Happy Anniversary Deadsplinter!

I love anniversaries. I celebrate little else, except for Thanksgiving, and normally throw a big holiday party in December, but the rest, especially my birthday, passes unnoticed.

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to tell you a story about our anniversary. It is a Tale of Two Cities.

Our anniversary is in August. Every two or three years we go to Europe to celebrate, but we wait until October. Southern Europe, where we go, is either dead in August or jam-packed with Europeans and others on vacation in the vacation places. We were supposed to go to Greece this year but…

One year we went to Barcelona. We like taking double-decker tour buses to get the lay of the land. The October we went there was a brief, freakish, rainy cold snap. We had but one umbrella between us. We decided we would make the best of it on the open-air top deck and snuggle together. It was very romantic. We had already spent a few days outside Barcelona and the previous day in the city. As we gazed upon the Mediterranean from our bus my husband said, out of the blue,

“This is so much better than Rome. God I hated Rome.”

“You hated ROME? Do you realize you’re one of the few people on earth who would say such a thing?“

“First of all, that hotel you found for us was in Chinatown. If we wanted to stay in a Chinatown we could have gone back to that fun hotel in San Francisco.“

“Rome’s Chinatown is like three blocks and is within walking distance of Termini [the central train station] where the airport shuttle dropped us off, so we didn’t get ripped off by a Roman cab driver.”

“Then we spent not one day but two at the Vatican. We’re not Catholic. What was—“

“If you’ll recall, my rain-soaked husband, we walked across the Ponte Sant’Angelo, and admired all the Bernini statues. The first day we saw the Sistine Chapel and the Gardens, and the next we went through the museums.”

“Get off me. It stopped raining. Do you remember how hot it was and nothing was open?”

“We had beautiful weather and Rome was having a rolling strike. So yes, but that’s why we went into Vatican City. They weren’t having any strikes. Or they did but it was different hours for different things. We didn’t starve and we didn’t need the subway or the buses. And it was over by the time our flight left.”

“Every time we go to Italy everything seems to be closed. Do you remember when we were up in the north and you insisted we go to this one town for the waterfront cafes and the shopping?“

“It was the town’s Saint’s Day and I could not have known that in advance. Plus that bus station sandwich was pretty tasty. And I won 20 euros at the tabletop slot machine.”

“You should have known it was the town’s Saint’s Day, you’re the one making pilgrimages to the Vatican. I think you call ahead and make everything close. It’s almost supernatural.”

“I have The Holy Father’s Blessing, what can I say. Look, it turned out to be a beautiful day. And pack up, this is where I want to get off.”

“Where are we?”

“Ahead of us is Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, one of the world’s most significant architectural structures. It’s still under construction all these decades later and I think undergoing renovation. We’ll see.”

We got off the tour bus.

“Yes, but what is it?”

“It’s a basilica, kind of like a cathedral.”

“Oh my God.”

“That’s the spirit. But wow, that line is really long.”

Upon further inspection and chats I learned that very little of it was open to the public. We went to a perfectly charming little deli and retreated to a nearby park within sight of Sagrada Familia with our sandwiches and drinks.

“Didn’t you tell me that they don’t speak Spanish here? You’ve been jabbering away since the moment the plane landed.”

“They prefer to speak Catalan, we’re in Catalonia, but they can speak Spanish. Thing is they’re forced to learn it, so it’s very touchy. I obviously don’t speak Spanish fluently enough to be taken for a Spaniard, and we’re both so American we get a pass for trying to be helpful and fit in. It’s like when we go to Montréal and I get stuck in French and speak English. Are you done? There’s another bus. I want to go to the big stadium and pick up souvenir soccer shirts for all the nieces and nephews. The stadium’s on the itinerary. Pray that there’s not a game on today.”

“You didn’t used to be this crazy.”

“Now I have means, motive, and opportunity.”



  1. Love it.  We need more of these from you.
    Isn’t the Sagrada Familia also part of what was supposed to be–for lack of a better term–a Gaudi-designed subdivision?  I seem to recall a bunch of Gaudi homes are supposed to be in the area.
    Also:  I’m going to need to bend your ear at some point about Italy.  One of these days, Mrs. Butcher and I plan on a trip to Assisi.

