Sunday, January 26, 2014

24-25 January 2014 – Return to God’s Own Country

I got up much ahead of the wake up call I had arranged with the reception and got ready for the drive to the airport on 24th. The drive to the airport was smooth early in the morning and we reached well ahead of the check in time. The flight was in time. It taxied for long in the airport to reach the appointed gate for disembarkation. At the time of take off from Rome the flight deck announced the temperature of 0 degree centigrade in Madrid. It was 1 degree centigrade at the time of landing there. I had packed my warm clothes into the checked in bag. The international flight terminal is very far from the domestic terminals. Bus transfers at frequent intervals transfer passengers between the two terminals. It was extremely cold waiting for the bus transfer to T4 terminal for the Emirates flight to Dubai. The T4 terminal is huge; one has to even transfer within the terminal by train. By the time we reached near the scheduled gate we were hungry as hell – the result was a huge Burger King meal. The EK 142 flight was unusually delayed, even after boarding due to some push back trouble. I opted to watch Spanish Masala, the movie by Lal Jose, on the flight. The food was also served late due to turbulence. It consisted of an appetizer of smoked salmon served with cream cheese, mixed olives and a lemon wedge; main course was a choice between seared chicken breast topped with mild curry yoghurt sauce, served with steamed rice and sautéed spinach and braised lamb roulade served with a lamb jus, accompanied by roasted rosemary potatoes, princess beans and tomato concasse. I chose the former. The moist sticky toffee pudding drenched in a rich toffee sauce encased in a creamy vanilla topping was the right conclusion for the meal. Also accompanying the meal was a box of savories consisting of cracker biscuits and cheese, brochettes and spicy chilly sauce and a piece of chocolate. The wine went right where it had to and it aided a peaceful sleep.

There was enough time to transfer from the arrival gate in the Dubai T3 complex to the departure gate on 25th early morning. The terminal was so overcrowded that I could not walk around without bumping into others. The Dubai Shopping Festival had drawn its share of additional passengers into the terminal besides the passengers transiting from one country to another – Dubai has indeed become the premier transshipment hub in the region, stitching one part of the globe with the other. The check out counters of the Duty Free shops was overworked. It took time despite the efficient handling of the counters.

The flight started boarding at 1.30 am – departure time being 2.15 am. The flight, as was to be expected, was full. Breakfast was served on the flight at about 6 am. It consisted of scrambled egg (against the steward claiming it to be an omelet!), potato croquettes, fruit cuts, bun and coffee. I settled for an orange juice instead of alcohol. The two other passengers by my seat were having a whale of a time – by their own admission, they had more to drink than they should have.

The flight landed ahead of time at the CIAL, by 8 am. The immigration counters were quick with disposal. However, the Customs department was operating only one scanner, which delayed passengers, with children getting restive and the elderly thoroughly inconvenienced. But worse was to come. Baggage got to the carousal very late. When checked with the Emirates personnel they mentioned that Customs was responsible fro the delay for they were scanning both sides of every bag! If they had to be stringent with checks they could have operated multiple scanners and carousals. Customer is least on their mind, it seemed. It took me two hours after the flight landed to be in a pre-paid taxi to head home. For the first time in ten days my watch showed the right time, for I had not changed it in Spain.

It is worth recollecting some impressions of the visit to Spain. The people look a lot like North Indians; their stature, complexion and hair color look a lot like that of the Kashmir/Punjab Indians. They are not as formidable in structure as the Americans. In fact, this is one factor that made me feel at home immediately on arrival. The public transport is excellent; the Metro, bus and tram services are very well organized. Combined day passes make for extremely economical multiple journeys to visit places of interest and heritage locations. They are also extremely visitor friendly, with eager to help personnel manning the buses and sites. One negative is the fact that the brochures and handouts are mostly in Spanish and hence, a bit difficult to appreciate the sites unless researched in advance. The relaxation facilities built for the local people are fantastic; the promenades, the shaded walkways, the beaches and eateries are shared by visitors with the locals. The discipline observed by the local people in using their facilities is another notable feature. Segregation of waste and their collection is a model worth following in our land. The discipline also flows from a respect for fellow inhabitants of the city or town. Breakfast consists only of cold foods – cereal, croissants, Danishes, fruits, juices, etc. Hot food is mainly for supper, which is had early. The normal accompaniment with meals is either beer or wine. Roman influence is pervasive. In a sense, they are proud of it too. Preservation of such influence tells its own stories. The Spanish are big on art, dance and culture – the preponderance of Museums, Art Halls and theatres are proof of this. They have a proclivity for lengthy conversations; time stands still for them when thry engage another in conversation and they have all the time in the world for that. The Spanish romance is exemplified by the paseo in a promenade. The lengthy leisurely walks studded with coffee and pastry is a pleasure to watch. All in all, an extremely wonderful part of the world to spend a holiday in.

