Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Our last day in Rome started early; we were up, packed and at breakfast by 7:30 am. By 8:30 am we were on the bus #64 and headed for the Papal Audience at the Vatican. As I mentioned yesterday, we were fortunate and had very special tickets that put us up on the top level with the Pope. However, if you want to be in the front row… need to be there before 8 am so that you are first in line to run for the good seats! We’re too old for that and decided to be comfortable and not worry about where we were going to sit.

Arrived about 9; the tickets helped put us in a shorter security line and by 9:30 we were settled into seats that were in the back but along the fence that would allow us a good photo of the pope in the pope mobile as it ascended the ramp. There was a couple from Texas sitting behind us. They had gotten up at 2 am this morning to drive in from a mountain town in Tuscany; we enjoyed our visit with them and Elisa had a beautiful Nikon camera and promised to send me some of her photos. I took a photo of them catching a catnap as we waited….see the slideshow to meet them.

The program started at 10:30….and was expected to be over by 12:30 pm. We were seated right next to a large covered area that had chairs but was empty for a while but soon a youth orchestra arrived and a boy’s choir. We enjoyed the music…especially their rendition of “We Are the World”; while they were playing a large group of girls in our section sang with them and did a wave! Everyone was entertaining each other with spontaneous songs and cheers. I took some photos of the newlyweds across the way. If you’ve been married within six months you may wear your wedding dress and get special seating and recognition by the Pope. At 10:30 the pope mobile appeared for the journey down the aisles and then finally up the ramp to the podium.

We stayed for the first half of the program but had to leave early to return to the hotel and our ride to the airport hotel for our last evening. We’re at the Hilton Garden Hotel tonight and have repacked for our journey home tomorrow. We did a dry run this afternoon to terminal 5; our departure terminal, it was open but no one was there. All of the flights leave in the morning and they leave the terminal open and unstaffed in the afternoon….really strange.

For dinner we both had pizza in the restaurant here in the hotel. Struck up a conversation with people sitting next to us that are heading for the San Francisco Bay area tomorrow morning; we think our children may know each other….another small world experience.

Signing off until next June when we venture to Paris …. See you then…..

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Rain was predicted again for the day so we took our umbrellas when we left the hotel about 10:30 am. We’d purchased our Hop On/Off Bus tour tickets at the hotel and took a taxi to Santa Maria Maggiore Church. There we toured the church so that Barbara could see the inside. Then we found the Bus Stop for the tour bus and hopped on to start our tour. There are seventeen stops on the route that takes you through all of the major sites in old Rome. We passed the Colosseo (Coliseum), pass the Circo Massimo , along the Tiber River, Victor Emmanuel II Momument…like a large wedding cake…St. Peter’s Basilica and finally Piazza Navona.

We hopped off the bus and enjoyed lunch at our favorite pizzeria, 4 Fuimi, in Piazza Navona. We walked about enjoying the Bernini Fountains and all of the artists who were selling their wares in the center of the Piazza. Barbara almost purchased an oil painting of large red poppies!

Back on the bus for more touring….I forgot to mention…we had ten minutes of light rain while on the bus and that was the end of the rain for the day! We stayed on the top during the rain it was so light. A journal entry happened early in the trip…kids threw a raw egg at the bus from a window and hit the gentleman across the aisle from us….terrible mess….he got off the bus and the crew cleaned up the mess as we continued on our trip.

On the second trip around we did get off for a quick tour of the inside of the Colosseo….the first in many years! It was late afternoon by then and we walked in with no lines! From there we walked towards the American College of Bishops to pick up our tickets for the Papal Audience tomorrow morning. Yes, thanks to daughter Mary, we have some wonderful seats and the weather prediction is clear.

Back on the bus and off at the hotel. Tucked Barbara into the hotel and then Jim and I headed back to the bus to catch the last run … it was nearly 6 pm … to go over to the stop at the Circo Massimo. This put us right at Via di S. Sabina Street….a slight walk uphill for several blocks. At the end of the street, one will find the garden door for the Knights of Malta. Easy to spot because there are always soldiers stationed with a military vehicle here; probably due to the embassy on the same corner.

This was my third trip to the keyhole view of the dome of St. Peter’s….and my FIRST GOOD PHOTO….see the slide show! I was so thrilled…must have been the sunset lighting. We then walked back to the park at St. Sabina Church for the wonderful views of Rome. Leaving the area we walked back down and over to the Tiber River and continued along this path past the Jewish Temple before finding a city bus headed towards the Termini Station. Hoped aboard and settled in for the ride back to the station that is a short walk from our hotel.

It was a good last full day in Rome…tomorrow we have the Papal Audience and then go to a hotel near the airport for our last night. Thanks for hanging in there with us on our adventure.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Monday, March 22, 2010

Left the hotel after breakfast for a couple of hours, the ground was wet but it was not raining! Carried umbrellas all day….good insurance….cloudy skies but no rain!!!

Jim and I headed out towards the Roma Termini and their 24 hour pharmacy for Barbara. Along the way we stopped in to see the Basilica Sacro Cuore. It has a magnificent golden statue of Mary on the top of the steeple. The inside has been completely renovated. When I was here a year ago the inside was full of scaffolding…it is now beautifully restored. Picked up Barbara’s things at the Pharmacy and then headed towards Santa Maria Maggiore that is only a few blocks away. This is a very important church and when you enter the inside you leave Italy and enter the Vatican. There we inspected the Jubilee Door that is opened every twenty five years, the tomb of Bernini a, fragments from the manger of Bethlehem, the gold miracle relief commemorating the story about snow falling in Rome on a hill and that a church was to be built on this hill in honor of Mary.

Took us a while to see everything but soon we were on our way around the back to see the Egyptian Obelisk, one of many in Rome. Heading back towards the Piazza of the Republic and the Baths of Diocletian (where we went to church yesterday) and on to the church of Santa Maria Della Vittoria to view Bernini’s swooning “St Teresa in Ecstasy”. While there I noticed a body in a glass altar that I’ve included in the slideshow. These are very common in European churches. Most are saints but not all. I couldn’t figure out who this was but thought it’d made a good journal entry.

