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Trip Report Norwegian Jade November 28-December 8, 2009

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Day One - flew to Barcelona via Munich
On arrival to Barcelona we took the commuter train into the city, and metro to our Hotel Arc La Rambla in the famous La Ramblos section of old Barcelona, and within walking distance to the pier.

Our sightseeing began with a funicular ride to the top of Montjuic, home to several museums and parks with beautiful overview of the coast and the city.
Walking through parts of Parc Joan Miro, we started using museum passes at the Fundacio Joan Miro, Barcelona's great Catalan 20th century artist. Afterwards we went to Palau Nacional that houses the Museu Nacional D'Art de Catalunya, Stretching below are fountains including the largest, La Font Magica. Inside the museum there are large custom built structures to house medieval frescos, and masterpieces from periods as far ranging as gothic to art deco.

Barcelona is a fantastic place to explore 20th century modern and contemporary art. My friend who shared this trip with me has expanded my horizons - I never liked modern or contemporary art, but traveling with an aficionado I've learned to appreciate its color and movement, though I'll never understand things like those large canvases with a single line!

Later we went to a seafood restaurant along the waterfront. We had excellent paella and a shrimp dish.

information
http://www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com/en/airport/barcelona-airport-transport.html#renfe (cheapest transport from/to airport)
http://www.articketbcn.org/en/ (museum pass)
http://www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com/en/transport/barcelona-metro.html (T10 metro pass)

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    Day two - checked out and stored our luggage to explore more of Barcelona.

    Strolling down La Rambla we passed flower markets and street performers. We were happy to see a local produce market. On most of our European adventures we've saved money on food by purchasing local produce, so we headed in. There is something magnificently wondrous about a community produce market - artistic displays of the exotic seafood ... mundane vegetables, but always a visual delight, and a temptation! Others may tour Europe dining in high priced restaurants, but no one gets a better feel for the local lifestyle, or better treat for the taste buds!

    Next we toured La Pedrera. Once known as Casa Mila, this fantastic building can tempt even a traditionalist like me to love the eccentric genius that was Gaudi.
    With its stone facade rippling around the city block's corner and wave effects on everything from wrought iron balconies to decor, this visual cross between a sandcastle and surreal building is awesome in the truest sense of the word. From the foyer's colorful decoration to the rooftops imaginative chimneys, this place inspires respect for a creative genius that saw and created in a world unlike any other. Even the doorknobs were custom, ergonomically designed. Hobbits would have felt right at home. And the wealthy early twentieth century Barcelona family who lived in the sumptuous art deco apartment was one lucky family!

    Next we headed for the Gothic section of town looking for The Picasso Museum. Somehow missing an obvious turn we ended up in Parc de la Ciutadella. While Danny decided to enjoy leisurely lunch on a park bench, I had a wandering ambulatory meal enjoying the sculptures and gardens, children's play area, monument to technology, and the natural history museum's facade. Back on track, we walked through Barri Gotic, a collection of medieval Gothic buildings of old Barcelona It's a maze of interconnecting dark streets linking squares from the 14th and 15th century. Around the Catedral, one of Spain's greatest Gothic buildings, you can still see part of the old city walls incorporated in later structures.

    So what is that great old building in the middle of a small medieval street - why the Picasso Museum, of course! It contains many of his early works with influences from realism to impressionism to the early stages of his cubism.
    Before leaving the Barri Gotic we chanced upon the Dali Museum.

    Is anyone besides me amazed to find Picasso and Dali in this oldest Gothic section of Barcelona?

    We ended our day with a shuttle bus trip to Port Veil to board the Norwegian Jade.

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    The cruise begins! First Port of Call - Civitavecchia, port of Rome, Italy

    We sat comfortably in the lounge area of one of the restaurants for the mandatory lifeboat drill with our spiffy life vests! Then we toured our new home away from home to familiarize ourselves with the layout and services.

    That evening we attended the first of the daily evening shows - an overview of coming attractions. Overall, I thought the musical productions throughout the cruise to be great, the comedians were pretty good, but I was totally bored by the magic act and a puppet production. Overall, there always something interesting to do in the evening - if not the theater, the lounges.

