Good morning! Off to breakfast and then our waking tour.


Sagrada Familia.

Mike and I visited Barcelona in the 1990s as part of a whirlwind 10 day trip that included Madrid. At that time, Sagrada Familia only had Nativity and Passion entrances, and the towers associated with them. There was no roof over and hardly any columns in the nave. We had intended to visit the interior when we were in Barcelona last May with Mike’s brother and his family. However, I apparently failed to hit the purchase button to buy the tickets so we wandered the outside while they toured inside.

Thankfully we had a second chance and we really enjoyed our morning inside the basilica. I rarely get emotional over architecture but that wasn’t the case here. It is an incredible building. On a macro scale it is powerful but the details are really striking. No matter where you look, you see something new, innovative and inspiring. Unfortunately the pictures can’t give you the full impression. If you have the opportunity, please go. I know we hope to be around to make it back after they complete it (only 10 more towers to go!) in 2026…of course I think when we visited 25-30 years ago they hoped to have it done by 2010 or something…so we will see how it goes.

Below are pictures of the altar, the nave including the incredible effect of the stained glass windows.

We also visited the sacristy, the space used to store the priests supplies and vestments and where they prepare for mass. As a former altar boy, where we used a closet for a similar purpose, I hope you will trust me when I say Gaudi created the most beautiful space I’ve ever seen-he also designed the storage units.

As some readers may recall, when we were in Barcelona previously we had a wonder tapas experience at a little restaurant near our hotel and the Triumphal Arc, Elsa y Fred. Six other couples from the larger Cruise Critic that rode the metro together from the port to the church joined us to walk to the restaurant for lunch. While delicious, Mike and I agreed we wished we had of just ordered tapas rather than the meal of the day. Each of the three courses had two offerings so we had all six dishes and just halfed and halfed then between us. Of course we had to have their delicious octopus..and it was just as good as we remembered!

Appetizers were a delicious pea soup and a salad.

The main dishes were risotto with seafood and a really tasty sausage plate. Unfortunately no pictures of dessert.

After lunch we headed through the Gothic Quarter towards La Rambla, the pedestrian street that runs for many blocks. Along the way we happened upon a beautiful performance palace. I would like to go back and tour it’s interior. We also happened upon an ancient church which was the polar opposite (by just as impressive in its simplicity) to Sagrada Familia.

After getting to La Rambla, we wandered it back towards the port. All in all a wonderful day and a good walk-5.9 miles!

While I used the port terminals WiFi to post some overdue blogs, Mike went aboard and learned we wouldn’t be leaving as scheduled due to the weather predictions at Funchal. I’m writing this a week later in the middle of the Atlantic and the ship is still full of rumors as to whether it was the weather or the repairs that delayed us. Who knows and frankly I don’t really care.

We discussed using the extra day in Barcelona to explore some more of the city but that long walk the day before took it out of us and after not waking until almost 10 am, we elected to treat it as a sea day and do what we now do best. Nada!

Modena. (Or is there ever too much chocolate?)

not sure why (bad Spanish Internet? But all the pictures in this post aren’t loading. So sorry but here is the text.

We left Milan early in the morning and headed towards Modena our next resting spot. But first we had a hilltop town, two more lakes and a castle to see.

Our first stop was Bergamo. Mike and I had visited here last June so when we arrived and found parking near the upper city (Alta Citta) impossible, I dropped Mike, Lowell and Peggy (hereafter M,P&L) off at the upper gate and I drove to the lower gate of this walled city and sat in the car while M,P&L walked through town. They went into the Duomo but otherwise basically did a quick walk through.

From there we headed to Iseo ( on Lake Iseo) for a quick stop on our way to Lake Garda.

Peggy had selected Sirmione as our next stop. This town is on a peninsula that extends into Lake Garda. At the midpoint is the peninsula is Castello Scaligero which was built in the 14th century.

The medieval town and lake surrounding the castle are beautiful and could easily be used for a Disney movie.

We had a delicious lunch. Mike and I halfed and halfed lasagne and a local cod dish with polenta. While tasty I was disappointed that the polenta was grilled and not more liquid. Unfortunately we were both apparently too busy eating to take any pictures. sorry.

