Italy. On a sad day.

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This is Multnomah Falls. A place I have visited handfuls of times. I’ve hiked to the top, to the bridge, and just sat at the base, as I did this day just a few days ago, and admired the raw beauty. As I write this, a fire has exploded around this magical place. 30,000+ acres have now burned just in the Columbia Gorge alone due to a teenager being careless with fireworks in a dry, dusty forest. Maddening? Yes. Painful? Yes. After three months traveling away from this beautiful mecca I call home, I am inspired to fight for these places, more now than ever. I apologize for the negative tone in the beginning of what truly is a gorgeous ending to our Europe adventure. I’m just a little sad today. Knowing one of my treasures will never be the same.

ITALY

Back to the fun stuff… Italy. Ahhhhh…. I can smell it. Pasta, pizza, wine, dry air, and salt. My tanned skin gives thanks to the last three weeks we spent in Italy. From Cinque Terre, we headed back to our little villa nest and were able to regroup for the next night’s adventure. The ladies wanted to take us to Friday art night in a neighboring town, Pietrasanta. A South Korean artist had his marble sculptures on display and we were able to see them and him. FullSizeRender 3IMG_6066IMG_6083IMG_6092Marble is prevalent everywhere in these parts of Italy. Especially in the hills in the northwest where it is mined. I tried to capture my best photo but didn’t quite get close enough. IMG_6339.JPGPretty amazing to see giant slabs of marble just hanging out on the sides of the roads. It’s also pretty amazing I was able to see where it all comes from. Here is more of what Pietrasanta has to offer. IMG_6072IMG_6076

A quick snapshot of Tomek and his fam. FullSizeRender 6.jpgAlso a nice shot with Tomek and his mama and auntie ❤️ IMG_6115Mike made me ‘ham’ it up a bit as well so..It’s funny because most of the mannequins we saw in Italian fashion windows were striking this pose so naturally I thought it was most definitely appropriate. The frame and umbrellas were a nice touch.FullSizeRender 19

ORTONOVO

Big time love in our hearts for this place. A nice 2.5ish mile hike from our village to this one through an old gravel hilly trail led us here. IMG_6037.JPGSomething translated into ‘four steps between ancient flavors’ we had no idea of the party that was about to ensue that evening. We assumed something awesome was to happen based on the tiny 1000 person town decorating as such. It’s difficult to actually know the population of just the hilltop alone but 1000 is a max guess. Could be closer to only 500.IMG_6133IMG_6141IMG_6146IMG_6147

Old traditions and ancient artifacts were displayed throughout the windy streets of this town. Winemakers were delighted to speak broken English with me about my job in Oregon. They were shocked to see four Americans walking the hill at dark to stumble into their sleepy little town. It was fun to make new friends. Again, referencing back to our couchsurfing friend, Kurt, in Portugal, “There are only two types of languages in the world. Smiles and music. No need to translate either one”. Thankfully smiles got us along way that night. Here are some new local winemaker friends who graciously gave us two free bottles of their gorgeous wines grown on the hillside. Sangiovese and Vermentino. Spot on. IMG_6151.JPGTomek, Katherine, Mike, and I embracing the local shindig. IMG_6140.JPGThese lovely local ladies were making and selling our headbands for three Euro each. Hard to pass that deal up. IMG_6158.JPGAn incredible night spent amongst locals who spoke very little English just loving that we were a part of the celebration. We felt extremely loved that night. Ortonovo, you’re the best. Big hugs to all those fine folks. IMG_6321.JPGOne last night with the family in the hills. This is Iggy, Marta’s adorable son. He spent a few days with us and was just a lovely example of what a thirteen year old should be. Can’t wait to host you in the states Iggy!!! IMG_6196.JPGAnd this is the neato pizza joint we celebrated Mateusz’s birthday at. IMG_6201IMG_6202IMG_6208

One last family photo before we depart.  😊 IMG_6213.JPG

A nice beach day on the coast in a town named Lerici, was the exclamation point to our mind blowing stay with the ladies in their village. IMG_6336.JPGJust a smidge crowded but to be expected during the week of the Italian holiday, The Feast of Assumption. All of Italy was on vacation with us. We knew there would be crowds with a beach like this one.

A tough goodbye was had. Warm big embraces from new friends and dear friends bid us adieu. Next stop: Perugia.

PERUGIA

A crazy cool walled city was next on the list for us to conquer. A friend’s parents live in this gem of a city and were to take us out into the Tuscan hills for a proper wine tasting. Before the tasting, we did some exploring. Wow. IMG_6240IMG_6248IMG_6257IMG_6236IMG_6241IMG_6242A beautiful ancient city with a ton of history. The city center was pretty amazing. You would never know old streets are hidden beneath the town’s tourism center. An escalator takes you down to see this. IMG_6261IMG_6262.JPG

It was a trip learning of how these original structure were built upon as a punishment from Pope Paul III during the Salt War years. Apparently, Perugia was not willing to comply with the new salt tax back in 1540 so the Pope built right on top of the original city. The structure now has three floors to roam. Pretty neato.

MONTEFALCO

Definitley had a Napa Valley feel to it. A lovely city in the Tuscan hills, Montefalco is home to some delicious wines I have never tried before such as these. IMG_6287IMG_6304

Tabarrini. Excellent wine stop thanks to these wonderful new friends, Stephen and Suzanne and our great host Daniel.IMG_6293.JPGThey also took us to Assisi where we toured the Basilica of San Francesco. Amazing! They did not allow photos on the inside but here is the outside. IMG_6302A full day soaking up all we could of Tuscany. Memorable wines, people, and cities. Next up: ROMA!!!

Oh Rome. You are pretty fantastic. Our last city to conquer before we fly home. We only had two days to tour this gigantic place so we knew we had to hit the ground running and that’s exactly what we did. The metro in this city was wonderful. The 48 hour Roma Pass is worth it. First stop, our Airbnb. IMG_6358.JPGJust a quick 10 minute walk from our metro stop, 20 minute walk to Vatican City, and a bus stop right around the corner, this room with a courtyard view (and AC!!!) was perfect. We started making rooms with air conditioning mandatory in Italy. The heat was fierce. We still managed to see tons. Starting with…FullSizeRender 2.jpgThe Colosseum. Woah. A place you never really can capture the feel of with a camera. To stand inside this place and look at this, is truly unreal.FullSizeRender.jpgTo know of the death that occurred here, the brutes that were able to build this, the crowds that cheered, and the ancient souls who wandered here. Whew. It was intense. An amazing sight to experience. The Roman Forum too. Just awesome.IMG_6360.JPG

Let’s not bat an eye at the Pantheon either. Woah. Again. How did these people build this?!? In 126 AD nonetheless! That is some talent. IMG_6464IMG_6473IMG_6474IMG_6477Very impressive and free! We walked into this right at sunset which was gorgeous.IMG_6423.JPGCapitoline Hill. Impressive indeed. IMG_6416IMG_6420IMG_6422We also made appearances at the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Castle of St. Angelo, the Capuchin Crypts, and of course Vatican City. IMG_6425IMG_6426IMG_6427IMG_6458IMG_6482.JPGSeeing the Capuchin Crypts was so creepy yet I couldn’t stop being mesmerized by all the bones. Unable to take photographs, I vividly remember some of the men still having beard hairs on their dried up skin. Pelvis bones creating flowers and suns on the ceiling, shoulder bones making angels, vertebrates weaving in and out of rooms. As creepy as it was, it was still pretty cool though. Paying the five euro for a guided listening tour was well worth it. Amazing to think there are hundreds of thousands of bones buried throughout the city.

The Vatican was spectacular. I took as many pictures as I was able in the museums. Mike and I loved Raphael’s rooms. IMG_6449IMG_6443IMG_6444IMG_6446The hall of maps was pretty rad too. IMG_6433IMG_6437IMG_6439The Sistine Chapel was mind blowing. No photos allowed but we spent some solid time in there just looking up, following the stories and timeline. It was neat sitting next to a tour guide who was explaining every single detail you could see. To buy advanced tickets and right at 8 am is ideal. It wasn’t crowded. We didn’t wait in any lines. Highly recommend this route. Here is Saint Peter’s Square. The line to get into the church wrapped even further to my left so we skipped it. I’m sure it was worth the wait but not in 100 degrees. Next time.IMG_6452.JPGIMG_6453.JPGOur last stop was Borghese Park where we sat on a bench, enjoyed our last Peroni, shared a delightfully refreshing lemon popsicle, while watching endless amounts of people pass us on motorized pedal bike/golf carts. The park was gorgeous. Filled with a zoo, museums, fountains, statues, and a killer view of the Vatican.FullSizeRender 5.jpgThese are the last two pictures from Italy. Bon voyage!!! IMG_6489IMG_6491Excited to be home. Crazy to think this is all we had for three whole months. Half of which I probably could have left home. Glad to put those five outfits away for a while.