    Civitavecchia is the port for Rome. Its serviced with an excellent commuter train service, so for an 8 Euro fee we ticketed roundtrip into Rome. Since we had spent a week in Rome in March we decided to visit another site near Rome. The ancient port of Ostia Antica has been called a middle class Pompeii. With a Rick Steve's guide to the site we did a self-guided tour. There are also lots of signs explaining the artifacts. Ostia was a working port town that shows a more gritty look at Roman life than wealthy Pompeii.

    Wandering around we saw the remains of docks, theaters, apartment flats, mansions, shopping arcades, baths and temples that served a once thriving port with 60,000 residents. Particularly impressive to me were the wonderful mosaics that adorned both the commercial area and the residential area. Original fresco remnants are still colorful. The theater is another typical remnant of Roman society. Somehow I doubt our stadiums will last a hundred years, let alone the thousands of years that Roman structures have lasted!

    Back at the metro, we left the station to see the pyramid that the Piramide metro station is named for. Piramide di Caio Cestio was built in 18-12BC as a tomb for Gaius Cestius. Across the street is the Porta San Paolo, one of the southern gates in the 3rd Century Aurelian Walls of Rome.

    The next day was an at sea day. We cruised by the active volcano of Mount Stromboli off the tip of Sicily. We cruised through the Straight of Messina that separates Sicily from the toe of Italy, passing our second active volcano, Mount Etna. On this cloudless day, the steam from fissures in the volcanoes was evident.

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    Next Port of Call - Piraeus Greece, port for Athens

    After docking we headed for our self-guided tour of Athens. Its an easy walk into Piraeus to the metro station to Athens. The tougher part of our journey was an unexpected closure of a section of the metro. Two stops from Piraeus everyone was required to leave the metro for an overcrowded shuttle bus. The minor setback cost us some time and a bit of inconvenience, but I bet its more of an inconvenience for the commuter trying to get to work! We got back on the metro to Omonia then transferred to Syntagma to start our sightseeing at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Comparable to the Vatican's Swiss Guard and the Tower of London's Beefeaters, the guards are a tourist attraction in and of themselves.

    We walked through the National Gardens to the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian's Arch. Monumental in themselves, this is also the first view we had of the Acropolis. The restoration efforts remind me of a huge and problematic jigsaw puzzle. Those piles of rock fragments may sometime be part of a reconstructed ancient site.

    We then headed for the back entrance of the Acropolis. My source for planning emphasized the fact that this would make our timing different than the main component of tourists, the sites less crowded. We used this approach throughout the trip, but here, this put us entering on a less used uneven hilly trail.

    First major site was the Theatre of Dionysos with its marble wall, and remains of seating, including the ancient equivalent of prime seating, carved, personalized reserve seats in the front row!
    Climbing past the Rock of the Acropolis we could look back on the magnificent reconstructed theater.
    The first Temple we saw was the Sanctuary of Asclepios and His daughter Hygeia, the goddess of Health.

    Continuing on - the Parthenon. It was the first of several times during the trip that my major thought was a chest pounding realization I am HERE!

    Next we admired the Erechtheion - my personal favorite of the ancient monuments of Athens. The famous "Porch of the Maidens." Six draped female caryatids are supporting columns, each sculpted in a manner different and engineered in such a way that their slenderest part, the neck, is capable of supporting the weight of the porch roof while remaining graceful and feminine. The porch conceals the giant 15-ft beam needed to support the southwest corner.

    Leaving the Acropolis via the front entrance we headed back for the metro station at Monastiraki. Strolling through the markets and stalls to the metro we reversed our transportation adventure of the morning to return to port.

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    Next Port of Call – Izmir, Turkey
    We had arranged a private tour for Ephesus in Turkey in order to customize the tour to see the sights. This turned out to be a terrific choice. Our guide, Ali, listened to what we wanted to see and do, and spent the day seeing that we got to enjoy his country.

    We left the ship early, before the dancers on the pier started performing. Our guide awaited us with a sign to identify him from all the others waiting.With our driver and BMW ready, we began our tour.

    Our primary destination was the archeological site of Ephesus, an ancient Greek city on the west coast of Anatolia, near present-day Selçuk, Izmir Province, Turkey. Ephesus had a population of more than 250,000 in the 1st century BC, which also made it the second largest city in the world.

