When lecturing on a cruise it is interesting and informative to meet up with the other lecturers, although the clash of timetables often makes this difficult. On this particular cruise I got to know Tony, the artist, and Derek, the lecturer on ‘Space’, though I could not attend all their sessions. On our visits to the various ports I decided not to go on any of the organised tours but to go off on my own sketching. My favourite method is to sketch on the spot, just watching life go by. My first sketching trip was on the island of Elba where we had to disembark by tender because the port could not accommodate a ship as large as the ‘Arcadia’.
Elba is a small island about 12 miles off the coast of Tuscany. It has been ruled by the Etruscans, Romans, Saracens, Pisa, Milan, Florence, Spain and finally by Napoleon who was nominally sovereign during his exile there for a few months in 1814. The main town of Portoferraio was founded by the Florentines who built a port to balance the Spanish citadel of Porto Azzuro.
Wandering around the small town of Portoferraio, I chose my first spot, looking down one of the main streets towards the castle. The only shady area protected from the bright sunlight was under a small tree in a garden, so I squatted down on the floor. Fortunately a lady came out and lent me a chair. The second place I chose was a view of the fort and town and there I asked the owner of a house if I could sit on her shaded terrace to sketch. Returning to the quayside, I found an interesting view of the bay and decided to sketch that too.
The next port of call was St Rafael, a small town and originally a fishing village not far from San Tropez and Cannes. The port was small enough to require the use of tenders again. As soon as we landed I went into the old town to have a coffee, sitting outside in a shaded area. Just as I was leaving, I looked back and decided the area was worth sketching. Whilst the view was enjoyable, sitting on the kerbside was not the most comfortable of positions.
I then carried on wandering round the town and came across another interesting view. I had just settled down, perched on garden wall, when one of the locals appeared and lent me a chair. The old part of town is quaint and hilly but there is little of it and once you’ve explored a few alleyways there isn’t much to see in the rest of the town, apart from the church of Notre Dame de la Victoire. The commune has 36 kilometres of coastline formed by coves and creeks and in the 19th century because of the climate was developed as a seaside resort popular the artists, sportsmen and politicians. In the late afternoon I made may way back to the tender to return to the ship.
Barcelona, in the Catalunya area of Spain and the country’s second largest city after Madrid, was founded by the Carthaginians in the third century BC by Hamilcar Barca, from whom it takes its name. It was from here that his son Hannibal set off to cross the Alps with his elephants to attack the Romans in the second Punic war. As a tourist centre it is famous for many things including the architecture of Antonio Gaudi and his church of La Sagrada Familia. When we arrived I went straight to the church to see how it had progressed since I last arrived. The queue to enter stretched round the block so I decided to find a bench under a tree and sketch the exterior.
From here I made my way back to the Plaza Real, a square of neo-classical architecture and palm trees. Just off La Rambla, this square is always lively and full of activity. It also contains one of the first commissions given to Antonio Gaudi when he graduated from the School of Architecture in 1876. It is a gas lamp which was intended to be repeated around the city but only this example was fabricated.
The next port of call was Valencia, Spain’s third largest city, and this was my first visit. According to Livy, it was founded in the second century BC for retired Roman soldiers. It fell to Islam in 711 AD and was ruled by Muslims until 1248 AD. My visit coincided with Sunday morning, so there was little traffic but but plenty of tourists and locals walking about. I went straight to the main square to sit at a cafe table and sketch the cathedral, a marvellous combination of the Gothic and Baroque. Choosing a spot not only for the view but also with one eye on the weather paid off because there was a heavy shower for about ten minutes so I was sheltered under a large umbrella.
I then took a walk round the historic part of the city to see the sites and on my way back I stopped to do another sketch of the cathedral, this time from the other side, before returning to the ship. Again, there was another shower but this time I was sitting under a tree. Reflecting on that day and indeed the whole cruise, I find that one of the simple pleasures in life is to sit in some foreign city at a cafe table with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine sketching some world class architecture.