Boarding “Equinox”, and a birthday, 7/4/15

HAPPY BIRTHDAY COURTNEY! We spent the morning worrying about Brad and Glenda making it to Barcelona for the cruise. They arrived in Madrid from Dallas, but for some reason, they weren’t booked on the Iberia flight as they were told. After some wrangling, they were able to book a later flight that would arrive in time for the cruise (assuming there are no more surprises). They’re not sure where their luggage is, though.

We taxied over to the cruise port and boarded the ship. Around 1:30, Brad and Glenda texted they had landed and were in a taxi. Yea!!!! At 2:30, we all got together on the ship and had lunch, hashing over the details of their very interesting trip.


First view of the ship!


Security was thick!


From our cabin!  We were on that hill, at the fort yesterday, looking down. Check the pix from yesterday


A closer look


A look back at Barcelona from the ship


Sailing out of the harbor.


Our Barcelona hotel is in the group of buildings in the distance.

We relaxed the rest of the afternoon, enjoying and exploring the ship as we pulled away from Barcelona. Dinner was great, and they brought a small cake with a candle, and a waiter that sings. There was a nice rendition of “Happy Birthday” and many of the diners joined in.


After dinner, we confirmed our meeting plans for the excursion to Cannes and Nice tomorrow. After the exciting day and long flight Brad & Glenda had, I’m sure sleep will come really easy tonight.

A day of Gaudi viewing, 7/3/15

We have a less defined day. We couldn’t decide whether to start with the Picasso Museum or Parc Guell. We settled on Parc Guell, designed by Gaudi, the “modernism” architect. The park was actually a failed residential area. It was going to have about 60 homes, but only two were ultimately built. Gaudi’s vision is everywhere, even if the area wasn’t finished. After the residential plan collapsed the area was given to the city, and turned into a park.


One side of the entrance gates to the park. A guard house

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After the park, we were inspired to search out a few of Gaudi’s best known buildings in Barcelona. We took the train the center of the city, and walked the area around two of his outstanding designs. These were homes built with retail on the ground floor, a large flat for the owner on the 2nd floor, and a series of apartments above, so the owner could make a few extra bucks.


Casa Batllo, in downtown Barcelona. It’s a distinctive style.



The “Block of Discord”, three distinctive designs, next to each other, by three distinctive architects.


Casa Mila, built by guess who.


We had lunch in nice little café in the area before heading to the “Teleferic de Montjuic”, a cable car up to a castle/fort. The view of the city on one side, and the port on the other is fantastic. It’s a great way for us to finish our Barcelona visit. Tomorrow we board our Celebrity Cruise ship Equinox, for 7 days in the Mediterannean, ending in Athens. Athens? That should be interesting, in light of all the financial news these days.


Telefuric du Montjuic, the cable car to Castle Montjuic


That’s Tibidabo on the other side, where we were yesterday.



The port, where our cruise begins tomorrow.


One side note on our cruise.  As we went to bed we heard from Brad and Glenda that their Air Canada flight to Toronto and then to Barcelona was cancelled (something happened in Toronto).  Air Canada booked them onto an American Airlines flight to Madrid, and then an Iberia Airlines flight to Barcelona.  Here’s hoping that they, and their luggage all arrive, before the cruise departs.  Right now it looks like it might be ok.  We’ll have more info tomorrow, I’m sure.


Familia Sagrada and Tibidabo, 7/2/15

After seeing much of the city yesterday, we decided we definitely needed to see “Sagrada Familia”, a cathedral designed by the famous Barcelona architect, Gaudi. Construction began in the late 19th century, and is still not completed. They think they may finish it sometime in the next 20 years. It’s an unbelievable building and the design has so much detail and thought. Gaudi died in 1926 (run over by a tram). Even with all the improvements in construction equipment and cranes, I don’t know how he could conceive the cathedral’s completion when it began over 125 years ago.


Our first view of Sagrada Familia as we came out of the subway.

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We purchased our tickets online yesterday, and are able to enter the cathedral when it opened at 9:00. Entrance is carefully monitored by times to avoid huge crowds at the entrance. We also purchased the audio tour, making the tour that much more meaningful. There is so much symbolism in the design. We took an elevator up and back down one of the towers (we weren’t too excited about the prospect of 400 steps, one way). We had heard that Sagrada Familia was a “must see”, and they were right. Great place to visit!


