Portugal: Cobblestones, Cod and Cork…

…and so much more.  I don’t know where I heard or read that Portugal was the seafood capital of the world, but every since then, I knew I was going to visit this country.   And now that I have, let me tell you, there are so many other, better, reasons to visit Portugal!

After spending 3 days in Paris, my son and I took a short and cheap flight on Vueling Airlines over to Porto, Portugal, where we stayed in Ana’s AirBnb right in the heart of everything.  I highly recommend staying on Rue De Flores street.  The picture above was the view from the flat.  I adore the red-thatched roofs on the top of the houses.

We saw a lot of Porto in the two, too short nights spent there.  Porto is beautiful and we were lucky enough to stay right near the river.  On either side of the river you can watch the boats, enjoy wonderful wines, eat tasty food, listen to the live music, feel the cool breeze and cringe at the youngsters jumping off of the Luís I bridge into the cold deep river.  On the west side you can tour the wine cellars, if Port wine is your thing.  I’m not a big fan.  While meandering through some of the shops I noticed lots of items made from cork.  I didn’t know cork was a hot commodity in Portugal.  You can get purses, coasters and many other things made from cork.  I purchased some cork, wedge sandals.  They are quite comfortable and I can’t wait to wear them but not in Portugal.  I would probably break my ankle because there are cobblestones and hills everywhere.  They are slippery too.  I got quite a work out walking up and down all day.  Portuguese people have great legs.  I truly don’t know how they do it everyday but I guess like anything, you get used to it eventually.

You can find Cod on almost all restaurants menu’s, made several different ways.  Squid is another food you can find almost anywhere.  I was able to indulge in both and although cod is just okay to me, I thought the cod in Portugal was better than average and after getting up the courage to eat some squid, I actually enjoyed that too.

I booked a hop on hop off bus tour as well as a boat ride down the Douro river for Zamir and I to see as much of Porto as we could in our 1 full day.   We were able to see the blue painted tiles referred to as azulejos, on buildings, homes and walls of the train station. Blue is my favorite color and I found azulejos to be absolutely beautiful.  We saw the beaches and visited some of the famous landmarks: Ribeira and the Luís I Bridge, San Fransisco Church, Clerigos Church and Tower 3E.  Unfortunately, the Mercado Do Bolhao was being renovated so we missed that, we didn’t get a chance to ride the tram car and we didn’t get to try the food at Madureira’s restaurant but Zamir did try out the famous Francesinha dish, but he wasn’t a fan.

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Our favorite spot to eat was this little shop across from our flat called, Nut Porto.  The desserts there were delicious.  My favorite was a cookie and cream waffle with nutella and whipped cream.  We also really enjoyed the Sangria that we purchased for 2 Euros right on the the west side of the river.   I found the Portuguese language very interesting because it is a mix between Spanish and French.

On day 3, we packed up and purchased two train tickets at the famous Saõ Bento train station, for 60.5 Euros, to Lisbon, Portugal.  The train station was within walking distance from where we were staying, although it wasn’t easy dragging heavy luggage up hills and cobblestones.  The Saõ Bento walls are covered in azulejos.

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Outside of the Sao Bento train station
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Azulejos on the walls of the train station

We took the next train to Campahna station and boarded another train to Santa Apolonia station.  The train ride was rather comfortable and took approximately 4 hours.  Our seats reclined, there was space to put our larger luggage and staff members came through the cars with food and beverage carts with items for sale.

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Santa Apolonia train station

We stayed in Paulo’s spacious Airbnb in Lisbon.  We had to walk a ways to get to any action from this Airbnb but it is very close to the train station.   My first impression of Lisbon was, it is not as beautiful as Porto.  This may be because the area near the train station is very famous and was undergoing a lot of construction.  We walked around and noticed that this area is also where the cruise ships dock.   We stopped for some food and got ‘Lisbon-boozled’. Apparently in Lisbon, after you order your food and are waiting, the waiters bring you bread, cheese, butter and croquettes and after you are finished your meal, you notice several extra charges on your bill.  Remember that bread and butter you ate and that cheese you picked over, oh yeah, you have to pay for that.  Surprise!  This created a distrust and dislike for me for Lisbon.

