Friday, July 31, 2015

Country 3 - Spain!

We started our day early, with a run through Venice.  I wasn't going to miss out on this chance!  Brett and I were dress and ready to run by 7:15.  I knew it would be hot so I wore my Ink N Burn Wildflower tank and shorts.  And was I right!  Brett and I were sweating before we even started running!  We followed the signs for Rialto Bridge and then looked for signs for St. Mark's Plaza, which we found with no difficultly.  I had been wondering where all the runners were as I always look out for runners when I travel and now I found them.  We saw many runners along the coast by St. Marks.  This run was beautiful but man, it was not easy!  All those stairs and uneven surfaces made for a slow but memorable run.

After we finished our run, showered and enjoyed another delicious breakfast, we finished packing up and got on the Water Bus to the bus station.  We were flying out of a different airport this time, one about 45 mins from Venice.  The ticket guy asked twice if we had the right airport, Terrizo Airport, and we did.  We bought our tickets for 18e and found the bus.  We were ready to board in just a few minutes.  The driver checked our tickets and saw that they were for the town of Terrizo, not the airport in Terrizo.  He told us we could buy tickets from him for 20e but we only had 18e left (Brett had just bought a large bottle of water for 3e!)  We must have looked desperate because he let us on with the intention that we would get money at the airport.  We were so thankful for his kindness!
The bus ride was quick and painless.  We arrived at the airport and Brett found the ATM, which was out of service!  The driver at this point was pretty frustrated and just let us pay 15e and walked away.  Brett felt really bad so we found the currency exchange, got completely ripped off by the high commission and I searched for and found the driver at the cafe.  He gestured that I didn't need to pay the remaining 5e but I insisted and he relented.
Our flight to Barcelona was on Ryan Air which must be the Southwest of Europe!  No frills!!  The flight attendants were even selling scratch off tickets in the aisle!  But it was a smooth flight and on-time.
We landed in Barcelona and found the metro to the city.  It was a nice train but it didn't have a map of the line!  I had gotten a map at the airport and I knew about where our hotel was.  But we had no idea which stop to get off on.  And we couldn't understand the intercom, she was talking much too fast.  But the man next to me understood where I needed to go and he was also getting off at the same stop so we just followed him.
Our stop was actually a very, very large station.  We wandered the streets for a few minutes but found our hotel pretty easily.  And what a hotel it was!!!   Gran Hotel Torre Catalunya was one of the best hotels that we have ever stayed in and we've been lucky to stay in some very nice hotels (even a castle in Ireland!)  Brett had booked a suite and we were on the 17th floor, corner room, so we had an amazing view.  Two bathrooms with the biggest shower I've ever seen.  The bed was huge, I could roll over 6 times from end to end!  The wi-fi was free and really good (we've learned to really appreciate Wi-Fi) and the air conditioning was working.  We decided to explore the area around us and found that the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games were held nearby.  So we walked to the ground, up tons of stairs, past the National Museum and found the Olympic Village.
I couldn't help it, so many nude statutes!  Ink N Burn Pink Ink skirt.
The Olympic Flame
Some of the many, many stairs.  Plenty of runners getting their workout done here!

National Museum

It was getting late so we went back to the hotel and found their AMAZING bar!  The bartender made the best Sangria for us and even got me a big spoon to use to dig out all the alcohol infused fruit.  So good.  They were playing great music on the TV's and we even met someone from Carmel, a town about 15 miles from our home.  We did wander the streets again to find dinner and ate at some street cafe, Brett really enjoyed his rice/meat/bean/seafood type food served in a skillet!  We were pretty tired after getting up so early so we returned to the room for a very good nights sleep.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Venice Day 2

