Understanding the Various Levels of Product Managers

This is a SUPER article that talks about the skills and roles of product managers at various levels:

Product Manager Skills By Seniority Level — A Deep Breakdown

Fixing and Winterizing The Bees

Eric (my cousin) came over and looked at my beehive about three weeks ago. The goal was to clean it out and fix the mess the bees made (they put honeycomb in the empty slots… which shouldn’t have been empty). Turns out, it was impossible, so his advice (which became Plan B) was to:

  1. Put another deep box on top of the bottom deep box, and under the super (the bees need two deep boxes to survive the winter)
  2. Transfer all the frames that had a bunch of honey to the new box, and put new, clean frames in the bottom box (close to the honeycomb)

Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to it because of the gajillion other things I had going on… so I emailed him a couple of days ago asking him if it was too late. “Call me,” was his reply.  That’s about as good as a girl in Jr. High saying “We need to talk.”  Now we are on to Plan C. The problem is that the bees might not have enough time to do what they need to do to get ready for winter… I wasted three weeks of their prep time.  So, we are going dramatic :( (read, we get no honey, it will be for them this winter).  Plan C is everything in Plan B, plus:

  1. Take out the queen excluder (which is basically a filter you put between the brood box (or, the bottom deep box) and the super (where you get the honey… this allows all but the queen to get in there, so the bees fill the comb with honey, but the queen doesn’t lay eggs there).
  2. Add the feeder to the second (middle) deep box, so they have plenty of stuff to make comb out of.

I don’t know how we’ll get the non-framed comb out next spring, but we are leaving it for now.  Of course, if they all die, or leave, it will be easy :/  With that background, here’s my bee project for this morning… total time in hive was about 20 minutes, prep time was another 20 , and wasted time (I didn’t get everything I needed to the hive on the first go), about 5 minutes.  I really hope this works and I have a healthy, active hive in the spring.

Here’s how I start… getting all the places a bee could crawl up (like pant legs) secured. Goofy? Yes. Peace of mind? Definitely.

bee_socks

I’m still figuring out where to store my stuff… for now it’s all in a beekeeper spot on a workbench… notice the suit still has the price tag on it. That’s either to impress the bees, or because I might just change my mind and take it back (that won’t happen :p):

bee_suit

When you are in the bee suit it’s surreal… you are looking out of a screen, with a really big hat, hoping you didn’t miss a zipper. And wondering why the bee doesn’t just sting through it. Catching your shadow every once in a while reminds you of how goofy you look. But hey, peace of mind!

bee_shadow

I moved a workbench next to the beehive, since I was going to have to swap and move and stuff… here are some tools I use. The brush is very soft, and you can use it to brush bees away from danger (like, when you move the boxes) or from your clothes, the crowbar thing is to loosen the box and frames because the bees put wax on everything and it’s hard to pull off with your bare hands, and the other thing is a neat tool to help you lift the frames out of the box (it’s very useful, allowing you to use only one hand to get a frame out):

bee_table_setup

This should be the whole setup… right? Am I missing anything? (Yes, I was missing a smoker or squirt bottle with sugar water).  You can see I had good intentions with the match, and a gallon of fat/sugar so they can make new comb… the frames in that box are new, and right after this picture I removed them and put them on the ground. They would end up in the bottom box, once I took the full frames from that one and put them in the box on the table.

bee_setup

I just finished moving the frames from the bottom box to what will become the middle box, on the table:

bee_move_from_bottom

The queen excluder is just laying on the side… the bees should make quick work of this over the next day or two.

bee_extractor

And here’s the whole reason we are doing this… the honeycomb on the bottom box should not be there, but I didn’t put frames in that spot, and bees are industrious!! I’m leaving this comb in over the winter. To the right are the new frames that hopefully they’ll build out and the queen will lay eggs.

bee_bottom_box

Once I got the middle deep box full of the frames (that used to be in the bottom box, so they were full, and HEAVY), I moved it to it’s spot… these are the bees that stayed behind. Notice the bottom-middle… there’s a big drop of honey that a few bees are working on.

bee_after_moving_box

Almost done… the new box is on, the feeder is full (I did this before I opened the hive), and the frames that were on the bottom are now in the middle. And, the extractor is on the side (so the queen can go to any box she wants).

bee_second_on

This was my view while I was working… notice the arrow pointing to the extractor. I’m going to leave that there so the bees can clean it up (they take the wax and the honey back to the hive… amazing, isn’t it?):

bee_backshot_done

Here’s a rare shot from the front… I didn’t have the smoker or sugar water I should have to calm the bees, so I didn’t go here to work… just for this shot :)

bee_front_shot_done

So that’s it… a relatively quick job. Each time I open the hive (I think this is my third time) I get more confident. It’s not as freaky having the bees swarm around me anymore… well, not totally freaky :)  One of these days I need to weedwack around the hive, but I’m not going to agitate them anymore today. I’m also leaving the workbench out there because there’s honeycomb about the size of a small fist that they were working on… I’ll let them clean that and then I’ll put the table away.

#Europe2017 Day 32: Going Home!!

Well, it’s been over a week since I’ve been home, but I’m reminded that I need to finish this blogging series/project and write this final post.

We planned to meet in the lobby at about 10 am… the receptionist said, the night before, that we would have a taxi arrive just ten minutes after we called… that left us plenty of time to be at the airport for a 1:something flight from Barcelona to Amsterdam, and then about an hour and a half layover before a ten hour flight to SLC.

I had emailed all my wife and Ellie’s parents that we should arrive in SLC at 5:05 pm.

When we got to the lobby of our hotel the receptionist said that the taxis were running really late, and there was already a group waiting at the lobby for a good thirty minutes. Uh-oh. Plan A wasn’t working out too well :/ I gifted the receptionist, Marc, our beach umbrella that we got a couple days earlier (this is a MUST BUY, by the way). It was only ten euros but he was very, very appreciative. He was a neat guy that we got to know while staying in Barcelona, and said when we come back he’d go hang out at the beach with us :)

Fortunately, we weren’t waiting for thirty minutes… our taxi came relatively quickly, and we were ON OUR WAY HOME! Our taxi driver was really, really cool. He was a single dad who worked about twelve hours a day and took a big international trip about once a quarter. He had been to some of the places we have been to (including the Dominican Republic and Kenya) and was headed to some of the places that we wanted to go to. We had a great chat to the airport and I tipped him my last ten euros, which I had no more use for.

We got to the Barcelona airport and then was introduced to what someone might have thought was a great checkin system, but in my opinion, was an airport nightmare. Normally, at an airport, you simply check in at your airline’s desk two or three hours before the flight, then go through the gate. Barcelona’s system works well for anyone who has a math degree… it’s over-complicated and created a lot of questions. In a nutshell, you look at the monitors to find your flight (they only list flights in the next two hours, and we were just a little earlier than that), and then see what checkin desk you are assigned to. Cool idea, but not cool to go through. First of all, some of the monitors were out, so you couldn’t tell what desk to checkin to, second, … well, that’s boring technical stuff. To say the least, there were multiple points of frustration from the point we walked in the doors until we got to the right gate. But who cares, we are on our way home!

The flight to Amsterdam was delayed about 20 minutes, which in airport talk means 40 minutes. This was no big deal, except it mean we had a very short layover in Amsterdam. But I prefer that to sitting at an airport for a long time.

On this flight the delay had grown a bit more and other passengers were asking the flight attendants about missing connections. “No connections would be missed,” they promised. Indeed, we had enough time to make it from our gate to the next gate, right?

What we didn’t count on was that the walk from our gate to the next gate was a solid 20 minutes of swift walking. We also didn’t count on having to go through passport control, which was a ridiculously long and very slow line. But our flight was coming up so soon they fast-tracked us and put us in the short line. Short doesn’t mean fast, but it was better than the long molasses lines.

Finally, we all get through that line and then rush to our gate. People were already lined up, which means we made it just in time.

William made some comical teenage annoying noise, and I made some reference to how it sounded like Napoleon Dynamite… the lady behind us said “Oh good! I was wondering if I was in line for my flight to Salt Lake City, but now that you referenced Napoleon Dynamite I know I’m in the right line!”

We got on our flight and did the standard seat shuffle (which means that I trade my seat with someone in the Trio so they sat by one another), and I sat by a lady and her father who had been in Europe (from SLC) for a massive family reunion. This lady was really cool… she was a professional dancer for over a decade, and just really nice. Her TV system didn’t work for a good hour or two and she was super patient and kind about it, where I’ve seen other people kind of throw a fit and feel entitled do some compensation from the crew.

Ten hours… I started to do the math and look at the numbers of when we would arrive and things weren’t adding up. Apparently I thought we’d land at 5:05 but in reality we were going to land at 7:05! I told my wife to be there two hours early! Ugh! I hated thinking that they would be there and wait for a couple of hours :(

I have to give props to KLM, the airline we flew… this was one of the best airlines I’ve been on. This was a newer plane and had a great TV/movie system (which I am sure helps keep passengers calm), and the very cool window tinter that tints the windows instead of closing the shade… this provides shade but still keeps the space feeling open.

