Tour of Real Madrid’s Home: Bernabéu Stadium

I may not be the world’s most serious football (soccer) fan.  Or the world’s 100-millionth most serious football (soccer!) fan.  But I know to recognize where history happened, where history happens, or where history will happen.  Madrid‘s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium is all three and I was looking forward to touring the facility.  It is well-known to be a great tour so well worth the cost to go in.  Bernabéu, which seats over 80,000 fans, is the seat of Real Madrid, a football team over 100 years old (the stadium dates from 1947).  Real Madrid is the most valuable football team in the world, valued at over $3B.  Yep, that is a “B.”   And this is their home.Bernabeu, Madrid, museum, museo, Real Madrid, tour, Spain, tourism, travel, photo, Olympus

The tour takes you through the history of the club showing famous trophies, shoes and other items in a multi-media and interactive setting.

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One can listen to stadium sounds in this exhibit

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Raul’s shoes in a display of famous players’ shoes – no favoritism here

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Exhibit showing Raul’s best goals

The museum really helps emphasize, though its interpretation, the glory of the Real Madrid club.  Beyond this, the visitor gets to see the field of play as spectators do from a high vantage point and, later, as players do:  right from the field and from their bench!

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Top seating area – not a bad seat!

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On the field!  And I sprinted across its width too

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The lesser known but more impressive Raúl

The tour takes the visitor back door through the locker room and other spots before leading the visitor, surprise, to the stadium store – of course.

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Players’ showers

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The locker room (wonder if they need to see their photo to remember their spot…)

Bernabéu is an incredible place, I am sure, to watch a match.  I hope to re-visit it one day as a spectator!

This is one amazing place to check out in Madrid!  Pin to your travel board!

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2015 – A Year in Review

2015 is almost over and it is time for the year in review which, I think, is an exercise not just in writing but in re-living the many blessings the year bestowed on me.  Here it goes and share with me some of the travels in your 2015!

In the city of brotherly love – Philadelphia, USA

My first trip of the year was to Philadelphia where family and friends live.  It is a place I love to visit though I do not get to do so often.  I welcome the opportunity whenever it comes though as I greatly enjoy spending time with my aunt and uncle who make me feel so at home whenever I go.  Though I got to see many, I did not get to see all my relatives nor all my friends which was a bummer – but good reason to go back!  As usual, my uncle likes to show me around places historical to both country and family.  I had not visited Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell since the early 90s and I enjoyed my visit there.  We also went to Valley Forge which had a special look since it was winter-time (and was also very cold!).

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Liberty Bell with Independence Hall behind it

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Independence Hall across the mall

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Valley Forge in winter – reminder of the cost of our freedom

Now, those places are not where the family history comes from 🙂 instead this building served as their home right after they moved up there from Miami.

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House where my parents and relatives lived

My first hike of the year – Blood Mountain, Georgia, USA

My first hike of the year was a training hike as I was going on a trek to Patagonia with Trekking for Kids.  My friend Phil who also enjoys hiking and I decided to do a hike near Blood Mountain that ended up -accidentally- in a climb of Blood Mountain.  While it was unplanned, it was a fortunate ‘accident’ as it all ended well and we enjoyed great vistas and trails.

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Entering Freeman Trail from the Appalachian Trail

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Along Jarrard Gap, the start of our hike

An amazing metropolis – Buenos Aires, Argentina

The orphanage work related to my trek to Patagonia was going to take place on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina.  So I knew I was going to be spending time in this great city – and more importantly, eating the best beef in the world paired with great wine!  I enjoyed walking about town and having nice meals with my fellow trekkers (some which I knew already and some which I met there).

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The parrillada at Campo Bravo

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Don’t forget dessert: this beauty courtesy of Cabaña Las Lilas

But the best part was meeting the children and staff of the two homes we worked with on our projects which included repairing a very leaky roof and damaged walls and furniture.  Much as I loved spending time in BB.AA., this work was the highlight of my time there!

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Painting new furniture with the kids was an adventure onto itself!

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These kids were hard workers and also great with the soccer ball!

