Sunday, December 29, 2013

Portugal post #2

All good in Portugal

Fun times over here exploring Portugal with my family.  I'm lucky enough to have a family that loves to travel as well, and felt the urge to come join me out there in the world.  A traveling holiday over Christmas is pretty fun, especially in the car when we all have to look for signs to the small cities where we are going, since in Portugal, the signs are often misleading/in the wrong place/ not there at all.

We started in Lisbon, and had our foreign exchange sister Steffi with us for the 5 nights there to celebrate Christmas with concerts, special holiday foods, lights and of course, presents.  Got some new t-shirts (including an awesome travel shirt from my cousin, Alisha) which will come in quite useful since I've been using mine for the last 8 months now.  Lisbon is pretty cool, and although it felt not that large when we were there, upon seeing the rest of the country, it is definitely the largest city around.  Several vegetarian/vegan restaurants for the family to try out, churches all over, and some interestingly placed elevators next to hills.  The day trips to nearby fairy tale castles on misty days were quite nice as well.  Always good to have a home base when traveling, and Lisbon did the job quite well.

Next was north to visit the walled town of Obidos, which to my surprise, was free to walk on.  Luckily the city made up for the lack of cost to enter the walls by charging too much for slightly flavored water they called soup.

We also checked out some old Roman ruins that showed how far west they went, and also why they ruled for so long: very impressive stone structures, streets, mosaics, fountains and more.  It's probably not the thing people expect to see in Portugal, but it was pretty damn cool (apart from the constant drizzle on the site).

Listening to Fado music at a cultural center was another highlight.  Fado is the traditional style of music with a nylon stringed guitar and what they call the Portuguese Guitar, something similar to a mandolin and yet somehow cooler.  Two musicians and one singer, and boom!  Fado in the the house.  Very good stuff and we learned about the history, styles and heard a variety of songs.  The parents got an autographed CD, so if you want to hear, give them a call!

The Convento de Cristo in Tomar was built by the Knights Templar and was super impressive, from the size, to the mosaics, to the tiles and definitely to the ornate Manueline carvings all over.  One of the coolest things we've seen so far.  Lots of exploring there, and it was fun to have the same view of the Tree of Life window from several angles.  Seeing lots of great things on this trip, and stocking up on European culture one last time!  Africa next weekend when I take the ferry to Morocco.  Enjoy the photos below:
My sister and I attempting to call you at the same time

Enjoying the old walled city of Obidos

Obidos buildings
Ancient Roman mosaics

Those clever Romans and their pigmentation still present in Portugal

Tile everywhere in Portugal.  Here in Tomar.

Convento de Cristo, Tomar, Portugal

Closeup of what I would look like if I was a waterspout

Templar Knights fountain in Tomar

Tiny Megaliths!  Just like Stonehenge, but older and with the sexy P-B family!

Jumping to save my life

Friday, December 27, 2013

Family Christmas in Portugal

It's been an amazing few days in Portugal so far with the family.  Lots of laughs, smiles and good times around.  We've been exploring several cities, eating our way through mostly great food and attempting to drive more than 1 hour without finding conflicting traffic signs and taking the wrong road.  Great adventures with great people.  We spent Christmas and the days before it in Lisbon, which is a wicked city full of lights, hills and plazas.  The apartment we stayed in was right in the mix in the city center and had pretty sweet views all around.  Nothing finer than being able to stop off back home for a coffee and Christmas cookie in the middle of exploring new parts of the city.  Enjoy these few photos. More to come later as we get wifi again and actually stop having fun to catch up on the internet.  Happy Holidays!

My dad and I living large with peacocks at the National Tile Museum

Some sweet trees around with blue skies in Lisbon

Meeting my twin

Puerta del Sol, Lisbon

My sister and I looking tough, ready to rumble

Friday, December 20, 2013

Merry Barca Christmas!

Tis the season here in Barcelona, with Christmas lights all over town, Santa climbing over legs of ham and the Caganer (Barcelona's famous defecating man) dressed in holiday colors.  There are Christmas logs (Caga Tio, complete with a face and a blanket, under which on Christmas day Caga Tio defecates presents), Christmas markets, and happy people walking everywhere saying Bon Nadal.  You may have noticed a pattern with defecation here, which for some reason Barcelona makes full use of, and might even be proud of.  Just a fun city with loads of character.  Wandering the small streets in Barri Goti is amazing; just soak it in!

As with my time here in May, I'm staying with Ana and Tristan, who are amazing people and make sure I feel like a local.  We had a day trip to Sitges, a small beach town, explored numerous parts of the city, got stuck in some crazy LA traffic and have been eating Tapas all the time.  The life is good here.  Today I was walking along the beach in the Barceloneta area enjoying the palm trees with Santa Claus on them.  Still pretty good weather here for December.

Here are some pictures from my week here in the area.  Next stop on this European trip is Portugal!  I've got an 18 hour journey via car and bus to Lisbon to meet my family, who are flying all the way over from Boston, MA.  Bring on the fun!  Going to be a blast exploring Portugal with them and living it up, P-B style!

