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Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2014
Mediterranean Cruise - Part 2
One disadvantage of our bargain cruise price was that we were expected to pay for the Cunard shuttle bus from the ship to the centre of Barcelona, $4.50 each way. Also, the first shuttle bus was at 0930, whereas we hoped to be in the queue for our tickets at the Sagrada Familia before it opened at 0900. We were first off the ship at 0800 and found a T3 Port Bus just outside the cruise terminal, which for 3 euros return took us into town. It was perfect timing and one arrived just as we stepped out of the building.
The sun had just risen and the light was fantastic as we strolled across to the Monument Colon – it is a statue of Christopher Columbus pointing towards the horizon, on top of a tall column in the centre of the Placa del Portal de la Pau and commemorates his first visit to the Americas in 1492. Ahead stretched the main boulevard, La Rambla, a famous wide avenue with stalls along the side which were just starting to open. After buying our Metro T10 ticket (only 10.30 euros) at Drassannes, giving 10 trips which we could both use,we started walking. The Mercat de la Boqueria is the main covered food market, entered through an impressive gateway from La Rambla, then at the end of La Rambla is the Placa de Catalunya, dominated by the stark El Corte Ingles department store. We had walked the length of two Metro stops without any problem, and it is much more interesting above ground.
We walked across to Passeig de Gracia for our metro to Sagrada Familia. Barcelona was the home of the famous architect, Antoni Gaudi I Cornet. He was born in 1852 and was responsible from 1883 until his death in 1926 for the design of many revolutionary and wonderful unusual buildings, including the building of the Sagrada Familia. By the start of the 20th century Passeig de Gracia was one of the most desirable residential streets, and includes several famous houses by Gaudi. The most impressive grouping is the Manzana de la Discordia and comprises three Modernistic masterpieces: Casa Amatller, Casa Batllo and Casa Lleo-Morena. They have different and clashing architectural styles. Casa Batllo, at number 43, is a Gaudi masterpiece, built in 1907. The facade is said to represent the triumph of St George over the dragon, with the mosaics representing the scales of the dragon, the roof the dragon’s back and the balconies representing the skulls and bones of its victims.
We enjoyed our Cruise on the Queen Victoria to Barcelona in August 2010 when we had visited his Casa Batllo and La Pedrera; in total 7 of his works in Barcelona now have a World Heritage rating which is quite exceptional. He also worked on the restoration of Palma Cathedral. On our last visit to Barcelona in 2013 we spent the entire morning in the Sagrada Familia. Tickets are now 17.30 euros (seniors and students) for the basilica and one of the towers, and an extra 4.50 euros for the other tower. We had visited the Passion tower on our last visit on the Queen Victoria in 2013, and that was our first climb here, with a ticket timed at 0930. The Nativity tower, where a bridge is crossed between towers followed, timed at 1000. Begun in 1882, the building has four sides, with three spectacular facades (Passion, Nativity and Glory). The fourth side is the Chapel of the Assumption and two sacristies. The Passion facade is at the ticket office entrance, leading to the two Gospel doors, with texts from the gospels of Matthew and John. Gaudi designed the facade while ill and close to death in 1911, and tried to capture the pain and sorrow of the Passion. The Segrada Familia towers over Barcelona although the lines are broken up by the ever present cranes.
Only the Nativity facade and four of the towers were completed when Gaudi died in 1926, run over by a tram. The best view of this facade is from the park in Placa Gaudi and the darker early stonework with its fine details of plants and animals is in contrast to the lighter modern and minimalist recent additions. It is all still an active building site, and the Passion facade and 4 more towers have been constructed, each over 100 metres tall. The Glory facade and another set of towers, are part built, and previous concrete work is being demolished. Estimates are that it will be 80 years before it is all finished.
Access to both sets of towers is by lift, then walking down the spiral staircase. There were good views of the construction work, and we could get close to the statues and embellishment work. The site was very busy, and outside there were men building buttresses and adding embellishments to stonework which we thought was completed. For example, the ears of corn have now a large white wafer of bread on top, and the bunches of grapes have a goblet of wine. The body and the blood of Christ are now clearly represented.
