Saturday, March 30, 2013

Barcelona in 4 Hours!

Europe Trip Post # 3

5/23/2012, Wednesday (Barcelona day 2 and boarding our cruise/cruise day 1)

Barcelona, Spain: We bought our hop-on/hop-off tour bus (hoho) tickets from the concierge for the tour bus. There are a couple different buses you can use, we picked the bus Turistic, because they had the best reviews. We were VERY happy with the friendly and informative service. After riding the bus for 4 hours we wanted to move to Barcelona- that is how much we enjoyed the bus tour. You can tell the narrators and company and very proud and love their city.

Before I get to the bus, we had to eat! The hotel breakfast was very expensive and we knew we would be eating a lot once we got on the ship so we opted for a nice, charming, tasty, street-side little restaurant. We all ordered something small like muffins, fruit, and coffee. Very affordable! The weather was starting to warm up, the sun was making an appearance; the making of a great day was in the works! Oh, this was also the first taste for almost everyone having sparkling/gas/bubble/delicious/whatever-you-call-it water. Personally Tyler and I have grown to love it and we buy it from Sam’s in bulk. P.s. adding Crystal Light to San Pellegrino is to-die-for and deserves an entire post alone! 


After satisfying our bellies (side note: I gained 9 pounds on the cruise, but lost it all in Paris) we were off to wait for the bus that picked us up almost in front of our hotel. We went straight to the top of the double-decker, open-air bus. Not too crowded yet as we were on the first trip of the day (9am I think). Our time was limited so we wanted to get an early start. We figured this would be the best way to see as much of Barcelona as we can. This 4 hour tour teased us and the list of reasons to come back to Barcelona was growing. It is true, you need a few days to see Barcelona! Again, due to time constraints, we only got off at one location on the bus tour. (you can get on and off "hoho" buses as many times as you want) We decided to ride the bus for 4 hours, putting us back at the hotel by 1 and arriving at port by 1:30. Our goal was to be boarding the ship by 2pm.



Tour highlights: all the Gaudi buildings, UN-freaking-believable. Pictures do not do the buildings justice. We also enjoyed seeing the shopping/high end part of town, and the Olympic village area that provides spectacular views. Overall the bus ride was a very pleasant, relaxing experience… I am sure the sunny 70 degree weather didn’t hurt. I do not have many pics because, well, we were on a moving bus and the quality is poor.





Look what we saw from a high location on the bus tour- our ship waiting for us! This got us really excited seeing our very first glimpse of our flotaing hotel for the next 2 weeks. 



Final thoughts on Barcelona: We are coming back! One day we will! ... and secretly plotting how to move there...  We would do anything to move to Barcelona! Barcelona has the perfect balance of history and modern/urban living- while being on the water! As a huge Dali fan, another reason to come back is to visit his town and museum located about an hour or so out of Barcelona via train. We were impressed with how clean Barcelona was. We think it was the cleanest city of all the places we went to. This is why I took this pic, not because of the Big Mac in Spain (really Tyler?) but look how clean the background is, every part of Barcelona we saw was this clean, amazing!




Barcelona, Spain: After the cruise glimpse we caught high from the Olympic village we were anxious to get back to the hotel, grab luggage, grab a cab and get to the cruise! Our goal was to make it back to hotel by 1, and be boarded by 2. I kinda have a "thing" with schedules and staying on time (hey, that is probably a good thing while on a jam-packed Europe trip). I did enough research to know how long it should take to get from point A to point B on various legs of the trip. So far my research came though and we were right on schedule!

We were back to the hotel by 1- the hotel got our cars quickly, and loaded us up- and off we went! Because we arrived later to port than most (boarding starts around 11:30), we were literally the only ones checking in so it was a breeze.

We bought some water and sodas at the port and off we went! The excitement and anticipation was very obvious amongst us all. I was practically running up the gangplank. This would be the first time any of us have been on a cruise ship this size, we could not wait to see the first impressions!




At sea: First we went to our rooms and met our room attendant, Rufina, who was spectacular by the way. Our rooms were 1255 and 1257. We had our welcome sparkling wine and fruits as we were concierge level.

I hate to bring some negativity but I do have one complaint before I forget: the shampoo and conditioner in the cabins is horrible. I know I could have brought my own but I wanted to save luggage weight. I am not one to complain about something like that as I buy cheap stuff from Publix but it was so bad I couldn’t put a brush through my hair. Lesson learned, next time I will bring my own!

Pictured below: Very first glimpse of our C3 room!


Pictured below: Dad is one happy guy!
Starting the trip off right!


I suggested we all go eat at Bistro on 5 for lunch as the buffet is packed on the first day. Tyler, my mom and I went to Bistro on 5. This was a great decision, no one was here- everyone was at the buffet. We had a great server named Ashlan. Dad and Brandon wandered off somewhere. Whatever happened I told everyone we will always meet for dinner, good plan. That is the hard things about cruise- communication is tricky. It is best to have set meeting times or slide notes under doors.



