Vatican City

Our first real day in Rome was spent in Vatican City. We had 9:30 entry tickets to the museum and arrived there (along with at least 4000 others) right at that time. With the tickets already bought we walked right past the throngs waiting and after the very Italian process of trading one piece of paper with a bar code for another one, we were set to go in.

We used Rick Steve’s audio app and followed his tour all the way through to the Sistine Chapel.

Mike snuck some pictures inside. Shhh, don’t tell Francis.

Leaving the Chapel, we headed up the elevator to the base of the dome. Last time Mike and I were here almost six years ago, we did the climb all the way to the top. You can read about that here: https://cruisinwithclay.com/2013/04/25/rome-in-a-whirlwind/. Unfortunately most of the pictures have been stripped out to save space. But I don’t think I have it in me to make that climb ever again…at least without an on call ambulance.

But I do love walking around the drum of the dome, especially for anyone who hasn’t visited St. Peter’s. From this position, one can see just how huge the dome is, how high (448 feet -more than a football field!) above the floor it is and how intricate the mosaics are that decorate it. From the floor, these mosaics appear to be paintings or frescos.

From the dome we went out into the roof. Here is the site of my favorite souvenir shop where the nuns assure you that their trinkets are better than the ones elsewhere in Rome because they have been blessed by the Pope. When you push it, the agree that in reality they are blessed with his “authority”. I envision some poor first year priest stuck in a warehouse in the belly of Vatican City blessing box after box of St John Paul II rosaries and Pope Frank key rings! Lois purchased some souvenirs and a beautiful cross for a friend in Virginia.

The roof is also the location of my favorite restroom in Rome. Lois enjoyed her wait in line there and Mike was lucky and got to see what has to be one of the last stand up toilets in town.

I was amazed (appalled?) at the condition of some of the roofs-while I know maintaining a huge Church must be expensive, you’d think they could get rid of the weeds!

The roof is also a favorite of mine for gaining a sense of scale. The statues which line the roof are 18 feet tall but from the plaza below they appear pretty small.

The roof also let’s you see some of the incredible decoration on the exterior of the dome.

After the roof we finally went inside St Peter’s- the largest church in the world. As you can see in the title picture above, Lois was (as expected) blown away. We visited the Pieta, the new (at least to me) Chapel where St John Paul II is now buried and his former burial site with the other popes under the altar before leaving the church.

After a quick walk through St Peter’s square we headed for lunch.

That was the last time Lois was smiling for awhile. We accidentally took her on a death march for lunch. We were trying to get to one of our Airbnb’s host restaurant recommendations but after the Vatican Road Rally, she (and Mike and I too) were running on empty. Unfortunately when we got there, it was of course closed but luckily there was another place across the street. After we all shared pizza and salad, we all felt much better.

We didn’t feel better enough to walk back to the apartment but thankfully there are plenty of taxis in Rome. We got back to our apartment about 4:30 and all crashed.

A tiring but wonderful day!

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Rome

We (as well as our overstuffed luggage) survived the RyanAir flight from Barcelona to Rome. (Less than $50 each including a checked bag and an extra legroom seat so a pretty great price methinks!)

Arrived uneventfully to our Airbnb and after settling in headed out to finally get Lois the pasta she kept wanting in Spain but that I made her wait for. The picture above was our aperol spritz that we had with delish bruschetta.

We shared a big salad and three fried zucchini blossoms. Both were yummy.

Then we each had a bowl of pasta. We probably should have just order two and shared them. Lois had fresh fettuccine with pomodoro and meatballs.

Mike and I halfed n halfed the two Roman classics-carbonara and cacio y pepe. Both were so good!

Off to bed now, feet hurt after our three miles mostly in airports today and tomorrow is the Vatican!

Leaving Barcelona

Checked out and left the apartment about 10:15 am, taxied go the airport ($40 with luggage), bags checked for our RyanAir flight (no line!), quick trip through security (though Mike had to get swabbed) and in the Priority Pass Lounge (courtesy of my Chase Sapphire Card) at 11:25 am.

