, next to St. Francis di Paola’s monastery.  The staircase has been constructed using 138 steps. Designed in 1723 by Francesco De Sanctis, and funded by a French diplomat Stefano Gueffierwas, the steps are a mix of curves, straight flights, vistas, and terraces. The steps have been restored many times over the years, with the latest restoration being in 1995. The Spanish Steps got their name from the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See which was located in the piazza.

The second one was the Trevis Fountain – In 1732, Pope Clement XII commissioned Nicola Salvi to create a large fountain at the Trevi Square.  Construction of the monumental baroque fountain was finally completed in 1762. Legend states that if you toss a coin the fountain you will one day return to Rome. The central figure of the fountain, in front of a large niche, is Neptune, god of the sea. He is riding a chariot in the shape of a shell, pulled by two sea horses. Each sea horse is guided by a Triton. One of the horses is calm and obedient, the other one restive. They symbolize the fluctuating moods of the sea. The water at the bottom of the fountain represents the sea.

The Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peters were all awesome. We only were able to see a very small fraction of the Museums but it was enough to whet our attetite for a future visit. The Sistine Chapel is breathtakingly beautiful. There is supposed to be complete silence in the chapel and our guide Maria had expalained the various panels before entering the Museums. Sadly, there were too many ignorant people and even some guides that ignored the silence rule and also the rule about no photography . The sounds of the shutters and even more so the flashes were really annnoying and disturbed the senrity of the chapel.  St. Peter’s square is mammoth and like the Sistine chapel you know without doubt that you are in a very special place.

Winsome touches the toe on the bronze statue of St. Peter.  Pilgrims would bend down to kiss the right foot of the statue and over the years the metal wore away so that the toes now blend in with the rest of his foot.  Nowadays most visitors touch the toe instead of kiss it, but the feet are still worn down with the human contact.

Amalfi, Italy

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Amalfi Cruise Information (Click for more information)

Our Tour of Amalfi – 7 hours

Spectacular Amalfi Drive & Sorrento

One of Europeʹs most awe-inspiring roads, the circuitous Amalfi Drive is a thrill to travel on. You will follow its every twist and turn, as it threads the high, rocky sea cliffs and passes several picturesque villages clinging precariously to the steep coastline. The views of the Italian Riviera and Bay of Naples are breathtaking. This time of the year, the landscape is blanketed in bright-hued flowers, and the coastal air is fresh and tinged with pleasant aromas of the sea. Though you may never want the drive to end, you will soon find Sorrento to be the perfect complement. After a fascinating orientation of the town from your guide, you might enjoy watching the local artists demonstrate how they craft beautiful inlaid wooden objects. In your free time, there are plenty of cafes to enjoy lunch on your own and perhaps a Limoncello, a digestif made locally with lemons and sugar. 

Our bus driver on this tour was the best we had on all of our tours.  The views on the drive up to Sorrento were spectacular and the driver had to navigate some almost impossible turns while passing other vechiles including large buses.  There is actually a warning on the tour description – “The Drive consists of winding roads and is along the steep coastline and therefore can cause motion sickness.”   On more than one occasion, I heard Winsome say OMG and close her eyes – we were either on the edge of the precipice and/or another large bus was only a couple inches away from her window – see photo to the left where Winsome is taking a photo of the peope in the bus right beside her. Unfortunately, the road made it impossible to stop to take pictures along the way so the majority of pictures were taken through the bus window – which did not open.

While in Sorrento we visited the most amazing furniture store, Gargiulo & Jannuzzi, which designs, manufactures & sells the most incredible inlaid wood furniture.Each piece is unique and they will do custom orders. This is a fifth generation family business and the pride shows in their work.  Sadly, we did not have the time to purchase a piece we fell in love with but there is always the internet.

This picture taken from the bus came out better than expected as the camera captured the photographer reflection in the mirror on the side of the road.

Taormina (Sicily), Italy

May 30, 2012

Our Tour of  Taormina – 4 hours

What a joy to drive along the scenic winding road to Taormina, a town graced with an extraordinary natural setting and a delightful medieval character. Enjoy a guided walking tour along Taorminaʹs narrow streets past the famous Palazzo Corvaja, a beautifully ornate building whose construction began in the 15th century. A much older architectural wonder, the Greek Theater, dates back to the 3rd century B.C., a reminder of just how long Taormina has been a vibrant city. The theater was rebuilt by the Romans in the 2nd century A.D. and is still used for summer performances. Many people consider the view from the theaterʹs highpoint to be one of the most breathtaking in all of Italy, especially the sweeping panorama of Mount Etna. A leisurely stroll along Corso Umberto, the townʹs main street, takes you past many fine old houses and picture-perfect churches. Plant-lovers will particularly enjoy the Giardini Pubblici, The Public Gardens, with its crisscrossing cobbled paths through the lush exotic flora. 

Taormina was very picturesque with lots of uphill climbs & uneven terrain.  We enjoyed the wonderful scenery & strolling along the old streets.

The Trinacria, symbol of Sicily, is present in the flag of Sicily and also in the Isle of Man

Mount Etna volcano, Europe’s largest active volcano which has frequent eruptions.  The first eruption happened over half a million years ago and the last one was in April of this year.

