Rock Werchter Belgium

July 7, 2018 – July 8, 2018

If I had to describe my husband in a few words, a top phrase I would throw out would be ‘music lover’. One of the first dates we went on was to a Jimmy Buffet concert, and at the time I did not know the extent of his obsession with concert going. Since that Jimmy Buffet concert 5 years ago, we have been to over one hundred concerts together as well as several music festivals.

My first music festival was Bonnaroo 2014. This also happened to be my second time camping, and my first time not showering for three days. It was an incredible experience being immersed in the music and discovering so many artists I had never heard of before. In spite of the mid-June Tennessee heat, I also fell in love with music festivals.

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The European festival season is mostly just June – July which unfortunately coincides with our busy times at work (Tyler – June, Kaitlyn – July), so last year I did not make it to a festival. Tyler was determined to go to one this year, however, and planned for the first weekend in July. Being pretty sure I would have to work the whole weekend, I opted out of purchasing a ticket. On Friday when my boss said that we wouldn’t need to come in to work on Sunday, Tyler was adamant that I would be going to the festival with him.

So I stayed at work late on Friday and got up early on Saturday to work. Tyler went to buy a tent and camping supplies and picked me up from work to head to Werchter, Belgium for the Rock Werchter Festival. Werchter is a tiny town located about 2 hours from Amsterdam, that immediately gave me Bonnaroo vibes.

The festival draws a bigger crowd than Bonnaroo at about 88,000 / day and is cramped into a lot smaller of a farm, and has a fraction of the campers, but once we arrived, I felt so much excitement.  We pulled into the parking area, searched around for a while, had to make our own spot, and then carried alllll of our camping supplies about a mile away to set up camp.

Tyler purchased a tent that claimed to take 2 seconds to setup. That was not a lie, you just take it out of the bag and it pops right up. Super convenient. Once we had the campsite all settled we headed in to see some shows.

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Although the festival felt a lot more crowded than others I have been to (lots of people, small space), we never had to wait in line for anything – food, drink, toilet. I think it has something to do with the fact that you have to buy tokens for everything, which makes paying a lot quicker.

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First up on the docket was MGMT because Electric Feel gives me all the feels. Unfortunately it was in a tent, and once the tent was full there were red x’s above the entrance and you couldn’t get in. You had to watch the show on a screen from the outside. It just didn’t feel the same, so we decided to get a drink and head over to Jack Johnson for a good spot.

Because we got to Uncle Jack so early, we were able to go into a fenced off area at the front of the stage, where similarly to the tent they stopped letting people in when it was full. This was a great thing because we weren’t squished the whole time and could dance as much as we wanted. The only con would be that if you left, you couldn’t get back in, but that was fine because we loaded up on snacks and drinks before going in.

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I have loved Jack Johnson since middle school, and his show did not disappoint. I knew almost every song he played and enjoyed it immensely. We were Sitting Waiting Wishing while making Banana Pancakes UpSide Down surrounded by Good People because we’re Better Together. An incredible show.

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Post Jack, we strolled over to the craft beer tent and enjoyed a Belgian Triple while listening to some house music. The festival goers went crazy when this one song came on that I had never heard before. I guess I need to start listening to the Dutch radio more.

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After Jack Johnson, we went to the next Jack, Jack White. Although I did not know very many of the songs, I was really feeling the vibes of the crowd and got into the show. He ended with Steady as She Goes, probably my favorite song. This show was more enjoyable for Tyler.

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Standing up listening to music can make you very hungry. The selection of food at the concert rivaled Bonnaroo, although there was no Spicy Pie. I also appreciated that there were healthy options, like cold pressed juice and the Vegan burrito that I enjoyed. It was super lekker. Over the course of the day, we also enjoyed a thai peanut rice chicken dish and a Shawarma pita *I only ate the rice part and pita part of these two meat dishes*.

The last act of the night blew me away, Pearl Jam. Although Tyler and I had seen PJ twice before, once at Bonnaroo and once at Austin City Limits, this show spoke to me. I enjoyed every single song and sang my heart out. It made me feel so Alive.

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Although I mentioned how well the festival was organized because we didn’t have to wait in line for anything, the one bad thing I will say is that it took forever to get out of the festival. I more so enjoy a festival that goes all night and you can choose when to leave, but for this festival it was over after Pearl Jam and everyone tried to leave at once. To make matters worse, I led us out the opposite entrance of where we needed to go to the campsite and we had to swim like a salmon going upstream through a river of thousands of people. And it was a long way back to our tent.

But luckily, the campgrounds weren’t too crazy and we were actually able to get more sleep than I get in a typical Bonnaroo night.

We still did wake up pretty early though, and were cleaning up the campsite by 8:30. The tent that takes 2 seconds to set up does not take 2 seconds to put away, probably more like 20 minutes of us trying to figure out how the heck to get it back in the tiny bag. We were victorious eventually, but also hungry and grumpy afterwards.

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Since we were on the road so early, we decided to make a pit stop at the beach in the Netherlands that we have been meaning to check out, Scheveningen. It’s about an hour south of Amsterdam, right near Den Haag which is where the royal family lives. A funny story about Scheveningen is that it’s a really hard word to say. The Dutchies at work make fun of me whenever I try. But during World War II, it became kind of a code word since it was so hard to say. To prove to someone that you were Dutch and not German you would have to say Scheveningen because the Germans couldn’t say it right.

Despite being incredibly hard to pronounce, the beach was really nice. It was super crowded because the day was absolutely the perfect beach day, but I didn’t care. We had a spot in the sand and that is all I wanted.

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From our view we could watch people bungy jump off of the crane looking thin in the picture below. Not for me.

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I love how accessible everything in Europe is. Deciding last minute to drive down to Belgium for a music festival and stop at the beach on the way home is actually doable.

St. Emilion – French Wine Country

June 2, 2018 – June 3, 2018

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A romantic weekend trip to wine country, what could be better?

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For my better half’s birthday, we decided to spend a relaxing weekend in St. Emilion, about a 40 minute drive from Bordeaux. The early morning flight to Bordeaux put us in St. Emilion around 10am, after first renting a car and driving through the beautiful back country vineyards.

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Our B&B said that there was parking available nearby, but little did we know you can’t actually drive in the city streets, so parking was literally just outside the gates on the side of the road through the vineyards.

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After dropping our bags at the B&B we went in search of coffee before our lunch reservations at a vineyard outside of town. Everything in France seems to be delicious, even the coffee.

We were hoping to rent bikes to go to the vineyard which was only a few kilometers away, but unfortunately the tourism center was out of bikes for the day and the bike shop was closed because the owner was sick. Gotta love small towns. So we ended up driving to the vineyard. The views on the way to and at the vineyard were just incredible. Grape vines as far as the eye could see and lots of ornate chateaus.

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For lunch, we did a wine tasting with our food while enjoying the ambiance and surroundings. Despite the fact that there were screaming kids running around everywhere, it was great. Who knew wineries were so family friendly?

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It was nice to drive a little ways out of the town because the rest of our trip was spent within the walls of St. Emilion.

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Post lunch, we wandered around the town looking for kitties from shop to shop, finally settling in at Le Cloitre des Cordeliers for some bubbles. Les Cordeliers is a 12th century monolithic church with a big grassy area out back to chill in.

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After some bubbles, we were ready again for red wine. Our second wine tasting of the day was at Chateau Villemaurine. There we learned the reason for planting rose bushes in front of the grapevines. On our way into St. Emilion I had noticed that most vineyards had an array of flowers planted at the start of the vines. There are a few reasons for this. Apparently roses show illness before grapes, so if the roses get sick, then the winemaker knows they have about 2 weeks to treat the vines for sickness. Also the roses attract bees which is good for the pollination of the vines. Lastly, there are many workers who harvest the grapes during the winemaking process, so the different vineyards plant different colored flowers to distinguish which vines belong to who. So really, the question is why would you NOT plant roses in front of your vines?

