Dubrovnik,Croatia

Holiday in King’s Landing: Dubrovnik, Croatia

Your first glimpse of the Old City in Dubrovnik is an incredible sight.  Whether you’re driving in from the craggy hills of Croatia or if you’re on a boat in the Adriatic’s cerulean sea, the city is breathtaking.  The Old City’s walls are up to 20 feet thick and 72 feet high in certain places.  This fact makes Dubrovnik one of the most preserved cities in Europe since potential conquerers weren’t able to get through these barriers for centuries.  No wonder this city is the perfect site to protect the Iron Throne! If you got that reference, then you might already know that the Old City is one of the sets for King’s Landing, a fictional setting in the series Game of Thrones.  I couldn’t help making up my own GoT tour each day when adventuring within the city walls.IMG_4218

We met Zach and Amanda at the airport, and caught a cab to our Airbnb which was right inside of Buza gate, the Northern entrance into the Old City.  Once you enter the gate, picture steep staircases like in Positano, Italy, flanked by weaving vines and ferns alongside the limestone walls.  Laundry lines hang outside of flat windows and you’ll see from my pictures that I was smitten with these historic streets.

A random start to our trip: our Airbnb host’s mother was actually born in Camden, New Jersey if you can believe it!  She welcomed us with a bit of her family history, showed us around the flat, and then suggested Lady PiPi.  It’s a restaurant around the corner from ours but people come from all over the city for a meal.  We lucked out with only two people in line before us.  We had our first tastes of meat and mead (ok, really meat and an Adriatic feast of shellfish and fish grilled with lemon and garlic and potatoes)…and Croatian wine.  I learned that the whites are dry from Konavle, Korcula, and the Peljesac Peninsula.  Reds should come from the Peljesac Peninsula as well and one should sample bottles of Dingac, Plavac, and Postup. I digress…

The terra cotta rooftops were stunning from our restaurant’s outdoor veranda, and we were covered from summer rain showers since the roof of the outdoor space was a trellis with thick grape vines.

First stop after lunch, and after picking up an umbrella, was figuring out how to climb the walls of the Old City.  We picked our way down to the Stradun, the main thoroughfare paved with smooth limestone slabs.  Amanda stopped into the bulk Pirate Candy shop for a ‘healthy’ gluten-free snack to nourish us on our adventures.  Past Onofrio’s large water fountain, you can buy tickets to walk the 1.2 km of the Old City walls.  I described how Varys’ little birds were scurrying along notable corridors, and how Cersei was plotting from the same lookouts we were scaling.

Zach conquered his fear of heights for this trip, and did an amazing job of walking the entire perimeter of the Old City!  He held handrails, sometimes with his knees shaking, and always leaned on his best bud (see video c/o Amanda!).

The views from atop the walls were gorgeous even on a rainy day.  The waters are too clear, and the rain kept other visitors away for the time being.  We shared stories of our travels as we wandered the ins and outs of the walls.  Each lookout seemed more beautiful than the last.  Of course, I continued my GoT story-telling – ‘here is where Jamie Lannister was practicing his one-armed swordmanship’ and ‘these stairs lead to where the Mountain lives’ 😉

The harbor was quiet because of the stormy weather and most tourists were parked at cafes to wait out the rain.  I liked how the lanterns on the streets doubled as storefront names, and how we could fill up our water bottles at the fountains around town.

Buza Bar, a no-frills joint without food or hot drinks, came highly recommended as a wonderful spot to watch the waves crash as the sun sets.  We arrived earlier than most so we could get a good seat to relax before dinner.  I wasn’t a big fan of the Croatian beer they served, but it’s worth taking a rest here for the views!  Buza also means ‘hole’ hence walking through a passage, or rather, a hole-in-the-city-wall to get there.

