A Travellerspoint blog

Joao, Manuel, and a lot of broken glass

After a few days in Portugal, I have completely become enamored with how distinct this country is compared to the rest of Europe. This country feels much more South America than Europe. Perhaps a lot of this comes from the fact that Portugal has been in the depths of terrible economic troubles for the past 10 years and, as a few locals told us, the problem is often overlooked by the EU. We could see the poverty immediately as we drove into Porto, where crumbling and vacant apartment buildings sit next to run down slums with drying clothes on lines outside showing the only signs of life. There are a lot more homeless people here, and the Brazilian tradition of people standing on the street, “helping” you park for a small tip. We pulled into Porto with the normal difficult task of navigating the ridiculously narrow and unusually steep cobblestone streets that seem to even confuse our GPS about which way they go. We have been trying to save a bit more money, and we decided that now would be the first time to stay in a dorm since we were in New Zealand, and did it for one whole night! I drove the car outside of town to park it for free, and save the $45 per day to park it in a lot, which is more than we were paying for our accommodation. As I drove out towards the free parking area, I chuckled as I saw the billboards promoting the presidential candidates, one named Manuel and one named Joao. Flavia had earlier told me that Brazilians have the impression that there are only two male names in Portugal, Joao and Manuel.

Porto was a nice change from Spain. The city is rugged and gritty and the old town shows the potential and past beauty of amazing days in the Port trade and the scars of its decline and the onset of poverty. We wandered along the Douro River in the evening stopping at a Port producer Vasconcellos for a quick taste as we waited until we were hungry for dinner. I’ve never been too fond of Port, I think it’s too sweet and has too much alcohol to find a lot of distinct flavors. That being said I haven’t tasted too many, so it was nice to get a nice introduction to Port and we tasted a few white ports, a ruby, and then a reserve Tawny. I started to appreciate the aging process and its results as we tasted young and old Ports, and I can now say that after travelling through Port I did gain an appreciation for what I was tasting and do plan on having a few bottles of Port tucked away once we get home. We ate a terrible dinner along the river, food that was too heavy, salty, and fatty. I had the specialty, Francesinha, which was four or five types of mystery meat, breaded and fried, served with a soggy piece of bread on top and soaked in cheesy gravy. It was so heavy, that halfway through, I just had to quit and move to the other side of the table. The two locals next to us started talking to us, and even though only one of them controlled most of the conversation for the next few hours, we had a great time learning a bit about the true Porto, the economic situation, and the general feel of life in the North of Portugal. At a few minutes after 10, we were treated to an amazing pyrotechnics show, as Portugal, Spain, and Italy set out in a fireworks competition, each with their own show lasting 20 minutes. These were by far the best fireworks I have ever seen, far above anything I’ve experienced and each country had one set of fireworks that we so powerful that they rattled the ears and blew my hair back when they were detonated.

The next day we toured the old city. This maze of narrow streets really gives the feel of walking streets that have changed little in the last 100 years. We went to the market, which was the shabbiest we’ve seen since Cambodia, and bought a few things for dinner, then saw and snapped a few photos of the typical sites. I really like the feel of Porto, this city that hopefully is turning the corner as many students come here and hopefully will stay and try to help this once beautiful city to become reinvigorated. We cooked a nice dinner that night, hoping that each arriving group of people would not be put in the two extra bunks in our 4 bed room. Sitting around the hostel later we met two Swiss guys who ended up being in our room, Flavia and the three dudes… lucky her! They were great though, Dominic and Sony, who were especially conscious of their noise and very friendly as they were finishing a two week surf holiday. We also met an Australian couple, also on a round the world trip, and it was fun to tell stories and to chat with them, I gave them as much information as I could about South America as they were headed there soon. Unfortunately I’ve sold all my copies of my book that I have left, and now that I’m done with them, I’ve found a bunch of eager readers to sell them! We woke up early the next day and headed up along the Douro to the Douro valley where the wine region is. We stopped immediately at the first winery that we found along the river and were met by a little old man named Joao who was very kind and poured a few tastes of their family produced Port. We did learn our lesson from past regions and called to make some reservations, but only one place returned our call and we drove upriver towards the eastern part of the region. Although the wine may not be the best here, this region is the most beautiful and dramatic wine region I have ever seen. The now orange and red grape vines are built on to terraces that are dug by hand into the mountain. They do this so that the precious bit of top soil doesn’t float away when the rains hit and also so that the land is a bit more workable. The huge steps that are only one or two vines wide line the area along both sides of the river and the grapes are produced in the family tradition that seems to have spread from many generations. The people here look like life hasn’t changed much since they were kids, and a noticeable aging population makes up the tiny towns in the hills here.

