Tag Archives: Cathedral

Hallo from Norway! (Part 2)

23 Feb

Thanks for stopping back by to continue along on our recent Arctic adventure! Hope you enjoyed yesterday’s wilderness pictures!

So, the main reason we went to Tromso was to see the Aurora Borealis, aka the Northern Lights. This has been on our Bucket List for many years, so when it came time to start planning, we really had our work cut out for us. Obviously, there’s more than one way to skin this cat- there are plenty of places to view this phenomenon. But here’s the tricky part- you only have so much vacation time; so much money. So our goals became: 1. determining the spot that would be MOST likely to see them and 2. determining the time of year when they are MOST often seen. In other words, we didn’t necessarily choose the trip- the trip chose us! Ha! In fact, our original plan was to see them in Iceland because we’d also like to see Reykjavik. And while, yes, the Lights can be seen from Iceland, it’s less common and they’re often less intense, solely due to the fact that it’s further south. Yep, the further north you go, the better your chances, which is how we ended up in picturesque Tromso- it’s about as far north as you can travel by airplane and it gave us the absolute best shot of seeing ’em! And for anyone who’s curious, the best viewing time is mid-December through early March. We chose mid-February mainly because their Polar Night ends around February 1 and we for sure wanted to be able to see all the beauty that is northern Norway. (No sunlight is seen in Arctic regions from mid-November through January. Coincidentally, the sun never sets during June and July- a friend we made told us that it’s actually just as likely to get sunburnt at midnight as at noon during those months!)


But before we get into the Aurora Borealis, I want to share a little bit about Tromso and all the fun we had exploring it. Tromso is considered to be the northernmost city in the world, with a population of about 72,000 people, which is significantly larger than it seems, at least to me. (For perspective, this is about the same as Phuket, Thailand and Cozumel, Mexico. For Lowcountry peeps, this is about half the population of Charleston, SC, but nearly double the size of Summerville…) Anyhoo, it’s situated on an island (one of thousands in northern Norway) and has been inhabited since the Ice Ages. A neat little tidbit: its city center is home to the most old wooden houses in the whole country, the oldest dating back to 1789.



Main Street, City Center…


Look what we found when we were wandering around! Do y’all remember these from one of my Stuttgart posts a while back? These are markers in the sidewalk in front of homes where the Nazis invaded to take the Jews. Although started in Germany, the project has spread throughout Europe since the 1960s. Couldn’t believe the Nazis made it this far north… 😦


Grabbing a bite in one of the wooden coffee shops…

It really is a beautiful city, especially blanketed in layers and layers of fluffy white snow! We LOVED the architecture- great mix of old and super modern- and all the colors. Our hotel overlooked the harbor, which happens to be one of the prettiest we’ve ever seen, too. From our window, we could watch the boats coming and going, folks walking- and playing- below, the bridge connecting the city center to the other side of the city, and even the famous Arctic Cathedral on the far banks. ❤


Our hotel. The entire bottom floor is their restaurant, which made for the perfect breakfast each morning overlooking the marina…



View from our window when we first arrived…Yep, we arrived in a blizzard!


First morning ❤


The next morning…


Later in the morning- the sun trying to peak out…



The triangle building in the distance is the famous Arctic Cathedral…

The Arctic Cathedral is the most famous landmark in Arctic Norway. It’s actually not a cathedral, but a Protestant church. Made completely of concrete, it was built in 1964, and is still an active church today. The views from its front lawn were fabulous.




Our hotel is on the far bank, directly below the center lamp pole.




Not gonna name names, but someone was LOVING the snow…

The city’s other famous landmark is the Tromso Cathedral, the northernmost Protestant church in the world and Norway’s only wooden cathedral. It was built in the late 1800s, although there’s been a church on the site since the 12th century. It also happened to have one of the best squares in the whole city for snowball fighting ❤




We found a great spot to spend a few hours called Polaria, the northernmost aquarium in the world. But it’s more than a traditional aquarium- it’s designed to be an educational experience and is really geared towards children. In addition to its main exhibit, the Bearded Seals, it had a rock climbing wall, touch tanks (I always think of that scene in Finding Dory now!), a cinema and a ‘sleeping’ polar bear. And the outside was designed to look like ice floes that had been pushed up onto the land by the powerful Arctic sea. Neat! I’m not sure which of us had more fun- the seals were SO FREAKING COOL.




