Portugal: Porto and Lisbon (+Sintra)

Oporto is an old beauty. She’s a cozy and colorful refuge from the grey skies above. Her river has helped bless the world with sweet Douro valley wines for centuries. Sure, she’s a little rough around the edges but that gives her character! I fell fast.

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These boats take barrels of wine from the Douro valley down the Douro river to warehouses in Gaia (across the river from Porto) where it is sold/shipped to the world.

My father and I traveled to Porto just after Christmas and stayed in Vila Nova de Gaia near Praia da Sereia and Praia da Madalena (beaches). In Gaia I loved to walk along the coast line then river into the Port wine cellars area. There is a little fishing village on the way called São Pedro da Afurada I had an amazing fresh fish as part of a 6,50 euro prato de dia (multi-course lunch + beverages) at Casa Machado. I ran into this place after a long and rainy walk along the coastline and had the plate of the day which was delicious! I loved the atmosphere immediately and the food and wine did not disappoint (they poured me not one but two glasses of vinho verde- yay!). From this area you can also take a small ferry across the Douro river to Porto Pier.

Take a Port cellar tour in Gaia! I walked into a random shop on the inner street (running parallel behind the touristy street) and got a tour + tasting for 5 euros. With more time (and maybe warmer weather) I’d have loved to get to the Douro Valley vineyards… next time.

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Some notes from the tour: when buying Port wine go for a 20+ year old bottle. “Vintage” label? Even better. Age it up to 50 years laying bottles down and turning once a year until you open them- then drink within one week. Pour through a filter and aerate for up to one hour. 2011 and 2014 were the best recent years but most Portuguese purchase based on significance of the year.

In Porto we did a self-guided walking tour.

Starting at Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar in Gaia (an excellent spot for viewing NYE fireworks!) walk across Luís I Bridge (build by the guy who did the Eiffel tower) then past the Church of Saint Ildefonso IMG_7136(passing Majestic Cafe) to Manteigaria– Fábrica de Pasteis de Nata. These custard tarts are so good! They come outside on the corner and ring a bell when fresh ones are ready. Have two for 2 euros and add a coffee for ,70 cents. Best second breakfast ever!

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Next up: Livraria Lello (SUPER beautiful but tourist-crowded bookstore which I couldn’t handle entering based on the line around the block but maybe you’ll be lucky and get to see the pretty staircase!) then walk across the park to Clérigos Tower. You can pay 3 euros to go up to about 250 steps for a view (but I was happy with the view from the bridge). If you haven’t already seen it, check out the São Bento train station (blue and white tiles depicting Porto’s history inside) and finally see the Porto Cathedral and Monument Church of St. Francis (inside!) finishing in the touristy but pretty Barrio La Ribeira.

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Lisboa was a place I’d heard was beautiful but honestly didn’t know much about upon arrival. The port city is ancient (older than London, Paris, etc.) but due to an earthquake on All Saints Day 1755 which flattened much of the city and killed about 50% of the population it was rebuilt around 1775-1800. As you walk through different neighborhoods you can feel the histories in the wide/narrow streets and crumbling/rainbow facades. Portugal’s role in globalization is important to remember- this was the place where spices and produce and precious metals from five continents came into Europe. You can find pagodas across the park from statues of elephants and sword-yielding Christian missionaries. There’s a statue of Jesus like the one in Rio as you cross a Golden Gate Bridge (like in SF). 

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The Pink Street is not only photogenic but also hosts the latest partiers at night. Local advice: start at the bars in Bairro Alto around 10pm then you can party all night and into the morning even grabbing breakfast (“after party”) on The Pink Street. For live music: Musicbox

There is quite a bit of tourism in Lisbon. Here’s a list of places to eat which is a blend of my finds and recommendations from my local airbnb hostess:

Tapas and wine – Artis Bar or Lagar do Cais

Rooftop Bar – Sky Bar

Bistro 100 Maneiras – art deco interior and innovative cuisine

Pharmacia – an “antique pharmacy” themed place with cocktails 

A Cevicheria – try the ceviche 😉

AO26 vegan food project – very crowded (vegan food is hard to find here)

Princesa do Castelovegetarian

Speaking of Tourism…

Walk through the city to various view points. There is much to be seen, smelled and heard on the way! When you’re walking through Alfama you can buy shots of homemade Ginjinha (local type of cherry brandy) from people selling out of their home windows for 1 euro.

