Lisboa, You’ve Intrigued Me!

Tags

, , , ,

Waving a heartfelt “see you again soon” to Sevilla, we let public transport whisk us away towards Lisbon.  These bus and train rides provided much needed time for napping and reflecting.

A layover in southern Portugal, near the Algarve coast provided ample time to sit at this small train station.  I enjoyed watching this group of friends, who apparently just come to the train station to sit and chat and watch people coming and going - made me nostalgic for my beloved Nemaha.

A layover in southern Portugal, near the Algarve coast provided ample time to sit at this small train station. I enjoyed watching this group of friends, who apparently just come to the train station to sit and chat and watch people coming and going – made me nostalgic for my beloved Nemaha.

While it was a longer travel day than we probably needed/wanted, time passed quickly and before long the little arrow on my google map had us approaching a very long bridge that would shuttle us into downtown Lisbon.  Later I learned that this bridge, the Vasco de Gama bridge, is the longest in Europe.  Fun (to me) Fact!

In hindsight, adding Lisbon to our itinerary was probably a bit of overkill.  Back when the ladyfolk of this foursome were planning out our week of double-date-travels, it seemed like a fun idea to fly into Madrid and out of Lisbon, and completely do-able.   While it was in fact, do-able, it led to a more rushed visit to southern Spain than we’d have all liked.  But, as a result of our over-eagerness in the planning stage, we also got to go to Lisbon!!!

One of my favorite shots from Lisboa

One of my favorite shots from Lisboa

I was looking forward to it!  I’ve been hearing and reading so much about Lisbon recently in the blogospheres of the internets and have seen this historic city mentioned many times in “up-and-coming-destination” lists.  I waste a lot of time reading travel articles and lists and recommendations and I’m always a sucker for references to fun and funky hotels around the world.  It seems as of late I’ve seen several such hotels & guesthouses in Lisbon and Portugal in general. We ended up deciding to splurge on our final nights in Europe and stayed in one such funky hotel:  Evolution! (very much reminded of us of a stay we enjoyed in NYC in a similar futuristic/spaceship themed hotel:  Yotel.)

The lobby of Hotel Evolution

The lobby of Hotel Evolution

Settling into our smart room (too smart for me, I couldn’t find the volume for the entire time we were there)  provided the perfect segway into the quirky scene that is Lisbon.  The fact that Portugal remains the EUs weakest economy is evident and people have been hit hard here by the economic crisis.  That gives Lisbon a slightly rough-around-the-edges look, a look I love!  Heading into the old town the twisting cobblestone streets leading down to the riverfront provided many reminders of the seafaring powerhouse this city once was.

down on the banks of the Tejo (Tagus) River, the old customs house and other buildings were a reminder of the importance this city had in ruling the seas.

down on the banks of the Tejo (Tagus) River, the old customs house and other buildings were a reminder of the importance this city had in ruling the seas.

Had to borrow this photo from Tom Boyd as I didn't have one similar.  Renee and I down on along the river.

Had to borrow this photo from Tom Boyd as I didn’t have one similar. Renee and I down on along the river.

We also had a chance to redeem ourselves from our terrible 1.5 meals in Porto earlier in the month – and we scored big!  Portugal is known for its phenominal cod and we both agreed the giant portion we were served for dinner came in well beyond our expecations.  We also checked out a trendy, upscale food court and I had the best pork belly I’ve had in my life!  Even a random stop for a small plate of chicken we shared while waiting for one of our travel mates turned out delightful…and it just came from a doner kebab place we happened to pass.  Renee and I were both a bit sheepish to say what was on both our minds, to say something as silly as it being the best chicken ever, but once the cat was out of the bag we both enthusiastically agreed that it was in fact, just maybe, the best chicken EVER!  Whoa.  Mind blown.

Pork Belly of the Gods

Pork Belly of the Gods

Lisbon's famed Bacalao (cod)- melt in your mouth!

Lisbon’s famed Bacalao (cod)- melt in your mouth!

