Europe Trip – Barcelona (Day 10)

This was the last day of our Europe trip. We enjoyed one last breakfast on the cruise ship before disembarking. We went straight from the cruise ship to a guided tour of Barcelona, visiting two sites we had not visited at the beginning of the trip: Park Güell and La Sagrada Familia.

Our guide drove us to Park Güell where we spent a little over an hour exploring the park. Debi was particularly impressed by the Modernist architecture and design of Gaudí that incorporated so many elements of nature and tried to blend in with nature, like this tunnel designed to look like a wave:

Toren surfing a Gaudí wave at Park Güell.

Pretty much everywhere you looked there was something amazing to see with stunning attention to detail.

Toren and Debi at Park Güell.

I shot a photosphere in Park Güell but it doesn’t really do the park justice:

After Park Güell, we headed to La Sagrada Familia, the famed, unfinished, Modernist church of Antoni Gaudí. A friend had recently visited Barcelona and told me that she was overwhelmed by La Sagrada Familia when she first saw it. Having visited lots of churches, mosques, and synagogues, I was skeptical that I would have the same experience, but rounding the corner the first time I was close to it, I was genuinely impressed. The soaring towers and the contrast with the surrounding city are stunning:

The two finished facades were both fascinating to explore. I could have spent a lot more time just taking in all of the architectural details:

Debi and Toren in front of La Sagrada Familia.

But the exterior facades were nothing compared to the interior. Walking inside for the first time and seeing the soaring, vaulted ceilings with the amazing pillars and supports was breathtaking. Perhaps the most beautiful building I had seen previously, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, paled in comparison to the brilliance of La Sagrada Familia. Everywhere you looked there was something fascinating to see. The colors, the shapes, the design, all were truly marvelous. I’d love to spend an entire day inside the building watching the colors shift and exploring every detail.

Alas, we didn’t have all day, just about 30 minutes inside the church. Even so, I did my best to capture some of the amazing views:

The stained glass windows on one side of La Sagrada Familia

I’d really need years of additional photography training, hours of time, and probably better camera equipment to do this place justice. It was a moving experience to see this masterpiece of design.

After La Sagrada Familia, our guide drove us to the AirBnB we were staying in and helped us get checked in (some minor complications, but it worked out). We were outside of the main tourist area in some very nice apartments. As a result, we got off the beaten path a little and found a nice restaurant that served tapas:

Enjoying tapas in Barcelona!

Since we had skipped lunch, our tapas meal was like an early dinner. Some of the family had a very early departure the next morning to catch their flights home. Others had a somewhat later departure. Even so, we decided to walk down to the Gaudí buildings we had missed and spend a little more time enjoying Barcelona. We ended up stopping for smoothies and a hot chocolate that was like drinking chocolate sauce you’d put on ice cream it was so thick and rich. On our way back to the apartments, people were starting to set off fireworks as it was the night of a major festival in Barcelona, the festival of Sant Joan (Bonfires of Saint John) that celebrates the summer solstice. We also happened by a churro shop and stopped to enjoy Nutella-filled churros as our last meal in Barcelona:

Toren enjoying a Nutella-filled churro in Barcelona.

Finally, on our way back to our apartment, Toren was jumping posts, something he loved doing all over Barcelona.

Wrapping up: I would definitely like to travel to Rome, Cinque Terre, and the Amalfi Coast again with more time in each location to really appreciate them. I could also see myself vacationing in Barcelona when I just want a place to get away and relax. It was a busy vacation but we got to see and do quite a bit and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Europe Trip – Sea Day (Day 9)

Our last day on the cruise ship was filled with activities on the ship as we didn’t have a port of call. We enjoyed a nice breakfast in the dining room then most of us went swimming. I took along a fantasy novel that I spent quite a bit of time reading. Debi went to the spa for a free session, which turned into a sales pitch for pseudo-science spa treatments.

