Category Archives: Posts

Quirks and Irks

Now being picky is genetic for me, but I have been jokingly embarrassed into facing it. And for all those that nit-pick about less than perfect conditions, I am qualified to do that for you here. Hopefully you won’t dislike Barcelona for its warts and wrinkles if I give you a little HEADS UP.

Gaudi tiles (R)
Gaudi tiles (R)


Barcelona is known for its TILED sidewalks, especially on Passeig de Gracia with ones designed by Gaudi. The tiles are not colored or glazed but they do have patterns, most commonly with a circle theme. 20160903_182908 (2)Much of the city has sidewalks which have patterned concrete, individual tiles, or both. sidewalk.jpg (2)


This is a great way to give even more character, but it is very difficult to maintain. So there will be a lot of variation, new and old, irregulaties and uneven areas, etc. PLEASE don’t mention this to any NATIVE resident as they are very proud. They even emblazoned their clothing with their tiles.IMG_4387 (2)


Now remember that everywhere in the world you will find this. It doesn’t always mean a derelict area so don’t get scared if you see it here. It is pervasive. The businesses have pull down security doors that cover the entire store front. They will be TAGGED by budding artists if they are unpainted and blank. The answer – tag it themselves. Many business have hired graffiti artists to paint these large pulldowns with more interesting designs or scenes, which seems to prevent random tags and shows that the wanna-bes respect the pros.20160806_135945 (2)


And I mean ALL forms of “smoking.” No matter where you walk, people will be smoking. It was really surprising to me as I had thought we had mostly won the battle against “big tobacco.” Even when dining al fresco the guests next to you or even UPWIND are often smoking. (Not to mention that you are often charged EXTRA to dine outside.) The restaurants have non-smoking policies INSIDE so guess where the smokers eat? Many smokers also roll there own cigarettes so it doesn’t always mean they are using marijuana – but often THEY ARE. Especially in the evenings and in favorite tourist areas you WILL smell a lot of this. 


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Men (L), Women (R)

When you head for the servicio/aseo/etc. don’t be surprised if the opposite sex is in there with you. No, no there … only the sink area is shared, and not ALL the time. But the main reason for this is that there is just not that much space available. So you may have to stand beside the toilet to close the door for privacy and then wash your hands in the smallest sink you have ever seen.


The time - 1:40
The time – 1:40

Now, here is a treat for you. A clock under your feet, with one light for hours and one for minutes, still working and accurate, from the 1929 International Exposition. It is located at C/Rocafort 2 just outside a bank branch.

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Public water fountains are common in European cities and especially Barcelona. They are old but well maintained and a welcome sight especially in the hot, humid summers. Some are quite elaborate – more photos on the GALLERY page.DiagPsgDGr


Lastly, when you get back to your piso/apartment/flat in that wonderful 100 year building, you will be met by THAT door. The doors are tall but not too heavy with NO door knob – just a big pull. So you have to use your key to unlatch and then push to open.20160903_183712 (2) And on the other side – again NO KNOB. 20160903_183644Not difficult to close but fun to open each time you go out. Oh…Did I mention the quite fancy peep holes?

Lovin’ me some Metro

20160819_192208 (2)Coming from Texas, I have always been infatuated with subways. After living in the Washington, DC Beltway, NOT depending on a car became doable in my own mind. So not surprisingly we LOVE the Metro here in Barcelona. It is EASY – designed like most subway systems with the direction determined by looking at the last stations at each end of the train line you are needing to use. It is VERY affordable at 1 euro, or less if you buy a mult-fare ticket, and no extra charge when you transfer. The wait times are rarely longer than 5 minutes, unless there is a strike when you might have to wait about 10 minutes.

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To make YOUR use of the Metro even easier, here are some of its idiosyncrasies – i.e. the mistakes WE made – that would have been helpful to know.


Each line is numbered but for most people they are easier to identify by their color. The GREEN serves the majority of the city center and the tourist areas. Its direction is generally east-west. The YELLOW runs parallel and just north of the Green line running from the west through the heart of the city center – Ciutat Vella – to Barceloneta and most of the beaches. The RED runs north-south through Plaza Catalunya and Plaza Espana. A visit to La Sagrada Familia will require a transfer to the PURPLE.


