Sunday, September 26, 2010


Very early on September 2, we headed to the Madrid airport to catch our vueling flight to Barcelona. We arrived in Barcelona pretty early and we took the cheap bus option in to town. We arrived at our hotel, the Hotel Aranea, dropped off our bags, and started walking toward La Sagrada Família. As it was about lunch time, we ate on some snacks before going in. I have to admit that I had not read much about Barcelona before going and had no idea what to expect here. The Church of the Holy Family has been under construction since 1882 and is expected to finish around 2026. It's architecture is nothing like any other church we had seen before. We walked around for a while and enjoyed seeing a unique church still under construction.

We wandered back to our hotel to check-in and take a little nap. Of course Nolan had been napping already and woke up as we got in to the room, but we were able to rest some nonetheless. After our nap we decided to walk toward the water by way of a large park. This led us to the Arc de Triomf and the Parc de la Ciutadella. We slowly wandered through the park and when we ended up near the zoo, we headed toward the city center. We ended up close to the Santa Maria del Mar so we walked there and went in. This was another pretty interesting church and fotos were allowed, so we spent some time walking around and then decided to look for food.

We were near the Jaume I metro stop and walked down Carrer de Ferran. There were many restaurants in this area. We found a chinese place and got some noodles for Nolan, and Kacey and I ate at Trobador Ferran. We liked this place! While Kacey did not exactly like the way her fish was prepared, mine was good and the goat cheese salad was yummy. They also had a traditional Catalan appetizer, toasted bread with a special tomato-based sauce grilled in. It is pretty simple, but most restaurants in Barcelona seem to offer it. On our way to the hotel after dinner, I finally inquired about horchata (something we had been seeing frequently in Spain). The flavor is unique, but similar to chai, and the texture is that of a mostly melted milkshake.

The next day other LGOs were going to arrive in Barcelona. First in was Chris and we met up with him right after breakfast. We walked a few blocks north to La Pedrera (Milà house). I found the apartment amusing and the roof very cool. There were also nice views of the town from the roof. We ended up not visiting Casa Batlló as it seemed similar to La Pedrera, much more expensive, and not quite as cool. We grabbed a bite to eat at a little cafe, stopped for Chris to check-in, and headed toward Plaça d'Espanya.

Our goal was to check out the Olympic area and the fort on top of the hill. We walked the fountain-lined street toward the National Museum of Art. We then found our way around the back to the large open area near the stadium. It was a large area filled with water features and light towers. After a few minutes rest, we walked toward the stadium only to find that you are allowed to go in and walk around for free. We walked in, took some photos, grabbed a slushy, and figured it was time to head on up to the fort. Castell de Montjuïc can be reached by (expensive) cable car, bus, or tiring up-hill walk. We opted to walk up and bus down. There is not much at the fortress except great views, but it is free! From here we headed down to meet Emily, another LGO, for dinner near the water. After dinner we walked out on the pier toward the aquarium before heading to bed.

The next day we wanted to get to the cathedral before it closed, so we headed in to check out the Catedral de Santa Eulalia. As we walked around we got separated and Kacey ended up going out to the garden with Nolan. Too bad the place closed while she was out there as she had to then walk around the entire church to meet me out front. It was lunch time already so we looked for food near Jaume I and the Santa María del Mar church as there seemed to be a lot of food in that area. We stopped at a little place that had a very interesting menu so we went in. We were trying to keep the cost reasonable so we didn't get large portions, but the food was very good! El Rovell del Born is highly recommended if you are in the area.

From here we had to decide to try the beach or the zoo. We had trouble reaching the LGOs in town and figured it was Nolan's turn for some fun, so we spent a few minutes at a little playground and then headed to the zoo. The Parc Zoològic de Barcelona, despite the initial thought it would be small, is actually a nice zoo. They have unnecessary golf cart rentals for all, so there are way too many being driven around, but things were laid out well and there was a lot to see. I was glad Nolan got to see so many animals, especially his pony ride!
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Pony ride quotes: Nolan ride baby horsie, hold on tight