An easy place to eat (especially with a group) is Mercado de Rebecca. You can grab wine by the bottle and meals from different top-rated restaurants around the city here. Try Sea Me for black tempura and green wine or the local favorite: cod and potatoes.

Good photo/picnic spots: Miradouro De Santa Catarina, Miradouro da Graça (see the Golden Gate/25th April bridge), Miradouro das Portas do Sol, Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara

I do recommend a day (or two) trip to Sintra it is still touristy but feels much more relaxed due to vegetation and the ocean and mysterious gardens and castles scattered around the area. It’s an easy train trip from Rossio station (under 5 euros round trip) and for me provided a much needed escape from the city. I recommend packing a picnic and enjoying your meal in the great outdoors.

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“The Carnation Revolution” – A one day overthrow of the longest dictatorship in Europe occurred in Lisbon on the 25th of April 1974. { A woman selling flowers walked past a guard protecting the dictator’s residence. She placed one red carnation in the top of his rifle. Revolutionaries came to storm the building. The leaders inside instructed the guards to open fire on the crowd which included civilians. The guard with the flower refused to shoot. Every guard refused.} The dictator fled and a two party temporary government was put in place followed by withdrawal from African colonies and democracy. People celebrated in the streets placing carnations in the muzzles of police and military rifles across the city. {This is the story as told by a local.} Art by Caos, Add Fuel, Draw and MAR. The man depicted is Salgueiro Maia.

I have mixed feelings about Lisbon, about visiting monuments and structures commemorating explorers whose discoveries meant globalization’s also colonization. Today I say a statue in the distance which appeared to be a cross but as I got closer I realized it was a sword being carried on the backs of men heading for Rio de Janeiro.

 

Eating + Traveling

This information is based on my personal experience and is not for everyone. I intend to give broad guidelines which can be personalized by individuals based on their unique compositions and situations.

The key to success in eating well while traveling the globe: moderation.

A few top tricks:

HOT vegetables (sorry, not salad)

I eat 1-2 salads per day at home so this is hard. Thing is, stomach bugs can’t be cooked off of something uncooked so when indulging in, say, street food I avoid uncooked veggies like the plague (pun intended?) If you are craving a salad looking for reviewed places on Trip Advisor/Yelp/foodie blogs is a safer option.

Note: watch for uncooked garnished too!

ALWAYS BUY THE WATER

Ideally you will bring a reusable bottle & remember to fill it… but do NOT penalize yourself for forgetting/being in a place without available drinking water by dehydrating yourself. Your body is going through a LOT when you are on the road so don’t dehydrate it out of spite! Buy the water, always buy the water.

Note: this does not mean always buy the soda or always buy the beer. Applies to WATER only… also watch for ice cubes out to ruin your pricey bottled water with their abundance of germs!

-“Asian Vegetarian” meals on Delta airlines (also 1 water to match every coffee/wine)

I’ve never been disappointed with this “special meal” request. Also you get your meal before everyone else!

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When you forget to order a special meal…

You are what you eat. This being said, food can be such a wonderful entry point into new cultures…it can also mean feeling healthy and bright or feeling heavy and slow. I have found that by paying a little attention to my diet while traveling I can find a lot more enjoyment in overall experience.

Let’s take this chronologically:

Prepping for a trip can be stressful and stress can impact eating habits. I just try to be aware of this and stick to a healthy diet at home as much as possible. Set good habits at home so you can turn to them on the road.

Pack snacks before you go! It is both cheaper and more healthy. I love to pack nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, etc.) because they are light + filling. Grab things in sealed packages for crossing borders. I also bring my own instant coffee (because I hate watery airplane coffee) and tea bags (I love “stress less” & “sleepy time” varieties for relaxing en route). Boost immunity with vitamin C drinks or grab Nuun tablets for an extra hydrating all natural sports drink. Bringing a reusable water bottle saves $$$. You can bring berries or sandwiches on planes too! Just liquids are limited so take advantage and have a much yummier sandwich from home/the deli on the way to the airport.

Protein powder/bars? … I have mixed feelings. Sometimes I bring it/sometimes I don’t. You do you!

I do really like Probar meal bars (although they’re sugary- drink lots of water with those!)

So… you’ve arrived.

The first thing I do upon arrival at my destination is sit down and have a beverage. Sometimes I need to relax so I grab a beer, sometimes I have a long walk ahead of me so I energize with a coffee. Taking a few moments to regroup in a safe place with your luggage set down and some time to look at your map and plan your next moves is key in my eyes. This rule is a major stress-reducer and often even a time-saver since it’s so easy to get lost when your scrambling off of a bus/train/red-eye flight. Take a moment to have a tea and catch your breath. Regroup then step out into your new environment.

