Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

A short visit to Barcelona

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

We arrived at the pilot station at 11 am and were immediately brought into port at Barcelona. We were surprised at the efficiency, since the last time we were here our berthing was delayed by a few hours.

We descended the gangway from the ship into a maelstrom of moving containers, cranes and gantrys. On our last visit things weren’t this hectic, but this time our ship was trying for a quick turnaround so we could arrive at the Suez Canal on time.

Scott immediately headed along the wharf, despite the noise and activity, but Becky needed a moment or two to orient herself. Unfortunately, we didn’t communicate well, which resulted in Scott leading us across the gantry track to look for a different route out of the port, and then us standing at the corner of a working gantry with trucks transporting containers whizzing by. We clearly looked out of place and lost. One of the port employees saw our confusion, and offered us a ride to the port entrance. Much easier!

Our visit to Barcelona was brief. We wanted to see the Park Guell, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Works of Antoni Gaudi”, do a quick email synchronization, and blog post.

We were pleased to learn that the entrance to Park Guell was free; however, this meant that it was crowded. There appeared to be many international high school groups visiting. The famous lizard statue was constantly crowded with people taking turns getting their picture taken with the lizard. We walked around the park and took many pictures – unfortunately, we arrived a little bit too late in the day for ideal lighting. The upper part of the park was closed for reconstruction.

We were fascinated by the architecture and décor of the park, with the organic forms characteristic of Gaudi everywhere, and tile mosaics everywhere with a beautiful mix of coloured and white tiles. Scott kept looking for a flat tile on a wall or bench, but all the tiles have been broken in pieces and placed in curved mortar to emphasize the organic forms. It is a beautiful spot, and we can understand why so many locals were here, and not just tourists snapping photos.

After visiting two cafes with free wi-fi and having a light dinner along Los Rambles, we headed back to the ship. We were again surprised at the lack of security at the port of Barcelona. Upon arriving at the gate, we attempted to dig out our ship ID cards, but the guard just waved us in without needing to see any form of ID. We proceeded to walk to the ship – thankfully the gantries were much less active in the evening than they had been earlier in the day.

Already the ship feels like home – it is nice to be able to come back to the same place at night, and still see different things each day.


Welcome Aboard

Friday, February 13th, 2009

We arrived at the container port in La Spezia without any surprises and were required to place our bikes inside a van – which meant one bike at a time and removing all the gear from the bikes. A bit inconvenient, but much safer than riding our bikes through the port, so probably for the best.

Our big surprise for the day was to be welcomed on board by Joern, the First Mate on the MSC Alessia when we were aboard. The chances of this are pretty slim, since NSB (the company operating the ship) has over 100 ships, and the officers can be assigned to any one of them. He had two months off over the winter, then decided to take a 2-month deployment so that he would have 4 or 5 months off in the summer to spend with his family. It was nice to see a familiar friendly face and hear a little bit about the MSC Alessia after our departure. Joern showed us how to use a sextant while aboard the last ship, so we’ll see if we can actually take a celestial fix or two while we’re crossing the Indian Ocean. Last time we were too slow – there’s only a short period where both the horizon and the stars are visible, so we clearly need more practice.

The Hanjin Brussels had originally been scheduled for Monday Feb 9, but was delayed by weather off Naples. We were first told Feb 10 for boarding, then on Feb 10 were told that a further delay to Feb 11 would ensue due to another ship (MSC Sarah) holding the berth our ship was to use. On the morning of Feb 10 we got another update from the agent that the ship would be berthing on the afternoon of Feb 10, and wondered what had happened this time. As we later found out from the Chief Mate, Hanjin Brussels had left Naples two hours after MSC Sarah, but pushed the engines to full power, and was able to pull ahead before La Spezia. This meant we got the berth originally allocated to MSC Sarah, and she had to wait for another berth to clear. It’s nice being aboard a fast ship! Amusingly enough, MSC Sarah spent less time in La Spezia and is berthed in-front of us in Barcelona .

We were very impressed by Umberto, the port agent for Hanjin in La Spezia. He knew exactly what was happening with our ship, spoke perfect English (better than the agents in Miami, Florida), and was happy to provide updates even on the weekend.

On this voyage there will be two other passengers. Peter, a Brit who has lived in Italy for 20 years, joined us in La Spezia. A second passenger will join us in Barcelona. So far, we have enjoyed being the “experts”, since this Peter’s first voyage on a container ship.

So far, the food on board has been excellent. We think it has been a step up from our last trip, which was also excellent. That being said, it is very different from Italian or Turkish food, we could just be enjoying the honeymoon period, where we are enjoying the change and familiarity of it all.

