Mahón or Maó as its known in the local dialect, is the largest city and port of the second largest island (Minorca) of the Balearic Islands which are part of Spain. It is the second deepest natural harbor in the world at 5km long and 900m wide, with very clear water.
The Carthaginians occupied the island in 205 BC and named the port after Mago Barca, the brother of Hannibal. In the middle ages Mahon was occupied by the Moors. In 1287 it captured by Alfonso III of Aragon who established the Kingdom of Majorca, a vassal state to the kingdom of Aragon. In 1707 the British took the island from the Spanish and kept it until the Napoleonic Wars in the 18th century when it went back to Spain.
Many people believe that the city of Mahon is the birth place of mayonnaise, after the french defeated the British who were inhabiting the port. The sauce was originally known as “salsa mahonesa” in Spanish and “maonesa” in Catalan (as it is still known in Menorca), later becoming mayonnaise as it was popularized by the French. As well, a traditional cheese is still made on the island (formatge de Maó) and is named after the city.
In the above map, Minorca is the island furthest to the right.
Our arrival into port was wonderfully quiet and serene. We arrived at the island early in the morning and started the long gentle glide towards the city, moving from the rougher waves of the Mediterranean into the protected and smooth waters of the harbour.
We softly glided past the still-sleeping rows of houses built along the banks including one built for privacy in the harbour itself. (Apparently it is known locally as “little Venice” and is sometimes rented by Richard Branson)
After we docked we went on shore to wander around the Port of Mahon for a while. Also docked on the quay near our boat was a Spanish galleon that was attracting the locals. We checked it out and took some pictures before signing up for a catamaran ride and local history tour of the harbour and the town along its shores.
Returning to the port, we walked around the old town built majestically on a cliff as a protective and defensive solution to all the invading armies.
As always it was soon time to leave and set sail for Port-Vendres (France)
Port-Vendres is a typical Mediterranean fishing port, situated near the Spanish border on the Cote Vermeille in south west France. Port-Vendres is renowned for its numerous fish and sea food restaurants and is one of the few deep-water ports in this part of the French Mediterranean coast. It takes freighters and cruise ships, as well as large and small fishing boats.
We were feeling tired and needed more of a down day, so we just wandered around the town looking at the local sights and taking pictures.
We found this fun pile of old cannons — the sign says that this is a transfer areas for the paulines protected habitat and that any explosives should be kept in this zone. Discharge of explosives is forbidden. Brian found that sign and old canons together, really funny.
When we left port, the weather was starting to get a bit more intense for the first time in the cruise. The waves were getting choppy and there was a wind coming across the bay of lions. The boat had a bit of a roll but nothing too over the top or difficult to deal with. Both of us found it quite fun to feel the boat roll and sway.
As we arrived in Spain (Barcelona to be more exact), Brandi’s voice decided to take its own vacation, similar to when it disapeared before our wedding. It would not return until the end of the cruise. To say this was frustrating would be a huge understatement. An inability to communicate in anything but whispers — impossible in any crowded or public place. The other passengers on the ship were vaguely sympathetic, but made lots of jokes about singing or talking too much or Brian finally getting some peace and quiet for the first time in our marriage. Really it was just an annoyance, until getting out into the city.
In the city it was a little frightening. Barcelona is crowded, with people in every direction, tourists and those looking to make money off them — legally or not. Pushing and jostling and yelling, everyone trying to get our attention, just a moment of it — in every direction. If we were separated in the crowd, Brandi had no way of getting Brian’s attention. Not even the ability to scream… But thankfully it never came to that. We held hands or each other’s backpacks, and Brian was conscious of not wandering off like he sometimes is apt to do.
On our first day in Barcelona, we travelled the historic Ramblas street; checked out La Boquería and strolled across the Plaça de Catalunya where several demonstrators were camped out and eventually we arrived at the Block of Discord as well as Casa Milà.
- La Boquería is a lively produce market that is an explosion of chicken legs, bags of live snails, stiff fish, delicious oranges, odd odours, and sleeping dogs.