After a long afternoon at the zoo, we headed out the south entrance of the zoo to walk near the Olympic Village at the beach back toward the city center. We slowly walked the boardwalk, hoping Nolan would take a nap. He didn't but this was by far nicer than the beaches we had seen yet in Italy (note we don't go to many beaches, though). The entire beach area was revitalized for the Olympics in 1992. As we made our way back toward the center, it was time to meet the other LGOs for dinner. We took the metro up to Espanya to meet at a little restaurant near there. Karla had learned of a water/light show near Espanya so after dinner we walked toward the Museum of Art. Look at my pictures as it is hard to describe, but the long street is lined with water features and at the end of the street is the Font Màgica de Montjuïc. Every 30 minutes the fountains come to life to music, and different colors are shown through the water. It is pretty cool! After taking way too many pictures and staying up way too late, we finally headed back to our hotel.
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We woke up on Sunday, our last vacation day, packed up and headed toward La Rambla, a long street that is converted to shops and restaurants. We walked out to the water to check out the views from this point and then walked north up the street to take in the area. After watching a few street performers and reading some menus, we meet up with the LGOs to find some lunch. After walking for a while, we decided to go to the place Kacey and I had eaten a previous night and take advantage of their outside seating. I unfortunately had to quickly eat and rush back to get our bags to make our flight, but it was still good times and good food.

Pictures from Barcelona

Monday, September 13, 2010

Madrid and Toledo

We caught a quick, cheap flight from Lisbon to Madrid on easyjet on August 29th. By the time we got to Madrid, took the long metro ride and got to our hotel, the Hotel Santos Agumar, it was about 4pm. We were tired so we crashed for a little while in the hotel. Indy MotoGP was on, so I sat and watched some video of home.

That night we decided to just walk by some sites and find food. We walked north from Atocha up Passeo del Prado, a large, tree-covered street with a few museums along the way. We walked up to the Plaza de Cibeles and got a view of the large water fountain there. To the east a block is the large Plaza de la Independencia, home of the Puerta de Alcalá. We got some views of this and headed toward Puerta del Sol, the large, centrally located plaza of the city. We were also on the lookout for food so while we never made it all the way to Sol, we walked a lot of back alleys looking for food. It was much harder than we expected! It got late so we ended up at a little forgettable cafe. On our walk back to the hotel, I was able to take night pictures of things we had seen on our earlier walk, so it was kinda cool.

On Monday our goal was to catch a few sites around town, so we went to Atocha, bought our train tickets to Toledo for Tuesday, and took the metro to Sol. We looked around for some decent breakfast snacks but our best option for Nolan was fruit and juice from McDonalds. In the square I saw El Oso y El Madroño, the Bear and the Strawberry Tree, but didn't get a picture. I did get a picture of the statue of Carlos III, though. We started walking toward Plaza Mayor. While there was not much going on when we passed through, it is a popular place for markets and other gatherings. We were only a block or so away from the church, so we walked down to Colegiata de San Isidro. While no foto, this was a nice little church. Being right up against a small street made it hard to get a picture of the outside, but I managed. Nolan was really on his game of listening to his voice echo; he would not stop squealing! I took him out and an older woman came up to me outside and said it is ok, he is a baby. I appreciated her saying that as sometimes I feel as though people want me to take a loud child out.

As we exited the church to start walking to the Royal Palace, we spotted a grocery store across the street so we went in to check it out. While in there we decided to buy things for lunch on our own. We headed to the Palacio Real, also home to the Catedral de la Almudena (looks like a large cathedral, now an overpriced museum with limited open hours). We sat in the grass and ate our food, and let Nolan run around a little bit. After lunch we went on in to the Palace for our tour. Of course inside is no foto, but it was still pretty cool.

After our walking tour we decided to go rest at the hotel, so we walked by the Madrid Royal Theatre to the Opera metro stop. After a brief rest, we walked around the Atocha area to find some quick, simple food. Nolan fell asleep so we stopped at this little sandwich bar and ate at the counter. It was pretty good and cheap. We found Nolan some take-away pasta to eat at the hotel after he woke up.

The next day we went to Toledo for a day and Wednesday we were back in Madrid for some more sites. Kacey wanted to see a bullfighting ring and I am glad she had researched it, because it was really cool! We arrived at the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas right as they were starting a tour so we joined in. The tour was in both spanish and english and we got to basically go where ever we wanted! Check out the pictures and my youtube video of the ring. When we were done we grabbed some food at the grocery store to then take to the Retiro Park and eat. After eating we had to walk over to the playground to give Nolan some play time. After a bit we convinced him we wanted to go see some big water fountains, so he ran toward the big water fountain! After a stroll through the park it was time to hit the Prado Museum for a couple hours. Unfortunately Nolan wanted to test out his voice using the echo, so I had to walk him around in the lobby for the first hour until he fell asleep. After our time here, we started walking toward the hotel. Kacey spotted a Thai restaurant, so we had to stop for dinner. It was now time to pack up and get ready for our 4:30am taxi ride to the airport to check out Barcelona!

