Bon Viatge!

Meg and Grant go to Barcelona & beyond

Author: bonviatgemarvins (Page 2 of 5)

Published!

Family and friends, as some of you know, I have been working on refining my writing skills and trying out freelance writing. After a few months of not having luck with “conventional” publications, I started exploring options with Medium. I connected with a wonderful woman, Barbara DiGangi, who runs the Women’s Empowerment publication on Medium, and she just published my article there.

Read it here: More outfits for the bike and boardroom could mean more women cyclists 

It covers the disparity between the number of male and female cyclists, discusses clothing options for women who bike to work, and concludes with practical recommendations for cycling clothing for women.

As you can see in the photo below, I didn’t look too hot when I was commuting to work on my bike in San Francisco. Painful to dig that one up from the archives…

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If you like the article, please share on Facebook or love it on Medium to help me create some buzz! Thanks for all your support, and a special thanks to those who contributed!

Belgium: Land of beer, chocolate, and beautiful canals

Our trip to Belgium was one of the most relaxed trips we’ve had our entire time here. I don’t know if it was the fact that the sun set at 5:20pm, or it was that drizzling hypnotic rain rhythm that soothed us, or the heavy meat, potatoes, and beer, but Grant and I got in the habit of sleeping late and taking daily afternoon naps (which is unusual even for us).

We flew to Brussels first, where our Pantone Hotel accommodations awaited us. Pantone makes a color palette that designers use, so I was very excited to be staying at the namesake hotel. Each room had a color theme, and we were in a Violet room.

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After our luxurious afternoon nap, we headed out in the evening to the main square to eat and try this Belgium beer everyone’s been talking about. Even as we sought out a restaurant to chow down, we stopped in a few chocolate shops for a pre-dinner aperitif of creamy Belgium chocolate. It was really unbelievable how delicious it tasted! I didn’t think it would be any better than any other chocolate, but it was!

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A friend who had lived in Brussels recommended a place to us that had ten’s of craft beers on tap. As we slid into a booth at Moeder Lambic, we were immediately overwhelmed with the selection of beers on the menu. I mean, we-kind-of-sort-of felt like we got to know wines living in the Bay Area, but we aren’t typically beer people. The charming thing about bars in Belgium is that the bartenders and servers will actually guide you to a recommendation. Our server even took a seat next to me in the booth to ask me questions about what I might like. And the beer was so tasty – I tried a dark brown beer with hints of cinnamon, chocolate, and spices, and Grant tried an IPA.

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The next day we were planning to head to Bruges, but we decided to stroll around a more local non-touristy neighborhood of Brussels, first: Ixelles. Our walk-about was a bit of a bust (several places I read about ahead of time were closed), but it wasn’t anything that a bit of warm frites covered in curry ketchup sauce and a chocolate store tour designed by Grant couldn’t fix. Basically, at the first chocolate shop, we had the shop owners select six different chocolates for us to try. We devoured those treats as we walked to the next chocolate shop. And so on, so forth…

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Did I also mention that Brussels’ architecture style is Art Nouveau? We spotted several buildings entwined in beautiful ironwork, like this door below.

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We hopped on the train to Bruges and felt completely transported to a different world! Bruges spreads out in front of you in several meandering canals – all unique. The fall colors of the trees reflect off the canals for a panoramic view that is spectacular from any angle.

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We stayed in the coziest B&B in Bruges, taken care of by a warm woman who loved to cook and travel. Upon our arrival, she drew out on a map all the places to see – including her own favorite scenic canals and secret places in Bruges. Per the usual, our evening included a filling dinner and beers to cap off the night.

The next day we pedaled out of Bruges on city commuter bikes, following the canals to a neighboring town and beyond. The rush of being on bikes, with the awe-inspiring canals and the mirrored trees in the water, in the crisp autumn air, made us not want to stop! So we decided to bike all the way to the North Sea in Heist (which was about 20km away, so not too far).

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Riding along the tree-lined canals with the branches of the trees forming a grand cathedral above us, and the orange, red, and golden leaves crunching below us, was my happy place. It was just so peaceful and perfect.

We stopped in the small town of Damme to check out the crumbling cathedral. Despite being roped off, Grant of course still tried to go up in the tower. Alas, it was closed. So we just had to eat a delicious lunch of pumpkin meatball soup instead. You can tell I was very disappointed.

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On our way back into Bruges, we stopped by a couple of the windmills on the edge of town.

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Our last full day in Bruges, we walked around the town and checked out a few of the tourist “sights” that we were probably supposed to be checking out the entire time. To get our blood really moving we climbed the belfry tower in the middle of town. Three-hundred and sixty-six stairs later, we had a wonderful view of the city. However, the real delight was being able to see the mechanism for the bell chiming up close – and see it at work as it softly hammered each bell while we were standing directly abreast of it. It was like a giant music box!

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The last stop in Bruges, and one of the most delightfully surprising was a church which our hostess had told us had a “surprise” inside. Our expectations were pretty low for what constituted as a surprise, but they were greatly exceeded! The church had been partially converted to have a giant swing hanging from the ceiling. The idea was to bring the playfulness and nature of the park just outside the church, into the church. Grant and I took turns pushing each other on the swing.

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Flying through the cavernous nave, in the silent air tinged with recorded choral music, I had a completely different spiritual experience in a church than I’ve ever had before. I imagined God was looking down on us happy that we were smiling and enjoying His house.

Soon we are off to Paris to meet up with Megan!

FALLin’ in love with Catalonia

As we have gotten to know Barcelona better, the cool fall wind has blown us to explore other parts of Catalonia. Catalonia is ridged with unique landscapes, and it is almost impossible to believe that so many different scenery grooves can be cut into one region. The beauty we have seen in the last few weeks has deepened my fondness of Spain and made me realize how much more there is to explore. I feel fortunate that we have the opportunity to get to know one place so well, albeit a small part of one country.

Zaragoza (*actually not in Catalonia, but in the neighboring Aragon)

I’ve been keeping my eye out for Spanish festivals near us – Lord knows there are a lot of them! I was surprised that Spain actually celebrates Columbus day on the same day as America. Anyway, I saw that Zaragoza had a big festival named Fiestas del Pilar, which celebrates the Virgin Mary. It is about a two-hour train ride from Barcelona (halfway between Barcelona and Madrid), so we headed out for a day trip.

When we arrived in Zaragoza, we first visited the Alfajería Palace, a medieval Islamic palace first built in the 11th century. It’s the first Islamic-influenced architecture we have seen in Spain, and we fell in love with the endless patterns and infinite curves and lines of the fortress. I learned that the patterns are designed to reflect infinity very purposefully – to reflect God’s infinite nature. Not only were the ornate carvings gorgeous, they also carried a deep meaning.

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After visiting the palace, we walked along the riverfront to the main square of the festival. Here, visitors from all over the world had brought offering of flowers to the Virgin Mary to form a large, bright-colored pyramid of blessing.

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In the evening, the town walked through the cobble-stone streets for a protracted rosary parade. The villagers carried glass floats representing each of the five glorious mysteries, five sorrowful mysteries, five joyful mysteries, and five light mysteries. Grant and I pulled up a reflection on each mystery on my iphone to follow along as the floats came by us. I have never seen such a large religious celebration before! The celebration was really and truly about Mary and Catholicism – there were no gimics or non-religious traditions. The sun went behind the horizon and dimmed the town just before the five light mysteries started, making the miracles even more luminous and glorious.

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Pyrenees – Ensija Mountain Range

The meetup.com community is very active in Barcelona. Many of the art workshops I go to are from meetup.com – it’s a great way to meet other people and learn something new. I found a few hiking meetups, so our first outing was to the Pyrenees to hike there a few weekends ago. We trekked across four summits in the Ensija Mountain Range. We had a view of Pedraforca (“pitchfork”), which is a recognizable mountain in the area.

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As most mountainous climbs begin, we started the hike going up, up, up. The views at the top of each summit, though, took our breath away more than the climbing! Fall was in full swing, so the landscape was splashed with reds and golds, contrasted against royal blue mountains in the background.

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The hike was definitely harder than I had expected! The group kept a steady pace, whether straining upwards or ambling downwards. My fear of heights was tested on some sections of the hike. Would not be good to take a tumble here!

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The Pyrenees are about a two and half hour drive from Barcelona. You know this girl can’t help but love the easy access to the ocean and the mountains! My answer to the age-old question “mountains or sea?” is BOTH!

Tortosa & Miravet

After exploring the mountains, I was freshly inspired to escape the city to see other part of Catalonia. Next up was the River Ebro! I had seen a cycling group which had organized a ride to this area as a day trip, but the elevation gain of their ride was quite intimidating. Instead, I made arrangements to stay overnight to recover from a bike ride and give us additional time to hike and explore the area. My favorite part about biking is being able to see new places from a unique perspective, so as much as I love biking, it’s not really about pushing the pedals – it’s about getting inspired.

We took a train to Tortosa in the morning. From Tortosa, there is an old railway line called Via Verda that was converted into a walking/biking trail. This meant that we could turn our pedals over without any interruption from cars. The trail followed the River Ebro for a while.

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By far, Grant’s favorite part was the old railway tunnels we had to cycle through. Some of them were quite long, requiring lights even during the bright day!

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We pedaled on the Via Verda to Fontcalda, a thermal spring in the nearby mountains. A popular destination in the summer, we had the thermal spring all to ourselves. The water was about 70 degrees. We didn’t get in since we had to keep cycling, but we did steal a few moments to enjoy this mountain oasis.

