Apr 23, 2010

We take a break from our regular programming...

I know,   all two of you are waiting to hear about Rome.  Sorry...I usually blog at work (hee hee) and we just had way too many pics to fit on the flash drive.  So I don't have any Rome pics here to give you every minute detail of the experience.  Soon...

In the meantime,  we take a break from our regular programming,  and bring you....

Mr. O turns 6!!

He had his birthday while I was in Europe and he was on a trip to Utah with his dad.  So we celebrated when all the trips were done.  Six years old....crazy.

So..to see how the gorgeous Mr. O has progressed in his gorgeousness....see previous posts simliar to this...

Turning 4

Seems he didn't turn 5,  cause I didn't blog about it.

He can't seem to keep his shirt on...but you know,  when you have muscles like those...

Here's his actual birthday party....though now I notice we didn't take any of him eating cake....huh...

Ya ya,  he got his gifts in Superstore bags....we just got back from Europe....give me a break.

J was pretty excited that Mr O recieved 2 light sabers...every dude needs an opponent.

G man was excited too...or silly,  one of those.

Boys + Lego =

Not sure if he forgot it was his birthday,  was taken by surprise that is was his birthday....

Way to dedicate yourself to the role play...

Whereas J hasn't learned that dedication yet...

Oh,  there you go...he's catching on...

Now...here's what happens when pictures then get photoshoped...


I'm not sure who had more fun,  the actors,  or the producer who twiqued the photo.

Apr 21, 2010


Have you seen these?  They're are pretty nifty...put them in the washer,  then transfer them to the dryer and everything comes out fresh and clean.  Not sure what the price comparison is to detergent,  softener and dryer sheets...but they sure are handy.  We bought them to take on our trip.   Throw a couple in a ziplock bag and you're set,  would be great for camping too.  No,  I don't get paid by Purex,  I just thought they were smarty pants for this new invention.  Here's where you can learn more...  Purex complete 3 in 1 Laundry Sheets

Apr 19, 2010

On a Monday such as this....

Maybe it would have been better to get stuck in Europe...at least I wouldn't be at work.  The sun is shining, and I'm at my desk.  Have a few things on the list...but certainly not enough to keep me busy all day....oh the perils of the down season.   I know,  I know....you're thinking,  wasn't this just the girl complaining about being SO busy.  Whatever,  picky picky.

ANYWAY,  so I've decided what will help me through this dismal monday....a little Gaby.  Mr Sellanes was on the steps of the Catalunya Art Museum,  playing a mean Spanish guitar.  We bought his CD.


La Cumparsita

Hotel California

Killing Me Softly

Apr 18, 2010

Nice is nice....

So Nice is more touristy...as I pointed out before. We were very comfortable there, though they are quick to scam a jacket that is left behind, as we unfortunately found out. They are also early to bed...that city shuts down at 9pm. Not big partiers I guess, at least not where we were.

This is Castle Hill where we spent the morning. It's an old Castle (duh) that has been made into a park...still has some Roman ruins. Very nice view's of the city.

From the hill you can look down into the Cemetery where we spent some time. Unbelievable the tributes and displays that they do for their dead. Huge and expensive.

On the Jewish side many of the tombs had rocks on them...in what I've read this may have many reasons and symbols, both simple and relative to religion. But the basic idea is obvious, that is shows that you visited.

We did most of the planning for our trip from the Rick Steeves' travel books. Excellent info and planning guides. In Nice we tried to find one of the restaurants that he had recommended, and ran into other people, book in hand, that were trying to do the same. We didn't get to eat where we had planned, but wandered down to find a different place. If it's full of locals and tourists, it's a good place. Go to walk in and an American couple are doing the same. They say they ate there last night and are back it was so good. It was funny, at the end of our meal the same guy came to find me and make sure we had enjoyed it. Didn't want to made a recommendation that didn't fulfill.

Dinner in Europe is a serious affair. It starts around 8, and they look at you funny if you show up before that. Menu's are posted on the outside so you know the basic plan and prices...when you're seated, it's right next to another couple. Like right next to them. They pack everyone in, to what usually is a very small restaurant, and once it's full...they don't take any more for the evening. There is no waiting list, they do take reservations...once you start you're in it for a couple hours. They don't bring the bill until you ask for it, and are very surprised if you take less than 2 hours...and don't order dessert. This particular night we were seated by a Finish and Swedish couple. It's a bit uncomfortable trying to keep a conversation going with strangers, but also interesting. We had a very nice meal and headed home for the slow walk in France air.

It's now Thursday...I think, we have a very early train 5:22am to start our all day journey to Rome. We have been very impressed with the transportation systems of Europe. Always on time, always fast...we've used them all. Wouldn't you know, the one day we're up at 4:30 to catch the train...all goes to hell. Train station is five minutes away, and we've ridden them enough to know you don't need to check in, you don't need to have bags checked...you just get on. Even so, we are 20 minutes early. We knew there was a France train strike, but we had checked our train the night before...it was still running. Today however, they decided to leave early...we missed the train by 3 minutes. Now have to wait 3 hours for the next one, and will mean us missing two more connections. Lovely. Nice is no longer nice. It's no 6am. We decide to hop on the tram and head down to the bus station. We're transferring in Ventimile Italy, which is only a 40 min train ride. Waiting for 3 hours for a 40 minute ride. Dumb. There are lots of people at the bus depot,  which isn't actually open...so even if we had been able to see a schedule that showed buses to Italy,  we wouldn't have been able to buy a ticket.  Casey did ask a bus driver, with limited English,  if there were buses to Italy.  We said,  maybe...but maybe not.  We decided to stay with the trains.  Took the tram back,  and waited.  Now,  the problem with missing a train is other people miss the train too...lots of them.  We discovered that this particular train is used for travel and commuting.  The platform was full,  only to discover that the train was already full.  Imagine the C-Train in rush hour...now add in people with luggage, and a guy who keeps trying to fall over from a hang over (oh wait,  that IS what the C-Train is like) So we didn't get a seat for about 1/2 hr.  Standing in the stair well...cause lucky us,  this packed packed packed train is also a double decker.  Good thing they all got off in Monaco.