Thank you all for following us on our whirlwind tour of Europe. Our goal was nine countries in three months and we did just that. I could not have imagined such an adventure with anyone else. Michael is my solid rock. We make great teammates. Excited for future travels. South America is next on the radar! Until then, come visit us in the great Pacific Northwest. I’ve missed you Oregon.

 

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From Poland to Italy to Portlandia

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Dang. Just like that our last month of traveling disappeared into the past. I know it happened, I was extremely present, and yet it feels like lifetimes have passed since the beautiful farm house in Poland. That is where I left off, so let’s pick up there and see how far we get.

FARMHOUSE

Country Livin’. Amen. A nice change of pace for Mike and I. Disconnecting from our virtual and ‘real’ reality was exactly what I hoped for. It’s amazing how connected we all are around the globe. The internet is a crazy thing. The lack thereof is the reason why it’s taken me so long to get this out there. So, to pick up where I left off, after Marcin drove us through the night, in the rain and the dark, we woke to this glorious sight.

 

Marcin’s friend was so sweet to lend us the use of the farmhouse for a week. We had to gear up to walk the property so here is a family pic of us with our sweet boots on. FullSizeRenderMikey, Tomek, Katherine, Mateusz, Max, Marcin, and I. Ready for adventure on the farm where we saw this awesomeness. FullSizeRender.jpgFullSizeRender.jpgFullSizeRender.jpgFullSizeRender.jpgWe met the neighbor, Adam, who was thrilled to have us visit. Thankfully, Marcin and Tomek could communicate for us. An immediate embrace and the offering of warm, strong beer made for an enjoyable time on Adam’s farm. Here’s the only picture we managed to snap of him and more of his farm. IMG_6187The farm was such a great reset for us. Finding uninhabited swim holes, cooking meals with foraged mushrooms, enjoying the delights of a fire and the endless starry nights, all with subtle hints of home was a great comfort. IMG_5338.JPGIMG_5580.JPGFullSizeRenderIMG_5375Our new friends introduced us to more new friends and we took a night to go explore where they vacation. FullSizeRender.jpgThese wonderful people took us into their lives and showed us just that much more beauty contained within Poland. They have a house here. IMG_6665.JPGJust stunning scenery everywhere we looked. IMG_5477IMG_5427IMG_5403IMG_5276

We found a boat too! Finally! Water! Not quite the kayak I was looking for, but beggars can’t be choosers. FullSizeRenderThis was the last country adventure we had in Poland. Such a magical time. Before we were to head back to Warsaw for one last night, we spent a night at a palace where Tomek’s great grandfather once lived. IMG_6174.JPGIMG_5600.JPG

Tomek’s uncle, Marek, was kind enough to meet us here where we talked with a historian who was able to explain some of the history regarding this place. Marek led us through a tour of statues representing some of the people from the past in Lochow. Again, quite the history lesson we received while in Poland. IMG_5590.JPG

After a brief stay here, we headed back to Warsaw for one more night. A beautiful sunset and dancing the night away with Tomek and his cousins, Marcin and Marta, was a perfect way to end our almost three weeks in Poland. Big, big, big thanks to all you beautiful people who took us in on our journey. We are so very grateful and will never forget the warmth and love we felt in Polska! IMG_5607IMG_5622

ITALY

The last frontier. The last three weeks of our twelve week adventure has arrived. We had a loose itinerary, knowing we will fill in the blanks as they arise. Our first stop, Firenze. IMG_5631.JPGIMG_5665.JPGIMG_5638.JPGFullSizeRender.jpgIMG_5632.JPGIMG_5683IMG_5687Overwhelming stimulation everywhere! WOW! The food, the art, the architecture, the bustle, the old things, the wine!!!! Oh goodness, the wine. Being in the wine industry in Oregon, my love for Italian wines just grew, lots. What a nice introduction to Italy. We were able to meet up with Mike’s cousin Ryan and his wife Debbie for a fine meal at this lovely establishment. IMG_5694IMG_5696IMG_5697IMG_5701.JPGIMG_5698A brief two day stay here in Florence was a great first taste of what Italy has to offer. We started noticing this super cool street art while wandering the streets. After we found four different pieces, it became a game. So, we went on a ‘Blub’ hunt. Here are some of his pieces.

We wound up spotting 15 pieces of his around Florence. Needless to say, when we started walking around our next destination, Lucca, we were excited to see these.

IMG_5733IMG_5744IMG_5747This one we thought was worthy of our last Oregon love sticker. Thanks Blub! IMG_5799.JPGLucca was just a place on the map we picked because it was near our next destination. So glad we stopped. A cute, quaint walled city that was sleepy and chill. IMG_5710FullSizeRender 2IMG_5737IMG_5752IMG_5754IMG_5767Yet again, another successful night tour. Every corner we turned we were like, ‘Whaaaaaaat?!? Another cool thing to look at?!??’. A town filled with great surprise. Even these guys are coming to play for the city…IMG_5785.JPGDefinitley going to be a rocking good time. Sad to miss this. The only real bummer besides not seeing The Rolling Stones, was the distance we had to travel to get back to our B&B. The public transit in Lucca needs some help. The last bus heads out at 8pm, taxis are ridiculously prices, and sometimes you wait two hours for a bus that never comes. Despite the sweaty long walk to and from our room, Lucca was great. Next time we know it’s worth it to pay just a little bit more to stay inside the city walls. Lesson learned. IMG_5844.JPG

Next up: a tiny village that I still don’t know the name of. It’s neighboring village is named Ortonovo. It is here where Tomek’s mother and aunt have remodeled a little villa in this tiny village where we spent almost a solid week. Here it is. FullSizeRender 5.jpgYep. Not much going on up here. Lots of grapes, old men perched on their haggard folding chairs in front of the church, and the sound of bells. Lots of bells. Here is Grazyna and Magdalena’s beautiful home.

A little slice of heaven with three floors and a beautiful ‘patio’ to sit in and soak up these views. IMG_6321IMG_6322IMG_6324Ortonovo is the village on the hill. There are some pictures of that town coming up. The cute yellow house off to the right is where Mike and I stayed. Josephine is the neighbor who is also Polish, and has guests stay there on occasion. The last picture is the view from the top floor looking out the other direction toward the church. Just so cute! Here’s what our little house looked like. FullSizeRender 11FullSizeRender 2FullSizeRender 13We thoroughly enjoyed our time on the patio. IMG_6119IMG_5858IMG_5861Next mission: hike to the waterfall. IMG_5866IMG_5876FullSizeRender 4IMG_5885This waterfall was such a savior for the 90+ degree days. A beautiful gem within walking distance from the house. This is Tomek’s aunt, Magda. She was a hoot! Next mission: fill the wine jugs.

This place was crazy. I’ve never seen wine being poured like gas out of tanks. All for roughly $15 per jug. Unbelievable. I will say, that wine went down like water. So good! IMG_6179.JPGAfter a lovely evening filled with friends, family, food, and wine, the four of us decided to day trip it to Cinque Terre. FullSizeRender 22.jpgFullSizeRender 21IMG_5993FullSizeRender 15Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, and Vernazza were all that we could conquer in one day. Breathtaking views from each turn we made. Unfortunately the walking bridges are closed in most places due to landslides, but the one day train pass was perfect. To hop on and off as you please with plenty of times to catch the next train was very convenient. IMG_0249FullSizeRender 4IMG_6011IMG_6118A great day trek indeed. At this point, I’m falling in love with Italy. But wait! There’s more…. I will leave you here, with this gorgeous night sky and these beautiful buildings. I promise to work on the conclusion in the coming days into the transition home. Happy last day of August everyone. Much love ❤️

Polska. Part One.

FullSizeRender.jpgIt is just so difficult to sum up the joy received from our last two weeks of travel here in the Polska country. I think this picture was my most favorite place. A little house on the prairie if you will… country bumpkins, farmers, just straight up everyday kind of people live here,  and I could not have felt more at home. Even though I spoke literally 3 words of Polish, even though I look like I’m from Norway, even though we all were just so noticeably different, we were greeted with such warm, big, open hearts and smiles. Something I took from my childhood in the U.P… big open hearts and smiles. The eastern countryside of Poland truly reminded me of my home, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Cows, green things, corn… lots of corn. Random weird lakes, fish frys on a Friday night, and beer. The locals in these rural towns just dropped jaws when 6 Americans noticeably walked into anywhere. Thankfully we had Tomek. He was our in. Tomek’s cousin, Marcin, is the man in the middle. Grateful for all his connections and fun times.IMG_5610.JPG

Tomek and Mikey met playing music in the band Moo-Got-2 around 2006, and quickly became close friends. Living in Arcata, California, these two bonded quite heavily after becoming neighbors and band mates. Tomek’s parents are originally from Poland, where he was born, but because of the government struggles in the 80’s, they relocated to Idaho when Tomek was young. It has been a dream for Michael to visit his best friend’s homeland with him and now is the time. Please enjoy the journey with us as we explore all that is Polska.

