EuroTrip – Day 9 – Barcelona

EuroTrip – Day 9 – Barcelona

Me in the sidecar

Me in the sidecar

Hilltop in Olympic Village

Hilltop in Olympic Village

Me taking over

Me taking over

Riding dirty with João

Riding dirty with João

Buenos noches a todos (if I said that correctly)! Today marks the final day of our EuroTrip. I’m just going to go ahead and say that Barcelona has been my favorite city visited on this vacation. It is so unique and has a flavor all its own. It’s a big city with plenty to do and see and it also sits next to a beach. What more could you want? I also think the food here has been my favorite… So many tapas, so little time.

Today we slept in until about 10AM, woke up, ate breakfast at the hotel and then went back to bed. So outside of the hotel breakfast, not unlike a typical Saturday for us. Sleeping in felt great considering we really haven’t slept in much on this trip. We finally got up and got moving in time for our motorcycle tour through the city. That’s right… I said motorcycle tour.

Our guide, João (pronounced ‘Joe-ow’; Portugeuse for John) came to pick us up at our hotel around 2:50PM. He was originally from Portugal but has lived in Spain for over ten years. He was a cool guy… A hipster Spaniard with neat hipster glasses. The motorcycle was old school and looked Iike it was made in the 60s. So how do three people ride on one motorcycle do you ask? It had a sidecar of course! Being fearful of motorcycles, I rode in the sidecar and Todd rode on the bike behind João. We headed out throughout the city and he explained the history of Barcelona… How the Moors came over from Northern Africa and Arab nations and that’s where Spaniards get their typically dark features from (olive skin, dark hair, etc). He also explained how Catalonia came to be and how the Catalonians thrived during medieval times. The marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon to Isabell of Castille changed all this, uniting all regions of Spain to make a more powerful country, but taking away the affluencey (word?) of Catalonia. We are glad this marriage happened because of the part they played in Columbus discovering the new world… But the Catalonians have pushed and fought for years (even into present day) to become their own independent state, with a language and culture of its own. We also learned about Gaudi (God’s architect) and his commercial work for the city of Barcelona. There are private residences that have been repurposed into commercial businesses designed by Gaudi but he eventually gave this up and dedicated the last years of his life to the church and the design of Sagrada Familia.

Now that I’ve given you a history lesson and bored you, I’ll get back to the ride. After stopping and honking at several Asian tourists who would stop and stand idly in the middle of the street, we eventually stopped to stretch our legs and I got ballsy enough to trade places with Todd and ride on the back of the bike. João drove slowly so it wasn’t that scary and I felt like a badass. He took us through various districts in town… La Rambla (touristy famous street), Passieg de Gracia (rich district…all your designer stores and rich people), the Olympic Village (designed for the 1992 Olympic games), Barceloneta (beach and marina area where you can see the Christopher Colombus statue) and finally in some district (can’t remember the name) where several Arabic immigrants have settled in the area (this makes up a good chunk of their Islamic population). We ended the tour in a part of town that was really laid back and somewhere we’d hang out on our own if we lived in Barcelona (can’t remember this district name either). João gave us suggestions on places to eat and also advised us to try vermouth, another liquor they are famous for in Barcelona. It was amazing! A nice change from what I’m used to. Sweet but spicy at the same time. After we parted ways with João, we walked around and did a little shopping. I stumbled into a vintage store and purchased some sunglasses circa 1975 and they are huge. You know I love some big sunglasses! They also had a vintage Hermes bag that was beautiful but since the cost is a quarter of our monthly mortgage, it just wasn’t meant to be. I’ll remember it fondly, though.

We finished the evening with more tapas and a final jug of sangria. This time the sangria was super delicious and light… Not overly sugary. Maybe we got a bad batch the first night. In any case, we ended the trip on a great note and I’m about ten pounds heavier and super happy (fat and happy as they say).