Barcelona pictures

With La Sagrada Familia on a sunny day

La Sagrada Familia, designed by Gaudi

Close up of carvings on La Sagrada Familia

Out in Sitges, with the world's first Chiringuito behind me (Spanish beach bar)

Sunset in Sitges

Barcelona Cathedral

A shop that sells horchata (written in Catalan as Orxata).  Most businesses paint their doors like this

Typical Christmas lights on the streets.  Snowflakes, stars and other designs all over
He's got the whole Justus in his hands!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Here are some more pictures from the weekend in Andorra.  The highlight was definitely snowboarding on a perfect day.  All the days were pretty nice, although it got pretty cold at night, which actually was nice to feel cold toes again, and to know that it might be the last time this winter.  Flying south like a bird soon.  Australia here I come!

On the drive north, we tried to visit Montserrat, a monastery placed in the middle of one of the world's largest rock mountains, that looks like a foreign planet. Rocks shooting out in all directions and standing high above the Spanish plains.  Driving up, we hit fog like none other.  You couldn't see anything.  50 feet was lucky.  Bits and pieces of the mountain would pop into view, and then vanish.  We stopped at a deserted church along the way, but by the time we got to the top, it was all covered in, so no monastery for us that day.

There are also some photos from our small village in the Pyrenees, complete with a farmers market right below our balcony, a river to walk along and awesome local architecture around.  Pretty sweet buildings in the Pyrenees, built to last a tough winter.

How bout that fog?  Montserrat up top

Jumping for joy in the fog braek

Fog light

Farmers market down below our flat

Pyrenees, village, river. 

Ana y yo jumping it up!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Snowboarding in Andorra

Smack dab in the middle of the Pyrenees lies Andorra, full of snow, no tax, shoppers and some amazing mountains for snowboarding.  We spent the weekend up in the Pyrenees, living the good life, staying in the perfect location in a small town and enjoying a perfect day of snowboarding.  Waking up to a farmers market directly below our balcony?  check  Trying the local specialties for breakfast, lunch and dinner? check  Snowboarding like a champ?  check

Solid weekend of fun.  Here are a few pictures. 

Now we are back in Barcelona, enjoying tapas and blue skies.  Bit warmer here, meaning I might have just finished with my cold winter for this year, as I'm off to the south of Portugal in a few days, then Morocco and Australia.  First and last snow for the winter perhaps, and it was amazing.  Being up on a mountain with good friends is the best way to spend the time in the snow.  Viva Andorra!

Border crossing.  No stamp, just memories and receipts to prove I was there

The Andorra crew: me, Celia, Divac, Tristan and Ana

Inside the igloo bar.  Proper cold with beautiful views around

Tristan and the smurf boarding
Blue skies, snow and good times in Andorra

Friday, December 13, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Barcelona has lots of holiday decorations everywhere.  Such good vibes walking around the city, from the music, to the smells to the lights. Amazing!

Happy Holidays!!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Bouncing around Europe once again

The Birds In Sarajevo; starring The Peacock and some Pigeons

Sarajevo in wintertime
Sarajevo, with snowy hills in the north

So after flying to Sarajevo twice and landing just once, I am now in the midst of seeing friends all over Europe in my trip from Istanbul to Portugal.  I'm bouncing around countries seeing friends, exploring new parts of cities and living it up, as I do.  This is the fun way to make a trip, instead of a simple flight from Istanbul, Turkey to Lisbon, Portugal.  I'll be on countless forms of transportation along the way, hear numerous languages and get to check out the Christmas spirit in several countries. So far, it's been wicked.

I had a few days in Sarajevo, hanging out with friends and feeling like a local.  I'd been there this past August and wanted to check out the city in the winter and see my friends' new apartment.  As from the post below, the journey there was quite interesting, but once there, with snow on the ground, I got right to enjoying my time in Bosnia.  From a few hours spent in a primary school where I was the VIP guest in several English classes, to exploring the Christmas market, to eating roasted chestnuts along the river, the time in Sarajevo was awesome.

Then it was on to Bologna, Italy:

Merry Christmas from Bologna, Italia


I traveled from Bosnia to Italy by land, in a journey that used smaller and smaller forms of transport.  First was the overnight bus to Zagreb, Croatia, stopping at several immigration checkpoints.  Then the mini-bus with just 5 people into Italy and finally, I was the sole passenger of a minivan going to Bologna.  My friend Massimo picked me up in his Fiat and we got straight to the Italian culture with espresso and smoked meats.  Later that night was a dinner party at his house built into the rocks.  Next day was exploring Bologna again and trying to drink as much espresso as possible.  Several different Christmas markets in town, one huge Christmas tree and street musicians playing carols.  It's been wicked, and I'm living it up with holiday spirit:

Tomorrow it's off to Barcelona with a Ryan Air flight, to meet Ana and Tristan and then we'll head north in a car to Andorra to spend the weekend in the Pyrenees.  At some point next week, I'll be working my way further west to Portugal to meet my incoming family for Christmas.  Let the good times roll!

One of several Christmas markets in Bologna

Saint Two Towers

Italian architecture is booming in Bologna!