A Travellerspoint blog

Porto, Portugal

Biking the Porto Marathon

sunny 77 °F

We loved how Porto is set up with its many different city scape views. We could have spent each night of an entire month at a different view spot throughout the city and not get bored of the different views.

The Port tasting caves are all situated within walking distance so it is easy to visit several caves daily : ) We had previous experience with tawny and ruby and were more than happy to learn about blanco and rosé, and how to mix them with tonic for a refreshing cocktail.

Since the City is situated along a river and the ocean, there are numerous bike paths for riding through fishing villages, beaches, parks, and boardwalks. When we returned the bikes, we noticed many athletic looking people with matching backpacks and learned that the Porto Marathon was the following day. The route for the marathon was almost exactly what we had road that day!

Shopping in porto is super fun too, there are large flea markets with our favorite being under the big bridge and down some super steep streets!

One of the world’s top 10 sandwiches can be found in Porto (find reference)! It is the Franchesia sandwich which has beef, ham, sausage, french fries and a fried egg topped with cheese and a thick sauce. It is pretty much a heart attack between two slices of bread.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 06:30 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Madrid, Spain

Do these people ever go to sleep?

sunny 80 °F

Madrid is all about staying up late with music shows not even starting till 11pm on a weeknight! It’s also a city of art and has three of the most famous art museums in Europe – Sofia, Prado, and Thyssen. We aren’t big on spending all of our time in the museums, so we jammed through a few of them in the evenings when they open up for two hours of free admission :) We liked how the Reina Sofia was an old hospital converted to a museum and the uniqueness of Gayo’s black paintings. The Prado is an enormous museum and we dug the spectacular rooms and hallways.

We learned about free walking tours from our hosts Jose and Sole. This was our first organized walking tour on our entire trip and we would definitely recommend them. We learned a great deal about the city and its Moorish history, but most importantly we learned about the Monasterio del Corpus Christi where we could buy dulces (sweets) from a small little revolving window from the nuns inside a convent, and also a placed called San Ginés where we could sit down for some fresh churros con chocolate! which should actually be called chocolate con churros because you of the huge amount of dipping chocolate we were served!

Madrid has a rich history in bull fighting but there is beginning to be resistance against killing for fun, so we decided to visit the bull fighting museum instead. It had a great deal of paintings and sculptors of famous bull fighters but not much in the way of explaining how bull fighting is more like a dance than a fight.

In search of the best free tapas we found a few dive bars that served us up full plates of food. Most people order “cañas” (very small beers) but after we ordered “cervesas mas grandes” we were rewarded with full plates of tapas! Our favorite was a place called El Tigre. Being the end of October we picked up a soon to be jack-o-lantern for our hosts and took him out for tapas before bringing him home… Happy Halloween!

During our travels, we usually offer to make dinner for our couch surfing hosts – which of course leads to the question – what is a typical American dinner? Being from California, we generally feel like a Mexican dinner accurately portrays Californian cuisine, especially if we can call it “Meixcan Monday” or “Taco Tuesday” or “Fajita Friday.” However, we wanted to try something different, so after some time on the internet, we decided upon a truly American meal:

Carrots and dip
Mac and Cheese
Apple Pie

This was Robin’s first ever attempt at making Macaroni and Cheese. Luckily, allrecipes.com did not disappoint and we made a delicious and cheesy meal with the addition of some Oscar Meyer hot dogs in just for kicks! Kevin used skills he learned from his mom and made a monstrous apple pie.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 06:29 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Valencia, Spain

Classic tapas and fresh new ideas

80 °F

As with many towns in Spain, Valencia is known for its paella and its healthy servings of seafood. Now that shrimp paella has become the standard to serve to tourists there has become a huge selection of shrimp sold in the markets, and there are even frozen food stores that specialize in rows of different varieties of shrimp!

In 1957 Valencia was flooded by the Trio River, so the city decided to divert the river to avoid future flooding. This left a more than 10 km long stretch of open space that was converted into a park (El Jardín del Turia) that when followed dumps you out onto the beach! It’s pretty awesome because the old bridges keep the traffic above you so you can run or bike without interruption of street crossing.

Horchaterias were abundant throughout the city but we found something even more refreshing… hallowed out oranges and lemons that are filled with ice cream!

We were trying to decipher the difference between siesta time and basic issues that Spain is having with their economy. It didn’t matter what time we were out and about, but at least half of the shops were always closed and some shops in our neighborhood weren’t ever open for the entire time we were there. Tapas could be found, but we weren’t always certain if places that were open the previous day would be open or not.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 08:41 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Barcelona, Spain

Going Going Gaudi

sunny 80 °F

Barcelona is a very pretty city, and although crowded in some places, it was easy to get off the beaten path and find a narrow alley way to walk down. For example, in one quiet ally we stumbled into the Temple D’August Roman ruins, and then found the newest craze in candy called Happy Pills!

