Joined September 2022 Message
  • Day11

    Evora

    October 2 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    Day 11-Evora, Portugal

    Saving one of the best cities for last, we headed back to Portugal through Evora. A completely intact medieval walled city, Evora is chocked full of historical sites from the Temple of Diana to a partially intact aqueduct. Add to that multiple museums, several interesting cathedrals, a UNESCO designated “Historic Center” and a Celtic site just outside the town, Evora probably deserves at least an overnight. Realizing this wasn’t possible, we didn’t even try and instead spent the day wandering the streets and shopping. The dollar strong to the euro-I had the buying bug today! Ceramics, clothing, cork, cork and more cork. Finishing out our trip again eating on a patio like kings, Potugal (and Spain) are cheap and yummy. Walking back to the car, we ran into a plethora of wild peacocks in the park. This town was definitely full of surprises. The general consensus for the trip-Portugal for the win! Yup, I’ll be back and soon!Read more

  • Day10

    Seville

    October 1 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    Day 10-Seville

    Leaving our oasis, we reluctantly started the trek back to Portugal exchanging stories of Jack the cat along the way. Thom even stating he’s not sure he’s ok will never seeing our American football loving cat again! Today, a stopover in Seville. Our flat not quite ready, Matt skillfully navigated with manual transmission the not so two way sardine like can of a parking garage. Heading to the lively historic heart of Seville, we marveled at the sprawling gothic cathedral. It’s tower, always to be higher than everything thing else in the city, is the center of life in Seville and catholic Spain. A moorish city for 500 years, when reconquered in 1248, the goal was to effectively stomp out the mosque by building a cathedral over it. The result, a sprawling behemoth that is noted in the Guinness book to be the largest cathedral (in square footage) in the world. Turning our sites to the town, we walked the outskirts of the Royal Alcazar and into the Bario Santa Cruz (or Jewish quarter). Quaint narrow streets with shops and restaurants, we stopped to partake in some more stinky cheese and sangria.

    Our next adventure, prying the car out the public garage and into the basement of our flat. A first for us all-a car elevator. Once again, Matt was victorious! Taking a little siesta and missing our chance to see the barber, we headed out later to experience an Andalusian tradition-Flamenco! The dancers and singer mostly sad, oftentimes looking like they were in pain, buliding, building and building and then super sweaty at the end-I felt as if I had watched someone giving birth. But after reading more about it, Flamenco was at first the dance of the outcasts/Gypsies in Southern Spain and a form of expression. Morphing later to the romantic and national identity it is today. Afterwards, on to the other typical Spanish tradition. . . Tapas during the 9 pm dinner rush! Getting lost while finding gelato on the way to our flat, fortunately all roads lead to the cathedral, I’m pretty sure purposeful and metaphor for life here in Spain.
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  • Day9

    Canillas de Aceituno

    September 30 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 19 °C

    Day 9-Canillas de Aceituno

    A day of “rest,” we had no official plans. This was fortunate as I learned that Matt and Frank (aka Jack the cat)had stayed up to watch the Bengals play Thursday night football (2-5am our time). Kinda like Christmas morning, I got to wake up to a wonderful surprise. I have to admit it was a lot less painful to watch the game via highlight video the next day!

    Considering our options, we unanimously agreed to head into the town for a hike in the hills. Launching ourselves out of our driveway, we headed the few miles up the hill to the town of Canillas de Aceituno one of the many white washed villages of Spain. A gorgeous 5 mile out and back hike along a small aqueduct to a hanging bridge, afterwards we found a bar open during siesta to partake in drinks and nachos. Talking about buying inexpensive property here and getting the 10 euro bill for 4 beers, a coke, a liter of water and nachos, Thom declared he felt like a drug lord. “Wasting” enough time, we were able to wait out siesta and return to the two little markets in town. Buying the finest bottle of wine, fresh shaved prosciutto and about every bakery item in the store, we left to settle down for tapas and dinner in our clever cottage.