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This is the part in this story when I tell you that things didn’t go as expected on this ride. Come on, you knew it was coming! We always end up on weird detours! I didn’t look carefully at the elevation profile for this ride, as we had decided to shorten it to make it to Miravet, our final destination, in better time. However, we missed our turn, our maybe there wasn’t a turn? It’s unclear. Anyway, the only way to get out of Fontcalda towards our destination was UP. I’m not talking a hill, I’m talking a freakin’ mountain. A thousand feet doesn’t sound too big for a bike, but it’s a wall when the elevation grades are consistently between 20 and 30% and up to 45%. So Grant and I dragged ourselves and our bikes up the endless switchbacks. More than once in a burst of optimism, I would declare, “There’s no way we can still go up! This is the last uphill, then it’s all downhill.” Oh, how wrong I was. But we made it! Grant was very impressive, because not only did he make it up in style, but he was also carrying our backpack full of hiking supplies and food up the whole way (that added a good deal more kg!). What a badass.

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Needless to say when we arrived in Miravet, we sat our stinky selves right down for a big Spanish lunch on a terrace that could blow away all of our pleasant aromas.

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We met up with our airbnb host, who led us to the most unique, most wonderful airbnb we have ever stayed in! The three-story house leans directly against the cliff rock of Miravet, and the raw rock face protrudes directly in to the house, making you feel that you never truly left nature by going inside. A balcony wraps around the entire convex facade, leaning out over the town and delivering sweeping views of the surrounding area. Miravet is tucked into the bend of the River Ebro, so you can see the river appearing from seemingly nowhere and venturing on down-river towards Tortosa.

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After showering, I lounged on the bed staring out at this view with a meaty book in hand, watching the world turn pink, gold, blue, and purple, and finally lay to rest in a deep blue.

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The town of Miravet is so small that there were no restaurants open for dinner. Our airbnb hosts cooked a savory meal of mussels, salad, chicken, and rice for us. We cobbled together our English and Spanish for dinner conversation that was as diverse and delicious as the food we shared. To the background of classical music, we talked about everything from architecture to Catalan independence to how we had met. I have never felt such a warm welcome from airbnb hosts. Meaningfully connecting with people who I should have nothing in common with touches a chord deep down inside of me that tells me that as people, we really are more alike than different. Such a hope this brings to know we are never alone! That there is just a thin veil of misunderstanding between each of us.

The next morning, after devouring the juiciest honeydew I have slurped up in my life, we headed to the Miravet Castle and to hike around the area. The castle itself was not particularly impressive, but the views from the citadel spread the area around us like a glorious patchwork quilt.

 

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We hiked around above the river for a while, attempting to follow a path until it led us down a trail that was a little too steep for comfort.

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Real-talk time here for just a minute. Following the hiking trail, we went down a steep path from the top of this rock to the valley. Not only was the path steep, but the rocks were rather loose and the only vegetation was brittle, stickly, and close to the ground. All I could think is that I was going to lose my footing and go tumbling down the mountain like a cartoon character – cartoon clouds of dust and all. I decided that I had to scoot down most of the mountain (yes, scoot). Even with that, though, I freaked out. It has taken me a long time to articulate and come to terms about what has been happening to me for several years. I sometimes have panic attacks, and I had a panic attack going down the side of this mountain hill. It starts by me freaking out, and starting to breathe hard. Then, just when I think I have it under control, my racing heartbeat informs the rest of body to get ready for “flight” and suddenly my body system is out of control. My heart is frantically beating, my whole body feels shaky, tears are streaming down my face, and I can’t think clearly. I had to sit down, put my head down to block out the rest of the world, and just focus all my energy on trying to breathe normally. What make it worse, is that most of the time in the moment, I am judging myself – I am embarrassed at what is happening. Why can’t I handle it? Anyway, where I’m at with this is that it is something to accept and manage. We made it down from the mountain hill just fine.

Grant had spotted old ruins of a watermill from medieval times on the river from the mountain, so we bee-lined for that. The journey there was Grant’s ideal adventure – it involved whacking aside bamboo, balancing on trees over water, and going off-trail. Once we got there, Grant convinced me to scale the walls for a fantastic picnic lunch above the river. Grant pulls me out of my comfort zone and supports me every minute through it – whether physically by offering his hands together as a foothold or emotionally by telling me that I’m brave. What’s more romantic, anyway, than being somewhere you’re not supposed to be, alone together?

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We had a short bike ride back to the nearby train station in Mora la Nova before heading back to Barcelona.

Garroxta Volcanic Zone

My friend Bex, from South Africa, and I joined another meetup group for a daytrip to the Garroxta Volcanic Zone in Catalonia. We got to hike in small dormant volcanos and through a magical fairyland forest, just a few hours bus ride from Barcelona.

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Most of the leaves were shyly changing into reds and golds, but others boldly tossed aside the green to shine brilliantly against the clear blue sky.

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We met some ponies along the way, too! The brown one and I got along quite splendidly. Too bad our one-bedroom can’t fit him!

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The bus drove us to a unique village in the area where two rivers have hewn the volcanic rock into a peninsula of sheer cliff. The houses of the village cling to the edge of the cliff. This was my favorite part of the trip!

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Finding pumpkin!

It was quite funny, because places here were attempting to meagerly decorate for Halloween. It’s not a holiday that’s traditionally celebrated in Spain, but some places are trying to make it happen.

While America has been busy complaining about how there are too many things that are pumpkin-flavored, we have been pumpkin deprived over here in Barcelona! I finally broke down and went to the Taste of America store to buy canned pumpkin. The Taste of America is the oddest store – as you might have guessed, it carries products imported from the States. If you had to stock a small store with American goods, what would you pick?

Some of the shelves are hilarious – do we really need a full floor-to-ceiling shelf dedicated to Lucky Charms cereal? However, I can’t pass up the selection of salsas, barbecue sauce, and in this case, canned pumpkin.

My friend Maya, from Boston, and I had made a vegan and gluten-free version of my standby pumpkin lasagna. This totally curbed my cravings for pumpkin! We paired it with a delicious kale salad with persimmon and pomegranate – yum, such a treat!

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Happy late Halloween to my dear Americans! We miss sharing this time of year with you all! But I can’t say we aren’t enjoying fall in Catalonia.

Six months in

What can happen in six months? As it turns out, for us, six months has meant visiting over twenty cities in six countries, having hosted about six friends in Barcelona, and having relished in six local holiday celebrations and festivals.

As a special treat for this momentous occasion, I’m featuring a Q&A with Grant so you can hear his perspective at this milestone. At the end of this post, I’ve shared some of my own reflections since having left U.S. soil in April.

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M: Tell us about the funniest memory you have so far from our time in Europe.

G: I thought it was funny that time when we went to the Mexican restaurant, and you ordered a tamale. Then it came, and they put it down in front of you, and it looked like a quesadilla. We were very confused. I’m pretty sure this is a quesadilla. We asked the waiter, “She ordered the tamales. I think this is the quesadilla.” He’s like, “No, no, no, that’s right,” and he walks away. We start to question everything. We’re just like, you know maybe in Spain a quesadilla is actually a tamale, they just call them different things. We were convinced. It’s funny how being in a new place can make you question things that you know really well.

M: What’s been your favorite place to visit?

G: Portugal, I would say. Specifically, I really liked the Quinta da Regaleira that was outside of Sintra. I went with you and Kelly, and I lost you guys at one point. And…I’m going to be honest, it did not bother me at all. I just ran around that entire place until well after it closed, because it was just so cool, and I loved exploring it.

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M: Tell us about the most embarrassing cultural fauxpaux moment that has happened.

G: I was at the climbing gym a couple weeks ago, and after I climbed, I was going to leave. There was this little girl standing in front of the only door. She’s like maybe four or five, really small, just standing there in front of the door. I walk up to her, and I kind of look at her, and she looks back at me. Then I try to pantomime that I want to get out of the door, but she’s not getting it. She’s just staring at me. I realize I have no idea how to speak to this girl in Catalan or Spanish to ask her if I can get by. So I’m just standing there, completely blocked by this four year old. What am I going to do? Do I just go back in and climb some more? How am I going to escape? Then I realized that her mom was standing in line, and she saw what was going on. Then she sort of stood there and laughed at me a little bit. Then she called her daughter over, and she left, and I got out. It was funny how something that was so simple could completely foil me.

M: What’s the best food or dish you have tasted so far (and you can’t say dinner tonight just to flatter me)?

G: I would say patatas bravas. I’ve gone whole hog for patatas bravas. I’ll order it basically at all the places in Barcelona, and they all have them, even if it’s not on the menu. You just say, “I would like some patatas bravas,” and they’re like “Sure.” One time we were hiking and we went to this pizza place after we were done, and all they had on the menu was pizza and beer. We were like, “We’d like some patatas bravas,” and he doesn’t even bat an eye. He’s like, “Ok, vale, vale, vale, vale, bravas.” So I really enjoy that. Also nata. I enjoyed nata in Portugal – that was delicious.

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M: …and we have a nata place here in Barcelona.

G: We do, but we haven’t been yet, because it closes way too early. An after-dinner nata sounds like the most amazing thing, but basically it would have to be open until midnight for that to work in Spain.

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M: What is the worst food or dish you have tasted so far?

G: I had this paella once that had pig ear in it. I tried some, but it was just rubbery and gross. The entire time I’m eating it I’m thinking, pig ear is basically the chew toy we would give to our dogs growing up. Now I’m eating it. I honestly don’t know what they saw in it. It’s not great.

M: How have you adjusted to life without full-time work?

G: Shockingly quickly. It’s funny because I worked at Meraki for like four or five years, and over time you accumulate all these things in the back of your head of like oh, I’d really like to work on this some day or we could fix this and make it better. I think after a week, they were gone. I had one time when I had a dream of some library that was going to solve some problem we had, and that was it. It’s sort of surprising to have spent so long on something, and all of a sudden, to have it just be completely gone from your brain.