 Even the train stations are fancy.

We arrive in Ventimile,  which is now in Italy.  We check the schedule and there is a train we can take.  We double check that we can use our existing tickets.  Sorta.  We can use the Ventimile to Genoa ticket, but have to get a new Genoa to Rome ticket.  Why?  Because we will miss that train, and if we wanted to get a new ticket we had to do that in France,  not here,  cause now you're in Italy.  Of course,  no one mentioned that while we were still in France.  Fortunately there is a travel agency in the train station....103 Euro later we're set.  

Next adventure, something to eat.  We have no Italian.....NONE.  We have a nice Italian/English dictionary,  somewhere in one of our backpacks.  Casey send me to get some breakfast.  Casey is always sending me to ask the strangers questions,  get directions....chicken.  I find out,  in a stern manner,  that you don't order then pay....you pay then order.  Customer Service is not high on their priorities.

We finally work it out.  Euro is a good motivator.

A further discovery in Italy,  toilet seats are not necessary.  And in the boys....toilets are not necessary.  Hole in the ground is good enough.  And flushing mechanisms are not necessary either....pull the string.  Welcome to Italy.

Onto the next train,  which is a couple hours.  Though I don't get motion sickness,  I discover I don't like the feeling of riding backwards in a train.  Note to self.  Can't help it this time as our seats are assigned and it's a full house.  This is not my photo,  but yup...that's it.  Good thing trek taught me to be a good squatter.  (too much info?!)

Transfer trains in Genoa for the final part,  but a six hour ride.  Fortunately it's not too full, and we take up a whole seat section.  Which is two seats facing each other with a table situation in the middle.  Not enough room to stretch out,  but enough to uncomfortably set up a sorta sleeping situation and I zonk out.  Casey stayed awake to be more and more irritated with the lady across the aisle who did a gross snorty throat clearing thing after every sentence.  You know,  like the one's boys do to clear their nose out and the swallow it.  Hee hee...you're welcome.

I sleep for a bit,  soundly I'm told as there were train stops and people bonking into my head as they walked by, and I didn't wake up.  Give a girl a break...we've been up since 4:45.  I awake from my beauty sleep and we spend a while reading up on Rome courtesy of Mr. Steeve's.  As we're lumbering on our way through the Italy country side,  we notice a definite change in scenery.  Very green,  very lush.  Lots of vineyards and ocean almost always in site.  We also decide that Italy is generally more affluent than France.  I personally found that as we saw nicer buildings,  there was less laundry hanging out to dry on the balconies.  True or not,  it was my observation.

Pictures?  No...but here's  video of what it looks like to ride a train...be careful...it's overwhelming!!  (okay,  no)

Riding the Train

So,  the big arrival in Rome.  First impression....freak there are A LOT of people there.  Termini is the central station for trains, buses, taxi's and subway.   Good thing we warmed up to European public transportation in Barcelona,  cause otherwise we'd have been in trouble.  In fact it has an entire shopping center above,  it reminds us way more of an airport than a train station.  Next good thing,  unlike France....Italy is more like Barcelona and has a lot of English.  In face all announcements and signage is in Italian and English.  We'll be okay.  We find our subway,  and get going.  As we're waiting a mohawked girl passes by and say's hi.  I guess we look North American.  She's a backpacker like us,  though looks far more experienced,  and is getting on our train.

 All ticket centres are automated,  not our pic as there was no way we were taking out our camera in this pickpocket gold mine.  It's very user friendly.

We love Termini!

We arrive at our stop,  head up to ground level,  run into the same girl again.  Get talking to her,  she's headed to the same hostel as us.  Her name is Emily,  she's from New Hamshire and is on a 1 year travel experience in Europe.  She's been travelling for 10 months,  5 of those she's just spent in Greece.  This is the first time she's been totally on her own, so she's feeling a bit overwhelmed by the size and complexity of Rome,  as are we...and can she walk with us.  Sure doodle.   It's a bit of a walk, but we find the place.

Unlike our last Hostel experience,  this is the real deal.  3 single beds,  one already inhabited by a 17 year old boy from North Dakota.  And a bunk bed,  guess what was ours?  I don't remember the last time I actually slept in a bunk bed.  And lucky me,  I get the top...it can't actually be categorized as a bed...more like a mattress hammock.    Seriously,  I couldn't even use a pillow as my head was already up so high that it would kill my neck.

So I'm in the boys room,  cause the other is an all girls room.  And registering as a couple means you get boys room I guess.  It's an odd situation.  We sorta feel like parents that have crashed the party.  Casey heads to take a shower,  where the door doesn't close,  the water never gets hot...there's cold and colder...and the stall isn't big enough to change in so you have to go out into the main bathroom area.  Lucky lucky boy.  I choose to wait.

