Europe Day 6: Barcelona

We arrived in Barcelona around midnight. A new friend from the wedding, Mo, happened to have come off the same flight as us. His uncle graciously gave us a ride to our AirBnb in the Gothic District.

The flats in Barcelona, you wouldn’t even notice how to get in. The entrance doors are indiscreet and smack in between restaurants. Jose met us at his door. It would be seven thigh-burning flights up. He kindly grabbed our 50-pound suitcase and jogged it up as if it were a feather.


We showered and slept. It would be an early morning to make our 9:30 Sagrada Familia tour.


At 8:15, Jose had a patio breakfast of coffee, pastries, and his homemade tiramisu waiting for us. You could see all of Barcelona from his wraparound patio. It was windy and 57 degrees, so we had our light jackets on.

The tiramisu was so good.

We ran down the seven flights of stairs and walked to the subway. After a transfer, it spit us out at the foot of Sagrada Familia, designed by Antoni Gaudi. Good thing we got there early. The line wasn’t as long as it would be later.


I’ve seen a lot of churches. This has to be my favorite. The design is so organic and nature-y.

We did a self-guided audio tour, which took 30 minutes. It’s way better to have the audio explanations than to aimlessly walk around. They make you appreciate what went into the design. 

We had also scheduled a tour of the Nativity tower. There was a 30-minute wait because the elevator had been out that morning. 


So you go up, and then you wind down a claustrophobic staircase with little popouts where you can see the detail of the sculptures at the top of the church and you can see the city. I loved it.

After our tour, we met my friend John Gu from high school. He’s been living the life traveling through Europe the last 5 years or so.


We ate lunch. I tried gazpacho. Not my thing. Too cold. John and Sajan ordered fish and — to their surprise — ended up with a plate of many little fried anchovies. I had an overcooked steak. For dessert, we had creme de Catalan. (It looks just like creme brulee, but later our tour guide said to articulate that would be an insult to Catalonians.) The food at this place was not good, but we really did enjoy sitting outside and having good conversation.


After this, we had a 2 p.m. free walking tour to make, and John joined us. Our friend Sherene came with our new friends Merene, Charlene, Jasmin, and Steven. Our tour guide was funny. I was profoundly sleepy. Every time we stood in one place too long, I slept with my eyes open. 

Midway through the tour, the guide had us break at a tapas place. My mouth watered. I ate. 

After the tour, I needed a nap real bad.

All the friends headed off to the Barceloneta beach. Sajan and I went back to the AirBnB. I napped so hard.


We all met at 7 p.m. for dinner. The group was starving after a long day. We had paella. Not the best paella place. Terrible, in fact. But time with friends was wonderful. John said goodbye and headed off to Zaragoza and then a little town in Portugal.


Dinner No. 2 ensued at Casa Lola. This was delicious and made up for Dinner No. 1. We had appetizers and sweets.


Forgive the gluttony, but Dinner No. 3 ensued. More appetizers and sweets. Sherene had patatas braves three times that night. We compared the flavor across the restaurants. 

Favorite foods of the day: cuttlefish, goat cheese montadito, roasted green peppers.

While our friends continued, Sajan and I walked back home. The winding alleyways are straight-up scary at night. Luckily, we didn’t have far to go. I highly recommend planning ahead and being close to a place where taxis are, so you can go straight home at night.

Day one in Barcelona was a great, unforgettable time with friends.

Europe Day 5: Driving Around Provence

The morning after Kash and Sarah’s wedding, we had another breakfast of tea/coffee and pastries and checked out of the hotel.

My seasoned traveler cousin Ruby had recommended we visit the little towns of Gordes and Cassis in Provence.

Gordes was 40 minutes away. The drive felt like driving through the middle of nowhere. The countryside was empty except of vineyards, olive trees, other plants, and the occasional house.


But when we entered Gordes, it was breathtaking. We were at the top of a mountain, it seemed. We parked at a market, where you could walk around and pass through shops with lavender and local seasonings.


We ate savory crepes for brunch at a creperie. Mine had ham, egg, and cheese. It came with a salad that was amazing. Tasted like homegrown greens. (Or my tastebuds were fooled by the glamour of the countryside!)


