Thursday, August 18, 2016

Barcelona, Spain

After a 6 hour train ride we arrived in Barcelona. We took a taxi to where our hotel was on Las Ramblas street. We got to a certain point and then our taxi driver said he couldn't go any farther because the streets were too narrow. He said it would be easy to find our hotel. When we asked which direction it was he said you could either go left or right. 

??? OK

Well we wandered and wandered and then final found someone who could point us to the right street...which looked more like a back alley. We then went up and down that street and still couldn't find our place. No signs no anything but there was a lot of trash, back doors to kitchens and there was homeless people sleeping. Scary.

Finally someone helped us find our place. There was no sign anywhere and there was only a number 8 on the building near the door. I guess that was it. This was all we saw, a graffiti filled locked door (this was a picture during the day)

Jeff called the phone number to our rental place and they said he had to take a taxi to their other location to get a key for after hours (I guess the office closed at 3 in the afternoon). Of course none of this was told to him before.

So I am left with our kids and our bags waiting in a scary back ally in Barcelona while Jeff tried to find his way out of the maze, get a taxi, find the other location and get our key and get back to us. 

Wandering around we found a small courtyard with this church in it. We at least felt it was safer because there were tourists around. 

Since it was almost 11 at night and none of us had eaten dinner I looked around for our options. I found a bar kind of place and ordered a couple of sandwiches for take away and we all took turns sitting on this bench made for 2 while we waited for Jeff to get back. 

Once we got inside the building and locked the doors behind us (there were lots of signs telling us this), and got up the rickety stairs and the smallest elevator that I've seen in my life the inside of the "apartment" wasn't bad. This was our view from our window. 

Staying in a place as old as this building was unlike anything I've ever done before. Jeff would tell me stories about living in Europe, but nothing is like actually being there. Now I realize just how small a "street" can be, how old and rickety buildings can be and people still use them and live in them and how narrow hallways, elevators and bathroom stalls can be. It was something I had to get used to. 

I have to admit during the day Las Ramblas street was pretty interesting and I enjoyed it much more. 

Joel and Virginia met up with us the next morning and we set off to see as much of Barcelona as we could in a day before we were supposed to board our cruise ship. 

The highlight that we really wanted to see was La Sagrada Familia church or "The Sacred Family"  It is a non-denominational church that has been under construction since 1882 and is not set to be finished until 2026. That would be like the Salt Lake Temple still being under construction. 

The architect was Gaudi but since he died various artists have contributed to the church. 

It reminded me of a giant drip sand castle.

At first we weren't going to be able to go in because all the time slots were full for the day. Jeff pulled the handicap card and we were able to make it in thank goodness. 

This is supposed to be what it looks like when it's finished. 

Joel and Virginia have visited it in the past and they said these colorful windows are new. 

Hanging out for a few minutes because they are tired of walking. 

The was the most unique church I've ever seen. With all the work that has gone into it I was surprised to hear that they only do events in it a couple of times a year on special occasions. 

After we rode over to park Guell

We ended up having to take 3 taxis over there because our group is so big. 

Since we were short on time we only went to the free part of the park and just got pictures of the rest. 

This park has the worlds longest bench in it.

We still had a great view of the city. It was warm that day and I was enjoying the fountains that they have in the city that you can use to fill up your water bottles. Jeff said they had them in Italy too when he was on his mission. 

Another building built by Gaudi in the back behind the trees. We ended up taking the bus from here to get back to the center of town. 

We were loving all the churches that were everywhere.

And the street performers.

For lunch we went to the market. It was quite crowded.

We tried all sorts of fresh squeezed juices, empanadas and new fruits that we've never had before like dragonfruit, lichi and star fruit. 

We love the cured ham.

The cold smoothies and variety of fruits were amazing.

Ashley was fascinated trying the new foods. 

Finally it was time to get to the ship. 

Jacob being silly as always....

We enjoyed watching a movie on the deck and all the free food on the ship. 

