Saturday, May 29, 2010

The week that was and Tanglewood Farm

This week I was overwhelmed with more doctor visits and tests. Monday I went in for a stress test, echo cardiogram and to get a 24-hour halter monitor. When I arrived though I was surprised and less than trilled to find out that it was to be a nuclear stress test which entailed having an IV inserted into needle phobic me, talk about stress right off the bat. Also with the nuclear stress test I had to spend about 20 minutes before the treadmill having pictures taken by a gamma camera, then the treadmill, then the echo and then another 15 minutes of gamma pictures. Finally I was fitted with the halter monitor but it was a long day. By that evening I had a wicked headache which probably was just a side affect of the chemicals they injected but not fun.

Tuesday early afternoon I returned the halter monitor and then headed off to have an MRI where I spent just shy of an hour keeping myself calm inside a what seemed like a very closed-in tube. Funny thing is, I've never considered myself to be claustrophobic and I really don't think that I am but it took a good amount of effort on my part to not push that panic button, I can't even imagine how a claustrophobic person could handle a MRI. After having to keep my shoulder immobilized for almost an hour, two days running, when I awoke Wednesday it was just screaming in pain and it's taken three days for the pain to subside to a now tolerable level.

Thursday was my long awaited appointment with the hematologist for look at my wonky blood. This of course involved another needle and Maisie, who watched with great interest while I laid there trying not to pass-out, said that they drew 19 tubes of blood. I don't know that they took quite that many but it was a very long draw with many, many tube changes. No answers, just new concerns and more questions so this visit has now led to the scheduling of more and unfortunately, much more invasive tests. At this point I am so physically and emotionally drained and stressed beyond belief that I just really wanted to get out and do something fun with Maisie so today we headed to Tanglewood farm. About two years ago Maisie and I met up with friends at the farm and at that time Maisie wanted nothing to do with the animals but today she really enjoyed petting and feeding them all so it was a fun day.

I'm hoping that the weather cooperates tomorrow and Monday and that the daily rain storms hold off until evening so that we can relax and play at the pool during the day. I feel the need for some quiet and easy days so that I can get myself ready for another busy week of Maisie activities and more doctor visits and tests.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ready for a new week

I am ready for this week to be over as it has been a rough one and I'm hoping that this coming week is much better. The day after I got out of the hospital I had to go see one of my docs and Maisie couldn't come with me so she stayed home with Eammon. I called the house just as I was leaving the doctor to let Eammon know that I was heading home and he informed me that there had been a little accident but that everyone was okay. Apparently Maisie was moving around some large coffee table books and the plate glass top somehow managed to shatter, cutting the top of her foot. Eammon said that there wasn't much blood and he got the cuts washed out and bandaged. When I arrived home I took a look at the cuts and really thought that one was deep enough to need stitches and after a second opinion by our neighbor Steve, Eammon and I got Maisie in the car and headed to urgent care. The doctor there said that the cut was boarder line in needing stitches and suggested that gluing it and using steri-strips would probably take care of it. I was much happier with that option as the idea of Maisie getting stitches made me sick. Once her foot was all glued and bandaged we returned home where she and Eammon took a nap. Once up from her nap, Maisie's foot seemed not to bother her...except when she remembered and would limp and say she needed crutches. The next day when I changed the bandage the top of her poor little foot was all black & blue but the wound looked clean. Maisie went to gymnastics practice in the afternoon and didn't miss a beat but loved telling anyone who would listen about her accident and why her foot was all wrapped up.

I'm feeling okay and a big thanks to everyone who left messages, emailed, called and for all the good wishes and prayers. Other than feeling really run down and a bit overwhelmed by all the doc visits and tests that I have over the next two weeks, I'm really doing fine. I'm going with the mindset that if there was something life-threatening wrong they would have kept me in the hospital. I sort of agree with what the cardiologist said about an acute reaction to a chronic condition and not everyone falls into what is considered "normal" range, and trust me, I'm definitely not normal!

