Thursday, September 27, 2007

Day Ten: Our Own "Terminal"


  • Catch the plane to Paris
  • Drive to Reims in time for our 3:30pm winery tour

The morning was spent packing what remained of our laundered and folded clothing and cleaning the apartment for inspection. Our bags must be packed and ready to be stacked into the taxis when they arrived which would closely correspond with the inspection. As it would happen both the taxi's and the inspector would arrive at the same time, early, just before we had every suitcase zipped and the counters wiped down. And just as we're about to walk out the door what would happen but one of us would not be able to find a passport. What is it with the passports wandering away without us on this vacation anyway? What could have been an easy and relaxing departure when true to tradition, the whole family running around like chickens with their heads cut off chasing after the children, the trail of run away belongings, and riffling through the recently packed bags.

Eventually we made it to the airport and this time, without the worry of parking spaces, we got to the checkout counter and terminal on time only to find out . . . the flight departure was delayed. Or was it delayed? How did we all misread the depart time on our schedule? We not only got their early, but now we found ourselves stuck in an airport for several hours and running late for our appointment in France. Hungry, we all found a cafe and seated ourselves in front of a tv showing cartoons. Once we'd eaten each set off in one direction or another to stretch their legs while a few took shifts with the children who were glued to the tube. We found the souvenir items we'd wanted to buy along the way, or actually we got the cheap, but pricey, airport items instead. I found a new pair of cloths for Screech Monkey as she had completely soiled what she was wearing already and was quite proud of myself for finding a dress for only 2 euros.

Upon discovering our fate at the airport we had to call ahead to the Pommery House to reschedule our tour. The only available opening left was for the next day at 2pm. This was about the time we'd wanted to get to Heidelberg, Germany, but we settled for the change in plans like we've done with all the past rearrangements. Now we were forced to do nothing but wait for a plane to escort us back to Paris where our Tour Bus waited for us at the end of the mile-long parking ramp. The flight was uneventful and once we got on the road out of Paris towards Reims everybody was feeling relaxed and settled in for a non-adventurous day.Feel Asleep Reading Comics

There really is nothing to say for the day. I am not sure why I am even writing about this day except to say we made it to Reims where terrible service awaited us at the hotel. When I'd reserved two of their largest rooms, each with one cot for the girls, we were given keys to very small and dirty carpeted rooms with fold-up baby cribs in each. After arguing with the front desk for better accommodations and different room keys we determined for ourselves that they had actually set us up with the best they had to offer. The girls pretended to be baby's for the night and we were grateful they could still fit in the overlong European baby cribs. We were also thankful we could fit all three of the cribs side by side in the larger of the rooms with enough space for our bags and a couple places to step in between to reach the bed ourselves.

True to French courtesy, their service in the hotel restaurant was atrocious. We had to ask for plates for our bread, utensils to eat with, and it seemed the waitresses avoided our table at all costs and if they couldn't fake missing our waves would come to the table barely managing to mask their sneer. The food was great, but the service ruined the entire experience for me. As soon as the children were done I left with them like a nanny to tuck them in bed while the rest of the adults enjoyed the quiet room we left behind. I completely enjoyed those free moments alone with my children while they got ready for bed. We told stories and sang songs and I found myself drifting off to sleep on the bed while their own eyelids fluttered shut in the baby cribs in the corner. The rest of our party aroused me from my dreams to plan another night with wine and cheese and talk in the other hotel room, but I had to be the party-pooper and decline. I could tell it was a disappointment to the adults who had just had a good adult time together down in the emptying restaurant, but I just couldn't do it. Sleep was calling to me.

Three French Cots in a Line

W.C. Report:

The bathroom in the hotel was so small you could barely sit on the toilet and close or open the door at the same time. At least there was a bathtub, but I dared not use it for the kids. I had heard that the French hotels are notoriously bad, but when I had reserved this one the English had said it was much better than others they had stayed in so I thought we'd find comfort and cleanliness at least. I will be better prepared the next time we hunt for a French hotel.

Tragedy Report:

We made sure we got all of the littlest members of our troop off the plane this time, so there is no tragedy to report today.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Day Nine: The Final Full Day in Barcelona, Spain

Family Shot


  • Hit the Beach
  • Make it to Parc Guell
  • We have to see Sagrada Familia
  • Do we get a night out?

We had luck today; the God's decided they had given Barcelona its yearly allotment of rain and so we were allowed to venture ontoFood or Water? the beach for a soak in it's lovely blue waters and warm sun. We were early enough to pick out a pretty spot and pull up a few chairs under one of the umbrellas (20 euros, so you'd better enjoy them). The beach was not a shallow and gradual beach like some, but a little steep with a drop-off just a few steps from the waters edge so keeping a close eye on the younger ones became even more vigilent. They had great fun in the sand and water though and kept themselves busy in the waves. Eventually we blew up the floats and pulled them away from the sand for a while. The older two could stay afloat in the salty water reasonably well and enjoyed "swimming" between mom and dad. Even mom and dad had an easy time staying afloat and after we swam far enough out not to be able to touch enjoyed a good half hour treading water without the kids. It was the first time we were awake enough and alone enough to actually catch up on each other during the trip. Oh, rubbish, the first time in months.