Back at the hostel later that evening we were a bit tired from the long day of driving. It’s difficult to drive those narrow mountain roads, one time taking a 6 mile stone road curving down through the vineyards towards the river, not really knowing where we were, the whole time, our GPS was trying to tell us to turn around. Flavia decided to call it a night, but I decided to head out with the two Swiss guys to have a few drinks in the surrounding neighborhood. The streets were packed, everyone out enjoying the warm fall night. I really enjoyed seeing the crowd that was eager and openly drinking, but as usual, there were no fights, no “tough guys”, and just a general great vibe running through the packed streets.

We left Porto the next day for Lisbon, a few hours south. We booked at a great hostel, in a private room, and settled in, then brought the car down to the waterfront where there is free parking. We walked back along the pedestrian streets then headed up to the castle high upon the hill. Although we are a bit castled out, and even a bit more old town fatigued, we enjoyed this castle, mostly for the beautiful view from every turret. This is a city of beautiful and ornate plazas, well maintained old buildings, and a classy pedestrian area. There is money here, or maybe a lot of debt, but this city has a much more regal feel than Porto. We took our car the next day to the town of Sintra located in the hills outside of the city where the royalty had their summer houses in this lush and hilly oasis just a few kilometers out of the hectic chaos of the city. This area was nice, but we felt a bit inundated by the crowd of Japanese and Russian tourists, who seem to be everywhere, and all talking at once. We found one mansion outside of town that had no coaches parked outside, so we decided to park there and walk through the gardens, before taking a quick drive to the westernmost point in Europe then drove home along the coast. We parked the car in the same spot then walked back to the hostel.

The following afternoon we took the train to Belem, Portugal’s natural port that saw many explorers set off on their way to claim territory for the crown. We saw the monuments and were a bit annoyed by the heat and crowds and did as expedited as an excursion as possible. On the train ride home we passed the car, which was parked past two fences and a few railroad tracks. As we passed I surveyed it, because when we went by the first time on the way to Belem, I thought for a minute that I noticed something a bit off with the front window, although in a speeding train it was hard to really take notice. This time I saw and I was pretty certain that the passenger window had been smashed. Flavia was late for her haircut so I got off the train and walked to the car, hoping that I’d seen incorrectly, hoping that Ivory was ok. Nope, she wasn’t, and I had seen correct. Even though we took everything out of the front of the car, some asshole still decided to smash the window, and unfortunately he got into the trunk to the car and managed to steal a bag of clothes and gifts, and a few bottles of wine and Port. I was pissed, and not really knowing what to do, I drove a bit and past a few transit police who told me where the nearest police station was. I called our car program and they told me to get a police report to I went to the station. There, three guys named Manuel and two Joao’s were outside smoking and they joked with me about my Brazilian accent before then tried to give me directions to the tourist police, where I could fill out a report. I didn’t have a map or a GPS so I really had no idea how to get where they were telling me to go, and finally one Joao and a Manuel jumped into a police car and escorted me to the police station, where we filed a report, and Flavia came up to meet me, and we parked the car in a secure lot, and headed back to the hostel where a nice cold beer felt great. The girls at the hostel were so upset about what happened, but I figured that we were lucky that this had only happened now and the stupid thieves really didn’t get much.

We went to the Renault dealer the next morning where a guy named Joao was a bit unreceptive as we showed up, and we spent four hours with them and on the phone with our insurance before everything was in place and we knew that the repair would be done. We extended our stay one night and then headed out to find the cords for the Iphone and GPS for the car. In the end, we made it almost 9 months before anything bad happened to us, but I’m just glad that this is almost over. We’ll pick up the car and get out of here tomorrow, everything was paid for, and I think this is just a lesson learned. At least this happened in a country where we could communicate, and I am very thankful for George at the EuropeLease program headquarters who spoke perfect English and Portuguese and got the job taken care of for us, with as little of a headache as possible, we even get a free carwash!

Posted by JonathanU 16:34 Archived in Portugal Comments (1)

Uma casa portuguesa, com certeza!