She is always REALLY good at rock climbing…Need to find a way to do more of this…


Entranced by the seals…



Funny aside: Neve became obsessed with all the taxidermied polar bears, reindeer, etc. we saw on this trip. (Seemed like every hotel and restaurant had at least one.) So we used it as an educational time to learn about the process. She’s still obsessed.


A seal swimming toward us…





With her new seal from Polaria 🙂

The city planners must’ve been in cahoots because just a block or so from Polaria is Norway’s oldest- and the world’s northernmost- brewery and pub, Mack’s. Founded in 1877, this gorgeous yet quaint drinking hole, has got to be one of the sexiest pubs we’ve been to- shiny wooden surfaces, an entire wall of chrome taps with more than 75 beers to choose from, stained glass windows…Definitely worth a stop in to hold you over until lunch!


Mack’s Pub



Double IPA and a Stout…Can’t find either of those in Germany! Ha!


Mack’s Brewery


Now, onto those Northern Lights 😉 The Aurora is an incredible light show caused by collisions between electrically charged particles released from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with gases such as oxygen and nitrogen. The different gases involved in the collisions determine the colors you see and can range from green to purple to red to white. The lights are seen around the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres.

As you might suspect, there are plenty of ways to see them- lots of companies, lots of guides, etc. Tours range from huge coach buses, to mini buses, to boats, to snowmobiles, to private guides…We ultimately chose a ‘Base Camp Tour,’ which means that a bus takes you out into the wilderness (you have to be away from the city, obviously, so you have complete darkness) to one of the company’s 4 base camps. They keep up with the weather and the forecasts and the projections, then choose the camp with the best likelihood of seeing them each night. Once at the camp, you get off the bus and spend the evening around a campfire on the ice or warming up in giant teepees sipping hot chocolate and eating authentic Norwegian cake. We thought this sounded like the best all-around option for us, but especially for Neve. All tours have a few things not necessarily in kids’ favors…They’re late at night, they take anywhere from 7-10 hours (you generally leave about 7p and return around 3a, but sometimes as late as 5a if it takes that long for the Lights to show, if at all…), they involve hours in a bus/boat/car…You get the point. So we wanted to choose the one we felt would minimize these things the most. We get to the meeting point that night and are waiting to check in when a guy comes out and announces that there’s been a screw up with the transportation- there are no buses to take us to the base camp. The only option is a catamaran…a cruise into the night in search of the Lights. The best laid plans…Ugh.


Definitely not what we’d pictured and definitely not the best option for us, but what could we do? We’ve got a limited number of opportunities to make this happen and tonight’s forecast is the best of all our nights in Tromso, so…The boat was definitely not the experience we’d wanted. There was something so neat about the idea of huddling around a camp fire, sipping hot chocolate and watching the sky become our own personal cinema…The boat had a heated indoor section with tons of seats, then decks on the top and both ends for when you wanted to be outside. And lots ‘o people. Yuck. Not gonna lie, we were chapped.

But here’s where I go back to my old, ‘the Universe always provides.’ And it does. We hadn’t even been sailing an hour when the sky began to glow a faint green. We were already outside on the front deck- just us and one other guy getting his camera set up- when the guide came on the loud speaker to share the news, and to apologize for encouraging everyone to settle into a seat inside because the lights wouldn’t be visible until at least 3 hours in. Needless to say, we got to have those few moments- just the three of us floating in the middle of that grand fjord- as the sky above us came alive. It was incredible.


Our first shot of the Aurora Borealis…just happened to be with Venus hanging out in the same patch of sky ❤


This is probably a good time to point out that no matter how much I enjoy photography and how much time I spend growing it as a hobby, a professional photographer I am not. Ha! Luckily, we made friends with one of the guides who helped us get our camera settings as best we could for capturing the best shots. It’s tricky because you need to let in as much light as possible, but that, coupled with being on a moving boat, means lots of blurriness and not a damn thing you can do about it. 😦 You’ll see that the majority of our shots are just that- blurry bursts of color- with a few good ones peppered in here and there!