We overstayed our visit on the beach and left mid-afternoon with red marks across our bodies and an appetite. We were planning a visit to Parc Guell and Sagrada Familia and both of them being a distance from the city center we had to plan our route. The park has given its fair share of tourists a sporting chase so we double checked the bus numbers and street names. Lo and behold we hopped on the right bus, just heading the wrong direction. No biggy, we just got to see the other side of Barcelona before backtracking again. Once we had arrived at the park the sun was on it's last rays so we walked the winding paths and with a brisk step in order to see all that it had to offer. Dinner was on high demand and there were signs leading us to a restaurant, but following them as best we could, we never ran across a single one. Instead we enjoyed what we could of the unique Gaudi design, took lots of photos (including one which I had , Sisters in Parc Guelland once the sun was down wandered down the long hill towards the nearest metro stop. We past so many shops with great looking gifts, but each one yelled at us that they were closing the minute we tried to step over the threshold. Okay, so we weren't meant to bring home souvenirs for anybody.

Still we were starving! We were at one of those awkward moments again when everybody wants to make a decision, but nobody actually wants to follow through. Ah, the joys of traveling in a foreign country on an empty stomach in a state of serious lack of sleep. We convinced ourselves to follow the metro line back down towards the center of town where there was an abundance of restaurants on La Rambla, skipping the famous Gaudi church. Sure, we'd end up eating at some touristy place most likely, but at least it wouldn't be a pizza shop. Fearless Leader led us over to what looked like at decent looking place serving a variety of tapas and sidewalk seating. After the trip through the steamy and hot metro tunnels we were ready for some fresh air. There was no seating left for 7 of us on the sidewalk, but when I looked up and saw a dreamy looking view from the second level Fearless Leader convinced them to let us up. It was a glorious restaurant with top notch service. The kids were doing well on very little food and actually let us eat our meal without too much interruption and the food was amazing. I don't care if they cater more towards the tourists, it was amazing. They served me a fish with it's head still on. Coming from a state that pulls a fish straight out of the river, puts it on the stick still wiggling, and cooks it over the fire for dinner, I wasn't too shocked, but the waiter politely cut the head off for me after he placed the plate in front of me. He really was the nicest guy. I don't know if all the tales he told were true, but he sure was fun to listen to nonetheless.Gaudi's Promonade

We eventually made it out the door and walked back to the stuffy metro line to catch our ride home. The girls were now exhausted and so were we. The late nights were finally catching up on us and everybody was talking of bed. Once into the apartment our first mission was to get the girls into their pj's and tucked under the sheets, which Grammy and Daddy seemed to have well under control. Pa slipped into their bedroom and I slipped back out the front door. I needed some alone time. Tensions tend to start running high during "vacations". I know they're meant to relax you, but there are moments when trying to fit that part of the equation in can create more nerve racking then you'd experience on a normal day. I wish I could say I'm the type of person who lets things roll away like water off a ducks back, but for some reason those genes evaded my pool. Instead I let the steam build up like a boulder atop a volcano and if I don't let that steam out when and where it's appropriate it tends to make a big fuss at just the wrong moments in ones life. So, to the beach I wandered in the late summer evening.

This part of town was quiet and the only cars on the road were lines of taxis or an occasional police car. The lights were still switching their signals, but there was rarely a car to respond. When I got to the beach it was cold and dark. There was a group of people using the patio tables and chairs of a closed snack bar, but their din was distant compared to the rhythmic sound of waves upon sand. I sat on the beach and watched the lights of boats out at sea blink and cross the horizon and demanded of myself some time to consider all those scrambling thoughts which bounced around my mind. The last year has been a whirlwind and the emotions and thoughts which were caught in it haven't seem to have settled back to their normal pace yet. There have been decisions I've made and actions I've taken which would have led to other outcomes if I'd made one small step in the other direction. I allowed myself to consider what life I would have been leading if I'd taken those missed steps and compared the two versions. It's easy to see the road not taken lined with roses and dappled with sunlight, but in the end you have to find those patches of sun and sweet fragrances along the path you're walking and realize the correct choice is to keep walking and plant the seeds or clear the weeds along the way. I laid on the sand and looked at the stars long enough to empty my mind of the most confusing thoughts to the point that I could actually take in my surroundings with a clarity I had not experienced for what seemed a decade. The majestic view of the heavens was expansive, the sound of the ocean surrounded my body and yet lay inches from my feet, and the coolness of the sand I lay in soaked into my senses which were no longer too crowded to acknowledge another intrusion of sense. When I'd spent enough time in the forgotten sense of peace and pressed past it's uncomfortableness long enough to enjoy it, I picked myself up, said farewell to the sea, and walked the deserted streets back to the apartment. My husband had known I was leaving and had spent some reflective moments himself out on the balcony; we must have both had the same amount of chaos to sift through as we each entered the apartment from opposite doors at the same time. Did I want to tell him about all the thoughts I had sorted through? No, I would sleep in peace tonight.

W.C. Report:

Don't they believe in toilet paper? It seems every toilet we found didn't have toilet paper and no way of even paying for a square or two. In the park the toilets were stalls built into the side of a cave. The toilets were backed up probably by the various items used in place of toilet paper and the trash bins in the stalls were overflowing with the same. We were thankful for the few kleenex tissues we had on us. If ever traveling in Spain be sure to bring a roll of toilet paper with you.

