I loved the idea of travelling to Europe by way of cruise ship, but at the same time I realize it was probably detrimental to my backpacking experience. After two weeks on a cruise, I became accustomed to 3 buffets a day and a fancy stateroom. However, my backpacking experience will be nothing like that. I’ll be roughing it on the streets of Europe living on bread and cheese and carrying all my possessions on my back.
My first real day of Backpacking Europe. Kiana and I woke up, showered and packed our bags to be out of the room by 11am, a checkout time we later learned is nearly universal. Our first stop of the day was back downstairs to the hotel where our parents were staying to continue using their free buffet. The buffet caper went off without a hitch and none of the hotel staff knew or cared that we were using their buffet and not staying there.
After our crime filled breakfast, Kiana and I walked to her friend Julia’s house to drop Kiana’s backpacking bag off while we went to Ibiza, since she would be returning to Barcelona afterwards. I kept mine, as I would be in Madrid afterwards. Bags dropped off, Kiana and I took the train to the airport and wandered the terminal before our flight.
The duty free shop in the airport sold 9 euro vodka that Kiana and I stocked up on before our trip to Ibiza. Not only was it only 9 euro, according to the label with Bruce Willis’ face on it, its the “best vodka he knows of.”
The flight to Ibiza went smoothly, it was only a 30 minute flight, yet the flight crew talked on the intercom literally the entire time, which made reading, listening to music, or hearing yourself think tough. When we touched down at Ibiza airport, we disembarked onto the tarmac and walked along the runway to a waiting bus that drove us the remaining 200 ft to the terminal entrance (it didn’t make sense to me either). The Ibiza airport was a truly international crowd, with a handful of Americans sprinkled in.
Kiana and I spoke with the Americans and we shared a bus to Ibiza town where we separated. The other Americans getting lost, and us wandering Ibiza Town for hours looking for inexpensive housing. The hostel we were told to stay at was booked for that night so we went across the street to Hotel Maritimo. The room was 50 euro and right on the water, not bad for Ibiza. Finally being able to put down our bags after a long and exhausting hike around town was glorious. I wanted to lay down and never get up. Then we got up. Ate pizza. Returned to the room and passed out for the night.
Today was such an adventure. Its hard to imagine we woke up this morning in Barcelona and passed out in an Ibiza Hotel that night. Ibiza was not at all what I expected. It was a neat place, but it reminded me of Key West with a handful of superclubs scattered around the island. I’d expected a strip of superclubs with a clear clubbing district, something closer to Vegas or Miami.
Today we woke at the hotel as usual, the 5 of us crammed into a little room, had a nice breakfast downstairs and began our day. Since this was Mom and Ali’s last day in Barcelona we fit in as many paying attractions as possible :p Our first two stops were at two houses Gaudi designed. Walking into a Gaudi house is like walking into a Dali painting. There are very few straight lines or right angles. The houses are frequently an amalgamation of plant and animal forms merged together creating the feeling of entering a fantasy world.
After the Gaudi houses, we accompanied Mom, Sophie, and Ali back to the hotel and said our goodbyes. The chord had been cut, Kiana and I were on our own in Europe with adventures to be had. Adventure number 1, go upstairs and check in to our hostel, so not a huge leap, but a start.
The hostel was significantly cheaper than the hotel a floor below, with the only difference being a bathroom outside the room. When we checked in, bottle of wine in hand, the clerk offered to open the bottle of wine for us and gave us two glasses. Things were looking up! After dropping our bags off, Kiana and I celebrated our upcoming adventures with a toast and headed out to meet Kiana’s friends for an early dinner at 9:30. Gotta love Europe. Fastforward to 10:30 and her friends show up, fashionably late for Europe. Dinner was great. I had an enchilada and a salad, with a Coronita. I later learned there’s already a Corona in Spain, so Corona goes by Coronita.