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We also toured the cellar here and tasted a few of the wines, learning that the good years for St. Emilion were 2005, 2006, 2010, 2011, and 2015. In the underground cellar we watched a movie of how the town was founded, when Saint Emilion was out in the woods after being banished. One day he started a church in a hole in the rocks and the rest is history.

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Because we had some time to kill before dinner and also an amazing balcony overlooking the city, we grabbed a nice bottle of red (2005 St. Emilion) and headed back to the B&B to chill.

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See that balcony up there? That was all ours

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Kitty spotting from the balcony

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Our gourmet dinner was at the Hostellerie de Plaisance. Happy birthday to Tyler. The views from the balcony where we enjoyed an aperitif were magical.

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The food also wasn’t too shabby, except for the second dish… which had barnacles… from the sea… that were super chewy… and kind of made me want to vom. The highlights of the dinner for me were the delicious cheese cart with so many choices, and the tea cart again with so many choices. For cheese we went with some sheep, some local goat, and one cow. For tea, we went with the relaxing blend of chamomile and licorice root. Splendid.

As fancy dinners tend to do, this one lasted for about 4 hours. At some point during the night, the air conditioning in the restaurant went out. By about course 4 we were sweating. Several patrons cut their dinners short and escaped the heat, but we were in it for the long haul. I think this was probably part of the reason that I would not give this 2 Michelin star restaurant a 5 rating.

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Sunday morning started off with a quick breakfast at the Maison de la Commanderie with freshly squeezed orange juice and homemade croissants and jam. We scheduled a 10am wine tour that I was considering cancelling since we had been up late the night before, but this wine tour ended up being the highlight of my trip.

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Chateau Guadet is a family owned winery located right in the city center of St. Emilion that was started in the late 1800s. You wouldn’t know it from the outside of the building that looks just like all the other buildings in the town, but on the inside there’s a magical courtyard with trees and flowers, a shed with huge storage vats, a room full of barrels, a bottling room, and an underground cave full of old vintages.

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The owner (and founder’s great grandson), Victor, was our guide for the morning on our tour that ended up being private. He told us the history of the wine and showed us where the magic happens. He mentioned that he’s lived in several different wine regions including Napa, Australia, Chile, and Spain and all of his research has led him to trust his gut when it comes to making wine. Sure he could make something that would appeal to the Wine Raters and get his product on more shelves, but he was more interested in making something he was proud of. We need more people in the world like Victor.

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Victor’s wine barrels

In addition to being true to himself, he also runs the winery as a bio dynamic vineyard, a holistic approach to wine making. Basically, he does not use pesticides on the wine and pays attention to what the leaves need. If it looks like they need a little extra boost, he gives them the Vitamin C version for plants, nettle. Using all natural ingredients in the process means that he cannot even add artificial yeast into the wine during fermentation, everything has to be from the earth. There’s also some focus on moon cycles and when to plant and when to pick, but he just lets the grapes tell him. Like last year, they lost a big percentage of grapes to a freeze and the quality wasn’t that great, so he did what he had to do and made a sparkling wine instead.

My favorite part of the tour (besides tasting the wine) was exploring the underground cellar. It was massive. He had the standard vintage years that I listed above that are available to purchase, but then had a private cellar of many bottles dating back to even 1900. It takes a lot of restraint to have bottles from the early 1900s still in the family wine cellar. But you have to wonder if they would even be any good? Nonetheless, it was a very impressive wine cellar, and he inspired me to become a wine maker. Now, I just need to figure out a way to move to St. Emilion and be his apprentice for a number of years.

The second favorite part of the tour was of course the tasting. Although Tyler and I have done many a wine tasting, it’s still a good refresher to be taught how to taste.

  1. Smelling the wine for specific scents and flavors.
  2. Swirling the wine to incorporate oxygen and release more flavor before smelling again.
  3. Hold the wine up to something white to see what color it actually is (for example, Ruby)
  4. Swirl the wine once again to examine the legs (the part that drips down the side of the glass – this can tell you how much alcohol is in the wine)
  5. Put the wine in your mouth. Here is where you can also kind of swirl it around and take in some more oxygen, but I usually just like to swallow.

And that’s how you do it, according to my amazing memory! We enjoyed the wine from this winery so much that we ordered a few bottles to be shipped to the NL. As instructed, we will not save the wines for a special occasion, but we will make a regular night special by opening up a bottle.

Since we had a late flight, after the impressive tour, we walked a bit around the city. Apparently, you can get the keys to the bell tower at the Tourism Office, but we were 0/2 with these guys and all of the keys were rented out. Instead, we walked the 200 stairs to the top of La Tour du Chateau du Roy, which I think maybe even had better views because then you have the church in the background. It was amazing to see the town from above and all of the surrounding countryside. We could even see our B&B from the top of the tower.

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Lunch before heading to the airport was in a cute little garden restaurant. The food was not the greatest, but the ambiance was on point (minus the lizards).

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We were flying EasyJet for the trip so I was expecting a delay on the way home and almost got one. We boarded the plane in time for takeoff, but the pilot announced that there was about to be a bad thunderstorm so we would likely have to wait an hour to takeoff. Then all of the sudden we were moving down the runway and taking off. I guess he somehow persuaded air traffic control that we were ready to go and didn’t want to wait. Probably so far my best experience with EasyJet, but I’m still skeptical to book future flights.

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Travel in June and July is pretty slow because of our work schedules, but looking forward to the next trip as always 🙂

UK – English Countryside

May 19, 2018 – May 21, 2018

Visiting the English countryside has always been a dream of mine. Maybe from all of the times I had to watch Little Women on road trips with my family as a child or because the holiday is one of my favorite movies. Whatever the case, I put it on our travel bucket list. The stars kind of aligned for a trip to England when our friends from the US, Bobby and Sara told us they were heading to London and wanted to spend a weekend traveling with us. Because they got in on a Saturday morning and we happened to have the next Monday off work, it made the most sense to do something in England.

Tyler spent a bunch of time researching and came up with an itinerary for us on the Jurassic Coast: Bath -> Stonehenge -> Old Harry Rocks -> Lulworth Cove -> Durdle Door, with Bath being the home base. The one kicker for this trip is that it would be most efficient to drive between these places, so Bobby took one for the team and committed to driving on the wrong side of the road.

Bath

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The closest airport to Bath is Bristol which is a quick 50 minute flight from Amsterdam. Our Saturday early morning flight got us into Bristol with ease and we hopped on a quick bus and train to Bath, then walked about 20 minutes to our Airbnb all by about 11am! Although the Airbnb was a little ways out of town it was so quaint and quiet and relaxing. Because Bobby and Sara wouldn’t be making it to Bath until the afternoon, Tyler and I set out on our way to explore.

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There are so many parks in Bath. Like everywhere you go, there’s an area of green space just begging to be walked in. Flowers were in bloom everywhere you looked and the sun was shining. It was a perfect day to be out and about.

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There’s a big river that runs through the city, and we sat down for lunch at a restaurant overlooking the river. The restaurant also doubles as a B&B and boat rental place. It was hilarious to watch all of the Bachelorette parties try to navigate 10 girls in these really long canoe like boats. Entertainment for free.

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I can’t believe I didn’t open with this, but this was also the same weekend as the Royal Wedding. I was elated to be in England during the festivities. Everyone was SO excited and glued to their TVs. We talked to some locals who said the roads were being blocked off later for a massive block party to celebrate, we did not get an invite. Everywhere we went we were reminded of the wedding with flyers and Harry & Meghan masks. Truly a great event to experience with the British.

