Tuesday, December 2, 2014

We're moving to...

Did you ever play that game as a kid where you spun a globe around and stopped it with your finger to see where you were going to live or go on vacation? I know I'm a map nerd, but this can't just be me. It was fun to imagine ending up in those far-away places, while singing a little chorus of "round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows!" as the globe turned.

(Completely unrelated, but I traded my last office an old microwave for this globe, straight up. I'd say I got the better deal.)

When Graham and I discussed his transition to civilian life, we both agreed that our top priority would be to stay overseas, ideally in Europe. But applying for jobs is a bit like a grown-up version of spinning the globe and as various positions became available, we decided to get adventurous and widen our scope.

Which is how our metaphorical fingers came to land on our next home...

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Carvoeiro, Portugal

How do you go about deciding where to pick up with blogging again when you have a backlog of over a year of travel? You could create a detailed posting schedule or...you could just open up your photos folder and see what pops out at you. Let's go with that. 

And that haphazard approach is appropriate here, because this long-weekend trip to Portugal came about in the same under-planned way.

Labor Day for Graham was a four-day weekend (a "96" in milspeak) and as it was approaching, we casually decided we would go somewhere in the Algarve, the southern region of Portugal, along the coast. It's only a few hours by car, we'd been before, it's generally affordable, the beaches are pretty, the food is a nice change from Spanish cuisine, and we could take the dogs with us. We let that non-specific decision hang until two days before the weekend started when we realized that we'd probably need, you know, a place to stay. Cue furious searching on booking.com.

I set my sights on popular Lagos and came up short. Expanding the search to surrounding towns, a room in I-have-never-heard-of-this-place-before Carvoeiro popped up that seemed like a steal. Click, click, booked.


Off to Carvoeiro we went! And we were happy to find that our procrastination hadn't cost us a great weekend. Our hastily booked accommodation overlooked the beach as promised and we had a giant terrace that dwarfed our somewhat tiny, but typically-sized European room. The town was charming and to top it off was celebrating their patron saint that weekend. Bustling holiday atmosphere, concerts in the town square, religious processions, quirky traditions, and fireworks commence!


We spent the majority of our time hanging out on the beach, relaxing on the terrace, walking the dogs around the little town, and seeking out delicious Portuguese food and wine - whether that was at a nice restaurant or the grocery store. 







Our first afternoon we caught these "beach games". One involved retrieving a flag from the end of a beam extended from a small boat and the other was a swimming race to see who could catch a pair of ducks. The winner of the duck chase was treated like no less than a returning hero, surrounded by kids and being photographed by a crowd. Can't make this stuff up. 



The long line of people is the religious procession that took place.


7€ grocery store lunch for two - olives, cheese, and fish soup. 








Late night party and fireworks, which went off right over our room. We loved it, but the dogs were less than excited. 


Besides general holiday lazing and leisuring and taking in Carvoeiro's celebration, we also made time to check out the end of the world. Also known as Cabo de San Vicente in Sagres, the westernmost point in Portugal. The lighthouse marks the point between the calmer waters to the south and the windswept coast to the north, which generates the waves that attract countless surfers, with the seemingly endless Atlantic stretching out to the horizon. 





Even though we didn't end up staying in Lagos, we still made the quick drive over one day to check out the grottoes and coves that shape the rocky coast. Many of the formations are named after animals or rooms in a house - like the gorilla, the chimney, and the garage. 






I also spent a good amount of time admiring and taking pictures of the stunning tilework and pottery. Even the smallest towns in Portugal have the most gorgeous ceramics, and I really love the use of blue and the incorporation of animals, especially birds and fish. 







Details, tips, and recommendations:

-If Portuguese pottery is your thing, there are plenty of shops that can be found throughout the Algarve, without even looking. I really enjoyed visiting Porches Pottery and watching the pieces being painted by hand. There are some really lovely items (including the plates pictured above), but keep in mind - they are priced appropriately for handmade, handpainted work that is done on-site. If you can overlook a few flaws, they have an interesting section of seconds that offers deep discounts. Porches Pottery also completes custom orders, in case you have something really special or personalized in mind. 



