From Dubai to London by sea part IV

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NEXT stop, Livorno the port city for Tuscany. From here you can see it all, Florence with its architecture, churches and works by the greats. You can see Michelangelo’s David at the Uffizi Museum, or a visit to Pisa and its famous leaning tower but again I have seen them before, so what can I do? And there it is a tour to Cinque Terre.

I have always wanted to go and now is the time. I think this is going to be a beautiful day. First by bus, then by train, and finally we arrive at the first village.

There are five villages frozen to the faces of the cliffs looking down on the blue seas of the Italian Riviera. They are all part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site

Our first stop is at Corniglia. The tiny village is so picturesque, with one main street winding its way down to the sea.

There are no hotels but plenty of B&Bs, little cafés and stunning views. Many of the tourists carry hiking sticks for the narrow pathways cutting along the edge of the mountain to walk between the villages, but maybe the sticks are just for show because a recent storm has washed the path away and it could be some time before it’s restored.

With no pathway our transfer boat arrives to take us by sea to our next stop, Vernazza. It’s even more beautiful. Its church stands proud overlooking the sea and the town.

There are people everywhere enjoying the sun, the sea and the stunning natural beauty of the narrow streets and from the cafés, the smell of freshly ground coffee and fine food…it’s all there to enjoy.

Back on our boat and to our third village for the day, Monterosso. It’s hard to describe but there is a vibe in the air that this is a special place. Everything from full-on five star restaurants to little cafés serving seafood or Panini, lovely wines and again that coffee and the views…this has been a beautiful day.

But all good things must come to an end. Another night at sea and we have left Italy behind. On this new day we are in Monte Carlo and the start of the Grand Prix is just two days away. Talk about a buzz…people are excited; the tiered seating has been put in place around the track.

Sexy looking expensive sports cars are everywhere. It appears many see themselves as potential drivers.

This is a city of excess with more millionaires than anywhere else in the world. Actually, the super-rich don’t live here, their homes are an address in a tax free haven.

And the yachts of the super-rich are so big. It’s said they will offer free moorings next to their yachts to owners of smaller yachts just to make their super yacht look even bigger.

There are more police here per head of population than anywhere else but not because of crime, it’s because it makes the super-rich feel more comfortable.

It’s only a small principality but it packs a real punch. When it comes to grand buildings there’s a Grand Palace, a Grand Casino and a Grand Prix. With sun shining and people everywhere this is a great place to be, but our cruise ship says it’s time to move on.

Today we arrive in Barcelona known as the second capital of Spain. At the moment the dispute between the local Catalonians and Spanish Government in Madrid has left Barcelona without a local government.

Although the people are divided on the issue, life goes on and Barcelona is alive with tourists wanting to experience the local vibe that only this city can give.

From the old city with buildings dating back to medieval times, the works of Dali and the associated museum, or just strolling along Las Ramblas where people gather to experience this shopping promenade with its street entertainment, it’s all here but for me the highlight of this city are the works of Antoni Gaudi.

This master architect started an incredible journey when he took over as the driving force behind La Sagrada Familia. This huge cathedral, when finished, will be the tallest in the world. Started in 1882 it’s hoped to be finished by 2026 for Gaudi’s 100th anniversary, although church services are already being held here.

It’s not officially a cathedral but as soon as you stand before it you know it is. Gaudi was fresh out of architectural school when he took on the project. At the time, some people thought Barcelona was losing its Christian values and wanted an outstanding church to re-invigorate the faith.

The genius of Gaudi was to see from the beginning what no one else could see. While other huge cathedrals used flying buttresses to hold the domes up, Gaudi designed a system of pillars fanning out at the top to do the same thing thus avoiding the use of ugly exterior buttresses.

Successive architects have followed Gaudi’s drawing and models, although the originals were lost in a fire. A fellow architect had made copies of the originals so the work could continue.

Gaudi even designed components of the building that were not possible to build in his time knowing that they would be solved in the future.

Gaudi only had time to complete one façade of this church before his death but the copies of his models and drawings kept the dream alive.

The interior features stained glass windows that throw a kaleidoscope of colours around the cathedral’s walls and floors. It’s like the spirit of this massive building is alive.

There are other designs by Gaudi around Barcelona that attract thousands of tourists each year but none quite as commanding as La Sagrada Familia.

To be continued.

Until next time,

Safe Travel’n,

Geoff Vallance.