It seemed like I wouldn’t get to the places I wanted to see in Lisbon on my own, so I booked us a full day of tours for the next day.  I found Portuguese for a day tour company on Viator.  It was really short notice to book a tour and this company was the only one that had space available.  Filipa was our tour guide and the owner of the company.  Zamir and I and 2 other couples set out to tour Lisbon.  It was small group and it was nice.

We toured Sintra.  Sitting atop of a hill, overlooking all of Lisbon, sits this beautiful, colorful, fairytale castle called Peña Palace.

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We toured Quinta Da Regaliera, a 20th century-built gothic looking palace and garden with underground passages.  It is here, where we happened upon the Initiation Well that I saw all over the internet, beautiful in pictures, wonderful in person.

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We also visited Cabo Da Roca- the westernmost part of Europe and Caiscais (pronounce catchcize)- a coastal community and the richest municipality in Portugal.

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We had lunch and picked up some souvenirs after a full day of Lisbon beauty.

At the airport I picked up a Lisbon inspired Pandora charm to add to my travel bracelet, because no trip is complete without a momentõ.

Our trip to Portugal was short and sweet.  Portugal is a beautiful country with lots to see. The weather is also very comfortable and in summer the days are long; it doesn’t get dark until after 9pm.  Porto is older and maintains a lot of it’s rooted charm.  Lisbon has more to see but is also more touristy.  In Porto, the area I stayed in was perfect.  If I were to revisit Lisbon, I would opt to stay downtown or in Caiscais.  I plan to visit Portugal again for a longer stay in another one of its regions.  I feel like I didn’t get to experience the food, wine, beach or culture to it’s fullest.

So, Obrigada Portugal (thank you in Portuguese), I will be back.

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Headed to Paris-What to pack?

Just left Paris after spending 3 full and 2 half days there.  I must have packed and re-packed at least 6 times to prepare myself and still forgot some essentials.  It was my first time, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect and even though I did a lot of reading ahead, I still feel like I could have been better prepared.  Hopefully my experience will help you.

Here are some suggestions of what to pack to get you through:

  • Pajamas
  • Toiletries including wet wipes (make sure your toiletries are travel sized if you plan to only take a carry on bag and don’t forget your toothpaste)
  • Undergarments
  • Camera
  • Portable chargers
  • *Universal converter (I forgot mine and couldn’t charge anything until I purchased one)
  • A face cloth (I find that European and Middle Eastern countries usually do not supply face cloths, it’s like they don’t use them. They will supply you with hand towels and bath towels but where are the wash clothes to wash your body and face with, anyway)
  • Comfortable shoes for walking eg.. Birkenstocks or hiking sandals (Do not make the mistake I made and pack only flip flops and converses or shoes for looking pretty. Take your ugly, worn shoes.  You can always crop them out of your pictures)
  • A cardigan to tie around your neck or waist and to throw on when it gets chilly
  • A small cross-body handbag or passport holder with pockets. A cell phone cover with pockets would work too.  (I’m pretty sure you’ve heard about the pickpocketing there.  I’m pretty sure I was pick pocket proof)
  • A dainty silver or gold necklace, bracelet, earring studs
  • A fitness watch (You’ll want to track all the steps you take. I reached my step goal x2 or more each day)
  • An LBD (can be dressed up or down, worn alone or with a shirt over it) (FYI: Little Black Dress)
  • A long white button up shirt (can be worn alone as a dress or over your little black dress tied in the front, now you have 3 outfits instead of 2 plus a bathing suit cover up)
  • A swimsuit if staying in a hotel
  • A pair of skinny jeans of course
  • 2 graphic t-shirts
  • A special Parisian outfit to wear for those pictures under the Eiffel tower (I ordered a black bubble skirt from Etsy that could be worn long or buttoned-up to be short and purchased a ruched sleeved white shirt from H&M, and finished the look with a black and gold head scarf as you can see in the picture above)
  • Sunglasses and a hat

That should be enough for at least 5 days.

You can use your credit cards in Europe and your debit card to access Euros from the ATM.  Check with your banks on the foreign transaction fees and inform them of your travel plans.

