Welcome to Italy Day! We are currently sailing right between Corsica and Sardinia, with an AMAZING full moon that just arose behind the horizon. The water is so calm that it feels like we’re on a lake, and we’re moving so slowly that it feels like we’re not moving at all. It’s been this way since we entered the Mediterranean, and it’s expected to be this way all the way until the next Atlantic crossing. You know what that means… more seasickness! Woohoo! I mean, crap.
And it is really hot and humid already, at night, so I think we can expect some pretty sweaty weather in the next few days.
Our beta-testing country of Spain is out of the way, and we’re now full-fledged travelers with a two-year-old. We have discovered how to plan for only one or two big things a day, and everything else is bonus. I used to be able to absorb every single detail that tour guides would give me about a place, but now I’m content with getting, oh, say 20 percent of the information on the first go-around, because one eye is on Elise all the time. Which is just fine – it means we get to stroll around a lot of neighborhoods, meet all the local kids at the playgrounds (which have been plentiful so far), and enjoy the food at a lovely pace. It’s completely different from any travel I’ve ever done, and in many ways, it is richer. And I love it. I’m definitely looking forward to filling up the holes I missed on all these tours. I mean… when was that statue built again? Is that Church Romanesque or Gothic? Where’s the surreal roof with all the chimney? What’s a Spanish tortilla again? It goes on and on.
(Though we’re developing a pretty good system where we take turns listening to the tour guide and watching Elise, and just summarizing what the other one missed on the last go-around. We’d make great study partners).
We were lucky that, as in most ports, the ship docks right next to the action. So from the first day, we were able to get off the ship, walk to the famous Las Ramblas, and mostly enjoy the Old Town of Barcelona, walking down the narrow alleyways, looking for playgrounds, and enjoying the open spaces.
The day we arrived was a major holiday (St. Joan), so everything was closed and quiet, and Barcelona was hungover from the celebrations the night before. But after strolling with a couple of the other parents and kids, we found a nice little place to get some juices and beer and take a break from the sun.
It was a pretty nice break, though at one point, a drunk man came into the bar, and seeing that some of us had beers, demanded that he be served a beer as well. The bartender said no, that we were his family, and that he didn’t serve beer in the morning. That caused the drunk man to start screaming, threaten the bartender, and the result was an altercation between the two of them that almost got very ugly, as the bartender shoved him out of the bar, then grabbed and iron rod when he thought the drunk man was coming back to join us. The guy was escorted away by a friend of the bartender.
It was a lovely sight for all the children present. I’m not sure they noticed what was happening. We continued on with the stroll.
Most days went on that way. We would pick a place to go to, then try to time the longer distances with Elise’s naps, then stop to get food, or find a place for her to run around, when she was awake. It worked extremely well, especially when we visited Gaudi’s Casa Mila (with the chimneys on the roof) and Familia Sagrada (if you’re not familiar with Barcelona, Gaudi is a surrealist architect that created many of the defining structures of the city. They are certainly something to behold. Imagine if Cirque du Soleil built houses and churches).
Both those were very far from the ship, but we walked all the way to both and back, and it all worked out perfectly. We didn’t go into those, as the lines were too big to wait with Elise in the sun. But, because we had been building up everything we do to her, especially the night before (she prefers predictability), we had to explain why we weren’t going on the roof of Casa Mila after we made such a big deal about it. We told her the lines were too big. She seemed to get it right away, enthusiastic that the “lines were so BIIIG!”
Not much later, we understand why she is enthusiastic. She said, “I’m scared.” And we asked her why, and she said because the “Lions were too big” on the roof, so we couldn’t go there. So now she’s convinced there are lions on every tourist attraction that has a queue. Good times.
On the second day, we visited the monastery at Montserrat, about an hour away from Barcelona. It was our first SAS trip after we gave away our tickets to the city orientation (knowing Elise would not want to sit on a bus after 10 days at sea). If you don’t know what Montserrat is, take a look at our pictures at http://picasaweb.google.com/randrade . It’s pretty impressive, originally build in a serrated mountain centuries ago (but rebuilt several times over the years), and still going strong as one of the major tourist attractions in Catalonia.