All of that energy, when you’re working at a place, if you enjoy what you’re doing,  goes into, “How can I make this thing that I’m working on better?” All your new ideas are in the context of this one thing that you’re trying to solve or provide or do. A lot of that energy now is directed at, “What are the things in my life now that I wish were different? How will the Internet solve this for me?”

M: What has been the best day in the last 6 months?

G: I would say when we went to Switzerland, and we did the Cheese-Chocolate hike. I really enjoyed that. The countryside was beautiful. We were walking next to cows, and we got to be like, “Hi cows.” There were castles, and fondue, and more chocolate – I really enjoyed that day of hiking around Switzerland.

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M: What has been the worst day so far?

G: Going to Cinque Terre was the worst nightmare trip ever, because it was a series of unfortunate events. Well, for starters, we thought we were going to catch the 6am train from Milan to Cinque Terre because we wanted to get an early start and it’s a three hour train ride. But that was totally unrealistic. We made it to the train station just barely, through some combination of running and jumping on random buses that we hoped went in the right direction. We just barely made it, but we didn’t have time to buy our tickets. So I bought a different ticket online that was the same price and an hour and half later. We got on the train. Then the guy comes by, and he’s like, “This ticket isn’t valid. If it was within an hour, then you could change it for €5, but because it’s more than an hour, you have to pay like €200″, or something ridiculous. So that was annoying. Then we got there and it was like 50°; it was so hot.

M: 50°C, you mean.

G: Yeah, Meg, we live in Europe. Use celsius, like the rest of the freakin’ world. Quick, what is 50°C in fahrenheit?

Ahh, I don’t know. 40°C is 100°F, right?

G: Uh, something like that. I thought it was like 42. I could be wrong.

[Editor’s note: We were both wrong. 50°C is 122°F and 37°C is 100°F]

Anyway, it was so hot. There were so many people, because this was in the middle of summer. I think you just need to never go to the touristy spots in Italy in the summer. Then the whole point of going there is that there’s this trail, and you walk between these five towns, that’s why it’s called the Cinque Terre. The trail was closed. So we couldn’t take it; we had to take the train instead. But all these tourists were also forced to take the train. We waited through two trains and could not get on, because it was so crowded. Eventually we got on.

M: We also missed our pesto-making course.

G: Oh yeah, our pesto-making course was in the next town. It should have been easy to get to, because it’s like a 15-minute walk on that trail. But there’s no other way besides the trail between these two towns; you have to take the train. Because we couldn’t get onto those two trains, we missed the class that we had already pre-paid for. Yeah, it was just bad.

On the flip side, we ended up taking the train all the way to the last town, skipped the other three, and then we did wine tasting there, so we recovered pretty well. Except then our train back was horribly delayed. We show up with more than enough time. We were early for this one because we didn’t want to miss it. And then that train was two and a half hours late. But not like oh it’s two and half hours late, go do something and come back – every fifteen minutes it would say it’s coming in fifteen minutes…for two and a half hours. I was so annoyed at the Italian train system that they could penalize me for paying the correct amount for a ticket at a slightly different time and then they could have a train that was two hours late.

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M: What do you miss the most about the United States?

G: Umm, burritos. And Papalote salsa. Papalote burritos is the thing that I miss the most. Also, the free water that they give you at restaurants – I miss that. They don’t do that here, and it’s really annoying. You have to buy it, and it costs like €2, which is somehow offensive for water, and it’s the tiniest half-liter thing. I miss free water.

M: Beer is cheaper than the water.

G: That’s true. But sometimes you want water. Just a giant glass of ice water. And you can’t get it – it’s not a thing.

M: What’s the best thing about Spanish culture?

G: I think the thing that I enjoy the most is Gracia, our neighborhood here. I like the way that it’s mostly closed off to cars. The roads are fairly narrow, and there’s lots of restaurants and shops, and people just walk all over. I would have said that San Francisco was a walkable city, because it’s relatively small and you can get around. But it has nothing on Gracia, where you’re just in this tiny little area and you can walk around. It feels almost like I would imagine a village does in the 1800s.

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M: What’s the hardest thing about living in a foreign country?

G: I think for me, the hardest thing is probably the language. I feel like in my day to day life, I know enough, and enough people know English, that I’m able to function. But there are times when I run into situations, like with that little girl, where it’s like I am woefully insufficient here. Or anytime we want to go to someplace and order something specific, or call our electricity provider and say that there’s a problem. Those things, they’re difficult because you have to have this vocabulary to be able to do it, and you can’t pantomime over the phone to some guy who works for the Spanish equivalent of PG&E.

M: Any big lessons from traveling so far?

G: I think the big thing that I’ve learned from traveling is that it’s better to not always have a plan. I think we’ve started narrowing in on this balance where, we’ll have a rough idea of what cities we want to go to, and maybe we’ll have some airbnb’s, but we won’t have an itinerary. I really like that. I really like being able to get to a place and then say what do you want to do tomorrow? What looks cool? What’d you see today that you wish you could have seen more of?

It’s interesting, when we were first traveling, I would do so much research about the practical things – when we get to the airport, how do we get to the city center? How do we get to our airbnb? Is there a metro or bus? How much do the tickets cost? How do you buy the tickets? I wanted to have that first little bit figured out. And now, we’ll fly into cities and be like, how do we get to the airbnb? I don’t know! We’ll figure it out. A bunch of people are going that way, we’ll just go that way.

Travel hasn’t made me particularly introspective. When we’re going other places, I’m feeling in the moment. But I have realized that it’s something that I really enjoy. I mean, everybody enjoys going on vacation. But I would be sad if after this year, we went back to real life and only had two weeks of vacation a year for the next 30 years or something. I think I’ve realized that I want to find a way to travel more, to live abroad more, even if it’s for shorter times and in other places.

Oh, and always get a SIM card for your phone. That’s the practical advice.

M: What’s it been like living in a small apartment with your wife and spending more than two hours a day with her?

G: Far worse than you could ever imagine. No, it’s been fine. It is interesting from going to seeing each other a couple hours in the evening to seeing each other all the time.

M: Tell me more about that…

G: Which part? And why did that sound like a threat?

Also I do like the small apartment thing. I feel like my natural tendency is not to have a ton of things. I don’t like a lot of clutter. The small apartment forces that on us. It also puts an upper bound on our messiness. You and I tend to scatter things everywhere until it becomes unbearable… and then clean. Which is roughly a two day cycle in this apartment because it’s so small.

How did you think it was going to be – us spending this much time together? Did you think it was going to be the best thing in the world, did you think our relationship was going to implode?

M: I didn’t think we’d be spending this much time together. I just thought we’d each do our own thing. Or I thought that we were going to start to work on something together. So I thought about us spending time together in that context. I was always worried about how hard it would be to meet people – like friends here. And I think that was an accurate fear, because it’s kind of like you’re asking people to get emotionally involved with you when you know you’re not going to be there forever. Who wants to be someone’s friend for like a year? Mostly we’re friends with other people who are drifters as well.

G: Yeah, fellow gypsies.

M: But I’ve actually really enjoyed the time that we’ve spent together. I feel like I know you even better than I did before. Do you feel like you know me even better?

G: Well, I already felt like I had you pretty much all figured out to begin with. I’m seeing new behaviors and desires that I’m learning.

M: Like what?

G: You’ve always been a little bit more high-strung…in the best way possible, obviously. I always thought that was like this innate thing about Meg, a thing that was just what a Meg was. But it’s been interesting here, because the Spanish culture moves slower, and because we’re unemployed, that I’ve noticed that you’ve slowed down a lot more. You seem less like, “We need to figure out x, y, and z.” It’s moved you more towards being relaxed and winging things…you’re coming over to the dark side, a little bit.

M: Is this time everything you dreamed it would be?

G: It hasn’t gone exactly the way that I would have pictured it, but I have enjoyed myself immensely, so in that sense, yes, it’s been a great lifetime experience.

M: How is it different than you thought it would be?

G: I’ve enjoyed relaxing time a lot more than I thought I would. I thought I would be very restless and wanting to be doing things all the time. I thought I would have the same kind of energy I had when we were working full-time and also doing a bunch of things for fun. I kind of thought that the same level of busyness would carry over, just the subject matter would change. But I think it’s actually slowed down a lot. We still travel and see places, but we also spend a lot of time relaxing, reading, playing DOTA, things like that. I was surprised by that.

M: What is the #1 place on your list to visit next?

G: I really want to go to Ireland. Seems like it’s very pretty, and also it has castles.

M: What do you say to people who ask, “When are you coming back?”

G: I keep telling them that it will be around April/May of next year, because that will be a year, and that’s what we said. Nobody ever believes me though. They fall into one of two camps: 1) You’re never coming back. You’re just going to live in Europe forever. OR… 2) They’re shocked. I know you said a year, but I didn’t think you’d actually do it, as if they thought we were going to become broke and have to come back. Or get tired of the culture and miss home. Challenge accepted.

The next thing is the next big phase in our life. It’s a little bit like when you graduate from college, and you don’t have a job yet. In 6 months, I’m graduating and I don’t know exactly where I’m going to be, where I’m going to be living, what I’m going to be doing. I’m excited, but I’m not really sure what’s coming next, even though I have some thoughts about what would be nice. It feels a little bit like that.


Meg’s reflections

My biggest takeaway from having lived in Spain and taking time off of work has been the realization that I can really design my own life. Before, I felt like I was on a conveyor belt track that was just taking me to the next “stage”. Moving to Spain was like jumping off the conveyor belt. I’ve seen how life can be done differently. As part of that process, my priorities are re-arranging.

