Cruising the Iberian Coast

Barcelona     Palma de Mallorca     Ibiza     Cartegena     Lisbon     Gibraltar

Taking mom on her dream trip destination

 

It has been a difficult year for my mother.  In the Spring, my sister Janet passed away suddenly at the age of 44.  My sister had Down’s Syndrome and had been under her watchful care her entire life. In prior years my mother also served as caretaker to many family members, including her sister, her husband and lastly my father, until they each passed on.  As life settled down a bit and the months passed, she mentioned taking a respite trip, perhaps a cruise to the Caribbean just she and I.  I decided to do one better and planned a trip to a place she has wanted to visit her entire life…Spain.  My mother had not traveled out of state in thirty years. While she was still healthy, I wanted to make this dream of hers a reality.  In mid-September we flew to Barcelona and boarded Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas for an 8-day journey through the Iberian Peninsula. It was my first time in Spain as well and I had never traveled abroad without my husband.  Cruising was the easiest and most enjoyable way to embark on this adventure to what my mom called our “motherland"...the country where our family roots began generations ago.

Preparing for the voyage

I booked an air and sea package together and purchased a shuttle transfer to take us from the airport to the port.  We had a change of clothes and our bathing suits in our carry on incase our luggage was not be delivered until the evening.  My mom wanted to do an excursion in each port, so we chose early to have the best options before they sold out.  I always like variety, so we chose a flamenco show, beach excursion, tapas walking tour, a winery and an excursion to a cave.  I chose to stay an extra day in Barcelona at the end.  In hindsight I would reverse this.  Plan 2-3 days in Barcelona at the beginning of the trip as there is much to do in that wonderful city.  Also, arriving ahead gives you time if there were any mishaps or delays. We had a possible hurricane to contend with as the trip approached but thankfully, we were able to fly out. I went back and forth with dining times.  We found 8:30 to be a good time for dinner.  Those that chose flexible times often had to wait to be seated. With a set time we also made new friends at our table and enjoyed great service from the same waiters each night.   

Palma de Mallorca

My mother is a fan of the pearls of Mallorca, so she was excited to visit.  We booked a city bus tour with a Flamenco Show at Son Amar.  Palma is a lovely town with a gorgeous port, an old city center, windmills and a castle on a hill.  We drove up to see the outside of Castel de Belver and shopped the quaint streets of the city center.  I longed for more time there, but we had a show to catch.  The venue of San Amar is beautiful!  The intimate and rich setting is a feast for the senses.  Little tables awaited us with pitchers of Sangria and tapas.  Along with listening to the musicians trio, we were riveted by the passion of the performers. It was one of the best memories of the trip! Returning to the port, you had the option to return to the city center on a shuttle for 10 euros roundtrip.

Flamenco at San Amar

Ibiza

I chose a beach excursion for us and that was probably the best as we heard from friends that shopping in town was not interesting.  Being from Florida, we are picky about our beaches, but we found it nice.  The water was clean and not too cold, and the beach was well outfitted with chaises and several restaurants right on the sand.  Malibu was a great place to have lunch and had great changing facilities in the back.  We enjoyed our beach cocktails perched high up with a perfect view of the flat water bedeckled with sailboats.  There were a few oddities.  Be prepared for solicitors peddling goods.  We did not find them annoying, however, and I bought a sweet flower head band from one. You might see nude women sunbathing and a strange erotic parade of young people advertising one of the clubs in town. 

Cartagena

The city center is across the street from the port, so it is an easy 10-minute walk away.  We had a walking tapas tour of five cafes. The tapas consisted of eggplant chips, potato and fish salad, a torte and a breaded tomato with pepper sauce.  Each were paired with your choice of sangria or wine.  The best was saved for last.  You must experience Café Asiatico which is a specialty of Cartagena.  It is an alcoholic coffee concoction made of condensed milk, cognac/brandy and Liqor 43.  Utter deliciousness! Visit the 200-year-old Roman Theater and enjoy some shopping while in town.  Cartegena is picturesque and it was easy to navigate on your own.  A walk past the lovely marina ends the day perfectly.

Days at Sea

An older ship, we found the Brilliance satisfactory and service very good.  They had fun passenger game shows such as The Quest and Love and Marriage as well as fun decade themed dance parties in the Centrum.  Almost every night held a show in the theater and who can miss the typical belly flop contest by the pool.  We found the food service pretty good.  One of mom’s favorites was the roast beef sandwiches at the solarium in the afternoon.  Her second lunch!  When I met our assistant waiter the first night, I noticed he was from India.  I told him how much I loved Indian food and he brought me the most amazing curry with my dinner. My steak could not even compete and it fell by the wayside.  Mom and I also took a sushi making class. There was only one formal night on the trip, so we booked a dinner at Chop’s Steakhouse.  I would rate it as average. It might not be a fair rating however, because mom decided she wanted to switch out her “well done” filet for my lamb. I, of course, gave it to her. Gives new meaning to the term "sacrificial lamb" lol.