After lunch we continued onto Modena. Due to parking issues in Sirmione we needed up leaving later than planned which meant it was after dark when we got to Modena. We had difficulty locating our airbnb (the holiday festival and one way streets only raised my frustration level) but after a couple of phone calls to the host we finally found the right address and checked into our lovely home for the next two nights.

The apartment was located within the historic center which made driving difficult and after that stress of the previous night my passengers suggested and I readily agreed to trashing our plans to visit Verona and some other nearby towns and instead spend the next day in Modena.

Of course, after we discovered that there was a chocolate festival literally at our doorstep with vendors’ stalls for the next eight or ten blocks we knew we made the right decision! For dinner that night we basically had chocolate albeit not shoes or handcuffs!

The next morning we visited the Grande Plaza with the Duomo and the City Hall. We also went inside to the the “historic rooms” of the City Hall. Including a very old organ.

From the main square it was only half a block to the city market. As usual incredible sights, smells and tastes-including porcetta and prosciutto!

It had started sprinkling as we left the market so we headed towards the Ferrari Museum. Along the way we passed the Ducal Palace which was covered in scaffolding-but here it is as well a the view from it across its piazza towards Duomo.

Enzo Ferrari was born in Modena and started his empire in the building below which houses a display about his life and various engines.

The old garage is surrounded by a modern building which was inspired by the boot of a Ferrari.

The main display has cars from all eras. The space itself is very interesting-sloped floor from top to bottom in a curve and with a huge projection system where they show a film on Ferrari’s life and the history of the brand and team.

Of course there is a gift shop and Cafe which was in the curved part of the building looking out on the historic garage.

As always I love the juxtaposition of ancient and contemporary:

After a wet walk in the rain Back to the apartment we called it a day and ate our market purchases for supper.

I am posting this from the Barcelona cruise terminal after a beautiful day. I’ll do a full Barcelona post in the future but here is a teaser of the inside of Sagrada Famila. OMG it’s astounding. What a change from when we were here in the mid 1990s and it didn’t have a roof or windows or full height columns! (Oh, no filter used!)

They had the hole in the ship repaired when we got off this morning and were in the process of painting it but Mike just texted from onboard and the rumor is we may not be leaving until tomorrow. No biggie-what else do I have to do?


You may be saying to yourself, “Self, I don’t recall Clay mentioning Barcelona when he told me about his year of travel.” and you would be right!  We hadn’t planned on visiting Barcelona this trip (well at least once we decided we couldn’t afford to spend our month in Spain there).  But Mike’s brother Chris and his wife Jen along with their daughter Rebecca and her boyfriend Karol (Pronounced Karl – he is polish) decided to celebrate Rebecca’s graduate school graduation with a week in Barcelona.  We had to get from Sofia to Lisbon and that entailed a stop somewhere and Barcelona was just as good as Milan and lots better than Frankfurt, so we modified our Airbnb stays and spend four nice days with them.

We arrived at the Hotel Rec (which Chris found and we loved) around 8 pm on Saturday night and the others arrived around 1 pm on Sunday.  Mike and I spent Sunday morning wandering through the park below the Arc d’triumph (who knew Barcelona had one too?) and got back to the hotel as they were arriving.

We all went and had a late lunch and then the travelers checked in and took naps until that evening.

The hotel has a beautiful rooftop lounge and terrance and we ended up having a Jamon tasting and just relaxing that evening.  Mike bought the ham at a speciality store around the corner and boy was it tasty….but not inexpensive – we had three levels, the most expensive was 199 euros a kilo or about 105 dollars a pound!  Wowzer!  Needless to say we only had a taste of it.  Most of us thought the much more economical $50 a pound ham was just fine….of course his majesty Burton thought we should only eat the good stuff from now on!

Monday we all went to Park Guell together. This was originally envisioned as a residential development in the hills above Barcelona and Saudi (architect of La Sagrada Familla) was charged with designing the common spaces.  Unfortunately, it never took off – I guess just like our neighborhood in Knightdale, the best laid plans don’t always come to fruition.  So at some point the it was all sold to the City and turned into a park.  Most of the park is open to the public but the “monumental” area requires a timed ticket to try to keep the crowds down….notice my use of “try”!