At one point there was a call for participants in a belly flop contest. The announcer seemed to suggest that no one had signed up, so I went over to sign up. It turns out, there were 5 other people who had signed up, all of them rather large individuals (i.e., upwards of 220 pounds). I looked tiny compared to them, but I had a secret weapon: I can jump. Most of the guys had large bellies, but one was a big guy (6′ 3″) from South African who was ripped. I was the last contestant and managed to get some air and slap the pool very hard. It stung for about a minute but the red helped me win votes. I ended up taking second place behind the South African!

We also went to another diving show in the afternoon and several people went ice skating. We ended the evening with a family-friendly comedy show by the same comedian I had seen a couple of nights earlier.

Europe Trip – Amalfi Coast and Pompeii (Day 8)

Our fifth port of call was Naples. However, we didn’t actually spend any time in Naples. Instead, we took a bus through Sorrento to the small town of Positano on the Amalfi Coast. We stopped briefly to get some photos of Sorrento before continuing to Positano.

Debi and Toren with Sorrento in the background.

Positano was similar to the other villages in Cinque Terre, but the mountains here were even more rugged. Positano was also substantially larger than most of those towns, though Monterroso del Mar may have been similarly sized. It was really picturesque, with a beautiful waterfront and colorful houses working their way up to the cliffs.

Our tour bus parked in about the middle of the village in terms of elevation – about halfway between the cliffs and the water. Debi, Toren, and I quickly made our way down to the water and walked along the waterfront, taking some fun photos along the way:

We walked from one end of the waterfront to the other, enjoying the views.

Debi and I on the waterfront in Positano.

As I had done in the towns in Cinque Terre, I thought it might be fun to see the city from higher up. This time, I convinced Debi and Toren to join me. We moved up the town pretty quickly as we were pressed for time, going from the very lowest point in elevation, the waterfront, to just below the cliffs in about 20 minutes. (An estimate via Google maps suggests the elevation just below the cliffs is about 130 meters; another website put it at around 150 meters; somewhere around 400 to 500 feet above sea level.) On the way, I snapped a photo of Debi and Toren crossing a bridge:

You can see we’re getting closer to the cliffs at this point.

We did make it to just below the cliffs, but were running out of time to get back to the bus, so I snapped a picture or two and then we headed back down. We actually got back to the bathroom with 10 minutes to spare, but the line was huge, so we ended up getting back to the bus late (the only time we were late) by about 5 minutes. Everyone but our guide was cool about it. Our guide seemed bothered, even though I was technically there on time and told him that Debi and Toren were in the bathroom and were coming as quickly as they could. Oh well, no one will remember that but me and I only remember it because our guide was annoying about it.

From Positano, we took the bus back to Sorrento where our guide gave us about an hour and a half to explore the city. We walked down to the cliff edge overlooking the bay and took in the view, then found a nice place for lunch where I split a Napolitano pizza (cheese and anchovies) with my brother-in-law. I also tried the local beverage, limoncello, that had a very high alcohol content level. We all enjoyed our meals, I think, and followed up lunch with a trip to a gelateria:

Debi enjoying her gnocchi in Sorrento.

We made our way back to the tour bus and then headed to Pompeii where we got an archaeological guide who took us through the ruins. As I’m keen to do, I walked by the guide most of the time and peppered him with questions: Why was Pompeii so diverse? (Answer: It was a prominent port.) Didn’t anyone survive the explosion? (Answer: Yes. Some were not in the town when the explosion occurred; others were able to run away, but most were not.) Where are all the items they discovered in the ruins? (Answer: Almost everything is in a museum in Naples. Very few artifacts remain in Pompeii proper.)