I hope you’ve enjoyed my account of our EuroTrip! If anything, I hope it provides some guidance if you plan any upcoming travel to any of these countries… or at least a laugh or some good toilet reading. We had an amazing trip and if you read any of these blogs, I’m glad you were along for the ride with us. Now it’s back to Texas to see my Frannie-dog!

Arrivederci, au revior and buenos noches!

EuroTrip Part Deux – Days 7 & 8 – Barcelona

EuroTrip Part Deux – Days 7 & 8 – Barcelona

In front of La Sagrada Familia

In front of La Sagrada Familia

Top of La Sagrada Familia

Top of La Sagrada Familia

Stairwell in La Sagrada Familia

Stairwell in La Sagrada Familia

Tapas

Tapas

Sangria time

Sangria time

My silhouette

My silhouette

Park Guell

Park Guell

Park Guell

Park Guell

Hola from Barcelona! Although here it’s pronounced ‘Barth-elona’ and gracias is pronounced ‘gra-she-as.’ A little different from how we speak Spanish in the states but easy enough to pick up on.

We did another early morning yesterday so it wasn’t a buenos dias for me with a 5AM wake up. We hopped on the train from Paris to Barcelona, settling in for a seven hour trip. I popped a sleeping pill and zonked out uncomfortably for a bit while Todd watched Ray Donovan. The night before, Megan mentioned when she took the train years before from Paris to Barcelona, when she hit the border of France and Spain, they made her switch trains. We were glad for this tidbit of information because this happened to us. Let me tell you… Waking up from a crappy sleep to a woman yelling we had to switch trains was somewhat unsettling. I thought there was a terrorist on the train or something but Todd reminded me of what Megan told us the night before. With the traffic within the train station you would have thought there was something wrong though, with all the crowds and pushing and shoving to get through. A group of Japanese tourists were riding the tail of a gentleman who’d had enough of them invading his space so he stopped at the top of an escalator, with them crashing into him and screaming at him. I mean I guess you have to ensure you’re personal space isn’t invaded. I get it.

We arrived in Barcelona around 2PM and saw a McDonald’s in the train station. Todd and I got an ice cold fountain Coke Zero and it was magical with all the ice in our cup. We took a cab to our hotel, the Hilton Diagonal Mar, passing the beach we probably won’t have time to get to on the way. Word is, it’s a topless beach. Europeans…

We checked in and Todd let me take a two hour siesta… Since we are in Spain it’s only appropriate. We then freshened up and hit the town. We went to La Rambla, a famous street with tons of shops and restaurants. We found a cute cafe with shaded outdoor seating and ordered our first sangrias of the trip, served in fishbowl glasses. Todd ordered classic and I ordered cava sangria. Both were delicious but SWEET… Somewhat like drinking a liquid pixie stick. My days of drinking liquid sugar ended with Smirnoff Ice in high school so I’m glad I tried it but the local drink might be a little sweet for my taste. A man cut my silhouette and Todd didn’t want to buy it but I talked him into it. Why not? It kind of looks like me. We wandered around a little more, passing a market that was closing so we decided to come back the next day… Which was today. We ended the evening at a restaurant, trying various tapas and my first paella with a mix of chicken and seafood… Pretty good but Todd was not that impressed with the paella. After we finished we went back to the hotel and to bed. It was a long day of travel.

This morning Todd told me I had to be up early again since we had tickets for La Sagrada Familia at 10AM. I was allowed a reasonable wake up time of 7:30AM compared to my 5AM wake up call the day before and 4:30AM wake up call the day before that. I could deal. We had breakfast at the hotel and it didn’t disappoint. Have you ever had peach juice? I hadn’t until today and it was like heaven in a glass.

We headed out for a Gaudi-inspired day. Our first stop was the Sagrada Familia, the basilica Gaudi designed that is still being worked on. It was very cool and modern… Like no Catholic Church style you’ve ever seen. I’ll post pictures because explaining doesn’t do it justice but imagine lots of modern stonework, lots of colorful stained glass and colorful tile work that also looked like stained glass. We took an elevator to the top tower and were able to snap some photos looking over most of Barcelona. Then there was the walk down. It was the most narrow staircase I’d ever seen and I’m not scared of heights, but this got me nervous and clinging to the handrail.