One thing that I have not done, in what seems like forever, is cooking. Between being away on our cruise and then coming back and being busy with Maisie's end of school year activities and of course that little medical scare, well no wonder. But, I have missed it and I also have missed having some good and healthy food in the house so the other day I made a trip to my favorite International market and stocked up and have been making some new and interesting things. I am absolutely addicted to Greek Yogurtand many nights if Eammon is working late I'll make something easy for Maisie and I'm happy with my yogurt mixed with some Kashi Mountain Medley and some diced up fresh fruit. Even more decadent though is when I eat fresh fruit with Labnehwhich is just absolutely wonderful. This week I decided that I was going to make my own Labneh as I wanted a fat-free version. I made a big batch which was super easy and have been using it in all the recipes that I've made these past two days. Chinese five-spice wings with cilantro labneh dip, sugar & fat-free frozen vanilla yogurt and for dinner tonight, campanelle with pesto labneh, chicken, roasted tomatoes, whole roasted garlic cloves and toasted pine nuts,totally delicious and I'll get all the recipes up on Cook Lisa Cook as soon as possible.

Now some pictures because that's the best part of any post and they make me happy.

Though Maisie has multiple tables and work surfaces, she loves to set up her "office" and "desk" on the steps. She will spend hours a day coloring, doing school pages and reading whilst sitting on the steps.

Almost exactly a year to the day, 364 days to be exact, from when I got my new car, I hit 15,000 miles. I still love my car but what makes me love it the most, check out my mpg.

Depending on how I drive, I average between 47-49 mpg, not too shabby especially with petrol prices seeming to be creeping up and up.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Not an auspicious start to summer

hospital piccie 5-18-2010a So here's the deal, as I mentioned in my previous post I've been having some ongoing medical issues including extremely low blood pressure (high of 80/40) and pulse rate (between 35-45), as well as anemia, low platelet count, stomach issues and insomnia. On top of that, this past Friday morning I awoke with almost total laryngitis which I attributed to allergies but who knows. I was scheduled for an endoscopy on Monday morning for a little look-see to see what-if-anything is causing my stomach issues and when I spoke with the surgery center Friday morning they said that as long as I wasn't running a fever, not to worry about the laryngitis. Over the weekend I never ran a fever but I had a dry cough that would keep me up at night so Sunday at 11:30PM (before the midnight stop eating/drinking cutoff) I took some cough meds so that I could sleep through the night and not wake coughing and needing water. An hour and an half later I started having major pain radiating from my clavicle to my navel wrapping around the left side of my body. The pain was so severe and unfamiliar to me that I honestly thought I was having a heart attack. After two rounds of intense pain with brief periods of lesser yet continued pain we decided a trip to the ER was indicated but as Eammon was getting Maisie and himself dressed my pain intensified again so we called 911. The paramedics and fire department both showed up at the house as did K & A's Dad Steve, who took Maisie and tucked her in bed with K & Anne. The paramedics checked me out, ran an EKG which they said looked okay and suggested that the pain could be reflux of taking the codeine cough syrup on an empty stomach. At the paramedics suggestion Steve ran out to the 24-hour pharmacy and picked up some Prilosec which I took and after about 30 minutes the pain subsided considerably. Around 3am Eammon brought Maisie home and we all got in bed together to sleep the few hours until we needed to go to the surgery center.

Monday morning the alarm went off at 5:40 and though I had maybe slept an hour I was feeling tired but okay. I checked in at the surgery center and once they took me to get prepped Eammon and Maisie headed off to get some breakfast as the procedure was only due to take about 30 minutes and then a little recovery time. I slipped on an hospital gown and the nurse took my vitals which she commented were still low but that she had received surgical clearance from my primary care so that was okay...until, she started me on oxygen and inserted the IV and I was o.u.t as in passed out. I don't know for how long I was out but when I awoke I thought that they had already done the procedure as there were five people around me calling my name, asking me how I was feeling and I felt completely drugged. Then the nausea hit and as I had nothing in my stomach it was dry-heaves and stomach acid coming out. During the entire episode my already low b/p and pulse dropped even lower and so it was decided that it wasn't safe or in my best interest to have the procedure that day and that I probably should go to the ER or at least go to my primary care doc. While I waited for Eammon and Maisie to return and pick me up I called my doc and scheduled to go in later that afternoon but during our drive home from the surgery center my doc's nurse called and had already discussed my case with my doc and he wanted me to go straight to the ER. After a quick call to Steve to see if he would be around to watch Maisie, we swung by the house to drop her off and Eammon and I headed to the hospital.

