July 5th. And then there were two.
It was definitely sad at first traveling without the family, but seeing the new sights helped us to quickly replace our feelings of sadness with feelings of “Wow, look at that!” We ventured from the villa in the Tuscany/Umbria region of Italy to the north and to the west. The first day of travel would have three stops, with the first being Genoa, Italy.
Genoa is a nice coastal town. Parts of it are picturesque, like this shot of Boccadasse.
When you see these quintessential travel magazine scenes in front of you, it’s indescribable. You feel like your in travel magazine, each new day is a new page or article. Only instead of pictures and words of incredible things you are living them. You see not one picture, but a streaming flow of beauty. You don’t see a picture of food. You experience the food with the tastes and smells and textures and temperatures and everything else that is going on. When you see this stuff in a magazine you say, “wow, I wish I could see that someday.” But when you are here living it, you think “this is fucking amazing.” I hope if anyone reading this ever wanted to do some traveling that you find some way to get out there. Sure, there is a ton of frustration and problems and complexities and you’ll hear from a bunch of people how a million things can go wrong, but that stuff is well worth going through to get this experience and live this stuff. Maybe I feel that way because I made traveling a dream of mine and I decided to pursue it rather than let it stay a dream. I think the bigger takeaway here is to not just dream but also to physically manifest those dreams. Dream it. Figure out what you need to do it. Then do it.
Ok, tangent over. After hanging in the Boccadasse neighborhood of Genoa we decided to grab some food. It was siesta time so we had to settle for something else. We grabbed these incredible homemade ice cream sandwiches. It’s been very common in Italy for people to naturally go above and beyond and their ice cream sandwiches are no exception.
After the quick snack we ventured back near the car to a Chinese food place, which was something we wanted to get in a European country to compare to the Chinese food back in America. It was pretty cool to see the localization with the Chinese food menu including pasta, risotto, and gnocchi dishes. We went with a prawn dish. This is what Chinese food looks like in Genoa.
We hopped back in the car and made our way to Monte Carlo, Monaco. I’m trying to think of a richer playground than this but I don’t think I can think of anywhere in the world where more rich people come to relax. The drive in along the cliffs is breathtaking. The marina where the yachts are docked is gorgeous. It’s almost comical how many Bentley, Maybach, Rolls, Lambo, Ferrari, etc. are on the streets and in the parking spaces here. I love cars and it’s just a treat to see everything on display here.
We decided to check out the Casino de Monte Carlo square and the Hotel de Paris. There was a bunch of gentlemen playing some great songs outside of both. They were killing it with tremendously posh versions of Coldplay and other popular songs.
Walking around and seeing all this stuff you can’t help but wish to have piles of money so we decided to go to the casino and win big. I got rejected at the door based on my dress code. Great. Came all the way to Monte Carlo to pretend to be James Bond and I can’t even get in the door. Walked back to car which was parked incredibly close and threw on some fresh pants and a dress shirt. Walked back to the casino and I was in. Unfortunately they don’t allow cameras in the casino, but we had an epic time in there. Megan didn’t know how to play any games so I taught her roulette really quickly. Pick red or pick black. If the ball lands on that color then you win your money. I don’t normally gamble because I learned statistics at some point in my life and I am fairly rigorous with applying common sense and not throwing my money away, but this was a special occasion. The plan was for each of us to put 25 Euro on a color. If we won, then we had free drinks on the house. If we lost then we would still get a drink but it would be a much sadder affair. Megan went first. She chose black. Cold-blooded. Wheel spins. As it’s spinning I’m thinking man, that’s around $35 with the current conversion to dollars. The ball falls off the wall of the wheel and starts bouncing around colors. Looks like it will hit black. Then red. Then oh maybe it can hit black again. No not red, come on. Finally lands on black. Boom! Beginner’s luck. Megan wins and now it’s time for me to go. I tell her to place my chips on red. Then I ask her if she thinks it’s good. She’s lucky. “Should I put it on black? Or should I stay red?” The chips stay on red. She’s not making the decision for me. Wheel’s spinning. Ball’s going around. “Man, I hope I’m not throwing away $35.” The ball hits the wheel. Starts bouncing again. Looks like red. Then black. Then red again. What’s it going to end on? Boom, red. Heck, yea! We pick up our chips and cash them in after a single spin each. We won big. Took down the house. Went off to the bar and ordered a drink, technically on the house. Thanks suckers! A 17 Euro mojito and 20 Euro martini never tasted so good.
We go out of there and strolled around a bit more. Monte Carlo is a dream world, and it’s great because you don’t have to be rich to enjoy it, although someday I would like to come back with a pile of cash and do it right.
After we got out of there we ventured through the winding roads into Nice, France. The area we stayed at was a little gritty, or at least it felt like that coming from the richest place in the world. But looking back on it, that’s the same grittiness that you see throughout Europe. Some places are a little rough around the edges, but most of that is just a difference of what I’m used to seeing. America I’m sure has the same grittiness but I’m just used to it. I go in to Newark, NJ to watch the Red Bulls play soccer and I never think twice about it. We grabbed pizzas that night while watching Costa Rica almost pull off the miracle against Netherlands before losing out on penalties.
