Grand Journey – Palma de Majorca

palma_fishermenOn Nov. 12, we docked in Palma de Majorca. Palma is Majorca’s major port and is the capital city of Spain’s Balearic Islands.

Mr. McB decided to take a half-day excursion to Valledemossa, a small town in the Tramuntana mountains. His photos and recap of the excursion can be found on his blog. I wasn’t excited about this, or any of the other excursion options, so I decided to see Palma on my own.

There were free shuttles from the port to the town. I did experience some difficulty in finding the bus and most of it was my own fault. In Valencia, it was impossible to miss the signage. Palma’s port authority decided to post people in the terminal to guide you to the shuttle; but, they were standing with the people who were trying to sell you things so I put on my “New York eyes” and walked by them without saying a word. I wound up with a lot of other confused folks and a pack of cabbies who were eager to get fares. With some persistence, some other cruisers and I got rerouted and eventually found the free shuttle. In no time at all, we were standing across from Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma or more commonly known as La Seu Cathedral.

la seu cathedral There is some conflicting information about when construction of the cathedral began. Some sources state that the head stone was laid in 1230 after King Jaime I promised that he would build a cathedral in honor of the Virgin Mary if he and his crew were saved from a terrible storm in 1229. The official booklet distributed by the cathedral states that construction began in 1306 under orders from King Jaime II. The structure was built on the site of a former mosque and for this reason, it faces Mecca instead of Jerusalem. Construction was completed in 1601.

On the way up to the cathedral, I found an alcove with a small pond where these cygnets were swimming with their parents.

palma_cygnetI might have hung around to take more photos but my fear of birds did not mesh well with Mr. and Mrs. Swan’s protective posturing so I kept walking to the entrance to La Seu.

the portal mayor la seu cathedral palma de majorcaThese photos are of the Portal Mayor or the “Great Door” on the west side of the structure. In the center you will find the immaculate conception surrounded by 15 symbols of femininity that refer to Mary. The interesting thing about this door is that as massive as it is, it isn’t thick enough to be soundproof. Later, as I stood at the rear of the cathedral, I could hear the carriage rolling by.

palma_doorAdmission to the cathedral was six euro. Instead of audio guides, visitors were given guidebooks. After viewing Flemish tapestries and some lovely silver pieces, I made my way into the massive temple. Yes, it seems odd to refer to a Catholic church as a temple but that’s the term used in several places including the official guide.

palma_cathedrallightpalma_lightscathedralI arrived just as the cathedral was opening for visitors so I had the luxury of enjoying a few minutes when the space was almost empty. As you can tell, it’s enormous. There are three naves with the central nave soaring at 144 feet making it one of Europe’s tallest cathedrals.

After taking in the size, I was struck by the light. There are more than 95 windows including two facing rose windows that cause beautiful sprays of light to fall on the stark sandstone walls.

Twice a year, on Feb. 2 and Nov. 11, there is an “eight of light” when the multi-color image of the main rose window is superimposed on rose window on the opposite side causing the window to appear to glow and the colors to become even more vibrant.

palma_laseulongviewpalma_laseusideSmall chapels line the walls.

palma_holyfamilycathedralThe nativity is found in the Chapel of Saint Benedict.

la seu cathedral palma gothic altarThe old Gothic altar piece now hangs over the Portal del Mirador or the lookout door. It was Antoni Gaudi‘s decision to hang the piece here. More on Gaudi in a bit.

palma cathedral llit de la mare de deu mortaThis image of Mary is found in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Crown of Thorns. When the church celebrates the festival of the Assumption, the figure and the life-sized angels that surround her are moved to the central nave.

Now let’s move to the apses.

palma_modernnaveThis is the most modern of all the apses. Located on the right side of the church, the redesign of this nave was completed in 2007. Designed by Miquel Barcelo, the design incorporates elements of the sea (fish, eels) and the earth (fruit). The figure in the center represents the Risen Christ. The design is very different from the other elements in the church. Without the guide, I would have thought that this was Gaudi’s contribution to the building.

We’ll visit the other side before focusing on the central apse.

lleft nave at la seu in palma This is the Baroque-style Corpus Christi. At the very bottom you can see Jesus being judged by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate. Above this, you’ll find a depiction of the last supper. As you continue up, there are depictions of Abraham and the wandering angels, the sacrifice of Isaac, and Melchizedek. You’ll see a closeup of the Last Supper below.

palma_lastsupperIt is in the central apse that we see Gaudi’s major contribution to the building. He completely reworked this area. He removed the choir stalls and removed two altar pieces that hid the Bishop’s throne. He pushed the altar toward the congregation and added the crown-shaped canopy or baldachin.

gaudi's baldachin in palmaThe bishop and other church officials wanted to see models of Gaudi’s work. Since he did not have a lot of money, he constructed most of the canopy from paper and cardboard. One source even states that dried pumpkins were used in the piece. The church and Gaudi did not agree on the vision and the artist was let go. The canopy that hangs in this glorious cathedral is still the same paper model from the early 1900’s.