We also braved the crowds including the ones at the Sagrada Família, where inside the cathedral really did feel like a forest with tree trunk columns branching out into more and more branches that hold up the ceiling. We were glad to have an audio guide because there is so much detail put into the cathedral that it would have been impossible to notice everything on our own. Here is Kevin hugging a ‘Gaudi tree.’

We were shocked by how many pig legs were on display in the markets and ordinary grocery stores. Back in the day, eating pork was used as a way of finding out which religion you were (or were not). These cured meats had a special funk to them and we found out the hard way that they are covered in some kind of goopy creamy stuff… eww!

We enjoyed our stay with Rob in his apartment overlooking the east of the city facing Parc Guel, well known for the Gaudi lizard and its spectacular views of the rest of the city.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 00:39 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

The French Riviera, France

Antibes and Nice

sunny 80 °F

We dipped back into France on the way to Spain to visit our friends Carmela and Charles and meet their son Rafael. We were greeted by the best hug ever (from Raf), amazing weather, waters warm enough to swim in and beaches that weren’t that crowded.

Carmela lives in Antibes, which is just south of Nice. It is famous for having what is known as the Billionaire's Port, containing some of the most expensive privately owned yachts in the world. We scooted around these boats and were stunned that no one seemed to mind us snooping around...

Antibes is situated perfectly for swimming and picnicking on the beach. We weren’t so impressed with the neighborhood on the peninsula where Hollywood stars have second homes they stay in for the Carnes Movie festival, but we dug the nearby mountain village and small cobbled streets.

In Nice, the Museum of Modern Art had an epic display of Yves Klein blue square paintings that we were pretty sure we could have painted, but there were also some very unique pieces including a gown made from plastic 2L bottles (ideas for the wedding!). Toting around town we noticed most folks drinking rosé wine at every meal so we decided that we were obligated to bring some quality stuff to Castel beach for a little picnic.

It was a short stay, but we had a great time catching up with Carmela and scooting around the beach town.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 00:38 Archived in France Comments (1)

Geneva, Switzerland

Does the Swiss army really carry Swiss Army Knives?

We knew Switzerland was expensive, so we decided to head to the MOST expensive city in the world… why not! Ironically, the most expensive city has some of the cheapest airfares to Nice (which was our next destination), so we spent a few days riding bikes around the city and spending some of most expensive coins in the world (a 5 Frank coin = $5.5 USD). Geneva has a great system of renting out free bikes and public transportation card to all tourists. It also has some interesting sights like the United Nations headquarters for Europe where there is a symbolic broken chair symbolizing opposition to land mines and cluster bombs, and acting as a reminder to politicians and others visiting Geneva.

We really enjoyed the cycling paths along the lake with views of Mt. Blanc and the iconic Jet d’ Eau (largest of its kind, propelling water 240 meters into the air).

It was funny to see all of the Swiss Army Knives on display for tourists because we couldn’t see how anyone actually in an army would carry one of them, and we were doing just fine with our little euro blade…

Our last few flights have been low-cost airlines (think Easyjet, Ryanair and Wizz Air). However, our Swiss Air flight to Nice was not only cheaper than those, it came with better baggage allowance, beverages and Swiss chocolate! So, we felt a bit guilty when we busted out our can of raviolis during the inflight service :)

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 00:37 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Baden, Switzerland

Fabulous Fondue with Friends

overcast 60 °F

Just outside of Zurich is the picturesque town of Baden where our traveling buddies David and Karin just wrapped up their 18 month around the world trip.

We met up with them and their good friends Phillpe and Amelia for some homemade fondue at Phillipe’s family restaurant. It was the first fondue of the winter season and the whole place reeked of sour cheese! We were even advised beforehand to be careful of what clothes we wore, cause they would smell of cheese afterwards. The fondue was very rich, and we probably each devoured a month’s worth of cheese followed by Swiss chocolates and wine. Robin of course was in heaven!

We explored Baden when it was sunny, and when the rain came we took the opportunity to work on planning our route through Africa. We gave ourselves two months to get through Africa so we would have enough time to see South and Central America in time to make it home before summer. Here is the general route that we came up with:

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 03:49 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Munich, Germany

More than just Oktoberfest

sunny 75 °F

We met up with Emily and Stephan (who we met in Singapore back in January) for a traditional Bavarian meal. It was nice to hear how the locals still love Oktoberfest and its traditions. This made us really excited for the festivities to begin! The vibe was incredible, it was a blend of families, bachelor and bachelorette parties, old dressed up German couples walking hand in hand, and of course drunk tourists. It is unbelievable how many people attend and how large of a space Oktoberfest really is. There were carnival rides, games, ½ meter long wursts (see below fight to finish the wurst), humongous pretzels (see kid in below picture), people watching and much more.

Even during the day, the infamous Oktoberfest beer tents were packed full and it was clear that getting into one of them was going to be a challenge. Lucky for us we were with our German speaking friends from Switzerland (David and Karin). Dressed in her Dirndl (female lederhosen) Karin miraculously convinced a security guard to let the four of us into not one, but two different tents! One was a small hip tent set up with a kitchen while the other was the Spatenbrau tent, a classic beer hall that we snuck in through the side door.