There may be one or two for each station. If more than one they may be on opposite sides of the street or separated by a block. When exiting the turnstiles (on rare occasions you made need to use your ticket to exit) there is often a sign to help you find the correct exit, usually the name of the street you need. Refer to the maps at the platform which show the exits (see below.)


Should be easy, right? Well with updates and replacements over the years, they are not all the same. Most are “right-handed” but some are left-sided insertions.20160301_194349


I wasted money reinserting the ticket because the turnstile was “stuck” but I was on the wrong side. It may act stuck if you try to go through before the ticket is spit out again. Sometimes there are directional arrows on top that light up when you can proceed. The ticket reader tells you how many rides you have left with a multifare pass.

Multi-ride can be shared
10 ride ticket can be shared

If it says “TITOL” it is the last ride, but keep it until you emerge because metro security does random checks of tickets using handheld scanners. Check the back of your multi-fare ticket to see how many rides you have taken (if used up the last stamp also says “TITOL”.)


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Map with streets and stations

The platforms at each station provide maps of the streets above with the station(s) and their exits, as well as a general metro map. The station maps can be particularly helpful if you are transferring to another line. There may be multiple lines so prepare yourself for entering a maze when you leave the platform. Before leaving for a transfer make sure you determine the line you want AND the end station of the direction of your destination. Also if you are just going out to the street, above there will be signs with an arrow and the street name, one pointing to each exit “sortida” when there is more than one. Similarly there are directional arrows and the color and line number if you are transferring.

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LEVER to open
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BUTTON to open

The doors DON’T open automatically. There is either a lever to turn, or a button that lights up when you CAN open them. They do close automatically. Often someone else will have already opened them.


Inside there will be air-conditioning, greatly appreciated in the summer as the stations can be very warm. Seating is along the sides and it tends to be mostly “standing room only.” Be particularly careful when it is very crowded (also in the stations) as this is when you can be pickpocketed. The “distract and bump” technique is very popular but unnecessary when you are packed in like bocarrones.

Red lighted arrows pointing to station side
Red lighted arrows pointing to station side

To know on which side of the car the doors will open, there are lighted red arrows that help anticipate the side where the next station will be. At a few stations both sides will open.

Lights indicating present and previous stations
Lights indicating present and previous stations

Above most of the doors is a map of the line on which you are riding. Many have lights to show where it has been, the current station, and the next stop (blinking.)

WHITE - previous
WHITE – previous

At the stations there may be a similar sign with the WHITE part being the previous stations and the COLOR being where it is headed.

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The Metro is now celebrating its 90th anniversary. There are historic pictures posted inside the cars, some of which are painted to look like the coaches used way back when.  20160819_184003Hopefully, these tips will help you love and appreciate the Metro as much as we do.

“Zide” trip to Zagreb

After meeting an enthusiastic globe trotting young couple on a Devour Barcelona foodie tour and getting to know them during their stent in town, they invited us to visit them in their next stop IMG_3939 (3)– Zagreb, Croatia. It was a great place for us to take quick side trips to Plitvice National Park, one of the most beautiful lake districts in the world,
and Lake Bled, Slovenia at the base of the Julian Alps.IMG_4088 (2)           Yeah, Yeah…so what does this have to do with “livin’ like a local?” Well…now and in the future I will be sharing our explorations and give info regarding living there, especially things like public transportation. For example, Plitvice is a 2 hour bus ride from Zagreb that takes you right to the park. And to get to charming Bled, it is just a train ride through the Slovenian foothills along the scenic Sava River to Llubljana, and then a one hour bus ride (make sure you get the direct bus and not the local which adds another hour.) The bus station is right next to the train station in Llubljana.

Zagreb is a nice place to live, with mildish summers (they had just had a heat wave before we arrived) and four seasons, with a snow ski area on the nearby mountain. Cost of living is low according to many sources including our friends. It has a charming quaint “upper town” and a lively “lower town” which is their “downtown”, full of restaurants and pedestrian friendly areas.20160811_093637 (2)

Specifically, public transport is via their tram system. It is about 1.5 euros per person per trip. You can buy tickets from the tram driver at the front when you get on. 

