Thursday, December 1, 2011

Chestnut Festival

In mid-November, we went with a group of friends to Marvão, a city near the Spanish border in central Portugal, to join the region's annual chestnut festival. Marvão is a medieval walled city on a tall hilltop rising out of the Upper Alentejo plains. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so we had wanted to visit, but we were really lucky to time our trip with all the activity surrounding the region's biggest annual festival. Enjoy the photos (a few courtesy of our friend, Matt).

We sampled a lot of the local wine, served in your very own clay cup.

And of course there are lots of chestnuts, which are roasted in big tubs over a wood fire to give them a great smoky flavor. 

And as Hillary is wont to do, here she is making friends with an old local who had probably never met an American.

It got a little windy up on the castle walls, which provided a lot of entertainment when the girls took their hair out of ponytails.

Locals sold the regional delicacies.

Including several different varieties of beer brewed in a monastery.

And everyone's friendlier at a festival, especially after a few beers.

We also tried chestnut liqueur.

And like every little Portuguese town, there was a castle with good spots for photos.

 And trees to climb.

There was also live music featuring several girls playing drums.

This guy was getting into it. 

Hillary with Ethan enjoying the music and the wine. 

On our last day, we went on a hike near the house we had rented for the weekend and found a reservoir that gave us a chance to take the group photo we had forgotten to take at the festival.

Another year, another Marine Corps Birthday Ball

Since we will be going back to Washington, this may be our last Marine Corps Birthday Ball for awhile, so it was good to go. We're good friends with a few of the marines, so it was nice to support them. Plus, two of them had flown their moms out for the ball, so it was fun to meet them. Here are a few of the photos. 

We introduced a Mexican/Portuguese couple we're friends with to the ball.  

Our good friend, Glyn, picked Hillary up for the photo. 

And then decided to do the same for me. 

And of course, let diplomats and military guys near an open bar and this is what happens.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Jolly Ole England

In October, I attended a two-day conference in London. We added on the weekend and Hillary came along. We stayed at the apartment of a friend over the weekend and enjoyed the city, which we both decided is among our favorite in the world.

We found the best falafel ever at Spitalfields Market at a place called Pilpel. If ever in London, go there.

We rented bikes and rode around the city, checking out Tower Bridge and the Tower of London along the way.

We visited a few museums, including the British Museum, where we saw the Rosetta Stone and I fist bumped a giant hand.

Hillary had tea while I was stuck in a conference.

We had a great time and realized that we would love to live in London. Better get working on that.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chris and Leighanne - World Travelers

We were never really confident they would come. I had to remind Chris, the best man from our wedding, numerous times that he really needed a passport. But then he and Leighanne bought tickets, and we thought, "wow, they're really coming." We had a moment of doubt when we got to the airport and couldn't find them, but it was quickly resolved when it turned out they were at a different airport cafe. 

They wanted to explore the country and see places off the beaten path, so after a couple days in Lisbon, we went north. Along the way, we stopped in Guimarães, the birthplace of Portugal and home to its first king, Afonso Henriques, who was responsible for the reconquest from the Moors in the 12th century.

We kept moving north, almost to the border with Spain, to a small town called Arcos de Valdevez. We stayed in an olive oil press mill from the 1880s, which had been converted into a small hotel. The city was only a couple miles from Portugal's only national park, Peneda-Gerês, a mountainous area of inhospitable granite. The park is sparsely populated with small villages where life has not changed much in several hundred years. We packed a lunch and drove into the park, expecting to find clearly marked trails. After talking to a local woman, she pointed us in the direction of a trail that visitors sometimes hike. She looked at us like we were a little crazy though for wanting to walk up the mountain for fun.

As we hiked, we crossed stone walls used for grazing cattle. It was interesting to see how high up the mountain they would take their cattle to graze. 

The brown dot near the summit is a cow grazing. 

Although we didn't make it all the way to the top, we decided this was close enough for a group photo. 

We kept encountering the same cow. The first time, I came around a corner and almost ran into it. 

I'm not sure who was more surprised, us to see a cow on the side of the mountain or it to see people up there.

On our way out of the park, we saw some people hiking to a pool with a waterfall, so we decided to follow. We didn't have as stylish hiking boots as this girl, however.

The water was cool, but it was a warm day, so we decided to go for a swim..

We made our way to a few other cities of the north, including Ponte de Lima, Viana do Castelo and Braga.

Hillary and I had to get back to work, so we left Chris and Leighanne in a small town with advice on how to get back to Lisbon. They spent a couple days exploring Porto and Coimbra and made it back to Lisbon on their own with little trouble. The day they got back, we went to a UEFA Cup soccer game between local team Sporting Club of Lisbon and Lazio from Rome. Sporting won 2-1 in an exciting game in front of a packed stadium.

Their trip ended with one last crazy night on the town with our friends to celebrate my birthday. 

It was really great to have them visit and share with them a country we've come to love.