Thursday, April 29, 2010

Aviation + Barbeque + Crosswinds = Delightful!

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-AXV-40I
Weather: Clear, 70 degrees, wind 180 degrees at 14 knots gusting to 22

Looking outside, today was a picturesque day for flying with spotless blue skies and warm temperatures. The winds were the only possible thing that were going to hamper my plan to meet Marty in Wapakoneta for BBQ. I also would be bringing along a friend, Neil, on his first flight in a small plane. What better way to introduce someone to GA than a $100 burger run?

The weather briefing confirmed my suspicions - wind aside, it was a perfect day to fly. I checked the nearby AWOS stations as I drove to Stewart and I decided everything was still within my limit of acceptability. My theory was that I could always circle around the pattern and land if it felt like there was going to be any issue getting safely to Wapakoneta and back.

Neil arrived just as I was finishing fueling the 150 and I showed him how to operate the doors and a couple things on the instrument panel before we both climbed in. All systems were go so I made a 360 to check the pattern and then rolled down to the end of Runway 26. Full throttle went in as I held full left aileron, slowly reducing as we gained speed to hold the centerline. You could certainly feel the near-direct left crosswind and we quickly weathervaned 10-20 degrees as I lifted off.

Centerville High School

USAF Museum (foreground) and WPAFB Area C (background)

I called Dayton Approach as we were passing Wright Brothers Airport and requested VFR Advisories. They let us know that a C-5 was departing Wright-Patterson AFB and we saw him rolling down the 12,600 foot runway. We were treated to a great view as he climbed out and flew a slight circle to remain clear of us. It never gets old watching giant aircraft maneuvering to avoid a lowly 150!

A C-5 departing WPAFB for a training exercise

Watching the C-5 turn back on course after going around us

Due to the strong winds out of the South, we were really cooking across the ground. My flight plan was in agreement with our actual speeds and we enjoyed the 25-30 knot tailwind as we cruised along at 4,500 feet. Other than a couple good jolts around the halfway point the air was surprisingly smooth. We overflew Dayton International Airport and then continued over top of countless farms until I began our descent around 10 miles out. I made a midfield crosswind entry to the pattern for Runway 8 and noticed not too many pilots appeared to be in the mood to practice crosswind landings - the radio was almost silent.

Approaching Dayton International Airport

Reducing power abeam the numbers, I again had to hold a very sizeable left crab angle into the wind. As I turned base-to-final I elected to only use 20 degrees of flaps and held about 5 knots of extra speed to help with the crosswind. We were getting rocked pretty good on short final and I had my right wing down while using almost full left rudder to hold the plane on the centerline. I had already informed Neil that we might have to go around and possibly head back to Stewart if the wind was too strong. Due to the extra speed, we floated for a few seconds and the plane bobbed around as the gusts swirled across the runway. While the plane probably looked like it was practicing a falling leaf maneuver on short final, touchdown was incredibly soft. I held full right aileron in as we decelerated, then turned off on to the taxiway and continued on towards the hangar.

The wind was blowing so hard when we climbed out that I momentarily wedged two engine oil bottles behind the tires as I ran across the tarmac and grabbed two sets of chocks. We were the only plane that flew in; everyone else elected to drive. They were all pretty impressed that we came by air and I received a few good comments about the approach and landing. Dinner was excellent as always - Marty made a tri tip roast that was to die for and also grilled up some brats from the local meat store that were delicious. In all, we hung around for about 45 minutes while we ate and I talked with some pilot friends.

Safely on the ground at AXV with the oil bottle chocks in place

Can you tell it was a bit breezy?

I decided to depart a few minutes early so we would be back well before sunset even if the headwind was stronger than forecast. Let's face it, the 150 takes long enough to go somewhere when the winds are calm! I made sure the radios were set and my nav log in place before starting the engine so I could have total focus on the controls during taxi. The wind was still directly across the runway so I elected to depart on Runway 8.

As I applied full throttle I held full right aileron, slowly decreasing the deflection as we gained speed. I kept the nose on the ground until we were at about 50 knots and then allowed the plane to lift off and turn smoothly into the wind. Marty got on the Unicom and said, "we give that takeoff a 9.5!" so I suppose it's good all the innocent bystanders enjoyed the show. Neil used his iPhone to record video (below) as we departed and turned back towards Dayton.

Takeoff from Neil Armstrong

That great tailwind was now a delightful headwind and we were clocking a blistering 45 knots groundspeed as I climbed to 5,500 feet. Once at cruise altitude the headwind held steady at around 20 knots. What had been a 35 minute flight up was a 1 hour, 5 minute flight home. The air was almost completely smooth and I flew hands-off for one long stretch as we enjoyed the scenery passing below. I flew slightly East of the straight-line course in order to be a little closer to the base. Neil took a lot of photos enroute and I've included quite a few of them below.

