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Rounding Third & Heading for Home*: Crossing the Atlantic

                                                                                                     *With apologies to the old lefthander, Joe Nuxhall

    After leaving Madeira we spent a full week at sea crossing the Atlantic to Ft Lauderdale, where we would exit the ship on the morning of April 30.  There was a lot going on during that week, with people preparing to leave the ship, goodbye parties, performances, etc. So here’s a taste of all that.

    HAL’s crews are mostly Indonesian & Filipino (HAL has a training facility in Indonesia), and each group put on a show of song & dance from their native country.  Both shows were colorful & entertaining & it was fun to see the talent of some of our regular waiters, wine stewards, room attendants, etc..  First the Indonesian show.

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     A few days later the Filipino staff presented their show.  Our wine steward for the last part of the trip, who was called Nestor, produced, directed & was one of the star performers in this show.  He did a great job.

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     There were several other notable voyage ending concerts.  First, David & Attila, the excellent violin & piano duo that played in the Explorers’ Lounge every night under the name of Adagio, had a concert on the stage in the Queen’s Lounge backed by the Amsterdam Orchestra.  They are always very good, but maybe a little better in their natural habitat. They really don’t need any accompaniment.

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     An amazingly good steel drum group called Island Magic gave two performances during the last week.  Not just the expected Calypso music, they played classical & swing numbers as well.  You haven’t heard anything until you have heard classical music played on steel drums!  At their first concert they started out with three Andrew Lloyd Weber pieces & we weren’t sure we wanted to stay for an Andrew Lloyd Weber tribute concert, but then they proceeded to a more interesting mix of music & we were really glad we stayed.  The two front players even engaged in some Pips style choreography a few times. Great show.

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     There was a final musical extravaganza that included most of the musicians who had been with the ship throughout the voyage.  It opened with the Amsterdam Orchestra playing with the singers from the production ensemble from the second half of he trip.  Sebastian, the superb guitarist with the Amsterdam Orchestra, was showcased for a few songs, at least one of which he wrote himself.  Debbie Bacon from the Piano Bar played a rousing six handed piece with Michael & Connor, the keyboardists with the Amsterdam Orchestra.  The Neptunes, a very good jazz trio when they aren’t just playing for dancing, performed & then David & Attila were back on the main stage for another piece backed by the Orchestra.  The lead singer with the dance band from the Crow’s Nest, whose name we don’t know, gave a dynamite performance of Man of La Mancha and Michael & Connor were back for some four handed piano.  There was more, but we had to leave for dinner.

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     And so it was time to pack up (a big job after four months) & say goodbye. There was an assembly for that in the Queen’s Lounge, where Captain Mercer & Gene the Cruise Director spoke, among others.  Barbara, the travel guide, presented a five minute(!) recap of the entire four month journey, complete with pictures.

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     Time for one more party, a champagne get together in Robert & Bill’s suite, then it was time to disembark on the morning of May 30 (that part wasn’t fun).  Here is a last picture of the group that shared our table for the full four months, time enough to get to know each other very well.  We were lucky; it was a really good group of table mates who got along really well the whole time.  One person compared it to a family, but Rick disagreed because we never fought with one another.  Here we are with a special order of one of our favorite deserts (well, favorite of everybody but Robert & Mary), a Cappuccino Bomb consisting of a large hunk of cappuccino ice cream enclosed in hard chocolate.

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     The day we disembarked we had lunch with John & Karen, friends from a previous cruise, a little way north of Ft Lauderdale, then dinner with Ada & Chuck, also friends from a previous cruise, in Miami. We greatly enjoyed seeing them all, but we should have taken two days.  Then we spent a few days with Michael & Irene, Mary’s aunt & uncle, in St Petersburg & another night with Barb & Bing, more friends from previous cruises.  In South Carolina we had dinner with Linda & Paul, Rick’s cousins, then made it home the next day.  It was really nice seeing all of these people who we hadn’t seen in some time, but what a social whirl!  We were very tired when we finally got home, but just three weeks later we were off again on a three week driving trip to Texas & Minneapolis to visit family. So that partially explains why it took so long after we got back to complete this blog!