20160810_194050The tickets must be punched by the yellow ticket machine on the tram, which may be at the front OR the back of the tram. 20160813_180715There are others on the tram with no slot for tickets, just a card sensor. The maps are similar to most metro maps, except the routes use several shades of the same color, making it a little tricky to trace the route you want.20160817_123714 (2)

More about biking and bike lanes

I just wanted to clarify what I mentioned previously. Actually it was sorely lacking. Biking is VERY popular here.20160731_143522 (2) “Viu BiCiNg” is Barcelona’s bike sharing service rated one of the 8 best in the world along with NYC, Paris, and others. So yes, there will be people on bikes EVERYWHERE, including on the sidewalks and other pedestrian areas. And that is when they are NOT riding in the many bike lanes that are provided. These exist in many forms and locations – here are some examples.  

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On left in one-way street

They may be IN the street,

Another variation
Another variation









BETWEEN major thoroughfares,

Between 2 3-lane thoroughfares
3-lanes of traffic each side                                                      and ON pedestrian areas, including ones next to the street.
In pedestrian area, between access road and main road (Gran Via)
In pedestrian area, between access road(R) & main road (L-Gran Via)

The above example is particularly treacherous as you have to cross 2 access roads – one on each side, 2 pedestrian zones – one on each side each with bike lanes, and 5 traffic lanes down the middle. So PLEASE BE CAREFUL, especially when running across a wide avenue with the green man on the signal blinking “run faster – you’re running out of time.”  There may be someone in the bike lane right when you are “safely” out of the street.

Looking up, down, and all around

WALKING EVERYWHERE…that’s what we did. Hit the ground running, literally, because we worked up a sweat every time…and it was December. We HAD to slow down. Isn’t that the reason we retired?  

Passeig de Gracia - Eixample
Passeig de Gracia – Eixample

Enamored with subways we still had to walk to the metro stops. But we often got carried away. So much to see in a new locale we unapologetically gawked at everything. The beauty was evident with the wide tree lined streets and even wider avenues (avenidas; avingudas-catalan) and passeigs. The trees being devoid of leaves that time of year made it so much easier to see the diverse and artistic buildings of the Eixample area.

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Gothic Quarter- Ciutat Vella

The old town, Ciutat Vella, with its narrow streets is comprised of MOSTLY pedestrian areas. Much like a deep maze it would seem easy to get lost. Don’t worry, just enjoy the adventure and the history, and keep walking until you find another group of wide-eyed tourists to follow out to the main streets. It helps to have your phone’s map app to tell you where you are, then input where you want to go and hit the direction symbol for “step by step” navigation.

Yeah yeah…most people know that Barcelona is very walkable, and relatively compact. So what? Well…there are a few things that we have learned by observation or NOT paying attention that you might find helpful.

Motorized lane of pedestrian area
Motorized lane of pedestrian area



I mentioned “MOSTLY pedestrian areas.” Other modes of transport may cross or even use pedestrian designated areas and paths. In fact it is our experience that you are less likely to be hit by a car than by a cyclist – motorized or not. (And don’t get me started with all the people using skateboards and scooters-electric or not, on the sidewalks.)

So many motorscooters
So many motor scooters

Motor scooters are very common, more so than motorcycles, and are allowed to park on the sidewalks when there is not enough street parking, which is all the time.  So they WILL be driving on the sidewalk to get to/from the street, often via the crosswalk (with ramps for wheelchair accessibility.)

Yellow = vehicles may cross crosswalk
Yellow = vehicles may cross crosswalk



Think you are safer in crosswalks when you have the green light?  Of course look both ways no matter what, but especially if there is a bike lane. Cyclists seem to be less likely to stop when YOU have the right-of-way. To be fair the traffic is not heavy enough for you to JAYWALK as many locals do, so be even more careful then.

Last tip for now – street signs.  The names of streets are up on the side of the closest building to the intersection, like many European cities. In Eixample because of their “open” intersections with the corners cut off makes finding the street name more interesting.

Angled off intersection
Angled off “open” intersection


And of course you have to walk farther to cross the intersection (for you math whizzes it’s like walking the two equal sides of an isosceles right triangle.)

Steet signs - cross street on pole
Steet sign(L), cross street(R)on pole



If you are lucky there might be a traditional sign showing the name of the street you are crossing.

And sometimes there is neither. So again…keep you map app handy.