- Plaça de Catalunya is dotted with fountains, statues, and pigeons, and is ringed by grand art deco buildings. This plaza is Barcelona’s center. It’s the hub for the Metro, bus, airport shuttle, and tourist bus.
- The Block of Discord is where several colorful modernist facades compete for attention along this single stretch of road. All were built by well-known architects at the end of the 19th century. Because the mansions look as though they are trying to outdo each other in creative twists, locals nicknamed the noisy block the “Block of Discord.”
- Casa Milà — This Gaudí exterior laughs down on the crowds filling Passeig de Gràcia. Casa Milà, also called La Pedrera (“The Quarry”), has a much-photographed roller coaster of melting-ice-cream eaves. This is Barcelona’s quintessential modernist building and was Gaudí’s last major work (1906–1910) before dedicating his final years to the Sagrada Família
We wandered through Casa Milà with our cameras and the audio guide and learned all about Gaudí, his inspirations behind the apartment building he designed and how he developed his techniques. His aesthetic was very organic and way outside the lines of the time. Even by today’s standards his buildings are strange — at the time, completely groundbreaking
Between this fascinating tour, a stop for some lunch at a streetside cafe, and a fight through the markets to get back to our ship for the evening, it was a long day — but of course we were rewarded with luxury and comfort back on board. Brandi visited the spa for a facial before dinner, which this evening was served on the top deck of the ship, open-air. Almost barbeque style, but we still had champagne and caviar, and servers carrying our plates back to our seats for us. The plan was for this to turn into a dancing-under-the-stars evening, but the wind picked up and everyone shivered and headed back inside after dinner. We personally didn’t find it too cold, but will admit we’re used to a different level of cold than many of the others (lots of southern Californians and Texans).
The on boat entertainment this evening was a local flamenco troupe, and they were truly impressive. One guy on guitar, one guy singing, two female dancers and one male dancer. Their body language, footwork and emotion was amazing. We are sure there was a story line to their performance, but of course we couldn’t really follow the language.
When we got back to our room there was a nice display of swans, scattered rose petals, a bottle of wine and two notes, one from Maria our stewardess and another personally signed note from the Hotel Manager wishing us the best on our honeymoon!
For day 2 in Barcelona, we got up early and headed to Sagrada Familia, a cathedral that became Gaudí’s main passion and where he devoted the last years of his life. At the time of his death in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete although he had been working on it for over 30 years.
The slowness of construction had never disturbed him, as when asked about the subject of the extremely long construction period, Gaudí is said to have remarked: “My client is not in a hurry.” (referring to God). Currently, one projection anticipates construction completion around 2026, the centennial of Gaudí’s death—while the project’s information leaflet estimates a completion date in 2028 or later.
Everyone had warned that the lineup to the cathedral would be very long (two hours, we were told), however our arrival from the local metro station at 10am still only gave us a 10–15 minute wait in the the line before we were at the ticket window.
To say the cathedral is massive is an understatement, the completion of the spires will make Sagrada Família the tallest church building in the world. Gaudí’s original design calls for a total of eighteen spires, representing in ascending order of height the twelve Apostles, the four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary and, tallest of all, Jesus Christ. Eight spires have been built, corresponding to four apostles at the Nativity façade and four apostles at the Passion façade.
We spent 4 or so hours walking around Sagrada Família taking pictures and learning more about the life of Gaudí. We returned to the metro and saw that there was a funicular at the end of the line. Knowing how much fun we had with the funicular in Austria, we took it to the top of monjuïc. This funicular was much less impressive as it was entirely underground. Fortunately, there was a much more scenic gondola from the funicular to the very top of the hill, to an old Spanish fort.
We wandered around the fort, feeding the local fortress cats (we miss ours) and taking pictures of the view and just relaxing and making comparisons about urban sprawl. We returned via gondola and funicular to the metro and walked to the boat in time for departure, and on to Mahón!
