Month: March 2014

Lisbon aka Leeshbowa

As mentioned in our last post, we had made fast friends with Fernando, the guy in charge of the United States, Africa, and South America for Taylor Fladgate port. He knew we needed to get from Porto to Lisbon on Sunday, and it just so happened that he needed to be there for a wine and food expo, so he graciously offered to drive us down. This was awesome because we got to save some cash by not taking the train and we got to experience Portuguese driving, which means fast.

It took us around two hours to get down to Lisbon, including a stop for espresso if course. Once we rolled into town, we offered to help him set up his exhibit, which took around a half hour. Following that, he was going to drop us at the metro so we could get to our hostel. He then talked himself into driving us to our place, which turned out to be more than he bargained for. Not only was it about fifteen minutes up the road, but the GPS on his phone sucked, so it had us lost for about 45 minutes until we finally got it. We felt terrible, but it was his choice to offer. As he dropped us off, he said to be ready by 8:30pm because he was going to be taking us out to a wine bar to meet with some of his friends. We walked in to our hostle, called Home Hostle, and were met with smiles, a welcome shot, and a tour of the hostle. This hostle, although only 12€ a night, was rated one of the best hostels in the world. We also had no idea, but this hostle has the same owner as the one we stayed at in Porto, which was also amazing. We made it up to our room and got ourselves cleaned up just in time to meet Fernando. We headed to the meeting point and a few minutes later he rolls up in a cab, which means we were in for a good night of fun.

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Jules thinking about getting ready

We headed into an old part of Lisbon which has now been taken over by bars, clubs, and small restaurants. The roads were so small that there were electronic blockades in the road that would only allow taxi cabs and resident’s vehicles onto the roads. We arrived at our very unsuspecting wine bar and meet by Fernando’s friend Pierre. very French name, but he’s actually from Brazil, and is a rather successful song writer and producer. We shared a few delicious small plates of meats, cheeses and paillela over a few nice wines from the Douro region of Portugal. We were then met up by another of Pierre’s friends who was a film director working on a documentary. As he claims, in January, while he was filming in a remote and dangerous part of the Sahara desert, his truck rolled over a land mine and blew up the front of the truck. He did show us pictures, however we remain a bit skeptical because he didn’t have a scratch on him. Regardless, we were having a great time chatting with our new friends.

After a bit more wine we headed about a block down to a small gin bar. I think was Julia’s favorite part of the evening because the hand crafted cocktails were more than just your gin and tonic. These were flavored with tangerine, coriander, and something else I can’t remember, but they were big and tasty and we got to do some dancing, which is always a good combo.

We were a tad worse for the ware that next day, not to mention we got our third day of rain on the trip, so it was a perfect lazy day. We did our much needed laundry, and watched a couple of movies they had on demand in the theater room… Yes, it had a movie room, with IPads for people to play on. One of the most important things to remember when doing extended travel, is that it’s okay to have down days; if you don’t you will be useless and probably sick after a few weeks.

After our day of rest, we planned a nice long day of exploring. We did a free walking tour, which if we haven’t already mentioned is a great way to see the city from a locals perspective for almost nothing. They work on tips, so 5€ for a 2+hr tour through the city is well worth it. We walked all around and climbed to the to of one of the seven main hills of Lisbon where there was a Moorish castle. But due to the insight of our guide, we did not pay to go inside as it was not original. Back in 1755 there was a terrible earthquake that desired much of the city including the castle. If that wasn’t bad enough, it was at night, so everyone was burning their candles for light, which set the city ablaze. Everyone ran down to the water’s edge to escape the flames and dust, but they were met by almost no river, what they didn’t realize was that the massive earthquake triggered a tsunami which then wiped out many of the town’s folk along with the shoreline buildings. Sad story, but this was a huge part of this city’s history, which honestly was more interesting than the castle or anything else.

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Above: Reconstructed Moorish castle on the left, identical copy of the Golden Gate in the background

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Above: National Archaeology Museum

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Above: Julia loves her anchors, and anything with nautical theme really

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Above: we found a free modern art museum, that’s an Andy Warhol behind me

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Above: Julia being Julia

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Above: A little slice of Rio De Janeiro

We made friends with a guy from Canada and a girl from Germany on our tour and we all went exploring for food. We found a restaurant which was not very good, but it sufficed, then we went in search for a famous pastry shop that claims to have the best Nata in the city. Nata is a delicious little egg and creme tart with a warm flaky crust. At 1€ each, they were cheap, easy to eat, and wonderfully fattening! After our tasty treat, we went back to our hostel.

