Rome and Barcelona

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Hello from the southern hemisphere! Yesterday marked day 10 of our Atlantic crossing and a new status as “emerald shellbacks” after we crossed the equator at the prime meridian. There was a huge celebration on the M/V Explorer for Neptune Day, which honors King Neptune and the transition of the ship’s passengers, or Sons of Neptune, from pollywogs to shellbacks.

The whole shipboard community gathered on the pool deck and took turns getting a cold, green liquid (rumored to be fish guts…hopefully just colored lemonade) poured over our heads, jumping in the pool, and kissing a fish and ring on the way out. Tons of students — girls, boys, a few crew members — shaved their heads as offerings to King Neptune. I was not that brave, but had a great time watching other people do it! It was definitely one of the most fun days on the ship yet, although the 14-day stretch has not been nearly as bad as I anticipated. It’s actually been nice to catch my breath from all the traveling and take time to read for fun, do yoga, and watch TV and movies on the public drive. I’ve also had time to explore the ship, taking a bridge tour and going star-gazing on the eighth deck. I have never seen so many stars so clearly; it is truly an amazing sight to be in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, with nothing around you except the light of all those stars. I saw my very first shooting star, and two more after that.

It’s hard to believe that four days from now we’ll be in Rio de Janeiro, our fourth-to-last port and third-to-last country. This trip has absolutely flown by. Before we get to Brazil, I wanted to look back on our last two European ports: Rome and Barcelona. These ports were initially supposed to be Ghana and Senegal, but because of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, we had to be rerouted. The itinerary change brought a lot of mixed emotions; on the one hand, a big part of the allure of this trip was getting to go to these two countries. After all, when else would I do that? There was also the feeling, once the new ports were announced, that the voyage had turned into somewhat of a Euro trip. However, Rome and Barcelona are two cities I have always wanted to visit, and better safe than sorry on the virus front — plus, had we gone anyway, Brazil may not have let us enter the port — so there was nothing to do but go with it and get pumped.

Our first port, Civitavecchia, was about an hour train ride from Rome. The first morning I went with a few friends straight to Vatican City. While we didn’t get there in time to hear the Pope speak, we found out he had spoken about welcoming gays and divorced people into the church, so it was a very cool day to be there. We visited St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican Museum…never before have I seen so many tourists in one spot, not even at Disneyland. It was a little loud and hectic in the museum trying to keep up with our tour guide, but that made the silence in the Sistine Chapel that much more special.

Unsurprisingly, the highlight of Italy was definitely the food. We ate so many good meals there, from the absolute best meat lasagna I’ve ever had to mango, coconut and berry gelato to Bellini’s and manchego pizza. In between all the eating we went to most of the other touristy spots: the Trevi Fountain (sadly under construction at the time, but we walked on scaffolding over the actual fountain, getting closer that we would have otherwise), the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps. I loved how the history of Rome is so apparent; everywhere you turn there is another bit of ruins or a beautifully built building or fountain or statue. We happily walked around the city aimlessly for hours.

Our next stop, Barcelona, is slightly tainted by the second night, when my purse got stolen on the beach. Despite that incident, it really was an awesome city and someplace I’d recommend visiting. Plus, we had visitors! The first day I met up with my grandbig Augusta, who is studying abroad in London this semester. It was so nice to have a little taste of home and get to see her for the first time in SIX months. We went with some of her study-abroad friends to Park Guell, a huge park located on Carmelo Hill designed by Antoni Gaudi, an architect whose presence is all over Barcelona. You have to climb what seems like an endless amount of stairs to get to the very top, but once you’re there you have probably the best view anywhere of the city.

The second day, I went to see La Sagrada Familia, another Gaudi creation, with my SAS friend Katie. Afterwards, we walked for about an hour through the city to find Universidad de Barcelona. It was so cool to be on a college campus, especially because their quad reminded me of a scaled-down version of The Pit at UNC. We went into their dining hall, student store and administration buildings, and I swear I felt like I was back in Chapel Hill. It was funny to see their study-abroad signs, which advertised going to study at one of the UC schools or Dartmouth, and read what’s posted on bulletin boards (their version of the cubes?).

Our second visitor was Shannon’s best friend Morgan, who is also studying abroad in London. The three of us met up the second night and took the subway to Camp Nou (the biggest stadium in Europe!) to see the FC Barcelona game. They played Amsterdam and won 3-1. Even though it was not a close game by any means, we had so much fun cheering Barca on and seeing Messi play in person!

Spain was full of great food as well; per my dad’s recommendation, we had awesome seafood paella at a restaurant called Los Caracolas, and on a fluke, I walked into a tiny little restaurant after the game and got a tostada with Spanish ham, olive oil and manchego that was to die for. Of course, the sangria wasn’t bad either.

Now, we’re headed to our third continent…I can’t wait!

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