Passing over a levee on our way home

Once again overflying Dayton International Airport

The I-70 and I-75 interchange, about 5 miles north of downtown Dayton

Stebbins High School, where Gina teaches

National Museum of the United States Air Force

Dayton, the Mad River, and the Great Miami River

There was a Dayton Dragons game being played at Fifth Third Field

Tail lights and road signs reflecting the sun near US-35 and Factory Road

That's my office!

Shortly after downtown Dayton was behind us, ATC (we were receiving flight following again) advised I could descend at my discretion. I did my best to make up some of the time lost in the climb against the headwind and came down at about 500 feet per minute at 100 knots indicated. I gently turned left 20 degrees so we would approach Stewart from the Northeast. We passed right over downtown Waynesville as I entered an extended 45 for a left downwind to Runway 8.

Passing over Waynesville at about 800 feet

Stewart as seen from a left downwind for Runway 8

Landing back at Stewart

The wind had died down slightly since our takeoff and was now around 10-12 knots directly across the runway. I was still using lots and lots of left rudder on final but it wasn't to the stop. Since the end of the runway is a little soggy (you're not supposed to land on it) I floated along in ground effect and touched down just past the hump. Another smooth landing and another successful flight on a great day to go up and keep the skills sharp!

Neil absolutely loved the flight and I'm glad I was able to be a part of his first foray into light airplane travel. Maybe he'll take some lessons and look into getting his Private at some point! Either way, I'm pretty sure I can add another flying buddy to my list and plan on taking him up in the Cub soon for some destination-less flying fun.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 2.0 hours
Total Time: 147.8 hours

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cruising in the Cub with Rob

Plane: Cub, 85 hp
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Partly cloudy, 58 degrees, wind 320 degrees at 7 knots

My good friend Rob came down to visit for the weekend so we could attend Thunder Over Louisville, the Doolittle Raiders Reunion, and visit the USAF Museum. No aviation-related weekend would be complete without some time in the Cub so I made sure to schedule a couple hours for us on this beautiful spring evening. Our cameras were on hand every day so I'll be adding more museum photos to the series and posting about Thunder on here in the next month.

Today's aircraft of choice - the 85 hp Cub

The weather looked ripe for flying this afternoon with scattered puffy clouds, light winds, and an blooming landscape below. I got the plane preflighted while Rob watched some planes in the pattern and taxied over to the fuel pump to top off the tank. Although I only added 3.9 gallons, that's nearly an hour's worth of 100LL for the Cub! Rob climbed in and got comfortable, then I hopped in the back, we got propped, and I taxied off in the grass for my pre-takeoff checks.

I rolled on to Runway 26 and smoothly lifted off and climbed straight out. At around 1,500 feet I turned 45 degrees to the right to leave the pattern. Brett was up in the MXS practicing aerobatics (there's an aerobatic box over top of the airport) so I wanted to stay out of his way and climbed a few miles away as we flew towards the lake. I made a few sharp turns so Rob could see down as we both enjoyed the scenery passing below us.

We flew about 80 miles over Southwest Ohio in total

Once past the lake and headed towards Kings Island, I handed the controls over for a few minutes. Rob did a pretty good job holding us straight and relatively level as I kept my head on a swivel in traffic watch mode. Other than checking the instruments to watch airspeed and altitude and occasionally adjusting the throttle, I was hands-off the whole time. I had him make a gentle left turn around the amusement park and I watched for traffic and monitored the instruments while he enjoyed the view of the rides.

We then headed off East and I showed Rob a few Dutch Rolls to help explain adverse yaw. I had been able to feel that we were slightly out of coordination (not at all unexpected for someone who's never taken an official flight lesson) during some of his turns and knew this would be a great illustration. He then tried a few and, by the end of the minute or so, definitely was doing a really good job using rudder and aileron to keep that little Cub coordinated. I was impressed! I descended and followed the Little Miami River through the valley at about 1,600 feet from I-71 up until we were a few miles from Stewart.

As we approached on the 45 I could see another plane on crosswind. He was flying a bit of a B-52 pattern and was easily half again the normal distance I fly from the runway. Regardless, I didn't want to cut anyone off so I turned downwind a little early so we would stay comfortably in front of him. You would think we would have been quite visible as I turned with the sun shining brightly on those bright yellow Cub wings. As we made our way on downwind I lost visual but both of us were looking constantly, knowing he was out there. Soon after I saw him off to our right and descending - obviously he had somehow never noticed us in the pattern. I firewalled the throttle and broke off in a climbing right turn as we watched him continue descending, turn base, and land.