We headed out from there, back to La Rambla to grab a quick bite for lunch. We had mas tapas… Delicious chorizo, croquettes and chicken skewers. We than walked to the Market de Boqueria within La Rambla and took in all the fresh fish, meats, fruits, vegetables and candy you can imagine. The peach juice just may have been surpassed by the kiwi juice I tried there.

We headed back to the hotel after that for a little siesta and when we got back I got a text from my mom that Cigna (my employer) is to be bought by Anthem… I wasn’t sure what to do with that news so I slept it off for an hour.

We headed back out for dinner and liked the market so much that we went back. We ended up eating more delicious tapas and enjoying some street performers playing for us while we ate.

Our last stop of the day was Park Guell, another Gaudi masterpiece. There were lots of beautiful natural views as well as modern art and tilework throughout the park. It reminded me of Candyland a little bit. All of these sites were amazing but the true highlight of our park visit was when a bird pooped on Todd’s head. A big fat splatter on his head. Luckily he had a bandana in his pocket because that bird did a bullseye right on him. Poor Todd.

We ended our evening after that and are now settling in for the night. Tomorrow is the last day of our EuroTrip so we plan on making it count. Stay tuned for my next post!

EuroTrip Part Deux – Day 6 – Paris

EuroTrip Part Deux – Day 6 – Paris

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

Ready for the Crazy Horse! Tre magnifique!

Ready for the Crazy Horse! Tre magnifique!

Duet toilette... Bring a friend to pee alongside you

Duet toilette… Bring a friend to pee alongside you

Eiffel Tower and Siene River

Eiffel Tower and Siene River

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

Bonjour! Hola! Buongiorno! Sorry I’m having a language crisis since we’ve been in three different countries in the last forty-eight hours. I’m posting a day late about our stop in Paris since we had a late night last night and blog writing was the last thing on my mind.

So Paris… I’m sad we only had a day there because it was truly tre magnifique! First impressions… Clean, classic and surprisingly friendly. Our hotel, the Hyatt Vendome was the nicest hotel we’ve stayed at on this EuroTrip… Thank you, Todd and your love for points! We arrived at the hotel, checked in and enjoyed a lovely Parisian breakfast. They had typical stuff… Croissants, pan de chocolate, toast, meats, cheeses, etc but my biggest surprise was when going to drink what I thought was milk with my breakfast ended up being something of a liquified yogurt. Very unexpected but not terrible. When our room was ready it was true luxury. How many hotels can you say have a sink and mirror within the shower? I guess if you want to look yourself in the mirror while showering, this comes in handy. Interesting.

We hopped on the metro and our first stop was the Eiffel Tower. I mean of course it was… If you come to Paris, you have to go to the Eiffel Tower. On the way there, I sat next to man on the metro that stunk of pungent body odor… His own naturale eau de toilette I suppose… I couldn’t decide if I should breathe through my nose and continue to smell the stink or if I should mouth breathe and potentially taste the odor. It was tangible. I guess what they say about the French being stinky is true!

When we exited the metro I had to stop and pee so I ended up using one of those street toilettes that are self-cleaning. Before you judge, it was cleaner than a porta-potty and super convenient. I felt better.

When we arrived at the Eiffel Tower grounds we were asked to sign a petition for something. Since I couldn’t tell if it was a scam, I gave fake information. Also I will just mention that the girl who approached me had nasty BO… So much so, you could smell it out in the open air.

We made our way to the landmark and snapped some shots with the selfie stick… We then walked around, observing the tourists, especially the large groups of Japanese tourists that travel in packs and love to take photos making peace signs. There were also little vendors set up so I bought a hat. It was exciting.