View RTW - 2010 on flaviaU's travel map.

O Português vai ao Rio de Janeiro. Os amigos o advertem que lá os motoristas de ônibus e taxi costumam voar com seus veículos. Chegando na Cidade Maravilhosa, Manuel pega um taxi: - Avenida Brasil, por favoire. - Que altura? - Se tu fores a mais de dois metros, eu pulo desse troço, oh raios!

Manuels, Joaquims, Marias ...esses são os Portugueses que nós brasileiros conhecemos, os que dão nome a maioria das piadas contadas no Brasil, mas os Portugueses vão muito alem desse estereotipo, por isso mesmo cá estou, em Portugal, para saber um pouco mais desse povo que nos ensinou a língua portuguesa e muitos dos costumes que ainda fazem parte da nossa vida.

Chegamos na cidade do Porto, perdidos entre as suas ruas estreitas e admirando suas Igrejas cobertas de azulejos e edifícios antigos amontoados do topo da cidade até as margens do Rio Douro, que brilhava refletindo os raios de sol do entardecer. O Douro esta no meio de duas áreas de muito contraste, de um lado a cidade de Porto com o seu ar mais boêmio, edifícios históricos e muita tradição, do outro, a cidade de Vila Nova de Gaia, com o glamour das varias adegas de vinho do Porto, calçadas limpas, modernas instalações turísticas e restaurantes de culinária internacional, são diferenças que mostram a verdadeira identidade das pessoas que vivem nestes lugares, o estilo de vida que elas levam. Portugal tem passado por uma crise econômica muito forte, que se percebe em muitas ruas e edifícios de Porto, o que costumava ser glamoroso agora já esta em ruínas, vários edifícios históricos estão abandonados, servindo de abrigo aos que não possuem um lugar para viver, e segundo um senhor Português que conhecemos em um restaurante no Porto, o numero de crimes nas cidades Portuguesas aumentaram muito nos últimos anos e ele acha que Portugal esta pior que o Brasil, um pouco exagerado, mas percebe-se que a situação não é das melhores. Mesmo com os problemas, Porto não deixa de ser uma cidade muito bonita, que carrega um passado riquíssimo, e a sua população ainda parece ser muito orgulhosa de ser “tripeira” (pessoa nascida no Porto) sempre falando de sua culinária, que tem como pratos típicos as tripas (bucho) ao modo do Porto, servidas com feijão branco e molho, a feijoada Portuguesa, que apesar de ser a original, é muito diferente da brasileira, pois é cozida com feijão carioca, couve e carne bovina ao invés de carne de porco, sem duvidas que a nossa é muito melhor, mas os Portugueses juram que é a deles. Também esqueci de mencionar que o sotaque Português é muito forte, até eu me confundo um pouco, o coitado do Jonathan parece que esta ouvindo Grego, mas aos poucos os nossos ouvidos já estão se acostumando com os sons de estaischh, vaischhh, poischhh...

Depois de 3 dias em Porto, dormindo em um dormitório misto de 4 camas, no meio de 3 meninos, eu já estava pronta pra ir a Lisboa, onde teríamos um quarto de casal, graças a Deus! Chegamos em Lisboa em um Domingo de sol e céu azul, a cidade tem um ar mais cosmopolita que Porto e mesmo sendo a maior cidade de Portugal, somente 600.00 pessoas vivem na cidade, porem a região metropolitana possui mais habitantes. O primeiro obstáculo é sempre encontrar um lugar para estacionar o carro, os estacionamentos custam 30 euros por dia e nós não podemos pagar tanto, então a outra opção é estacionar na rua, normalmente nos lugares mais distantes do centro, que é sempre um risco. Depois de organizar a nossa chegada, fomos explorar a cidade, as suas ruas de calçamento e escadarias que levam ao Castelo de São Jorge, com uma vista linda da cidade. As ruas de Lisboa me lembram muito dos bairros cariocas de Santa Teresa e da Lapa, exceto pela tranqüilidade que ainda existe em Lisboa e que não existe mais no Rio de Janeiro, claro que existem crimes aqui também, mas as pessoas vivem sem medo de sair na rua, os crimes não são a mão armada. Aos redores de Lisboa existem as cidades de Belém e de Sintra, Belém possui a famosa Torre de Belém, que foi construída na época dos descobrimentos pelo Rei João II para proteger a cidade, lá também na a Igreja Santa Maria Belém, onde estão enterrados Vasco da Gama e Luis de Camões. Sintra famosa pela sua arquitetura de estilo romântico e pelas luxuosas residências de veraneio dos reis de Portugal e também da elite Portuguesa.