If you didn’t know already know, I’m one hell of a lucky guy. I mean, the girl of my dreams agreed to marry me. Not only this, but she is one hell of a cook (I also cook, so it’s fair, she’s just better at it)! At this hostel, the mother of the owner, “Mama” as she’s known, makes dinner for the hostel six nights a week, which is again a great way to meet fellow travelers. However, we are on a strict budget and we can’t afford to spend 10€/$13.50 for every meal. So Jules hopped in the kitchen next to Mama and made us some pasta with red sauce with custom ground meat from the butcher. At about 5€ total, we find feeding ourselves to be much more cost effective. Plus going to the store and communicating with people who speak different languages than you is part of the experience of traveling. After our nice candlelight dinner we shared a bottle of Portuguese wine from the Douro region with some fellow hostelers. Through their recommendations we had a game plan for our next day; to visit some other town.

That next day we hopped on a regional train which took us about an hour outside of Lisbon to Sinatra. This was a beautiful little city near the ocean which has a Moorish castle, national palace, and a couple other castles and sites we didn’t have time to see. The Moorish castle was occupied around the mid 800’s ad, however there are artifacts showing this area to have been inhabited since around 5000bc.

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Above: View of the castle from the town below

We took the local bus up a very windy and narrow road to the top of the mini mountain to the Moorish castle. The area was beautifully lush, so we decided to do a bit of hiking around. We would have hurried to see everything but each of the different sites charges around 10€/$12.60 to get in. Needless to say, we were happy just to explore things from the outside. All in all, it was an enjoyable day trip which we would recommend. Just know that it’s a bit costly.

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Above: Moorish castle

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Above: National Palace

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Above: Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and we–we took the one that led back to the bus stop, and that has made all the difference.

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Beautiful day with a beautiful girl

Once back in town, we threw together a quick dinner and sat around talking with people about the day’s events. We all decided it would be a good night to go out. On this evening, we went out with the following nationalities: Canadian, Germain, Brazilian, Finnish, Australian, and Spanish. We love doing this, until you have spent a night of fun with a multinational group of peers, you haven’t learned new ways to party! Great way to end your stay in a city, right? Unfortunately, this was not the ending.

Our German roommate, Julia and myself all got back around 3:00am, got changed, and hopped into bed. When we left our four-person room earlier around 10:30pm, we did not have a fourth roommate, so when someone came barging in at 5:45am, it startled us. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, some drunk guy coming in late/early makes a bit of noise, than passes out. However, this was not the case as he was not alone. This splendid young fellow brought some classy young gal back to the room. Julia, with ear plugs and sleeping mask in use, did not wake up. They were quiet for a while so the German guy fell back to sleep, but not I. We were in bunks which were adjoined on the wall, and these two and myself were on the top bunks, with no partition. So make a long story short, they went at it for way too long, shaking all four beds. Don’t ask me how, but Julia remained asleep, and for that reason, I kept my mouth shut. I even made noise, got out of bed, went to the bathroom and came back, but they didn’t even as much as slow down. I was furious, but too embarrassed to say anything, which I’m mad at myself for. After a brief intermission, the second act began, and I had had enough. Obviously they didn’t care about fellow roommates, so I had the man running the place barge in and threaten to kick them out if they didn’t stop immediately.

By this time it was about 7:30am, so I went down for breakfast as I knew I could not go back to sleep. I headed to the train station so I could buy out train tickets on the night train over to Madrid. I think I annoyed the lady by being there early and waiting outside the door. So I’m pretty sure she decided to screw me/us over. On a night train you have a few options. A regular seat, bunk beds, or a private room. We wanted the bunk bed option, so I asked, confirmed twice, paid the fee and went on my way. Later that evening when we get to the train, I asked the attendant with locating our spots, who then directed us to regular seats. I told him that they were supposed to be in beds, and he told me that we had only paid for the seats and because it was late notice the bunks would be 50€ each. Needless to say we took our seats, right behind a loud Portuguese man. Which was followed by a bumpy, long 10 hour overnight ride to Madrid.

I’ve enjoyed the night life of Madrid before, so I was looking forward to sharing some tapas and sangria with my love.

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Porto

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As I write, I’m on a rather bumpy overnight speed train to Madrid. (Yay Spain!) This morning we were suppose to buy sleeping accommodations for our night train but somehow the term “bed” got lost in translation and the [unhelpful] lady at the ticket counter said “bed” when she really meant “seat”. Did I mention this is an 10 hour train? Seats. Awesome. Okay, I’m digressing…back to Porto. 🙂

Easy Jet is the airline that took us from Paris, France to Porto, Portugal in a cute little plane. This marked my first time walking on a tarmac and up a mobile staircase to get on a plane. Checking that off my bucket list.

From the airport we took the metro train to Porto and arrived in the evening. Our first hostel of the trip, ‘Yes! Hostel Porto’, was conveniently located near the metro station which was amazing because the city of Porto has a LOT of hills. Combine hills with about 35lbs. on my back and 10lbs. on my front on travel days and, well, my calves are looking pretty nice these days.

Yes! Hostel Porto was modern, clean and, best of all, had free breakfast! We were greeted by a sweet young lady named Amanda, from Brazil, who offered us a complimentary drink, got us checked in, and made us feel very at home.