On this flight I spent about an hour in the back chatting with a guy who was with his daughter in Europe for her retirement…. it was fun to get to know him and listen to his stories.

A highlight of the flight was flying over Iceland… we flew over a month earlier but it was totally dark and I didn’t see a thing. But this time it was in daylight and it was REALLY COOL! I’m not sure, and I can’t easily find the info online, but it looked like they have these really big mountains, and the snow was up to almost the very tops of the mountains! I imagined several thousand feet of snow… maybe I am totally wrong but that’s what it looked like from the sky. It was beautiful.

So, we get to SLC, two hours later than I thought, hoping that my wife would have figured out my mistake and not have been there for two hours waiting. Then, we get off and go through passport control and customs. We were asked FOUR times, at different points, if we brought food home. This process was just as slow as anywhere else on our trip, but this time we know that just on the other side of the wall was our family!

After what seemed like a long hour we finally got through and, after winding around a few corners, saw our family holding welcome home signs! It was a sweet reunion, and I was reminded more than once, by more than one person, that this trip was too long :)

On the way home I got a summary of things that were waiting for me to fix… a towel hook fell off the wall in a bathroom, the van A/C just went out that day, etc. etc. Welcome home!

Kaisie had a great taco bar ready for us when we got home, which was super. We got acclimated, and then settled in for a few days (or weeks?) of jet lag and “normal life.”

And that’s it… I hope to blog about a few things I’ve learned, and miscellaneous things about the trip, but I I obviously needed a break from daily blogging… thanks for reading!

#Europe2017: Day 31 La Sagrada Familia!

Today went to the amazing, beautiful, full-of-symbolism Sagrada Familia. We walked .8 miles to the train (we dearly miss the flexibility of the rental car!) and got on the train to go about five stops east. Wondering what this looks like? You are in luck… I have two pictures. The first is the Trio waiting for the train:

barc_sagra_train_waiting

The second is of the stops we were at… we found it’s a good idea to grab pictures of the stops so we know how to get back home :p Notice the “sortida” signs… that means exit in Catalan. We’ve noticed that in Europe they are REALLY BIG on making it clear where the exits are. barc_sagra_train_signs

Here’s the stairs we go down after the .8 mile walk. The escalator is just for decoration… I’m not sure if it has worked all year :pbarc_sagra_train_station

The train is so slow compared to the metro, but it’s really nice to have. We switched from the train to the metro, went three stops down, and then got off. This was MUCH nicer than the first day doing this, to the Barceloneta beach, which seemed to take forever and included two metro switches and a lot of walking through the metro maze!

We get out of the metro, go up the stairs, and I say “Um, now were do we go? I didn’t write this part down!” William and Sam both looked around for two seconds and started to laugh, but Ellie was on her phone pulling up Google Maps… that is, until they both pointed to the HUGE cathedral right in front of us, across the street. This is a landmark that you can’t miss :)
barc_sagra_facade

We had about an hour or so before we had to be at the gate with our tickets… which were for a certain time. So we looked for food and found a restaurant that served different kinds of paella, including chicken-only (no seafood) and vegetarian. We chose this place and had our best paella experience. It was really quite good.

After we finished we headed over to the line… there were not any long lines, which was surprising. People said that if we didn’t get tickets online we would have to wait for hours. Not today, apparently. We go through security and I get our four audio guides (which are little recorders that you use to say “I’m at #1, tell me about this place.” We’ve learned that the audio guides are usually worth the few extra bucks to learn more about the place you are visiting.

Here was a cool bonus… right outside of the line area was a stage set up for festivities. When we got there, there were four young (10ish?) girls dancing some Spanish dance… and by the time we got through the line there were some six or seven older guitar players and about ten adults dancing Spanish folk dances…. very cool!barc_sagra_dancing

We were supposed to get there by 2pm and then go to “the tower” at 2:15, to go up an elevator about 60 meters. So we walked in I started to look for instructions on where the tower was… but the trio immediately got caught up in the beauty of this building. We immediately got separated as they all took pictures of the amazing architecture.
barc_sagra_ribs

Notice anything interesting about this architecture? They mentioned something about ribs, and muscles… when you are inside it’s like being in a living organism. It’s really cool.

barc_sagra_internalj

There was a lot of symbolism and on-purpose design. For example, the stained glass… on one end it was blue, where the sun rose, and the other side was red/orange, where the sun set. barc_sagra_glassbarc_sagra_glass_two

It was nice to be in this beautiful building with not too many people, and no one in a hurry. It was very peaceful and calm.barc_sagra_people

No problem… within a few minutes we all found one another, I found out where we were headed, and we went to get in line to go up.

We took an elevator ride to the top of the tower, and then the guy said “walk down.” Ah… this is why they say you have to have a good heart, no asthma, no claustraphobia, etc. But before we walked down we got to enjoy the view from the top:
barc_sagra_tower

We walked down some eighty or so flights of stairs in a spiral staircase that didn’t have a rail on the inside (the inside is where, if you fall, you’ll fall dozens of stories to a splatty, noisy death!). Did I mention I have fear of heights issues? I dub this picture The Spiral Fall of Sudden Death:barc_sagra_spiral_tower

That’s okay. I can do hard things. I had a good enough grip on my left side, made sure to not fall toward the right, and went down one step at a time. It was cool at the top, where you could see the view of the city, but after a while you were just in a very small tower going down and down and down and down. But hey, we were THERE!

(Spoiler: I did not fall down the Spiral Fall of Sudden Death)

Here’s a shot from somewhere in the tower, looking out. It was cool to have a white-ish facade with various sections that were splattered with bright colors (grapes… know the symbolism?):

barc_sagra_tower_color

After the tower we walked around and finished listening to the seven audio guide stations and learned about this fascinating building. It’s not complete yet… the guy who came up with it (Gaudi) died in 1926 and left instructions to his apprentices and other architects. They plan is to finish it on his 100 year deathiversary (2026), and it will be even more amazing than it is now.

I think getting this far, and then finishing it, will be one of the most amazing architectural feats (this coming from the guy who built a chicken shed before this epic trip, and I have a new appreciation for architecture :p).

We finished our audio tour, saw all we could, and then decided to walk around the town. We looked for more Gaudi things, but Google Maps led us astray and we finally just decided to walk around the neighborhood, do a little shopping, and then head back home to pack.

TOMORROW, WE GO HOME!! WOW!

We went to three grocery stores in search of ziplock bags for our packing… these stores are very, very small, and only the third had ziplock bags.

As we were walking to the metro I asked William to grab these shots… this is something we’ve seen a lot here, and in Italy. These are pig legs that have been cured, hanging for sale.
barc_sagra_ham

Remember my melon and ham lunch yesterday? What they do is take a leg and then shave off a bacon-looking piece and serve that to you. It’s thin and room temperature. Here are a couple of legs that they have in this special holder. You can see they’ve been cutting strips off of them. barc_sagra_ham_cut

Finally, we were back on the metro, then to the train, walking .8 miles home, and ready to call it a day! I got to talk to my family at home for, I think, an hour and half. It was nice to catch up with them when it wasn’t after midnight for me, and we all had time to talk. Everyone is excited for the homecoming tomorrow. Daniel (8) gave me a tour of the house, at my request, because I told him I forgot what our house looked like :p

Then, it was time… no more procrastinating… It was time to pack!

barc_sagra_packing

What do you pack to? This youtube video, of course! Ten points if you know what it is:barc_sagra_music

We were all packed, showered, and generally got ready to leave by about 10am. That doesn’t seem early, right? Well, it is for us. I’m in that weird place of “I’m used to this time zone” and “I want to get ready for my home time zone,” and I just wake up when I wake up. We’ll be fine tomorrow, though, because we’ll all be super excited for our travel day and what (and who) waits for us on the other side of the plane!

It’s now 12:04 am here, and it’s time for bed. Thanks for following our crazy, epic journey. We’re already starting to figure out where the next epic thirty day “holiday” will be… if I had to choose right now it would be Costa Rica (or the Virgin Islands), and Australia would be an easy third. But for now, it’s time to get some sleep and then get home to see the family. My wife already said there’s a list of honey-dos for when I get home :)

Y con eso, buenas noches, por la ultima vez, desde Espana!!

#Europe2017 Day 30: Unexpected Rest Day and Finally, Paella!

So, we were done with beaches… four days in a row, red as lobsters and feeling burned in weird places (knee pits, tops of feet, lips, etc.), it was time to be done. Plus, we want to see some stuff in Barcelona, right? We haven’t seen typical tourist stuff, but I have no regrets…. we’ve driven hundreds of kilometers, seen amazing Spanish countryside, mountains, and see shore… what a beautiful country!