     So that’s it for this truly epic journey, a true circumnavigation of the globe (which we discovered requires you to pass through two points on precisely opposite sides of the world . . . ours were near New Zealand & Gibraltar)).  This is truly a once in a lifetime trip . . . unless you do it again, which we just might.  So long until next time.

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Funchal, Madeira, Portugal

     On April 22 we were docked in Funchal on the Portuguese island of Madeira.  The last time we were here, we took the cable car up to Monte & an excursion around this exceptionally beautiful island.  See https://baderjournal.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/madeira-day-1-funchal/ and https://baderjournal.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/madeira-day-2-around-the-island/.  We were pretty tired of bus trips by the time we arrived here this time (our last one for this voyage was to Florence), so we decided to spend the day walking around Funchal.  We had planned to take the cable car up the mountain to Monte because last time we went up there it was late in the day and everything was closed.  Some friends of ours took a bus excursion there early in the morning & said the views were fine but by the time we left the ship in miid-morning the mountain was enclosed in a cloud & it pretty much stayed that way all day, so we abandoned that plan.

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     Instead, we took the shuttle bus in to the edge of town & spent some time in the Jardim Municipal (Municipal Gardens).  This island is famous for its abundance of beautiful flora, and we were there in early Spring when much of it was in bloom.

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     The gardens also have a lovely pond with swans, ducks & fountains.

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     We walked into town through the attractive streets of Funchal to the Municipal Plaza. The town hall is on one side of this square, but we visited the beautiful Church of St John the Evangelist that was across the way.  Built in the 17th century, this church is connected to a Jesuit college. Its façade is fairly plain, in the Portuguese style of white walls outlined with dark (volcanic?) stone.  In contrast, the inside is a fantasy of frescoed walls & ceiling with gilded altar pieces and tiled sections.

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     The Mercado dos Lavradores (Farmer’s Market) is a building several stories high with an open central courtyard.  It was built in 1940.  The mostly open first floor is crowded with flower, fruit & vegetable stands selling local produce under umbrellas to protect from the sun.  The second floor has more fruit & vegetable stands, where vendors offer free samples, then charge exorbitant prices for more.  There are also crafts & souvenir stores on this level.  In the back are the butchers, hacking away at the fresh catch.  It’s a very colorful market, well worth experiencing, but not a good place to actually buy fruits & vegetables because of the prices.

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     We walked through the old section of town behind the market, now the location of many cafes & art galleries, then out to the East side of Funchal. There we came upon the Church of Santa Maria Maior (although it also goes by other names), apparently built in the 18th century on the site of a 16th century chapel dedicated to St Tiago that was constructed to hold off an epidemic.  The church was closed, but its outside was quite nice in the Portuguese black & white style.

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     Nearby on the waterfront is the dark yellow Fortress de Sao Tiago, built in 1614 to protect the city from pirates.  Today it houses an upscale restaurant & art galleries.  The best things in this area, though are the views of the coast.

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     Walking back toward town provided more nice views of the city & the waterfront.  We also passed an archaeological site uncovering some 15th century housing & wells and an original city wall built in the late 16th century.  There were many beautiful flowers along this walk as well.

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     One of the distinctive aspects of walking through a Portuguese city is the black and white mosaic sidewalks in many different patterns.  Funchal is no exception. We always enjoy these (although the best are in Rio).

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     We passed the 15th century Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, known for short as the Se Catedral.  It is supposed to be quite beautiful inside but it was closed the day we were there (this sure seems to happen a lot). We passed the municipal garden one more time & boarded the shuttle back to the ship.

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     So ended our final day in port, an enjoyable walk through a lovely city.  Not as spectacular as many of the ports we visited on this voyage, but a good one for winding down toward the end.  Of course, it was not really the end because we still had a week to spend at sea crossing the Atlantic to Fort Lauderdale. A little more on that anon, but for now we will leave with a parting look at Funchal.