We left the Eiffel Tower and headed to the Arc de Triomphe to get some shots. There is also a roundabout of death and it’s fun to watch all the cars circle round the landmark.

After that we went back to the hotel so I could take a nap so I didn’t kill Todd. We woke up at 4:30AM to catch our flight from Florence to Paris so needless to say, I’d hit my limit. Todd let me sleep (smart husband) and went out for more sight-seeing. We then got ready and headed out for the night.

We met the fabulous Megan Craig and Erika Dunham who were also in Paris to have an evening of good French fare and follies. We spotted them on the corner of the street, looking local like a couple of true Parisians… Dallas was in Paris, y’all!

We had dinner and wine at Chez Andre, where I tried escargot for the first time. Mostly tasted buttery and garlicky, which was good because I’m not big on eating a creature that cleans fish tanks by eating the other fishes’ poops. But it’s a delicacy I suppose. I polished off chateaubriand steak and fries because lay off me, I’m starving!

After dinner, we headed to the Crazy Horse, a famous French burlesque show. It was very impressive and tastefully done… Not a nasty strip show at all. As a female, I looked at these gals and felt the show was very liberating… I wanted to be them! They are probably all retired ballerinas (no joke) in the best shape you can imagine. Their acts varied… The had vintage, mod, 80s, bondage… Even a play on Britney Spears’s Toxic… A mix of a 1960s Kit Kat Club and modern day French burlesque. We were all left with our mouths open and couldn’t get over how amazing everything was.

We ended the night at a little bar only Megan could find in a city as large as Paris. It’s called the Little Red Door in the third district and it really did have a little red door in front that you had to duck to enter. The cocktails were impressive, each containing about ten ingredients I’d never heard of with cute names like the Tropicano and the Importance of Being Earnest (can you guess who drank what?). We made friends with two French girls who spoke English and exchanged pleasantries about our different countries. The evening ended with Erika and I doing Latin Fusion dancing in our own little corner of the bar. It was awesome seeing our close friends all the way across the Atlantic… Hands down my favorite night of the trip.

We headed back to get some sleep before we had to get up at 5AM this morning to head to Barcelona (yep-shoot me)… When we got to our room our bed was turned down and there were two plates of macaroons waiting for us, courtesy of the Hyatt… I had sweet dreams last night!

I’ll post about our train ride and arrival in Barcelona tomorrow… I’m about to pass out writing this post. Traveling is exhausting!

Buenos noches!

EuroTrip Part Deux – Day 5 – Florence

EuroTrip Part Deux – Day 5 – Florence

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

Boboli Garden

Boboli Garden

The David and me

The David and me

Ciao! It’s our last day in Italy and we packed in a couple more sites. We woke up early and headed over to the Accademia Gallery to view Michelangelo’s David. The line to get in looked daunting but moved fairly quickly. While in line we started talking to a family who was from San Francisco but had family based in Irving. To make this am even smaller world, the wife was originally from St. Louis… North County to be exact and went to Hazelwood West. Talk about a small world! We talked home sports teams, our respective cities and then it was time to head in.

Accademia was filled with lots and lots of Catholic artwork dipicting the lives of Jesus, Mary and various saints. If you are into Catholic history, Italy is definitely the place to come. I feel like I’ve reconnected a little with my religion having spent time here. Next we viewed the David. Very impressive and very LARGE. I wasn’t prepared for how tall it actually is in person.

Anywho after that we stopped for lunch at a pizzeria and I ate the entire thing. Let’s just say I’m eating my way through this trip but have a definite plan to get back on track when I get home. Following lunch we browsed shops and split a gelati just before we crossed the Ponte Vecchio. I didn’t realize all the stores that were based on the actual bridge so crossing it was pretty fun for me.

Lastly, we ended the day at the Giaradino di Boboli (or Boboli Garden). It was extremely beautiful but so hot… I recommend perusing if you’re ever in Florence in the spring or fall… But otherwise beautiful with great views overlooking the city.