We’d promised Barbara that we’d return by 11 am….we walked in the door of the hotel right on the dot! She’s doing fine and has decided to take a day of rest while we head off to St. Peter’s and the Vatican for some stair climbing. We took Bus # 64 from Termini Station to Santa Pietro. We arrived about 1 pm and the security line was half way around the square; so it was a half hour in line and then we stood another hour in the line to climb the dome of St. Peter’s. The views are magnificent and well worth the time and money. We only had to climb 320 steps because we rode the elevator to the roof before starting the climb of the cupola (dome) between the twin shells. It’s been a good ten years since we made this particular climb.

It was nearly 3 pm by the time we arrived inside of St. Peter’s Basilica; giving us about twenty minutes for a fast walk around inside. At 3:30 we had tickets to the Scavi Tour; the necropolis under the Vatican that has the grave and bones of St. Peter as well as several beautiful family tombs dating back to the time before Christ. The excavation started in 1939 and was completed in the 1950’s. It took thirty years to prepare the site for public viewing. You are two stories below the floor of the Vatican when touring this site. It ends at the tomb of Pope John Paul II who died only a few years ago.

We hurried to get back to Barbara….five o’clock traffic was a bear but we had a great taxi driver! Found her sleeping and feeling very rested when she woke up. We were starving so an early dinner at a local restaurant was enjoyed by all before calling it a night!

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Jim and I got up early and walked to a church about fifteen minutes away for the 8 am Mass. This is a very unusual church located on the Piazza della Repubblica in the old Roman baths called the Baths of Diocletian. The name of the church is Santa Maria de Angeli; there are three separate altars used for saying Mass inside this mammoth structure. We attended Mass at the same altar as my sister and I did on Easter Sunday last spring. The priest asked at the beginning where people were from and found that there were about ten Americans and so at the end of the sermon he gave a summary in English and also a final blessing in English. I’m sure the collection plate jingled a bit more due to his extra effort for the tourists! Jim spent a few minutes with the priest after Mass and found instruction on where to find the church, Santa Maria Victoria, located a couple of blocks away; that houses Bernini’s statue, the swooning “St. Teresa in Ecstasy” that he wants to see before we head home.

Back to the hotel for breakfast with Barbara and at 11 am we went to the Galleria Borghese by taxi for our scheduled tour of the museum. We arranged for a wheelchair for Barbara and it made for an enjoyable experience for all of us since it takes at least an hour and a half to tour. With the audio tapes we all had a truly awesome experience. This is one of the best museums in Rome. It is so popular that you have to have a reservation; a two hour window and at the end of that window they clear everyone out to let the next group in for their two hours. Also, you must check your purse, backpacks, camera, etc. They are very strict in their rules but it is well worth it. I had purchased our tickets online in January.

When we finished the tour of the Galleria Borghese Jim headed off on foot to do some exploring in the old section. There is a Marathon being held in Rome today and the old section is closed to vehicles so the only way to get around is on foot. Barbara and I decided to take it easy and after some shopping in the gift shop and a light lunch we got a taxi and headed back to the Piazza Repubblica so that I could show Barbara the church that Jim and I attended this morning. Our taxi turned out not to be a regular taxi but a car that hires out. He spoke very good English…we paid a few extra Euros but we were not at an actual taxi stand. I got his name and phone number; for thirty Euros per hour you can hire him and his car for private tours…minimum of three hours. Sounds great to me but don’t think it’s gonna happen. I really enjoyed taking about Rome with him on our brief trip.

Arrived at our destination and as we entered we heard the huge pipe organ. Walked over and enjoyed over an hour of organ music by two different musicians. Truly a serendipity moment for both of us; then we walked across the piazza to McDonalds for a snack before finding another taxi for the very short final trip to the hotel.

Jim was back from his journey when we arrived at the hotel…he’d been walking the whole time; somewhat frustrated because of the hoards of people with the marathon. But he took us out to dinner at Florian’s Café for dinner; this is very close to the hotel and recommended by the manager. And he also went for a walk with me around the area after we tucked Barbara in for the night. Our last adventure for the day was hooking up to the web by cable in our rooms. The Manager is off this evening and he is the only one that can give us wireless. It took me over an hour to finally figure it out but Mr. Jim is now happily on the Internet. Hopefully I will be able to switch to this computer after a bit so that I can send this blog tonight.

Rain is scheduled for tomorrow….our big thing is to visit St. Peter’s at the Vatican and our schedule Scavi Tour at 3:30 pm. I’m thinking positive and have decided that it is not going to rain on my parade tomorrow!

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Saturday, March 20, 2010

An easy morning getting to the train station for our trip to Rome; the train was about twenty minutes late but it was less than two hours to Rome. The train was packed and of course we got on the wrong end of the car and had to move our luggage after we finally found our seats. But, once settled in, it was a smooth and fast ride on the AV Trains….not the milk run….we didn’t have any stops between Florence and Rome.

We were able to get a taxi and paid a fortunate to get us and all of our luggage the short distance to our Hotel Andreotti; a necessity for Barbara. After we settled in Jim and I walked to the Galleria Borghese to pick up our tickets for tomorrow at 11 am. Now we won’t have to rush to get there to pick up our tickets early tomorrow.

After resting a bit we caught a taxi to the top of the Spanish Steps and enjoyed the twilight just before sunset as we slowly descended the steps while the sun was setting. By the time we reached the fountain at the bottom it was nearly dark. The crowds were thick everywhere and then we remembered it is Saturday night!

Stopped about half way to Trevi Fountain and had dinner at a Trattoria called Zi Cir. I had a marguerite pizza, Jim had Spaghetti a la carbonara (egg white, cheese and bacon) and Barbara had Fetechini bolganese …. Guessing at the spelling…. But it was all very good and we also shared a brurshetta….I could use an Italian cookbook for spelling help!