John captured this shot, one of my favorite of the night ❤


It turns out that our night on the boat was the best viewing night of the entire season. Not only did the Aurora Borealis arrive hours earlier than normal, but they were their brightest and the most widespread they’d been in years. At times, the entire sky above us was alive with dancing ribbons of light! However, in an effort to keep it real, I want to add that the pictures you see, here and anywhere else, are a bit more colorful than what you actually see. Apparently this is because it’s impossible for the human eye to take in as much light as a camera can, so therefore there’s no way for the colors to be as vivid. That’s not to say that the colors aren’t still there and aren’t still absolutely beautiful, but just that, for example, when they first get going, you have moments where you can’t tell if it’s just a low lying cloud or the Aurora Borealis. When in doubt, though, the camera can always clear up any doubt- here’s a shot of the plain night sky (no Lights) with just a lighted city in the distance. No green 🙂

dsc_0097 ts1





Neve did awesome! She had a great time, really. Yes, it was frigidly cold and windy on deck at times, but that just meant that we alternated between in the cabin and out. She was amazed by the Lights and had been waiting MONTHS to see them. It was really a terrific thing for John and me to see this through her eyes. ❤ She made it until the last 30 minutes, then…


And as if our hours of eye candy at sea wasn’t enough, when we made it back to the harbor, the Lights came alive once more, visible from the city for the first time in many years! They continued for over an hour, so we even got to enjoy them from our window as we went to sleep (although some of us got to see more of them than others!) ❤



My sweet baby didn’t make it any further than the bed- coat, boots and all. OUT.

I guess the moral of this story is that things don’t always go the way you intend, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t end up with the same result, or even something better. We’ll never know if we would’ve had the same beautiful show by Mother Nature at the base camp. We’ll never know if that experience would’ve been preferable to this one. But what we do know is the overwhelming sense of gratitude we feel for having had this once-in-a-lifetime experience. We went to Tromso with the goal of seeing the Aurora Borealis- and yes, the lingering doubt of ‘what if they don’t show and we’ve come all this way?!,’ and we got so much more than we ever hoped for. We not only saw them, but we basked in them…For hours…In the middle of the Norwegian wilderness, floating in a fjord…We did more than just cross it off our Bucket List- we annihilated it. ❤


See you tomorrow for the last installment of our Norwegian Adventure…dog sledding!

Hola, Granada!

15 Aug

And hey there, Alhambra! That’s right, we just got back from a lovely little getaway in southern Spain! I don’t think I even mentioned that we were headed out of town- that’s how hectic things have been around here these last couple weeks! But actually, this one had been in the pipeline for a couple months now. Technically, it was a late anniversary celebration- John planned the whole thing from start to finish and let me tell you, it simply couldn’t have been any more perfect.

For months- since last winter at least- I’ve been dying for a beach vacation. An all out, boardwalk, ice cream stands, tiki huts, hearing the sound of the ocean from your room, umbrella drinks beach vacation! Being in Charleston back in June only whet my appetite, too! Ha! So we started researching options and stumbled upon one that just happened to be close to one of John’s top Bucket List items, La Alhambra, in Granada. Once again, isn’t it great the way things just work out that way?! So last week, we caught an (obscenely) early flight (left the house at 4a!) to Malaga, Spain, rented a car and drove 1.5 hour north to the city- in time for a churros-and-chocolate breakfast at a sidewalk cafe ❤ Then we spent the day taking in the sights, culminating with an afternoon at La Alhambra, one of the best surviving examples of ancient Moorish/Islamic architecture in the world.


Even the ride itself from Malaga to Granada was just gorgeous…You don’t realize how arid that part of the country really is, or mountainous…Or how many olive plantations there are! Turns out Spain and Portugal produce over 80% of the world’s olives!




Granada is the capital city of the province of Granada, in the Andalusia region of southern Spain, right at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains and at the confluence of four rivers, the Beiro, the Darro, the Genil and the Monachil.  The population is about 473,000 people, ranking as the 13th-largest urban area of Spain.




The region surrounding what is today Granada has been inhabited since at least 5500 BC. In 711 AD, the entire region was conquered by the Moors from Africa and by the eleventh century, Granada had been loosely established. The name translates into ‘Hill of Strangers,’ because the original city was based in a valley, making it very difficult to defend. Over the next century, as Moorish control grew, the borders of Granada extended onto the surrounding hills, securing its place as one of the most important cities in Al-Andalus.


Granada Cathedral, or the Cathedral of Incarnation, took 181 years to be built. It was started in 1492 with intentions to be a Gothic structure (which can be seen in the oldest part of the cathedral, the main), but then as rulers changed, it became a beacon of the Spanish Renaissance. We loved the look of this cathedral and really appreciated the differences we saw when compared with the more Italian-ish styles that we’re a bit more used to seeing. Ornate, but not too ornate…Colorful, but only in a way that adds to the character…






Beautiful old stone floor…



There are actually two of these organs…You can see them in the top interior picture- on either side of the archway near the nave.




