Archive for August, 2011

August 31, 2011

Johnnys Top 5 Tunes

by Johnny

Lately I’ve been getting a ton of emails asking, “Johnny, what are the top five songs that have been playing on your iPod this trip?”  No, not really.  But I’m going to tell you anyways.  Here they are, in no particular order.

Ugly Casanova – Here’s To Now
This song is from the 180° South soundtrack.  Anna and I have watched in on a couple of long-distance train and bus rides, and we get inspired every time.  The tunes are great, too.

Talking Heads – The Book I Read
I love Talking Heads.  For me, they’re one of those bands that has such a unique sound that they may as well have their own genre.  What kind of music is this?  It’s Talking Heads.  I especially like the album The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads because it was the first one I ever bought at Amoeba Records on Haight Street in San Francisco with my good bud and old roommate John Norton.  This song rules.  You think James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem were inspired by David Byrne & Co.?

Paul Simon – Born At The Right Time
This old favorite came on the shuffle while gazing out a train window somewhere deep in the French countryside.  The chorus hit me like a ton of bricks, and it’s been in heavy rotation ever since.  It just made me feel so blessed…not only to be on this trip with Anna but to have such great family and friends back home.  I don’t know what I did to deserve so much.
“Never been lonely
Never been lied to
Never had to scuffle in fear
Nothing denied to
Born at the instant
The church bells chime
The whole world whispering
Born at the right time”

Robert Palmer – Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley
OK, enough of that sappy stuff.  Before Robert Palmer was making cheesy but awesome ’80s music videos, he made the funkiest album ever made by a male Caucasian, as my good friend Will Yale will agree.  Here’s the title track.

Phish – Suzy Greenberg Outro Jam
It couldn’t possibly be a Johnny list without a little Phish.  This Suzy Greenberg outro jam from the September 14, 2000 in Darien Lake, NY has been doing the trick lately.  For those impatient few, minutes 7:00 to 11:00 contain maximum shredding.  Warning:  may make you confused; will make you dance.

August 31, 2011

Island Time; Korcula

by Johnny

Now begins the Croatian island hopping portion of our trip.  First stop, Korcula!  Legend has it that this island is the birthplace of famous explorer and awesome pool game inventor Marco Polo.  To be honest, I don’t know why he ever left the place.  It’s amazing!

Korcula Town, where we based ourselves, has actually been dubbed “mini-Dubrovnik” because of its walled old town.  Unlike Dubrovnik, however, there were hardly any tourists.  While we thought Dubrovnik was beautiful, we spent much of our time in its old town dodging the hordes of tour groups and cruise ship day-trippers.  In Korcula’s old town, you truly felt like you’d taken a step back in time.  It’s hard to explain in writing, but Anna and I just felt an instant connection with the place.  It was just so mellow and casual…just our style.  Also, while we had to walk 356 steps down to the sea in Dubrovnik, here we only had to walk about 10.  The place we stayed, Villa Depolo, may have been our favorite yet.  For the equivalent of about $50/night we had a huge, clean room, air conditioning, en-suite bathroom, fridge and an enormous deck right on the water.

View from our deck
Korcula’s old town from our deck
Did I mention we had a super sweet deck?
Entrance to Korcula’s old town Awesome dinner at U Maje i Tonke
Beauty everywhere you look in Korcula Ditto
Johnny’s a.m. buoy swim

One day, when we weren’t bouncing back and forth between our deck and the sea right out front, we took a taxi boat over to the small fisherman’s village of Lumbarda where the island’s only sandy beaches are.  I didn’t think Korcula could get any more beautiful, but it proved me wrong.  We swam in some of the warmest, clearest, bluest water we’ve ever been in on a sandy beach lined with ancient walls.  Oh, and the Lumbarda area is know for its Grk wine which is grown in sandy soil, so there were vineyards coming straight down to the sea.  Incredible!

Vineyards all the way down to the crystal clear Adriatic
Vivid blue and green everywhere Johnny, ancient walls and vineyards
You get the idea One more, for good measure

Korcula was just perfect.  Look for Anna and me on a Korcula episode of House Hunters International in about 20 years.