On to Trevi Fountain…hard to get near it because of the numbers of people; but we enjoyed tossing our coins in to ensure that we’ll come back to Rome again! Seems to always work, we come back regularly! You’ll notice some photos of locks in the slideshow. There is a fence around a church next to Trevi Fountain; a year ago it was covered in padlocks…they kiss and through away the key…a fun thing to do….the officials have started fining people for putting the locks on and they keep cutting them off regularly. But, the kids keep putting them on all over Europe. Soon it was time to call it a night; it was easy to find a taxi there at the fountain for our fast trip back to the hotel.

We’re tucked in for the night….a nice start to our five days in Rome.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Friday, March 19, 2010

We started our day about 10:30 after a lovely breakfast in the hotel. We took a taxi from the hotel to the Accademia Museum for our 11:00 am appointment. This is a relatively small museum but very popular and one of two in Florence that you really need to buy tickets ahead of time. There was a small exhibit on musical instruments, several rooms of religious art, mostly Altar pieces. One room of statues and the piece de resistance: the statute of David by Michelangelo; considered one of his most important works and a must see in Florence. It was moved in doors to protect it in 1873 and a copy now stands in the Piazza della Signoria. This is the David of the David and Goliath story in the bible.

We then caught a taxi to the Pitti Palace on the other side of the Arno River; not an easy task since the elimination of traffic through the historical section. Purchased our tickets and headed for the top floor where we walked through the rooms of the former Medici Home in the fifteenth century. Then we walked all the way down the grand staircase….all three flights. Jim went on to find the Renaissance paintings on the first level while Barbara and I took a breather in the Café.

From there we walked across the Ponte Vecchio Bridge and continued to the Straw Market for some additional shopping. Found a wallet for Jim and scarfs for Barbara plus several other small items. We enjoyed an early dinner at the A Borsa Ristorante with a view from our table of the famous town hall in Piazza della Signoria by way of a narrow street.

After a short walk with geloto to the Duomo square where Jim had discovered a taxi stand; we got a Prius Taxi…and a wonderful driver who enjoyed speaking to us in English…for a delightful ride back to the hotel. Tonight we pack for our train trip tomorrow to Rome…….…Arrivederci from Firenze

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Thursday, March 18, 2010

This morning Jim and I headed off for a morning on our own; Barbara decided to stay at the hotel for the morning. Our first stop was at the Palazzo Medici Riccardi; a small museum in one of the former homes of the Medici family. Many family documents are displayed here and the upstairs still has the furnishings in most of the rooms. The Venetian chandeliers were amazing.

Our second stop was at the Town Hall, Palazzo Vecchio Quartieri located in the Piazza della Signoria; famous to Americans as the building that Hannibal Lector tossed out the Italian guy in the second of that series of movies. The council was in session and we got to see a bit of Italian Government in action and also some beautiful rooms.

Walked past the Cathedral for some photos and then on across the Ponte Vecchio Bridge to meet our son’s brother-in-law and his wife for lunch. They are both college professors and he is here with a group of students for ten weeks of study abroad. They live a half block from the famous bridge. We were looking for their apartment number when Chuck walked up to us on the street. He’d been at a class on Italian Language with his students and was returning home to meet us. Patti was upstairs waiting for us to arrive.

After a brief visit to the apartment we walked to a restaurant that was recommended to them by the group that is guiding them during their stay. We were headed in the direction of the restaurant when someone overhead our conversation mentioning the name and she asked if we were looking for that restaurant. Turned out that her husband is also an instructor with the same school; small world. She got us to the restaurant and then took her leave.

We had a wonderful lunch at Trattoria La Casalinga. I had Ravoli stuffed with ricotta cheese and a wonderful rabbit meat sauce; a bit of a wild taste but very good. On our way back to the bridge we were treated to geleto at Patti’s favorite shop. Somehow the boys missed us when we stopped on the bridge. Long story short….Jim finally walked back to the hotel and then Chuck found me and I then walked back myself, arriving about five minutes after him. Gotta have those plans of what to do when you get separated spelled out ahead of time! But all ended well.

Picked up Barbara and headed over to the park around the Fort that is only a block away from our hotel. Then we watched a parade of what we think were merchandisers who have the carts in the market squares who are on strike today. Tomorrow they will be back to work. I was disappointed that I didn’t really see any celebrations for St. Joseph’s Day.

We had an early dinner, some shopping for Miss Barbara and then home for the evening to get ready for another busy day tomorrow. Hard to believe that a week from today we’ll be flying home to the USA…hope you’re still enjoying our adventure…

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On the train headed for Florence. Our first story is about last night’s concert. We walked over to the Accademia Bridge and the Church of Saint Vidal: Chiesa di San Vidal; where they hold seasonal evening concerts performed by the group: Inteipieti Veneziani……a classical music group with a clavicorde (an early version of the piano), a bass, a cello, a viola and four violins. The concert began at 8:30 and lasted for a little over an hour…it was a full house and we had three encores. For the final encore everyone put down the bows and used their fingers to pluck their instruments….very unique! And, the musicians enjoyed themselves also. We were home by 10:15 pm.

Walking home in clear weather we reminisced about previous concerts that we’ve attended in Europe. Our first experience was about 1996 in Salzburg, Austria. We were in a castle and as a result of the experience we started a bi-annual event with classical music performed on the patio our home that is located on a small man-made lake in California on each Labor Day and a little bit different performance of jazz for Memorial Day. When I retired in 2004 we turned the events over to our association and they’ve continued the tradition ever since.

We’ve also enjoyed musical evenings in Venice…yes, this same group in 2002; another one in Florence and our most recent: the piano competition in Barcelona last week. Well worth the cost of a ticket if you can find the events when you are traveling.

This morning we were up early and had our breakfast about 8:30 am. By nine we were walking towards San Marcos Square for a last view of the most famous place in Venice…and the sun was shining for our last view! Boarded the Vaporatto #2….makes fewer stops than #1….we were soon at the train station. We could hear the crowds yelling and hundreds of people were milling about.