Last night we experienced our first bout of rough weather. It never got rough while we were on the MSC Alessia, so we had no idea what to expect. We had been warned that at about midnight things would get rough. We even enjoyed watching a storm in the distance while the sun was setting. However, when we went to the bridge after supper, the storm had passed and the skies were clear. At about midnight we experienced rough seas for 4-6 hours while we entered a patch of open sea with Force 10-11 winds (around 50-60 knot or 90-120 kph winds with 6-8 meter waves). It definitely did get rough, and we awoke to things getting tossed off of the table tops in the cabin. Foolishly, we did not clean up the room before going to sleep. So, eventually, Becky got up and did some clean up and moved the computer to a safe position on the floor. Then it got rougher again, and both of us got up to clear up anything that might fall down or break. After another 10 minutes of clinking glasses and crashes (projectile fruit that had been on the sitting room table), Becky remembered the glass bottles of water in the fridge. She placed some plastic bottles between the glass bottles and collected the apples and oranges from the floor and placed them in the fridge. She also added some toilet paper to the door clamp so that it would stop creaking. It is amazing all the noises in the night when the ship is rolling and pitching.

In the morning we awoke to a bright sunny day, with papers, water bottles, fruit, and other random things spread across the floor in our cabin (oops). We were both a little tired for not getting a great night’s sleep, but otherwise we were doing well – happy to have survived our first rough weather event. When going outside, we notice that all the hand railings are caked in salt and we can barely see through the windows. We guess that the high winds and waves sprayed water over the superstructure throughout the night.

A day in Barcelona

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

We arrived in Barcelona on time and the pilot was ready to bring us into port a little earlier than originally scheduled. By 9 am, we had nicely backed into our birth. It is always quite impressive watching how the ship in maneuvered into port.

It was raining outside, heavily at times. Our vision of Spain is sunshine on warm stone, and neither of us had envisioned our arrival to be quite so wet. Fortunately, the rain was at its worst while the ship was waiting to clear customs. Once the formalities were over and we were free to go, the rain lighted up to an occasional drizzle.

The other passengers left the ship in Barcelona, so we said goodbye to David, Roger and Janet, and wished each other well on their various adventures. David is taking several months to go hiking in Europe, and Janet and Roger are continuing their post-retirement travels – now in their eighth year.

Rather than take a taxi, we decided to take the city bus into town. We had a copy of the Barcelona map from the Lonely Planet Europe on a Shoestring guide (thank-you David). It provided us with enough context to successfully take the bus and then walk to find an Internet café and then the downtown area of Barcelona.

Much of downtown Barcelona is a series of winding pedestrian streets. Some of the streets are wide enough to permit a single lane of traffic, but many don’t permit any cars at all. The streets are not laid out in a grid pattern, so it is easy to get disoriented as the streets turn and connect with one another at odd angled intersections. Fortunately, Scott has a much better sense of direction than Becky, such that he could navigate us around town.

We had lunch at a mediocre Tapas bar whose only redeeming features were good coffee and free wi-fi. We discovered that wi-fi is pronounced (WEE-FEE) here, so no one knew what we were looking for when we asked for W-eye-F-eye.

After lunch we went out to see Gaudi’s masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia, an incredible cathedral that began construction in 1882 and is not yet complete. Upon seeing the “Façade de la Passion” – a very intense and busy – Becky’s reaction was “This is very gaudy”, which made her wonder if the term “gaudy” actually stems from the architect Gaudi?

To end our day in Barcelona we enjoyed dinner at a much nicer Tapas Bar (Taller de Tapas – including the requisite Sangria. One of the dishes we tried was razorshell, a cylindrical shellfish that tastes similar to clam but had much more meat on it.

By 8:30 pm, Barcelona was just waking up, and were exhausted and ready to make our way back to the ship. We heard about a Spanish guitar concert by Manuel Barrueco starting at 9 pm, but decided to return to the ship instead. Good thing we did, otherwise we might not have been back when our leave ended at 23:59.

We used the subway (Metro) and the bus to make our way back to the port. This went well, with only one almost-catastrophe: We asked the bus driver if this was the right bus to “Port de Barcelona”, and thought we should be taking a different bus. We overruled him and got on anyway, which was a good thing. We think he was trying to send us to the cruise ship port (Port Vell) rather than the container port (Port Olympic).

We were quite surprised by the lack of security at the Barcelona port. We did not need to sign out or in to the port at security. We flashed our ship ID badges and the Port Policeman did not even look at them, he just waved us in. We walked directly to the ship through the port at night. We were glad that things were much less chaotic than in Freeport, where all the different sounds and movements make navigation a challenge. The port at Barcelona seemed to be barely alive (only one gantry was working when we left and when we returned – however, one of the mates did say they had 4 working at one point during the day).

On a side note, we confirmed that even in Barcelona, one of the easiest places to find a public washroom (restroom, WC, or toilet) is in the lobby of a 4-star hotel! Also, the hotel overcharges for Wi-Fi: 20 Euros/day! In Canada and the U.S. this is typical – it’s the small motels which have free Wi-Fi, especially those catering to truckers. We’ll see if the same holds true in Europe.