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Europe Trip 2010
Dates of travel
Heather Arrived w/ Michelle July 31
Paris Aug. 4-8 Michelle went home Aug. 8
Barcelona Aug. 9-12
Rome Aug 12-16
Venice Aug 16-18
Heather goes home Aug. 21

July 31
I want to get this all down now so I don't forget it completely.  Michelle and Heather came to visit July 31 to Aug. 21 and what a trip it was awesome.  I brought the 2 of them over for 3 weeks (Heather) and Michelle was in for just over a week.  They laned on July 31 and the trip started pretty much from there.  I picked them both up from the airport and broght them to my apartment.  I actually  had to buy a whole new sheet set so that Michelle had a good place to sleep.  I definitely was cleaning for about a week before the showed up due to the wreck my apt. had become.  We dropped off their stuff and took a good nap, since they arrived silly early in the morning, roughly 6AM!  After the nap it was off to see the crown jewels and the tower of London.  That was cool, and definitely had a bigger appreciation for the value and workmanship beyod the last time I had seen them from long ago with Mom and Dad.  They were simply incredible in that the jewels were jus everywhere and the workmanship was amazing.  I'd post pics, but don't have any as they are not allowed.  The following day was Stonehenge.  There are pics from this on Flickr if you want to look.  We got there late morning/early afternoon, and I thought it was going to be packed, but it really wasn't too bad.  There weren't too many people there to make it unbearable, so was fun.  I think Michelle really enjoyed it.  We spent the usual amount of time (somewhere between 1 and 2 hrs) seeing the circle, which was interesting to learn about and see/hear the interesting little things to see about it.  They give you a little free audio tour of the circle and what it all means, which isn't much becuase no one really knows just how old it is or what the intended purpose really was.  They know a whole lot of interesting things and facts that are, but no idea why they would do it.  Getting back to the trip, we went from the circle to get some food, then ona little walk/hike around the grounds where virtually no one goes.  We went a few miles (no more than probably 4) around the Curses and the Barrows (burial mounds), to see what there was to see.  They have tenant farmers that keep sheep and cattle to graze the land, so got some cool pics there.  So day in a nutshell was that we go to see some mystical stones and some pretty country-side for the day.  Was really nice. 
I worked for the next 2.5 days to save some of my vacation time for the end of the trip for just me and my now Fiance (still a little strange/good to say).  During that, Heather took Michelle into London to see the sights of the things I'd already done, so I wasn't missing anything.  They did Trafalgar square and the surround, including Southbank and Parliament.  It was good bonding time and so was totally worth it.  On the last day of it, though, we all went to see Phantom of the Opera, which was a real treat for hte 2 of them.  I really liked it too, but they really enjoyed it.  I haven't seen it in YEARS, so it was really interesting.  I get why I can't watch it on tv though, since the live show is so good.  I really have to see musicals live or not at all to give full appreciation.  We got on the train the next day,had to be out of the house around 1330 to be at the train station to catch the Eurostar to Paris.

Paris, Aug. 4-8  Matt vs. travel 0/1, Matt Vs. Lodging 1/1
We really only needed 3 days, but 4 was nice to be able to take our time in most things.  We did Notre Dame, and the Eiffel tower (finally for me), and a whole sleu (sp?) of other things to keep it interesting.  It took way too long to get there though.  It is supposed to be a 2 hr train ride from downtown London to downtown Paris... it took us 4 due to the train ahead of our having to limp from about 50 miles out.  We were stopped at a station for an hour before they told us what was going on, then another hour to make the last 1/4 of the trip, go figure.  So far on the trip I was 0/1 for travel plans. Keep track of that number, it gets better...or worse depending on your perspective.  So after a really bad day of travel, we get inot the Hotel 123 by taxi at some really late hour and settle in for our trip. Dinner that night was a bear!  It seems no one serves food at 11PM, who knew!  We found a very sympathetic server at a bar, who sent us down the street to the Hippopotamus (said with a very french accent makes it more entertaining) which had a very observant waiter who spoke english well and was able to make things a little better.  He brought us our drinks along with some chips (Lays I think) which is what the doctor ordered for 2 Mouricks who were tired, hungry,  little wet, and had a very long day.  I also liked them, but was much more about the beer I got than the chips.  He followed this up with some bread and then the real meals, which was very tasty. The place is sort of like a diner-type of place, but the food was fantastic, and would recommend it to anyone who goes who is looking for something simple, yet very tasty.  This settled the nerves and ended the day on a reasonable level. 
The following day was the familiarization process.  We went and saw the Arc de Triomphe at the end of the Champs Elysees as well as Concorde, then down to the Eiffel Tower.  When we got that far we saw the line and realized just how crowded things get in August in Paris, though, I'm not sure it ever really gets better.  We decided to make our journey upward the following morning after asking one of the workers what the best plan is.  He said to be there about 8:30 or so for the tower to open to open at 9:00.  This was an excellent plan as the weather was fantastic and the light could not have been better (pics on flickr to prove it).  We basically walked around and got oriented since everything was really crowded and we (probably mostly meaning I) couldn't get organized enough to get into anything at a reasonable time. 