Today the plan was to go to La Sagada Familia… the #1 thing to do in Barcelona. The pictures of this basilica are amazing… and we were anxious to see it. However, I was waiting to hear back on a question I asked of the ticket sales people (“is this ticket skip-the-line?”), and they said they would get back to me on that… Um… seems like they should have that info on their website, or that whoever answers questions on the email should know that. But they still haven’t sent me a reply, and I didn’t want to commit to buying tickets without knowing if we could show up twenty minutes early, or if we had to plan on being three hours early.

So, today became a rest day.

First thing I did when I got up was take the rental car back. It was only a couple of blocks away, so I could easily walk back to the hotel. I took it to the Nissan dealership service department (the rental car company is owned by the dealership, and they said on Saturday that is where we return cars). I waited in the lobby for about twenty minutes while the one guy there attended someone else… and then he finally said to just leave the car, and the keys. He didn’t know what the rental arrangement was, so he couldn’t really close me out. There was nothing to sign, just walk away. Okay… I hope this doesn’t bite me later.

I walked back and figured out that we really weren’t going into town today. Everyone was pretty tired, so I suggested that we go out for lunch, hopefully for this famous but elusive main Spanish lunch dish: paella. “There is no bad paella,” we were told. “It is THE food to eat,” they said. Here we were, on our fifth day in Spain, and we still hadn’t had any yet. So we set out to look for a restaurant that served paella.

I asked a guy on the street “are there any restaurants around here that serve paella?” “Um, around HERE?? No. Well, maybe. About fifteen blocks that way there is a restaurant…”

Really? There are like ten bar/restaurants the next block over. That’s where we headed and within a block found one that had paella on their sidewalk chalkboard. SCORE! We were there before they closed!!

The restaurant is owned by a Chinese couple… it’s comical to talk to a Chinese person in Spanish, here them talk to others in Catalan, and then talk to one another in Chinese. Pretty cool. A lot of restaurants here seem to be owned by Asians.

The almost-patient lady explained to us what things were and helped us figure out what to order. William and I got the Paella, Ellie got a Completo (watch Kid History? “One Completo, One Dollar!”), which is a hot dog. Yes, we were totally surprised that Ellie would order a hot dog. “Don’t tell me mom,” she said. Sam got grilled chicken breast with a fried egg and a salad (that is one menu item). Sam and Ellie both ordered onion rings. This was going to be a great meal! My meal included another order of something… I was going to get a salad but Sam was like “Dad! We are in Spain! Order the Spanish thing!” So I got Jamon y Melon, which is one strip of a honeydew melon (a few days away from being ripe) and strips of Spanish ham, which is pretty much cold bacon.barc_rest_jamon

We chatted as we waited, which was a while. On the one hand, we are not used to waiting this long for food to be prepared, on the other hand it’s awesome to know (or assume) it’s being prepared from scratch, and not just reheated.

The food came and we started to dig in. Ellie realized that indeed, a Spanish hot dog is like an American hot dog, which she is vehemently opposed to eating. So she picked at it, tore it apart, but didn’t eat much of it. This is the look of a girl who doesn’t eat hot dogs, as she realizes she ordered a foot long hotdog :p
barc_rest_completo

For some reason Sam didn’t like her chicken, and the egg tasted “like they poured a lot of melted butter on it.” Her salad had half a can of tuna poured on it, so that was immediately out of the question. barc_rest_sam

At least they had onion rings to look forward to, right? Our waitress brought out these gorgeous onion rings:barc_rest_onion_rings

What’s funny is that Sam and Ellie ordered the onion rings based on the picture, and didn’t read the words. What they thought were onion rings were actually fried calamari. That is, fried squid. Oh my gosh… this was hilarious. At least the waitress misunderstood and only brought us ONE order of “onion rings” instead of two!

Notice in the picture above there is a lone onion ring on napkin (upper-right corner). That was the one Ellie enthusiastically grabbed and bit, so excited about an onion ring… and then she realized it was NOT onion inside. LOL.

I happen to love calamari, and this was the second best I have ever had. I think this was my face as I realized that I was going to get the whole plate to myself :)
barc_rest_calamari

It just needed an exquisite white garlic horseradish sauce… instead of our mix of mayonnaise and ketchup, but the batter was so light that it made up for that. The girls, however, where realizing that good tasty food in Spain was really hard to come by! Between the seafood on everything and the “kitchen is closed” at 4:00pm, it’s hard to get nourished! This was the first time where they were like “well, we could go to Burger King…” You have to know them to realize that they would have to be in a very desperate state to admit that Burger King sounded like an acceptable option :p

Our Paella was okay. I’d give it a solid six or seven out of ten. I want to try to make it at home… but ours had a full-bodied shrimp (so you had to work to get the poop line out (which William unsuccessfully did), the head off, crack the tail open, etc.), and too many bones in the pork. I liked it well enough though.

Our $12 meal included dessert, which for me was flan (SO GOOD) and for William, Neapolitan ice cream. We thought it was a choice of chocolate or vanilla with whipped cream, but when they brought it out it was just a slice of Neapolitan :p So much for communication. I think the owners were glad when we left… we had too many questions, like “can I have the chocolate?”

After lunch we walked the long way around the block we were on, then went back to the hotel. I went to nap and William went to hang out with fun people (the girls). My nap was interrupted by the horrid heat of our room. The whole time we were there our air conditioner wasn’t working, even though one of the receptionists claimed there was nothing wrong, and that “it’s hot in Spain.” Well, the girls room was fine, but ours was like a sauna! Even my toes where sweating (I didn’t know toes sweat)!

I went down after that lady was gone and the new receptionist changed us to another room. In this room the air worked and hallelujah!! We should have done this days ago.

So, that was about our whole day. Lots of resting, I caught up on JibberJobber stuff, and the Trio hung out and did Trio stuff.

A rather boring day, but much needed rest. Tomorrow is our last full day in Barcelona, and then we fly home the next day. Let’s see if our plans work out tomorrow!

#Europe2017 Day 29: Sitges Beach (!!)

I’m going to spoil this right now: this was, hands down, the best beach experience we’ve had on this trip.

BTW, today is Friday.

Here’s a picture I took today… first one because that is what goes on Facebook, and I didn’t want it to be a picture of the map :)sitges_shells

The first beach we went to, Barcelonata, was “the tourist beach.” The next two days we went to the picturesque Costa Brava beaches, north of Barcelona. Someone recommended that we go south of Barcelona because the water is warmer and you can wade out really far since the sand doesn’t drop off. Warmer water sounded great, but too much beach and too much sand sounded touristy and not good for snorkeling (which is what I was most interested in).

I looked up the best beaches south of Barcelona and found Sitges (pronounced kind of like “seetchays”), which was a little more than 45 kilometers from our hotel… that sounded great! I wasn’t looking forward to an exciting beach day, really. Aside from what I mentioned above, we were all burned, and I was definitely feeling it. Also, my feet had sores from rubbing against my sandals and sand… bleh. But hey, this was our last beach day, so let’s make the best of it!

sitges_map

We get to Sitges by around 10 a.m. (yes, it was a miracle to get out that early!) without a problem… there was a little bit of traffic, but aside from that, I think I got this driving in Spain thing down. I didn’t have to drive through any crazy small streets… and parking was very easy to find (and way cheaper than yesterday). We unloaded and went across the street to the beach… easy. I immediately set off to explore while the Trio set up and got ready to get in.

The first thing we noticed was at Sitges there were lots and lots of awesome shells! We haven’t seen anything like this at any other beach so far.

Like people said, the water was definitely warmer and you could wade way out… so that was cool. The beach was divided by what looked like man-made docs, but they were just beach dividers. Maybe this helped keep the waves under control… I don’t know. I figured if we would do any cool snorkeling, it would be around those. Not excited, but it was all this beach seemed to offer.

sitges_break

I went up to the north end of the beach, which was just a few dividers up. At the end was a big Spanish cathedral (not my picture):

Photo from: http://www.elcotidiano.es/tic-tac-carnaval-de-sitges

Photo from: http://www.elcotidiano.es/tic-tac-carnaval-de-sitges

When I got back to our spot the Trio had buried Ellie and where making art around her.
sitges_ellie_mermaidhe said that a lady said “oh, that’s Instagram-worthy, can I take your picture?” And two young guys came to talk with her, but since they didn’t speak English “I didn’t understand a thing they said.” Missed opportunity… you gotta learn Spanish!

I set off to the south end of the beach to see what I could find. Surprisingly, there weren’t many people at the beach. I figured it was because we were there so early in the morning, but it stayed fairly empty the entire day (which was great!).

I made my way from beach to beach, past the dividers (which mean up and down stairs)… the sand at the beach we chose was really fine and awesome, but as I went further south the sand got more rocky. There were also some man-made “islands” about 30 feet out where some people swam to, climbed up (they were made out of boulders), and set up their towels.