    When planning our trips, Margaret and I spend a lot of time finding the perfect places. Southern Spain was harder and bigger than expected. Ultimately, we dropped convenience for the “perfect”place. This gorgeous artist villa was all Margaret. I am not sure anyone could really accurately describe this place. Old and eclectic. Form over function. The owner, we learned from Boris the caretaker, built this house and many of the furniture and doors with railroad ties he bought from Africa years ago. The massive door included a one pound “Legend of Zelda” key. His wife, a painter, filled the house with replicas of various portraits, many of them quite creepy and crooked. Cooled by the wind, the skylights remain open along with many of the windows to bring a perpetual breeze. Clever except for that everything upstairs moves-the pans, the doors, the pictures and the light fixtures. Matt described nighttime is “like sleeping in a wind chime store.” The skylights, like a convertible, perfect except for that pop up storm. Last night, we came home to a shower in the living room. Frantically pushing every button we could find, we somehow missed the 20 foot pole sitting in the corner. Pretty sure this wasn’t the first time this houses top was left down. The final warning from Boris was regarding bugs you can’t see that bite, particularly around dawn and dusk. Every table and bedstand had a bottle of bug spray. Despite everything, the stay was just perfect and memorable. The porches, the view, the hot tub, the cat. The house was definitely an adventure.
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  • Day8

    Granada

    September 29 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    Day 8-Granada

    Todays adventure-Granada and the famous Alhambra. A walled collection of palaces, a fortress, and medina are called 'Alhambra' (meaning 'The Red'). Built on a plateau that overlooks the city, the Alhambra was built chiefly between 1238 and 1358, during the Nasrid dynasty. Walking through the remains of the Medina(or old city), we headed next to the Alcazaba, or citadel. Dating back to the 8th century, only its outer walls, towers, and ramparts are left. Beyond the Alcazaba is the Nasrid palace. Obviously the crowned jewel of the site, we oohed and ahhed along with the rest of the crowd. Stopping longer at the famous portions including the Court of the Myrtles, where in the center a large reflecting pond is set into the marble tiles. Surrounding the Court of Myrtles are the rooms of the Comares Palace filled with intricate carvings, stalactites and woodwork. The Court of the Lions, also well known, is beautifully flanked by white marble columns and again white marble flooring. Water flows everywhere through the marble and reaches to the center of the court where it flows from the Fountain of the Lions, the emblems of strength and courage. In 1492, the Alhambra and the kingdom were transferred to Ferdinand and Isabella, ending eight centuries of Arab rule in the Iberian Peninsula. From that day forward, the transformation of the palace for the Christian kings was begun and the Palace of Carlos V was added as the final structure to the site.

    Having our fill of seeing history, we decided descend down into the city to the foot of the Alhambra to partake in history. The Arab bath—the thousand-year-old tradition of the hammam. It was here that the first bath was opened in Spain, five centuries after the Catholic Monarchs decided to close them down. Not sure the guys were hip to the idea at first, but who wouldn’t love soaking in beautiful mosaic baths? The experience was complimented with flickering candles, mild aromas, soothing gentle background music and of course massages and stretches. Leaving relaxed and happy, we splurged on a wonderful steak and lamb meal before the dreaded hike UP to the car on top of the Alhambra.
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  • Day7

    Caminito Del Rey

    September 28 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    Day 7-Travel to Andalusia, Spain (with stop at the Caminto del Rey hike)

    Heading out early to Spain, our day’s mission was to complete the famous hike of Caminito del Rey (The Kings Path). After several twists and turns, a road closure and a bridge pretty sure meant for only half a car, we made it for our group tour.  It has been known in the past as the "world's most dangerous walkway" following several deaths on the previous path. Today, I’m not sure, but I think we would only be protected against falling pebbles by our green hard hats. Our “English-speaking guide” I think said the walkway was built in 1901 to provide workers at the hydroelectric power plants with a means to cross between the falls. The construction began in 1901 and was finished in 1905.  However, I googled these facts afterwards as I caught about every third word. King Alfonso VIII crossed the walkway in 1921 for the inauguration of the dam and it became known by its present name. After she pointed out an elephant shaped rock and a “mysterious glass bottle” on a ledge on the other side, we quietly backed around the next corner and lost our group and joined the rare “blue hats” who were fortunate to be touring sans guide.  

    Much more enjoyable on our own, we spotted the original original path below which was constructed of concrete and rested on steel rails supported by trusses into the rock face.  Along the path, part or all of the concrete top had collapsed and only a few handrails existed.  We learned that although the path was closed in 2000, people continued to hike and fall from the path it until 2014 when funds were obtained to rebuild a path on top. The 5 mile trail has about 2 miles of walkway pinned to the side and the rest meandered through a valley that reminded me a little of Zion.  Completing the trail I suspect a good hour before the rest of the group, we dropped off our hats and headsets and caught the bus back to the top.  Margaret took a hard pass on the day and enjoyed a few hours painting and communing with the trees.  Another hour down and up the road and we were greeted by our rental cat Jack at our beautiful Spanish hacienda in the hills for the next three nights.
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  • Day6

    Algarve

    September 27 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    Day 6-Algarve (Portugal)