Outside the main temple, works of art are displayed in the Gothic and Baroque chapter houses.

gothic chapter house in the palma cathedralGothic chapter house

palma_crucifixA beautiful crucifix in the Baroque Chapter House. In this area there is also a golden reliquary that is said to hold a piece of Christ’s actual cross.

After a stop in the gift shop, I headed out to walk around town a bit.

palma_christmasI saw that Palma was also hanging Christmas decorations in mid-November. I guess we Americans deserve a little break since we aren’t the only ones decorating early.

palma_placadecortThis is Palma’s Ayuntamiento or town hall; it was completed in 1680.

palma_angelaWere they expecting me? This was a tie shop.

palma_marketThis is the Placa Mayor or big plaza. The plaza dates back to the mid-1800s. The area previously housed the Casa Negra or House of the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Despite the fact that Jews and Christians have lived happily in Palma for many decades, things changed with the inquisition. There were forced conversions and much worse. The Casa Negra was destroyed in 1820 after the end of the inquisition. For more on the inquisition and Palma, read this page. The plaza now houses a Burger King and open-air market. Incidentally, I’m listening to Slacker and “Always Love” by Nada Surf just came on. “Hate will get you every time.” Can’t think of more appropriate words at this time.

After walking around town for a bit, I decided to tour the Palacio Real de la Almudaina. This fortified palace started out as an Arab fort. It was claimed as a royal residence in the 1300s. King Jaime II ordered changes to the building including the addition of a chapel to Saint Ann.

palma_cathedralfrompalaceAs you can tell from this image, the palace is adjacent to the cathedral.

palma_palaceThis is another shot of the palace. There were no photos allowed on the inside. At nine euro for admission (14 if you wanted the audio guide), I can’t say that I would recommend this stop. It’s interesting but not as interesting as some other stops might have been. I regret picking this instead of the art museum that is quite close.

After touring the palace, I enjoyed a bite on the benches near the cathedral. I met McB when he got into town after his excursion. We enjoyed the scenery for a bit and then he toured Palma while I went about my day.

palma_seaparkParc de la Mare

I continued walking down through an area that looked like an old fortification. I thought I would end up at the Arab Baths but instead, I wound up running into a tourist that was either too cheap or confused to visit a proper bathroom. He was standing in the corner of the fort relieving himself. I saw this man and his wife earlier in the day and heard them speaking English. I’m not sure why his wife didn’t warn me about what I was about to see. I decided to head back to the main street for a different view.

palma_laseuoutsiderearpalma_artHere’s a view of our ship. We’re the smaller ship on the right beside one of the vessels from the Costa line. You know, that Costa line…

palma_shipsI took the bus back to the ship. I grabbed a dish of ice cream (Frangelico ice cream yummy) before retiring to our veranda for a relaxed look at the city and marina.

1palma_harborWe had reservations at Red Ginger, one of the specialty restaurants on the ship. Since the reservations were at 8:15, we had plenty of time to explore the shops and other parts of the ship.

1palma_mapMr. McB found the giant map.

1palma_mpPosing before dinner

Red Ginger was quite crowded when we arrived. After just a moment, we were seated and pored over the menu, not that this was the first time we studied it.

The meal began with an amuse-bouche of steamed edamame. The server also put a small pill on a plate and then poured a bit of boiling water over it. The pill puffed upward and became this little towel so we could remove the salt from the edamamae from our fingers.

1palma_magictowelI am nine years old so this was magical and very exciting to me. I proceeded to break our server’s heart by telling him that I did not want chopsticks for my meal. He took the glass box of beautiful chopsticks back to the kitchen and I felt a pang of guilt.

1palmasummerThe photo above is my appetizer. It is a summer roll filled with pomello (grapefruity citrus fruit), basil, and toasted coconut. McB had chicken satay.

I had the spicy duck salad with watermelon, basil and cashews. It was delicious but not terribly photogenic since it is served on a dark plate in a dimly lit restaurant.

1palma_teaatredgingeroceaniWe both had special tea. M chose traditional green tea while I had orchid and vanilla. It smelled like candy and was quite tasty.