Day two in Venice.  We are up early, enjoyed a large and very good breakfast and decide to take the long way to St. Mark's Plaza, only like the largest plaza ever.  We did well getting there, got to share the roadways with mainly local commuters, walking to work.  As we got closer to St. Mark's, the stores became more and more expensive.  Prada, Gucci, Louis V....  We made a few wrong turns but found our way eventually.  The plaza was very, very large and had so many pigeons hanging around.  We walked the perimeter and decided to wait to tour St. Mark's Basilica until some of the tour groups left (we've learned to avoid tour groups!).  We found the road that goes alongside the Adriatic Sea and were soon overwhelmed with tourists.  Plenty of vendors selling things, people dressed in opera outfits charging 5e for a picture and plenty of gondolas (although those rides didn't look very relaxing as they were on open water!).  We did pass the famous Bridge of Sighs that goes between the palace and the jail, named Bridge of Sighs for the sounds the inmates would make as they were taken to prison.
Upper left - lunch next to the Grand Canal, Bridge of Sighs,
 Lower left - view from St. Mark's Campanile (bell tower), St. Mark's Campanile

It's so hot here, they had record breaking heat.  I'm so thankful that I work an Ink N Burn shirt that kept me much more comfortable than a cotton shirt would have.  I had back sweat by 9:30am!!  But this just allowed me to have gelato 3 times this day.....  
We decided not to tour the Basilica as we were just too hot for the line.  We did go up into the bell tower and got some great views of the entire city.  We wandered back to the Rialto Bridge area and ate some lunch on the Canal again.  I had been admiring the glass jewelry that is made at a nearby island and decided to purchase a nice necklace, earrings and ring set.  They are simple and I think I'll wear them a lot. Then it was back to the air conditioned room to rest up.
After showers, we found a little place for dinner.  I don't remember what I got but I do remember that Brett ordered a beer and got the 25cl size, which is basically the size of the juice glass!  My wine glass dwarfed his beer glass, it was pretty funny.

After dinner we took our gondola ride!   I had been told to take one on the smaller canals as it wouldn't be as rough as the Grand Canal.  We had passed a "stop" several times near our B&B and decided to stop this time.  Our gondolier has been a gondolier for 41 years!  He no longer lived in Venice, he said it has gotten too expensive and most locals lived on the mainland now.  He said the plazas used to be filled with kids playing soccer during the evenings but they were all empty now.  He was very good at maneuvering this 30 foot gondola around tight, 90* turns, I was very impressed and told him so.  He did say that the younger kids like the Grand Canal area but he prefers the smaller canals because they are more interesting to sail on.  I enjoyed our ride but probably wouldn't need to do it again, unless we split with a couple as it was 80e.
See my new necklace?!

 We were let off on the other side of the Grand Canal so we just used this time to do some more exploring.  I was happy to recognize some places that we had seen earlier in the day, it almost felt like we knew where we were going.  We did find where we would get on the water bus (much cheaper than the water taxi) the next day and ended up eating another late dinner at a family run restaurant that was delicious.  Brett had the best lasagna I've ever tasted, it had a yummy cream sauce instead of tomato sauce.  So good.  We found our way back to the B&B, petted the alley cats and fell into bed.

Day 3 - Venice!

The next leg to our adventure was Venice, Italy, the city with all the canals.  Woo-hoo!!

We got a late start due to the extra bottle of wine at the Eiffel Tower (ugh) but took the metro to Charles de Gaul airport where we flew to Venice, Italy.  It was a short flight, only a few hours.  We landed at Marco Polo airport just outside Venice.  It's a very small airport so I talked to the bus ticket lady while Brett got the luggage.  She said we could take the bus to the terminal in Venice and then take a water taxi right to our B&B.  Sounds good to us so we do that.  Bus ride was simple and we get let off at the edge of Venice.

