Post #19: Happy Holidays from Italy

I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes…

Ok, so I’m a little late with my Christmas post. Perhaps I have been delayed because I’ve been in a food-coma following two dinners we shared with families I tutor for, a third with the Valpellice team and management, and two more plus a brunch with Kevin all in the span of a week. Or maybe I’ve finally and officially adopted the fashionably late domani-domani mentality of the Italians. Or, more likely, I just haven’t wanted the Christmas season to end. (Which would explain why I’ve just finished watching Love Actually for the fifth time this month, and second since the passage of my yearly Christmas deadline. And would also explain why I’m still wearing my new Christmas pajama set that I received from my parents as part of an annual family tradition.)

If there is one thing I’ve learned in two Holiday seasons abroad, it’s that the magic of Christmas season follows you wherever you are. The scenery may change, but cookies smell the same whether they are baking in your childhood home or a small apartment building in a country far away and Christmas classics sound just as joyful whether playing over the radio or being streamed through a computer. And Love Actually, like Christmas Vacation, White Christmas, Elf, Home Alone, and It’s a Wonderful Life, are just as likely to spread Christmas cheer whether viewed from a home theater system or played through a computer that is wired to an 15-inch television. Although nothing can replace a Christmas spent in the company of my friends and family and back home, I have to admit that the holidays in Italy have their own special charm. And I’d be hard-pressed to find a place that does Christmas quite like Italy does Christmas.

From a shopping perspective, the crowds of last minute shoppers in Italy resemble those in any mall in America come late December. So it’s not there that you’ll find any obvious discrepancy between Christmas and Natale. The real difference is outdoors… At the Christmas markets where hand-crafted seasonal goods are sold from little wooden sheds with candy-cane striped roofs and shoppers sip vin brulee, a delicious cinnamony hot wine. In Rome, where the Pope makes his annual blessing from Piazza Spagna to recognize the Immaculate Conception and thousands of people gather to share in the celebration. And upon nearly every walking street in any Italian town where unique arrangements of Christmas lights illuminate the cobblestone streets below and displays of Panettone wrapped in festive boxes adorn bakery windows.

Put simply, Italy is beautiful in December.  Even the unseasonable warmth that’s been enjoyed this winter didn’t translate into an unseasonable Christmas, despite the shortage of snow. On the contrary, it was quite pleasant to exit midnight mass to a cloudless and starry sky and to bask in the sunshine on Christmas Day during our walk around town.

Thinking back to our weekend, I can’t help but wonder where we will be spending the next Holiday season. All I know is that I will cherish the memories we’ve shared in learning the holiday customs and traditions of this beautiful Christmas country. And I will embrace the fact that, no matter where we end up, we can bring our own Christmas traditions with us like we have these past two years. That means there will be plenty of cookies in the oven, lots of snuggling up for Christmas movie viewing, a delicious brunch of cinnamon buns and Egg Strata, and several feasts in the company of friends. Oh, and, a new pair of ridiculous but comfortable PJs for me and Kev… only next year, we will be needing a pair for Baby R too.  

A stand for vin brulee and hot apple cider at the christmas market in Bolzano

A Florence shopping street

A Christmas market in Florence

The manger outside of the Duomo in Florence

A street in Florence

The beginning of a Christmas carnival in rome

Crowds gathering on the Spanish Steps to see the pope

Looking down on the Christmas tree in St. Peter's square in Rome


Post #18: Hello in There

Looking back on my childhood, I clearly remember bath time. The tub functioned as an aquatic playground for my sisters and I and we had a basketful of toys especially reserved for the occasion.  Plastic ships, rubber ducks, Barbies retired from dry-land-play, and a mermaid whose hair turned color once she was immersed in water. But I also remember an assortment of plastic Tupperware cups that had made their way into the collection, most likely for the practical purpose of rinsing out our freshly shampooed hair. Like a child opting for the cardboard box over the object inside, I found these cups just as fascinating as the traditional bath toys. I would hold the cup face down above water before carefully lowering it to rest on the bottom of the tub. Once securely in place, I would tilt the cup so that the air trapped inside escaped in the form of bubbles rushing to the surface. More air meant more bubbles, and the bubbles were endlessly amusing.

