Barcelona – City of Spires, Mosaics and Gaudi

It was late August and we expected sunshine and humidity, but as we navigated through the airport to get to Terminal 2 to catch the train to our hotel, we were very glad for the free shuttle. It was pouring rain and didn’t show any signs of letting up. Terminal 2 seemed miles away from Terminal 1. Once there it was easy to find the train station. We knew to purchase the T10 ticket which gave us 10 train trips and the ticket could be shared, but we didn’t know which train to take. It didn’t help to purchase the ticket from a live person….he just shrugged his shoulders as if to say “you stupid American, why don’t you learn our language or do further research. Luckily, a custodian was more willing to help us and pointed us in the right direction.

We could have wandered through the maze of rail, bus, and trams and got delivered to our hotel doorstep but not without a great amount of stress. In the rain and with luggage it was easier just to take a taxi from Sants (the main train terminal) to our hotel…less than 10 Euro,

Our hotel was noted as a 5 star by Hotwire and while it was modern and had all the amenities I would have preferred the 4 star we had originally booked right on the Ramblas! Our hotel name was Melia Sarria. The staff were helpful and the area was secure. We only had a few blocks to walk to Starbucks and to reach our stop for either the Blue or Red route of the Barcelona Bus Turistic (hop on hop off tour bus). We paid about 28 Euro each for a two day pass. It turned out to be a great decision!

After dealing with jetlag the first night, we were wide awake at 4:30 AM. Our hotel room was facing east. From the 16th floor we could see a bright strip of coral between the Mediterranean Sea and the skyline. Minutes later we could see a gigantic orange ball appear, but it quickly hid behind the still rain-laden clouds. We were up and ready to go by 8AM! We decided to take our first bus tour on the red line which took us to many of the central sites, but we decided to catch the blue line mid way and reconnect with the red later. The blue line took us past Barcelona’s most famous site the Sagrada Familia, a church conceived and started by Gaudi, which is still under construction today. From the looks of the model it will not be finished in my lifetime nor that of my grandchildren. But what is finished is magnificent. The detail is overwhelming and it would be easy to kill several hours just studying it without even going inside…so we put that on our “to-do later” list. The northern blue route also took us past Park Guell, also another famous Gaudi effort, but you could not see it from the bus. The football complex and stadium grounds was also very impressive. It seemed the 2012 Olympics really changed the face of the city and left its mark!

We were able to complete the Red Line and the Green Line, hop off at the beach for a look-see, and then get back on the red line in time to wander up and down the Ramblas looking at the sites and scouting a place for a late lunch or early dinner.

What we found first was an outdoor cafe in the center of the Ramblas who claimed to have the “Best Sangria”, and in our opinion it was pretty darn good. They should have charged admission for people watching, because that was half the fun!!! Finding food that George would eat was not quite as easy, but we did find a spot near the harbor that had steak and chicken, perfect considering we had not eaten a good solid meal in two days! Even the Margaritas were good (different but good)! We caught nearly the last bus back to our hotel and were in our bed by 10PM. Of course, we woke up at midnight; back to sleep and up again at 2:00 PM and similarly to the previous evening got about 5 good solid hours of sleep.





Niagara Falls Up Close and Personal

The Hornblower Excursion

The Hornblower Excursion

Niagara from the US

Niagara from the US

Large tree along our walk

Large tree along our walk

The old Niagara power company along our walk

The old Niagara power company along our walk

First of all if you ever decide to go for yourself, study the options. There is a movie (cartoonish) explaining the history, the Hornblower Cruise (boat ride), Behind the Falls Tour (takes you through the tunnels and to the base of the Falls and behind the Falls), plus many more options like the White Water Walk, the Floral Showhouse, the Whirlpool Aero Car, the Butterfly Conservatory, and the WEGO bus. You can purchase an Adventure Pass for $49.95 Adults or $36.95 children which includes the Hornblower Niagara Cruise and several other options PLUs the WEGO bus. We chose to pay just for the movie and the Behind the Falls tour separately and spent almost that much for just two options.

What we did right; however, is parking at the city park about 2 1/2 miles up river and walking the pathway along the river to the Falls. This gave us a much better idea of how the water moves along its journey from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. The Pathway actually extends 35 miles from Lake to Lake and would be a great bike ride. But the roundtrip 5 mile walk was plenty for one day.

We had another nice lunch at Edgewaters Restaurant, which included the bonus of “people watching” with the cascading Falls in the background. The Behind the Falls experience was well worth the cost. The movie and Niagra’s Fury excursion was designed for kids, so while it gives a basic understanding of how the Falls came to be, we found it a bit hoaky and a waste of tine and money. I am certain the Hornblower Cruise would be a highlight, but we were already wet enough for one day.