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Here’s my traveling-on-a-shoestring hack: cut back to 2 meals per day.

As I began traveling, I started to realize that as an American I was used to eating three “square” meals to the point where I felt dependent on it. Funny thing was, looking around at the eating habits in many other places visited, that’s a lot more food than one might actually NEED to survive (especially assuming you are on a temporary trip). Eliminating one meal seriously helped my budget and my energy level and just works really well for me. Maybe it is out of the question for you. I understand! Can you supplement meal 3 with snacks/protein from above? Can you sacrifice some booze money for food? You are exploring the world so by all means enjoy yourself but I encourage observation of how much you feel you NEED and to go from there.

Breakfast is important. Whatever leftover coffee/tea you have from the plane supply + instant oatmeal packets make for great breakfast options. I am unable to function without breakfast so I usually travel with these just in case. Always take advantage of free breakfast. I add cheap extras like bananas to hostel cereal to make it a bit healthier + tastier. It’s silly to skip free breakfast so set that alarm clock- worth it.

For me, lunch is the biggest meal of my day. After a morning exploring, a big lunch is perfection. Lunch is usually much cheaper than dinner. Make it a leisurely meal followed by late afternoon relaxing.

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Lunching in Copenhagen

 

I love a light dinner. This can be apps and drinks out or a bit of veggies in- whatever you feel! If you are going out don’t forget a falafel.

I will admit that I can be a bit of a “foodie.” I research the best food ahead of time and care to make the time and budget to visit certain places. I try to limit myself to one place per day but rules are meant to be broken under certain circumstances… this is where that word moderation comes into play. By keeping my diet pretty healthy+cheap DIY most of the time I can afford to treat myself and really appreciate it when I do. I can still remember the best meals I’ve had all over the world- don’t get too worried about health/budget and miss the good stuff!

Some of the BEST food in the world (in my opinion) above

Want an AMAZING experience + souvenir which you can carry with you always? Take a cooking class! This is one of my favorite discoveries. I happen to like cooking… so in my eyes, learning to cook the dishes you are experiencing in a place is learning to enrich the rest of your life. Another great part is cooking for friends once you get home/are reunited. I want to take many, many more cooking classes in many, many more places for the rest of my life. Try it!

Seoul Stopover

If you get a chance for a stopover in Seoul, I highly recommend it! The airport is hands down my favorite on the globe.

I flew Asiana Airlines to/from India & did not realized until a couple of days before takeoff that I would have an overnight layover in Seoul on both journeys. Luckily I found that a visa would not be required to enter South Korea so I jumped on Hostelworld & booked a bunk at Seoul I Guesthouse. It’s a decent spot, cheap, and in a fun neighborhood. If you have a daytime layover the airport offers a day tour service for free.15492051_10209726540093910_1725704891049763242_n

The metro connects directly to the airport which is easy. Nightlife is BIG in Korea. I couldn’t believe how many bottles of booze were around! People dress very nicely. Food is everywhere, everything, so good.

Reflection | Turkey

In March 2014 she found herself on a ferry in the Sea of Marmara holding a stranger’s baby. Having spent the few days prior among 15 million people and 150 million street cats in Istanbul, she was on to the promisingly peaceful Prince’s Islands. She carried fresh memories of streets filled with protesters clashing with police outside the hostel room window, tanks rolling towards the city’s Taksim Square— halted, egged. Powerful war machines stalled by resourceful humans mirrored a young population using VPNs to access social media’s calls to protest even as the government blocked public access to Facebook, Twitter and the like. As the boat left land and the chaos happening upon it, the passangers headed to a place they hoped would bring serenity into their worlds. For her, these circumstances were alarming. She had the privilege of growing up in a peaceful American town in the mountains with a liberal, homogenous population. A few days into Turkey, her understanding of the world (and place in it) had been turned upside down. The child in her arms, though, her life was already full of more changes and challenges than most see in a lifetime. This girl’s family was Syrian.  Her mother had a kind smile and ability to trust a stranger to hold her precious child in their arms. 1619234_10202646959428818_2067528469_nShe enjoyed her time on Sedef Island. She enjoyed wandering the streets, seeing old women scale hundreds of stairs and swimming in cool blue water. But when she returned to Istanbul and her friends in university, she had made up her mind to get to the bottom of something. The family she met on my ferry ride was not the first Syrian family she’d encountered on this trip. In fact, she was alarmed by the immigration lines at the airport on day one. She had noticed families along the streets but it took the initial culture shock wearing off to dig deeper. She met her friends ready to ask questions. What was going on? Who were these kind, English-speaking displaced families? She was introduced to a Syrian student who, with great courage and composure, described daily life in his home country. He spoke of police checkpoints and constant fear of death. When she asked him what other nations could do to help he replied, “The only way to help a Syrian is to get them out of Syria.” The tears which came with this statement were contagious. She vowed after this experience to do something. What could she do for my new Syrian friends and for the little girl on the boat? She didn’t know what, how, when or where action would start.