Enjoyed a sandwich first and since it’s now “after lunch” I can have a G&T and some corn nuts. Who knew you could find corn nuts in Spain???

Leave for Roma at 1:05, hopefully we will be on time.

Barcelona Day Four

We had a relaxing day just enjoying Barcelona today. We took the metro to The Arc of Triumph and from their walked down the promenade to the City Park-Parc Ciuadella.

Before going into the park we stopped for lunch. We were worried we were going to end up with a bad touristy lunch but not only was it less expensive that our La Rambla meal yesterday and so much better. Lois had a sandwich with bacon, fried egg, cheese, and tomato along with Patas Braves which she had discovered she likes better then French fries. Mike and I each had the menu of the day. We halfed and halfed the starters (and Lois had some discovering she liked goat cheese and artichokes) of a delicious goat cheese & nut salad and fried artichokes. Yum!

Being the former Valencians that we are, we hesitated before ordering the restaurants specialty, Duck Paella. Luckily we were pleased with the choice. Lois even liked it though you can tell it from the picture below.

We then tried to walk off our lunch through the park. It was a beautiful day and there were lots of Barcelonians out enjoying that day and park with us.

We even saw some wild parakeets!

We returned to the apartment and Lois packed her suitcase. Turns out it was 14 pounds over the weight RyanAir allows (we fly them to Rome tomorrow) so we moved enough of her important stuff to our suitcases. Unfortunately, we didn’t have room for all the toiletries she poached from Viking….so looks like the hotel maid here in Barcelona will have some nice products to use!

Barcelona Day 2

As longtime readers will recall, Mike and I were in Barcelona last November (2018) during our transatlantic cruise. I’m not going to post many pictures on this post but you can read and see lots of pictures about Barcelona here: 3 Days in Barcelona.

This visit was to let Lois see a city that she has heard about from both of us as well as her other son Chris and his family after their visit last May. When Mike and I toured Sagrada Familia last, we used their audio guides and were pleased with the commentary. This year we elected to have a live guide and I also enjoyed hearing her commentary. However,I think I preferred the audio guide as I was able to move at my own speed. With the live guide, we went through the whole facility relatively quickly (50 minutes) and then went back and revisited some spaces. The best part of the live guide was being able to ask questions. Whichever method you do, either will be educational.

We got to see the entire nave this time all the way to the front doors. This was the first time I had seen the holy water fonts.

I hope we will be back to see it completed. Below is a photo of the model showing it finished. They say the building will be done by 2026 (they say it with their 🤞) but our guide said it will take more years to have the decoration of the Glory (front) facade finished. I predict it will finally be finished in 2052 to celebrate Gaudi’s 200th Birthday so I fear I won’t be around and if I am, not sure at 94 I’ll be up to coming😢😂

But even if it’s not finished, it is so incredible outside and in!

From Sagrada Familia, we walked a few blocks to a local Catalana restaurant recommended by TripAdvisor hoping for a meal of the day. Unfortunately they only served tapas and main courses (no sides or salads🤪) but what we had was very tasty.

This is Lois’ “pork chop” which we all decided was bbq ribs. Very tasty, the sauce had cinnamon and honey. The second dish was a “Catalana Roast”-pork, meatballs and chicken. It too was tasty.

The Owner’s husband was our greeter and waiter and he shared with us the legend behind each of the cartoons on the placemat. We laughed the most about Caganer. It is a figurine whose name translates as The Crapper or even more literally, The Sh*tter! Apparently he is to remind us that what the earth gives us we give back. It is traditional for him to be hidden in large nativity scenes much like we hide a pickle on a Christmas tree. In modern times, you can buy Caganers with the faces of political or sports figures. We can’t wait to wait until it’s time to set up our nativity!

After lunch we returned to our apartment and had a much needed salad for supper!

Barcelona Day Three

We continued Lois’ introduction to Antoni Gaudi by visiting the apartment building he built for the Mila Family. The family’s quarters were on the first floor above ground known as the noble floor. Above that door were four floors with four apartments on each floor.