Tragedy Report:

While on the beach we were running between the towels and sun bathers over the sand and just as we got close to the water Squirrel Monkey yelled out in pain and grabbed her foot. I was tempted to believe it was probably nothing and gave her a little tug to encourage her to pull out of it and jump in the waves with me, but she refused to budge. Dreading the worst I dropped down beside her and lifted her foot for inspection. The poor child was bleeding from two gaping cuts on the sole of her foot and she was letting the whole stretch of beach know about it too. There was sand mixed with blood and I knew it would need to be cleaned before we would know the whole extent of injuries so I handed her off to dad and returned to the scene to inspect what could have caused the injury. It was a well worn path towards the water and nothing visibly poked it's sharp head out of the sand, so I began running my hand over her trail. Just below the surface of the sand was a small block of worn wood with two rusty nails pointed up towards whoever was unfortunate enough to step on their hidden points. I was thankful I went back and found them, but sad it had to be our child who had to suffer their surprise attack. She complained after a long days walk on the foot and by the time we laid them down for bed the soars were red and swollen. Fortunately we had a nurse along who carries a bag full of goodies just for these sort of occasions and her wounds were properly attended to along with the knowledge we keep our children's vaccinations up to date.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Day Eight: Barcelona in a Day

Port De Barcelona at night

Our mission today was to visit all the amazing sights of Barcelona. Well, at least that was my plan. I am rather ambitious and sometimes I forget that I am traveling with small children and other people who actually want to eat during the day. The day began with rain again and we decided on traveling to the old city and visit the Aquarium, Museums, or Cathedrals instead of beach or pool lounging. Our apartment was not in the center of town, but in a newly developed area just to the north a few blocks off the northern beaches, so to get into the main tourism area we needed to catch the metro. We found the metro was under construction so caught a lengthy ride in a bus to the end of the metro line which would take us the rest of the way. This entire trip was a little over a half hour, or should have been if it hadn't involved getting our two-day metro tickets and pulling out the maps to Barcelona Boardwalkfigure out just where in Barcelona we had ended up. My internal ticker was counting each minute wasted and checking off one sight or another from the many exciting places I knew awaited us throughout the city which we would now not be able to visit. I am not so unrealistic as to think we actually would make it to each of the sights, but the process of moving them to the unattainable side of my list was a hard realization to tackle.

As it turned out, by the time we had made it into the city the rain had stopped and we decided to pass by the aquarium and head towards the irresistible avenue of La Rambla. Barcelona has the bad reputation of pick-pockets and no other area has more than La Rambla. And though it is mentioned in every forum that the street is just a tourist trap and you'd be better off taking to the back streets to explore the inner beauty of the city, its infamous reputation still attracted us. We warmed ourselves up to the city by tracing its boardwalk towards the statue of Christopher Columbus pointing out to sea. While on the boardwalk we were rewarded with the wide spectrum of Barcelona's people; from the lovers to the loners.

La Rambla was not what I would have considered a tourist trap, though it did seem to be conveniently a central hub for the tourists. Cafe tables and chairs spilled out onto the overgrown street and peddlers or artists mingled in between. There was room enough for people to walk by or to linger in crowds circling one performer or another. As we wove through the mass of loitering tourists we kept our hands over our belongings and clasped tight the smaller hands of our family. We reserved our dinner and show at the acclaimed Flamenco hall situated in the heart of La Rambla and moved on towards the market. People were passing by with a variety of halved fruits and a spoon to dig out the tasty middles. One lady had a fruit with a bright pink flesh and I was set on finding one in the market. If I am going to taste the culture I feel it is a responsibility to take it literally at points. Sure, they were selling peaches and nectarines which I am sure were quite tasty, but why come all this way to buy something you can just as Pink Anything!easily pick up at any grocery store. Instead, I purchased the exotic for myself and any other family member who was daring enough to join me in the adventure. It proved tasty and I yearned to try the other exotic fruits. Eventually, I figured we'd get to them. We stopped at a little Chinese owned tapas cafe (mistakenly pronounced "topless" by certain members of the family for the remainder of our trip leading to many questionable looks) and had a snack to tide us over until we could experience our dinner later in the evening. We fell victim to the rose peddler who handed me a rose and how could I refuse? Three euros for a single rose which would not see a vase in time to keep it; I bought two for my princesses who carried them until they began to droop, whereupon they were strategically placed in the stroller for decoration. The rest of the street led us past caged turtles, birds, and gophers for sale. Many a child was leaving the area with a pet cage and baby turtles. Not our children. Now if there had been any hermit crabs I may have indulged, but there were only the same animals at each stand that we passed.

We wound our way off of the main thoroughfare and into the Gothic Quarter where our guidebooks told us many treasures were waiting to be found. Every guide I'd read said to wander the winding streets and just keep your eyes out for all the details; from Roman ruins to tiny corner cafe's. The entrance we chose was through the old Roman walled city gates and past the only remaining arch of what was once Oo Oo Ooa long road lined with them. Inside we realized we were walking the wall of an ancient Cathedral and stepped into it's corridors to explore its wonders without the aid of a guidebook. Would you be surprised to know I was enchanted with it's many monkey gargoyles (more shown in the photo album)? Or the stones marking the dead at every step? There was one intricate thing to see with every turn of the head and we soon had spread out to see each that interested us most. We had to drag ourselves out of the cathedral to make it in time for our 7 o'clock dinner and show. As we wound our way through the streets it was hard not to stop and marvel at one thing or another, but we made it to the dinner without one moment wasted.

