A Travellerspoint blog

Mom and Bob come to visit

My parents are world class travelers now and took the train from the airport all the way to our town. It was fun to see them step off the train and look like professionals! I guess I should have made them figure out how to get from the train station all the way to our house! Just kidding guys.

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I let them have a little nap and then we were off and running to my favorite weinfest of the year, WOLF! I love this fest. They have the best food, so many bands, and a ton of wine stands all in this tiny little village. Thanks friends for coming out to meet my folks!

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Sundays are lazy around here with everything closed so we went for a boat ride on the Mosel river and hit up a few more weinfests.

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I had to work for a few days, so back on the train they went to Amsterdam. They got to tour the Anne Frank house, ride a boat along the canals, check out the Rijks museum, stroll the red light district and enjoy some delicious food. They both said that 3 days in Amsterdam is not enough and I completely agree. While it is a compact city, there is so much to do there.

Prior to planning their trip I asked for input on what countries they would like to visit on this trip and they responded with a resounding, Italy! I guess I cannot say this is surprising since it is one of my favorite places to visit as well. Luckily flights around here are cheap because we traveled to Italy two times in September. So off to Italy we went.

We arrived in Bari late at night and just had a little stop over there to sleep. In the morning our first stop was a little coastal town called Polignano al Mare. It is an adorable town with many historic buildings and incredible coastal views. I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

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Also, how would you like to do your shopping from a little truck like this that roams the street announcing its presence through a loud speaker. Seems like a good time to me!

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Next stop, Alberobello. This town is known for its plethora of houses with conical roofs. There are a few different theories on why houses were built this way but the primary one seems to be tax evasion. They could take the roofs off of these structures quickly when the tax man came a callin' and pay less tax because they were not considered permanent buildings since they didn't have a roof. The town has a considerable number all packed tightly down little lanes but there were also a bunch in the country side that we got to see when the GPS decided to lead us down farm roads rather than staying on the main trail.

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We drove for another couple of hours across Italy to our next stop, Matera! This one was a winner. It is an ancient city in the world and is historically very intact. It is the set for many movies including The Passion of Christ, and will also be the set for the upcoming new Ben Hur. It is really an outstanding place with a very interesting history. I will not go into it here, but if you are wanting more information I am sure that google will help you. We stayed in a family owned cave home. Most of the homes in this area are built into the sides of caves. It was so neat to stay in a place that had been in a family for many generations and their dedication to service was unlike anything I have ever seen. They provided us with an escort to the apartment (when we were lost). Helped drive our luggage to the apartment. Spent a few hours telling us all about Matera and showing us the Cistern water system used in the town in ancient times and also provided luggage transport again back to our car. You cannot drive into the center without a special permit so it is all very tricky but the lack of cars makes the location all the more magical. There were a lot of stairs in this town which meant beautiful view points. Of course, Italy never disappoints in the food department.

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Creepy skull and cross bone church

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We had another beautiful drive over to Salerno which served as our jumping off point to the Amalfi coast. Within hours of arrival we were treated to more amazing food.

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This area was requested by my parents and I aim to please. So, we took a boat ride all along the coast. There were just 8 of us on the boat. Six passengers, the captain, and the guide. They welcomed us with a Prosecco toast, treated us to fresh fruit and mozzeralla/tomato sandwiches and lemon cakes, and provided swimming stops and commentary about the coast. There were also two stops. One in Positano and the other in the town of Amalfi. I like to stay positive about the places we visit but I have to say that the Amalfi coast is much better when seen from the water. It was so slammed with tourists and tchotchke shops I felt like I was in tourist purgatory. To say that these towns are overrun by tourists is an understatement. But from the water, the coastline is absolutely beautiful.

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An incredible pizza throwing contest going on in Amalfi. This was being taped by the local equivalent of the foodnetwork.

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Big money!

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Little money?

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Bob wishing he was the captain?

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Each night we enjoyed dinner in Salerno which turned out to be quite the nice little city. It has a beautiful walking promenade with shopping and oodles of quaint and trendy restaurants. Each meal was something to be remembered.

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Cool way to present a bill.