Finding a “piso” to call home

As soon as we settled into our temporary lodging, we started “getting our boots on the ground”, the parlance for the method to find a place to live AFTER you are physically where you want to be. “Why didn’t you do this BEFORE? You can do everything online.” Well…you can try. I looked online for months before and got a good idea about what we could get in our price range, as well as the neighborhoods. Our friend Rod who moved here a year before had chosen the Sant Antoni neighborhood, so that was where we started.

Sant Antoni is on the southwest edge of the area known as Eixample, the extension of the old town, Ciutat Vella. It is divided into Esquerra and Dreta (left and right), and Esquerra into La Nova, L’Antiga, and Sant Antoni. It is the result of urban planning done at the end of the 19th century, designed by Ildefons Cerda’, to meet the needs of the growing population. You can see on satellite images from Google maps or Apple maps that the blocks were designed as open squares with the corners cut off. 

courtesy of Apple Maps (3D)
courtesy of Apple Maps (3D)

The purpose was to improve sightlines at intersections, and the open area within each block, called a “patio de manzana,” allowed light into the buildings from the back in additional to the light from the street. The buildings were built by the rich who could afford to move, so they can be very ornate and creative. Many were done in the Modernist style  (Modernisme) at the turn of the century whose architects included Gaudi. BTW My posts will often have an architectural emphasis.

So besides keeping up with the local real estate websites like Fotocasa, Idealista, and Kyero, we hired a facilitator, Sandra, a month before we arrived to be our “boots…” This was still too early because the rental agents and the landlords can be fickle, but Sandra was ready to help us find a place as soon as we arrived. Of course, she acted as point of contact as well as translator, since our Spanish was limited.

Almost immediately we started looking at what was available. Our “wish list” was a little longer than we wanted, given our aged dogs Kenzie and Griffin needed an elevator, or a lower floor, and air-conditioning. (How thoughtful! You did it just for them…) Most of the buildings have elevators but not all apartments or  “pisos” have A/C, as the summers are more moderate than in Texas. (Turns out it is very humid here year-round.)

Our balcony with A/C units 3rd up from convenience store
Our balcony with A/C units 3rd up from convenience store

Sandra had a few options to see and we started emailing agents with requests to see ones that we found online. Unfortunately we didn’t get as many replies as emails sent. I got the vague feeling it had something to do with not having a local phone number, so we used Sandra’s number.  We also needed it to be furnished which further limited the list, though “se admiten mascotas” seemed to be more of an issue. Though many people have dogs here and it IS very pet friendly, landlords are protective of their furnishings.

As we started visiting, it was hard not to be picky. Something was either missing from our wish list, or there was something else – price too high, not enough rooms or furniture, the street looked iffy, not close enough to the metro, etc. We did find one that was nearly perfect, when we increased our budget – 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, recently remodeled with an open kitchen. BUT there were others looking at it. The agent even allowed us to see it again only to tell us that despite our “what ELSE can we do’s” it was up to the owner, who ultimately didn’t pick us. Time was running out and our two weeks was going by too fast.

The “piso” we finally chose was partly because Steve was tired of looking and I was being indecisive. It was large with three bedrooms and an office “trastero” but only one bathroom. I was hoping for at least an “aseo” – an extra toilet in a room by itself, which is not uncommon. It also had a washer AND a DRYER – almost unheard of as most people air-dry their clothes, even if you CAN see them from the street.

Laundry - hope they don't fall and nothing falls on them
Laundry – hope they don’t fall and nothing falls on them

And it did have a newer nice-sized elevator – the older ones can be very small. AND it was on the first floor. You and I both know these first floors are usually above the street level ground floor “Planta 0 or Bajo”. But OUR “Planta 1” apartment was three flights up.

PB - planta baja, Etlo - entresuelo, Pl - principal
PB – Planta Baja, Etlo – Entresuelo, Pl – Principal



Well … the buildings here often have an additional floor between the two, called “Principal”, which is where the original owners lived. When you look at the outside of the buildings, this is the first balcony which usually runs the full width of the building and has a nicer railing, while the upper floors usually have smaller balconies with simpler railings.

 OUR building had one more extra floor called “Entresuelo” just above the ground floor, which is where the building staff usually lived. So take note – a first floor apartment here may be more than just “one flight up.”