The next day we got out of the hotel and ventured off to check out what Nice and the south of France had to offer. There is a cool old section that has a nice park. There are water streams that turn into steam clouds in this fountain area of the park. It was a cool image to see the reflection of the water on the ground.
After strolling around the park and grabbing a crepe and some espresso (not as good as in Italy), we strolled over to the beach. Wow. What a great beach. The only negative for me was the stones instead of white sand, but wow. The water was incredible. The whole scene was just gorgeous. It was fun to lay out and get some tanning and swimming in.
After relaxing we went back to one of the many outdoor cafes and order a seafood tower that had a bunch of awesome seafood. Yea mom, some of it was raw, but everything is fine with me. I’m healthy and feeling great!
After lunch we ventured off to Marseille, France. We drove up to the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde. It was closed but it was an impressive looking church way at the top of the highest point in Marseille. It’s amazing to me how much work and effort went into building churches in Europe.
The view from the church is definitely worth the drive to the top. Hard to beat being up here and taking in the view.
After taking way too long to find the hotel and parking because of the narrowest of streets and road closures, we got to the hotel. I needed a shower to freshen up but had to settle for a bath, as that’s all the hotel offered.
We walked down to the old port area and looked for a place to eat. A bunch of restaurants were closing but a few stayed open for the later crowd. We found a place with mussels and fries, which I never knew was a popular French dish that you will see everywhere. I tried to take a picture but the steam from the mussels fogged the lens so no picture for that, which I’m sure is fine for some of you. I post a lot of pictures of food because I love food. I think food is one of the most important parts of a culture, but feel free to skip past all of my food pictures. After the delicious dinner we skipped back to the hotel for some sleep.
Day three of trip post-villa would include a stop in Montpellier, France to pick up some lunch. We grabbed some pretzels from a stand and some sandwiches that were on pretzel bun. I went with a prosciutto and cheese sandwich and a foie gras sandwich. I should probably stop eating the foie because of how it’s produced though, but it was incredibly delicious.
We hopped back in the car and made our way to Barcelona, Spain. After some driving we arrived in Barcelona. At this point we were getting used to driving around the tiny European roads and maneuvering through the narrow parking decks and were able to get to our hotel without too much effort. Well, other than driving through a pedestrian square and having to reverse as it was not intended for vehicles.
Barcelona is a great city. There are a lot of younger people and it’s reflected throughout the city. We stopped for an incredible meal at Cera 23, which was a short walk from our hotel. They are known for their mojitos so we ordered one of those. More delicious was the food. I wasn’t carrying my DSLR so I couldn’t get any good pictures of the food, but the meal ended up being so good that we found ourselves back there the next night. We ordered octopus done in a traditional Spanish style of olive oil, paprika and large salt. It’s one of the best things that I have eaten on the trip. Absolutely perfect dish that I would eat many times before ever getting tired of it. I ordered it again the next night. In addition to the octopus we got some tuna and a seafood rice dish. The rice dish was very unique. I think it might have had the skins of an onion or some other ingredient sticking out of the rice that would expand and contract to make it look alive. It’s hard to explain but it was a very cool presentation.
The next day we started the day off with some espresso and cappuccino at Caravelle. It was a coffee house that had delicious sounding tapas, so we went with shrimp, fish, and cauliflower tacos. We also grabbed a beer brewed in Barcelona that they were selling there.
After scoring some WiFi we ventured off to La Sagrada Familia, which is a famous church in Barcelona. It was completely under renovation, which is surprising for a church that had commenced building 130 years ago. I eventually found out that they never finished building the church; it should be finished sometime in the next 10-15 years. Interesting. We waited in the whole line for about half an hour in some heat before I decided I didn’t want to pay the 40 Euros for two people to go see the inside of the church. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was that I had already seen a bunch of churches, maybe it was the unsuccessful beggars asking people for money in line, maybe it was me thinking about the massive amount of resources that have been spent and are continuing to be spent to build churches, I don’t know what it was, but I just wanted to get out of there. It probably is worth a visit, especially in 15 years when it is completely finished.
The church was designed by Antoni Gaudi, a legendary wizard of design and architecture and a staple amongst the Barcelona scenery. We decided to visit one of his works called the Casa Batllo, which is a house that he designed. It also cost 40 Euros for two people to go see but it was worth the money. The amount of detail that he put into this house was incredible. The house was possibly inspired by Jules Verne’s science fiction, underwater scenes, fantastical works, and Gaudi’s deep imagination.
I shot this chandelier from underneath and it has a very different perspective than what you might see walking through the room. Maybe it looks like an eye or a creature like a spider or something else. The whole house is open to interpretation. The paint on the wall is continued throughout the house and may have been used to make the walls resemble an animal/dinosaur/creature’s crackled skin.