Through our the park there is a lot of decoration done with tile shards. This is the technique that Calatrava uses on his modern buildings-remember the cultural center in Valencia?

The Hyperstyle Hall was designed to serve as a covered gathering space for neighborhood events -that’s it at the top of the steps and its roof as the public plaza. It is currently having repairs made which allowed us to see how the dimes on the underside are made above. So while most visitors were unhappy about the construction fence I enjoyed it!

There is also an interesting area of the park which creates a walkway that has a wave form on the interior and interesting columns on the outside, including one called the wash woman and another reminiscent for the spiral columns of the canopy over the altar at St Peters in Rome.

Gaudi’s work may have influenced lots more architects than I realized-these columns at another spot in the park reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s columns for the Johnson Wax Building. Knowing Wright’s ego I’m positive he would say he was unaware of them!

You will have to make your own decision:

On Tuesday, we continued our Gaudi experience by heading to La Sagrada Familla.  This is the church that Gaudi started and that still isn’t finished as you can see from the construction shot at the top of this blog post. When Mike and I visited in the 90s, they said they hoped to have it finished by 2020, they are now pushing to have it finished by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.  I doubt they are going to make it as they haven’t yet started on the biggest towers…but who knows, with modern building techniques, perhaps they will.

Mike and I had planned on going inside and I “knew” I had bought the tickets – hell we didn’t buy the airline tickets until we were sure we could buy tickets for the same time as Chris and crew were going.  So Monday, I go to find the tickets in my email, hmmmm, not there?  Let me check the credit card…hmmm, no charge?  Did I just imagine it?  Anyway, it appears I dropped the ball, so while Chris et al climbed the tower (been there done that, not gonna do it again) and spent time contemplating inside this magnificent building, Mike and I sat outside and people watched!  Luckily we will be back to Barcelona as our first and only mainland port stop on our Transatlantic back to the USA in November and I am definitely going to buy a ticket for inside this time!

We are also making plans to have lunch at the restaurant around the corner from our hotel where we had wonderful tapas (including grilled octopus better than any we had in Greece) on our last night in Barcelona.  Yummy!

on Wednesday, Mike and I metro-ed to the airport (again arriving too early to check our bags, had a quick visit to the lounge again courtesy of our Priority Pass and then boarded TAP Portugal airlines headed to Lisbon.  While the checkin and boarding process had some of the same issues we experienced in Sofia – again due to contracted airport employees I believe (and so tweeted to TAP), we were pleased with the flights.  On our slightly over 2 hour flight we were served a sandwich and drinks! When is the last time in the US that you saw anything other than a packet of peanuts on a short flight (unless you were seated up front)?

We arrived in Lisbon uneventfully and made it to our Airbnb via UBER after seeing the loooooong taxi line.  Since we have been here we have learned that UBER is easy and cheap here…in some cases, no more expensive than taking the bus!

More on Lisbon coming right up!

Valencia Week Three.

We have enjoyed our final week in Spain even though I have nicked named it the week of Death Marches!  Longtime readers will remember that Mike accused me of setting up too long sightseeing days and started calling them Death Marches.  Well it was Mike’s turn this week to do it to me!

Monday, we laid low and walked through the lovely park (pictured above and below) two blocks from the apartment.  It is so well kept and a little oasis.

On Tuesday, we left the apartment about 11 am intending to walk to town to visit the City of Arts and Sciences which is a relatively new collection of buildings in the riverbed of the Turia, the river that was diverted in 1969 after disastrous flooding in the late 50’s.  After reaching the river, which was about a 2 mile walk, I was beat.  (I think it had to do with not having breakfast and not drinking water).  Since our destination was at least another 2 miles and then once we got there we knew we were going to be doing lots of walking, we elected to stop and have an early lunch and then head back home.