I circled back around and re-entered a 45 to the downwind for Runway 26. This time the pattern was clear and I made it all the way to the runway. I had been a little high and reduced the throttle and all was going smoothly until I felt us start to sink faster than I wanted. Just a friendly reminder from the Cub that, past a certain point, it will sink like a brick when you're in the flare. I poured on the throttle as the mains touched and climbed back out in a go around.

We circled around once more and the next landing was much better, albeit still more firm than I aim for. There was a light right crosswind and I didn't exactly make my best-ever transition into a sideslip on short final. I taxied back and made another takeoff and this time the landing was again better, but not super smooth. Never satisfied with that kind of end to the day, I took off one last time and elected to make a simulated engine-out approach. Pulling the throttle to idle abeam the numbers, I made a gentle turn back towards the runway and skimmed over the power lines and house at the end of the runway. The landing was perfectly smooth, a total greaser where we touched right as I brought the stick all the way back. Now that's a proper ending!

After I had shut down and paid the bill both of us took our cameras out alongside the runway and shot departing and arriving airplanes for about 15 minutes. Joe also asked me to prop a student in the Champ, which I did and he went on to practice in the pattern while we took photos. Stewart is such a great place - one of those airports where you could easily waste away any day just watching the people and the planes. Couple that with the lush, early Spring grass and perfect weather and it's an aviation- and photo-enthusiast's dream!

Watching as a gorgeous Cessna 180 lines up for takeoff

The 65 hp Cub accelerates down the runway

I love the clean paint job on this Cessna 182

The Champ (my solo bird) zooming past on takeoff

Gently lifting off the grass

Descending over top of the trees and power lines on short final

Skirting along in ground effect just before touchdown

Champ climbing out after departing Runway 26

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.3 hours
Total Time: 145.8 hours

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Proposal

This is a bit of a departure from my normal content but I think you will understand. The fact is that many people I've met via the blog have become my friends and this is my little corner of the internet where I can share things with the world. Hopefully you can read along and enjoy a little slice of my life. There's even an aviation component to the whole thing - this is me we're talking about, after all! :)


Gina and I have been together since November 2005 (when we first met) or February 2006 if you're going by the "official" date. Like any couple, we all have good moments and bad moments but our time together has been incredible, we've traveled the world - to Oregon, Montana, Florida, Spain, France, Italy, England, Mexico and the Cayman Islands - and I love her very much. Plus, she enjoys flying with me so I know I've got a pretty good thing going here!

Needless to say, I'd run out of excuses for not having taken the "next step" a while ago. Not that I have a good reason for doing so other than being a typical, lazy guy when it comes to the whole marriage thing. I guarantee she's nodding (as are female coworkers and friends) if reading this right now. My point is I wanted to make things as special as possible and have been secretly planning this trip for months or even - if you count back to when I first thought up some plans - years. Nobody knew exactly what I was doing or where we were going, not even our parents; you can't be too cautious when trying to keep something of this magnitude secret.

One other note - I had planned on taking this trip after she was out of school at the beginning of June. Then we got all that snow in February and they burned through snow days like a hot knife through butter. I was worried the school year would be extended and that would have thrown a massive wrench into all my plans. I juggled the itinerary around and ended up with the trip I'm about to describe. So that's why our travels might seem a bit convoluted as you follow along.

The good and important news is that, sitting here a week later and back home, everything worked out perfectly. And to cut to the main (and somewhat obvious, per the title of this post) news you all want to hear, I'll come right out and say it - we're engaged! If you're of the more curious and sentimental type, then keep reading (I warn you now, it's very long) to find out just how it all went down and exactly where we went...

Day 0 - April 1, 2010

I'm labeling this Day 0 because it's not the first day of travel. It is, however, the day Gina found out we were going anywhere. This was her last day of school/work before their Spring Break, which started the next day (Good Friday) and continued through the end of the next week.

As you might know from comments in my recent flying posts, I have been working all kinds of crazy hours in recent months. While I certainly knew of the upcoming trip, the whole surprise thing meant that she had absolutely no clue. Accordingly, I had been telling her that I probably would have to work some over Easter weekend and that I couldn't make any plans or take any time off. Let's just say she was less than enthused about this and was about ready to destroy Kodak.

I left work a couple hours early and went home to mow the grass and get everything cleaned up before we left. I'd rescheduled a vet appointment, set up a sitter for the bunnies and cleaned their cages, and canceled plans she had with a friend over break - all without her knowing, of course. So she came home and first thought someone had broken into the house (I'm never home before her) because the back door was open before noticing me out there mowing. When she parked her car, she saw the note I'd taped to the door that said "You need to start packing..." and listed exactly what she should pack.

While she was packing that evening, I drove the bunnies over to the friends who were going to watch them for us. I packed a few more of my things when I got home (I'd packed most of my stuff two nights earlier and hid it in another room in the house) and helped her finish up. Other than knowing we were going somewhere, she was still clueless as to what I was up to.

