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.

IMG_1360

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.

DSC02121

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.

DSC02122

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.

DSC02111
Stone guard towers / used to also be a prison
DSC02108
Reflecting pool on top of the old original roadway
DSC02125
Mercada central
DSC02129
Jamon! (aka ham)
IMG_1366
More market favorites
DSC02132
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.

DSC02109
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.

DSC02145

DSC02143

DSC02146

IMG_1368

DSC02150
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.

IMG_2718

IMG_2721

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.

IMG_1371

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.

IMG_1377

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

IMG_2725

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.

IMG_2726

IMG_2728

IMG_1381

IMG_2731

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.

IMG_2737

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.

IMG_1387

IMG_1391

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.

IMG_1398

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.

DSC02153

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.

IMG_1401

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.

DSC02151

IMG_2755

IMG_1414

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.

IMG_1408

IMG_1409

IMG_1411

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.

IMG_1421

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.

IMG_1424

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.

IMG_1431

fullsizeoutput_2e7f

IMG_1433

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!

IMG_1434

IMG_1435
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!

DSC02115
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.

00706951-eb4e-4b0c-980c-421fd908a0c5

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.

DSC02014

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.

DSC02009

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!

DSC02012

DSC02007

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.

DSC02013.JPG
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.

DSC02025.JPG

DSC02031.JPG

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.

DSC02036

DSC02040

DSC02042

DSC02047

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.

IMG_2674

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.

DSC02059

DSC02065

DSC02062

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.

DSC02071

DSC02075

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.

DSC02078

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.

IMG_1325

IMG_1326

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.

IMG_1321

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

IMG_2693

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.

IMG_1334

IMG_1338

IMG_1341

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

DSC01769

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.

IMG_2460.JPG

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.

DSC01752

DSC01754

DSC01756

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.

DSC01761

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.

DSC01772

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.

DSC01776

DSC01782

DSC01786

IMG_0769

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.

IMG_0780

IMG_0782

IMG_0784

IMG_0785

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.

IMG_0791

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.

DSC01802

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.

DSC01807
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.

DSC01806

DSC01825

DSC01816

DSC01818

DSC01820
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.

DSC01830

IMG_0797

DSC01831

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.

IMG_2501

Lisbon

IMG_0830
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.

IMG_2526.JPG

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.

IMG_0803

DSC01840

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.

IMG_0821

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.

IMG_0825

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.

IMG_0831

IMG_0810

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

IMG_0817

IMG_0826

IMG_0824
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.

IMG_0837

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.

DSC01844

DSC01846

DSC01851

DSC01863

DSC01868

DSC01875

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

DSC01865

DSC01867

DSC01854

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.

DSC01893

DSC01887

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.

DSC01892

IMG_0853

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

DSC01897

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

DSC01904

DSC01915

DSC01918

DSC01922

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.

IMG_0864

IMG_2525

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

DSC01948

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.

IMG_0867

DSC01926

DSC01929

IMG_2530

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.

IMG_0872
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.

DSC01940

DSC01939

DSC01942

DSC01943

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.

IMG_0875

IMG_0900

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.

IMG_2538

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

IMG_0879

IMG_0880

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!

IMG_0885

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.

DSC01954

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.

IMG_0886

IMG_0888

IMG_0893

IMG_0894

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.

IMG_2540

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.

DSC01958

DSC01960

DSC01946

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.

IMG_0921

IMG_0945

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

DSC01674

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.

DSC01594.JPG

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.

IMG_2419

IMG_0674

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.

DSC01596.JPG

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.

DSC01615

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.

DSC01599

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.

DSC01604

DSC01608

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.

DSC01627

DSC01625

DSC01628

DSC01630

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.

DSC01632

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.

IMG_0680

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.

LRG_DSC01619

LRG_DSC01644

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.

IMG_0681

DSC01618

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.

DSC01648

DSC01651

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.

DSC01636

DSC01637

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 ;).

DSC01639

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.

IMG_0682.JPG

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.

IMG_2444

IMG_2442

IMG_0711

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

IMG_0713
City walls with the holes for aeration

IMG_2439

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.

DSC01661

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.

DSC01666

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.

DSC01663.JPG

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.

DSC01678

DSC01675.JPG

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.

DSC01668

DSC01688

DSC01669

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.

IMG_0725.JPG

DSC01671

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.

DSC01684

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.