Time for sleeping,  except it's like 9pm....whatever,  we're tired and there's clearly nothing to do.  You can hang out in the main area where there's a TV and 10 teenage girls.  Or get out our books.  We chose the later.  Mr. North Dakota decided it was time to sleep and put the blanket over his head.  One room,  one light,  last guy asleep turns it off....the rest have to suffer.  Upon sleep there were three of us in the room.  During the night two more arrived,  as quietly as possible they went to bed.  I feared an episode of 4 men snoring but it wasn't too bad.  I can't make a single move on my mattress hammock without an obscene amount of screeching and squeaking.  Something tells me WD40 is not a European invention.  Sometime in the night I awake and need to use the facilities....so I lay there for at least 20 minutes figuring out how to remove myself from this mattress hammock.  Not only am I encased like a butterfly,  but it's super squeeky,  and it's a fair ways down...and I'm not as agile as you may thing.  Nothing to be done about,  just take the plunge and sorta half fall half climb out.  Likely it wasn't as loud as I thought,  but still.  Why did we choose to stay here?  The experience for one...but also because I had miss booked our B&B by one day.  They couldn't take us the extra night,  and the thing about hostels...they're cheap.  And if you book in advance,  they're very cheap.  Emily found out that if you don't have a reservation...not so cheap.  We asked if she wanted to go for dinner with us...she said no, because she had just paid more to stay the night than she had planned.  So we took her for dinner anyway,  on us.

Hostel Photo's....not ours.

Apr 14, 2010


Up Tuesday morning for breakfast, and a quick walk around before we head out to Nice. Gotta say, Marseille on a regular business day feels very different. What looked like an abandoned warehouse yesterday is a Levi's store today. We didn't know we were right around the corner from a big multi level mall. Casey had to buy some new shoes his feet were really causing him grief. Head out to Go Sport, Europes version of Sport Check.

We're pretty done with Marseille at this poing. Experienced it, but did not enjoy it. Ready to head out. Load up, walk the 10 minutes to the trains station, validate our tickets and we're off. As intenet savvy as we are, it doesnt't cease to amaze me that we can buy train tickets for Europe at home, they're shipped to use FedEx in two days, we show up in Europe, scan them on their machines and the bar code is recognized. We've never had a problem. Technology, it's nifty.

2.5 hours to Nice. Nice ride in a newer train...view of the ocean and country side all the way.

While on the train we met Mataise and Gaìa (pronounced guy-ya) They are 4 and 6, speak French and Italian, no English. They're travelling only with their mom, and she's a bit overwhelmed trying to wrangle the two of them with no seats left. We are sitting in four seats, two seats on each side facing each other. We, like everyone else, were in no real rush to move over. They're a bit close together and you end up touching knees with the stranger across the way. We're spread out and planning a nice ride, maybe a nap and reading. But we feel sorry for her when she finally finds only two seats, put the kids in them, then stands behind. Not sure where she plans to get off, but if she's going all the way to Nice, she can't do that for 2.5 hours. So I signal for her to come sit with us. We then spend the next couple hours playing with the kids. 4 & 6 year olds are the same no matter then language they speak. They like to draw, play video games on your blackberry, pretend that a box is everything from a space ship to a garage to a race track. They have grubby hands, smell like outside and are amazed by magic tricks.

About 20 minutes into our time wit Mataise and Gaia, Casey is talking to Mataise with limited but decent French. This conversation is in French of course, and Mataise looks an awful lot like the kid off Stewart Little, complete with the round glasses.

Casey - What's your name?




I'm Casey



Mataise then gives him a very distinct look that says...'Whatever dude, that is not a name.'

Siblings are also the same in Italian French, or any other language. Being 6, Gaia caught on to the game I showed her on my Blackberry. Mataise was getting frusterated that it was his turn and she was no remembering, conveniently, that is was his turn. So we work out that he wants to play next. Gaia then spend all her time instructing him, and he spend all his time purposely doing it wrong so she will be irritated with him. Then momo tells her to leave him alone, he gives her a 'ha ha, go away' look and she give him a 'buzz off you're dumb' look.

We all got off in Nice, and continued on our journeys.

In Nice we are staying two nights at a hostel, our first experience. This turns out to be a regular type home for those of Europe, apartment building that is cold and stone, couple floors up, all tile. Brigette is our hostess. Though she's listed on the Hostel World website, it's actually her home that she rents out rooms. Shared bathroom, but that's fine because we never saw the other people. We're right next to the train track, but a train strike means that it's pretty quiet at night.

As always we head out to get our bearings, find the major streets and subway system...walk around and get a feel for it all. Nice is way more touristy than Marseille, we feel very comfortable here. Unfortunately we started by accidently leaving Casey's new jacket on a railing, and it was not there when we returned. Some guy has very nice, very new jacket.

Nice is right on the ocean and has a 4 mile beach, which is rocky but beautiful. A long boardwalk all the way along, we enjoyed some time there and a fantastic dinner in a side cafe off the main area on the way home.

The start of the pics....

Walking down Las Rambla in Barcelona, just the regular run of the mill architecture that you find on every street.

Street signs are on the sides of the building....all over Europe.

Residential streets, watch out for a bus....they will go down these and not watch for you.

