Carthage, Sid Bou Said and Tunis

Tunisia is the next stop on our cruise and we’d arranged a private guide to take us to visit the historic sites. I have no desire to be locked into a carpet factory and showroom for 30 or 40 minutes whilst the operators try to entice you into purchasing a carpet or rug so I felt a private guide and driver was the best option. All group tours also included a visit to an American War Cemetery and, not being American, I preferred to bypass that as well. Perhaps if I were an American or had an ancestor buried in the cemetery there would have been a reason to visit.

Our choice of places to visit included the ancient ruins of Carthage, Punic Harbour, Byrsa Hill (Punic and Roman remains), Ancient Roman Baths, Sid Bou Said, drive to Tunis to wander through the Medina (market) and view the ancient Roman aqueduct. Probably more ancient history than Ty would like however, he’s lucky though, as I have now visited most places of the ancient world that I really wanted to see – Carthage was one of the last places on my list. My Ancient History teacher, Mr McGlynn, probably thought he failed to implant any knowledge of “happenings BC” in my grey matter when I was a student in his class all those years ago. Hmmm, some might say my school days could almost meet the criteria for ancient history! I’m sure my grandchildren think their Nan is an ancient relic….young children AND teenagers think anyone over 30 is ancient!!!

Tourism in Tunisia has been steadily growing with the cruise ships, and their passengers, calling into La Goulette greatly help the economy as tourism is it’s number one income….. The cruise liner, Noordam, was also in port at the same time as Splendida which meant the port area was quite busy with excursion buses, private tour mini buses and cars.

We had a little trouble finding our driver and guide, we were waiting at one parking area and Mr Radhi (our guide) was in another. The instructions given seemed clear enough on email but when we stepped out onto Tunisian soil they were not very clear at all. I had assumed we would walk out and find either across the road or to either side of us a person holding up a piece of cardboard with our name on it but no that wasn’t the case at all. There were several car parking areas containing many cars, minivans and buses across the road and up the road with men milling around. Perhaps they’re over there, we walked across the road…..no, no vehicle there with our name on a sign. Hmm, maybe they’re running late, we looked up the road, more men milling around but no signs with our name on it. I was becoming frustrated and a little annoyed because we were wasting precious time looking for someone who was supposed to be waiting for us!! We eventually found him (or so we thought) after Ty asked people standing around if they could point out Mr Rhadi (at least we had a name). One tour guide pointed us toward a little van and walking towards it we could see our name. The van was parked several metres inside a yard backing onto the cruise terminal entry about 50 metres up the road. Yes, we could find that no trouble at all…….and yes, you could be detecting a note of sarcasm here! Everything is right with the world again and our tour of Tunis and the historical sites is about to begin.

We stepped onto the bus and the driver, an elderly gentleman or perhaps middle aged and just aged by chain smoking, started talking to us in what I assume to be Arabic…I started to laugh as Ty said, “well, that’s great, are you sure we’re in the right van, he doesn’t speak or understand English”. “What have you booked?” I was amused by the look on his face. Poor Project Manager goes into panic mode if things don’t run to plan. Just as I replied “we have a guide as well” the driver jumped out of the bus and headed very quickly for the gate….we both laughed….perhaps we frightened him and he was running away! He had actually gone to find our guide who, it appears, had been waiting outside the gate with his sign….not sure where he was holding it but when we walked up to this gate there was not a sign in sight…lots of men talking but no signs. No matter, the driver and the guide returned and off we went.

First impressions of Tunisia: hot, dry, very dusty, rocky, and a little barren on the outskirts.

Our first stop was the Punic burial ground, quite amazing to see tombstones so well preserved, next was the ancient Roman Baths overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The Romans certainly new how to choose the picturesque places to build. All part of what was once the ancient city of Carthage. These amazing ancient buildings, carvings and gravestones are extremely well looked after. The museum on the Carthage site holds a large number of fabulous artefacts from ancient times and is not overcrowded with pieces.

