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Cunard Queen Victoria 2013
Mediterranean Discovery Cruise -  Part 2

Map Embarkation and Southampton La Coruna - Spain Barcelona - Spain Valencia - Spain Malaga  - Spain Cadiz, port for  Seville - Spain Gibraltar
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Valencia - Wednesday 4 December

Valencia is the third largest city in Spain, after Madrid and Barcelona. It is a major industrial centre, a leading port, and has a pretty Old City. We caught the first shuttle bus to near the Serranos Tower, on the bank of the dry bed of the River Turia. Getting our bearings, we headed towards the Cathedral. The first church, the Ignlesia del Templo, was closed, but the Basilica de los Desamparados next to the cathedral was open. We entered by a side door, then emerged into the main Plaza de la Virgen. The cathedral was also open and we paid for an audioguide to look around. The building commenced in 1262 on the site of a mosque. The main style is Gothic. Behind the altar is the mummified arm of the martyr St Vincent the Deacon, who died in Valencia in 304. Other important treasures are in the Museum which has two paintings by Goya and a giant golden monstrance which is taken through the streets at Corpus Christi. This leads to the Chapel of the Holy Chalice, containing the agate cup which is said to be the true cup used to celebrate the Last Supper.

Afterwards we climbed the octagonal Micalet Tower, named after St Michael because it was consecrated on his feast day, 29 September 1418. The spiral staircase is over 200 steps to reach the terrace which is 51metres above ground. The bellcote on top with one large bell (El Micalet 1539, weighing 11,000kg) and one small (De Quarts 1736 weighing 724 kg) is a later addition. The other 12 bells date from between 1429 and 1816, and weigh between 3,590 and 260 kg.

Emerging into the Plaza de la Reina we were confronted by tourist stalls and throngs of people. We had seen the roof of the Mercado Central from the Micalet Tower so knew which direction to walk. It is the main meat, fruit and vegetable market of the city and is in an art-nouveau building with a central dome. The fish market is adjacent with a smaller dome. We wished we were staying in Valencia and could buy and cook some of the produce. A stall outside sold cooking equipment including paella pans. The Iglesia de los Santos Juanes faced our exit door from the market

Opposite the main door of the market is La Lonja, originally used for trading silk and then the Commodity Exchange Building, and built between 1483 and 1498. The building is divided by a three-storey tower with a spiral staircase, unfortunately closed. On one side, on the ground floor, is the Transactions Hall which is divided into three naves. It has a high ceiling, with 8 columns, and vaulting. The inscription around the walls translates as “I am a famous house which took fifteen years to build. See how fine a thing commerce can be when its words are not deceitful, when it keeps its oaths and does not practice usary. The merchant who lives in such a way will have riches and enjoy eternal life.” The other side of the courtyard is a two storey building with a cellar below; the upper floor has a fine painted and gilded wooden roof dating from the 15th century which came from the former Town Hall. The ground floor Consulat del Mar also had a painted wooden ceiling and is linked to the Transacations Hall. When we visited it was being prepared for a meeting with rows of chairs and microphones.

We had now visited the sites which are visited by the tours, but also wanted to visit the main square. It was easy to find, with its large green conical Christmas tree. The main building is the City Hall, an ornate palace with clocktower, domes, and a ceremonial balcony. The Post ofiice is opposite, and worth a visit inside to admire the circular glass ceiling. There was a glimpse of the main Railway Station, built between 1907 and 1917 in a version of art nouveau.

It was now lunch time so shops were closing, and it was time to head back to the Plaza de la Reina, and then to the Plaza de la Virgen. Instead of going directly in search of the shuttle bus we passed the Palau de la Generalitat, the seat of local government, then headed north. The Torres de Serranos is one of the two remaining gateways of the medieval city walls; the other is the Torres de Quart which we had seen from the top of the Micalet tower. It was built in the 14th century. As we approached from the Plaza de los Fueros the structure of the chambers are visible in the wall. If we had been earlier we would have bought a ticket to climb to the top for the view from the towers. Walking along the Calle Pinto Lopez to the shuttle bus we passed the Pont de Fusta with the terminus for the new tram to the beach.