Now, looking back at our planning, we should have researched how to get from airports to hotels better.  Or at least had maps.  But we didn't.   So, we are standing in the 95* heat with our bags at the edge of a canal connected town, without a map or any clue how to get to our B&B.  We do find a water taxi and show him the address.  He quotes us 60e!!!  What!!!???  We walk away to regroup and find an ATM.  This is when an English couple approaches us and asked what he had quoted us.  They had just been told 50e.  We debate and decide to see about riding together and splitting the cost.  Now the taxi guy wants 80e because it's two stops, even though both stops are in the same "neighborhood", San Paolo.   We argue some to which Mr. Water Taxi informs us that "walking is free."  Huh.  Well, the lady in the couple and I look at each other and basically tell our husbands that we're not pulling luggage behind us, up and down bridges on cobblestone streets,  searching for our hotels.  So, we pay up.

We are dropped off right at the dock that's at the end of the alley that our B&B is located at.  It felt a little weird to wander down the alley but the addresses were right and we soon found the Ca' Angeli B&B, a very nice B&B run by two brothers.  We were warmly greeted (by the owner and the local cats) and showed our room, which was on the top floor and had a private roof top patio.  
The private rooftop patio at our B&B

We unpacked and freshened up.  I talked to the owner about what he recommended that we do in our short time in Venice.  He recommended St. Mark's Plaza and the Rialto Bridge area.  So, we set off to explore.  
Venice is made up of 6 neighborhoods and like 200 islands.  The Grand Canal separates the two sides of Venice and there are only 3 bridges that cross the Grand Canal.  But each little island is connected by 180 smaller bridges.  This is not a city that is handicap accessible, not a ramp to be seen and each bridge had at least 10 stairs up and down!  They don't allow bikes, skateboards, roller skates or cars.  Nothing with wheels.  The roads are maybe 8 feet wide and most are narrow enough that you can touch both sides with outstretched arms.  There are so  many dead ends and T's that you really feel like you're in a maze!!  And I loved it.  I really, really did.  I have a good sense of direction and am really good with a map so this was like the ultimate test for me.  It was awesome.   
We decided to explore  and find some dinner.  We soon found our way to the famous Rialto Bridge.  I was so disappointed that it was under a major re-construction project so we didn't get a good view of it.  So here is a picture of what it normally looks like:

 We figured we'd be very touristy and pay the premium to eat at an outdoor cafe' on the canal.  I mean, come on, we are tourists and we wanted to do it!  I ordered spaghetti, which came in a garlic butter sauce (so good!!) and Brett ordered what we thought were scallions but ended up being very thinly sliced pork chops with ham on top.  He was disappointed but drowned his feelings in his very large beer (even after the waiter asked twice if Brett was sure he wanted the large beer).  I got a Spritz, which was like orange fango with white wine mixed in.  It was ok.

After dinner, we explored the area around our B&B some more. It seems to be off a "major" road with lots of tourist type shops.  I did find some gelato while Brett found some pizza and beer.  We were a happy couple as we wandered our way back to the B&B.  Time for some much needed sleep.   