August 26, 2011

356 Steps To Paradise

by Anna

From Ljubljana we had a pretty serious travel day/night that took us from one hot, sweaty overnight train to the next with a three hour pit stop in Zagreb, Croatia’s capitol (which was really pretty….a nice place for a train layover!), and then finally on a five hour bus ride winding down Croatia’s coast. Along the way we met some nice Germans and a Kiwi, swapped some travel stories, and tried some Croatian beer – Karlovacko. The somewhat sleepless journey was worth it though, as we had finally made it to the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” Dubrovnik!

We’ve had high expectations of Croatia in general….it is actually one of the destinations that I have been looking forward to the most, and so far we have been loving it.

Dubrovnik was amazing, and we had an awesome view of its red roof-topped old town surrounded by fortress walls, its small bustling port and the forest-blanketed island of Locrum. We soon found that this glorious view came at a cost…..356 steps, but the reward was just as great at the other end (plus, we think our calves are looking pretty toned after four days of walking up and down these infamous steps!).

Sunset view of Dubrovnik’s old town from our room
356 steps down… and 356 steps up…
Dubrovnik’s Old Port

The old town of Dubrovnik was beautiful and so much fun to explore. Cut down the middle by its main street, the Stradun, a labyrinth of narrow and charmingly gritty streets wind out on both sides. There are shops, cafes, laundry lines, old palaces, cathedrals, clock towers, monasteries and plazas tucked into every nook and cranny, making it a great place to just wander around and get lost within.

Old town at night
Stradun More steps in the old town
View of Buza Bar on the cliffs around the old town View of Locrum from Buza Bar – Johnny and I stopped here for
some cold beers after a day of swimming

We had read that Dubrovnik has become a “European vacation hotspot,” so we were not completely surprised at how crowded and touristy it was. We were a little surprised by how hot and humid it was though, and even the owners of the place where we stayed (the funniest brothers of all time – Igor and Zoran) said it was the hottest summer they could remember. We managed to escape the heat during the day however by taking a quick ferry ride to the island Locrum. This place was really incredible….car-free, covered in trees and wild peacocks, with cathedral and fortress ruins and rocky edges where you could bask in the sun (kind of like a seal) and jump in and out of the crystal clear, warm Adriatic. There were even a couple salty pools with rope swings that we stumbled upon.

Leaving the Old Port on the way to Locrum Swimming spots around Locrum
Johnny taking the plunge on Locrum
Checking out the best swimming spots on the island
I
Salty pools on the island

Another highlight of our time spent in Dubrovnik was the walk along its 2km of city walls. We were a little turned off at first because we thought it was pretty pricey to just walk the walls, but we sucked it up and did it anyways, and it was well worth it. The walls are completely in tact, unlike many of the other walled cities we have visited, and they offer spectacular views all around. We did the walk close to sunset, and the glowing terra cotta rooftops and sun reflecting in the turquoise waters was beautiful.  It was interesting to learn that in the recent war in the early 90s, two thirds of Dubrovnik’s rooftops were damaged by bombings. In replacing the damaged roofs, they kept true to their terra cotta tiles, but there is a noticeable difference between the new, bright red/orange tiles and older, faded original tiles.

Today we woke up bright and early and took a three hour bus ride to the island of Korcula. Smaller, less crowded, but equally (if not more so!) beautiful, I think Johnny and I have both fallen in love. We’ve already been talking about extending our stay here…..but more to come on that in the next blog post!!

We made it to Korcula! Ready for three days of relaxing…
August 25, 2011

Ljubljana

by Johnny

We arrived in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, with no expectations.  We figured it would just be a solid pit stop before heading south to Croatia.  However, after a couple days there we came away really impressed with all it had to offer.  Ljubljana has beautiful Eastern European architecture, great parks, big squares, a castle overlooking the city and everything else you could want in an “off the beaten path” destination.  Some have referred to Ljubljana as the “next Prague” in the sense that it is still a pretty undiscovered gem of Eastern Europe.