1palma_lobsterpadthaiWe chose the same entree, the lobster pad thai. Holy moly, that’s really all you can say about this. My mouth is watering as I look at this photo. The flavor was light and delicious.

1palma_bountycakeI ended the meal with the bounty cake. It is a delightful mix of vanilla, coconut and chocolate. McB had the lemongrass and chocolate creme brulee. He didn’t love it but with a belly full of other delicious treats, he was satisfied.

We spent the next day cruising the Mediterranean. Look for more in my next post.

Grand Journey – Valencia or the McB’s and the Holy Grail

The seas were a bit rocky on our first night of the cruise. We both passed out pretty early but each remembered some rolling. By the morning we were feeling more refreshed and ready to go after breakfast.

Since Valencia is quite easy to navigate and there was a free shuttle from the port to the historic center, we decided to forgo an official excursion. Thanks to What’s in Port and some other helpful sites, we had a game plan.

We were deposited at Torres de Serranos, one of the twelve gates that were found along the wall that protected medieval Valencia. I believe only two of these are still standing. That’s all we encountered during our extensive walking tour.

valencia_towerstower detailsIn case you don’t already know, I love details. I’m more likely to take some artsy shot than the iconic landscape photo. Compare and contrast my style with Mr. McB’s.

After getting our bearings, we were soon on our way to the cathedral. The walk included a short stop at the Plaza de Virgen.

valencia_plazavirginThe plaza is home to the Turia fountain (below) and the Basilica de Virgen de Los Desamparados (Virgin of the Foresaken). There are no photos of the basilica. We went in briefly but left when we saw how many people were earnestly praying. Neither of us wanted to interrupt such a sacred time with photographs and gawking.

valencia_fountainThat’s Neptune hanging out in the center. The fountain pays homage to the aqueducts that used to irrigate the surrounding farmland in the days of the Roman Empire.

We soon found ourselves at the Valencia Cathedral. The first stone of the cathedral was laid in 1262. It stands on the site of a former mosque.

valencia_cathedraloutsideThe admission charge was five euro and included an audio tour. Since we weren’t on an official tour, I appreciated having the guide.

valencia_ceilingThis is the “Capilla Mayor” or the main altarpiece. The ceiling features a host of angels who are framed by a brilliant blue background. These were added to the cathedral under the direction of Bishop Rodrigo Borgia who later went on to become the infamous Pope Alexander VI and the subject of that racy Showtime series.

valencia_angelsThis little dome looks like a wedding cake.


The main chapel is surrounded by many little side chapels that are dedicated to various saints. This relic below is from San Vincente Martir. After refusing to deny his faith, St. Vincent (or San Vincente) was killed. According to the story, ravens protected his body until it could be retrieved by other believers. This relic makes its way through town during the Festival of San Vincente.


Another chapel is dedicated to Rodrigo Borgia. There you will learn about his wisdom and decorum. Yeah… Even if you don’t go along with the efforts to rehab his image, you can view this Goya painting. It depicts Borgia interacting with a man who refuses to repent of his evil ways. What you can’t see in this image is the red squiggles (blood? fire?) shooting out from the cross or the scary little demons that Goya was so fond of.

This cherub sits at the base of the cathedral’s enormous monstrence. This is the largest example of Spanish goldsmithing.  The people of Valencia felt the need to have this created to atone for their bad acts during the Spanish Civil War. valencia_silverangel

The Valencia Cathedral is also said to be home of the holy chalice or holy grail. Of course there is a great deal of skepticism as to whether this is the grail. It’s interesting to me that this piece is found in a very plain chapel adorned only with intricate stonework. In this way, your attention is on the chalice, not the rest of the room.valencia_holygrailI highly recommend the cathedral. It was inexpensive and lovely. It was also very quite. While many where there to take photos, there was still a respect and solemnity.

Turning away from the peace and quiet of the cathedral, we headed toward the bustling mercado to see how the locals shop. Of course from this photo, you will also see that some tour groups were there as well. Notice the group clustered closely on the left side.

valencia_marketvalencia_paellaPaella anyone?

valencia_clementineAfter navigating the market and putting our Spanish to the test, we stopped to enjoy a lunch of clementines and circular bread. This clementine ruined me for the “cuties” you’ll find in American supermarkets. This was bursting with juice and flavor. It was sweet with a little pucker thanks to a healthy dose of citric acid. This fragrant beauty is the reason that you try the local produce whether it is an apple in Western North Carolina or a delectable citrus fruit in Spain.

valencia_circlebreadUmm, circle bread

valencia_allbranKellogg’s, why are you saving your tastiest All-Bran for Spain? Why is someone ruining their latte with All-Bran? So many questions…

After taking a break and grabbing sustenance, we began the heavy walking portion of our day. This included stops at the Plaza Ayuntamiento (town hall) and the Plaia de Toros (bull fighting ring).

valencia_fountainvalencia_citybldgvalencia_plaiadetorosvalencia_matadorJudging by the bandage on his leg, I believe this poor toreador (torero) has been gored. Mr. McB and I had a little discussion about whether this fella was a matador or a toreador. I’ve since learned that bull fighters are toreadors. You become a matador when you actually kill the bull. In other words, all matadors are toreadors but all toreadors are not matadors.