I remembered these details of yesteryear bath times last week when I was trying to articulate what I was feeling in my belly. It occurred to me that I was feeling the very bubbles that I used to see emerging from under the little blue cup. Gentle, yet urgent flutters rushing to the top. I didn’t think much of these sporadic flickers until I felt them being accompanied by tiny thumps. They were almost like muscle twitches, but they were generating from the inside out. It took me a second to realize that, though it was my body feeling the thump, it wasn’t my body doing the thumping. That left only one possibility… it was little Baby R.

Once I realized that the tiny being responsible for my expanding midsection was also responsible for the drumming I felt inside, I became even more aware of every punch and kick. It seemed like a miracle that such a fragile thing was strong enough to make movements that I could feel. I was determined for Kevin to share in the experience. But the baby’s movements were random and unpredictable and it was difficult to feel them from the surface of my stomach. Then one night I ate a burger. And on the car-ride home, it was like Baby R’s personal symphony. (This clearly excited response to red meat only contributes to my family’s suspicion that the little one is boy.) And, finally, Kevin felt one of the kicks that I’d been cherishing for days. From that point on, they started increasing in frequency. And now, at night when we first lay down, we usually get a few goodnight thumps from our baby before we go to sleep.

I always worried that being pregnant would scare me… that having another living thing take up residence inside me would be too strange and alien-like to appreciate. But, as it turns out, it’s simply fascinating. And I find myself putting my hand on my belly with a more elevated level of the wonder that I’d experienced as a little girl playing with a Tupperware cup in the tub.  


Post #17: Four Generations in Italy by Sally Kassman

This week, I asked my grandmother, the bisnonna-to-be, to share our experience from Italy. I couldn’t think of a better person to craft a description of this once-in-a-lifetime adventure than the very woman who creates such expressions as “crapanoonie!” and who innovatively turns salutations into verbs with such phrases as “they arrevederci-ed us!” And so I leave you with the words of my known and loved Grandmomsa… Enjoy!

Here we are, four generations together in Italy. We make up 156.4 years of age combined including Baby R’s time in utero. Bisnonna (aka Sally) is my Italian name to baby-to-be R. I am at the top of the maternal side of my coming great-grandbaby. We four toured Bolzano, Torre Pellice, Pinerolo, Florence, and Rome, the last two by Trenitalia’s high speed rail which travels at 280-300 km per hour. The countryside here is very pastoral and the cities are very urban. The antiquities and museums are unbelievable in understanding what the Roman people did and built ages ago.

In Florence, we walked 463 steps up to the top of the magnificent Duomo, strolled about the Piazza of Michelangelo and even had a Chianti burger and wine at an Austrian-inspired Christmas market. The Galleria degli Uffizi was full of all the paintings and sculptures of Italian master artists.

From Rome, I am especially proud of my picture with two Roman centurians outside the Pantheon. A once-in-a-lifetime highlight was seeing the Pope in his Pope-mobile blessing the crowd.  We had a good picture-taking position on the Spanish steps amongst a crowd which Ginnie believes to be significantly more than the crowd at Patriot’s Stadium. We spent a day at Vatican City touring the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. Ginnie and Sarah walked up the 554 steps to the top of St. Peters Church, but I opted out after climbing the Duomo on my three-quarters of a century legs!

Every day and everything in Italy was a fabulous treat and I am so grateful that Ginnie and I had the opportunity to come!