This was the view as we stood in line, waiting for it to open.


Looking back toward our hotel from the tower.


That’s a lot of scaffolding!



One of the entrance facades is “The Passion”, the crucifixion.



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This is the facade on the other entrance. Look closely on the left side, and above the violinists is a bassoonist?


After we exited the cathedral, we found a small café and sat down to enjoy some drinks and the view. Refreshed, we climbed on the Hop-On bus, and rode to our next stop, “Blau Tram / Tibidabo”. We transitioned from the bus to a tram. It took us up a steep road to the Funicular (steep railroad, my definition) Tibidabo. Tibidabo is a large hill overlooking Barcelona. There’s also an old amusement park at the top as well a cathedral. The view from the top is wonderful. After riding the bus all over town yesterday, it was nice to see put it all in context. The thing that jumped out to me was how most of the city buildings were the same height, and then there would be a single building or a cluster of buildings that rose out of the rest.


Guess! The Blue Tram.


The Tibidabo Funicular


Back down the hill on the tram.


It’s an interesting mix of amusement park and cathedral.

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We snacked a little at the top, enjoying the view and then headed back down on the Funicular, to the tram. Back on the bus, we rode to another plaza, Catalunya, where we could walk down the famous Rambla, a pedestrian shopping/eating path that wanders from the city center to the port. We only made it a few blocks before our sense of adventure gave way to hunger and we found a nice restaurant for lunch/dinner.


Las Ramblas.


After dinner, we decided the hotel would be our next destination. We walked back to Plaza Catalunya and caught the subway back to the hotel. It’s been really hot today, and I am drained. Water never tasted so good.

Barcelona by bus, 7/1/15

Our 3 days touring Barcelona are beginning. What to do? Breakfast is first thing on the list. We make our plan over breakfast and strike out for the subway. A station is only about 200 yards away. Very convenient! The plan is to get a 2-day pass for the “Hop-On / Hop-Off Bus”, and see the city. After day one, we’ll adjust our plan, and use the bus for more specific sightseeing adventures. Day 3? Not sure yet.

We get to a central plaza “Espanya”, where several different “topless” buses come through, and get on the bus recommended by the hotel concierge. There are lots of great sites with wonderful buildings. The more we ride through town, the more we hear about Picasso, Miro, and Gaudi. To see Miro and Picasso, we’ll have to visit some museums, but Gaudi, the architect, is everywhere. His style is really crazy, and instantly obvious when observed. You’ll see what I’m talking about in the photos over the next 3 days.



Plaza Espanya





More Plaza Espanya! Lots of motorbikes.


The Olympic Flame from the Barcelona Olympics


Christopher Columbus statue, near the harbor.


Lots of rental bikes. They were everywhere in Barcelona.


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We ultimately finished off all 3 routes of bus, and have seen a lot of the city. We got off a few times for snacks and eventually a meal. We got off the bus back at Plaza Espanya, and boarded the subway back to our hotel.

When we got to the room around 6:00, I don’t remember much, until I waked up around midnight. Barcelona is 6 hours behind Beijing, so midnight was 6:00 am in Beijing (getting up time). I was afraid I would be awake for the rest of the night, but surprisingly, I went back to sleep, and didn’t wake up until 4:30 am. Hooray for sleep exhaustion from the flights Monday and Tuesday.

Bye Bye Beijing:( Hello Barcelona:) 6/30/15

Our flight today isn’t until 11:20 am, so it’s not a “killer” morning. We had a nice breakfast in the lounge, made the last check of the luggage, and called the front desk to come get it. We have six suitcases, and we’re also carrying a backpack each. Packing it all into one taxi was tricky, but we’ve figured out how to do it (lots of practice), even giving the taxi driver some tips. The drive to the airport is quick. Check-in, immigration, and security are very smooth, just slow.

This is a long British Airways flight, almost 11 hours. Ugh! It leaves a little late, but we’ve got a long layover in London, at Heathrow, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Heathrow was interesting. The signage was clear and we were able negotiate the transition from Terminal 5 to Terminal 3 without confusion. The trip was long, beginning with a train ride, then we moved to a bus after immigration and security. We finally arrived at the terminal with mostly British Airways flights. The layover is 4 hours, so we have lots of time to kill.