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The next day we went to a wine tasting at a tiny little organic vineyard that had breathtaking views. It was in a very small town up along the hillside. This vineyard not only has wine but they grow pomegranates, figs, anise, tomatoes, peppers.....the list goes on and on. We were treated to a lunch with all homemade food on the terrace overlooking the town. It was such a nice day. The sunshine in Italy has some kind of special healing power or something.

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Our stylish Italian tour guide/translator. This guy has the best English in all of Italy and the most Italian flair!

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Quinn and I walked back along the twisty road back to the hotel and saw some interesting things.

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We had to make the drive back across the "ankle" of Italy to fly out of Bari. We made a little detour to Paestum. This is an old Greek ruin site with some extremely intact structures, including some of the tile work on the ground!!! It was even more impressive than the Parthenon.

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I am always sad to leave the Italian sunshine.

We spent the last few days cooking together, visiting a castle (Berg Eltz), and a trip to Luxembourg.

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Oops, forgot to take the camera to Luxembourg.

It never feels like a long enough visit but I was happy to have them for 2 weeks this time! Yay. Next vacation, maybe I can convince them into 3 weeks :) Love you both.

Posted by trackers 03:42 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Rocks in their natural habitat

The Dolomites are a mountain range in Northeastern Italy north of Venice. This area has hiking with an opportunity to do "via ferrata" which translates to, "the iron way." During WWI, the Italians and Austrians battle lines were in this mountainous region and they used these paths to move troops and fight. They really had some courage to cling to the mountainsides and create these wooden ladders, metal anchors and other supports. They have been updated now to include metal lines that you connect to and more sturdy hooks but some of the original materials remain and you can quickly get an idea of how intense fighting in this region would have been.

We took advantage of Labor Day weekend and a Ryanair flight to cross the alps and land in Venice-Treviso airport. The morning we flew out was full of hustle and bustle because we somehow overslept and were woken up by our traveling partners, Megan and Ian five minutes before we were supposed to be headed to the airport. Here I am after a tornado fast morning routine on the way to the the airport.

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Our flight was full of American vacationers headed to Venice and I am quite sure they were going to enjoy a weekend of gondolas and canals. We rented a car and drove north for two hours to the gateway city of Cortina where we rented the gear we needed and enjoyed a delicious lunch of beet and potato filled ravioli, pasta with truffle and beef, and gnocchi with pesto. Of course, you cannot have lunch in Italy without a full pitcher of wine, even if you are planning on hiking.

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You can save yourself the effort of carrying full backpacking gear by staying in one of the many Refugios in the mountains. These are full service mountain "huts" (lodges) that have sleeping quarters, showers, food, drinks. This makes the load much lighter for a 2 night backpacking trip. All we had to carry was our clothing changes, some snacks and our Via Ferrata equipment. One could hike for a few weeks in the mountains and carry very minimal gear. Might have to save that for another trip.

Our first look at the mountain and checking out the map.

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The first day's weather was overcast but the clouds left a kind of creepy, ominously challenging vibe. I would be lying if I said we weren't a little nervous. This is really our first venture out since Quinn's climbing accident last year. This is not as dangerous as sport climbing and provides more protection and is not as technical but I was still nervous. So much of climbing is a head game and keeping it straight is my biggest challenge.

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Suited up and ready to do the first via ferrata

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This one was not challenging but was a good little introduction to getting used to the gear and moving as a group. Megan kept commenting on how pretty the rocks were and how brilliant each color was. We were teasing her about saying rocks in their natural environment was always impressive. She took a lot of crap about this the whole trip. The title of the blog is one last chance to tease her! She is a good sport.

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We spent the night in a Refugio with an amazing patio view of the mountains and ate a delicious meal with an Italian man who kept us entertained through most of the evening. He lives in Sardinia and we are going to try and visit him this winter. He is a physicist who lived for some time in Wyoming. How do we keep running into these kind of people?!

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King of the mountain and his jester

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The next day we hiked up to our next refugio and spent a little time watching the clouds and enjoying a warm beverage. The weather wasn't really cooperating so we decided just to go out for a little hike around. It started to snow.

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At night, it really started to snow. It was such a fun atmosphere to be in a mountain hut in the dining room with fellow hikers enjoying a tall glass of beer and watching the giant snowflakes come down outside the window. It makes me want to live in a log cabin! We woke up to this.

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We hiked out in this! Quinn spotted a Chamois!