The hip and trendy Mercado da Ribeira

The hip and trendy Mercado da Ribeira

We missed a lot of Lisbon.  While we did get to stroll through the Mouraria area, we missed its cousin, Alfama.  We didn’t get to the parks or to see much of the waterfront or the Belem area or many of the cool museums I read about.  Partially due to lack of time but also because I spent way too much time on the phone with the delightful folks at Iberia Customer Service once we discovered that Iberia had rebooked us and apparently thought we were magical time travelers because they’d given us seats on two flights with a negative connection time!  Then they decided we were fine staying in Lisbon for 3 extra days, which was unacceptable given we’d miss connecting flights in Mexico and Luis needed to be in Boulder for work on Monday, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  So anyway, precious time I should have been out tasting Portugal’s seafood was instead wasted on the telephone – at least we had a cool hotel to hole up in.

The eclectic look of the Mouraria neighborhood.

The eclectic look of the Mouraria neighborhood.

Street graffito in Mouraria neighborhood.

Street graffito in Mouraria neighborhood.

Long story (sorta) short – I heart Lisbon and I’m really, really interested in returning.  I loved our sneak peak of Porto too…perhaps Portugal deserves her own Spring In Portugal tour!?!?!??!  Next year.

 

Southern Spain Sampler Platter: Part 2

Tags

, , , ,

Enjoying a moment of quiet inside the Alhambra grounds.

Granada, and the Alhambra, are on every “what not to miss in Spain” list.  Some might even say if you only go to one place in Spain, this should be it.  While I’m not sure I’d agree with that statement, it was on our itinerary and I was very much looking to the visit!

Upon arrival we dropped our bags off and immediately headed up into the Albaicin neighborhood for a lovely view across the way of the Alhambra and to watch the sunset over the city.  This is a neighborhood that has a lot worth exploring, but unfortunately we didn’t have much time and were antsy to find some dinner in the city down below.  In fact, Granada has a lot more to explore than just the Alhambra, but for our first-timers visit we could only focus on this famed palace/fortress.

Sunset over Granada with the Alhambra across the way.

Sunset over Granada with the Alhambra across the way.

 

Tom, Renee and I making our way down from Albaicin into the city.

Tom, Renee and I making our way down from Albaicin into the city.

We had a near moment of panic in the morning when we got to the line to enter the Alhambra grounds and learned that all tickets were sold out…and sold out for several months. (what???)  It took a little digging and asking around to figure it all out.  What was sold out was a pass to view the inner most palace, the Nasrid Palace, but we were able to get tickets to view the rest of the monuments, gardens and areas of the fortress.  It was a big disappointment to not be able to see the Nasrid Palaces as I’ve seen in some pictures what we missed out on – but we were thankful to at least have the day to view the rest.  Such details!  Amazing water features!  Beautiful gardens and terraces! Stunning Islamic architecture.  What more can I say? It was an incredible privilege to have had the chance to see what we saw:

Enjoying the views

Enjoying the views

The details!!

The details!!

My favorite area was where the royal family had their residences and gardens.

My favorite area was where the royal family had their residences and gardens.

It almost seemed an insult to Granada to leave after less than 24 hours, but I had to keep reminding myself that this was just an introduction and we’d make every effort to get back here for more time one day.  And besides, we had a night in Sevilla to look forward to!

A few hours in the car and we were pulling into Sevilla, the intensely Andaluz city.  Our trip allowed for an evening in this beautiful town, so we had to leave all of the important stops, like the Alcazar, for another time and just enjoy our evening finding a good place for dinner and drinks…and randomly, the most luxurious spa experience of my life.  We surprisingly saw a lot in our short walk from the hotel to find paella & wine (score!!!)….we passed one of the city’s largest Gothic cathedral and through many of the narrow streets that give this city its charm.

The old city on a fairly quiet Tuesday night.

The old city on a fairly quiet Tuesday night.

narrow streets so alluring it was nearly impossible NOT to walk down.

narrow streets so alluring it was nearly impossible NOT to walk down.

One last Spanish tapa and glass of delicious vino!

One last Spanish tapa and glass of delicious vino!