One year later she changed her degree to Global Studies. She spent time learning about people outside of her white middle-class American bubble. Now, three years later, she remembers the family on the ferry and their ability to smile and trust a stranger in the eye of disaster. It’s unknown what happened to that family, but humanitarian crises persist on a global scale in our world today. It’s our duty as a citizens of the world to get educated, be brave enough to start conversations that matter and hold fellow humans accountable. Civic responsibility demands civic engagement. The consequences of our own actions ripple outward. If we look beyond our immediate actions we can see how one’s impact is magnified by time. Start small. Maybe your kind action to another person will inspire their kindness towards others, and others, until someone halfway across the world feels the soft touch of that action. This is how we can all save the world.

Scotland Road Trip

My roommates and I came across a 5-day weekend and decided to head to Scotland off-season for a winter road trip around the country.

In Scotland I saw contrast: dark, strong, jagged structures in a land of seemingly endless rolling hills and winding roads. The winter weather was harsh and unforgiving but strangers were warm and inviting. In between its extremes sits a stark beauty.

Scotland was a place I’d heard called peoples’ “favorite” more than once. For me it was a place that reminded me of home (or close to home- Western Washington State, to be exact). Here’s what we did in our few days there:

Day 1: Arrival in Glasgow in the evening. We picked up our rental car then had dinner at Shilling Brewing Company (my rating: 3.5 – hipster vibes, cute bartender, decent beer, good pizza) downtown before driving about 1 hour to Edinburgh. We stayed one night at Budget Backpackers in GrassmarketIMG_4480

Day 2: After a quick exploration of the Royal Mile and breakfast bagels at Brunch Edinburgh we began our “2-3” (but actually 5) hour drive through Cairngorms National Park. We took the scenic route which lead through rolling hills and brought us to the top of a VERY windy peak. There were goats, sheep, horses, cutie cows…but no unicorns were spotted.

We made our way to Aviemore and stayed at the Youth Hostel there. Cairngorm Brewery had quite decent beers (I loved the “Black Gold” stout. Lots of seasonal options. Some varieties had risky names)! We had dinner at The Winking Owl (review: cozy feel, good local beer selection, homey food and beautiful desserts- plus a bit of yummy homemade fudge with your bill!) The weather reports called for strong wind and snow so we got a good night’s rest and woke up early the next morning (before sunrise) to get on the road.

IMG_8461Day 3: After two hours in the car we pulled off next to Loch Ness which had white cap waves thanks to strong winds. It looked like a monster lived in there 😉

IMG_0674Next stop was at Eilean Donan Castle which was closed for the season so we couldn’t go inside but we could walk across the bridge to the island and around the structure. I was glad to be wearing my Hunter boots on this rainy day! Finally we arrived on the Isle of Skye. Unfortunately the weather was changing quickly but we made a drive out to Portree (sadly we couldn’t get to see any more sites before dark) and arrived safely at Skye Backpackers Hostel in Kyleakin literally five minutes before a massive hail storm. The evening consisted of whiskey drinking (I liked Drambuie) and waiting to see what the storm would leave behind the following morning…

Day 4: snow!!! The driving was slow and a bit risky without snow tires but the day was sunny and we took a walk through the woods near Loch Lomond & The Trossach’s National ParkOn the last night we stayed in Glasgow at an Airbnb. We ordered food and relaxed before our flight home the following morning. 