Eastern European buildings Ljubljana’s famous Triple Bridge
Ljubljana’s famous Dragon Bridge Ljublj-Anna’s famous Dragon face
Slovenian wine on our B&B’s balcony Slovenian beer at dinner

The city was a little dead during the day because it was so hot (like Seville hot), but at night Ljubljana is HAPPENING!  There is live music around every corner, literally.  The place must have the highest level of street performers per capita in all of Europe.  And I’m not talking about those creeps who dress up like statues and just stand still all day.  These guys had talent…and Anna and I loved stumbling on to one after the other.

And while Slovenia isn’t exactly known for its cuisine, we had a couple really great meals in Ljubljana.  One day for lunch we went to Ribca, a seafood restaurant tucked away underneath the Triple Bridge.  It’s right next to Ljubljana’s fish market, so everything is super fresh.  It’s cheap and simply prepared…usually just grilled with some lemon and olive oil.  Anna and I spent a couple hours there enjoying our food and wine, escaping the midday heat and watching the boats pass by on the river.  We would have gone back again, but they were closed on Sundays.  For dinner on our last night we went to Lunch Café Marley & Me (weird name, I know) for some traditional Slovenian food.  We had been dodging all the boiled potatoes and sausages we had seen but figured we had to give them a go on our last night.  I got the restaurant’s award winning Karst style sausage and Anna got some potato dumplings with mushrooms.  I won’t be going out of my way to find any Slovenian restaurants back home, but it was pretty tasty.

Fish at Ribca Karst sausage at Lunch Café Marley & Me

And a couple more pics from a places that’s definitely worth checking out for a couple days.  Between festive Ljubljana and beautiful Bled, we had an awesome week in Slovenia.

Ljubljana at dusk
Old town Ljubljana Love padlocks and Ljubljana’s Butchers’ Bridge
Ljubljana Castle at night Ljubljana’s old town
Triple Bridge at night
Lunch at Ribca Hangin’ on some steps listening to the sounds of the city
August 18, 2011

Bled-Head

by Johnny

After another long bus->train->bus->bus->walk travel day, we made it to Bled, Slovenia.  Truth be told, we weren’t really feeling this place at first.  We were beat from a long travel day, our apartment looked like a hospital room and part of the town looks like it’s stuck in the ’70s.  But now, after five days here, we’re going to be sad to say goodbye to this beautiful place and its super friendly people.

After finding the first Mexican food we’ve seen since we’ve left (I don’t care that we paid €9 for chips and salsa…it was amazing) and getting a much needed good night’s rest, we woke up in much better spirits.  I mean, how can you not feel good when you’re celebrating your second wedding anniversary with the love of your life?!  We set off to check out the area determined to make the most of our special day.  Like Anna mentioned in our last post, that included a long walk around Lake Bled, a visit to a Picasso and Slovenian Impressionism exhibit and some dinner at Oštarija Peglez’n.

Anna’s lucky to be married to such a cultured individual Walking around Lake Bled
Our view from dinner at Oštarija Peglez’n Some of Bled’s famous Kremna Rezina cake for dessert
Nightcap with our bottle of Amarone wine from Verona…Happy Anniversary to us!

On one of our days here we rented a rowboat for the afternoon. This made two things very clear: 1) Lake Bled and it’s surroundings are absolutely breathtaking, and 2) I am extremely out of shape. We packed up some bread, fruit, cheese and two of Slovenia’s finest canned brews and slowly but surely made our way to Bled Island in the middle of the lake. Our highlight of the day was docking our boat just in time to witness an Italian fisherman in Speedos reel in a gigantic lake monster. He brought the beast on land, posed for a couple pictures and then let it go back into the lake, garnering a standing ovation from a tour boat full of Asian women. Only in Slovenia…

Huffin’ and puffin’ Just chillin’ while Johnny gives himself a hernia
We’re on a boat!
Catch… …and realease
Rowboats with Bled Castle in the background

Another highlight was renting bikes and riding to the nearby Vintgar Gorge, a stunning 1.6 kilometer long ravine through which the Radovna River flows. You can walk through the ravine on a series of paths and bridges carved into the rock. Super cool.