    An optional addition to the basic tour is Ephesus terrace houses, located on the hill, opposite the Hadrian Temple. DON't miss it!!

    Also called "the houses of rich", they give us information about life during the Roman period. From hot and cold water and indoor plumbing to beautiful frescos this is an unforgetable part of the tour. There are six residential units on three terraces at the lower end of the slope of the Bulbul Mountain. The oldest building dates back into the 1C BC and continued in use as residence until the 7th Century AD.

    Next on our tour was the Library of Celsus, one of the most beautiful structures in Ephesus, built in 117 A.D. The scrolls of the manuscripts were kept in cupboards in niches on the walls. The capacity of the library was more than 12,000 scrolls.

    Symbols obvious today were new and secret- such as signs of the new and forbidden religion of the first century, the fish and cross of Christianity. A common game in the first centuries was played on a pie-shaped surface. Some have lines and codes like the fish, to let others know how to find others of like mind.

    Leaving Ephesus archeological site, we went up Bulbul Mountain to see the House of the Virgin Mary. At the time we went there were no lines or buses. Ali knows the schedules for the large tour buses and planned our day to minimize crowds.

    Mary was entrusted to John by Jesus, and may have come in the area when he spent several years in the area to spread Christianity. While I anticipated that this would be a destination for Catholics, I was surprised to see Muslims there. Ali explained that the Mother of the Prophet Jesus was also revered by Moslims. Paul VI was the first pope to visit this place in the 1960's. Later, in the 1980's, during his visit, Pope John-Paul II declared the Shrine of Virgin Mary has a pilgrimage place for Christians.

    Our final destination was The Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Not much remains today , but from the site you can also see the Basilica of St John. Three hundred years after the death of St. John, a small chapel was constructed over the grave. The church of St John was changed into a marvelous basilica during the region of Emperor Justinian (527 -565 AD).We could have continued on to see the Basilica, but were getting tired.

    By the way, we had brought packaged snacks and water with us and avoided the usual stops for a meal and for a carpet factory - usually part of these tours. By arranging the deviation from routine in advance we had time to see all the sites on our list. A benefit of the private tour!

    information
    http://www.ekoltravel.com/turkey/tours/shore_kus.html

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    Next Port of Call - Alexandria Egypt

    Again we chose to use an organized tour for this port. We banded with 10 others using the CruiseCritic.com website to form our own tour for two days with minibus, driver, guide and security guard.

    After a short delay because of miscommunication regarding meeting place we disembarked and met our guide for the 2 1/2 hour drive to Cairo and Giza. Be sure to confirm meeting place!

    En route our guide told us about our tour and answered questions. But finally we could see the Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu). Some of our group went on camel rides or climbed into a pyramid. We opted out since both had physical discomfort as part of the deal!

    We opted instead to go into the small museum devoted to the Solar Boat. Discovered in 1954, the boat was buried beside the pyramid. Possibly used to transport the body of Pharaoh Khufu to the pyramid it was buried as a personal possession of the Pharaoh for his use in the afterlife. It is amazing to see original ropes used to join the main parts of the boat, as well as the entire reconstruction.

    But of course the main attraction is the Pyramids and the Sphinx. I can still feel the awe of touching and sitting on the Great Pyramid - I've seen it pictured everywhere from travel magazines to the US dollar bill. With the backdrop of modern Cairo, sitting in the dessert, with camels galumphing about...and I was there!

    Eventually we gathered into the bus and drove into Cairo. My overwhelming impression was chaos and poverty. In this city of wonders, humanity survives rather than thrives.

    The museum is both exhilarating and stupefying. I've seen the Tut exhibit as it toured the US and been suitably impressed, but the sheer volume and exquisite detail of gold and artifacts is unbelievable. I was chagrined to see the exhibits poorly displayed, with scraps of old typewritten descriptions on some displays. With so much wealth of material the presentation was somewhat lacking, but when a new larger, custom designed facility eventually opens it will hopefully do justice to the awesome displays.

    Rather than overnight in Cairo we had opted to come back to the ship, and meet in the morning for a tour of Alexandria. Our itinerary included Quiat Bay Fort, the one-time site of the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria, Montazah Palace and gardens, the Alexandria Library, Catacombs of Kom El-Shokafa, Pompeii's Pillar, the National Museum of Alexandria and the Coptic Cathedral of St Mark.