The buffet was a spread like you could not imagine. Every traditional Catalonian dish was on the table along with several other international cuisines, and by the international crowd seated around us it was not difficult to see their reasoning. Wine and sangria were served in abundance and with an array of desserts that left not one unsampled. The service treated us like royalty, as well they should have as it emptied us of our entire supply of cash to pay for the dinner and show. Was it worth it? Yes! They gave us the best seats in the house for the show: a balcony seat with a table large enough for our drinks and enough chairs for us and the kids. The view of the stage was better than what the front row would have gotten. People began filing in from the street (those who had purchased show-only tickets) and were seated in the rows of chairs set up in the cozy room. I would say they were able to squeeze in about 75 before they closed the doors and dimmed the lights. The dance was more like an opera telling the story of a mother and her two daughters and their lovers. Between the singing Flamenco in colorand courting dances, each man won the mothers approval by giving us an emotional and physically challenging show of dance. Sweat sprayed the crowd from their tips of their drenched hair and you could see the marks down their shirts as they stripped their jacket off and left the stage. It was a beautiful and emotionally moving performance, but I doubt our girls gathered any meaning of it. The drumming of the shoes on the wooden stage beat into their ears without relief and the flashed of brilliantly lit dresses overwhelmed their senses. Soon they where hiding their sleepy heads in our laps and covering their ears. The baby didn't know which lap to sit in and cried for one or another continually around our tight group.

It was a great show, but by the end we were all ready to get the kids back out into the night air and onto the active Rambla which was just warming up for its nightlife. It was tempting to pass it all by and get back onto the metro to find our way back to the beds, but the crowds and shows drew us into their circles. We passed another couple of Flamenco dancers dancing on the cobblestones to music coming from a boom box. The scene may have been convincing if we had not just had the experience of our lives with the real thing. A group of break dancers kept us in their circle of onlookers for an entire show and as they packed up we continued our journey towards the port. There, a whole other set of nightlife awaited us. We watched a cruise ship leave for its nightly trip through the Mediterranean and the locals feed a school of frenzied fish off the dock. The children were getting thirsty and hungry again so we stopped and got them a midnight Slushy and Belgian waffle at a Chinese street vendor. It helped get them from street to metro to bus to bed. The adults indulged on their nightly portions of wine, beer, cheese, and bread in the living room while recalling the days events before hitting the sack. Another day in Barcelona awaited us in the morning.

W.C. Report:

Would you call it sacrilege to change a babies poopy diaper on a ledge in the middle of a Catholic sanctuary? Even if their only toilet was one which had been used for centuries in a tiny basement hole in the center of the courtyard garden?

Tragedy Report:

Nothing got stolen so we counted ourselves blessed beyond measure.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Day Seven: Onward Ho! Barcelona here we come.

Fountain Play


  • Catch airplane to Barcelona
  • Will we get our promised date night tonight?
  • Beach or City?

We may have awoke in the Disney hotel, but our thoughts were straining from wandering into the visions of wonder we experienced as in our dreams the day before. We had other sights ahead of us; ones which the travel books could hardly prepare us for. It was hard to pull ourselves out of the Disney world, but on the road we must and our Fearless Leader and Mr. Navigator lead us as fast as the Tour Bus could take us to the airport where we'd get a quick ride on a nobler steed to the Catalonian city of Barcelona. If only we could just find our way there. We've gotten lost in Paris before and this time was no different. Though they pulled us out of it, we were still running later than we had hoped. I was regretting making that last stop in the gift shop of the hotel for a few final reminders of our Disney experience. In the end it all came down to mere minutes.

Fearless Leader dropped us and the luggage off at the front doors while he went to park the Tour Bus and we wandered through the terminal looking for our check-in desk. Our eyes not having adjusted to our new surroundings, we simply asked for help at the nearest desk and followed her instructions to an out-of-the-way counter with a line of shady looking individuals who kept trying to cut in front of us. Something didn't seem right, but in our desperation to board our flight we stuck it out only to find that the line we'd stood in was for people to purchase last minute flights. So we made a mad dash to the correct line just to stand for an eternal wait. Have you any idea what it's like trying to keep excited children in reachable distance while there are mountains of luggage and dozens of legs to crawl around? Patience was running a bit thin, but its amazing how patience can run on vapors when it has to. Fearless Leader caught up to us all out of breath and gave us a few moments of conversation. He explained that he could not find a parking spot for the Tour Bus so he parked it illegally and would have to go back and try a different approach after he'd checked the bags. He seemed to be our lucky charm and the line started to move miraculously. Once we were at the front we checked his bags separately and as fast as the woman could handle them and off he ran again promising to meet up with us at the gate. As we walked the maze of terminals I wished I'd picked a few moonstones to drop on the ground to help speed up his search for the gate. We found the right terminal and made our way through security without any issues but once we entered the terminal there was no direction to our plane. We stood in a group of dazed foreigners all looking around aimlessly and hoping one or another would take the lead and direct us to the gate. A few strayed from the group in opposite directions hoping to catch a hidden sign with no luck. Finally a man who saw us desperate looking women with children and took it upon himself to grab us by the arm towards what the whole group hoped would be our plane. I am still not sure if it was luck or if he really did have an idea of inspiration, whatever the case we found our gate just as they were lining up and boarding. It was not assigned seating so we had been planning on getting there early to get first dibs on seating together. Instead we sat down and waited for Fearless Leader . . . until we were the last ones in the terminal. Thinking of a plan we sent Mr. Navigator running back to the security check point to help our Fearless Leader find the correct gate while the women and children clambered aboard the last flight of the day to Barcelona.