As far as phone apps go, download Yelp, Google Maps offline and Google translate. Trust me they will come in handy.

What are some essentials that you pack when you travel?

 

3 Days in the City of Love

I mean if you see the Eiffel tower, you have to journey to the sommet, right? 

Unlike many people that I know, I never had a desire to visit Paris.  I am not a very artsy person and when I thought of Paris, that’s what came to mind.  The site of the Eiffel tower did nothing for me, neither did the thought of seeing monuments, statues and art museums.   This may seem odd, as I am a teacher and all, but it was my truth.

My son, however was passionate about experiencing Paris.  He studied French for 4 years in school and wanted to exercise his skills outside of the classroom in a genuine French setting.  On our way back to Philadelphia for the summer, I decided to plan some stop-over vacations.  Since Paris was on the way and Pegasus airline had tickets for under $200, I planned our trip.

Pegasus airline is a no frills airline, no free food, no movies, no wifi, one equal class, but we were quite comfortable especially since our seats were reassigned to the first row. GO US! We had ample leg room and the seats were pretty comfy.  My coworker and his family who was flying to Germany was also seated in the first row across from us.  We were allowed one checked luggage and a carry on.  We were sure our bags were over the limits but we had no problem checking them in.  They served us cheese and chicken sandwiches, which I apparently, accidentally ordered online while purchasing my tickets.  I gave mine to a gentleman sitting beside us.  I got in some zzzz’s while the captain and flight attendants made several announcements in French.  I couldn’t understand one word they said but after 5 hours we landed safely in Istanbul.

While in Istanbul I realized that my credit cards were not working.  I called the bank before I left Qatar to inform them that I’d be traveling to Paris and Portugal but it never dawned on me to inform them of my layover country of Turkey.  The banks in the U.S. would not be open for several more hours, so I called my bank in Qatar and notified them.  Advice #1: Be sure to call your banks and tell them where you are traveling and include your layover stops in case you want to buy something there.  Four hours later we hopped on Pegasus for the connecting flight to our destination, Paris.

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Our checked luggage arrived with us to Paris.  I hate checking luggage because I am always fearful of it getting lost and I hate waiting to retrieve it but because I was going home for the summer, I had to take more than what would fit in a carry on.  We grabbed a taxi and headed to 20 Rue de Vertes (click here if you want an airbnb just for sleeping in a good location). Since most accommodations in Paris are small anyway, I figured this was a good opportunity to try out an Airbnb.  I’ve always wanted to try one out.  I settled on one in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, close to the center, but not too touristy.  We were pretty close to metro stations and could get around easy.  One cab ride later, our host, Jean, met us at the Airbnb.  He showed us how everything worked and left.  It was small but it had everything we needed to rest comfortably.

We were so tired that we took a short walk, and found Le Potager du Marais, a small vegan restaurant, to have linner (lunch/dinner).  I had lasagna and my son had a salad.  On our way back to our place we spotted this gem, Hanks Vegan pizza.  We were definitely going to try it out during our stay.  Close-by was this vegan market that we stopped in for snacks.  I was in Vegan Heaven.

The next morning, we headed to breakfast.  I used Yelp as a guide and found Bob’s burger, yup you guessed it, another vegan restaurant, where we enjoyed breakfast. 20170617_102757 I’m mad I didn’t get to go back for lunch to get a vegan bowl.  They sounded scrumptious but weren’t available for breakfast.  Advice #2: Download Yelp on your mobile device to find eateries, especially if you follow a special diet.  This place does not have a sign on the door, in fact we walked right passed it but thanks to google maps we backed up and went in.  Advice #3: Download google maps on your phone if you don’t already have it.  It gives directions to every where via walking, car or public transportation.  

A coworker of mine strongly suggested we check out MontMarte.  We looked it up on google maps and decided to walk there.  During this 47 minute walk, we were able to take some cool pictures around Paris.  It was also during this walk, that I realized, my choice in footwear was not good.  I mean I know that converses are not the most comfortable sneakers but they do go with almost anything and I didn’t think about the amount of walking we would do exploring.  Despite this, I really enjoyed our walk.