Post #16: Giving Thanks

To my family and friends,

On Sunday, three days after the American holiday, we celebrated our American Thanksgiving in Italy. It took three apartments in our complex to accommodate our guests (one for food, another for dining, and a third for wine and beverages), but all of our careful planning and preparation paid off. Import families and coaches as well as a pair of our Italian friends gathered together to share a memorable meal. Over 15 kilos of fresh tacchino, 10 kilos of mashed potatoes, more than 10 casserole pans full of side dishes not to mention appetizers and an endless selection of desserts for the thirty adults and five children attending the feast. It was truly an evening to be remembered and I was incredibly grateful to have been surrounded by so many friends in our home away from home. But the meal and the company weren’t the only things I was thankful for on the holiday of thankfulness…

As always, the Holidays bring out my sentimental side. Some might argue that I’m sentimental (and sometimes overly so) on all sides. But this is especially the case at this time of year. As I grocery shopped, baked, and cooked in the days leading up to our belated Thanksgiving dinner, I thought of how grateful I am for so many pieces of this wonderful thing called life.

For Skype that allows us to see our families “in person” from 4,000 miles away… for the direct flight from NY to Milan that will bring my mamma and nonna to me tomorrow morning… for a Cribbage board, dog walks, and similar little things that make me happy…  for a group of girlfriends back home that I can always count on to make me smile even if our only communication is through a weekly facebook message or email… for two sisters that are so different from but yet so perfectly compatible with myself… for two sets of parents that are endlessly supportive even when it means they will have to sacrifice a bedroom for us and a couch for our dog for undetermined lengths of time… for extended families that offer their love selflessly in the best and worst of times… for a husband that reminds me everyday why I married him just by being himself… for the little baby that is growing fuller with love every day so that he or she can join our little family in the Spring.

For all this, and so much more I am endlessly grateful. Not only on Thanksgiving, but every day. And I guess that’s something to be thankful for in itself… the fact that, as wonderful as a plateful of turkey and stuffing is, I don’t need it to be reminded of how lucky I really am. And I have all of you to thank for that.

Much love,


Post #15: Il Lago di Garda

Last weekend, I took a road trip up north for the Lake Garda Half Marathon with two other girls from the Valpe squad. Though I registered for the race back in August, last week’s news explains why I couldn’t follow through with actually participating in it. When it comes to running, the doctor recommended I maintain, not train. Since I wasn’t running more than five miles regularly when I learned about Baby R, 13.1 miles would have been well outside of the recommended range at the beginning of my second trimester. But I’d convinced one of my friends from last season to register with me, and since I couldn’t run it with her, I went along for the roadtrip as a spectator. And we brought a third friend from the team with us for sight-seeing and additional support.

We arrived at the lake’s northernmost town, Riva Del Garda at around 2 in the afternoon. As is Italian custom, lunch is served from 12:30 to 2:30 and so our first priority after checking into our hotel was finding a place to eat. Since the main street we had arrived on was covered with pizzeria ristorantes, we didn’t think this would be a difficult task. What we had forgotten was that it was November. And, being a lakeside oasis, it was no longer peak season. It may have been sunny and sixty degrees, but it was already the off-season for the town’s restauranteers. I’ll admit I was a little worried. It has happened before in my travels that I missed the window for pranzo and let’s just say I’m not known for being particularly pleasant when I have an empty stomach. Especially of late. Fortunately, after walking passed several dining options that were closed for the season, we stumbled upon a pizzeria that was “aperto”. Refreshed after a delicious Italian pie, we headed back outside to take in the sights we had been forced to bypass in our food-finding-frenzy. And the sights were aplenty.

Parallel to the main street was a walking path along the water. We could see it through the trees as we ventured along in the direction of the Expo center, and unanimously agreed we would follow that route on our way back to the hotel. In the meantime, we appreciated the quaintness of the town making its way into the afternoon shadows of the mountains elegantly surrounding it. Even with most places closed for the winter months ahead, it was clear that this getaway is geared towards the adventure-minded folks. Shops for running, biking, hiking, sailing, and kayaking lined the roadway and outnumbered the cafes and restaurants that typically monopolize Italian streets.

When we made it to the Expo center, situated just before the start of the pedestrian-only old part of town, I came to a realization: if you are going to run a long-distance event, Italy is the place to do it. Not only was the scenery amazing and the entry fee a fraction of the cost in the States, but there was also a lot of food.  Apple streudel, pasta, and wine stations awaited athletes and spectators. And our gift bag for registering for the event included more than the usual tee-shirt. In addition to a long-sleeve New Balance tech tee, we got fleece running gloves, yogurts, fruit drinks, energy bars, a jar of peperocino pasta sauce, AND a block of Italy’s own Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese. It was like Christmas! I didn’t even run, but my gift bag more than paid for my unused race number bib!