We ate at Azur on our first night, a spot that cleverly calls its food ‘Cro-Asian’.  Sitting outside for meals was one of the highlights for me, and this little tucked away spot didn’t disappoint.  We had a wonderful server who rightly suggested the tacos to start.  My laksa had a wonderful bounty of seafood but the broth left something to be desired.  We also got a proper wine bar suggestion from our server- D’Vino Wine Bar. It’s in the heart of the old town and it’s incredibly cozy whether you want to sit inside with subtle lighting or outside with a cushion on the stairs that lead down to the doorway.  It was a really fun night because we met up with Corey’s colleague Tondi, her sister Nyasha, and their good friend Ella, who had just come back from a private boat tour around the Dalmatian islands.  Their pictures were amazing!  I also learned a bit about the reputations of Northern and Southern Germany, and a lot about how Hamburg is an unsung hero when it comes to visiting Germany (I’m in!).  Side Note: Our server also said that Matusko Wine Bar was another spot we should visit but our group didn’t make it past D’Vino that night.


Good morning, Dubrovnik!  Today, we decided that we’d take a trip to Lokrum which is just a fifteen minute ferry ride from the old port.  Admittedly, we didn’t have a serious plan scheduled–we just walked down to the docks and lucked out that the next boat was leaving in five minutes.  The landing dock at Lokrum is a quiet cove that makes you feel as if you’d discovered a quaint island away from it all, even if the major hotels are just across the way.

Lokrum is a mix of shrubs, trees, and beaches with huge stone slabs, rather than sand. It’s highly recommended that you bring or buy water shoes to avoid sharp rocks and infamous sea urchins–though we didn’t see any of these probably because the beach areas we visited were didn’t have actual shores- it was more of a drop directly into the ocean type deal.  It’s also worth a mention that Lokrum is known for its peacock and rabbit populations.  They’re pretty bold if you have snacks, and are indifferent to your cameras.

This first set of pictures was taken on Lokrum’s nude beach.  The signs leading to the beach warn you that you are not allowed if donning a swim suit, but the local woman at the cafe said no one was sunning themselves this early.  It really is a prime location for a beach, nude or otherwise.  The slanted rocks basically give each person their own platform for laying out.

We trekked further around the island and found the main beach on site.  You can see more rocks form the beach area rather than sandy shores.  Check our our little pool below!  We enjoyed taking it all in even though the waves were higher than usual due to an incoming storm.   It was crazy seeing tourists try to brave the waves.  I couldn’t look half the time since I was worried someone would get taken out to sea!  It was sunny at the beach, but once back on the boat, we hit some choppy waves.  Zach suggested we play a game so that I wouldn’t have a panic attack on the boat. Thanks for that!

This afternoon started our actual attempt at finding the Game of Thrones landmarks in the city.  First, we found Rector’s Palace.  Apparently, the stairs at Rector’s Palace are adorned with hands on each rail, but we didn’t pay the ticket price to get that close to see them. Instead, I captured this shot when the guard wasn’t looking to make sure that I could prove I was in the same place as the spice trader from Qarth (images far left, top and bottom).

Next, Cersei’s famed walk of atonement starts atop the Jesuit Staircase.  If you are going to watch the series, then that’s all I can say to avoid spoiler alerts.  (center images top and bottom)

Finally, the exterior of Museum Rupe stunts as the outside of Littlefinger’s brothel.  Tyrion and Oberyn Martell are seen walking away from this space in deep conversation about an upcoming plot for revenge (far right, images top and bottom)

 

We ate huge pizzas at Mea Culpa, one of the many pizza places located in the Old City. It’s a cheap meal if you avoid a bottle of Zindfandel which basically doubles your bill.  After lunch, we caught a very small Dali exhibit with a lot of work that I hadn’t seen before. Still bizarre for my taste, but interesting to see earlier works before his melting clocks.

Another beautiful sunset from our Airbnb as we all took a bit of rest before the main event: Konoba Dubrava.  You have to call in advance if you want to order meat ‘under the bell’ which is the restaurant’s version of a slow cooker or of a smoker. I couldn’t tell you entirely, but definitely call ahead! We were told there would be lamb and veal, and we were not upset by double ‘sheep’ on our plates.  With stewed potatoes, and a suggested order of veggies/salad, you will be stuffed to the gills.  The seafood salad was also a nice touch and they serve an aperitif of cherry, walnut, or plum- basically like a sherry before dinner.  We whiled away the final night even while a storm hit.  Guests are all seated outside under awnings, and we saw a few of the coverings give way and soak guests as the nearby tables.  We stayed cozy, filled our bellies, and talked finances, family backgrounds, politics, and debated about sending our future kids to GS or nah.