Finally, I got to the end of the beach… and what did I find? An inlet… like a bay, which was almost completely closed, except for about 30 feet. There were hardly any waves, and because it was enclosed, I thought this would be a great place for snorkeling. It was by a lot of other rock walls, which is where all the good stuff under the sea is (as far as snorkeling goes). Here’s part of it:sitges_beach_looking_north

Contrast that with this view, of just sand and water: sitges_beach_1

Also, at the beach we were going to move to, there was a four-foot long area that had what looked like specs of gold… it was right by the edge of the water, and it was really quite awesome. I honestly thought “this is gold!” Turned out to be fool’s gold, I think. I got my hands in it, then started back letting my hands dry, hoping I could make it back with enough gold sand to show the Trio. It was a LONG walk back… probably almost a mile (at least it felt that way).

When I got back I showed my gold-covered hands to the Trio (“COOL!”) and said “let’s go grab lunch,” (because our three hour parking was about up) “then when we come back we have to go to the beach at the end. It will be better for snorkeling and I want you to see the gold.” So we pack up, shower off and head to the car with ten minutes to spare before our car gets impounded :p

I put “restaurant” in the GPS and chose the closest one… we were hoping for paella, which is what everyone says we have to eat while in Spain. The restaurant was (supposedly) only five kilometers (or 3.2 miles) away… so we head out and to our surprise, go outside of the city of Sitges and on the highway. WHAT? We got off the highway and went up the mountain… I think we were about 10 kilometers into this restaurant now… and we weren’t close yet! We kept going up the mountain into this really small town wondering what kind of restaurant they would have up there. It was desert + mountain, and very, very hot. There were no stores or anything… just houses. Finally, almost at the top of the road, we found a restaurant. The GPS said to keep going, which we did until a dead end made us turn around, and went back to the only restaurant with five kilometers.

Note: I have asked people where a “restaurant” is… usually they say it’s far away. We just want a place” that serves a “meal.” You know, like a restaurant. But I think in Espana restaurante means something very specific. What we should have asked for was a “bar” because all bars serve meals, or if it’s after four and the “kitchen is closed,” they serve tapas (appetizers).

I guarantee there were places in Sitges that would have been great, but the GPS said all of the restaurants were outside of town. Anyway, we’re now at the mountain restaurant which is owned by a dad and his six sons (the one we talked to was in his 40’s or 50’s). In one entrance was where you at the “menu,” which is like the meal of the day… you choose between six things for the first course, then five or six things for the second course, a drink, and a postre (like: ice cream, yogurt, or flan). Just outside and up the stairs was the restaurant (in the same building/area) where you could actually choose from a menu they give you… not so structured.

But we were already there, and the menu seemed fine… for $12 euros each we would have a proper Spanish meal, all inclusive! The only problem was it was all in Catalan and we couldn’t make heads of tails of it. After a lot of asking “what’s that?” and then asking for clarification on what they said, and even another customer holding up his noodles and red sauce to show us what we just couldn’t conceptualize because of their descriptions, we ordered. William and I got the steak (very thin) and fries, the girls got (I don’t remember what), and salads and “macaroni” which was not macaroni noodles, and it had some kind of tomato sauce… it was interesting. Oh yeah, my first course was a tostada… that seemed like a good idea. But, instead of a tostada, it was toasted bread with sundried tomatoes (I think), some other thing I couldn’t figure out, two kinds of fish, and I don’t remember what else. Definitely not a Mexican tostada, nor anything resembling one! But hey, we were at a Spanish restaurant and willing to be all-in!

The staff (owners) were all very cool, and patient with us… it was a very friendly environment. We were wondering who would come all the way out to this place for a restaurant, and figured it was (a) locals, and (b) tourists who put “restaurant” in their GPS!

$40-something later, we went back to our car. Realize that this is a stick-shift, like most cars in Europe, and I parked at the edge of the parking lot. This edge had a beautiful view of the valley, which meant that right in front of us was a drop-off! The Trio had suggested that they wait outside of the car while I back it up… you know, in case I drive it off the cliff in front of us while trying to get it to engage in reverse!

Of course, we made it, and found our way back to Sitges, and the south beach. We get park right by the beach (again, surprised there were not many people here today), and as I’m getting ready to pay for parking at the kiosk, a nice guy asked how long we were going to be there. He had an hour let on his ticket, which he gave us. Yeah… we saved a euro! He was with his wife and daughter from Finland (or was it Sweden??), and was just putting on his underwear (right on the sidewalk by the cars). When we were talking he said “sorry for standing here in my knickers!” It was funny… we said we didn’t mind, but his wife said she minded! LOL

I think it was around 3pm… give or take an hour.

We go down and set our stuff down, put up our $10 beach umbrella that was worth it’s weight in gold, and then the Trio sets out to swim around the wall, on the outside, by the open ocean. I suggested they swim all the way around, into the inlet, where there were no waves… but I’m not sure they heard me.

When they came back they said it was cool… I saw this and that… etc. But it was cold. Ellie was ready for a break so I borrowed her mask and snorkel (fins were too small for me) and I went with William and Sam to the inlet. Sam was already up on the rock wall looking around and totally into it… that was fun to watch her explore and poke around. We all made our way to the water where I left my shirt, hat (borrowed from Ellie… I didn’t bring one), and my glasses (for sure no one would steal this stuff, right?) on the rocks, and we went in.

Like I said, this was really calm water since it there was only a small opening to the ocean…

I went slowly along the rock wall, and loved how warm the water was. It was only two or three feet deep… but it was fun to go slow… within the first thirty feet I saw something like a jellyfish (someone said it was a jellyfish egg… I’m not sure about that)… here’s what it looked like (but this is from a pic from New Jersey)… this is from an article about “salps” found in New Jersey… very interesting!)

sitges_salps

I also picked up a sea cucumber that was about a foot long… COOL! I love weird wildlife… especially in the ocean. I showed these to Sam and William, and we were all like “ELLIE NEEDS TO BE HERE! THIS IS AWESOME!” This isn’t my pic… there are a lot of beautiful sea cucumbers (see here)… ours looked like this: sitges_cucumber

I found something really cool looking… I hoped it was an octopus but couldn’t tell because i didn’t have my glasses on (seeing underwater was okay, but I was above water to see it). William came over and said it was a crab (now I could make that out)… it was about seven inches in diameter… the biggest one we’ve seen so far. Awesome.

This wasn’t it… but it’s close enough to get an idea of what we saw: sitges_crab

A little further up I found a sea slug… it looked kind of like this but orange… it was SO COOL and about three inches long:
sitges_seaslug

By this time I realize I’m in heaven!

We all swim around more, looking at cool things (like hundreds of little mounds with lines on them on the sandy floor), tons of schools of fish, from about eight inches big to some that were about a centimeter long and very, very thin. I found a sea anemone (like the one Nemo lived in) and thought heck, you only live once… I’m going to touch this thing. Is it soft, rubbery, or what? (not my pic, photo cred: National Geographic)

sitges_anemoneexpected it to sting me, but it didn’t… it felt like my finger and the tentacles were velcro… they stuck to my fingers! It was so cool!

After swimming around a bunch, and not finding what I was hoping to see the most (an octopus and a starfish), I was ready to trade off with Ellie. William came up to me and said he saw a starfish… I was like “WHERE? I’m going there?” But he had actually picked it up and put it in a shell, so he could show Ellie. It was only a three-legged guy, a little over an inch long, but it was so cool! Here he is… all those white spots on my hand were from touching stuff underwater. I had forgotten that in Puerto Rico I had diving gloves.sitges_starfish

Speaking of owies… snorkeling is definitely a contact sport. Sam cut her finger a day or two ago, and Ellie got this this time… but it’s all so worth it :) sitges_owie

Then, just as I’m getting ready to get out, Sam says she saw an octopus. “WHAT?? WHERE??” So she leads me over to a cavern on the wall but we couldn’t find it. Darn. Can’t win them all.

On the way out I thought (hoped!) I saw the deadly stone fish… (photo cred here)

sitges_stonefish

But I think it was just a goby. How disappointing! (photo cred here)

sitges_goby

Sam and I get out of the water and go back to our towels. She convinces Ellie to change back into her swimsuit and go back in the water… this little paradise was just too cool to pass up! this was our last beach day, and the best snorkeling we’ve done, and she HAS TO go experience it with us!

After some persuasive reasoning from Sam, and maybe a little talk about “last day!” and “debbie downer,” Ellie finally relented and put on her swimsuit and went out with Sam. William was still out, so I walked down the beach a little (and paid for parking two more times)… just down the beach I found a ton of nice seashells washed up… that was really cool. I made a note to go back with the nice camera and get some shots (and have the Trio get the last of their shells). Here’s some of our loot:sitges_shells_towel

William was going through the shells and notice that a sea urchin had snuck into one of our shells… glad we found this the easy way: sitges_urchin

At one point, William and Sam were out, and Ellie was in the water on her phone. Turns out, she was journaling some stuff… while standing in the Mediterranean Sea… what a cool place to write in your journal!sitges_ellie_journal

Sam had already come back, and then William comes back. “I found an octopus!” His was in the middle of the inlet, in a sandy area, under a rock perhaps the size of a bowling ball. He said the octopus was about the size of my head… he saw it squirt out ink, and kind of “chased it,” and saw it turn different colors… HOW AWESOME!