The Alhambra, a Moorish citadel and palace, is the most well-known, best preserved structure left from the Islamic dominance of the Iberian Peninsula. It was originally constructed as a small fortress in 889 AD on the remains of Roman fortifications and then largely ignored until its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the mid-13th century by the Moorish emir, who built its current palace and walls. It was converted into a royal palace in 1333. After the conclusion of the Christian Reconquista in 1492, the site became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella (where Christopher Columbus received royal endorsement for his expedition) and the palaces were partially altered to Renaissance tastes.






The detail in just one shot…Wood, stone, tile and paint…From the 14th century.


Tile work.


The Islamic palaces were built for the last Muslim emirs in Spain during the decline of the Nasrid dynasty. After being allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, the buildings occupied by squatters, Alhambra was rediscovered following the defeat of Napoleon. La Alhambra is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.



All walls are carved stone. Many have Arabic inscriptions at the top with mathematical patterns at the bottom…




A courtyard in the center of a quadrangle…


Tiled ceiling




Moorish poets described Alhambra as “a pearl set in emeralds,” an allusion to the color of its buildings and the woods around them. The palace complex was designed with the mountainous site in mind. The park, which is overgrown with wildflowers and grass in the spring, was planted by the Moors with roses, oranges, and myrtles; its most characteristic feature, however, is the dense wood of English elms brought by the Duke of Wellington in 1812. The park is usually filled with the sound of running water from fountains throughout. These are supplied through a conduit 5 mile long, which is connected with the Darro River.


Only stained glass in the entire palace…



Looking out over Granada…



We decided just this small outbuilding could be our villa 😉

Despite long neglect, vandalism, and some ill-judged restoration, the Alhambra endures as an atypical example of Muslim art in its final European stages. The majority of the palace buildings are quadrangular- with all the rooms opening on to a central court, and the whole reached its present size simply by the gradual addition of new quadrangles, connected with each other by smaller rooms and passages. Alhambra was extended by the different Muslim rulers who lived there, however, each new section that was added followed the consistent theme of “paradise on earth,” with sun and wind freely admitted. Column arcades, fountains with running water, and reflecting pools were used to add to the aesthetic. In every case, the exterior was left plain and austere.



The decoration consists for the upper part of the walls, as a rule, of Arabic inscriptions that are manipulated into geometrical patterns. Tile mosaics, with complicated mathematical patterns, are largely used as panelling for the lower part. Similar designs are displayed on wooden ceilings. The palace complex is designed in the Nasrid style, the last blooming of Islamic Art in the Iberian Peninsula.


After leaving La Alhambra, we both immediately considered it among our favorite palaces/fortresses we’ve ever visited and have talked about it countless times since. Yes, it’s that amazing and it’s easy to see why it’s considered a top destination in the world (#1 most recommended sight for this year!). There are just so many things that set it apart- the tile work, the stone work, the woodwork, the colors, the light and air and water flowing through every single room…All of these things just come together so beautifully and so perfectly. And the simple, yet gorgeous, ways that nature is incorporated throughout- in the center of the quadrangles, in the fountains of crystal water, in all the surrounding gardens and hillsides. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a place with as much beauty and harmony all in one structure. It’s truly breathtaking…

Taking that early flight and driving all the way to Granada to kick off our vacation proved to be the absolute right decision. We found the city to be just lovely and, well, Alhambra to be a once in a lifetime visit. I can’t recommend it enough. And even for those of you who say that you ‘aren’t really into architecture,’ I dare you to visit this place and still say those words. 😉


Smiling at the thought of heading to the beach! Ha!

And with that, we made our way back southward to the coastal town of Torremolinos, just past Malaga on the Mediterranean. The next two days were EXACTLY what the doctor ordered- sun, sand, blue waters and the three of us doing a whole lotta nothing! Be sure to stop back by tomorrow for all those colorful beach pictures- I promise they’re just as pretty ❤


Always a sign of a really good day.


Sneak peak of tomorrow’s beachy post- from our balcony!


Portugal, the (second) Adventure Phase…

4 Jun

…and our final day of vacation! We actually flew into- and out of- Porto, mainly because there’s a direct flight from Stuttgart and it’s dirt cheap. From there, we rented our car and drove the 3 hours south to the beaches of Obidos. And since our flight home departed (yes, that meant an 0’dark thirty wake up time and arriving at the airport before the sun came up *gross*), we knew we’d need to spend our last night in Porto. Luckily, we decided to make a full day of it so we could explore the city. So glad we did, too, because it was every bit as lovely as, if not moreso than, Lisbon!