Day 1 - April 2, 2010

The alarm sounded around 5:15 am and I got all our bags together and into the car. We made the 25 minute drive to the Dayton Airport and caught our first flight, a Delta CRJ to Minneapolis that departed at 7:00 am

Last year I surprised Gina with a trip to a bed and breakfast in Montana and when we connected in Minneapolis, I had her try and guess which flight we were going on. She thought we were going to visit my family in Portland and I let her assume that for a few minutes before I took her to the correct gate for our flight to Missoula. I'd intended to do the same thing but they were already boarding so she saw that we were actually headed to Portland this time. We headed up the Breezeway and hopped a Delta A320 for the flight to PDX.

We finally made it to Voodoo Doughnut

Arriving in the Rose City about 11:30 am, we met my grandma and aunt in the terminal. After the hellos we hopped in the car and went downtown for lunch. Gina and I walked down to the infamous Voodoo Doughnut shop and picked up a dozen to enjoy for breakfast while we were in town. As we found out over the next two days, they were tasty and incredibly unique - especially the plain-looking one made with cayenne pepper! My uncle met us a couple hours later and we all went to a bar and had some appetizers and drinks. Finally, we made it back to their house that evening and watched a movie - all with Gina completely confused as to why I'd bring her to Portland for a romantic surprise. Success!

Days 2 & 3 - April 3 & 4, 2010

As has become some of my Portland tradition, we lounged around a bit over the weekend. I've visited six times in the past three years (Gina's been along for three of the trips) so we have done most of the tourist things by now. She still wants to go to Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Hood but you've got to come during the summer for that, once all the snow up that high has melted.

We went bowling on Saturday and watched another movie that night. For the record, 2012 is the one of the dumbest things I've ever seen - I mean, I expect some Hollywood craziness and big explosions but it's just completely off-the-charts ridiculous. Seeing as the next morning was Easter Sunday, we spent some time coloring eggs and then had a delicious holiday dinner. All in all, a relaxing visit with the relatives and some much-needed time spent doing nothing in particular.

Hard at work coloring the eggs

I'm quite sure that Gina's proud of her egg-coloring abilities

This was about the extent of our Easter decorations this year

Day 4 - April 5, 2010

My uncle drove us to Union Station on his way to work and we hopped the Amtrak Cascades train to Seattle. It's about a three and a half hour ride up and we enjoyed some great views out the windows and a snack in the dining car. I had checked our bags so that we could leave them in the baggage check all day for us to explore Seattle. I really enjoyed my short time here during my mileage run back in December and I'm glad I worked a day here into the itinerary.

Standing outside Union Station in Portland

Waiting in the station to catch our train

We walked from King Street Station to downtown and wandered around Pike Place Market for an hour or two. Then we hopped a bus and took it down to the Museum of Flight. I took a ton of photos and they'll be posted shortly in a separate post. It's an amazing museum and I wish we could have spent more time there. Plus, it's right at Boeing Field so it was neat to see all the 787s lined up on the ramp that are currently undergoing flight testing.

Main gallery at the Museum of Flight

From there, we took another bus up to the Fremont district and found a great little pizza place, Via Tribunali. In a stroke of luck, we got there about 15 minutes before happy hour ended and were able to snag two pizzas at $5 a pop along with some Peroni on draught at a great price. I've got to say that it was the best pizza I've had since Gina and I were in Italy back in 2006 - absolutely delicious, authentic Napoli-style. Yum!

I believe this proves we went to Seattle

After the meal we made it via bus to the Space Needle before it closed for the night. However, we didn't have a ton of time before we had to head back to the train station (baggage claim closes at 8:00 pm) so we settled for taking photos outside. Not much sense in paying $13/person for ten minutes at the top. Bags back in hand, we took the light rail to SeaTac, shared a burger and fries in the terminal, and then hopped a red-eye Delta 757 to Minneapolis at 12:50 am.

Day 5 - April 6, 2010

Our layover in Minneapolis was a couple hours so we shared plate of Chinese for a pseudo-breakfast. By the time we had finished we were able to head to our gate and board a Delta 737-800 to Atlanta. I'm not going to deny that swapping time zones and red-eye flights wasn't feeling like the greatest idea at this point and I'm pretty sure I slept most of that flight.

We arrived in Atlanta around 11:15 am and had about five hours to kill before we needed to be back through security. Kind of like I did with the train, our bags had been checked all the way through to our destination from Seattle so we didn't have to worry about them. Always a fan of good public transportation, I guided us to the MARTA train and we rode into downtown for lunch.