I cannot say whose error it was, but they had no record of Screech Monkey and no ticket for her. She was a lap baby, but they still needed confirmation she would be on the plane. If anything I was grateful that it was buying our men a little time, but if they didn't let the baby on what good would it have been anyway? They started checking the rosters and found 4 Jackson's on it and, our Man being nowhere in sight, we were allowed to board under the assumption that the baby was the 4th out of our families 5. I worried if this would be a problem later, but figured things really couldn't get much worse, right? We found seats for all us girls in one section of seating and waited to see the men walk into the plane. We waited until the stewards began making the calls and preparing to shut the door and I boldly approached to tell them we still had two men out there. They checked their watches and said we still had 5 minutes before they were supposed to take off so they'd wait that long. The whole plane sat and waited what seemed forever and finally a bold little stewardess came over and asked us if our final destination was Barcelona. When we replied yes she giggled, glanced at the rest of the passengers and asked, "Well, wouldn't you prefer to leave the men behind then?" My reply was as honest as I could make it, "Sure, if you could leave the kids behind as well."

Finally Mr. Navigator came bursting through the hatch breathing heavy and began exaggerated conversation with the stewards at the front. When he came walking back to us he explained that he waited at security as long as he felt he could and had to come back to the plane to keep it from taking off with them. They told him they'd wait a minute or so more and to take a seat and not worry. Not worry? Our Fearless Leader was out there somewhere in that terminal or, worse yet, still trying to park the beast of a Tour Bus. We began discussing our options: get off and catch the flight tomorrow, catch a flight on another airline, fly to Barcelona with no way to contact our rented apartment or Fearless Leader and hope that we meet up again sometime on the streets of Barcelona over the next few days? We were just getting out of our seats to grab our things when one of the stewards came towards us and explained security had just called and they had found our missing man. Ahhh . . . we sat back in our seats and settled in for the flight. The passengers were sitting patiently waiting for the taxi to begin when in runs this wild haired man and his carry-on. He had run a mile from the end of the parking lot and through the terminals, why stop on the plane? He ran to the very back of the plane until he realized he must be at the end of his destination; he passed us right by with the look of his mission in his eyes. Once he reached the end of the aisle we called out to him and he turned around with realization dawning on his face, enough to find the only seat left for him on the plane. Did the whole plane began clapping for him or was this just my overactive imagination playing a trick on me?

We flew, we landed, we gathered our luggage, and we hopped on the only taxi out of the two in Barcelona willing to pile in seven people at once to our awaiting apartment without any further issues, Once weWatching the fountain got into the apartment we just wanted to crash on the beds and let out a sigh of relief. We'd made it. Now what? Food. It was now after 3pm and the last thing we'd had was some of that buffet food at the Disneyland hotel before we left around 8 or 9. We had an apartment with a full kitchen, we need to use it, right? We'd been told there was a shopping area just a few block in "that" direction, so we just needed to get there, right? Well, first is was a wandering discussion over whether or not we should eat out or eat in which led to a wandering discussion that if we ate out should we go to where the action is about a half our down the metro tracks or stick around here and enjoy the pool or the beach which led to the discussion that we were discussing too much on an empty stomach and we should just decide if we should eat in or out which lead to . . . yes, the whole conversation all over again. I am sure you all know the symptoms. Finally, Grammy made up a shopping list for dinner and the next days and we figured we'd go try to find the shopping center and if we found a place to eat along the way we would stop. Mirages appeared on all corners, but it was siesta time and most of the places would not serve us, at least the places we had discussed long enough to agree on wouldn't. Finally we picked a place that served at a pace slower than even a siesta. I was getting a bit grumpy, no, I had been grumpy; my patience had run on vapors long enough and had nothing to refuel itself with, not even the salty Barcelona air seemed able to do it. The kids were grumpy when we told them they had to leave the beds, they were grumpy when we told them we couldn't let them hop in the pool, and now they were grumpy to have to sit at a table to eat a food which didn't seem to want to ever make it to the table. The promise of ice cream afterwards held them in the seats, but not quietly. Every wiggle or grimace seemed to set my nerves on end. I just wanted to get moving: eat, hunt down food and a stroller, walk back briskly and hit the pool or the beach. But by the end of the meal even this seemed improbable. Bed? Movie? They even offered to give us our date night and it goes to show you how exhausted I really was when we had to turn it down. There was no way we were going to keep our sleepy brains awake long enough to make anything out of an evening.

Eventually we drug ourselves out of the quicksand of that tapas place, let the kids play in the fountain in the courtyard, and eventually found the grocery store in the middle of the mall where we stocked up on our beer, cheese, wine, bread, and snacks; all local. We also found a stroller as the airlines wouldn't let us bring anything on for the baby who didn't have a ticket, not even the crib came to Barcelona with us. We came with the bare minimum leaving everything else behind in the Tour Bus and it felt good to be carrying a little less than normal. The new fold-up stroller was a God-send. Thank you Grammy & Pa! The thing saw more mileage than it was meant for in just the three days of Barcelona, not to mention the rest of the trip.

On the way out of the mall it began to rain. Yup, it began to rain in Barcelona. No use trying to stay dryIt was just a drizzle so we began the walk back and when we got into a park where the rain turned into downpour. We all huddled under one of the sculptures and lived in the moment with really nowhere to go and no timeframe to stick to. We were in a new and wondrous city stuck under one of it's many artistic features just watching the rain. It was a beautiful moment. It didn't matter that the beach was now out of question for the rest of the day, in fact, it just made the moment a little more relaxed. When we finally wandered back into the apartment we were all soaked and in need of dry cloths. We tucked the children into bed together and pulled out the cheese and beers. We sat on the couch and planned out our next adventure and watched a slide show of all the photos we'd taken so far on our trip. (I'm updating the photo albums to the right as I go, so feel free to look through them yourself as well.)