IMG_2454

DSC01689

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.

DSC01693

DSC01697

DSC01701

DSC01709.JPG

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.

DSC01718

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.

DSC01723

DSC01731

DSC01719

DSC01724

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.

DSC01740

DSC01745

DSC01747

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.

IMG_2456

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.

 

 

 

Beautiful Budapest

April 20, 2018 – April 22, 2018

IMG_1065.JPG

Because of my tardiness in writing my blog post about our trip to Marrakech/Portugal (still in progress…), I’ve decided to try something new and start writing the Budapest post while on the plane back to Amsterdam. We’ll see how this goes.

IMG_1067

Normally, I prefer Western European countries over the eastern ones. I can attribute it mainly to the fact that the Eastern European countries tend to have diets heavy in meat, which I generally try to avoid. Maybe also because they tend to drink a lot of beer and not the craft variety. And lastly because the ones we have been to are not on the Euro and it’s too hard to do the math to see how much a beer is going to cost (but also oppositely super cool to carry around 10,0000 bills).

IMG_1099

Budapest changed my opinion of what Eastern Europe has to offer, and I can say I truly enjoyed the city. Also, the weather was incredible which always helps.

IMG_1077

Unfortunately, it was a short trip to Budapest since I cannot take any vacation days during the quarter close (accounting problems), and we flew out late Friday night and returned Sunday afternoon. We made the most of the short trip, however, by immediately meeting our friends out at the bar upon our arrival on Friday night.

I have a coworker who is from Budapest, and she gave me a few recommendations of the hip spots to see, so upon her recommendation we checked out a ruin bar called Szimpla Kert. Ruin bars are built in the ruins of abandoned buildings, and apparently this one was the original and all others have copied it. The building was literally falling down around the big courtyard in the center.

IMG_1120

When it opened, the owners invited all of the neighbors to bring whatever they wanted to get rid of to decorate the bar. There’s everything from old chairs and couches, to gnomes, bikes, an old communist car, a bathtub, and a huge dinosaur statue. It could seem, tacky especially with all of the random lights, but I thought it kind of worked. They also have Hookah to smoke if that’s your thing. We enjoyed a few beers with our friends, but didn’t make it too late since Saturday was really our only day to explore the city.

IMG_1069

IMG_2583

IMG_1072

Saturday started off with the usual 10 am (or 10:30am in this case) walking tour, which has become somewhat of a joke in our friend group since it’s our go to activity. Budapest has two sides, Buda and Pest which are split in the middle by the Danube river. We stayed on the Pest (pronounced more like pesh than Pest) side which has more of the nightlife and hotels. The Buda side is on a hill and has the castle, several baths, and even the Hungarian “Statue of Liberty”.

The tour started off in Pest and we learned about the local cuisine (various types of meat) and drinks (palinka), while walking towards the river. The views to Buda were really beautiful since that area has more greenery and hills as well as the palace.

IMG_2586

There are several bridges that connect the two areas, but the most beautiful one is the chain link bridge, inspired by the Tower Bridge in London. While we were still in Pest, we walked around in a few circles and saw the St. Stephen’s Basilica. St. Stephen was the first ruler of Hungary 1000 years ago and the people really like him. The basilica was built only 100 years ago, but is made to look older. We learned that pretty much all the buildings were built in the last 100 years and before that it used to be an agricultural area.

IMG_1087

We also walked around in a few parks and saw a few fountains. There was one area where there was a big pool in the middle of a grassy area and apparently the pool is on top of an underground bar. So when you’re at the bar you can look up and feel like you’re underwater.

IMG_1083

The tour was kind of a snooze fest, but we stuck with it as we crossed the chain link bridge into Buda and then peaced out to do our own sight seeing.

IMG_1095

IMG_2591

From Buda, you can see the beautiful parliament building on the rivers edge. We sat in the shade admiring it for a while before heading back to Pest for some lunch.

IMG_2595

IMG_1098

Right by our hotel in Erzsebet Square, there was a market (kind of reminded me of Christmas market) with lots of open air food options and small shops. We sampled some local favorites like chicken goulash in a pita and this fluffy doughy pancake looking thing called Langos that had cottage cheese and regular cheese on it. Both were delicious.

IMG_1076

IMG_1079

I would highly recommend our next decision, which was to head to the river to have cocktails on a boat. The particular one we went to was called Spoon the Boat, and we got to sit at the helm of the boat in these cool captains chairs. The Aperol spritz were phenomenal and they also brought out a bar cart of different palinka flavors to try.

