two families' train trip to Barcelona, Spain

Last week, the Travel School Project hit the road- or tracks rather! We traveled by train for the better part of Sunday to Barcelona, Spain to spend a few days unplugged from virtual school. It was our group's first overnight trip traveling together. An adventure that had us all excited. Both families have traveled independently to Barcelona in the past, but it's been a few years for each. Barcelona is one of those European cities that you visit, leave and want to go back.  It has stayed on the top of the group's travel request list. Wilson and Camille were itching to use their Spanish language skills. They've taken 2 years of it. Never mind that Barcelona has the Catalan language too. That's an aspect blended in that can leave an entire group lost. To me, the city has a Gothic and Bohemian mix. It's playful, authentic and richly steeped in the visual arts. A goldmine landing spot for a few days of out-of-the-classroom/textbook learning. I think it's a city for the 5 senses- sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. We crammed in what we could- plus each mom catered to individual requests. Our feet hurt, we slept like rocks and scarfed as much tapas down that we could. Once again leaving us, wanting to go back. 

Examples of outside of the classroom learning Barcelona style:

  • forms of government- yes, there's Barcelona but what is Catalonian? Why is there a recognizable push to be something different? They have their own yellow and red striped flag that shows up in several of the photo below.  

  • architecture/building- a big one in Barcelona. Antoni Gaudi is the city's mastermind of Catalan Modernism. A creative genius. His work has a unique style. We visited several of the now World Heritage sights. The most famous, La Sagrada Familia, has been under construction since 1882. This is my 3rd time to visit the cathedral project over the span of 18 years. I marvel at the progress every time. Definitely an amazing place to see while still under construction. 

  • math- geometry in it's architectural glory.

  • history- Columbus sailed to the Americas for Spain. He returned to Barcelona to to report of the new land to the King and Queen. Host city of the 1992 Summer Olympics.

  • art- the main Pablo Picasso museum. Put together in chronological order. I've claimed it as my favorite art museum for years. Abigail especially enjoyed taking it in because she was too little to appreciate the last time ('12).  Gaudi's work throughout the city is covered in mosaics. Art pad drawing on the go. 

  • food culture- The Boqueria market. Ahhh- I may have eaten octopus for breakfast! It was a delicious ordering mistake- (I'll blame it on the Catalan language barrier). Outside of the Boqueria, we ate, ate and ate tapas. Spices in Spain are a delightful contrast to the bland French food palette. 

  • current events- football craze, refugee crisis, tourism and financial economy

  • language- Wilson, Camille and Elizabeth carried the non-Spanish speakers. I was shocked by Wilson's complete conversation in Spanish with our cab driver from the train station to the hotel. 

  • music- Gaudi's acoustical designs, subway and park artists


Provence Road Trip- Avignon & Les Baux


Early in the dark of Saturday morning, we put Wilson on a plane headed to Amsterdam. He was graciously invited to join his granddad, Joe, for a week long tulip gazing river cruise. So off he went leaving PB with his 3 girls. We opted for a weekend long road trip to Provence.  Setting our base in Avignon, we drove about 2 1/2 hours in a small, stick-shift rental car. I drove and PB navigated. Rusty- I haven't driven in 8 weeks and never-mind it's been since high school that I drove a manual car. We survived and thoroughly enjoyed our road freedom! I loved seeing all the spring blooms, buds and fresh green along the highway.

Avignon was calm and relaxed (oh almost forgot, they were having a union strike/all nighter at the Palace of the Popes). We toured the the palace our first evening before dinner.  It's the largest Gothic palace built for a newly elected Pope from the 14th century who did not want to live in Italy. It was the seat of the Catholic Church- moved from Rome for about 100 years. 

Then, the famous bridge- Pont Saint-Benezet. It's famous now because of a nursery rhyme song. We had a Raffi tape when the kids were babies, so they knew about this bridge. When it was built in the 1100's, it was strategic- one of three built across the Rhone during the middle ages.

Les Baux

We mostly drove the scenic country roads home to Nice on Monday.  We did a one hour quick stop in St-Remy-de-Provence. That town quickly impressed us. I definitely put it one my short list of places-to-rent-a-house one day. It is the town where van Gogh was hospitalized for cutting off his ear. He then painted like a mad man for his mental therapy. 

Continuing on the scenic road, we stopped at a pull off area for a steep foot climb to a lookout over Les Baux. The panoramic Alpine view was stunning and the prominence of Les Baux in the distance was impressive. Les Baux is basically a high perched castle ruin with a medieval town at its feet.  It was not at all what I expected. So well preserved, we traversed the ruins and enjoyed several of the setup medieval crafts and skills needed back in the day. We finished noting all of the educational enrichment we covered- art, history, science, language and math. Wow! Travel School road trip score!

a dad week- eze and monaco photo highlights

*If you only check out one of my photos below...... look at the last one. It shows Monaco setting up the bleachers for the Grand Prix. It's real people.

Last Wednesday, PB landed in Nice at lunchtime! Man, we were so happy to have him join us. We had meals planned in the neighborhood, close by sightseeing adventures and a weekend road trip to Provence. 

But before we did all of the above, I'm putting it down in the blog for the record (even though I'm really trying to suppress the memory) my required and assigned medical appointment at the OFII (French Immigration Office) last Thursday morning. Truth be known, I had no idea that it was a final requirement of the French visa process. I was bothered for a few days upon receipt of the appointment by email. I had lots of dramatic and detailed public/socialized medical heath clinic visions (I'll blame the nurse in me). All made me want to buy a plane ticket back home and forget about the visa need. But after some quick online research, (thank you Google) I read a few testaments and realized it wasn't so scary. My appointment was at 8:30am. Paul went with me and the kids stayed home to work on school. We left them with lunch money- I had no earthly idea how long it would take. After a cab ride there, a long line in a plain unassuming hallway, then a security, paperwork and passport check- I found myself waiting in queue for the exam. I passed! Including a chest x-ray to evaluate for TB. I was out of there in 45 minutes with my official stamp added into my passport. 