W.C. Report:

Considering the awful French toilets, the Spanish do a pretty good job with their toilets, though I was surprised that the restaurant we ate at shared their toilet with the next restaurant over. They seem to be just as easy to find as in any American mall. It was a welcome change.

Tragedy Report:

Shortly after leaving the plane the girls began to take stock of their backpacks full of books and toys. They'd taken out their most precious items during the short flight to play with them, some of those being the tiny Polly Pocket-style Princesses that they'd gotten in Disneyland. Squirrel Monkey let out a shriek as we walked towards Baggage Claim when she realized Sleeping Beauties tiny squirrel was MIA. I momentarily considered making my way back to the plane to collect the toy, but with everyone trying to get on with the journey as quickly as possible I had to tell her I was sorry but Squirrel would have to stay on the plane for more adventures elsewhere. She howled all the way to Baggage Claim and beyond.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Day Six: Euro Disney

Sunset on the Castle

For some reason I had in my mind that the day would start similar to Christmas morning. The kids didn't wake us up at 6am; I believe this was evidence enough that the trip was beginning to exhaust us all. I had an appointment to catch at 8:15 in the morning Grandfather & Grandaughter Momentwith The Little Book of Man and had been dreading the venture. I needed to capture a photograph which would inspire humankind not to drop another bomb within the fifteenth minute after 8 o'clock in the morning. Having only arrived the night before I had no idea what kind of photographic moment my present itself, but I was taking my obligation seriously. Spider Monkey awoke while I was gathering my camera so she and her grandfather wandered down to the pond out back with me while the rest of the family lingered under the sheets. They made a pretty picture in the French countryside sunrise with their arms around each other. I cannot say the moment was not void of some previous forethought, but what was captured was produced all of their own doing; I let them lead the way and followed with my angled view.

The doors to the Wonderful World of Disney do not open until 10am so it was not surprising that we were among a few select early risers in the breakfast room. Again, the buffet was nothing like you may expect in France, but we lived off it. The stragglers of the family joined us in time to snarf enough down and pack our daily belongings to catch a shuttle bus towards the front gates. EnteringRainy Morning the park was just as exciting as it was in my childhood, only now I had enough excitement for all seven members of the family. The only thing which could have dampened my spirits at all would have been the droplets of rain which seemed to be increasing their tempo. We raced past the stores on Main Street to where the action awaited. As we stood in the center of the different entrances to the lands our mind was made by the little princesses in our midst. From somewhere around our middles came the cries "The castle!!" We walked the castle path, over the drawbridge, and into Sleeping Beauty's castle. You could not imagine the delight on little Squirrel Monkey's face as she walked past scene after scene of her favorite movie. In her eyes the spinning wheel was real and the fairies in the stained glass windows would flutter into the air between blinks. The band drew us out onto the balcony and eventually our search for rides which were out of the rain was underway. The men were sent ahead to gather Fast Passes, tickets which you could get ahead of time so we didn't have to stand in line, and the women huddled the children under eves where the view was just as lovely.

Disneyland . . . what can be said to describe the magic of a day in Disneyland? I can tell you of the various rides we were able to experience and the looks of joy on our children's faces, but it would not compare with experience. Bring yourselves back to those moments of wonder and magic when you were a child and that was the level of feeling we maintained throughout the day. For some magical reason we were able to find a spot to rest or a show to watch at all the right times, keeping the children from getting too tired or the parents too grumpy. The lines were comfortable and the weather soon became pleasant. The bright yellow ponchos we purchased after or first ride were folded and tucked away for another day.

Before we knew it our tummies were rumbling and we looked down at our watches to see it had passed midday. Pulling out the maps to get a feel for the locale, we decided on a French restaurant which was supposed to be in our current land. I guess we figured if we were in France we may as well eat French. We didn't want some quick hamburger joint as our minds needed something a little slower. We turned around and there was the very place we'd picked out on the map resting just a few steps away. Upon entering this restaurant it became apparent that we were in for a real treat. When it said there were often surprise visits from the princes and princesses they were not far off. It seems the royal couples hang out all day just to hop from one table to another giving each their undivided attention (in whatever language that table may be speaking). The girls were enchanted seeing their idols walking in human form among the commoners, though were less excited when they were approached themselves. I still cannot place their reason for withdrawal at the approach of the beauties; was it jealousy, unbelief, or simply shyness? I am leaning towards jealousy over the role as they opened up quite easily to the princes attentions. Rightfully so, our little princesses were heirs of the princes' flirtations. They would tuck their chins and look up through their batting eyelashes at them and put on a believable shy act when the prince asked for their hand. After pictures were taken and conversation grew thin the couples moved on to the other tables and the girls could observe the princesses with awe once more. Maybe they were gleaning from their royal demeanor to better their own attempts. Whatever the case the girls were at home in the spacious banquet halls. When our waitress addressed Squirrel Monkey and asked her where she lived her response will remain eternally memorable: "In Disneyland." Naturally . . .IMG_2727

Grammy and Pa bestowed the princesses with their very own gowns off the racks sitting in the shadow of the castle. Each was set on a particular gown so there was no worry of indecision, just cause for concern when Ariel's wedding gown didn't come in Spider Monkey's size. We called each store in the land that carried them to learn none of them had her size. What was the luck or magic that the size 10 actually fit her petite 7 like a glove? Who would Squirrel Monkey be? Sleeping Beauty, of course; in pink (blue on the days she feels a little off). They danced through the rest of the day in their gowns and captured glances from those with a true eye for beauty. One teen went so far as to bestow a matching headband on our little Sleeping Beauty who wore it with love until it was lost, presumably having slipped off with the headphones when we needed translations during the Art of Disney Animation tour. It did not keep her tears long enough to keep her from the drawing room where the girls caught the last lesson. They both walked away with very interesting versions of Winnie the Pooh.