Paris Day 2

Sunday morning and we are up early.  I knew it would be packed at the Eiffel Tower so we took the metro straight there, grabbed a Nutella crepe from a street cafe and got in line.  After a little debate, we decided to get in line for the stairs rather than the elevator, why not?  Plus the line was shorter....  While waiting in line, I'm amazed by the number of runners that are out for their Sunday morning run, just going around the huge lines, making their way to the park or street or wherever.  As a runner myself, I always notice runners and felt some jealously.  I tell Brett that we're running under the Eiffel Tower tomorrow morning.
We pay our euros and start walking up the tower.  It's not too bad, we are both in really good shape and had good shoes on.  Reach the first floor and continue to the 2nd floor.  At this point, you have to buy another ticket to take the elevator to reach the top.  After a little confusion with this part, we purchase our ticket and get in line for the elevator. Its all pretty well organized.
We reach the top pretty quickly and were very impressed by the views.  It's the tallest structure in the area by far.  You can see the Arc, the Louvre, all sorts of bridges, the whole city was spread out below us.  And we noticed that there was a triathlon going on in the streets directly below us so that was cool to watch for a little bit.  After getting our fill of the view, we took the elevator back to the 2nd floor and decided to grab a snack at the cafe.  Brett got a bretzel, which was a sugary donut shaped like a pretzel.  Weird but yummy.  I got a glass of wine and felt pretty cool sitting on the Eiffel Tower at 9am drinking my wine.  The cafe had a swing area set up so we sat and swung and drank.  Plus, I gotta say, I looked pretty cool and was comfortable in my Ink N Burn black lace top and capris.  I bought them especially to wear in Paris this past spring.
Next we decided to go to the Musee' d'Orsay, which was recommended by several people.  Well, it was packed.  The whole courtyard, plaza was jammed with people.  We decided that we didn't want to spend our day at a crowded museam, which was why we didn't go to the Louvre.  We decided to find the Rodin Museum knowing that was a smaller museum, most of which was outside.  So, we googled and located it and walked there.  But first, we crossed the Lock Bridge and bought a lock, wrote our names on it and tossed the key into the river.  I don't think it was the original Lock Bridge but I think the sales guys and tourists just started a new one.
We enjoyed our walk to the museum, finding a little store along the way for a baguette and 1e beer for Brett (he's still trying to recoup his 50e loss to the gypsies the night before).  The museum was just around the corner and we were very happy to find that it was free admission day!  Just making that 50e back a little at a time!
The museum was cool, we liked several of the sculptures but really were impressed by the "Thinker."  As a kid, my parents had mini Thinker in their house so to see the original one was a really cool experience.
Next up, we got ourselves to Notre Dame Cathedral!  It was packed, as expected, but the line went really fast.  It was so beautiful inside and out.  The stained glass was insane.  I think we both really enjoyed this cathedral.  Pictures can't do it justice.
Next we decided to walk to the Louvre, just to take a look around the grounds.  Holy cow, it's massive.   Unbelievable that it was once a palace, it was HUGE!!!  The courtyard wasn't busy but once we walked to the main entrance area, there were lots of tourists around.  I checked out the glass pyramid entrance area, imagining the DaVinci Code being filmed here.  Alas, I did not see Tom Hanks running around, searching for Mary's bones.....

We grabbed the metro here and returned the to the hotel.  It was about 3:00 and we had been going non-stop since before 8:00am.  Time to shower and decided dinner.  I wanted to take a dinner cruise on the Seine during sunset.  So we dressed up a little and went back to the Eiffel Tower as that seemed to be the main place for cruises.  We found the docking area and asked every company but everyone was sold out.  Totally bummed.  But we did find a company that had dinner at their restaurant next to the dock, followed by the 30 mins cruise.  So, that's what we did.  Our dinner was very good, I had lamb and we split a bottle of wine.  We took our time and got on the cruise after we finished eating.  I LOVED the cruise!  It was too crowded to sit upstairs on the boat so we stayed on the main floor at the back.  That worked perfect, not crowded and we got some great pictures.