Our guide seemed informative if a little impatient. However, I checked on a few of the things he claimed after the trip and he wasn’t always accurate. For instance, he claimed that the word “spa” derives from the Latin, salus per aquam or “health through water.” A little digging illustrated that is a backronym and was not an acronym invented by the Romans (the word “spa” comes from a town in Belgium). He also claimed that the roads in Pompeii didn’t have sewers underneath because they were built on tough volcanic rock, so they made the roads into the sewers. I’m a little more skeptical of this claim now, but it was cool seeing the ruts in the roads made by ancient Roman wagons.

I’m sure it would be fun to walk through Pompeii slowly with an actual archaeologist rather than a pseudo-archaeologist tour guide. And, I think the ideal way to see Pompeii is really to go to the ruins and then go to the museum in Naples that houses all the artifacts. Even so, I’ve always been fascinated by Pompeii and it was nice to see the site in person.

We spent about an hour and a half in Pompeii and that wrapped up our tour for the day. We took a few minutes to get some drinks at the entrance of the site (lemon-flavored again, and very over-priced), then boarded the bus and headed back to the cruise ship.

Debi and Toren in the Forum at Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius in the background.

Europe Trip – Rome (Day 7)

We also had a private tour in Rome. We were a big enough group that we needed two vans. Our guide and drivers were really amazing. We packed a lot into one day in Rome and couldn’t have done it without our excellent drivers (our driver was Nicola, who did an amazing job).

Our drivers picked us up in Civatavecchia, the port, then drove us to The Vatican, where we met our guide. We did stop quickly for snacks and a bathroom break on the way, where I got to sample Italian espresso, which was quite good.

My Italian espresso.

Knowing a little bit about religion, I knew The Vatican was its own country and had a sense that it was big, but I didn’t realize just how big. I also didn’t realize just how ornate and ostentatious it is. We rushed through several buildings (since we had a busy agenda), but all of them contained priceless artwork: statues, paintings, friezes, etc.

A shot of the ceiling in the Vatican Gallery of Maps.

We got to visit the Sistine Chapel, but no photos can be taken inside (I followed the rules, but not everyone does). It really is impressive. I pestered our guide with questions throughout the tour and, even though we weren’t supposed to talk in the Sistine Chapel, she was whispering quietly about what we were seeing. Given its central role in electing new popes, I was interested in where they burned the ballots. That particular piece of equipment was not in there; it is installed only when the cardinals are meeting, and the piping is set up at that time as well.

From the Sistine Chapel, we went to St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest Catholic Church in the world. This, too, illustrated just how much money the Catholic Church has and started me down a path of questioning with our guide that she probably doesn’t get very often. One of the more prominent features in St. Peter’s Basilica is a set of four columns in the center of the basilica made out of pure bronze. The bronze was stolen from pre-Catholic sites around Rome, particularly the Pantheon, melted down, then used in the construction of the pillars in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Catholic Church worked hard to erase the glory of the pagan era that pre-dated it and to build up its own status at the expense of history, much like ISIS has done by destroying ancient art and monuments from pre-Islamic times.

Steve, Rosemary, Toren, and Debi in front of the four bronze pillars in the center of St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican. The bronze was all raided from Roman buildings, melted down, and recast here.

Another illustration of Catholic syncretism was the co-opting of the obelisks from Egypt. The Roman Empire stole dozens of obelisks, which had been monuments to the sun god, and brought them back to Rome. When the Catholic Church took over, they mounted crosses on top of all of them, co-opting them as symbols of Christianity. A very large obelisk stands in the center of the courtyard outside St. Peter’s Basilica:

An Egyptian obelisk syncretized by the Catholic Church into a symbol of Christianity, in the middle of the square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica.

I’m sure I could spend several days at The Vatican, appreciating the art and architecture. I’m sure I would also thoroughly enjoy visiting the library and archives, the bank, and a number of other elements of Vatican City that most people would find of little interest. Given my background and training, I couldn’t help but find examples of syncretism throughout Vatican City.