    • That’s very flattering, thank you. I (used to) travel quite a bit but mostly to the usual suspects in the US, Canada and Western Europe. I’ve been to Assisi. I wouldn’t spend more than a day there, but it’s in one of the most beautiful parts of Italy. That whole area, Umbria, has all these fascinating hill towns. Nearby is Perugia, where the chocolate is made. They also have this university that caters to Americans (I think it’s some kind of cash grab; the Americans don’t seem to learn much Italian) so it sometimes feels like you’re at a particularly scenic and ancient Big 10 school. 

  2. Wow, your attitude makes you a good travel partner, although I’m afraid I would be more like your husband. I’m good for one or two tourist things a day, and I really don’t care for buses. I’m happy to do what you ended up doing with the cafe + picnic and trying to ignore the loud Americans.

    • Barcelona was pretty good for this. There aren’t a lot of must-see sights. We shopped a lot, and ate and drank a lot. Although the city is overrun with tourists and expats it’s surprisingly easy to stay away from them so I don’t know where they stay and live. We stayed in the Eixample near the university and the gayborhood was to our west so promptly at 5 we were back there. We never really got over our jet lag and it’s true about Spaniards, especially Barcelonans, they’re extremely social and tend to eat very late, but we remained on New York time so we’d get to bed at like 2 in the morning and be raring to go by 5 or 6. It was absolutely insane. Can’t wait to go back but Catalonia/Catalunya is one of the worst-hit Covid-19 spots in Europe so this might take a while. 

    • It’s true though. Italy is very unpredictable. We were somewhere else, I think in Liguria, and out of boredom I said, “Here’s a bus, let’s take it and see where it drops us off.” We went to this lovely town that had a deconsecrated chapel that was used to store discarded larger-then-life crucifixes, each one more luridly displaying “The Passion of the Christ” in 3-D form. It was on the honor system, the doors were open but there was no one else in there, so we left some money in a box by the door and took a look around.
      “This is so creepy and strange. Why did they do this?”
      “Dunno. Wait. Here’s a plaque. It says, and I’m loosely translating, that the region is seeing a falloff in church attendance and the mission of the…group, I guess…is to store the closed churches’ crucifixes in a safe and sacred place.”
      “How safe and sacred can it be if you and I can just wander in?”
      “That’s a good question. Look at this one. It’s wooden but it looks like it might be 1,000 years old. Just out here.”
      “I think it’s time to go before you start talking to the Jesuses and they start responding.”

    • We’ve sometimes traveled with other couples or in a group and this always happens. A sextet of us happened to be in London once. We both know London pretty well so my husband proposed a shopping expedition. I counter-proposed a tour led by me that would be done via a double-decker public bus. They had this ticket or card for tourists where you could get on and off public transit as many times as you wanted. A friend and I did that. We took the Tube down to Victoria Station and found this bus. We pretty much had the top deck to ourselves. I think Londoners would know much quicker ways to get where they wanted to go. We saw many things. We ended up at the Tower of London (se we went west to east on this one lone bus route) and it took something like 10 hours, because of me. But my friend seemed to enjoy it. 

      • Sounds about right — and I’m definitely your side on this. I love my wife dearly but she sometimes focuses on the raindrop she felt on her head rather than the double rainbow in front of her.

        I think it runs in my family: My mother is a *blast* to travel with.

    • I’m a big fan of “everyone seems to be heading down this street. Where do you think they’re going?” It’s often to a subway station transit hub but we follow along. It’s a good way to imagine how the citizenry must live. And plus if you’re in a foreign country and can speak/have an interest in the language everything’s interesting. “Oh, so THAT’S how you say ‘monthly furniture to rent no money down’.”