A quick note, if you are reading this on our blog and not in an email; if you click e picture they get big and full resolution
The first exposure to France was landing at Cannes. It was hot, extremely muggy, full of people preparing for the upcoming Cannes film festival. Tourists all over the place, and the locals seemed annoyed at them already. In the fist picture you can see the many tents along the harbour-front ready for the red carpet.
We walked around town, Strolling through the old parts of town and through the market streets taking some pictures and having the locals generally confused by a keen interest in to their culture. (Brian: I saw some baguettes leaning up against a doorway and thought it would make a fun picture. As I was taking the shot, a local walked by and muttered under her breath, “c’est seulement du pain, Monsieur” meaning “it’s only bread, sir”).
We did our best to hide in the shade, and wandered back to the boat in the afternoon to get away from the craziness of the film festival set-up.
Brandi scheduled a full-body massage on the boat and and Brian had a nap. As the boat was preparing to leave the dock, a sudden cloud burst rolled through the port made for some very interesting and fun cloud photos.
Sanary-sur-Mer is said to be the sunniest place in France. It is surrounded by wooded hills that protect the town, bay and fine sand beaches from the strong mistral wind. We signed up for an excursion to Aix-en-Provence (Aix pronounced Ex) and boarded a bus tour where we were driven to town about an hour away upon arriving we were led on a guided tour of the old town.
With sun-dappled squares, luxuriant fountains, and Paul Cézanne’s hallowed studio, this captivating university town is considered the main hub of Provence and the most cultural town in the region.
After the tour we had some free time to explore Aix-en-Provenance and we quickly found a cafė for our first experience of the French cafė lifestyle. In a word, amazing! In the background of the picture below, is the oldest continually operating cafė in France.
We returned to Sanary-sur-Mer and wandered around the main harbor-front finding naturally growing birds of paradise flowers growing all around. Eventually we returned to the ship for dinner and drinks.
The two Italian ports on our trip are the two little fishing towns of Portoferraio and Porto Venere. The fact that they are both small, Italian and based around the fishing industry is where the similarities end, the two towns are quite different in feel and energy.
Portoferraio is a town in the italian province of Livorno, on the edge of the eponymous harbor of the island of Elba and is the island’s largest city. Because of its terrain, many of its buildings are situated on the slopes of a tiny hill surrounded on three sides by the sea. In June 1814 it was handed over to Napoleon Bonaparte, as the seat of his first exile until his escape in February of 1815. Personally, we are not sure why anyone would want to escape it.
We had signed up for a wine tasting tour on this day, however Brandi was feeling quite ill from the sun and exhaustion the days before so unfortunately we were forced to back out of the excursion. It was sad that we missed it however it gave us the opportunity to wander around Portoferraio, enjoy sights and sounds of the local open air market and buy a hat for Brandi to keep the sun off her head.
Feeling quite burned out, we returned to the ship for lunch and ordered up some a very tasty room service of a properly made caesar salad with anchovies and a Margherita pizza. This gave us the energy to do one last jaunt through the town on the little tourist train with a recorded commentary of the town’s history.
We felt well enough to dine in the restaurant again, and like the night before, made it an early evening — hoping to get our energy back for the next day, at Porto Venere.
Porto Venere is a town located on the Ligurian coast of Italy in the province of La Spezia and is comprised of three villages of Fezzano, La Grazie, and Porto Venere. In 1997 these three villages and the villages of Cinque Terre were designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site. A 12th-century Castello is only part of the local military past as the islands of Palmaria, Tino, and Tinetto were all fortified during WWII as part of the axis occupation of the region.
The town reminded us so much of the towns in Cinque Terre (very near here) with its very warm and approachable ambiance. The buildings are also very similar — like colourful toy blocks stacked in the hills. Here, the homes along the waters edge were originally built as defense towers — seven stories tall, and only three meters wide, each. The streets are narrow and winding, built to be easily barricaded — throughout the town, many walls and archways still stand today, despite being built in 1161.