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The block where the party would take place

Tyler had of course signed us up for a free walking tour of Bath, so after lunch we headed to the center of the city to get our bearings before the tour started. It is the cutest city that feels more like a sleepy town (besides ALL of the bachelorette parties). Our walking tour was a little bit different than most I have done before. The guide was a goofy man dressed up in old English attire who promised to tell us all of the scandals of Bath. Although the history was interesting, he was a little to cheesy for my tastes. We started off at the Bath Abbey, a church from the 7th century.

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Basically the whole floor is covered in graves

The city of Bath was founded by a Prince who had been cast out of his town for having leprosy. He ran around with a group of pigs that unfortunately also had leprosy. One day they were walking through the countryside and the pigs found a natural hot spring and started rolling around in it. Miraculously, once they exited the water, their leprosy was gone! The Prince was in disbelief and he ran into the water himself only to also be cured. So, he founded the city of Bath, which became known for its waters with healing properties.

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The tour also took us to the Circus, a historic and very expensive street, where Nicolas Cage used to live (that is until he got kicked out of the country for tax evasion). The Circus, built in the late 1700s, sits at the top of a hill and has similarities to Stonehenge in diameter and also has 30 houses representing the 30 stones of the henge.

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Last stop on the tour was the Royal Crescent, designed by John Wood the same architect who finished the Circus, which also has 30 houses. Although it was the spot to be shortly after it was finished in the late 1700s, throughout the years it became kind of dilapidated and no one wanted to live there because it was up a big hill from the city. Apparently even in the 60’s you could buy one of the houses for about 6,000 GBP. However, the city started pumping money into the houses to renovate them and nowadays you can’t get one for less than about 5M. Talk about a return on investment.

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My favorite part about Bath was just walking around and enjoying the city.

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There’s also this really cool jewelry store called Mallory’s which has an 8 carat diamond ring in the window. I also liked that.

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After the walking tour we visited the Canary Bar, a gin cocktail bar while we waited for Bobby and Sara to arrive. Finally they arrived after surviving 2 hours on the wrong side of the road and we got some pies at The Raven. The pies were so delicious, but we were running late for the main event of the night so we had to shove them down.

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When in Bath, you should definitely go to the Magic Show. I wasn’t sure what to expect because the only magician I have seen before was at an all inclusive resort in Cancun, but this guy was incredible! He started off easy with a few card tricks, but also threw some humor in (Let me know if I name your card, Paul, Carol, Lisa…). He called Sara on stage and made her give him her wedding ring. He threw it up in the air and it was gone! But really he had just somehow put it in his wallet locked to a chain without any of us seeing. Magic.

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Tyler’s favorite was when he said small world, and pulled a small globe out of his pocket

The evening was very entertaining and we finished the night at a cocktail bar.

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Stonehenge

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Stonehenge is just a short 40 minute drive (on the wrong side of the road) from Bath. It was easy to get to, but the whole time I felt like we were out in the middle of nowhere and was wondering where the rocks would be! I guess that is kind of the point, that the rocks are in the middle of nowhere.

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There’s a great museum about Stonehenge that we visited before taking a bus to the rocks. It was a good thing we did this because although I knew what Stonehenge was, I didn’t really understand the grandness. Basically, it’s a bunch of rocks that were erected sometime between 2000 and 3000 BC. This was before there was really any mechanism to transport such huge boulders. It’s said that it probably took hundreds of people to lift the stones into position. The site was used perhaps for religious ceremonies or burials. Several artifacts have been found nearby in excavations, like bones (animal and human), pottery, weapons. Really recommend the museum before visiting the rocks.

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Even after seeing Stonehenge in pictures, I really just did not understand the magnitude of the size of the rocks. So much bigger in real life than I had expected and it made me certain that the humans who built it had help from the aliens.

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Old Harry Rocks

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The drive from Stonehenge to Old Harry Rocks through the countryside of Southern England was so beautiful. We drove with the windows down to take in the fresh oxygen from all of the green grass, vibrant flowers, and cow patties. Upon recommendation from the people we met outside of a restaurant in Lisbon, we visited Old Banks Arms and Pig on the Beach.

The Old Banks Arms was a cute old building with a big grassy area in front to sit and view the rocks. Although the food was kind of weird (Sara got salmon with no seasoning and creepy little baby shrimp, I got a block of cheese with some lettuce and an apple), the scenery was really incredible. And the beers were also on point, love me some Guinness.

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I’m glad that we also visited the Pig on the Beach, because arguably, the views were even better from here and so were the drinks. We shared a bottle of rose while overlooking the rocks and also the beautiful estate and hotel. On the estate grounds were a group of sheep who had just had babies. I love baby anything and enjoyed watching the little ones run around and bah.

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Before leaving the Pig on the Beach, we jumped over a fence to capture these views. The rocks, which mark the most Eastern point of the Jurassic Coast, are made of chalk so they are a stark white which in comparison to the deep blue of the water is magnificent.

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Lulworth Cove

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I didn’t think the Jurassic Coast views could get any better, and then we made it to Lulworth Cove. There was a little town at the bottom of the cove where we stopped for some ice cream before walking towards the waters.

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The cove was pretty neat from the beach, but then we walked up to the top of a hill overlooking the cove and took in some spectacular views. Although I was a little nervous because the boys were walking out on a high ledge with no railing, I enjoyed the views.

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Another reason to be nervous was there was a sign to watch out for Addlers. Didn’t make me too worried at first until Tyler told me what an Addler is. Then I was very cautious.

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Durdle Door

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Not far from Lulworth Cove is Durdle Door. The hike down to see the door is kind of a pain, but definitely worth it. Actually, the hike down is fine, but it’s the hike up that’s the killer. First you have to walk down the steep-ish pebbly path toward the water and then down about 200 uneven stairs. But once you get there, it’s a sight to see.

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I love putting my feet in all bodies of water, but accidentally got too excited and the waves crashed over me before I could get my shoes off. So for the rest of the day I had wet socks and smelly shoes.

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The drive back to Bath took about two hours and was filled with lots of fun for us, but maybe not for Bobby. We kept having to remind him to turn tight when turning to the left or to get back on the wrong side of the road! Even after driving for a whole day, it was still very ingrained in him to always stay to the right. We made it back to Bath without any incident and headed to an amazing cocktail bar for a bite to eat and some delicious drinks.

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Baths in Bath

When you get the chance to take a bath in Bath you should do it. On our walking tour, we learned that the Thermae spa cost GBP 45 million to build, putting it at about 43 million over budget, so we were expecting extravagance, which we got. The spa consists of three floors which we explored throughly during our 2 hour visit.

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Straight to the rooftop we went to enjoy the warm pool in the sun. Luckily we got there early and it was not yet crowded. The clientele was mostly an older crowd and I was glad this was not a nude spa like the typical ones in the Netherlands. We hung out in the waters for a bit before exploring the other floors.

On the second floor, we found a bunch of different rooms and showers. There were hot showers, there were cold showers, there was a hot steam room, there was a warm steam room, there was a room with ice, there was an infrared sauna, and also a relaxation room with a warm chair, dark lights and a movie of the cosmos. I think we spent a majority of our time just alternating between getting too hot in the steam rooms and cooling off in the ice room. It was all super high tech and clean.

The bottom floor was just another big pool, and while we did check it out, we didn’t stay long.

After our spa experience, we experienced the Roman Baths, a well preserved bathing hall from ancient times. The city’s thermal springs rise into the site of the bath, making the water temperature warm year round. Back in ancient times, people would come here to relax and play in the water.

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In the center of the building is the murky green bath which is said to have healing properties. Apparently up until the late 70’s you could swim in the waters, but a young school girl on a class trip developed meningitis while swimming and died, thus closing the waters to the public for good. Although at the end of the tour, they do let you drink from the Bath…I only had a sip because I’m not trying to get an infectious disease.