    The Florida of Portugal, the Algarve region is where many in Europe go to have their beach vacation. For us, this stop was more about seeing and hiking the coastline. High waves unfortunately cancelled our boat trip, so we rebooted and headed out earlier than planned on our 8 mile out and back hike along the Seven Hanging Valley Trail. Rated as one of the very best hikes in Europe, this scenic route started just outside our condo. The walk which followed the top of coastal cliffs and was more varied then expected from the taller cliffs at the beginning to sculpted shapes, caves, sea stacks and arches towards the end. All along the path were a series of hidden surprises like deep gorges, secluded coves, forested patches, and huge sinkholes where it is possible to hear the ocean waves reverberating down below. I think I only caused Margaret 5 panic attacks as I tend to push it a little close to the edge to get that perfect picture! At Benagil beach, we were fortunate to buy a short boat tour to see these spectacular cliffs and caves from the sea level. My favorite was of course the large, light-filled dome of the famous Benagil Cave, just breathtaking!

    On return, Thom declared that we might have undersold the difficulty of the hike just a tad as we did in fact do 9 miles and 1500 feet of elevation. After cleaning up, everyone was up for one more short hike to the beach below to the “0 Stop” restaurant. As the guys rehydrated with a few liters of beers, I figured we were trading ambience and a sensational sunset for food quality. Our tapas and seafood boil however were quite tasty. Thom took on the mission impossible to eat everything that used to move in our massive platter. Although we leave Portugal for Spain tomorrow, I am pretty sure we will all be back to the Algarve in the future!
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  • Day5

    Sintra (Part 2) & drive to the Algrave

    September 26 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    Day 5-Sintra (part 2) & drive to Algavre coast

    This time we took the correct path and ended up at Quinta da Regaleira one of the most visited estates in Sintra. A beautiful gothic palace, it is more famously known for its eccentric gardens, grottos, tunnels and well. The estate had many owners over the years, however, it was “Monteiro the Millionaire” who bought it in 1892 that made it the eclectic site it is today. As is now, money doesn’t necessarily buy taste. Monteiro went on to build a bewildering place where he added enigmatic buildings and structures. The most intriguing—the “initiation well.” There have many hypotheses as to the reason for this upside down tower but ultimately most feel it was just an escape from reality. Listening to a guide explain it to her group, she advanced the belief that the climb down the steps down the tower like birth and the tunnels afterwards like choices in life-some right, some wrong-but ultimately we find the end. “WELL, that was deep.” Not sure if I feel reborn, but I very much enjoyed the unusual gardens and palace today.

    Having some time to spare, we meandered the city of Sintra. Portugal reportedly is a major world provider of cork and oddly they have found a way to make just about everything out of cork-purses, hat, shoes, books. Managing to find the perfect 10 euro purse in a mini mart, I have been the object of nonstop ridicule since. Fortunately thick skinned, I was not deterred and I am still on the hunt next quirky cork acquisition!

    Hopping in the car, we navigated 3 hours south to the Algrave coast to get some sea and sand for the next few days. A beautiful view off our balcony, we decided to stay in for dinner and after our first euchre match of the trip, we retired to our rooms lulled to sleep by the sounds of the sea.
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  • Day4

    Fatima, Batahla, Nazare & Obidos

    September 25 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    Day 4-Fatima, Batahla, Nazare, & Obidos

    Yesterday when touring with Claudio, we discussed one of his favorite day trips north of the city. His son Daniel was available, so why not-we’re in!Picking us up at 9, we headed an hour north to FATIMA, the site of the Miracle of the Sun witnessed by close to 100,000 people on October 13th, 1917. Apparently this was one of three major prophecies predicted by three shepherd children who were visited monthly by Mary from May 13-October 13, 1917. Being here on a Sunday, we witnessed the full power of this place from people overcome with emotion at the site of the Fatima statue, others crawling on their knees a football length on cement while reciting prayer, to a 3 hour long line to light candles for loved ones. A veritable must see for Catholics and a pilgrimage for most, this was definitely a site (sight) to see!

    Next on to a site less traveled, BATAHLA for a traditional Portuguese lunch of stewed pork with cabbage and one of the most beautiful churches/abbeys I have ever seen. Built in 1385 in commemoration of a victory over the Crown of Castile, Portugal’s underdog victory was a “clear rejection of the idea of Iberian union and constituted a defining moment in the evolution of national consciousness.” Reminding me a lot of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the outside was clearly Gothic and ornate which laid juxtaposed to its simplistically beautiful interior. It too is partially unfinished. When mentioning the similarities, Daniel obviously did not like the comparison to its Spanish counterpart so I suspect this National rivalry exists still today!