Now, I could let the fun plans begin!

We had a reservation for a dress up dinner, hard-to-get-in spot Thursday night. I had a reason to celebrate. On Friday, the kids worked on school until lunch, then we set out by bus to a hilltop town called, Eze-le-Village. Existing since ancient times, Eze caps a high peak above the coastline. Today, it survives off of tourism. From there we rode a bus to Monaco to give PB a whirlwind pass through. He loved it. The fast luxury cars were still there! I love how the crowd lights up  when they hear a loud engine rounding the corner. We left Monaco by train, and stopped off in Villefranche for a cozy dinner at sunset. They were filming a movie right outside of the restaurant's doors. I could see it from my chair. Anne Lois had to get close and stood outside of the door to watch them shoot a scene. Not sure the day could have been any more perfect.

Florence- version I (Kelly's photo share)

My version of Florence is best told by my favorite photos. A return for all of us, we stayed in a well located and nicely furnished apartment. It had a beautiful terrace on the front that faced a preserved church from the middle ages. 6 days, 5 nights. We took the relaxed tourist mode instead of our usual cram-it-all-in mode. The kids got school work done in the mornings and we'd set out for sight seeing in the afternoons. The Italian food was YUMMY! That was definitely a highlight of each day. All of us have a Florence story to share. Stay tuned for the next few blog posts and enjoy the share from the Kelly's view. 

Monte Carlo, Monaco day trip {short film}

A 20 minute train ride to the second smallest country in the world, we visited Monaco on Friday. You may know it for it's famed casinos and car races (yep, we walked on the motorway). Ruled by a prince, the country is tax free and a sovereign nation (that explains the wealth oozing everywhere). We toured the cathedral where Grace Kelly wed the Prince ('56) and where they're both buried, visited the Musee Oceanographique where Jacques Cousteau served as director and walked to the outside of the casinos to drool over the many fancy sports cars within our reach. We also grinned big knowing we were where Uncle Andrew proposed to Aunt Debbie. It was a great day that we share in a short film. 

the daily grind- the butcher

by Wilson Bullington

Have you ever heard the bone-splitting, cracking, whacking, and smacking sound that a giant meat cleaver makes when it descends on what you thought was an already dead and defenseless piece of meat? Most people just go and grab some already cut and packaged pork chops from the meat section in Publix, but in France things work a little differently. As you walk down the street, any street, in Nice you are bound to find at least one, if not many, butchers. How could you not take the opportunity to buy some raw and strangely appetizing meat from one of the abundant shops? Of course, the first step is to pick out which butcher you want to buy from- which butcher has the most locals? the cleanest shop? what about the best looking meat? Next, dive straight in and test your French pronunciation of some familiar and unfamiliar products- from sausage to the entire pig's head or even cheval (horse) a French delicacy. Then, watch as the butcher reaches into the case, grabs the meat and one of his many knives, and voilà. Now all that is left is to pair your fresh cut with a nice wine and invite some friends over. 

laundry art- sunday stroll with a tilt shift lens

We'd all raise our hands to the statement that the past week flew by!  All of the kids are diligently plugging away at their virtual school work. It takes time. Our breaks are trips to the market for dinner food or runs for baguette sandwiches for lunches. Also, the Bullington girls started their dance classes on Wednesdays and the McGriff sailors started sail days with the Nice yacht club. Elizabeth and I have been taking turns cooking meals and rotating apartments for evening mingle time.  Slowly, we are finding our own ways to immerse into our French city. 

This past Friday and Saturday were solid rain days. Yucky wet and cold. On Sunday we returned to church and had lunch in their "hall" for a fundraising event. Afterwards, once the weather started to clear, we all did our own thing stroll style in the Old Town neighborhood. I went out walking with Anne Lois and Abigail. We wandered through the pedestrian only streets with my camera and tilt shift lens and my eyes drawn to the details of the old buildings. I wanted to title the post, "laundry art", but there's more in the photos than just laundry.  So, I'll share my faves from walking back streets and definitely selling myself as a tourist rather than a local.  

sunset and promenade run

Only a short walk from the apartments in Old Town, is the sea front Promenade des Anglais. It's a famed landmark of Nice dating back to the early 19th century. Built by the English aristocracy, this wide and long pedestrian walkway still attracts locals and visitors alike. It's easy to see why. There's even a clearly marked bike lane. Walkers, bikers, scooters and rollerblades abound. Because I know your asking yourself, "Did Anne Lois get rollerblades?". She sure did. And her mom made her buy the wrist, elbow and knee pads. Say a little prayer.

A few days ago, I walked with Abigail to the water's edge taking sunset photos while Camille, Pete and Wilson went on a run. It's was stunning.  You can also see bleachers in some of the photos. Every year for 2 weeks, Carnival is celebrated. They have lots of bleachers set up on the Promenade as well as the big square in town. You have to buy special tickets for those prime seats. Just when we left Mardi Gras at home we stepped right into the famed rivera Carnival. It has been a special treat to take in while on our Travel School Project. 

Park and Chagall

Story and photos by Anne Lois

Yesterday, after morning school time, we all met up to grab lunch and have a picnic at the huge park next to our apartments. Next, we headed over to the bus stop to catch a ride to the Marc Chagall Museum.  Each of us enjoyed learning more about his paintings and history.  Then to top it all off, we went to a nearby bakery for some delicious desserts to share later after dinner.