I also don’t feel like I have to know everything. I can’t count the number of times I’ve said or thought “I don’t know” since I’ve left the U.S. It is ok to say “I don’t know.” It is ok to not be the best – or want to be the best – at everything. Some things in life are meant to just be savored and enjoyed as they are.

Traveling has kept me in this state of sharp freshness. Every day brings new experiences that keep me raw, keep me feeling alive. There is something about first’s that awaken my soul. I know this won’t last forever – but I am interested to know what the constant tilling of my soul will yield in the future.

I am happy – filled with a joy, freedom, and peace that can only be God-given. I feel like I have shed so many unnecessary layers in my life. I have shined the light on monsters of anxiety, and I know that I will be ok. On one hand I feel like I have more control to have the life I want, and on the other hand, I feel that I have a lot less control than I think – and that’s ok. To not worry about tomorrow – that is truly the gift of this time for me.

When my cousin Mahlon tragically passed away a few years ago, I learned that your world can change in an instant. Nothing is ever guaranteed, not even our next moment. Living in Spain has shown me the positive side of that – you never know where life will take you or what goodness you have yet to discover in the world. It gives me hope for what’s ahead.

Budapest with Erik and Alison

Over the river and through the woods to Budapest we went! We had the great adventure of exploring this beautiful riverside city with our good friends from San Francisco, Alison and Erik.

Budapest is a place of contrasts – at once flat Pest and hilly Buda, sort of Eastern Europe and sort of Western Europe, with elegantly ornate Opera Houses and ruin bars blocks away from each other. I didn’t know what to expect when traveling to Budapest, and I can’t say I really figured the city out after five days, either. Every place we visited or person we talked to added a facet to my impression of the city.

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Sadly, Budapest was the epicenter of many conflicts in the 20th century – from World War I to World War II to post-WWII strife and communism (which is a contentious topic today). It is hard to grasp the full understanding of a nation with practically totally opposite viewpoints on everything from America in the 20th century. A Hungarian we met, though, did point out that growing up in the 1980’s in Hungary was not so different than anywhere else – he watched Tom and Jerry cartoons and lived a pretty good childhood. There are many different viewpoints on communism and its effect on people. I will say that it is amazing how the city has kept going and developing and progressing, especially in the past 20 years.

Rather unfortunately, I caught what Grant got in Munich and was sick for several days in Budapest. Even more unfortunately, Grant and I passed on our sickness to our friends – sorry, guys! You are troopers!

Day 1

We stayed in the Jewish Quarter of the city. We walked around the neighborhood our first day – popping into shops, figuring out the currency (this necklace is 1,500 HUF!?!?! Oh wait. That’s only $6 USD),  and visiting some important Jewish landmarks. There is a wall commemorating the victims of WWII from Budapest and more widely Hungary, as this area of the city was the Jewish Ghetto during WWII. More than 400,000 Jews were deported from Hungary to Auschwitz in total.

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We visited the Dohany Street Synagogue, which is the largest synagogue in Europe.

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Inside, it reminded me of a Catholic cathedral. Being in this sacred space made me realize how little I know about the Jewish faith and how services are held.

The most remarkable thing about the synagogue, though, was the outside garden around it. It serves to memorialize all the Hungarian victims of WWII. Over 2,000 Jews who died in Budapest during WWII are buried in the courtyard of the synagogue, and there is a metal tree with leaves of victim’s names to commemorate their lives. It is a beautifully simple garden area that makes you want to sit and contemplate the people who lived here. What did their faith look like as they faced persecution? I can’t even imagine what that would be like.

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Amidst the sadness, there are some hopeful stories, including a Swedish ambassador and a Swiss ambassador who gave legal passports and safe shelter to save many Jewish families.

Day 2

The next day we explored St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Opera House before heading to the famous Szechenyi thermal baths.

St. Stephen’s Basilica was decked in marble and gold, with ornate sculptures. The highlight, of course, was seeing what was supposedly St. Stephen’s right hand from around 1000AD (yikes!).

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We were shown on a tour of the elegant Opera House, surrounded by soft red velvet and shiny gold accents. At the time it was built, the requirement was that it not be quite as large as the Vienna Opera House.

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After getting some sustenance, we headed to our first thermal bath experience. There are several natural thermal baths around the city, but the only authentic ones are on the Buda side (Szechenyi is actually on the Pest side). They have large thermal pools of various temperatures. You pay basically a day use fee to use any pool you want. In Budapest, they are not only used for relaxation, but also for medicinal purposes. You can additionally get massages and use saunas there. It’s like a whole day spa, except for a lot cheaper!

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We decided the outdoor pools were the most relaxing and hung out there for a few hours. Surprisingly, the hot temperature of the pools take a lot out of you! Every time we went to the pools, we felt quite drained afterwards.

Day 3

I started to feel much better on Day 3, so I ended up having a fuller day of activities. We started by walking down to the Danube and crossing the Chain Bridge to Buda.

Very ornate facades greeted us as we walked down to the river. Here is a great example:

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Once we crossed the river, we explored Castle Hill, which has several buildings of interest. Matthias Church was one of the most unique churches I have ever seen. The bright tile roof on the exterior only hints to the kinds of patterns, colors, and themes that the interior contains!

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Photos don’t capture the sheer quantity of unique patterns that cover every inch of the inside of the church. Yet the patterns didn’t overwhelm the eye!

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Then we headed to a tour of the Hospital in the Rock, which is a large network of tunnels and rooms underground, which were first used as a hospital and later a top-secret nuclear bunker underground. During the siege of Budapest during WWII, the doctors and nurses had to treat patients in this hospital for three weeks without running water. My crowning achievement of the tour was stepping up to try out the air raid sound maker – cranking to signal that an air raid was coming. I got a full applause from the tour group.

Hospital in the Rock sold the strangest souvenirs I have ever seen – original gas masks that were stored there in case of nuclear attack – for only $6 USD. Grant considered buying a few for a future prank, but we thought that transporting them might get difficult. Well, yes, Mr. flight attendant, I am carrying a gas mask. For what reason? Well, none, really, just thought it made a cool souvenir.

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In true Budapest form, we capped off the day with a soak in the thermal Gellert baths. The shiny, tiled walls of the inside thermal baths relaxed and calmed as we let the hot water relax our tired feet.

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Then we headed to a ruin bar for drinks. Ruin bars are basically old, abandoned buildings that have been transformed into trendy nightspots. The walls are crumbling, and you have to dodge random flea market finds from old computer monitors to rusty cars to find a place to stand. They are the trend in Budapest.

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Grant’s keenly observed that it was like being in a Chili’s – except with authentic knick knacks everywhere.

Day 4

Caving! As it turns out, around Budapest there is an extensive network of caves. Grant’s adventurous spirit must have sensed this, so of course we had to try out caving through them. We signed up for a tour with a company, and we had a lot of fun! It was a lot more intense than any of use expected! To be fair, though, the name of the tour was “Adventurous climbing-crawling tour”, so ….

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We descended a total of 1000m underground, and at times we had to army crawl through 2-ft tall tunnels for about 10m or so. My heart jumped up in my throat a few times, especially maneuvering through the small spaces, but the instructor was patient, kind, and relaxed. Plus, how are you going to bail early on a caving tour? It’s not like there’s an easy way out! Mainly, I could just feel my muscles tire out towards the end of the tour. It turns out caving requires a different strength set than I usually am using!

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Grant filmed me getting out of some of the tightest spaces on the tour, which you can see below to give you an idea.

In this first video, we had to go head first down:

In this second video, there was a certain way we had to wedge ourselves through the triangle-shaped hole in order to fit:

Needless to say, the climbing and sliding tuckered me out! I was pretty sore the next day. The tour was just Grant’s pace, and I’m pretty sure he could have stayed down in the caves and explored all day! We all agreed we had a great time, and it inspired us to do more adventurous things like this!

That evening, all of us went out to celebrate our last night together for a while. 🙁 A highlight of our evening out was me insisting that all of us try Polenka, which is a fruity brandy drink that you shoot. It was disgusting! To our credit, we all finished our shots, though.

Day 5

My heart felt pangs of sadness saying goodbye to Erik and Alison as they headed on. Their friendship is such a gift to us, and we were so glad we got to see them and experience a new place with them. It can be hard to make friendships as an adult, and I treasure my relationship with them. They are the kind of friends who will fly cross-country to see you and visit, the kind of friends who are the only ones who are allowed to make fun of you about certain things, and the kind of friends totally worth keeping in touch with.

Grant and I’s last day in Budapest was spent in the way so many of our last days in places are spent: our own little food tour + impromptu walking around. It’s nice to relax into a place and not worry about rushing to various sites.

The romantic backdrop of one of the oldest cafes in Budapest lulled us into a hypnotic spell of sipping coffee, nibbling cake, and discussing our hopes and dreams.

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We strolled hand-in-hand against the blistery wind along the Danube to a memorial to the Jewish victims who were murdered and shot into the Danube between 1944 and 1945. The sculpture lines a section of the Danube with models of all different kinds of shoes – from women’s heels to men’s work boots to dainty flats. It is a solemn reminder of all the anguish and torment that happened here. Never again.

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Having seen Dachau and now the memorials to victims of the Holocaust in Budapest, my mind can find a weight to attach to what happened in WWII. I don’t have to imagine – I have seen the exact places where these horrific things happened, and I have a new understanding of who these people were. Seeing the specifics has given me a deeper empathy, a deeper understanding, and I can’t imagine having lived through that time in history and still having faith in society.

Stomachs growling for lunch, Grant hit TripAdvisor for nearby suggestions. Wouldn’t you know that there was a Tex Mex place within walking distance? It was like an oasis in the food desert of Europe’s Tex Mex scene. It is owned by a man from Colorado, and it was the real deal. We chowed down on so much chips & salsa and fajitas and washed it down with a fresh, frozen margarita.

