At long, long, long last, we reach the end of the trip recap. We made an uneventful (and anticlimactic) journey from Malta back to the port of Barcelona, Spain. We disembarked the ship before the sun had even thought about gracing us with its presence, and boarded our bus for a trip to the jagged peaks of Montserrat.
I promptly fell back asleep as we wound our way up the worrying narrow mountain roads, and when we eventually got to the site of the monastery, the sun had risen but the temperatures dropped. We made our way to the cathedral, heads down into the sharp, blustery winds and spent the morning wandering through the chapels and the attached museum. If you've read The Secret Life of Bees, you may recognize the "Black Madonna" pictured above. There's plenty of lore attached to her arrival at the top of the mountain, but whatever the origin, she is a stunningly beautiful piece of art. The surrounding opulence of gold, jewels, and filigree only serves to highlight her simple beauty.
We may not have made it to the pyramids, but the Monsastery museum had a lovely section of Egyptian artifacts including the requisite mummy.
We arrived back in Barcelona, near La Rambla, in the early afternoon and still had time for a lunch stop (Finally got in my international McDonald's visit! I can check another country off of that list!) then went on to do a little walking tour of Barcelona, stopping off at the old Roman wall and Santa Maria del Mar. We finished the day at the Picasso Museum, which had a lovely retrospective of his work from his first entry into an art competition which showed his talent as a painter of realism, through his blue and cubist phases, and finally into his ceramics. We were lucky enough to be there at the same time as a Degas exhibit which compared the work of the two artists and prominently displayed my favorite, and probably the most well-known, Degas, Little Dancer, Age 14.
And, because bad things evidently really DO come in threes, we couldn't end our trip without one last teensy tinsy hiccup. The complete and utter meltdown of a major international airport. That long line of people shows just a fraction of the travelers who were affected by the terrible weather in London. Thanks be to God, after our four hour wait (with nearly ended in fisticuffs), the lady who booked our new flight apologetically changed our itinerary from a London to an Atlanta connection. And I swear, if it weren't for that woman, we would STILL be in Barcelona, trying to get home.
We stayed an extra day in the city, unfortunately wasting most of it in the horrible rebooking line, and dragged our poor, weary bones home 24 hours later than expected. But at least we made it home.
Were I to be completely honest with you, I would say that I just can't recommend a European cruise. We got to see a number of spectacular sights in a condensed amount of time, but if you are a traveler who revels in the feeling of immersing yourself in a new culture, you would be sorely disappointed. Cruise food is not all its cracked up to be, and I would so much have rather had the nights in Greece or Malta or Sicily to wander the streets and enjoy the cuisine. Instead, I felt more like we were on little field trips into each country, and I never really got the feel for each city as I would have liked.
Following our little "incident" in the port of Alexandria, many people have asked me if I would ever go on a cruise again. And you know, I would. I think the cruise atmosphere is perfect for the Caribbean. But if you want to go to Europe, just pick a couple of countries, book some hotels and go there. Get lost in the back alleys. Take the wrong bus and end up somewhere you didn't know existed. Order dinner in the local language. Take advantage of the incredible train service available to you to whisk you from place to place.
If you really want to experience a country, the sterilized version offered up by a cruise line isn't the way to do it. It's a way to mark a country off your list, but in my opinion it's no way to see a country.