Very sadly, this is not my picture :p (wikipedia)sitges_oct

I didn’t see what I wanted (I had when I was a teen, in the Virgin Islands), but my two kids did, and that was more than awesome for me!

Here’s a rare shot of me… that smile is the result of an awesome snorkeling day! I don’t look burned but I feel it!

sitges_jason

This little place goes down as a MUST VISIT as far as I’m concerned. The reviews online weren’t very favorable about Sitges, but for me, this was the best!

Finally, it was about 8:something, and we were ready to call it a day. But first we had to get smoothies at the shack that we were by… they were only $4 each but we were desperate for some good, clean, wholesome food. Here’s the Trio… William just looks grumpy but he wasn’t… he was doing the cool pose thing:
sitges_smoothie_shack

Of all the choices, we all four chose coconut and pineapple. It was very good, but not as good as a pina colada. The lady running the show was in her forties or fifties and really cool. She was the daughter of the owner, and even though she was shutting down she made the four smoothies for us. I asked her where she was from and she said “seechays”… I was like “where is that?” And that’s how I learned the pronunciation of the town we were in :p

sitges_smoothie

We collected out stuff and jumped in the car. If I can just make it back home without getting in an accident, I’ll almost be home free with my car rental!

Traffic was light, and the drive was great. Except for this one super confusing roundabout, which had about four traffic lights IN the roundabout, and a bunch around it. It was really confusing, especially when a dude parked IN the roundabout, then got out and walked away… it was the weirdest, most confusing roundabout we went through!

On the way home we’re looking at the gorgeous mountains and hills, and we come up to the top of a hill and WHOA! The most amazing sunset! As soon as we saw it the car dipped down the hill, and Ellie had her camera out to grab it, but just thirty seconds later when we were in a place to see it, it was gone. Oh well, it’s in our heart camera!

We got in, exhausted, showered, cleaned our gear, and tried to sleep. Our room is SO HOT, and we are sunburned, so it’s not that easy. But this was the first night of the whole trip that William was zonked out before me… he was OUT. I love it when they are so tired that they just crash.

I figure if I ever do an epic trip like this again, it will be to somewhere like the Virgin Islands to go diving… or perhaps Costa Rica, for some diversity (jungle, diving, etc). I sent William a cool video of people “cleaning” the Florida waters of invasive Lionfish with guns (so cool, but if you are an animal lover and hate the idea of shooting animals, realize that these fish are destroying the whole ecosystem there). Here’s the video.

I wrote the blog post from the day before, and then finally crashed. The plan tomorrow is to go to the Sagrada Familia, but I still haven’t gotten an email reply back from them with an answer about the tickets… we’ll see what tomorrow is. For sure, I have to return the rental car by 1pm.

Buenas noches, desde Espana!sitges_spanish_flag

#Europe2017 Day 28: Tossa De Mar (outside of Barcelona)

Well, another day, another beach. Today (Thursday) we go to Tossa de Mar (it has different spellings in Spanish (Castellano) and the language that everything is written in, and everyone here seems to speak (Catalan):
barcelona_3_tossa_de_mar

Speaking of Catalan… let me go on a tangent. The first day we were in Barcelona we went to the main “tourist” beach (Barceloneta)… it was the easy one to get to, and we were up for any beach. After that, we went back to our town and looked for a place for dinner.

SURPRISE! No one serves “dinner” after about 4:00. Things are either closed, or they are only serving “tapas,” which are basically Spanish appetizers (and you have to ask which tapas they actually have… too many times we’ve heard “oh, we don’t have that tonight.”)

So we go to this bar/restaurant that we were referred to and the owner gives us a menu in Catalan. It’s apparently a mix of Italian (no surprise, Italy is across the pond), French (France is just a little north of here), and maybe a little Portuguese (depending on who you ask). Supposedly it’s kind of like Spanish, too. To me, it sounds nothing like Spanish.

I say “we have no idea what this menu says… do you have one in Spanish?” “No, but let me look for one in English.” I think about twenty minutes later, after a frantic search, he found a menu in English :p Problem was, the translation to English was not helpful at all… I’d have to get a picture of it but the menu items were almost as confusing in English as they were in Catalan!

I feel a little cheated that I come to Spain, to enjoy seven days of rich Spanish, and it’s predominantly Catalan here (everything written is Catalan).

End tangent/rant.

So we go to Tossa de Mar… or Toz de mar, and found it to be amazing. It is a cala, or little beach, with rocks and stuff (because we are in the Costa Brava region, just like yesterday). This is supposed to be the best place for fish, and snorkeling, and now that we have snorkeling gear, we’re anxious to use it!

Do you remember any of my pictures from this trip, where the roads between buildings (or, blocks) are super duper small? Well, imagine this: We have an uneventful ride up the coast (read: no one got car sick and threatened puking all over)… and the GPS tells us to take a certain exit off of a roundabout (we’ve gone on about four million roundabouts in Spain), and then go down the street, then take a right, then a left… whatever.

Before we know it, we are IN ONE OF THOSE ALLEYS! And it’s late enough in the morning that there are tourists all over! Oh. My. Gosh. barc_tiny_road_driving

Let me make this more clear… the alley (aka road) that we are on is about as wide as our car… now, fit in some tourists and the merchant racks (because this is meant for people to walk and buy things), and that is what we were driving in!! Ugh… a little stressful. I was surprised that no merchants or tourists shouted at us… they all patiently got out of the way while I hoped that there was a way to get out of this labyrinth without having to have the police escort me!

We did… we made a super sharp turn and then saw a regular road… victory! Success! Craziness! What a nutty experience… the lesson: don’t always trust the GPS.

Once we get to the cala we head to where the snorkeling should be best, which was at the end of the beach, where there were some really cool rock formations. We got this picture from a hillside before we left… this is where we were camped out most of the day: barc_tossa

From there, there was a little inlet that was surrounded by rock cliffs on both sides. The water was cold, but pretty clear. The Trio went for a snorkel the other way first, but we found the inlet was the best. I spent probably an hour snorkeling… it has been many, many years since I’ve been able to do this, and it was really quite awesome to do it again! Everyone loved it, but the water was too cold to do it all day… darn.

Here’s a picture of Ellie after she was done in the water… it was really cold!barc_ellie_snorkeling

When I got out, the girls had gone to town to go shopping, and William took my sandals to explore the rocks… so I just hung out with our towels for a solid 45 minutes. Unfortunately, while I was gone, a couple (turned out to be boy/girl cousins) was right by our spot… too close… and the guy was really laying into the girl… yelling, telling her a hundred times “I have a job, and all you do is take my money!” I thought they were husband and wife having a divorce talk until I overheard him on the phone saying he was with his cousin… it was so disgusting to hear this macho crap on the beach… what should have been a peaceful afternoon was overheard by at least thirty people… and the female cousin just laughed most of it off, and kept up with the macho guy. Yuck. Finally, he announced “we’re leaving” and they packed up and took off, with her smiling the whole time. Thank goodness.

I went back in the water with William and put my hand in some crevices… you aren’t really supposed to do that, but hey, you only live once! When I ran my hand along the rock walls (underwater) I would scare some shrimp out of their amazing hiding places… they were SO beautiful and cool. I caught one but it jumped out of my hands before I could show William.

I also put my hand on the rock wall, outside of the water, thinking it would be safe there, but when I did I felt something wet and squishy, like an eel or something… I screamed (William thought I was laughing) and then realized it was “just a crab.” Cool… super cool. It was about three inches wide… so of course I caught it and to my delight it didn’t pinch… it just crawled around. I showed it to a little girl from Finland (I later talked to her dad… they are on “holiday” here at their beach house for a few weeks). While I was talking to him I let it crawl all over my arms and then finally let it fall into the water. But, there was only sand, nothing to hide under or grab on to, so it clung to my hairy leg the whole time we were talking. It was pretty cool :)

William and I decided to pack up our stuff and walk it to the car… maybe we would find the girls, somehow. Fortunately, we met up with them about halfway to the car. They had the glow of “we just bought clothes in Spain!” look, so that was good :) We dumped all of our stuff at the car and then walked over to this beautiful thing, on the other side of the cala:barc_tossa_castel

Notice in the picture that Sam’s hands are not on William or Ellie. That is because a few seconds earlier, when her hands were on them, they squealed the squeal of someone with a really bad sunburn :p

This castle was built around 1100, as a sign of protection against invaders. On the way there William spotted a beetle… wait, this was no ordinary beetle… it looks to be some kind of rhinoceros beetle! It was almost the size of my thumb. COOL!barc_tossa_beetle

I said “you should let it go… we can’t take it home.” William replied, “yeah, but I’m going to enjoy it as long as I can.” I couldn’t argue with that… so I walk with the Trio and our new companion, the Rhino Beetle :)