This gives you an idea of our travels. We flew into Porto on the coast in the north, then drove south to Obidos which is just south of Leiria on the sharp point. One day, we drove the hour south into Lisbon. For our final day, we headed back to Porto and flew out the next morning.

Once again, it was easiest to park outside of the city and take the train- that’s actually often the case in the bigger cities, especially the one with the narrow, old streets not originally designed for cars! Not to mention that there’s rarely space set aside for parking, so you end up wasting valuable time hunting for a spot!


Porto is the second largest city in Portugal with about 1.4 million people. Located along the Douro river estuary, it’s one of the oldest European centers- its settlement dates back many centuries, when it was an outpost of the Roman Empire.




They even have a TV Tower like us!




Just like Lisbon, Porto has a zillion steep hills, lots of cobblestones and plenty of pretty painted buildings. It also has that same melding of old and new- and alot of grit- that we like so much. And while Lisbon, too, sits on the water, Porto has really set itself apart by making their riverfront, the Ribeira, the heart of their Old Town.




I’m sure by now you’ve seen alot of the tilework going on in just about every place we visited. Well, painted tiles got their start in Portugal. Originally just for the royalty, in the 1700s, a local Porto artist began taking the craft mainstream, making it available to regular, working-class people. It quickly became ‘the thing to have’ and you can now see it all over the place, including as ‘bricks’ of the houses! 



Its biggest claim to fame? It’s the world’s #1 (practically only!) producer of port wine. A-ha! Now you know how the wine got its name! Porto = Port, get it? 😉 If you’ve never tried Port, stop reading this right now and go buy yourself a bottle. I promise it will be like Christmas in your mouth! Port wine is a fortified sweet wine that is produced from grapes grown in the Duoro River Valley. They are then taken here to Porto to be stored and aged- ie. to get better and better 😉 On the far side of the river (you can see it in the picture behind Neve and John) are the ‘caves’ of Vila Nova de Gaia. 98% of the world’s port wines have been stored in barrels in these very cellars. In fact, in all countries other than the US, in order for a wine to be labeled as ‘port,’ it has to come from this region of Portugal. WOW. (In the US, any manufacturer can label their product as such. :/)


Burmester is one of the prominent ‘caves,’ so we decided it would be perfect for a little tour.


The Duoro Valley, about 2 hours away, is where the grapes are grown. Each vineyard then has its own cellars in Porto where the wine is brought to age. When the wine is ready, it’s taken back to the vineyards to be bottled. 


View from the outside…


We learned so much about port wine in just half an hour! In a nutshell, there are three main types- Ruby, Tawny and White. These are then further divided into dry, vintage, etc. Each kind requires its own types of barrels (upright round vs. laying down round, large vs. small) and its own conditions (humidity, light, etc.) Each has an intended consumption- aperitif vs. digestive- and serving style- room temperature vs. chilled. And each authentic bottle will not only be labeled with the vineyard, the cellar and the city name (Porto), but also the year that it was bottled. This is particularly interesting for vintage bottles as this will tell you the exact age. Neat, huh?

So what’s so special about the Duoro and Porto? Well, for centuries, the climate has been perfect for all the necessary components to make the perfect port wines. The Valley has optimal soil, temperatures, sunlight and rain. The far side of the river from Porto has the perfect amount of shade (it’s rarely in direct sunlight due to the hills) and crazy high humidity needed for optimal fermentation. And in olden days- when all transportation was by boat- it was relatively close.


Today, the boats are still used for some of the transportation, along with stainless steel trucks.

And being the water junkies that we are, we couldn’t wait to ride on the boat! Yep, we were all in our happy place ❤



Where the Duoro meets the Atlantic…


And with our wine and water whims satisfied, we headed back across the bridge to do a bit more exploring of the Old Town…


Their main bridge, the Pont Luis 1, was built by Gustave Eiffel’s protege. Impossible to guess that, right? 😉

Can’t beat the views from the bridge!



Located at the historical city center, the Porto Cathedral is one of the city’s oldest monuments (1110) and one of the most important Romanesque monuments in all of Portugal. 




Major hill climbing! (Much easier to do the ones with steps than without! Ha!)




Built in 1283 and located in the historic city center, this cathedral is the most prominent Gothic monument in Portugal and is considered one of the most ornate cathedrals (inside) in the world.


This is how much I love y’all! See the ‘no picture’ warning right there? Yeah, well here’s not one, but TWO!, pictures for you!