After checking in and sampling the various goodies provided, we headed back to our hotel via the lakeside path. The views of the lake turned out to be even more beautiful than we had anticipated. With large mountains erupting from the water, I was reminded of the Italian Riviera and its sights along the Ligurian Sea. But this, as enormous as it seemed, was a lake. A clear, beautiful, fresh water lake, made all the more picturesque by the collection of sailboats and pebble beaches lining its shores.

By the time we made it back to the hotel, it was already dusk. Wed decided to check out the pool and Jacuzzi only to learn that those facilities are not the same as we find at home. Jacuzzi water is cold and pool water is colder. But nobody else seemed to mind. We forced ourselves into the “hot” tub since we had gone through the trouble of changing into our suits and didn’t want to look as foreign as we felt by making a quick departure. When a little girl joined us and exclaimed “Che caldo!” which translates to “how warm!”, we all laughed. Teeth chattering and covered in goosebumps, we hurried back to our room. Just another day in Italy bringing about another taste of culture.

The next morning, after a restful sleep and a dinner outing that was far more satisfying than our trip to the pool, we had breakfast. And I am not talking a croissant and a coffee breakfast. I am talking a bacon, egg, toast, fruit, yogurt, cereal, and everything else (minus bagels of course) breakfast. I realized while relishing in our semi-American meal overseas that, though we were in Italy, we might as well have been in Germany. German speakers outnumbered Italian ones two to one. I had forgotten how far North and how close to the border we actually were. Though Kevin has been to the Trentino-Aldige region of the country countless times for his games, this was my first experience in the vicinity of the more German Italy. Culturally not too different, but it was fun to hear a different foreign language in an already foreign country.

Before we knew it, it was time to head to the starting line. I felt the same nerves I would have if I were running, and I loved the excitement at the start. Our friend who had never been to a running event said that it was incredible to experience the atmosphere. When the gun went off, we cheered for our running pal, headed back to the hotel to check out and drove to a point somewhere beyond the middle of the course. There, when we spotted her amongst the sea of runners, I joined in to run a few kilometers and keep her company. We past vineyards and a turquoise-water river before I jumped back out at the spot designated for meeting up with the third member of our crew. I wished our runner luck on her final kilometers ahead, and us two members of her support crew power-walked to the finish.

After a successful race for our running companion, and an enjoyable day spectating for the myself and our third traveling pal, we all walked to the old town for a final meal by Lake Garda. This time we dined on the waterfront in the company of countless other athletes and families. We shared a delicious pizza topped with fresh parmesan, tomatoes, and rucola before jumping back in the Valpe-mobile for our roadtrip back home. I was grateful that even though I couldn’t complete the race myself, it had given me a reason to explore a part of Italy’s biggest lake. I won’t get in the habit of registering for races I don’t plan on running, but it was certainly the perfect roundabout way of adding to my adventures abroad.


Post #14: Can You Keep a Secret?

I am not good at keeping my secrets. Anyone who has received a Christmas present from me is probably aware of this fact. Maybe you want to know and maybe you don’t, but either way I AM going to tell you what I got for you before you get a chance to see for yourself. Please forgive me… I just get too excited! Recognizing my proclivity to divulge my own secrets, I am really impressed that I have kept this one so well. Every day I’ve felt compelled to let it out, but I’ve resisted. Grappling with this compulsion hasn’t been easy, but I keep reminding myself that it’s not exactly my secret to tell. Noble, isn’t it? Alright, maybe noble isn’t the right word since I only did what I was supposed to do with a secret… I kept it. Not to mention I haven’t exactly been 100% tight-lipped. To help prevent myself from spilling the beans, I’ve busied myself with creatively hiding them in this blog.