Gaudi pulled out all the stops and created a building very different from the others on this street where all the best people in Barcelona in the early 1900s lived. Because of its unusual form, it became known as the rock pile or La Pedrera in Catalan. Apparently it was only the turn of the century Barcelonans!

In addition to the exterior undulations, Gaudi decorated the chimneys and exhaust vents. Climbing across the roof is like visiting a cartoon land.

Gaudi even framed a view of his masterpiece which was barely under construction at the time.

From the roof, one descends downstairs into the attic. Here it is easy to see Gaudi’s genius using nature’s forms to help him construct spaces. This was truly an eye opening space.

The attic is used to exhibit Gaudi’s ideas and his furniture design. Like his buildings, the furniture is designed with ergonomics in mind. For the chairs, he used clay to see how the armrest and hand holds should be shaped. He did the same thing in creating door knobs and cabinet pulls inside the apartment.

From the attic we toured one of the fourth floor apartments. The attention to detail was incredible. The floor in the Maids’ areas are paved with a beautiful concrete tile (now also used in homage on the street outside), while the residents’ areas have beautiful parquet floors. The common corridors are terrazzo.

The ceilings and door frames have interesting natural shapes.

The entire apartment is furnished in the style appropriate to when it was opened. It was a great insight into life in Barcelona at the time-at least for the wealthy!

From the fourth floor we descended the service stairs which were also beautiful done, because as the Audioguide told us, “the residents had to use these when the elevators failed”.

The tour ended in the second of the two courtyards. Like the first one where we began the tour, it served as the entrance for the residents whose apartments were on this side of the building and for their automobiles down into the garage. Additionally, the courtyards provide light to the interior spaces of each apartment. The intent with the columns and the nature references was to create the feeling of being in a park. They are truly beautiful.

From Casa Mila, we headed to La Rambla, the pedestrian Main Street of Barcelona. We had a tasty lunch at a sidewalk cafe that we realized must of been the Applebee’s of Spain after we saw another outlet in the next block!

After lunch we continued down La Rambla and experienced a protest parade-we think against the Morocco mafia who have kidnapped a large number of men.

And saw a suit I wish I had the nerve to wear-those are pineapples and there were little sharks on his shirt!

From there we went to the Cathedral so we could watch the folk dancing.

Mike and I realized that the elderly folks we were watching may have been the middle aged ones we watched twenty odd years ago on our first visit to Barcelona when we happened upon this weekly event by accident

While I’m sure the dancing is important, it appears to me that the weekly social connection is the most important part of this wonderful activity.

After our busy day (given we didn’t leave the apartment until noon) we all headed back to the apartment where Mike made us a beautiful platter of ham & cheese and olives for supper which Lois and I augmented with some Russian salad and crostini. We enjoyed the buffet with the “welcome to the hotel” cava.

Palau de la Musica Catalana

OMG! The Palau de la Musica Catalana in Barcelona is amazing! The glass walls and the skylight plus the ceramics, light fixtures and sculpture. Just WOW.

The concert was equally impressive. We heard three pieces of music. A fine but nothing to write home about introduction, a Catalonian piece which premiered in this hall seven or eight years after Franco took control and outlawed the Catalan language, and Beethoven’s 2nd which he wrote just after he learned he was going deaf. Despite this it is a cheerful and uplifting piece.

The Catalan Concierto de Aranjuez was that most impressive. It is for guitar and symphony. The guitar soloist was Juan Manuel Canizares and while he was great with the concerto, after multiple curtain calls, he play an encore that was I believable. I don’t understand how he got the sounds out of it-it sounded like two or three guitars at some points.

We all enjoyed the concert greatly as well as the building.

Tomorrow morning Lois gets introduced to Antonio Gaudi at Sagrada Familia. If her reaction when we walked by the back of it to catch our taxi to the concert is any indication, she is going to be as amazed. Her first statement was “I’ve never seen anything like that before”.

Which is certainly true!