 

We had passed a very alluring spa on our walk to dinner that advertised luxury Arab baths.  On a whim, Renee and I grabbed the brochure and while we were at dinner decided to look it up online.  I was so sure it was going to be crazy expensive or fully booked until who knows when – after all it was already 8pm and we only had the rest of the night in town.  But, I was wrong.  The price was right and they had spots available for their 10pm-midnight spa package.  I didn’t even know people went to the spa at 10pm.  Given that all the signs were screaming “YES”….we listened and while the gentlemen headed off to find some live flamenco music, Renee and I headed for the spa.  I don’t really do spas/massages/etc all that often so I’m no connoisseur, but damn if this wasn’t luxury at its finest!  I’ve heard of spas in the Middle East that are probably way more luxurious, but this was heaven in a beautiful, 3 story building in the middle of Sevilla.   We made our way through the various baths, including one on the rooftop with a beautiful 360 degrees view of Sevilla and all its cathedrals illuminated in the nighttime, into the steam rooms and enjoyed a 30 minute massage.  Wow!  We left in a state of complete bliss and left to find our husbands and a nightcap before turning in and ending another epic day in paradise (after all, we’d just been at the Alhambra that same morning!)

Spain, I love you!

very low lighting so crappy cell phone photo but this was the bottom level of the spa and one of several baths.

very low lighting so crappy cell phone photo but this was the bottom level of the spa and one of several baths.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southern Spain Sampler Platter: Part 1

Tags

, , , , ,

The final week of our Iberian Peninsula Tour happened in the blink of an eye, and simultaneously seemed to last twice as long as it actually was….which is to say it was a dream, a very fun and lively dream!

Renee & I enjoying the boardwalk of Cadiz.

Renee & I enjoying the boardwalk of Cadiz.

A combo of train + rental car whisked us down to the very southern edge of the peninsula, to what is reportedly the oldest city in Western Europe, Cádiz.  This city seemed slightly seedy and a bit in decay in comparison with the well-kept and wealthier towns of the north, but in a relaxed and easy-going way.  The old town is great for a long walk, weaving this way and that.  It has a weathered look, due to the high winds that give the old buildings a daily beating and there are long stretches of alleyways and tiny hidden plazas to add to the allure.  Given that the city is situated on an island (or maybe it was a peninsula) there is a long stretch of beach, although too windy for my liking.  Sunset on Playa de la Caleta (aka “James Bond Beach” given a famous scene filmed there in Tomorrow Never Dies“) is a standard stop for locals and visitors alike.  While Cádiz didn’t blow me away (well it sort of did, it was SOOOO windy), it still made for a unique and interesting stop and introduction into Andalucía.

SO. Windy. Catching sunset near "James Bond Beach"

SO. Windy. Catching sunset near “James Bond Beach”

Some of the old city fortress wall remains.

Some of the old city fortress wall remains.

One of the best decorated tapas bars we visited on the trip.  Fun atmosphere!  Casa Manteca - Cadiz

One of the best decorated tapas bars we visited on the trip. Fun atmosphere! Casa Manteca – Cadiz

The cathedral of Cadiz, set alongside one of many small plazas.

The cathedral of Cadiz, set alongside one of many small plazas.

From there we headed along the coast towards Gibraltar and a hopeful sighting of the Mediterranean.  This stretch of coast is called Costa de la Luz and is a delight as it is fairly wild and undeveloped.  The road climbed several times to places with a long view and before long we could see across the strait, to Africa!  In the town of Tarifa, we made an impromptu pitstop to admire this small town, gateway to Morocco and do a little daydreaming about the tiny towns with white houses that could be seen across the way in Morocco.  As we drove out of Tarifa we came across a really beautiful view of the Rock of Gibraltar.  This view ended up being  one of my favorites from the entire trip and I wish we’d snapped a photo of it as a keepsake.

Watchtower in Tarifa.

Watchtower in Tarifa.

Enjoying the view of Morocco off in the distance.  It'll be way better when I'm actually IN Morocco and admiring her up close, but for now, this will have to do.

Enjoying the view of Morocco off in the distance. It’ll be way better when I’m actually IN Morocco and admiring her up close, but for now, this will have to do.