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Right next to the famous Roman bath is a restaurant called the Pump Room. It’s extra fancy and back in the day desperate women used to steal the guest list for the upcoming week to see which guys were the richest and try to seduce them into marriage. I am fairly certain this still happens today.

The places we visited in the English countryside were rich with history and charm. A truly wonderful trip that I would recommend to anyone who loves the British.

Recommendations

Follow the itinerary that we did! It was an efficient way to see a lot of cool things
Stay at: the Old Smithy Lofts
Eat at: Bathwick Boatman Riverside or the Raven or Pig on the Beach
Drink at: Opium Bar or Canary Bar or the Dark Horse

Spain – Paella and Beaches

May 9, 2018 – May 13, 2018

When you have a 4 day weekend and you live in Europe, there’s nowhere better to be than Spain. We took advantage of the time off work to visit Valencia and Mallorca.

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Valencia, a city south of Barcelona on the east coast of Spain is rich in history and character. As with many other European cities, it seemed like everything was old and beautiful.  The hotel we stayed in was in the middle of the historic center and allowed us an easy home base while exploring.

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Probably my favorite thing about the city is the 10 km green way running along the borders which used to be a river. The river was prone to flooding, and in the 1950’s the government decided to divert the river to prevent flooding and make the riverbed into a highway. The people of Valencia protested the highway and the city agreed to turn the river into a park. Great use of space, I’d say.

Of course, we had to start our trip off with the infamous free walking tour, which was more enjoyable than the last few we have been on. Maybe because Valencia is just so beautiful.

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Our guide took us past the main sites including the cathedral, guard tower/jail, old ruins, central market, the silk exchange, and through the narrow streets in the old town. Valencia dates back to 100ish BC and there are ruins from the original street that were found totally preserved under the city. To this day, you can visit the old rocks if you’re into archaeology and stuff. We could see the ruins from above through a reflecting pool which was good enough for me.

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Stone guard towers / used to also be a prison
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Reflecting pool on top of the old original roadway
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Mercada central
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Jamon! (aka ham)
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More market favorites
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Narrowest house, but apparently there’s an even more narrow one in Amsterdam

Another cool thing we learned is that the oldest court, called the Tribunal of Waters has been meeting every Thursday in Valencia since 1200. The members are chosen from each of the 8 different aqueduct regions and meet weekly to discuss the important topic of water use. Obviously, this was more important hundreds of years ago when farming was the main activity, but now the court usually doesn’t have much to do. Just a bunch of old guys getting together every Thursday.

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Cathedral and where the water court took place

After the tour, we had some time to kill before lunch, so we walked up a million stairs to the top of the cathedral towers. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but it was a tiny winding staircase that people were walking down on at the same time we were walking up. Talk about traffic jams. The view was kind of worth it though.

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The street performers in Valencia were no joke. This guy blew bubbles

Valencia is probably most famously known for it’s paella. A saffron rice dish that originally came with rabbit, chicken and snails. In most places today, it includes seafood, but this would not be typical Valencia paella. After hour of research, Tyler decided that La Riua was where we would enjoy a nice paella lunch (because paella is NOT a dinner dish). The quaint hole in the wall restaurant filled up quickly upon opening at 14:00. On a side note why do Spaniards eat so late?? We sat down and ordered the traditional paella with rabbit and chicken. It came out in a HUGE pan that was almost the size of the table. The massive paella was probably one of my favorite parts of Valencia it was so delicious.

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After lunch, we really needed some exercise, so we grabbed some free bikes from our hotel and set off towards the beach, which was only about a 20 minute ride away. We took the scenic route going through the green way and saw so many other people out enjoying the great weather. I liked that the green way even has 3 separate paths, one for bikers, one for joggers, and one for walkers. Genius. We passed by the famous aquarium which is more like a Sea World, but did not go inside.

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The beach in Valencia was so deep. Like if you were at the edge of the boardwalk where the sand started you could barely even see the sea! Since we didn’t have towels and didn’t want to pay for chairs, we opted to sit at a beach club with views of the water. Which was a great idea because we could listen to house music while sipping on our first taste of Agua de Valencia, my new favorite cocktail which consists of champagne, orange juice, gin/vodka, and sugar.

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After our cocktail we biked around the beach a bit down the boardwalk and stumbled upon a sand castle masterpiece.

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The bike ride back to the hotel through the green way was very scenic and I was impressed by how well the city of Valencia handled bikers.

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For dinner, upon the recommendation of a friend, we went to Canalla Bistro a hip little joint on a side of town we hadn’t been to yet that served tapas. Because all of the food looked delicious and we were overwhelmed with options, we decided upon a tasting menu. The restaurant had a quirky presentation on the food, which was superb and so filling. Two huge meals in one day.

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We saw pretty much the whole city of Valencia in one day, so in hindsight it may have been a good idea to fly to Mallorca in the morning the next day in order to maximize beach time. But as they say hindsight is 20/20, so we slept in and got a quick brunch to start off our day. Really the only other thing we did before heading to the airport was to visit the bull fighting ring, but it was closed for a private event.

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The 30 minute plane ride to Mallorca on a tiny plane previously would have given me nightmares, but because those smaller planes don’t go as high, the views we had coming into Mallorca were incredible. We somehow flew in from the north and got to see the whole island as we were flying by.

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The island of Mallorca is actually bigger than I expected. We rented a car because we were staying on the north side of the island, and Palma, where the airport is is on the south side. I’ve learned that the car rental process in Europe is never a quick or easy process, but the one in the Palma airport had a bar in the parking garage, so I guess they have figured this out too.

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Google Maps took us on the scenic route to our hotel. We missed the turn onto this dirt road because Tyler said he couldn’t even tell there was a road there. That should have been our sign to stay on the path more traveled, but we like an adventure. It ended up being a fun detour though because we got to see the countryside. As we drove, I noticed two things: artichokes and tiny houses. The area inland was mostly cute little farms.

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We arrived at our hotel around 5 and headed immediately to the beach. As our only beach vacation of the year, I was trying to maximize the time with my toes in the sand. The beaches were beautiful and the view from our hotel was also incredible.

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It was a little windy and I didn’t bring any warm clothes, so we left the beach to walk along to boardwalk and explore the town. Stopping in at a little beach side bar, we ordered a spritz and shrimp cocktail, which came out with pineapple and strawberries. Basically it was a fruit cocktail with shrimp and mayo… interesting for sure.

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We unknowingly stayed at an all inclusive resort, so dinner was included. It was pretty sub par, but you can’t complain too much about free! After dinner we headed to a tiki bar down the street and sat by some Dutch people. I immediately knew when I heard her trying to ask the waiter for pindas (aka peanuts), so I started a conversation. She was very jolly and I enjoyed talking to her. It seemed like the whole time on our trip in Valencia and Mallorca we were running into Dutch, probably because it was a holiday weekend in NL. We finished the night by having a taste of the local liquor in our hotel lobby while some girl sang on a karaoke machine.

The original reason we chose to go to Mallorca this particular weekend was because our friend Matt was partaking in an Iron Man race – a day full of swimming, biking, and casually running a half marathon. We woke up bright and early to cheer him on, but ended up missing the swimming portion while trying to find parking. We did catch up with him to see him off on his bike. We also saw a girl completely fall over on her bike and a guy eat a banana in one bite while biking handsless. Entertaining for sure.

The biking portion took a few hours so we headed to get some breakfast with Matt’s wife Maddie along the beach. Tyler and I basically spent the rest of the day alternating between beach and finding Matt along his race. Although the iron man provided obstacles of getting to the beach within the allotted areas and having to cross over the running and biking lanes without getting mauled by a sweaty participant, it was cool to see how motivated and dedicated everyone was.