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The last food stop was a gelato place that makes the gelato looks like roses. I was so excited to see how they formed the gelato that way!

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^Maybe a little too excited based on the crazy that you can see in my eyes in the above photo…

We combined chocolate, vanilla, and caramel to create the savory and sweet chocovanamel rose! It lived up to every expectation I had.

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Street art

The way people had rescued rundown walls by turning them into colorful, bright street art really caught my attention as we walked through the city. Here are a few of my favorite street art works we saw:

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Thank you, Budapest, for showing us so many sides of your elusive personality!

Prost to Oktoberfest!

Giant pretzels, one-liter glasses of beer, and getting to dress up – how can you go wrong with Oktoberfest? As festivals go, Oktoberfest is in a category of its own. I’ve never seen a festival so large, and with so many happy and tipsy people adorned with leather overalls and busty lace-up dresses. We traveled to Munich to meet up with our friend from San Francisco, Erik, and went to two days of Oktoberfest festivities. A friend described it as an “adult Disneyworld”, and I couldn’t agree more with her description.

Downtown Munich

Before we gave into the hedonism of Oktoberfest, we got to know Munich better. We took a guided walking tour of the main areas – Marienplatz, the market and maypole, the original Haufbrauhaus, and a couple churches. Munich is very flat and very low – there is a city ordinance against buildings over a certain height. Walking around, we bestowed “German” names upon each other – me as Ingrid, Erik as Herr Staab, and Grant as Count von Ausgezeichnete (count priority excellence – named after the first class section of Vueling airlines, which we flew on the way there).

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The shops downtown were overflowing with dirndls, lederhosen, and hoards of people. It reminded me of Christmastime on Powell Street in San Francisco! Even the Tommy Hilfiger store had its own take on dirndls and lederhosen.

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After the tour, we headed to the English Gardens, which is a huge city park – larger than Central Park in NYC. Although the mornings and evenings were chilly, the sun had heated the afternoon pleasantly for a beer and lunch in the biergarten at the Chinese Tower in Munich. My first lunch in Germany had to be spaetzel, the adult version of macaroni and cheese. We chowed down on pretzels, spaetzel, currywurst, and other treats as we chatted with an Australian mom and daughter sitting next to us. Afterwards, we strolled around the English Gardens, including the lake and the spot where people surf a water inlet in the park. The surfers in the park was probably the most random thing I saw the entire time in Munich. These hang-ten’ers were in full-on wetsuits.

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We headed to get the guys outfitted properly with rental lederhosen and turned in early, anticipating a full day at Oktoberfest the next day. They look dapper, don’t you think?

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Oktoberfest – Day 1

Oktoberfest is a festival that originated from a marriage celebration of a Bavarian king over 200 years ago. It has grown to include over 12 large beer tents, holding thousands of people, and a huge theme park with legitimate roller coasters and rides. Here is an aerial view I got at night from the large ferris wheel:

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You can see just how crowded the festival got! The large rectangle buildings are the beer tents. Beer tents provide beer, food, and live music. Each of them is decorated inside differently. You can see how many people these tents can hold from these photos of a few of the larger ones:

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We had heard that in order to get inside the beer tents, you had to get to the festival before 11 AM on weekends. Once we German-ed ourselves up, the first thing we did when we arrived at 10 AM, then, was to head to Cafe Kaiserschmarrn tent, which serves coffee and pastries all day long. One latte and a delicious flaky apple strudel later, we were fueled up and ready to prost in the beer tents.

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We headed to Hacker, one of the more popular tents known as Bavarian Heaven for its ceiling covered in clouds. However, we were too late! We had to wait just to get in the biergarten surrounding the tent. When we got in, there were no tables to sit at! You have to be seated at a table in order to be served. In addition, there was a large crowd of people waiting to get inside the tent.

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Time for Plan B! We jumped ship on Hacker and started wandering through some of the other beer tents. Unfortunately, all of them were just as crowded! I was desperate to get us a table, and every table I could find if they had room for three people to sit. We wandered into the biergarten of the tent that is known for serving wine and hard liquor (they also serve beer). We went up and down every aisle until – someone finally said yes – we could sit at their table!

We each ordered a one-liter glass of beer (because that’s what you do at Oktoberfest) and started to feel the magic of this fall festival.

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I ordered us three large pretzels for lunch. I had no idea the pretzels were larger than my face! So big!

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We were so lucky to meet the two charming northern German couples who let us sit at their table. They were about our age, and after everyone had a beer, all inhibitions went down – including the language barriers from German to English! The girls asked if I wanted to go to the bathroom with them, and my friendship with them was sealed. We came back from the bathroom laughing and chatting to the guys at the table, also now prost’ing.

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It wasn’t long before all five of us were best pals. Our Oktoberfest definitely would not have been nearly as fun without having met them. We drank, talked about life, and generally laughed about everything from grumpy cat to cheek-to-cheek photos to Mr. Burns from the Simpsons saying “Ausgezeichnete” or “Excellent”. People are really not that different around the world – at our age, we share the same feelings of confidence and insecurity. Songs were sung, glasses were chinked, and promises were made to visit Barcelona and northern Germany.

The group:

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Our best grumpy cat face:

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Grant and our new friend totally winning at life by each holding six glasses in one hand (the waiters and waitresses at Oktoberfest are freaking amazing at carrying a lot of glasses at once):

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All together, the perfect way to spend Oktoberfest. I’m so glad I got to share the experience with Erik and Grant.

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Oktoberfest – Day 2

Unfortunately, Grant was not feeling well enough to go out (fighting a bad cold!). Erik and I were supposed to wake up at 7:30 AM to make it to the tents early enough to get inside. A jar of beer at 8 AM just did not sound good, though, so we slept in. We headed to the last day of Oktoberfest in the late afternoon to find the tents much more clear! We could actually find a seat easily.

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Gingerbread cookies shaped in a heart are very popular at the festival. People write things on them in icing and then give them to someone else to wear around their neck. The whole tradition reminded me a lot of homecoming mums from high school in Texas – the act of wearing the heart around your neck was like a symbol that somebody loved you. Since Grant couldn’t make it, I bought him a heart that said Count von Ausgezeichnete (his German name). Hilariously, the woman who helped us with the icing told us we had been saying it wrong the entire time, but that didn’t stop me from cementing the nickname with some colorful icing.

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A highlight of our second day at Oktoberfest was finding the beer-carousel, which basically was a bar that slowly turned in a circle. What a brilliant idea! Turning tipsy people in a circle – what could possibly go wrong?

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Farewell for now, Oktoberfest! I will miss thy delicious beer, sweet apple strudel, savory spaetzel, and spicy bratwursts!

Dachau

On a more serious note…We had one more day left in Munich, and I thought it would be an important experience to visit Dachau, the notorious Nazi concentration camp, just outside of Munich. Grant was still feeling low, so I went by myself and did the audio tour.

I have never felt like I felt standing at the gates of Dachau. I felt physically ill standing on the ground where over 200,000 victims suffered. I could feel the weight of the 40,000 souls who perished there. Walking around between the bunks, the showers, the heavily-guarded gates, and most disturbingly through the crematorium, stories from the twelve years of this monstrous place’s history whispered and shook me right to my bones.

Never again a sign there declares. I know I will never forget.

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Love is in the air

We have been blessed this past month not only to celebrate our own wedding anniversary, but to also be surrounded by and celebrate with two good couple friends who have made the wonderful decision to tie the knot. How fun it has been for us to share this time with them! What an encouragement and reminder of our vows they are to us!

Amit & Ilana

We have known Amit and Ilana since we first moved to San Francisco. It was a very special wedding for us since we introduced Amit and Ilana and since we saw their relationship grow from flirtation and interest to dating to now married. I lived with Amit in my first apartment. Ilana knew Grant’s roommate in San Francisco and stayed with them when she first moved. They are the only couple for which we know each individual equally well.

While I’m getting nostalgic, let’s pull up some of those early San Francisco photos…

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We flew to Seattle for their wedding weekend. I thought it would be strange to be back in the United States, but it was surprisingly normal. Just a few things felt funny: dollars felt too small and ornate in our hands, we had a bit of a shock stepping into a huge, brightly lit Rite-Aid, food came way too quickly at restaurants and our tap water glasses were constantly re-filled. It was also interesting how easily we got through customs on the U.S. side. All the border control agents greeted us with, “Welcome home!” as if we had served our country or something. It reminded me of how strong American pride is.

The wedding weekend honored both Amit and Ilana’s family origins with components from Sikh culture and Jewish culture, all against the backdrop of their shared values: travel, family, friendship, and the outdoors. On Friday morning, we got dressed up in beautiful silk Indian garments for the Sikh wedding. It was so good to be reunited with our good friends, Erik, Mo, and Alison! Amit and Ilana were so grand in their elaborate outfits.

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I learned so much about the Sikh culture. I have to say, it really struck me how similar world religions are. The rituals and traditions of the Sikh ceremony did not seem so foreign to the Catholic in me. Two things I loved about the Sikh ceremony: 1) Amit rode in on a horse (AWESOME!). 2) Food was an integral part of the celebration before and after the ceremony.

On Saturday, we got to witness the Jewish ceremony lakeside. The venue was absolutely stunning, and the weather was completely clear for the ceremony. Again, we were so thankful for our friendships and the community/family we had formed in San Francisco that we were reunited with. This was the first Jewish wedding I had ever been to, and I really appreciated how clearly they explained the significance of the various traditions. Ilana was such an elegant bride, and Amit was the most emotional that I’ve ever seen him. I basically cried through the whole ceremony – I was so happy for them! Marriage is such a huge commitment, and I am so happy that they found each other and made that decision to share life together.