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Then we came to our first real challenge. There were about 5 of these ladders in a column down the mountain side. Putting yourself over the edge and maneuvering onto this thing with wet boots and shaky legs is quite the feat. I was just blabbering on and on about how nervous I was, Quinn and Ian were both pensive and quiet, and Megan was harnessing her self talk by saying, "sssh" and "bird by bird." We all made it down. It was very interesting to see how people handle stressful situations differently. Once I was on the first rung I felt fine about going down but a little part of me was always worrying about Quinn below me. I was really happy once he was finished.

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We hiked for another 4 or 5 hours that day and had incredible views. We went in some tunnels built during the war and a bunker with an old cannon inside. It was an interesting look back in time. It made climbing that ladder seem like child's play in comparison with how hardcore those soldiers must have been.

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More scenery and silly photo shoots

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A marmot! He was squeaking at a Golden Retriever on the trail. He was loud!

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Relaxing after a hard hike.

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My favorite viewpoint in the trip

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Ian walking the via ferrata

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The trip was too short and I would have loved to hike another 2 or 3 days. I find the mountains to be so relaxing. We went back to Cortina and had yet another hearty Italian mountain type meal with creatively filled pasta (blueberries and venison) and more delicious wine and then we were back in Germany in a blink.

Posted by trackers 05:19 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Are you excited? I'm excited!

Another entry so soon? I had to write about my friend Jeremy coming to visit. We've been friends since the 5th grade, and it was really exciting to have him and his wife Bryn come for a visit. The minute we got them back to our place, we rushed them out the door to take part in the festivities of our hometown carnival, the Saubrennerkirmes (Pig Fest). We forced them to eat pork sandwiches, bratwurst, fries, Weiss beer, and other unmemorable things.

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They spent 3 days touring the local area while Kristen and I went to work, and Jeremy had a chance to drive the infamous autobahn. We spent an afternoon in Trier together to make sure they tasted some more German beer, fries, and the all important pretzel.

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As with all visitors, we wanted to show them something outside of the local area, and have a new experience we could share together. These lucky visitors took a trip to Austria to do some hiking in the Alps. Our home base was the town of Ehrwald, which turned out to be a good choice. Here is a picture from our apartment balcony.

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I mentioned we did some hiking, and Jeremy and Bryn were good sports. I never know how people will respond to a marathon day of hiking, but they proved to be quite tough.

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Our goal destination was the alpine lake Seebensee.

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Only after reaching the summit did I allow a reward of a cold beer. Bryn was quite excited, but I think Jeremy was wondering why it took so long for me to let everyone stop.

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This was our first picture with cows. I don't think we left the house without cows being part of our daily activity.large__PIC0616.jpg

We were having way too much fun taking pictures of us 'stuck' to this log pile.
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All day it looked like we were going to get stormed on, but the sun kept making appearances, and the weather held off until we got home.
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Day 2 I gave everyone a break and took them to the city of Innsbruck instead. Kristen and I spent a New Years here in 2012, and it was fantastic, but it might be even better in the summer.
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Here was a free outdoor reading area with books and free coffee.
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The day didn't end with the trip to Innsbruck. A local town in the mountains was having a fall festival, so we decided to make a stop. I think this is one of those typical festivals where all the locals come out to drink beer, listen to music and do a little dancing. We were definitely outsiders here, but the Austrians are very friendly and made us feel very welcome indeed. This is certainly what I think of when I think Austria. The area surrounding the town was beautiful and we took some time for a photo shoot. If only we had our Lederhosen and dirndls.

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I really feel like this photo deserves to be in a calendar somewhere.
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I mentioned that we saw a lot of cows. I decided to throw in a bovine montage to close out this blog. But starting with this really creepy goat.

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Posted by trackers 09:10 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Sarah visits Germany and we attend a Greek Wedding!

I have known Sarah for over a decade now. That is so amazing to me. I feel like it was just a few years ago that I would show up at her place with a bottle of 2 buck Chuck (which actually cost 3 bucks) and we would get ready for a night out on the town. I was so happy that she made the trip out to Germany to come and hang with me for a few days before we set out on an adventure to see our friend Dayna get married in Greece. The reunion.