Once at the ER I was taken back immediately and it wasn't long before blood tests & an ekg were done, an heart monitor was attached and the decision to admit me was made. Once the decision to admit me was made and while I waited for a room, Eammon headed home to pick up Maisie and for both of them to take a little nap. Not long after I got into a room Eammon and Maisie showed up to visit and Maisie snuggled in bed with me. Yesterday and overnight all sorts of tests were run and I swear that they were drawing blood every three hours. When the cardiologist came in last night he said that the episode that I had at the surgery center was most likely a vasovagal syncope but that they wanted me to stay in the hospital for a few days as there were additional tests that they needed to run. I asked if the tests could be done outpatient and he seemed hesitant but said that he would see how the overnight labs and monitoring looked. When he returned this morning I was happy to learn that he was releasing me today as he looked at my previous hospital history and 10 years ago it had been documented that I had bradycardia, low b/p and pulse so he felt that, in his words, we were "having an acute response to a chronic condition."

Now I'm home and on Midodrine to help raise my b/p...shoot everyone I know seems to be on meds to lower their b/p, guess I'm the odd duck out. Then on Monday I go to the cardiologist for an echo, stress test and an holter monitor...goody! The following week I return to the cardiologist for all the results and to see what the next step, if any, will be and I also see the hematologist for my anemia, low platelet count and other wonky blood results. Oh my goodness, I just want my energy back and to feel better already. Well shoot, I haven't had a good Lisa medical whinge since my Return from the seventh level of Hades post of 2008. Honestly I could have gone a lifetime without ever doing another medical whinge post but at least I'm out of the hospital quickly this time and hopefully things will be resolved.

On a much happier note and a nicer way to end this post, here's a picture from Saturday night when after dinner K, Steve, A & Maisie were doing a little fishing off our dock. Steve and the kids were having great luck as the fish were biting on almost every cast.

Fishing off the dock Got to love those smiling kids and oh are we ever thankful for our great neighbors. Big thanks for all your help!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Last day of Kindergarten

Today was Maisie's last day of kindergarten and look how much she has grown since her first day picture back in August, she must be at least a good 2-inches taller! Not only has she grown physically but oh how she's matured over the past 9 months. Maisie is so much more confident, poised, self-aware, interactive and holds her own with her 6-year-old classmates. Maisie has had a wonderful year in Kindergarten emotionally, socially and academically and is now very excited to be going to first grade come August. One of the most exciting things for Maisie about going to first grade is, that she'll have her own desk as opposed to the shared tables in the Kindergarten classroom. Maisie has loved her teacher Miss. Nancy and says that she'll miss her but is looking forward to Miss. Lisa's class and being with all her "students" (what Maisie calls her classmates).

In the three weeks since we returned from our cruise we've been keeping busy. The first week back Maisie of course returned to her gymnastics practices which are longer and more intense than before, now being 3-hours long, twice a week. Maisie's school also did a field trip to Stone Mountain and I was one of the chaperons which was fun but I don't think that the Kindergartners got oh-too much out of the whole experience other than a fun day out. Maisie also returned to her Friday swimming lessons and Miss. Rosemary said she didn't lose a thing in the weeks we had been away and in fact Maisie is doing even better than when she was last there.

During our second week back I celebrated my birthday which was good fun but Maisie was upset that there was no party or cake so the following day when we got together with friends whom we hadn't seen in ages, we had an ice cream cake for dessert which made my girl happy. Thank you to everyone who sent along birthday wishes, it was a good day. Mother's day was a nice day too, relaxing and spending it with friends, sharing a good meal, a perfect day.

This week has been busy with end of school activities and also getting Maisie set up with her summer schedule. On Wednesday Maisie participated in field day and she had a blast! I knew that there were going to be water activities as I was asked to send in a change of clothes and judging by how wet her original clothes were and her excitement in the car telling me all about it, I'd have to say the water activities were the hit of the day. Today for her last day of school they got to see a movie so for her and all her classmates I packed goody bags of popcorn, circus peanuts, jelly beans, gummy worms & red twizzlers as well as a juice box. Maisie said that they all enjoyed the treats but I sure hope that their parents don't hate me too much for sugaring them up.

Also going on these past three weeks (well actually a lot longer but most recently) is that I have been spending more time than anyone should at doctors & labs as I am having some ongoing medical issues. Between wonky blood tests, anemia, extremely low blood pressure (high of 80/40) and pulse rate (between 35-45) as well as stomach issues and insomnia, finding the energy to get out of bed and through each day has been a bit of a challenge. So any good wishes, prayers and thoughts are much appreciated.

