There’s No Place Like Home

As I write this, I’m sitting in the lounge at the Barcelona airport, waiting to board our very long flight home, and reflecting on the last ten days. It’s been a wonderful time all in all, with really too much to capture here, but of course there were the requisite weird things. Here are some highlights:

Vatican City: It was super-crowded but we were supposed to be on a very expensive “Small Group Special Access” tour, which I had assumed meant we’d get some special privileges, like saying Hi to the pope and whatnot. We did not. We saw pretty much everything that all the other tourists saw as they shuffle-stepped shoulder to shoulder through the narrow hallways of the Sistine Chapel. We did get to tour the pope’s gardens—they were gorgeous and there were, randomly, a lot of large turtles. We also got into the Basilica without lining up for 2 hours. And the coolest thing in there was the actual corpse of some guy, an ex-pope I guess, and he was coated in wax to preserve him. Obviously I needed a picture of that—I mean The Birth Of Man is one thing but a preserved corpse?! And the best and weirdest part is the the clear case he’s lying in is BULLETPROOF. Just in case. In case of what, I have no idea. Also, we discovered that you have to read the shore excursion descriptions very carefully. For example, when it says “Gaze in wonder at the Uffizi Art Gallery where the Statue Of David resides”, it means you can look at the Uffizi from the outside but you don’t get to go in. And some of those gazes cost a pretty penny, so we learned to interpret correctly.

We toured France, Spain, and Italy. In France, nobody said anything about crime, but in Spain and Italy, every single person, from the hotel concierge, the tour guides, the bus drivers, and restaurant staff would tell us, “Keep your bag in front of you and put your wallet in your front pocket.” How bad is the pickpocketing situation when the citizens of a country are like, “These are my people but they WILL rob you blind. Trust no one, not even our children.” Strange endorsement. Ken, of course, insisted on keeping his wallet in his back pocket on the grounds that “it had a button flap”. As if that would stop a pickpocket, KEN. So I had to stand behind him all the time, guarding his butt.

Valencia. This is one of the most whack places I’ve ever been to. We took a tour called Valencia: City of Flowers, but there didn’t seem to be any more flowers there than anywhere else in Spain. And not once in the 3-hour tour did our tour guide tell us why Valencia is called that. Although apparently it SHOULD be called the City of Fires because most of the tour was him telling us about this bizarre festival they have every year where people carve giant wooden statues, some 20 storeys tall, some costing $800 000, and then at the end of the festival, THEY SET FIRE TO THEM. One of the guys on our tour asked, “Is it like Burning Man?” and the tour guide said, in a very deadpan way, “No. No, it’s not. Not at all.” Then he took us to a museum full of some of the statues because every year, the statue that’s voted the best one is saved from the fire. And if you’re thinking these statues were like Greek or Roman statues, or even Renaissance style, you’d be wrong because they weren’t and they were TERRIFYING. My particular favourite was the one of the babies all eating each other.

On the way back to the boat, we passed a park, and the tour guide said, “If you look over there, you’ll see a statue of a dog on fire. This park is very nice, for the children to come and play.” And those are two sentences I never thought I would hear back to back.

One of the best things about cruising though is that you see a lot of the same people each day, and sometimes you get to know a couple of them well enough to become friends. That happened to us with a few fellow travelers: Dee and Joe from Buffalo (she talked exactly like Joan Rivers), and Dontae and Lisa who were both in the military and were taking their first vacation in years before being stationed in Tokyo. They were our partners in the wine blending challenge and our concoction, aptly called “Dontae’s Inferno”, took second place and won us bottles of wine. And then there were Glenn and Kanya, two of the loveliest people I’ve ever had the fortune of meeting. We sat together for lunch on an excursion and immediately felt like we’d known them forever. Glenn was a trivia king, but not hardcore like some people, who took the promise of a “life-changing prize” a little too seriously and were severely disappointed when they found out it was a pop socket. The running joke became that our trivia team was called “Glenn From Vancouver” because, despite the fact that he was clearly Australian, Ken mistakenly introduced him to Dontae and Lisa as Glenn from Vancouver much to everyone’s delight. I hope we see them again one day. But for now, it’s good to be home. I know Atlas missed us–well at least one of us:

Me: Hey Buddy, we’re back!
Atlas: Daddy!!
Me: I really missed you. Did you miss me?
Atlas: Meh. DADDY!!!!

Still, it’s good to know that we can leave him in the care of our dogsitter (as well as my parents and our neighbours who helped out as well), and he’s not traumatized. And now the only thing I need to do is get over the jetlag…