Kusadasi, Turkey

Monday, May  28, 2012

Our Tour in Kusadasi, Turkey

Itʹs one superlative attraction after another on this tour, which begins with a scenic drive to the possible remains of the House of Virgin Mary. It is recorded that St. John the Apostle brought the Virgin Mary to Ephesus after the death of Christ and that she spent her last days in a small house. The dating of articles found at the site, which is now a church, lends credence to the belief that Virgin Mary indeed lived here. Ephesus is one of the most magnificent ancient cities of Asia Minor, and the wealth of Roman ruins here is absolutely astounding, especially considering that most of them havenʹt been excavated yet. You can walk among the ruins of the Odeon theater, public baths, the beautifully restored Celsus Library, and the Grand Theater where St. Paul once preached. The theater seats almost 24,000 people and has wonderful acoustics. In fact, it is still used today for music performances. Later, you will meander through the Museum of Ephesus, which houses an impressive collection of statues and other archaeological treasures excavated nearby. Following your included lunch, you will transfer back to Kusadasi where you can do some shopping or attend an informative carpet demonstration. 

The possible remains of the House of Virgin Mary was beautiful – unfortunately we were not allow to take photos inside.

Outside we were allowed to drink the holy water.  In the photo below you will see Winsome filling a water bottle with holy water as Lionel thought if he kept rubbing it on the bump on his head that it would shrink & eventually disappear & he would not have to do the surgery. Unfortunately, it did not have the desired effect and he had the surgery done on June 26.

The wishing wall, above, at the House of the Virgin Mary is where visitors can write their wishes or prayers and place them on the wall.

We walked through the beautiful ruins and after the long & tiring walk we were rewarded with a delicious Turkish lunch – especially the desserts.

The public toilets used in early Roman times were very special and gave a new meaning to the expression “cheek to cheek”

After lunch the tour ended with a demonstration of silk carpet making which is a very slow and tedious task – hense the incredibe price for which they are sold. Following that we had some time to explore the local stores before returning to the ship.

Santorini, Greece

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Our Tour of Santorini, Greece

Just reaching Santorini is a joy as you ride in a colorful local boat to Athinios and then join a motor coach for your driving tour. Before long, you will arrive at Santoriniʹs highest peak, crowned by the serene Mt. Profitis Ilias monastery. Here, you will have an ideal photo opportunity to capture the beauty of this gorgeous island, which is also called Thira. At the northern tip of Santorini lies the unique village of Oia, built on a dramatically steep slope of a caldera that formed after a volcanic eruption about 3,500 years ago. Many of its dwellings are nestled in niches hewn out of the volcanic rock. As you walk through its narrow cobbled streets, you might shop for handicrafts and artwork such as ceramics, paintings and semi-precious jewelry. Oia also offers spectacular views of Fira, the islandʹs other village, which you will visit, as well. During your travels, be sure to notice Santoriniʹs beaches, which are known for their black, volcanic sand. 

As you can see from the photos below the scenery in Santorini was spectacular.  Unfortunately, when we reached the highest peak of Santorini at the beginning of the tour, the fog was so thick it made photography impossible. This was probably the coolest it was on any of our tours.  We enjoyed walking the old cobblestone streets and exploring the many local shops – except for when we had to walk up a very steep hill covered in manure to get to the cable car to return to the tender pier.

Oceania Riviera Cruise Tours

We were very fortunate as we had amazing weather for all our tours.  We had no rain & lovely sunny, warm days but no intense heat which would have made the days that we had long outdoor tours unbearable.  Our deliberate timing worked out very well – missing the cooler wet weather in April/May & the extreme hot summer days which usually begin in mid June!  The ocean/sea was a little cool for swimming but guess we can’t achieve everything!

We will be doing posts & some photo galleries of each tour over the next few days.  Stay tuned!

Cruise – M/S Riviera

On May 26 we set sail on the beautiful new Oceania Riviera for our 10 day Mediterranean cruise.  The cruise started in Athens and ended in Barcelona.  

This was only the ships second voyage so everything was brand spanking new.  With only 1250 passengers and 800+ crew the service was amazing. In addition to the standard buffet restaurant, snack cafe and the main dining room there were four speciality restaurants that featured, Steak, Italian, French and Japanese cuisine.  Our only regret is that we did not have sufficient time to enjoy the ship.  At each of the fabulous ports we did tours lasting between four and twelve hours, so our time on the ship was limited.

We thoroughly enjoyed the ports that the ship stopped at and would like to return to many of them to spend a longer time.
It’s a small world – we met a fellow Jamaican, Damion,  who was a waiter in the restaurants. During a conversation, we discovered that he is the brother of O’Neil, who works with Winsome’s cousin in Jamaica. O’Neil was mentioned in our Jamaica post for his wonderful cooking while we stayed with Winsome’s cousin at their home in Flamstead.  Never think you are somewhere where no one will know you!!!

Ship Specifications

  • Riviera: Debuted in 2012
  • Tonnage: 66,084
  • Length: 785 feet
  • Beam: 106 feet
  • Maximum Draught: 24 feet
  • Stabilizers: Yes
  • Cruising Speed: 20 knots
  • Guest Decks: 11
  • Total Decks: 15
  • Electric Power or Voltage: 110, 220 AC
  • Guest Capacity: 1,250 (Double Occupancy)
  • Staff Size: 800
  • Guest to Staff Ratio: 1.57 to 1
  • Nationality of Officers: European
  • Nationality of Staff: International
  • Country of Registry: Marshall Islands


The pictures in this gallery were taken during our four days in Thessaloniki.