Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Setting The Bar In Barcelona - Spain

The first stop on our last Mediterranean cruise was beautiful Barcelona, Spain. We stepped off the boat to blue skies and crisp Spanish November weather.

Fall really is the best time to visit Mediterranean cities. The crowds are gone. The heat has settled into a nice weather pattern where you really only need a light jacket. Spain and Italy in the summer? Noooo. Spain and Italy in the fall? Yesssss. Through out our day in Barcelona, we had absolutely perfect weather.

Barcelona is located in the upper eastern section of Spain, right on the Mediterranean Sea.  

Christopher Columbus statue, Barcelona

Close to the pier where we docked in Barcelona is this great statue of Christopher Columbus. Christopher Columbus was not from Barcelona, he was from the city of Genoa. This statue is here though to remember that he reported to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand IN Barcelona. It is said that the statue is pointing towards the New World. It's not. It points towards Africa, which (if you know your history) was already discovered.  

No visit to Barcelona would be complete without seeing the Sagrada Família. Or let me call it by its full name, the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família. And believe me, this place lives up to its big name.

Sagrada Familia Barcelona

Check this out! Look at those spires! I was fascinated by how the whole thing looked like it was melting down into this gooey, drippy, bulbous mess! (Yes, that is how Gaudí designed it. It isn't a mistake, believe it or not.)

Sagrada Familia Barcelona

This monstrosity, or work of amazing art, depending on who you listen to, was started in 1886 and designed by Antoni Gaudí. Read more about Gaudí HERE. It only passed the midway mark in construction, that's right, MIDWAY mark, in 2010. They expect it to be finished in 2026. 

Sagrada Familia Barcelona

Construction is taking so long on the Sagrada Familía that the newer sections of the building don't match the old sections because so much weathering has taken place. No matter your opinion on the church, it is amazing to see. I haven't seen anything else in Europe that even can come close to how unique and imposing it is.

La Rambla, Barcelona Spain

Next we strolled down La Rambla. La Rambla is a pedestrian walk way in the heart of Barcelona. Flower stands line the tree filled street. It is good for shopping, people watching, maybe picking up a sex worker or two. Seriously, our book warned us about the prostitutes. But fortunately (or unfortunately, however you look at the situation) we didn't see anybody soliciting "favors."

La Rambla Barcelona

La Rambla is good for posing for a picture.

La Rambla Barcelona

Or for buying a FC Barcelona scarf. Everywhere we went in Barcelona, my sons kept asking, "Do you think we will run into Messi?" or "Do you think Messi shops here?" Much to my young sons disappointment, we did not run into Messi, the captain of FC Barcelona. 

La Rambla Barcelona

Off of the length of La Rambla there are all these little side streets that were decorated for Christmas. 

La Rambla Barcelona

This picture shows one of my very favorite things about Europe. The mixture of old and new. I look at these towers, left over construction from hundreds of years ago, joined with the newer pink cement construction on the left. Where I grew up, old was always torn down to make way for new. Old of course being a shopping center that was built in the 1980's, not a stone settlement from 500 years ago. 

Barcelona cathedral

Here is the beautiful Barcelona Cathedral. Built in the 1200's, it holds the remains of a young saint, Eulalia of Barcelona. She had a pretty horrible time. If you dare, read about her HERE.

Here is a tip for getting good family photos. Always travel with a friend who can take your camera and snap good impromptu photos for you. (Thank you Mrs. Point!)

Here is my sweet nephew, Mr. Sun, who was with us for the day. His parents, Mr. Sun's Dad and Mr. Sun's Mom (aka my brother and his pregnant wife) were at a Barcelona hospital. They had had a baby scare on the boat and were getting all checked out to make sure everything was okay. It was! I now have another new nephew as of May 2014!

La Rambla Barcelona

Along La Rambla there are all these great open air markets where you can pick up fresh produce, breads, and meats. 


The sun was setting in the beautiful Barcelona sky. It was a sign that we better book it back to the ship before we were left behind in Spain. I wouldn't mind that much being left behind here, though. Barcelona is beautiful. It is a city with such a great energy.

And even though we were in a hurry, we still had time to pose on a lion at the port because there is always time for a good lion pose. Rarrrrrr!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Moon Over Monaco

We took a Mediterranean cruise back in November of 2013. I know, I know. "Another cruise?" You might be asking. There is just so much to see, and so little time to see it and cruise boats are a great way to get around Europe. At least the part of Europe that touches the ocean.

Before we got on our boat, we made a little stop over in Monaco. 

First. Where is Monaco?

Monaco is a teeny, tiny country in the southeast of France. It is surrounded by France on all three sides.

See that itty-bitty red dot down there in the corner? That's Monaco. (And don't get it confused with Morocco. They sound similar, but they are oh so different...)


This here is also Monaco. Those mountains out in the sunset are France.

Monaco-France sunset

The border of France and Monaco provides some beautiful sunsets, as you can see.

We were staying in nearby Nice and only ventured in to see some of the sights in Monaco.

Monte Carlo casino, Monaco

Sights like this. The Monte Carlo Casino, playground of the fabulously wealthy and beautiful.

Monaco ocean front bay

Or the sights of all the yachts and boats anchored in the harbor.

Monte Carlo racing

Monaco has two famous car races every year. The Monaco Grand Prix and the Monte Carlo Rally. We didn't see any racing, but we did see this statue celebrating Monaco's famous racing past.


In fact, some of the cars we did see wouldn't go at all. While standing in front of a grocery store eating some pizza, a man with a woman and baby in his car was struggling to get it started. He would turn the key and all that the car would elicit was the tell-tale clicking of a dead battery. Matt approached him and asked him if he wanted a push. He spoke no English so Matt acted out pushing the car. The man eagerly shook his head and said "Oui! Oui!" Matt, Alexander, and Aidan then got behind his car and pushed him into the street. He popped his clutch and sputtered away with a shout of "Merci!" out his window. One good deed done.

