I mentioned in my last post that my family and I returned from a European vacation last week. We planned this vacation as a college graduation present for both our daughters. The oldest graduated three years ago and my youngest last year, so this was the perfect year to take this family trip.
All of us have traveled in Europe before but never as a family. The last time I was in the old continent I was carefree and single, looking for adventure. My wife did the same before we met, enjoying her own European jaunt as a single woman. This time we were going with a different perspective. Each of us had different wants from our European trip-- my girls wanted some adventure and shopping, my wife--a history buff--wanted to see castles, palaces, churches, etc. etc., and I wanted to see gardens.
We settled on 10-day cruise from Genoa, Italy, to London, England and a few extra days in London.
We arrived in Genoa after a long transatlantic flight so tired we went directly to the ship and did not get to see much of the city.
Our first port-of-call (the very next morning) was the Principality of Monaco in southern France. Monaco is the Disney World of the rich and famous with the second most expensive real estate in the world (second only to Hong Kong). Every inch of this beautiful harbor is taken by million dollar yachts.
The public gardens and parks are gorgeous and immaculate. I was surprised to find the flowers and trees growing in the area are the same as what I have in my garden in Miami.
There are many roof gardens because space is scarce in this tiny country.
The big yacht with the name "Carnival Splendor" is mine!
Our second port was Barcelona, Spain. I am not a big fan of cities but this city left an impression on me. There is an energy in Barcelona that is hard to describe.
The most famous sight in the city is the church of the Holy Family, “La Sagrada Familia." This church was designed by the famous architect, Antoni Gaudi (from his name comes the English adjective, "gaudy"). I have to admit his architectural style is an acquired taste, most definitely "gaudy!" The church has been under construction for over 100 years; Gaudi himself passed away without seeing his creation finished. When you stand next to it, is so impressive that even if you don’t like the style, you can't help but admire and appreciate its sheer magnificence and dimension. It literally dominates the city square where it is located.
Barcelona has very few parks and gardens. I was told that the city was designed that way. Most buildings have inner courtyards where the locals garden. Unfortunately, these are not seen from the streets. This city is definitely on my list of "must return for longer inspection."
Our third port stop on the cruise was Lisbon, Portugal. The entrance to the harbor reminded me of San Francisco (even with a Portuguese Golden Gate Bridge) and the city even has the old cable cars, just like San Fran! Lisbon is very old and charming but unfortunately we visited on a Sunday and most places were closed.
Our next port was La Havre, France, the port entrance for Paris. “Aaah, Parie” without a doubt, the most beautiful city in the world. I had forgotten how gorgeous this city is with its wide avenues, magnificent monuments and buildings, and famous landmarks. The architectural style of this gem is incredible and I was able to fully appreciate it. The last time I visited, I was a young man looking for adventure and the architecture was not my priority of things to find in Paris!
Cruising down the River Seine, you find many people that have converted old cargo barges into homes and on these barges you find lovely gardens. How cool would it be to have one of those barges as your home and be able to garden with the Paris skyline as your backdrop! Since we were in Paris just for the day, I was unable to visit Versailles with its magnificent gardens--oh well, looks like I'll have to return!
The cruise terminated in the port of Dover, England. We then treated ourselves to a few days in merry old London. Finally, I thought, I am going to see English gardens, famous for their beauty!
We spent several days in London, visiting the city, sightseeing, attending West End plays, and shopping (why do women have the need to shop everywhere they go???)
After a few days in the city, I had not seen any typical English gardens. London is a city like any other, with beautiful parks and exciting places to visit. Most of the locals live in "flats" (apartments). Space is scarce and there is little room for gardens but you see many balconies and side walks full of plants that reflects the English passion for gardening.
On our last day, we visited the village of Royal Windsor and Windsor Castle on the outskirts of London and finally I was able to see some beautiful gardens from the window of our tour bus. This magnificent castle is Queen Elizabeth's favorite residence. It is said that she considers Buckingham Palace her office but Windsor Castle her home. (No, she was not "home" that day!)
This garden inside Windsor castle belongs to the Lord Governor (in other words, the "manager" of the place). I would not like to be the Lord Governor, tending to my roses while thousands of tourists take pictures of me from above. The queen has her private gardens but these were not open to the public.
I have one complaint about our visit to England. While we were there, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth had one of her famous garden parties. Over eight thousand people were invited and I was not one of them! It is very upsetting that I, a gardener visiting London for the first time after 30 years, was not invited to her garden party at Buckingham Palace. That's it--I am taking her name off my Labor Day barbecue list. Let's see how she likes that! Cheerio, all!