Our time in The Vatican was relatively short as we had lots of other stuff to do. From The Vatican, we drove to The Pantheon, which is another brilliant example of Catholic syncretism. They took a beautiful building dedicated to the Roman gods and co-opted it as a Catholic Church. The dome is a truly remarkable piece of engineering that has stood for thousands of years.

From there, our drivers and guide took us to Trevi Fountain, which is absolutely stunning. Any decent-sized city that attracts tourists should learn from Trevi Fountain – build a beautiful fountain in a central location and people will flock to it. Trevi Fountain was teeming with people, but it’s not surprising that it was given how beautiful it is.

Family selfie at the Trevi Fountain.

We grabbed some food while at Trevi Fountain as we hadn’t had lunch and still had a few more hours on our tour.

The next stop was The Colosseum.

I knew that the Colosseum was large and what it was used for, but I was still impressed when I walked in and saw the arena (sand) for the first time. It’s enormous. It could seat over 60,000 people. It’s a truly astounding piece of architecture.

Toren and one of his cousins pretending to be gladiators outside the Colosseum.

Our last stop on our whirlwind tour of Rome was the LDS Temple. Given that most of the family is LDS and the temple was recently dedicated, they really wanted to see it. Given my research interests, I was perfectly happy to go as well.

Strangely, the temple is located quite far from the city center in what appear to be suburbs. In fact, there is an Ikea right next to it. The location is definitely odd and there certainly were not as many visitors as there were at The Vatican. Even so, they have done a nice job with both the architecture and the surrounding landscaping. There are nice, understated fountains and gardens. It was very beautiful. The visitor’s center was nice as well.

We spent a good hour at the LDS temple and visitor’s center, then got back in the vans and headed back to the cruise ship.

That evening, I went to a comedy show with Steve and Scott (the twins). The comedian, who was pretty good, assumed that the three of us were gay as we were sitting together without any women around us. We didn’t disabuse him of that notion and got a good laugh out of it.

Thought on Rome… I’m definitely going to need to return to Rome with more time to explore the city. As our guide said repeatedly, Rome is a living archaeological site.

Europe Trip – Pisa and Cinque Terre (Day 6)

Given the size of our group (15 total), for some of our excursions, Rosemary booked private tours. This also meant we got to customize our tours and do precisely what we wanted. That was the case on our third port of call, La Spezia. Rosemary arranged for a minibus and our own tour guide.

The bus picked us up early and drove us straight to Pisa so we could see the famed Leaning Tower of Pisa. I remember seeing pictures of the tower when I was a kid and thinking it was funny. But seeing it in person is different. It really is a very large tower and the angle at which it is leaning forces a double-take.

Toren holding up the leaning tower of pisa.
The obligatory “holding up the tower” photo.

The guide company had arranged tickets for us to climb the tower. The two youngest grandkids were not able to climb the tower due to their age, so Rosemary stayed with them while the rest of us climbed the tower. You actually climb inside the walls. It’s over 200 steps but didn’t seem particularly challenging.

We got to spend a good 30 minutes on top of the tower. Here’s a photosphere from the top:

Toren on the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Toren on the Leaning Tower of Pisa

I did find it interesting that where the steps are worn varies based on the lean of the tower – people move closer to one side or the other depending on how the tower is leaning and that has resulted in deep grooves in the steps as a result. If you look closely, you can see the grooves in this short video of Debi going down the stairs.

We spent another 20 to 30 minutes at Pisa, walking around the church and taking photos. We then got back in the minibus and headed back toward La Spezia for the second part of our tour.

Apparently, the place to go right now in Italy is Cinque Terre, a national park with some villages that are right on the ocean. Not being up on the latest things to do, this was news to me. Our guide had arranged for us to stop in three towns in Cinque Terre: Riomaggiore, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. We got on the train in La Spezia and arrived in Riomaggiore in short order.