Our walk continued to the Quart Towers, another of the medieval constructions almost identical to the Serranos towers. This one used to be a women’s prison.

valencia_quarttowerdoorMcB is trying to keep all the other tourists out of the city.

Below, you’ll see the little bat that is the symbol of Valencia.

valencia_batFrom here, we continued on  through the Turia gardens. The site of a former riverbed, this park features lots of green space and pathways. It’s a welcome break from Europe’s tiny, crowded sidewalks. It’s also home to the cafe where we enjoyed churros con chocolate and Coca-Colas. By this point, we’d walked at least five miles and still had a lot of ground to cover. This was a glorious spot for a sit, snack, and bathrooms.

valencia_churroThe last stop on our tour, was the City of Arts and Sciences. This complex features some of the most modern architecture I have ever seen.

valencia_palaceartssideThe Palace of Arts is primarily used as an opera house. It reminds me of a very stylized Spartan helmet. Here’s a view from in front of the building.

valencia_palacefrontNext there’s the Hemisphere (IMAX theater and planetarium) and science museum.

valencia_asIn this shot, the Agora comes into view.

valencia_artssciencesAs you can see, Valencia is not content to rest on the laurels of its historical sites. The city seems to be very forward-thinking by combining historical preservation efforts with these gorgeous new structures.

It was a great day. We both agreed that by touring on our own, we had a “soft,” though not slow, start to the trip.

Our next stop is sunny Palma de Mallorca. Look for more to come.

The Grand Journey Begins…

After a year of planning, Mr. McB and I left for our Mediterranean cruise on Saturday, Nov. 9. The details and photos from the trip will be shared in a series of blog posts. I’m thinking one from each port. I’m also thinking this could take from now until mid-December since I have more about 2,000 photos to cull down.

On Saturday morning, we drove to Charlotte for our flight to Barcelona. For all the rocking chairs and Southern hospitality inside CLT, the long term parking lot and shuttle service is not the least bit welcoming. There was a small shrub growing up from the pavement in our parking space. By time we returned, we were dealing with Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. The shuttle drivers were not friendly and did not assist with the bags. They growled when spoken to. Clearly, we were spoiled by the sweet and helpful drivers at CMH.

We took a puddle jumper down to Miami and a few hours later, we were on an American flight for BCN. We don’t fly American frequently so I don’t know if this happens on all flights but they played the truly bizarre “piano pop” tunes while we were getting on and off the plane. “Radioactive” greeted us as we found our seats. “Can’t Hold Us” was there the next morning as all us sleepy, stinky passengers jockeyed for position as we deplaned.

After going through passport control and grabbing our bags we were in a cab and off to the ship. Here’s a tip, always check the price of a cab verses the cost of the cruise line’s transfer from the airport. We paid less than 35 euro, tip included, for the cab and would have forked out almost $180 to take the transfer. There are certainly countries where I would not have felt comfortable with this option but our Spanglish is pretty solid and we had a printed copy of the address so we went for it.

We originally had this crazy idea that we might head into Barcelona after dropping off our bags. This went out the window when we realized just how tired we were. We took the time to explore and get acquainted with our new home.

There’s the sea and the sundeckHere’s the port. barca_portHarbor cruisebarca_harborcruiseThe first of two lattes from Barista’s, Marina’s coffee bar. Mr. McB enjoyed a couple of Americanos before our cabin was ready for us. I highly recommend high-octane European coffee as a fabulous way to fight off a headache.

barca_latteAfter we settled into our cabin, our stewards stopped by to introduce themselves. We then took much-needed showers and prepared for our first night aboard. The most important matter of business before leaving port was our lifeboat drill. As you can see, McB took this very seriously.

barca_drillAfter the drill and dinner in the Terrace Cafe, we returned to our stateroom to watch the ship leave port. How lucky were we to have this kind of sunset? That’s another, much larger, ship pulling out of port.

barca_sunsetLook for photos and stories from Valencia, Spain, our first stop, in my next post.