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Congratulations, Amit and Ilana! Mazel tov! We love you! Grant and I will always support you in any way that we can. Speaking for the others, your greater San Francisco family always has your back.

While we were in Seattle to celebrate Amit and Ilana, we also had the opportunity to spend time with Kat too. It has been so fun to visit with Kat so frequently this year. Somehow the circumstances have worked out that we have gotten to see her four times in the last three months. Amazing!

Kat showed us a few different sides of Seattle: the living computer museum and Seattle wine tasting (who knew?). I love being able to talk to this amazing lady in person – I’m so lucky to have her as my sister! I love being able to actually share things real-time with her instead of just re-counting it over the phone. Kat gets me, and I get her, in a way only sisters can understand. Sometimes it feels like we share the same heart in two different bodies. Big hugs to you, Kat! Here’s to hoping we will see each other once more before the end of the year!! Erin, you in too? 🙂

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Kristle & Matt

Kristle and Matt came and visited us in Barcelona as part of their honeymoon! These two lovebirds got hitched in August, and unfortunately, we couldn’t make the wedding. The photos looked so beautiful! Kristle and I were roommates in Pittsburgh during grad school, and we both moved to the Bay Area after school.

Trip down memory lane…

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A few months into dating Matt, I knew that he was the one for Kristle. The way she talked about him just showed how strongly they felt about each other, and she had a spark in her eye as she talked about who they got along. I remember a conversation we had at a diner when I realized how serious their relationship was. I’m so glad that they found each other and got married!

We were so honored to have them include us in their vacation. They were literally glowing with happiness – see for yourself!

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I loved being able to share that afterglow of the wedding with them. We reflected on how amazing it is to be surrounded by so much family and friend love on your wedding day.

We did a double-date to Torre Bellesguard, a lesser known Gaudi work in Barcelona. A local musician played the piano and sang against the backdrop of the imposing towers and surrounding gardens. The musician was really cracking the jokes – unfortunately in Catalan! Although I’ve got to say, I’ve never seen a crowd quite so excited about a Coldplay song!

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Another highlight of Kristle and Matt’s visit was experiencing La Merce festival, a Catalan festival, in Barcelona. We got to witness two of the the most common Catalan traditions in one of the main squares: the giants and the castellers. Each neighborhood in Barcelona has their own representative giants, which are basically very large paper mache people. Likewise, each neighborhood has a casteller group, which each performed.

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It got a little sunny in the square:

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This past Sunday, which was a few days after this festival, there was a Catalan parliament election. Tensions were pretty high before the election. There is a large portion of the population that wants to separate from Spain – the catch is that Spain won’t let them legally vote on this. Catalan separatists believe Catalonia would be better off without Spain for two big reasons: 1) They consistently have economically contributed more to the central government than the aid or representation they receive (they contribute 20% of Spain’s whole GDP). 2) They are culturally separate. They have a separate language and separate traditions. During Franco’s rule, Catalan culture was purposefully repressed. Especially among the older generation who lived through this, there is an emotional reaction to the central Spanish government.

Anyway, during this festival, there was a scuffle between the separatists and those who want to stay with Spain. Someone from the government displayed a pro-separatist flag, which sparked someone else from the government to pull out a Spanish flag. Literally the whole square erupted into “boo’s” when the Spanish flag was displayed. It was kind of crazy. Here’s a video of the incident, as it was newsworthy:

The separatist parties won a majority in Catalan parliament on Sunday. They promised that if they won a majority in this election, they would declare independence from Spain within 18 months. We’ll see how that goes. I’m personally skeptical, as it’s unclear how they will convince Spain that this is a good idea, and with the civil war in recent memory, no one is actually going to take up arms over this.

Thank you Matt and Kristle for sharing this special time with us! Congratulations! You are a wonderful couple and a great encouragement to us!

We are so blessed to have such wonderful friendships in our lives.

Happy two-year wedding anniversary, Grant!

Take my hand and let go,
I just want you to know,
You’re the only one that pulls me in,
You changed everything.

Like one small shaft of light,
Flooding into my eyes,
I will never see things just the same,
But I’m not afraid…

And all I have, doesn’t seem so significant,
And at the drop of a hat,
I could leave almost everything,
That I’ve ever known, so here we go…

Step out into the wild,
There’s a beautiful storm in your eyes,
We’re perfectly intertwined
And if it’s quite alright,
You could be my way of life.

-Into the Wild, Lewis Watson

It is hard to fathom that two years have passed since the day that Grant and I eternally entwined our lives together. I don’t think we could have predicted at that moment that our marriage adventure would take us half way across the world to Barcelona. We know each other in an even more intimate, more unravelable way.

Grant and I attended the wedding of two of our close friends this weekend (congrats Amit and Ilana!). We snuck out of the reception dance party for a quiet moment alone to reflect on our own marriage. I thought weddings were emotional events even before I was married, but having experienced it myself now, they have taken on a whole deeper level of meaning – like an acoustic resonance that vibrates my heartstrings.

Swinging my legs lazily over the water crashing on the seashell shore, leaning my head into that perfect place in Grant’s shoulder that makes me feel like we were made to fit together, and gazing out on the light from Seattle illuminating the clouds from behind, we reflected on our relationship. I wish there were a stronger word than “relationship” – what we have is at once a commitment, a partnership, a passionate affair, a close friendship, and a fierce loyalty. After moving to San Francisco without knowing anyone and over our time in Barcelona, we have become each other’s homes, each other’s resting place.

When we look back at our wedding day, the overriding feeling we remember is one of being wrapped in love. We were overwhelmed with the loving response and joy of family and friends from all walks of life coming together to witness our commitment and celebrate with us. Thank you all for being there to share that special moment with us. That is a gift we will to continue to be thankful for our whole lives.

We are compatible, because we balance each other out. While we share a set of core values, we are in many other ways opposites. I am an emotional roller coaster; he is a cool cucumber. I want to confront every possible issue; Grant wants to maintain the peace. I overcommit to social functions; Grant protects his alone time. I plan every detail; Grant wings it. The tension between our opposites pulls each other in just the right ways, in just the areas that are flexible enough to take the stretching. I think that’s what makes it a lifelong match – the flexibility and openness we have towards change in these areas and the taughtness that maintains balance in them.

It is the human condition that it is difficult to maintain perspective. Standing at the altar of our wedding, it seemed that it would be impossible to ever get into a heated discussion about a measly piece of tupperware … yet we have had many disagreements about the small stuff since we’ve been married. By vowing the big stuff of loving each other forever, it seems like the small stuff comes along, right? However, the reality is that the every day small stuff is the big stuff, and it takes work. Grant and I both wish we could hold onto the perspective of the small stuff in light of the big stuff, and when we disagree, to hold out our wedding rings to each other to remember the big stuff.

The big joke around marriage is that it is a ball and chain – a commitment that limits you from exploring other relationships. To me, the boundaries of marriage have opened up deep freedoms in my life. I am free to be fully Meg, fully human with errors, and know that I am loved. I am free to give my all to Grant and know that it is returned ten-fold. To me, marriage is freedom. It is a collaboration that makes both of us more than we could ever be alone.

Listening to the toasts at the wedding, I was thinking about marriage advice. I have only one small offering of learning from Grant and I’s two years together. It’s not about how to prevent fights or keep your partner happy. What has kept Grant and I on the same team is turning towards each other when there is anger, disappointment, resentment, and sadness. Instead of running away, shutting the other person out, we completely lay out the vulnerability to the other person. The two main ways we turn to each other even when we don’t feel like it is laughter and physical affection. In the heat of an argument, sharing laughter is our way of saying to each other, “We recognize that while what is being discussed is important, our ability to find connection at this moment is far more important.” Oftentimes, we laugh that we have fallen into old patterns of arguing habits, or we laugh that we are arguing about something so small as what to eat for dinner, or we laugh because sometimes showing pictures of Grumpy Cat is more disarming than saying “Meg, you’re just hungry.”

Then there’s physical love, a love language in and of itself. Hugging and holding hands when we are mad, or sad, is our way of saying, “I still like you, even if I can’t talk about it. I want to share this with you, even if it’s hard.” It is against our instincts to show the seemingly ugly, vulnerable parts of ourselves, but as Brene Brown says, “vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn’t feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive.”

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So onward we trek on our adventure of marriage – two individuals that are constantly changing and forging new paths yet constantly finding their way together. I can’t wait to see what’s around the next bend for us.

Grant, I am so thankful for you – it brings me to tears of overwhelming happiness. I love being silly with you, and you bring so much humor and laughter to my life. As a team, we make things happen – we can accomplish what we dream. You are a fount of patience with me – even when I’m irrational. You love my family and friends as your own. You are wise – not just with directions, but with really weighing out life choices. You see me, and you love me. I see you, and I love you.

I can’t imagine my life without you. Every day until forever, I say “I do” to you, Grant.

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Labor Day with the Leverts

We had the pleasure of the Leverts’ company this past week! We got to explore Barcelona, Girona, and Madrid with them. It was great to get a bit of Texas and Aggie love in Spain!

Rachel and I met in college through my roommate Ashley Teel, and it was fun to both re-live college antics and make new memories, too.

Mike is a phenomenal photographer, so his photos are also scattered in here – thank you, Mike, for letting me borrow them for the blog!

Barcelona

Rachel and Mike did great with adjusting to jet lag, and we kept them busy their first day to make sure! I did up what we decided was my “charcuterie” plate before we headed to a tour of the La Pedrera, Guadi’s apartment complex.

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The consensus of the tour was, “Yes, I’ll take this apartment.” If only. Each apartment is huge and beautifully outfitted. Plus, you’ll never find a terrace quite like this one.

Later, we got to watch a live jazz show on the roof of the La Pedrera, which is just so magical. It’s like you’re on the moon overlooking the world (or maybe just Barcelona).