    A highlight for me included the New Alexandria Library. The Ancient Library of Alexandria was probably the largest and most famous of the libraries of the ancient world. The New Bibliotheca Alexandrina is dedicated to recapture the spirit of openness and scholarship of the original Bibliotheca Alexandrina. The library was designed to house up to eight million volumes, 500,000 in open display. A major portion of space is devoted to free computer access. Paired with American and European libraries they have an extensive library online.

    I also appreciated The Quaitbay Citadel in Alexandria. Built in the 15th Century it is considered one of the most important defensive strongholds, not only in Egypt, but also along the Mediterranean Sea coast. The Citadel is situated at the entrance of the eastern harbor on the eastern point of the Pharos Island. It was erected on the exact site of the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria, which was also one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

    Montazah Palace and gardens were built on a low plateau east of Alexandria, overlooking a beautiful beach, with gardens and woods. The palace includes Al-Haramlek and Al-Salamlek, the summer residence of the former royal family.

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    Our last Port of Call was Malta
    The city is a historically impressive fortress with one of the most beautiful harbors in the world.

    We followed directions I got from someone on Fodors.com who lives in Malta (thank you!), passed the lines of cabs (half day tour $55) and horse-drawn carriages ($15 into town). to a car park that provided a free elevator to the street level. Walked to the Trident Fountain and the city bus depot for a 1 Euro ride to Mdina.You can get an all-day bus ticket for about 3 Euro, but we knew we only had time for the one side trip. And you can easily explore Valetta on foot.

    In Mdina, magnificent views of Malta can be seen from the ramparts of the city walls. The old capital of Malta is a typical walled mediaeval town. The "Silent City" it is off limits to cars other than those of residents. This is a wonderful town to walk through and imagine life hundreds of years ago, passing by some of the best Norman and Baroque architecture on the island. Several palaces are situated here, most serving as private homes. The Cathedral is fronted by a large square, the only open space you'll find within this tiny City.

    Walking back to the town of Rabat, we caught a bus back to Valletta.

    Valletta was named after a Grand Master de la Vallette in the wake of his victory against the Turks in the Great Siege of 1565. It was designed for the Order of the Knights of St John.

    The two sites in Valetta I enjoyed most were the Upper Barracca Gardens and St Paul's Shipwreck Church. The major attractions of the city, the Grand Masters Palace and St John's co-cathedral were not open for tourists on the Sunday we visited.

    The Upper Barracca Gardens offer a magnificent view of the harbor. The garden is built on top of a demi-bastion. An arcade on the same side gives this area the feeling of a balcony. A number of statues, monuments and plaques fill the gardens. A small fountain full of water-lilies and gold fish is located at the center of the garden. A kiosk located on the south side provided us with coffee as we enjoyed the view.

    An unimposing mid-block entrance marks the lovely Church of St Paul's Shipwreck. One of Valetta's oldest churches it traces its origins to 1570s.

    The church hosts fine artistic works, including the magnificent altarpiece, the choir and dome of Lorenzo Gafà, 17th century paintings and a wooden statue of St Paul carved in 1657. Relics include the right wrist-bone of St Paul, and part of the column on which the saint was beheaded.

    We also enjoyed a seasonal treat - the Christmas crèche. With turning watermill and many vignettes within the scene it is the largest and most ornate crèche I've every scene.

    This was our shortest time in port for the cruise. I loved the little taste we had, and am determined to go back someday.
    On Caribbean cruises we've seen atmospheres of different islands and used that to plan longer vacations on the islands we liked best. From this cruise Malta and Barcelona rank as Future Travel Destinations!!

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    Our final day in Barcelona
    We disembarked early and had plans to see several more sites in Barcelona...but a slight miscalculation sent us on a morning long sojourn.

    We missed a metro connection and headed back to Sants Station to connect to the regional train so that we could leave our luggage at our hotel for our final night near El Prat airport.

    At the Sants station we found our train listed and went to that track to find the train ready to leave. By our watch we had 5 more minutes...but...
    We jumped on and things were fine until Danny noticed a conductor checking tickets. When he got to us we discovered we were on a regional express train. First stop in an hour at St Vincens. It was a lovely seaside ride, followed by a train back to Sants to get on the correct train. An unplanned side trip that took the morning. Finally we got checked in to our hotel and headed back to town.

