Saturday Sept 20, 2014

This morning, while the final votes were being counted back home in NZ’s tumultuous elections, we Mad Kiwi Midlifers embarked on a half-day pilgrimage to the most visited shrine in Spain. Built around 880AD amongst towering, jagged peaks in an almost inaccessible location, 50kms northwest of Barcelona, is the great Montserrat Monastery echoing with untold legends, and home of the revered statue of the Black Madonna (found buried deep in the mountain back in the 12th century).

Driving there along the coast, then up-up-up around hairpin bends and dizzying drop-offs, was half the fun … and the mountain views from the chapel of St Jeronimo were truly stunning, taking in the Pyrenees, the Mediterranean in the distant haze, and France (apparently) even deeper in the haze.

Once you’ve seen a few old churches and monasteries, the novelty kind-of wears off. But twice now, in less than three days, Barcelona has delighted and surprised us: first with the Sagrada Familia, and now Monserrat. We were just minutes too late to see the Black Madonna (not sure why, but the chapel closed mid-morning). However, we enjoyed exploring and camera-clicking … some of our group wandering up one of the many trails that lead higher into the mountains, others riding a cremalerra (cable-car) up the almost-vertical cliff-face for jaw-dropping views of the monastery far below and the absolute grandeur of its surrounding landscapes.

We’ve fallen in love with beautiful Barcelona, and it’s gonna be hard to say goodbye tomorrow. But the next exciting chapter in our Mediterranean odyssey is about to begin. Waiting for us in the city’s spectacular port will be our beautiful blue-&-white cruise-ship, the Nieuw Amsterdam!

If you’ve never been on a luxury cruise, it might be hard to imagine. But once we board our floating hotel and unpack in our comfortable cabins, there’ll be little else to do except relax and soak it up – because, from that point on, we’ll be spoiled rotten and waited on hand-and-foot. Whether we’re out on deck enjoying 101 different activities, or encountering the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and experiences that await us ashore – it’s hard to imagine a nicer way to travel.

The ship’s classy restaurants (the two-tier Manhattan Dining Room, the intimate Pinnacle Grill, and the Lido Buffet) will serve us up gourmet meals … the Explorations Café will tempt us with the largest library at sea … the Greenhouse Spa & Salon will offer us thermal treatments and massages … and the Showroom-At-Sea will feature Las Vegas-style productions and talented variety acts.

Depending on our tastes and preferences, we can enjoy live music at the Piano Bar … try our luck at the Casino … dance the night away at the Ocean Bar … work-out in the Fitness Centre … swim in the Lido Pool (with its retractable glass-domed roof) … attend wine-tasting, art auctions and a cooking school … catch a live sports telecast or a recent-release movie (while munching on free popcorn) … enrich ourselves with informative lectures … shop duty-free in the boutiques … or simply relax in the sun on a deckchair or curl up with a good book.

It’s a tough life, as you’ll no doubt realise. But someone’s gotta do it – right? – and it might as well be US!

TOMORROW: We’ll be out on deck when the ship casts off, pulls away from the dock, and motors gracefully away into open waters. “We are sailing … we are sailing … home again … cross the sea …”

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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