We made it up with Elise, and started perfecting our tag-team over there. I mean, the hard part about taking a kid is that they get so excited, you know, but going up and down the three steps to the gift shop. And I love her watching her do that. But we’re succeeding in getting her to be excited to see the things WE want to see as well. We even managed to take her on a short hike up the mountain, in the hot sun. She really is a trooper.
We’ve hit Barcelona in the middle of World Cup fever, with the spaniards doing a good job making it to the second round after losing its first game. So we got to see the game out at a Tapas bar, with good people like Dave, Tanya, Tom, Rebecca, and Emily, and still took some time during the game to see more of the city in celebration. It was also pride week over there, and we saw what must have been the smallest pride parade in the world. I’m really curious what the homosexual culture is like over there.
Our last day in the city was Sunday, and there were a lot of celebrations going on… we managed to take in the Picasso Museum while Elise napped (which was surprisingly good – showed a lot of his student work, which you could see a definitive progression of his skill as an artist. So much energy). There was a lot of dancing on the streets, and at noon, we caught this human tower competition – seven stories up, with the tiniest of kids, maybe 4-6 climbing up to make up the top of the tower some 40 ft in the air. And the tower is trembling the entire time. It is truly dangerous stuff, though I must admit that if I were a kid growing up in Barcelona, I would most certainly have been one of the kids dying to participate in the tower every weekend.
It was one of my favorite parts of the weekend, though I found out later that we missed the last tower, which fell with the kids on top. I don’t know if anyone got hurt, but I think we left at the right time.
So that was Barcelona in a few paragraphs. We had a wonderful time, and it was a perfect place to hone in our on-location parenting skills. We had a quick all-Italy day on the ship (since we had 10 days to prepare for Spain, but only one for Italy, so it was non-stop Italy lectures today). The best part was that they asked us, being from California, to share earthquake safety tips to students, since Italy is seismically active.
Enter Monika Nagy, Italian Geologist, who shared the tips she learned from having survived the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. Everybody left thinking that all Californians as versed in earthquake safety as she is. Did you know that you shoudn’t necessarily stand in the door frame during an earthquake? On some buildings, it may be the strongest part of the building, but on some buildings, it’s the weakest! Bet you didn’t know that.
So we arrive tomorrow in Civitavecchia, and will take a train to meet with Tom and Karen Nagy in Rome. We really look forward to it. Elise will see Mimi and Baba, and we will get few hours to ourselves over there… which hasn’t happened since we left.
Other than the "Lion is so BIIIG", here is a quick round of Elisey-isms:
When getting ready for a boob, Elise exclaimed, really loudly, "OH, JESUS! I GOT A BOOBIE!"
When asked if she wanted to sit on the potty, she said, "No, dadda. I'm too small. I'll fall in."
We're trying to break her of the habit of the binky, so we ask her to keep her binky and froggy in the cabin whenever we go out. So as we're getting ready to take her swimming, she starts singing, very happily, "We're taking the binky to the pool... I'm taking the binky to the pool.... we're taking the binky and froggy to the pool... we're taking the binky to the pool..." To which I say, "No, love, we're keeping the froggie here." She looks at me as if I'm crazy, and says, "It's just a song."
She really likes these bunny crackers, so one morning, she says, "I want some bunny crackers." We didn't have any, so Mon tells her so. She intently replies, "But I want some!" Mon calmly says, "They're all gone." She exclaims, "Let's get them at the store!" Mon responds, "The store doesn't have any."
She very calmly looks at us, pauses for a second, and says, "Oh. I guess they're all gone."
You can almost see here wheels spinning. We really have to explain everything to her.
Alright, off to bed, but pictures are up here: http://picasaweb.google.com/randrade