    We chose The Sallés Hotel Ciutat del Prat because we had an early morning flight and they provided free transportation - its great for that purpose. Advantage - close to airport for early morning flight and provides free shuttle. Disadvantage - not near center of town so uses more or your valuable time with connections - even if you make them correctly!

    We spent the afternoon exploring the magnificent Parc Guell, a garden complex with unique architectural elements situated on the hill of el Carmel. Built between 1900 to 1914, it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Works of Antoni Gaudi".

    The large cross at the Park's high-point offers the most complete view of Barcelona and the bay, with the Sagrada Familia and the Montjuic area visible at a distance.

    The focal point of the park is the main terrace, surrounded by a long bench in the form of a sea serpent. The curves of the serpent bench form a number of enclaves, creating a more social atmosphere. Gaudí incorporated many motifs of Catalan nationalism, and elements from religious mysticism and ancient poetry, into the Park. You have to see it to believe it. From the many musicians playing around the park to magnificient views to an excellent picnic spot to a greater enjoyment of all things Gaudi, this is a destination worth spending an afternoon.

    We ended the day -and our trip - with a visit to the Palau de Musica Catalana, and the opera, La Traviata. The theater is beautiful, another UNESCO World Heritage site. You can take a tour during the day...but to really appreciate it, get tickets to a production. Wow!

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    A fabulous report! I so agree that by doing your own R&D
    & also hooking up w/others on Cruise Critic's meet & greet
    really enhances one's journey.
    I, too, was helped by a few that lived in Malta.

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    Kath-- I am going on the Jade late April- 7 days Western Med. How you like the ship? How you like Hotel Arc Las Ramblas? Glad you had a good time, thanks for writing a report.

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    LOVED your report as we are taking the same trip. Had some questions? What time could you board in Barcelona? When in Rome, did you actually go into Rome to go back to Ostia? What time did you need to be on the ship in each port before it sailed? What was the weather like. more fall-like or winter (we live in Texas)? Who was your tour company in Ephesus? what about a visa for Egypt? Thanks. jk

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    We had a great time on the Jade. We opted for an inner cabin lower deck to save money. Every other cruise I've ever been on we had a balcony or at least a decent window...I didn't miss it much. We had all the benefits of meals and shows, and didn't spend that much non-sleeping time in the room. Jade is decked out for the Hawaiian itinerary that it was commissioned for - a bit showy for the Mediterranean route, but we still loved it!

    I believe boarding was early afternoon. Since we used the day as a "shore day" we boarded late afternoon - no crowds and efficient boarding.

    We took the train from Civit. to Ostiensse(sp? - from memory not notes)This is a combined train/metro stop. Pyramid metro is at the soame location. We followed Rick Steves' recommendations for how to get to Ostia and his tour of the site. I can look up the websites I used when I get home if you want.

    Weather was cooler in Barcelona - high 50s low 60s. And warm in Egypt - mid 70s

    Ephesus tour company was ekol.com
    no visa for egypt - process handled by cruise line

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    Norwegian Jade was fantastic (late April West Med cruise). Route NOT for the faint of heart! CAVEAT: Excursions on the Jade sooooo expensive; I wrote a report on how to do ports independently at 1/10 price Norwegian charges! look it up in cruisecritic.com

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    Brought your trip report with me on out trip (Nov21-Dec 3)and you were right on the money. It was a fab resource. the Jade was a wonderful ship and the capt and crew outstanding.

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    Haifi usually takes you to Mount of Beatitudes, Sea of Galilee, River Jordon, Capernaum etc. (north)

    Ashdod usually takes you Jerusalem and Bethlehem. (south)

    If you want to see Masada and the Dead Sea, there just isn't enough time to see both Jerusalem and the Dead Sea and Masada all in teh same day. You would probably drove pass Jerusalem and take a quick peek but if you want to spend any quality time in Jerusalem at all, like walk through the old city and admire the churches, the wailing wall etc. Masada may have to be on another day.

    If you are planning Holyland Cruise, you may want to take a peak at this trip report, which cover: Greece, Turkey, Isreal, Egypt and Italy.
    http://www.fodors.com/community/cruises/holyland-in-october.cfm

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