View of Tunis from Ancient Carthage

View of Tunis from Ancient Carthage

Road infrastructure in most developing countries is not the best and Tunisia was no different. Take the traffic on the F3/M1 motorway (the road we travel to /from work each day) or any major highway in most major cities in peak hour and triple it….all streets in the main area of Tunis (capital) were choked with cars. We sat in the traffic and occasionally crept along a centimetre at a time. The air conditioning wasn’t the best in the people carrier and when the windows were open we almost got blown away by the wind, the dust and the strange smells that permeated the air in certain areas. Couldn’t win either way but it was still an interesting place to be so as well as soaking up the unpleasant aspects I was soaking up the sights surrounding me.

Tourism in Tunisia has been steadily growing and the cruise ships calling into La Goulette are greatly helping the economy as tourism is it’s number one income….possibly it’s only income. There was another cruise liner, Noordam, in port at the same time as us. There are also 5 star resorts situated further along the Tunisian coastline which are starting to become popular.

Whilst we drove to Sin Bou Said Mr Radhi told us he is a university lecturer, as is the case with many teachers in the height of the tourist season in Europe when schools and universities are closed for holidays, they take on the role of tour guide. He explained that he normally worked 2 days a week and earned the equivalent of 350 euros a month. Tunisia has it’s own currency which you cannot purchase outside Tunisia nor take out of the country. Euro or US dollars are acceptable currency.

As he was talking I notice the road widens and becomes a dual carriageway. That surprised me given what I’ve seen so far. By the time I had the thought the dual carriageway ended! We were on the outskirts of Sin Bou Said, I knew that because the buildings were whitewashed with blue doors and shutters, similar to Santorini or Mykonos in Greek Islands and I had been listening intently to Mr Radhi! The scene started to look like a painting itself….very photogenic, to me anyway, as I can’t resist a totally blue and white scene and I couldn’t wait to see more. We stepped out of the car and proceeded to walk up a narrow cobblestone street crowded with cars, taxis, buses and pedestrians. About halfway up the street were shops and stalls run by men only.

Sou Bin Said fancy door

Sou Bin Said fancy door

A large bus was trying to manoeuvre it’s way down a narrow ‘street’ and a Mercedes driver (nowhere to be seen) had decided to park his car on the roadway. We watched as 5 men gave the bus driver instructions on which way to turn, how close he was to the car and shouting in unison when the bus was in danger of hitting the car. Although, by the look of most cars we had seen in Tunisia, caring about damaging someone’s vehicle wasn’t a high priority as so many cars looked like they’d gone a couple of rounds with a boxer. We decided this manoeuvre was taking too long so we continued on our way. Anyway, we’d already witnessed a taxi driver beating up an already beaten up small car whilst he and the cars’ driver engaged in a heated discussion. We assumed one may have run up the back of the other.

A tight fit...I'd say

A tight fit…I’d say

We came to a group of shops and looked at the goods on sale. As with many of the stores in tourist areas in these countries they don’t put prices on items and are unwilling to give a price or straight answer when you ask and then try to charge an exorbitant amount for the goods. They expect you to bargain with them but there are times when you just don’t feel like back and forth bargaining so it tends to become annoying. I also think places such as Tunisia and parts of Turkey that I’ve visited would do well to start placing prices on the goods. Of course I’m probably unfairly putting all souk retailers in the same category as there may be many traders, I’m sure, who don’t do this…..I just haven’t found any so I tend to think they’re dishonest rather than the idea it’s all a game, especially when they start at 220 euros for goods worth 30 euros or less. We had decided on three items, in a store recommended by our guide, a cover to wear over my swimming costume, a small souvenir and Ty found a leather belt so the bargaining begins…the first price the souk trader gave us was 220 euros….we laughed and Ty said “don’t be ridiculous”. So on it went till eventually they agreed on 30 euros – which was probably still 10 euros too much.