Bakery, the outside will never tell you the quality of the inside. In fact, if you don't know what the store is, when it's closed, you'd never know what they sell. Big metal doors pulled down over the store fronts, graffiti on everything.

Apr 11, 2010


We started our adventure in Marseille on Monday morning. We're on Europe time now, sleeping at night is fine. Got up and headed out for some breakfast. We stayed in a regular hotel, so no free food like the last time. Looking for a bakery for pastry, decided on McDonalds instead. Easy, cheap and not likely to be scammed. You have never had McDonalds like in France. 1.20€ for Hot Choc and a pastry combo. Pastry bag has three different kinds in it. Plus, as we've noted all around, portion sizes are significantly smaller. Ordered a large drink, it's the size of our small. Their small is more like Dixie cup...two swallows. McDonalds is even a fancy affair, two levels of seating, above the ordering part...view of La Canabeìere. Dude there having his morning coffee with a book, looked exactly like Einstein...maybe he was!

Europeans taking eating very seriously, and are never in a rush. Though they never seem to be in a rush for anything. Enjoyed breakfast, especially the pastry that has chocolate in the middle, those are our favorite. Headed down to the port. Fish market in full swing...and stinky. We were trying to get on a boat to Cheateau D'If...Marseille version of Alcatraz, but it was mega windy and all the tours were closed. So, hoped on a bus up to Cathedral de la Garde. A striped church way up on the hill. This was a very different look and feel from the Gothic styles we had seen in Barcelona. Still interesting, but different. This church felt more like a museum, many pictures on the walls and panel of explanation all around. Where the crypt is below, there's a whole room of tall candles. The church makes money by selling the candles and you light it, make your wish or confessions, or prayer, hand it to the guy and he sets it up in the room. It's not even the room with the crypt. But everyone seemed anxious to do this. Then touch the Virgin Mary on her right foot and on you go. Sins forgiven for another day.

The drivers in Europe don't seem to realize how narrow their streets are, I know...they live there and it's all they know...whatever. They should realize that I'm in the bus, and not accustom to coming within inches of other vehicles, trees and walls. Bus driver didn't seem to have the same concerns. At one point he comes around a hairpin corner and there's another car...the car has to backup six inches to let the bus by...there are cars parked all along the sides, on both sides. Crazy.

Cathedral done, yes there are pics and a video...but how many churches can I really show you??

Take the bus back down, as hair raising as the first time...and head over to the fort. There are two forts to guard the port. Take a look, take a nap, take a kazillion more pics and off again.

It's Monday, which also seems to be a holiday, as nearly nothing is open. But we find a bakery for a baquette and panini, a stair case with a view...and enjoy some lunch.

Cathedrals that are not major tourists spots are closed on Mondays...we didn't know.

The tourists of Marseille are white, but French. We heard very little English in Marseille.

Mushroom Cheese Crepes on the boardwalk for dinner, torte for dessert....head home for the night. We've walked off our legs again, as we do everyday.

Some points about France.

Hot water is scalding in the morning, non existent at night.

There is not a need for shower doors, and the tubs are extra high. So you climb into it, then spray all over cause there's no door, then climb out...this time wet and slippery, onto always tiled floors. Nothing like death defying danger in the morning.

Buskers are of every color, language and creativity level. We heard a guitar harmonica folk version of Metallica today.

If it doesn't smell like fish, it smells like pee. Lovely.

Outdoor cafe's in downtown Marseille are for Arabic men, no women. Likely the chicks are at home doing the same thing around the kitcen table.

School is off on Wednesday.

Everywhere in Europe, there is toilet paper on the train tracks. Think about that for a second. Then consider the sign in the bathroom that says...'Use of the toilet when stopped at the station is forbidden'...ewwww.

You are not supposed to smoke in the train bathrooms, and in a nation that everyone smokes, that's a hard thing to avoid. Right beside the no smoking sign are smoke ashes in the toilet and sink. I feared that I'd come out and be accused of being the one that smoked in there. We saw and heard the ruckus from a guy that was caught, no thank you. Europeans sound worked up when they speak all the time, never named when they actually are worked up. Yikes.

When big name movie stars don't have a gig, they make very long, very tacky comercials that are shown in Europe.

Was getting ready when the cartoons were on. A cartoon about finding a condom package on the street, opening it and then discussing with all your friends what it is and how to use it. This was not a public service announcement, just a regular cartoon. Sex is viewed very differently in Europe, way more open...WAY.

Apr 9, 2010


So it's been a crazy week since I updated. Haven't had any good internet access. The internet cafe's change the keyboards so that you take longer to type, thus costing more Euro, and I can't go on and on about Europe if I'm pecking at the keyboard. But now we're in Rome and the very nice B&B has free access....so the trip continues for you.

So...last left off in Barcelona. We had done laundry that morning and we're planning to have a slower day of walking around, running a few errands....maybe a little shopping...and that's exactly what we did. We are very comfortable in our little section of Barcelona and wander wherever and see what we like. We ride the subway no problem. Went out for dinner and then was on Las Ramblas at night, which is totally different than during the day...but fun. Never felt leary of the crowd or the city, Barcelona is very touristy. However, we did wander too far south for a bit, and just as the guide book had said...it got into the junky and protestute section, so we wandered back. No harm done, chalk it up to experience.