We window shopped. Then we drove an hour and a half down south to the seaside town of Cassis, at the bottom of a mountain.


People lounged on the beach. You could hear the gentle waves crashing. There were boats in a marina.


We ate at Le Delphin by the marina. Sweet crepes this time. Sajan’s was orange flavored. I went a little overboard with a nutella-filled, chantilly cream-topped crepe with a scoop of walnut ice cream. And we got some water.


I had seen what looked like fig trees in Orgon and Gordes, but they didn’t have fruit, so I wasn’t sure. Finally in Cassis, we saw a fig tree with lots of fruit!


After enjoying the sights of Cassis, we drove through Marseille. You could see the port of Marseille from the highway. Though there was this one long tunnel part where you miss all the scenery.


The airport is west of Marseille. We had an airport sandwich and salad for dinner. Our flight for Barcelona would leave around 10:30 p.m.

Europe Day 4 (Part 2): Kash + Sarah Wedding

This post is about the main event of our Europe trip — #kasa2017.

We parked at Le Mas de la Rose. The lot is surrounded by glorious gardens. Lettuces, mint, basil, parsley. Every herb you can imagine greeted us.

Rows of white wooden chairs lined up on the lawn. Musicians were setting up a cello, keyboard and drums. Sherene and Peter were practicing their song. Peonies and roses dotted the arch where the couple would share their vows.

The wedding planner handed us a nice paper/wood umbrella for shade and some rose petals to throw later.


We basked in the sun until the wedding began. Every moment was very thoughtful and personal. See the video up top to watch! The ceremony (check out the adorable ring bearer at the end) begins at 0:51, the cocktail hour at 2:40 and the reception at 3:00.


After the ceremony, the cocktail hour lasted a few hours. I tried every mouthwatering hors d’oeuvre at least twice. I missed my babies, so I found babies to hold, particularly Joby and Kainey’s (thanks!). I showed their daughter Eva the little grapes in the vineyard.

As dusk approached, we moved to the reception, under a patio.


There was a little apricot with my name on it. I ate it.

Sajan was the toastmaster for the evening. (Toastmaster must be said with a British accent.) We referred to him as the MC, but our new UK friends made it sound way better as TOAST-MAH-STUH.

Even though he’s really funny, I’m usually slow to laugh at Sajan’s jokes. But I have to say, he was quite hilarious. The crowd seemed to love him!

The reception began with the bridal party dancing in. Close friends and family gave speeches honoring the couple. Sarah and Kash really are a beautiful, amazing couple!

Sajan had everyone meet and make new friends and take pictures together. This was the best wedding crowd ever. Everyone got to know each other.


The first course came out. Scallops and shredded veggies. The scallops melted on my tongue like butter. I’ve never had scallops so good. Kavitha was sitting next to me. I got greedy and ate her scallops.

The second course came out. Veal on a pillow of mashed potatoes. This kind of food, you have to eat slowly. The room needs to be quiet. It was.


Finally, dessert happened. The level of luxury at this love fest was almost more than my tender heart (or pre-diabetes) could handle.

We gathered around a rectangular table. The staff laid out cake after cake.

Firework by Katy Perry started to play.


The staff lit sparklers on every cake and sparklers in our hands. A sparkler-topped towering profiterole cake was escorted onto the table by two or three people where Kash and Sarah stood. They sliced into it for their official cake cutting.

It was such a hype moment, but the fun wasn’t over yet.

After the cake cutting, we grabbed plates and filled them with all the French Michelin-star cake our hearts desired. Gluttony ensued.

While we sat and proceeded to spike our glucose levels, Sajan led a few games with the bridal party.

It got heated and intense. Each group amplified their voices and edged up close to Sajan with their fists in the air.

There were impromptu songs. There were a few more heartfelt speeches.

Then, as they say, we danced the night away.

Europe Day 4 (Part 1): Exploring Orgon

We woke up Wednesday morning excited about the wedding.

Downstairs, a French breakfast awaited us in the dining area. The owner/concierge alerted us there would be no eggs and bacon, as this was a real French breakfast. This was the day I learned French breakfast = continental breakfast minus eggs and bacon. The pastries were delicious. And apricots must be a thing. There were apricots, and I happen to be a fan. 

We sat next to a large window and enjoyed the green, hillside view.