Back at our airbnb, we sang 90’s r&b, finished a bottle of rose, and tried to plan our excursions for the following day.  Unfortunately, we had to say our goodbyes to Amanda and Zach the next morning. They decided to ride the gondola to the top of the hill, and then a walk down.  They were heading out for the islands of Split and Hvar and only had the morning before leaving Dubrovnik.  Since Corey and I didn’t have any big island tours in our agenda, we decided to make our way out to Gruz Harbor which is just north of the Old City.


Gruz Harbor the main port where ferries and cruise ships are carrying passengers further out along the Dalmatian coast.  Our plan was to head out to the three Elafiti Islands (Kolocep, Lopud, and Sipan).  Lopud, we heard, had the best beaches yet still didn’t allow commercial vehicles on the island like Sipan, so we started there and figured we’d hop back to Kolocep later in the afternoon.  The ferry was relaxing and the waters were so clear you could see fish swimming below the boat.  We were the first boat to arrive at Lopud, and we discovered then that there wasn’t a need to island hop.  We recommend taking one of the golfcart cabs to Sunj beach since it’s a literal hike to the other side of the island. You can catch the cabs about a 10 min walk from the harbor, if you just follow the signs to the beach.  I picked up a couple of snacks and water bottle along the main strip as well.

When we arrived, we rented the 50% off chairs and umbrella even though we weren’t really sure why they were cheaper.  I should mention that we didn’t need water shoes for this trip as the beach is one of the few sandy shores in the area.  Private boats anchor outside of the cove buoys so that passengers can swim into the beach area.  We took the opportunity to swim out to see the yachts.  I was happy we had our snacks (a peach and pastry with ground meat and large water bottle) since there was only one restaurant in the area.  The sunshine was wonderful, and we couldn’t help but reflect on how lucky we were to be swimming in the Adriatic sea.

We caught a golfcart back to town for the 3pm ferry.  There wasn’t a lot to explore around the main strip. We saw a few stalls and more pizza restaurants, but decided to beat the crowds that would be piling into the last boat at 6pm.  We looped past Sipan, before being dropped off at Gruz harbor.  We had another pastry and a glass of wine in Lapad while waiting for Pantarul Restaurant to open.  Umm, but it never opened.  I failed to read that the restaurant is closed on Monday. Well…. more exploring down near the Lapad harbor! It’s definitely more of a neighborhood feel, and there were families at the restaurant that we finally found on the water- Orsan. The moonlight on the water was my favorite of the meal- oh yea, and Corey finding out how just how sunburnt he’d gotten during our first course.

After dinner, we decided to find the best ice cream spot, and all online votes pointed to Dolce Vida in the Old City.  It had the infamous After Eight ice cream (looked like mint chocolate chip ice cream).  I enjoyed the Forrest Berries though my stomach paid for it later.  We walked along the moonlight lanes for as long as my tummy could handle it.  The streets are so magical!


Our Airbnb shared on the morning of that we wouldn’t be able to have a late check out, and that we wouldn’t be able to store our bags. Argh!  So we solved the problem by renting a car.  I’d read that Ston had something akin to a mini-Great Wall of China, and that Mali Ston, Ston’s next door neighbor, was known by gastronomes for amazing seafood.  The gentleman at the car rental also suggested Seosko Domaćinstvo Ficović for lunch.  That was enough for us.  We’d figure out the rest when we got to the seafood restaurant.  We drove along the bright green pines and looked down the cliffs at the sparkling waters.

Ston does have 14th century fortifications to guard against an attack by sea.  The town is incredibly small and very relaxed which is probably very different from when it was a town poised to protect the Republic of Ragusa (the former name of Dubrovnik).  Mali Ston is only a walk away from Ston but we didn’t spend any time there.

The restaurant, in Hodilje, is neighbors with an RV campground, but the grounds are so small that you don’t really notice them unless you go around to the side of the restaurant. If you had to choose a spot to camp or live in a trailer then this isn’t such a bad location at all– in fact, it’s absolutely gorgeous!