Sunday morning was rainy. We were up and out fairly early to catch a 8:45 train to Marseille France. Got on our beloved subway, headed up the steps to the street...dead stop. No idea where we're supposed to go, and we've got 20 minutes to spare. Two American girls are also standing on the street looking a little lost. We had asked at our hotel where to go, and had a basic idea, but only from a subway persepctive. Once on the street in an area of the city we hadn't been to before, not the foggiest idea. Thankfully train in English is pretty close to Train in Spanish and the nice non-English speaking man that I accosted on the street pointed us in the right direction. We would have found it, another block would have shown that we were close, but had to go down and around to get to it. So, no harm done, get to the train station. American girls are from Iowa and California, but studying in Switzerland...and had taken the weekend in Barcelona. Our train was assigned seating, they were in a different car....so bye bye to the girl.

So, trains in Europe. There are lots of them, they go everywhere, are used as a commuter system by the locals, and are cheap and fairly fast. There is also security, rare tickets checks, and sometimes some questionable characters. We, being train rookies, find our car and seats and sit exactly where we should. Then otice that dude in front of us has definately gone with the European no shower rule, and I'm not smelling that for 2.5 hours...so we move. No one cares. This was an older train and tonnes of room, put your legs up on the seats facing you, spread out...no problemo. Another item to know, there is very little announcement ha the train is leaving. You are supposed to know when your train is, and if you're not on it....then too bad for you. There is an announcement, basically as it is ready to pull out. No conductor or anything you would expect...it just leaves.

Train to Marseille, uneventful. Read up on France, napped. Oh, but then I tried to get lunch. We had 2nd class tickets, which really only means that you can exchange them if you need to. First class are fancy, I guess...I didn't see those cars. Anyway, there is a lunch car, which is just a counter where you can get sandwiches, chips, pop and packaged cookies, that kind of thing. I go back to get us a sandwhich and drink. Now, Casey has been doing most of the ordering. He's much better with language than I am, even language he doesn't really know. Spanish has been pretty good, though because there are so many tourists in Barcelona, they are quick to switch to English when they hear the firt word from us. Anyway, Mr. Lunch Car was not very impressed that I didn't have any Spanish. Even the other guy, who did not have English as his first language, gave him a hard time for being such a rude dude to me. Whatever. So I get two sandwhichs, those kind that come pre packaged. Europeans take their food very seriously, so rather than just give me the two sandwhiches, he takes them to the back, removes from packaging and grills them up. Yum Mr. Rude, thanks. Grilled ham and swiss sandwhiches for lunch on the train...delightful.

Marseille France. This time we're ready. We have the address of our hotel, we've read the whole section on Marseille in our Provence and the French Riviera book. We know how to watch for pickpockets, and Casey is pretty comfortable with his French, as limited as it might be. Arrive...dumb founded again. We might have been fine if the hotel wasn't on a very small street, therefore not listed on any of the big maps. You know how they list the major streets and draw the little ones, but don't list all the names...that's where our hotel was. I can't remember how I found it...online somewhere...link from a link...not sure. So we're stuck again in a city we have not the slightest idea where to go. We'd love to take transit, if we knew where. So hail a cab. He knows where, will take us for 15€...great. We discovered later that we are supposed to be scammed at least once in every city we visit. This was Marseille. Once we had our bearings of the area later, we saw that he had driven in circles to make the trip seem longer, but really we were a 10 minute walk from the Train Station. Live and learn. Hotel is decent, nothing amazing...thank you Travelocity.

So, as always, head out to get the lay of the land. France looks like Spain...old and stone. But, as should be expected, Marseille is especially old looking...as it is the oldest city in France. It's also particularily run down, and has a different feel to it. There is a large population of African and Arabic people, so we are feeling a little out of our element, and a little intimidated. Especially when we get off track in our wandering and are the only white people on the street and starting to get looks. Head back to the more tourist area, which are small as Marseille does not attract tourists like some of the other places.

Find a lovely big church, shocking...and head in to check it out. Very nice, big, insence smelling...they all are, took lots of pics. (I really will post pics soon) And out to a cafe. We're starving, the grilled cheese is long gone. Into a grandma run cafe for pastries and hot choc. Grandma and daughter have no English, not even 'hi'. But teenage son who works the till is very excited to practise his English, Casey is just as excited to start using his French. He's been practising to himself on the train. Running phrases and questions to see if he can get us through 4 days in France. His dad would be proud, he ordered, said we didn't want to sit outside because it was too windy, talked a bit to the teenage boy, paid the bill. We will survive in France.

Apr 3, 2010

Day 3

Where to start....wow.

So...last post we had been to Cathedral Barcelona, and Parc Güel. We had tried to visit Sagrada Familla that morning, but arrived too close to noon and the line was around the block. We suspected this would happen, Mr. Travel Book had informed us that the best time to arrive, is first thing. So change of plans and we went on.