23 January 2014 – Gaeta, a Mediterranean beauty, and back in Rome

Vinod and I reached the Roma Termini station well in time and bought tickets by a local train to Formia-Gaeta, the station that served the port town. We were headed there for the last task before heading home, that of inspecting a ship. After the tickets were bought through a vending machine we were told by the information centre that the ticket had to be validated before travel, for the tickets were valid for two months. The 7.49 am local to Naples was crowded, but we managed to get seats, which were not comfortable. It felt as if the tyres of the coach wheels were due attention. The train attained speeds of about 200 kmph and we got to Gaeta ahead of schedule at 9.10 am – a distance of 130 kilometers covered in 80 minutes with many stoppages; it was a slow train! The Agent of the ship to be inspected had arranged a pick up – the entire facilitation was charged an atrocious fee of Euro 200. It was raining slightly and temperature hovered around 7 degrees with icy winds. The city of Gaeta is clearly demarcated from Formia. Once again there was hardly any Security or Customs to clear vehicles and people into the port area. After the initial examination of the ship’s hull we boarded the ship. We received a warm welcome from the Syrian Captain and his Greek Superintendent – the 12 crew members consisted of 7 Syrians and 5 Pakistanis. During the stay on the ship we were treated like long lost friends, particularly the Pakistanis. The Captain was a voluble gentleman who served us huge cups of coffee and tasty almond Baklavas. He had poignant tales of the ongoing Syrian conflicts to share and his views of Jewish and American machinations were so seriously recounted that they merited belief. His own village in Banyas was affected little, but the family has got separated between Lebanon and Syria. He wants to go home, but does not know which place he can call that now. A deck hand who belonged to Allepo, in Syria, mentioned that the fighting at times gets so severe that thousands die every night! The saving grace, according to him, is that the huge city is still intact; the villages have been reduced to ashes and dust. The Captain invited us to lunch. The Chef, a happy and well-rounded Syrian, served us a delectable soup followed by chicken and potatoes and a preparation of eggplant and mustard seeds, which was had with Syrian pitta bread. Though the chef suggested a helping of rice there wasn’t enough place to oblige the offer. Instead I had a banana to end the meal on a sweet note. The cuisine on the ship mostly consisted of Syrian fare; Pakistani cuisine was only to break the routine. The Syrians found the Pakistani masala a bit hot to handle (pun unintended).

Gaeta is a small Italian port town on the Mediterranean Sea. The population of the town is less than 25,000. This city was a popular resort during the Roman times. It was, till a decade ago, also popular among Italians who wanted to spend a few days out in the sun on the beach. However, the Euro changed all that. The place became pricey and tourists moved to Spain, it is said. The average salary of Euro 1600 in the private sector is at a discount of 25% vis-à-vis the public sector. Italians pay a high percentage of salary as tax, of various kinds. It goes as high as 55%. The high taxes have affected corporate jobs too – factories are closing and moving elsewhere. The fun loving Italians who spent their time in leisure and pleasure had that taken away from them. Many do not have enough to spend and those who do, spend less saving for the rainy day. All this have affected the economy. The dominant role of Germany and France is blamed most of the time for financial problems in the rest of the EU. The woes in Greece are another classic example. The Superintendent of MV OSTRIA, the ship we inspected in Gaeta Port said that his daughter who was employed in a travel agency had her salary downsized by over 50% in two tranches. Children who used to share their incomes with older parents no longer did. The retired government employees suddenly saw their pensions slashed by over 50%. All these were done for the stated objective to contain deficits. In this context it is very interesting to see the contrasts in Ukraine and Turkey. Kiev was under siege from the public protesting against a Government unwilling to commit itself to the Euro. Turkey, on the other hand turned away from its original plan to join the Euro zone. Many restructuring proposals were placed before it by the Central Bank of EU and the country thought it better to reverse the original direction. It benefited in hindsight, for the economy is flourishing now as a result of transplantation of factories and booming tourism. The decision of Tony Blair not to adopt the Euro, while still being within the Union, now seems like the right decision made against popular advice of the time.