Since it’s time to let the secret out, I can tell you that it’s hidden in this post and in the four posts before it. In each case, you can connect the first letter of every sentence in the opening paragraph, and there it is! For anyone who hasn’t guessed it already and those of you who want to confirm your suspicions, I will give you a moment to backtrack to the introductory eleven sentences of this post. In the meantime, here’s a picture of Dylan…

Finally, after fourteen weeks of waiting, the secret is out. I am pregnant! Or, as the say in Italian, sono incinta! (This translation is what I used to hide the exciting news in post #10.) Now you can see why this would be such a difficult secret to keep. This blog is about the goings on in our lives overseas and this has been a really big part of it all! The doctors visit to confirm the pregnancy and hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time, and the panic and excitement that come with such life-altering news and have dominated our dinner conversations for months! It’s going to take a long post to do so, but it’s time to fill in the gaps. Let’s start by rewinding to when I first found out about the secret growing in my belly…

As you may have guessed from this blog’s web address, I love gelato. Even before I tasted the Italian specialty, I knew I would love it. That’s because I was raised on its American equivalent. Mint patty, chocolate chip cookie dough, cookies and cream, double fudge brownie, purple cow… my love of ice cream has been known to have no bounds. No flavor too chocolaty, too fruity, or in any other way undesirable to my appetite. Any time of day, any season of the year, no ice cream was safe. Even a brief stint with lactose intolerance couldn’t keep me away from it. Enduring the symptoms of dairy intolerance was more appealing than the alternative of eliminating the daily dose or two of ice cream from my diet. Thankfully, my symptoms abated soon after my devastating diagnosis. I like to say that I battled the disease into submission with extra servings of the lactose-laden dessert. What? It’s not a completely ridiculous hypothesis. People who are allergic to dogs often find that getting one reverses their allergies. Couldn’t excessive consumption of a dairy based product have the same effect on a person with a dairy allergy? Whatever the case, I’m cured. And thank goodness for that because I couldn’t imagine a life without ice cream.

Given my history of ice cream divulgence, you can understand my surprise when I woke up one morning and my insatiable craving for it had suddenly and completely disappeared. I noticed it all one afternoon after lunch. Out of habit, I strolled over to the refrigerator, opened the freezer door and pulled out a carton of Edy’s soft-churned espresso chip. I mindlessly scooped myself a bowlful and sat down to tackle the day’s Jumble. I was snapped out of my word-puzzle coma when I noticed my lip quivering. I was holding a spoonful of ice cream, and I couldn’t eat it. That’s not to say I didn’t try. I did, but I reacted the same way that Dylan dog does when he tries to eat an orange slice. My mouth puckered, I forced it into my mouth, and then I spit it back out. My eyes widened in fear. I hurried over to a stash of M&M’s and tried those. Same phenomenon; I couldn’t eat them. What is happening to me?!! Is this some sort of sick joke? Did I reach my lifetime quota of dessert consumption in only 26 years or did my sweet tooth fall out over night?

By the end of the week, I had dismissed my strange aversion to all things sweet. I’d started experiencing some abdominal discomforts and attributed my lack of cravings to a weird stomach bug. But then it was time for dessert one evening, a week before my flight was scheduled for Italy and a week after Kevin had left. I was back at home getting ready to leave for the season, and my mother was taking ice cream orders behind the countertop island. When I declined the offer, she looked up with an expression of disbelief. I explained that I was over ice cream. I’d apparently eaten too much this summer. As my sister passed behind me on her way out of the kitchen, she mumbled, “you’re probably pregnant”. We both laughed, but as she rounded the corner my laughter halted. My mom stopped what she was doing and looked up quickly as moms do when they hear the word “pregnant” around their daughters. I diverted her attention with some comment about the impressiveness of her super-human selective hearing abilities, especially in someone who needs the TV at deafening volume to hear it.

But then my mind started swirling. Pregnant? Could it be? Over the previous year, my doctor had mentioned a few potential baby-making complications. She’d suggested it might be more difficult to start a family, and I had accepted that possibility. Afterall, we had plenty of time.  And, like my sister once told me “difficult is not impossible”. Wise words from a young lady only a year removed from her teens.