After eating lunch at Bistro on 5 the 3 of us went back to the rooms, our luggage had arrived. We unpacked and set out to go up top for sail-away from Barcelona. Oh my, I just smile thinking about seeing the "Lawn Club" (one of the highest decks on the ship) and the beauty of the Spanish coastline for the first time. It was a beautiful evening, slight wind from the sailing ship, temps in the mid 70’s, and excitement buzzing from all passengers about to embark on this journey together. Seeing Barcelona from sea is stunning!

Pictured below: Our fist of many pictures on the Lawn Club with Barcelona in the background



A few minutes after this pic I found dad, he was parked up against the back bar of the Lawn Club (don’t know the name) with a drink in his hand taking in the sights. The rest of us joined him to watch sail away. We all quickly found our favorite parts of the ship. Tyler and I instantly fell in love with the Lawn Club.








After sail-away, we headed down to our rooms to relax a little before dinner, we had the late seating. We had our first of many spectacular meals that first night. Our first thoughts of the Grand Epernay dining room was sleek and sophisticated. We were seated at a corner table with a nice window. Our server, Nehemias, was also spectacular. I can hear his voice now telling us about the dinner. In fact I made pizza tonight and I can picture him explaining “the beautiful pizza the chef prepared tonight…” ahh the memories. We enjoyed the sun setting as we progressed through our dinner courses. I had the crème brulee that night, my first of about 30 desserts for the trip. (No exaggeration). We were all more than satisfied with our meals.




We did some exploring and off to bed, we have not had much sleep thus far and will not really get a lot of sleep until a sea day.





As Captain Yannis would say when ending his announcements, I will say “Outtt” for this post! 

Other stops on our trip:
Barcelona Day 1 (exploring on foot)
Barcelona Day 2 (hop on/hop off bus)
Cote d'Azur and Monte Carlo, Monaco
Florence, Tuscany, & Pisa
Rome
Naples, Pompeii, Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, Positano
1st Sea Day
Kotor, Montenegro
Venice, Italy Day 1
Venice, Italy Day 2
Dubrovnik, Croatia
 

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Friday, March 29, 2013

The Dab's Have Landed in Europe!

Europe Trip Post# 2: Atlanta to Barcelona 

5/21/2012-5/22/2012 (Monday-Tuesday)

Atlanta: Our very good friend (Adam) was kind enough to drive us to the ATL airport. Despite the tornado warnings and gusty winds we were excited to embark on our family trip.

Mom and dad at the new ATL international terminal ready to go!

The check in process was pretty easy. We did have to do the luggage shuffle to get the weights under. Although we weighed our bags at home, the airport scales were different and they were VERY strict at the ATL airport regarding weights. We did do some maneuvering to make the weights work. After our carry-on’s were given the OK, we loaded them up with more stuff… eeek, I am sorry, don't tell! 





Not-so-neat-at-the-time story: I don’t know if Tyler has that police “look” but the guards at the ATL airport needed his assistance and we were unaware. Tyler was first to go through security and this is my account of what happened…

I see Tyler walking ahead of me with a black duffel bag I didn’t remember him having (but hey, I am on anti-anxiety medicine so maybe he did?) Hmm I thought? Then out of nowhere I see 2 German shepherds attack the mysterious black bag! I thought oh boy, crap, ahh, what the heck? What is going on? My dad thought “are you kidding me this guy is going to marry my daughter and he is smuggling drugs?" and my mom was confused and my brother was behind fiddling with his stuff on the security belt. We all are looking around thinking is anyone else seeing this? We realized everyone was starring at us like we were criminals about to be on "Locked up Abroad" in our own country haha!

Turns out they were training the dogs for drugs and asked Tyler to help. Phew, that could have ended the trip real fast. We have seen one too many episodes of "Locked up Abroad!" So we continued on and my dad didn’t have to kill Tyler (that was a joke of course, my dad told me his story once we got home). Any-hoo we carried on to find our plane....




We arrived to our seats with plenty of time, got settled, and prepared for the long flight. We took off at 6:20 pm ATL time. To be honest I do no remember that much of the flight; it was pretty uneventful. However my journal entries tell me it was smooth, and long. I do remember spilling some of the scorching hot food on Tyler. I actually look forward to meals on planes. I know it sounds weird but it takes my mind of the flight so I enjoyed the meal. I also tend to go to the bathroom a lot to take my mind off the flight. I have a lot of plane anxiety therefore getting up and moving around helps some.




Frankfurt, Germany: After over 4,000 miles we arrive in Frankfurt at 8:20 am (FKFRT time). We had a 3 hour layover. We killed the time by eating pretzels, “frankfurts,” shopping duty-free, and catching up on sleep. Well not so much sleep, we were too excited for that- we were almost done traveling! I was starting to wake-up from my anxiety haze and the anticipation was growning strong! HOLY COW “I AM IN EUROPE!” -it hit us, we are in Frankfurt right now!

Pictured below: First "meal" in Europe


35,000 feet: Next we flew Air France to Barcelona. The ride was very bumpy. I don’t know if it was the leftover medicine or my excitement but I was not scared one bit (for once in my life!)…. We were flying over THE freaking (I hate that word but seemed appropriate here!) ALPS! I could not believe my eyes! I looked back to notify my dad who was a few rows back, but he was sleeping! I thought about yelling to wake him up but I realized not everyone on the plane was as excited as I was. I kept popping my head up like a prairie dog checking to see if my parents were seeing what Tyler and I were seeing. It was amazing, simply stunning to fly over the Alps.