Now, cathedral decorum can be really personal and super subjective. And this is a perfect example of that. This particular beauty- with all of its intricate woodwork, amazing carvings and unending gold leafing- did absolutely nothing for me. I’m always drawn to clean lines, vibrant stained glass and marbled stoneworks…I found the Sao Francisco interior to be gaudy and busy, too much of everything and alot of places for dust to collect. Sure, some of the carvings were so intricate and beautiful, but I just couldn’t appreciate them with all the glitz and feeling of chaos. John- and Neve- didn’t see it this way at all. They found all the gilded surfaces to be so impressive and truly unique. They loved the gold and were in awe of all the talent- and money- that had to go into crafting such a vision. No wonder there are so many different types of architecture all around the world! Different strokes for different folks! 😉




One of John’s favorite meals of the whole trip! Yep, that’s an octopus steak! (That’s a filet mignon on my plate, beneath the egg 😉 )


Isn’t she a ham?! ❤

So after a gorgeous fun day and a delicious riverfront dinner, we said goodnight to Porto, packed our bags and set our alarms for 4a to make our way back home. What a really, really, really good trip it was- the perfect medley of relaxation and adventure. The perfect 6 days for our trio- the kind that makes you truly thankful for what, and who, you have. Not that we don’t always know these things, but a reminder every once in a while never hurts. ❤



Portugal, the (First) Adventure Phase…

3 Jun

…and boy did we cover a whole lotta ground! As I told you yesterday, our main goal with this trip was relaxation, reconnection and rejuventation. Our usual trekking around big cities took a backseat, which meant that we chose to only spend one day in each Lisbon and Porto. And while different than our norm, we all agreed that we thoroughly enjoyed the change of pace! One thing I realized, though, is that I have way too many pictures of each city to combine them into one post. It just wouldn’t do either city any justice!

First up, Lisbon. Our resort was in Obidos, about an hour north of the city. Since we had a rental car (60€ for the whole 6 days!), we got a chance to really get a good feel for the northern part of the country. You’ve never seen so many mountains and hills in your life- in the countryside or in the cities!

See what I mean? They’re gorgeous! Although I will say that these shots make things appear a bit greener than they actually are. We were both surprised, in fact, at how tan/sandy/clay-y/almost arid the Portuguese landscape is. I guess because they’re known for having some pretty good, sunny weather, we just expected more of a lush- maybe even tropic- feel, but not so much…Still so pretty.


Lisbon, the capital and largest city of Portugal, is the 11th largest metropolitan region in the EU with a population of about 2.8 million people.  It’s one of the major economic centers in Europe, with a growing financial sector and one of the largest container ports on Europe’s Atlantic coast.

Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, and the oldest in Western Europe, predating other modern European capitals like London, Paris and Rome by centuries. Julius Caesar made it a municipium called Felicitas Julia, adding to the name Olissipo. Ruled by a series of Germanic tribes from the 5th century, it was captured by the Moors in the 8th century. In 1147, the Crusaders under Afonso Henriques reconquered the city and since then it has been a major political, economic and cultural centre of Portugal. Unlike most capital cities, Lisbon’s status as the capital of Portugal has never been granted or confirmed officially – by statute or in written form. Its position as the capital was formed through constitutional convention, making its position as de facto capital a part of the Constitution of Portugal.


A neat little side note here. Neve views- and chooses- all of her clothes based on their ‘tickly-ness.’ She pulls them taught by wrapping them around one hand, then tickles the palm of that hand with the fingernails of the other hand. (The above picture gives you an idea of what this looks like- and shows how ridiculously sweet she is! Gah!) Thin, smooth, slicky fabrics are the best, of course, but it can be done with some cotton and knits with a little added effort 😉  Two neat things about this cute quirk…First, she was born with it and started doing it with the fabric of her swaddle sack before she could even roll over (!) and we still can only have pillow cases that a) have a hole on one end and b) are made of the silkiest fabrics (translation: expensive!) as she tickles every single time she falls asleep. Second, I was (and still am) a tickler, too! I had blankets with silk edges that I used to tickle my palms for many years and still get John to tickle my  back at least once a week! So the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree with my girl! ❤

OK, back to Lisbon! The other reason I posted that picture is to show Neve’s boredom after we’d been waiting nearly an hour to catch the city’s infamous old Tram #28 that takes visitors around to many of the major attractions. Trams are the main mode of transportation in the heart of the city and have been for decades.