I'd looked into the best restaurants in all the cities we would be visiting while trip-planning and I had a burger place in mind for this layover. The Vortex was a short walk from the train stop and we sat outside on this 80-degree and sunny afternoon. Lunch was chips and delicious homemade salsa along with one of the best burgers I have tasted in some time - bison with jalapeños, grilled onion straws, and pepper jack cheese. Gina had a blue cheese guacamole burger that she equally enjoyed. Over lunch, she was asking me some questions about where we might be going and I finally let her in on the fact that we were headed somewhere in Europe. She didn't think this was an option since I'd told her she would not need her Passport (I'd packed it in my luggage already, of course) so she was both surprised and excited.

They make some damn fine burgers here in Atlanta

All that food left us stuffed and was a good excuse to make the 1.5 mile walk down to Centennial Olympic Park. Once there, we sat on the grass for about a half hour to soak in the sun and enjoy the beautiful day. We slowly made our way out of the park, past the well-known Fountain of Rings and to the nearest MARTA station for the trip back to the airport.

One of the many fountains in Centennial Olympic Park

Arriving at the gate, she was again surprised when she saw we were on our way to Barcelona. She was thinking I might be taking us back to Italy or to Germany (since I loved it there when I went for work back in 2008) but definitely didn't expect Spain! Boarding was on-time and we quickly were seated on a Delta 767 for the transatlantic journey.

Day 6 - April 7, 2010

Our arrival in Barcelona was early Wednesday morning, about 9:00 am local time. It took forever for our luggage to come out of the abyss onto the conveyor belt (imagine my worry) and it was probably about 10:30 am by the time we were through Immigration and on the train into the city.

It was too early to check in at the hotel but they locked up our luggage and we took a stroll around the block. There's a grocery store around the corner and we went in and grabbed some bread, meat, cheese, bananas, croissants, wine, and orange juice. One of the reasons I picked our hotel, Aparthotel Silver, is because the rooms have small kitchenettes. Seems like every European hotel charges a pretty penny for breakfast so we usually find a way to save some money and go to the grocery store instead.

The hotel as seen from the street

The room had a small kitchenette and was pretty large by European standards

Not too long after we returned to the hotel, they had our room ready and we headed up from the lobby. We hadn't showered since Portland so we were both more than ready to freshen up. Then, fatigue setting in, we elected to crawl into bed and slept for two or three hours. I didn't really want to climb back out from under the sheets when we woke up around 4:30 pm but it was time to get up.

A short ride down the L3 Metro line to the Catalunya station brought us to La Rambla, the famed street full of shops and restaurants. It was drizzling on and off as we made our way down, stopping in La Boqueria (an outdoor market) and a small souvenir shop along the way. At the Liceu stop, we got back on the L3 and rode to the Espanya station. From there, we walked to the bottom of Palau Nacional and ascended the steps for a great view over the city.

Palau Nacional, which houses the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya

The view of Barcelona from Palau Nacional

The Proposal
Back in 2006, Gina was studying abroad in Spain. I went over to visit in September and we traveled to England, France, and Italy and then I returned in November and we spent five days in Barcelona. One evening in Barcelona we found ourselves next to Palau Nacional. In front of the palace is the Font Magica, a giant series of fountains that put on an (allegedly) spectacular music, light, and water show. While we waited for the show, we were talking about how big our Italian families were and how many people we'd have to invite to a wedding. We took out a piece of paper and started listing out the names of all our relatives and totaled it up. Turns out the fountain was under maintenance that day and it never went off, so we sat there for a while working on the list before we had that realization.

Fast forward back to present time and we were back at that same spot. Turns out that the fountain wasn't going to go off because it only does on Fridays and Saturdays in April (this was Wednesday) and I somehow missed that in my meticulous planning of this whole thing - oops. Clearly we're not supposed to ever see that damn fountain go off, so the picture below will have to suffice.

Font Magica as everyone else gets to see it (h/t: TR - Flickr)

Fountain misfortunes aside, I walked us over to a park bench and sat down. We started talking a little bit and I shifted the conversation to us and how much Spain means to us. It's been a place of both hardships and great memories and it just feels like a perfect symbol of our relationship to me in many ways. I pulled the exact list we made in 2006 out of my pocket (yes, she was very surprised I still had it) and we updated it slightly. Then I mentioned how she said that if I ever proposed to her, I had to do so with a blue raspberry Ring Pop. Turns out Gina didn't remember telling me this, but I did, and I pulled a blue raspberry Ring Pop out of my pocket and put it on her finger.

The rest is a little bit of a blur (neither of us remember exactly what was said) but she asked me something along the lines of, "so are you proposing to me with that?" And I said something along the lines of, "no I'd rather do so with the real thing," and got down on one knee as I pulled the ring out of my pocket and opened it in front of her. Then I asked the magic words, she said "yes!" and I (after almost forgetting this obvious step - d'oh!) slipped the ring onto her finger.