    Stopping next at NAZARE, we were about a month too early to see the massive 100 ft waves that draw surfers from all over the world. The geographic conditions that make waves that big are fascinating and the scenery was still spectacular!

    Our last stop of the day, the medieval walled town of OBIDOS. A quick visit, we managed to get in some cobblestone street shopping and desserts as well as postcard worthy pictures of this traditional whitewashed town.

    A doozy of a day trip, my favorite part of the day was 9 hours hearing about Portugal from a Portuguese young adult who spoke immaculate English. Close in age to our own kids, we talked nonstop about travel, politics, finances, schooling, religion, partying, medical care, insurance, future plans. . . it’s experiences like this that makes the world feel much smaller.
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  • Day3

    Lisbon, Portugal

    September 24 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Day 3- Lisbon, Portugal

    Today, Lisbon in a day. Arranging ahead of time for a tuk-tuk tour, an easy day, we just had to get on the train by 10. This proved to be a challenge, however, as the ticket seller never showed and the machines were sold out. Finally, Thom convinced the janitor to allow the small gathering mob to get on the train. We patted us ourselves on the back for saving 10 euro until we realized in Lisbon that you can’t leave without a ticket. Thom attempted to break out and got stuck in a turnstile. We were pretty sure this is a way to trap all the zombies during an apocalypse, until we pleaded our case, mainly with hand motions, to a security guard (just hoping to get back to his break) who took out the magic key and let us out!

    Meeting up with Claudio, our guide for the day, we boarded our tuk tuk to be entertained for the next 5 hours. Lisbon, we learned, is the second oldest capital city in Europe (the oldest-Athens). Celts were the first inhabitants, but Lisbon was settled by the Phoencians, then Moors, followed by the Romans and eventually the Christians. Obviously a world power in the late 1400-1500s, Portugal was responsible for many expidetions around the world. The influence of all these cultures melded into this spectacular colorful city. Clearly in love with his city and culture, we enjoyed our visit as Claudio enthusiasticly shared his knowledge of the city and Portuguese traditions. I throughly enjoyed partaking in the cherry liquor in chocolate cups, the cod puffs, the sangria and most of the charcuterie board. Except that stinky cheese, gag, it’s just how I imagine foot fungus would taste. Flying up and down the 7 hills and winding streets, I did not envy the suckers hoofing up on their own. The best part of the day—I think our guide even liked taking pictures of us more than even me! Finally someone else yelling “one, two, three look at me!” After an uneventful trip home and tasty authentic Portuguese meal, we headed back to our cozy quarters for the night and went to bed happy with a UC win!
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  • Day2

    Sintra

    September 23 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    September 2022-Portugal & Spain

    Day 1/2-travel to Sintra, Portugal

    It has been a 3 year hiatus, but we are finally back on vacation with our favorite vacation couple Matt & Margaret! After sadly canceling Machu Pichu in 2020 and then surviving the Covid vacation drought, I am not sure I even let myself count my chickens until today. Almost prematurely hatched, I watched our planned long layover slowly melt away with first bad weather and then a bad plane. Taxiing back to the gate, my heart sank as they said they were looking for another plane. Fearing my vacation karma had Covid, my hope returned as they announced they “found one in the hangar.” After dusting off a few cobwebs, we were off and even had a half an hour to spare!

    Loving the 11 pm board time, we slept the majority of the flight and arrived at 6 am our time feeling halfway human. A short drive to Sintra from Lisbon and I declared we were officially on vacation. After lunch at “Gangnam style,” we were able to check into our Airbnb for the next 3 days. Having a hard time peeling Matt from his porch siesta, we promised a quick 1 mile walk to just one of the many beautiful castles in this picturesque town. A wrong turn at the park, however, had Margaret hugging trees and us trekking UP another mile to the Moorish and Peña Palace instead-one of many “happy accidents” I’m sure! Castelo dos Mouros was originally built in the 8th century and positioned at a high vantage point to provide protection over Sintra. The castle fought off many would-be invasions, but fell to the Christian crusade in 1147. Forgotten for many years in favor of Lisbon, the castle fell into ruins until later restored by King Ferdinand II who had a passion for the arts and middle ages. Today, the remaining wall provides picture perfect views from the Atlantic to Lisbon and the infamous Peña Palace. Hoofing over to the palace next, we arrived just past the last admission and I was unable to sweet talk the gate guards. Thom suggested storming the castle, but I’m pretty sure if I can’t open a spaghetti jar without him, I probably don’t have the strength. For now, I will have to be satisfied with the remote glimpses of King Ferdinand’scolorful summer palace. More than expected for the day, we earned our kebabs and hot showers before collapsing into our beds for some much needed jet lag sleep!
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