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 GuimarĂ£es, 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-GerĂªs, 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.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Amalfi Coast

I'd always heard good things about the Amalfi coast, so I was happy that we were headed there for 3 nights at the end of our trip.  We were staying in Positano, and got there a bit late because of Pompeii, but it was nice once we arrived and saw tons of people eating dinner really late.  The town is really pretty at night, so we walked around for a bit afterward.
Walking back to our hotel, we met this cat.  He was a strange one for sure, and stared down at us from the roof, without ever moving his head or even blinking.  I guess keeping a watchful eye out for his owners?

It was great having a balcony to relax on, and wake up to all the boats in the harbor:

One thing that was on our agenda was renting a scooter for the time we were there.  It's almost essential if you are staying in any of the small towns in that area.  There are five main towns, and we spent the days going between them, eating and finding beautiful beaches where we could swim.  Here was our cute scooter:

Lots of scenery along the way:

We also stopped randomly to go on a boat ride tour of a famous blue grotto.  It was actually pretty cool to see, even if it did feel a bit like a Disney ride with an (unintentionally) hilarious Italian guide.

Not only was the water amazingly clear, but it was also warm!  While we have great beaches here in Lisbon, the water is never warm. 

Here are a few more pics of Positano - all in all, it was a great trip to Italy.  I like that we felt like we got to see a lot of different parts of the country.  It would have been difficult to choose between countryside, busy cities and gorgeous coastline!