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Quinn planned a really fun day of cycling, boating, and wine tasting on the Mosel river. We ended up riding 40 miles and Sarah was such a trooper.
We all had sore butts by the end. We also stopped in Bernkastel and finally got to see people playing the long horns that you think of people playing in Germany. I cannot believe it has taken 3 years to see these things. I think it is more popular in Bavaria.

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After that we met up with our "friends from Germany gang" and went to a weinfest. It is always fun to see old friends meet new ones and drink some wine. Someone won this little feather thing and I may have been having too much fun with it.

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I had to work in the early part of the week so Sarah was adventurous and set out on her own to visit Trier, Luxembourg and wander around Wittlich. Then we set out on our trip to Lipsi in Greece to reunite with our friend from graduate school, Dayna. This required taking a train to Frankfurt, flying to Kos airport, taking a bus to Kos town, taking a high speed catamaran ferry to Lipsi, finally to be picked up by a little blue pick up truck owned by the proprietor of our "Inn" Michalis. It was quite the adventure and I am pretty sure we could have made it all the way to the States in the time it took us to reach this tiny island paradise.

Pic of Sarah on one of the many modes of transportation.

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Lunch at Mummy's in Kos while waiting for our ferry.

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Pics from the ferry ride.

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When we arrived we were immediately oriented to the most important things in town, a 24 hour bakery (only open 24 hours for 6 weeks in the summer when the tourists are there), the town square, the restaurant where the wedding would be held, and the old town. We enjoyed a long and colorful lunch with Dayna's family while watching the action on the water and enjoying the Greek breeze. I had an incredible octopus dish with a mustard sauce and tasted everyone else's food which included salads, meat on a stick, and a bunch of other tasty morsels. I really just cannot get enough of this country.

The restaurant and harbor.

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Found the local wine!

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We took an early evening stroll through the old town and then had dinner on the other side of the port looking at the city. We might of had a little too much fun doing a photo shoot while waiting for our food.

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Our waiter was also a stand up comedian and took every chance he got to tease us about our lack of language and food knowledge and regale us with stories about Greek weddings. This island only has a population of 700 people so everyone on the island was talking about the wedding that we would be attending. You may be wondering why Dayna chose this island to get married, well.....turns out her husband's family is from Lipsi so this was an authentic Greek style event with a splash of American culture.

The next morning we went out on a boat ride with about 20 other tourists from the island.

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We learned that many of the people who come to this island have been coming for many years, year after year, and they cannot get enough. We were the newbies. This boat tour stopped at 5 different islands for swimming and sunning along with a 2 1/2 hour lunch stop. It was absolutely gorgeous. The sea was so salty that you barely had to do anything to tread water and you could nearly just float in place.

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We had an incredible lunch looking at the water and we chose to eat at the "expensive" place and still only paid about 20 euro per person including wine. We had a great time getting to know Dayna's family and teasing them about being the youngins....when did I grow up?

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My hair twin

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When we arrived back from our boat trip our friend Myrna was waiting for us, yay! The last time the three of us were together was Hawaii. We girls sure know how to meet up in fun places.
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That night many of the out of town guests had a dinner along the water (its an island...pretty much every restaurant was on the water) and then we all hit up the islands only bar. We made up about half of the bar patrons and enjoyed a few drinks.

Day three started pretty slowly. I am pretty sure we started each day hanging at the bakery and indulging in Greek pastries. We were already becoming locals on the island and spent a bunch of time socializing with people we had gotten to know, fellow wedding party goers, tourists, and locals on our way to the town square. The daily ferry arrived carrying the remainder of the wedding guests and we all headed to a beautiful beach that had a delicious restaurant right along its shore. Myrna and I chose to walk and it was such a nice stroll with some really steep hills that we huffed and puffed our way up. We stopped at a little bee farm and got some delicious treats and creams all while be lectured by the owners friend on the way women should live their lives, the problems of marriage, and appropriate child bearing/rearing customs. It was quite interesting. This man appeared to be stuck in the 20's or earlier in his thinking.

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We enjoyed an afternoon of swimming, eating, swimming, drinking, eating, swimming and finally a walk back home. I ate the best salad I have ever had. it was a watermelon salad that also contained caper leaves and cheese. Why are we throwing away all these amazing caper leaves and only eating the caper? The leaves taste incredible. Thanks to the bride and groom for the welcome dinner!