No nosso terceiro dia em Lisboa eu resolvi mudar o visual e me dar um corte de cabelo de presente, enquanto eu estava no cabeleireiro o Jonathan descobria que um ladrão tinha quebrado o vidro do nosso carro, virado o carro do avesso procurando por coisas pra roubar, acabou levando um casaco, umas garrafas de vinho e uns presentes que estavam no porta malas do carro, nada de muito valor, apenas algumas coisas que eu havia comprado para amigos e família. Foi um susto danado, o Jonathan teve que lidar com os policias, falando em Português e achando graça porque eles todos tinham o nome de Manuel, quando eu voltei para o hostel, as meninas da recepção me esperavam pra contar as mas notícias e ao mesmo tempo elogiar o meu corte de cabelo. Dos males o melhor, ninguém se machucou, não roubaram os nosso passaportes ou maquina fotográfica e laptop, tínhamos seguro do carro e das coisas que foram roubadas. Depois de 9 meses de viagem, foi a primeira vez que isso aconteceu e tomara que seja a ultima, pois já estamos na reta final da nossa aventura.

Posted by flaviaU 15:14 Archived in Portugal Comments (1)

País Basco, La Rioja e Salamanca

View RTW - 2010 on flaviaU's travel map.

Depois de uma noitada em Barcelona, jogamos as malas no carro ainda de ressaca e dirigimos para o norte da Espanha, primeira parada: Pamplona! Cidade famosa pelas festas de San Fermin que ocorre no mês de Julho, as corridas de touro, diferentes das touradas, pois nas corridas centenas de participantes correm pelas ruas estreitas da cidade fugindo dos touros enlouquecidos que correm atrás deles, esse festival é de muita tradição na Espanha, mas também de muita contradição pela certa crueldade feita com os animais. Passamos somente uma noite em Pamplona e no outro dia fomos para San Sebastian, na costa norte da Espanha, divisa com a Franca, San Sebastian esta localizada no centro do País Basco, a região basca tem uma cultura própria, a língua falada é o euskara que pode ser considerada uma a língua mais antiga que ainda é falada nos dias de hoje, pois ela surgiu ainda antes do latim. O País Basco também sustenta um movimento nacionalista, que como outras regiões da Espanha que também querem ser independentes do governo espanhol, entre os grupos separatistas o mais famoso é o ETA, que é considerado um grupo terrorista pelas suas ações violentas.


Mas apesar da política atordoada, o país possui uma culinária riquíssima, com os famosos Pintxos, o Tx se pronuncia como o ch, nome dado aos pequenos pratos com petiscos dos mais variados sabores que são servidos em bares acompanhados de cerveja, vinho ou uma espécie de espumante chamado Txakoli, os pratos são servidos frios ou preparados quentes de acordo com o que você deseja comer, os quentes são os melhores e mais interessantes, principalmente se você estiver se sentindo corajosa para experimentar as especiarias locais. Como o tempo não colaborou muito durante a nossa estadia, não pudemos aproveitar a praia, popular com os surfistas pelas ondas grandes, mas quando não estava chovendo nos arriscamos sair da pousada e andar pela beira-mar, subimos no morro mais alto da cidade pra curtir a vista, muitos dizem que a Playa da Concha é uma miniatura do Rio de Janeiro, mas sem o glamour e o sol carioca. De noite saímos pra fazer a nossa atividade favorita, “pinchear” como dizem os bascos, ir de bar em bar provando as comidinhas e bebendo vinho espanhol, as ruas do centro histórico ficam lotadas de gente, super divertido. Já no terceiro dia consecutivo de chuva perdemos as esperanças de ver o sol e resolvemos seguir viagem, pelo norte da Espanha passamos pela região vinícola de La Rioja para matar a vontade do Jonathan de provar os vinhos e no final do dia depois de horas de viagem chegamos a Salamanca pra passar a noite, Salamanca era pra ser uma parada estratégica no caminho a Portugal, mas acabou nos surpreendendo pela beleza do seu centro histórico. Nessa viagem nós já vimos muitas cidades antigas, Igrejas, praças, monumentos e depois de tudo isso fica difícil nos surpreender com mais uma cidade histórica, mas Salamanca valeu à pena.