Riding through the Slovenian countryside Watch out for cows
Vintgar Gorge
Navigating the wooden paths Walkway built into the ravine
Vintgar Gorge No day is complete without a Euro dude in a Speedo

Other than that, we had a really relaxing time in Bled.  We took walks and bike rides around the lake, went for a couple dips and just lazed around admiring the landscape.  I think it’s definitely the most physically beautiful place we’ve been so far.  Here are some more snapshots from an amazing place…

Am I in a postcard?
So graceful Weeeeeeee!
Hi Anna! Hi Johnny!
August 15, 2011

A Slovenian Anniversary

by Anna

Celebrating two years of married bliss today with a Pablo Picasso and Slovenian Impressionism exhibit, a walk around Lake Bled, dinner at Oštarija Peglez’n and our bottle of Amarone!

August 15, 2011

Home Sweet Verona

by Anna

As you can imagine, I was really looking forward to reuniting with Verona. It has been nine years since I lived and studied there for the summer between my Junior and Senior years at USC. I was so excited to visit my old stomping grounds and to show Johnny all of my favorite spots!

Our view every day walking into Verona’s center

Verona is as lovely, if not more so, than I remember. Situated in a bend of the Adige River, it is bordered by beautiful bridges and castle-topped, cypress-lined hillsides. Every piazza, alley, fountain and fresco in Verona is picture-perfect.

After settling in at our B&B, Lo Streggato, where we really enjoyed getting to know our hosts and their funny 6-year-old son Marco, we spent the week eating yummy breakfasts on their rooftop terrace, cruising through Verona’s picturesque streets, hanging out in Piazza Erbe, Piazza Bra and Piazza dei Signori, eating delicious meals, sitting alongside the river and climbing the surrounding hills to check out views of the city. It was a wonderful, relaxing week in a place that I love….and a place that I’m pretty sure Johnny loves now too!

Piazza Erbe at Night
Ponte Pietra, one of Verona’s oldest bridges
Porta Borsari, an ancient Roman gate leading into the city dating to the 1st century BC
Along the River Adige at night
Delicious melon and Parma ham Osteria del Bugiardo
Verona sky Gelato
Verona Madonna in Piazza Erbe
Castelvecchio bridge

One of the things I couldn’t wait to eat again (and for Johnny to try) was Risotto All’Amarone. Amarone wine, which happens to be my favorite but is always too expensive at home to buy, is produced in Valpolicella in the Veneto wine region where Verona is situated. Even though the dish slightly resembles baby food, it is DELECTABLE, and Johnny and I had it twice during our stay and wiped our dishes clean both times.

Risotto All’Amarone at Hostaria La Vecchia Fontanina

Because of my affection for this wine and for other wines in the Valpolicella (translated: “valley of many cellars”), we found a wine tour that took us into the surrounding countryside one afternoon. We had a wonderful time with another Swedish/English retired couple from Salzburg and our two Italian guides. The countryside is literally minutes outside of Verona’s city center, and we loved seeing the valleys dotted with medieval churches, villages and vineyards. The vines were heavy with grapes and we learned that the majority of the grapes are grown using the “pergola” system, resembling umbrellas, so that the grapes are more protected from the weather while still having access to the sun. Our tour led us to Fratelli Vogadori in the Negrar valley where we tasted Valpolicella Classico, Ripasso, Amarone and Recioto. One of the brothers (of Fratelli Vogadori) poured our tastings and explained that Amarone is so expensive because of how long the process is to produce the wine. An Amarone is rarely drunk less than 5 years after the vintage! We picked up a bottle for 18 euros (!) and were on our way back to Verona.

Plump grapes that will be ready to harvest in September Amarone and Ripasso aging in barrels

Another highlight of being in Verona at this time of year is that it is opera season! The beautiful Roman Arena in Piazza Bra, which dates back to the 1st century AD, hosts operas all through the summer. I had seen Carmen at the Arena nine years ago and remember it as being a truly magical experience. Because of this, Johnny and I bought tickets to see La Boheme about six months ago. We chose La Boheme, because the musical Rent was inspired by it, so we thought we’d have an easier time following the story line. We treated ourselves to an amazing dinner at Botega Vini (a must-stop Verona institution with a small novel of a wine list) and then made our way down Via Mazzini to Piazza Bra and climbed up to our seats on the stone steps within the Arena. With a full moon as a backdrop to the stage, and hundreds of people holding lighted candles as dusk set in and the orchestra began, we felt transported to another time. It was an amazing evening that I will always remember.