After dinner we went with Kiana’s friends to a cool little expat bar in Barcelona for some beers. The bar was covered with graffiti and punk memorabilia. It was an awesome place that I will definitely go back to the next time I’m in Barca.
Last night seemed like a faint memory walking down the nearly vacant Las Ramblas. Aside from an occasional streamer, all indications of last nights mayhem were gone. We spent the day exploring Gaudi’s park at the top of Barcelona. The park was absolutely beautiful. Gaudi had originally designed it to be a private neighborhood, but the project never took off and the property was turned into a public park. The park is far from a failure though. Its a beautiful mix of nature and architecture with roman columns, mosaics, intricate tilework, and winding paths through the parks flora. One such path leads to an incredible vista overlooking all of Barcelona. Panoramic Picture to come. The park offers live entertainment in several squares offering everything from didgeridoo players to human statues.
After the park we went with Ali’s friends to the Picasso museum which offered free admission after 3. The museum was great and with free admission there wasn’t any pressure to stare intently at every painting or read every plaque and sign. Picasso’s early work was very interesting. The beginning of the museum showcased several of Picasso’s early paintings which were incredibly lifelike.
Following the Picasso museum, we got gelato on the way back to our hotel. After some naps and freshening up, we met up with Lulu’s family on the Barcelona seaside for some dinner. Lulu is another 5 year old that Sophie made friends with on the cruise. The meal was great, we had calamari, some sort of cold fish dinner, seafood paella and traditional Barcelona tomato toast. I found out later the meal was somewhere in the ballpark of $180, which was definitely overpriced, despite the great meal. After dinner Kiana, Ali, and myself met up with his friends for a quick night cap before bed.
I had a great time with my family today and it was reassuring to meet Lulu’s family and know that if anything happened while I was in Spain they would be more than happy to help Kiana and myself out.
I journaled my entire cruise trip, but most of the details proved to be boring. Not to say the cruise was boring but most of the entries read something along the lines of this
“Got up late, ate breakfast buffet, played chess with Ali, read for a bit, lunch, shuffleboard, gym, shower, dinner, more chess with Ali, cruise ship show, drink at bar on board and meet people”
14 Days of this hardly makes for an interesting read so I’ll give you the highlights below.
Day 1-In Port Canaveral
The ship’s top decks and pool are were infested with love bugs and no one was allowed outside. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.
Day 2- Castaway Cay
Disney has its own island in the caribbean, further proof Disney is planning complete global domination. We walked and biked around the island and were possible contenders for most active cruise family that day. In total we walked about 4 miles and biked 3 miles that day.
Day 3-8 Days at Sea
Everyone has the ocean madness, supplies are running low, I fear a mutiny aboard the ship…kidding. My days were spent reading and playing chess with Ali, who unfortunately won the series 8 games to 5 games. As someone who’s dad is a former ranked chess “Master”, I feel as though I’m not living up to my family name. I met a lot of really interesting, and bizarre people aboard the ship over the course of these days. Day 3 a group of Wisconsinites – Terry, his brother Kyle, sister Maggie, and Kyle’s boyfriend Gene- invited me to play “Sorry!” and we discussed couch surfing, travel, and Terry’s obsession with all things Disney and Cirque Du Soleil. As a seasoned couchsurfer, Kyle wrote me a glowing recommendation on the site in hopes some couchsurfer would agree to let me sleep on his couch. Later in the cruise Kyle, Terry’s younger brother, absolutely killed it at Karaoke with an awesome rendition of Usher’s “Yeah”.
Everyday aboard the cruise there was some sort of college meet up and it gave me an opportunity to meet my “peers” aboard the ship. Several of them were Disneyholics and had “drank the Koolaid” in regards to Disney. One girl had been on 22 cruises despite being only 21 years old.