There were many photo opportunities in this area where everyone who lives here is bound to keep the look uniform and can only whitewash their houses and have blue surrounds which, as I said before, makes a great view from a distance. However, once you’re standing among the buildings the sight that meets your eyes is not that beautiful, you see a big house or villa and beside is piles of rubble or rubbish and this scene was played out across all the areas we visited. Well kept villas with bougainvillea, hibiscus and other flowering trees and shrubs colourfully surrounding the fences but piles of rubbish and building rubble beside the gate or at the end of the fence. No, it wasn’t sitting there waiting for garbage pick up unless it’s an annual service!!! No, this rubbish heap appeared to have been there for a number of years plus we saw locals just tossing rubbish onto the road or footpath. It struck us as odd that you would have the exterior walls and gardens of your home looking good but toss rubbish around it. How do you have cleanliness and pride in your home but outside your gate you seemingly don’t care, it’s as if they have the mentality that once the rubbish is outside my wall I’m not responsible for it. This phenomenon wasn’t isolated to just one area it was everywhere except some of the historical sites. There appears to be great pride in preserving the ancient sites in Carthage and that’s a good thing….perhaps they could introduce this sort of cleanliness to the wider community.

After our first foray into shopping in Tunisia we met our guide at the pre arranged place and he pointed out a few more things of interest, such as the reason there are shutters on the windows, I assumed it was to shade the rooms from the heat of the sun but Mr Radhi said it was because the women aren’t allowed to be seen at, or sitting, near the windows. I prefer my idea! We pushed our way through the masses of tourists as we followed our guide to where the driver was waiting. Our next stop would be Tunis and the Medina. We crossed the border, as Mr Radhi called it, whereas we were really just crossing from one suburb to another.

“Look at this traffic, it’s at a standstill” I said to Ty. I’m not sure if there were lanes or not because no one seemed to be travelling in any sort of order. Cars were going every which way even though police were on point duty…..well some sort of point duty. They weren’t helping and every so often they blew their whistle but no one moved…I don’t think they cared very much or they’d just given up, I would have. They probably had orders to blow their whistle at 15 minute intervals and they’d found the only shady spot anywhere on this road….under a flyover. Watching the cars and trucks jostling for position in the seeming mayhem was amusing. I just couldn’t imagine why you would choose to drive in this place it would be faster to walk everywhere. I can’t imagine anyone would ever get to work on time! Mr Radhi said the traffic was not really bad as many people are on holidays. If that’s the case I would definitely be walking everywhere.

As we inched our way into the capital, Tunis, the air conditioning in the van was giving up as well. The heat was becoming unbearable and I was contemplating forcing the driver to park us under a flyover as well. Ty managed to open the windows and the hot, dusty wind blew my hair everywhere..most of you know I hate being in any place or environment that’s windy and a car is one of the worst places if I don’t have a scarf. Precious you say? Maybe, I say it’s all about comfort – just don’t like being uncomfortable or with messy hair and for that reason I can’t purchase a convertible car…and I do love the look of convertibles!!

Joining another traffic jam we soon noticed a number of irate men raising fists out the windows of the cars and shouting animatedly. Unfortunately it became clear that a van had parked on the wrong side of the road to deliver some goods. Great, we had to be slowly melting in 60 degree heat whilst one motorist in particular was extremely upset with the van driver and a tirade of abuse between the two became heated to the point the van driver stepped out of his sandals and picked up a large, long chunk of timber and hurled it at the relatively new looking white sedan. Even though this was amusing it was also extremely uncomfortable watching this altercation escalate from the inside of a van without air-conditioning. The man in the little sedan stopped his car, after the pole hit the back of it, and ran at the van driver, he threw a punch at the van driver and knocked him down. As he walked back to his car the van driver grabbed a wrench and ran after the car driver. Luckily several men chased the van driver, grabbed him and held him to calm him down. Finally the traffic moved on….not a policeman to be seen!! That was our excitement for the day now onward to the Medina and perhaps a chance to get out of the extreme heat.

