Upon arrival I used my intermediate-at-best Spanish to get us three cabs to take us from El Prat to our condo we rented in the heart of Barcelona. I quickly understood that broken Spanish would not do in some situations such as my conversation with the cab driver. The cab driver listened to me struggle for about two minutes with small talk and then said ‘no hablo espanol’. Surely this guy was messing with me, right? Well he wasn’t- this man was a staunch Catalonian who was only fluent in Catalan, the native language of this region of Spain. Fortunately, we made it to the condo and, with our hand signals, paid what we thought he wanted.
To set the tone for our trip I have to say that the first place we went was to plaza where the enormous Sagrada Familia is; however, we didn’t go inside first. No, we instead sat at a bar and drank in the open air terrace just in view of Cathedral. With that being said, my friends and I thoroughly enjoyed two weeks with the slack alcohol rules that are so strict in the U.S. We toured Barcelona for the next two full days and I was in awe at the architecture and the beauty of the city.
Dryers are not often used in Europe so we were excited that our condo had a washer/dryer. This “top of the line” washer/dryer took a couple hours to get working and then would not let us open it up. About the same time we realized the dryer was not going to let us get our clothes out, our taxi arrived. After having multiple housekeepers shake their heads and mutter broken English to us, we were finally able to get the clothes out and hopped in our cab and to just make our boarding time.
First stop of the cruise: Monaco. Night before waking up at 6 A.M. to go to Monaco: bar and night club. The youngest “adult”, more like oldest kid, in our group had just landed a really good job a couple years out of college so he was the reason for our always-full drinks at the bar. His bar tab of roughly $300 definitely made for a rough morning. Monaco is interesting because it was a completely different world; for example Monaco has no income tax and already very rich people live there. The famous Monte Carlo casino was lined with Ferraris and Bentleys on one side only to be outdone by the multimillion dollar yachts on the other. We found ourselves out of our league with the French menus and, with no help being offered to this group of foreigners, wandered out of restaurants and onto the beach. From what I remember, this beach was made up of beautiful people and beautiful white sand/pebbles.
Onward to Rome where we were able to expand our cultural and historical horizons even more. Due to our limited stay in Rome, I was not able to see even close to everything; however, we were fortunate to spend a large amount of the day in the Vatican. The Vatican, the smallest autonomous state in the world, is probably one of the most easily recognized tourist attractions in Europe. We also saw the infamous Coliseum and moved on to the next place.
Cinque Terre is a group of 5 old fishing towns on the coast of the Mediterranean that has become a very touristy spot. One can either opt for seeing all five towns and take a ferry from town to town or take a fairly tough hike from one town to the next. We, of course, took the ferry and got to see a lot in our brief visit. The coasts are lined with multi-colored houses that are built one on top of the other with, depending on the vantage point, either a beautiful ocean background or a terraced masterpiece of gardens all the way up the steep cliffs. The best parts of this area were the views, the strong alcoholic limoncello, and unbelievable gelato.
Seeing Pompeii was a great experience because I didn’t really understand what exactly had happened in the town prior to touring it. We learned that the city was almost completely covered by twenty-five meters of volcanic ash and tephra and it wasn’t discovered until sometime later by mistake. The town was really neat to walk around and there were some cool structures such as a small coliseum and a whore house (there are actually penises carved in the ground pointing towards this hot spot).
Last stop was Palermo where we went on a tour called “mysterious Palermo”. It turned out to be a great tour, but sort of creepy as we toured the catacombs. Catacombs are underground burial sites and we were shown a bunch of mummified people some of which looked as if they just died. I would recommend this tour (not to the weak-stomached) because it was a good change of pace from the more exotic tours we had been taking.
All in all this was the number one way to see Europe in a nutshell. Obviously, this is a more glorified version of Europe as you only see the highlights; however, it is great to figure out what you like, don’t like, and have to come back and see again. I have to say this inspired me to continue traveling as I have been back to Europe twice since (2008-2011).