Pictures from Madrid

I was unfortunately under the weather this day, but it still turned out ok. The train ride was only 30 minutes and direct, so we were in town pretty early. We took a bus up to the centro and started our walk. We didn't have any real definite plans but we first started walking toward Alcázar, which looked like a big fortress. Turns out it has been turned in to a library, coffee shop, and offices. We got some decent views from up there and then decided to head toward the big cathedral. We wandered through the streets until it was in view. It's size is masked by the other buildings in this hill town until you are right next to it. We had heard very good things about this church, so we went to buy tickets. €7! While the most expensive church we have been in (at that time), it is also one of the most interesting churches we had been in. Unfortunately no foto, but there are several little chapels, a large choir area, a small art gallery, and many other features. We walked around for an hour or so and decided to find some food. Due to the "Italy hill town" feel we had hopes for some good food options, but the restaurants we found were pricey and we ended up eating some small sandwiches at a cafe and Kacey ate a baked potato from a potato bar.

The next 90 minutes or so was spent watching Nolan while he slept, me not feeling well, and Kacey trying to find an ATM so we could pay to visit a few more little churches. We finally got to then visit the Parroquia De Santo Tome and the Sinagoga del Tránsito. The synagogue allowed foto and was filled with a lot of history, most in spanish. It was still interesting. From here we made our way back to the train station, only to run in to one of Kacey's classmates from school at the station!

Pictures from Toledo

Friday, September 10, 2010

Nolan and the Month of August

August was a busy and exciting month on many fronts! We visited many new places and countries, saw lots of friends, and Nolan grew up a lot!

Nolan started showing interest in the big boy bed in his room during nap time, but just as nap time would creep up and I would try to leave him, he would want to go to his crib. On Thursday September 9th, he was tired and interested enough in it to take a nap in a bed! He has done it a few more times and also overnight once!

Nolan has also been expressing interest in the potty so we encourage it of course. His reward is he gets to push the button to flush. While we were at our hotel in Madrid, Nolan said to us "make poop" so we rushed to the potty and he did it! Gross for most, but a big step for us! We have done it successfully a few more times since, but usually he is a little too late in telling us. But, he is trying and interested!

Nolan also talks up a storm (as well as repeats what he hears) now. He even uses words we are not sure how he learned them! He loves to put together sentences and tell mommy and daddy things. He is also using some Italian! Although I usually use both Italian and English numbers with him, he isn't picking those up. He does say caldo for hot and freddo for cold. This is surprising as caldo sounds a lot like cold, but he usually gets it right. Also on the repeating what he hears front, mommy and daddy use the word crap occasionally and even though we have stopped saying it and stopped reacting to him saying it, he likes to yell something that sounds like crap. I have now started reacting by saying "yes, clap" and clapping at him while saying clap. I am hoping he switches to clap :)

If you have followed the blog, you have seen that we have visited Vienna, Budapest, Libson, Madrid, Barcelona, Assisi, and Cortona during the month of August. We also had a visit from the "swiss kids" as we call them; the LGO students in Basel, Switzerland. Another student located in Liverpool also made the journey down during the August Palio along with the swiss kids. It was a fun weekend and they left with more than their share of cheap wine.

Now, it is time for a quick trip to the states; we won't have much time to visit friends, mostly family. But if Nolan and I get an invitation and nothing in particular is planned, maybe we can meet up!

Monday, September 06, 2010


We took a vacation to the Iberian peninsula at the end of August. Our first stop was Lisbon, Portugal. We arrived on Thursday the 26th early in the morning and hit the sites hard. After checking in at the Hotel Príncipe Lisboa, we headed out to the water at the Praça do Comércio. This has great views of the water, the square, lots of people, and in the distance the Cristo-Rei statue.

We decided to walk toward the Baixa area, containing many restaurants, so we could find some lunch. We found a little place with outdoor seating and the menu looked very good, and cheap! We had sangria, salmon, cod cakes, pasta, a ricotta tart, and creme brulee. We decided to head out to Belém via street car and check out that area. We first went to the Belém tower. There is not much to this and it is expensive to go in. We just walked around the park for a few minutes then walked along the water down toward the Monument to Discoveries. After resting in the shade for a few minutes, we walked back across the street toward the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos to check it out. We realized this was mostly a large church that was free to enter, and the monastery (only a small area) was the part you pay for. The church was interesting and contained a few famous tombs. After a brief rest in the garden there we started walking to catch a street car back to the city center. While waiting, Kacey spotted something across the street; a famous bakery, the Pastéis de Belém. My research had not come across this place but hers had. We went over for one of their famous pastries, for which the store was named after. They were very good! A unique flavor and an interesting combination of textures.

