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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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Paris: A Bittersweet Ending

We were excited to get back to Paris because the trip was going to change course. It was going to be a bit more cultural and personal; just what we were looking for.

We took my parents to their hotel, dropped our bags and got cleaned up over a nice cold beer from the corner store. I was getting pumped up for several reasons. Julia has never met my French brother Vincent, who came to the US on an exchange program when we were both 14, and we have been going back and forth to stay with each other ever since, so I was excited to introduce them. We were also going to his parent’s house, which is where I have stayed in the past, so it was the first in-home experience for Jules and my parents. And lastly, Vince’s mom is one hell of a cook, so I knew we were in for some awesome French food and wine!

After Julia’s first white nuckeled ride on Paris roads driven by a Frenchman, we arrived at the house. We walk in from the cold air to a warm home filled with wonderful smells of food being cooked. Within two minutes we had drinks and hors d’oeuvre in our hands. We were also graced by Vincent’s girlfriend Swann who Julia made fast friends with. After we caught up on what we’ve missed in each others lives and we show them the video of the proposal, it was time for dinner. Four courses and five bottles of wine later we were full of marvelous French home cooking and I’m reminded why this feels like my home away from home.

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My parents get dropped off at their hotel by Vincent’s father, and we head to Vince and Swann’s place. They have a great place in the town of Montmartre where the famous Sacre Couer cathedral is and the Moulin Rouge is only a couple blocks away. Oh, and they have a view of the city, so it was a pretty damn cool place to kick our feet up for our few remaining days in France.

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That next day was the last day for my parents, so we explored the Louvre, saw the Mona Lisa and a bunch of paintings of naked babies and topless women.

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Above: I’ve seen this in person three times now and just now realized the model has both male and female parts. Did you ever think a solid slab of marble could look so comfortable though?

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No explanation needed.

We followed with a trip to the Champs E’Lysee and the L’arc de Triumph and ultimately to Sacre Coeur and the lookout point of Paris.

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We walked about the quaint hilltop town and the small cafe-lined town square which is famous for artists doing portraits of interested tourists and selling their art. We made our way into a nice little cafe off the beaten path for a quick lunch before heading back to Vince and Swann’s.

We have an ongoing issue with communication via electronics, as we have no phone and we need WiFi to connect to email, and you have to buy something somewhere to get their WiFi. We needed Vince so we could get into his place, but we had no way to get ahold of him. I kid you not, as we luckily stumble upon their place, Vince yells from across the street…he way just walking over from parking his car. It’s hard to explain, but the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. We very well could have been stranded outside for hours. We get inside and we say a final farewell to my parents as they head on their way with the tools I imparted to them on how to navigate the mean streets (metro) of Paris. Now, it’s just us.

That night we had Raqulette which is one of my favorite meals when I’m in France, and now Julia is a big fan as well. Basically you need a delicious assortment of different thinly sliced meats, cheeses, boiled Yukon gold potatoes, some fancy mustards, and of course a fresh baguette. Then you take your own mini skillet that’s about 3in x 3in and place whatever combo of meat, cheese, and bread or potato into the skillet and place into the device within the heating elements. What comes out is a divine melted meaty creation.

On a side note, I’m writing this on a train going 186mph across Spain and I’m now craving Raqulette and there not a damn thing I can do about it. Anyway, it’s a total comfort food that’s perfect for sharing with a small group of friends and family on a cold night.

We woke up at our leisure that next morning and headed to a bakery across the street for some croissants before setting out for the day. We had decided to do something that usually flies below the radar when people visit Paris; the Catacombs. I have already been, so I was excited to see Julia’s reaction to being ninety feet below the streets of Paris in a dimly lit tunnel system filed with the bones of an estimate 6,000,000 people. Yes, it sounds creepy, and it is. If you’re claustrophobic, afraid of the dark, afraid of dead people, or any combination of those, this may not be for you. Basically as Paris was expanding in the early 1700’s they started running out of room in the cemeteries and there was fear of disease, so King Louis XIV commissioned the churches to exhume the bodies in their cemeteries for relocation. They excavated a huge tunnel system over a half mile long, over almost 100 years and filled it with bones. But they decided to be artistic with it. They made walls with the femurs and the skulls about five feet tall and made designs with them, and then backfilled about ten feet with the rest of the bones.

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As we walked down the dark corridors getting dripped on by the ground water coming through the rock ceiling that was about 3in above my head, Julia started getting freaked out. She had the camera on her and would take a picture into the rooms that had big locked iron gates to illuminate whatever may be in there. It would make for a perfect horror movie scene; the flash quickly illuminated the pitch dark room, only to see some unearthly monster lunging at you. Needless to say she was glued to my side. After she got used to it, she was off taking pictures and enjoying herself as usual.

That evening we were in for a good time as it was Swann’s father’s birthday. These people are awesome. A couple years ago they had me and my friend Elliott over while they opened their Christmas presents with family, and even went as far as to get us presents. This is the French family life that few get to experience and I love the fact that Julia got to experience it with me. Regardless of the major language barrier, we laughed and drank and tried to figure out what each other was saying. Julia, in her trial fashion was not shy and tried her best to communicate with everyone. By the end of the night we were crowded around the TV while Julia and Swann’s sister sang Karaoke together. It was a hell of a fun night and we didn’t even have to go out on the town.

We said our goodbyes and gave our most sincere thank you’s to Vince and Swann for letting us crash on their couch as that next day was to be our last in Paris. Yet it seemed as though the city did not want us to leave. I had used Vince’s computer the night before to upload the proposal video and failed to take it out, because I’m awesome like that. Vince and Swann headed off to work early that morning, saying goodbye one last time. As I began double checking our flight time for 5pm, Julia turned on the camera to view pictures and realized I forgot the memory card in Vince’s laptop. No big deal, I could just take the metro to Vince, meet him at 2 be back by 2:30 make it to the airport by 3 to fly to Portugal. Wrong.

It started off fine, then the lights on my train turn off and we stop in the middle of a tunnel. Not cool. We sit there for ten minutes before we moved again. We made it to the next station where they said everyone needs to get off the train as there was a “grave accident on the tracks”. The line was shut for who knows how long and I was still several miles away. Myself along with 100+ people make or way out and cross the bus stop. I wasn’t going anywhere soon. This big problem because I have no phone and no way to tell Vince that I will be late, and he planned to meet me next to the metro stop but couldn’t be there long because he was supposed to be inside working. I bit the bullet and hailed a cab. 12€ later I made it. And wouldn’t you know it, no Vince in site. After all, I was 30 minuets late. Men with guns blocked the metro stop entrance, and right as I was about to take a cab back, they let us into the metro. I ran my out of shape ass back to the house where Julia was waiting. We rounded everything up and made it to the airport with one hour of our flight time. I didn’t get the memory card, but we made our flight just in time.

We both were sad to be leaving such a great city and our dear friends, but we were excited to be moving on to Porto, Portugal. After all, once we get there we really are on our own. And may I mention that neither of us speak Portuguese. This should get interesting.