Sunday, August 8, 2010

Three Dreams Came True

In June, three of my life-long dreams came true in one trip. My friend Shelley and I spent the past year planning a 7-day Mediterranean cruise on the Norwegian Jade, departing from and returning to Barcelona, Spain. We included three extra days in Barcelona and an additional five days in Paris. Shelley had already been to some of the sights we planned to see with her husband and daughters, but was eager to revisit them and linger longer!

Since high school I had been obsessed with traveling to Paris... I studied French, had two French poodles, and loved everything French. During my college days as an art minor, I dreamed of visiting the beautiful city of Florence, Italy and especially exploring the fantastic Renaissnace art in the Uffitzi museum. And, finally, I had always wondered what it would be like to take a cruise.
We flew from San Francisco to Barcelona. What a beautiful city! We stayed at the Hotel Colon in the old part of the city (Barri Gotic), right across from the Barcelona Cathedral and only a couple of blocks from Las Ramblas—Barcelona's main boulevard for strolling. Fantastic shopping—so many tiny boutiques with beautiful merchandise, hundreds of shoe stores, amazing tapas, cava (the local champagne) and pastries to die for. The city was so clean, the people so friendly, the Metro so easy to use with lots of signs—I would love to go back again.

We were lucky to be there during a festival, with dancing and music right outside our hotel door on the placa or square. All day about a dozen giant figures paraded up and down the streets and were awe-inspiring to meet.

We visited Parc Guell with it's fairytale mosiac buildings by Antoni Gaudi, his Sagrada Familia Cathedral and his apartment building, Casa Mila. What a creative, artistic mind! We ate at an eaterie at the amazing La Boqueria Market and marveled at the beautiful vegetable and fruit displays and the glistening fresh seafood. We visited the Picasso Museum, where I was also impressed by the paintings of his colleague, Santiago Rusinol.

We hated to leave Barcelona but departed on our cruise on the Jade, headed for more adventure. The first port was Monte Carlo, where we took the little red "train" for a ride around the city. We toured the royal palace and the church where Grace Kelly and Prince Ranier were married and where they are buried. We wandered the shops and opted for dessert for lunch. We each had a huge plate of crepes with cherries, ice cream and whipped cream. We could not finish our plates... and we really tried, as it was fantastic!

I took some photos through the store windows of clothes on display in Monte Carlo. They featured interesting eyelet and woven ribbon motifs, cut work inserts, and fabric collage.

The next day we arrived in Livorno and took the train to Florence, where we had only five hours to see everything we wanted to see. We had advance reservations at the Uffitzi and the Academia and we did spend three glorous hours in the Uffitzi, where I was completely overwhelmed by the size of two of my favorite Botticelli's, The Birth of Venus and Primavera (Spring). However, we ran out of time and couldn't make it to the Academia to see the real David and had to settle for the copy in the plaza.

We did tour the Duomo, saw the beautiful doors of the Baptistery (replicas), shopped on the Ponte Vecchio for jewelry, wandered the Palazzo Vecchio, and ate chocolate gelato. This is another city I would like to return to and be able to visit all those places we did not have time to see.

Our cruise then took us to Civitavecchia, where we took the train to Rome and spent a day touring the Collessum, the Forum, the Spanish Steps, and the Trevi Fountain. We threw our coins into the fountain and wished for a return trip to Italy and the Eternal City.

We sailed to the Bay of Naples, where we took an excursion to Sorrento and Pompeii. In Sorrento we fell in love with the narrow lanes of shops, drank lemoncello, watched fresh mozarella and ricotta cheese being made, and dined on homemade bread, antipasto and pasta and cake. Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast is top on our list as a destination vacation! Of the places we visited in Italy on this trip, Sorrento was our favorite.

Our last port of call was Palma on the Spanish island of Majorca. We took a half-day excursion through the countryside scattered with quaint windmills. We shopped for Majorcan "pearls" along the way and dined on fresh seafood and the local speciality, almond ice cream, at Porto Cristo.

When we returned to Barcelona we immediately flew to Paris, where we stayed at the Hotel de Fleurie, a wonderful little hotel—very charming—and only two doors down from St. Germain Boulevard on the Left Bank.
The food in Paris was THE BEST! The best French Onion Soup (Mondrian), the best quiche (Le Buci), the best Filet Mignon (Vagenende), the best pastries and macaroons—and of course, the best wines. Our waiter at Vagenende was so delightful... the fastest, most hard-working, friendliest, and most endearing waiter we had on our entire trip. Thank you, Bogdan, for your Parisian hospitality. Your genuine charm, energy and enthusiam will take you far, I hope!

We spent five glorious days exploring Paris, as we were only a 10 to 15-minute walk to the Luxembourg Garden, St. Sulpice, the Musee Orsay, the Seine, Notre Dame, and the Louvre, which was directly across the river. The Impressionists in the Orsay wowed us the most (even though many were presently on loan to the De Young at home), especially the pastels. The intense colors of turquoise and orange juxtaposed literally seemed to vibrate. The Louvre was home to all that famous classical art—Venus de Milo (who is breath-takingly more beautiful and the marble more radiant than any photo could do justice), the Winged Victory, dear over-rated (?) Mona Lisa, and the Three Muses.

We took a tour to Monet's Garden in Giverny. Doesn't my photo look just like Monet's painting's composition? The garden was so beautiful... everything was in bloom.

We also visited Versailles, where we had enough time to tour the palace and walk all the way out to Marie Antoinette's Petit Triaon, her private abode where she liked to entertain her friends and spend her time living the "simple life" in the "country.'

This is a photo of the Queen's bedroom in the main palace. Her bedroom in the Petit Trianon was in the same palette, just not quite so gaudy and much smaller.

We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, cruised the Seine at sunset, and went fabric shopping in Montmartre, where I bought some pink dupioni silk and some gorgeous tiny trims for my doll-making.
The fashions in Paris were so flirty and feminine—it looks like ruffles, rosettes, ruching, and sparkling embellishments will remain in style for awhile. Tops made from a collage of voiles in coordinating patterns and colors were so cute. I was too intimidated to continue taking photos of store windows in Paris, so I have none to share.
The Parisian's were most friendly and helpful everywhere we went in the city, with the exception of one very curt and rude shopkeeper on Saint Germain who had a small shop selling silk parasols and elegent accessories. In fact, everywhere we went in Europe, we only met friendly people, eager to help us and make our stay more pleasant. As we struggled to speak their languages, they struggled to speak ours, and our conversations were well spiced with laughter and chuckles from both sides. As the younger generations emerge, we found more and more people were welcoming us as tourists in their countries, and expressing their desires to visit the United States.
The menus were available with English translations and tap water in a carafe was readily available everywhere we went. Every effort was made to accomodate us. Now, if only the service in this country was always so polite and prompt.
Even if I never have another opportunity to travel to Europe, I am so grateful for this one I had, and will savor my memories forever. The art, the beauty, the architecture, the elgance of Europe was so inspiring. I wanted to dash home and start painting again! A dream trip—a dream come true!

1 comment:

  1. I love your europe pictures thank you for posting them. I love the water lilies picture. And of course the Food