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Diary of a Europe cruise virgin: Day 2 at sea on MSC Splendida

Diary of a Europe cruise virgin: Day 2 at sea on MSC Splendida

Following a huge meal last night, the ‘welcome dinner’ of seven courses, we emerged at leisure from a peaceful night’s sleep. For me, sleeping on a ship feels a little similar to being on a water bed. I found it quite soothing, anyway.

The nicest part about the day (aside from the general opulence of this place!) had to have been stretching and Yoga on water this morning, with the class held in Club 33 at the top of the ship, featuring 240 degree views of the sprawling ocean. Following this healthy start, I began the day with a sensible breakfast of cereal and fruit, however the lure of the darn buffet (ever present, ever tempting) drew me back in mid-morning for a sweet treat. Ever since, Cooper and I have been eating like the world is running out of food and I fear the rest of the trip may be a little (or a lot) more of the same.

[more travel videos on YouTube’s TheSarahBlinco channel]

Today was an ‘at sea’ day as we cruise in the direction of the north African coast, therefore proving to be an ideal time to explore and rest. We even enjoyed a drink with some of the new American, Canadian and Puerto Rican friends we met at dinner (and subsequent Latin dancing) yesterday evening.

Obviously, this is the first time either of us has ever been in the middle of the ocean, at present, we’re somewhere in between Spain and Africa. I never imagined that at the beginning of 2012! It’s all very cool. My only stress is that the Internet is non-existent. Usually, not a major problem, however I’m on a deadline this week. Great! Fortunately I worked ahead (there DSCN1188are benefits to being a total deadline nerd) so not all will be lost. I am suffering technology withdrawals though (this post is being written in ‘real time’ but to be uploaded later on … shhh don’t tell)! How can we Tweet our every gorgeous cocktail with no Internet?

Meanwhile, must be off as we’ve just discovered free champers and Martinis are being served for an hour as part of the Captain’s Ball celebrations. Would be rude to not partake…

New continent, new country on the way: Tunisia tomorrow!

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Diary of a cruise virgin: Day 1 on MSC Splendida

Diary of a cruise virgin: Day 1 on MSC Splendida

Gentle waves are lapping against the side of the ship to my right hand side, and the landscape is illuminated by soft glowing light from the deck below, and the sparkling city of Barcelona in the distance. I’m sitting on the little balcony outside our cabin on board the MSC Splendida. It’s about 8.30pm and the ship sailed from port about an hour and a half ago.

We had an early start this morning from London − 4am for check-in at Gatwick, followed by a simple-enough coach transfer to the dock but a very long wait until cruise check-in at 1.30pm. Fortunately, the cappuccinos are strong (and good) in Europe, so that kept us motivated until we made our way with excited anticipated onto the (huge) ship which is to take us on our first cruising adventure! Admittedly, I didn’t book a cruise for the sake of experiencing such a mode of transport. London had been the aspiration for a Christmas escape this year, but we wanted to explore elsewhere during our five weeks abroad. Generally the weather is unpredictable over here in winter, and as such, a ‘Mediterranean tour’ was all I could find that was operating. Open to new experiences − and great bargains (via, out of interest, but you should also check out and − this seven-night package promised us destinations never before experienced in these little travellers’ lives.

[more travel videos on YouTube’s TheSarahBlinco channel]

Neither Cooper or I had really thought too much about what to expect. In all honesty, I’ve been so busy working (managing my own business), and organising the general travel itinerary for the past few weeks, that I didn’t even have a chance to explore the ship’s website. I assumed it would at least be generally satisfactory. Turns out, the ship is only two to three years old, absolutely HUGE, glamorous, brimming with activities and facilities and … we have been pinching ourselves all afternoon trying to figure out how we wound up here, on the most-definitely-splendid MSC Splendida.


As I type, I am caught between looks to the mirror where I’m practising my ‘glitter pout’ (that is, I’ve spent the past half hour down in the duty-free store trying on Dior perfume and Lancôme lip-gloss which I’m kind of loving right now), and recalling the afternoon’s activities. We recently returned to our cabin following the 5.30pm safety briefing (just in case we need to make a run for it like Kate and Leo did). All guests were completely in awe of the M.C who continued to amaze with his narrative in five or six languages! We explored the ship only to discover one beautiful themed lounge and bar after another; pools, spa baths, gym, casino, saunas, beauty facilities, shops, restaurants, child-friendly areas and a niteclub (where we are heading later on).

We’re completely enamoured with the staircase in the entry foyer – each step of the two flights of stairs decks 6 to 8 (I believe) appears to be illuminated, and sparkles with crystals (Swarovski, apparently). At present, pianists, singers and other performers are entertaining the masses, while each of us wanders the decks in awe of Splendida’s beautifully designed spaces. We’re about to head off to the opening dinner … we are meant to be dressed in either formal (suit and tie) or ‘informal’ (cocktail) attire, but are prepared for neither. Here’s hoping they’ll be lenient tonight, or it’s back to the buffet for us (not that it’s a horrible option − actually, secretly we love a good buffet and had to be dragged out at 5pm this afternoon, dessert in hand). Still, so far we’re having a ball; and I’m about to be late for the ball so better sign off for now. S x

READ THE REST OF MY CRUISE VIRGIN DIARIES as we head to Africa, Italy, France and back to Spain…

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Modern, beautiful Barcelona

Modern, beautiful Barcelona

I had a sneaking suspicion that I’d like beautiful Barcelona. All of our friends in London have maintained for a while now that we’d like the place; additionally we’ve been attempting to learn Spanish on and off since late last year. I suppose Spain has always been of interest to me, so it’s been amazing to actually visit. Evidently we’re not alone in maintaining a fascination with the country – tourism is a critical industry and more tourists visit annually than the actual population of the nation!