However, still having at least 30 minutes to go before it would our turn to board, up came a Tuk Tuk. What’s a Tuk Tuk, you ask? Well, it’s hard to describe. It’s like a covered moped taxi. That’s probably the best I can do. See for yourself:


Long story short, for a super reasonable price, we hired a Tuk Tuk- with its driver, of course- to take the three of us all over the city and tell us what we were seeing. GENIUS. In less than 2 hours, we’d been up and down oodles of hills, winded through the narrowest of ancient alleyways, seen several different neighborhoods and ALL of the major attractions…Plus, it was all done with our own personal tour guide, Tiago, educating us along the way! Neve was in Heaven with how adventurous this was. Totally meant to be.


View from the back seat. That’s Tiago driving. He’s hoping to save the €14,000 needed to buy his own Tuk Tuk by the end of this year. Once he can work for himself, he expects to earn about €7000/month.


Our first stop was the highest point in the city so we could get the perfect overview. It really helped us to get our bearings and to see just how vast the city is, along with the flow of the Tagus River.


The Lisbon Bridge was modeled after the Golden Gate Bridge.


That’s the castle on top of the hill in the distance.


We were so high that we had to put on our jackets to help block the wind!

Just the riding around the city was fun- and educational- in itself. It gave us a truer sense of inner city life, too. As you might imagine, the trams are on tracks and therefore, have to stay on the more beaten, wider paths. Not Tuk Tuks! We could go anywhere! We got to see the nooks and crannies, the vibrant colors, the locals…





Remember a few months ago when we were talking about Budapest and how we liked that it felt ‘lived in’ and had some ‘grit,’ just like we felt in Prague? Well, Lisbon has the same grittiness- that wonderful marriage of old and new, of vibrant and dull, of life and decay…We loved the orange tiled roofs, the rainbow painted buildings, the cobblestones…And we liked that they were ‘real,’ as opposed to being painted and pristine for tourists.


Oldest cathedral in the city, 1147.


Originally a church, the Pantheo was converted into a burial place for notable Portuguese personalities. What makes it unique is that it’s not religious figures buried here- it’s people who had an influence in the city, including musicians, artists and philanthropists. 



Lisbon had street signs before the US was even a country!


Overview of Alfama, the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon…





Someone bought this property to build a house on…When they started digging for the foundation, they found an ancient Roman amphitheater! 



Our Tuk Tuk for the day 😉



This is the entrance to the castle I pointed out in the overview picture above. It’s a Moorish fortress from medieval times known for its well-fortified citadel.


One of the best doors I’ve ever seen! (I have a thing for doors- I have pictures of them from all the cities we’ve visited- this one was just particularly awesome!) The one a few up from this is also among the awesome- two in one post! Ha!



John was in his element with all the squid and octopus salads everywhere! This was his favorite of the entire week and only cost €4!




Dad, John insisted on this picture just so you could marvel at the wiring with him 😉

Now y’all know how much we love stumbling onto a good market, right?! Well, that’s what happened just as we were finishing up our day making our way back to the train (we parked outside of the city and trained in that morning). The Baixa Mercado takes up the entire famous Rossio Square and is jam packed with local artists, chefs and mixologists. Be still my heart! And speaking of mixologists, Lisbon’s (and Obidos’) signature drink is the liqueur, Ginjinja. It’s made by infusing ginja berries (sour cherries) with liquor and sugar, then serving in a small chocolate shot glass. Delish.




And with that, we made our way back to Obidos for the night, feeling like we’d really covered alot of ground in just a day. No, we didn’t get into the depths as much as we’re used to (ie. touring inside the churches, exploring inside the castles, etc.), but we got a really good idea of what Lisbon is all about, its flare, it’s vibe. And we dig it.

You know what else we dig? Porto, Portugal’s oldest- and second largest- city. Please stop back by once more tomorrow- or Monday 🙂 – for our second Portuguese Adventure Phase! Happy Weekend, y’all!

Rothenburg, Round 2

11 Dec

Happy Weekend! Fridays are always my favorite day of the week, even moreso than the actual weekend- I guess because you get to anticipate having the next few days to do your own thing. Catching up on sleep, staying in your jammies a little longer in the mornings, actually cooking breakfast, spending time together, traveling a bit…So yeah, I’m pretty pumped that it’s the weekend!


Last weekend, Mom and Grandma decided they wanted to head to medieval Rothenburg, about an hour and a half away. (Dad has gone back to the States for a few weeks to take care of a few things on the home front, but will be back before Christmas.) You may remember that we visited this awesome little village spring- in fact, it was our first trip after we arrived in Wiesbaden. I won’t go into all the details and the history again, but be sure to read my post all about it here because it really does have a great story! It’s literally everything good you picture when you think of Germany- cobblestones, old timbered building, church bells ringing, meandering alleyways, the best and brightest window boxes you’ve ever seen (how is that even possible in this frigid weather?!)…And getting to see it all dressed up for Christmas was just beautiful. Definitely a perfect way to spend a Sunday!