IMG_1106

I’ve been there done that in Romania and didn’t enjoy it, so I passed, but the group had the peach/apricot flavor which everyone seemed to enjoy. The weather was so great and the views of both sides of the river only added to the positive experience.

IMG_1111

IMG_2598

IMG_2603

Because we enjoyed the ruin bar so much the night before, we went back once more to see what it looked like during the day. I think I preferred it during the day because you could really appreciate all of the random things gracing the walls. We grabbed some food at food trucks nearby and all headed home to get ready for the S’party.

IMG_2604

IMG_1121

IMG_2607

On our way back to the hotel, Tyler and I ended up marching in a parade in protest of the current president. We didn’t really know what was going on and it was the only way back to our hotel, but I guess we still marched!

The most important event of the trip was the bath party, or S’party. On Saturday nights during the summer, the spa has a DJ and you can basically go clubbing in a huge hot tub with 100’s of other people. After I got over the fact that I had to walk around barefoot and could possibly contract a foot fungus, I really enjoyed it. We got the VIP package that included drinks and a locker storage which was vital since we were in our bathing suits.

My first impression of the party was that it was kind of a sausage fest, tons of dudes, and a few bachelorette parties. There were also people who did acro yoga while twirling fire batons, which was actually pretty entertaining. The pools were maybe a little too hot and I spent the evening alternating between getting in the pool, getting too hot, getting out of the pool, getting a beer, getting too cold, getting back in the pool, all night. At the end I realized I could sit on one of the steps and be half in and half out of the water with just the right temperature. The S’party was pretty fun, but maybe not totally my scene. I would have enjoyed going to the baths during the day for a more relaxing experience.

IMG_2615

On Sunday we slept in and headed to the airport after waking up, wishing  we had another full day to explore everything the city has to offer. Maybe we’ll be back.

IMG_1135
Ran into a shirt that TayTay actually wore while we were in the airport!

Recommendations:

Hotels

Kempinski hotel – a nice 5 start hotel where Michael Jackson once stayed. It was reasonably priced when we booked it.

Otherwise, I’d also recommend staying in the Jewish quarter near the synagogue because there are a lot of restaurants and bars over there and it feels a bit more authentic and less touristy.

Bars

Szimpla Kert – the coolest ruin bar, please go here

Warm Up Cocktail Bar – had really good cocktails, but only go here if you’re in no hurry whatsoever and don’t mind waiting an hour for a round of drinks for 8 people. Actually, I’m not really sure I could in good faith recommend this place.

Spoon the Boat – bar on a boat with really good cocktails and views of both sides of the river

Activities

Szechenyi Thermal Bath – for a night DJ party or also during the day for a more relaxing experience

River cruise – either a night cruise or one with wine tasting. We did not have time to do this, but our friends who arrived the day before us did and enjoyed it so much they said they would do it again when we were there.

Hop on hop off tour – our friends did the hop off bus and it allows you to see more of the city in a shorter period of time than just walking around. If we would have done this we could have gone up to the top of the hill on the Buda side.

Dublin – St. Party’s Day

March 16, 2018 – March 17, 2018

Warning: this post pretty much just talks about how drunk I got on St. Patrick’s Day. 

Although we had already embarked on one weekend getaway to Dublin, when our friends said they were going for St. Patrick’s Day, we knew we had to join them on this bucket list adventure. Because accommodations were so ridiculously overpriced for the occasion, we chose to stay in a private room of a pretty shitty hostel, but figured we wouldn’t be in our room very much. We arrived to our hostel pretty late on Friday night only to learn that we actually didn’t have a room booked due to a miscommunication with our friends. Luckily, the hostel had one room available (and I mean really luckily because the hostel worker guy even said so himself that he had no clue how there was a room available)! And even more luckily, we were able to book the same room we originally had for EUR 200 less than what we were supposed to pay. Thanks St. Patrick for your luck!

IMG_0613.JPG
Tyler even shaved his 4th annual mustache for the occasion

In an effort to not exhaust ourselves on the first night, Tyler and I decided to have just one pint of Guinness at a bar in the Temple Bar district, it was named The Quays Bar. I’d have to say we were probably two of the least rowdy people at the bar, and on the street, and at the other bars nearby. It was crazy how crazy everyone was already getting. But I guess it is one of the biggest party days of the year.