It’s a little odd that they don’t have the gates posted on the board until 45 minutes before departure. Everyone sits in one large area with food and shopping, and then when you’re departure gate is posted, the scramble to get to the specific gate begins.

Boarding was smooth for the Barcelona flight. It’s a 2:00 hour flight and it was nearly 11:00 pm when we arrive. I changed our money into Euros while Judy waited on the luggage. I tried to exchange the currency in London, but they wanted me to change it to British pounds first, then make the change to Euros. Too many fees involved for all that changing.   Getting a taxi was easy compared to many of places we’ve been. There was no gauntlet of drivers to run through to get to the taxi queue, and there were lots of taxis in line.


Our new hotel, Renaissance Barcelona Fira, by the light of Wednesday morning, as we walk to the train.

Courtney is already at the hotel when we arrived. It’s been almost 24 hours since we woke up in Beijing and started this trip, so we’re beat, and ready for sleep. We make breakfast plans with Courtney, and prepare for the next day.

Lots of flying ahead of us, 6/29/15

We catch our taxi at 6:00 am. It’s a short 15-minute ride to the Koh Samui airport. Check-in, immigration, and security are all short, easy lines, at this small airport. Bangkok Airways calls itself a “boutique airline”, and they have nice lounge areas available to all passengers with free snacks and drinks. The flight is less than an hour, and they manage to serve food onboard, and get everything cleaned up by the time we land.

The Bangkok Airport is a maze of long hallways and poor signage. We eventually find our gate and after a short wait, load the flight to Beijing. The flight to Beijing is 4 and ½ hours. It’s raining when we arrive. Our taxi driver decided to take a “short cut” to beat some traffic issues. It didn’t really work out. We were on roads I’d never traveled before. The drive to the hotel took almost an hour. It’s usually half that.

At the desk, when we checked in, we picked up the two suitcases we had stored at the hotel when we left for Cambodia. I also had a package from BHSFIC. There was a faculty meeting held while I was traveling where they honored all the “leaving” teachers. Inside the package was a nice picture album the faculty and staff put together with some personal notes. I’ll be able to take a longer look later, but a quick scan through it already prompted fun memories. There was also a light Chinese style jacket.

We had thought we might be going out for dinner this last night in Beijing, but the rain put us out of the mood. The hotel upgraded us to a suite with access to the executive lounge. When we got hungry, we went to the lounge where they were serving a light dinner. Back in the room, we went to work organizing all our stuff with the additional suitcases, looking out on the wet city of Beijing.

A visit to town, 6/28/15

We began to come alive a little today.  We’re leaving tomorrow, going back to Beijing.  We have a flight to Barcelona Tuesday, and Judy begins to organize our packing, thinking ahead to our packing in Beijing for the cruise.

I have a more serious job.  I have to find a Starbucks so I can pick up a “Koh Samui City Mug”, to add to my collection.  We’ll be going to the airport too early tomorrow morning.  Neither of the two stores will be open at that time.  I get dropped off from the hotel shuttle at a mall area in the city.  I walked back up the road to where I had seen a sign, hoping it was open (the Starbucks app says one of them is no longer open).  I don’t know the city well enough to really know where I am.

I found the store and it was open.  Unfortunately, they don’t make the “Koh Samui” mug.  There are several other cities in Thailand with their own mug, but not Koh Samui.  I had to settle for a Thailand mug in the same style.  The real problem with buying these mugs when we’re traveling is their size and weight.  I can usually fit one or two somewhere in our stuff, but with our current trip and a cruise, there’s the potential for a 10-12 cups, almost an entire suitcase if I pack them in their boxes.

I had a Mocha Frappucino, while I was there, in the interest of comparing Mocha Frappucinos in Starbucks around the world.  It measured up pretty well against the Beijing version.  There was an outside patio area on a busy back street, with lots of little shops allowing for some interesting people watching.  There were some real characters out on the street.  I don’t remember seeing so many “buffed out” muscular guys outside of a gym.  They were everywhere.  There are “Thai Massage” shops everywhere, two or three in each block.  Who needs all these massages?