We’ve found the set where Angela Jolie and Johnnie Depp are filming their latest movie. Fortunately we were early and had time to stick around long enough to get some shots of the stars before we left on the train. This was definitely an added “journal entry” for our trip. I had read that they were filming here in Venice but never expected to actually see the film crew and the stars!

It’s now nearly 10 pm…and we’re in Florence. Our train trip lasted two hours mostly through the mountains; saw snow here and there on the way; it was nice to have a direct train instead of the milk run. We had no trouble getting a taxi for our short ride to the Donatello Hotel on Piazza Indipendenza; rooms are half the price of our last one and still nice.

Settled in before 3 pm we were soon in a taxi headed for the Ponte Vecchio Bridge and Barbara’s favorite European shopping spot. It took us about two hours to cross the block long bridge! It shop until you drop time! Jim and I enjoyed lemon gelatos while she shopped. About 6 pm we found a nice little Italian restaurant and I enjoyed gnocchi with meat sauce, Barbara and Jim had spaghetti with meat sauce and we all enjoyed bruschetta. After dinner we walked back across the Ponte Vecchio Bridge…down the center with no stops. Then to the straw market to rub the Boar’s nose for good luck and to ensure a return to Florence in the future. Continued walking to Piazza della Signora to see the David statute and then on to the Domo….Florence’s huge cathedral. While we were standing in the square at Signora; Barbara used the cell phone to call her family and wish them a Happy St. Patrick’s Day. We’ve seen lots of American’s wearing green hats today but tomorrow will be a big celebration here in Italy for St. Joseph’s Day. We’ll probably hear lots of firecrackers.

Then the hunt began for a taxi…we knew we had to walk beyond the cathedral and the pedestrian area; but even when we had arrived at streets with cars we could not get a taxi to stop. Jim tried going into small hotels but they wouldn’t give us the time of day. We saw a MacDonald’s just about the time I thought of calling our hotel and asking them to call us a cab. When we told them that we were outside of a MacDonald; the clerk told us to go inside and ask them to call us a taxi.

In I went cell phone in hand; at first they didn’t want to but when I offered my cell phone to make the call the girls took pity on us and made the call. We finally reached the taxi dispatch and he sent us a cab within four minutes. Tired but finally safely back in our hotel…we called it a night!


Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It’s a beautiful day in Venice…the sun comes in and out of the fog. Jim has gone to see the Doge Palace (has the Bridge of Sighs in the prison part of the tour) and I am staying with Barbara in her room. We enjoyed a fabulous breakfast in our hotel…lots of German’s use this hotel and it was a large German style meal. Barbara needed some additional rest….and I enjoyed Venice with daughter Jennifer in 2006 without Jim so I elected to keep Barbara Company. We have the windows open, the Internet on and I’m listening to the gondoliers go down the canal below her window. Several have had two couples, the oarsman, an accordion player and a singer! Fabulous…we could hear them for nearly five minutes…such a glorious … and for those in the boat…expensive experience. The two boats stationed at the little bridge down below the window have not moved…but other boats that have picked up passengers elsewhere are constantly moving down our canal. The sights and sounds are almost better than walking the miniature streets….Romantic Venice is coming to us! I suggested to Jim that he also take the elevator to the top of St. Mark’s tower while he is out this morning. And…the clock tower that he has never seen without scrim hiding the renovations…has been finished since before I was here in 2006. So he should have a great little morning tour.

The view from our terrace outside of our room this morning was great. We can see the dome of a church and the domes of St. Mark’s Cathedral plus the bell tower! Yes, it really is a room with a special view. Funny story…last night when I was trying to plug in to charge the camera and computer; I searched behind all of the furniture and finally found one outlet open where the T.V. and Mini Bar were plugged into the wall. The bedside lamps are hardwired into the wall. But…my plug would not go into the socket. Called downstairs and asked where the electrical outlets were….one in the bathroom is only good for electric razors. They sent the bellhop who did the same search I did and found one behind the bedside table on the right side of the bed. But…when I showed him my plug…won’t work he said. At the desk I may put a deposit on an adapter plug that will fit between the wall and my plug. Finally, I had electricity! Traveling is full of tricky little problems and it’s always fun when you solve them!

Jim returned about 2 pm after a wonderful morning tour of the Doge Palace and wandering around San Marcos Square to the old haunts from previous trips. I decided to take a two hour walk by myself; my first stop was to find a closer Vaporetto Bus Stop for tomorrow’s trip to the train station. I found one; only one bridge to cross and a short walk….shorter than where we arrived at San Marcos. This stop is S. M. del Giglio….the Kette Hotel is located between the two stops. No ticket booths so we’ll have to purchase tickets elsewhere today. For a future trip there is a Best Western Hotel right at this stop.

Then I started following the signs to the Rialto Bridge…the stone double sided bridge with shops on the bridge. Suddenly I heard classical music coming from a church…I peeked inside and saw a display of many violins, cellos and other instruments; and it said free admission. I knew that Jim would love this so hurried back to the Hotel and took them back with me. Enjoyed the display and actually purchased tickets for a live concert of music by Vivaldi, Mozart and Sarasate. It starts at 8:30 pm so we probably will leave at the intermission so that we can get a good night’s sleep for our trip tomorrow.

Will tell you about our concert tomorrow after we arrive in Florence….caio

Monday, March 15, 2010


Monday, March 15, 2010

Awake early, I had the others up and getting ready by 8:30 am. I went out to McCafe and got the hot chocolate and coffee drinks and then we purchased pastries from the Hostel for our breakfast. Had a fun conversation with one the owners of our Somnia Hostel about my blogspot. They regularly search blogs for mention of their Hostel and had pulled mine up yesterday. I asked why they were not on and she said they’d tried but had been turned down because of something to do with the type of license they hold. Such a shame because it is really a good place to stay; I must remember to send a note to and let them know what a great Hostel they are missing in Barcelona. We located them because of the recommendation in the Rick Steves book on Spain. We were looking for a Hostel that offered private rooms with a bath as well as dorm rooms. Somnia has a wonderful location that is walking distance to the Ramblas and the Gaudi buildings. Plus all the buses and Metro connections!