FIRST UP, KRAKOW

After Prague, I was crazy excited for Poland. I knew what was to come. An unlimited amount of time exploring my sweetheart’s best friend’s homeland. I dreamt endlessly of camping. I miss camping. Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon… I’m starting to miss home, especially home in summertime. Before naturetime came Krakow. I never dreamed of visiting Poland. Now I say it is a must for all of us. With an American education, you don’t quite learn the history of ancient Europe, especially Poland. I can honestly say, I knew very little about this beautiful place before actually stepping my two feet here. After over two weeks of taking it all in, I now understand history that much more. Germany, Russia, Hitler, war, struggle, communism, tragedy, heartbreak, and uprise are all things that brought much more understanding into my world. Here is what Krakow looks like to me. IMG_0796IMG_0797IMG_0798IMG_0799IMG_0800The amazing walking bridge filled with acrobat sculptures, the gorgeous square in the heart of the city, the late night saxophone sessions in towers, the Jewish community alive with new life feeding us with food trucks, and an overall feeling of pride and joy. This city was fun. I will definitely return to this gem. Definitely.FullSizeRender 5.jpgFullSizeRender 11

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FullSizeRender 13FullSizeRender 4IMG_4929Thank you sweet friend Kim for the introduction to this beautiful human. Darek, you were such a joy to chat with and experience Krakow as a local. This meal was for you Kim. Grateful for new awesome friends always. See you soon!IMG_4966.JPGIMG_0802.JPG

 

WARSAW

Reunion time begins. Mike has met a handful of Tomek’s family members from Poland as they have sprinkled their way through the states. It has been 10 years since he has seen some of them.  Lots of happiness happened. Marcin insisted on taking us out on the town the first night we arrived to Warsaw and his sister Marta told us about a protest happening so we decided to go be a part of democracy. FullSizeRender.jpgFrom my understanding, their President is trying to pass new laws regarding the hiring and firing of Supreme Court Justices in order to bring in some of his ‘cronies’. It sounds as if I find myself amongst yet another population of people who are getting up and standing up for their rights. Seems to be a more common trend within this big ole world. Marta and her friends were so glad to see us Americans there, by their side, in solidarity. It felt right. I can’t ever recall a time in my life where I’ve seen this many police cars lined up down the entire street just waiting for the worst to come, but it never did. All peaceful protesters here, and it worked. IMG_4997.JPGIMG_4998

I received quite the history lesson from our Polish friends regarding the struggles over the years. That was a nice reality check. Can’t say I’ve ever lived through communist rule. I mean our gem of an American president isn’t so awesome but at least he is not what haunts these people. Dark days were lived. Being told you can only eat one type of candy, or listen to one radio station, or drive one particular kind of car…. whew. That is rough. That is what our friend’s lived through as little people in this world. Perspective. What a thing.

FullSizeRender.jpgWe explored Old Town Warsaw the next day and it just really hits you in the heart wandering through these cities that have been completely and utterly devastated and destroyed by war. Here is a memorial for all the children who died with guns in their hands defending their home. Lots of heavy feelings here in Poland. IMG_5016.JPGThis memorial symbolized how the Polish hid in the sewers and would attack by rising up out of them. ‘Uprising’ is a very powerful reality here.

There are numerous joyous things to experience here as well. Our first traditional Polish family style meal was very special. To share a table with these lovely people was beautiful.IMG_5050.JPGIMG_5052.JPGIMG_5055.JPGThe square was filled with life that Saturday. FullSizeRender.jpgIMG_5020.JPGIMG_5045.JPG

We then found ourselves perched on the lawn listening to Chopin in the park as it always happens every Sunday, even despite the raindrops. FullSizeRender.jpg

DEBKI

From Warsaw, we hopped in a VW van with Tomek, Katherine, and two kiddos, where we drove five hours north to a small coastal town on the Baltic named Debki. A nice cool break from the heat was welcomed. I think in the four days we were there the temperature never rose above 70. This was our home during our stay. A quaint little camper equipped with all the things. A great connection through Marcin. IMG_5822.JPG

The beach was immaculate. The whitest most flour like sand my toes have ever sank into. The water was freezing. A few brave souls decided to rush the waves. I watched from the shore. IMG_5144.JPGIMG_5149.JPGIMG_5146.JPGWe found some fun kid-friendly activities for the kids to jump into. Here’s the fam on  their bike tour and little Max on his first ropes course. IMG_5172.JPGIMG_5201.JPGA lovely forest blessed our beach stay as well. FullSizeRender.jpg

This is Ola, Marcin’s girlfriend. Our new beautiful friend braved the cold and rain while being eight months pregnant just to meet us. We had the best of times here in Debki, until the monsoon hit.

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Then we packed up and headed inland to the cutest of towns, Gdansk, where Neptune lives. IMG_5221An amazing city with stunning views at each corner we turned. Even got a pirate ship viewing. IMG_5227.JPGHere is more of the city. IMG_5224.JPGIMG_5231.JPGIMG_5232.JPGIMG_5836.JPG

A brief one night stay here was what we needed to dry ourselves out and move along to our next adventure: FullSizeRender.jpgMarcin informed us of this place, the Wolf’s Lair, where Hitler lived at one point during his life. The Germans eventually bombed the place to leave no evidence but the remains are still here and available to view. It was a stop along our next five hour drive east to the country, so we stopped. It was just as creepy as one would think. I kept looking around thinking to myself, I’m walking where Hitler walked. I’m touching ladders Hitler may have touched. This was where he plotted and devised his torturous actions. It was a bit sickening. The drizzle helped dampen the mood. Here is what we saw. IMG_5237.JPGIMG_5235.JPGIMG_5238.JPGAnd 13, the building in which he lived, surrounded by a jungle of concrete and confinement. FullSizeRender.jpgWhat a strange trip. You learn of the secret railway he built through the forest to this compound and see the rows of trees he had planted along the roadsides to hide the transport of all his ‘possesions’. It felt quite gross to be here. Uneasy is an understatement. Glad we voted no regarding an Auschwitz tour. This was enough.

Cirlcing back into happyland, we all needed a bite to eat and found this tiny hole in the wall while driving these bumpy, windy, extremely narrow and dangerous Poland backwoods roads. After all, it was Friday, and what’s better than a good old fashioned fish fry?!? I decoded one fish on the menu, perch. Perfect. Perch is familiar. It was lovely. Thanks to the grandmas in that kitchen pouring love into our food that night. FullSizeRender.jpgFullSizeRender 2.jpgIt felt like we were in the car for days. It was night time now, and raining, and sketchy. Our final destination was the farm house. A friend of Marcin opened up her home for us to enjoy for a bit. Off the grid, into the countryside we went ready to disappear for a bit. That is exactly what we did. This is what we woke to. FullSizeRender.jpgFullSizeRender.jpgI have a feeling this swing and I will be best of friends by the time we depart this little slice of heaven. Stay tuned. More Polska to come…

Week 8.

FullSizeRender.jpgUlm, Germany. What a beautiful place. Never was this city a part of my bucket list, but I am beyond glad to have had the chance to experience the life here.

The travel day to Germany was a bit jumbled due to a suicide on the tracks, a missed bus, another close call, but we managed to catch the very last train to Ulm that night. Johannes, Nancy’s husband, kindly waited up for us to arrive. Their home is located on a quiet yet accessible road up the hill from the city. We were so grateful for some cool days in a quiet, dark basement bedroom. Actually getting to wear our pajama pants was a highlight for sure. My feet were icicles at one point so thankfully we escaped the fiery heat that has surrounded us thus far. The forecast read 65-75 degrees and scattered showers all week. Yes! Rain!

We began our sightseeing here at the Ulm Minster, which currently holds the title for the world’s largest steeple. There are rumors that the La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is on its way to taking that beloved title away but for now, this is it.FullSizeRender.jpg

A lively farmers market fills the square where the hustle and bustle thrives. Around the corner are more giant antiques to look at like the Ratskeller. IMG_4412.JPGWe were pretty starved and salivating over the sights and smells that filled the streets. Sausage. Bread. Beer.  Where do we find such delicious things? This place seemed fitting. IMG_4420.JPGWhere this is what our first proper German meal looked like.

 

Tasted pretty dang good, especially the lentils. YUM. How I didn’t gain 20 pounds after 5 days in Germany is a miracle.