Thursday morning we attempted the Familla again. This is Gaudi´s masterpiece, according to him. It was started forever ago and is still in construction. It´s a weird looking, huge church that is very classic Gaudi style. The book best describes it as wedding cake in the rain. That´s pretty accruate. It´s so over done and then looks like it´s melting. The whole outside of the church is depictions of the life of Christ. In a very modernistic, abstract way. Interesting, but odd. We arrived right at 9, but it was Good Friday and there was a service going on outside the church, inside the gates. So we had to wait until 10 to go in. Toured the small school that Gaudi built for the children of the workers, and the museum under the church...showing the stages, progression and construction era´s the church has been through. Sat outside the one side, where the benches have been set back so you lean back to take in the whole buiding. Then up the elevator to the top of one spire. Then you go round round round the stairs all the way down. These little stair cases are not made for the chubby, the easily dizzy or those tending to have vertigo. Wow, tight and steep. But very worth the scare. You´re way up, so also not for those afraid of heights. You finish in the main cathedral, very much under construction and covered in scaffolding. And for me, disappointing. It´s huge, and when finished will showcase surround stain glass, but really wasn´t to my liking. Very interesting, Gaudi definately had a vision far beyond his time. But we prefer the Gothic look for churches. Would not have missed it, worth the trip and the fee to enter....but not awe inspiring like Cathedral Barcelona.

We went on walk through the shops around the block. Very little was open. Good Friday is a holiday, of course, and nothing is really open. Maybe some restaurants. They eat on their holidays, not shop. We sat at a cafe in the square next to the church, had squid and fried mushrooms. Soaked up the sun, it was quite nice...and watched the locals.

Back on the subway and on to Montjuic...the Jewish Mountain. Take the subway, then transfer to the Funicular. Sort of a subway car that slowly goes up a hill, but didn´t have a view, so not that great.

At the top, that area is quite large and you basically walk where ever, seeing the gardens as you go. We wandered down through a big water fountain, that led into a Greek Garden, which had an amphitheatre. There was a 2 year old having a tantrum there because her dad was playing soccer with her brother at the bottom, the acoustics worked well. Could hear the crying all around, surround sound.

We were in no rush and wandered where our feet took us. While walking we saw a big castle looking building in the distance and decided to wander that way. It was also huge, everything seems to be huge here. Way up on another hill, so the outdoor escalators are handy. These are most everywhere, and very nice. We could hear Spanish Guitar music in the distance, and noticed a crowd. We had found the Catalan Art Museum. Outside is where Gaby is the busking king and plays a mean Spanish Guitar. It was delightful. Sit with at least 100 other people, on the front steps of the museum, in the sun and light breeze off the ocean...listening to the beautiful Spanish Guitar. This is what I wanted this trip to be. Hard to make your brain stop and enjoy the moment. Casey wandered off to take pictures and returned with an ice cream for me...what a guy. Sat there for over an hour. Gaby makes a decent living busking at the museum. Between his CD sales, which sit in his open bag for donations, he also takes tips. We suspected he makes over 300€-day. Not a bad living to do what you love, and get a tan to boot. We bought one of his CD´s...can´t wait to make dinner at home to the sounds of Catalan Spain.

Our feet are way done by this points, have walked them off our tired legs. As we head toward the subway, which I must point out...we are pro´s at by now. We find that the front area of the museum goes on for blocks and blocks, down down down in different layers of large fountains. They are not on today, as it´s a holiday, but at night they are on and lit up...we´re coming back tomorrow to see that.

Subway home, rest for 1/2 hour and then off again.

We had over heard a guy in line at Sagrada Familla say that there was a Catholic procession going on at 5 from Cathedral Augustine. It´s Easter weekend after all. So we head out to see what that´s about. OMGOSH!!!! We found the right place, there are thousands of people in the square and lining the streets. Nothing is on yet, but there is definately something about to happen. We find the best spot we can, the crowd is 5-6-7 deep in spots. Casey is ready with his camera, and we hear the drums and the crowd cheer. This processions is beyond anything I´ve ever seen, only when we upload the pictures will you be able to see the amazement that is a Catholic celebration of Easter. Costumes and drums, incense and candles, huge float type contraptions being carried by men underneath. The first one with a Christus carrying the cross, the next one of the virgin Mary. The floats, though that´s not at all what they were, but the closest I can compare them too, are wider than the space allowed by the crowds. So the police line the side and make everyone back up when it goes by. It´s quite slow, and in over an hour that we stayed, it progressed only a block. The white horses at the front are supposed to ´make way¨. But they don´t do it quickly...but this is Europe...nothing is done quickly.

When this proccession is finished we go into the church where it started. It was nothing special, big but not impressive. They were about to start their Easter Service, so we took a bench. This church was attended by what looked like mostly a Philipino congregation. All in Catalan, and very slow. No mistaking the ¨let us pray¨....they all went down on a knee. We did as well, since we had sat right in the middle and felt we should be repectful. On bended knee is ouchy, I must say...I got tired of it and slid my bottom up on the bench again. Casey toughed it out.

Walked home, had a small dinner and stayed in for the night. Our legs and feet are revolting and we cannot walk any further.

So, more points to ponder about Spain...

If you are homeless, with the cardboard sign asking for donations and Mucho Gracias...you might also have an Ipod under your blanket.

Nakedness is not a problem, it´s not illegal and can be demonstrated anywhere as long as it doesn´t cause a distrubance. Huh? How can it NOT cause a disturbance?

There are condom machine´s on the walls of the building...likely because of the ´nakedness is not a problem´

The condoms say... I love Barcelona. Alrighty then...

Peep shows are available and advertised. Though if nakedness is not a problem...why do you need to peep? Just go outside.

That being said, we have not seen any naked live people...the statues though, they are of the opinion that if you are a statue you do not need clothes. They are all...ALL in one form or another of undress.