Depois de alguns dias na Espanha resolvemos ir para Portugal, com planos de voltar para a Espanha e conhecer o sul do país no final da viagem, em Portugal vamos conhecer Porto, o vale do Douro, Lisboa e algumas partes do sul. Não vejo a hora de falar Português! Mesmo que seja com sotaque de português, ora, ora, pois, pois...

Posted by flaviaU 13:18 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Pintxos and rain

We left Barcelona tired and a bit out of it after our late night exploring the nightlife of that great city. I was also a bit… I don’t know… pensive, about an incident I’d had the previous night, where a simple disagreement about, of all things, the Falkland Islands, led to me being called one of the insults that can really make me lose it. Being labeled and “Ignorant American F*ck” by a British woman when I challenged the right of Britain’s ownership of the Archipelago really got to me. I may be a lot of things, and I’ll let most of them slide, but I don’t think I’m ignorant, and especially not about South America. This is really the second time during this whole trip when where I’m from has been thrown in my face as an insult, and I think for me, it’s the entire lumping of Americans into one category of person is really just petty and, well, for lack of a better word, ignorant! I didn’t let it ruin my night but it did stay on my mind, and Flavia and I did have a few conversations about the ease and spontaneous manner of how she let the insult just fly out without really having any idea who I was, other than the fact that I was from the US.

That’s that though, it’s in the past, I just thought that it was an interesting experience. We drove through the pouring rain on the highway towards Pamplona, desperately searching for music on the Iphone that we haven’t listened to 1 million times. No matter how many songs I have on there, we’ve listened to all of them a few times. The combination of nights relaxing listening to our little portable speakers (which was one of the best things we brought), driving in Campee, and now in Ivory, we have completely exhausted our musical selections, and although we try to pick up a few songs here and there, we’re ready for some new tunes. We made it to Pamplona exhausted around nightfall, and headed out through the mist to the Tapas bars located around the central plaza. Tapas are called Pintxos (tx=ch) here, and are the traditional fare when heading out for the night. Many places have platters on the bar, and with the honor system in place, you order a few or pick them for yourself, get a glass of wine or beer, and then report what you had at the end to pay. Most cold Pintxos cost about 1.60 to 3 Euros. We liked this, tasting a few bites of Jamon Serrano, stomaching a bit of fishy Anchovy, seeing the 100 ways in which they can prepare Bacalhao (cod), and then all the little things in between. The next morning we again wandered the streets, getting a bit of exercise and seeing the town before the afternoon rain was due to move into the area. Pamplona is nice, for about 355 days out of the year it’s a relaxing and small city with the typical narrow cobblestone streets, a few plazas, a nice city park and a rich history which includes a lot about Hemmingway. During the other few days of the year, this city is one of the craziest in the world, when thousands of people descend on the central area for the festival of San Fermin, aka The Running of the Bulls. I was here during San Fermin when I first came to Europe, so it was interesting to see the place away from the chaos, and I remembered the packed and dirty streets filled with drunken revelers sloshing through the puddles of urine, red wine, raw eggs and flour, and the sound of the ferocious bulls as they tore up the streets on the way to the bullring.

We headed further north to the coastal town of San Sebastian for what we hoped would be a few relaxing days soaking up the sun on the beaches and eating wonderful Pintxos all night. Unfortunately two things messed up the first part of our plans, lots of rain, and the fact that it was a holiday weekend and the town was absolutely packed. We learned our lesson in Barcelona and researched a place to park our car outside of the city center to avoid the enormous fees, something that we hadn’t really thought about when we got the car. We spend most of the days cooped up in our room, reading, playing on the computer, and being annoyed at the extremely loud hostel on the floor above us. We really started to feel a bit of travel fatigue setting in, perhaps intensified by cabin fever, and we are starting to look forward more and more to settling down in Brazil for a few weeks before heading home. The nights in San Sebastian were great. We would head out around 8 to the Pintxos bars located all over the area. If I could give one recommendation for anyone who would want to come to this area it would be to find the bars that serve hot Pintxos, which means that they are made to order. Most of these include slow cooked meat, or wonderful hot cheese, or our favorite… Fois Gras. Our two favorite restaurants turned out to be related to each other, and we had amazing Fois Gras, seared and served with apple sause, beef cheek, goat cheese, and Flavia’s favorite, slow roasted duck breast. I love the wine as well, 2 Euros maximum for a nice sized glass of red wine, or the local specialty called Txakoli, which is a lightly fizzed young white wine that is poured holding the bottle a foot or so above the glass to make it fizz. On top of the great food, we really enjoyed talking to the bartenders, who helped us to pick out what to order, and kept us entertained until we were 30 Euros poorer and completely stuffed.