As we kept wandering around this fine city, we noticed some gorgeous structures. IMG_4425IMG_4437IMG_4459We didn’t quite get history lessons explaining what these awesome buildings were, but this tower was one of the original gates to get into the city. It is the only one still standing after 700+ years. Crazy!

EINSTEIN

On our way to Ulm, Mike mentioned to me that it is in fact the birthplace of Albert Einstein. He also noted how cool it would be to check out an Einstein Museum, which sounded amazing to me. There must be a museum to pay tribute to one of the most influential physicists of all time in his birth town! Well, there is not such a thing, not quite yet. As we got to chatting with Mike’s cousin, Nancy, we were told of this big project she is working on. We noticed a picture of a building that resembled something we saw in Valencia, Spain. When we showed her pictures of what we saw, she explained that the same architect is working with her on this endeavor. Guess what this giant project is?!?…….

An Albert Einstein Museum!!!! How incredibly serendipitous this moment was. Nancy is a PHD physicist who thought the same thing we did. Why isn’t there an Einstein museum here?!? So, she’s making it happen. IMG_0655.JPGFullSizeRender.jpgWe have already planned to come back in 5 years for the grand opening. Pretty exciting stuff. IMG_4452.JPGThis is one of the two ‘tributes’ to Einstein in the city. The other is literally a tower of granite that stands about 5-6 feet with a plaque on the bottom. We walked past it 4 times and did not notice it once. Lame. Go get em Nancy!!!

This is the fam. FullSizeRenderThey took us here to see the magic that seeps from this place. IMG_4611.JPGWhat once was a monastery is now home to museums and a boarding school but here is a glimpse of the grounds.

And, of course, this magic blue water!!! IMG_4699

It’s the kind of place where my pictures are actually more beautiful than the postcards! No filters needed!

The town itself was filled with happy energy. We ran into a parade on the street. IMG_4678.JPGIn the museum, we discovered the oldest musical instrument on this planet!!! A flute that just happens to be 40,000 years old. One of the first, if not the first, fertility objects is located here as well.

Pretty impressive town. It felt like we were transported to a time hundreds of years ago and I absolutely loved it. Speaking of hundreds of years ago, this place was neat too. FullSizeRenderThe Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany, is seen here from a somewhat sketchy bridge where hundreds of people were capturing this very scene. I quickly snapped the shot then jumped off. I wondered how many people loose phones or cameras due to someone knocking it out of their hands with an elbow. Lots of elbows being thrown on this bridge. Regardless, beautiful huh?!? This is the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. I can see why.

You see views like this there as well. Not a bad place for a king to live.

Heading back into Ulm, Nancy informed us we are in town on a weekend where something extraordinary happens. Once every four years this event draws some big crowds. FullSizeRender

People from the surrounding villages dress up as certain personas from the past and they duke it out from the back of a boat such as this. IMG_4756IMG_4766

The whole town and then some shows up for this thing. A band plays the same drum beats for each round, the winner moves on to battle a new character, and this continues for hours. We got the gist of it after an hour. It was a once in a lifetime experience.

There is a great trail on top of a ridge in Ulm where we wandered to a Beer Garden with Nancy’s son, Simon, and his classmates. Beauty was everywhere.

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The food was amazing at this farmhouse/beer garden. This is their lamb salad, homemade ice cream and of course the kiddos and their schnitzel.

A lovely stay with family in Ulm. It was an honor to meet these wonderful people that are a part of Mike’s world. I definitely felt like I was home. Thank you Nancy and family for a perfect introduction to Germany. See you back here for Einstein!

We had just a few hours to check out Munich as we left Ulm. FullSizeRender.jpg

The giant market around the corner from the Glockenspiel was a nice way to eat and drink our way through the  afternoon. Off to Prague from here.

The oldest working astronomical clock in the world resides here. These mosaics are displayed in the base of the clock’s tower. We were there at noon to watch all the characters fulfill their duties. Unfortunately, the tower itself is under construction so it is not possible to capture the full experience.

Prague is filled with amazing architecture and gothic vibes. IMG_4819IMG_4822IMG_4826

The castle that overlooks the city is quite impressive as well. IMG_4869.JPG

 

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Mike found it appropriate to leave a lil something with the Lennon Wall. More Oregon Love being spread around the globe. Something worth seeing while in Prague. Musicians, artists, transients, tourists, photographers, all gathered here to take it all in. Lots to read here. Lots of love here. IMG_4830.JPG

IMG_4832IMG_4834IMG_4835That about sums up our eighth week on this adventure. Five more to go. From here we head into Poland to soak up some friend time and to enjoy some camping on the Baltic Sea. Should be a rockin’ good time.

Plan B.

IMG_4195.JPGPretty sweet rig huh?!? The amphicar. I would love to tell you that we got our hands on this thing and it became our home for the entire week on Lago Maggiore, but that would be lying to you and I’m not into that but I wished that it were true. I’ve only ever seen one other of this kind and that was in Northern Michigan, so this was a fun surprise.

Plan B

Yup. It’s always good to have one when traveling. Our original plan was to conquer all that is Switzerland but that plan just was not panning out for us. Lodging wasn’t clicking in our price point, the jazz festival just seemed crazy expensive and exhausting, transportation seemed nearly impossible with a budget, and so we explored more affordable, still en route to Germany places and Lago Maggiore in Northern Italy seemed like a reasonable place to chill out for an entire week. We found a decent apartment that was within a 15 minute walk to the lake. Great. Sign us up. A kitchen! A washing machine! Our own space! Bikes! A fan! A fridgerator! Wow. Luxuries. I was craving cooking. To buy fresh veggies at the market and to eat salad never sounded so amazing to me. So, that’s what we did for one whole week and this is what we saw.

BORROMEAN ISLANDS

Did not disappoint. Three beautiful little islands that are very accessible by ferry from the town we stayed in, Angera. We decided to buy the day pass for the ferry so we could jump on and off as we pleased. Made for an adventurous day. Just enough moments were captured on our quest to explore all the islands. IMG_4153.JPGIsola Bella was our first stop. They have got the tourist touring dialed in on these islands. Annoying for us, but if you need to buy junk, lots of junk to be bought. I liked the views.IMG_4166.JPGIMG_4159.JPGIMG_4161.JPGThe next stop was Isola Superiore. My favorite of the 3. Small and quaint. Cheap food and wine. Seemed like more of a locals hangout spot. Also great views. IMG_4172.JPGIMG_4173.JPGIMG_4174.JPGThe last island, Isola Madre, was gorgeous from the water. Huge gardens, huge structures, but also not accessible unless you wanted to pay to get in.IMG_4191.JPG

Thankfully, you can walk the perimeter of the island and create your own adventure which is what we did. It was sweltering, once again, and so we found this secluded spot to swim a bit. IMG_4203.JPGAlso is where we found the sweet ampicar and a bamboo forest…IMG_4201.JPGAnd this precious little duck family…IMG_4197.JPGOther beautiful nature stuff…

Pretty chill day just soaking up sunshine and water vibes. The mountains were definitely calling my name but they were just a little to far out of our reach. I really wanted to get in there though. You just can’t do it all. I’m learning…

ANGERA AND ARONA

Compared to the rest of the towns on the lake, these two are pretty sleepy. Exactly what we hoped for. After 6 weeks of being on the go through crowded city after crowded city, this was great. Angera had just enough of everything for us during our stay. Our Airbnb host, Carlos, was great. He picked us up from the train station in Sesto Calende, which is a solid 5 mile commute, and invited us to go see a concert with him and his lovely girlfriend, Claudia. This is what we saw.

Located in some tiny little Italian town hides this cool place, Villa Restelli. Home to artists, musicians, bohemians, and mosquitos, this place had some great energy, minus the terror and annoyance of the blood sucking vampires. As much as I hate putting chemicals on my skin, this place left me no choice. Despite the nuisance, we enjoyed the duo of pianist meets beat boxer. Such an interesting sound. We loved it. On the full moon to boot.

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FullSizeRender.jpgThis is Angera. Rocca Borromeo, which has been proudly standing there since the early 1200’s, is the main attraction to this city. Thankfully, we met some cool local dudes at the vinoteca and one of them, Paolo, offered to take us up there for free. We politely accepted the offer. FullSizeRender.jpg

Of course they made wine. Like every other estate here in Italy. IMG_4286.JPGWe even were approached and shook hands with this famous tv guy here in Italy. IMG_4313.JPGPaolo was pretty stoked. He made sure to take a picture with him. IMG_4467.JPGI guess it was a pretty big deal that this guy was visiting little ole Angera. We felt special being part of the moment. Here is more of the castle!

Across the river is Arona. Unfortunately, Napolean was a dick and destroyed their castle but here is what remains. IMG_4317.JPGIt’s such a trip visiting these ancient places and imagining what such destruction felt like. It really puts this life in perspective. Lots of heartache has been felt along this journey in Europe. I can only imagine what Germany and Poland are going to feel like…Ugh…Heavy.