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I felt a little guilty that I was just relaxing on the beach while all of these people were doing this crazy hard race, I justified it by going for a leisurely walk on the beach. Along my way I saw a group of wind surfers taking off on their parachute things. It seemed so much more intense when you see it up close, probably because the seas were really windy that particular day.

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Once the race was over and traffic had died down, we went back to our hotel to get changed before dinner. Upon the recommendation of a friend (yes, we seem to only go to restaurants that have been recommended to us, but hey that’s the cool thing about living in this expat community!), the four of us headed to the east side of the island near Porto Cristo. The drive there through the rural mountains was beautiful and I felt like we really got a taste for the area. We even drove by a safari park… in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t even want to think about what would happen if the lions got free. Once we got to the port, we took in the beauty of the water before heading to our dinner reservations.

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The Quince Restaurante y Cantina was probably my favorite meal in a while. We had a great view of the harbor while we were eating as well as amazing food. Tyler got a whole fish that he had to filet himself, I got a pot of delicious mussels. We also ordered every dessert on the menu and it came out on a platter: brownies, ice cream, white chocolate cake, olive oil cake, all delicious. After the food was gone, we decided to play a game of Euchre while enjoying some more wine. The girls barely squeaked out with a win over the boys which made everything even better. A dinner to remember!

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We ate the dessert so quickly that we couldn’t even stop for a picture

Sadly, our beach vacation was not that long and the next day we were flying back to Amsterdam. I enjoyed one last walk along the beach and took many mental pictures to remember the fabulous vacation. I would really recommend the island of Mallorca to anyone wanting a great beach vacation!

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It’s not over til the fat lady sings

Valencia
Petit Palace Plaza de la Reina hotel
La manera coffee & cocktails
La Riua
Free walking tour
Marina Beach Club

Mallorca
Alcudia beach area
Sea Hotel by Grupotel
Quince Restaurante y Cantina
Porto Cristo area

 

Rome is where I want to be

May 4, 2018 – May 6, 2018

A few weekends ago, I made it back to the first city I ever visited in Europe, the wonderful Rome. As a college student, I studied abroad in Tuscany for a summer and spent a week in Rome on the front end. This trip back was just as spectacular as I remembered it, maybe even more so now that I have the context of having visited other places.

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For this trip, we went with three friends who had never visited Rome before, and we had less than 48 hours in the city. I was skeptical that we would get to see everything on my list, but we did a pretty good job. So here’s my guide to you for seeing Rome in a weekend.

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As you can probably tell from the pictures so far, my top priority for the trip was to visit the Colosseum. On my first jaunt to Rome, I was a poor college kid who couldn’t afford a guided tour or audio guide, so while I entered the Colosseum, I did not learn the history or understand the magnitude of how important of a place this was. This time around, we purchased skip-the-line guided tour tickets because the line to get in was long AF and we just didn’t have time for that.

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Our tour guide was a spunky old Italian woman named Isabella who ushered us through the security line with haste, which I appreciated. She told us lots of stuff, but the thing that stuck out the most was that the Colosseum was built in 10 years almost 2000 years ago. They built that whole thing in 10 years way back when and that church in Barcelona is still being built after 100 years!

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We spent some time just admiring the massive structure from the inside and outside. It’s crazy to think that people battled each other to the death and only 2% of the gladiators lived. There was a famous quote they would say in Latin which translated to ” Your death is my life” because one of the people had to die (or they had to be a really good actor and convince the crowd they were dead). Gladiators were also forced to go into the arena with wild animals who would rip them to shreds. During the rise of Christianity in the 400s they stopped having people fight to the death because this was not a very Christian activity.

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Think Alex could have been a gladiator winner?

Isabella kept going on about the original marble floors in the Colosseum and also spouted some facts about stones from the Colosseum being used to build the Vatican. Interestingly, the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica are the same length because the Christian king didn’t want anything to be bigger than the church.

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Directly across from the Colosseum is the Roman Forum which we visited next. It’s basically a big open area with ruins in the middle and cool buildings all around it. We explored a little on our own, until we were starving and had to find some food. The forum was really confusing and had no exits so we wandered around aimlessly for at least 30 minutes looking for a way out.

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Tyler had done a lot of research on restaurants for the trip and none of them disappointed. We had lunch at Mimi e Coco and enjoyed a big platter of meat and cheese, which I followed up with lasagne bolognese that was probably the best I’ve ever had. Oh and wine, lots of wine. It started pouring while we were sitting in the restaurant, so we waited out the storm while enjoying another glass. The meal ended with some lemoncello and we were on our way.

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Our goal for after lunch was to visit the Vatican, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and Pantheon. In the morning, we purchased a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket so that we could easily and quickly get around town. It was a good idea in theory, but we probably didn’t use it enough to warrant the purchase. We did however, take it to the Vatican which is on the other side of the river and kind of not near anything else. Because we had such a short time in the city (and Tyler and I had already been inside), we opted to view the Vatican from the outside. Although you can’t quite grasp the beauty of St. Peter’s Basilica from the outside, it still is majestic.

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Another quick hop on the bus brought us to the Spanish Steps where we promptly stopped at a fancy hotel to use the bathroom and ended up with EUR 20 margaritas. We justified the price tag by the fact that it was Cinco de Mayo and the drinks came with a lot of snacks.

By this time, it was getting a little late, so we kind of quickly did the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. I still think the fountain is one of the most beautiful things. We threw some coins in and made some wishes. If you throw the coin over your left shoulder you’ll be going back to Rome some day. If you throw a coin over your right shoulder you might find love. Take a guess which shoulder my coin went over.

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Upon the recommendation of a friend, we ate at Vecchia Roma for dinner. We arrived there at about 10:15 and there was still a huge line to be seated. Luckily we snagged a table because the food was delicious. I got this amazing gnocchi and the others got incredible pizzas. It was a great dinner with great friends and everyone left uncomfortably full. The walk back was also nice because a lot of the buildings were lit up beautifully.

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Our flight left pretty late on Sunday, so we had the whole day to explore. We hit a bunch of sites on Saturday, so the only thing I really wanted to see was the Pantheon. The Pantheon was under construction the last time I visited Rome, so it was something completely new to me. Originally built as a pagan temple, the now church has been in the hands of many different people throughout history, making it one of the better preserved Roman buildings since it was consistently in use. From the outside, you wouldn’t be able to tell, but in the inside there’s a huge domed center letting light in and drawing your eye upwards.

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On our way to lunch after the Pantheon we ran into what what I had called the wedding cake building when I was last in Rome. Turns out it’s actually the Piazza Venezia! We only admired from afar, but I would love to closer examine this building one day.

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When in Italy, eating is the most important pastime, so we made sure to do it right. Brunch consisted of delicious pizza and wine.

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After lunch we realized we had not yet had gelato on the trip, which let’s be real is one of the top reasons to visit Italy. We headed over to Trastevere, a less touristy more hip area of Rome to walk around and score some delicious cold treats. I hadn’t been to this part of town before and wish we could have done more exploring because I really liked what I did get to see.

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Unfortunately we had to head to the airport shortly after arriving. After having such a great time on our Portugal trip, this quick jaunt made me fall in love with Italy all over again.

Recommendations
Colosseum – skip the line tour is a must, ain’t nobody got time to wait in line
Trevi Fountain – still favorite Roman attraction
Spanish steps – the three Rome newbies didn’t get the attraction of the Spanish steps “They’re just steps?” but I still find them wonderful
Vatican – would definitely recommend going inside the Vatican and doing a tour, the artwork is magnificent
Vecchia Roma – delicious dinner
Emma – cute brunch spot, get here early
Essenza wine bar – hole in the wall wine bar
Mimi e Coco – besssttttt lasagna bolognese
Trastevere – Less touristy area of Rome, definitely want to check this out more

 

Port-Lis-Lago-ugal

March 24, 2018 – April 2, 2018

Note: this post took me a really long time to write, sorry if you fall asleep during it.

