Finally got round to this.
Day 8 — Siena and San Gimignano. Marina docked at Livorno, Tuscany, where the main attraction and destination for most of the tours was Florence. Some others went to Lucca and Pisa, but we chose the only tour that visited these 2 medieval towns. Our tour began in San Gimignano, a walled city from the 11th century AD. It was a beautiful town, really well-preserved and charming, save the ground which was probably re-paved. We were all pretty amazed by how places like this still exist on earth. I even saw a bunch of donkeys pulling carts. In the afternoon we headed to Siena, which is a much bigger town than San Gimignano (which is more of a village actually). Siena was really grand, it’s easy to imagine it as a flourishing mountainside settlement back in the heyday. The beginning sequence of Quantum of Solace was actually shot in the central square of the city, during the twice-yearly horse race palio. The tour guide explained to us that each district of the town sends a horse and jockey to the palio, and the horses race around the perimeter of the square. The jockeys have to make the horses go faster and also push each other off their horses. The winning district is the one with the horse that crosses the finish line first — with or without the jockey. The district of the goose, which won the most recent palio The unfinished chapel of Siena. Its construction was halted by the plague which killed most of Siena’s population.
Day 9 & 10 — Marseille. We were supposed to go to Monaco, and we’d booked a tour for Nice and Eze (cliffside towns). However, bad weather prevented us from anchoring there and so we moved on to Marseille a day early. There apparently was a storm of epic proportions that had the ship tossing around on the waves but as expected I slept through it. My dad and brother who couldn’t sleep all night went to the Horizons lounge to watch the waves. There was an old couple dancing in the centre of the room, dressed up in a suit and dress, just by themselves, as the waves hammered the floor-to-ceiling windows.
We took a shuttle into town and took the Petit Train to the top of the mountain to see the Nortre-Dame de la Garde Basilica. We also visited a Marche de Noel where they had really nice quartz jewelry. Nearby in the central shopping area, we went to Galeries Lafayette and a few other stores just to window-shop and pick up souveniry things. While a lot of the previous locations had that similar Mediterranean type of architecture, there was a noticeable shift when we came to Marseille. Everything was more intricate and “uniform” — I guess it’s characteristic of French architecture since it bore strong resemblance to that of Paris. The following day was a visit to Cassis, fishing / vacation town.
Day 11 & 12 — Barcelona. We disembarked the Marina and headed to serviced apartments for a one-night stay. In the morning, we took a city tour that brought us to the Sagrada Familia, a massively ambitious church designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. For all the thousands of churches I’ve seen, Sagrada was worlds apart from the rest. It was designed to resemble standing under a forest canopy, but I personally felt it was like standing on the seabed — because of the radially symmetrical, sharp coral-like facades everywhere and partly because of the bluish purple color scheme. The exterior of the Sagrada was also extremely intricate, with loads of detail and sculptures of humans of different races embedded into the rock. It’s still incomplete, but already amazing. I tried to take photos, but seriously none of them do the church justice — actually being there just blows your mind and makes you feel awed by the grandeur and scale.
Later that day we went up Mount Tibidabo and to a Spanish village which none of us really liked. The afternoon was spent shopping on La Rambla (main shopping street) and tapas dinner at Catalan Cervesceria. En route to dinner we saw the Block of Discord, 3 side-by-side structures which were designed by Barcelona’s 3 most renowned architects. All the architects had very different architectural styles, and all of them were really good, but unfortunately the other 2 suffered from Overshadowed By Awesome as most people only know about Gaudi. I don’t even know their names.
The following day we saw Park Guell, the Barcelona Central Market and walked La Rambla again, but we had to head to the airport pretty early. We landed in London around evening, and had dinner at the first Chinese restaurant we could find.
Day 13, 14, 15 — London. Still a firm favourite. On our first morning I went to Harrods and took a look at some of the cool stuff they have there.
We had lunch at The Tea Room, then went to the Warner Bros studio tour for Harry Potter.
Predictably, dinner was at Chinatown. The next day we went to the London Dungeon in Westminster, just across the Thames from the Big Ben, for a “haunted house” type of experience. It was really good — the actors were realistic and the setup was sophisticated such that we felt we were really walking through a “spooked up” version of London’s period fiction. Particularly impressive was when we met Jack The Ripper. Following that we headed to Seashell of Lisson Grove, for what is supposedly the best fish and chips in London. Next we took the tube back to Piccadilly Circus and shopped around Regent Street, which was vibrant and extremely happening since it was a weekend. That night, we went to see Wicked, and I was thoroughly impressed and got really obsessed with the musical for about 2 weeks after. It was my second time seeing this musical, however when I saw it in Singapore I wasn’t half as blown away as after I saw it performed by the London cast. It was so amazing despite my really bad seat and I kept getting goosebumps throughout the show. At the end of the show I cheered and clapped for all I was worth.
Day 3, the last day, began with breakfast at the Electric Diner of Portobello Market, and I had the best avocado toast I’ve ever tasted. After that we headed to Camden Lock and Market, where we didn’t really buy much. The marketplace was packed and the atmosphere was lively as can be. Sadly, our trip concluded soon after as we had to get to the airport by evening.