Reaching the centre of the city our driver pulled up and we had to alight from the van…we would now be on foot for the next hour looking at old buildings and walking through the Medina. Hmmm, not sure I like this, we had to keep ducking and weaving people as we tried to keep up with our guide on the street. It was crowded and no shade from the blazing sun…I was sure I’d melt…we had to be on our toes crossing the roads as well..when the cars get to move they move quickly and the drivers are reluctant to stop for pedestrians so it was stressful in the main square area. We also had to keep sight of our guide and be careful with our personal items….so much to think about when the heat had almost melted my brain and the I was wind blown!

Mr Radhi was waiting in the main square, I had to stop to take a photo of my surroundings, it was nothing like I’d seen before…the buildings were so old and you could see they had been ornate in an earlier life. “Kerin, come on, keep up” I heard Ty call out. As I turned I saw our guide heading away again, Ty continued ” You need to keep up we have to be careful here” I knew what he was referring to and how concerned he had been about visiting Tunisia when I had chosen this cruise so I put my camera away and followed our leader.

We managed to cross the road, without incident, to a very, very busy lane way leading into the Medina. Now, normally I love my shopping, especially in different countries but the shops were cluttered, the alley was tiny, about 3 feet (1 metre) wide between the shops on either side, and people were at least 6 across trying to shop, look or just walk through this section of the Medina…all alleys would have been the same. Oh, as well, merchants would be pushing through the crowd with their 2 wheeled trolleys. I found it to be claustrophobic and extremely hot. “Did I shop”? you ask. Unfortunately, not at all. We were carried along with the crush and our guide was weaving his way through ahead of us without so much as a look at the wares on offer. I couldn’t stop; the sea of people kept moving; it was like a flood picking up people like pieces of debris …..we had no choice but to move with it. In a way I’m glad of that because I didn’t feel like dealing with the bartering and the arrogant, sometimes overbearing attitude of the traders.

At the end of the alley we stopped to look at the exterior of a very old Mosque, “Thank goodness we can breathe some fresh air, well relatively fresh” I whispered to Ty, who said “Sorry, I didn’t hear you” ” Am I on your deaf side again?” “Yes” came the reply. Damn, I had to repeat myself! I’d hoped we would carry on walking past the Mosque in the outdoors even though the sun was blazing down on us, that was a better option than the airless alleyway of the Medina.

Mr Radhi asked if we wanted to shop “No” we both replied in unison. “I’m fine to go back now” I added, then he turned and headed back down the same crowded alley. My facial expression told Ty what my mind was thinking. By now our guide was way ahead of us and the number of people in the alley had increased. My thought was that everyone is on holiday and they’ve come to the Medina. Ty suggested I hold onto the backpack he was wearing and tuck in behind him….not the easiest thing to do with people cutting across the alley and pushing between us. About halfway through I felt like screaming, this was just insane and I couldn’t stand it any longer. I could hardly breathe and this was not an enjoyable experience…..perhaps I’ve lived on the central coast too long and become used to less crowded environments but I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t mind a crowd if I’m able to make my way to each shop and at least have a look at what they’re selling. I was quite prepared to purchase goodies in Tunisia so whilst I was looking forward to shopping the whole Medina crush left the Tunis traders less off ‘cos I went back to the ship with my euros. We spoke to people that had been to Tunis earlier in the year and they informed us it was very quiet and they wandered through without any crowds. So if you want to visit don’t go in July or August!!

I could now understand why, when suicide bombers set themselves off in these types of shopping places, so many innocent people are killed.

Tunisia is an interesting place, a place of contrasts with the preserved ancient areas being well cared for and clean against the populated areas and shopping districts appearing dirty, dusty and, in some parts, smelly. Tunisia is heavily dependent on the tourism trade and to get repeat visitors to to their shores I think they need to step up and clean the place up….apparently they have some beautiful resorts further along the coast but I imagine, although they may have fabulous views and white sand, they’ll be littered with rubbish as well. Hopefully this is not the case.