We seemed to miss just about everything that drew us into the Studios Park, but at least the girls got a chance to do their artwork, get rejected from the Nemo ride, and be terrified in the Armageddon set (I am still amazed they will watch a Star Trek show with us since). Fast Passes in Discoveryland awaited us and we found ourselves on yet another starcruiser in battle with the evil Zurg. Each had their lasers at the ready and blasted the aliens with an extra sense of purpose.

The adults felt the need for a little pampering, themselves, and got Fast Passes for Space Mountain. While we waited we hit another watering hole with tables sitting in stadium seating over a stage. Though the stage was not in use the kids were easily distracted by the many screens showing classic silent Disney films (It was nice not to have to worry about the 20 different translations or so). While our break lasted the adults took their turns to slip out of the dark theater and over to the next star ride. Grandma and Grandpa went first and came back with big smiles and assurances that we would have fun. Are you kidding? We remembered the ride from the time we were kids and looked forward to it with mouths watering. If we would have read the map a little closer we would have seen that it was not just Space Mountain, it was Space Mountain: Mission II . . . Wow! I cannot lie, the fast pass line was so short we went back through it for a second ride before the grandparents(parents) could question where we were going. Turns out the play had started in the theater and the kids and grandparents alike were enjoying another spin off of The Lion King. Disneyland has its perks. Ha ha ha . . . ah, I have to share another one of them with you that my mother-in-law pointed out. This was our first visit to a . . . um civilized city on their trip, evident by her passing remark. It went something like this. "Isn't it nice to be able to walk down the streets and not worry about what you see in the windows? I mean, even in a nice town like Brugge they had mechanical penises right in the front windows on the street." Hmm, I wonder what she would have said if I told her they sell a collection of vibrators next to the lipstick in the grocery stores? Yes, we had certainly entered a different world.

By the time we exited the sun was setting and only a few moments remained for Fantasyland to be open so headed that direction to hop on It's a Small World which just could not be missed, could it? By now the girls were recharged and the lines were bare. We were able to zoom out of one and another ride making the most of our last few hours. I was amazed to walk through the maze the line would have normally weaved its way through one slow step at a time. Pirates of the Caribbean was especially entertaining and all the more so when you can wander through it at your own pace. After the ride we passed through Skull Rock into a new world of wonder. It was dark night now and we found ourselves creeping through underground caverns, overhanging wooden bridges, stepping stones over creepy bogs, and through the jungle paths to the Swiss Family Robinson house. Can you believe we had this whole island to ourselves? I will never venture into the island in daylight again. The candles and lamps were lit in the tree house and the passages in the caves were as eerie as they were meant to be. There was a view from the hanging bridge which would have been ideal to watch the fireworks with an overlarge view of the lit castle. I am glad the rest of the family talked me out of it as the fireworks display was not an ordinary pyrotechnics show; they used lasers to display amazing images across the face of the castle. It was mesmerizing to watch, but by the end of the show I felt like I had seen all there was for any fireworks display to offer. We filed out of the park with the rest of the mass exodus in a trance. The girls were piled into the Chariot and wheeled out to where the last shuttle of the night would take us to our beds. They didn't make it into their beds before they were off into their own magical dreamland.

Asleep in the Chariot

WC Report:

The French toilets seem to either be dirty and unkept or pristine, there is nothing in between. Even while we were at the fancy French restaurant their bathroom was disgusting, missing essential pieces, no soap, and half-used toilet paper laying all over the place. They didn't even have a baby changing station, so I ended up laying Screech Monkey on the counter between two sinks which was pooled with water and no paper towels to mop it up with. Later we walked into some out of the way toilet between Fantasyland and Adventureland and were pleasantly surprised by a beautiful and clean bathroom. I can't say I picked up any rhyme or reason for their toilet madness.

Tragedy Report:

I wish that I could put we had no tragedy in Disneyland, but as fate would have it we left with a major tragedy: we did not get to go on every ride. There were so many places we wish could have been seen or experienced. The one ride Squirrel Monkey wanted to go on in the Studio Park, Crushes Coaster, did not allow her small size on. Although, to this day, if you ask her what her favorite ride was that she went on in Disneyland she'll say it was the Nemo ride. Well, I guess just being rejected at the front of the cue was enough of a memory for her.

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Friday, September 7, 2007

Day Five: We lingered in Brugge a while longer


  • Do we stay for a few more hours in Brugge before traveling to Disneyland Paris?

  • Or do we leave first thing so we can spend an evening in Disneyland?


We decided to try and compromise because we didn’t feel like we got the full experience of Brugge in just that one day. I believe it was after today we decided whichever place we were visiting we would always feel like staying longer, but would have to find a way to pull ourselves out of the city regardless of our desires. Naively, we agreed to stay a couple hours to see the Begijnhof which we had missed the night before and head out to Disneyland in time to visit the park that evening. We woke up early and spilled out into the cobblestone streets with the morning rays. We had opted to load the Tour Bus and park it closer to the center for a speedy getaway, but had not accounted for the trap which awaited us just beyond the parking garage steps. It was not so luring on our way into the city, but on the way back it would entwine us in its snare for more time than we would have allotted.