Some takeaways which may be useful to future travelers:

  • Driving stressed me out a bit (it generally does). Besides driving on the other side of the road, roads are narrow and winding. The weather was dynamic- we’d see snow and ice then wind and sun then rain and hail…all in one day! Tip: Plan on doubling your estimated drive time. Take frequent stops- there’s no need to hurry! I wouldn’t recommend trying to drive more than 3 or 4 hours per day.
  • Eat cheap! The Co-op is a good grocery store and picking up snacks/meals here will save you $$$. We loved the selection of cheeses and they had yummy yogurt, tea and shortbread cookies. When I did eat out I always ordered the soup of the day. It’s usually vegetarian and around 5 GBP. Get a beer to fill you up and call it a meal!
  • Pack/outfit plan in layers. Changing weather = changing wardrobe. Having layered tops was especially helpful as we changed climates and situations throughout the day. I was also very glad to have wool socks and rain boots! although they are bulky and not usually something I bring I packed in a carry-on roller and personal item bag for this trip since we had the luxury of having a car the whole time.. and luxurious it was ❤
  • Note: in winter it is only light out from around 8:30 am – 3:30 pm. Plan accordingly..

P.s. I would like to thank my friend Peter for providing the route information for this trip. He didn’t let us down and I can’t thank him enough! So much territory covered in just three full days of (winter) driving – amazing! Thank you. 

Barcelona (a weekend update)

New favorite neighborhood: Gracia. The Born and Gotic/Gothic are cool to visit but I prefer the hipster/local vibes in Gracia. I may also enjoy the name 😉 I had great food at Nabucco Tiramisu and Veg world India and bought handmade shoes and clothing from Les Chausseurs. I stayed at Sant Jordi Hostel – Gracia. Highly recommended.

IMG_9964Other highlights included Parc Guell (always) and seeing the Sagrada Familia after 3 more years progress… IMG_5664

I also took a walking tour (in Spanish for practice!) and enjoyed going out in the Gotic area- cool bars around every corner!IMG_5109

Brunch and Cake was a fantastic experience.

A quick/cheap eat favorite: Bo de Be. Big sandwiches/bocadillos get them to go and eat outside on the steps across the street out front.

A double recommendation came for Sensi Gourmet Tapas

I have yet to visit the Miro museum (but it’s high on my list)

Until next time, Barca ❤

 

 

SF/Bay Area Late Summer/Early Fall

The best time to visit San Francisco is: the fall. Re: it is sunniest this time of year!

Healthy eating

Sweetgreen – grab a salad/healthy bowl made to order. They provide seasonal options, build your own options.. with bright, yummy ingredients you can’t go wrong for lunch under $15 here!

Golden Era this is vegan “asian fusion” – love the spring rolls app and lemongrass main p.s. they have mango sticky rice!

Juice shops are plentiful in this city – I like grab one at the Embarcadero to start my day.. nothing like ginger + beets in the morning!

For coffee: Blue Bottle = simple menu (great for first thing in the morning) …OR I love taking MUNI out to Sunset Beach. It stops on Judah St. right in front of my favorite coffee spot: Java Beach Cafe. Drink your coffee next to the Pacific ocean!

Activities

A friend introduced me to Yoga to the People and I’ve already gone twice. This is a yoga studio near the 16th street mission BART stop which offers donation-based classes (I give $5-10) many times throughout the day. The studio space is beautiful! They have mats there so just bring yourself (and a friend?)!

 

For a touristy day in the sun, I recommend a rental bike ($32/day) loop from the Embarcadero along the water (stop at the Palace of Fine Arts to walk around the pond) then across the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito (have a picnic/grab lunch). You can catch a ferry with your bike back to either Pier 39 or the Embarcadero (buy your $12.50 tickets onboard).

Spend a day in the park(s) Golden Gate Park & Presidio Park are beautiful and great places for people watching! (I also love Dolores Park & dog watching at Duboce- try the Duboce Park Cafe if you’re in the area for breakfast/lunch!)

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Trips

Hiking in Marin County, just across the bay, followed by some beers and games at Bar Bocce in Sausalito or seafood and beach lounging by Stinson Beach

Napa Valley (wine tasting) is a 1-2 hour drive from the city. I recommend booking a tour at Newton Vineyards OR just going for an easy walk-in champagne tasting at Mumm. I recommend Farmstead for dinner afterwards. FullSizeRender 132

Drive South down the coastline on Highway 1. Stop for Oysters + lobster rolls + Bloody Mary’s at Sam’s Chowder House and beers at Half Moon Bay Brewing Company.

Have a picnic with a Golden Gate view at Baker Beach.

Walk around Sutro Baths.

Art-tourism

SF MOMA is wonderful (go for the food at In Situ for an AMAZING experience.. I also always grab a slice of “Mondrian cake” in the cafe 🙂

Clarion Alley graffiti is always changing and in a cool area (walk up/down Valencia)

Walk up the tile steps on 16th Ave for a beautiful view of the city (and a cool route to the top!)

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