Move over Italy, Portugal is my new favorite country. From the wine region of Porto, to the busy city hustle and bustle of Lisbon, to the beaches in Lagos – Portugal had everything you could ever want in a dream vacation.

Porto

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The first city on our tour of the coast was Porto. Although it took us almost the entire day to travel to Porto from Morocco due to missing our flight because of the longest customs line I have ever had to stand in (seriously, longer than 3 hours because only 2 people were working… when a third guy showed up he got a standing ovation from the 400+ people in line), the wait was worth it. We missed our dinner reservations, obviously, but ended up checking out a cute little wine bar on the Douro River called Wine Quay Bar. It was a little cold, so we sat inside, but still had a great view. It was here that I experienced my first Douro Valley wine, a nice crisp white. The first of many of the trip. We also had a little cheese and meat platter to sample. A relaxing end to a freaking hectic travel day.

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On Tuesday (I had to fact check that this was Tuesday because on vacation, days of the week don’t matter), we took a trip with Sandra of Douro Exclusive Tours to the Douro Valley. We picked up another passenger, and embarked on the hour and a half drive from Porto. Luckily, the conversations were good and the scenery was enchanting so the drive flew by.

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We drove through some hairpin turns down narrow roads, but made it to our first stop, Fonseca Winery, which is a smaller winery overlooking a tributary of the Douro River, perched up on a hill. The estate was white with a red roof and looked very regal.

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We had our tasting outside and learned a little bit more about the wine region. The most memorable part to me was that 2011 was the wine year of the century, so naturally we tried to find this vintage everywhere we went for the rest of the trip. Sandra told us that no one knows how the 2017 wine will be because all of the vineyards had to harvest the grapes weeks earlier than the winemakers ever remember because of the weather. I guess we will find out in a few years.

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After the first winery, we took a boat cruise down the river and tried a tawny port. The difference between the tawny and ruby port is that the tawny is aged in smaller batches in a barrel, so it has more contact with the wood. Port wine is a sweet wine, which originated in the 1500s when the English came to Portugal and tried to ship the wine back to the homeland. The wine would go bad from being on the ship for too long, so they put straight alcohol in the batches to preserve the wine, and this would stop the fermentation process, making the wines sweet. I really enjoyed the tawny port and also the views along the river.

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After the boat tour, we went to lunch at DOC an amazing place on the river. We had a 3 course lunch with wine pairings which were refilled several times. The fish soup with sparking wine kicked us off and was superb. Then we had suckling pig and a red wine, then finished with a tawny port and several small desserts, all while enjoying the breathtaking beauty. The weather was so perfect, and we even got a little too much sun.

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The final stop on our tour was Quinta de Tourias, a local winery that only produces 15-20k bottles a year. The owner and his wife were very attractive Portuguese people who had the cutest house overlooking the grapes, which also includes a B&B. I wanted their lives. I liked their wines a lot and even bought a shirt with their logo on it. The owner also noticed that I was very sunburnt and went into the garden to fetch me some aloe vera.

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I would definitely recommend this tour to anyone going to Porto. It was by far the best wine tour that I have ever been on.

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On our last day in Porto, we did a walking tour of the city. It was kind of shitty weather and it rained most of the tour. We saw some cool things, like the bookstore where J.K. Rowling wrote the first two chapters of the Philosopher’s Stone. The bookstore had a huge winding staircase as the focal point, and many bookshelves with ladders surrounding it.

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The bookstore.. this was as close as we could get because of the massive line

We saw a few statues and some churches, but nothing too exciting. The real show stopper was just the amazing streets with intricate tiles everywhere you look.

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Beautiful train station art

After the tour we walked across the bridge to see Porto from the other side of the river. I enjoyed the views with all of the little red rooftops.

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Because we always want to try the local cuisine, we stopped at a place that supposed has the best Francesinha (bread + ham + linguica + sausage + steak + chicken + egg + lots of cheese + tomato sauce). Tyler had a hay day, but I decided I would be going back to my vegeterian ways after this trip. We waddled back to our hotel after this rich lunch and caught a train to Lisbon, which was super easy to do.

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Lisbon

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They have a Golden Gate Bridge here too!

Upon arrival in Lisbon, the first thing I noticed was the hills. I felt like I was back in college again walking to my classes in Ayers. But it was also warmer than in Porto, so I didn’t even care. We arrived kind of late, so we basically just had time to check into the hotel and then went out in search of food. We kind of accidentally stumbled into a place called Bistro 100 Maniedas. It was AMAZING. The cocktails were great. The asparagus mushroom appetizer was great. The bottle of 2011 Douro Valley red was great. The spicy octopus was great. The cheese foam dessert was SO great. So great that I wanted to go back the next night for round 2 of cheese foam, but it didn’t work out.

One of the things Tyler was most excited for in Lisbon was seeing Fado, basically Portuguese karaoke. We waltzed right into this hole in the wall place and sat down during someone’s performance, which is probably frowned upon. The people were so nice and didn’t care that we were the only tourists in the local bar. There was a guy playing a Portuguese guitar, and the emcee would call random people up to the front to sing their song. The whole crowd knew the tunes and would sing along. I wish I knew the words.

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Because walking tours are kind of our jam, we started off the next day with a tour of Lisbon. Walking tours in Lisbon are hard because of the hills and the fact that things are kind of spread out, but I liked seeing the different parts of the city. We stayed in Baixa-Chiado which is like the party district, and our tour guide took us through the center of the city and then to Alfama which was my favorite.

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It still seems very local and had cute little houses with different colors and people hanging laundry out the windows. Our guide told us to say hola to all of the people living there because they are mostly elderly and don’t like the tourists.

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Because there are a lot of old people in Alfama, recently an artist started taking portraits of them and sharing their pictures on the walls with their stories. I couldn’t read this one, but I liked it.

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The only story I remember from the tour was about this old church that had no roof. There was a huge earthquake in Lisbon on November 1, 1755 which happens to be All Saints Day which includes a tradition of lighting candles for the dead and going to church. Many people died because they were in these big stone churches when the quake happened and the ceilings started crashing down. Then fires started from all the candles, and people ran down the hill towards the water, but then a tsunami came from the sea and many drowned. It was a dramatic series of events and apparently all the non-Catholics lived up on the hill and were spared from the damage, so naturally everyone thought it was a sign from God.

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We spent the rest of the day kind of wandering around the city with no real agenda.

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KITTY!

At one point we found ourselves at the bottom of a really steep hill we needed to get to the top so we hopped on this cute little cable car. It reminded me a lot of San Fran.

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After all of the wandering, we popped into a cool bar where you could play a guessing game to see how many corks were in this big glass bottle. It was 989, but my guess of 148 did not come very close.

For dinner, per the recommendation of a friend we tried our Tapa Bucho. We got there and there was a huge line in front of us, but we ordered some wine and sat out in the street while we waited. It took forever, but we ended up making friends with a group of English folks and they gave us some recommendations for when we are in Bath at the end of the month. Win-win. The dinner was delicious and cheap (we found Portugal to be relatively inexpensive everywhere). We ended the night with some more Fado.

The next day, we planned to get up early and rent a car to drive to nearby Sintra. Unfortunately we got off to a late start and had to wait for about an hour at the Hertz so I wasn’t in the greatest mood when we set off for our adventure. Once we got into Sintra, the road to the top of the mountain was single file one way and so crowded. We spent about another hour making our way to the top. We finally reached our destination about 3 hours later than planned, so we kind of rushed through the sites.