In order to make it to all three towns and get back in time to catch the cruise ship, we didn’t have a lot of time in each town. Since we hadn’t stopped for lunch at any point, in Riomaggiore, everyone decided to get food. I can go for quite a while without food and had some snacks with me anyway, so I opted instead to hike quickly to the top of Riomaggiore to see the view. I took a photosphere there:

I had to take a selfie, too:

Once everyone had food, we quickly headed down to the water and spent a few minutes there before having to head to the train station. While waiting for everyone to ascend the stairs, I bought some grapes that were amazing given how hot it was.

In Vernazza, a similar situation unfolded. Most everyone wanted gelato/ice cream. I was more interested in seeing the town. I, again, took off and climbed to the top of the town while they were getting ice cream, then headed down to the waterfront where I took this photosphere:

Once everyone else had their ice cream, they all headed down to the waterfront where we spent a little time enjoying the views and climbing on the rocks. We then boarded a ferry that took us to our last stop, Monterosso al Mare.

We had about 45 minutes in Monterosso al Mare. Debi, Toren, and I took advantage of the time to walk through the town, visit another Byzantine style church that matched Debi’s outfit, and stop by a few shops.

Debi and Toren matched this striped church in Monterosso al Mare.

We then took an alternate route to meet up with the guide that took us out and around a large outcropping that was quite scenic:

Toren with two of his cousins in Monterosso al Mare.

We ended up getting to the meeting place 10 minutes early. As we had made our way around the outcropping, I saw some stairs headed up and decided that I’d go as far up as I could in 5 minutes, then head back down so I wasn’t late. I tracked the hike back down on my watch:

As it turns out, 5 minutes was enough time to make it to the top where I found a monastery and graveyard. I didn’t have time to explore it all, but the first crypt I saw belonged to the Ferrari family, who own a large estate not far from Monterosso al Mare.

The Ferrari Family crypt in Monterosso al Mare.

From Monterosso al Mare, we took the train one last time and then met our minibus, which took us back to the cruise ship. We went to an ice skating show that night on the cruise ship. Yes, the ship has an ice rink.

One final note… I took my favorite picture of Toren and Debi on this trip in Vernazza:

Debi and Toren in Vernazza.

Europe Trip – Marseilles (Day 5)

The second stop on our cruise was in Marseilles, France. Given that it was France, I was expecting a very nice city, like Paris. I was a little disappointed.

Our excursion was called “Scenic Marseilles” and basically involved riding in a bus around the city with two stops. We stopped once to take some pictures of Château d’If, a relatively famous fort on an island just off the coast of Marseilles that has featured in a number of stories and movies.

Château d'If
Château d’If

The second stop was at the Palais Longchamp where we had about 20 minutes to run up and look at the architecture but didn’t have time to do much else.

Palais Longchamp
Palais Longchamp

The tour ended a couple of blocks from the old port. The guide said we could return to the bus at a certain time and they would take us back to the cruise ship. Alternatively, we could catch the Royal Caribbean shuttle at a specific location, which she showed us.

A few of us opted to explore Marseilles for a few hours. We first stopped at a bakery. After getting medialunas in Argentina, which kind of look like croissants but are way better, I have been itching to try a croissant in France to see if I’m not making a fair comparison between the two breads. The croissants we had in the bakery were good, but we’re all still partial to Argentinean medialunas. However, the pizza they had in the bakery was both cheap and delicious (perhaps the best we had on the trip).

Enjoying a French croissant.

From there, we caught a bus up to see the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, which stands atop a prominent hill in Marseilles. It’s a beautiful Byzantine church.

We spent a good hour walking around and through it.

Here’s a short video clip of the music that was being sung while we were inside:

After the church, we headed back down through Marseilles and caught the shuttle back to the cruise ship.