Back to the cool qualities, there was a concert series up here that we declined to stick around for but apparently Guns-n-Roses and Bruce Springsteen tribute bands were to take the stage here. Might have been interesting. Sweet stage nonetheless. IMG_4314.JPGBoth cute little towns near the south end of Lago Maggiore. It was nice to listen to my body which was screaming at me to slow down. A relaxing, rejuvenating week was exactly what we (well I) needed half way through this journey. Mike is a rockstar. I’m sure he could have powered through anything, but he is the best travel partner ever. I’m one lucky lady. He got to finish this masterpiece during the rest. The collection is growing. FullSizeRender.jpg

Still haven’t found that kayak. Maybe in Poland. Sigh…

The journey from here has us on a bus from Milan to Munich. Because of poor public transit in Angera, we woke up a 5am and walked the 5 miles back to the train station to catch the one train headed to the bus. Unfortunately, someone decided to commit suicide on the tracks ahead of us and so we were delayed just enough to miss our bus. Thankfully, one more bus was headed to Munich later in the day so we worked it out. I guess this sort of thing happens often on these train lines. What a terrifying experience for the drivers. Heartbreaking.

Again, always circling back to the positive, we saw this from the bus window. We got to experience Switzerland after all. FullSizeRender.jpg

FullSizeRender.jpgFullSizeRender.jpgIMG_4471.JPGFullSizeRender.jpgEnding on a rainbow. Who doesn’t like rainbows?!?

We head to Ulm, Germany, for the next 5 days to enjoy the company of Mike’s cousin, Nancy and her amazing family. Sausages and beer coming right up!!! Prost!!!

Tour de South France

 

FullSizeRender 2.jpgThis is Ardeche. By far, my favorite stop along this quick lil wine tour but before we get here, we stopped by a few other places along the way.

NARBONNE AND GERARD BERTRAND IMG_0425.JPGThe sacred plot of L’Hospitalet, protected from the wind by the giant cliff we stood upon, these grapes produce some of the best wines for Gerard Bertrand. Being so close to the sea, the salty air gently sweeps in to caress the beautiful biodynamic fruit produced here. We tasted wine from this plot, but also these too. IMG_0418.JPGAn excellent representation of the multiple vineyards in the region. We received VIP treatment at L’Hospitalet. I highly recommend a stay at the Chateau. Our ‘splurge’ of the trip. The 14 Euro breakfast spread I will dream about for months.

Eating butter like candy. I made sure to take handfuls of those cute wrapped butters to enjoy for days to come. Gorgeous food. The dinner was dazzling as well.

Not to mention the sunset from the window!!! IMG_0431.JPGThe night was so illuminating after a brief thunderstorm rolled through. We decided to drive the 12 minutes into the Narbonne city center. IMG_0427.JPGWe aimlessly wandered into this big old beauty.IMG_0440.JPGWe noticed people walking through a guarded gate into the center. Didn’t look like you needed tickets nor were people paying so, we walked in too. This is what we discovered.IMG_0443IMG_0447An amateur open air film/theater festival. It was great. We sat through about 35 minutes of a very dramatic, all French spoken, short theatrical performance, then we quietly exited. Free entertainment is always appreciated. We continued our stroll through the city. IMG_0442.JPGA cute river boat community exists here. The moon was perfect, the wind was fierce,  and I actually got to wear my sweater and leggings. Two thumbs up! I was almost tempted to send those two things home along with the seven pairs of socks I packed. Seriously, I’ve warn one pair of socks. I guess I was saving up for mountain hikes in Switzerland. We will see what happens…

TO THE MOTHERLAND

Having a car for two weeks is crucial. Freedom in France. Driving off the beaten path to all theses gorgeous little wine regions I’ve only stared at on a wall. Here is that wall.IMG_6282.JPGThis is Blackbird Wineshop in Portland, Oregon, USA. My workplace for the last year and a half. My inspiration for seeking the smaller wine producers in Europe. The experience I’ve gained just through tastings at the shop is monumental. Thank you Andy Diaz. You rock bossman. FullSizeRender.jpg

 

Alright, before I start getting all nostalgic and sentimental and sappy,  we get back into the journey. Next up…this gem of a town. Avignon and the bridge that ends.FullSizeRender.jpgAnd sunflower fields with castles…FullSizeRender.jpgAnd god-fearing churches like this…FullSizeRender.jpgBut really cool vibes overall…

Just one afternoon spent taking all of this in. Next up, Tavel. FullSizeRender.jpgLiterally, rosé. Heavenly amounts of the beautiful pink wine I adore. Rosé for days. Mmmmmm. I stopped into one of the producers we carry to see what they have going on. Rainbows apparently…IMG_8446.JPGWith vintage signs from the good ole days IMG_3901.JPGAnd wines with labels created by the very monks who planted these grapes FullSizeRender.jpgYeah. Big time like here. Tasted some wine from here too…FullSizeRender.jpg

We slept in a sleepy village named Caderousse which I chose because it is in the middle of all these little regions I wanted to dive into. Caderousse is a tiny walled city with this blessed structure with that bell on the top. IMG_3886.JPGI guess it was some sort of gift to the king, I don’t know the whole story, but let me tell you. This ‘gift’ made sure to let us know what time it was on every hour of every day not only just once, but two minutes later on every hour, twice. What a gift!

Regardless, it was cute. I liked the cross at the church. IMG_3879.JPG

We then drove to a place where it is said that there is a cave. In this cave, there are some of the oldest drawings from any living being anywhere in the world. I then found out it’s now a replica of the original found in 1994. Lame. We passed on paying the 14 Euro each to see the fake Caverne du Pont d’arc, and took a breezy drive through what is called Gorges de l’Ardeche. Spot on! FullSizeRender.jpgYay Nature! We were even greeted by the local mountain goats. They were totally huggable. FullSizeRenderFullSizeRenderMore awesomeness FullSizeRenderFullSizeRenderMade me crave being in a kayak. It is my mission for the next blog to get in a kayak and paddle the begeezus out of a body of water. I miss my kayak. Big time.

Wine-thirty. Here we land. One of Andy’s favorite little producers. IMG_3853.JPGMas de Libian. Tiny little place. I was lucky enough to set up a meeting with Aury, the son of Helene. Just a family run operation six generations deep, Mas de Libian is doing it right. I appreciated every little thing happening here. Just beautiful and organic as possible.

Humble and real, we were shown around the property and tasted the 2016 vintages which many are already sold out. They are rocking that operation. Just the 7 of them. Admirable. You really gain a new level of appreciation for things when you can go put yourself in their shoes. Mike is even pumped to dive in and ask questions and learn right along with me. It’s truly awesome. A happy day. FullSizeRender.jpg

Then…FullSizeRender.jpgAhhhh…

I guess this is kind of the heart of it all in France. A small region, all hoping to produce the most amazing wines, and tell the world about it. Unfortunately, when you go here to taste, most producers are tasting very young vintages so you really can’t capture the aging that happens with these wines. A couple producers took us in to give us a quick tour.

A beautiful region indeed. All labels stem from the castle that has dominated the region for the last 800 years. This is what remains since the original construction in the year 1317. FullSizeRender.jpgIMG_3933.JPGFullSizeRender.jpgPardon my French, (what does this even mean?!? Especially now because I’m actually in France ), but daaaaamn. You could feel the history here. FullSizeRenderFullSizeRenderIMG_3965.JPGI feel incredibly grateful being in the presence of such historical things. My soul resonates deeper here.

Alas, we must move on. Again. Back to the ‘Medi’. Hello Cassis. FullSizeRender

And Bandol, Aix-en-Provence, and Cote-d’Azur. I only wish we could have stopped for three days in each place but we are smashing it all into 10 days. We end in a lovely country home in Pignans surrounded by vineyards and close to a ravishingly sparkly beach. FullSizeRender.jpg

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I’m tired. Exhausted actually. To be honest, I’m ready to hunker down for one whole week somewhere. For 6 weeks we have been moving, usually every three days. No kitchen to cook in, no washer to wash clothes, no alone space to meditate and practice yoga. It’s a bit maddening at this point. My body is screaming at me to settle and slow down, to regroup, rejuvenate, and rest. Originally, our plan is now to head into Switzerland, but listening to the universe, we may change our course. Stay tuned for the next adventure. Much, much, love and peace to you loved ones. Again, your support keeps us moving. Until next time….

…Dali

 

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Before we get to the grand finale, there are a few things that happened in between. Let us start here. One more night with David and family, and this beautifully cooked meal. IMG_0155.JPGWith this beautiful partner IMG_0153A spectacular evening filled with high winds, flamenco music, David teaching Mikey how to cook a proper Thai curry, and a Pinot Noir rose from the Basque Country. David, Silvia, and kiddos, we sco much appreciate your warmth and love. We promise to continue to share it with the world.