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On the walk back, we saw the mail being delivered.

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That night the island happened to be having a dance festival with barrels of wine. For 2 euro a glass it was all you could drink wine. Unfortunately, the wine was not all that palatable but the dancing made up for it. I was too chicken to join in because the steps were quite complex. I really enjoyed listening to the local music and enjoying the fun atmosphere of a Greek island partying into the night.

The day of the wedding, Sarah had bridesmaid duties and Myrna and I set off for the beach. After attempting to hail a taxi for 20 minutes I gave up and we hitch hiked our way there. This was by far the most beautiful beach on the island. There was clear bright blue water as far as the eye could see, surrounded by mountains and warm water currents. I LOVED it! I was so sad that I had to leave but we had a wedding to attend!

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I will give a little run down of the wedding itinerary:

- walk to the church along with about 50 other people walking and more in cars blaring their horns, and one man firing off a shotgun into the air just to jazz up the atmosphere

last minute painting of the church

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- ceremony with the backdrop of a beautiful white church topped by a blue dome; all the while, more gun shots into the air, pictures of a beautiful bride

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- fun group pictures with old friends and new and then a walk back down into town; kill two hours with predrinking

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- dinner served from 10pm until 12am; course after course of delicious food; wine flowing throughout the evening

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- band playing from 10 pm without stopping until nearly 4 am

- fireworks at some point to mark the union

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- circle dancing for hours on end; I finally got up enough nerve to get involved (I loved it!!!!)

- 4 am walk to the nearest beach for all to go for a little swim (the sun came up while we were in the water)

- 6 am eat at the bakery and enjoy a little spinach pie; realize that we are locked out of our room

-7 am Michalis is kind enough to bring us a new key and let us in

- sleep until 10 am when we have to get ready to check out

WOW!!! That was quite the wedding event! Congratulations to the new happy couple, Dayna and Theo and their adorable little one, Aria.

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I will leave you with a dog/person selfie

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Posted by trackers 23:20 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

The Bottles are Rattling, pt. 3

Seville is everything a city should be. It is walkable, bikable, food is incredible, and awesome architecture is everywhere. We spent most of our first day there just exploring the city by bike. We looked up the hop-on/hop-off bus tour, and just followed the route ourselves. We were able to see all the major sites and stop for pictures at our own convenience. As you might have guessed, I did this often.

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Ethan is always less than thrilled about posing. Other people passing by were also taking his picture.

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There is a real flair for detail in Seville. The Spanish make great use of vivid color and tile is prevalent in their design.

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This facility is an old tile manufacturing facility turned Contemporary Art Center. There is an open air museum and a college on the site. The tile pictured here was considered a showroom at one time. Customers would come and pick the tile from the wall and then their desired quantity would be manufactured for them.

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We ate lunch at the Mercado de Feria and they keep your tab on the tile by the kitchen. As is frequently the case when I give my name in a Spanish speaking country, they assume I am royalty (my name is pronounced "Queen").

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This little jar contains a deconstructed carrot cake.

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Awesome buildings throughout the city.

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As Kristen is trying to figure out how to put this hat on she is telling me how she wishes she could go to a British wedding so she would have a chance to wear one of these hats. Too bad it took two of us about 5 minutes to figure out how it was supposed to fit. We are so sophisticated.

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Dinner. Cole, it was like a birdsnest.

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I wish I could timestamp this picture. There was a family carnival happening at almost midnight. In Spain most people are just finishing dinner about this time. large__PIC9926.jpg

Our last morning in Seville we saw the Alcazar. It is just as impressive and detailed as the Alhambra, and will blow your mind. The tile work and detail are incredible and the hundreds year old tapestries showed what explorers thought the world looked like at the time. Underground baths provided an awesome reflection pool. Also, they have peacocks.

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Seville was the end of our time in Spain. From here we departed for Lagos, Portugal. This would be the start of our beach and coastal portion of the trip. Things slowed down a bit and we spent a lot of time relaxing on the water, and hiking along the coast. We did some ocean kayaking and one day we saw a newborn goat stumbling around the pasture. The weather was a consistent 90 degrees during the day, and cool at night. The vegetation reminded me of Arizona, but the coastline was more similar to Thailand. If only we could have found the food of the southwest or southeast Asia. Luckily, we were able to score a lot of fresh seafood, and a foodtruck festival. This ended up being a really good stop on the trip.