Madeira was my favorite port on the cruise. Its owned by Portugal and hosts a variety of ecosystems ranging from beach to rainforest, but the reason I loved it had nothing to do with that. I loved it for the canyoning. Thats right canyoning! What is canyoning you ask? I had no idea but it sounded fun. The madness began when the tour bus pulled over on the side of the road and we all changed into hard hats, full-body wetsuits, and rock climbing harnesses. Apparently canyoning is rappelling down cliffs and diving into pools of water along a riverbed…needless to say it was awesome. My sister got a lot of great pics of it that I’ll be sure to post in the coming weeks.
Day 10-Day at Sea
Today wasn’t quite as exciting considering all I did was lay around and eat.
I got sick last night, or possibly the day before. I suspect jumping into pools of freezing water was not the best thing for my health. Anyways, spent the day wandering around the small port town of Cadiz having feverish hallucinations. Cadiz isn’t that exciting on its own (most of the excursions involved taking a bus somewhere else), but the feverish hallucinations helped.
Ah yes, Gibraltar, the big G. What a cool place. The tiny isthmus off the southern coast of Spain is owned by the UK and home to one of the busiest refueling ports in the world. Gibraltar is basically one giant rock, covered and filled with intriguing sites. The little town leading from the port to the giant rock part is filled with little shops and pubs and looks appropriately like a mix between Spain and England. After a short stroll through the town we took a cable car up to the top of the rock where all of Gibraltar could be seen. The view was amazing. Never in my life have I seen so many ships in one place. Tankers, cruise ships, mega yachts, refueling ships, there were too many to count. Gibraltar’s location at the mouth of the mediterranean makes it a strategic location for both defense and shipping.
Gibraltar is home to a small group of monkeys as well. Random but neat, the monkeys climb around the top part of the rock stealing food from tourists and posing for photographs. The rock is also home to over 31 miles of tunnels connecting just about everything in Gibraltar to everything else including the elaborate cave system within the rock. We never made it to the tunnels, but I had a chance to explore the caves with my family which were incredible. One of the rooms in the cave was so large an auditorium had been set up inside of it.
After traversing the island on foot for the majority of the day, we returned to the ship to nap, and allow Kiana to get ready to dance with one of the officers in the crew talent show. The last half of this day was incredible. I met some truly amazing people from Canada after the talent show at ship Karaoke part II. They were a group of 4, Dani, her two brothers, Jeff and Pat, and their mom. After many drinks and much Karaoking, including Kyle reprising his role as Usher for a second rendition of “Yeah”, we made plans with the Canadians for “Ship Olympics”
Day 13-Day at Sea-Ship Olympics
This was my favorite day from our trip. I met up with the Canadians at 1pm at the pingpong tables on the top deck for our first event of the day, doubles ping pong. I took second in this event and all of the other events including shuffleboard and foosball. We drank beer all day and competed in simple events all over the ship each one more hilariously fun than the last. Following the end of the games and before the award ceremony we took an intermission for dinner. Apparently I hadn’t been the only one drinking for most of the day. My parents had gone with my sister to the Officer’s Cocktail Party and drank free cocktails all afternoon. Needless to say our dinner was hilarious with Sophie being the only sober one. At the end of the night in the ships nightclub, we had the DJ announce the winners of the ship olympics and had an award ceremony as the rest of the clubbers looked on in utter confusion.
Day 14-Barcelona-The final day
I had a great time in Barcelona but couldn’t shake the thought in the back of my mind that today marked the last day of our cruise. As a family, the 5 of us wandered the picturesque streets of Barcelona going on bus tours, witnessing protest and police demonstation, and eating tapas in a lively square off Barcelona’s main drag, Las Ramblas. At the end of the day we returned to the ship and, after dinner, met up with the Canadians for some nighttime exploring of Barcelona. At the end of the night we all stumbled home around 4am saying our goodbyes and returning to our staterooms.
Overall, the cruise was incredible. I loved every waking moment of it and the people I met are incredible. When I return from my Europe trip I’ll be flying through Boston and making a short stop in Maine to visit Dani, one of the Canadians and a future midwife.