Seosko Domaćinstvo Ficović was too perfect. The outdoor seating was serene with a warm breeze and with cleverly draped fishing nets as decoration.  It’s an understatement to say they had amazing ambiance.   We hit the jackpot!

We had divine oysters straight offshore from Mali Ston, and the waitress kept apologizing because they didn’t have everything on the menu.  She said ‘We only have what’s fresh so I’m sorry there isn’t a lot of choice.’ We said ‘Perfect! Bring us what ever is fresh!’ My favorite was the clams, mussels, and venus shells (I think that’s what she called them. They don’t open when you cook them actually but they are yummy!). The garlic sauce was too good!  Then we had tuna and sea bream. I was over the moon!  It was the best meal of the entire trip.

We also watched as Croatian families actually take swim breaks between their courses at the restaurant!  What a life!  The waitress there asked how we found out about the place since we were the only tourists in the area, and she kindly suggested that we visit the numerous wineries in the area.  We didn’t think wine tasting while driving was a good look, so we inquired about the beaches in the area.  She said her favorite was an untouched beach called Vucine.  ‘It’s better than Prapratno’ were her words (Prapratno was in my guidebook but Vucine was not).  So, of course, we wanted to take on the beach less traveled!

As you can see, Vucine was just gorgeous. It’s a bit difficult to find, but once you get there, it’s a small strip that you don’t want to leave.  We turned a lot of heads when we set foot on the pebbly beach.  The families there hadn’t predicted that a mixed couple would show up that day.  Corey received a warm ‘he-llo’ from a small boy swimming next to us.  He was definitely trying out the few words he’d learned in English which was really cute.

On the drive back to the airport, we stopped a few times for the look-outs, and also for the honey and olive oil stalls.  We couldn’t commit to checking a bag so we didn’t get anything.  Our final meal before the airport was at a pretty terrible spot (Dalmatino), but at least we got to watch the Euro basketball cup.  Too bad Croatia lost to Spain.  Croatia actually has two players who are on the Sixers this year, and I should put in writing here that Corey has claimed the Sixers will win the chip in the next five years.

Traveling in Dubrovnik was a really relaxing trip, but, upon reflection, this (s)log took longer to write since we did end up doing more than just sunbathing.  This is a random mention but I saw two different Croatians with the same tattoo:  ‘My life my rules’.  It’s not particularly dreamy like ‘ Live life to the fullest’ or ‘Dance, Live, Love’ (I think that’s a magnet somewhere), but I liked the straightforward realistic nature of the phrase.  When you’re surrounded beaches, sun, wine, and fresh seafood, and your country has also recently experienced a siege in the last 20 years, I imagine that it’s not a bad motto to live by.  We’d highly suggest Croatia as a place to visit, and I look forward to seeing the islands and to traveling to neighboring states asap!


Quick Shot: 

Eat / Drink at:

  • Konoba Dubrava: as seen in the NY Times article; order ahead for meats ‘under the bell’ (takes 3 hours to cook)
  • Seosko Domaćinstvo Ficović: order the mussels & clams in garlic (need a car to get here, there is no website, and it’s on an unnamed street)
  • Lady Pipi for whatever meal you can get without waiting in line 🙂 Do it!
  • D’Vino Wine bar
  • Dolce Vida for ice cream and pancakes
  • I’d suggest a winery too even though we didn’t get to one; they all looked lovely!

Day Trips to Beaches:

  • Vucine- need a car
  • Lopud- boat from Gruz Harbor
  • Lokrum- boat from Old City port

Sights:

  • Walk the city walls
  • Opt in for a do-it-yourself Game of Thrones tour (or pay to have an expert take you around)
  • Ride the gondola for stunning views of the city

 

 

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Valencia, Spain

Vacaciones en Valencia

Mi amiga, Aisha, y yo fuimos a Valencia para Feriado bancario en Mayo. Yo necesito practicar español en ‘past tense’ así que voy a escribir en español en la blog ahora. Buena suerte a mi!

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Dia Uno: Nosotros fuimos a nuestra airbnb.  Yo comprende mas acerca de la casa porque hay contexto cuando la Señora explico cosas en la casa.  Estoy feliz…pero cuando no hay contexto en las calles de Valencia, mi español mas menor!! Pobrecita!!