The ship was at port to load 5000 tonnes of cement to Benghazi, Libya. Rain played spoilsport for a while. But, when the loading operations started it was a joy to see the productivity. There were just three people hooking a lot of 6x2 tonne bags for the Gottwald to swing into the hold of the ship. Two forklifts offloaded the cement bags from trucks on the ground. 30 tonnes was unloaded from a truck in less than 5 minutes. The driver of the truck dismantled the side panels of the trucks for the forklifts to work and put them back in sections as soon as the work was completed. A forklift, a hold hand and his supervisor completed the team inside the hold. The speed with which work was done, and without any fuss, was enviable, to say the least.

We had to walk to the port gate as per instructions given. Near the gate Customs officials demanded to examine our bags. They were upset that we had walked past ignoring them. Of course they spoke Italian and we could only smile. No harm done, we boarded the car sent by the Agent and got to the station. We were in time to catch a fast local back to Rome. This time the seats were better and the travel was more comfortable. We reached Roma Termini by 3.30 pm and decided to go directly to the Coliseum. By the time we got to the gigantic monument it was already closed for inside entry. We did spend a lot of time circling it and marveling at the magnificence of the grand stadium. Scenes of the movie, Gladiator, returned vividly to add to the thrill. As light faded in the horizon we made the walk back to the hotel.

The journey back home to Cochin would begin the next day morning – the tasks of inspection had been done and the schedule afforded sightseeing too, albeit hurried. Over dinner we decided to take a taxi at 6 am to the Fumicino airport to head for Madrid, from where we would emplane to India. The necessary instructions were given at the hotel reception before repairing for the last night in Europe during this trip. All had gone well; the ships inspected were the right ones for our purpose and the interludes had offered opportunities to visit heritage and tourist sites. Thank Him for that.

Friday, January 24, 2014

22 January 2014 – A whirlwind tour of Rome & Vatican

Various sources gave us varying estimates of time to reach airport from the hotel ranging from 30 minutes to an hour. Vinod and I had to reach the airport 90 minutes prior to the flight and so we decided to check out by 5 am. There were many taxis waiting for a fare just outside the hotel. The traffic on the road being sparse we reached the terminal in less than 20 minutes and checked in. no customs or immigration despite the fact that we were flying to another country – the impact of EU. The single currency is also such a blessing for those who travel in the EU. Early onset of hunger made us move into a snack bar for a tuna sandwich and a cup of coffee. While awaiting the gate opening I updated the blogs and had another round of coffee. The Alitalia flight was on schedule – I was apprehensive of the airline which is notorious for strikes and poor punctuality. When the flight landed in Rome it was raining; meant that the day would be tough outdoors. The checked in bags were retrieved and we moved quire rapidly to the train station attached to the airport to travel to Roma Termini, the station closest to the hotel where we had bookings. At the station we bought train tickets and went to the tourist counter to check what we could do in a day in Rome. He then suggested that we travel by the Airport Shuttle bus as it would take us directly to the hotel instead of the railway terminus. We thought it a good idea and opted for it paying a euro extra per ticket. The travel by bus also gave us to appreciate the landscape better. For the first time we encountered pot holed roads. The rain was thicker and it dampened my spirits. The hotel was about four blocks away from the rail terminus. For the tariff that we had paid the facilities were excellent; large bedroom with a larger bathroom.

Breakfast at the hotel had closed by the time we put the bags in the room and came down for it. The reception clerk suggested an itinerary which we thought ‘do’able. The first task was to obtain a day pass that is valid for the metro bus and tram. It took us much time to scout for the nearest metro station. In the meanwhile, we approached many shops for the day pass – they were most unhelpful. Even at the metro station the person in charge was peremptory and rude. Finally, we discovered the kiosk vending machine. The metro is not visitor friendly; for those who use it daily it is another matter. This was not the case in Spain. However, we adapted and soon got used to it. Despite the weather, which was not conducive to outdoor activity, we decided to roam in Rome.