Mom the "dancing queen"

Lisbon, Portugal

Mom has never been to a winery, so I thought it fun to visit Jose Maria Da Fonseca. Dating back to the 19th century, the estate was beautiful, but it is an hour from the port.  I think we would have preferred to explore Lisbon.  Our tour took us up a high ridge to see a stunning view of a monastery perched on the hill.  We crossed the sister to our Golden Gate Bridge and quickly drove through the bustling city center of Lisbon. We regretted not having more time there but thankfully we learned that directly across from the port was an old section called Bazar Alfama.   Enchanting!  We walked up its medieval maze of colorful alley ways, took pictures, bought souvenirs and snacked on Portuguese croquettes in a hole in the wall mom and pop shop. There are little tourist cars you can hire to take you about.  There is so much to explore in Lisbon. Better not to be constrained by a tour. 

Strange towel art!

Gibraltar, United Kingdom

A small pocket of England in the Mediterranean, this 3 square mile city is dominated by the Rock of Gibraltar, a 426m-high limestone ridge. First settled by the Moors in the Middle Ages and later ruled by Spain, the outpost was ceded to the British in 1713. Gibraltarians are a proud bunch and we witnessed that with our guide who was born and raised there. Much of the city is now on reclaimed land and quite interestingly, a street for traffic and pedestrians crosses the airport runway on the way to its border with Spain. I found this port utterly fascinating.  Our tour took us to stunning St. Michael’s Cave. Just outside we saw Gibraltar’s most famous inhabitants the macaque apes.  My mom wished she had food in her purse so the monkey would steal it!  Visiting the lighthouse was a thrill and I wondered what I would have seen on a clear day with the African coast just 13 miles away.  We ended at the city center with an ale at the British pub where my mom asked the bartender where he is from.  "Manchester," he repled.  "Oh really," said mom "where's that"? Pretty funny.

My mom has a Titanic moment at the rock
A hint of the African continent beyond the lighthouse

Barcelona

 

The last and the best part of our trip! This city blessed by the creative heart of Antoni Gaudi is truly a wonder.   Since we only had one day and one night, we checked our own bags off the cruise ship and disembarked at 7:00 am.  We found it easy to take a taxi to our hotel the H10 Metropolitan.  I have never stayed at an H10 brand and I was very impressed.  I chose this hotel for its proximity to La Ramblas.  The hotel was modern and swanky and we had fun taking pictures in its beautiful lobby.  The service was impeccable.

                   H10 Metropolitan Hotel

Since it was a Sunday morning, we relaxed so the city would wake up before we set out on foot.  There was a planned festival that day so much of La Rambla would be closed including the famed Mercat.  A bit disappointing but there was still so much to see and experience.  We got lost in the gothic quarter, visited Maria Del Mar Cathedral, the Picasso Museum and then hopped on a rickshaw to get an outside glance at Gaudi’s buildings Casa Mila "La Pedrera" and Casa Batllo.  Our rickshaw left us at Café Angela where we lunched at the foot of La Sagrada Familia.  It’s important that you get your tickets to tour La Sagrada and Park Gruel months before the trip as they sell out.  You would be greatly amiss if you were not able to see La Sagrada inside.  A dream of color and light, I got choked up walking under its immense white pillars that Gaudi fashioned to resemble trees in a forest and stood fixating at the most beautiful blue hue in the stained-glass windows. So much to take in and so much symbolism. I did not even catch the reflection of color dancing on the smooth marble floors until I checked my camera photos. Gaudi’s vision was certainly divinely inspired.  The elegant explanation by our expert guide Miguel added to the experience.  The cathedral, still under construction since 1884, will be finished in 2026. La Sagrada Familia was my favorite memory of the trip.   

A rickshaw is the best way to tour through Barcelona!

We hopped a taxi to Park Gruel where we had tickets to tour through Viator.  A whimsical combination of nature meets Gaudi, Park Gruel was charming!  Relax on the famous mosaic bench and enjoy the view of the "fairytale" cottages with the city and Balearic Sea as a backdrop. Take note that it can be vigorous for elderly travelers as there is much walking and many stairs.  Resting at the hotel, the H10 furnished us with a complementary bottle of wine and chocolates and we readied for our flamenco show in the evening.  Stepping into the ornate Palau de la Musica Catalana was to be transported to an elegant and bygone era. Once again, we were mesmerized by the passion of the music and its dancers. There is something about their stomping feet that is so primal to me.  Your heart becomes captive to its rhythm. Mom told me she plans on taking flamenco classes when she gets home. It has always been something she has wanted to do. I am grateful that she will have time to enjoy some new experiences in life and that this trip has been a catalyst to a new beginning. As we descended the grand staircase of the Palau, I caught the most beautiful photograph of my mother. I asked her to turn back and she radiated the elegance of the surroundings and the joy of all her newfound experiences.  For me it was the perfect ending to our voyage through Spain.