All in all, the food in San Sebastian was the highlight of this stop. The rest of the city was a bust, worth a day or two, but three nights with that weather was just too much, so we were happy to begin a very long drive back south to La Rioja, for a quick stop in the Tempranillo capital of the world. We tasted a few wines at a couple of Tapas places, usually having two wines and a Pintxo at each restaurant, then headed out of town to a winery for a quick tour and a tasting. We then continued our drive another four hours to Salamanca where we craved a home cooked meal and a good night of sleep in a comfortable bed. Salamanca turned out to be quite a surprise, as we woke up to a cold dry desert morning, and wandered through the absolutely beautiful old town. This city, which was supposed to just be a quick stop, turned out to be probably the nicest old town we’ve seen in Europe, and we’ve seen a lot of them. It wasn’t touristy, had a great university vibe to it, and the detail on the facades and the architecture that lined the narrow streets was spectacular. We continued on though, determined to make it to our destination, Porto. It was exciting to drive through the mountains into Portugal, twisting and speeding over high bridges as we descended towards the banks of the Douro river, on the way to the home of Port and bacalao, but I’ll save that for next time.

Posted by JonathanU 17:43 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Hola Barcelona!

View RTW - 2010 on flaviaU's travel map.

Chegamos a Barcelona em um dia lindo de sol e um calor inesperado, eu já tinha perdido as esperanças de ir pra praia ainda nessa viagem, pois já estamos pertinho do inverno e já faz alguns meses que o clima esta mais frio. Nos alugamos um quarto em um apartamento no centro da cidade, o apartamento tinha seis quartos, uma sala de estar, jantar e cozinha, que no final acabou sendo quase que só nosso, pois raramente vimos os outros hospedes, então resolvemos cozinhar quase todos os dias pra economizar um dinheirinho, pois a viagem já esta quase acabando e o dim dim também. No primeiro dia fomos passear na famosa avenida “Las Ramblas”, que eu acho que é famosa mesmo pela quantidade de gente tentando roubar a sua carteira, no caminho encontramos o mercado publico “La Boqueria” que é um dos mercados mais lindos que eu já vi as frutas, os frutos do mar, as carnes, tudo exposto da melhor maneira possível. Sentamos pra almoçar em um dos bares que servem tapas, porções de comida servidas em tamanho de aperitivo, pra todo mundo poder provar um montão de comidas diferentes, tudo preparado na sua frente, muito bom! Depois compramos um montão de coisas pra cozinhar, ou seja, para o Jonathan cozinhar.


Quando eu penso em Barcelona, eu penso em Gaudi, Picasso, Miro entre outros gênios da arquitetura e pintura modernista, você não precisa ser um arquiteto ou um expert em arte pra poder admirar esses artistas, andando nas ruas do bairro de Eixample é só olhar pra cima, cada prédio tem suas características diferentes, primeiro passamos pela Casa Batlló, construída por Antoni Gaudi, um dos prédios mais lindos que eu já vi, cheio de cores e contornos, cada pedaço tem algo diferente eu poderia passar horas ali admirando essa obra de arte, bem próximo estava a Casa Milla, também de Gaudi, não tão colorida como a outra, mas com vários detalhes em ferro e com um jardim de esculturas ao ar livre no topo, também próxima a maravilhosa Igreja da Sagrada Família, que apesar de estar sob eterna construção, é uma das construções mais fascinantes do mundo, as obras da Igreja nunca foram completadas, com a morte de Gaudi e a falta da planta original da Igreja é muito difícil saber como Gaudi gostaria que a Igreja fosse construída, em obras a muitos anos o restante da construção da Igreja só será encerrado em 2026, no aniversario de 100 anos da morte de Gaudi. Fascinada com a cidade, no segundo dia fomos conhecer o Park Guell, criado por Gaudi com a intenção de servir de uma área de lazer para a classe alta de Barcelona, o projeto não deu certo e a cidade resolveu tornar-lo um espaço publico, o problema são os milhares de turistas que visitam o lugar todo dia, foi praticamente impossível tirar fotos, uma decepção, mas tava muito calor naquele dia então resolvemos curtir a praia, fomos para Barceloneta, um dia perfeito pra praia e lá encontramos a Marion, uma alemã que conhecemos viajando na Austrália em Março, ela se mudou pra Barcelona uns anos atrás fugindo do frio da Alemanha e acabou ficando, passamos o dia contando estórias e relembrando o inicio da nossa viagem. Também visitamos o museu de Picasso, com todas as obras do começo da sua carreira e fomos para a cidade de Figueres a duas horas de carro de Barcelona especialmente para conhecer o Museu Teatro Dali, afinal só faltava o Salvador Dali pra completar a nossa lista de artistas modernistas espanhóis, que foi um dos lugares mais doidos que eu já vi, a arte de Dali te põe mesmo pra pensar.