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MontMarte is situated high on a hill.  You do not have to go to the top of the church to take in some good views.  We didn’t go inside either.  We just enjoyed the views and took some great shots.  Click here to learn the MontMarte’s history.

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Next, we hopped on the Metro.  I purchased a two-day pass for the both of us.  It cost 70 Euros.  A day pass cost approximately 35 Euros.  I probably would have saved money by purchasing individual tickets, but I paid for the convenience of it all.  I did not want to have to purchase a ticket for every time we rode the metro or use my credit card for each purchase and acquire an international fee each time or dig through money to purchase a ticket every time or wait in line every time. Taking the metro was pretty easy too and in my opinion better than taking a taxi or Uber everywhere.  That gets expensive, so I saved money this way.  Advice #4:  Opt for the metro or walking over other means of transportation and if convenience is important to you, purchase a day pass for how ever many full days you will be in Paris.  

The Louvre was our next stop. When you get off the metro, you walk into a mall.  From the inside of the mall you can see the top point of a triangle, upside-down, made of glass.  When you get outside, you will see the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel across from the Louvre.  The Louvre is diamond-shaped, made of glass and protrudes from the ground.   Beautiful architectural buildings surround it and small fountains.  We did not go inside the museum.

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After a short ride on the metro, I decided we should get off and explore some more.  I found a small shop that sold Pain au Chocolate, a Paris sweet, Danish with chocolate inside.  I had read about these so I tried one.  It was good.  We continued walking and came across this gigantic piece of metal standing on four legs.  It was the Eiffel Tower.  On this day, we decided that tomorrow we would go to the top.  I mean if you see the Eiffel tower, you have to journey to the sommet (summit, but this is how it is spelled in Paris), right?

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We took some pictures and headed back to our Airbnb.  On the way back, Zamir spotted a statue of liberty.  This was pretty cool, since I had read that there were several throughout Paris.

We stopped at Hanks for vegan pizza for dinner.  We both had a slice with potatoes, red onions and vegan cheese.  Zamir also had sorbet and I had a salad and a cookie.

I have to mention that we discovered this drink by Schwepps called Agrum, that is absolutely devine.  Dare I even say, it is better than Pepsi, strong and tasteful.  We wished we had brought some home.

Something really strange happened the next day while visiting the Eiffel Tower.  We got up early and started our trek around 8 am.  The Eiffel tower area doesn’t open until 9am and they don’t start letting people up until 9:30am.  Since we didn’t purchase tickets online, we chose to get there first thing.  The line was long when we arrived but we waited anyway.  The wait was about 1 hour between waiting for the gates to open, purchasing our tickets which were approximately 29 Euros for the 2 of us (tickets are discounted for 12-24 year old youth), and waiting in line to go up.  People who purchased tickets in advance still had to wait in a line, a shorter line but still waited nonetheless.  Advice #5: If you are not with a tour guide, you will wait whether you buy your tickets online or not, so I suggest going early in the morning before the gates open to cut down on the wait time.  The view from the sommet of the Eiffel is breathtaking.  You can see Montmarte, The Arc de Triomphe and many more monuments if you know where to look.  It’s not scary either.  When we decided we had had enough of seeing Paris from 1,000 feet in the air, we went to look for the elevator down, but were told we could only go down the stairs.  Once we were on the second level of the sommet, we waited for the elevator and waited and waited for an elevator that never came.  Then we also noticed that the steps were blocked.  This is when everyone began to stare at each other with curiosity.  No-one was being allowed to go down.  Zamir looked down and noticed that everyone on the ground was leaving the park and the police were blocking the street to the Eiffel.   Then a worker announced that they needed everyone to move to the west side of the Eiffel due to a matter of security.  There wasn’t anything we could do but wonder and wait.  I called my husband just to be cautious and to see if he could find anything on the news.  He found nothing.  After approximately 20 minutes, we were all allowed to leave and the park was re-opened.  We never did find out what the scare was about but we were happy we made it safely down.   We took some photos in the park and made our way to the Arc de Triomphe.