It is a spectacular design, with lots of light, illuminated through the bright primary colours of the stained glass windows as well as huge windows on the east end. It is a very tall structure with delicate pillars of changing cross-section, made of different materials (Montjuic stone, Granite, Basalt and Porphyry depending on the loads). Gaudi based his design on trees, branches and leaves. The inside also looked like a skeleton because the pillars look like bones. As the morning progressed more visitors arrived, and we were glad we had arrived early. Although still a construction site, and not expected to be completed until 2050, it was sufficiently ready in 2010 to be consecrated by the Pope. It is a basilica.
The Nativity facade was completed in 1936 and as well as the classic nativity scene, with wise men and shepherds, Gaudi devised it as a triumph of life and creation. It depicts the episodes relating to the conception, birth, childhood and adolescence of Jesus. There are three porticos: Faith, Hope and Charity below four towers. The detail of statues, fine stone work of leaves and flowers, leads to a green cypress tree with white doves depicting the Tree of Life. The four towers announce Hosanna and Excelsis, and are clad with Venetian mosaic work of Murano glass. The best view is obtained from the other side of the lake in the Park of Gaudi. The views from the bridge between two of the towers is impressive, and the side fencing reduced the effect of vertigo.
After climbing both towers we could relax and sit in the nave, admiring the construction detail and the stained glass. Work on the Glory facade started in 2002 and is intended to be the main entrance for worshippers who will enter through one of the seven doors. The central doors were hung in place in 2012, and reproduce the Lords Prayer in over 50 tongues.
The crypt, with the tomb of Gaudi, is only open for Mass in the morning from 0900 to 1000, so having visited the towers we were too late to visit, and could only look down onto the space from above. The Museum also had windows which looked directly onto the tomb. A second visit to the museum meant we could better understand the work of Gaudi, and we saw workmen making the plaster models. Our last visit had been at a weekend and there was less activity. It was fascinating to see how the shapes for the vaults had been calculated, using string and bags of sand to shape the optimal catenaries which were then inverted to provide the shape for the best vaulting. A machine modeled the carving of stone pillars which had variable cross-sections, and the main columns divided into "branches" which were inspired by the tree in Gaudi's garden. The bells are tubular bells, another Gaudi innovation. There were also a set of models showing how the original, rather conventional design had evolved through parabolic then hyperbolic designs to his final version which is still being followed nearly 80 years after his death.
It was then on to the the Park Guell, another Gaudi Design, which was an easy metro journey from Sagrada Familia to the recommended station at Vallcarca. There is then an uphill walk but the steep pedestrian paths have escalators, something we have never seen before. Previously we had a free wander around the gardens, and up to the Calvary that crowns the park, a mound designed by Gaudi which, is the highest point and from there we could glimpse the various Gaudi buildings. This time we paid the extra 8 euros to visit the Monumental Zone.
Our entry was near the Baldiri Reixac school and began with the ramp which led to the corridor of a huge wave and the Portico of the Washerwomen. The free path through the park is above these and the pillars lean onto the retaining wall. The esplanade, originally for open-air shows, has a serpentine bench made of concrete clad with a mosaic of tile and pottery fragments; underneath is the Hypostyle Room with 86 classical columns. This was all designed by Josep Maria Jujol, a collaborator of Gaudi.
The monumental flight of steps with crenellated walls leading from the main entrance gate is one of the most photographed views in Barcelona but there were too many people to be able to see the entire entrance, including the fountain with a snake's head and a brightly coloured dragon. One of the two pavilions at the main entrance gate was being restored, but the other, part of the Barcelona History Museum, was open to visit. Both have distinctive roofs of mosaic.
We returned to the metro station at Lessops, which was easy downhill but would have been more difficult uphill without escalators. La Rambla had now become alive with street entertainment and souvenir shops, and was full of people. It was such a contrast to the peace of the early morning. We passed the Monument Colon before catching the T3 Port Bus way back to the ship.