The ring, just after popping the question

A few details about the ring since I know some of you are curious... Gina really wanted a split shank so that was a must. We looked at many rings over the past year and ended up with a few specific settings that were her favorites. In the end, I decided to take those designs and have her ring custom made to incorporate all the elements she liked best. She absolutely loves how it turned out and I do too, so hats off to the jeweler!

The two of us, now happily engaged

She did indeed dance around :)

Still happy and excited

The bench where we had been sitting

In retrospect, we both can't believe how surreal the whole proposal went. At the time it didn't really feel like anything special was happening, for lack of a better way to describe it. I mean we realized the importance and were extremely happy (you'll see Gina's reaction below) but I guess it just didn't feel like "the moment" as we had expected. Regardless, it went off almost without a hitch and I'm glad Gina loved my keep-it-a-secret-super-surprise-plan as much as I did while planning it!

Once we snapped a few more photos of the ring and the moment we decided it was time to head out since it was rather chilly. A short walk back down the steps in front of the palace and we were ready to reverse our earlier ride on the Metro. We took it back to the Liceu stop and walked a short distance off La Rambla to Biblioteca, another restaurant I selected in advance while searching online.

Happy after having just finished our engagement night dinner

The dinner we had was absolutely exquisite. My hat's off to the reviewers on TripAdvisor that helped me decide to eat there. We shared a Thai noodle dish and then each had the most delicious entree I've tasted in a long time - a large filet wrapped in a herb and Rosemary infused pastry, over fresh cooked spinach in a balsamic sauce. Coupled with the bottle of 2007 Castell de Remei Gotim Bru we shared, everything was well-balanced and simply amazing. We couldn't have found a better meal on the night of our engagement!

Day 7 - April 8, 2010

One other thing we missed out on the last time we were in Barcelona was a visit to the Museu de la Xocolata. If I recall correctly, Gina was quite unhappy that we were unable to see the chocolate museum and I wanted to be sure we made it this time! After a restful night's sleep, we hopped on the Metro and made our way to the nearest stop. Walking down one of Barcelona's many narrow side streets we came across a little candy store and stopped inside. There was a small sugar-covered candy (kind of like a Fruit Roll-Up) she loved when she was studying here and we found some and filled a small bag.

The museum was another couple blocks and we paid the entrance fee and went inside. It's not a very large place (maybe the size of your average school cafeteria at most) but there were quite a few neat exhibits. I read most of the history they had on the displays and enjoyed seeing just how many unique things - animals, buildings, people - were made completely out of chocolate.

Inside Museu de la Xocolata

The house from Up - in chocolate!

After we exited the exhibit area there was a small cafe and we got a large cup of hot chocolate. Now this was no hot chocolate like we drink in the winter; essentially it looked and tasted like a melted bar of dark chocolate. To say it was the greatest hot chocolate I've ever tasted would be an understatement - it was incredible. Confident that we'd probably never find any that tastes better, we savored it and slowly drank it down.

This set an insanely high bar for hot chocolate deliciousness

Following the museum, we walked around the immediate area on our way to lunch. Very close by was the Parc de la Ciutadella and we stopped there first. It's a great park with a beautiful fountain and a place that we somehow missed on our prior trip to the city. Then we walked out the park and down the central boulevard to the Arc de Triomf, another sight we had not seen before. I took some photos and then we made our way to Mayura, where we had an absolutely delicious Indian lunch. The fixed-price menus in Europe are a thing I'm quite fond of; it cost about €11.50 per person for an appetizer, entree, two sides, dessert, and wine.

Standing in front of the fountain at Parc de la Ciutadella

Still loving her ring

Looking down the boulevard towards the Arc de Triomf

Both of us were in the mood to take in a great view of the city so we decided on another as-yet-unvisited place, Tibidabo Mountain. You have to take the Metro and then connect to a tramway and funicular to reach the top. Continuing our ever-present good luck in Spain theme, we arrived about 30 minutes after the funicular closed. So we walked through a park, took some photos as we ascended the mountain as far as we could on foot, and Gina also called her grandma to share the news of the engagement. All told, we spent a couple hours in the area before we walked back to the Metro and took it all the way down to Port Vell.

The view from Tibidabo Mountain

The first place we went when we arrived in 2006 was the port and we had an ice cream cone from the McDonald's in the Maremagnum plaza built over the water. If only for sentimentality's sake, we went back there and had a vanilla cone (with a Kit Kat bar stuck in it - I guess that's how they roll) off the €1 Menu. Technically speaking, they didn't have the Kit Kat last time so I suppose they've increased the value of one Euro over the years!

Pedestrian bridge at Port Vell, connecting to Maremagnum

Port Vell where it is bordered by Ronda del Litoral

Boat after boat after boat...