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At Temaiken, Buenos Aires’ zoo

Back in time – Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

When planning my Buenos Aires travel, I decided to add an extra day to cross the river by ferry and spend half a day exploring a town that was a good throwback to the colonial period of the region:  Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay.  I sold three other trekkers on doing this short trip with me and we had a great time walking the streets of this easy-going town.  I highly recommend making the crossing if you ever have time in Buenos Aires!

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One of the MANY vintage vehicles in town – an Austin

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Basilica del Sagrado Sacramento

My favorite spot on Earth – Chile’s Patagonia

As I wrote earlier this year, I loved Patagonia when I first visited the Perito Moreno glacier and Chile‘s amazing Patagonia in 2010.  I’d always hoped I could return some day and that did happen… in 2015, much sooner than I’d ever thought possible.  I returned to hike around Fitz Roy in Argentina, re-visit the Perito Moreno glacier, and then trek through the Torres del Paine National Park – which I had not done in 2010.  And it was a rewarding effort for sure with great vistas and a glacier hike to boot.  Memorable is not a good enough word for the experience.  And, secretly, I hope I get to return a second time for my third visit!!  (click on the hyperlinks above to see more photos from each of the visits)

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Grey glacier, where we hiked

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On the trail to Fitz Roy

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The Torres del Paine massif

The great northwest – Portland, Oregon

Thanks to work, I spent five days in Portland, Oregon.  I had never been to Oregon so it was cool that I got to go there.  I arrived at mid-day on a Sunday and decided to take a walking tour of Portland as it would be the most effective way to see the highlights of the town while enjoying the great weather.

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Portland street

Mercifully, daylight went on late so I got to take advantage of it to take a drive along the Columbia River to see the waterfalls that dot the riverside.   I also got to enjoy dinners in establishments along either side of the river which was a phenomenal day to end the workday.

Family, friends and food fest (4 F’s) – Spain, olé!

Friends of mine were going to hike the Camino de Santiago, a hike I did in 2014.  I thought it would be cool to combine my wish to meet relatives I had not met who live in the outskirts of Santiago with my friends’ arrival in Santiago de Compostela.  My grandmother has two surviving cousins she never met in person who live in Bastavales.  I had met one of them last year when I finished the Camino walk but I had not met the other.  So I met María and her son, grandkids and great-grandkids for the first time and enjoyed their warmth and sharing special memories and photos of the family.  I also visited time with Flora, the cousin I had met last year.  It was really cool.

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With Maria, my grandmother’s cousin

I then welcomed my friends and their fellow trekkers as they arrived in Santiago at the end of their Camino.  It was wonderful seeing them glow in joy as they wrapped their long walk.  After they got their Compostela and going to Pilgrim’s Mass, it was time to celebrate with some cañas (beer) and tapas in one of the many beautiful old streets of this phenomenal city.  We also took a day trip to Finisterre on the Atlantic coast, a nice place.

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Beer and tapas in Santiago de Compostela

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The left side of the Cathedral

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With friends Phil and Tommy at Finisterre

The visit with my friends continued in Madrid and, after they left, I got to spend time with madrileños friend of mine, enjoying good drinks, food, and atmosphere around town.  It was fun spending more time in Madrid (check out “6 Cool Things to Do in Madrid“!).  I love Spain but I loved more the opportunity to be there with friends!

Reuniting with dear friends – California

In late May, dear friends left Atlanta to head to California due to a job opportunity.  It was hard to see them go as I spent many a Friday night over ten years hanging out with them pre-kids and after-kids.  So, it was great when work offered me the opportunity to go to San Francisco so I could spend the weekend after the conference with them in their home outside of San Jose.  They took me to two great Mexican restaurants, one of them right by where they live.  I enjoyed a drive down Pebble Beach on the famous 17-mile drive (which I still have to write about!).  And we visited the charming coastal town of Carmel – and its impressive mission.