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Cadiz, Spain

     We spent April 20 in Cadiz.  We had previously docked here in 2013, https://baderjournal.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/cadiz-seville-spain/, but we spent that day visiting Seville (a completely worthwhile trip) so Cadiz itself was mostly new to us.  Cadiz is on the Atlantic coast, outside the Mediterranean. Founded by the Phoenicians in 1104 BC, it is considered to be the oldest continuously occupied city In Europe. In the 17th & 18th centuries Cadiz became very wealthy as the terminus for the American gold & silver trade after the river to Seville was blocked by silt.  The city was mostly destroyed in 1596 by Sir Francis Drake, so most of the old city dates from the 17th & 18th centuries. Central Cadiz is located on a large peninsula jutting out into a bay, so there is water all around it.  The cruise ship port is right downtown, giving quite a view of the city from the ship.

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     The night before reaching Cadiz there was a performance by a Flamenco group, dancers and a superb guitarist, who sailed with us for several days through Spain.  The guitarist had given an intimate solo performance for a small audience in the Crow’s Nest bar earlier in the afternoon, which whetted our appetite for the full performance at night on the main stage of the Queen’s Lounge.  It was not a disappointment!

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     Cadiz is unusually visitor friendly.  Across the street from Amsterdam’s berth is a large park, at the end of which is the tourist information office.  They gave us a map of the city marked with four color coded walking tours.  These tours are actually marked on the streets themselves in the color indicated on the map, so it was pretty easy to follow.  We followed (loosely) the green walking tour of the old part of the city.

     Our first stop was Plaza de San Juan de Dios, laid out on land reclaimed from the sea beginning in the 15th century.  The plaza is dominated by the old town hall, built between 1799 & 1861. In front of it on the plaza is a statue of a Cadiz politician erected in 1906, when the plaza was also expended after the city walls were demolished.

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     The attached building with the brown tower to the left of the town hall is the church of San Juan de Dios, formerly the Misericordia Hospital.  It was built in the late 17th century & is quite elaborate inside with a small but beautiful pipe organ.  We had not previously seen (or at least noticed) pipes facing forward like those in this organ.

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     The old part of Cadiz near the city hall, called Barrio del Populo, is famous for its picturesque narrow winding streets. Among other things, we came upon the Casa del Almirante (Admiral’s House), built in 1690 by Don Diego de Barrios, admiral of Spain’s American treasure fleet.

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     The Cadiz Cathedral was built between 1722 and 1838 on the site of the previous cathedral, which was built in 1260 & burned down by the English in 1596. It is one of the largest in Spain.  It has a golden dome and two towers, and appeared from the ship to tower over the city on the opposite side of the peninsula.  There was a good bit of construction in progress when we were there so we didn’t go inside.

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     On the left side of Cathedral Plaza is the Arco de la Rosa, one of the gates of the medieval; city walls built in the 12th century.  On the other side is the Church of Santiago.  It was rebuilt in 1635 after the English plundered the city in 1596.  There are several 17th century gilded Baroque altarpieces inside & a single octagonal tower on top.

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     The Plaza de Las Flores is an oblong plaza full of flower vendors & cafes.  It is pretty but also popular and therefore crowded.  On one side of the plaza is the Correos, the main post office, an attractive brick building with a novel mail slot.  On the other side is the Mercado Central (Central Market). The market’s outside walls with porticoes date to the mid-19th century and the central buildings were added in 1928.  We saw mostly fruit & vegetable stands and fresh seafood (some still alive) & butchers.