The taxi arrived at 10 am and we were off to the Barcelona Airport; a twenty minute drive and less than thirty euros because of light traffic. We’d printed our tickets before leaving the USA and only had to check our luggage in….yes…we all managed to get everything back into two bags…one to check and one to carry on. Security was easy; only had to take off your shoes if you were wearing boots. I did have to take the laptops out of the sleeves (not required in the USA) and I had to take the caps off of the water bottles to get them past the security.

Absolutely beautiful airport; it looks to be less than ten years old. We are flying to Venice for about seventy five euros each on this economy airlines; it would have been several hundred on most other airlines. We were at our departure gate by 11 am. We purchased some sandwiches for our lunch before boarding and ate them during the flight. The plane actually left the tarmac about an hour behind schedule for our two hour flight…glad we’re not connecting.

When we arrive we’ll go to the Train Station to purchase our train tickets for Wednesday to Florence and Saturday to Rome. That way we won’t have any surprises …we hope…for the remainder of our transportation. Weather wise, cool but the sun is shining. I had a great view of the coastline of Spain and the snow covered mountains to the west. Right now we’re over the Mediterranean Sea on our way to Venice.

Once we have our train tickets we’ll catch the Vaporetto Bus #1 to St. Mark’s Square and hoof it a short distance to our Hotel Kette. Yes…we’re going from a Hostel to a four star! Another one of our finds by Jim.

Our trip took us across the Italian Alps and we took a few photos for the slideshow. Arrived at Venice International Airport at 3 pm; found the shuttle bus to the train station. Only three euros each; we thought we had a problem when the bus went to Mestre Station instead of St. Lucia. But, asked the driver and he said “no problem”….stay on the bus and in a few minutes we will be at St. Lucia. Soon we were crossing the long causeway bridge to Venice and the train station. The weather here is cold and foggy; but no rain. Jim and Barbara guarded the luggage near the water bus station and I went into the train station to purchase our tickets for later this week. Yes, the clerk spoke English and within minutes I had our tickets.

Climbed on the Vaporetto Bus #1, the milk run down the Grand Canal, for a photo opp run to San Marcos….Jim stood outside with me and Barbara sat inside where it was warmer. The sun was shining as we departed but by the time we reached the Rialto Bridge the fog was back. By 5:30 pm we’d found the Kette Hotel and had settled into our rooms. Jim and I have a cute little patio off of our room and Barbara has a great view of the canal and a bridge….we’re on the fifth floor. Everyone was hungry so we started out to find a restaurant recommended by the hotel and ended up stopping at a very nice Italian Restaurant for our first meal in Italy.

We walked home to the hotel in fog….very dense….unable to see the top St. Mark’s Tower even when we were standing in the square. A good night to wash hair and some socks; we’re trying to not have to do laundry on this trip by washing a few pieces each evening. Seems to be working well.

Tomorrow will be our day to see our favorite sites again in Venice; thinking positive for some sunshine. The long tables are sitting in all the streets, it high tide season. Not sure if we’ll get the experience or not…need to check the internet for the tides or maybe just wait for tomorrow.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

POBLE ESPANYOL - 1929 International Fair

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday breakfast at you know where…McCafe seems to be the only local place that has hot chocolate! My coffee I can get anywhere…but not hot chocolate; and Jim and Barbara do love McCafe’s hot chocolate!

Took a taxi to the Baroque Church on The Ramblas and found that they’d just finished the 9:30 am Mass….so off we went strolling down the Ramblas; a pedestrian only street full of vendors and people enjoying their Sunday morning. This street takes you from Plaza Catalunya to the port; right through the original Roman walled city of ancient times. Rather dangerous at night, especially for pickpockets, it was delightful today in the sunshine. We found a giraffe to photograph with Barbara…seems like we’re finding one in every city. She purchased a very tall wooden carved one for her house just before Christmas so it’s been fun finding them here in Spain. We saw a very strange building with a dragon and an umbrella…see the slideshow. Lots of unusual people dressed up for photo opportunities with the tourists…again…several photos in the slide show.

At 11 am we returned to the church for the 11 am Mass. The music was supplied by an older man with his guitar and beautiful voice. Later we walked over to the Santa Ana Church and enjoyed the attached cloister. We found the Roman Necropoli; not worth writing home about….looked like a group of tombstones that had been collected and put in one spot.

Returned to the hotel and dropped Barbara off for a rest. Jim and I found Bus # 50 and headed out towards Montjuic, a mountain (large hill) that overlooks Barcelona city and the port. The 1992 Olympics was held here and also the 1929 International Fair. For the fair a Spanish Pavilion was built representing all of the different parts of Spain as a village known as Poble Espanyol. It was so popular that like the Eiffel Tower in France it has been maintained as a popular tourist spot. Rick Steves Tour Book doesn’t give it very high marks but Jim and I thoroughly enjoyed the visit. We did get the audio guide which was well worth the three Euros. We also met some very helpful Spanish people on the bus and an Australia couple who we enjoyed visiting with on the trip back to the Hostel.

The clerk at the Hostel encouraged us to go to a musical performance tonight. It started at 5 pm and was the opening night of the first round of piano performances of classical music at the fifty sixth annual International Music Festival. Barbara decided not to attend so Jim and I walked over, about a twenty minute walk, and enjoyed the first half of the show. Each contestant played several classical selections for about twenty minutes each. We stayed for five of them. Beautiful, but many were playing the same selections….

Back to the hostel where we picked up Barbara and headed out for dinner and then home to pack our bags for our trip to Venice tomorrow. We’re flying on Vueling Airlines, Spain’s answer to Southwest and Ryan Air. Should be an interesting experience…we’re a little worried about the size and weight of our luggage. Another learning experience awaits…..

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Saturday, March 13, 2010

I woke up about 8 am and worked on my computer; about 9 am I left the Hostel and walked to the McCafe to pick up a late breakfast for everyone…they were still sleeping when I left! By 10 am I had the group awake and eating. Opps….Miss Barbara is taking the day off just as I thought might happen.