Sunset on the water as we start our cruise. 

We were on a new ship that had an Imax theater and  4d ride. We tried out the ride which was a 4D scary movie experience. It was fun. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Summer 2016 - London, England

Our long awaited trip to Europe finally had come...

Some excerpts from my journal:

We flew out on July 3rd I fielded 3 phone calls of Maddie getting out of the yard. The fireworks were freaking her out and somehow the gate wasn’t closed all the way.  As the plane door was closing David (who was staying at the house) came home and took Maddie from the nice stranger that had brought her back. Luckily she didn’t run away any more while we were gone.

We got to London about 3:00 local time. We flew Virgin-Atlantic and loved it. We got 2 meals, individual entertainment with lots of free movies, blankets, pillows, headphones and a comfort pack of earplugs, tooth brush and toothpaste and even socks. Nice flight. 

At first our phone didn’t work in London and the promised car from our hotel was nowhere to be found. Jeff finally got the phone working and called the hotel and they didn't have anything down about a car. We lugged our bags to the underground or the tube (Subway) and took it into the center of town. We didn’t realize that it was an express and we ended up paying something like 20 pounds a person which was crazy. Then we lugged our suitcases up to the street where we ended up getting a cab the rest of the way to our hotel. We would’ve probably been better off getting a cab at the beginning, ha ha.  

In the end it took 3 hours to get to our hotel, it didn’t help that we were trying to get there in rush hour traffic. 

We were staying right on the Thames river in the Dockyards. 

There was a ferry that took us to Canary Warf every few minutes. We checked in and explored the warf and ended up eating dinner at a great Italian restaurant. Good food and glad to finally be in London. We even had someone wish us a Happy 4th of July knowing that we were Americans (that was nice). We had no problem getting to sleep that first night since we had been traveling for so long. 

Our hotel had a great free breakfast. We skipped the blood sausage but I did have the eggs with beans and bacon on the side. I never considered eating pork and beans with eggs! There bacon was more like a round slice of ham, but when eaten all together it tasted pretty good. 

This was our marathon day to see London as much as we could. We took the Ferry over to Canary Warf and then took the underground to Westminster and came out at the parliament building and big Ben (which is so named for the bell in it, not the clock). We were in awe as we were coming up and seeing it all as we came up to the street level. Amazing!

We walked across the bridge spanning the Thames and went to the London Eye (formerly called the millennium wheel). I noticed that people had put locks on parts of the bridge…I would come to find out that is a “thing” now and I could see other places where people had put locks in random places when they could. 

The view was great and we could see all over London. The ride was smooth and just long enough that you weren’t bored. Here is what the capsule looked like. They had to use new technology to engineer the glass to get it curved enough so riders have an unobstructed view. 

Our view of the parliament building and Big Ben.

This was Kings Cross Station. Supposedly all of London is measure starting at the cross that is outside of this train station. 

One of the newer buildings was "the Shard" I guess it had a good lookout and a restaurant on top. I thought our view was good enough and beside the older buildings are what interested me most. 

Us in the eye

And our view down the Thames...

Afterwards we took a Big Bus tour around the city. We decided to use the Hop-On/ Hop-Off bus to see the rest of London that day. Kind of a Good idea/bad idea. 

Our first stop was Buckingham Palace. It was surreal to actually be there with all the other tourists that were there too.

The iconic guards...this is through the gate because apparently no-body was allowed near them.

An interesting statue that we saw on the route. 

When we went back to catch the bus we waited a while…no bus….then we were directed to walk a few blocks to a hotel and wait for the bus. Then it ended up being another block down and we caught it.

I guess there was a strike from the teachers and so part of the city was closed down. We stayed on the bus until we got back to Westminster and then ditched the bus (Buses in traffic are not too fun). The good thing was our bus had a live guide that told us about things but he had a strong accent and you had to really listen hard to understand him. It was interesting to see the house of Benedict Arnold where he lived the rest of his days as an American patriot even as we will always remember him as a traitor. We saw the original Hard Rock Café that started with a rock star wanting to reserve his table by hanging up his guitar above it.  Other singers did the same and the first Hard Rock Café was born. 