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The next day, Rachel and Mike headed off to explore Guadi’s treasures of Sagrada Familia and Park Guell, while Grant and I took care of some stuff around the apartment (and ate the charcuterie board made for Rachel and Mike while we were waiting on them 🙂 ).

We got to eat at my favorite restaurant in Barcelona – Elsa y Fred – for dinner before heading to the Palau de Musica for a flamenco show. I had never seen a flamenco show before, and boy, was it intense! It was almost a stressful experience watching these people stomp around. Grant snuck us into some seats closer and less crowded than our tickets, which gave us an up-close look at the performer’s faces as they danced as well as the gorgeous and detailed Palau de Musica stage muses. The muses on the stage are sculptures that represent all the world cultures and are primarily there to inspire the artists and performers before they enter the stage. It was an intimate way to experience the intense flamenco show, and it felt like we almost experienced it from the performers’ perspectives. The highlight of the show for me was when the performance group made the guys who play instruments who don’t dance, dance flamenco in front of the whole theater. Hilarious.

Girona

We headed to Girona on the third day! It is one of the charming, smaller cities in Catalonia and is easily accessible by train.

We walked the castle walls, which are well preserved and show bright views of the city. Rachel and I (self-admittedly, NOT directions-people) insisted that we knew the way to get on the castle wall, and Mike and Grant went a different way. We’re not a stubborn group at all. As it turns out, Rachel and I’s way was a bit longer, a bit windier, and bit wronger. We had to circle back to the start (or as we told the guys “move forward around to the entrance to the castle walls” because we don’t admit that we back-track).

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^also this photo is a prime example of “t-rex arms”, which is something I do when I’m walking sometimes and apparently don’t know what to do with my arms. I’ve got a little bit of dinosaur in me.

Anyway, the castle walls offered expansive views of the rooftops of the city, as well as the mountains beyond the city.

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^ Grant and I are perfecting our awkward couple shots

The walls led us into the Jewish Quarter and the old cathedral. The cathedral was Gothic-style, and it held an archive of historical objects in it. Random fact: the nave is the largest Gothic nave in the world and takes second place only to St. Peter’s Basilica. Who knew?

We were floored by these stairs when we first approached the cathedral, because it was the first thing we did after lunch.

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^Great photobomb, Grant

The most random part of our visit to the Girona Cathedral was looking out the window and seeing people dressed in medieval clothing. Why? Internet to the rescue! We found out that they were currently filming Season 6 of Game of Thrones right there! Here is a sneaky photo I took:

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^Winter is coming!

There is a river that also runs through town that we strolled along. What makes the walk along the river so beautiful is the reflection of the colorful houses from the water.

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And of course, no trip to Girona would be complete without tasting the famous ice cream! We each treated ourselves to Rocambolesc. They serve frozen yogurt with either delicious toppings or a patented warm crust that contains the still-cold ice cream and toppings inside, called panet. I opted for the toppings, while everyone else went for the panet. I had to fight to get this photo before the treats were gobbled up!

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IMG_4980We were exhausted after the day of walking around and gorging ourselves (it’s a tough life). There are “silent” cars on the train that we had joked about getting on….and it just so happens, our tickets were for the silent car! Perfect napping environment.

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We wrapped up the day by filling our bellies with various types of paella – from pig’s ear to black rice to rabbit to shrimp!

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Madrid

Ah, our travel day to Madrid started as any good travel day should – with a heart-racing competition about which way was the fastest to the train station. Rachel, Mike, and I took a metro with no transfers but more stops, and Grant took a transfer that required walking with fewer stops. Grant won. Although he also got the prize of being slightly panicked that we had left him in Barcelona when he didn’t see us immediately in the train station.

We got discounted train tickets for buying four at a time, so we got to sit in the first class train section! This included free drinks and a meal, which was surprisingly hearty. My favorite part of the whole experience was the tiny little clips that came with the salt and pepper, and the tiny little olive oil bottle. Why are miniature things so cute?

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Madrid was very relaxing! We explored much of the city on foot, just taking in sights as we went. I would say we assimilated there pretty quickly:

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Before sunset, we stopped by the Palacio Real and weaved our way through parks to the Templo de Debod. Pro tip: We bought some port wine at the market before sunset and enjoyed the end of the day by sipping on some delicious Tawny.

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Instead of clubbing (which was a close second), we decided to get stuff our faces with chocolate con churros at the famous San Gines.

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The last day in Madrid we got to see the Prado museum and walk all around the giant El Retiro city park, which is larger than Central Park in New York.

The Prado is HUGE, and has a magnificent collection of artistic works. Literally, there wasn’t one painting I saw there that I thought “Eh, I could just keep walking.” They were all amazing. I could spend days in there.

We visited the extensive botanical gardens next door, where Rachel impressed us with her plant-naming party tricks.

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In El Retiro park, we took a quick cat nap in the grass under the perfectly sunny blue sky before getting ice cream and renting a paddle boat in the park’s lake. We took turns rowing each other around and narrowly dodging other incompetent foreigners rowing boats before we safely returned to harbor.

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Sadly, Grant and I had to jump on a train back to Barcelona that evening.

It was such a great trip, and we are so thankful you came, Rachel and Mike!

Road tripping Portugal with Kelly

We just got back from a wonderful trip to Portugal, where we met up with Kelly, my best friend. Portugal is a lovely country with sweet people, sweet wine, and sweet pastries. We had the opportunity to visit Porto (Oporto), Lisbon (Lisboa), and Lagos – all very different parts of the country.

A couple things struck me about Portugal:

  • The people are the most warm, welcoming, and open people I have ever met. Whether it was our airbnb host or a guy selling frozen lemonade at a kiosk, people went out of their way to make conversation with us. It was genuine conversation, with genuine interest in us. In Lisbon, Kelly and I befriended a local shop owner down the street from our airbnb and returned a couple times to the shop. The husband and wife chatted with us and shared their experience with the changes tourism had brought.
  • …which brings me to the second thing that struck me. Portugal was not that crowded with tourists! August is supposed to be the high season for tourism in Europe, but we found the streets and venues much less crowded than any street in Barcelona. I could not believe how uncrowded it was. The biggest impact of the growth in tourism seemed to be a ton of these “tuk tuk” vehicles that could fit in the small streets of the Alfama and getting offered drugs when walking around at night. It seemed tame compared to the aggressive light-up toy vendors in Barcelona.

Visiting with Kelly was so refreshing. Even though we were in a totally different country and we haven’t seen each other for eight months, everything was normal and seemed like we had just seen each other last week. Kelly is one of the few people outside my family who I can really, truly be myself with. I can let all the weirdness, anxiety, and loopiness hang out. I can walk us 20 minutes out of the way downhill, forcing us have to walk an extra 30 minutes uphill, and be found “cute” that I suck at maps and directions. I can say what I mean, and I can hear her clearly tell me the perspective I need to hear.

There is something incredibly special about being loved by someone outside your family – someone who chooses you and keeps choosing you long after you can just walk down the street to each other. Someone who will spend eighteen hours on a plane to visit you. Friendships like ours truly don’t come around often. I am so thankful for her.

Plus, Kelly willingly poses for door photos for me. So if that’s not true friendship, what is?

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Grant, Kelly, and I each focused on different parts of the trip, so it was balanced and flowed well. We decided that Grant was in charge of the adventures activities, Kelly was in charge of the cultural and historical activities, and I was in charge of the food activities. That split of duties served us well.

Our glamour shots:

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Oporto

We landed in Oporto first. Unfortunately, I had been battling a cold/allergies prior to the trip, so I was looking ragged when we arrived. However, I still managed to convince Grant to do a welcome dance with me when Kelly walked out of arrivals. We took it easy the first day since I was having to blow my nose every five minutes. Our airbnb hostess was a ceramics artist, and the apartment was filled with her work. She told us about some neat places to walk around Oporto, and we set off. One of my favorite things about walking around Portugal is the tiled facades on buildings. They are intricate and beautiful, and more than once I almost fell flat on my face walking down the street because I was staring up at the buildings.

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By the next morning, my extra-high dosage Portuguese allergy medicine had kicked in, and I started feeling better. The Europeans do not mess around with their pharmaceuticals, let me tell you!

We started the day with beautiful eclairs at a bakery I had read about on a blog. The cream inside them was so fresh! We headed next to the Lello & Irmao Bookstore, which is a richly colorful and warm old bookstore that was the inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. They still have books that are hundreds of years old on the shelf. The red carpeted staircase framed by walnut wood handrail in the middle of the store was the highlight of the shop.

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Next, we walked along the river, across the bridge designed by an Eiffel apprentice, and to Gaia, where all the port wine tasting houses are.

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We got to taste ports from Taylor’s, Croft, and Offley wineries, which where all within a five minute walk of each other. Gaia has all the tasting rooms for wineries with vineyards in the Duoro Valley. We got to taste and learn about white, rose, ruby, and tawny ports. At Taylor’s, we took a tour and learned that the winery has been family-owned since 1692. We also did a chocolate flight at Croft with each type of wine! Grant’s favorite was the ruby, and Kelly and I preferred the tawny, which is sweeter. We bought a few bottles which we nursed for the rest of the trip. Since most of the port is exported, most of the wineries are owned by foreigners. This was certainly the case for the wineries we visited.

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We got to see sunset over the city from the bridge before having our first taste of nata, the Portuguese pastry treat which made almost a daily (or twice daily) appearance during our stay. More to come on that.

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Sintra

Next, we got a rental car and headed south to Sintra, just north of Lisbon. The town of Sintra hosts 19th century estates from wealthy Portuguese families that are now open for touring. It sounds odd to tour these, but they were beautiful estates and castles that were so different than anything I had ever seen. We almost felt like we were in Disneyworld, because the structures were so colorful and grand.

