Inside of Europe Part 2: Monaco, France, and Spain

Europe, July 2023, Green Ears of Wheat (1888), Van Gogh, Arles, France

Day 5 took us out of Italy and into Monaco. We only had about 4 hours to grab lunch and explore the small country, but the things we learned there were impressive! For example, even though the biggest source of revenue in the country is from gambling, if you are a citizen of Monaco, you are not allowed to gamble there. They are a country of around 30,000 people, but 50,000 commute to work there daily. Also, 1/3 of the population are millionaires. Not bad, right? We passed by the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, where Prince Albert II resides, but he was not taking visitors. Too bad.

From Monaco, we continued our journey into France, stopping in Nice for sightseeing and dinner. First up, of course, was an ancient cathedral. They all started to blend together in name, but the architecture and history were fascinating all the same. We also had time to visit a local vendor market, and it was my favorite shopping experience of the trip. I love to support local, and that includes on my travels. We also passed by many impressive street performers and one plaza with a group of passersby all dancing together to the music. It fit the romanticized view I already had of the city so perfectly that it would’ve brought me to tears if we hadn’t been almost jogging to get to where the bus was parked waiting on us!

The next day, we drove to Avignon on the bank of the river Rhone to visit the Papal Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Medieval walls surround the city’s town center, and it feels like you are stepping back in time once you pass through the gate.

After Avignon, we went to the Pont-du-Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge built in the first century AD. This is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a great place for a swim! And that’s what we did.

Europe, July 2023, Green Ears of Wheat (1888), Van Gogh, Arles, France

The next day took us to another bonus city. While we stayed in Marseille, our bonus city was Arles, home of the Arles Amphitheater and, long ago, Vincent Van Gogh. Our first stop was to see some of Van Gogh’s art created there in the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh Arles Museum. This art is a permanent exhibit and will not leave this museum. As my article on KMA recently noted, some art doesn’t speak to me, and this museum was no different. However, Van Gogh’s work was mesmerizing.

Nimes was next on the itinerary. We toured the Roman amphitheater, the Arena of Nimes. This arena is just shy of 2,000 years old. We sat on a tour guide’s discussion of what happened in the arena. We were fascinated to hear that all stories of people being thrown to the lions to fight in the arena are grossly exaggerated. The tour guide told us the animals more likely to have been used in those events were local animals, not lions, which would have had to be shipped in and stored until an event.

Leaving France was quite the adventure. While we traveled on a bus throughout the trip, our driver, Yanis, had to have his break, and they could not find a new driver for us. So instead, we loaded up into 6 Mercedes minivans and caravanned the five hours it took to get to Barcelona, Spain. Something we learned was flexibility is critical on an adventure like this!

After the hotel in Barcelona scanned all 38 of our passports, we were released into the city to wander Las Ramblas, a street famous for shopping and dining. I had my favorite meal of the trip that evening while we watched rather impressive street performances in the square.


Our final full day was a tour of Barcelona. We packed in as much as possible in those hours, leaving us feeling like we had done all we had come to do. The first stop was in Park Güell, another UNESCO World Heritage site. It was stunning. The thoughtfulness in each stone placed and each piece of broken pottery arranged in a picture of beauty was breathtaking. The architect, Antoni Gaudí, contributed heavily to the design and layout of this incredible park, which is art. Works of nature inspired Gaudi, and you see that in each of his creations.

We picked up a local tour guide, who took us to La Sagrada Familia. This stunning Basilica was inspired by and begun by Gaudi. It has 12 towers, each representing one of the apostles of the Bible. This project started in 1882 and is projected to take another 20-25 years to complete. Each side of the building has a different style, and each stone is unique. There are stone carvings around the building, each telling a story. While Gaudi was tragically killed (he was hit by a tram) in 1926, the work has continued almost nonstop since and using his original designs. We sadly did not get to go inside La Sagrada Familia, but I have a long list of things I want to do on the next trip anyway.

After touring and shopping, we met to attend a traditional Flamenco dance show and head on to dinner. The dance was fascinating and energizing and something we all enjoyed, especially since it was indoors and the temps that day were in the 90s. We finished the trip with dinner by the water and some fun photos!

Day 10 was a full travel day back to the States. I much preferred the daytime flight home compared to the overnight flight. The meal was jerk chicken and rice, and then they put us to sleep again with dimmed lights and a quiet cabin. We lucked out with smooth flights and no delays or even lost luggage along the way. We really couldn’t have asked for better.

Some things I noticed: A lack of rundown buildings, lots of cats in windows, tons of smoking, hotel breakfasts in Europe are way better, so is their toilet paper, most people spoke English and most signs were also in English, I never felt unsafe and no one on the trip had a bad stranger experience, siestas are real, dinners there take way longer-I should learn to slow down too, kind people are everywhere, I had no idea what “old” was until I touched a 2,000 year old arena, American pop music played in every store, people are more active there, and trains are a fantastic way to travel.

I would make this trip over and over, especially with my son. He was a great travel buddy, and I was reminded how much I love teenagers. You’re doing well, parents and caregivers. The kids were incredible, and I hope their experiences abroad only lead to a bigger world for them with fewer roadblocks to achieving things they think may be out of their reach. For me, I came away inspired and revitalized. Oh, and I realized how appreciative I am for free water in restaurants, air conditioning, washcloths, and the anti-smoking movement.

Europe, July 2023, Myself and Jackson, Barcelona, Spain

Where should I go next?