Después nosotros ponimos las maletas en la cuarto, nosotros tenemos hambre. Fuimos a Mercat Central!  Muchas personas estaron en el Mercat Central compraron comida y bebidas.  Hay mucho jamón ibérico, vino, aceitunas, fruta y verduras. Compramos pan, aceitunas, jamón, y vino y sentamos cerca de el mercado.

Claro, era un buen dia asi que nosotros caminamos en el barrio. Hay mucho graffiti y edificios bellos.

Yo monte una bicicleta y era mi tiempo favorito en Sábado.  Nosotros montamos a La Ciudad De Artes y Ciencias.  No visitamos en museos en este viaje, pero esta bien.  Los edificios están futuristicos.   Estarlos en un gran parque también.  El nombre es Antiguo Cauce Del Rio Turia porque fue un rio pero ahora el rio es una calle larga en el parque!  Es muy verde en el parque y la gente son muy amables.

Porque nosotros estamos sudados, nosotros necesitamos las duchas.  En la noche, nosotros comimos tapas.  Los hongos fueron mejor que la carne.  Nos vimos una boda también en la plaza.  Fuimos a Jimmy Glass Jazz Bar también pero la música era como jazz en la hotel ascensor.  La señorita puedio cantar pero ellos fueron asi asi– ok, aburridos.


Dia Dos: Fuimos a La Playa Malvarrosa acerca de una hora en el autobus.  Un poco lejos, pero era un day bonita de nuevo.  Hay muchas personas que se viven in Valencia en la playa también!  Nosotros nadamos y tomamos sol.  El barrio cerca de la playa no era como Valencia central.  Yo vi las calles fueron un poco sucio y desgastado. Me gusto los azulejos y calles pequeñas.

Caminamos a Valencia central y Aisha quieria paella.  Buscamosla en una restaurante pequeña que se llama La Valenciana.  La restaurante como una escuela de cocina.  Era una noche fresca y la comida era muy bien!


Dia Tres y el dia final! Primero, porque nosotros comimos mas pan y arroz en Domingo, nosotros ejercitamos.  Despues, compramos cosas en un mercado local.  Hay cosas como maletas, sandias, pan, alfombras, y mas ropa.  No mas comida asi que fuimos a un restaurante cerca del mercado.  Pare Pero era muy delicioso.  Pienso era mi restaurante favorita!  Yo comi atun y mas hongos.  Un joven profesor de ingles hablo conmigo por dos horas!  El vivio en America por dos anos y el le gusto mucho. Tu quieres saber si yo hable en español por dos horas? Lo ciento, no! El hable conmigo en ingles, pero esta bien porque Aisha quería hablar también y ella hablo en ingles. Yo engañade– oi 😦

Nosotros visitamos Plaza de la Virgen, y vimos muchos edificios grandes y bonitos.  Valencia es una cuidad relajada.  Yo pienso gente retirada viajan a Valencia porque es una ciudad fácil.  Si quieres una vacaciones con las playas y la ciudades pequeñas, Valencia es una lugar bonita.

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Provence, France

Marie?! The Baguettes! Hurry Up! (Provence)

We are KIPP Infinity, and we are a team and a family!  Not only was vacationing in Provence like being in a postcard the entire time, but I also got to prance amongst the poppies and sip rose wine with some of my favorite people on the planet.

I was greeted at the Avignon Train Station by Mr. Glenn K. Davis, Caitlin Emery and J9!  I seriously couldn’t stop smiling and we were only in the car park at this point.  We drove to the Papal Palace in Avignon to meet up with the other two cars.  Admittedly, the first place to visit, after being reunited with my friends, should not have been a historical palace.  I passed every placard, didn’t watch a single film, and was too giddy to learn anything in the galleries.  Jules (our representative from the non-KIPP world) was trying to tell me about the history of how a Pope might be in two different countries at once, but I was bouncing around from friend to friend giving out hugs as if it was everyone’s birthday.  It didn’t help that Ev told me she was pregnant right outside the ticket counter!!!