Maisie and I have some time "off" together as public schools don't let out for another week and Maisie's summer activities don't really start until the week of June 7th so hopefully we'll have some fun times. I know that Maisie is looking forward to our pool opening and hopefully the warm weather we've been enjoying will stay with us so that the water will be nice and warm otherwise the girl is going in on her own!

My camera is back in the shop, not sure what's going on with it but hopefully I'll have it back soon and then I can fill the blog with Maisie piccies!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Final cruise post

Maisie and I had an absolutely fabulous, wonderful and fantastic time on our cruise and something about it felt very special. This cruise had a much different feel and vibe than our previous cruise which was a one week western Caribbean on Carnival. I can’t put my finger on exactly what made this cruise so special but it really was. Maybe because it was a transatlantic voyage or that we spent two weeks on board so we really got to know people and people got to know us, I’m just not sure but I’m glad that we got to experience it. Some people that I’ve spoken with have said it was because it was Disney but I really don’t think that was the case for us, even though Maisie really did love the Princesses and characters.

Many people also told me that once I experienced the Disney pampering, service, foods, shows and the entire Disney experience, that no other cruise line would come close. The only other cruise line I have sailed with was Carnival so that is all I have to use as comparison.

Food: On both Disney and Carnival I found the food to be good but not exceptional. They are cooking for hundreds of people and I’d say that overall it’s good banquet quality food. The variety of offerings was comparable on both cruise lines but because this last voyage was a special transatlantic voyage there were special menus beyond what you’d find on a week-long cruise and that was nice. Unfortunately though I have to say that many of the offerings didn’t quite live up to what they could/should have been. When reading the description or hearing the waiter rave about a dish and then have it just be “good”, I found to be a bit of a disappointment. One thing that Disney did excel at was that they were spot on at always delivering meat at the desired degree of done-ness.

Disney did have a better children's menu as in addition to the mac & cheese, pizza and usual kid's fare they had additional nightly offerings of things like steak, chicken or other more "adult" offerings. As with Carnival, the children's meals came out quickly and first so that they could start eating and not get impatient waiting. Maisie never ate off the children's menu as there were always things that she preferred on the regular menu. Our table mates were quite impressed with Maisie's choices and what she ate especially at one of the Captain's dinners when Maisie ate and finished an appetizer of liver pate followed by the lobster entree. As for the other children at our table, I think Marta ate pizza and fries each and every night and Colin had a bit of variety but mostly the kids items.

The nightly menus always offered a good variety of items and each night I managed to eat an appetizer, entree and dessert but because the portions were all very large, there unfortunately was a lot of waste. I swear, the first night I ordered a steak and it was the size of my foot!! I sure hope that the fish enjoyed all that I left behind.

One thing that I really enjoyed on the Disney ship that the Carnival ship did not have was the rotational dining. I liked that we rotated through the three main restaurants on board, Parrot Cay, Lumiere's and Animator's Palate and that our servers traveled with us. It was nice to experience the different restaurants while having the people who knew us and our likes and dis-likes stay with us. For the record, Lumiere's was my favorite of the three.

IMG_0278  A Maisie with our wonderful waiter Erasamo and assistant waiter Fransien.

I did dine one night, with one of my table mates, at the upscale adult's only restaurant Palo, and it was definitely a couple of steps up from the main dining rooms in terms of the offerings, quality and preparation of the foods as well as the extremely attentive service. Friends Ilene and Michael had told me not to miss this experience and because I was traveling alone (without another adult) I was like ya-ya-ya no big deal if I miss it but I'm glad that I got to experience it. On our Carnival cruise there was a similar upscale restaurant but Eammon and I never tried it but we may give it a go on our next cruise.

Another experience that Maisie and I had was, one night when we didn't go to the show we instead had a late night picnic in our room. We ordered room service and in our pajamas sat in the cabin, watched a movie and ate more junk food than we should have but it was fun and Maisie LOVED it.

On both ships, in addition to the main dining rooms there was a buffet that was open for all meals but Maisie and I never ate there. Also there were snack bars serving pizza, burgers, hot dogs and other items...again, there was so much food served at our meals that other than Maisie's afternoon ice cream we never ate at any of the snack areas.