We walked back via the Turia Gardens. It is so wonderful that rather than turning the former riverbed into high rise housing or more commercial space, the City instead, left the bridges in place and built a beautiful park.  The park starts in the west at the Zoo and ends at the City of Arts and Sciences about 5 miles away very near the port where we docked three weeks ago.  The park is well used (and loved) and includes ponds, playgrounds, baseball and soccer fields.  Of course, since it is Spain, each of the play fields also includes a bar where you can buy coffee, soda, small bites and beer.  I would probably enjoy taking a kid to soccer practice if I got to have a beer while waiting.

Anyway, we had a lovely stroll along the river and then along the Gran Via (Big Street) that leads back to our part of town.  But the street part became a death march and we discovered when we finally got home that we had walked a little over 6 miles.  Needless to say, we slept well that night.

On Wednesday, we tried again to reach the City of Arts and Sciences but with success this time.  We rode the bus to the park and then walked (and walked and walked – I told you this was a week of death marches!)

The City is made up of the Performing Arts Palace, an IMAX/Planetarium, a Science Museum, a botanical park, a flexible use building and an Aquarium (we visited this as part of our Viking cruise, for more on it, find my post from March 16th or so).  The City was planned and with the exception of the Aquarium all the buildings designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.  Calatrava is both an architect and an engineer and his buildings always are amazing engineering feats.  His buildings typically are organic and heavily influenced by nature.  In some cases, they have huge moving parts – the most extraordinary of which is Milwaukee’s  art museum that looks like a bird whose wings open and close to shade the  interior from the sun.  See a short video of the wings opening here:

While none of the buildings in Valencia have this dynamic, they are all pretty incredible. The Arts Palace is called by locals, the roman helmet.  This is obvious when the building is viewed as a whole.

The “feather” of the helmet is supported at only two points – where it starts at the ground and at the very top of the building –

the rest of the feather is a cantilever hanging over the entire west part of the building.

But the building also references the sea and nature.  The entire building is bathed in natural light on the interior – most of the paving of the terraces include glass portions which let the below grade levels receive sunlight.  Note too that the building surfaces are covered with broken tiles (Gaudi’s influence?) which combined with some of the shapes of the building reminds me of fish which is an obvious reference in this seaside city.

We toured the building and throughout it is pretty incredible.  There are four performance spaces along with a multitude of rehearsal halls, back stages areas etc.

The various lobbies are available for private events – the lobby of the Opera Hall was being prepped for a large reception while we were there – hence the hightops and some of the screens you see.

There is an incredible cantilevered stair that is used to reach the upper levels of the opera hall.

As part of the tour we also got to visit the Palm Terrace which is the highest point that is accessible.  This space is where high euro donors get to have their champagne during intermission….or the peons get to rent for weddings. The last photo shows it from the ground so you can see where the previous pictures were taken.

Throughout the building there are custom details, such as the ceramic door pulls, in the opera hall they are singers, in another place where the hall is used more for dancing, they are dancers.  All are in the blue tile that is seen throughout Valencia typically as roof tiles.

After our tour, we walked beside the Hemisperic (the IMAX theater) towards the Science Museum.  The theatre was closed and as you can see it appears they were either working on it or cleaning it.  I didn’t notice until late in our walk, that the outer shell doesn’t apparently completely enclose the interior dome – rather it stops just short of the water level of the pool and the pool goes inside the building.

As it is Spring Break here, we elected to not join the hordes of students of all ages lined up to go inside the Science Museum and instead visited the restaurant where we shared a salad and a pizza for lunch.  That got us into the main hall, but not into the upper floors with the museum (and all the kids) itself.  The building references the skeleton of a whale which you can see best in the main hall.  The exterior is also an incredible composition of metal and glass.

We then walked through the small botanical park back towards the Arts building.  The shade structure appears to have been designed with the idea that vines would cover it, but if that is the case, they have not yet done so….only along the edges at some locations are they starting to creep towards the top.

We did not visit the last building in the complex, the Agora – it is the building behind the bridge and covered with scaffolding.  It has been “open” for several years but apparently has “issues”.  I think it is likely an expensive white elephant.  It is a multipurpose space but while very tall, isn’t very big. It hold 6,000 for a tennis match for example, which is a lot, but given its exterior size, I expected it to hold many more.