Gaudi’s finesse and control over his materials enabled him to create shapes that seem very uneasy to accomplish. The entire house has almost no straight lines. This room is a good example of mastery across many materials.
There is a lot of blue and underwater themes to the house. Another impressive skill Gaudi had was to utilize light. The house had many stories but each room in the house had some sort of opening into which it received natural light. There are almost no lights needed to maneuver around the house other than the chandeliers, which were used much more to set moods and enhance the settings of the rooms.
After Gaudi we ventured off to Catalana, which is a tapas restaurant. We ordered numerous little bites of food, but among the best were the grilled cuttlefish and razor clams. Razor clams don’t usually make their way onto the American menus so it was great to score a plate for only a few euros.
After tapas we strolled across La Rambla, which is a famous tourist street in Barcelona. We eventually made our way back to Cera 23 for desert, but I opted for that octopus dish again. It was delicious, but the kitchen was swamped and it couldn’t hit the perfection of the night before. Still, it was an amazing dish and I would order it again and again. We also grabbed a ceviche that was refreshing. So our desert kind of became a second round of tapas but we eventually scored a sweet to finish off the night.
We only had a few hours sleep because the next morning we hopped a flight to Ibiza. We were originally planning on cruising to Ibiza from Valencia because it was supposed to be cheaper and I was looking forward to the ride, but the flight was the same price. We had a flight on Ryanair, which was a disastrous affair. Almost missed the flight because it took them two hours to print a boarding pass. We went back and forth from line to line and the workers were clueless as to how to help us. Then they started closing lines and queues grew longer and longer. It was a disaster. But no worries, we got on the 50-minute flight to Ibiza. We took a taxi over to the San Antonio part of the island where we were staying. We laid out at the pool while waiting for our room since we were there so early. After checking out what was happening around the island we opted for Nas over Steve Aoki, Lil Jon, Graham Sahara, Danny Wade, and Angel Linde who were at Pacha. I didn’t expect to go to Ibiza to see hip-hop but I was thrilled. The Nas concert was killer. He played a bunch of hits and was celebrating the 20th anniversary of Illmatic.
We had another early flight back to Barcelona and almost got booted from the Ryanair flight because we didn’t go through some sort of passport check or something. Who knows with this airline. We got through another quick flight and grabbed the car from Barcelona airport and were able to successfully get to Valencia without too much struggle considering the lack of sleep the previous two nights.
We grabbed some sleep when we got to the hotel and eventually wandered out for some paella at Canela. It wasn’t authentic Valencia paella which comes with duck, rabbit, and vegetables since we opted for the seafood paella. The rice was brilliantly cooked. This was the view from our table. Everyone eats outside in Europe, and the views of the city are usually awesome.
Valencia was intended to be a restful day back when we put the itinerary together and it paid off. We were well rested for the next day in Madrid. Madrid is a city that a lot of people have been saying is not worth the visit. I completely disagree. I think Madrid is well worth several hours drive. You can easily spent a couple days in Madrid. We started our day off with some homemade pastries, vanilla wafers, espressos, and cappuccinos. The espresso at this little cafe next to our hotel was the best since leaving Italy. I tried to use my Spanish to communicate that I didn’t want a single and wanted a double. I said it as “no pequeno, pero grande” or something like that. I think they sell their espresso as small and large and the large is like a triple shot, which is great. I love espresso so generally the more the better.
We ventured off for Plaza Mayor, which was a nice walk from our hotel. We stumbled upon the Market of San Miguel, which had incredibly fresh and delicious ingredients, tapas, and drinks.
Spain was coming out of siesta so we grabbed some sangria, oysters, and cheeses as an appetizer until dinner time. All of the food and drink from the market was delicious.
We wanted to go to Botin for dinner, which is the oldest still running restaurant in Spain, and one of the oldest in the world. It was founded in 1725. But we couldn’t get seated, as it was completely booked for the night. We instead opted for dinner at Los Galayos in the square. They had some great seafood paella.
After dinner we strolled around the square some more before venturing back to the hotel for the night.
The next morning involved a pretty long drive to San Sebastian, which is a town in northern Spain close to the French border. It’s a nice shore town that sits on the Bay of Biscay. The beach is worth a visit.
The water was warm and the sun was shining, which was great given that it looked like we were driving into a storm on the drive from Madrid.
The night should be spent in the town grabbing tapas, or pinxtos as they are called here, from the many restaurants. We went to a few but Borda Berri was the best. All of their dishes were good but I think maybe the octopus is the best.
It’s been a very busy week since we left the villa in Italy. We’ve been through Monaco, the south of France, and Spain. Tomorrow we are heading back into France for several days before swinging in to Switzerland. Tomorrow should be a fun time touring vineyards in Bordeaux. The trip has been a dream so far and I’m looking forward to what the rest has in store.