We returned to the ship happy that we had decided to employ a private guide, well worth the extra euros, and, even ignoring the Medina crush, we both agreed Tunisia had been a worthwhile experience. North African countries aren’t high on my list to visit……although I can never say ‘never’ because just when Ty thinks we won’t be going to some country again or some out of the way place I’ve booked a trip there!!! Poor man, I do feel for him as I’m sure you do, but life is never dull and I’ve given him lots of opportunity to choose somewhere he would like to go……he’s still thinking!!!

Medina

Medina

Cruising on MSC Splendida in August

Today we leave Avignon for Marseilles and our cruise on MSC Splendida We drop off the rental car at Saint Charles station and the kind Hertz assistant orders a taxi to take us to the Crosiers (cruise) port. The cost is 21 euros whereas the cruise shuttle from the same railway station is 30 euros each!!! A sensible move on our part and I recommend this mode of transport over the shuttle. Embarkation was easy, as we stepped into the terminal building MSC flags were set up to point us in the right direction, after a short wait we placed our bags on the carousel. The next step was the MSC desk to check passports and tickets, we also received our on board cards at this desk. Before walking up the gangway we had to pass through the myriad of offers such as drinks packages (we already had), spa treatments and so on. Our room would not be ready till 1.30pm so we were ushered to the Bora Bora buffet for lunch. The ship is huge and the buffet was massive as well…in fact it was 2 buffets. I was still a little queasy from our large meal the night before so opted for a small portion of salad and a coke.

Our balcony cabin is on deck 12 and is a little smaller than the balcony cabin we had on Carnival Spirit a couple of years ago. Guess it goes hand in hand with the European room size I assume. Our allocated restaurant was Villa Verdi on deck 6 and our waiter was Saiful from Djakarta. He was on a 9 month contract and worked from 7am till 11pm daily. He told us he was working on the ship for his children but was pleased his contract was almost over as he missed them. He’d only had a half day break in the past 6 months….the staff work 7 days a week. They’re keener than me…I can barely get through 5 days a week these days plus how can you visit these ports without getting off to take a look around? Oh, no, a crew member on a cruise line just wouldn’t do for this black duck!!

Pool deck

Pool deck

Main bar

Main bar

Drinks we’ve tested on day one:

2 bottles of water Espresso and cafe latte Purple rain cocktail (me)

Strawberry daiquiri

3 glasses of wine each with dinner

Purple Rain cocktail , yes another one!!

Flat on my back asleep by 10.15pm

Ty has insisted I tell you how I managed to get undressed given I was out like a light or flat on my back asleep as I mentioned above. Well,…….my husband had to remove my fine clothing I’d worn to dinner, a long dress which needed to be taken off over my head. Apparently I was not very cooperative as he tried to get me to sit up and then almost stand or at least lift my legs up so he could pull the dress up over my waist. A fine way to treat a lady…..how embarrassing as well!!!! He eventually managed to remove it as I wasn’t wearing it when I woke next morning!!!

Surprisingly I didn’t feel too bad when I woke up. Ty was expecting me to have a headache but I’m a tough old bird…..I didn’t ‘t feel a bit queasy which was just as well because we had a 1.5 hour ferry ride to Portofino to contend with.

Genoa: The ship docked in Genoa at 7.30am and all passengers taking an excursion had to assemble in one of the bars by 7.45am. There were about 3,200 passengers and several thousand taking one of 5 possible excursions and we ALL had to go to the one small bar area!! What a mess this was…..with at least 6 bars on board I thought they could have split the excursions over a couple of bars. Obviously they have their reasons for squashing everyone into the one area. Eventually our tour group was called and we dutifully followed the guide down several flights of stairs to deck 5 where we headed out onto the dock area. It had been raining lightly so we were handed fabulous blue plastic ponchos. Several people proceeded to put them on….it wasn’t necessary at all. Onward we walked trying to avoid puddles where we could. Yes, I had sensible walking shoes on but they were beige in colour and clean….they hadn’t been out in inclement weather before. My lament “These shoes aren’t meant for walking in rain, dusty or muddy conditions” didn’t get much empathy from Ty and I suppose you’re thinking the same thing as Ty said “Can’t do much about the water on the ground you’ll just have to wash them when you get home”.