Our bus tickets also got us a one way trip down the Thames that would take us to the tower of London which was the last must-do thing that we were going to do that day. The boat tour talked about the modern and historic buildings that we passed. The poem that talks about the London Bridge falling down was true. The London Bridge that is there today is like the 4th one that they’ve had. They’ve all gotten burned down and the last one before was sinking so they sold it. They said that an American bought it and brought it to America thinking it was the Tower bridge instead (which supposedly wasn’t true when I researched it). We’ve seen it in Lake Havasu now we were traveling under the real London Bridge in London. 

This is the iconic Tower Bridge.

The London Bridge wasn't nearly as interesting and was just a flat bridge that spanned the river.

When we got to the tower of London (which was actually a compound inside of a wall in my opinion) we realized we only had an hour until it closed and we were encouraged to do it another time. We didn’t know if we would be able to come back and we had already bought the tickets so we decided to just do it quick. We walked in and thought we would do the highlights. We ended up seeing the crown jewels, the armory and the bloody tower. 

We ended up doing a speed walk through and at least got to see the highlights.

. I was surprised that some of the people we talked to later had never even seen the crown jewels. The jewels and royal paraphernalia were fabulous, over the top and excessive in every way. There was a large jewel in one of the crowns from India and I guess they really want it back…I’m thinking that it won’t happen.

We weren't allowed to take pictures of the crown jewels but I grabbed a couple of pictures off the internet.

The bloody tower had claustrophobic, steep stairs that I almost didn’t go up until I saw my children at the top and realized I wouldn’t have to be on them for too long. I found out quickly that the buildings, hotel rooms, elevators, stairs and many other things in Europe are much more cramped and small than I am used to and I had to work on not feeling claustrophobic more than once on our trip! There was a sad story of two princes that were heir to the throne that disappeared one night. One was 12 and one was 10. It is rumored that their uncle who was eventually crowned King ordered them killed but they were never found. Years later a workman renovating the tower found a box containing the skeletons of two boys believed to be the missing princes. Sad. 

The armory had all sorts of historical armor for both man and horse.

 The most interesting was the armor for King Henry the 8th which was obviously trying hard to protect his “family jewels”. 

One of the other interesting things about the tower were the ravens that live there. There is a legend that says there always has to be at least 6 ravens living at the tower or it would fall and all of England with it. So there is actually a raven master and 9 ravens (some to spare) that are kept in cages at night and let out during the day. They are fed raw meat, biscuits soaked in blood and an egg once a week. In the wild ravens live 10 to 12 years but they had one that lived 45 years named Jim Crow. 

That night Taylor and I explored a park that was across the street from our hotel. Once we explored past the playground we found that there were trails that kept going and going. It ended up being a wildlife preserve made when they filled in sections of the dockyards that used to be used for transporting lumber. It was great and we even saw a few fairly large foxes that let us get pretty close to them and seemed to be pretty used to people. The next morning we enjoyed breakfast and then all went back over to the park for a little bit before it was time to head over to the train to go to Paris.

Things I noticed in London

·         The window boxes full of flowers are more breathtaking than they are in paintings. I kept wondering how they kept the flowers looking so good especially the ones that were in such inaccessible places!

·         Our sign says “Exit” – theirs says “Way Out” and shows a person running

·         We say “elevator” – they say “lift”, We say “line” they say “que”,

·         In Europe not many restaurants are truly fast food but some will say “take away” which means they will have a way for you to bring the food with you. Take away is a cheaper price rather than sitting at a table which will usually have an upcharge.

·         When Jeff was in Italy there wasn’t really fast food chains but now all over Europe we saw plenty of Subways, McDonalds, KFC and Burger Kings and of course some knock off fast food places.

·         I loved the little gardens that were everywhere, courtyards and potted plants and topiaries.