The wedding wouldn’t begin til the afternoon, so we decided to walk around Orgon.

But first, we had to drive a few minutes to get there. Remember, we had a harrowing experience getting to the hotel in our standard/manual/stick-shift car?

Sajan had the brilliant idea to ask the kind concierge/owner, Regis, to give him some pointers. They drove around the parking lot and a nearby field doing donuts!

By the time they returned, our lives were no longer threatened by our rental car. Sajan was a pro. Thanks, Regis!


We drove down the road a few miles. Gorgeous!

I felt so touristy getting tickled by seeing a shop called “Boulangerie.” Yes, we have pastries in the states. But we don’t have boulangeries.

After our walk, we needed a light lunch. I got a kebab salad and Sajan got a French-style pizza from the boulangerie. It would have been nice to get pastries or cake, but we were trying not to overload on sweets.

Back at the hotel, we got ready for the wedding.

We had no idea what we were in for…

 

 

Europe Day 3: From Milan to Marseille

On a Tuesday morning, we packed up our bags in our Milan AirBnB.

We grabbed a pastry breakfast at a local cafe. By the way, we noticed cafes are known as bars or caffetterias everywhere we went. At the cafe, we picked up two bus tickets for 1.50 euro each.

After grabbing our luggage, we walked six minutes to the bus stop and hopped on a bus straight to the Linate airport, 15 minutes away, for a local flight.

As we landed in Marseille, everything was quick. No lines. You could make a beeline straight out of the airport. We walked to pick up our car. I was taken by the sight of the countryside hills.

Sajan had reserved a standard (stick shift/manual) car, since automatic cars are two or three times the price.

When was the last time he had driven a standard car? Maybe a handful of times in college. The story of getting in the car and getting out of the airport parking lot and even making the 45 minutes to our Orgon hotel is a harrowing (and now rather amusing) one.

Let’s just say there was smoke coming out of the car and a nearby driver trying to alert us to it at one point.


When we got to our little Orgon countryside hotel, the landscape was stunning. The owners/concierges were so kind. They made some phone calls for us regarding our car. We were stressed out. Finally, they said, “You just go enjoy the pre-wedding festivities. We will take you there. Don’t worry about it for tonight.”

The whole reason for our trip had been to attend our friend Sarah and her fiancee Kash’s wedding.

At that moment a wonderful man named Joe (and later his wife Jas) came down from their room. He said hello and offered us a ride, as he was headed the same direction.

We quickly got ready and headed out. Google Maps took us to a person’s home instead of the vineyard we were looking for. A kind lady and her two sons gave us directions. Sajan said one the boys lit up when he heard Sajan was from Texas, where cowboys live!

We arrived at the vineyard, where the wedding party was relaxing. It was great to see our friends. There were also new faces. By the time we arrived, they were serving olive oil in little tasting spoons.


Our friend Sherene talked about vlogging the trip. We can’t wait to see her vids.

Next, we headed to the rehearsal dinner, in an enchanting French countryside restaurant, Bistrot La Aubergine.

Appetizer: Croquet and sauteed green pepper on bruschetta


First Course: Creamy risotto with black truffles.


Second Course: Chicken with little potatoes and a purple carrot.


Dessert: Chocolate mousse with a crispy wafer.


We got to know some of Kash’s friends. Meals are the best places to have great conversations.

Then, we headed back to our hotel for some rest.

Europe Day 2: Milano, Italia

Our plane landed close to midnight. 

Our gracious AirBnB host Mila picked us up. She had told us to look out for her little red car. We drove about 45 minutes from Malpensa Airport to her place across town. 

She pointed out the monuments we passed on the drive. Her place was on the seventh floor, and a little elevator took us up. She had two rooms that shared a bathroom. I did not tell her in time that we needed a double bed, so we slept in two single beds. It was a cozy, comfortable room. 

We did share a bathroom with whoever was in the other room, but we rarely saw them, and it felt like we had it to ourselves. 

Mila left snacks out and had a helpful map up in the hallway. 

We probably fell asleep around 2 a.m. We woke up at 9. The first thing we needed to do was exchange money. We visited a few local banks and quickly learned you’ve got to go into the city center tourist areas for that.

