Barcelona, Paris, Rome - March 2013




Friday, March 1
Barcelona, Spain
Saturday, March 2
Barcelona, Spain
 Sunday, March 3
Barcelona, Spain; Paris, France
Monday. March 4
Paris, France
Tuesday, March 5 
Paris, France
Wednesday, March 6
Paris, France; Rome, Italy  
Thursday, March 7
Rome, Italy
Friday, March 8
Rome, Italy
Saturday, March 9
Rome, Italy
Sunday, March 10
Rome, Italy; Atlanta, GA

Marilyn's sister, Emy, has just retired. She had never visited Europe. She mentioned that she would like to go. I set out to find a good trip for not too much money. She wanted to visit Barcelona and Paris because she has hosted exchange students from those countries who invited her is visit their countries. I found a nice package covering those places and Rome with all expenses paid up front to the agency for everything but most meals. The package originally had three days each in each city. I advised the gals to shorten Barcelona by one day and tack it on to Rome. The package included hotel rooms for the three of us in each city. There was a list of optional hotels in each city available for a modest increment. Having traveled to these places, I selected hotels that were near the attractions. 

In Barcelona we stayed at the Hotel America in the Eixample area. The hotel was excellent, the room spacious enough for the three of us. The plan we were under included breakfast each day. The hotel offered free Wi-fi which allowed us to access the internet and pass emails to friends and family.

In Paris, we stayed at the Hotel Le Lavoisier in the Saint Augustin area of the 8th Arrondisement. We were two blocks from the Metro Station with easy connects to Paris highlights. Breakfast was included and the lady who served breakfast made me bacon and fried eggs for the nominal sum of €4. The hotel is an older establishment but is classy in appearance. The room accomodated the three of us comfortably. Wi-Fi is provided at the nominal charge of €5 per stay.  The hotel is adjacent to Mono-Prix, a complete department store with a full grocery, wine/beer cave, and a great bakery with very reasonable prices.

In Rome, we stayed at the Hotel Columbus on via della Conciliazione about two blocks from the entrance to St. Peter's Piazza. Again the hotel was certainly spacious enough for the three of use. Breakfast was included in the package and free Wi-Fi was available upon request. The hotel is an historical building that has hosted many church dignitaries over the centuries. The hotel included a restaurant called the Veranda that we tried for lunch. The meals were great and the prices were reasonable. 

The agency offered pick up services at the airports but I found a single firm in Europe who provided the same service for about half or slightly more than the agency. The company is called SUNTRANSFERS.COM in Torroella de Montgrí, Spain. We were very pleased with the service. We were met at the airports by the drivers and promptly delivered directly to our hotels. On check-out day the drivers arrived some 15-30 minutes before the scheduled pick up times. The cars were Mercedes and the drivers professional. A well-run and efficient firm with reasonable prices.



We flew Delta from Atlanta to Barcelona via JFK. We arrived in Barcelona early in the morning. Our driver took us to the hotel and we were to check in immediately. As we always do upon arrival from the US on an overnight flight, we napped for three or four hours before we ventured out. 

After waking and freshening up, we walked around town showing Emy some of the famous Gaudi buildings in Barcelona. After while, we found a tapa restaurant called Costa Gallega  where we supped. Upon entering we saw many Iberico Jamons (Iberian cured hams) were hanging throughout the restaurant. As a connosieur of country hams in the US, I was impressed by the display. But I opted for a steak while the gals each had a different seafood, with me vowing to try the jamon before we left.


Costa Gallega's kichen (with Iberian hams hanging) --- Marilyn and Emy sharing a dessert

Barcelona night scene with Gaudi building 

The next morning we joined Emy and her ex-exchange student Sandra and her parents to walk around Barcelona. They are Basque and live in Bilbao taking the train down to Barcelona. We first headed up to Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, a cathedral designed and built under the direction of Antoni Gaudi, an architect famous for his (I'll be polite and say) "unusual" style. The church was started in 1882 is still incomplete (Marilyn and I have been here a number of times and the church is always partly obstructed by scaffolding)! 

Sagrada Familia - front and rear views

We then found a restaurant, Cerverseria Piola,  to sample tapas. Ramon ordered and I was able to try the Iberico jamon and other Spanish meats and sausages, cheeses, and olives. 

After the noon meal, we started to walk down the Ramblas to the waterfront. I had sprained my right leg and found it too difficult to walk for a long distance. Marilyn and I then left Emy and her  friends and returned to the hotel. Emy and friends went down the Ramblas and then went up to a park on the hills above Barcelona. 

On late Sunday morning we transferred to the airport to board our Vueling flight to Paris-Orly. 


We arrived at Paris-Orly and our driver drove us to our hotel. After checking in and dropping off our luggage, we went to the brasserie Saint-Augustin where we had sandwiches, pomme frites, beer and wine for an early supper. On the way, we passed a blue sleeping bag, some personal articles, and a can of Heineken Beer lying in a doorway at the Mono-Prix department store. Later we saw the fellow sitting on a street bench reading a newspaper. Surprisingly we saw his bedroll and back pack of personal possessions were stored inside the department store during the day so I guess this homeless bum is a mascot of the store?

After our meal, we walked to the Saint Augustin Metro station to catch the 3 line to FDR station when we boarded the 9 line to Charles deGaulle-l'Étoile station at the Arc d'Triomphe. 