Both of us remarked that unlike the rest of the Turia park, where you only know you are in a former riverbed because of the bridges overhead, in the City of Arts and Sciences, Calatrava has brought the water back to the riverbed.  The use of water to join the various facilities together not only provides background noise, cools the space but reminds one of the former river.  For anyone visiting Valencia, I highly recommend a stroll anywhere along the Turia park but especially through Calatrava’s portion.

After leaving the City of Arts and Sciences, we walked west beside the park until we reached Gulliver.  This huge sculpture is a well loved play space.  It was great watching the kids slide down his shirt or climb on the ropes holding him to the ground.

From Gulliver, we wandered through L’Eixample (the addition), the beautiful part of town with wide boulevards (Gran Via) that reminded me of Paris and Mike of Buenos Aires headed towards Russafa, the up and coming trendy part of town. Galleries, boutiques, breweries, etc.

My intention had been for us to arrive about 6 pm when the cafes and bars open for tapas, alas we arrived at 5:30 so we HAD to have ice cream instead…So sad.  We split one of Dulce de Leche – delicious and another of tiger nut (the horchata one) and orange – omg, delish!

Since I am not one for ice cream followed by beer or cocktails and because we had blown our daily budget with the tour and the museum lunch, we decided to head home.  At this point we had walked about 5 miles and both of us were starting to feel it so we decided we would take “our” bus home.  Bus 28 runs right beside our apartment and it starts at the Central Market which wasn’t too far away from where we were.  So we headed towards the market….without checking the Valencia Transit App to confirm exactly where the market stop was….remember I said it was a week of death marches?  Well, after walking to the market, we discovered that even though the start/end point of #28 is the market, it in fact starts and ends at Government Plaza, which we had passed back there about a half a mile back.  Dumb Dumb Dumb but who knew?  Anyway, we trekked back (by this time I am at least half a block behind Mike at most points) to the plaza, found the bus (and a Taco Bell!, jeez, can’t we import Killen’s BBQ or something better than that? – we went in but did not partake, though given the line, apparently many spanish do) and finally made it home at 8:15 pm where we collapsed after walking 7.5 miles!

Yesterday, we went to court! Thankfully neither of us was involved in the proceedings. Once a week for the last several hundred years, the Water Court has met on the steps of the cathedral to rule on conflicts between farmers about the use of the canals and water systems. Europe’s oldest continually operating justice system is made up of one judge from each water district and they hear (nothing is written including their rulings) the case and make a decision. Yesterday, after the judges were led by the bailiff with his staff across the street from the water department to their leather and wood chairs, the bailiff hollered something about six times in Valencian (not exactly Spanish) that I suspect was, ” ya got a problem-come on up and tell the judges” and two older gentlemen and a young one (the court’s administrator?) came up. The young one talked (the crowd watching was too big to hear what was said-like I would have understood anyway), a judge or two asked a question and then it was done. I couldn’t tell if the ruling was announced or not-but I think that happens next week. Anyway, the judges’ walk over before and the standing with tourists for photographs afterwards both took much much longer than the proceeding.

After court we visited the basilica and intended to go inside the cathedral but the long line and 8 euro price tag made us decide to have a quick sandwich and beer instead before heading back to the apartment to get ready for our dinner guests.

That’s right after being here almost three weeks, we have apparently become fully settled as we entertained last evening by having the Canucks over for dinner!Nothing fancy, charcuterie & olives with wine, a rotisserie chicken from the take away place, some rice with mushrooms and our version of the goat cheese and strawberry salad we had on Silk Exchange day.  But it was nice to know that even in this small kitchen we can follow Ina Garten’s rules of entertaining successfully – buy something, make something, keep it simple and most importantly have a good time.

Today, we are taking it sorta easy and enjoying blogging and reading while the pictures upload. Tomorrow we think we will walk some of the Turia Gardens between our tram stop and Gulliver and I am hoping it won’t be another death march, but who knows?? At some point I guess we also need to start packing as Monday and our flight to Milano will be here before we know it.