Pastry: Carnival wins this category hands down. I can honestly say that the pastries, desserts and breads on the Disney ship were plentiful and beautiful yet totally tasteless...of course that didn't stop me from trying them all! My table mates and I all agreed that the cheesecakes were blah, the chocolate desserts had no flavor and the pastries were heavy. Honestly the best dessert on the ship was the chocolate covered Mickey ice cream bar. When we sailed on our Carnival cruise there was a French pastry chef and the quality of the desserts and especially the pastries were far superior.

Shows: I can’t compare shows between Disney and Carnival because on our Carnival cruise Maisie fell asleep each-and-every night at dinner and afterwards just wanted to go to sleep so we never saw any of the entertainment that Carnival had to offer. On the Disney ship Maisie and I saw some really good shows which included: Twice Charmed: An Original Twist on the Cinderella Story, Walt Disney: The Dream Goes On, Disney Dreams: An Enchanted Classic, Remember the Magic: A Final Farewell as well as one of their new shows, Villains Tonight. There were also shows by (some of which we saw and others we didn’t) hypnotist Ricky Kalmon, illusionist Jason Bishop, hip-hop comedians Alfred & Seymour, American Idol contestants Brooke White & Justin Guarini and even a crew talent show. Also offered on the Disney cruise were lots and lots of movies so Maisie and I saw Toy Story 2 in 3D, The Princess & the Frog, Up, Pinoccio, Earth, Tinker Bell, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, Chronicles of Narnia, the premier of Oceans and Alice in Wonderland in 3D and we didn't even come close to seeing even a tenth of what was offered.

Adult activities: Here I am not comparing apples to apples because what is offered on a 2-week cruise is always more than on a one-week sail. In addition, on this cruise I made time to attend more of the adult programs where on our Carnival cruise I was happy to sit by the pool and read a book when Maisie was in the kid’s club. On our Carnival cruise I only attended a towel folding demonstration (how to make the towel animals) and a galley tour and on this recent cruise I attended a few cooking demos, lectures about various aspects of Disney, it’s past, present and future as well as lectures about our ports of call and other nautical stuff. On both cruise lines I enjoyed the activities and all were well presented. The Disney ones all seemed to have more hype to them and sometimes characters would show up which made them fun. If I was someone who really was into all things Disney, I could see going ga-ga over the presenters and the programs.

Children’s activities: There were definitely more and varied activities for children on the Disney ship plus all the character appearances. On both cruises Maisie never really wanted to or asked to go to kids club as she would have always preferred to stay with me but on both cruises when she did go to the children's activities she had fun, was engaged and enjoyed herself. A few times on the Disney cruise and also since being home I've asked Maisie which kid's club she enjoyed better and she changes her answer based on the day and seemed to like them both about the same. This is good news for me since we're booked to sail on another week-long Carnival cruise in September.

Facilities on board: Here I have to say that both ships were comparable. They each had a kid's pool, a family pool and an adult only pool and all the pools were small. Both had a nice spa area, a gymnasium, walking/running track, basketball courts, Carnival did have a putt-putt course but overall, very similar. I didn't go to any of the night clubs on either ship but they were there on both. The Disney ship did not have any gambling other than Bingo and the Carnival ship had a large casino. Both ships had numerous bars but because I didn't partake, I can't comment on the quality of the drinks.

Cabin: The only real difference between the cabins from ship to ship was that the Disney ship had a bathtub in the bathroom and many of the cabins had a second bathroom with a toilet & sink but the size of the cabins, the furnishings and the amenities were exactly the same. On both cruises we had great room stewards who were attentive, nice and took good care of us but our steward on the Carnival ship seemed to always be around and every.single.time we left the cabin for even the briefest of time, he would get in there and re-straighten everything. On the Disney cruise after the room was made up in the morning, Aldo didn't come back in until he prepared the room for the evening. Both cruise lines had nice bath, shower & hair products in the bathroom but personally I preferred the Carnival items.

Crew: Both cruises had friendly, warm and helpful crew members who were always happy, energetic, attentive and who worked their tushes off to be wonderful. The service and pampering was honestly the same on both cruise lines and I can't think of a single instance on either cruise where a crew member missed doing something or where we had a bad or even an off encounter.