We all agreed that spending a night in Tarifa would have been fun, but we had places to be, specifically the white town of Ronda.  As we headed further inland into Andalucía we entered the region that projects out to the world as the most Spanish.  This is the land of bullfights and flamenco, castles and andaluz villages, and is an area that has a unique history as it flip-flopped through the centuries between Moorish and Christian rule.

We passed the ruins of small castle-like structures along the way, before reaching our destination.  Ronda is built on the top of a cliff, on either side of a deep and narrow gorge.  The older part of the city is all white and with the vast expanse of green valley and farmland off in the distance, offers a beautiful view.  We were here for a late lunch and had time for a long walk, criss-crossing the gorge on a few of its famed and old bridges.  Ronda was a bonus stop, as we would have skipped it if we’d been short on time but thankfully we did have the time as it made for a much more well-rounded view of Andalucía.

Cliff-side town of Ronda.

Cliff-side town of Ronda.

Impressive bridge in Ronda, connecting the town on either side of the gorge.

Impressive bridge in Ronda, connecting the town on either side of the gorge.

 

The white town of Ronda.

The white town of Ronda.

It was one of those 40 hour days – we saw so much, enjoyed a great day of driving and arrived at our destination for the night and what we all expected to be a highlight of the trip:  Granada.

 

From Madrid, with Love

Tags

, , ,

Riding the high from our impromptu visit to Porto, we arrived in Santiago de Compostela, back in the state of Galicia for a visit of this colonial city that has been on my radar for ages.  It was a fairly uneventful visit.  We stayed with a friend of the Lopez family and enjoyed another 2 nights tapeando, as it is another city that is setup for bar/tapa hopping.  Santiago has the same feel as San Cristobal, where we live, except better in the quality/cost ratio of food and drinks!  We weren’t there long enough to experience any other quality of living factors but it left us with a feeling of just having been somewhere very familiar.

We gave the camera a rest while in Santiago de Compostela so we hardly have any pictures, but here is one from one of our nights in Santiago.

We gave the camera a rest while in Santiago de Compostela so we hardly have any pictures, but here is one from one of our nights in Santiago.

And with that, our tour of northern Spain came to end.  We headed inland to the center of the country, to the busy capitol of Madrid.  Sad to leave the north behind but eager to start the final chapter of our Spring in Spain Tour, in the company of friends from Denver who were making their way across the pond.

I hadn’t really given much thought to Madrid.  It was simply a logistical stopover between our time in the north and our time in the south.  Both Luis and I had been before and we didn’t really have anything pressing that we wanted to accomplish while in town.  With that in mind our walk from the hotel to find dinner lead us through many interesting neighborhoods and right up to the entrance of the Reina Sofia Museum.  We were tired from a long day on the train and weren’t up for a long museum visit but learned it was free to visit on Friday evenings so we decided to at least go in and see a few famous pieces, primarily the Guernica, having just been in the town of Guernica the week prior.

Finding our friends in the hotel lobby the following day was nearly surreal…we’d talked about this trip for ages and it just seemed so strangely fun to suddenly meet up, with a fun city to explore on our doorstep.

Reunited and it feels so good....

Reunited and it feels so good….

Madrid proved herself 10 times over.  I didn’t expect much other than catching up with friends, but our afternoon exploring some of the main sites and trendy neighborhoods was a blast and Madrid pulled out her best weather for our afternoon walk.  Luis had earmarked a handful of tapas places that had been around for 100+ years (The Century Club) and we managed to find a couple of them and try their respective claims to fame!  In the course of a few short hours we found live jazz and then a traditional flamenco bar, along with several great stops for a quick cañita and tapa.  An epic end to a great day in Madrid!

Casa Alberto, one of the tapas bars from the Century Club.

Casa Alberto, one of the tapas bars from the Century Club.

Another stop from the Century Club.

Another stop from the Century Club.

After a night on the town it's time to hit the tracks...

After a night on the town it’s time to hit the tracks…

Fast forward a week later and Luis and I had some last minute changes to our return flights and found ourselves with an unexpected 10 hour layover in Madrid.  While it made for a lengthy return to Mexico, we were actually excited to have a few more hours to find a few more of the tapas places Luis had earmarked before and walk through a few more areas of the city.

