We wrote an article about of adventures in Europe last summer, discovering our ancestral roots in Italy and Croatia, and about meeting online pen pals in Ulm, Germany. The Orange County Register will be running the article along with photos we took in this Sunday’s Travel section. You can check it out here!
A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena De Blasi is a bestselling novel in which the author recalls her trip to Venice where she meet first met a Venetian man named Fernando. Before really even knowing this “stranger” as she calls him, she relocates her entire life to the Italian island where she marries him and renovates his apartment before deciding to sell it, move out of Venice and start a new life adventure together (which the author has written subsequent books about). De Blasi is a middle aged divorcée who feels she has gotten a ‘second chance at love,’ and for this reason makes this book only appealing to middle aged and older women. I apparently missed that memo when buying the book based solely off of high amazon reviews in the travel literature section. Up until the last two chapters I was a little bored with the book, as I resent reading about how delicious food is that I can not actually taste myself (the author loves to talk about food in detail). For me the book picked up in the last two chapters because they began talking about getting the heck out of Venice and opening a bed and breakfast in the countryside. For me the novel got a bit more youthful and adventurous at this point and even left me hanging because I want to know what happens next! Damn you De Blasi! Not sure I want to read any more of your granny romance novels, but I want to know what happened to you after you left Venice! What do I do now? Well I guess I did buy another De Blasi book…so stay tuned for that review. All and all I enjoyed reading it but am not in love with it. So beware of glowing reviews on Amazon.com if you are under 45, and if you are over 45 its a sure bet you will love it.
I just received my 100% Organic wool socks from Ireland and they are fabulous! I have been reading for some time about how great wool is, especially organic wool, which is very warm, breathes well and wicks away sweat. Wool is the perferred sock for hikers and anyone who knows anything about keeping warm in a cold climate. I purchased them from Gael Song. Here is the product description:
Some fortunate sheep graze on grassland that has seen no artificial fertilizer, and the sheep are never subjected to chemical dip. From these happy flocks comes soft organic wool. The wool itself is minimally processed by environmentally friendly methods – no dyes or bleach, just the color of those contented sheep. Thick, soft socks keep your feet warm and happy. Natural Cream, Oatmeal, or Brown.
So unfortunately my socks and the sheep from which the fibers were taken are more pure than I will ever be. But on the bright side I am supporting the responsible and traditional methods of raising sheep in my ancestral country. All this talk about happy sheep, knitted wool and pristine grassland has gotten me thinking about our trip to the Emerald Isle in 2005. While staying in Dublin we took a bus/train tour south to a few Irish towns and along the way we stopped in Avoca, Ireland at Avoca Weavers. It was no secret that the tour company and Avoca were in bed together and knew quite well that after the tour showing how the wool was processed and how the looms worked to weave the garments we would be more likely to make a purchase at the store. Well the joke was on them because we were too cheap to buy anything that day and their goods were probably overpriced anyway.
After looking around the internet for a nice pair of socks this former tourist has decided with regret that it may have been cheaper and easier to have bought some wool souvenirs in Ireland at the time. First of all, there are very few online options for 100% Organic wool socks, and these were the only ones I found from Ireland. Number two, even though a stop on a bus tour may not be the most authentic ‘mom and pop’ type place to purchase a souvenir, we would have still brought home a piece of your trip and supported the indigenous local trade. That being said, with what I now know, the next time I have the pleasure of being in Ireland I will try to seek out the most authentic place to buy wool, a place that supports the local tradition, culture and the environment. Maybe this place will be a roadside stand, a country shop or better yet perhaps I will meet an old Irish shepherd in a pub who mentions that his wife hand knits socks from his organic sheep. Ahhh… a girl can only dream.
I purchased the ‘brown’ socks, (which look a little more like nice dark gray-brown to me) and because they are undyed I know they are made from the ‘black sheep’. I thought they were thicker than they looked in the picture, and the medium size is pretty roomy for my foot, but neither bothers me as I am quite pleased just to own a pair of socks this lovely. They are very soft and warm, and I find that I can really feel them “breathe”. On another note they smell very earthy and distinctively woolen. I know after being worn by my stinky feet and once they are cleaned the smell is likely to dissapear, but there is something satisfying about the smell they have. Perhaps it is comforting to smell where the natural fibers came from. The socks I purchased were $20 + 6 dollars shipping and are by far the nicest and pricest socks I have ever owned.
But lets get one thing straight: I am a sock person! Over the years I have had socks off all sorts of colors patterns, heights and textile blends, but I have never had a single pair of premium socks. One after another these socks would deterate quickly, usually at the heel and I would have to throw them out and purchase more. I thought this was just the downfall of being a sock owner until I watched an episode of Martha Stewart’s television show a few years ago. During the show Martha taught Bette Middler how to mend a pair of her cashmere socks (can you get more typical Martha than that?). I remember thinking two things while watching…’ooooh cashmere socks sound nice and soft, I should get a pair someday’ and ‘why would anyone repair socks? they always wear out so quickly and are pointless to repair.’ Recently I solved this mystery: wool and other natural fibers will last a long time and will not wear out like synthetic ones do. So my money spent was a good investment you see; premium price with a purpose I say! Another misconception about wool that I learned was not true was that ‘wool is itchy.’ How can this be when cashmere and merino wool are soft? They are still wool. The truth is that wool only becomes itchy when it has been chemically treated, which was my only experience with wool from American chain stores.