Bottega Vini Pre-opera dinner
The Arena in Piazza Bra
The stage
Candles lit all around the Arena La Boheme

We also took advantage of the opera on several of the other nights that we were in Verona and sat in Piazza Bra with pizza and wine and listened to the sounds of the other operas, like Aida and La Traviata, wafting from the Arena. It was like a free concert every night!

So, it’s “ciao for now” to Italy (don’t worry, we’ll be back in September) as we make our way to Slovenia where we’ll be celebrating our two year anniversary!

August 15, 2011

A Day On the Lake

by Anna

After a loooong travel day on Sunday beginning at 5am that included almost all modes of transportation – a taxi, a bus, a flight, another bus, a train and then a short walk – and which also included me having a disagreement with my stomach and throwing up on almost all of these modes of transportation – we finally made it to Lake Garda, Italy!

Lago di Garda

We had a day to fill between San Sebastian and Verona, and Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake and only a 25 minute train ride from Verona, seemed like the perfect spot. I had been to Garda on a weekend trip from Verona in college and remembered it being really pretty. There are towns scattered all along the edges of the lake, and we chose Desenzano for our one-night stop. It was a charming start to Italy (and a reminder to Johnny and I of how awesome this country and its food are!), and Lake Garda was even more beautiful than I remembered! After a nap at our B&B, I managed to refill my empty stomach with some delicious pizza, and Johnny got his first gelato (strawberry, in case you were wondering).

Desenzano

The next morning we checked our bags at the front desk of our B&B and headed over to the ferry to take a ride across the lake and spend the afternoon at another town called Sirmione. Sirmione stretches out into the lake on a peninsula causing it to have beautiful views from all sides. We had a great time exploring the nooks and crannies of the town and its 13th century Scaliger Castle and treating ourselves to a nice long lunch where Johnny had the best Caprese of all time! In a happy Prosecco, pasta and Caprese haze, we slowly made our way back to the ferry, grabbed our bags and caught the train to Verona.

The Ferry
Sirmione Sirmione
Scaliger Castle
Prosecco…yummmm Caprese….yuuummm
Chillaxin in Sirmione
August 7, 2011

Back To Spain, San Sebastian

by Johnny

Not so fast, Spain.  You’re not getting rid of us that easy.  After hanging at Goose’s place in Lisbon for a couple days researching our next maneuver, we found an overnight train from Lisbon to San Sebastian, Spain and a super cheap flight from Bilboa (right next to San Sebastian) to Italy, where we have a couple things lined up in the coming weeks.  Done deal.  We were heading back to Spain.

A €0.75 box of wine can really work wonders on an overnight train

San Sebastian was one of my favorite stops on “Jimmy and Johnny’s European Adventure 2004,” and this time around it was even better than I remembered.  A couple days earlier Anna and I were talking about how we’d like to see more sunrises, so we were stoked when our train arrived right when the sun was coming up.  Even though our room was a good hour away on foot, we were too taken with the beauty of the place (and cheap!) not to make the walk all the way there.  It was really surreal to see the place so calm and peaceful when just a few hours later it would be packed with vacationers.

Rolling my bag through the empty streets Sun’s coming up
Early morning in San Sebastian

Given that the Basque country is considered the culinary mecca of Spain, if not the world, Anna and I were pumped to try all the pintxos we could get our hands on.  My brother Jay trained as a chef in San Sebastian for a year, and he gave us some great recs of places to go and things to try.  This was a huge help because I would have been lost trying to order food from the Eusko menus.  Seriously, every word looks like “tzküzktkükzz.”  Anna’s friend Marta, who works at the Quiksilver office in Biarritz and lives in San Sebastian, also gave us some recs of places to go, so we were armed and ready.