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     Not too far from the mercado is the Palacio de los Marqueses de Recano, built around 1730, which is typical of the mansions built by merchants in the American trade.  It is on the highest spot in the old city, some 45 meters above sea level, and on top is the Tavira Tower.  In the 18th century there were more than 160 such watch towers used by merchants to look for ships arriving from the sea. The Tavila Tower is the tallest one remaining; in 1788 it wa designated as the watchtower for the port of Cadiz.  The tower reputedly gives a fine panoramic view of the city & also contains a camera obscura that is supposed to be interesting.  But its about 170 steps to climb to the top and Mary was still feeling the effects of the Dubai illness, so we didn’t go up. Across the street is the 18th century Hospital de Mujares, one of the first women’s hospitals. You can see below that its façade is interesting, with unusual cross shaped windows on the second floor.  Inside is a courtyard with stone staircases leading to the upper floors, but the gem is an extremely elaborate gilded chapel, sharply contrasting with the grey stone of the rest of the building, inside which is a magnificent painting by El Greco of St Francis in Ecstasy.  Sadly, no photography was allowed inside the building so we have only the picture of the façade to include here.

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     Just up the street from the Tavira Tower we discovered the Municipal Library, so you know we had to visit that! It was very nice, with white balustrades around a central atrium reaching to the 4th floor.

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     We wandered the interesting & sometimes crowded streets of the city for awhile on our way to the Cadiz Museum.  The streets are probably the most interesting things to see in Cadiz.

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     The Cadiz Museum sits on the quiet Plaza de Mina.  The museum is quite interesting, although the lack of English signage limits its enjoyment by folks like us.  The first floor is the archaeological museum, containing many artifacts from Cadiz’s long history.  But its prime exhibit is a pair of Phoenician sarcophagi. As mentioned above, the Phoenicians founded Cadiz (or as they called it, Gadir) around 1100 BC. The male sarcophagus, uncovered in 1887, was the first item in the archaeological museum, & was later joined by the female sarcophagus that was uncovered in 1980.  There is also a large statue of the Roman Emperor Trajan, who was born not far from Cadiz.  The second floor is filled with art, mostly Spanish painting, and the third floor (which was closed for renovations when we visited) contains a collection of large puppets used in local festivals.

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     I failed to mention earlier that it was a chilly & drizzly day.  We emerged from the museum to discover that there had been a downpour while we were inside (good timing).  As a result the streets & plazas were much less crowded than they had been during the morning.  We visited the small 18th century Oratorio de la Santa Cueva (Holy Cave), which got its name from a subterranean cave that was converted into a chapel.  The stark underground chapel has a dramatic painted wood crucifixion sculpture.   On the top floor is a very richly decorated elliptical chapel with a dome.  This chapel has five semicircular paintings, three of which are by Francisco Goya.

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   It was still drizzling on and off as we strolled to the water front on the far side of the peninsula from the cruise port, behind the Cathedral.  In addition to the dramatic curved waterfront we saw the 1st century AD Roman Theater, discovered only in 1980. One of the largest theaters in the Roman empire, it could accommodate some 20,000 spectators.  Next to it was a pile of spiral columns, which may or may not have been part of the theater.

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     On our way back to the cruise port we stopped by the Plaza de Espana to see the monument to the 1812 constitution.  This was Spain’s first republican constitution, written in Cadiz while Napoleon occupied the rest of Spain.  The monument was begin about 100 years after the constitution was written & completed in 1929. The text of the constitution is displayed on the tall pillar in the center, with a statue representing justice at its base.

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     Getting back into the port was something of an ordeal because guards at the gate required many people to empty their pockets.  But before long we were back on the ship for our departure from Europe, with only one more port to visit before the end of the voyage.  So here is one last look at the panorama of Cadiz from the ship before we sailed away.

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Barcelona, Spain

     We docked in Barcelona on April 18, the last of four consecutive days in different ports.  We had been to Barcelona in 2013, https://baderjournal.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/barcelona-spain/, & were hoping to see the Picasso Museum, which had been too crowded for us to visit last time.  But it turned out our visit was on a Monday this time, so all the museums were closed.  Maybe next time.