The city was quiet and we passed through the gates of the old hospital where the courtyards sat empty, missing the residents who used to sip their morning tea in their cozy atmosphere. Only a few of the ambitious tourists trickled in through the city gates with us leading us to anticipate a leisurely walk about. Because there were so few people around we thought we might be able to enter some of the tours quicker and investigated the church with the Michelangelo statue (closed for Sunday morning services) and the 17th century dispensary (the nurse among us was not really all that interested in it after all) and so we headed down a few shortcuts through some skinny and winding alleyways to the Begijnhof.

The Benedictine nuns in their black and white habits were making their way across the silent grounds of lawn sprouting with stately trees IMG_2546into the ancient brick church for prayers, so we joined them. Inside the little church we silently viewed the art along the walls and watched the prayer candles flicker. The girls took an interest in the tombs encased in the floor (so much like their mother, they also seem to have a fascination with the dead) and it became an obsession to find the tombs in every church we entered during the rest of the trip. We were pleasantly surprised to witness one of the nuns enter the center of the church and ring the church bell for noon. It was done with an air of ritual and I remember the feeling of intrusion as she performed the duty. I believe it was these feelings which then lead us outside of the church to discuss the plan of action. I had thought there were gardens behind the gate of the Begijnhof but other than an skinny door at the end of the walkway and a line of houses towards the exit I could not determine where it must be and, sensing their desire to get on the road, I followed them out the exit. It wasn’t until afterwards that I saw the photographs of the quaint little garden which was just down one of the paths.IMG_2552 We will be going back to Brugge!

Wandering down the streets in the direction of the parking garage we ran across a little eating hole. They served Pannekoeken and drinks and that was all we needed. The noon sun was starting to beat down on us and though the tables we sat at had umbrellas there were a few bare patches of sunlight. I sat in one of them and I could not take the heat long enough to wait for our orders. I decided to get a head start on the group and follow my instincts. Across a bridge there was a path which wound its way up a hill and between some trees and I had an inkling that it was a shortcut towards the Tour Bus. At any rate, it was in the shade and abandoned of tourists, so I excused myself and indulged on a lonely adventure (the best kind by the way). What awaited me when I exited the path was the parking garage building, but something rested between the path and the building. Do you remember that trap I had mentioned earlier? Well, it was reaching out its long tentacles to me now. A beautiful and lively flee market! I’ve always been a sucker for garage sales or estate sales and while sitting on the couch sulking during the first few months after moving here I ran across the BBC station where it became obvious the British have an even greater obsession with the antiquated. They have several daily programs on: Bargain Hunters, Under the Hammer, etc which I feel I have gleaned a bit of knowledge from, so I put my newfound skills to the test and began to rummage the various stands. I knew there were treasures to be found at this European market and find a few I did. First I found a stand with so many hats it was hard to choose which were the most beautiful. There was one I would have gladly bought for my oldest girl and several that I knew my mother-in-law would find interesting as well. Along down the way I found an interesting little glass piece that I had to have for our hermit crabs water hole. Glass has always fascinated me and this was a rare find, one I had never seen before; it was a hand-blown clear glass bird feeder. It hung like a tear drop with a lip coming out at the base where the water collected. It sits in our hermit crabs tanks as you read and, if I do say so myself, I think they love it just as much as I do ;)

I did pull myself away from the market long enough to join the family for lunch, but then pulled them back into the trap with me. Naturally, Grammy needed a sunhat like the rest of us, didn’t she? She did find one that looked lovely and we tried to pass each table as quickly as possible while winding our way toward the Tour Bus. Nothing else was purchased, but I think this made us want to explore the other avenues in search of those missing treasures. We left looking back at those missed tables with a look of longing. I think the guys were just happy to be turning their back on them finally.

The road to Disneyland was long. The weather was hot and the Tour Bus had no AC. With the windows rolled down it was impossible to hear each other speak so we kept to ourselves, the girls coloring, sleeping, or reading, and I finally got a chance to use my new cell phone as an MP3 player! Sweet music. Oh, did I mention that the Tour Bus only came with a tape deck? Who keeps tapes anymore?!?!

When we finally entered the wonderful world of Disney and found our hotel we were starving. The buffet they had at the hotel was filling but reeked of imitation American food. Still, we were all hungry enough we ate it. I think we all agreed the complimentary wine was all we really needed anyway. Having arrived later than planned (what’s new?) we decided it would not be worth the money to buy tickets for just a few hours in Disneyland so we opted for the SWIMMING POOL!

First I have to say that the French have no idea how to direct a person through their corridors. The girls and I got a head start on the rest of the family and headed towards the direction of the pool only to find dead ends, courtyards, and no signs. Finally I drug them barefoot and skimpily clad through a stony garden, past the dinner guests in the main courtyard, and under a hedge just to sneak into the backdoor of the pool. You know, even after exiting the pool from the proper door I still don’t think I would have been able to find it again on my own. It was a relaxing evening in the pool except for the time Squirrel Monkey decided she could go in the deep pool without consulting or bringing along an adult or the times Screech Monkey thought she could walk on water and stepped into the deep pool after a couple unseen escapes from the kiddy pool. Upon the final attempt to walk on water we packed it up and headed towards the “princess beds” where our children would sleep an everlasting sleep and the Belgian chocolate, wine, and beer waiting for the exhausted parents and grandparents.

Though it was mostly a travel day we still carved out our moments of fun and still retained enough energy to get us through the next day: Disneyland!

An additional treat, just for you: Murder in the Beguinage

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