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Saturday, October 9, 2010

Cruisin’ Part Three: The Final Port

After another night of celebrations and parties (man, do those Italians know how to party; I find it difficult to keep up!), we arrive at our last port of Barcelona. We only have four hours and a bit there, which completely sucks because it is an amazing city.

I decided to do one last excursion which was a bike ride through Barcelona. Call it being inspired by Mike’s bike shop but I thought it would be a fun and interesting way to see the city.

Barcelona is so different from Valencia; there are no baroque anything pretty much anywhere. While Valencia almost had a holy or aristocratic air to it, Barcelona pumps with energy and vibrancy. As we round the small inner city streets on our bikes, I can smell sweet bread baking. I find myself utterly charmed by Barcelona’s many facades; it’s a city of the Moors and ancient Europe, with a great deal of modern architecture slapped in for good measure.

Past the old city are huge streets and the city moves at an orderly fashion. The boardwalk leads out to almost red sandy beaches. The Med sea feels cool on my feet and I take a moment to bask in the sun and wonder at life, the sea and the city at my back.

We continue on our journey and I hate to admit it but the group is kind of a menace; the Italians once again cause much more panic and disruption, which I normally don’t mind, but it almost causes several crashes. The older men want to lead the front of the pack and the older women don’t want to be too far behind. The Italians heckle our tour guide because he starts in English first rather than Italian. And because they can’t talk, the Italians ring their bike bells constantly, because they can’t stand the silence or because they like the sound of the bells.

I hang out a little with an Australian couple on their honeymoon; they are good folks. The man says, “Hey we have ten minutes. Let’s grab two beers each and start getting pissed!” Aw…the aussies…what’s not to love? The best part was him complaining about all the kiwi criminals coming to Australia, causing a lot of trouble, dam those kiwi criminals coming to Australia! How dare they!

I’ll let the kiwis ponder this one for a moment.

We zip easily through the some of the city’s 100 kilometres of bike paths. It’s an excellent city to take a bike through and the motorists are more than bike friendly to our group. One thing I love about many of the European cities I’ve been to is this “Rent a bike” concept, where they have city bikes, available for rent on the side of the street. You can take one for an hour, a week, whatever; just pay up and the bike’s yours. Because many European cities were developed prior to the car, the cities are pretty much all imminently walkable and bikeable. I think Europe will be able to survive an issue like peak oil much better than say, the U.S. or Australia, which developed more of a suburban type design.

We pass one of the cities cathedrals and a wedding is taking place. I take a look at the bride, in gold. She is obviously a much older bride, with grey hairs lining her temple and with her outfit; I surmise that it could be a second wedding. Everyone looks cheerful and the cathedral is full of lit candles.

The three hour bike ride is over much more quickly than I would have liked. We didn’t visit the houses or Cathedral that Gaudi designed, which is a real disappointment. But you can’t have everything. Like I’ve said before, cruises are great as tasters, letting you know where you want to return to.

For myself, I could see living in Barcelona or Cadiz. I loved Cadiz’s ancient nature, its calm “hey we’ve been there, done that” mentality and its sense of mystery. You really feel like Poseidon himself could happily walk out of the sea and just hang out on one of the many lounge chairs, sipping sangria and munching on tapas. Anything seems possible there.

The Bad Parts of the Cruise

Nothing in life is sweetness and light and a cruise is no different. The cruise didn’t start off so hot when I did not receive a life jacket (there was none in the cabin for me) and asking every single crew member I met to find out where to get one, only to be given one after I called up to customer services twice some four hours later. The crew members even hid me in the back of the line so the safety officials wouldn’t see me!

The food the first couple of nights was not very good BUT I discovered that if you take the chef’s pick, you did pretty well.

The Italians were a blessing and a curse. They constantly talk on the buses, in the elevators and its loud, sometimes yelling at each other. A boat full of 1500 of them for nine days can be a bit tiring.

The cabin was big but sleeping on the kids bed next to my parents wasn’t a personal high but hey, I’m on a cruise! Why complain???

The crew also took our passports away, which wasn’t cool. We took our passports back each day and that was a real hassle. I object to anyone taking my passport off of me for any reason and they never gave us a real valid reason.