We ended the day with another rooftop happy hour and took advantage of the awesome views and free hors d’oeuvres. Now it’s time for bed since we have to be up at 4:30AM tomorrow for our flight to Paris!

EuroTrip Part Deux – Day 4 – Florence

EuroTrip Part Deux – Day 4 – Florence

Il Duomo / Our Lady of the Flower Cathedral

Il Duomo / Our Lady of the Flower Cathedral

Florence at sunset

Florence at sunset

View of Florence from our hotel

View of Florence from our hotel

Il Duomo

Il Duomo

We made it to Florence! It was an early day as our train from Rome left at 7:50AM. I am not a morning person so Todd had to entice me with cappuccino and a pastry. I’m like a puppy… I respond well to treats.

It was a quick train ride to Florence… Probably only an hour. On the way there were scenic views of countrysides and several fields of the most yellow sunflowers I’ve ever seen. Much different than the scenery in Rome. We arrived and checked in to our hotel early. Since our room wasn’t ready we walked around Florence and took in the town. Such a charming city! It definitely has the charm Rome lacks (don’t get me wrong… Rome is cool in its own unique way) and is so clean and cute. We stopped for some waters and saw what looked like the most delicious cannolis so we split one… I’ve only had cannolis from Whole Foods (I know, worst Italian ever) and this was f-ing amazing. I could probably live off them for the rest of the trip. Anywho, after that we stumbled on a street market with several vendors selling leather goods. Italy is known for leather so we stopped and looked around. Todd bought a new (Costanza) wallet and I bought a new purse. The sweet lady tried to make a deal and sell me two bags but Todd said no. He doesn’t understand that girls can never have too many purses.

Next we wondered over to the Il Duomo and the Our Lady of the Flower Cathedral. Absolutely gorgeous and ornate. You have to be there. This cathedral also has dress requirements and I had to cover my shoulders. Inside it houses work by Dante (as in Dante’s Inferno) and an intricate fresco within the dome. You can climb to the top of Il Duomo and overlook the city, which Todd did on his own later.  It also housed a Catholic clock. I didn’t know clocks could show a twenty-four hour period but apparently the Catholic Church used to go by this clock as well as their own calendar, starting in March with the feast of the Annunciation. Twelve years of Catholic school and I’m still learning new things!

After we stopped for lunch in the Piazza del Duomo and I ended up getting meat sauce in my spaghetti and ice in my Coke Zero. I was sold. Florence is great!

We went back to our hotel since our room was ready. Much better than our Star Trek room in Rome… This room has its own bathroom in a separate room, as I believe all hotel rooms should (think studio for the Rome hotel). I settled in for a nap since I didn’t sleep well the night before and Todd headed back out to climb to the top of Il Duomo, visit the Ponte Vecchio and take photos around the city.

We ended the evening at happy hour at our hotel. We had drinks on the terrace and watched the sunset over Florence. Sounds romantic but Todd and I are not into PDA. We ended up eating a pricey dinner there too, but only because you can’t beat the view. Now it’s time for bed.

Will post more about Florence tomorrow!

EuroTrip Part Deux – Day 3 – Rome

EuroTrip Part Deux – Day 3 – Rome

The bike golf cart Todd almost killed me in while driving through the Borghese park

The bike golf cart Todd almost killed me in while driving through the Borghese park

Spanish Steps... Channeling Roman Holiday

Spanish Steps… Channeling Roman Holiday

The Roman Forum ruins/Palatine Hill

The Roman Forum ruins/Palatine Hill

Colosseum

Colosseum

Nice view of Rome down below

Nice view of Rome down below

Well it’s our last day in Rome.  I think it’s safe to say we ‘Veni Vidi Vici’d’ this great city! Some observations I made: lots of Fiats, lots of smokers, most people speak English, a lot of Asian people, lots of graffiti, very hot in July, not lots of meals with meat sauce… more with just tomato sauce, most drinks not served with ice and lots of Italian cypress trees.