We finally reached the ferry that would take us to Portofino….a timber ferry looked like it had been built in 1950’s. I whispered to Ty “Hmm, all aboard SS Minnow?”. Of course I hadn’t done any homework on this half day trip, if I had maybe we would have taken the walk around Genoa instead!! The craft headed out to open water and almost immediately we were jumping waves. Ty tends to get sea sick (and so do I sometimes) so the course we were on was starting to worry me. The SS Minnow continued to rise, flop, fall off the wave and roll a little from side to side for the rest of the trip whilst the tour guides voices screeched through loudspeakers, from which there was no escape, in several different languages for the whole duration. The only thing that could lessen the pitch was for Ty to shred tissues so we could the pieces as earplugs. The tissue didn’t completely block out the screeches but certainly dulled the din. I prayed they’d be silent on the return journey otherwise I may be forced to jump.

Portofino is a quaint village very much like the villages of the Cinque Terre, a number of very expensive super yachts anchored in the harbour. The weather wasn’t the best, a little overcast and a tad cooler than the high 20’s we’d come to expect. It took 1.50 hours each way, very much the length of the our drive to work, and we stayed in Portofino for not much more than an hour!! Probably not the most suitable tour to opt for but Ty did learn that Mintec tablets appear to stop him him suffering sea sickness…so, I suppose you could say, the trip was worth it!!

Portofino

Portofino

Every evening a crew member distributes the next days’ cruising information letter and excursion tickets (if you have any booked). The past couple of nights these items have been delivered well after 10pm….and they aren’t just slipped under the cabin door. Our crew member is a female of African heritage…on this ship the crew are made up of many nationalities…..anyway, the lovely lady bursts into the cabin to hand deliver the tickets. She probably knocks but obviously very lightly because the first time we were in bed, Ty was reading and wearing his best birthday suit, well, his only birthday suit, in she came to deliver the tickets and as my eyes were closed I’m not sure who got the biggest surprise!!! Poor lady, although, she did it again….about 11pm this time….we’d been out bar hopping but this time I only had 2 glasses of champagne and a Moscow Mule so I was relatively sober but the band packed up at 11 so we headed back to the cabin. This time I was removing my make up in the bathroom when she came in……Ty was in his birthday suit again!!! Perhaps this crew member enjoys surprising people at that time of night. Just seems odd that they wouldn’t put the information on the table when they turn down the bed.

This time Ty did say to her that it’s fine to put the documents under our door. Which brings me to something else…..I’ve been on 5 cruises now, different cruise lines, and this is the only one where your cabin attendant doesn’t leave a towel animal on the bed each night!! Probably because there’s too many cabins and not enough time in their day to make them. 

Naples: We missed our Naples excursion because we went to the wrong exit deck so, we were a little disappointed but got over it quickly and went back to the ship to enjoy the relatively quiet front swimming pool area. It was very nice, only one other person in the pool and plenty of deck chairs available!! Later we decided to get off the ship and wander through some of the streets nearby, we found a bar with free wifi at the cruise terminal so we sat there, had coffee and took advantage of their generosity for half an hour.

Messina: We opted for the excursion to Mt Etna when we reached Sicily, unfortunately it was a little disappointing. Our guide/bus driver talked about how Etna had erupted again yesterday and what a great day we had to experience this…..made us think we would see the lava flow…no, not at all, we went to an area that had erupted in 2001. There was a cable car to take you to 2,500 metres (we were at 2000 metres) but we were told “Don’t take the cable car you have no time” by the driver who said we must be back at your ship by 1.30pm. We must be back on the bus by 11.50…less than an hour!! Must was his favourite word!!!! What a waste of half a day…we left the ship at 9.30am. Why wouldn’t you take people to the lava flow….yes, I know it could be dangerous but even a 5 minute look at a safe distance was better than this. On the return journey he said it would cost 56 euros to see that….we would have paid that happily. Oh yes, and he talked incessantly from the time we pulled out of the cruise terminal at 9.30 till 11am when we arrived at Crater Sylvestri. In his broken English, he sounded like a mix between Inspector Clousseau and Rene from ‘allo ‘allo.