Upon getting back to the city center, we walked toward the , otherwise known as the Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa, which is the Lisbon Cathedral. This is a very old church. There wasn't much that stood out here, but there was some interesting tile work and a few little chapels inside. Next we walked up the hill to the Castle of São Jorge. We got student discounts and walked around the lower ramparts for excellent views of the city! Kacey walked around the upper castle ramparts while I stayed with Nolan to play for a while (it was too many narrow steps). We were now ready to take the bus back down to central and find some food to eat.

We walked around for a few minutes and were bombarded with tourist restaurants. We tried a few alleys and found a collection of small, local places. We tried one that was not too pushy, had a decent menu, and offered to make Nolan a veggie and chickpea plate. It appeared to be an owner, a runner (both older), and their two wives in the kitchen. They were very nice, played with Nolan, and eager to speak english (typical of Portugal we are learning). I had pan-fried pork with fries and veggies, and Kacey had a fish. We also got olives and some vihno. All this plus some water was like €20! By time we were done it was getting late so we took the metro back to our hotel to turn in.

Since we saw so many sites in our first partial day we decided to take it a little easier on Friday. We decided to check out a couple sites near the city center and then check out the big aquarium. We started at the Restauradores metro stop and saw a funicular across the street. It looked like it might be the one that went straight up to our church, so we checked it out. Sure enough it was, so we took the funicular up to the São Roque church. This was a pretty elaborate church! There was a lot of gold, and there was a neat room in the back full of paintings depicting the life of one of the saints of the area. The ceiling was also unique to other churches we have visited. From here we walked down to the Baixa area to find some food. There was unfortunately not much food here but we did find a little local spot/bar serving some hot food for lunch. I got beef and ham with egg and cheese and rice, a little salad for Nolan, and Kacey got octopus, which was pretty good.

Now we headed out to the aquarium. This is not that close to the city center, and it is also not close to a metro stop. So we took the red line all the way out to Oriente and walked to the Oceanário de Lisboa. The aquarium is basically built on the water, pretty cool! Once inside, this was a pretty nice place, much better and bigger and cheaper than the Boston aquarium. Nolan enjoyed watching all the big sharks and other fish. After a few hours here, we decided to get back to town and maybe check out one more site, but it was already closed. For dinner we did the same thing as the night before and found another good, cheap place. This time we had a bottle of vihno (€3.50), bread, salads, water, Kacey had grilled sardines, and I had grilled chicken. And again it was like €20. They also loved playing with Nolan here and carried him around while we ate. Time for bed!

The next day our goal was to take the train out to Sintra to check out the palace and the castle. The train ride was only about 40 minutes once we found the train station (we walked by it a couple times, it is not marked and the trains are underground). We got some information and walked toward the city center. There were a fair amount of tourists walking around so we wandered some alleys looking for lunch. We finally found Tacho Real; it looked ok so we went on in. It was a little more expensive than we like but the food was ok. From here we went to catch a bus to go up the hill to the sites.

There is a tourist bus that takes you up, and this is pretty necessary (unless you have a car). The first stop is the Castle of the Moors. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, but we got in line for tickets. They had a combo ticket for this and the next stop so we bought it. It was expensive, but we were there so we went for it. Then we got a map and saw that we had to hike through the woods to get to the castle. The map made it look long, so we started to dread it with a stroller but once we got going, it was not too bad. Once there, though, we had to ditch the stroller. It is mostly some narrow, steep ramparts left on the cliff edges, so the views were great! There was also a view of our next stop, the Palace of Pena.

If you only have time to visit one stop, make it this one. This palace is great! There is a really nice walking tour inside (no foto) and lots of great views (you can see Lisbon from one lookout and the Atlantic from another). We took turns walking inside as Nolan was sleeping in his stroller and no strollers or backpacks are allowed inside the palace. From here we decided to get in queue for the bus to go back down and catch our train. Once crammed on the bus, we met a couple from Australia touring the globe; it was nice to talk in english for a while.

When we arrived in Lisbon, we were hungry so we stopped at a small, busy cafe close to the station. We considered take-out but he offered us a table in the back so we sat down and ordered a sangria (0,5L-€7 or 1,5L-€8... too bad there was only two of us). We both got fried fish and salads. The food was ok, but the location and price were right. It was time to go back to the hotel and pack up and prepare to fly to Madrid the next day!

Pictures from Lisbon