Final notes:

* Our Disney cruise was only at about 70% capacity and instead of the usual 600-800 children per voyage our cruise carried only about 200 children. This was very nice for us as there were enough children that there were plenty of kids to play with and share the experience but it wasn't overwhelming and the queues to see the characters and to have pictures taken were thankfully quite short with waits usually between 5-10 minutes and the longest one being maybe 20 minutes max. I'm really thankful that the cruise wasn't at capacity as I appreciated the emptiness of the ship and the ability to always go to the activities I wanted to attend and sit where I wanted to sit at the pool and just the less crowded-ness of the voyage. I don't know if I would have enjoyed the experience as much or have felt as relaxed had the ship been at capacity.

* One nice thing about Disney is that when you would go to have portraits or pictures taken with a Princess or character there was always a "handler" there who was more than willing to use your camera to take pictures for you. This was very nice because the cost to purchase the professional pictures was, in my opinion, outrageous at $20 for each 8x10-inch and $10 for each 6x8-inch photo and packages starting at $85...sorry too rich for my blood.

* I debated on whether or not to bring Maisie's stroller and am so glad that I did as it was one of the smartest things I did. During our days in port, Maisie probably only spent 10-15% of her time in the stroller but when she needed it, it was great to have it. In our ports we walked for miles and miles and Maisie did great but when she was tired I didn't have to carry her, she fell asleep and napped in the stroller and I didn't have to stop to let her rest. The stroller also was great for pushing around the backpack so that I didn't have to carry it the entire time. I can't recommend the stroller I use enough, the Maclaren Volo as it's extremely sturdy and super light-weight and when I needed to carry it I would use the carry-strap and just sling it across me and carry the folded up stroller on my back keeping my hands free.

* Maisie and I really enjoyed getting dressed up each night for dinner and I'm glad that I brought plenty of fancy dresses and Princess wear for Maisie. If you've read all the posts and seen all the pictures, you've seen that Maisie was happy to be a Princess all the time and often wore dress-up clothes during the day and just loved it.

* Other than a couple of pairs of panties and some socks, we ended up wearing every item of clothing that I brought along. There was of course laundry service on the ship as well as self-service laundry facilities but I heard from a number of people that there were often long wait times for do-it-yourself use. I brought along a Tide-to-Go so if I got a little stain on something I would use it, rinse the item in our sink and hang it to dry. We had enough clothes so that I didn't need to do laundry whilst on-board.

* Another item that I just love and is great for travel are the One Natural shampoo and conditioner bars. They work wonderfully and since they're neither a liquid nor a gel they don't have to go in your one-quart bag when passing through airport security.

* I just loved all the sea days and the transatlantic experience but if I do it again would probably prefer to do a westbound cruise so that instead of losing an hour each of six nights, I could gain those hours and get some extra sleep!

* Eammon wouldn't have fared well on the cruise as we either had rough seas or that imperceptible movement, both of which cause him to feel quite ill. From people who had done a transatlantic cruise before I heard that the high seas that we experienced were calm compared to what they experienced on their previous sails. Maisie and I both enjoyed the rough seas and found it comforting to be rocked to sleep at night by the movement of the ship.

* I thought that after 14-nights of all things Disney I would be Disney'd out but it really wasn't that way and I have to say that I could escape the Disney mania when needed.

* My one real regret of the cruise is that we didn't have enough time in each of our ports and of the ports we visited, I really want to return to Gibraltar and Barcelona.

Final pictures:

photo (3) B Colin & Maisie being great little travelers playing their games and waiting to check in at the airport in Barcelona.

photo (2)  C In the Sala VIP Miró Lounge awaiting our flight.

photo (1)  D Maisie and Colin working off some energy before our flight, running back and forth along one of the moving sidewalks.

Now, as Porky would say... Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-... That's all, folks!
(Yes I know Porky is Warner Bros but if he could close Touchstone Pictures (Disney) Who Framed Roger Rabbit, he can close this post too.)

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Port of Call ~ Barcelona

Our wonderful trip was sadly coming to an end with our final port being Barcelona. In contrast to Gibraltar, Cádiz and even Funchal, Barcelona is a huge city and not even a week there would be enough to even scratch the surface of what the city has to offer. The old, the new, the sites, the sounds, the food, the history, the people...just so much to experience and see I MUST return some day.

IMG_0814 A Our ride around the city. Barcelona is so big that I knew we wouldn't be able to see much of the city on foot but the Disney tours didn't really suit our needs so before we traveled I had book a Trixi Tour as I thought it would be a fun way to get around and Maisie would enjoy the experience. We had a wonderful guide who peddled us all though the city whilst giving us running commentary about all the sites. The tour that we took was 2.5 hours long which ended up being a bit much for Maisie but she happily put her head in my lap and slept for about the last hour of the tour and she must have been tired as she managed to sleep through all the bumps and bouncing around.