It was a 20-minute walk to the inner loop of Milan. We passed up high-fashion stores. The weather was perfect. We got to the Piazza Del Duomo, the main city square with the country’s second largest cathedral. 


It was 11 a.m. Instead of eating breakfast, we sat at an outdoor cafe and ordered bufalina pizza. Then we realized everyone else was ordering coffee and pastries. 


Our bottle of water cost 4 euros. And I saw another charge for 4 euros, which I think was for the luxury of eating outside and having two glasses for our water.

We walked across town. My plan was to hit up Santa Maria delle Grazie, where the Last Supper is. But we stumbled upon an old castle first, Castello Sforzeca. We walked through Parco Sempione. 

Then we made it to Santa Maria delle Grazie and took pictures outside. It was Monday, so it was closed. You have to book a visit weeks or months in advance to get in. And then you get 15 minutes to see The Last Supper. It was funny to stand in front of this church on a Monday and see no crowds or fanfare. 


After all this walking, we trekked toward home. We stopped at a caffetteria for coffee/tea and pastries. 


We got to the AirBnB and called home. The kids were getting ready for school. 

We had only a few minutes to rest. Then we caught a bus to il Duomo for our 4 p.m. skip-the-line tour.

 I was a little panicked about making it on time. We were supposed to meet our tour at United Colors of Benetton. But the one Google maps showed me seemed like the wrong one. We asked a guy in a rickshaw. He generously drove us down the piazza to the right location. We made it. They gave us earbuds, so we could hear our tour guide. 

It was a large gothic cathedral, with every inch, it seemed, covered in symbolic sculptures or stained glass stories. Every element had been designed as a way to remember church history. 


We climbed to the terrace. You could see all of Milan, even some of the Alps, on this clear day. 


On the way home, we stopped by a restaurant recommended by our host Mila. 


They picked appetizers for us, which were extremely good. Some kind of raw tuna with vegetables. 

Sajan had seafood ravioli, and I had seafood tagliatelle. Mine was overwhelmed with little baby squids. 


We headed home and edited videos. I fell asleep at 9:30. Then I woke up for two hours in the middle of the night editing and reading. Throughout the trip, my sweet spot for sleeping was 3 a.m., which equates to around 7 p.m. in the states. 

I should have asked how to turn on our room’s air conditioner. It got warm and stuffy at night. 

The Day we Disappeared Off to Europe

We disappeared for a week to Europe. 

We had 20,000-step days. 

We ate gluttonously. 

Our eyes witnessed astoundingly-sized cathedrals. 

But the best part was the relationships formed and forged along the way. 

Traveling is adventurous and magical. And over the next seven days, I’ll tell how it was so for us. 

On a Saturday in May, we dropped our two children and a stuffed suitcase of school uniforms and play clothes with Sajan’s grandparents.  

That night, we sat in a plane for 12 hours until we landed in Istanbul. 

Sajan had purchased two e-visas and identified a seaside eatery we could sneak away to 20 minutes from the airport. 

But we never made it there. 

Our plane must have touched down a little late. First, it seemed like we were trapped in the airport, like they hide the exits from you. One guy said we had time to quickly explore, but the lady close to the exit doors gave us a cold no. 

As time ticked, our confidence that we could make it out and back dwindled. And all the serpentine security lines entering the airport seemed like a red warning flag. 

No big deal. It was a big beautiful airport. During our layover, we browsed the Turkish delight, baklava, and local soaps in the duty free stores. We ate Italian food. 

I had chicken Milanese and Sajan had chicken with prosciutto. They both came with a delightful green salad that tasted homegrown with a light vinaigrette. 


Our waiter was both friendly and a thinly veiled jerk. 

Sajan had his Go Pro out on the table. The waiter admired it almost solemnly. He delicately picked it up and asked about the tripod and mic and where to find them. But twice he walked away with the Go Pro a few feet, joking he would take it as a present. 

Wrong thing to do, buddy, when your diners are in a foreign country and on high alert!

Anyway, we enjoyed our food and continued exploring the airport. 

We ate Turkish ice cream. I had pistachio, which was meh, and Sajan had chocolate, surprisingly rich and yummy. 

We sat at our gate and edited the day’s videos. 

Then, we boarded our plane for Milan.