To get to the Castle you just walk up a really long, switch-backed ramp (see it in the bottom-left of this picture):barc_castle_clean

Wait, before I go there, I have to show one more picture of this beetle. William said that seeing one was on his bucketlist… :pbarc_tossa_beetle_

Okay, so now we are walking up the ramp, hopeful to see a really neat castle (and wondering how much it will cost). Check out the view, looking up the wall, from the ramp. Can you imagine being a bad guy and having to scale this? The purpose of this fortress was to show that bad guys couldn’t come take over this cute little town.
barc_tossa_castle_wall

Fortresses should have cannons, right? This is probably a period replica… it was very rusty (and rustic). I looked inside to see if it was cemented, but the whole went all the way down (as far as I could tell): barc_tossa_cannon

This is a view looking down from about half way up the ramp. Notice the pine trees, super clear water, and the rocks where I’m guessing the bad guys fell when they got shot or hot-oiled:barc_tossa_castle_water

Here’s another awesome view… this, I think, was about right outside the castle entrance (way, way up the ramp). barc_tossa_water_2

Here’s another view, still climbing up the ramp… of the town (now, not then :p). The Barcelona area is really hilly, like this, and we see a ton of apartment buildings on the hills… remember, no one has an elevator… so lots of stairs.barc_tossa_pueblito

This cliff view is from the castle’s back side… it was very impressive (and had a tiny beach with about ten people on it):barc_tossa_clif

Once we got to the top we were (well, I was) disappointed that there wasn’t really a castle… there was a small restaurant and a small building that is now the museum. And that was closed :/ So, we just hung out there, taking in the amazing views… check out what people graffiti up there:

barc_tossa_cactus

This bird landed by us and made a bunch of cool squacky sounds… and then would belt out some kind of long call. barc_tossa_bird

The call worked because pretty soon this hot mama showed up:

barc_tossa_birds_two

Here is one of the ruins behind the fortress walls… unfortuntely there were no signs to say what the heck it was… my first guess was a church, but then it looks like it has a window from which to shoot bad guys:
barc_tossa_ruin

Well, there was really nothing more to see here, so we descended, paid our parking fee ($18!!), and then headed off in search of a restaurant. We were hopeful, but before we knew it we were on our way home. The girls went to the grocery store and I asked the hotel receptionist where she recommended we eat… she said to go to the main road and we’d find places. Problem was that we went there and found nothing… must have misunderstood her directions. So, embarrassingly, William and I had Burger King (which is better here than in the U.S.).

When we got back to the room, I did some work and he went to hang out with the girls… then, we went to bed and slept really well… well, as well as you can with a bad sunburn.

Tomorrow is our last beach day… hopefully it will be a good one!barc_tossa_selfie_willdad

#Europe2017 Day 27: Costa Brava, Cala Sant Francesc

NOTE: All of the pics here are from the internet… we are not doing good at taking our own pictures in Barcelona! Partially because we don’t want to risk our cameras getting stolen, or ruined at the beach.

Today (Wednesday) we did the crazy: we rented a car in a foreign country!

I read a lot of stuff online about car rentals in Spain, and driving here, and the two takeaways were:

1. Driving in Spain is very similar to driving in the U.S… traffic isn’t crazy nuts (like Paris), and the street signs are pretty easy to figure out, and
2. If you find a rental deal (like $4/day, or $6/day) that sounds too good to be true, it is. They’ll nickel and dime you on everything.

From Google… too good to be true?

barc_car_rental

I asked the hotel if they recommended any rental places and it turns out in our little sleepy bedroom community, there is a place two blocks down the road! It couldn’t be more convenient than that! So I went over while the Trio was still snoozing and asked around… an hour later I am the proud renter of a five passenger stick shift with only 147 kilometers on it… ! Everything was great, except the two air freshners. At least two of us are very sensitive to perfumy smells, and since we couldn’t figure out how to open the trunk (we finally did, but not this morning) I stuck them both under my floor mat.

I asked the guy at the front desk, who’s about twenty, what beaches he recommended… he said “give me ten minutes so I can call me dad. He knows all the beaches up there.” Up there means “costa brava,” which means “rough coast.” That is because around Barcelona (and south) there are lots of long beaches with just sand, but about an hour north you start the picturesque beaches that are very small and broken up with rocks and cliffs. It’s really quite beautiful… and more of interest to me, the rocks mean coral, fish, shrimp, and all the fun beach stuff :)

Some background… when I was eleven we moved to Puerto Rico and started to go to the Caribbean beaches. I am definitely a beach snob because of those experiences… my idea of fun at the beach is either (a) animal stuff, whether it is snorkeling or walking around tidal pools… looking for the octopus or starfish or anything cool, and (b) body boarding, which means you need decent waves. So, the idea of going to a place that had rocks and more potential for animals was more interesting than going to a long beach with lots of people just laying there like lizards, working on their tans.

After about an hour of rental car paper signing (by the way, we are paying $47/day, plus $17 in FULL insurance, and I filled the tank up for $45, which will cover 3 days… this is less than public transportation would have cost), I met the Trio by the hotel. This car comes with a GPS and a built in phone. “Call us for ANYTHING.” “If I get a flat, do I change it, or call you?” “Definitely call us. We’ll be there right away.” It’s nice to have the built-in GPS, and it’s weird to be driving!

The front desk guy’s dad said to go to a super cool beach called Cala Sant Fransesc. Cala is the word they use here for “small beach.” In Puerto Rico or Mexico we would say “playita.” Also, since everyone here speaks Catalan (which is NOT Castellano, or what we know as Spanish), the words are easily mixed up and spelled differently by different people. Anyway, we type in some version of Cala Sant Fransesc, by Blanes, find the right one on the GPS, and then head out.

barcelona_cala_sanfrances_map

The car had hardly any gas so about six kilometers up the highway, after four hundred roundabouts, we gas up. “Can I have some water?” “Oh, sorry, we forgot to get water.” Go inside, get water… “Um… did anyone get the towels?” “Not me, not me, not me… ” Ugh! Now we have to go back… the distance wasn’t a big deal but the navigation was. The car is a stick, which I haven’t driven for a long time, and I’m definitely going to need some time to get acclimated to the road system, street signs, and a GPS that sounds like it has a lisp (and uses words for “turn” and “after” and other common GPS words different than I would).

So we go back to get towels… and then finally are on our way. The good news is there is no traffic because (a) we are too far west of Barcelona to get into traffic, and (b) it’s like 2pm by now. It takes time to do all the stuff above!

We start driving and within ten or fifteen minutes the ocean is on our right… the Barcelona area is very hilly (some would say mountains, but not like back home), and the beauty is hard to describe… it is stunning. We are on a hill and can overlook the ocean on the right, with mountains and hills in front, behind, and on the left… and Spain’s unique architecture… it is just a beautiful sight.

About fifteen minutes later I notice Ellie has found a plastic bag and doesn’t look good at all. Finally, Sam says “Dad, we need to pull over.” “I just need to get in the front seat,” Ellie says. You see, with all this beautiful view, the roads are very, very windy. Look at the map above…. see all those tiny subtle turns? They are not tiny or subtle when you are driving them…

We are going up and down and left and right a lot, and poor Ellie is not feeling well. About ten minutes later Sam is showing signs because of the drive plus the lingering smell of those air fresheners… I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it!

I pull over but the shoulders are so narrow that William and Ellie couldn’t open their doors. Ellie climbs out the window (LOL) and William climbs through to the back… and Ellie is now with me in the front, looking like she’s been on the choppy seas for hours… I really hope we keep our rental car puke free.

The drive was about an hour, and the funny part is that for the last twenty minutes the roads were REALLY curvy! Like, drive 20 miles and hour curvy, with hills and dips and lots of switchbacks! Still, not puking.

We finally get there… I drop the Trio off at the walkway to get down to the beach and then I go find a place to park. I read that parking costs… and was prepared to pay, but the payment system was super weird… turns out it was locked and closed… today is free parking :) I walk down a steep hill for about a quarter mile and then get to the walkway and go to find the Trio. Not my picture, but this is the cala:

barc_cala_franc

The great thing about the Cala is that is small, so finding them is easy. This is where we wish he had snorkeling gear… there are lots of underwater rocks to explore, and surely there are fish and other things here! William got some goggles for $10 but they leak water… so not fun :(

We spent hours at this beach… exploring, walking over the rocks, looking at and for stuff, napping, tanning, swimming… the beauty was really amazing. This is THE beach that the locals said to go to, and it was clear why. It was also not as crowded as Barceloneta, which has a metro stop by it and hoards of people (which is fine, just a different beach experience).