A Year In Provence by Peter Mayle has become an international bestseller and inspired a delightful romantic comedy called A Good Year since it was written and published in the late 1980′s. In it (the book) Mayle, and englishman and his wife purchase a home in the region of Provence in Southern France. The book takes you through the ups and downs of owning a property and taking up residence in the French countryside, where the food and wine is perfection, but renovations of a 200 year old farmhouse can be a slow and sporadic process. The descriptive detail will have you both laughing, drooling and yearning to spend even a month in Provence. The curiosities of the culture of Southern France and the humor that goes along with the story of a foreigner is what makes this book such a delightful and relaxing read. Life seems to move at a slower pace, beauty has a no-frills elegance and pleasure comes with out effort. We were transported us to Provence. Convinced that we too would adore living in this region and jealous that it was not us who actually do.
Immoveable Feast by John Baxter was a wonderful book about how one Australian man prepped a traditional French Christmas feast. The author goes into great detail to describle what it takes to impress Parisian in-laws with a delicious Christmas dinner. Through reading this book I learned a lot about French culture and traditions. The book was quite funny and the descriptions made me so wish I was invited to this feast as well. I highly recommend this book!
Lisbon: The San Francisco Twin
We really liked Lisbon. Our first introduction to the city was the gorgeous aerial view we had flying into the airport. From above we could see the entire bay area and even the giant Christ the Redeemer statue that looks just like its twin in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Lisbon is a city built on hills with many similarities to San Francisco, including a red bridge spanning a similar bay and old wooden trolley cars that are still in operation (see our video below). The hilly landscape makes it very difficult and tiring to get around.
Getting into the city was a piece of cake, we hopped on a bus at the airport that took us directly to the city center and dropped us off in front of our hostel. Our hostel, Hostel Rossio, was rated the ‘best hostel in the world’, but we still thought it was overpriced for not having an attached bathroom. After checking in we explored the Rossio Square and some of its beautiful old shops. We then took a long walk to find a Vegetarian Restaurant, desperate to offset all the heavy meals in Spain. We ate at Restaurant Terra, which was a buffet style restaurant that satisfied our cravings.
The next day we did a self guided tour of Lisbon wearing us out as we walked all over the hilly town. We visited many beautiful old shops many specializing in one unique item like gloves, hats or seeds. The hat store in particular was very charming with its pretty window display, tall moulded ceilings and wooden antique cases. Every souviner shop sold painted tin roosters that serve different functions. Megan’s grandma gave us some cork stoppers a few years, but we definitely think that these tin painted roosters are some of the more quality mass produced souvenirs we have seen. The rooster is a symbol of some Portuguese story about Lisbon involving a rooster.
We went to a store called Aarte da Terra that had many unique and interesting Portugese made things. Megan bought a unique wool purse handcrafted by a local artist named Miguel Gigante and we bought a delicious bag of cookies called “Broas De Mel.” They were medium brown oval shaped cookies that tasted similar to snickerdoodles and were quite delicious. On the bag it said they were made by Pastelaria Gregorio in Sintra, Portugal. The ingredients are listed as: Farinha, Açucar, Gorduras Vegetais, Ovos, Mel e Canela. We need to find a recipe! They were gone before we could take a photo!
Av. D. Francisco de Almeida, 33 – 35 – 2710-562 Sintra
Telef. 21 92 32 733
Email [email protected]
We also to the train to Belem where we saw all the famous monuments to exploration and tried the famous Pastéis de Belem. At night we ate dinner at a Portuguese Restaurant in El Corte Inglés and saw the movie Brüno in a mall. The next day we sadly had to leave the continent. Even though we had spent 3 weeks touring, we were not ready to stop. We really wished that we had skipped Spain entirely and spent the end of our trip in Portugal. We liked Lisbon so much that we are eager to see more of the country.
Our drive to Gibraltar from Seville took a turn off into the beautiful back country roads of Spain when we decided to stop off at the little hill town of Arcos De La Frontera. The two lane road meandered through green and amber colored fields and hills. When we got a little lost at one point we stopped and asked for directions at the Spanish equivalent to a highway diner where passing bikers and truckers stopped for a bite to eat. Arriving in Arcos was a bit of a mystery to us, all we really knew about it was that Rick Steves said it was a “must see” in the region and we are always a little mistrusting of him thanks to the Hotel Toledano, Amsterdam, becoming famous for entering Europe through the “back door,” the way he carries a backpack and his style in general. But we decided to give it a shot anyway.