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Glorious skies at the Carmel Mission

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Waters along the 17-Mile drive

Up-north (WAY up north) – Duluth, Minnesota

Work took me for a brief business trip up north, to a small town 45 mins north of Duluth, Minnesota.  Driving along the coast of Lake Superior was very nice and peaceful.  We only had one night in Duluth but enjoyed a nice breakfast at a mom-and-pop type of place and dinner at a pub.  Of course, being the traveler that I am, never having gone to Wisconsin, and realizing I was just a bridge-crossing, I just had to do it… We had mostly an open morning so, along with a colleague, I drove across the water to a coffee shop I found online in the town of Superior, Wisconsin!  A coffee later, we crossed the bridge again and back in Minnesota!

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Wisconsin, here we come!

Returning to one my favorites – Chicago, Illinois

I first went to Chicago in a bitterly cold January in 1991 with company for training.  And I kept returning over the years mainly in winter.  This year I got to go in August for pleasure, after spending a few days in Minnesota for work.  I got to enjoy walking everywhere, getting to the lake, which I had never done.  I also explored new parts of town thanks to friends (including little gems in terms of eateries).   Overall, what I enjoyed most about this trip was a first for me in Chicago:  going to a museum!  The Art Institute of Chicago was right up my alley as very much an amateur in terms of art.  It made it all approachable and enjoyable without overwhelming.  I highly recommend it.  I look forward to returning to Chicago and having more time to see all the friends who live there (this was practically a day-and-a-half visit) – and explore a new museum or two!Chicago, Illinois, skyscraper, cityscape, photo, glass. buildings, architecture

An epic trek to close the year – on the route to Everest Base Camp, Nepal

I was not planning any other hike on 2015 after having done Patagonia earlier in the year.  However, I found out that several folks I knew from prior treks were going to do the trek to Everest Base Camp and I started wondering if I could go…  I was generally fit even if not well-trained, it was a generally good time to go from a work standpoint, and though I did not have vacation time to be able to go to base camp, the trek offered a shorter itinerary.  So, I went for it.  I had a great time and was thrilled to having seen the Himalayas, Mt. Everest, and the hamlets and people of the highlands of Nepal.  I am still writing about the trek so I will just point you to a couple of the writings:  flying into scary Lukla airport to begin the hike, day one of the hike (you can keep going from there to later days), and one of the neat sites I saw in Kathmandu.  The best part of the trek was the work done before the trek in the village of Kumari.  Check out the work we did with Trekking for Kids here.

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The prayer wheels

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Kids from Kumari

Epilogue to a year that ends…

2015 was an epic year.  From great hiking experiences, time with family and friends, new destinations, and good food and drinks, it had it all.  I got to step in South America, North America, Asia, and Europe all in one year!  However, as the year came to a close, we lost my stepdad, Rubén.  It was a bittersweet time as he had been suffering from Alzheimer‘s and his last week was one full of suffering.  So his passing offered him rest that we were thankful for, sad as it was to not have him around us any more.  Rubén, as my Mom, loved to travel.  They traveled across Europe and other places many times.  I got to travel with them and my sister and her family in several cruises to the Caribbean, Alaska, and the Baltic Sea, as well as explore places like Copenhagen, Panama, and Paris (where they visited me in 1999 when I was living there).  Though we will sorely miss him in this final journey he has undertaken, I know I will see again at the final destination.  Until then, I will continuing journeying here.  Rest in peace, Rubén!

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In Panama in 2009

6 Cool Things to Do in Fantastic Madrid

I have visited Madrid several times and, while it may not have the charm of Paris or Venice, it is a town meant to be lived, not visited.  And I don’t mean “lived” as in “live there” but a place “to live life.”  Sure, other cities are beautiful and glamorous but I find cities where life is lived to the fullest the best.  And such is Madrid.  Here are some cool things to do in the Spanish capital.

Drinks at the Westin

The Westin is an extremely well-situated hotel in the best part of Madrid.  It has incredible architectural charm – and a great lobby lounge with separate areas to sit, depending on your mood.  My favorite spot was right under the colorful and bright cupola.  If you don’t get to stay at the hotel, at minimum, go and treat yourself to a glass of wine or a cocktail.