IMG_0666

We kicked off Saturday by having brunch and being told that alcohol could not be sold or purchased anywhere until after noon. Probably for the best. So before the parade started, we dipped into a Carroll’s souvenir store to add some flair to our green ensembles. I picked a green Ireland hat and Tyler picked a green Ireland scarf. Did I mention that it was about 30 F as a high for the day? When will spring come!

We staked out a spot on the curb for the parade that ended up being pretty clutch. It was right in front of a bar so we could go in to use the toilet or get to-go beers. The beer drinking was necessary to warm our bones while we waited for the parade to get to our spot, which took like 45 minutes. The people watching of parade viewers might have been more fun than actually viewing the parade.

IMG_0615

IMG_0622

That’s to say that the parade itself was pretty underwhelming. I had pictured tons of little leprechauns throwing chocolate gold coins and green confetti into the crowd. However, most of the floats didn’t even have green! Like this one…

IMG_0633

They were also all pretty small. This group of French guys had the right idea and brought a ladder so they could see over everyone

IMG_0624

There were also several marching bands in the parade from colleges in the US, like Purdue, some Texas school and some Florida school. I didn’t really get why they were here, but how awesome would it be to be in a school band and travel to Dublin for the St. Patrick’s parade??

IMG_0631

Once the parade was finished we met up with our friends and braved the crowds to head to the Temple Bar area. Everyone was so jolly and dressed in the craziest green outfits, it was a sight to see.

IMG_0634

The rest of the day pretty much consisted of bar hopping and lots of Guinness. We also watched the Ireland vs England rugby match that Ireland won! So of course everyone went totally nuts at the bar we were at.

IMG_0638
Picture of rugby match (kind of), but more importantly the soup of the day

Another cool thing about all the bars is that there was live music pretty much everywhere. The bands alternated between Irish drinking songs that really got the crowd going and some more mainstream stuff.

IMG_0645

I think we sat in this one bar for a few hours just listening to music and drinking our Guinness. I even joined a conga line through the dance floor! The other thing that really sticks out to me about the day is how many people I saw vomit in the street. Luckily no one from our crew was in that bad of shape, but I would hate to be the street cleaner on the day after St. Party’s Day, there’s no telling what you might see!

After a long day of Guinness, we reserved Sunday for waking up and making it to the airport for our flight. We woke up to a blizzard and I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it out of Dublin at all! We headed to the airport anyways to see what the deal was and were stranded with hundreds of hungover foreigners. Some flights were cancelled, but we were fortunate enough to only be delayed for 3 hours.

Although it was a quick trip, I sincerely recommend going to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day if you are ever in the area and don’t mind paying a ridiculous amount of money to stay in a substandard accommodation.

IMG_0652

Maybe we will even go next year.

 

Madrid, there’s always mañana

March 2, 2018 – March 4, 2018

It’s been a cold, rainy winter in Amsterdam as evidenced by the canals freezing, an event that hasn’t happened in over 6 years. I’m sure it was a sight to see when people were skating down the Princengracht and Keizersgracht, but luckily we avoided the chilly freeze and made our way down to sunny Madrid for the weekend.

DSC01564.JPG

After arriving late on Friday night we were eager to kick off the weekend with a Saturday morning free walking tour, per usual. With the help of a funny little Irishman, we explored the sprawling city on foot.

DSC01556.JPG

We covered some of the basic sites, like the world’s oldest restaurant, Plaza Mayor, Cathedral  de Almudena, Plaza de Puerta Cerrada, and the Royal Palace. To be honest, it didn’t seem like there were that many big sites to see in Madrid, it was more about learning the history through stories.

DSC01590

A recurring theme throughout the tour was that the Spanish take a long time to do things and build things. It was always eh, we’ll do it mañana, a philosophy which would drive me nuts. We also learned the city’s motto, “fui sobre agua edificada, mis muros de fuego son,” meaning On water I was built, my walls are made of fire. Badass.

DSC01535.JPG

One of my favorite stories was about the origin of tapas. Apparently, there was a bar that back in the day workers would go to for their lunch break. They could only afford to buy food or alcohol, so alcohol always won that battle. They would end up coming back to work drunk and being hungover the next day. So someone in charge decided that with every alcoholic drink sold, food also had to be provided. This tradition has stuck around today with many places offering snacks with drinks.