After the cruise, we walked around a little bit (I played "Mary had a Little Lamb" on the outdoor piano) and made our way up to the Eiffel Tower.  But, not before encountering more gypsies playing the 3 shell game.  Brett was still steamed about losing this the day before so we just walked up the stairs next to them.  Then I thought, hey, that was a funny story and I didn't even get a picture of the event so I'll get a picture of this group playing instead.  I get my phone out and start to move to the side to take a picture.  The head Cheater notices instantly and completely loses his mind!!!!   He starts screaming, flipping me off with both hands and screaming "No Pictures, No F***ING PICTURES!!!!"  Whoa, talk about a flip out!  I put my phone down (so mad I didn't take the picture) and tell him, "Fine, no pictures" and I turn away.  Brett, being the husband he is and still being steamed about the day before, yells back at the guy, telling him not to yell at me and disrespect me.  Well, Cheater's friend starts to take a step or two towards Brett but backs away, clearly realizing that he can't afford to get into it with a tourist.  Obviously, the shells game is illegal, which is why they didn't want pictures.  Well this just gives Brett more confidence and he and Cheater yell back and forth at each other until finally Brett walks away (I had walked away a few minutes earlier, I didn't want to get arrested!).  Brett gets to the top of the stairs and starts chanting "USA, USA, USA!!"  I'm mortified and pull him away.  What a story we have now....
So, we walk over to the Eiffel Tower, buy a $30 bottle of wine from some guy walking around with a bucket of wine and plastic cups and find a spot to sit in the grass.  The tower is lit up beautifully and even Brett, who didn't even want to come to Paris, admits that it's pretty cool looking.  The park was getting very full with other tourists, waiting for the light show that starts at 11:00.  We took this time to call the kids really quick and tell them what we were doing.  Then, all of a sudden, the tower light show started!  Tons of strobe lights going off, up and down the tower.  It was amazing and totally gorgeous. I'm so glad that we got to see this, it was really, really neat.  A great way to finish off our time in Paris.
Next up - Venice!!!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Nabb's European Adventure - Paris

About 18 months ago, Brett shocked me by saying that he had been saving money for several years to take me to Europe for my 40th birthday.  Needless to say, I was stunned and so excited.  Fast forward to July 3rd, 2015 and we are packing our bags for a 11 days, 3 county, 5 city whirlwind adventure.  We needed to pack light as we were carrying our bags between airports, trains and hotels.  I packed all my clothes into an overhead sized bag!  Most of my clothes were Ink N Burn because they are Dry Ice material, meaning very light and sweat wicking.  And extremely cute and very comfortable, I pretty much work InB every day.
The day started easy enough, we were scheduled for a 12:45 flight to Atlanta, catching a plane to Paris with an arrival time of 6:15am Saturday morning.  About 10:45, Brett gets a text from Delta that our flight has been pushed back which would cause us to not make our Paris connection.  I panic but Brett calls customer service who was very helpful and got us scheduled on a flight to Minneapolis in 90 mins.  So we hustle to the airport, say goodbye to the kids who were staying with both sets of grandparents, and check-in for our flight.  Crisis adverted.  
Indy to Minneapolis to Paris...... our flight was very smooth.  We had individual tv's at each of our seats so that helped pass the time.  I think I got an hour or two of sleep during our overnight flight but that was about it.  We arrived at Charles De Gaul Airport outside of Paris at 8:30 Saturday morning.  Brett had done some research and knew we could take a train| subway | metro from the airport to the city and we were hoping we could figure out how to get to our hotel from there.  
Buying our train ticket was frustrating to say the least.  Long lines, thin nerves and an ATM like ticket machine that was not the easiest to figure out.  But a rep helped us out and we got our tickets.  I had asked an employee which stop to get off on to get to the hotel which was on the Champs Elysees (thank you hotel points!!) so I had an idea of how to get there.  Now it should be noted that we were traveling without a map.  I had a map on my phone and thought that would be enough but I also didn't want to burn through my very little international data package on the first day!
It takes us some figuring out but we were able to change metros at the correct station and finally emerge from the underground and the very first thing I see is the Eiffel Tower!!!  A dream come true!  We were really in Paris!  
We don't have time to check anything out as we are pulling our luggage behind us and really just want to get to the hotel so we check my map,  cross the Seine and start hoofing it to the Champs.  Well, it was slow going and we were getting frustrated so we quickly hailed a cab which took us directed to the Marriott Champes Elysees.
Our room wasn't ready yet, which wasn't a surprise since it was 10:00 or so.  We left our bags and decided to walk around one of the most famous avenues in the world!  We walked and did some window shopping at the amazing stores.  Changed some money out for euros as well.  The Arc de Triomphe was about .5 miles up the road.  This was really cool, 12 lanes of traffic all moving in a massive roundabout very quickly without incident!  Makes our little roundabouts in Avon look like a joke!  I bought a crepe and Brett and I tried to figure out how the heck to get across the road to actually be under the Arc.  We knew it was possible, we saw tons of people there but saw no one actually crossing the road.  We circled the roundabout 1/2 way and stumbled upon a stairway that lead to a tunnel under the road!  Ah-ha!! 