SAN SEBASTIAN 

Well, this is the first place on our journey that I heard myself say, ‘I could live here for a little while’. There is a definite ‘Aloha’ vibe that resonates through this NE Espana coastal town. Surfers casually jogging barefooted through the streets soaking wet with their boards in hands, gritty white sand still marinating on their skin, and big smiles on their faces=Like. Naked people on the beach= Like. (It’s actually so refreshing to be naked on a beach and be surrounded with others who don’t mind because well, they are naked too). Relaxing energy=Like. Aloha=Like. Actually, I just really wished we were in Hawaii, but I guess the north coast of Spain will do. IMG_0275.JPGAfter a sun-kissed day at the beach, we soaked up the sunset views. Sunsets never get old to me. I feel like I take millions of pictures of sunsets and none of them are ever the same. Maybe that’s the most fascinating part. Something so routine is always a little bit different.

There is a sweet old town to San Sebastián that unfortunately, we did not take the time to learn the history of, but captured some memorable moments.

I will say, this stay was bittersweet. It was by far the worst Airbnb experience we have had thus far. In a secluded room from an apartment on the 6th floor of an outdated building with only the doors to the tiny balcony for air flow, 95 degrees, no fan or a/c, 2 twin beds put together with bedding stacked for negative temperatures and from the 1980’s, no cold water, and Mike’s bed frame collapsed onto the floor after one attempt to sit on the bed. Not to mention the noise from the street. Even with earplugs I heard everything. It was only 2 nights but it sure made for exhausting days. Regardless, beauty abounds here in this gorgeous town. IMG_0277Ahhh…Ameztoi, for 7.95 Euro. Yes please. The first time I tried this wine in the shop, I knew I needed to visit the region it originates from. Dry and slightly effervescent, hints of salt and olives, this white speaks volumes for the Txakoli region of Spain. A summer solstice celebratory bottle was definitely enjoyed from it’s home.

Lastly, this city at night.

Again, seeing ancient towns at night is so inspiring. No tourist is here. No one who lives here is here. Just us. I love night tours.

BORDEAUX, FRANCE

Jonathan and Jose live around here. Two beautiful humans I met years apart whom both worked internships at Abacela Winery in Roseburg, Oregon, USA. Jonathan and his friend, Adrien, both couchsurfed with me in Portland. I tasted them through some wines, they taught me some naughty words in French, and immediately we were friends. I’m so thankful to call upon them almost 2 years later for a visit in their home territory. Sadly, Adrien had a wedding to attend the weekend of our visit but here is the reunion of Jonathan and I.

He is the type of guy who just moved into his apartment four days prior to our arrival, starts his new job as a wine cottier that week, buys a bed for us to sleep on, feeds us, shares wine and friends, all with that big bright smile. I am so blessed to have such amazing friends. He is one of them. I want to be like Jonathan. Merci beaucoup ami!

He also set us up a wine tour in the Medoc region of Bordeaux. This was our journey to Chateau Beychevelle in Saint-Julien.IMG_0292IMG_0293IMG_0301IMG_0305IMG_0309Crazy creepy castles in the countryside next to just as creepy cemeteries with decrepit graves just haunting enough to place you in the next horror film. I love it though. The dark side always fascinates me.

Back to the wine…

IMG_2469.jpgAn absolutely stunning representation of the Medoc region, Chateau Beychevelle did not disappoint. Maud, our very educated guide, took 2 hours to explain the history dating back to the 1500’s and lead us on a tour of the property as it stands today. It’s so awesome to share my passion with my partner who is now actually starting to develop his own wine vocabulary. Once in a lifetime experiences happening out here in France.

Jose. He saw me post in Spain and mentioned to come visit him in the Medoc region of the Bordeaux. Coincidentally, as the universe gifted us, we were already headed his way without even knowing. Here is our reunion at the winery where he is titled, Director of Operations.IMG_2494This is his rustic, raw wine operation just 25 minutes north of Beychevelle. This was Mike’s first time ever tasting wine straight out of the barrel. Exciting stuff.

Thank you boys. Our brief tour of Bordeaux was perfect. There are grapes literally everywhere you look. I love it.

CARCASSONNE

Departing from Bordeaux on the ridiculously tolled A9 or A5 or A anything in France really, we see this giant fortress and decide to stop. Cassoulet is a dish that is famous here. It’s a shame we were not hungry because in France you eat butter and croissants. That is all… Okay, I’m exaggerating slightly but these two items are on the survival list here in this country.

This is what you see entering the city.IMG_2505.jpg

Whaaaaaaaat?!? This is crazy. Let’s go explore it. So, we find this walled fortress.

Magical place. Walked into the church while 4 men were singing acapella and the sound quality in that space was through the roof. If I could figure out how to post videos here, I would share the goosebumps with you. An enchanting experience for sure.

Alas, we must get back into Spain. Just the very south east tip this time. Now, we have a car. For just 2 weeks of glory, we have a car. It’s expensive though. Over $450 Euro to rent for just 2 weeks, gas is at least $50 Euro a fill, and these tolls!!! Avoid the main roads of France at all costs people. They suck all your funds with pleasure. Thank the goddesses for Google Maps and Vodafone. Complete saviors on this journey.

EMPURIABRAVA

On Airbnb, we saw the opportunity to stay on a sailboat. We took that opportunity and made it real. This little port town is somewhat in between two artistic musts for us. Both revolve around Salvador Dali. The museum he helped grow and where he is buried, and his home on the sea where many inspirational growths stemmed from. It made sense for us to make this the last of Espana. This was our Spain grand finale and from a sailboat, nonetheless. Here is our sailboat and our free-spirited host, Alex.

He is the type of person who is gracious beyond belief. Cooked us this heavenly Moroccan inspired dish while sharing his love and passion for travel and indigenous people around the planet. Shared his bicycles with us so we could explore the beach and city. Brought his presence and awareness to the table and matched us with ours. Such a compatible match in spirit we found in Alex. Made touring the life of Dali that much more meaningful.

Dali… I feel like I have to do this one at a time because I am still digesting it all. Please enjoy…IMG_2542.jpgIMG_2551.JPGIMG_2543.jpgIMG_2536.JPGIMG_2540.JPGIMG_2541.JPGIMG_2546.JPGIMG_2549.JPGI had a fascination with Dali as a teenager. Had his posters in my room. Wanted to replicate his art. Wanted to pretend I was a person worthy enough to be in his presence.

A short side note… 2 summers ago, I lived in a small Oregon coastal town named Florence. I managed a quaint wine bar in ‘Old Town’. A man, clearly in his 70’s with a giant grey and black mane and a gruff beard with sunglasses and brand new Nike’s, walked in. I wondered… is he homeless? Is he sane? I can’t see his eyes so what are his intentions?

We chatted. As it turns out this man, Kyle Lind, is a semi-famous artist in town. He led me outside to show me this. His truck.IMG_6064.JPGHe then explained to me the path of his very existence. One of which brushed lips upon Salvador Dali and they shared a joint together in New York 50 + years ago while Kyle was married to the famous actress Rory Flynn. They shared art in that space in New York during that time and inspired Kyle to further his art career. Hanging out with this man felt like I was hanging out with Dali himself. A hidden gem in a small Oregon coastal town.IMG_0414

CADAQUES

We left Alex and his boat to journey into South France with one stop in between. Dali’s house. Tickets sell out fast apparently but what we saw of his estate was just enough.

Pure magic. All of it. We leave Spain for now and head into France, the country we rented a car for. Narbonne is the next destination for a stay at Chateau L’Hospitalet. Bring on the never ending grape landscape and sunflowers. I hear they have those in France.

Madrid and The Mighty East

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Mylece and Madrid

The only reason we decided to swing through Madrid was to visit a good ole pal from  my Eugene, Oregon, days. Mylece. She is just so lovely. I remember she lived in our ‘utility’ room for a bit after a brief sublet situation from another roomie in the house. We had some swell times. One night in particular I hold dear to my heart. It snowed; a rarity for Eugene. We drank wine with Thomas and Azul and decided to hike/bike up the hill with the one shittty sled we had from Nico. I taught some folks how to sled on that hill. I still watch the 3 minute video from this magical night and smile big smiles. Here we were back on that day.IMG_0243We also shared the best New Years EVER!!!, up at Toketee/Umpqua Hot Springs with these lovely friends of mine. That was craaaaayzeee special. Camping in the snow, building a rager of a fire, somehow managing to climb the ice to the hot springs in the dark, singing in the New Year with candles and the best company. IMG_0244So, that’s Mylece in a very brief nutshell. Here we are now in Madrid at this dazzling, impressive structure. IMG_0165

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It was my first time experiencing Goya. We stumbled gracefully through three gigantic floors of his works. We started with his paintings of famous royalty, average street scenes, and some darkish haunting pieces. Next was the dark stuff. Like reeeeeaaaallllly dark. Between going completely deaf and watching the brutal occupation of Napolean, his works were horrifically expressive. We left the upbeat pieces for the end. Some cartoonish, happy characters frolicking through old villages, singing, drinking, hunting, all the happy things. All of these works were made for a King or Prince, naturally. That was all we could see in the two and a half hours we wandered through that awe-inspiring place. Oh! But, we did see this too which was absolutely incredible to see live in the flesh. IMG_0247Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch. I guess it’s lived at the Prado since 1939. I’d say that is quite neat.