Sometimes getting to the excursion destination takes double the time spent there. In the case of Messina we were told the ship sails at 2.30 when it actually sailed at 3.50pm which, had we known we could stay out till 3 it would have given us more time to explore Messina. I did suggest that the  excursion organisers should look at giving a little extra time at Etna to enable people to take the cable car to the top.  That’s one of the main reasons I like to ‘do my own thing’ where possible. Admittedly guided tours are good if you want a quick look at the main attractions of a city and as a ‘taster’ for a return sometime in the future. Others have told me they take the ships’ excursions so they can say they’ve been there.

Tunisia was our next stop but I thought it deserved it’s own blog so we move on………..

When we returned from Tunisia I noticed on the daily newsletter that there was a Zumba lesson at 4.30pm, Ty had just settled down to read when I said “Zumba is on let’s go and join the class” he looked unimpressed but he got into the spirit and we headed on deck for the 30 minute lesson. It was held in a small area and quite a large number of people joined in so there wasn’t any room to spread the arms or even step forward or back….they had other lessons on other days but we didn’t participate again. Why did I assume it might be like the Zumba classes we attend at home with plenty of space between each person to do the routine? It was not like our classes and I’m not fond of being stomped on, poked in the eye or hit on the head by other people who don’t understand the idea of personal space.

Thursday we had a day at sea on the way to Barcelona so we decided to sit by the pool for a short while. Good opportunity, we thought, to spend some time by the pool and enjoy the sun’s rays unfortunately so did everybody else! When we couldn’t find any sun lounges free Ty decided we should purchase time in the 18 solarium area. The 18 solarium area was for adults only and was a small section on deck 16 with sun beds and a spa. No pool unfortunately. The only time available to us was 3pm till 7pm….we took it.

We only stayed for an hour and a bit on the solarium deck….we didn’t want to cook. By evening parts of me had become quite red so I was an odd shade of red and white stripes. This was my first sunburn in many years. Ty thought it hilarious when he saw my colours…..yes, we’re Swans supporters (Aussie Rules team) however this was going a little too far in support of a sporting team and I certainly wasn’t amused. By morning areas of my body that weren’t often exposed to the sun looked like a lobster and quite painful…not happy Jan!!!

After dinner Thursday evening I decided we should go to the gym, I know, not like me at all but we had been eating so much we needed a extra little bit if exercise.

Barcelona: The last stop on the cruise, for us, was Barcelona, capital of Catalonia, Spain. All reports we’d had about this city had been positive and, for me, it was the Gaudi influence in architecture that interested me. The La Sagrada Familia, the church that seems to dominate the landscape of the city was unfinished before Gaudi’s untimely death. Gaudi was hit by a car whilst crossing a road in the city and because of his shabby attire people assumed he was a beggar so it took some time before the ambulance arrived and he died of his injuries 3 days later. We had taken the Barcelona Historical City Tour…it was ok to get a feel for this sprawling city.  The tour took us through the main areas by bus and we had a couple of stops where we got off the bus, one was a cathedral from the 12th century, much like Notre Dam Paris inside but not as light and airy. Then it was a drive by Casa Milia an amazing building designed by Gaudi which I was lucky enough to snap successfully as the bus slowed to a crawl and then, the piece d’ resistance, the La Sagrada Familia. Although a little disappointing as far as I was concerned.

