Writing about something that often left me speechless is difficult. I cannot communicate how much this trip has been a life changer. MORE than anything, I am SURE that being AWAY from tourist traps, out of the tourist crowds, and having friends FROM Spain/Italy be our hosts (read: being treated as an insider while you explore strange villages), has made this experience unique. I just don't think many Americans get to experience Europe this way unless they are visiting family when they go. This was fantastic. **Pictures are still being reviewed.............there are many. A little background: For some ten years now, we've often traveled with a little fella named Ranger Gus. He was found just sitting on a shelf 10-12 years ago in the Buchart Gardens gift shop in Victoria, BC while we were traveling with Aunt Paula. We saw this smartly dressed bear-guy in the gift shop. We touched his tummy and he said, "Hi! I'm Ranger Gus!". We touched it again, and he said, "Are you ready for adventure?" That was it. From then on, he's been with us, and in keeping with a promise to Paula since she can't go with us often, we take him and as a result, he just may show up in a picture or two. Here he was pre-trip begging NOT to be put in a damn bag again: Yep, he flew in the baggage area, but he's pretty calm and patient. I will only be able to write about a few bits a day............... I'm still catching up on what Oregon means in summer: work. It's berry season NOW! This is what the garden looked like when we left (I thought it really looked "full"): Oh well. Leading up to our departure, Mac seemed to get a little clingy. I'm sure we were acting different, getting things cleaned up, packed, but he did cling to us more than normal, at least until David and Serafina arrived with his two pals, Abby & Glinda. They had come from Alameda with plans to stay here with their pups taking care of Mac and enjoying life (I hoped) while we traveled. Sounds perfect for us and Mac. Despite a few hiccups getting them set up, we were driven to the airport June 2 and with no problems, were soon on a Lufthansa Airbus to Frankfurt, DE where we'd transfer to another Lufthansa flight into Barcelona. Barcelona would be our destination vacation for the first 4 days. Lufthansa's a nice airline. MORE leg room it seems to me, and they didn't seem to leave you alone for long. Two hot meals, drinks anytime, snacks, I thought they did a good job making a 12 hour flight bearable. OH yes, don't forget that twice, they pass around hot damp soft cloths to help one get a fresh look at things. Nice touch. We enjoyed looking at Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland from the windows. Frankfurt's a mammoth hub for Lufthansa, and some concourses are connected by "tunnels" underneath that can cut down your walking by a lot. This was a fun maze to get through..........one could easily get lost. This was my first eye-opener here: Americans get so pompous about their place in the world. We should have gotten over our empire feel a long time ago. That was my first time I saw 10-12 747's of India Air passengers traveling the world. Half of our Barcelona plane were India/Pakistani folk, all with plenty of money to enjoy the world. Next biggest crowd it seemed were the Scandinavians. Hundreds. I felt poor watching lots of these folk celebrating life, enjoying life seemingly very easily. I still had not quite internalized what Barcelona really is: a city of 5 million passionate Catalunyans, and their city has become a truly destination hot spot for people from round the world. The plane from Frankfurt to "BCN" was another airbus nearly as large as the transatlantic vehicle. The flight was beautifully smooth, and moreso, beautifully memorable because of the sights! We flew over Italy’s Lake Como District seeing Geneva, and the mounaints around it. We saw the South of France, flew out over the Mediterrean for my first life view of it. As we approach BCN, we can see the real size of this city and picked out a few historic sites from the air as we approached. Flying fatigue seemed to vanish. We landed, and despite the 200_+ people on the plane, luckily saw our own luggage come out on the ramp early. We approached Customs with a dread remembering the new Bush & Cheney “homeland security” procedures in America. The handsome Spanish guard saw us, asked where from, we said America, he said, “Welcome to Espana” and we were through. My English must have been SO excellent, he had no recognition of my suspicious past. We were on our WAY! We lugged the stuff a couple blocks to the train that took us to mid-town connections for the real train that would take us to Reus. Reus is to be the city we visit for our first 3-4 days because Elena & Emilio, our hosts, are there for a science conference, and wanted to show us Espana outside of the tourist grasp. Anyway, at the big train depot, there were NO clear signs or indications of what concourse, track that would happen. We asked personnel who directed us to Line 9. At line 9 again, no indication that this train would be going to Reus so we didn’t board. For the 3rd time, I approach someone to ask, “Habla English?” This time the handsome person responded with a British accent saying, “You can speak English.” Well, HE didn’t know anymore than we, it appeared HE was traveling to Sitges for a gay weekend at the beach. That wouldn’t help us. So THAT was our first realization we were truly in a foreign country. We made a quick adjustment, learned how to ask things, and then we're on our way. Once in Reus, we called to find Emilio at the hotel waiting for us. He walked to the station to meet us and we walked through the heart of this old merchant city to the Hotel Gaudi and checked in, showered off the long travel hours to find oueselves newly rejuvenated. So without pause, Emilio walked us around our narrow streets to see the our first very old Cathedral actually relatively new for this area, only 400 years old. Beautiful pristine condition….. We made a stop at one of he and elena’s favorite Tapas Bar for iced coffee, then to La Biandi, to find his old friend Mauro, an Italian running his own business in Spain and living with his girlfriend of 8 years....yes, just a tiny bar, coffee shop, and all-round gathering place for “friends”. Fabulous. Here we meet another of Emilio's old friends: Franco, (he and wife Maita are their old dear friends) So it is that our new European experience has begun! But little did we know that the day was NOT nearly over. The night had big surprises for us in this exotic old city. With Ranger Gus happily out of the bag, he immediately began to enjoy his trip abroad: By the way, THIS is how the garden looked last week on the day we got home: We're STILL trying to give away lettuce.......I could NOT believe how it changed in two weeks.