But, trooper Jim was ready to roll and by noon we were on bus #24 headed towards the top of Parc Guell. This 30 acre plot on top of a hill was original planned as a high end residential complex by Gaudi; the development flopped but the end result was a beautiful park for the people of Barcelona. Wooded areas, open areas, unbelievable caves, paths and gingerbread buildings; let your imagination run wild and you won’t even come close to the designs in this park.

We spent a couple of hours walking from the top to the bottom of the park. I’ve put a lot of photos on the slide show for you. The greatest thing was the weather: the sun was shining! Actually took my coat off several times. The sky was murky so we could not see beyond the port but what a perfect day for viewing the park.

Arrived back at the hotel about 3 pm, rested the tootsies a bit from all the walking while we showed Barbara all the photos we took. Once she saw how far down the hill we walked; she was very glad that she stayed in the Hostel and rested.

Jim found coupons for MacDonalds in the materials they had given us on the Hop On/Off Bus yesterday; a free sundae with a Big Mac Dinner….off we went about 5 pm for an early dinner. Afterwards we walked down the street to take another look at the Casa Mila by Gaudi and then back to the Archeological Museum that has a wonderful permanent display on Egyptian artifacts. Jim stayed to tour and I headed back to the Hostel with Barbara for some computer time. I must admit this Hostel is very well located for multiple viewing of many of the buildings designed by Gaudi along the Passeig de Gracia; known as the Block of Discord.

In for an early evening; we got a late start for the day but ended with lots of new things to share with my Armchair Travelers. We have one more day in Barcelona then it’s off to Italy! Weather wise you can leave your mittens at home tomorrow…we have another beautiful day per the Internet.

Friday, March 12, 2010


Friday, March 12, 2010

I was awake early and by 7 am I was in the lobby working on my computer; woke the others at 8 am and by 9 am we were out the door to McCafe (MacDonald Breakfast Bar) for hot chocolate and croissants. The weather prediction was only 10% rain…but it was raining enough that we eventually returned to the Hostel to pick up umbrellas. Of course…as soon as we did….. the drizzles stopped. Good insurance is to always carry the umbrellas!

By 11 am we’d purchased our tickets for the Hop On/Off Bus that would take us around the city up until 7 pm this evening. Our original plan was to stay on all the way around and then make stops during a second trip around. We ended up staying on just past the Soccer Stadium before hopping off to go to a Starbucks to get some hot drinks and take a bathroom break. It was soooo cold we were all freezing! This is the coldest winter that Spain has seen in many, many years! I’m sure if it had really rained hard today we would have had snow again like they had a week ago. According to the locals, they generally don’t even wear coats during the day in March!

After we were warmed up at Starbucks, we changed from the Blue Route to the Red Route; there are four bus routes: Blue and Red on our plan and then there is another company that has Orange and Green routes. One has to be careful on the buses to make sure that you’re on the correct bus. Each route is a bit different but they all cover some of the same streets that have the famous buildings designed in the Gaudi style. One of the first that we saw was The Casa Mila with iron Balconies designed to look like waves. See the slideshow. We started on the Red Route to reach the Blue Route; switched to the Blue and headed for the Sagrada Familia, the new Cathedral designed originally by Gaudi with “organic” style architecture that has been under construction for over one hundred years. Maybe our grandchildren will see the completion? We had a quick look as we drove past the Cathedral and then on pass many other sites including the Soccer Stadium, home to Fulbol Club Barcelona, one of the premiere teams in the world. This stadium was built in 1957 and is the largest stadium in Spain holding nearly one hundred thousand people.

After our stop at Starbucks we returned to the Red Route so that we could go to the Montjuico Mountain. Passing the Montjuico Castle, we climbed rapidly up to the top and drove past the 1992 Olympic Stadium and many of the different sites build for the games that year. The views of the sea and the City of Barcelona are wonderful…on a clear day….we had fog so didn’t get to enjoy that special view. We were soon on the down side headed toward the port where all of the cruise ships leave on the Mediterranean Cruises that Americans love to take!

Here we saw their World Trade Center, many large ships, the statue of Christopher Columbus and a beautiful hotel…we hopped off at the hotel and mixed in with a trade show by Intel as we took another break for bathrooms. There is a bus that comes along about every five to ten minutes so we were soon back on the bus and completed the tour around the port before heading up the Ramblas to the old part of the city and the Barcelona Cathedral. Built in the Gothic style with the buttresses inside the structure during the fourteenth century it is now undergoing a major cleaning and restoration on the outside..note the photos on the slide show. The main altar is built above the tomb of the patron saint of Barcelona, a thirteen year old girl that was killed by the Romans because of her religion: Saint Eulalia. In the Cloisters attached to the Cathedral there are thirteen white geese, because she was thirteen years old. Their incessant honking when disturbed alerted the monks to intruders in ancient days but now they just entertain the tourists!

Back to the tour bus for a short ride back to the beginning of our day’s adventure; our plans for a second trip around were definitely off of the table by this time. We felt like we’d gotten more than our monies worth and were ready to enjoy an early dinner as it was already 5:30 pm. And, we were still oh so COLD. We headed for a restaurant that served Paella; the famous Spanish seafood dish. So good and they had pint glasses of beer the size of a German beer stein. Sated and warm we ventured back to the streets for a short walk to the Hostel.

Our last adventure for the day was to tackle the Metro System for a trip to the Sagrada Familia to see the towers with the lights on at night. We soon found out that using this line sounded much easier than it actually was. We walked for blocks in the tunnels to finally reach the train that took us to the site. We did enjoy the visions of creativity as we walked all around the outside to view the different sections. It was after 10 pm by the time we hailed a taxi for the trip back to the Hostel…very fast and much easier on the legs. Me thinks the troops are ready for a day off tomorrow…at least in the morning.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Breakfast this morning was included in the hotel through our reservations with; so we were out of the rooms by 9 am and enjoyed a wonderful meal without leaving the hotel. Jim went outside to walk after breakfast and found parades as well as visiting the inside of the Cathedral that we’d visited last night. The rest of us were packing for our journey to Barcelona.