To give some context, there were enough of us to fit into three cars, which meant that folks could pick and choose their own adventure as long as they could convince a driver to go along with their plan.  Some of us hit up the Pont d’Avignon bridge while others stayed in the marketplace or courtyards to do some shopping and snacking.  We danced a ‘ring around the rosie’ type step on the Avignon bridge, led by Caitlin singing ‘Ponte de Avignon’.

The drive back to St. Saturnin Les Apt was breathtaking- valleys and vineyards with short shrubs, red poppies, and rock formations staking their claim amidst it all.  The little villages seemed to grow out of the hillsides as we wound about the curving roads.  Of course, TravelAgent Ad booked us a ridiculous vacation home.  It was our own chateau in the South of France.  First things first- inspecting our kitchen!  Full of cheeses from the local markets as someone brought home at least a wheel a day.  Peter generously stocked the place with bottles of red and white wine from his travels in Italy.  It was unreal!  We poured glasses for wine o’clock right away, dove into baguettes with cured meats, and tested the rounds of soft white queso.

Each night, someone made magic in the kitchen as well.  On the first evening of my stay, Peter whipped up a veggie pasta with red sauce paired with a yummy salad.  Zach deftly set up our ‘table scape’ and we cracked open more bottles of red.  Was this the night that we wrapped ourselves in Turkish towels and sat outside to gaze at the stars and sing musicals at the top of our lungs? Oh yes.  We started with tunes only set in France.  Clearly, classics like Beauty and the Beast, and Les Mis to name a few.  I’ll always remember Addie questioning if one had to be able to sing to join the Infinity family, as Glenn and Caitlin can really put it together!  The rest of us joined in mainly because you can’t help yourself when Disney is queued up on the playlist.  Our poor neighbors!  Was this also the night, as we retired to our rooms, that I’d be talking Evie’s ear off while she was trying fall asleep?  Yes times ten.  She was such a good sport about it.


The next morning, Peter, J9, Caitlin, Jules and I took off for a market in the super cute town down the road.  The village was perched on the side of a small hill, and it was a quiet walk amongst the stalls.  We got a bit carried away with our Provincial photo shoot and then couldn’t help ourselves at the local patisserie.

Our main goal of the day was to find rose lovely enough for Janine’s scheduled rose tasting later that afternoon at our chateau.  She found two spots in her wine of the month periodical.  Yep, she’s got wine vintage running through her veins.  The first spot, Domaine de La Citadelle, included a cork museum, full of wine openers from around the world.  The gentlemen at the front desk insisted that we tour the cellars on our own before we started our tasting! Just us… breathing in the barrels of vino. Que Romantica! Our tasting here was top notch because we were the only people in the whole joint.  Plus we had expertise from Peter, J9, and the gentleman pouring for us.  Did I mention I felt like I was in a daydream and that I couldn’t stop smiling?

As we were on a mission to collect bottles for our rose tasting, we needed to hit another winery before returning to our house.  Our second stop was also nice, but included a few more American tourists who must have read the same vintage magazine as Janine.  The wine here was a bit peppery but tastings need variety, so we bought a couple of bottles here, too.

Then this happened…I still pinch myself.

J9 actually led on dinner this night as well.  Veggie frittatas and salad to follow up our amazing afternoon.  I seriously love the people we love.


Friday was the final group trip as it was Glenn’s last day.  We caravanned to a large market full of food, crafts, scarves, and miles of stalls.  We really couldn’t help ourselves here.  Then we hit up Aix, a college town with some beautiful tree-lined shopping lanes.  I took off after Jules who always has locations mapped out at each stop, usually churches or notable architecture sites.  Traveling with Jules means you get a first class masters course in these two areas.  I laugh out loud when I remember our trip in Prague together. After about two full days of Jules leading us through churches, Corey exclaimed “Jules, did you like study this or something?!”