We also went here for art.IMG_0162Reina Sofia which currently houses Picasso’s El camino a Guernica. Also pretty neat. Stared intently at Dali of course. We are going to his house in a couple weeks. I’m going to freak out.

We also witnessed a freak storm that ripped through Madrid one of the many ungodly scorcher of days there. It was hot. Like over 100 degrees hot. The kind of hot I detest because it weakens my bright spirit and replaces brightness with miserableness. We got some excellent night pics though. IMG_0168Ominous and sinister but we embraced it.

The horizontal flash through this panoramic is lightening. IMG_0169

And for real! How creepy does this look?!?IMG_0166Plaza de Oriente is this monumental place where behind this horse and Felipe IV is the Palacio Real de Madrid.IMG_0173The best way to view these things for me is truly at night. It’s worth it to wait until the darkness comes. We also saw the Temple of Debod. Given the feel and energy of the night, this place felt captivating. IMG_0171Of course we stopped here to because Mike has now become Miguel on this trip so naturally this is his market…IMG_0175

David and The Pyrenees

David (pronounced Da-Veeeeed), met Mike back in the NoCal days. This visit to his home in Zaragoza marks the first time they have seen each other in 3 years. David graciously picked us up from the bus station with his 1.5 year old lil pumpkin of a baby named Gaia. Poor Gaia had a case of the infamous pink eye, and was teething, and had goop coming from every orifice on her body. Despite the constant shrills and the yet again, 100 degree heat, he greeted us with big warm hugs and kisses and smiles. After spending 4 days getting a glimpse of his world, my perspective regarding my life changed. I like my simple world; a lot.

Here is Mike and David reunited.IMG_3050

He was set on showing us some adventure. Initially, we were to rock climb or swim through a canyon, or skydive. But, thankfully Gaia was still sicky and we had to load up the van with the 2 kiddos, so a 12 mile hike in the Pyrenees would suffice. Aguero was our first stop. Here is Mike’s watercolor IMG_0154It’s a little village in what David calls ‘The Pre-Pyrenees’. Lots of geologists and rock climbers come study these big ole things. IMG_0186Here we met Carlos and Jessica and their 2 littles at the bar/restaurant they manage at the base of those rocks. They served us olives from the property, local cervesas, and cooked us a wicked burger. Delightful people to encounter on our journey. We also were escorted to this lil’ swimming hole where all the boys made sure the kids were having a fun time.IMG_0189Beautiful places indeed! We then drove another hour or so to Canfranc where David’s sister lives. Mike and I were in for a night of car camping in front of this sweet spot.IMG_0191Espana east is filled with the quaintest, cutest villages. We were blessed to stay in one. The stars were amazing that night. We were greeted by David’s parents who had a spread of goodies to eat on the table. His father shared a secret meeting spot in the neighborhood where he shared some Rioja garnache with me. Again, the wines have been solid. So grateful!

Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido

Saving the best for last. Wow. The beauty we saw during this 12 mile hike was mind blowing. The kind of experience I crave. Yay Nature! I’ll try not to overwhelm you with the bazillion photographs I took here. So, gaze upon some of the best.IMG_0225

Waterfalls!!!IMG_0202IMG_0204IMG_0205IMG_0219IMG_0221IMG_0236

Just magic everywhere

Thank you David, Gaia, and Ismael for being strong, brave troopers as we journeyed through this pristine land together.IMG_0194

Lastly, I leave you with a good pic that reminds me of my dear friend, Vern. This is his company! He is who inspires me the most in this life when it comes to travel. I feel like I am living this big life adventure everyday. Thanks for the hat Vern. IMG_0234

Portugal.

IMG_0049Alvor. It all started here.

A quaint little village that is a hop, skip, and a jump away from the faster paced city of Portimao, Alvor nestles itself in just the right spot; the beach. Filled with crowds of Irish folk who love to party, and really fun guys like our host, Kurt, this town has it going on.

Kurt or Kurial as some call him, landed in this village to retire after his professional life in Germany. On this trip, I’m taking the time to ask our hosts or hostesses why they participate in Couchsurfing. When I asked him, this is what he said in not so many words because let me tell you, this man has lots of words.

“At 68 years old, I have been an active Couchsurfing member for only 10 years. I love it! It’s amazing! To meet people from all cultures in this life and welcome them into my life, home, village, trust circle… it’s the best. I once had a friend of mine who is a policeman ask me why I give these random strangers a key to my house. He asked me if I’m worried about them stealing all my belongings. I said great! Let them take it all so I can get new stuff! I’m a very trusting person. Always have been and always will be.”

I relate to that Kurt. 100%. We talked about how interesting it is to read someone’s Couchsurfing profile, really digging into their lives and what they value. Their interests, life mission, the references left by others who have encountered them, all of it. He mentioned how the website is changing and how some younger people are now using it as a free place to stay, shower, use wifi, and move along. No references, no details in their profile = no staying with Kurt. He gets between 5-10 requests per day so to weed out the ones who are not really in tune with the Couchsurfing experience is easy for him. I felt honored he chose us as two of his 12 visitors of the year. He said he might have to make exceptions this year because there are just so many interesting people wanting to stay with him. He is setting his quota now for 20 visitors this year. This is Kurt.IMG_0066

And this is the beach that Kurt loves to show people like us. We walked past all the Irish and English who vacation here, through some caves, around some coves that you can only walk through at low tide, and arrive here. Magic.

Before we discuss more of this magic beach, we must discuss the culture found in the Algarve. Our first night in town, Kurt insisted we try the local homemade Italian pasta at a little place called, Ciao Baby. We were starving after our bus ride from Sevilla. Perfect. It is obvious Kurt can pull some strings here. In a packed restaurant, with a good sized line for a wait, we were waived in and told it will be 5 minutes. The wine, pasta, and service was a fantastic introduction to Alvor.

From authentic Italian, we then strolled down the street to this Irish pub. IMG_0050Where we saw these guys. IMG_0051.JPGThe Merchants. A real deal Irish band straight from Ireland on their 10 day holiday. This was special. Apparently, we caught them on their last night in town. The pub was filled with Irish lads and lassies. My Grandpa Curran would be in heaven here. I’m pretty sure all of my musical talent stems from him. He has been singing my whole life. I made sure to call him and tell him I experienced this. He told me to embrace the magic of the Irish. So, we did.

Back to the beach…IMG_0068

IMG_0069IMG_0070

IMG_0060It is sublime. After re-visiting this strip of beaches during the lowest tide we were able to walk into this ravishing place. IMG_0062IMG_0073IMG_0075Canico. Thank you for the freshest fish and to our server Joao (John), for the recommendation of rose from his hometown in the Alentejano. Could this get any better?!?

Well, Kurt mentioned Michael’s Bar. He practically begged me to come sing karaoke. After all, he said to me, “There are really only two languages in the world. Smiles and music. There is no need to interpret either. Shannon, you are blessed to have both.” After Canico I had just enough liquid courage. So, we went, to karaoke, in Alvor, filled with Irish and English and Portuguese and Spanish and us. What in the world do I sing?

I know!!!

Bob Seger. Just what this place needed! Some old time rock and roll. It was fun. People clapped. I got some high fives, BUT, it was clear I needed to ramp the energy level up even more. I then took requests. Lots of Queen lovers in the crowd. So I sang Queen and Roy Orbison and our host Kurt’s favorite song in the entire world, I Can See Clearly Now. I made sure to reference the magic of Alvor in that one. I think I could have stayed here forever. Alas, we must move on.IMG_0102

Lisboa. HI!!! A big ole city here in Portugal. My college friend Katie Adams lives here and looks at this view into the city. She lives in Estoril, a little suburb, if you will, that is home to the ‘Casino Royale’ that inspired Ian Fleming to write such a classic.

IMG_0152There is a beach or two over here as well. Just happened to catch a full moon on the boardwalk.IMG_0106Yeah. The views did not stop here. This was just the beginning.