Today we went to the Colosseum.  Luckily we got there and bought our tickets at a decent time so again, we avoided long lines to get it. And today was even hotter than yesterday so I’m glad we didn’t have to wait in that long line. Today was the kind of day that you should deodorant your thighs… Just sayin… Before the site-seeing we stopped in a little cafe and I had a burger. Yes, I did and it was delicious. I’m not crazy… Just trying not to get too burnt out on pizza and pasta because you can get a lot of that here. After lunch we went into the Colosseum and walked around… Pretty crazy to think about the craziness that occurred there during ancient times… Gladiators fighting to the death, people being released to lions to be eaten. I can’t say that if those kinds of things still went on wouldn’t go out of sheer curiosity but I’d also probably report it as some serious human rights violations. Thank God we live in the present day! Anywho the Colosseum was pretty cool and amazingly preserved. I highly suggest. We then headed to the Romam Forum ruins and walked around. Cool sites but the heat was killing us.

We stopped for gelati (or gelato?) and then headed over to the Spanish Steps so I could pretend to be a chubby version of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. On the way over our cab driver was playing some Pink Floyd so I quietly rocked out on the inside.

Our last stop of the day was the Villa Borghese house and park. It’s an absolutely beautiful oasis in the middle of Rome that I’m glad we found. We rented a bike ‘golf cart’ which you (or Todd) pedal yourself to get around the massive park. I’m pretty sure he was trying to kill me on the ride but somehow managed to hit the brakes and not hit any other pedestrians or other bike carts on the trail.

So after that ride, I’d had enough excitement for the day. We grabbed a decent dinner and are now wiped out. Heading to Florence early tomorrow morning!

EuroTrip Part Deux – Day 2 – Rome

EuroTrip Part Deux – Day 2 – Rome

The Pantheon

The Pantheon

Happy... But HOT.

Happy… But HOT.

The Vatican

The Vatican

Damn you Pythagoras and your theorem.

Damn you Pythagoras and your theorem.

So Italy is as hot as Texas. No lie. Thought I was going to come here and get some relief but it’s pretty much the same as Dallas. So instead of frolicking around Rome like teensy gals that don’t ever break a sweat, I’m sweating like a man. Thank God for deodorant.

Anywho, we woke up extra early to meet our tour group for a tour of the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. This is the ultimate Catholic pilgrimage… Very old, very historic and very artistic. I’m really glad we bought tour tickets because it allowed us to skip the line. And the line was looooong… In 98 degree weather, I suggest paying a little extra for tickets to avoid the line… Plus having a tour guide to explain everything is very helpful.

It was a four hour tour, starting with the Vatican. We saw frescos by Raphael, lots of art depicting the history of the Catholic Church and ending in the Sistine Chapel, painted in part by Michelangelo. For Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fans, the Vatican tour included two  of the famous namesakes. We then went into St. Peter’s Basilica, which was the Rolls Royce of Catholic Churches. Opulence… It has it. Dress codes for the tour are enforced (yes, they actually do enforce)… Women are to cover their shoulders, and dresses (if worn) have to be past the knees. Men should wear pants. I ended the tour by purchasing a new rosary from the gift shop. I can’t say my fellow shop-goers adopted a very Christian attitude by pushing and cutting in line in the store, but nevertheless I finally got my rosary.

We headed out from there. Todd was hangry from not eating earlier so we walked around until a man on the street took us to his restaurant, which was un-air conditioned. We left and found a better place that had AC and free wifi. Going back to EuroTrip part one, it’s the same deal with drinks here in Italy. Europeans don’t have a lot of soda fountains so Diet Cokes are by the bottle with no ice. I’ll be having a Route 44 soda from Sonic when I get back.

We ended the day at the Pantheon. Rome definitely doesn’t disappoint with their ancient landmarks and ruins. It’s kind of cool to be in a city that existed in ancient times.

Anyway, that’s it for today. Time for sleep.