While I’d love to explore the rest of Spain because I believe there are many more beautiful and exciting pockets to discover within the country itself, and despite us really only encountering an ‘overview’ of Barcelona, our general consensus is – we love it here! I’d love to return to Prague or Rome, but Barcelona is one of those places we could live in. It’s one of our new ‘cool’ cities, like New York, Tokyo, London or Vancouver. Barcelona has a nice energy – like London, but without the hectic pace. Our time here has been sunny, brimming with friendly people speaking in their seductive native tongue, delicious food, fabulous neighbourhoods with interesting architecture, sculpture and modern art, chic shopping, beautiful beaches lined with sexy bars and restaurants (like the Carpe Diem Lounge Bar, pictured below, where we enjoyed a cocktail last night with Leann and Evan), and even a fabulous dog park opposite our (very comfortable) Ibis hotel. It’s all here!


Two days in Barcelona hasn’t been long enough for Cooper and I, but we felt that we utilised our first free day (yesterday) pretty well by purchasing a hop-on-hop-off Barcelona Bus Turistic pass (buy online for a 10% discount) which cruises around the city on three separate routes and offers a value-for-money guided overview of each neighbourhood, history and attractions.

Temperatures have been a little down from Italy (thank God) so the open-top view from the bus was enjoyable as we snapped photos of the city under the sun. There are more attractions here than I can even begin to name in this post (and unfortunately many more than we could actually visit in two days) but at least we managed to learn about and see many of the city’s gorgeous medieval cathedrals, Olympic stadium and arenas from 1992’s set-up (an image at end of post), Barcelona football club’s headquarters (and thousands of fans gearing up for the game that was being played last night), precincts down by the marina, and of course many enthralling sculptures and architectural wonders that Barcelona is renowned for.


In particular, the works of Antoni Gaudi dominate the city which, whilst being both modern and cosmopolitan in nature, boasts a rich history in architecture and the arts. In spite of fascinating Romanesque and Renaissance period buildings, it is Gaudi’s ‘Modernisme’ and structures like the stunning (yet unfinished) ‘Sagrada Familia‘ (pictured above) which attracts millions of visitors to Barcelona each year and is of interest to even the likes of me (and I know nothing about design or architecture, although I can appreciate that which is innovative and pleasing to the eye).

There’s an aquarium and a zoo here, famous shopping and people-watching mall La Rambla, and as mentioned, a simply divine strip of clubs and restaurants (including a popular ‘Ice Bar’ (even the cups and candle-holders are made of ice, as Leann and Evan discovered, pictured below)) by the beach and casino (off Ciutadella Vila Olimpica train stop). The transport network here is efficient and inexpensive, at just €11 for a two-day pass, or about €8 for a multi-trip pass.



There is something for everyone in this loveable Spanish city – art, design, beaches, shopping, music, food (glorious food – our fabulous ‘lunch’ image above – a €9 authentic buffet in the Gothic Quarter, but we’ve also indulged in tapas and paella of which you can find many restaurants, particularly along La Rambla), history (modern and ancient) and of course, sport.

For anyone landing here during a football (soccer) game, try your luck at the ground’s box-office for tickets – do not buy from sellers in the street as your tickets are likely to be fake.


Travel tip:

On the note of ‘warnings’ – Barcelona is renowned for pick-pockets and thieves. While we didn’t encounter any problems, some travellers we know did. Keep belongings with you/in sight at ALL times (on the town, in hotel reception, at train stations etc.); and also when you are leaving your bus/hotel/belongings always ensure you are carrying a credit card and cash as well as phone and/or contact numbers for emergencies in the event you are separated from friends/tours/in the face of any kind of trouble or unforseen situation.

A phrase book can come in handy in Barcelona, although mostly we got by with a few key words/sentences and some enthusiastic acting.

Leave time for exploring this city, and it’s probably a good idea to research what you would like to see before you get here, and/or enlist the services of a tour such as the Bus Turistic option so that you have the opportunity to become acquainted with where everything is located and how it all fits into the grand scheme of things: circle points on your map, then follow the train loops and live it up with the gorgeous locals.

Explorer travel tip:

I’ve just discovered that Susan on our Expat Explore bus found an amazing €15 sailing deal – one and a half glorious hours out on the ocean off Barcelona, with live music included! Definitely one to look out for next time around.


If you’re a fellow Expat Explorer or fan of this city and want to list your fabulous Barcelona finds/tips for other travellers, simply ‘comment’ below.