The Trixi tour was a wonderful way to see the city and I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting a fun, interesting, educational and different tour of Barcelona.

Our tour started in the Gothic Quarter at the Plaça de la Catedral directly in front of the Catedral. In the Gothic quarter we also saw the Plaça de Sant Jaume & Plaça de Sant Felip Neri. We saw some of Gaudi's buildings including La Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló & Casa Milà or La Pedrera. We also visited the El Raval, the Born, beautiful Port Vell & Barceloneta.

IMG_0816  B Palau de la Música Catalana was a beautiful building architecturally and with the stained glass and mosaics, just breathtaking.

IMG_0825  C Arc de Triomf at the entrance to Parc de la Ciutadell was built for the 1888 Universal Exposition.

IMG_0824 DThe park area behind the Arc de Triomf

 IMG_0823  E One of the beautiful street lights in Parc de la Ciutadell.

IMG_0829  FEl Monumental, the bull-fighting arena.

IMG_0833  G La Sagrada Familia is one of Gaudi's most famous works in Barcelona. It's a giant temple that has been under construction since 1882 and it's not expected to be completed for at least another 20 years.

IMG_0835  HMaisie at Sagrada Familia.

IMG_0837  I A lot of controversy surrounds the building of the Sagrada Familia. Many feel that the new construction materials which are being use, Gaudi himself would not have used.

IMG_0843  J This is the bottom backside of La Sagrada Familia.

IMG_0838  KThe top backside of La Sagrada Familia.

 IMG_0856  L Casa Batlló on Passeig de Gracia. The building was designed by Gaudi for Josep Batlló, a wealthy aristocrat, as an upmarket home. The Batlló family lived in the lower two floors and rented out the upper floor apartments.

From the outside the façade of Casa Batlló looks like it has been made from skulls and bones. The "Skulls" are in the balconies and the "bones" are supporting pillars.

IMG_0858  M Another view and such a mix of architectural styles on one street.

IMG_0851  N Another Gaudi building, Casa Milà.

IMG_0878  O For Eammon and I, the best part of the entire adoption process was of course Maisie but another wonderful thing that happened is that we now have friends all over the world. Fina and I have been corresponding since we each received our referral for WanZhou girls back in November 2006. We had hoped and thought that we may have been able to meet in China but Fina traveled to get her April a week after we met Maisie so we never met. Over the past 3.5 years Fina and I have stayed in contact via email and when I realized that Maisie and I would be visiting Barcelona emails started flying and Fina and I set up a time to meet. The day that Maisie and I were in Barcelona was Diada de Sant Jordi, and Fina was already committed to working the entire day but that didn't stop us from at least meeting. Unfortunately due of our time constraints and schedule, we weren't able to also meet her husband or daughter April. Fina and I had a nice little visit and thankfully one of her fellow workers spoke some English as my Spanish is limited to "Dora" Spanish and Catalan, forget-about-it and Fina doesn't speak English. We in the end managed just fine but I will say that I'm thankful for translation software so that at least over the internet communication is easy.

Maisie and I were so busy touring around, walking Las Ramblas and taking in the sites that we had gone the entire day without eating and when Maisie said that she was hungry I just happened to see a gelateria and though I don't speak Spanish I had no difficulty picking out a wonderful, fabulous, darn near org@smic dark chocolate with orange gelato that I have been dreaming about ever since...oh yeah Maisie liked it too. It was so rich and wonderful that Maisie and I shared a small cone and I had tears in my eyes when together we couldn't finish it and had to throw some of it away.

We had a wonderful but oh-too-short day in Barcelona but it was time to head back to the ship to pack and enjoy our last dinner & last on-board show and for Maisie's last night to be a Princess, at least on the ship.

IMG_0881  P Maisie still in her Princess dress from dinner with her final towel animal from Aldo.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Port of Call ~ Gibraltar

I LOVED Gibraltar and really hope to make it back one day soon. Though Gibraltar is relatively small, there was so much there to see that I could have spent an entire week and still not have seen as much as I wanted. It was so cool to stand on the rock and look out over the Mediterranean sea and the Strait of Gibraltar and to see both Europe (Spain) and Africa (Morocco). All I kept thinking was, that the views in every direction were just breathtaking. Once again we chose not to do a tour so it was another day of walking, walking and more walking and even though we took the cable car to the top of the rock and back down, walking the rock it's self included long distances and major treks up and down the hills. Walking the rock was beautiful but because of the distances and time constraints, this is the one place where it probably would have been better to do a rock tour as the vans take you from site to site so you're able to see much more.