That evening, we saw a show (or two) on the ship. I think we actually saw one of these the night before, but the time stamps on my photos indicate that they were both this night. We saw a magic show with Hector is Magic, a Spanish magician. His sleight of hand tricks with cards were good. The other tricks were pretty easy to figure out. (Side note, while Hector is a decent magician, he’s not much of a rock climber. The next day, while in Cinque Terre, we ran into Hector while hopping on rocks in one of the small towns, Vernazza. Hector lost his sunglasses while trying to get a photo and didn’t notice. Toren saw the sunglasses fall, climbed down to find them, and returned them to him. You’re welcome, Hector!)

We also saw a diving show. The Oasis of the Seas is big enough that it has a water theater at the back of the ship where they stage diving shows. The shows were pretty good and included divers, synchronized swimmers, and slackliners.

The water theater at the back of the ship.

(Brief reflection on Marseilles. If I’m being honest, this was probably the least interesting shore excursion. I’m sure a long stay in Marseilles might prove otherwise, but it didn’t seem like there was a lot to do here. Additionally, the city seemed a bit dirty and was covered in graffiti. I kind of sound like a crotchety old man telling kids to get off my lawn with my criticism here, but I think it was the contrast between Paris and Marseilles that left me feeling like Marseilles wasn’t what I was expecting.)

Europe Trip – Mallorca (Day 4)

Rosemary arranged for a very nice excursion while we were in Mallorca. We boarded a catamaran with about 50 other people and headed out away from the city to a nice area where there was no development, dropped anchor, and everyone got to jump in the water and swim around. The water was really clear but a little chilly. Not thinking in advance, I forgot to bring our masks and snorkels but they had some for purchase for relatively cheap on the boat, so we bought a couple and had a nice time swimming around:

The three of us on the catamaran
Where we went swimming.

We got to swim for about an hour then had lunch on the catamaran. The trip to where we went swimming took about 45 minutes. It was about the same going back. Several of us decided that we wanted to walk around Mallorca for a bit before heading back to the cruise ship. When the catamaran docked, we started walking along the main road. We eventually found a staircase leading to a small park where we took some fun pictures.

After our stop at the park, we walked a little longer than grabbed some cabs back to the cruise ship.

Europe Trip – Boarding the Cruise Ship (Day 3)

Rosemary (Debi’s mom) arranged a transfer to the cruise ship from our hotel. Getting checked in and the luggage situated took a bit, but we were on the ship by about noon. We made our way to the buffet and grabbed some lunch, then started taking advantage of all the offerings on the ship. We were on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, which is an enormous ship with lots of offerings.

After lunch, we went to the rock climbing wall where Debi, Toren, and I (and several other nieces and nephews) all climbed the wall.

Ryan (in red) and Toren (in blue) on the climbing wall.

Most of the kids were excited to go swimming, so we got them ready as quickly as possible and let them swim for most of the afternoon.

One thing we always do on cruises with my in-laws is enjoy dinners in the main dining room. The food is typically very good and we enjoy the service. I have to be very careful not to over-eat, but it is a nice chance to enjoy good food, excellent service, and chat about our daily adventures. We got started with our daily dinners that first night.

After dinner, Rosemary had reserved tickets for all of us to see Cats, which was being performed that first night. Most of us went, but a few opted out since they had seen it before and were not keen to see it again. As a fan of musicals, I was familiar with a few of the songs and really enjoyed them, but had never seen it. Debi had seen it on Broadway but was fine seeing it again. I will admit that the first act left us all… disappointed. I’m sure the acting and singing were fine compared to other productions, but there is no coherency to the story. Toren’s intermission review was pretty accurate, “I like shows with a premise.” Almost all of the people in attendance got up at intermission; much less than half of those who were there at the beginning of the show stayed for the end. It was actually their loss. While the coherency of the play didn’t improve all that much (no one knows what a Jellicle cat is), the symbolism and meaning of the play became more apparent, there was a really good dance number, and the more well-known songs were also in the second act. By the end, we were glad we stayed and actually enjoyed the musical. Would we see it again? Meh. Probably not. But it was definitely worth seeing it once.