Since the Coliseum was located close to the hotel we decided to visit it at the end. It turned out to be a mistake for by the time we finished with the Vatican the Coliseum was closed. This was the second time I had missed it – in 1999, when I visited the city the last time, I could not afford the entry ticket! Despite the steady drizzle we got down at the Spagna Metro and walked the short distance to the Spanish Steps and climbed them to reach the Villa Medici and the Trinita del Monti. The admirers of Shelly have set up a museum near the Spanish Steps. A massive scheme for restoration of fountains is underway in Rome with help from the public. This is a city which is being continuously excavated and restored.

We stepped into a cafeteria to service the growls that were getting more strident by the minute. The voluble Salvatore, from Sicily, in between undisguised negative references to Italy and praise for Indians, took our orders for a ham and cheese Pizza. He also promised a surprise at the end of the meal, which turned out to be small helpings of gelato in cone. The Fountain of Trevi was not too far by foot from the cafeteria. The popular attraction was full of tourists. Many of them threw coins over their shoulder into the fountain; the belief is that you will return to Rome in due course and that it also brings good luck.  The grandest Baroque fountain is the work of Salvi and is arguably one of the most famous fountains in the world.

A visit to Rome without appreciating the Pantheon is blasphemous for the Pantheon was the first recorded temple to move from Pagan to Christian worship. This fact also makes it virtually intact from the BC times of Rome with worship continuing in it at all times. Thus, the Pantheon remains the best preserved of the Roman architectural examples for generations to be inspired form it.  The Piazza Novona, which is literally a stone’s throw away from the Pantheon, was the Stadium of Domitian. In the ancient times it could seat 30,000 spectators. The Fountain of the Four Rivers, by the master Bernini, at the centre of the Piazza has a reference to India – one of the rivers depicted is the Ganges, apart from Danube, Nile and Rio Plata. A person assuming statue positions of a cowboy hogged more attention in the Piazza, however! Via the Tiber Ara Pacis and the Mausoleo Augusto, one a victory commemoration and the other a grand funeral chamber, we wend our way to the statuesque Piazza del Popolo. One of the most famous of the Piazzas in Rome, the ubiquitous obelisk and the fountains mark this out as a wonderful place to explore in admiration of architectural finesse.

The Metro from Flamino was close by and we took that to Ottaviano from where we walked to the Vatican. A sense of awe overtakes you from the walls of the Vatican. However, the piazza had been decked up for some function and the Christmas tree was still there. These somewhat diminished the jaw dropping effect the piazza had on visitors. Long queues of tourists and increased security meant delay in entering St. Peter’s Basilica. When I had visited the Basilica in 1999 with my wife we were fortunate to be part of the public blessing by Pope John Paul II. The piazza had been full then with tourists from all over the world with placards in their languages seeking the blessing of the Pope. The polyglot that John Paul II was, he addressed many in their tongues during the blessing bringing immense joy and happiness to all around.  The magnificence of the Basilica is too grand to be addressed in words. The marble statues, prime among them being the Pieta of Michelangelo, the canopy and altar by Bernini, the ornate high ceiling and the enormous cupola, the chapels and the organ all contribute to the stature of the Basilica. I find it difficult in such places of worship to offer prayers, but the exclusive chapel where the Blessed Sacrament was displayed provided the solemnity to pray without being disturbed. There are many shops near the Basilica selling religious articles. Sadly, we did not have any time to visit the Museum, particularly the Sistine Chapel, which boasts the inimitable paintings of Michelangelo.

The more than steady drizzle by the time we emerged from the Vatican and the need for a hot cup of coffee sent us into a cafeteria just outside the wall of the Vatican. The hotdog arrived in quick time and I seasoned it with liberal doses of ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard. The coffee was accompanied by a soft doughnut. After the much needed rest we took the Metro to Termini station. We checked out the train timing to Formia-Gaeta and informed the Agent in Gaeta about our expected arrival there the next day.

What surprised me most in Rome during the day was the almost omnipresent status of Bangaldeshis. Turn wherever you could and your eyes fell on them. It looked as if they conducted business in the city – all street vending was theirs. Most corner shops belonged to them. Loading and unloading operations were almost exclusively done by them. Salvatore, the bubbly Sardinian, told me that they were good people who were useful to work with their hands. Sometimes you feel that time stands still and nothing changes, even though change is the only constant. When I was walking in one of the Metro tunnels a Bangladeshi advised me not to sling my backpack with the wallet behind me. He said that roving gangs of displaced Europeans were experts at dispossessing you in a trice. The very same advice was given to me in 1999 near the Roma Termini train station by a Bangladeshi!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