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The Arc de Triomphe is literally in the middle of the street and after going to the top of the Eiffel, it seemed pointless to journey to the top of this monument.  We strolled the infamous Champs-Elysées street and stopped in Leon de Bruxelles to eat.  Here we enjoyed the best mussels ever.  Advice #6: Stop here for lunch and enjoy the delightful mussels.  We attempted to see the catacombs this day as well, but the line was around the corner.  One of the things I wanted to do in Paris was some boutique shopping.  I was hoping to find some unique Parisian clothing or shoes.  I read about Rue de Charonne, so we took the metro there.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take the day of the week into consideration and all the shops were closed because it was Sunday.  Needless to say I was very disappointed but it made me want to return to Paris even more.  We moved on and saw Notre Dame but the line to go in was too long here as well.  I wore my flip flops out on this day.  My feet hurt so bad and so did my calves.  Advice #7: When considering shoes for Paris, go for comfort for walking over everything else.  Oh how I wished I had bought my ugly Birkenstocks with me.  Another trip to Hanks for pizza and salad ended our vacation in Paris and the next morning we were back in the airport, on to our next adventure.

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In the street in front of the Arc De Triomphe

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I have come to accept the fact that if a vacation spot’s food game is on point, I’m sold.  Paris did not disappoint.  The vegan choices where we stayed were in abundance as were other food choices.  There were other things that I liked about Paris too, the ease of getting around and the freedom.  I actually enjoyed seeing couples in PDA, which is a far cry from Qatar.  I mean what’s wrong with showing the world how much you are in love or in lust with the one you’re with.  I would like to plan a return trip to Paris.  Why, to EAT of course, amongst other things.  I would still like to check out the boutiques, cruise down the Seine, visit the Paris Sewer Museum, check out the covered food market and street market, go inside the Louvre and see the catacombs.  Before going to Paris please note, people smoke cigarettes everywhere and if you are not a smoker, this can get very irritating.

For now, it is off to Portugal.  Until next time Paris.

Au Revoir!

P.S. The day after we left Paris, a police cruiser was rear-ended by a man in a car full of explosives on Champs-Elysées street.  The whole area was cut off from the public.  The man later died.  The police officers were not hurt.  This coupled with the events that transpired when we were at the Eiffel tower just makes me thank God even more that my son and I were able to visit Paris unscathed.  I really wish people could just be good. I pray for peace. Click here to read about the incident.

Where were you when 4 countries broke off diplomatic ties with Qatar?

Please pray for peace in the Middle East!

It started off as a regular work day.  My alarm went off at 6:00 am, 1 hour earlier than the rest of the school year, because it is Ramadan so school starts later and ends earlier. I pressed the snooze button once maybe twice.  By the time I got out of bed, it was around 6:20ish.  I washed, dressed, and ate breakfast with my son.  I met Jennifer downstairs. We’ve been carpooling since we moved into the same apartment complex.  “Four countries done split from Qatar”, she said.  I opened my phone and saw all the chatter in multiple Facebook groups for which I am a member.

On Monday, June 5, 2017-  CNBC headline “Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar”.  Doha News “Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain have broken off diplomatic ties with Qatar and closed land, sea and air access to the nation, according to official reports”.   Today is Thursday and since this happened, it seems to be all people are talking about.

I will not go into details on my feelings or the ‘background’ behind the whole thing, because over here, you have to be very careful of your words and what you post on social media.  Besides only the people involved know the real truths.  I have read a lot of news about the reasons that this has occurred.  I encourage you to read up on it as well (click here to read about it on CNBC).

As for life here in hot Qatar, it is business as usual.  Life goes on.  I get up, do my routine, and go to work.  I come home, cook, and talk to my husband on the phone.  Of course, I am worried.  I am worried about getting home stateside safely in a week.  I am worried if I will be able to return to Qatar where I’ve grown quite comfortable.  I like my lifestyle here, calm, peaceful, making good money, traveling, light work.  It’s not perfect but it’s home, for now.

Since Monday other countries have also cut off ties with Qatar, including Libya, Maldives and Mauritius.  I am happy I got to visit Bahrain, Egypt and Maldives before this happened.  KSA and Oman have not cut ties with Qatar as of now.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring?  For now, I’m safe!  Please pray for peace in the Middle East!