To appease my curiosity, I purchased a test, or five to be exact. Doing so seemed counterintuitive. Given my recent problems and the nature of my present symptoms (pregnant people crave sweets, not avoid them, don’t they?), I had no reason to suspect a positive result. But, I was about to head to Italy, and I figured I should rule out the possibility of being pregnant before I resumed drinking wine on a nightly basis.

And there it was, a blue line. Or was it a line? My heart started racing. Was I seeing things? Did I imagine that faded sorry-excuse for a line into existence, or was it actually there? This test was supposed to be easy… blue line, positive, no line, negative. To say that there is a significant difference between the two outcomes is an understatement. Shouldn’t the presence of the line be as clear as the result is life-changing. If I were pregnant, shouldn’t the damn stick start lighting up like it were the 4th of July!

Disappointed that I still didn’t have an answer, I looked at the mathematics of my problem. A false positive, if that’s what this shadow of a line was, would be highly improbable. If a second test were to yield the same arguably inconclusive result, it might actually mean I’m pregnant after all. This goes back to basic probability… the probability of a highly improbable event occurring twice is exponentially more highly improbable than it occurring once. Sure enough, a second test matched the first. And, several tests in the days that followed confirmed the result as well. Each day, the result becoming more clear, though never quite lighting up in the way that I was inside. It was time to get to Italy and share the excitement with my other half.

Since arriving, and celebrating the news with Kevin for the first time on the same continent, a large portion of my time has been spent learning the complex medical processes in Italy. Getting a health care card (I’m insured under the national program since Kevin is employed here), finding a family doctor and obstetrician, scheduling appointments, and going to appointments with a friend of the team that can translate for me. (As much as my Italian has improved, medical lingo is well beyond my vocabulary in any language!) I’m fortunate that two other girls from the team are pregnant as well, and they have been very useful resources and comrades in learning the ropes of pregnancy in a foreign country.

As much time as we’ve spent taking care the logistics of this blessing, we’ve spent even more enjoying the reality of it all. And, over the last couple months… it has certainly become more and more of a reality. Thinking back to the first time we saw the little fella, I laugh at just how unreal it seemed. We were visiting the team doctor so that Kevin could get a prescription. Having known about our news, he asked “you want to see your baby?” We were surprised by the offer because, though he is an ultrasound technician, his specialty is in muscular diagnoses. He beckoned us in the back to his equipment. A few minutes later and there it was. A little peanut on the screen. The only characteristic that distinguished this little peanut as human was the heartbeat flickering inside. I was overwhelmingly excited by the sight and simultaneously terrified by my new responsibility! Somehow, it was the best feeling in the world.

Last week, we returned to the team doctor to check up on the baby. It had been six weeks since the first time we saw its tadpole-sized self, and we knew that Kevin would be unable to attend the upcoming ultrasounds with my obstetrician because of his schedule.  We are incredibly lucky that the doctor, a father of three, understands our enthusiasm and accepts cookies as payment. This time, the baby looked like a baby. And not only could we see the flickering heartbeat, but we could hear it too! The doctor explained that this is a great time to look at the ultrasound because the baby still has lots of room to move around. And, he (or she) was taking full advantage of the space… stretching, turning, kicking. We saw ten little fingers and ten little toes as the acrobatic baby danced about. It was amazing to see that such a little being is capable of so much motion. Especially because I can’t feel a thing, and won’t be able to for about a month more!

And so, after quite possibly the longest post in my blogging history, I’ve shared our secret. And in case pictures speak louder than words, I’ll end with this…

p.s. I still have not recovered my love of sweets. I’ve had gelato and eaten a few pastries… but I’m still waiting for my usual cravings to return. I’d be really surprised if I made it through the Holiday season without an unsatiable hunger for apple pie and Christmas cookies!


Post #13: Ciao Italia, Hola Barcelona!

