Thursday, November 12, 2015

Turning green on the blue Atlantic!

The seas grew choppy as we made our way into the Atlantic.
After spending a week sprinting across the Mediterranean, hitting ports in Italy and Spain, Wendy, I and 1,500 or so other passengers aboard Holland America's Zuiderdam headed for open sea.

The good news is we eventually made it to the Azores, 800 miles due west of Portugal. The islands are postcard perfect, picturesque bits of volcanic rock and greenery euphonically blended with quaint seaside villages.

The not so good news is Mother Nature was in a feisty mood as we maneuvered our way through the Strait of Gibraltar, leaving the relative calm and sheltered waters of the Mediterranean for the choppy seas of the north Atlantic.

For two days it felt like we had been transported to Coney Island and were riding endlessly aboard a roller coaster instead of a state-of-the-art cruise ship. There was much waddling about as we steamed into the sunset and much joking about having a bit too much to drink.

But most of the jokes and laughter faded as the seas continued to rise the second night out. The ship's stabilizers seemed no match for the churning and frothy swells that assaulted the ship and it was clear there was a growing problem when it was announced that Meclizine, an anti-emetic used for motion sickness, was readily available at the front desk for anyone in need.

The Azores offered views that were postcard perfect.
I was in need!

Food from the lavish buffet and gourmet dinner that had drawn my attention hours earlier was now sitting heavily in my gut. After an evening of ignoring the gurgling of my innards and growing nausea, I toddled off to our cabin, popped a pill and curled up uncomfortably in bed.

Fortunately, both my stomach and the Atlantic had grown quiet the next morning when the sun rose gloriously in the east and I was yet again ready for another day of cruising -- and touring.

Just outside our balcony the lovely village of Ponta Delgada in the Azores beckoned.

Wendy and I spent the day ashore, walking along quaint cobblestone streets, exploring and getting lost in quaint little plazas; snapping photos of distant mountain peaks and lush, verdant valleys; chatting with locals who pretty much ignored us and tourists in search of adventure.

Life was good and the calm Atlantic spread out to the distant horizon, a sun-kissed watery highway filled with promise.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Sagrada Familia: Gaudi's surreal ode to Christianity

Barcelona's Sagrada Familia remains a work in progress.
The lovely Miss Wendy and I have spent the last several weeks wandering about the Mediterranean.

We've walked along cobblestone streets in quaint and beautiful seaside villages and strolled up and down serpentine alleyways filled with ancient secrets; enjoyed glorious and transcendent sunrises peeking above the eastern horizon and fiery sunsets melting into the sea.

Our days have been filled with exotic sights and smells, the stuff of life for people in Italy, Spain, and the Azores; places like Cinque Terre and Pisa, Barcelona and Malaga, Ponta Delgada and Horta.

It's been an adventure, a journey filled with something new and exciting at every turn; and if there's been any meaningful work in the effort, it's been mostly about the creation of memories.

Columns twist and turn inside the expansive cathedral.
All of this is a long and rambling way to wax poetic about the Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi's stunning ode to Christianity in Barcelona. Construction on the Basilica began in 1883 and it remains a work in progress.

It takes center stage in a working class neighborhood, surrounded by shops and restaurants catering to tourists and across the street from a park where locals can be spotted playing bocce ball!

Like hundreds of other churches in Europe, it's a spiritual and artistic blend of stained glass windows, soaring columns and cathedral ceilings, intricate sculptures and elaborate ornamentation.

Unlike other such places of worship, Gaudi's vision seems pulled from the fertile and fevered imagination of an artist on drugs. It's a surreal happening of columns that twist and turn bizarrely as they soar to heaven, surrounded by biblical scenes chiseled with modernist precision and whimsy, all cloaked in vibrant colors filtered through stained glass windows framing the expansive space.

At the heart of all this beauty and madness is a statue of Jesus on the cross, soaring high above the floor of the structure, a beacon for pilgrims and tourists. He offers up a vacant stare, just one of the complex pieces making up this bizarre and wondrous place

No matter your belief or spiritual path, La Sagrada Familia is worth a visit. It's a transcendent, spiritual happening for the faithful, an artistic masterpiece for non-believers and lovers of art and a fully realized essay on the human condition for philosophers and poets.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Cinque Terre and Barcelona and Malaga -- oh my!

Blogger's note: Wendy and I are just back from a transatlantic cruise aboard Holland America's Zuiderdam. This feature was written during the trip and I'm just now getting around to posting it.

Leaving Livorno, heading west into the Mediterranean
Here I sit at the moment, high atop the Zuiderdam, glancing out at the Port of Cadiz in southern Spain just this side of the Strait of Gilbraltar.

The lovely Miss Wendy and I are a week into a 19-day transatlantic crossing and the good news is we're still speaking to one another!

We landed in Rome eight days ago, made our way to Civtavecchia, the port of Rome, where we boarded the Zuiderdam, and settled into our stateroom before sailing off to Livorno. It's a port that mostly serves as a jumping off spot for cities and sites across Tuscany.

We jumped and spent the following day in Cinque Terre, a lovely group of villages built over an expanse of mountainous terrain that rest magically and majestically above the Mediterranean. The views were splendid, at times transcendent as Mother Nature, as she is want to do, managed to euphorically blend land, sea and sky!

I'm pretty sure if you looked hard and long enough you could find it written somewhere that on the eighth day God created this special place! But I digress.

Village of Portovenere, just south of Cinque Terre.
Over the next several days, Wendy and I stayed busy checking out the Zuiderdam -- eating, walking, exercising, eating, going to shows in the ship's theater, eating, meeting and making friends, eating, shopping, napping and, well, eating.

We also toured and walked around a half dozen ports of call along the east, south and west coasts of Spain, including Barcelona, Alicante, Malaga and Cadiz, with a side trip to the nearby island of Mallorca where we rubbed shoulders with the locals in Palma and tourists in the picturesque seaside village of Soller.

Today we are steaming west, headed toward Ponta Delgada and Horta in the Azores. The skies are overcast and the seas mildly angry, rocking us gently as we stay busy walking, exercising, eating and, well, eating yet again.

We've been warned by the captain that the seas here in the mid-Atlantic will grow angrier over the next several hours, with swells expected to toss us about for the next day or so, then grow quiet as we reach the Azores. Perhaps I might skip today's afternoon snack! Then again, you can never be too rich, too thin or visit the Zuiderdam's buffet too often.

Up next: Stumbling across the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and being asked to remove my cap. Stay tuned.