As luck would have it, we landed in the greater Lisboa area for a special couple of days. Not only was it their national holiday, Dia de Camoes, but also the biggest celebration of their year, Dia de Santo Antonio. I’ve never seen or smelled so many fish being grilled in my entire life. These people party. Hard.

This turned into a 5am ordeal real quick. As fun as all this hoopla was, the streets of Lisbon were a disaster, and so were the porta-potties. Eeeek. ‘Good luck in there’, was what I was told. Thanks pal.

Here is the reason for all this hoopla. This guy right here. Santo Antonia.

From what we have gathered from the locals, he was pretty amazing back in the day. Bringing fish to the people when they were starving, bringing children back from the dead, helping unmarried women find a good partner… whew. He was saintly for sure, hence the giant city-wide celebration. That was quite the experience. No words or pictures can quite sum up the intensity felt here during this time.

Back to the regular paced life, we go here. Sintra. The home of many radical palaces, castles, museums, and old things. Our favorite place was Quinta da Regaleira, thanks to Katie’s recommendation. The biggest challenge is knowing what crazy vintage holy space to pay to get in to and the ones to just go to the gate and take a picture. This was a great 2.5 hours spent. The grounds are amazing. Harry Potter-esque. Look at this stuff!!!

Underground tunnels, labyrinths, mosaics, spiral staircases, sculptures, waterfalls, WHAT?!? Who was this guy?

The history lessons we are getting from these cities are priceless. So grateful for this. IMG_0120.JPG

And this! Yay! A wine and art tour! Obrigada Katie!

I met her in 2006 ish, attending the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. We both graduated with degrees in Education. She hosted me in Seoul, South Korea in 2012, and now in Portugal. I told her, “I’m just going to follow you around the world.” She said, “Do it!” Here we are at Bacalhoa winery in the Setubal region of Portugal. Kind of a big operation if you ask me. The owner is also the biggest art collector in the country. Have a quick look.

We had fun here. Thankfully, Katie is an amazing interpreter and helped us through the tour. Our guide spoke English so I asked him some geeky wine questions. He asked me where I worked. Then he guessed Napa Valley. I guess according to Europe that’s the only place making wine in the U.S.A. When I said Oregon, he was all like, “Whaaaaaat?!? Oregon makes wine?” To which I replied, “It’s cool man. Some people have no clue Portugal makes wine either.” Touché.

We laughed and agreed both Portugal and Oregon are still ‘under the radar’.

Katie then brought us here where she and some friends made some real deal tiles. The kind that is only hand produced by a very select few places any more. This is one of them.IMG_0134If you appreciate art in any form, this place was CRAZY! I guess these were made for Elton John…IMG_0132Also, look at all this cool stuff made entirely by hand start to finish!

I wanted to buy an entire wall of tiles and bring them home. Not possible unfortunately.

Lastly, we end on a couple different notes before catching a flight to Madrid. A surf record beach and the historical close to a whirlwind of a Portuguese adventure. This beach though!

Oh Hey Guincho Beach… Aren’t you purdy?!? With a hotel that has a pool where the ocean and it’s fierceness blasts into the walls that hold you up. This is where our American modern day slang comes in and I say that was ‘cray-cray’. How confusing language can be! Just outside of this other lovely beach town Cascais (Kush-kaish), was this beach we walked 4 miles to. Saying it was windy is a complete underwhelming statement. We got sand blasted through that first picture, hence the last picture of the hoody up and rose deservingly going down.

History. Here are some things.

 

A compilation of just walking and experiencing all that is Lisboa. I feel like I need more time in Portugal. Evora where there are temples made from bones and Porto where well, PORT is made!!! Ugh. As Kurt says, you can’t see it all.

Thanks again Katie, and Bacalhoa, and Santo Antonio, and Kurt, and all that magical magic. May all of that continue. On to the middle and the top of Espana. Felicidades!

Olives for days

 

Mike asks some pretty good questions sometimes. As we sat in the back seat of Dols old Toledo using BlaBla Car for the first time, (yes, I will explain), he eventually looks to me and asks, “Who harvests all these olives?”

I reply, “I’m assuming humans, but I could be wrong.”

I was mostly wrong. We asked our host Manuel in Granada about this intimidating feat. Machines harvest most of those salty treats to which we both sighed with relief. Some of those cliffs we saw were pretty gnarly.

So, Blabla car. Veronica from our Barcelona couchsurfing adventure mentioned this carpooling service. You set up a short profile, choose a destination, hope and pray someone is driving that direction, and pay a small fee for jumping in on their ride. I guess you could say it is a legal form of hitchhiking? With a fee, of course. We were a bit desperate in Valencia when trying to set up transport to Granada. 8+ hours by train, buses were sparse and expensive, so we thought let’s do this. Glad we did!

32 Euro each got us a comfy seat in Dols car for the 5 hour ride. Pretty legit. No, he was not some strange creeper dude or worse. His profile said he successfully transported other people 32 times and his rating was a solid 4.8 out of 5 stars. We gave him a raving review and 5 stars. The world really is becoming that episode of Black Mirror huh?!?

Moving on…

 

I’m not doing a very good job with photographing our food but I will say these 2 places were quite memorable in Valencia. Canalla Bistro advertised the most mouth-watering burger and after a week of light tapas, we were ready to devour a beautifully juicy local burger. Thanks to this awesome place, we did. The wine list was killer and each bite of all the dishes we ordered were dynamite. A must stop in Valencia! Another must stop we discovered was this cute little pizza joint near the beach called Como pizza y nada mas. Angelo the owner was such a delight. A true Italian man bringing Italian pizza to the beaches in Spain. The spicy olive oil spray really elevated the pizza to the next level. Complimentary homemade limoncello and tiramisu put the exclamation point on the exclamation. Lovely food experiences in Valencia. This place was crazy cool too. Definitely go walk around these grounds. An Arts and Science museum, Opera House, 3D cinema, and Europe’s biggest aquarium.

Now for Granada.

Wowza. Definitely more of a gyspy/bohemian vibe rock those streets. Our AirBnB was amazing. Here is the view of the Alhambra from our rooftop terrace.

IMG_0028This definitely did not suck. We spent only two days roaming these streets listening to random Spanish folk strumming their guitars through the winding cobblestone streets. At the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Granada was named ‘the hill of strangers’. We now understand why. The history of Alhambra and learning about the rotation of cultures that once inhabited these hills was fascinating. Dark, but fascinating.

 

IMG_0031From Granada, we bussed it to Sevilla and let me tell you, it was sweltering. We have developed a new nickname for the phenomenon that happens to our feet in this heat. We now have ‘choriztoes’. Fat little sausage toes, and fingers for that matter. I guess if that’s the worst worry thus far, we are in pretty good shape.

Sexy Sevilla. Ooooooweeee! I loved it here. There is something about a good ole 90 degree night, sweaty flamenco dancers in the street, and jolly Spanish drunk people infiltrating the streets. Even children are running around at midnight. After all, these people are REAL good at siesta. Mike and I are becoming pros at this. We love siesta.

This AirBnB is yet again blessing us with a rooftop terrace up 5 flights of skinny, skinny stairs. How they got beds and couches up here baffles me. The space radiates music. Our host gave us keys and told us some local spots to go investigate. He mentioned his roommate might pop in and have a jam session with his band later. We got excited. Yay! Free live Sevilla music! Little did we know we were staying with a famous person. This man is a beautiful human. Mike got to jam with him a bit. Of course we are now friends. NoNo Garcia and his amazing bass player, Joan (pronounced Juan), play beautiful music. They invited us to this intimate, underground show they were playing that night. The place was so underground that we passed it twice before we saw a man peeking his head out a set of burgundy doors and realized this was the place. For 5 Euro each we saw these guys…

IMG_0044I’m pretty sure we didn’t stop smiling the entire set. How blessed are we?!? They later invited this wonderful singer up on stage with them and she lit up the room even more. It felt rude to have my phone out, so one picture is all you get.

More of Sevilla…

Flamenco artists, bullfighting, cool art in the streets, and this: IMG_0042Sevilla Cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral and third largest church in the world. We just happened to stroll by on a Sunday so we entered as mass was in session. Being raised Catholic, I appreciated the magnitude of this holy space. Our stay was brief as neither one of us practice a church going religion anymore, but this place is magnificent. IMG_0041Wow.

IMG_0038Each city we explore I find myself saying, ‘this is my favorite thus far’. I only hope I keep saying this as we go deeper into all that is Europe.

Bussing it to Portimao, Portugal from here to stay with a Couchsurfing legend named Kurt. Can’t wait to tell you all about him. Real excited for the Algarve lifestyle and working on my tan. I’ve got some catching up to do around here.

We wish many blessings and happiness in times that our home city has had some recent horrific, tragic events occur. Keep spreading that love and light. We send you ours.