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Awesome glasswork

Tapas and drinks at Plaza Santa Ana

Plaza Santa Ana is at the heart of Madrid. Sure the Plaza Mayor officially is “the” plaza in Madrid.  But, Plaza Santa Ana is small, manageable and a great spot to sit and watch life, while enjoying tapas and beer/wine.  And the great thing is that you can do it from the plaza itself – or from above at the trendy and cool bar at the roof terrace of the Reina Victoria Hotel.  There is a charge to go up but it applies to a drink – so as long as you have a drink, entrance is free.  And the views of the Plaza at night are awesome.

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The Hotel Reina Victoria at sunset

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View from the rooftop terrace of the Hotel Reina Victoria (Teatro Español in the background)

Tapas crawl!

The Plaza Santa Ana is a wonderful place to hang out.  But Madrid is full of neighborhood plazas and other areas where you can find the most delicious spots to have a tapa and a caña (short beer).  Madrileños on a typical night out move from tapas bar to tapas bar prior to going somewhere for dinner.  A great spot for tapas is near the Calle Cervantes where the are several good establishments.  Taberna La Daniela, Cervecería Cervantes and Taberna de la Dolores are all different and great spots to eat, sip, walk, and repeat!  And my local friends actually referred me to these places so you know they are good!

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Taberna de la Dolores

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About to go in!

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The counter at La Daniela – always hang out at the counter!

 The Mercado San Miguel

I could not believe that I had never visited the Mercado San Miguel in Madrid until I learned that it had been closed for years to open finally again in 2009.  It is a feast for the eyes – and the palate.  The structure itself is about one hundred years old with a style reminiscent of Paris metro entrances.  But the main attraction is, of course, the food!  Stop there for a bite or a meal – and a glass of wine, ¡por supuesto!

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Mercado San Miguel

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Color and flavor!

Drinks with a view

Thanks to my local friend, I discovered the “Azotea,” or rooftop, at the Círculo de Bellas Artes building on the Calle de Alcalá.  It offers not only a bar but all sorts of comfy spaces to just lounge.  It must be spectacular at night but it is great at sunset or just during the day time to admire the views.

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The Azotea terrace

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The former main post office – now the Palacio de Comunicaciones

And just walking around

Walking about, aimlessly, sometimes yields the best experiences in a city.  Madrid is no different.  My friends showed me around districts I did not know with small plazas and great places to enjoy food and drinks.  This is the best way to get the vibe of a place.  You can stroll through parks like the famous El Retiro, grand avenues or tiny old streets.  cobblestone, street, Madrid, walk, walking, Spain, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy cobblestone, street, Madrid, walk, walking, Spain, travel, tourism, photo, Olympus

Also, Madrid is a great town to see monuments and buildings old and new so if you like architecture, walk, I say!

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Puerta de Alcalá near El Retiro

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Plaza Mayor

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Cathedral of the Almudena

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The Royal Palace (Palacio Real) in Madrid, Spain

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Congress (Congreso de los Diputados)

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Walking unknowingly by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we happened upon the presentation of credentials by foreign ambassadors who crossed the Plaza Mayor (I assume coming from the royal palace) and dropped/picked up the dignitaries in colorful carriages.  So one never knows what one will find!

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One of the carriages

Hope you enjoy Madrid!  Have you been?  Any places you’d recommend??

Add Madrid to your travel board!!

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My First Landing in Europe – Spain via Amsterdam

Back in early 1992, a couple of friends and I had the flash thought that we needed to go to the Olympics in Barcelona that summer.  Why not, right?  As we started reading about Spain we decided we needed to check out a few places besides Barcelona which was bound to be zoo-like during the Games.  I, having studied high school in a Latin country, knew a lot more than my peers about the historical cities and buildings in Spain (El Alhambra in Granada; la Mezquita de Córdoba; and the importance of Sevilla in the discovery and colonization of the New World by Spain).  I recall one afternoon setting out a large map of Spain on the floor of one of my friend’s apartment and with a book of Spain at hand, set out to plan an itinerary of sorts.  Our third friend wasn’t there but he would be fine with whatever we decided.