San Diego – USS Midway

Question: How long does it take to tour the USS Midway? Well the brochures recommend about 3 hours max. But if your husband is retired Air Force, who has worked on B52 bonmbers most of his career and loves anything mechanical…you might want to give him a head start and show up later! I have to admit it was fascinating and I was never bored. But watching him look into every nook and cranny for 5 1/2 hours was even more fascinating!

The Midway is a 1,001 foot long, 69,000 ton aircraft carrier that was decommissioned in 1992 and turned into a museum. The self-guided audio tour included in the price of admission was very well done and easy to follow. The retired US Navy docents who volunteer their time had great stories to tell and were very helpful.

There are 3 decks that housed the 4,500 men/women who sailed the Midway, and those decks included living quarters, the kitchen, the laundry, medical facility, post office and everything else that is required in a floating city. The hangar deck and the roof or flight deck displayed the many aircraft that flew on and off the carrier. There were many demonstrations, movies and interactive displays to keep your interest, no matter what your age. We even toured the Brig, the engine room, and the Captain’s bridge.

The Midway was truly an engineering marvel! It gives you a whole new respect for the sailers and the living conditions they endured. And it is incredible that so much activity can be carried on all at once on the flight deck. It is no wonder that the USS Midway is the number one tourist attraction in San Diego.

Parking is only $10 for 12 hours. As retired military, our tickets were only $10 and active duty military can tour for free.


San Diego – A Day at the Beach

As seen on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives

Isabel’s Cantina, as featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives


Great beach for walking, biking, or swimming

Great beach for walking, biking, or swimming

Today began with breakfast at Isabel’s Cantina, which had been featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. Their specialty is breakfast and they are known for their French Toast. Luckily we had the address and a GPS, because signage is not visible from the road. We lucked out with a free parking spot and obviously we weren’t the only ones who knew about this place. Apparently it is a well known locals hangout…so why would they need signage??   They had so many breakfast items it was hard to choose just one…like coconut, banana strawberry French Toast! George opted for the Raisin Cinnamon Swirl French Toast and I chose a Carnitas/Potato mixture without the eggs, and even got an ample size glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. Yum!

While we were parking the car, we noticed a beach up ahead and decided to walk to it to see if it would be a good place to camp out for the day. We didn’t want to haul chairs, towels, a cooler, and our books, etc. And we certainly didn’t want to lose our free parking space. It was only about 6 blocks away. There it was, the “perfect” beach! It had a boardwalk, lots of sand, bike rentals, shops and restaurants and plenty of area to plant ourselves for the day. We had discovered Pacific Beach!! We love to walk on the beach, so we began walking, and walking, and walking. It was so fun and the crashing waves were so beautiful! We walked all the way to Mission Beach, which was about a mile down the coast and then a mile back.

Even though we had hats and sunscreen, we decided that maybe we had enough sun for one day. But we vowed to come back! So we headed back to the hotel for a dip in the pool and then to the lounge to listen to the band and take advantage of happy hour drinks and appetizers.

San Diego Day 1

San Diego is about a 5 hour drive down I-15, but we like to stretch along the way. So a stop at In-n-Out near Barstow was in order. It has to be the busiest location in the world and still we were IN AND OUT in 20 minutes. We also stopped briefly in Escondido to say hello to some friends that live just off the highway. We would be staying at Humphrey’s Half Moon Bay on Shelter Island. Since we were using an RCI travel certificate, we had no expectations other than a week together near the ocean in temps under 100 degrees.

Check-in went well and our room was on the 2nd floor. It was small but clean and our view was overlooking the parking lot and street, but directly across the street was a harbor filled with the masts of hundreds of sail boats.

The bad news was that parking in the hotel lot would cost $25/day. The good news was that bikes could be rented for free and that the Backstage Live restaurant had 1/2 price drinks and appetizers from 5-7 pm and live music every night. We decided to scout out the pool and other facilities and go for happy hour just before it ended. The house was packed with locals who apparently started at 4pm. The band was good and the clientele were middle-aged singles who loved dancing with various partners. We luckily got a great waitress who took our order within 10 minutes of happy hour ending! The food and drinks were great, but when the band stopped the place cleared out quickly. So the lively atmosphere changed abruptly. A new band would start at 9pm but we were anxious to walk the harbor. The temps had dropped significantly and we were glad to have jackets! There were lots of fishermen on the pier and Bon Fires along the Beach…even an AA on the Bay gathering. We were bummed to see signs restricting bicycles on the harbor walkway. That meant we would be riding on the street, but not much traffic, so doable. There were many joggers, lovers, and homeless people enjoying the weather and views along with us!