A Travellerspoint blog

June 2015

Lisbon Love Affair

Two days is not enough

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Rome has always been my favorite city in the world - the food, the unexpected surprises around every corner, the ability to walk for miles and always discover something new right around the corner, the history, the whatever it is that makes you fall in love. But Rome is not the kind of place you could settle down and live - it's the romance without any of the substance. Lisbon, on the other hand is a city you could go the distance with. Lisbon is clean, the people are kind, the drivers are not angry (in Rome, you must learn to sleep with the constant sound of honking horns and indignant yelling just below your window). Lisbon has fantastic public transportation, great architecture, and fascinating history. It's for families and travelers, couples and seniors. It's a community that welcomes all sorts of new people into it every day.

Adam and I woke up early to get in a run - the hills of both Boavista dos Pinheros and Cartajima had tired me and I was excited to check out a fast flat route through the city just as it was waking up. We ran to the water and saw other people running - this isn't a city that looks askance at people running for a purpose other than necessity. We saw the Golden Gate Bridge twin and then met the sleepers-in of our family back at the apartment.

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Our first destination was the Oceanarium, which is outside the city about ten minutes. It was hot, so we took a taxi, but there is a bus that goes right there. It's a good aquarium, with a giant tank that can be viewed through most of the exhibits. The big draw is the mola-mola, which is a big giant fish, the likes of which we've never seen. There is a gondola which takes you on a scenic trip over the water and a long park, which has a few restaurants to sample. Really nothing special, but pretty and nice for the kids.

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After a much needed siesta, we struck out in search of the famous 28 tram, which would take us to Castelo Sao Jorge. We waited in line like the rest of the silly tourists, but really, asking my kids to walk up through the Alfama to the castle, high above the city, would have prompted a mutiny. It was fun, and though it was standing room only, the destination was well worth it.

The tram drops you off at a little plaza high up on the hill, with a cafe and plenty of places to enjoy the view and take pictures. Husband finally succumbed to the Senegalese vendors selling selfie sticks. I bought a shot of the Portuguese cherry liquer, ginjinha, and we started our ascent to the castle.

It's impossible to describe how beautiful it was up there. The view is as dramatic as the one from Coit Tower in San Fancisco, and the city is laid out below in similar fashion. There is a restaurant and a cafe, as well as a lady with a cart who sells glasses of Portuguese wine. The experience of exploring the castle and sipping wine was sheer contentment. The view from the battlements is breathtaking. It was nicer than Granada and the Alhambra in my opinion. I'm so glad we had that experience. We took an electric golf cart taxi back to the bottom and that was a ton of fun. Every person we met here loved their city and wanted us to love it too.

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We ended the day with a ride up the St Justa elevator, which is another tourist thing, but a also a convenient way to get around. It was designed by a student of Gustav Eiffel, and the design is truly beautiful. The ruined monastery at the top of the elevator is also quite stunning. There is a very pretty view of Rossio Square up there. One more gelato stop and then we reluctantly ended the day.

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We are back in the Florida now, and are already planning our next trip back to Portugal. It was a great trip, but I am left craving more...

Posted by Restless Mama 17:11 Archived in Portugal Tagged castle jorge lisbon sao oceanarium rossio Comments (0)

Last Days in Lisbon

With a side trip to Elvas

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I suppose it all had to come to an end, it couldn't go on forever. And so our journey comes to a close in the place it all began, Lisbon. We packed our bags, ate everything left in the fridge and left our lovely home in Cartajima (which I highly recommend and can be located here: http://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p1406660). We had a six hour drive and decided to go back the northern route and possibly stop in Evora. It wasn't to be, but we did stop in the lovely town of Elvas, for a castle walk/stretch break. It was achingly hot after our cool mountain climate, but we were the only ones there and the nicest guy gave us a tour, including the secret passageways through the walls. It was blessedly cool, if a little bit unsuited for both the claustraphobic and the 6'5" one in our family.

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We arrived in Lisbon, driving, which may have been a mistake given the confusion the uninitiated are bound to experience in Baixa about which streets are one way and which are pedestrian only. Eventually, we arrived at our destination, Lisbon Short Stay Apartments on Rua Sapateiros. What a great place - steps from Rossio Square and the St. Justa elevator, which transports you up to the Chiodo district without all the walking. The "hotel," a series of beautifully decorated apartments, was spacious and equipped with all the modern conveniences. And Tandoori, a fantastic Indian restaurant, is right across the street. The kids and I headed out for gelato at Amorino and some chasing pigeons in Rossio. Best gelato ever. Along our wandering route, we checked out the blue lobsters in their holding tanks pending their next stop as someone's dinner. And stopped to watch all the street performers who Noah was fascinated with and had a million questions about. He did not believe the people painted themselves bronze to resemble statues were real - "why would someone paint their whole body that color?" He kept giving them money so they would move.