Big city amenities with a relaxed Spanish flare? Architecture that is as endlessly imaginative as it is visually stimulating? Beaches that are lined with pristine pedestrian walkways and an endless array of bars and restaurants that overlook the breathtaking Mediteranean Sea? Yes, yes, and yes. Barcelona has it all… and more! Up until this four-day getaway, all of our shared European adventures have been spent within the Italian borders that, from an international perspective, serve as our secondary comfort zone. Maybe it was because Spain is an even more foreign country that we did not know what to expect. Planned in less than four days, we didn’t even have enough time to do any research beyond booking a flight, finding a hotel, and coordinating Dylan’s vacation to doggie day-care.

When we arrived at the city’s international airport, we were pleasantly surprised by the weather. It had been raining for a week in Torre and the forecast for Barcelona had been only slightly less dismal. But a short bus ride from the airport left us at Plaza Catalunya where old rainshower puddles sparkled in the sunshine. Traveling with two other couples from the team, we made up half-a-dozen delighted tourists soaking in the sun while we walked towards our hotel.

Over the next two and a half days and three nights we spent in Barcelona, we took in as much of the city as possible. And this, as it turns out, is no easy feat because the city is enormous. An evening walk brought us to an old arena that has been re-purposed as an impressive mall. A bus tour guided us past some of Gaudi’s designs on the way to the 1992 Olympic stadium and, later, to the waterfront. A few stops on the beautifully well-maintained metro system and we were at the extraordinary Sagrada Familia cathedral. A hike up the steepest street I’ve ever seen eventually led us to Gaudi’s Park Gueill whose mosaic-tiled bench-lined patio provided panoramic views of the ocean. More walking in the general vicinity of our hotel brought us down Las Ramblas, one of the most well-known shopping streets in Barcelona. It consists of over a mile of shops and restaurants situated on either side of the street and along the center median which serves as a pleasant walking strip. At the end of and perpendicular to Las Ramblas is the ocean, and just off of this heavily trafficked street is the Gothic Quarter where we admired the architecture set against the evening light. In the midst of it all, we still found time to lounge by the beach for a few prime afternoon hours. Kevin, without hesitation, went swimming twice during that period. He and his teammate claimed the water was warm, but it was certainly not warm enough for me. I was perfectly content watching from my sunspot in the sand as they splashed around gleefully in the waves.

Throughout our Barcelona experience, we constantly marveled at all the city has to offer. As much as it is a bustling international metropolis, it maintains a lot of personality. Gothic, modern, and Gaudi architecture exist in perfect harmony from plaza to plaza. Parks, benches, palm trees, and luxurious dog parks can be found in nearly every district we explored offering citizens and their canines places to relax. Though it is a very popular tourist destination, it didn’t feel overwhelming touristy. Of course, there are the typical souvenir shops along Las Ramblas. But they aren’t overwhelmingly prevalent. And, there are Starbucks and Subway franchises that provided us with a taste of home. But there are also countless Tapas bars and restaurants that provide the cultural sentiment one hopes to find when traveling abroad. Add a gorgeous beach to the mix, and Barcelona becomes a very livable city. It’s no wonder it is ranked in the top three happiest cities in the world.

While we could have spent another week or more in Barcelona and still only have gotten a small sampling of the city, the trip was completely fulfilling. We saw many of the famous sights and spent time on a beach in November. We embraced the culture of late-night dining preceded by a stop for Sangria and Tapas. Tapas are the Spanish version of Italian Apperitivi. And they are amazing! Fried asparagus, potato omelette, chorizo, and the fan-favorite Potatoes Bravas (fried potatoes with a spicy mayonnaise sauce). Though we didn’t experience the clubs that are open until 6 in the morning, we did follow up our dinners with a trip to different Irish Bars. All in all, it was a spontaneous vacation worth taking. And it was a great way to kick off our traveling outside of Italian borders. 

One of Gaudi's imaginative creations, a house without 90 degree angles

In one of the city's many parks... this one by the Olympic stadium

This way to the beach...


Beachside boardwalk

Inside La Sagrada Familia

Stairs to the top

Inspired by nature, Gaudi made the columns look like tree trunks that branch off at the top

At Park Gueill

Another view from the park

Notice the beachwalker we spotted on two consecutive days during his evening stroll

Moon above the ocean