     We were docked pretty far down from the entrance to the harbor; one of the new Viking ocean ships had the berth right next to the entrance.  There was a shuttle bus to take us from the ship to near the Columbus monument at the base of the Ramblas.  Unlike every other port we visited (and unlike our last stop in Barcelona 3 years ago), the shuttle cost 5 Euros a person.  Everyone found this irritating; many thought it was cheap of HAL not to pick up this small cost for its Grand Voyage guests.  Some folks refused to use the shuttle & walked the mile or so into town, but since Mary was still feeling the effects from Dubai we took the shuttle.

     We had two goals for the day.  First, on our last visit we saw quite a few of the buildings created by local icon Antoni Gaudi, but only saw the inside of one, the Sagrada Familia church.  This time we wanted to tour the inside of one of his residential buildings, Casa Mila, nicknamed La Padrera (the stone quarry) because of its looks. Completed in 1911, this was Gaudi’s last commercial project, subsequently concentrating exclusively on religious works. Very controversial in its time, today La Pedrera is a UNESCO World Heritage site.95. Barcelona, Spain

     To get there we walked up the Ramblas, past the monument of Christopher Columbus pointing to the new world, reputedly at the spot where he came ashore in 1493 after his first voyage.  The Ramblas, one of Europe’s great boulevards, Is a pedestrian road flanked by trees & then two narrow streets.  Usually crowded & busy, full of locals & tourists & vendors & cafes, it is a relatively serene & pleasant venue for an early morning walk.  Among other things, we passed a woman getting dressed as, presumably, one of the living statues we would see later on our return. Further up we passed an interesting building on a corner with a street sculpture of a book outside it.  Everywhere you go in this city you see buildings with interesting & unusual architectural flourishes.

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     We had read that lines to see the inside of Casa Mila could be as long as an hour & a half, but there was almost no line at all when we arrived.  This is probably due to the morning hour & the date, before the real tourist season.  The entrance was through the central courtyard of the building, open at the top, which gave a view all the way up.  There is a stairway to the second floor, with painted decorations, pillars & plants.  But the first stop on the self-guided audio tour is the roof, reached by an elevator.

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     The rooftop is a wonderland, a giant sculpture garden of chimneys with excellent views thrown in.  It was pretty crowded with visitors, but still quite beautiful.  On the inside you could look over the courtyard atrium, with its undulating curved lines.

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     On the outside were views of the surrounding buildings & streets, as well as La Sagrada Familia & some other churches in the distance.

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     But really, the best part is the sculptures & chimneys displayed on the roof, most covered in Gaudi’s trademark broken ceramic or stone mosaics.  They come in all shapes and sizes & are interesting alone as well as in groups.

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     We walked down the stairs to the building’s huge “attic,” where tenants originally did their laundry.  It is an arched space covered in red brick that today houses an exhibit about Gaudi’s art, including a number of models of his most famous buildings.  There are 270 brick arches holding it up, all catenary arches characteristic of Gaudi’s work.  These arches are the equivalent of the curve created by hanging a chain from its two ends, then turning that curve upside down.  There was a display here of how such chains hang to create the curve.  The whole place was dramatically lighted to great effect.

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     There is one apartment maintained as a display for visitors, furnished with items from the turn of the 20th century.  The rooms were very nice & looked quite livable, even though the spaces and doorways are quite unconventional.  We walked down there from the attic & through a hallway to visit the apartment.

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     Perhaps the best part of the apartment was the view through the windows.  Someone has written that from the outside the apartment windows & balconies look like caves in the side of a mountain & from the inside they look like cave entrances as well.  Each one seems to be different & they are partly covered with dynamic abstract wrought iron railings.

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     We left through (of course) the gift shop & had a last look at the atrium on our way out.

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      We walked down toward our second objective for the day, the Palau de la Musica Catalana (Catalan Music Hall).  On the way we passed Gaudi’s Casa Battlo and, as always in Barcelona, several other interesting buildings.

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     The Palau de la Musica Catalana opened in 1908.  It was designed by modernista architect Lluis Domenech I Montaner as a home for Orfeo Catalana, a choral group that was a cultural leader at the time.  Most building at that time was being done in the Eixample district, a 19th century extension of the city beyond what used to be the city walls.  That is where most of Gaudi’s best work can be found.  But the Orfeo wanted their performance hall to be in the neighborhood where they lived, so it was built in an area of crowded narrow streets where it is impossible to get a good view of the building’s elaborate exterior. The Palau is a UNESCO  World Heritage site.