Will they let us in/out of Spain?

The next day we set out from Beziers for Barcelona.

Snow-capped Pyrenees
Snow-capped Pyrenees

It was so nice to see the snow-capped Pyrenees in the distance as we approached the border. But will there be a delay at the border crossing into Spain? Surely it wouldn’t be a problem LEAVING France as the EU was having issues with immigrants/refugees heading toward Germany and England. And from Google maps satellite view it appeared that there was nothing besides the highway to be seen – no gates or buildings, etc. Sure enough they had erected facilities and fortunately they just waved us through. But oh! the line of vehicles stacked up trying to get into France, especially big trucks.  And we were going to have to return our rental car in Perpignan, France (it was substantially cheaper to rent and return in France than to return it in a different country.) 

At the border, entering Spain from France
At the border, entering Spain from France


Returning the car after settling into our temporary digs in Barcelona was more of an adventure than we had expected.  We allowed a couple of hours to make the relatively short drive back into France because of what we had seen when we crossed the border several days before. (We rented the car for a week because it was cheaper than renting it for just the days we needed it.) When we reached the border, there was no line and again we were just waved through. Guess we lucked out, going across when there weren’t lots of big trucks driving that stretch at that time. What a relief! But difficulties lay ahead. The car was to be returned at the Perpignan train station rental office. Around and around the station we drove, not a rental car place in sight. “Must be inside” we posited. Again, nowhere to be seen. What are our options? The only thing we could come up with was the airport. So off we went to find it, which wasn’t difficult with our GPS. But again, the rental car return wasn’t obvious, particularly because it was in temporary buildings due to construction at the airport. And of course, the office was closed…wasn’t even time for siesta. So, as much as we preferred not to, we left the car, putting the keys in the drop box. Now we had to get back to the train station by cab. So much for our easy plan of dropping the car at the train station and jumping right onto the train back to Barcelona.

Whose luggage?

After a very long day of getting off the ship with the kids and everything else, taking the Pet Taxi from Southampton through the Eurotunnel to Calais, and driving to Rouen, we settled into our hotel. Since we had to park in an unsecured area, we took most of our luggage to the room. When Steve went to retrieve his medicines from his suitcase, he found items he didn’t recognize, quickly realizing he had fallen victim to the dreaded “my bag looks like your bag” demon. So now he and some sweet little lady both didn’t have the  medications they needed. Too tired and too late to do anything, we tried to sleep.

Rouen Cathedral
Rouen Cathedral

The next morning, with plans to call Cunard to track down the owner and our own bag, we started to pack up for our first full day of driving through France. “And whose suitcase is this?” I queried. That odd feeling we had experienced the previous day that we had underestimated the amount of stuff we brought was now explained. We DID have extra stuff and we had left another person frustrated! At least this bag had a name and address to contact and return it.

On the road again, we tried to contact Cunard but were having trouble getting through. Suddenly the phone rang. Who could be calling US? Fortunately it was the family of the little lady in England calling to say that they had our suitcase and confirmed that we had hers. At least luck was in our favor to serendipitously give us the solution to our luggage problem. Now we could enjoy the beautiful green countryside of France. Green in December? Why YES. So neat and orderly and green were the fields we passed, on well maintained and easy to follow highways.

French countryside
French countryside

Our goal for that day was to see the Chateaus of the Loire region on the way to our next stop in Bourges. After seeing pictures of Chenonceau many years ago and using it as inspiration for the house I had built in San Antonio, it was our MUST SEE. And we weren’t disappointed. No time to tour the interiors and with our dogs, we toured the beautiful exteriors and gardens. The weather was perfect, further enhancing the gorgeous chateau spanning the river.

Chateau de Chenonceau
Chateau de Chenonceau

Could we squeeze in a couple more chateaux before sunset? Thanks to our amazing


navigation system, standard equipment in our rental, we did. Zipping through the towns and villages, sometimes taking us via the smallest of roads, we next took a peak at Cheverny. It was closed for the day and well off the road behind sight-limiting fences, so it was “just a peak.”Then off we went to catch a glimpse of Chambord. It too was closed but fortunately it is relatively easy to see from the road. Actually it is the largest in the Loire Valley and shares its name with the raspberry liqueur that originated in this area.