Barcelona:  Matt Vs. travel:  0/2, 2/2
Heather and I were planning on catching a train from Paris and sleeping the whole way there, but as it turns out there were no trains to catch, they were all full!  I ended up having to call the travel agency, the same I use for work, to get a plane from Paris to Barcelona.  As it turns out, the price wasn't too far off, and we were able to get a flight at a good time.  We caught the train to the airport and waited for our flight, which was delayed 30 minutes.  But, it gets even better!  I can only assume Vueling is a new airline and had just moved into Orly Airport, since the line management was the worst I've EVER seen.  They had one line that funneled from that one line into 6 lines to check in.  The bottle neck was the ticketing, taking nearly an hour and a half, while security only took 5 minutes!  That is the only time I've ever taken nearly the whole 2 hours they recommend to check in for a flight, which again was delayed 30 minutes.  So after the whole leaving Paris crisis, the rest was pretty good.  The hotel was called the Pullman Skipper Barcelona.  If you ever go to Barcelona and want to live like a king/queen, this is a good option.  The hotel is located very nicely in Port Olympic, so there is lots nearby, and the rooms are really nice.  Heather and I laid out by the pool on the afternoon before we left and it was really nice.  Back to day 1, though.  We settled in, then went for a walk down the boardwalk, of sorts, along the lovely beach.  It was really nice, and felt laid back.  We did our stroll then headed to a restaurant called the Rembrandt, which was an homage to the painter.  From there it was out to enjoy the sights of the evening then sleep.  The following day we got a 48 hour open top bus ticket, which proved to be just what we needed to get around as well as see it all.  The pis you see of buildings with a rail in it are from that bus trip.  We did the blue route the first day, and the red on the second.  The blue route took us north to see the Segrada de Familia, northern Barcelona, and the FC Barcelona Stadium.  We didn't really go in anything like that since the lines were horrendous and we were pretty well museumed out from Paris still.  They were nice to see from the outside, and I was OK with that.  The red route took us west and up the mountain to the Olympic stadium and a few other places.  The views on that trip were really cool, where I took most of the cityscapes in my flickr albums.  I can't imagine how crowded and busy it would have been in '92 when the Olympics were actually going on.  It would have been nuts trying to get anywhere!  It really must have boosted the economy of the whole area.  Anyway, I got my pics and we saw what we wanted to before hopping back on the bus and heading down the mountain.  On the blue route, we ended getting off a few stops early to take a walk down Las Ramblas to see the street performers and artists and such.  It's sort of like walking down a really long Southbank, or along the market at the Basillica in Paris (closer to the latter).  That was really fun to see, but was mighty crowded.  Dinner was simple enough at a local place where we talked to a South African couple who were having a discussion about whether or not 'niggler' was a word.  Blackberry to the rescue, which proved that it was a word, and that it did indeed apply to the girl, haha.  I will reserve judgment as to whether or not I agree with that, but that's what the boyfriend said.   We finished our meal and headed back to get some downtime.  I'm pretty sure it was that night that we went to see a movie in the theater.  I can now say I've seen the latest movie from the 'Twilight' series.  It was pretty good, I will admit, even with the Spanish sub-titles.  We were due to fly from Barcelona to Rome the next day, so we took it easy that morning, simply walking around a little more in the nearby area to get some money and a meal.  We had a lovely tapas meal down by the beach in the heat of the day, laid out by the pool, then off to fly to Rome. 