The town was laid out on a steep cliff that seemed to be eternally rising. As we drove up the hill through the narrow and winding streets we became increasingly unsure if cars were allowed in these alleys and if our car would continue to fit between the buildings as the distance from building to building grew closer and closer together (not that we are strangers to driving on pedestrian-only streets in Spain or anything (after all, “what happens in Seville doesn’t stay in Seville”)). Once we finally parked and got out of the car, we were not even sure exactly what there was to see or where that area would be if it at all existed. After walking around, looking at buildings, buying souvenirs and eating some sub-par tapas we were still not sure why it was worth the detour. It was interesting to see the old sleepy Spanish country town (emphasis on sleepy), the cute white washed buildings, cobblestone streets and glorious cliff location rising high above the Spanish countryside, but it was also very dead with no apparent activity to speak of.
As we walked back to our car through the narrow cobblestone alley we were barely able to squeak through, we did make a curious observation: the material that many of the buildings were made out of was literally crumbling. It seemed to be made out of the same material that sand castles are made of: SAND! We noticed the sand pile at the base of some buildings and a mere finger scratch on the bricks sent more crumbling down. Even more curious were the age of these buildings and how in tact they appeared. They didn’t even appear crumbling when you looked at them or weathered at all. Strange.
Our last full day in Spain we spent, well in the UK. That’s right, we drove from Seville and after a stop off in Arcos de la Frontera to Gibraltar. Gibraltar or Gib (how the locals call it) was weird from the start. First, it is blatantly visible that Spain is bitter and refuses to acknowledge that Gib belongs to the UK. There are no signs pointing to Gib on the highway until you get to the exit for it and then you must immediately turn once you spot it. Secondly, Spain refuses you a direct road to the border, making the only way to get to Gib by forcing cars to make a u-turn on an abandoned looking road to nowhere. Also Spanish taxis seemed to be either required to drop off patrons at the border, where droves of people with wheelie suitcases were disrupting the flow of traffic. The other weird thing is that there is a border check between two EU countries, but you can fly between them and not be checked.
Gibraltar is weird. It is very British, yet not quite British enough to really be British. After the border we drove across the airport runway to get to the city. From the Europa Point where trade was once controlled, you can see Africa nearly all the ships passing through the strait. Once the most important point for controlling the straight is now an oddly abandoned spot in the territory. It has great for view and is the closest we came to Africa (we had intended to spend a day in Morocco before Spain completely screwed us over). There are very strong winds at the Europa Point which we assumed were blowing off the water up to the rock.
We attempted to drive up to the rock but arrived just as it was closing and never got to see the famous monkeys. But we did go for a stroll in the town and had a good dinner at Café Rojo, that was a welcomed break from tapas y jamon. We had our first Banoffee which was really yummy! If you, like we were, are not yet enlightened as to what Banoffee is please pay close attention. It is a pie consisting of the delectable combination of Banana and Toffee. We suggest you fly to your nearest UK territory and find one for yourself.
I purchased Rite of Passage this book because of how much I enjoyed reading the short travel stories in Europe From A Backpack being that they are both compilations of short travel stories written by young backpackers in Europe. However, I found the stories in Europe From A Backpack to be more wild and entertaining. Maybe this was because I read the books almost 5 years apart and was in a different mood. Who knows! I found Rite of Passage to be more tame and edited in its storytelling, which is what I normally enjoy most. There was just something about the raw, unedited stories that was more telling about what American youths really do (like it or not) while they are backpacking Europe that I found so unapologetic, messy and real. Maybe I especially liked it because I don’t have to participate in some of what they are doing and experiencing, knowing that many of these dirty twenty-somethings I would dislike in real life! But in Rite of Passage the characters just seemed more likable and I genuinely enjoyed about every other story and found some to be quite entertaining and humorous.
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We escaped from the Costa Del Sol to Seville and it felt like we were being freed from shackles. We would have rather escaped the entire country, but that was not really possible yet. Although we came to a nicer place and a nicer hotel, it was still very hot. We can’t say we understood the Spanish Siesta until we came to Seville. After lunch, with the heat all we felt like doing was lying down and napping and that is exactly what we did both days. Unfortunately this lazy attitude caused us to miss out on seeing the sites of Seville, using our time here escape, eat and rest.
We ate at Taberna Coloniales for lunch, which was a popular tapas spot. For dinner we ate at Az Zait which was completely deserted because we ate early (for Spain’s standards). We spent the night listening to a street performer by the cathedral. It was quite romantic. We stayed in The Petit Palace Marquis Santa Cruz the first night and decided to book a second night on Expedia because it was cheaper than doing it in the lobby. We found out in the morning that Bryan had accidentally booked a room at the sister hotel The Petit Palace Marquis Santa Ana for the same price but not including parking. We talked to everyone possible to try to get them to change the reservation but they would not, so we reluctantly walked our luggage across town in the heat to the other hotel. The last day went for a shopping spree at the Sfera and bought a bunch of clothes for 2 euro each. That night we went to dinner at Enrique Becerra, where we found and online recommendation and left very bitter about the money we spent and the meal we ate. This meal threw us overboard being completely sick of tapas food and disgusted with jamon and Spain in general.