20-21 January 2014 - Tarragona to Barcelona, the heartland of Catalonia

I got in another early start which helped updation of the expense account. This is a habit over long years of travel – every little expense goes into the book. I have found this useful at times, particularly when you get back to a country after a lapse of time, to gauge how prices have moved. I was at the breakfast table as soon as it opened at 7am. As usual the fare consisted of only uncooked food – cereals, fruits, cold cuts, pastries and Danishes, yogurt, breads and spreads, juices and beverages. The breakfast fare across the country was predictable. These things, however, do not affect my treatment towards them! After the heavy breakfast it was time to pack and get ready to leave for the Renfe station to catch the train to Barcelona. While checking out the reception clerk helped me with reasonably priced accommodation in Barcelona. I was grateful for that especially since he mentioned that it is close to the railway station in Barcelona. Vinod and I headed for Barcelona and expected the broker to confirm inspection of the ship either there or in an Italian port by the time we got to Barcelona.

The taxi driver wanted to know whether we intended to travel by the fast or the slow train to Barcelona; the stations are different for the two types of trains. Since the fast train costs Euro 38 in tourist class to Barcelona against Euro 8+ by the slower one, the time difference being about 45 minutes, I decided on the latter. We took tickets for the 8.56 am train, which arrived on the dot. It was a commuter service, but managed to get seats of choice. The apparently slow train did speed upwards of 125 kmph! I got busy working on the blog and at times glancing at the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, which almost ran parallel for some distance. Before I knew it came the announcement that the train is arriving into Barcelona Sans station. It was a bit ahead of time. As I was readying to get down I pulled out the hotel reservation and asked a lady passenger for direction to it. She indicated that I would have to return by another train from Barcelona. I was more than confused. Upon disembarking we spotted a tourist info centre and decided to seek further directions from there. The pleasant lady said that the accommodation was out of Barcelona city and involved quite a commute. We asked if she could recommend a suitable hotel nearby. She suggested that we speak to the travel agency at the station. The Cote Ingelsis agency outlet was manned by a helpful girl, overgrown somewhat, who gave us two options. We took the one just in front of the station, Hotel Expo, which also happened to be the cheaper one at Euro 65 a night. It was a steal compared to the one in Tarragona. We expected the hotel to be basic considering the price. We were pleasantly wrong.  The room was spacious enough, the food good, the service efficient and the locational excellent.

While we were checking into the Hotel the broker confirmed inspection of the ship in the Italian port of Gaeta on 22nd. Therefore, it was decided that we should make best use of the time in Barcelona doing rounds of the city’s attractions. As I had not researched adequately for the tourist tour we decided on a two day hop-on, hop-off city tour on the Barcelona Bus Turistic Company bus. The two day ticket came for Euro 35 and a host of discount coupons valued at Euro 200; quite another fact that one had to spend many multiples of it to avail of the discounts (entry to the acclaimed aquarium was Euro 25 and the discount a majestic Euro 1.50 !). The tour is arranged in two routes, Red and Blue. Red tour takes you around the southern part of the city and Blue tour the northern parts. Since we wanted more time at the FC Barca stadium, which was covered by the Blue tour, we decided on the Red tour on the first day. Moreover, the Red tour started right between the hotel we were staying and the Barcelona Sans railway station. I had an excellent view of the huge station and the lighthouse style towers and the massive sculpture of the Parc de l’Espanya Industrial from the 9th floor room. This was the site of a textile mill in the past. It is now a park and recreational centre with boating facilities. Not far from it is a gigantic sculpture by the celebrated modern artist, Joan Miro.

The Plaza d’Espanya looked majestic to merit a hop-off. Central to the square is a magnificent fountain by another modern artist, Josep Mara Jujol. Behind it is the old bull ring, the Arenas, converted to a most modern commercial complex, without losing its architectural value. The fountain is in direct alignment to the majestic Palau Nacional on the Montjuic (the name is derived from an old cemetery here) hill and park – the setting for the 1929 International Exhibition and the 1992 Olympic Games (notice the interplay of the digits 1,9 and 2!). The Palau now houses 1000 years of Catalan art. The views of the city are spectacular from the Montjuic hill. Within close proximity is the Poble Espanyol (Spanish village) and the main site of the 1992 Olympics. A leisurely stroll is called for here to admire the Olympic Stadium, the Palau Sant Jordi (designed by a Japanese architect), the Telefonica communications tower inspired by the Olympic flame, the Sports University, the lovely water cascades and the brilliantly manicured lawns.