Not long after the ever earlier sunset approaching the Winter Solstice, we arrived at our hotel. It was like those back in the U.S., just off the highway next to a couple of chain restaurants. “Deja vu all over again” to quote Yogi Berra. It was nice enough, and comfortable, and accepting of our dogs.  It was also quite artistic , even the bathroom.

Ibis Styles Hotel Bourges
Ibis Styles Hotel Bourges

After a decent meal it was time to rest up for another day of driving.

We awoke to another beautiful day in France. Off we drove, destination – Beziers in the Languedoc region and Midi-Pyrenees. The scenery was still nice – with more hills and valleys. And our next “sight to see” spanned the deepest of those valleys. The Millau Viaduct, the tallest bridge in the world, and an engineering wonder, loomed before us. With its cable stayed towers it looked more like a spiders web in this picturesque countryside.

Millau Viaduct
Millau Viaduct

England to France

It was early December and we had made safe passage across the Atlantic and under the Channel to France. Dropped off at the Ferry Terminal after passing “the Jungle” camp of immigrants, armed security and fences, we tried to pick up our rental car. The terminal was virtually deserted and the rental desk appeared closed. Ultimately, a man walked up to the rental desk wearing a reflective vest. It was Steeve – yes 3 Es, who found our paperwork and retrieved the car we had reserved. It was supposed to be something like a very small van but instead was a small four door coupe. I tried to explain that this was not the “class” of vehicle that I had reserved. When he saw all of our luggage and saw us pondering how to make things fit, he left and returned with a small crossover minivan. What a great guy! Didn’t even try to redo our paperwork and charge us more. We loaded up, with a vague notion that we had underestimated what we had brought with us. and we were on our way. The night was on us quickly but the French roads were easy to navigate and we made it to our first stop – Rouen. Its narrow one way streets did not frazzle us completely though the search for our hotel whose address was on a Place/Plaza and not a street almost did.

Steve and the kids at Millau Viaduct, our Opel Zafira behind them.
Steve and the kids at Millau Viaduct, our rented Opel Zafira behind them.

From the US to the UK.

We left the US in late November 2015, along with our two dogs and a few suitcases, to begin our new lives, first in Barcelona, Spain.

Griffin and Kenzie riding atop luggage
Griffin and Kenzie riding atop luggage

As we were taking our elderly “children” with us, we wanted their journey to be comfortable. It is also more affordable to transport them by rental car than to ship them by plane, assuming you have no time constraints.

So off we drove from our native state of Texas to NYC. Along the way staying in pet-friendly hotels tended to be less expensive than ones that don’t allow pets. We also used our hotel points and hotel loyalty cards to ameliorate the savings.

Griffin and Kenzie at the La Quinta in Brooklyn, NY
Griffin and Kenzie at the La Quinta in Brooklyn, NY

You may wonder how we were going to get them “across the pond.” Since we had already avoided flying with them because of their age and infirmities, Griffin being too big to carry-on, and their flat faces which accentuate the breathing difficulties at altitude, “by boat” it had to be. The only cruise ship in the world that allows pets is Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, which does transatlantic crossings from NYC to Southampton,UK. Can you believe that the cruise lines have not jumped on this income opportunity?

Steve in the kennel with the kids' new friend.
Steve in the kennel with the kids’ new friend.

“I thought you were trying to SAVE money? Isn’t the Queen Mary expensive?” Well yes and no. If you sail late in the year, the prices are at the lowest and a great value, especially for an inside cabin. Again if you have the time, it can be cheaper than a one way ticket and it is essentially an all-inclusive resort (only food and entertainment are included.) Plus no jet lag when you arrive. The cost for the kennel is not cheap but we have been SAVING money to offset this, right? They would allow them to share a kennel but there is an additional charge for that, so two adjoining kennels wasn’t that much more. And the kids were pampered along the way, with fresh meat options prepared by the chef each day and QM2 car coats for each of them. They seemed to enjoy it and made new friends including one cat.  BTW The kennels book up a year in advance. And with the recent refurb of the QM2 they have added additional kennels and increased the price.

Kelly and Steve, Griffin and Kenzie travelling from the US to England.
Kelly and Steve, Griffin and Kenzie travelling from the US to England.