Seeing just the major sights had taken five hours of continuous walking, and there were lots more interesting things to do, including visiting the City of Arts and Sciences which was almost en route back to the port. Friends had taken the shuttle bus, then walked back to the ship through the gardens along the course of the River Turia to the City of Arts and Sciences with its exciting modern buildings. Although it was a long walk, it was flat along the riverbank, and gave the chance to visit the Palau de la Musica, Museu Fallero, Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, l'Hemispheric and l'Oceanografic. Tickets are expensive (27.55 euros for the combination ticket for the last 3 places), but everywhere seems expensive for tourists in Spain.

Alternate Dinning - Bamboo

After a very late lunch we enjoyed the sunshine until it was time to get ready for dinner – Bamboo in the Alternative Dining with two friends who we last met when we shared a table on the QE2 in 2004.

Barcelona - Thursday 5 December

Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain. It is also 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 Temple. We enjoyed our previous cruise to Barcelona in August 2010 when we had visited his Casa Batllo and La Pedrera in Barcelona; 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.

We were looking forward to visiting the Sagrada Familia on this visit. The queues to enter were too long last time, so we could only walk around the building and admire the construction work. Catching the first shuttle bus to the World Trade building, then the Metro, meant we arrived at the Sagrada Familia just before it opened at 0900. 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. We paid extra so we could also take the lift to the top of one of the four towers. Views from the top were good, but not enough to see our red funnel in the port because of the haze. Walking down the spiral staircase there were good views of the construction work, and we could get close to the statues and embellishment work. There are two groups of towers and later we found there were separate tickets available to climb the towers at the Nativity facade on the other side, but we would have needed to pre-book.

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.

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 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. The Museum gave very useful insights into the engineering design of the structure, and the many models which were made to validate the design, and we went back inside afterwards to look at the pillars again. The bells are tubular bells, another Gaudi innovation. We left after almost 3 hours, carrying two heavy books purchased in the shop. We walked once around the outside to remind ourselves of the three facades and how the work was progressing.

Another short ride on the Metro, to Vallcarca, followed by a 15 minute walk uphill, and we arrived at the other famous Gaudi creation – Park Guell. Unfortunately we entered the park, which is free, by a side entrance. The Calvary that crowns the park, a mound designed by Gaudi, is the highest point and from there we could see the various Gaudi buildings, but they were below and entrance needed tickets. The lookout and the large square, with its serpentine benches, also needed tickets. We purchased a ticket, thinking we were going into the park, but it was only for entry into Guell House, where Gaudi lived while working on the project. We explored the winding paths with structures and viaducts which blended into the hillside, then emerged by a different gate onto the road which led to the normal and Main entrance.

There we needed to purchase another ticket in order to walk around the buildings, but the views from the road were enough for us, and we were short on time. The medallions along the wall proclaim Park Guell, and the entrance is guarded by the Caretaker's Lodge and the smaller Administration Lodge. Between them is the famous staircase between crenellated walls leading past the dragon sculpture up to the Market Place.

The quickest route back was to walk down to the Metro at Lesseps, which is on the line directly back to Drassanes and the shuttle bus. However this missed the other Gaudi buildings, and the main streets, so we descended at Passeig de Gracia, where we were confronted by the Gaudi Casa Batllo. In 2010 we had enjoyed a visit inside, and there were no queues now, but we were too short of time. But there was enough time to walk past the neaarby Casa Amatller down to the Placa de Catalunya. A rather stark El Corte Ingles department store looked down onto the Christmas Ice Rink. The pavement food stalls, overflowing with cheese, salamis and other goodies tempted us into a piece of a ripe squelchy blue cheese which we were assured was local. It is so much nicer to have local produce than the cheese on board. Instead of walking down La Rambla we chose, by accident, the parallel Portal de l'Angel, which was a very pleasant shopping street with another El Corte Ingles. The map showed three in the area. The Cathedral of Catalonia is a substantial stone building at the end of the street, marking half way from the Metro to the shuttle bus.

We rejoined La Rambla at the Liceu Theatre, then passed the Palau Guell, another Gaudi creation. The Mirador de Colom looked out onto the sea, and we agreed again that we should climb to the viewpoint next time. We returned to the ship just in time for afternoon tea in the Queen's room.

A day at Sea - Friday 6 December

After four consecutive days ashore it was so relaxing to have a quiet day at sea. It was formal and the Cunard World Club cocktail party in the evening preceded a special meal including scallops as starter then Duck or Rack of Lamb as our options to follow.

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