Catalan is different than Spanish, if only slightly. We have noticed a sort of lisp on some words. C´s are Th...as well as Z. V is a B sound. So instead of Gracias por Favor...it´s Grathias por Fabor. Slight gay sounding, to be frank.

This is then accentuated by scarves. If you are European you have a scarf. I understand this, I own a few scarves myself. Quite like them, trendy fun and colorful. Everyone wears them...everyone. Old, young, men, woman. You have a scarf. Casey has a pink sparkly one now...

The temperment of the people is very even. Don´t really get excited about anything. There´s not a lot of honking or road rage, no one is in a rush, seems to always be sauntering where ever they go.

The women are very exotic looking, and very natural. Very little makeup and hairspray...they show their personality and style with their outfit. Very classic, Casey´s pretty taken with them.

They are not annoyed by our lack of language. Try hard to understand us, and help with what we need. Some have a little English, some none, we get by.

There are not distinct offices, everybuilding is 7 stories high. High enough for business at the bottom, residence at the top...but not too high that you need an elevator.

Cell phones work anywhere, even in the subway. Likely due to the mondo cell phone towers on the hills.

Condiment stations in a restaurant, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

Liquor, yes...anywhere anytime. Sat with a guy at Parc Güell that sat down, took off his shoes and socks, took out his sandwich and rather large bottle of wine...and settled in for the afternoon. There is red and white wine on tap in our 24 hour buffet.

There are huge road side recycling bins on every street. Garbage cans every 50 feet, constant sweeping and road cleaners. A clean city for sure.

This country has Chocolate Tree´s. CHOCOLATE TREE´s!!! More to follow on that, it needs a picture.

The climate is even and predictable. Cloud and muggy in the morning, sun comes out at 1. The breeze starts around the same time and stays just like that until 7 when the sun sets. It´s not overly humid, I´d say about 2/10 on the frizzy hair scale.

Today we´re having a slow day. It´s our last full day in Barcelona. Found a laundromat this morning and did a load. Talked for a 1/2 hour with Sabina from Montreal who was also doing her laundry. She´s on a three month sabatical, touring Europe by herself.

Home for lunch and a feet rest. Plan on some shopping this afternoon. Tonight the travel books says there might be a traditional Catalan dance in front of the Cathedral, and then we´re going to see the lit fountains at the Art Museum.

When we were looking for the laundromat this morning, it was funny how we just wander now. We have our bearings and know pretty much where we are.

Barcelona Spain - check!

Apr 1, 2010


Okay, what a day...and we´re only at Siesta. These random posts are as much so I won´t forget everything, as they are to share (brag).

So we started today early and wandered down La Rambla when there were no crowds. Totally different feel than when it´s packed. Could really see the street and all it contains, rather than just the huge amounts of people. Took the side streets wandering as we wanted. We do this a lot in cities, going where ever the streets take us, discovering the hidden treasures that our camera finds. Today was an especially rewarding wander.

The ´streets´of Barcelona are very different than ours. They do have the main roads that are crowded with small cars, tour buses, but mostly scooters. Everyone seems to have a scooter. The cars are small here so the side streets are narrow, like, back alley narrow. Doesn´t seem to stop anyone from driving down. It´s not wide enough for two way traffic, so you better hope that no one is coming the other way. You´d never know till they were right on top of you, constantly twisting and turning. It´s like the streets were built around the buildings. Likely there were as some of these building date back to the Roman era.

In our walking today we came upon a Cathedral. We were planning to find this tomorrow, but since we came upon it today, bonus. It was beyond amazing. Huge...HUGE. Can´t even describe how unbelievable it was. You´ll have to wait for the pictures. It´s an operating Cathedral, so there were petitioners there. We didn´t have to be told to whisper, the awesomeness of the scene causes you to be respectful of it´s history. Take as many pictures as you like, but no flash. This was no problem as the lighting was perfect. All around the edges are various confessionals to the different saints. Laid with gold, they are all different. Each has a gate in front so you don´t get too close. You can leave your alms, and you can light a candle for the saint that you pray to. They´ve updated this process inside. You put in your coin to the electric candle and one lights up. A bit contradictory to the age of the building, but it´s handy and less prospect of fire. Also, is the addition of the flat screen TV´s on the columns that block your view. That´s just smart thinking. No one wants to go to church and not see the front.

As any catheral in Europe, they are built for a particular person, or are the resting place of a person and usually his family. This one was the same. Though his name is not one I remember....he died in 1058. A day or two ago. His tomb is inside on a huge wall, his name and that of his family with him. Everyone else that chooses to be burried there, they are under the church. If they had enough money they have their ´tomb stone´ scribed into the floor. But there will be hundreds of skulls, as they take less room than the whole skeleton, under this church. The same with the enclosed court yard, all the ground is stone with names and date. So some, creepy as it is, are loose when you step on them. The corner will lift a little and have a hollow sound. We took tonnes of pictures, and are going back tomorrow morning. My mind couldn´t quite grasp what my eyes were seeing, so I need to go there again.

Back to the hotel to grab something to eat. As said before Europeans eat many small meals, rather than 3 large ones. And when you wake up as early as we did, you´re hungry by 9am. We walked back, and decided on our next desitation.

Some tips and tricks we learned today.

The T10 pass is good for ten trips on any public transit, and you can transfer within an hour and it´s considered one trip. Their transit system is fantasic. All automated, even the city buses. You put in your card, it knows how many trips you have, and takes one off.