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After Husband rejoined us, we took him to Amorino for their line basil gelato. Gluttons, the lot of us.

We stayed out as late as we could and returned home, exhausted but sated.

Posted by Restless Mama 14:18 Archived in Portugal Tagged lisbon rossio baixa Comments (0)

Tangier

A ferry to another continent

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The FRS Iberia ferry leaves from Tarifa, Spain, to Tangier, Morocco every other hour on the hour and you arrive in Africa 35 minutes after leaving Spain. Their website is fantastic and you can easily book and reserve tickets on line. Before we left Florida, we decided that it would be a shame to be so close and not make the effort to see Morocco, even if it was only for a day. But because we were staying two hours from the nearest ferry, I didn't want it to be a 14 hour round trip filled with aching feet and exhausted, hostile children. This is where well-researched trip planning comes in handy. I used Expedia to reserve a hotel that I could cancel if we decided we were packing too much adventure into our trip.

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Tarifa is a cute little port town just off the A2, complete with a plaza and a great castle. Parking at the ferry building is (after validation) 12 euro, and there is a cafe inside for croissant and coffee while you wait. We were taking the 11 o'clock ferry which, because of the time change brought us to Tangier at 10 o'clock. I had reserved a room at the Continental Hotel, which overlooks the harbor and is a beautiful old grand lady of a monument to history and architecture. William Burroughs stayed here and would sit out on the terrace waiting for all his Beat friends to arrive - Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg - by ferry. At 75 dollars for a huge four bed room with views over the water, why would you stay anywhere else? Plus it's nestled at the base of the Kasbah just below the Petit Souq, so you can walk everywhere.

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Tangier is a great city for wanderers. I love being places that feel absolutely nothing like home. People look different and sound different. Everything smells like mint and cilantro, fresh bread baking, and unfamiliar spices. In some parts, the streets are so narrow, the sun doesn't reach down to the street and you are left in shadow. On others, like the circle surrounding the Grand Souk, horns blaze, taxis jockey for position, and you race across the street, children in tow, hoping for the best. Food stalls each sell one thing - fruit or meat or olives or bread, and people take pride in the wares they've made or cultivated.

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Tangier is easy to navigate when your husband speaks Arabic. I took full advantage. After we left the Petit Souk, we hiked up to the Kasbah, stopping for lunch at a cafe along the way. Vegetable tagine and more mint tea (because I was determined to drink as much as I could before It was no longer available at my beck and call). This isn't a place where I'd drink the tap water, but I think if you open your eyes and use good judgment, you shouldn't get sick. Or maybe after Mexico and Lebanon I have the immune system of a super hero, I don't know.

At the Kasbah, Husband started chatting with a guy who ended up giving us a tour of the neighborhood. I know, they're all over Tangier - everyone wants to give you a tour. But I am almost positive we never would have found our way out of that place without him so it worked out in the end. Though I am not particularly interested in seeing where Paul Bowles lived or Matisse painted, I did enjoy the experience of being led around so I could drink in the 600 year old architecture and the unique tiling that mark the Moroccon style. And my kids sat on the porch where the Clash wrote Rocking the Casbah, so it was entertaining.

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After a brief respite at the hotel, we ventured back out. The rain had stopped and the long stretch of golden sand beach we could see from our window was beckoning. As the day wears on, more and more people come out. The beach was enjoyed by groups of young men playing soccer, families with small kids, us, and a camel.

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A stop for more mint tea (and Adams second ice cream of the day), then we headed back to the Grand Souk. Everyone was out, grateful that the sun had returned. Men with carts were selling all manner of street food and I was happy to sample it all. I don't know what it all was, but there was some kind of savory custard and then a hot brioche dipped in sugar. Heaven. Finally we located the Cafe Paris, where Jason Bourne did something with a cell phone in the third Bourne movie. Husband was very excited and I took lots of pictures. He did, after all, buy me a new tagine!

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Posted by Restless Mama 13:41 Archived in Morocco Tagged tangier Comments (0)

Granada

So many expectations...