Planning the trip

OK, that was the extent of our planning.  Those days being pre-Internet, expensive international long distance and 3 of us very busy guys, we did not further planning than our route and the car rental (if memory serves me right on that last bit).  No hotels, no tickets to events, nothing.  We got our tickets but I was to fly a day earlier and from JFK given where I was at the time.  The two of them would fly in together the next day on a direct flight from Atlanta (I was connecting through Amsterdam for a cheaper flight – important back then as I think I ended up paying on the cheaper flight about $900!).

Crossing the Pond

This was my first time in Europe but not my first time abroad.  I had already been to Panama, Mexico, Chile, and Argentina.  Leaving out of JFK was then, as it still is today, an experience.  What a zoo.  Right after our KLM 747 pulled away from the gate, a TWA plane taking off had to abort the takeoff and crashed (no one died mericfully;  A sort of benefit from this event is that I now can remember the day I flew to Spain for the first time! (July 30th, 1992).

Anyway, on with the story…  This event resulted in planes not taking off for a few hrs but JFK airport being JFK, people and flights kept piling on so we were not taken back to the gate.  Instead, we sat on the tarmac for about 4 hrs.  The crew decided to go ahead and serve dinner during the period.  The plane was hot and this Norwegian woman around me kept talking non-stop.  I was not a happy camper…  Mercifully, after the dinner service, the plane’s doors were open and staffed by flight attendants (so no one would jump off, I suppose).  This helped make the plane a tad less warm and likely prevented someone from slapping the Norwegian silly.

Of course, this meant I would miss my connection to Madrid in Amsterdam.  I didn’t miss it by much and that probably irritated me more.  But I have to say the travel gods were smiling upon me.  Can you imagine if my first landing in Europe with a missed connection had been in CDG??  That would have been a dreadful experience and I am glad I was at beautiful and efficient Schiphol!

In Madrid – Olé

KLM properly took care of putting me on another flight to my destination so I boarded an Iberia flight a couple of hours later to get to Madrid.  Of course I was jetlagged but the excitement of being in Europe carried me through.  I don’t recall at this point how much I may have slept on the trans-Atlantic flight (I am not a big plane sleeper) but I remember dozing off on the way to Madrid.  I had done some research on how to get to town and had ended up booking a hostal for my first night in Madrid (we were to leave Madrid the next day after my friends landed).

An easy bus ride from the airport to Plaza Colón dropped me, off for little money, a few blocks from my hostal.  I don’t know if it was technically a hostal but it was like a massive apartment (or several) that an older couple ran (Hostal Principado, near the Thyssen Museum).  The room was small but clean and efficient.  However, it got loud outside late at night and I learned my first lesson on bringing along earplugs!

I used the rest of the day to walk around and explore.  Thanks to trip notes I took at the time, I remember that I walked around the Parque del Retiro then headed to the Puerta del Sol and ended up having tapas at the Cervecería Alemana, back then recommended by my guide book.

Parque del Retiro

The next day, I took the same bus back to pick up my friends at the airport.  These not being the days of international ATM’ing, we headed to the American Express office to exchange currency prior to heading to the Chamartín train station to book our train tickets for the overnight ride to Barcelona.  One of my friends didn’t speak anything but English and the other, son of Colombian parents raised in the U.S., understood some but couldn’t speak Spanish much which meant I did a lot of the talking – which was fine by me!  By the way, we did all this carrying our bags with us (shoulder bag for me)!

We explored some of Madrid that day to keep everyone awake and since we had no accommodations in Madrid as I had checked out of the hostal.  (Thinking back, why didn’t I ask them if I could leave my bags and my friends’ bags during that day???)  We went to the Palacio Real, Madrid’s awesome Plaza Mayor, and walked to the Gran Vía (a main avenue in Madrid; a great bakery in Puerto Rico which sourced many a birthday cake in our family!).  We walked back to the Paseo del Prado (the road where the Prado museum is located) and we decided to just head to the train station from there.

We got lucky that we got a 6-bed compartment (two bunks of 3 beds) just for the 3 of us so we could spread out.  Not having been in a real train before, much less overnight, I didn’t sleep soundly but well enough for the purpose.

Our Olympic adventure in Barcelona, subject of my next entry, was about to start!

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