The subway is the fastest way to travel, they come every 2.5 minutes and get to the next stop just as fast.

There are no public washrooms in Barcelona, it´s faster to take the subway back to your hotel, than try and find one. Good thing that train is every 2.5 minutes.

Europeans don´t feel the need to shower daily, and when you´re on a jammed city bus....stinky. And the old short chubby lady doesn´t have a problem shoving her significant behind into you so she can get a hold on the bar.

Europeans have far less need for personal space than me, once said chubby lady had shoved me out of the way, she then proceded to wedge me between herself and Casey. Nothing like shoulder to knee contact with the unwashed.

Did you know that English is not the language here? I didn´t hear any words I understood until about 4 when we were at a tourist spot and heard someone getting after their child who was not enjoying the sights. They were from Virginia.

Europeans also have significantly more PDA´s than at home. My mother just thought...huh? PDA? Public displays of Affection, they do it a lot, and with gusto...avert the eyes.

Sometimes, just for fun, there is a wafting sewer smell while walking down the street. Just to wake you up. At first we couldn´t figure out where it was coming from. But then noticed it correlated with the grates...and the septic truck that was parked and had a long hose running into the business.

No stores are their own building, and there are no spaces between buildings. A doorway, no matter how shabby, or small, or low, is the opening to a business. Well, open is a relative term, they seem to open whenever they want...close whenever they want...and always practise Siesta.

Speaking of stores...you walk down these 10 foot wide streets and notice all the little shops, bakeries, restaurants, jewlers, book stores... and then you see a sign ¨Body Shop¨(I don´t think the locals go there much) or it´s a ¨Foot Locker¨. They really seem out of place.

¿Siesta? Mandatory closure between 1-4ish...go home for a nap or ´nap´ (remember, the PDA´s, well they generally lead to the Seista ¨nap¨). Store hours will say 10:00-13:00, 16:00-20:00. And that´s assuming they feel like opening that day. Cause there were plenty that said they should have been open, they weren´t. Definately open in the morning are the bakeries. We haven´t tried them yet, we have free at our hotel, enough said.

Graffiti, Graffiti, Graffiti...if it´s metal, ít´s graffitied. Not the stone though, and not the churches. Or maybe the churches, but they clean it up. We even saw a bus stop today that was aparently tagged by Jesus. He left his name in silver spray paint, with a funky font.

Later I´ll show a picture...but here´s a small description. Down La Rambla there is the bird section, the flower section and the art section. You can buy a pet bird, with cage at any one of the 20 or so vendors. Not sure why you need a bird, but they seem to sell enough to stay in business. Some of them, just for variety sell chickens and roosters. At the end of the day these fold up like those Life Savers boxes you get in your stocking. In the morning, when you´re Canadian and not sleeping, you walk by the closed up shop, and the Rooster is letting you know it´s morning. You know, in the closed box. Cockadoodle doo, heard him on the way there, and the way back. He knew it was morning, too bad his vendor didn´t.

As said, the public trasit system is fantastic, and will get you anywhere cheap cheap cheap...that is, if you can find the bus stop. Subway, no problem...big whole in the ground with the big red M above it, buses, not as easy. And if you do find a stop, hope that it´s the one you need. In a city of 4 million people, there´s a lot of routes.

Parc Güell - pictures to follow. Lots, lots, lots of people, panoramic view of the city and ocean, weird Gaudi architecture. We learned you can Busk there, playing various types of music...videos to follow. It is not necessary to know Enligh to sing Elvis songs, la la la la do doo doo will be okay, if you make sure to the Sway Shoo, in (Blue Suede Shoes) always helps to have huge green sunglasses, dreadlocks and two different shoes on. Just adds character. BUT, if you´re selling your homemade jewlery or knick knacks, you put it on a blanket, and watch for the cops. That way, when someone sends up the signal, you grab the corners and pick it up in one svell svoop, and you´re on your way. You better be a small business though, cause if you´re trying to expand and have too much blanket and knick knack, they getcha. We saw the gotten, he wasn´t happy. Had the international look for "are you kidding me"? Funny, cause if you´re small time, you slowly and efficiently fold up your blanket and pretend as if you´re just sitting enjoying the view. No escaping involved. And when the cops have gotten their guy, you unfold it again and carry on with business.

There are no zoning laws in Spain.

There are few tall people in Spain, or at least tall ones that build the doorways.

No matter how old the building, the neighborhood or the culture, you can always find Starbucks.

Many culinary adventures to be had....huevos del toro...look it up.

Make sure you specify Tapas...appetizer. They´re the big thing around here. Everyone has a Tapas that they want for you, only 3€. Make sure you say that, cause if you don´t they´ll assume you want to pay meal price, not Tapas price. Lesson learned.

When we finally did find a public washroom, Water Closet, there were a few lessons to be had. First, I hope you are effecient, because you only get as much toilet paper and the lady gives you, two winds around the hand, if you wanted to know. Also, there is no Men and Women, there is Water Closet. Boys to the left Girls to the right. And not the far right, or the down the hall right, or even the behind the wall on the right...no, just the stalls on this side, the ones on that side are for the boys. Fortunatley the boys had stalls, a little revealing otherwise.

Okay....´someone´ is awake from Siesta...we´re off!

Barcelona Cathedral

We may not have free computer access in our other locations, appreciate the constant updates as you can...

We can´t upload our own pics...but this is exactly what it looked like. AMAZING!!