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Husband has been driving so much - 1400 kilometers so far! Although Granada is only two hours from Cartajima, we decided to take the train to the famed city. The train station is, like most of the Spain I've experienced, clean and efficient. The kids hadn't been on a train like this and Husband wanted a chance to enjoy the scenery without bracing for oncoming cars. We set the alarm at 6:30 to catch the 7:53 train and parked for free in the lot at the station. Honestly, they make it so easy to enjoy this country. Once on the train, we realized that it would only take us to Antequera where we would have to transfer to a bus. It was ok though, because the bus was very comfortable and we pulled into Granada early, at 10:30. The views of the countryside from the train were so beautiful, it was so relaxing to lean back and just enjoy.

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Once in Granada, we grabbed a taxi to Plaza Nueva (only 7 euro!), which was going to be our base of operations for the day. We started with the obligatory pastries and coffee and then set off along the river at the bottom of the Albayzin. While in the Plaza Nueva, we met a Seguay tour guide who let Husband take it for a spin. There are so many pretty spots along the river and looking up to the Alhambra that it would be impossible to put words to. I love the pace in the city - there's time to meander and enjoy. Husband was happy to see all the Arabic food vendors, and I promised we'd return for lunch. I stopped at a small art fair and bought a print that appealed to me.

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I was determined to get to the vista at St. Nicholas. From there, you can see across the gorge to the Alhambra, but it's a long walk up. There was some complaining and we lost each other for a little while, but we were eventually reunited at the top. Totally worth it, and not just for the views. There's a beautiful shaded plaza with a restaurant and on the wall, people sit, dangling their feet over the edge. Guys with guitars play Gypsy Kings and vendors sell jewelry. Next to the church is the mosque which had a beautiful courtyard garden. On the way down we followed random streets through the Albayzin, down streets so narrow, the sunlight was blocked out. Noah was fading, so I carried him down part of the way while balancing carefully on slick cobblestones. This is another inevitable part of traveling with children!

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We found a Moroccon restaurant off of Plaza Nueva and settled in for lunch. We got lucky - Harira, fried eggplant with pomegranate molasses, and the best, most authentic Moroccan mint tea I've ever had.

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We had purchased tickets for the Ahambra ahead of time, but not for the Palace. I don't do well with things that have to be committed to far in advance, and the palace tickets are those kinds of things. Granada in a day also means a lot of walking, including the Ahambra itself, and so I didn't think we could manage the Palace on top of everything else. People also say that it's a "must" but the whole Alhambra is incredible in and of itself. From the bottom of the hill it is a very long walk to the top. It's beautiful and tree shaded, but it's a hike. I loved the Generalife Gardens - perfectly manicured trees and walkways, wild flowers, orange trees, and fountains. They say that the gardens are almost exactly like they originally were, based on the paintings from the time they were designed. It's an incredibly well preserved and peaceful place. The kids played hide and seek, which worked out for everyone involved. Back to the bottom of the Alhambra, we visited the castle, but the last train was at 5 and we still had to get a cab back, so we didn't get to see as much as we would've liked. It's a place I'd love to go back to someday and spend the whole day just in the Alhambra.

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Posted by Restless Mama 07:04 Archived in Spain Tagged alhambra granada albayzin Comments (0)

Ronda

The Jewel of the Andalucian Mountains

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Ronda is a fantastic little city - there's so much going in but there's very little traffic and plenty of good parking. We drive right into the city center on the Mercadillo side and parked for 8 euro in the underground parking lot there. It's like a little miniature Piazza Navona. Our first stop was the pastry shop for Adam to peruse the glass displays and decide exactly what chocolate treasure he'd be sampling this afternoon. This vacation has pretty much been a sugar free for all for that kid.

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Ronda is a great walking city. Right off of Plaza del Socorro is the paseo Espinel, which is closed to traffic and extends several blocks. It also connects to the Plaza de Espana where the bullring is. Everything is close by and explorable. Along Espinel we sampled Churros and chocolate and bought some shoes. It's a great place to people watch - from tourists to local families and packs of kids just let out from school.

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We wandered to the Alameda del Tajo, a beautiful tree lined park that leads to the edge of the cliff that marks the edge of Ronda. The cliffs are the nesting grounds of many different kinds of birds and you can see so many of them soaring over the valley and hunting. The kids found a playground, and by the time they were done, it was too cold to cross over the famous Ronda bridge. That and the fact that I have a terrible sense of direction that prevented me from finding it in any reasonable amount of time. But we'll be back!

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Posted by Restless Mama 06:33 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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