     We saw the outside of this amazing building on our last trip to Barcelona in 2013 (see pictures in that posting), but we were not able to see the inside.  Unless you are attending a concert, the only way to see the inside of the Palau is on a tour & there are only a few tours in English each day.  To be sure we would get in one we purchased timed tickets ahead of time on the internet.  This worked out well for us, although it appeared that tickets were available for walk-ups shortly before the tour started, perhaps because this was before the real tourist season began.  The tour met in the foyer, an area open to the outside added in the original style of the building during a 1980’s renovation.  In the center is a coffee bar surrounded by tables.  The arched ceilings are decorated with ceramic flowers & lines, some of which converge in six pointed stars, & there are red brick pillars holding it up.

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     After a short introductory film we walked into the main lobby & up the stairs.  The lobby is decorated mostly in gold & white.  There is a grand marble staircase with elaborate lamps on each side & golden glass supports for the handrails.

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     We gathered into a large room on the second floor called Lluis Millet Hall, named after one of the founders of the Orfeo.  It has stained glass windows leading to a porch on the façade facing the street with very colorful & ornate mosaic pillars.  We had seen this from the street last time we were here, but got a much more intimate view from the porch itself.  Each of the mosaic pillars is unique & bright with color.

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     We went downstairs through the delightfully decorated hall & stairway to the concert hall.  This is a fabulous room, considered one of the world’s most beautiful concert halls.

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     The concert hall seats about 2200 people on two levels.  It is the only auditorium in Europe illuminated during the day with natural light coming through the windows & ceiling skylight.  The stage is surrounded on top and sides by marble sculpture, the right side featuring Wagner’s ride of the Valkyries & a bust of Beethoven.  The back of the stage is an orange semi-circle with relief sculptures of 18 young women playing instruments, each in a different costume with their lower bodies done in mosaic.  They are often called the muses, although there were only 9 muses in Greek mythology.

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     We walked upstairs to have a view from the balcony.  On the way up we passed behind the busts of composers on the façade above the porch.  The view of the concert hall from the balcony was even more beautiful.

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     For many, the real highlight of this room (no pun intended) is the fabulous stained glass skylight in the center of the ceiling. The golden center portion droops down from a mostly blue background, like the sun in the sky, and is surrounded by female faces (presumably singing, since this is a music hall).  If it looks familiar, perhaps you have seen it on the screen of an LG television in one of their print ads.  The skylight & the huge windows are functional as well as beautiful, because the Orfeo wanted to have natural light in their concert hall & its location among narrow streets lined with multi-story buildings made this difficult to accomplish.

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     Above the windows on the sides the ceiling appears to be supported by giant yellow mushrooms lined with red & gray ceramic roses, with chandeliers hanging from them.

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     We left the Palau & walked to the Ramblas, where we had an excellent lunch in the window of a restaurant where we could watch folks walking by.

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     After eating we walked back down the Ramblas to the shuttle bus stop for the trip back to the ship.  We passed one of our favorite buildings there, a former umbrella factory with a dragon on the corner holding an umbrella.  We also saw some of the human statues near the bottom of the Ramblas.  These are individuals who dress up like statues & pose perfectly still . . . until you come close when they will suddenly move just a little.  Silly, but fun. Just before we reached the shuttle stop we passed the Old Port Authority building & the Aduena Building, the old customs house, both built in the first decade of the 20th century.

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     So there you have it, several of Barcelona’s highlights on a much too short one day stop.  We then left the Mediterranean, headed for Cadiz.