A renaissance fort guards the harbour of Civitavecchia, gateway to Rome - one of the world's greatest cities. From its inception in 753 B.C. to the days of its decline, Rome has been the focal point for many of the world's greatest artists, architects, rulers and philosophers and Civitiavecchia has always been its major port. Civitavecchia is not only the Port of Rome but also a pleasant resort with an emphasis on sailing. There are lots of boats, several nice marinas, and on our last visit there was some sort of flotilla dinghy sailing race. We had decided to catch the train and be independent, and economical like on our last visits. For comparison, the cheapest tour was a simple bus transfer without a guide which cost $70 and at the other extreme the comprehensive 11 hour visit to Rome and the Sistine Chapel was over $200 each although since this included visits inside the Colosseum, express entrance to the Vatican Museum and lunch it was arguably a bargain for those who would only visit Rome once in their lifetime. We however wanted to get to the station as early as possible and the ship berthed early and the complimentary shuttle buses were supposed to start at 0700 so we got up at 0545 and were in breakfast just after 0600 to be ready before the official bus tours to Rome which were scheduled to depart between 0730 and 0815. However there were no announcements and finally we walked down and found the barriers were being placed at the end of the gangway for non tour passengers at 0735 and were off amongst the first passengers. The Holland America Maasdam was berthed directly next to us. The port bus drivers were in no hurry to leave and it was soon clear we had missed the early trains and would have a considerable wait. They also refused to stop at the pedestrian port gate by the railway station giving us a mile walk back - further than from the ship! A complete contrast to previously when the bus was quick and efficient and the bus driver told us how to reach the train station, which was some 250 metres along the coastal promenade where he dropped us off. Next time we will simply walk out and along the promenade.
As we arrived at the station a shuttle bus from the Maasdam arrived. At the station there were machines to purchase tickets, as well as a traditional ticket office and everyone was very helpful and spoke English. A single ticket is 5 euros and a day return with unlimited metro and bus travel was only 12 euros. The ticket must be stamped with the date and time at a little machine before getting on the train. We easily caught the 0842 regional train, and the journey from Civitavecchia to Roma Termini took 1 hour 20 minutes.
The train route goes along the coast, in parallel with the main road, until both turned inland towards Roma. After an hour, the first of the Roman stations was Roma St Pietro - we had a good view of St Peter's Basilica and then crossed the River Tiber. Trains from Civitavecchia arrive at the far platforms of Roma Termine, so it was a very long walk to the Metro, where we caught the underground Linea B to Colosseo which was two stops. It would probably have been better to get off at Rome Ostiensee which is also two stops on the same Metro line and much less distance to walk.
Emerging into daylight we had a choice - the Colosseum to the left or the Forum and Palatine Hill to the right. These are the most famous of the ruins of the Roman Empire. The ancient city is on the east bank of the River Tiber, which we had earlier crossed by train. We chose to look at the Colosseum first as we missed it on our previous visit and the queue was shorter than last time - we were soon inside. The tickets were still 12 euros, although since January 2014 all adults pay the full price; free entry for EU senior citizens has been removed. Our ticket was marked Palatino+Foro+Colosseo and was valid for all three sites. The Colosseum was commissioned by the Emperor Vespasian in AD 72. It is a tiered ellipse with seats around a central arena, and one part showing the original four stories remains but much of the stone was taken away for building in the 15th and 16th century. Enough remains to show the 80 arched entrances which allowed easy access to over 50,000 spectators who came to watch the gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights.
Excavations have exposed a network of underground rooms where animals were kept and the reproduction staging. The whole area could be flooded for 'naval battles' to take place. To our surprise the inner walls were made of brick despite the height; we had not realised so much of ancient Rome was built of bricks. The seating was on 5 main levels with nearly 80 entries and stairs so the various ranks of visitor could reach their seating independently. Quite a lot of the building still remains or has been reproduced but one still needs the drawings and other explanations. The were, for example, huge mobile shades stretching across the top of the Colosseum which were moved during the productions and there were 80 lifts to bring up different stage sets from below.
We crossed the main road past the Arch of Constantine is under the shadow of the Colosseum and was dedicated in AD 315 to celebrate Constantine's victory over his co-emperor - here are many triumphal arches in Roma. Right opposite is the Forum and Palatine Hill, the centre of the Roman administration and we could enter quickly because we already had tickets purchased at the Colosseum. The Forum was the centre of political, commercial and judicial life in ancient Rome. The Palentine Hill held many of the Palaces of the Emperors and the Roman elite. One has access to an enormous area after one has passed through the Arch of Titus with the Church of Santa Francesca Romana above and to the right but almost half of the Forum area was fenced off, either because of restoration work or simply to limit access and the rest looked like a building site.