I have to describe our next move, as we had to make some logistical decisions when heading out of Aix.  In true KIPPster form, we created a bar graph to determine which car would take Glenn to the airport, who would return back to our accommodation, and who would drive to Marseille for sightseeing.  Then imagine us all lining up to physically create the bars of the graph to vote for to ride in each car.  Peter drove Glenn.  Addie drove home.  Perri was a trooper and drove our group all the way to Marseille to do a bit more sightseeing.  We saw an abbey which would have been a bit more exciting if we hadn’t sat through rush hour traffic to get there.  We hadn’t predicted that part and this experience in the large seaside port felt miles away from our sleepy, dreamy Provincial town.  And it was miles away.  After parking illegally in a Lido lot, and getting stared down by the parking attendant, we did get some beautiful shots in the dimly lit abbey by the blue waters of the Mediterranean.

For Friday’s dinner, we quickly found out that our NYC lifestyle of late meals and drinks didn’t really align with the lifestyle of the folks of St. Saturnin Les Apt.  All restaurants closed by 8:30pm.  But we did luck out when the local pizza joint still had its lights nearing 10pm.  Just spending the last evening with my dear friends, doing things like we did back in NYC, made me feel on top of the world.  How lucky to be traveling together in Europe.  I loved hearing the stories about work, and I loved being caught up on the jokes and on the adventures.  Was it really time to go home the next day?


Saturday: I was dropped off in Avignon to catch a train back to London.  I took a leisurely lunch in a posh restaurant, Etienne, surrounded by my backpack, numerous wheels of the remaining cheese and the eight leftover bottles of wine from Peter. Since everyone else was flying back, I was the only one who could take these items, which I could not complain about one bit!

I’m pretty sure I ate my weight in croissants, baguettes, and baked goods each day in the South of France.  I enjoyed my 03s (one-on-ones) with each friend on the trip, and I can’t wait for the next travel dates to be released.

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Porto, Portugal

Uma Porta Em Oporto

Oporto, locally known as Porto, definitely gives Lisboa a run for its money when it comes to charm and relaxation.  Both cities are nestled along beautiful rivers, and have miradouros (viewing points) that take your breath away. Oporto, however, feels a bit more ‘untouched’ with its narrow lanes unfit for cars, and with the wonderful number of family owned restaurants. It’s December, yet the sun was shining down making each day feel longer during this short weekend trip.


We quickly found out that our airbnb was just minutes away from Cafe Santiago, the best restaurant to score a francesinha, a sundae-sized sandwich bursting with ham, chorizo, steak filet all covered with cheese, a fried egg and smothered in beer sauce. Yes, it was absolutely worth forgetting that we may have been vegetarian in recent history.

We purchased our first piece of art together from a local artist who had charcoal on canvas pieces dedicated to the fado culture in Portugal. We also discovered the American store, complete with hard-to-find, quality imports from the States like fruit loops, snickers, twizzlers, marshmallows, and other sugary junk food.

It was exciting to see the Se Cathedral near closing time when selfie sticks were off duty and tour buses were pulling out of the parking lot.  Those visiting were peacefully praying under the sky-high arches made of stone. Behind the Se, we wandered down residential paths and peeked at families having dinner, and smiled up at the laundry hanging out to dry.

Because it was dusk when we reached the Ribeira district, the Ponte de Dom Luís I bridge was lit up, along with the welcome signs of the port taverns on the other side of the Douro river. The architect who built the bridge, Téophile Seyrig, was Eiffel’s assistant and created the bridge design from this influence. We couldn’t have been more relaxed at the Wine Quay bar where our waitress allowed us to taste four different wines before choosing a bottle, and also told us the stories of the vineyards and the names of every grape used in each bottle.  She was incredibly sweet and kept saying we could try as many vinhos as we liked since she liked happy customers! We finished with an inventive meal at LSD, where the pulvo and sweet potato dish spoiled me, and Corey’s dessert choice, called La Infancia (Childhood), was served with a spatula of cookie dough.

On Saturday, we knew we’d need to hit up at least one market, and Mercado do Bolhao was an easy walk from the flat. There weren’t breakfast pastries as one website promised, but wandering about the various fruit and veggie stalls made me wish I was bringing groceries home for a big meal. The women running these stalls cupped their hands around the colorful treasures like tangerines and peppers to offer customers a try.