Here is a view of the fortified section of the old town of Monte Carlo. Prince Albert II, the current ruler of Monaco, lives not far from here in his palace. Monaco has been ruled by the Grimaldi family for over 700 years. Through out that 700 years, they have only had the one palace to reign from, where as other monarchs built new castles and palaces all the time. Why didn't the Grimaldis build some new digs? Seven hundred years is a looooong time to live in one place. The reason they didn't was real estate. Monaco kind of lacks it. They are small. Like really small. Actually, Monaco is the second smallest country in the world and the most densely populated. It has the area of less than a square mile, and in that area of less than a square mile they have crammed over 36,000 people in to it. 

Monaco France border

The city is part of Monaco, but the hills above the city are France. In this picture the whole country of Monaco is shown.


But don't feel too bad for Monaco just because they are small. What they lack in size, they make up for in luxury and glitz. Yachts, jewels, $100,000 cars (everybody's got em)*, furs, and casinos are all common place in Monaco.

Hotel de Paris, Monaco

And don't forget that the occasional movie is shot in Monaco. Like the movie Monte Carlo starring Selena Gomez that my daughter watched no less than 50 times. Kind of why we took a picture of a hotel. Just for her. Here it is!

Monaco Mediterranean sea

All in all, Monaco is a absolutely great country to visit if you are in the area. I highly recommend you take a drive through it. Just don't blink, cause you'll miss it.

*Up about where I am talking about what is in Monaco, I quoted a song. Hundred thousand dollar cars, everybody's got em. I will give bonus points (in my head because I'm really not keeping score on anything) if you can tell me what song that is.

Up next our time in Spain!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Cracking Through Kraków - Poland

After a difficult day at Auschwitz concentration camp, we decided to take some much needed time in the beautiful, old town of Kraków. 

Kraków started as a Stone Age settlement on Wawel Hill.  During the 15th and 16th centuries, Kraków had its Golden Age with many buildings and works of art created during this time.

Krakow Barbican

Here is my teeny-tiny family (I zoomed out to show the scale of this thing) in front of the Kraków Barbican. What's a barbican? A barbican is a fortified outpost connected to the city walls. This one was built in 1498 and is one of only three left in Europe. This one is the best preserved. Obviously.

Krakow Barbican

It even has a moat. It is pretty impressive. Obviously.

Krakow Old Town

The old town of Kraków is still surrounded by intact city walls. I love old town city walls. Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes they let you know that "everything you need to see is right in here, contained by these walls." Makes it kind of nice when you are traipsing around Europe on foot with four children and a dog.

Krakow Old Town

The beautiful old town section of Kraków.

Somehow, every trip we go on through out Europe, includes a visit to McDonald's. Maybe it's because every time we see one we get begged for a hamburger and fries by the kids. 

St. Mary's Basilica - Krakow Poland

This is St. Mary's Basilica, built in the 1300's. It is a Roman Catholic church, which brings me to an interesting point. Poland is the most Catholic, and most ethnically homogenous country within Europe. On the day we were in Kraków, the streets were bustling with Roman Catholic clergy walking the streets. Priests, nuns, and monks in robes with rosary beads clicking at their sides.

Saints Peter and Paul Church - Krakow Poland

The Saints Peter and Paul Church in the old town. It is the first building built in the Baroque style in Poland. 

Krakow Poland

One of the things I love about exploring these old cities of Europe, is that you never know what you are going to get. Little treasures hide around every corner. Like this gate to a small courtyard beyond. Look closely at that top step. Look how worn down it is. How many people have stepped there and crossed through? What were their stories? I, too, stepped through the gate and added my story to theirs.

Wawel Castle Krakow Poland

Like any self-respecting, old city in Europe, Kraków's skyline is dominated by a castle on a hill. Here is Wawel Castle.

Wawel Castle Krakow Poland

Wawel Castle Krakow Poland

Wawel Castle Krakow Poland

Wawel Castle is a sprawling complex of buildings built around a center square on the Vistula River. It was built over different periods in the mid-1300's and 1400's. For centuries it housed the ruling kings of Poland. Now it is a museum. Sorry kings.

Krakow Poland Skyline

Here is a view of the steepled skyline of Kraków from Wawel Hill. Just beautiful.

By now our McDonald's fix was wearing off, when what should we happen upon when we turned a corner? A little outdoor celebration with booths of food. 

Here is our plate of pierogi. Pierogi are Polish dough dumplings stuffed with meat, or onions, or cheese, or all three, then boiled and then fried. They are pretty tasty. The locals running this festival welcomed us in and cleared a spot for us to sit down and eat. (And of course what is any European meal without sausage, as seen in the background of this picture.)

Polish food

We enjoyed our Polish lunch of pierogi, sausage, kebabs, and vegetables, and we went on our way exploring more of Kraków with our bellies and hearts full.

Historic Krakow Poland

Here is a section of the Main Square of Kraków. It is the largest medieval town square in Europe.

Town Hall Tower Krakow Poland

This is the Town Hall Tower. It was built in the 1200's and its cellars used to hold a medieval torture chamber. Spooky.

Cloth Hall Krakow Poland

This building framed by the amazing blue sky is the old Cloth Hall. Built in the 1400's, it was center for trade and barter for goods like silk and spices from all over Europe and Asia. 

We spent two wonderful days in Poland. One day at Auschwitz reflecting on the atrocities of history, and another day in Kraków, celebrating the beauty that can survive centuries of war and occupation. 

Krakow Poland

We finished up our day in Kraków with a walk through a park in the old part of town. It was good day.

Do widzenia,

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...