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Back at the hotel, a storm was blowing in across the water.  We enjoyed watching the rain as we packed for our flights tomorrow.

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Villa upgrade, Friday/Saturday, 6/ 26-27 /15

FRIDAY, 6/26/15

Today was a usual day in the life of the newly retired. We ate, we swam, we slept. That is all.

Actually, we did move from the villa we’ve been in, over to one of the “beach villas.” It’s the upgrade that wasn’t available when we checked in Wednesday. It’s not actually on the beach, but has a great view. We are enjoying the pure relaxation. It’s beginning to hit us that we don’t have to rush home to anything. We can take our time, and get things done, when we feel like it. I’m sure there’ll be a sense of urgency at some point, but it’s sure not now.

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SATURDAY, 6/27/15

No sense of urgency yet. Just enjoying another day in the tropical breezes. I did walk up the road about a half-mile to a small store for some snacks and soft drinks. The prices were much cheaper offsite.

I have been getting a chance to swim in the lap pool every day. It nice to look up when I breath and see palm trees and blue sky, rather than the dingy roof I always saw in the pool area back in Beijing.

A full day in paradise, 6/25/15

We wake up pretty early (bodies are still running on Beijing time, an hour ahead) and are at breakfast at 7:00 am. There’s a nice view of the beach and ocean from the deck of the restaurant.


View from the restaurant

We went down to the pool/beach area for little while. When it began to get hot, we went back to our villa where we could sit either inside, or outside under a deck umbrella, or in our own pool.


Villa entrance courtyard


Villa gate


View from the entrance


Pool area


View of the villa from the living area


Pool view from the villa

I went over to the lap pool later in the morning. They have a 50-meter pool for lap swimming. I’m kinda excited to swim laps in a 50-meter pool, as opposed to a 25-meter pool I’ve become used to. I’m curious if the tedium of swimming laps is any different, based on the ldp distance. I actually enjoy the change. It seems easier to swim the extended length and not have to make so many turns back and forth. (I’m really bored with life aren’t I?)


Lap Pool area (across the road)


Hotel entrance as viewed from the lap pool area.

Judy returned to the pool/beach area later in the afternoon. She had an encounter with an employee of the hotel who was trying to setup for an evening BBQ on the beach. He was trying to set up 3 hours before the meal was to begin, and wanted her to move off the beach to the pool area. Judy, and a couple of the other patrons, explained to the guy that they had come a long way to enjoy the beach and sun, and maybe he could work around them for a little while, or setup some beach chairs for them down the beach, out of his work area. As with most problems like this, it was all about the way he did the asking, and his lack of understanding. Judy’s biggest question was if he had this problem every week, and did he handle it so poorly all the other times?

Day One at Koh Samui is a big success. We got in a lot of rest and relaxation, Judy helped train an employee, and neither of us got sunburned!

Two short hops to Koh Samui, 6/24/15

We have two short hops today. The first flight isn’t until 12:20, so there’s plenty of time for a relaxing breakfast before catching a shuttle for the airport. The check-in at the small Siem Reap airport is easy, as well as the security and immigration checks.   The flight is slightly over an hour, and the attendants did a full meal service.

At the Bangkok airport we made the long walk to Immigration and security, and then made a lengthy trek to the gate for short hop #2. The flight is slightly less than an hour. Koh Samui is another small airport, but there are a few larger planes. We offload down some stairs and then board a tram to the terminal. The luggage takes about 15 minutes to arrive, and then we taxi to our hotel. The taxi thing is handled pretty well. There’s a desk inside the terminal where we tell the clerk our destination and pay the fee. When we get outside, the taxi pulls up, loads us, and we’re off. There’s no gauntlet of drivers to walk thru, trying to figure out who’s for real, and who’ll try to scam us.

The Renaissance Spa and Resort Koh Samui is really nice, as expected. We had a “pool villa garden view” reserved. They don’t have an upgrade ready today, but will have it available on Friday. We’re available for an upgrade because of all the Marriott properties we’ve been staying in for two years. My perseverance has finally begun to pay off a little bit. We get unpacked and then do a little touring of the resort grounds. The pool area is nice, as is the beach area. We find some beach chairs and begin enjoying the view. It’s going to be rough five nights.

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