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


Under the Dome, Florence- ver. II (Wilson's story)

Question: What do tourists do when they see a massive structure?

Answer: They are willing to spend money and wait in long lines just to climb it.

When you look out over the skyline of the historic city of Florence, Italy, the innumerable towers, churches, and other historic buildings from the Renaissance are all dominated by one of the greatest and most important architectural structures ever. This cathedral, so iconic and important that it simply goes by Il Duomo, or the Cathedral in English. The reason for this building's importance, however, is not its beauty, or scale, or location, or even the Renaissance artwork created by masters such as Donatello, Michelangelo, and Ghiberti. The Duomo is important because of the massive dome that sits on the colorful marble sourced in the nearby mountains. When construction on the original gothic cathedral began in 1296, Europe still had both feet in the dark ages, but as construction moved forward, so did the continent. The architects had created a beautiful basilica that evolved over the one and a half centuries as Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance slowly crept out of the shadows; the Florentines wanted to cap off their masterpiece with a beautiful dome. There was just one problem- a dome had not been built since the fall of Rome almost 1,000 years before. Luckily, Florence was home to some of the greatest minds that the world has ever known. Even without the knowledge the Romans had accumulated over centuries, an architect, named Brunelleschi, reinvented how to build a dome. Now Brunelleschi's dome is a beacon of knowledge, faith, and the Renaissance that thousands of tourists visit every year. Naturally, they all want to climb it, and of course I was in this majority.

While my family and I were walking enjoying gelato and other Italian fare we noticed one peculiar thing: the usually long line for the 463 step climb to the Cupola Santa Maria del Fiore, the official name for the apex and viewing platform of the dome, was nonexistent. Quickly realizing that now was our best chance to make the climb, my Dad, Paul, my sister, Abigail, and I headed through the side entrance of the cathedral while my mom, Kelly, and my other sister, Anne Lois stayed on the ground. The climbers made it partially up the first series of stairs and part of a spiral staircase before being impeded by a slowly moving line that moved single-file up towards our goal. When we emerged from the spiral staircase into a small room, we started to wonder how high we were and how much further we had to go. We were about to find out. That room led onto a three-foot-wide walkway that wrapped around the interior of the famed dome. The stone walkway is supported by ornate stone beams that were not very convincing. With only a railing and a plexiglass wall that prevented you from falling, but still allowed you to see the entirety of the dome, and a little less fortunately, it allowed a clear view of the cathedral floor. We made our way confidently around the walkway until suddenly we came to a halt halfway between the two doors that cut the dome in half. The delay was not all bad though- it allowed us to admire the frescoes and stained glass overhead; but, they could not hold our attention forever. Eventually, my eyes slipped down to the dizzying gap between us and the horde of tiny tourists that swarmed like bees on the cathedral floor. My eyes quickly snapped up but even the ongoing battle between demons and angels above could not distract from the long drop to the floor below. Inching back, I hugged the wall and glanced over at my dad who empathetically looked back as he came to the same realization. A nerve racking twenty minutes passed by as we wished the line would continue to move forward. Finally, the line moved forward and we stepped safely through the portal that bestowed a renewed sense of security to those who passed through. We then endured a slow second half of the climb because from that point on there was only one path for both up and down. Finally, we completed the last portion of the climb where the stairs were more related to a ladder. Coming out of the trap door on the cupola, we witnessed the breathtaking view of the surrounding city. I knew without a doubt that it was well worth the climb (time spent under the dome included). Not only the view but the inner passages and architectural features of a building that were never meant to be seen by the public eye were amazing to witness. Without a doubt, the Duomo is an architectural marvel and a treasure. 