Our trip to the Museu Serralves gave us the opportunity to ride the tram, and ask the locals about the bus system. My favorite part of the museum was an exhibit called “Tree School” where two schools, one in Brazil, and one in Pakistan, discussed and shared ideas about the ancient Baobab tree.  The tree connected people from different places and highlighted how we can learn from one another even amidst displacement, oppression, and loss.

The gardens surrounding the museum were stunning and I highly recommend visiting the grounds even if other parts of the museum were a bit too abstract for me.

I loved our lunch in Foz because we sat outside with a river view, and ate yummy tapas.  Vinho verde, people! Drink up!

We were a bit rushed to the port taverns because of our long lunch, and thus missed the cellar tour at Taylor’s. But hey, we still tasted the ports as if we went on the tour because you can’t beat a 5 euro tasting-YOLO!  We rushed over to Croft Cellars and squeezed into their last tour, adding another port tasting to our line up. Learning the differences between a ruby and a tawny port was really great….read on for the differences or skip down if you already know. I should note that this explanation is what I remember after two tastings in a row, with an additional glass of the tawny 20 year and the ruby LBV.


A ruby finds a home in a large vat where almost all of the port doesn’t come in contact with the oak container, leaving it with a sweeter taste like strawberries and cranberries. An LBV, or late barrel vintage, means that the ruby was left in the vat for an extra year (6 years compared to the average 5  years).  A tawny lives in a oak barrel, where the wooden slats are smoked to get them to round into the barrel shape. The smokiness on the inside of the small barrel mixes with the sugary port, and one tastes caramel when drinking a tawny. The years listed are an average of how long the tawny has been in the barrel (10, 20, 30, 40 …years!)


After a walk along Vila Nova de Gaia’s cobblestoned waterfront, we crossed the bridge along with other tourists leaving Gaia for the day. The weather was just gorgeous. I couldn’t stop feeling like we were on an island somewhere. I’m hesitant to post this, but we found ourselves at another wine bar, Prova, with a server from London who provided a short list of more restaurants and landmarks to visit. So nice! We stopped in for a late dinner at a restaurant called Traca and again, the pulvo was amazing, and I forget what Corey ate because my dish was so good.

Being in Oporto just puts you in a good mood- maybe is the vitamin D in December or maybe the vinho?! We spent the last day visiting the cathedral district, seeing the detailed azulejos artwork at Sao Bento station (painted ceramic tiles), and visiting a small palace that was actually housing a discount book fair (Palacio de Cristal).

Around every corner, you’d spot street art, small shops, or even the famous Lello bookstore that inspired JK Rowling.  Our last lunch was a traditional meal of fresh fish at Adega Salmao, a family owned restaurant where the son and mom hold down the kitchen, and the father as the head host and server.

A delayed flight at the airport couldn’t dampen our spirits as Corey reconnected to fantasy football line ups, and as I purchased a bottle of vinho verde for 5.50Euro from a duty free shop!

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Quick Shot:

Day 1 (Friday)

  • Lunch at Cafe Santiago for the infamous francesinha 
  • Walk off your lunch along Rua de Santa Catarina and find local artists, and clothing shops
  • Visit the Se Cathedral right before closing time so you get a more peaceful experience, and you also see the rooftops as the sun is setting
  • Wind your way down to the Ribeira (water front path) and find Wine Quay bar for a bottle of wine for about 10 euro, a baguette, and pickled sardines
  • Gaze across the Douro River at the various port taverns you’ll be visiting tomorrow and also feast your eyes on the Ponte de Dom Luís I bridge 
  • March back up the hill for a slightly more posh and inventive dinner at LSD 

Day 2 (Saturday)

  • Covered marketplace at Mercado de Bolhao
  • Bus to Museu Serralves for contemporary art and a gorgeous garden!
  • Tapas style lunch at Casa de Pasto da Palmeira in the Foz do Douro neighborhood (yummy pork cheek!)
  • Vila Nova de Gaia for port tastings at Taylor’s or Croft or both!
  • Gaia waterfront and walk across the Ponte de Dom Luís I bridge
  • Wine tasting at Prova
  • Dinner at Tasca (we walked in without a reservation at 9:30pm but folks should try to get a reservation if they can)
  • Roll home

Day 3 (Sunday)

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