We rejoined the bus tour to enjoy panoramic views of the Cruise Terminals en route to the World Trade Centre. There is a cable car service from the Montjuic hill to the WTC in two segments. It promised to be best way to see the breathtaking sights of the city. The MSC terminal was most impressive – two huge cruise ships were berthed at the exclusive terminal which had separate vehicle accesses to it. The rest of the cruise terminal had many aerobridge type passenger accesses. From the WTC we walked to the the impressive Columbus Column, the magnificent 180 meter monument to one of the greatest explorers. In close proximity to it is the La Rambla, a magical and colorful boulevard, the Maritime Museum and the Port Vell (the old port). Vinod and tried a ride on the Segway; I feel it is ideal for use after parking away from crowded shopping centres.

From the Port Vell point we rejoined the tour once again and got down at the Barri Gotic. The Gothic Quarter has been witness to much of Barcelona’s ancient history as a Roman town. However, the focus in the area is the Cathedral. After a visit inside, as a believer and as a tourist I spent some time enjoying the beautiful plaza. A young boy was trying to attract attention by making soap bubbles with a couple of ropes dipped and waved in the air. He was beside himself when I showed him a few photos I took of his skill. The tour for the day wound up with a short visit to the Placa de Catalunya, which links the old town with the newer extension in the 19th century and a drive through the Passeig de Gracia which is considered to have some of the best pieces of ‘modernisme’, Catalunya’s home grown new art – Gaudi is the main theme master, along with Montaner and Puig. The stone façade of the La Pedrera suggests the movement of waves, splashed by the wrought iron of the balconies. The building was under renovation.

With confirmation of the vessel in Gaeta Port on 23rd arrangements had to be made for travel to Gaeta via Rome and deferment of flight from Madrid to Cochin. While the latter was once again efficiently handled by Candida in Cochin the travel agency at the Barcelona Sans station came to our rescue once again. However, the air travel and hotel arrangement in Rome cost us precious sightseeing time. With that organized we reached the Placa de Catalunya by the Red tour to transfer on to the Blue tour. Vinod and I decided to sit through the tour till we reached the Barcelona Stadium – the one point agenda for the day was just that! However, the attractions on the way kept us riveted with the informative commentary.

The Sagrada Familia, a large Catholic Basilica, was begun in the late 19th century and is still under construction, and is arguably the most visited monument in Spain. It was Gaudi’s dream and he had devoted much time to it. When asked about the slow pace of construction Gaudi is supposed to have said: My client is not in any hurry (meaning, God). When finished, the basilica will have 16 towers, 12 for the Disciples of Christ and 4 for the Evangelists. The drive through the old district of Gracia gives a flavor of the bygone years. The Park Guell, another of Gaudi’s attempts, was unsuccessful in that the project was incomplete and was handed over to the local administration before Gaudi’s death.

Finally we arrived at the FC Barcelona Stadium. There are two stadium side by side and it was difficult to know which one was the FC stadium. Even from the outside the site was a disappointment. The grandeur and the aura that I felt outside as well as inside the Real Madrid Stadium were absent here. The entrance fee was high too. The tour is poorly sign posted and hence, we had to move about a bit before we sighted the entrance. The stadium is reported to seat 100,000 people, but was not a patch on the Madrid one. The seats were faded and the arrangement did not look as grand. Where the stadium scores is in the tunnel – it is extremely well done up. The Museum and mementoes were well displayed; the audio of the Barca roar – welcoming the players on to the ground and signaling a goal - is a highlight. Apart from the usual memento vending machines and the photographers is the large merchandise store of FC Barcelona. The prices are outrageous - the price of a Messi t-shirt is Euro 85! The disappointment with the place was such that we decided to get back to the hotel early. I got down on the way for another feel of the Placa d’Espanya, the fountain and Arena, a night view of the Montjuic Palace and the work of John Miro called Woman and Bird, which towers to 22 meters.

Dinner at the hotel consisted of pasta and apple strudel with ice cream. I went to bed wondering if I saw any evidence of Barcelona being a sex capital.

12 June - Whistler to Victoria - Day 39 of TCE

The room in the Pinnacle Hotel had been extremely comfortable. Last evening I was told that the 84 rooms that the property has are almost...