We entered the Champs-Élysées from the station and headed directly to the arch as it was getting dark. We walked around while Emy admired it then took the elevator up to the top. It was windy with light rain and bitterly cold on the top of the arch. 

The gals on the way to the Arc d'Triomphe

The gals on the top of Arc d'Triomphe --- Eiffel Tower from the top of the arch

Champs-Élysées from the top of the arch

We returned to the hotel hoping for better weather tomorrow. Sure enough, next morning, at least the sun was out. We again walked down to the Metro Station to go back down to the arch so Emy could see it in its splender.

Down the street from our hotel with Saint Augustin church in the background

Le Triomphe de 1810 on the left pillar - Le Départ de 1792' (or La Marseillaise) on the right pillar

Panorama shot from the arch

We then hopped on the Metro again to go to the Louvre. There we visited the Greco-Roman antiquities and classic paintings area. 

Nymph Anchyrrhoe -- Emperor Trajan



Mona Lisa

Venus de Milo -- Centaur

We left the Louvre after 3 hours and headed back to our hotel. Then we walked down to Saint-Augustin church where we visited.

Interior -- stained glass window

From there we took the Metro to La Place de la Concorde. In years past this was a magnificant beautiful display of lighted monuments and buildings. Unfortunately there was a lot of reconstruction work ongoing and the charm was significantly abraded.

Obelisk with Eiffel Tower in the background

On Wednesday, we went to Notre Dame where we were to meet two French exchange students that Emy had hosted. We met them there with their father Philippe and a younger sister who plans to school also in the US. They were from Toulouse in the South of France. We left them after Notre Dame and met them for drinks on the Champs-Élysées late in the afternoon. Notre Dame is celebrating its 850th anniversary so the square in front was taken up by stands.

Rose windows

Interior - front with altar -- rear with organ

Had supper at Le Relais de Venise. We were there with our children on August 12, 1988, our son's 22nd birthday. The restaurant has no menu, you get salad, bread, steak, and pomme frites. You only get to choose how your steak is cooked and a dessert if you want one. Both times we went, there was a long line waiting for it to open at 1900 hours. This time we were there an hour before and were the first in line.

On Wednesday we took the train to Versailles. We then walked to the palace. On the way, we came upon a flea market and the girls had to stop and shop.

Emy at the gate


We left Paris-Orly at 2115 hours and arrived at Roma-Fiumicino at 2315 hours. Our driver carried us to our hotel which was 2 blocks from the entrance to St. Peter's Piazza. We got up early Thursday morning to visit St. Peter's and the Vatican Museum. The Sistine Chapel unfortunately was closed due to the Conclave to elect the new Pope Francis I. The weather was rainy but not too cold every day except Saturday when the sun came out and brightened our visit. The Vatican Museum is entered through the outside walls of the Vatican. The museum has many beautiful medieval paintings as well as many ancient Roman artifacts.

Emy and Marilyn at St. Peter's

Panorama shots of St. Peter's Piazza. Some of the temporary structures are for the press covering the new Pope Francis I

Panorama shot from our hotel roon window

On our second day, we waited in line to enter St. Peter's church. The line snaked around from the left side of St. Peter's around the columns on the piazza and entering from the right of the church. The first chapel as you enter is the Pieta, a famous statue sculpted by Michelangelo.

Piazza from St. Peter's

After leaving St. Peter's, we took the No. 40 Express bus from Santo Spiritu to Piazza Venezia. From there we walked to the Victor Emmanuel II Monument. This honors the first king of united Italy. From there we walked along the ancient ruins excavated from there to the Colosseum.

Victor Emmanuel II Monument

Trajan's Column with statue of St. Peter on the top. Erected in 113 AD to commemorate Trajan's victories over the Dacians -- The Trajan Forum ruins

Emy and Marilyn at the Colossseum -- Phil and Marilyn at the Arch of Constantine

Ruins of Palatine Hill

Panorama shot of ancient ruins near Colosseum

While walking we came across "Pope John Paul II." We had seen the Pope in 1984 when we were at the Vatican and this fellow was a spitting image on him. We just read recently where he was arrested for imitating a past Pope, which we found incredulous. We was a Slovak and did this daily for a few Euros. There were many other impersonators of Roman soldiers and they apparently are free to ply their tourist solicitations.

One of the most beautiful churches we visited was Santo Spiritu in Sassia on Borgo Santo Spirito directly behind out hotel. The basilica was built in the 12th Century. The main altar and all the side chapels were magnificent. The walls of the church are adorned with beautiful frescos.

That morning we walked down to the River Tiber as Emy wanted to put her feet into it. It was about three blocks from our hotel to the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II. From there you can see the Ponte Sant'Angelo and to the northwest Castel Sant'Angelo which was erected as a mausoleum to the Emperor Hadrian in the second century AD. It was later used as a fortress and is a very prominent sight in this section of Rome.

Castel Sant'Angelo -- Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II

That afternoon, a friend of mine and fellow radio ham from Armenia, Arik Alojants, went to the port town of Ostia for lunch. After lunch we went to his home and I spent most of the afternoon with Arik, his wife Angela, and their daughter Marina. Arik works for the World Food Program and has served in Afghanistan, Iraq, Tanzania, Uganda, Dubai, and now in Rome.

The girls took the bus to visit Saint John Lateran church, a favorite of the recent Popes.