Our first stop was at the Palace de Pena. A really cool looking mansion on the top of a mountain, that is painted bright yellow and red and kind of has a moorish vibe with the intricate tiles. It was so crowded and impossible to stay out of everyone’s pictures, but it was beautiful.

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I wish we would have had time to explore the area around the palace grounds which was basically just a big park.

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Instead, we walked down to the Moorish castle, a fortress made of stone. We got there are walked up about 1,000 stairs to get to the top tower where we had great views of the Palace de Pena.

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It was really windy at the top, but you could see the Atlantic Ocean and all of the valleys. I enjoyed it until the rain hit and we raced back down to the car.

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From Sintra, we continued west, so far west in fact, that we reached the western most point in Europe, Cabo de Roca.

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It reminded me of a mini version of the Cliffs of Moher (but there was a handrail at this cliff).

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We chilled here for a while until it started sprinkling again and then went to a bar that had been recommended to us nearby. It had legit Mexican food and I was so excited that I got nachos and a pina colada before hitting the road back to Lisbon.

On our last night in Lisbon, we had a dinner at a steakhouse that some Dutch friends had recommended. They brought the steak out raw on a sizzling hot rock, and you could cook it to your liking, which was kind of fun. They also made you wear a bib.

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The tables at the restaurant were so close together that you were practically eating dinner with your neighbor, so I wasn’t surprised when the French guy next to us started chatting us up. I love a good chat with strangers and the service was better than most places in Europe. We ended the night with one more round of Fado. A perfect way to cap off the Lisbon experience.

Lagos

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The next morning we embarked on a road trip to Lagos after first stopping at the Belem tower and the pasteis shop. Pasteis are little flat muffin shaped egg desserts that kind of resemble creme brulee with a flaky crust. Super lekker.

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In order to get to Lagos we had two options: the direct route that would take about 2.5 hours or the scenic route along the coast that took about 4 hours but we could stop in little beach towns. It was a no brainer so we headed towards Sines along the coast. We stopped for lunch in a sleepy little beach town called Porto Covo at a place called Tasca Do Xico where we sat outside overlooking a cove. From our seats, we had a good view of people walking along the beach and up a big hill. The tide would come in and then they would get stuck and have to wait for it to go back out so they could recross, it was very entertaining.

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tide’s in, can’t get out!

The food was also really good and I once again enjoyed some octopus! After lunch we walked over to the cove to admire the beautiful oceanside.

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The drive from Porto Covo to Lagos was on narrow windy roads through the countryside. We basically got the local experience going through the middle of nowhere. We were just cruising with the windows down jamming out to some good tunes. A proper road trip. We got to Lagos and checked into our hotel which had a sweet pool and even sweeter ocean view.

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We explored the city a little before dinner and found that it was kind of a city for vagabonds. There were several travelers there and college kids. Lots of dreadlocks and people playing instruments for money. All of this guaranteed a pretty cool bar scene, which there was. Since it was a Saturday night, we checked out a few places before heading back to the hotel.

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On Easter Sunday, we woke up and headed to the beach. It was a warm day and I wanted my toes in the sand.

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After a light lunch at the beach club, we made our way to a kayak tour in the ocean. Tyler and I have kayaked and canoed together before, so I was not nervous about the trip, but it turns out I should have been!

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The waters were really rough and I thought we were going to tip over. The tour group even sent a speed boat along with us to help in case anyone flipped, which did happen to one unlucky couple. The water was freezing, so they were not pleased. Right when we got to the halfway point, the lighthouse, our guide made us navigate in between these two rocks that were so close together. We made it through the first ones and then ran into a kayak of two girls who were stuck and had no clue what they were doing.

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I thought we were going to tip, but instead we made it to the camel beach where we chilled for a while. The water was so clear and the beach was super secluded and beautiful.

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On the way back, we all hooked onto each other and the speed boat pulled us back in. The guide said that we would stay tied to each other until people started flipping over from the waves, but luckily none of that happened. I was so glad were were tugged in because my arms were really sore!

To cap off the night, we ate some delicious fish and chips at a place called Ol Bastards. Tyler and I both agreed that the fish tacos and fish and chips were some of the best we’ve ever had. We capped off the night with rooftop cocktails in the starlight.

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On the last day of our trip, I was really sad to leave, but thankful for a great vacation! We had some time to kill so we headed to the lighthouse and beach to take a look at the ocean from the opposite view of how we had seen it from the kayaks the day before.

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We had one last stop to make on the way to the airport since our flight was so late, lunch at a Michelin star restaurant. We learned of the place from our companion on the wine tour in Porto and just had to go. The restaurant was in the Vila Joya hotel, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The hotel was immaculate and the view overlooking the glistening sea and camel colored rocks was just the best.

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The food was also amazing and very intricately plated. The flavors were so intense and it was probably one of the best meals I have ever had.

I can honestly say this vacation was one for the books. If you get the chance, put Portugal on your travel list!

Recommendations

Porto
Duoro Valley Exclusives – Gold Experience: the best wine tour I’ve ever been on
Wine Quay Bar
Peter Cafe
Porto A.S. 1829 Hotel

Lisbon
Alecrim ao Chiado Hotel
Bistro 100 Maneiras
Maruto
Tapa Bucho
Duque da Rua
Moinho Dom Quixote

Lagos
Baluarte da Vila Apartments
Linda the Beach Bar
Bon Vivant
Vila Joya
Kayak tour (just not when it’s rough AF on the water)

 

Ooooh Morocco

Ooooh Morocco

March 24, 2018 – April 2, 2018

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In the Netherlands, not only do you get off work for Good Friday, but you also get a holiday for Easter Monday, resulting in a 4 day weekend. We took advantage of this by stretching out our vacation to the week before and going on a proper holiday, visiting a whole new continent! We spent 2 nights in Morocco (I was so excited to go to Morocco where I could sing my favorite Moon Taxi song the WHOLE time. OOH Morocco tell me where you’ve been won’t you tell me what you know) and then headed down the coast of Portugal for a week.

Upon arrival, my first impression of Marrakech was utter chaos. Our riad (traditional Moroccan hotel with interior courtyard) sent a driver to pick us up from the airport. We walked outside into the sunshine, and there were at least 50 different drivers holding makeshift signs. After a few rounds of looking we spotted our guy and headed to the Riad Malika. In the center of the city where most of the riads are, the roads are pedestrian (and scooter) only. So our driver dropped us off and some seemingly random guy grabbed our bags and led us down some narrow corridors to the riad.

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The riad had this beautiful courtyard with lemon trees, an abundance of flowers, and three turtles. We sipped some Moroccan mint tea and watched the turtles race while waiting for the check-in process to begin.

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Things are not very organized in Marrakech, but eventually we learned we couldn’t check in for a few more hours so we stored our luggage and hit the streets.

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We headed straight for the Medina, the center of the city where there are several markets and in general, mayhem.  It was seriously crazy how packed the streets were and how the scooters maneuvered through them somewhat expertly.

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We wandered around for a while and then stumbled into a peaceful garden. The place was filled with exotic plants from all around the world, like this guy.

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In order to water the plants, they had a series of waterways throughout the garden. You had to be careful or you might step in one of them while walking around. Which I did. With my whole foot.

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It was such a contrast to have a tranquil place of beauty in the middle of the busy marketplace. We spent most of the day walking through the narrow streets and looking at what all of the shops had to offer. Unfortunately, for most of the day we couldn’t buy anything because we didn’t have any money. We tried at least a dozen ATMs to no avail and absolutely nowhere would take a card. We ran into a group of Dutch girls who was also having issues and they told us to make sure we had the world setting on our PIN card. Feeling good about the money situation, we went to check into our riad.

We checked into our room and were amazed by the views. We had a room on the top floor with rooftop sunbeds overlooking the city.