Inside the plaza, Gina stopped in a couple stores to look at some shoes and then we headed back outside. It's a really pretty area down by the port and there's a giant marina with more boats anchored than I can count. We slowly made our way up the shore towards Barceloneta Beach. Darkness was setting in and Gina really wanted paella for dinner so we walked from restaurant to restaurant, looking for the best deal and a place that seemed inviting. In the end we settled on Marina Moncho's and - although we were just about the only people inside - had a tasty meal that really hit the spot. By the time we had finished, it was close to 11:00 pm and we hopped the Metro for the quick ride back to our hotel.

Our dinner of seafood paella

We stayed up late this night and called all our close relatives (grandparents, parents, siblings) to tell them about the engagement. It was fun and exciting to hear everyone's reaction and we both really enjoyed it. By the time we got to bed, it was past 2:30 am and we had to be up again at 6:00!

Day 8 - April 9, 2010

This being me, it's not like I had already run out of surprises on the trip. While I'm not a morning person in any way it was completely worth waking up so early for our next adventure. We caught the regional train for a 45-minute ride out of the city to the town of Cardedeu. Next to the train station was the Hotel Xurin; I had an espresso and Gina had a café con leche in the cafeteria while we waited. Soon after, our pilot arrived along with some other passengers - time to go on our hot air balloon ride! :)

I've covered this in more detail with many more photos in a separate post on the blog, so I'll be brief here. Gina and I both have been talking about a balloon ride for a long time and I got to thinking about it - why take it over familiar Ohio ground that I've flown over myself hundreds of times when we can instead do it over the foothills of the Pyrenees in Spain? I agree, the second option sounds better, right? We enjoyed a special snack when we landed and then rode back to town with a Spanish couple in their brand-new BMW. It really was a perfect way to remember how meeting new people is one of the greatest parts of traveling. The experience was one I'll never forget between the incredible views and peaceful suspension in mid-air, the great pilots, and the other passengers.

Excitedly awaiting the flight as the balloon is being inflated

The ring - I absolutely love how this photo turned out!

She's definitely enjoying the ride

One more photo of the happy fiancée

Happy together after the amazing flight

Requisite romantic photo ;-)

Following the balloon ride, we walked around Cardedeu for about a half hour and stopped in a few shops before taking a train back to Barcelona. When we got back, we stopped at the grocery store near our hotel. You see, Gina's been looking to buy Eristoff Black (it's a berry-flavored vodka) ever since she studied abroad and it's simply not available in the US. When I pointed out to her (while in Atlanta waiting to board our plane) that we could buy some in Spain and bring it home she was quite excited. We'd been looking in stores every day but the cheapest we found it was that grocery store from our first day so we went back and bought two bottles. We also found the exact wine that we had with dinner the night of our engagement and bought a bottle with the intention of having it on our first anniversary. Our bags were locked up back at the hotel around the corner (we had to check out before we left early that morning) so we stopped in and locked the bottles in our luggage.

The rest of the afternoon we spent walking along Passeig de Gracia. Gina's stomach started bothering her off and on all afternoon so we weren't in a huge rush to do anything. We sat outside at a small park, took a few photos, and eventually found ourselves at a little restaurant where we had a small lunch. Before long, it was time to be on our way and we went back to the hotel to securely pack the vodka and wine in our bags and then caught the train to the airport.

Typical architecture on Passeig de Gracia

Casa Milà, one of Antoni Gaudí's famous buildings in Barcelona

She doesn't look like she doesn't feel well

There was one final stop (which finally I told Gina about on the train back from Cardedeu) before we headed home - Paris. I was exhausted and slept almost the entire flight, an hour-long hop on an Air France A320. After a little confusion over where to find the shuttle, we caught the free ride back to our hotel (CDG Marriott) and passed out within minutes.

Day 9 - April 10, 2010

Unfortunately, what I had thought were just allergies on Friday felt much more like a bad cold when I woke up on Saturday morning. The wake-up call was at 9:00 am but I reset it for 9:30 and caught a few more minutes of sleep. Not feeling great, I didn't want to waste our day in Paris and got up and showered. The warm, moist air helped and - runny nose and stuffy head aside - I decided I felt good enough for us to head on in to the city.

Transport from the CDG to Paris is relatively straightforward and we bought a pair of 1-day Paris Visite passes as they were the best deal for getting around. The RER B train took us from the airport to Notre Dame and we climbed up the station steps into a bright, sunny day. My cold was definitely not improving so I went into a pharmacy and (it's amazing how French that I learned in 2nd and 3rd grade comes back when you need it) asked for some help in finding what I needed. They ended up handing me a box of Actifed - a.k.a. French Sudafed and I took a pill. It didn't alleviate all my symptoms but definitely helped me make it through the day.