We climbed the stairs to our four-bed hostel room located on the fourth floor, at the very top of the building. It had three windows, all with really cool, different views. Since we were at the very top, the ceilings were slanted making the room feel cozy. Everything was white and light wood. It almost felt like an attic converted into a dorm room. At night, we had an especially great view of the church next-door.

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After getting settled we were both starving and tired, not the best combination. We walked, searching for a recommended restaurant, but found that the streets of Porto were a little tricky to navigate. When we found the restaurant, it was closed. We gave up. Our white flag went up and we marched are American selves into the only thing that was nearby and open… McDonald’s.

Back at the hostel, I realized this would be my first time since summer camp when I was 12 experiencing sharing a room with total strangers. I prepped myself mentally for what was to come, but really had no clue what to expect. Were we going to be roomed with people who come back late and made a lot if noise? Would we be able to communicate with our roommates? All I knew is that everyone would be different and I would have to have the most respect for my surroundings and hope for the same in return.

Our first roommate, Ping, was from Hong Kong and we saw her very briefly, but heard her come in later around 3am from a night out. Which was great for her, we totally support partying. But I’m still wondering why she felt the need to shower that early, mess with her bags, loudly brush her hair, and then get out her bright iPad for an hour when we had a lounge area directly outside our door. Not cool Ping. Maybe it came down to a difference in culture, who knows. My sleep mask would definitely be on the next night.

Our other roommate in the same room was one to take hostel etiquette notes from. Coming from northern Italy, in a region known as Friuli-Venezia Giulia, near the borders of Austria and Slovenia, Filippo was a 22-year-old guy, curious to learn more English and see the world. He had studied Spanish in school so he and I were able to communicate a bit. He would go out each day he was in Porto and experience the city, the food, meet new people in the hostel, and go on the walking tours even when it was raining. Just like us, he would try to take advantage of all the amenities the hostel and city provided, but he was alone. That is how you travel. Thanks for being a great roommate Filippo!

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So those were my first two hostel roommates and they were completely different. This let me know that there cannot be expectations and I just had to hope for the best in people.

Our first morning in Porto, we grabbed our complimentary breakfast and headed out on our first walking tour of the trip. If you’ve never done a walking tour while in Europe, I highly recommend doing so. There are lot of companies that run the tours in each city and in my opinion the best ones are free, just tip-driven. These tours give you an insider’s view of the city; some history, some culture, some warnings and some suggestions.

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We loved the city of Porto. We weaved in and out of its mosaic streets, climbing hills and stairs through tiny crooked streets, finding castles, great views, and an incredible church.

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Our tour guide and group ended up being so fun, almost the entire group went out for lunch together.

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We kept it traditional and all tried some vinho verde (light green Portuguese wine) and Franchesshina, a yummy hot sandwich of ham, egg, and cheese in between layers of toast and drenched in a spicy sauce.

The next morning (February 14th, Valentine’s day!) it was off to a port tasting appointment across the Douro river at Taylor Fladgate.

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I wish you all could have seen us walking across that huge bridge. There was a storm front moving in and we were walking against at least 40mph gusts about 300 feet in the air. I thought I was going to fly away!

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Anyway, we made it in time for our tour, educating us on some of the best ports in the world and then getting to taste 13 of them. It was a good thing I had breakfast prior.

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I won’t bore you with what I learned about port…that the fruit is chosen from about thirty red grape varieties, it works together with the highest quality brandy like instruments in an orchestra, and creates a subtle, complex and multi-dimensional harmony as it ages. I won’t go on about all that. But I will say we sampled late bottle vintage ports, tawny ports, and a first estate reserve port; each one more complex than the last.

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Our hosts, Robert and Fernando, were excellent and got us set up in a tasting room that overlooked the Douro river we had crossed. Robert, who was well-studied in microbiology, began our tour of the facilities. He explained the terrior, the role the river had in transportation in the beginning, the barreling, the manual stomping, the aging, etc. Somehow, Robert made a laborious, complex process seem understandable.

Before beginning tasting Robert left for an appointment and Fernando took over hosting duties. By the thirteenth and final taste of port, we were asked which one we enjoyed the most and got to keep the rest of the bottle, which we appreciated very much. ‘Taylor’s 20 Year Old Tawny Porto’ was the perfect Valentine’s day treat. Thanks again for the tour and education guys.

While we spoke to Fernando about port, we got to talking about our trip and what was next. When we told him that we planned to take a train to Lisbon that Sunday, he said he was actually driving to Lisbon on Sunday for a Portuguese food and wine exposition and would be happy to give us a ride. What luck! So we arranged a meeting time at the train station (since we aren’t using our cell phones) and when Sunday came he was there waiting for us. We had a free (2.5 hour) ride full of good conversation and music, stopped for an espresso and, my favorite, Nata (a Portuguese dessert) and got dropped right in front of our next hostel reservation. Big thanks again to Fernando.

From the world renowned hostel we stayed in, to the people and geography, Porto was a wonderful experience for us. We knew the overall hospitality and charm of the city were going to be hard to top, but looked forward to our next stop–Lisbon, Portugal!

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