Walking the streets of downtown Madrid one last time during our long layover.  There was a bar called "Iowa"! and another called "Nebraska"....apparently someone likes the Midwest

Walking the streets of downtown Madrid one last time during our long layover. There was a bar called “Iowa”! and another called “Nebraska”….apparently someone likes the Midwest

Checking out the seafood counter at Mercado de San Miguel

Checking out the seafood counter at Mercado de San Miguel

A few final tapas for the road. While the tapa we chose at this place wasn't anything to write home about, we were able to have one last glass of the white wine from the north that we'd fallen in love with: Txokoli

A few final tapas for the road. While the tapa we chose at this place wasn’t anything to write home about, we were able to have one last glass of the white wine from the north that we’d fallen in love with: Txokoli

 

One final taste of my beloved Gazpacho during our long layover in Madrid.

One final taste of my beloved Gazpacho during our long layover in Madrid.

Madrid, you are a sly one.  We came with zero expectations as we thought it was mostly a place to live and not visit, but instead we left loving you!!

 

The Stars Align – To Porto We Go!

Tags

, , ,

I'm not sure how this panoramic image will show up on the blog post, but Luis is our in house panorama master and this one turned out fun!  Inside the Porto train station - a beautiful building!

I’m not sure how this panoramic image will show up on the blog post, but Luis is our in house panorama master and this one turned out fun! Inside the Porto train station – a beautiful building!

Without giving it much thought, we headed across the Galician peninsula, enjoying a sunny day.  We had expected it to take much longer but even with a detour for some amazing octopus for lunch, we suddenly found ourselves within a few kilometers  from the Portugal border.  Before the trip we had really wanted to spend some time in northern Portugal, but thought it would be too rushed….but here we were and the pull was just too great.  A quick stop along the Rias Baixas allowed time to stretch our legs, enjoy the view of the river-meets-ocean and quickly look for a hotel in Porto that had parking for the rental car.  Refreshed and newly excited at the prospect of spending some time in Porto, we speed across the border and on down to city, arriving just as the sun was setting.

The hilly streets of Porto.

We were immediately impressed  by this historic city, found where the Douro River meets the Atlantic.  With only 36 hours to explore this city where you could easily spend a week, we set out by foot to see what we could see and find what we could find!

In Old Town

In Old Town

What we found was a very pleasant city in which to wander.  The streets in the old town weave every which way and the walk is not for the faint of heart as it has SanFran-style hills in every direction.  The town is known for its azulejo (tile) facades on the old buildings, and while some buildings were in more of a state of disrepair than others, collectively they gave such an elegant and delicate look to the city.

Tea, Coffee & Hot Chocolate

Azulejos

Azulejos

One of the many streets the trolley passes through.

 

Eventually, any walk through Porto will spit you out along the river.  We crossed the river to the other side, having been told the view was magnificent from over there (it was) and that there were several port wine tastings and bodegas to visit on that side (there were.)  While neither of us care much for port wine, we decided to take an express tour of one of the oldest bodegas in Portugal – Sandeman’s.  It was a quick and simple 45 minute tour and we learned a thing or two and tasted a few ports (still not a fan!).

Porto from across the river

Some of Sandeman’s old flotilla of river boats are displayed as this is how for a long time they would move the barrels of Port Wine from the Douro Valley Vineyards

What goes up, must come down!  It was a long walk back up the various hills to the business district where our hotel was located but lots to see, taste and smell.

Starting our walk back up through the winding streets.

Starting our walk back up through the winding streets.

this is a city with many that provide a great view.  This is from the top of the bell tower.

this is a city with many that provide a great view. This is from the top of the bell tower.

While 36 hours doesn’t allow for much time to develop an opinion, our inkling is that this is a city worth coming back to.  The only thing we didn’t love was the food, but that was 100% because we made some poor choices.  That said, even poor choices were great in Spain so we were left a little disappointed by that aspect…but we’ll get it right next time!

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 48 other followers