Rome: Travel score 1/3, 2/3
This was a cool city.  We spent 3 days there and was worth it, so very worth it.  We had to fly from Barce due to the distance using Vueling Airlines.  We were delayed 30 minutes with that one, go figure.  So far Matt still basically 0 for travelling smoothly, grrr.  We got into the hotel after taking a cab driven by Michael Schumacher late at night.  The cab from the airport was going fast enough Heather and I were trying to figure out if the gps speedo was in km/h or mph, since the cars we passed on the highway were all looking like they weren't moving at all.  It was crazy to see that.  I think we were doing soemthing like 150 km/h all the way in, even on the narrow Roman streets, but the hotel was nice enough, once we got in.  Another fail for me, though the upgrade was worth it.  It was 10:30PM when we got in and I said "we have a reservation for tongight through Sunday night for Robison."  To which the guy behind the counter says "Are you sure about that?"  I was a little miffed that they didnt have me on the books.  My travel agency came through again and proved that I did indeed have a room reserved there and had been that way for the previous 2 weeks, so they said OK, here's an upgrade. We got a lovely suite (bedroom, living room, and bathroom) that overlooked the Villa Borghese (Bor' ges eh) and was right near one of the main drags with restaurants and everything.  The hotel was the NH Vittorio Veneto.  It was a good hotel, but damn was it hot the first night.  The heat and humidity in Rome in mid August is simply oppressive.  Got dinner at a lovely place across the road, and we were the last ones there in good Robison tradition.  Lovely wine, lovely food (had an awesome steak) and great night overall.  We spent the next day, Friday, going to the Vatican Museums and doing the City, since it seemed the place was closing down for the weekend.  We caught the train there and were walking over to the City where we got side-tracked by a tour guide salesman offering is company's service.  It skipped the line and gave a good tour of the important stuff in the Vatican, so we said sure.  Our guides name was Amanda, with romaround tours, and she was AMAZING!  We could have had a tour with her for 6 hrs and I doubt would have regretted it.  She was interesting and had good insights, so was totally worth the little bit extra we paid to skip the line for the tour.  On any given day when it's open, the tour for the Vatican is about 1.5 hrs, so for us to skip that and go for 3 hrs through with someone who could point out facts was really nice.  That was basically Day 1 of that trip.  Day 2 was the Coiseum which we got the same company to guide.  I was all about our guide, Mark Anthony from Ohio, in the Forums, who was really nice and informative, but our other guide was a little too much about the fun and didn't give quite as much information, but for the price was still good to have.  I would recommend the tours for the big stuff.  We have lots of pics, so you can see what we saw.  Got some good stuff from lunch, though it started a bit rainy.  It was really nice though, since it took care of the humidity.   Closed the day with a nice dinner again, and then off to bed to CRASH.  It seemed we liked to take a nap mid-afternoon to help the day, and it worked really well.  During the really hot part of the day we slept, then came out to explore more before and after it, totally a good way to do it.  Day 3 was an open-top bus tour.  It seems that on Sunday, Rome goes to sleep.  So we did the passive sight-seeing option.  Got to see the pretty stuff, and got off at the Piazza Novaro followed by the Pantheon.  More pics to tell you about it.  For the evening time we went for a walk to see the Villa Medici, which turned into a visit closer to the Piazza del Popolo, but was still worth it.  Hearing Heather say "this place is GORGEOUS!"  made me kick myself for not carrying a very important piece on me, but no matter, I would just find a way to get back there..more in a second.  So we walked down to the Piazza de Sagna, which incidentally was a massive tourist center, but didn't realize it, though it did take us to a wonderful place for dinner with really good food.  (WHY DIDN"T I HAVE THE RING!!)  So after dinner we went back and cleaned up since we wanted to go out, find a good bar or something to spice up the night, which we did and had a really good night, though were totally exhausted by the time we got back to the room.  There is this really fun club called Cica Cica Boom, which I would recommend to anyone of my friends, though none of my parents (sorry Mom).  