  3. …can vouch for the local festivals thing being hard to predict in advance…although in my case the time that always springs to mind was in Catalonia rather than Italy…a friend & I took a (fairly) brief (& distinctly budget) trip there in the off-season some years ago & I remember the pair of us waiting around for the best part of a morning wondering what had become of the bus we’d been expecting to catch before realising it was a random holiday of some sort…& we weren’t going to be going anyplace before a new day dawned…& having to pitch a couple of tents in a lovely spot that I’m fairly certain we weren’t allowed to camp in just off a similarly lovely beach

    …mercifully there was one valiant beach bar that was still open & the proprietor managed to direct us to somewhere we could grab a more substantial dinner than the tapas-style snacks we hoovered up for a late lunch so it wasn’t exactly a hardship…but it did mean I still haven’t managed to visit Cordoba which I’ve sort of always wanted to on account of being fascinated by the idea that it used to be home to “the” university of its day

    …also…thanks for another great story

    • On that trip to Barcelona it was an overnight flight. I knew The Better Half was a little grouchy in Rome so I thought we’d go to a fun resort town first, get settled in, and figure out how exactly Catalan it was.
      I had read that there was a cheap bus that went from the airport and served some of the coastal towns. We went to the airport ATM and loaded up on Euros and I asked around about where this bus might be. I learned the spot. And we waited. 
      “There’s no one here Mattie. Are you sure about this.”
      “I think so.”
      And we waited. 
      “There are cabs over there. Should we take a cab?”
      “No, they’ll rip us off. Plus I want to see some of the coast.”
      Finally a bus pulled up but the driver said it makes a circle so he was going to Barcelona but would be back and his bus would take us to the town.
      So we waited.
      But all was well. The bus eventually came and dropped us in the town. 
      “So now where do we go?”
      “I…I don’t know. I didn’t think about this. But look, there’s a tourist office. They’ll tell us.”
      It was closed. But they had a map of the town in the window and I found the street where our small hotel was located. We all survived. It was a very fun trip. 
      We’ve been coupled off for decades. We used to be fairly adventurous travelers and laugh at ourselves and each other more. The minute we leave New York we still do. 

      • When we eventually take that European trip, I’d like it to be just structured enough that we can see a few things that we really want to see, but not so structured that every minute is critical.  Having a good part of the day to just hang out and explore would make it less stressful and more enjoyable, I think.

        • I don’t recommend driving in Italy, especially not in the cities. I make The Other Half do it if we have to, like the tour of the Umbrian hill towns. If you go to Florence, for example, which is much smaller than you might expect, your hotel or a local tourist office might be able to set you up with a day tours via bus. We love these. There’s usually free time if you’re an adventurous sort. I was in Monte Carlo [there’s a long doxxy story behind this] and we were left to our own devices. I had been to Monte Carlo before so I said, “Follow me, I’ll take you around.” It’s very hilly, basically two big hills with a little sea-level plateau in between where the harbor and yachts are.
          We were dropped off in “Royal Monaco,” where the palace and the Cathedral (where Prince Rainier and Princess Grace are buried) and the Cousteau Museum are. At some point we had lunch. Then I led everyone down to the seafront so we could admire the super yachts and dodge the lunatic traffic. 
          “Aren’t we supposed to meet at a restaurant and have dinner and get the bus back to the hotel?”
          “Yes! And that restaurant is right across the plaza from the casino. It’s right up there. We can go into the casino for a few minutes. Don’t worry, they don’t have a black-tie dress code or something.”
          On our trek, which you can do via this very strange huge shopping mall with underground parking, elevators, and escalators, one of my charges sidled up to me.
          “Do you actually live here? You seem to know so much about it?”
          “No, I’ve just been a few times. It’s pretty small and it doesn’t change much. I mean every day another residential skyscraper goes up for global tax dodgers but Monte Carlo has been here for a while.”

          • Oh, hells no.  There ain’t no way I would be driving in Europe at all.  That’s what mass transit and walking are for.
            You should write up the long, doxxy story about Monte Carlo and post it here on the Little Website That Could.

  4. Cousin Matthew, I would happily read your shopping list or honey-do list. You make everything seem bright and fun! Please tell your Better half that you are the sunshine on a gloomy day (or year, currently).

  5. I try my best. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I’m a big fan of weddings. Some of them are Catholic and held in churches. At one the Catholic priest said during the Homily, “We are put on this earth to delight each other.” I had never heard this before but I took it to heart. It’s true. We have so many opportunities to help each other and teach each other and amuse and delight each other. And yet we often do the opposite, with sometimes lethal results.

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