Tips for Barcelona and Venice
Posted on Jun 26, 2013 by
I`m in the process of compiling tips for the 12 ports we visited on a Mediterranean Cruise this summer. So far, I`ve only finished two, but since I noticed that some will be going to Barcelona soon, I decided to post them now. We stayed a few days on land in both of these ports before and after the cruise.
BARCELONA, SPAIN-vibrant and lively; architecture-lover`s paradise; diverse neighborhoods; three packed days and we barely scratched the surface
Hotel: Hotel Colon in the historic Bari Gotic (Gothic Quarter). Older hotel with an impressive pedigree; attractive common areas, attentive staff; spacious rooms- décor a little dated but comfortable beds. Wonderful location for us-directly across from the main cathedral (not Sagrada Familia), 5 minutes from mid-Las Ramblas, interesting sights on every little street and alley. We paid a little over $200 a night incl. taxes (did not opt for the breakfast at 20 euros).
Free walking tour of the Gothic Quarter-you can find free tours in many large cities; this one was very enjoyable: enthusiastic and knowledgable young guide took a group of about 20 young people (and the 8 of us Boomers) in and out of the neighborhood for over 2.5 hours-even bought us a beer at the end! All for the price of an optional tip.
Gaudi, Gaudi, and more Gaudi-my husband and I fell in love with this guy! We visited Parc Guell (park), the Sagrada Familia (cathedral), the Casa Batllo (former private home), and La Pedrera (apartment building). Impossible to describe the genius of the architecture. If I had seen nothing else the entire trip, this alone would have been worth the journey.
Boqueria Market! Don`t let a soul tell you this place is too touristy-it`s not to be missed. Having roamed markets in Istanbul, Fez, and Tokyo, we thought we`d seen it all-we hadn`t. Located mid-Las Ramblas, it`s a festival of colors, aromas, and activity: fruit, candy, fish, tapas, and on and on. The original market dates back to 1217. Allow lots of time to roam.
Dining experience-Los Caracoles (The Snails) in the Gothic Quarter: 173 years old and bursting with character and personality. To get to the dining rooms you walk right through the steamy hot kitchen. Celebrity photo-covered walls, mostly from the `50s (Tab Hunter was right above our table). The charm MORE than made up for the uneven cooking (snails tasty, chicken dry, rabbit uninspired) but maybe the chef was out sick that night. At least stop in for drinks.
Tapas-on our last night, we stumbled upon this tapas bar/restaurant in the waterfront Ribiera neighborhood while searching for another place (I`m glad we didn`t find it). Comfortable leather couches, great sangria, delicious tapas, beautifully presented.
VENICE, ITALY-made one of the most incredible first impressions in any of my travels; a feast for the eyes; NOT smelly, NOT dirty. However, more style than substance; too many tourist shops and restaurants; locals are tired of us, and who wouldn`t be? Conclusion: You haven`t seen the world until you`ve seen Venice.
Hotel: Starhotels Splendid Venice-a great choice. Pretty and modern décor, comfy beds, perfect location (midway between San Marco Square and Rialto Bridge), excellent hot/cold buffet breakfast, private dock on a small canal. We paid approx. $194 per night incl.
Water taxi WARNING-we splurged on a private water taxi to transport us and our luggage from the airport to our hotel and from the hotel to the ship. Split eight ways, it came to approx. $35 per couple each way-well worth it for door-to- door service. (Note: by booking in advance online with Clementson Travel Office, we saved about 20%.)
HOWEVER, just minutes before we were to be picked up to go to the ship, we were told that the water level in the canals had risen too high for the taxi to get under the bridges in the minor canals. We would have to transport eight peoples` luggage through the streets and crowds and up and down the bridges to the Rialto Bridge and meet the taxi there. Long story short: we hired porters to take the luggage and, with persistence, we were able to get a refund from the Clementson Travel Office for the full amount of the fare. LESSON: You are at the mercy of the tides-plan accordingly.
Crowds and heat-Venice and most ports on the trip were hot and crowded in July. Not unbearable (we live in South Florida) but we vowed not to return to this part of Europe in the summer, if possible. We were very lucky to get just a sprinkling of rain the entire 16 days.
As first-timers in Venice, we mostly just walked around and took it all in. If you stray far enough, you can get away from the crowds. Some things we enjoyed: Peggy Guggenheim Collection-her former home in a beautiful locale on the Grand Canal, interesting and eclectic art collection. Do some research about her life before you go. Vivaldi concert- every night there are several performances of Vivaldi works (he was a resident of Venice) at various venues; we enjoyed a chamber ensemble doing The Four Seasons Cipriani Hotel-we took the free shuttle to this luxurious hotel on a private island-enjoyed poolside Bellinis and a taste of the high life Gondola ride-half the fun was bargaining with the gondolier; perhaps the romance was missing because the eight of us (sharing two gondolas) spent most of the time shooting pictures of each other
Local attitude-as I said above, they`re tired of tourists and I don`t blame them. When you ask for directions, most will be polite and give them, even if they don`t know what you`re asking. Almost all of the time they`re the wrong directions. But it doesn`t matter-you get to see more of Venice!