Our first night we headed to Goiz Argi, one of Marta’s spots, which is famous for their brocheta de gambas (grilled prawns on toast).  It seemed liked everybody in the bar was ordering them, and for good reason.  They were friggin’ amazing.  I would have stayed there all night and had about a hundred if it weren’t for us being in the true pintxo spirit of trying a couple dishes and then moving on to the next bar.  After Goiz Argi we made our way to A Fuego Negro, one of Jay’s recs.  English menu, phew!  We had a small grilled veggie salad, a couple of kobe beef sliders and some risotto and went home stuffed and happy.

Mouth-watering brocheta de gambas at Goiz Argi
Kobe sliders and banana chips at A Fuego Negro Risotto at A Fuego Negro

On night two we were given strict instructions by Jay to go to his favorite pintxos bar La Cuchara de San Telmo and try the fois dish and the risotto.  Done and done.  Actually, they were so good that we abandoned any thoughts of bar hopping and ordered about six or seven more dishes.  Some highlights were the pork rib in balsamic vinegar, the baked goat cheese with grilled veggies and the bacon-wrapped scallop.

Howdy Jay…thanks for the recs!

Night three ruled!  We met up with Anna’s friend Jen, a Quiksilver alum, and her husband Juan Pablo for drinks and more gambas at Goiz Argi.  Jen and Juan Pablo quit their jobs and traveled the globe for about eight months before settling in Madrid, and they just so happened to be in San Sebastian for the weekend (check out their travel blog).  It was great to chat them up about their travel experiences and get some first-hand do’s and don’ts and must see places.  The only problem is I’m now trying to figure out ways to add all of Africa and South America to our itinerary (please PayPal money to johnny@ciao-for-now).  Remembering what it was like to be on a tight budget for so long, Jen and Juan Pablo picked up our tab at dinner.  Say what?!  Amazing, and greatly appreciated!  We hope to pay it forward someday.

After dinner we headed across the street for some more drinks and listened to Juan Pablo tell awesome travel story after awesome travel story.  He’s like the most interesting man in the world, and once he started talking about how much he loves REI, my man crush was in full swing.  Before we knew it, it was 3:00am, which wouldn’t have been so bad if we didn’t need to wake up at 4:30am to catch our bus to Bilbao.  We had a great time with Jen and Juan Pablo…they’re avid travelers so hopefully we’ll see them on the road someday.

Other than stuff our faces with pintxos, we basically just admired the beauty of San Sebastian.  Our room was in the Antigua area on the far west of the city (coincidentally right around the corner from where Jay lived), so we would make the walk along Concha beach to the old town multiple times a day, all the while taking in the sights.  I told Anna probably ten times that if I were a sailor or explorer back in the day and stumbled upon San Sebastian, I would have said, “OK…I think I’ll hang here for a while.”  We hit the beach, got lost in the old town and hiked up to the Jesus statue…a very successful, though too brief, reunion with Spain.  Check out some pics…

The view during our walk to San Sebastian’s old town
The old town’s crowded streets Peppers at Goiz Argi (which I dubbed “Spanish edamame”)
Jesus watching over San Sebastian He’s got the best view in the house
San Sebastian’s old town
Goodnight and Adios, San Sebastian
August 6, 2011

The Best Of Portugal, Part Dois

by Johnny

So, where were we?  Ah, yes.  Well, after drinking half of the port in the Douro Valley…

WEDNESDAY, 7/27
We woke up and enjoyed the last couple of hours in our amazing hotel.  It’s probably one of the nicest places Anna and I will stay on our entire trip.  We didn’t let leaving the beautiful Douro Valley get us too upset, though, because we had big plans for the evening.  Big plans.  We were going to a Benfica fútbol match.  Goose and Kick are Benfica fanatics, and tonight the team was playing against Trabzonspor from Turkey in a Champions League playoff.  I don’t pretend to know a lot about the sport of soccer (actually I feel like Eddie Murphy talking about football in “Coming to America”), but I do know it’s kinda a big deal in Europe.  After a quick pit stop in Lisbon, we all loaded into Kick’s car and headed to the stadium.  The game, err match, was intense!  The crowd seemed to get more excited when the referee would blow a call than when the team did something good, and Goose taught me just enough Portuguese curse words to join in the fun.  After a slow first half, Benfica picked it up in the second half to win 2-0.  Our first European fútbol match was a success!

Goose’s Graceland
Benfica babes GOOAAALLLL!!!