First we visited Quinta da Regaleira, which I would say was like an adult playground. There was a large palace, but by far the most fun part was getting lost in the estate’s large surrounding park, which included waterfalls, tunnels, caves, lakes, towers, and lots of hidden nooks. Grant was in heaven discovering and exploring! I have never seen such complex, designed grounds built into nature. The tunnels ran underground for long stretches and connected various parts of the park. You could wander the grounds’ paths for hours and still not see everything.

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The highlight for me was the initiation well, which resembled a large tower, but underground! It was awe-inspiring to stand at the bottom of the well and look up to the circle of light.

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We also got to visit the Pena Palace, which was a fiery rainbow estate on the top of the hill. Its red and gold facade stood regally against the bright blue sky. It looked more like a traditional castle but also included Arabian styles in the arches and angles. Again, we just wandered the grounds, soaking in as much as we could and pretending we were the royalty who lived here during summer.

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The hostel we stayed at in Sintra provided some great stories as well. It had a medieval-themed pub on the grounds, which served homemade mead and apple pie. It was set back from the noise and crowds of the town and overlooked the valley outside Sintra. Ignoring the guy who laughed to himself, came down to breakfast in a towel, and started playing an Australian instrument in bed in the morning, the hostel was pretty relaxing. Hey, there’s always got to be at least one weirdo at the hostel.

Lagos

Alas, the beach was calling! We headed south again to the Algarve and the sand! We got both chill sand beach time, and we also got to explore the rocky coastline and arches that make the Algarve famous. Unfortunately, the seas were too rough to visit the sea caves by kayak or motorboat while we were there, so we enjoyed them from the shore instead. Although flip-flop and barefoot hiking weren’t the easiest, they did yield beautiful views.

A highlight of our downtime was Kelly and me renting an umbrella and chairs right on the waters edge. We sat sipping our drinks just chatting. Everything is so affordable in Portugal, so we splurged to get the luxurious beach experience.

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Oh, and I got to be buried in the sand! I’m not sure if I had more fun with that, or if Kelly and Grant had more fun laughing at me looking like a beached manatee under the pile of dry sand.

One morning we went to a rocky beach early. Since it was low tide, we were able to hike back into some sea caves and tide pools. I had never seen sea caves quite like these – tunnels of light carved right out of the rock to the sky. It was good that we got there early, because we had to leave them around 11 AM in order to be sure we could get back out of them. The beaches felt like our own little secret because we had them all to ourselves.

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From different vantage points along the coast, we got to see the famous arches and rocky cliffs that make the Algarve famous.

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On our way back north to Lisbon, we stopped at the world’s largest sand sculpture festival. It was themed “music” and included work from artists from all over the world. It was pretty cheesy, but we were just too curious to pass it up.

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Lisboa – Day 1

Our journey in Portugal ended in the capital, Lisbon. We stayed in the oldest part of the city, the Alfama. Our apartment was hugged in by cobblestone streets and clotheslines hanging out of tiled facades with windows. Since we had the attic apartment, we could see all the way to the ocean from our apartment. It was beautiful to say the least.

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On our first evening in Lisbon, we hiked up to the Castle. Needing energy along the way, we stopped for the famous ginjinha cherry liquor drinks. Two things you need to know about ginjinha: 1) It is tasty if you get a good kind (there are bad kinds and they taste like cough syrup) and 2) It is strong! Let’s just talk about the burn in your chest after drinking it.

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We explored the Castle and enjoyed gorgeous views of the city from the castle walls. Kelly and I had a “I’ve made a huge mistake” Arrested Development moment. We walked down this long set of stairs thinking it would lead us out of the castle, only to discover it didn’t. Grant enjoyed taking this time lapse of use climbing back up the steps. From this experience and a few others, we decided that the street signs in Portugal cannot be trusted.

Kelly had made several suggestions on our trip from the “rough guide” for Portugal. There was a restaurant listed on there close to the castle, so we decided to try it out. Were we in for a surprise! The restaurant was also a showcase theater for students of the acrobatics and circus school. We got to watch a few different circus shows as we ate dinner. Watching the show really inspired me and opened me up to the thought again that “anything is possible.” I really enjoyed watching the dancers up close and seeing their vulnerability and joy in dancing.

Lisboa – Day 2

On our second day, we hit some of the most recommended sites. We started the day at the Se Catedral (which incidentally we discovered was really close to where we were staying). Next was lunch! Kelly’s mission during the week was to eat as much seafood and shellfish as possible. She ended up trying cod in five different ways throughout the trip! The Portuguese really love their codfish. After, we had some of the freshest ice cream/gelato I have ever tasted.

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Fueled by the delicious Portuguese cuisine, we headed to the Carmo Convent and archaeological museum. I have to say, from the outside, I was not convinced of the value of our visit. It just looked like a normal church. However, the inside was phenomenal. SURPRISE!

The church had been destroyed in the big earthquake that Lisbon experienced. They started to re-build it, but never finished. So the inside was basically preserved as if it was the inside of the church, but without the roof. All the weight-bearing arches were still in place, standing white starkly against the royal blue sky. It was one of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen in my life – and quite possibly I say that because it was a different viewpoint on something that seems so familiar to me. It was like a church with the ultimate view of heaven – the sky.

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The awe-inspiring views continued at the Oceanarium – the largest of its kind in Europe. It was a very well-designed experience, walking us through the five different oceans. We also got to see a special exhibit from a Japanese designer (called an aquascaper – what a title!) who created the world’s largest natural and self-sufficient aquarium. Two words: I want.

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As we do, we each chose a spirit aquarium animal. Grant is a penguin, Kelly an otter, and me a sunfish.

That night, we wandered Alfama looking for a restaurant with fado, a type of distinctly Portuguese music style. We did find one. The closest way I could describe the fado we heard there was almost like opera – the woman singer’s voice was strong and controlled. She had all of us clapping and singing along by the end, though, which is distinctly different from the reputation that fado has as being a sad and depressing tune.

Lisboa – Day 3

Kelly had brought Flash temporary metallic tattoos with her for us to use at the beach, but we had somehow kept forgetting about them. So with twenty tattoos to use between the two of us, we set to work bedazzling ourselves. You can never have too many flash tattoos, right?

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We spent our morning in Belem, a suburb of Lisbon. We started the morning by going to the traditional pasteis de belem bakery. Here, they make a mean nata. Quick aside on nata: it is an eggy custard pastry wrapped in flaky dough. It is about 3-4 bites, and it is the perfect sweetness. It doesn’t look like much, but it is very addictive. There is a very good chain of it throughout Lisbon that sells them for one euro each. This was dangerous for me.

Aside from the aside: Even more dangerous is that Barcelona has a a shop with nata!

Anyway, at the bakery, we got to try some different traditional Portuguese pastries as well as see the nata being made.

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Across the street, we were able to tour the beautiful and historical Jeronimos Monastery. We walked to the ocean to see the Monument to the Discoveries, a large statue honoring Portugal’s heyday of world exploration. Then we also artfully and tastefully re-enacted our interpretation of the statue. We walked along the water to the Belem tower, which had served as the first sea defense for ships entering Lisbon.

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We rested in the afternoon in preparation for the walking food tour we had booked for the evening. The food tour was gourmet, and we were absolutely spoiled. We were on the tour with a family from Belgium, and everyone got along grandly. The host and tour guide was very knowledgeable and easy to talk to, and she definitely knew the best places to take us! She was the type of person that I could see actually becoming friends with too. We had so much food, and I’m pretty sure we ended up rolling down the hilly streets home.

  • port wine tasting to begin
  • dinner of tapas, including octopus, pumpkin spread with sheep cheese, garbanzo beans,  codfish mixture with eggs, and seasoned beef (with another bottle of wine)
  • clams, half a prego steak sandwich, chocolate cake, and a custard dessert (with more wine)
  • natas and espresso
  • famous gelato ice cream (where I managed to lick my cone so aggressively that the whole scoop of ice cream on top fell on me, I caught it, and put it back while Kelly cleaned me up as if I was a child)
  • ginjinha shot

If anyone is in Lisbon, I would highly recommend the food tour with Eat Portugal. It was great to talk to someone who had grown up and actually lived in Lisbon, as well as get the lowdown on the best eateries in the city.

Side note: Did you know that Portugal introduced the tempura techinque to Japan? Portuguese were using tempura on green beans before the Japanese started using tempura for other foods. Go figure.

Lisbon – Day 4

Our last day in Lisbon, sigh. We wanted to have a relaxing and leisurely last day. At the suggestion of our food tour guide, we walked to the food market, which was a cool collection of foodies and chefs from around the city. Kelly had gifted me a Lisbon street art booklet that we followed to an alleyway of various street artists. We also checked out the city’s art museum and relaxed in the adjacent park.

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The highlight of our last day was a fado show that we saw in the evening. Not only it is a restaurant, but the establishment we went to is an incubator of young fado artists. Young artists intern there and get to perform. It was an intimate audience of about twenty people, and the fado music just swept me away. Even not understanding Portuguese, I could feel the dramatic emotions of longing and sadness that are characteristic of the fado style. The guitarists who played along were wildly talented as well. I felt that the experience was so cathartic and the fado singer so captivating and dripping with emotion. I think what struck me the most was how vulnerable the art form was – really laying it all out there – the sad emotions and all. It was the perfect way to end the trip.

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A note on food

It was delicious.

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The week and a half in Portugal showed us an amazing variety of sides to the country and gave us an opportunity to bond exploring a new place together. I just wish we could have packed Kelly up and taken her back to Barcelona with us. I would have also settled for a checked bag full of natas, but Grant wouldn’t let me take that either.

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