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As we have probably mentioned before, we like to borrow our trip itinerary from tour companies that specialize in outdoor activities. The next stop on our trip, Zambujera Do Mar, is often described as one of the most beautiful hiking areas in all of Portugal. Tour companies also like to describe it as undiscovered, and uncharted by tourists. There are very few places on the planet that are undiscovered, but I think it is safe to say this area is uncommonly devoid of travelers. It might be partly because there is no major roadway or airport providing easy access, and partly because there is so much beautiful coastline, that tourists don't all congregate in one spot. The cliffs in the area were often hiding fisherman, storks and nude sunbathers on private beaches. Don't worry, I didn't include pictures of the latter.

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Every night we enjoyed a sunset on the beach with a bottle of wine. There were so few people around that often times it felt like our own private beach we were sharing with a few select friends.

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Every little town in the area had its own charm. The white and blue are certainly reminiscent of Greece, but these scarecrows are something I have never seen anywhere else.

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Our last Portugal stop was Sintra. We picked this one off the map for no other reason than a circular staircase that Kristen had seen on some "must see" travel list. Our first day we went to the Palacio Nacional de Pena, which is an amazing and colorful castle high on a hill on the edge of town to see the staircase. As it turns out, we were not at the correct castle. There are at approximately 4 castles in Sintra, and we only ended up seeing 2 of them. Luckily, the second castle had the necessary staircase, and we were able to cross it off our bucket list.

Palacio Nacional de Pena is the most whimsical castle I have ever seen, and the furniture collection was like no other we have ever seen. There were complete rooms dedicated to furniture acquired from all over the world. The telephone pictured was obviously not installed when the castle was built, but it was in fact the first telephone in Portugal, and is still original.

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Also on the grounds was this chalet for the kings wife with railings made of cork. The grounds were also amazing, but I have added too many pictures already.

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We made it to see the second castle on day two. Not only did it have the awesome staircase, but there were secret underground passageways that connected many of the spots in the pictures below.

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And some pics from the road.

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Sintra was originally our last stop planned for this trip, but we decided the drive home was excessively long, so we scheduled some additional time for a stop in Bordeaux, France. This name may sound familiar, as it is the largest wine growing region in France and one of the largest exporter of wines overseas. You likely have seen it at your local grocery store. I would attempt to describe these wines, but I would not do them justice. Just try them out for yourselves. We stayed in the city of the same name and my hipster wife and I explored it on bikes.

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Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Bordeaux was the public art. It seemed like everywhere we turned was another mural, sculpture or fountain. The most amazing thing was the reflecting pool across from the Place de la Bourse. We were here both during the day and at night, and everyone loves it. There is about an inch of water in an area the size of a football field, and you wouldn't believe the joy it brings people to take off their shoes and scamper through an amount of water that might normally be considered a puddle. There was also a badass skatepark for people of all ages, a draw bridge that lifted vertically on 4 columns and fashionable people everywhere. How do we get to live here?

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We even took some time to lay in the park and just enjoy our down time. And if you are wondering about the kid on the razor scooter in the picture above? He nailed the landing.

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Maybe the French are just funny people. After all, they still love to rollerblade.

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On the penultimate day of the trip, we enjoyed one of the primo cycling days of our entire trip. The weather was perfect, the terrain was only moderately hilly, and the cycling map led only to wineries. As it turns out, I can fit 8 bottles of wine in my pannier. Too bad I only had one with me.

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Finally, to the reason for the title of the blog. As we traveled, we accumulated olives, vinegar, wine, olive oil, and various other goodies. Though this was certainly the intention when starting this trip, we didn't take into account all the different places we would be staying. In order to protect our investment we decided it was necessary to truck our goods in and out of every apartment we stayed at and had to repack them into the car every few days. Needless to say we were tired of this exercise by the end of the trip. We also didn't make any friends our last morning in Bordeaux when we wanted to get on the road by 6 am, so we started hauling our stuff down the stairs at a little past 5. Speaking of our apartment, we often highlight the amazing places we stay, and while we were in a great location, I wanted to share this picture of the struggle I was having to fit in the shower. I had to squat a few inches just to keep my head straight.

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Posted by trackers 12:47 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

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