On this short flight we were served these baguette type bread pieces with butter in the inside, I liked it, no one else did. But then again I am the strange person who actually likes airplane food. I have a lot of weird airplane rituals to take my mind off the flight!

Pictured below: Finally at last we see the Spanish shore... Arriving into Barcelona!



Barcelona, Spain: Upon landing we easily gathered our luggage, counted the pieces, and headed for European soil! (Well concrete to be exact). I did my research on the “yellow” cabs in Barcelona and their rates. I was always paranoid we would get ripped off or pick-pocketed on this trip, but that was never an issues.

pictured below: All smiles on European "soil" (our first picture in Europe!)


The nice lady pointed us to the cab line and 2 cabs pulled right up! Tyler speaks some Spanish so he told the drivers what hotel we were at. We split up between the cabs and were on our way! Our cab driver spoke little English. There were protests going on in the city so traffic was a little heavy. He tried to narrate the drive for us the best he could in English and Spanish to Tyler. and some French to me (he knew more French than English).




5/22/2012, Tuesday
Barcelona, Spain

Pictured below: the first glimpse of our hotel, Hotel Arts Barcelona


Our hotel for the one night we are in Barcelona is the Hotel Arts Barcelona. This hotel was spectacular and highly recommend it to anyone! The staff is in abundance, speak English, and literally stand around waiting to help you. The staff take your luggage from the ground floor and you are escorted to an elevator to bring you to the lobby. The lobby was stunning. We were given our room keys (I forgot to record the room number but we were up high, maybe floor 17-20? I am not sure, maybe even higher?) and went to check our rooms out. Shortly after arriving to our rooms we heard a ding-dong; our luggage arrived. I gave STRICT! Orders not to nap in order to avoid jet-lag… and honestly we can sleep when we are 6-feet under… we only have 24 hours in Barcelona! No jet-lag for us! (actually that is the best way to avoid jet-lag... don't nap!)

Pictured below: inside our hotel room and view of marina and city


Some more hotel pics:

 
 

 Pool area over looking the beach 

 
After a quick tour of the hotel pool area we headed out to explore the city. I had planned for us to tour the city via foot today. We had a cab drop us off at Placa Catalunya and slowly strolled down la Ramblas taking in all the neat buildings with eyes and umbrellas artistically thrown on. Went into a few touristy type stores, trying to avoid the rain. Scam artist type people did not approach us at all. We went into the famous fresh market, pictured below, and took in all the smells and sights. By this point Tyler was plotting how we could move here already. He LOVES fresh food, and is liking the looks of this market that other people (like myself) find unappetizing… such as the hanging meats!





We worked our way towards the Christopher Columbus statue. It was bigger than I imagined so we walked around it, taking in Barcelona, and the glory of Europe. By this point it is all hitting me... we are really in Europe... for real... not imaging this... yes, this is really Barcelona... pretty much on the verge of tears because I could not believe my family was in Europe together! Very much "pinch me now" feeling. I love, love, love Europe and to show my family the places I love- and discover new places together meant EVERYTHING to me.





By now we had walked a few miles and my family started to get annoyed with me by the walking. I didn't realize the walks really were this far and said we didn't need a taxi, whoops, you know I kept saying things like "almost there" and "just around the corner.". I LOVE to walk and take in the sights and smells of a new place, that is one reason I love Europe, the walking. My family, not so much.. just wait until we get to Kotor, HA!. I wanted us to walk everywhere and the hotel people made it sound like it was easy. I was holding the map up (like a typical American tourist should) as we worked our way back along the water to the hotel and kept saying “almost there! Just look, see?” when in reality, I was thinking “man it is further than I thought” Still, I was determined to walk back. In hindsight we should have took a cab, my parents were right. But they were troopers and listened to me since I was in charge of planning. I guess I should address this now, I was in charge of planning the entire trip (I think I mentioned this?) so I became commander in chief of the trip.

We were almost to the hotel and stopped into this little restaurant for dinner. No good. Well, it was so-so. We were so tired at this point from the traveling and walking that we were just happy to sit and eat. Brandon had a burger that we think was spam. I had pizza and Tyler had some kind of chicken dish. We all went to bed that night pretty early because I had a tight schedule tomorrow! Up bright and early with the Spanish roosters!

We had a half-day of touring in Barcelona before heading to the cruise ship: CELEBRITY SOLSTICE!


Valet and Lobby Area





Buenas Noches!

Other stops on our trip:
Barcelona Day 1 (exploring on foot)
Barcelona Day 2 (hop on/hop off bus)
Cote d'Azur and Monte Carlo, Monaco
Florence, Tuscany, & Pisa
Rome
Naples, Pompeii, Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, Positano
1st Sea Day
Kotor, Montenegro
Venice, Italy Day 1
Venice, Italy Day 2
Dubrovnik, Croatia


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