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Because of the lack of money, we also had a lack of food thus far in the day. Needless to say I was getting hangry. Even with the updated world setting, we still had to try 3 more ATMs before we finally found one that would give us money! Unfortunately, you could only get out a limited amount at a time, so we hit it up several times throughout the day. For lunch, we decided to eat at a place overlooking the main square. It was probably a tourist trap, but it had an amazing balcony to view the strange happenings.

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We saw snake charmers, monkey charmers, someone selling teeth, someone selling goat heads, donkeys, roosters and much more. The guy with the monkey even chased Tyler and lured him right next to a guy holding a snake. I was watching from afar with a pit in my stomach.

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After we had our bellies full, we kept walking around checking out the shops. There really was so much to see, but you couldn’t linger too long in one area or the shopkeeper would forcefully try to sell you something. It was chaotic and exhausting, but an incredible experience. There were so many different types of shops: shoes, rugs, clay pots, trinkets, metal, spices, leather, dresses, food.

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It was like a maze trying to get through all of the back alleyways, but you had to act like you knew where you were going because if you looked lost, someone might try to help you and then demand payment for unsolicited directions.

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Something I have to mention about Marrakech is the abundance of cats. I may have mentioned this in a previous blog, but Tyler and I have this game we play called the cat game. Basically whenever we see a cat we softly yell “KITTY!” and then you get a point. Whoever gets the most points in a day wins. Well, in Marrakech, the score ended up being Tyler: 29ish, Kaitlyn: 23… we saw OVER 50 kitties in one day. And, unlike in Greece, they didn’t all look scary and malnourished. So yea, I loved it there.

One of my favorite areas we stopped in was a square where the big rug factory was. Although we didn’t get a rug, it was amazing to admire the intricate designs and pops of color up close. We saw a rooftop restaurant above this square and decided to sit in the sun and watch the hustle and bustle below, while sipping on some Moroccan mint tea and iced coffee. In case you were unaware, it is pretty impossible to get an alcoholic beverage in Marrakech, so this was a nice break from our usual Saturdays on holiday.

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During the day, we also visited the Koutoubia Mosque, which is right in the middle of the city and is a good landmark for when you are lost. It has a huge clock tower and if you happen to be near it when prayers are happening, there’s a loudspeaker reciting the prayers and bells that chime, which is very intriguing to see and hear.

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In every city that we visit, we try to get a little trinket as a souvenir to remember our travels. In Marrakech there was no shortage of things to choose from. Every shop had a myriad of odds and ends just begging for a spot on our shelf. We went into a store where the shopkeeper wasn’t immediately haggling us and browsed what he had to offer. We settled on a small camel and a bracelet. Tyler put his haggling skills to use insisting we couldn’t go over 200 MAD and then settling for 350 ;).

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Eventually, we had had enough of the craziness and decided to head back to our Riad to relax and have a glass of wine on the rooftop. We made it back just in time to hear the prayers again, which I really enjoyed.

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For dinner, we went to Comptoir Darna, a really fun place with delicious food and bellydancing shows. The ladies danced around with these big trays full of candles on their heads and then would stop and put the candle hats on the guest. They singled me out one time and I got to wear the hat! It was heavy. I always enjoy dinner and a show.

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Although I had originally been concerned about Marrakech being “sketchy”, I did not feel afraid when walking back to our riad in the dark.

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City walls with the holes for aeration

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After a sensory overloaded day spent in the Medina, I was glad to head out to the desert the next day for total relaxation. The day however, did start off a little stressful when the driver who was supposed to pick us up to take us to the desert was over an hour late and we had a hard time getting in touch with him. But eventually, we were on our way to Scarabeo Desert Camp. The drive to the camp was interesting as we passed through heavy poverty areas. We saw several shepherds guiding their sheep and stray dogs.

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We turned off the main road onto this dirt road to get to the camp and I was singing that song “Sure would hate to break down here, nothing up ahead or in the rear view mirror…” because we were literally in the middle of nowhere. All around us was desert. The desert didn’t look how I had originally imagined, because there were small patches of green, and the land was more dirt than sand. Still beautiful though.

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Upon our arrival at the camp, we were severed more delicious Moroccan mint tea, and were told to pick a spot to relax at until lunch. The camp was made up of about 10 tents for guests to sleep in, the kitchen tent, the front guest tent, and other various tents like a spa tent. There was literally nothing else around besides these white tents and places to sit and chill. The camp was really nice though, and allegedly Chrissy Teigen and John Legend have even stayed there.

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The temperature in the desert was so odd. It was scorching hot in the sun and a bit chilly in the shade, so very hard to dress for. I spent the time before lunch alternating with taking my jacket off to sit in the sun and getting bundled up to move to the shade. Unfortunately, the day before, our faces had gotten pretty sunburned in Marrakesh because someone told me not to pack the sunscreen.

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Our sleeping accommodation for the night was a tent with no electricity. The toilet had to be pumped by hand to flush, and you should absolutely not drink the water. At night, the staff lit a fire in the fireplace and some candles around the room. Other than that it was pitch black when we got back to the room at night.

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After being so stimulated in Marrakesh, I found it a little hard to decompress and relax at first, so we played a game of cards, of course. There was also a boccie ball court that had our attention for a game or two. It was also amazing just to take in the views and think about how we were in the middle of nowhere. We were finally served lunch and it consisted of a bunch of different kinds of vegetables and then a skewer of chicken. It was pretty good, but the view from lunch was the real winner.

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Right after lunch, we had scheduled Desert Rain massages with a scrub of desert sand, cinnamon and ginger. Unbeknownst to us, there was only one massage lady on duty, so we each had an hour massage separately. It made for an awkward encounter when Tyler had to sit in the tent while my massage started, but he quickly left and enjoyed the outdoors. The massage was very relaxing and afterwards I was excited for the main event of the day, the camel ride.

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I had been eyeing the camels all day anxiously awaiting our turn, watching a few groups go before us. At 5 o’clock sharp, we had to wake up the camels from their nap and I don’t think they were very happy about it, but I hopped on to Fatima and she did her little dance to stand up. Which is so weird. I didn’t get a video, but you should definitely YouTube camels standing up if you don’t know what I’m talking about. My camel’s mouth was attached to Tyler’s camels butt and away we went with our guide. The first part of the ride was the most intense. We were led down this steep hill with just a metal handlebar to hold onto. I never before realized just how tall camels were.

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After the hill though, it was smooth sailing and I really started to enjoy myself. I absolutely loved taking in the desert views from atop Fatima.

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With no plans until dinner was ready, we decided to hike to the top of a nearby hill to see if we could catch a beautiful sunset. Earlier in the day, we saw a woman running down the hill screaming / laughing because she couldn’t stop because it was so steep, so we kind of knew what we were getting ourselves into. It was not a very big hill, but it was difficult to climb up.

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Out of breath by the time we got to the top, we sat down on some rocks that look like maybe they used to be some sort of shack and waited.

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Very peaceful. Some clouds rolled in which obstructed our view of the sunset, but it was still breathtaking. Immediately after the sun went below the horizon, I made Tyler trek back down the hill with me because I knew if we tried it in the dark one of us might break a leg. It turned out to be easier than expected to get down the hill.

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Dinner at the Scarabeo camp was very tasty. We were served garlic chicken tagine and veggies, which were cooked in a little clay like teepees.

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Our night was completed by doing some star gazing, out in the middle of nowhere with only candlelight around. It was simply magical. We called it a night early because we had to get up in the morning to head to the airport for Portugal and retired to our tent. It had gotten pretty cold and the fire was out in our tent and we didn’t know we had to secure the tent flaps and there was a pack of wild dogs howling through the night. Needless to say, we did not get much sleep.

Although Morocco was probably the most unique place I have traveled thus far, I really enjoyed it. Because I had so much to say about this one, Part 2 with Portugal will have to wait.