Even on a regular day, the city of Munich is filled with amazingly large Brauhaus beer halls. The Hopbanhaus is the largest in Munich, and the upstairs hall seats up to 8,000 people (note: is this was in the USA, this would be THE place for our wedding)! Here is Kevin in the VIP section:

The city streets are packed with people wondering through Marion Platz into old cathedrals and window shopping. Although it was tempting to buy a stein and some lederhosen, we opted for the less main stream ‘wurstsalat,’ which could arguably be the worst salad we’ve ever had.

On a more ‘sober’ note, the first concentration camp in Germany was built just outside of Munich in Dauchau. To say it was a chilling experience would be an understatement. It is one thing to go to a museum, read stories and see pictures, but it is quite a different experience to walk around the camp, step into the barracks that housed thousands of prisoners, and walk through what was once the Verbrennungsraum (incinerator room) and the Hinrichtungsstätte (execution site).

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 21:38 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Bamberg, Germany

Warming up for Oktoberfest

sunny 70 °F

The historic UNESCO town of Bamberg hosts more breweries than any other city in Germany (9 directly in town brewing over 50 different types of beer). Seeing as we were on our way to Oktoberfest in Munich, we decided we should make a pit stop in Bamberg as a warm up. There are two rivers running through Bamberg making for many picturesque bridges. The most famous is called Altes Rathaus, and has a little house in the middle of the river.

Bamberg was 100% awesome and we could have spent a lot more time exploring all of the small streets, markets and paths along the river. We started our self-guided beer tour at a bratwurst stand in square full of people enjoying the sunshine. After a nice .5L stein and a double foot long brat, we headed off on a mission to visit all of the breweries.

The German brew houses are a bit intimidating at first since they are always jam packed with open seating at long picnic style tables. Squeezing us into a few seats with some of Kevin’s high school German phrases (enshulegung bitte, ist hier noch frei?) was easy compared to navigating through the big German bar maids plowing through the crowds with fistfuls of steins! One thing that was a little unusual for us was the enormous amount of foam that is served on the beers. Sometimes, it looked as though we might only have been served a half liter in a liter stein! Luckily all of the euro glasses and steins are marked out with strict volume measurements and if full the stein would probably hold about 1.5L :)

With steins that big, it was impossible to sample all the varieties of “smoke” ales, Heffeweizens, and Bocks and be able to walk away with a favorite. What we do know is that the schnitzel is fantastic! Next time we’ll have to prepare some kind of tasting card and a few weeks to get through them all!

Sad to leave Bamberg behind, but excited to get to Munich, we boarded an early morning train surrounded by lederhosen and ‘weg beers’ and people of all ages flocking to Oktoberfest.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 06:49 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Berlin, Germany

Hipsters, weg beers and street art

sunny 75 °F

We wanted to find a way to drive on the legendary autobahn, but we couldn’t find a sporty enough rental car ;) So, we created an account on Carpooling.org (a carpooling website across Europe) and hitched a ride from Mainz into Berlin! We went just over a top speed of 200 km/h (aka 120 mph) but like all good legends, this one had a hard time meeting our expectations. Newton’s relativity law kicked in and we didn’t actually feel as though we going so fast when everyone else was going the same speed or faster!

Once we reached Berlin, we met up with our hosts Jannes and Seri who live in the hip district of Prenzlauer Berg. They updated us with the local knowledge including the most important “weg beer” which translates to “roadie.” Although it was extremely fun to be able to walk down the street with a beer in hand, it was unfortunate to see all the broken glass throughout the city and made us uneasy on our sweet Prenzlberger orange rental bikes.

Jannes and Seri gave us some good ideas for exploring abandoned buildings including the old East Berlin airport and the Teufelsburg Tower (an old listening post by the English and USA forces from 1950 to 1992. Since they shut down official activities at Teufelsburg, there has been little done with respect to maintenance but major work done by the locals creating some epic street art. We were invited to join a tour by an American (who actually worked at tower) for a group of people from a war museum, and they shared their history stories with us.

The old abandoned airport grounds is a free for all and was totally amazing to ride bikes through. The locals have turned it into a park, where people go to bike, skate, walk, run, and some folks have even started little gardens in the grass between the runway strips.

It turns out that the Doner sandwiches that we had so much loved in Turkey were actually invented in Berlin! One other local delight we enjoyed was currywurst with mayo french fries (they drown ‘em in that shiz), and another (one of Kevin’s favorite dishes as a kid) is called spätzel, so having a spätzel making party with Jannes one night was a dream come true! Berlin is filled with so many different things to do that we didn’t have a chance at exploring everything we wanted and could only describe it as trying to see all of New York including the top tourist sites, museums, the local secrets of all five boroughs and a big whacky event like a roller blading marathon in only 5 days. We loved all the alternative ways to enjoy Berlin and totally recommend it with a big hug and a kiss. . .

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 07:47 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

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