The clerk called for a taxi to pick us up at the hotel door…no traipsing down the street pulling luggage to a taxi stand; amazing the different between a two star and a three star hotel! The streets were very crowded and some were closed because of the celebrations; but soon I recognized the Valencia Bull Ring…see the photos in the slideshow…and knew that we were near the central train station. This is where I thought we were arriving last night. It is actually walking distance to the hotel if we didn’t have luggage. Found our destination on the big board and settled in for an hour’s wait until time for our train to leave. Picked up sandwiches to eat on the train as we were not sure about service; but later we discovered that this train did have a cafeteria car plus televisions. We also had numbered seats; discovered when someone showed us their tickets and requested the seats we’d settled in. This train was FULL and many had huge suitcases….but we all settled in with nary a seat or overhead rack to spare. Our train left Valencia at 1:08 and we arrived at Barcelona Sants at 4:37 pm.

The trip along the coast was beautiful; I’ve put a few photos in the slide show for you to enjoy. It’s difficult to take photos when we’re moving but out of many a few were not too blurred. When we arrived in Valencia we navigated through the station and found the taxi stand. A burly man with full beard and no English but he got us to our new home for the next four nights. We had our doubts when he pulled up in front of a non-descript building that looked more residential than anything. Then he showed us the buzzer panel with the name “Somnio”….ah…the name of our Hostel. We rang the buzzer and the door released. Up three flights of stairs…but we found the elevator for the luggage.

Barcelona is very expensive if you want to stay right in the city; we found this on the Internet. It is run by two American girls from Chicago. Very clean and recently renovated; the rooms are small but the price is right. We settled in…you can see some photos of our room…no television, no closets, no dressers, but clean and has a bathroom in our room. One of the best features is FREE INTERNET.

Walked to a local place called El Raco about 7 pm for dinner; the regular restaurants are not open at this hour but we’ve been fortunate to find cafes with a good selection of Italian food which we all enjoy. I actually had a pizza tonight. Jim and I ordered grande beer…check the photo…could not believe the size of the glass; Barbara enjoyed her sangria.

After dinner we walked the streets and found the nearby Gaudi Casa Batllo house with skull-like balconies and a roof that suggests a cresting dragon’s back. Gaudi based the work on the popular St. George legend. Barcelona is the home of many of Gaudi’s most famous works. This was only one of several that we’ll visit over next several days.

Soon we were home and tucked in for the night. We’ve got a full day tomorrow as we plan to ride the tour bus around the city and then go around a second time with stops to visit some of the city’s treasures.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Up at 8:30 am and checked out of the hotel by 10 am; having purchased food yesterday for our breakfast this morning helped get us out the door early. We took a taxi to the train station; we didn’t want to take the luggage up and down the stairs at the Metro. Our first train left from the main station and then we got off at the first stop. There we had to wait for an hour for our next train that would take us all the way to Valencia on the eastern coast. I checked out the first class cars…exactly the same as our second class except they paid much more for their tickets!

It was a long day; our train left at 12:30 pm and we arrived in Valencia at 5:45 pm. We were definitely on the “milk run”. But, it was fun seeing all of the town and the scenery as we passed from the center of Spain to the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. We passed through villages of only a few houses to large cities, stopping at many of them. Some of the stops were out in the middle of nowhere when people were waiting to get on the train…nothing in sight except for a car that had brought them to the tracks.

Many stone houses were without roofs out in the middle of vacant land. Somewhere I’ve read that people take the roofs off so that the taxes are reduced. If a family member comes back they replace the roof and the house is restored? Sounds good I thought. There were miles and miles of grape vineyards. Fruit orchards and as we neared Valencia: orange groves.

Arrived in Valencia and it was not where we’d expected! We were at the end of the line instead of at the train station in the center of town. After much confusion and question asking we finally got on a bus that had a wonderful driver. When we showed him a map…good old google…of our hotel he agreed to let us know when to get off. Sure enough…he let us off just two blocks from the hotel . His route was taking him another direction. He also pointed out the main train station where we will go tomorrow to catch our train to Barcelona.

Checked in the Catalonia Excelsior Hotel right in the city center; this is our first one that we’d arranged through As of now we’re very pleased…it also includes breakfast tomorrow. Definitely a three star with all the bells and whistle including free wireless internet. Put our things in our rooms and headed out for dinner. We found a great little place that specialized in Italian food and enjoyed a wonderful meal about 7:00 pm.

After dinner we walked to see the Cathedral, only 500 meters from our hotel…an easy walk and good to stretch the legs after a day on the train. The city is preparing for a very large festival this weekend. They are building huge paper objects and will set them on fire over the weekend. Every street has light banners stretched across. Looks like we will miss one heck of a party!!

It’s late and I want to post this before signing off. Thanks for staying tuned….next chapter will be in Barcelona…another afternoon on the train! Buenos Nochos….


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Today was a Jim Day…Barbara was taking a day off and we were doing Museums. Sat the alarm for 8:30 am and had purchased food for our breakfast to eat in the room. For coffee I had some instant to add to the hot tap water…worked great. We were out the door and headed for the Museo Del Prado by 9:15 am. It was about a mile to the museum and viola…no lines…we walked right into the museum. This museum opened in 1819 as the Real Museo de Pinturas; one of the oldest museums in Europe and considered one greatest repository of fine art.

We spent about three hours touring the various rooms on both levels. No photos are allowed but I did manage to take several…no flash and using my two second timer…several are in my slide show. The first one of Martha and Mary…yep…Mary is in the back with Jesus and Martha is working…opps…the flash went off and the guard yelled at me. From then on I was very careful when I used the camera. Several shots are of painters who are allowed to paint copies of old masters in the museum; thereby learning their brush strokes. Picasso spent five years doing exactly this when he was a young man living in Madrid

About 1 pm we were ready for a change and walked to the nearest Metro, about half a mile; Jim took a tumble on a three inch riser as we were in the tunnel…it’s the little things in life that get you! But he was fine and we boarded the Metro. Three changes later we were in an entirely different part of Madrid; very near to the American Embassy. Our quest was to find another small museum called the Museo Sorolla; his private home was given to Spain to be used as a museum for his works. He is considered in Spain to be the equivalent to Monet. Here we were allowed to take photos without flash and I included many different photos in the slideshow. Many of them are taken in his studio that was located inside his home.