IMG_0684  A IMG_0685  B IMG_0686  C On our walk from the ship to the cable car and back again, we passed the Trafalgar Cemetery and Eammon is a huge Nelson and Trafalgar buff so the above three pictures are for him.

IMG_0695  D Riding up to the top of the Rock in the cable car and looking down to the Alameda car park and the cable car bottom terminal station. Once again the cable car ride was a huge hit with fear of heights in my little girl!

IMG_0690  E View from the bottom terminal station looking up to the middle station.

IMG_0697 FAs soon as we stepped off the cable car there were Barbary Apes everywhere and this little one was so cute!

IMG_0739  G The Barbary Apes are actually tail-less monkeys and they are the only free-roaming monkeys in Europe. The monkeys are native to North Africa and their presence in Gibraltar is said to date to the early days of the British garrison when it is presumed that they were imported as pets or maybe even game but they inevitably found the rough limestone cliffs and scrub vegetation a congenial habitat.

Many legends have grown up around the Apes. One is that they travelled from their native Morocco via a subterranean tunnel starting at St. Michael's Cave leading down and underneath the strait. The fact is that the apes are firmly established on the Rock, another legend claims that should the apes ever disappear, the British will leave Gibraltar.

IMG_0698  H It is illegal to feed the monkeys and it carries a maximum fine of £500. This one nicked this treat from an unsuspecting woman who ventured too close to the snack bar door and the monkey just jumped across her, grabbed the treat from her hand, sat down, unwrapped it and feasted. Scared the you-know-what out of the woman!!

IMG_0700  I View from the top of the Rock looking north to La Linea to inland Spain.

IMG_0703  J Looking across Gibraltar town to the Bay of Gibraltar. The Disney Magic docked and the huge and beautiful Ventura just arriving, ready to dock.

IMG_0733  KLooking down the eastern side of the Rock.
 IMG_0706  L An alternative to the cable car are these steps leading all the way back down to sea level. A nice option but I think not!!

IMG_0709  M We encountered monkeys everywhere on the Rock and they have absolutely no fear of people and were even happy to pose for pictures!

IMG_0710  N At the entrance to St. Michael's Cave.

IMG_0711b  O Stalagmites and stalactites.

IMG_0717  P The concert hall inside the cave. See Maisie way up on the left.

IMG_0720  Q Maisie and I in the concert hall. I can just imagine the acoustics in there, it would have been fun to hear a concert.

IMG_0725b  RMaisie and I with the Strait of Gibraltar behind us. The land to the right of us in the picture is Spain and behind our heads and to the left, lost mostly in the fog, is Morocco.

IMG_0736  S Maisie and I along one of the paths with the view looking north. See that fort at the top of the picture, yep we were making our way back up to there to catch the cable car back down the Rock.

After our time on the Rock Maisie was tired as she had walked most of our time up there so she settled herself in the stroller and promptly fell asleep. I was thrilled that she was out as it allowed me some time to wander in and out of the shops and do some shopping. Maisie slept for about 1.5 hours and then when she awoke she was hungry so I bought us each a samosa which we ate as we continued to make our way back to the ship but then we passed an ice cream place and just had to stop so we shared an ice cream then headed back to the ship.

Since Maisie had napped in the stroller she was ready to go and when she realized that Belle and Tiana were in the lobby she wanted to hurry and put on her Princess wear and get pictures so that's what we did.

IMG_0761  T Maisie couldn't get enough of Belle and surprisingly wasn't afraid of the Beast.

IMG_0762  U Maisie roped me into the picture again. I didn't realize that I had dressed to match Belle.

IMG_0764  V Two beautiful Princesses.

IMG_0769  W Yep, dragged into the picture again.

IMG_0770 X Maisie being silly behind the Mickey statue outside Lumiere's Restaurant.

IMG_0753  Y On deck waiting for the ship to leave Gibraltar.

IMG_0786  Z Molly came to see the ship leave too and found Maisie on deck.

IMG_0790  AA Two cutie-patooties.

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