Is this not the best entrance to a city? And no cars allowed other than the few residents.



The alter of the Franciscan Cathedral





The Christmas Markets




Inside the Christmas Museum…


Looking out from the city wall



Love getting to have lunch and explore cities with these two!


And this one, too! 🙂 I think this picture makes her look so grown up. No!!!!!



We had such a fun day in Rothenburg, not to mention that being in Stuttgart this go around puts us so much closer, making for an easy peasy day trip! Only thing on the agenda for this weekend is meeting up with friends for some ice skating and gluweining at our own winter markets tomorrow and maybe some holiday baking. Have I mentioned that Thomas, Party of 5 LOVES us some holidays?! Yeah, maybe just a bit. ❤


Looking back at the city over the medieval bridge…

Kicking off the season in Strasbourg!

4 Dec

Regardless of how much you know about Europe, one thing you’ve probably heard of is their Christmas Markets. All over the continent, but especially in Germany, Austria, eastern France, Switzerland and northern Italy, cities large and small pull out all the stops when it comes to ushering in the season with their town squares and pedestrian streets turned into the most elaborate, twinkly, sparkly, fragrant Christmas awesomeness. Open air wooden stalls with intricately decorated rooftops line the way selling food, drinks and seasonal wares. You can find manger scenes, live music, carnival rides and dancing, depending on which market you’re visiting. In my opinion, it’s simply one of the BEST holiday traditions around!


Well, the list of Christmas markets is endless. There are no less than 10 within a 20 mile radius of our house, including the main one downtown that you saw pictures of earlier in the week. Since Stuttgart is known for its markets, we knew it may be tough to beat when we decided to venture to another. Luckily, we made a good choice with Strasbourg (France), the original Christmas Market in Europe. AWESOME SAUCE.


John and I visited Strasbourg for the first time in the spring of 2006 when our best friends, Sam and Chuck, lived there. Those were the days- none of us had kids, we only had pups, not a care in the world… 🙂 We loved everything about it- the cobblestone streets, the half timbered houses, the rivers and the bridges…It’s just a gorgeous little city. We knew we wanted to go back one day and when we found that it was not only the oldest, but considered one of the most beautiful and festive Christmas markets, we knew we’d found the perfect time- and the perfect market to share with my family.


Strasbourg is the capital of the Alsace region of France. It sits close to the German border and therefore, is a marriage of both French and German cultures. It’s evident everywhere you look- architecture, cuisine, language…It’s just lovely. In fact, many historians consider the city to be a shining example of different cultures living together peacefully, in harmony, prospering from one another. It’s no surprise that the European Union Parliament is seated there.



It’s probably the prettiest city I’ve ever seen decorated for Christmas and I’ve been to NYC and Paris! Seriously, you’ve never seen so many lights, so many elaborate window displays and roof tops, so many Christmas trees and ornaments…Oh my goodness, there just aren’t pictures to do it justice. And I hate to even think about the work- and expense!- that had to go into it!



The historic city center, the Grand Ile (yes, it’s an island), was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, the first entire city center to get such a distinction.




St. John’s Church


Look closely at the corner of that building. It looks like a bullet lodged in the concrete. Yep, that’s an unexploded bomb from WWII that still resides where it landed.





We took this boat tour around the city…Learned a ton!

Aside from the markets, the city’s other claim to fame is its famous Strasbourg Notre Dame Cathedral, built in 1040 and still fully operational today as a Roman Catholic cathedral. Until 1864, it was the tallest building in the world- today, it’s the sixth tallest church in the world and the tallest structure built entirely in the middle ages. WOW. It’s also considered to be one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in the world. I believe it. I’ve been to many a gorgeous cathedral in my day- including some doozies in Rome itself- but I still count this one among the most breathtaking. The stained glass alone is just exquisite.


What a beautiful backdrop for a Christmas market, right?!




We sure did have a lovely time in Strasbourg. Really can’t say enough good things about the city or its markets! Definitely the perfect way to usher in the season! Oh, and here’s how we gauge a day’s success:



Back to the room to take a bath, followed by some playtime, of course.


But in less than 10 minutes…


Life sure is good and my heart sure is full these days. Happy Weekend!

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