The Best Parts of the Cruise

The staff were amazing and they did take very good care of us. The second day I had a full body scrub and body massage. Maria, a lady from Portugal, took a stiff brush and scrubbed down my skin, then covered me in warm oil like a little piggy and rubbed lime and ginger sea salt all over my body. Afterwards she rubbed moisturizer all over my body in a wonder full body massage. Brilliant. I floated back to my room and slept for three hours, feeling like a queen.

I used the gym a lot but I’m pretty sure I’ve gained some weight. But according to my Solomon Island connections, they recommended I gorge myself on yummy food because the food is pretty basic. The sauna and Turkish bath were amazing; they both had huge windows that looked out into the ocean while you sweat. Amazing.

But the best part of the whole cruise is spending time with my parents. Living in New Zealand (and shortly the Solomon Islands…only 11 days to go!), I don’t see them as often as either of us like, so it’s good to spend some holiday time with each other. Mom is great fun, but she can cause lots of trouble. She has the mentality of a South American dictator, going where she shouldn’t with confidence and people just naturally follow her. She generally causes a good deal of chaos in her wake.

“See, if you act confident even if you have no idea what you are doing, people will follow you. Ze are sheeps!”

No wonder she received the Washington State Small Businesswoman of the year award (she runs a small business BUT is also, conveniently, small in stature).

I have to rescue mom a couple of times from either long waits or wrong paths. But no matter what, Mom is never boring and generally more fun than trouble. She is spontaneous and always has a joke, a story or a funny observation. Mom is an excellent traveling companion because she loves changing her mind, so if you have a good suggestion or even a fairly dubious one, she is game. Anything that vaguely involves mischief or mayhem, she’s in.

Dad, I’ve discovered, is not much of a traveler. He would prefer to sit at home with his dogs, his television, and running the business. He likes to be in control of his surroundings or not in control at all, there is no middle ground. Sure he enjoys Europe but I get the sneaking suspicion that he wouldn’t leave the U.S. at all if it wasn’t for Mom.

My parents are a great love story. They met on a blind date in Yakima (of all places) and got engaged 7 dates later. Dad has done everything possible to make her happy, even though she is far from her home (remember, she is a little French lady…no, really I mean it…she doesn’t pronounce h’s at all) and misses her parents and home country still. He supported her through two masters degrees (one she started at age 57), a business and many other fun side projects. Mostly, he has helped her grow as a person, always cheering her on and helping her along the way. He even spent days typing up her master’s thesis. Dad always put her concerns first and made sure she was happy. They are a wonderful example of how to make an international relationship work successfully.

It does mean that on occasion he has had to give up on things he would have rather done. But Dad’s main focus has always been the family; he went ten years without buying a suit when we were growing up. Sure, he can be doddery and an old curmudgeon but he has a heart of gold and would walk through a valley of broken glass for those he loves. And we McBride kids aren’t easy ones and I’m sure we could have benefitted from stronger discipline at times but Dad and Mom are patient, loving and kind; the best kind of parents one could ever hope to have.

Dad and I develop a nice habit on the cruise; we get a hot chocolate at about 10 p.m. and sit around to discuss life in general. One of the best discussions I have with Dad is about the concept of nuclear fission and fusion. Dad is a scientist by trade and we discuss the ins and outs of energy. I find it fascinating that in nature, more energy is generated, about a 1,000 times more, through the process of creation (fusion) than the process of destruction through separation of atoms (fission).

Mom with Fez behind her.  Thanks Mom for helping me with my trip!

These artisans and historians, craftsmen, poets, playwrights, planners, architects and city officials have left us a wonderful legacy to appreciate. The process of creation is ongoing here, as everywhere, and it outlives the concept of destruction by miles.

I’m sad to leave the cruise behind; I’ve had a blast!

But now I have ten days left until I leave for the Solomon Islands. The cruise has been amazing and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to go. But I have to admit that underneath the sadness is excitement for the adventures ahead; Nice, Paris, Limoges, Auxerre, Dijon, Paris, Dubai, Brisbane and Honiara await.

And, even if I’m a little fatter than before, I’m ready for the next jump.