This is the part everyone's been waiting for:
The next morning I HAD to find a way to get back to the overlook Heather liked so much, so decided to use my camera as the excuse.  I told her the lighting was much better than the last time, so I wanted to take some with the brighter light.  This she bought so off we went to walk back to this place while the whole time she's thinking about the checkout time, train to catch, packing, my wierd thought processes...  we get up there and I snap a few pics to make it authentic and then start looking for my photographer, claiming I want a pic of her and me up there for proof that we were there.  I find a guy after a couple of minutes, despite her getting a little impatient, and ask him to snap our pics with the Vatican in the background (it's St. Peter's Basilica that can be seen between us in the pics).  He takes it and I make sure he's in position before I reach in my pocket for the box.  "Heather, I lied to you. I didn't come up here to take pictures".  This is the part where she starts nodding profusely and crying even more profusely. " Heather Leigh Mourick, will you marry me?"  Of course she says yes, without much hesitation, and the rest is what you can see in the pictures which my trusty stranger of a photographer snapped as I expected him to, hehe.  I'm glad she didn't take too long to answer, since I was shaking pretty heavily from the adrenaline (totally didn't expect that).  It showed in that I just sort of gave her the box, instead of putting the *** ring on her finger.  We re-did it later a litle more informally to make it right, so it's all good.  When the guy gave my camera back he said "Well that's a first". I sort of wonder just what the context was, but was pretty funny anyway, since it was a bit creative to document it, right?  That's the only part of this whole trip that I had planned, taking pictures of her saying "yes".  After that we hurried back to get our bags and catch the train to Venice, which actually went fairly smoothly.     

We only needed 1 day, not 2, to see what we wanted to in Venice.  The streets are unreasonably narrow and everything happens on the water, but was still a nice city to have seen.  I will go to the basillicas and museums and churches next time I visit when I'm not totally tripped out from all the other cities.  We got in by the train from Rome at around 4 or so, so we got our water bus and went to the hotel, which incidentally is in half of all pictures of the Rialto bridge.  If you look at the pics and see a red building with a green awning, our room was the one just above that green awning.  We were on the first floor overlooking the bridge and the canal.  Sounds grand doensn't it?  It was a great view unless you wanted to sleep early or sleep in.  Boats are really loud at 6AM and all the service folks are making deliveries.  They called it an upgrade, but I'd call it a wash.  The upgrade was that we didn't need to leave the room for the wireless since the hub they have was in a room on the floor below which had decent enough range to reach us.  Made it easy for Heather to get her HW done for her lass that started that week.  The full day we had was spent walking around and seeing the sights after going to the island called Murano.  They had a lovely glass facory with demonstration for us to see the little plack horse you'll see in my flickr posts. It was made of black glass that was still glowing red when I snapped the shot!  We went from there back to the main Venice island and went down to San Marco square to see all the pigeons (lots o' pigeons)  landing on people and eating from hands. This was kind of nice so we had lunch and decided to just sort of be in town.  We got dinner at a nice little place across the grand canal from the hotel, with some nice wine and food.  We went out that night to see what there was, and found an english pub sort of buried down this alley not too far from the hotel. I thought it was pretty cool, so went inside and found there was a soccer game on.  We stayed in and saw that, had some drinks with all the other english speaking folks in there and was able to sort of feel at home, which was nice.  Also was the first liter of black and tan I've ever seen. He floated the guiness on the Harp just right, was pretty cool.  The next night we went and saw a Vivaldi concert ding 'The Four Seasons' and a couple other pieces in the same hall they were performed in when he was around, which was fantastic.  The soloist was something else.  He was so involved in the music that you couldn't help but be submersed in it yourself.  Caught our plane home the next day after realizing there was a reasonbaly cheap way to catch the Alilaguna boat back to the airport.  Don't take the taxi if you can help it, since the way we did it was 1/4 the price, no lie. 

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