Monaco

     On April 17 we docked in Port Hercules in the middle of Monaco (legend has it that Hercules passed through here & made the area habitable by getting rid of all the wild beasts).  Monaco is the world’s second smallest sovereign state (after the Vatican), covering less than a square mile. But it is also the world’s most densely populated state with some 37,000 residents (just about a third of whom are citizens). It is only about 5 miles from Italy but is surrounded by France on all land borders, and by treaty France is responsible for the defense & foreign policy of Monaco.  Although not a member of the European Union, the Euro is Monaco’s official currency.  Monaco is, of course, famous as a playground for the rich & famous, so the harbor is full of (big) yachts, the streets are full of fancy cars & everything is expensive.

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     It was a gray rainy day, one of the very few we have had on this trip.  Mary was still feeling pretty bad from the illness she picked up in Dubai, the previous two days in Rome & Florence had been pretty taxing & we were planning a big day in Barcelona the next day.  Monaco really wasn’t a priority for us, so we decided to take it easy & just took the HOHO bus tour around the city/country.  We didn’t hop off the bus at all, though, so all the pictures in this episode were taken either from the open top of the bus or from the ship.  Thankfully the heavy rain didn’t begin until just after we got back to the ship.

     Our first stop was at the Casino of Monte Carlo.  Monte Carlo (Mount Charles) is one of the five districts of Monaco.  The casino was first built in the mid 19th century because the ruling family was in dire financial straits. It worked: they aren’t in any danger of bankruptcy any more. You have probably seen James Bond walking up the steps to the entrance in Casino Royale or Never Say Never Again. The back part of the casino, facing the harbor, is the opera house, built a few years later.  And on one side of casino square next to the casino is the Hotel de Paris, built in 1863, very ritzy & expensive.  The tennis ball decorations are to celebrate the 110th Monte Carlo Masters tennis tournament (actually held over the border in France), the final day of which was the day of our visit.

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     We rode through the narrow, sharply curving & hilly streets of the city to the Palace.

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     The Prince’s Palace was first built in 1191, but has been expanded, renovated & enhanced many times since then.  Built on top of a huge rock overlooking the Mediterranean, it was initially a Genoese stronghold & you can still see some of the more castle-like walls at the edge of the rock.  The Grimaldi family, Genoese noblemen who were on the losing side in a struggle for control for Genoa, captured it in 1297 & have ruled here most of the time ever since.  The princes were absolute rulers until 1910, when a rather ineffectual parliament was established under a constitution granted by Prince Albert I in response to public unrest. But even today Prince Albert II is the dominant political power in Monaco & his offices & residence are in the Palace. His predecessor (& father) was Prince Rainier III, who famously married the movie star Grace Kelly (Albert’s mother) in 1956.

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     From the Palace grounds there were some stunning views of the harbor & the mountains.  Next to the Palace on the edge of the rock cliff is a statue called “hommage aux colonies étrangères,” built in 1914 to honor the 25th year of the reign of Prince Albert I.  Across the square from the Palace were some interesting buildings that look like they date from the 19th century.  We drove on, down through an arched road, to St Nicholas Cathedral.  It was built at the turn of the 20th century; Prince Rainier & Princess Grace are buried there.

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     We passed by the Oceanographic Museum.  It was built in 1910 by Prince Albert I, who had an avid interest in the subject, and presided over from 1957 to 1988 by Jacques Cousteau.  The collection inside has a first rate reputation, including an aquarium with more than 4,000 species of fish, but of course we didn’t see the inside.  Outside the museum was a very colorful exhibit, but we have no idea what it was about.

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     The Monaco Grand Prix auto race was first run in 1929.  It is a challenging course through the streets of the city, with hairpin turns, changing elevations & a tunnel. The 2016 race was to be at the end of May & they were already preparing when we were there, building viewing stands in several places on the water front.  One of the excursions offered by HAL was to walk the course of the race (it might be a lot cheaper to buy a map & walk it yourself).  We saw several of the viewing stands that were under construction (built anew every year).

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     Well that’s it for our short bus-top tour of Monaco.  We returned to the ship & it then began raining pretty hard for most of the afternoon.  We will leave you with a few pictures taken from the ship.

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