Interesting side note on this one: since being in this region in 2008, we’ve considered this area to be probably the most beautiful place we’ve been in the world. When we were speaking to the woman at the “hospitality desk”, she asked where we were from and she said “Oh! I have been there! And Banff! I think you live in the most beautiful part of the world!”.
We walked through an archway in an old brick wall, to find a beautiful little clear-turquoise cove surrounded by huge stone cliffs. There were sunbathers on the rocks, and some swimmers in the crystal clear water. This is known as Byron’s Grotto, after the English Poet who swam across the gulf from there to visit his friend Percy Bysse Shelley at San Terenzo. We could have stayed here all day, but knew we had more of this lovely little town to see. We wandered up to the thirteenth century church of San Pietro, which stands on a rocky tongue of land overlooking the sea — it was built on the site of a Roman temple to Venus. From there we climbed higher still, to Saint Ambrose’s Fortress (built in the sixteenth century) where the views were also breathtaking. At one little vantage point, Brandi turned to Brian and said, “wow, it couldn’t be any more perfect!”, but just then to prove us wrong, a butterfly flitted by.
Once we had taken in all the views we could, we headed back down into town for some focaccia and gelato. After that, we took a stroll along the water’s edge and a rest on a shady bench (within earshot of a very talented piano & flute duo). Our last little jaunt of the day was on a little boat tour of three nearby islands — Palmaria, Tino, and Tinetto. They are currently uninhabited, but are impressive sites of rocky cliffs and ruins of military fortifications. Brian very badly wanted to take his camera into said ruins.
By this time, it was late afternoon and so we headed back to Seabourn Legend via tender, as it was a little too big to get right up close to the dock here. Once back on board, we decided to take a dip in the hot tub on the very front tip of the ship. We had yet another perfect meal in the restaurant, and you guessed it — bed time right after. We don’t really understand — we are certainly the youngest passengers on board, but just can’t seem to stay awake for any nightlife!
From the moment we entered the little air conditioned building in the port town of Civitavecchia, it was clear we were about to experience a completely new kind of travel. We were greeted with smiles by people in sharp uniforms and crisp white gloves. They confirmed the pronunciation of our last name, discussed dietary requests, and every spoken syllable was warm and welcoming. We had already dropped off our backpacks, we just had my purse and Brian’s camera bag on us — even then, they offered to carry them for us onto the ship. We were escorted onto the ship, and welcomed by every passing staff member. We ascended a spiral staircase while a man strummed a guitar nearby. We were lead into the King Olaf lounge, where we were invited to eat and drink until we felt like officially signing in.
We were honestly a tad overwhelmed at this point. We were pretty sure we’d just stepped into some parallel universe. So we just checked in. They took photos of us for our ship ID cards, and then a staff member appeared to show us to our suite.
Of course it is beautiful. A balcony and sitting room, a flower in a silver vase, a bottle of champagne chilling — a walk in closet (which we don’t even have at home). Moments later, a knock at the door. Maria, our stewardess, stood there with a tray of champagne and caviar aperitifs for us, and showed us around — how to work everything, etc.
Later, we made our way up to Sky Bar, which is an open-air bar on the top deck, and chit-chatted with some others. At some point we decided to walk around the boat to take some pictures, but weren’t sure if we could take our drinks with us. I turned to a woman who had been on a few of these cruises, and asked her. She laughed and said, “honey, this is your yacht. You can do whatever you want, wherever you want, however you want.”
We were exhausted from the heat and excitement of Rome earlier in the day, the run to the train and now taking in all that is the Seabourn Legend but there was still a dinner service to go. Once we were underway we returned to our room, and changed into some fresh clothes for dinner and proceeded to the restaurant on deck 3. The food was exquisite with wine parings throughout, first course was a wild mushroom soup and a red beet carpaccio; second course seared scallops with crisp smoked bacon, truffle risotto with warm asparagus salad and of course the service was impeccable.
After dinner we returned to our room and quickly fell asleep.