Europe Trip – Barcelona (Day 2)

It was the birthday of one of my nephew’s and he really wanted to go kayaking. So, we went kayaking. I think we all were hopeful that sea kayaking in Barcelona would give us a lot to see, kind of like when we went sea kayaking in Alaska. We were also under the impression that, like Alaska, we were not going to get wet. Both of those assumptions were wrong.

We ended up renting the sea kayaks from Centre Municipal de Vela de Barcelona, which is located really close to the Olympic Park in Barcelona. What we didn’t realize is that the kayaks had holes in them so water could drain out, but that also meant that sea water could come in. We also weren’t allowed to go to the nearby beach because people were swimming there, which meant we were relegated to paddling out around a concrete barrier and then coming back. We basically got to see the concrete barrier, some buoys, some big ships in the ocean, and each other. Additionally, the water was freezing and there were really big waves on the ocean. Collectively, what this meant is that we got really wet, really cold, and didn’t get to see much. But it was good exercise. The sea kayaking took up most of the morning. We found a nice restaurant for lunch where that same nephew ordered squid (which he didn’t eat, so the uncles finished it off).

After that, we got on the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus and got to see quite a bit of Barcelona. I was so impressed with the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and the fountains in front of it that I suggested we get off there. We did and spent a good hour enjoying the views and taking photos. Here’s a photosphere in front of the Museu:

The Museu really is an amazing sight with views of most of Barcelona and fabulous fountains:

I enjoyed the view enough I shot some footage of the waterfall just to keep as a loop.

A view of the museum below one of the waterfalls.
The view of the fountains from the museum.

We even managed to get a group photo:

Family photo in front of the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya

We then got back on the sightseeing bus and returned to our hotel. After a quick chance to drop off some stuff and refresh ourselves, we headed out to a nice, small Italian restaurant for dinner.

Europe Trip – Barcelona (Day 1)

My in-laws took the whole family on a trip to Europe again (see the previous trip). This time, we flew into Barcelona, spent two days there, then embarked on a 7 day Royal Caribbean cruise with 5 ports of call: Mallorca, Marseilles, La Spezia, Rome, and Naples.

The trip started off with some “excitement.” Most of us were supposed to meet at JFK airport in NYC (on the evening of the 13th) and fly to Barcelona together. However, due to weather issues, there were big delays into and out of JFK. The family flying in from SLC weren’t sure if they were going to make the Barcelona flight, so they got re-routed through Paris. We ended up meeting Steve (Debi’s brother) in NYC and we all flew together to Barcelona, landing around 10:30 am the next day. We arrived just a little before another part of the family, so we waited for them in the baggage claim. Once they arrived, Rosemary (Debi’s mom) had arranged for a transfer to our hotel. Those who got re-routed, unfortunately, ended up getting really delayed in Paris and didn’t get in until about 10:00 pm that night (almost 12 hours later).

After we got settled in the hotel, we went for a walk. Our hotel was just a few blocks from Placa de Catalunya, so we stopped there first. Here’s a photosphere I took there:

We were all pretty hungry, so we found a nearby restaurant and tried the famed Spanish paella. It was, meh.

Spanish paella in Barcelona
Spanish paella for three. It was fine, but I wouldn’t move to Spain to have it regularly!

From there, we headed for a walk down La Rambla, which was quite nice. We stopped for some treats along the way, walking all the way down to the Christopher Columbus statue and the port. We took a different route back, heading through Barri Gotic (the Gothic neighborhood) to our hotel. Given the limited sleep most had gotten on the plane, pretty much everyone was keen to get to bed early. Toren, Steve, and I went out for food, finding a nice little Italian place that was cheap but had good pizza.

A couple of quick reflections on Barcelona…

Perhaps it was the areas we were in, but we didn’t see a lot of parks and places for kids to play. There are plazas in front of churches, but most were paved and did not have areas for kids to play.

The wide, clean streets and fascinating architecture made walking in Barcelona quite pleasant.