THURSDAY, 7/28
After the Benfica match we drove to Troia, a long cape near Lisbon where Kick’s parents have a vacation home and where many people from Lisbon come for a weekend break from the city.  We got some perfect weather, so we spent a full day on the beach sipping on Super Bocks and caiparinhas.  We needed a relaxing day after our whirlwind tour of the Douro Valley.  That night we went to a really cool restaurant right down the road called Museo do Arroz (Rice Museum), which had great views of the rice paddies outside and where Sarah got the best grilled octopus of the trip.  So what are two Portuguese dudes and three gringos supposed to do in Troia on a Thursday night?  You guessed it, play Portuguese Pictionary.  The wine was flowing at Kick’s place, and Pictionary quickly turned into a hilarious game of charades.  Team John-Goose may have dominated, but everybody woke up with sore abs from laughing so hard.

View from Kick’s balcony
The best thing Portugal brought back from Brazil The second best thing Portugal brought back from Brazil
Nap time on Troia beach
Museo do Arroz Inside of Museo do Arroz
Portuguese charades…no comment You can’t teach this level of passion

FRIDAY, 7/29
We made our way back to Lisbon from Troia via the ferry, which gave us some pretty awesome views of the city.  That afternoon, Goose was meeting his grandma for lunch, so Sarah, Anna and I spent a few hours exploring Lisbon’s old town on foot.  We wandered around the Barrio Alto’s colorful streets before trekking up to the São Jorge castle to take in the views of the city.  From the castle’s rampart walls, you can really see how unique Lisbon is with its seven hills and different neighborhoods.  That night we had another great BBQ downstairs at Pedro and Marta’s place.

Troia ferry Troia ferry
The entrance to Lisbon’s old city from Praça do Comércio
Lisbon’s cable cars View of the city from São Jorge castle

SATURDAY, 7/30
Today Goose’s dad Flavio and his wife Virginia were hosting a big family lunch at their house, something Anna and I were looking forward to the entire week.  Their place was incredible.  It used to be some sort of African embassy or government building or something and a ton of the original African artwork is still left throughout the house.  On the very top floor they have a huge ballroom with views of the city and bridge.  Each week, a dancing instructor comes to the house and Flavio and Virginia invite all their friends to come over for ballroom dancing lessons.

View from Flavio and Virginia’s balcony
Ballroom African art

Goose’s whole family came over for a swim and a traditional Portuguese lunch.  We had a delicious, simple green salad and some salted codfish baked with olive oil, egg, potatoes and onions.  And being in Portugal, we had a ton of homemade pastries to chose from for dessert.

Salad and baked cod Chocolate cake, rice pudding and “hamburger pastry”
Clockwise: Little Pedro, Nuno, Kick, Marta, Pedro, Virginia, Flavio, Anna, Goose, Sarah, Martin, Veronica

That night we headed over to the local artisanal fair, which Goose assured us was a very Portuguese thing to do.  The fair was lined with stalls selling handmade crafts, furniture, clothing, etc., and a ton of restaurants selling traditional Portuguese food.  There was also a stage for live music, which was a nice treat.  After another great meal with our new friends we made our way home, but not before picking up a fartura, aka the best churro in the history of the earth.

Entrance to the fair
Johnny, Anna and Pedro Marta, Sarah, Goose, Goose’s snails
Fartura, the greatest churro of all times

Sarah and Goose left the next morning (boo!), and we were definitely sad to see them go.  It made us realize how much we miss our family and friends back home.  So you…yeah you reading this blog and not leaving any comments…start planning a trip to meet us somewhere, anywhere!

We can’t thank Goose and his family enough for their hospitality.  Goose basically took his precious vacation time to come to back to Portugal and drive us gringos around his home country for a week.  And his brother Pedro and his girlfriend Marta let us stay a couple extra nights at their place so we could catch up on some emails, laundry, budget, etc.  Marta even left work to take us to the train station on our last day.  They definitely have a place to stay if they ever come to Balboa Island!  We loved Portugal.  We’ll always remember the beautiful landscapes, unique history and tasty food, but more importantly we’re most grateful for all the people we met and the new friends we made.  Obrigado!