After Gaudi’s death the plans were lost (burned) in the revolution and, as is often the case, there were no copies. Building work is going on and is reported to be completed in 2026, however the new work is nothin like the original and I have no idea shot there are sculptures of fruit in several of the turrets. It was a slight disappointment for me, perhaps it should have been left unfinished and/or a smaller inconspicuous chapel built behind the original facade so as not to detract from the amazing structure already built. The structure appearing now is unattractive and looks like a ‘dogs breakfast’. Many may not agree with me and I’d love to hear your views but, hey, this is my blog with my thoughts and for years I’d been looking forward to seeing this church with the strange facade and the pictures I’d always seen did not show modern add ons.

Gaudi 1

Gaudi 1.

Gaudi 2

Gaudi 2

After walking around the structure and then back to the bus for a view of the city as we headed to a Spanish Village. The village was a reconstruction of what they used to look like or what you might find if travelled outside Barcelona. We were given 45 minutes here and it was after midday so time for lunch….albeit a rushed lunch. Chicken Paella was ordered and when it arrived was wolfed down due to our time constraints. After this it was back to the bus and back to the ship however we were given the option of leaving the bus at La Ramblas and taking the shuttle back later. We opted to do this so we could spend some quality time shopping and experiencing a little bit of Barcelona. A worthwhile side trip as I managed to find a pretty white dress and, of course, some souvenirs as a reminder of the day.

Would we go back to Barcelona? , Yes, we would, it’s definitely on the list of places to spend more time. It’s appears quite clean, the main streets are wide, tree lined and the traffic is orderly and appears to follow road rules. The shopping district is pedestrianised. The weather in summer is not as dry as some of the places we’ve been…it was hot and humid. That’s manageable though!!!

Oh, I must tell you this. There was an Australian couple sitting in front of us on the bus and each time the guide pointed out an areas of interest the woman would say to her husband ” This only happened because of the Olympic Games” or “Barcelona wouldn’t have the tourist trade if it wasn’t for the Olympics”. I was beginning to think she didn’t like Barcelona! Back to the ship, change for dinner ….

It was another gala night so dressing up was required but, even though we looked very elegant (I thought we did and Ty said I looked elegant), we waved away all ship photographers on our walk to our dining room….they were beginning to be tedious and we were not planning to spend any more funds on expensive photos. As usual the dinner was very good and we needed to go for a walk around the ship before heading back to pack as tomorrow morning we disembark and start the next part of our European vacation. Bags have to be outside our cabin door by 1am.

To close I’ve added a few likes and dislikes…..

Things we like about cruising with MSC:

Our waiter at dinner, Saiful,is extremely pleasant and friendly

The ship is very clean and there are hand sanitisers all around the ship

There are designated smoking areas and for the most part people adhere to those

The crew in general are polite and friendly…don’t always understand us but we get by with a smile. However, the Indonesian crew members seem to be more friendly and outgoing than others

The main staircases, some say they’re too glitzy, I love them, even the piano has Swarovski crystals around the edge of the lid.

The menu in the dining room….it changes every night.

The Splendida is grand and all the lounges and bars have different colour schemes and the shopping precinct is glitzy as well with high end brand stores.

Things we’re not so keen on:

It is crowded so we tend to walk the stairs instead of waiting for a lift

Children cruise for free on MSC so there are probably the same number of children as adults on board, maybe even more children

Don’t appear to be any adults only bars so at 10.30pm in most bars there are young children running around and babies crying.

The buffet area seating, although very large, can’t accommodate the large number of people, which it needs to do when the excursions come back after 2pm and the restaurant closes at 2pm. When you have an early excursion the restaurant is not open to allow enough time for breakfast either.

Organisation of excursions seems chaotic and there isn’t enough time spent on excursions such as Etna and Portofino.

Not enough deck chairs when the ship is sailing and probably there would be many people who lay their towels out early with no intention of using the chair till later, if at all, as we saw in Sorrento a couple of years ago. There is a notice saying towels on chairs unused after 30

August is not the best month for cruising if you prefer a less crowded ship…Europeans are on summer holidays at this time..

Would we we cruise with MSC again?  Yes, but outside peak time.