Our tour guide also told us about gave us the run down of the most notable kings of Spain using walking tour participants as examples. Tyler got to be King Philip II who brought Spain to its height of power in the 16th century and who the Philippines is still named after today. Glad he wasn’t Charles II who was known as the Bewitched because he was a product of many generations of incest.

The main attractions that we saw were the palace and cathedral.

Here it is from the back

DSC01540.JPG

and the side

DSC01541.JPG

and the front

DSC01549

While we were walking through the city, I noticed that several balconies had the Spanish flag hanging proudly from the railings. Like literally everywhere you looked. I thought it was so cool that they had so much pride, and then I realized it must be a soccer team thing. But still cool.

DSC01593

After the walking tour, we took a quick stroll inside of the cathedral, which was beautiful. I really liked the different colored mosaics on the ceiling and the picture of this nun who looks like a badass.

 

Madrid is known for being a bit of a foodie place so the rest of our trip was basically spent eating and drinking. We stopped by the Mercado de San Miguel for some tapas. As the name suggests, its a indoor market (mercado) where there are several different stalls where you can get anything from croquetas to wine to a whole pig leg. We sampled a few different croquetas which I liked better than the Dutch croquettes.

IMG_0524

IMG_0530

Our next stop on the food and drinking self tour was a Vermouth bar called Taberna Angel Sierra where the Vermouth flowed from a tap. I don’t think I’ve had straight Vermouth before, and it kind of reminded me of Coca Cola. The bar had a fun atmosphere, but was very crowded.

IMG_2364

Keeping with the spirit of trying new things, we headed to La Venencia where I had my first ever glass of Sherry. I think it will also be my last glass of Sherry.

One of the items on my Madrid bucket list was of course churros and chocolate. Madrid is known for this combination and there were several places boasting the best churros and chocolate in town. We went to the one that was highly recommended and conveniently located next to our hotel: Chocolateria San Gines. It did not disappoint. I ate so many.

IMG_0566
Note: pictured is actually Chueeria Chocolateria which was equally as fab.

Because Madrid has such a great food scene, we decided to do a fancy dinner on Saturday night and went to Terraza del Casino, a 2 Michelin star restaurant. It completely exceeded my high expectations.

IMG_0563

One of the first things we had the pleasure of trying was olive oil that had been frozen with liquid nitrogen resulting in a kind of buttery, clumpy consistency. I took the whole bite into my mouth and then smoke started coming out of my nose because it was so cold. It was definitely something I will remember.

IMG_2368

The rest of the courses were equally as entertaining and unique. One of the appetizers even came out in a hot air balloon! We had such a wonderful evening, which finished off with them bringing us a huge cart with so many dessert options.

 

Overwhelmed with the options I tried as many as they would let me.

IMG_0564

As a typical Spanish dinner usually goes, this one was done well after midnight and we were too full to check out the Madrid night life. Maybe next time.

We had a late flight on Sunday which was perfect because the weather was beautiful and the sun was out. We wandered through part of the town we hadn’t seen yet and stopped at a tortilla place to try one of locals favorite foods. Tortillas in Madrid are more like quiche, usually made with eggs, onions and potatoes, and they are quite delish.

IMG_2375

My favorite part of the day was the time we spent in Buen Retiro Park, which is on the east side of town. There’s a big pond in the middle of the park and we grabbed a table in the sun to people watch. Everything was perfect until I got pooped on my a bird. again. why me!?

DSC01562

After the incident I didn’t want to sit under the trees anymore, so we explored the park. In the middle of the park, the Palacio de Cristal was having an art exhibit inside of the glass structure, so we popped in. It was a really weird thing going on where there was water on the ground in the shape of letters spelling out words. The water would appear and disappear magically to reveal another name. I’m not really sure what the point of it was.

DSC01573

DSC01574

One other cool thing we saw while wandering the park was two guys playing frisbee on roller blades. It looked really fun but also tough and they were doing tricks while they caught the frisbee. I think I have the rollerblading part down, but would need to work on my frisbee skills to join in on their game.

Although I think there was more to do in Barcelona and it is still my favorite Spanish city, I did enjoy soaking up the sun in Madrid. That was the whole point of our getaway in the first place, to finally feel the warmth after a long cold winter in Amsterdam.

DSC01558

Coming up in a few weeks we’re heading to Morocco and Portugal where hopefully the sun will be abundant as well!