-Avoid the ubiquitous and lackluster pub food that is being served as a result of the high number of British tourists. (Seriously Brits, what is with the cheeseless burgers and sad sandwiches? I know you can do better than that!) For a tasty dinner accompanied by interesting Portuguese wines and served by knowledgeable waitstaff, head to Terroir. You can even pick up bottles of your favorite wines to take home while you are there. Win, win. (Sorry, no pics here because I was too distracted by food and wine, but you can check my instagram for a quick collage I snapped.) 

-Drive to Lagos and do a tour of the coastal grottoes in a fisherman's skiff. We parked as close as we could to Praia Dona Ana, walked down to the beach, and at the bottom of the steps was a man organizing and directing which boat you would get in. Make sure you have cash (I think we paid 15€ per person, without negotiating) and your camera! You can also schedule a kayak tour with a company, which looked like a lot of fun, too. 



-We stayed at the O Castelo Guest House, which I reserved through booking.com. Excellent location, amazing views, small but adequate double room, great terrace, pet-friendly. There is a also a shared kitchen, which was perfect for making lunches or keeping beverages cold and ready for happy hour or post-dinner drinks on our terrace. Highly recommend. 



So essentially, procrastination won out and we ended up serendipitously celebrating a small Portuguese beach town's patron saint. Ever had a last minute trip work out more perfectly than your original plan? 






Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Where the hell have you been?!

And what the hell are you still doing in Spain?! Two questions you might be asking, if there's anyone out there to still ask questions after my heinously long hiatus. 


To answer the first question, I've been a lot of places - Scotland, Cordoba, Champagne, Normandy, Amsterdam, Asturias, Turkey, Portugal, and most recently the States. I actually had to scroll through my instagram to remember all of those, which I realize makes me sound like a complete privileged snob/asshole. But seriously, it's been a whirlwind spring and summer of travel, as we've tried to pack in as much as we can. And in my defense, I'm still slightly jet lagged. 

The second question is a little more complicated. Graham's 3-year orders to Spain were up in May, but we're still here. And that's because...HUGE NEWS...CAPS WORTHY NEWS...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Cheeeeeese! Feria del Queso in Trujillo

I broke one of my own rules and planned a vacation during the Rota feria. But! I have two very good excuses. One, the feria dates have been thrown off this year by the lateness of Easter - Sevilla's Feria de Abril was at the beginning of May and Rota's was before Sevilla's, not to mention El Puerto's is sadly over the American Memorial Day long weekend, and I'll be traveling for most of that, as well. Both trips were planned well before the feria dates were released. 

Two, and possibly a far better reason, I missed the traditional Rota Feria de la Primavera for a feria dedicated to one of my very deepest loves - cheese! And this trip was a long time in the making. 

Flashback to two very jetlagged newlyweds, their small dog, multiple bags and a rental car full of giddy and groggy optimism as they drove from Madrid to El Puerto de Santa María nearly three years ago... 

On our very first day of living together in Spain, I sat shotgun as Graham navigated the long drive from the capital to our new town in the south. To pass the time, I followed along in our recently purchased Eyewitness Travel Spain guidebook. As we passed a medieval hilltop city, I read aloud about Trujillo - birthplace to conquistadors, site of a moorish fortress, and host to an annual cheese fair. Upon reading that last bit, I immediately proclaimed that we would one day return to Trujillo. 

And we did! Painfully aware that this year would probably be our last opportunity to go, we rallied some friends (some of the same people we went to Rome with over Thanksgiving) and rented a house in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, a pueblo just outside of Trujillo, for the long weekend of the Feria Nacional del Queso, the National Cheese Fair. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Processions

"Do you go to the processions?" asked my Spanish-American hair stylist. "Yes, of course!" I replied from my seat in front of the mirror. And then we proceeded to talk about how much we love to go out for Semana Santa - how lively the town is, how much fun it is to join the crowds, gathering to eat and drink with friends. 

What I'm trying to say, without sounding completely irreverent, is that yes, I do love the processions. For different reasons than the deeply devout, but there is just such a palpable energy in the streets, bars, restaurants, and on the beaches that can be felt and enjoyed by everyone. Which is probably due to a combination of Catholic fervor and the majority of the population enjoying vacation days. In Andalucía, Semana Santa is like a sneak peek of what summer will bring interlaced with age old religious traditions. 

I went to downtown El Puerto several times during Semana Santa. Here are some pictures from the Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) and Viernes Santo (Good Friday) processions. 

Domingo de Ramos