Last time our first explorations had started in the northwest corner and the Curia, the seat of the Senate, which later had a church built inside, now demolished. Originally built by Julius Caesar, the Curia was restored by Domitian and then by Diocletian in the 3rd century. The building was small considering its purpose, in comparison with our Houses of Parliament which we toured recently. From there we could see the top of the enormous white Victor Emmanuel Monument and its black horses, covered in scaffolding and tarpaulins. This monument to Italy's first king was completed in 1911. Here was the next major triumphal arch, built in AD 203 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the accession of Septimus Severus. This time we turned towards the Arch of Titus another triumphal arch erected in AD 81 by the Emperor Domitian and climb up up towards the Palatine Hill. According to legend, Romulus and Remus were brought up by a she-wolf at the Palatine with .
We went through a short tunnel and up into the Vigna Barberini (the old vineyard) there was a viewpoint down onto the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine and across the forum to other well known sights. The whole area was being stabilised, as a result parts of a revolving pavement had been found with some of the old 'lubricant' still present. The whole vineyard is on a flat platform built onto a brick structure raising it from the steep hillside, a mammoth engineering work especially for a vineyard and much of the subterranean structure is being exposed. As we progressed through the Palatine we realised more and more the enormity of the structures which were invisible below the surface as well as those above, as the hill became increasingly covered with larger and more luxurious palaces for the Roman elite. This came to a climax in the days of Augustus who was born on the hill and continued to live there even when he became emperor.
We looked down on the Circo Masimo which could seat 250,000, even more than the Colosseum, for the races although little now remains. Again we began to realise the scale of the construction with most of the hillside overlooking it being luxurious houses built into the hillside right up to the Palatine level from which they were accessed. There is also a large Stadium on the Palentine Hill.
To gain additional insights we spent time looking at the statues and ceramics displayed in the Palatine Museum and found they had a very instructive video which put a number of the elements we had seen into context we are usually not very keen on videos but that one was excellent. we looked back round where Domitian built a huge palace, which includes the Domus Augustana where the Roman emperors lived, and the Domus Flavia. The House of Livia where Augustus lived with his wife Livia is well preserved but needed an additional ticket to access - something for next time?
Again much of the site was closed off with fencing but we walked towards the Romulean Huts then through the Farnese Gardens to another viewpoint. There is so much to see and in the few hours we could spend we hardly covered the ground and we certainly didn't cover the history and the context which will have to wait until we get home, one needs to allow more time than one might expect to see it all. Purchasing heavy guide books is a bad idea when flying back home with only a limited luggage allowance. We looked out at the views before stating to descend
We worked our way down we passed the three isolated slender columns which are all that remains of the Temple of Castor and Pollux are very beautiful. Like most buildings in the Forum it was rebuilt many times, and these columns date after a fire in AD 6. We saw the Athaeneum and the Temple of Vesta with the House of the Vestal Virgins where the vestal virgins spent their lives keeping the lamp burning. One of the oddest sights was of the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda rising behind the six columns which remain of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. The three barrel-vaulted aisles of the Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius are the remains of what was the largest building in the Forum.The domed Temple of Romulus survives as part of the church of Santi Cosma and Damiano, and the heavy bronze doors are said to be original. Far too many of the buildings were closed and wreathed in scaffolding and the crowds were thick and funneled down onto a restricted number of routes making it much more difficult than our last visit to the Forum in 2010 on the Queen Mary 2 and many of the pictures are from that visit.
We exited by the Colosseum and took the M Linea B back to Roma Termini station. The double decker regional train to Civitavecchia was waiting on the platform and departed at 1512. We got to Civitavecchia at 1618 and walked around the shops, eventually entering the port through the pedestrian gate and walking back to the ship. In contrast to the morning, a helpful shuttle bus driver stopped and indicated we should get on. The shuttle buses were now shared between the Queen Elizabeth and the Maasdam, and most of the other travelers were on a 42 day cruise on the Maasdam. Like us, they were due to depart at 2030. On our next visit to Civitavecchia we will leave the ship as soon as she is cleared by customs and immigration and hopefully get an earlier train into Roma and spend more time exploring.
| Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Layout revised: 21th May, 2015