It was pretty cool, very, very big.  Plenty of tourist.  We could have gone to the top but that line was very long so we didn't.  Next we went back through the tunnel and started back towards the hotel.  We decided to eat at one of the numerous cafes with their outdoor seating.  We knew we'd be overcharged since location is everything but heck, when else are we going to eat lunch here???  I don't remember what I got to eat but I remember that it was ok but the wine was better.  :)
After lunch we went back to the hotel and found that our room was ready so we were happy to get settled.  We both showered and freshened up.  We decided to visit the Sacre Coeur church as it was on the opposite side of the rest of the things we wanted to see the next day.  So we hopped on the metro and headed north.  
Speaking of the metro, the Paris metro was very organized and easy to figure out after a few tries.  It was very similar to the NYC subway.  We had some hiccups with our passes once in a while not working but for the most part, it was very simple and on time.

We got off within a few blocks of the church and walked up a very crowded touristy street.  Every 10 feet was someone trying to sell key chains, sunglasses or the ever present and annoying selfie stick.  And there were also gypsies playing 3 Shell Game every few yards.  I had read that these were always a rip-off and that the tourist never won because the people watching and winning were always in on the game.  For some insane reason, Brett actually stopped and watched part of a game, convinced that he knew where the hidden ball was.  The guy running it, lets call him Cheater Bob, notices and starts encouraging Brett to play.  I grab Brett's arm and tell him no way, everyone was in on it and it was a scam.  Brett was sure he knew where the ball was and actually tried to bet 10e (euros) but Cheater Bob said it was a 50e minimum but he would win back 100e(!!!).  I'm still pulling Brett's arm and yelling by this time not to play it.  And well, very much out of Brett's character, he hands over the 50e!!!  And well surprise, surprise, the ball wasn't under the cup that he had thought it was under.  Brett is understandably pissed (one of the guys in on it actually showed Brett the ball under the cup but Cheater Bob moved into Brett's line of sight when he gave him the money, allowing the second guy to move the ball).  I'm also mad but I know that he'll be more upset at himself then I ever could be so I let the anger go and switch to teasing the crap about it to him. LOL!!  I was so mad that I had to laugh and heck, it would make quite a story.
He's in no mood to tour a church now so we wander around the area for a while before climbing, no joke, 500 stairs, to the top of Montmartre, which is where Sacre Couer is built.

We toured on our own the church with a zillion tourists.  It was cool, very large and ornate.  After exploring, we left the church to take a rest on top of the massive staircase and enjoy the view of the city.  Well, there were about 30 guys walking around with a case of Heineken, selling bottles.  Now, we had had a long, long day, had just lost 50e or about $60 to a gypsy, walked a billion stairs and were ready for a beer.  After a second of guilt regarding drinking beer on a church's stairs, we succumbed to temptation and drank up. And once you bought one beer, every other guy came over to sell you more!  You might not even have taken a drink before they wanted you to buy another!  By the time we were done, Brett started to feel better about his gambling loss as we had purchased 6 beers for 11e, what a deal!  
Next we hiked down the steps, found a cafe and enjoyed dinner.  Just a fast dinner, nothing special.  We walked back to the metro, hit a souvenir shop for some shirts and a European power adapter.  The shell game guys must have made their money as the road was cleared out.  We caught the metro back to the hotel.  
It was a really nice evening so we walked around some more, found another bar and ate again.  This was more Americanized food so that was kinda disappointing but it was what it was.  We were pretty tired by this time and returned to the hotel for some much, much needed rest.  We had a busy day ahead of us.