photos by Wilson and Paul

The Hunt for the Perfect Baguette

story and photos by Anne Lois

For each amazing dinner at the apartment, a baguette is on the top of our market list.  We usually get up each day ready to search for ingredients throughout the market. Somedays (like today), the man we like to call the "baguette man", wasn't around. So we headed off to find another bakery or rather a boulangerie.  Today we wanted something different to eat with dinner. We went looking for a new option.  As we walked down the windy streets we came across this little bakery with a wood burning oven inside.  We decided it looked great.  Each of us ordered a lunch that we could take back up to the apartment to eat too, and my mom ordered a beautiful baguette.  We paid and waved au revoir to the man running the bakery. We walked back towards our apartment, happy we had found another great place that we will definitely revisit. 

church and Villefranche-sur-Mer

Going to church last Sunday at Holy Trinity Nice (English Anglican) far exceeded our plans for the day. Different from worship at home but unified by beliefs, we enjoyed a service of hymns, sung verses, spoken verses and communion. Truly enjoyed by all of us, we were warmly welcomed and invited to a fellowship time at the "hall" after the service. There were many interesting people and life stories that I'm confident we only scraped the surface. They were equally interested in us. Two American moms showing up one Sunday in February with 5 kids. Hard to blend. We loved our time there and plan to return this coming Sunday and attend a special after church luncheon. 

From the church hall we walked to the train station, bought tickets and took a short 5 minute ride along the coast to Villefranche-sur-Mer. A charming town that Elizabeth and Camille called home for a few weeks in 2014. They were excited to return and show us around town. I have now laid my eyes on their wifi bench. Slowing our pace, we casually strolled the town stopping at a few Sunday antique sidewalk vendors, ate a late lunch by the water, then toured to the boat port. A very satisfying Sunday and a great breather before digging into a new week.

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. 

Day trip to Antibes | Fairhope family travel

There is no denying that Nice, France is loaded with things to do and see. But this past Sunday, the 14th (and Valentines Day), I asked to go find the train station, figure out how to buy tickets and take a small excursion. I wanted to tackle a task that I'm not used to doing without PB taking the lead. With WD's help, I think we'll be able to handle it from now on.

We took a 30 minute train ride to the west of Nice along the Mediterranean to Antibes. A small, picturesque town with large yachts. Luck have it that we walked straight into a quaint chocolate and specialty foods fair. Maybe we bought some chocolate truffles and artisanal cheese! Beyond the fair, we ate lunch on a square and then went for a stroll to find the Pablo Picasso museum located in the Chateau de Grimaldi. The collection is small but special because Picasso lived there for a few months to paint.  After leaving post war Paris, he was seeking a new joy in life. Many of his works are on scrapped materials and depict happy, playful characters by the sea. A light and happy art study that was a quick stop for us. It was a great place to gain appreciation for his outlook on life at that point in time and how it fits into his body of works. 

first days

The first few days are always an adjustment. Not only do you have the expected jet lag, it's magnified by the exhaustion from packing and getting things in order to leave them and the "pinch me" this is really happening. Also, we are so giddy to have a companion family with us. Once we got past settling into our apartment and finding the closest grocery for some basics- all of us have sighed a big breath and savored slowing down the pace.

On Thursday night, our big group of nine, walked out late to find a restaurant. It was a wonderful toast to being brave and taking this on. We had a delicious French meal- late into the night with happy kids and happy parents. 

Alas, school work must continue. So yesterday, Friday, with a day of rain forcasted, we settled into the apartment for productive study time.  Before it got too wet and cold, our family walked to the Cours Saleya (Nice's main market square) for fresh flowers and some loose ideas for our first cooked dinner at home. We filled our bags with fresh mixed lettuces (mesclum), french radishes, petite potatoes and dried herbs (herbs de provence).  Next, we walked to a nearby butcher shop that always has a crowd when we have walked by (seemed like a good sign) to bravely order chicken (poulet) for roasting. It was wrapped and bagged in a red plastic bag for us to tote home. The rest of the day was about studying, enjoying a rainy day inside and our first home cooked dinner of roasted chicken and potatoes with a side salad. After dinner, all 7 kids watched a movie in our apartment while the adults hung out in the other apartment. Fantastic, except for the acknowledgement that we are all still keeping our US body clock hours. We'll have to keep working on that! 

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