This was on one end of the Cala… but the it was gated off at the top. Apparently it’s part of an eight-day hiking trail… we would have been able to easily walk to another beach. Again, not my picture:

barcelona_san_gate

William and I went to one end of the small beach, then we walked over to the other end and up some stairs… there were some people jumping about twenty feet off of a cliff into clear area… no rocks, and probably a good fifteen+ feet down. It looked super fun, and no one seemed to mind the “NO JUMPING” sign! this is not us, but it’s the same place:

barcelona_jumping

William was going to do it but he wanted to walk up to the top of the stairs first (it was gorgeous, of course), and then he wanted to go get the girls, his camera, and some water…

By the time he got back (sans girls) I was chatting with the lifeguard and the police… not in trouble, just chatting. They were very, very nice, and seemed happy to chat in the shade, overlooking the cala, by the NO JUMPING sign :) I said to William (who probably didn’t know about the sign “Go up and JUST take picture :)”

After a while, he left, and I continued talking to the two guys… they suggested a place to buy snorkel gear, and we talked about the region, the food, the languages, the police guy’s trip to the U.S. (Fort Lauderdale), etc. It was fun to chew the fat with these two guys.

“What kind of sea life is in the water here?” “Look up Mediterranean sea life… whatever you find, we have it here!” That sounds very exciting to me :)

By the time I got back it was time to head out. The magic words the Trio uses to leave were “we’re hungry.” At this Cala there is a restaurant, but they don’t serve meals after 4pm. “The kitchen is closed,” which means we’ll give you appetizers but we don’t have full meals. Unfortunately, that is the way it is all around here… if you don’t eat a proper meal by 4pm, you are out of luck and stuck with appetizers. There are also no shops here… this is a vey secluded beach with just beach houses around it (these are all on the mountain), so we go a few miles down the road to Blanes, the big city around here.

The lifeguard said to find “the big rock,” and by the big rock there was a dive store named something like Pesquria or something like that. Hard to remember because they primarily use Catalan, which is too foreign to my ear. We couldn’t find anything that resembled that on the GPS so we just went into town and worked our way towards the water. We found $3 parking (because it was after 5), went to the restaurant on the beach and ordered Tapas (appetizers, really). Two of the four things we ordered were out of stock… man, we are not having great foodie experiences here!

I asked the waiter if there was a place to buy snorkeling gear and the Trio pointed to the store right in front of me… a dive shop :p I then put two and two together and noticed that… hey, there’s a huge landmark rock right off the beach… and there’s the dive shop named peluqa-whateve… this is exactly what the lifeguard was talking about! I thought he was talking about a big rock on land, not in the water. I’m pretty sure this was it (thanks Internet, for the image!):

barc_blanes_rock

I knew the food would take a while so I walked over, found what we wanted, chatted with the owners, and then went back. No food still, so me and William went over and we got him outfitted… tried on the fins, tried on the mask… and $45 later William became the proud owner of his own snorkeling gear!

When we went back and the girls learned it was only $45 for the whole set they both decided they wanted in. They thought it was $45 for the mask only… but this seemed like a good deal. After our good enough tapas they went and got outfitted and then we walked across the street, by the big rock, and got ready.

You might think “got ready” is a fast thing… not really. It took a long time… and the water was cold, and then it turned out that Sam had somehow gotten sand in her snorkel (in the outlet valve) so she was sucking in water (which she made me try, just so I could know that it was really not working right), AND her flippers were falling off… so we leave William and Ellie and me and Sam go to the shop where they guy find the sand, takes off a decorative piece and says “blow really hard in your snorkel.” Sam blew “hard-not-hard” (she has a cough so she can’t really blow hard on demand :p) and they guy was like “um, fire up the air compressor.” He blew it out and it worked… and Sam got some booties so the fins wouldn’t slip off, and we were back to the beach.

This was Ellie’s first snorkeling experience in her life… she liked to stay about five feet from the beach, and not go near the rocks (where all of the awesome is), but she still had a great time.

By now it was getting cooler, the water was colder, and most people were leaving the beach. We decided to pack it up and head back to the hotel… it was a long day of getting the car, shopping, not throwing up on the way to the cala, sunning and swimming, and then starting our snorkeling experience.

We decided to extend our car rental and come back up this way… the dive shop guy gave us the name of another beach, which had the best snorkeling (a fish paradise), and we were anxious to come back tomorrow.

No one was sick on the way home… it was a beautiful drive with the ocean on our left and the sun setting… William and I went to the only restaurant around (Burger King… seriously, everything else was closed or serving tapas only), got a chicken sandwich and some oreo shakes (including one for the girls), and I got some screentime with my family back home… and that was it! Go to bed early because we want to get out early tomorrow!

#Europe2017 Day 26: La Playa Barceloneta

Today was our first full day in Barcelona… we like to take a day to get acclimated a little, explore a little… but la playa was #1 on the list for Barcelona. This has been the place that everyone has been like “_____ is great, but I can’t wait to go to Barcelona!!” Hopefully those high expectations don’t backfire!

I had a 10 a.m. meeting with a JibberJobber user, which was a lot of fun. We talked about doing things to make JibberJobber more Spain-friendly, and the possibility of him being a JibberJobber rep/advocate here (and then in all of Latin America). I have to talk to my team to see what the technical possibilities are of what we would need to do, but it was really fun to talk to a user (that’s always fun) and talk about ideas and growth (again, always fun).

I should mention that we don’t have hardly any pictures of today because we are not taking our cameras to the beach.. we are trying to keep all of the valuables in a tiny bag, so we can keep a close eye on them.

About 30 minutes after my meeting we were off… first stop for me, get directions from the hotel staff. This public transportation system was confusing, partially because of the “theta” they use in Spain… but also because to get to the beach we were going to have to take a train to the main metro station (about 30 minutes), then get on a metro line for just one stop, then another line for two stops, then walk. We were just getting used to Roma’s metro system, and this seemed confusing.

The Trio went to a grocery store next to the hotel to get some food and what-not… and we ate on the .8 mile walk to the train station. We could have taken a bus but that takes longer than walking… so we walked and got to soak in our little town. It’s a cute town, really quiet, and nice people.

When we got to the train station I asked the guy about the T-10 metro ticket, which allows us to ride 10 trips (including multiple changes) for only $20. He started to explain it to me but he was heavy on the theta (barthelona, thero (instead of cero), etc.) and I was upside down. He switched to English and proved to be super helpful. We bought two T-10 tickets and then went to get on the train… BUT we were on the wrong side of the tracks. He walked us all the way around to the other side (that was very cool of him), and his colleague barely got us through the ticket booth right before the train left.

So we go to the end of the train station and then switch to the metro. Barcelona’s underground system is a serious of long walkways that are ramps, stairs, and a lot of diagonal paths… it is very confusing. But, you follow the throngs of people and the signs and next thing you know you are at the right place. We hop on a metro for only 2 stops, then long walks through what seems like a crypt to another line for one stop… on the first metro there were three girls obviously going to the beach and I was like “we follow them!” They didn’t know it but they were the main reason we got to the right line after the first metro.

Once we got out of the metro everyone was going in the same direction: the beach. We found a small store and bought tanning lotion and water, and made our way to the beach. Now people were splitting up… and all roads seemed to lead to the beach. Here’s a road we walked down… there was a maze of roads like this (notice how narrow they are). Apparently it was laundry day… everyone had their clothes hanging to dry. Dryers are rare around here, apparently, and it’s so hot that, who needs them??barceloneta_laundry

We made it, set out our towels, and then the Trio headed off into the cold water. We spent the next many hours doing any of the following: walking up and down the beach, wading up and down the beach in the cold water (after a while I couldn’t feel my hands), laying on the towels, exploring, looking for rocks or fish, etc. Normal beach stuff. My idea of an awesome beach is either body boarding (which requires no balance skills :p), but this beach didn’t have waves for that, or snorkeling, but there wasn’t any coral here.

Around dinnertime it was time to go hunt down food. I suggested we take the metros and train back so we are not in the tourist area, which probably saved us $20 or $30. On the walk back from the train, to our hotel, I asked a lady “Do you live around here?” “NO!” “Oh, I was just wondering if you could recommend a restaurant for dinner…. like paella?” “Paella, for dinner? No one eats paella for dinner. But if you go up that street, then blah blah blah…” It was clear that indeed she did live around here :p

We found the restaurant she talked about, which was a bar that served food, and got 5 different Tapas… which are really just appetizers. I have heard a lot about Spanish Tapas and was anxious to have this experience… they were all good, but none where good enough to want to order again… except the fried potato pieces that were smothered in some kind of mayonnaise/garlic sauce. If there were one food theme on all of our trip, it would be lots of mayonnaise… everywhere!

barcelona_tapas_papas

After that we came home, pretty much burnt to a crisp… and called it a night. Between a late night getting in from the airport and a long day under the super hot sun, we were ready for bed.

Oh yeah, one of the greatest things about today was I figured out how our hotel room thermostat works. So now, instead of having a warm room, we are on the path to having a cool room! #minorthingsinlife

#Europe2017 Day 25: Ciao Rome! Hola Barcelona!!

This morning we did something epic… we all (well three out of four of us) got up before 8am! Wow, it is possible! Note this is 12am where we come from, although it’s been over three weeks, so I’m not sure that’s an excuse anymore.