Our first stop was Notre Dame Cathedral. There were lots of people and long lines so we just took some photos outside - we had gone inside on our last trip to Paris anyway. Nearby was another restaurant I had selected via online reviews, Au Bognat. We got a cute little table for two in the corner of the dining room and ordered off the fixed-price menu. I had a potato and onion quiche, salmon with fresh green beans and peas, and apple custard. Gina had a salad of fresh greens, veal with couscous, and a banana tart. At only €18 per person for the starter + entree + dessert I don't think you can do much better in Paris! The meals were delicious and we enjoyed them with a very nice bottle of a 2005 French Bordeaux.

Looking over the Seine from Île de la Cité

Notre Dame

Standing near the cathedral

Having some fun with the ring and the camera

Pausing for a photo after lunch at Au Bognat

From there, we took the Metro across the Seine to Trocadéro station. It's a beautiful place to look at the Eiffel Tower from across the river and we again took a lot of photos and slowly walked towards the tower. They are doing all kinds of maintenance (painting, perhaps?) so much of the tower was covered with tarps and safety nets although it's still a beautiful piece of architecture.

Something that we didn't anticipate was that the entire lawn along Champ de Mars leading away from the Eiffel Tower was fenced off. We wouldn't be able to lay on the lawn with a bottle of wine and cheese like we did in 2006! It was unfortunate but we didn't let it get the best of us and were able to find a spot on a different lawn off to the side where we sat down to relax for about a half hour.

Le Tour Eiffel

Enjoying our day in April in Paris

Standing near the Trocadero Fountain

That ring's already a world traveler!

It really is an amazing structure to walk under

Gazing at the tower while relaxing on the grass

Another shot of the tower

One final ring photo - holding hands in Champ de Mars

The day was moving fast and it was already close to 6:00 pm as we caught the nearest Metro to the famous Arc de Triomphe. We watched the insane traffic around the traffic circle (12 roads converge) for a few minutes and then went underneath the monument for some more photos. It wouldn't be a proper trip to Paris without a stroll down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and we did just that after leaving the Arc. After passing by the famous storefronts for about a kilometer we were getting chilly (it was a sunny day, but only about 55 degrees and windy) and hopped on the Metro to the Jardin des Tuileries. We walked through the gardens to where they meet the Louvre and then walked around the museum entrance.

Arc de Triomphe

I really don't understand how traffic moves through this thing

It really is a very ornate monument when you look closely

Walking past Louis Vitton on the Champs-Élysées

Can you tell Gina's been eating a blue raspberry ring pop?

The sun was setting just as we were leaving the Louvre

The sun had set at this point and we only had about an hour left before we needed to be on a train back to the airport. We stopped and bought a sugar crepe in Les Halles as Gina looked for a sandwich that she could bring back with us for dinner. Unsuccessful in the sandwich search, we took the Metro to Gare du Nord station (where we had to board the RER B back to the airport) and found a little grocery store just outside on the main street. We bought some bread, meat, cheese, and wine and took it back to the hotel where we had an impromptu dinner before bed.

Packing up for the trip back home

Day 10 - April 11, 2010

Neither of us wanted to leave Europe, but the real world was beckoning and our tickets said it was time to go home. We left the Marriott around 8:00 am and caught the shuttle to the airport. I was again reminded why I went on the mileage run in December to maintain Elite status with Delta when we got to bypass the hour-long line for baggage check at Charles de Gaulle and were instead on our way within five minutes! We grabbed a croissant and coffee and then went directly to the gate to board a KLM 737 to Amsterdam.

Continuing the sickness theme from the past two days, my head cold was really getting bad. I couldn't get the pressure in my right ear to equalize until we landed in the Netherlands. It was quite painful from our final descent until I got it to pop once we deplaned into the terminal. We bought 300 flower bulbs (they're so cheap over there!) and then headed through Immigration. There was a First Aid area and they were able to point me to a drugstore where I promptly purchased some nasal spray. Within about 30 minutes I could definitely feel the relief although I certainly could still tell I had a head cold.

We were the first two people through the secondary security at the gate and sat down in the waiting area for about a 45 minutes until boarding began. I read a book for a while and before I knew it we were boarding a Delta A330 bound for Minneapolis. The flight was about nine hours and I managed to watch three complete movies and partially finished a fourth

Landing at MSP was at 4:30 pm local time and we had about an hour and a half to kill after making it through Customs and security. We had a bite to eat at Chili's and called some more friends to tell them the news. Finally, we boarded a Delta CRJ around 7:00 pm and landed in Dayton around 10:15 pm local time. I pulled the car into the driveway just past 11:00 pm, finally home after being away nearly every minute of Gina's spring break!