Back to the Metro for a fast trip to Gran Via stop and then a comfortable walk down the pedestrian street to Puerta del Sol and then home to the hotel. Woke Barbara up and after spending a couple hours in the hotel; Jim headed back to the Prado Museum for another two hours…after 6 pm it is FREE!!

Barbara and I headed to the El Core Ingles department store where we located the beauty shop on level five and had her hair washed and dried. Not an easy job as she has very long hair! But what a treat…she felt sooo good after some pampering! Then we walked to the ATM machine for some needed cash and then dinner at MacDonalds….Big Macs, French fries and drinks; just like home in California. After picking up some food for tomorrow’s breakfast we strolled back to the hotel and Mr. Jim had just arrived back from his third museum fix of the day!

Packed our bags and got ready for tomorrow’s journey to Valencia by train; decided to wait and send this tomorrow in Valencia as we have free Internet for the rest of Spain.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Monday, March 8, 2010

Set the alarm for 8:30 am…out the door by 9:30; we went to a nearby restaurant called Nebraska for breakfast. I had the “Inglish” plan: scrambled eggs, ham and toast with “American” coffee. The others didn’t fare so well as they didn’t get what they thought they’d ordered…it got lost in the translation even with using an “English” Menu. Their hot chocolate was almost pudding. Barbara’s pancakes were sweet crepes with whipped cream and rich syrup that was more like dessert than breakfast. Jim faired better with a cheese and ham sandwich, not too bad except for the hot chocolate. Fun and good food…we laughed a lot. Suddenly there was a Television crew in the restaurant with two actors. They filmed a commercial for the restaurant while we were there…I think we were the extras!

We headed to the train station by way of the Metro for our planned trip to Toledo. We also planned to purchase our tickets to Valencia for Wednesday and Barcelona on Thursday. Those we purchased but the trip to Toledo was cancelled as the tickets were all sold out until 1:30 pm and we would have had to come back on the 5 pm unless we wanted to stay until the 9:30 pm train. It’s only half an hour each way…but the times were so crazy we decided not to go.

Jim and Barbara were both a bit under the weather so they headed back to the hotel and I elected to do something very different by myself. I continued on the Metro to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu Stadium: home to the Real Madrid F.B. That’s the Madrid Soccer Team to Americans; one of the world’s top soccer teams.

Arrived without any problems and found the place to purchase a ticket to tour the stadium. Wow..what can I say…it started in one of the top areas for an aerial view of the stadium and field, then down to the private box level and on through a great museum that also included just a bit of history on their basketball team. All the trophies were displayed in glass cases, shoes, uniforms, many photos…all fun to see and they even had photographers stationed along with route that would take photos of you on a green screen and then put you in the arms of your favorite players! Prices were steep so I decided to just take my own photos. I kept finding myself on lower and lower levels and finally ended up on the field…not the grass…but in the player’s box and got to sit in their seats and the coaches seats…you soccer fans…eat your hearts out…what an afternoon!

Back on the Metro I arrived at the hotel about 4 pm; gathered the troops and headed out for some window shopping and walking the streets around Puerta del Sol. Tried several restaurants for dinner…too early…and finally went back to the El Corte Ingles Department Store where we’d just spent half an hour shopping with Barbara. Went to the seventh floor and had a lovely dinner: Eggplant Moussaka…a Greek dish…with a grande beer. I shared a bit of Barbara’s very chocolate cake for dessert.

We then headed over to the grocery store that we’d seen last night and picked up some things for breakfast in our room tomorrow morning…to make a better start for our trip to the Prado Museum…and some snacks. Walking back through Plaza Mayor we stopped to enjoy the beautiful music played in the center of the plaza…a zither instrument…looks like a harpsichord that was played with 2 sticks like a xylophone. He was playing very classical romantic music on a very cold spring evening and making good money for his effort!

And here we are with only one more day in Madrid. Stay tuned…tomorrow is The Prado!

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Didn’t set the alarm and woke up about 10 am….did the breakfast run to MacCafe and then headed to the Metro for a fast trip to the largest flea market in Europe: El Rastro

We were a bit late but all of the shops were still open…but within an hour they were starting to close as the weather was changing rapidly and rain was in the air. Didn’t find anything worth buying except a neck scarf for Jim to keep him warmer; soon we were back on the Metro and the hotel to gather our cameras, passports and valuables that we’d left behind as the El Rastro Flea Market is best known for the gangs of thieves that go after the tourists and every book we read advised us to lock everything in the hotel safe and only take some cash with you.

Rested a bit and headed out to go by Metro to see the Bull Ring north of town. Opps, the rain had arrived but we were well prepared. In viewing the photos it looks like we’ve gained about fifty pounds…that’s the result of double coats. The bull fights don’t begin until after Easter so we didn’t get to watch an actual performance.

We enjoyed the outside of the Bull Ring and the statues in the plaza before crossing the street to one of the many restaurants displaying heads of slain bulls on the walls. There were enjoyed an early dinner before we climbed back aboard the Metro back to Puerta del Sol. We walked to the Plaza Mayor to enjoy…yes, even in the rain… the mime’s waiting to perform for a bit of change in their bucket. Lots of fun before we arrived at the Market Place that we’d stopped at yesterday. Had another look around, bought a drink and some bananas for tomorrow. By now it was dark and we continued to the Cathedral and Palace to take a look at them with the lights.

Stopped in the Cathedral a few minutes, there was a high Mass being celebrated so we couldn’t walk through again. Streets were crowded as we slowly made our way home to the hotel by 9 pm. And so another full day of touring has come to an end. Thanks for joining us on our travels.