We had to have everything packed and out of our room (into the lobby of the B&B) by 11am… we had that done a little before 10. We’re good at packing quick. The plan for today is to go back to the Trevi Fountain (the one that gets $3k to $4k a day in coins tossed in), get some Magnum (not man-gum) ice cream right across the street, and then whatever else we fancied. Then, be back to the B&B by 5pm to get a ride to the airport from our B&B hostess.

Amazingly, our plan actually worked (mostly). But before I talk about today, I have to talk about last night. First, here’s my Facebook post from last night:
roma_last_bathroom_stuck

Here’s my explanation… our B&B is just on the second floor of a five story building on a busy road. We have three keys… one for the street entrance, one for the entrance to the B&B (the door at the second floor), and one to get into our room. Our room has two twin beds (for the girls) and one queen (for me and William). There is an accordion door down the middle, which has been nice for a bit of privacy when changing, etc. We also have a functional balcony where William has gone to have phone calls with someone special wink wink.

We also have… wait for it… a key for the bathroom. The bathroom is out or door, down a short hallway, next to another bathroom. So it’s not in our room, and we have to walk through where other people might be in order to use it. No big deal. This is “our” bathroom, not to be shared with any other room. The key/lock system is antiquated… it is a skeleton key that goes in a keyhole that you can look through and see through to the other side of the door (no kidding).

roma8_keyhole

I actually didn’t look through the keyhole… but William did :proma8_keyholeCloseup

The key is kind of weird… if you turn it the correct way it will disable the handle… it doesn’t put a deadbolt in or anything, it just makes it so the handle isn’t able to open the door.

Last night, after talking on the phone, William left his phone to charge and went out of our room. That’s really all I knew… was he pacing around? Was he doing lunges downstairs (far away, and through the B&B door)? Was he doing pushups? Where was he for 30+ minutes?

I was debating what to do… get up and find him, or just go to bed and trust he would come soon. I heard people come and and out of the B&B so I knew he hadn’t locked himself out (the 3 room keys were there, as was the bathroom skeleton key). Then, I heard someone knocking. That was weird. That was unusual. That got me out of bed.

I open our door… no in is in the shared hallway. I open the B&B door and call out… no William. I go to our bathroom and try to open it… it’s locked. What? It’s not supposed to be locked… the key is in the room! “William?” “I’m locked in… :/”

ROFL.

What happened is somehow the door was locked, but it was still able to shut… but not open again. And that is how he spent a good portion of his night. He was trying to figure out what to do – jump out the window? That would just put him on the street for a whole night. Sleep in there? Not a bad option. He said he counted five showers from other tennants and none of them responded to his knocking.

What a night (for him)!

So, back to today… we head out relatively early (around 10, I think), and head to the metro. Our destination was the Trevi Fountain, and then right next to it the Magnum ice cream “make your own” bar. Those were our main plans.

We got off of the metro and immediately saw the fountain we say on our first day walking around. We realized this was the same metro stop, and we were walking the same path! Pretty cool. It was a reminder of how small the “what to see” in Rome is pretty small.

One thing that has stuck out recently on our walks is the Pinocchio carvings… OH YEAH! This is an Italian story!! Duh… totally forgot that. But there are a lot of shops around here with Pinocchio stuff… here’s one on a bench:

roma8_pinochio

Here’s a sign saying the stuff was handmade… I take this with a huge grain of salt since it seems like nothing is handmade here (the paintings I bought (three for the price of one) are all over the place and mass produced, the art that the Africans are hawking “that they made with their own hands” are NOT handmade by them, etc.). This was one of the biggest turnoffs in Rome for me.
roma8_pinochio2

We walked around a bit and, almost without a map, made our way to the fountain. The night before William said “I wish we could see them clean out the coins.” Guess what… when we got there they were cleaning the fountain! It was as cool as it sounds. Here it is, again:roma8_trevi

Why are there so many coins in this fountain? You are supposed to (a) throw it over your shoulder, (b) make a wish, and then (c) throw it into the fountain. If you do that, then you will “return to the Eternal City.” Get that? You’ll go back to Rome. Legend says nothing about your wish :p

Here’s a pic of the Trio right after they threw their coins in (I did not throw any in):roma8_trevi_trio

Next, we walk about thirty paces to the Magnum shop (which I have repeatedly, to the amusement of the Trio, called Man-gum), and made these: roma8_magnum

One of the funny things I saw while in Rome was a police car (old, old fiat) driving up the road by Magnum… immediately, the vendors picked up their makeshift cardboard tables with their wares, held them, looked at anything except the cops, and even though they were obviously vendors without a license trying to hide their stuff, the cops just went right past them. The corruption… bleh.

This is one of many things that we’ve said “we should do this at home!! Why don’t we do this at home??”

When you walk around Rome you see these four letters almost everywhere: roma_8_spqr

Do you know what this stands for? I thought it had something to do with Spartacus… but that doesn’t make sense. I think he was a bad guy, at least at the time, in Rome. So what is it? Actually, it has a fascinating history, and once you know it, it makes you proud (Roman or not).

Check out the meaning here.

As we wandered around more (this was very reminiscent to Day 1 here in Rome, except we were saying goodbye instead of exploring), we happened upon yet another cathedral… I thought it was just a small dome constituting a passageway or gate for the roads here, but when we went in it turned out to be a surprisingly good-sized cathedral. The most impressive thing was the ceiling, which appeared to have God (the Christian God, not a Roman God) at the very top… I don’t remember seeing that anywhere else here (although I’m sure it was around), in the ancient buildings.
roma8_church_cieling

I should mention that the hours spent walking around Rome where in streets, which seemed more like alleys, like this: roma8_sam_walking

There was all kinds of art around… this one jumped out at is… paper mache of old Italian newspapers over shoes, now serving as planting “pots”:roma8_cactus_shoes

Here’s a pic of the palm trees… they were all over, proving that this is a hot and somewhat humid place:roma8_palmtrees

We decided to head back to the hotel area and look for a park that seemed to be on Google Maps… on our way back we walked past the Castel San’Angelo, and all agreed that was a true highlight of our time in Rome. We had been on this path before and knew how to get to the metro. I sat on one of these benches to wait for the Trio to catch up… maybe we should build something similar at home? Kind of a cool bench with greenery. roma8_benches

While waiting, one of the vendors from Africa came up and “gave” me a “free” “gift.” He was aggressive and imposing, but I was adamant that I didn’t have any coins or cash. It was a free gift though… no problem, he kept saying! If you’ve ever been you’ll recognize the gift as some kind of turtle, and an elephant, and a bracelet. When the Trio caught up with me we started walking away and he was like “you gotta pay me!” I was like “you said this was a gift…” and then he got upset, and demanded my free gift back, and huffed off.

I don’t usually mess with people like that but having that experience multiple times a day every day that we’ve been there was enough. Rome really should clean that up.

We got on the metro for the very last time (thank goodness, we didn’t have to hear “busy tomatoes” anymore…) and got to our neighborhood… we walked and walked to where Google Maps said the park should be and found it was just a huge campus of the Roman bank… and definitely off-limits to us. “Is there a park around here?” “Just walk 10 minutes down there, and you’ll get to a park.”

We walk down there, about five minutes, and hit a dead-end. No park. But we were just by our B&B so we decide to kill almost two hours there instead of walking around more (I think we hit 6 miles by the end of the day)… plus, our B&B had a bathroom we could use :p

When we got there our hostess was there and I mentioned that we were ready… she said “want to go now?” HECK YEAH… I usually don’t like to go to the airport that early, but (a) we would miss rush hour traffic, (b) it was better than waiting at the B&B.

So Alina drives us to the airport… she is pretty awesome… she works very hard and was great to us. We got there two hours before we could check in… we were in for a long night.

I walked around looking for Gelato (none!! What? Are we still in Rome??), and got a Sudoku book for 1.5 euros, and sat down to do some puzzles. Two hours later we checked our luggage in, got our ticket, and were directed to Gate D17. REMEMBER THAT… it comes up again!

We hunted around the MASSIVE gate for food and found a nice cafeteria-style place where we had our last Roman meal, then found a gelato place (it was so good), and then went to D17… just a few minutes before it was time to board some of us ran for a potty break… when I got to the line with Sam and William I noticed that D17 was… to Nice, France!!

WHAT??

I’m not going back to France!

I went to a ticket lady who was super rude and not helpful, and then found a monitor to see that sometime they had changed our flight from D17 to C5. UGH.

We hustled to C5 and got there with time to get on, but it was a little stressful considering we were down to the line on this one! Luckily, my ankle was good enough that I could hustle… which surprised at least one of the Trio members :)

We got on our plane and had an uneventful two hour flight… then we land in Barcelona! Even in the dark it was beautiful!

We got our luggage pretty quickly and hopped in a taxi… $45 later we were at our hotel, around midnight. I had a 10 a.m. meeting with a JibberJobber user, so after a quick chat with my family back home we went to bed.

Tomorrow there is only one thing on the agenda: the beach!