Mas antes de ir embora nós tínhamos que “salir de fiesta” em Barcelona, afinal essa é uma das cidades mais divertidas do mundo, com a Marion de guia, saímos jantar e depois pulamos de bar em bar, conhecemos uns italianos super divertidos que nos acompanharam ate o final da noite, perfeito, só pra fechar a nossa visita a Barcelona com chave de ouro. Apesar de não ter conhecido muitos catalães, devido ao fato da sua cultura ser um pouco fechada, eles não falam catalã que se originou do latim e se parece com português, espanhol, Frances e italiano ao mesmo tempo, eles é claro que entendem e se precisarem até falam espanhol, mas preferem preservar suas raízes e falar o catalão, concluindo, o nosso espanhol não nos deu muita oportunidade de conversar com os nativos. Mas apesar disso tive uma ótima impressão da cidade, conhecemos gente de vários lugares do mundo que adotaram Barcelona como sua terra, o que faz da cidade ainda mais interessante.

Posted by flaviaU 00:25 Archived in Spain Comments (0)


We were both very excited as we pulled into Barcelona. We booked a room in a shared apartment just a few blocks from Las Ramblas (the main tourist area), and we immediately unpacked our gear and headed out for a walk. We stopped first at the La Boqueria market and pulled up a stool at the Pinotxo Bar, a famous tapas joint jammed with locals and tourists. The couple next to us was on their honeymoon and she is a pastry chef and he is the sous chef at Nobu in NYC, so when they said they were eating here for the second time, I knew that the place had to be great! We ordered garbanzo beans as soft as butter, grilled shrimp that were in the sea that morning, baby octopus and beans that left us speechless, and rabbit bits with so many unknown spices, I couldn’t figure out the recipe if my life depended on it. I was inspired by the meal and walking around the market with JP, and I bought some great ingredients for dinner that night. We dropped the things off at the apartment and headed out to see some of the sites and take advantage of the perfect weather. We started off at the Block of Discord and the Casa Mila, designed by Gaudi. I think that Gaudi is a sensational architect, and I love the way that he challenged society and tradition with his buildings and his way of letting his ego decide that what he was going to create would be accepted. We then went to the Sagrada Familia Church, completely enamored by the thousands of tiny details on every spire, corner, doorway, and wall.

The next morning we headed out early to the Parc Guell, which Gaudi designed originally with plans of creating an upper-class gated community. In the end the park only has a few buildings, some sculpture, and a space for the marked and walkways. The park was absolutely rammed and it was very hot, so we made the quick decision to head to Barcelonetta, the beach area. We ate a quick lunch after taking the metro and settled down on the sand. It was hot but there was a cool breeze, and it seemed like mostly foreigners on the beach. After a few minutes we met up with Marion, a German who lives in Barcelona whom we met while we were back in Campee driving around Australia. We caught up with her and enjoyed the afternoon on the beach. I was inspired from sitting on the sand all day to make some seafood for dinner, so we headed back to the market. I’ve had some strange things happen at all the markets on the trip, from leading two kids in absolute awe around the market in Fiji, to being yelled at repeatedly in Palermo for trying to pick my own fruit, to feeling more cramped and hot than I’d ever felt in my life in Cambodia, but this one was a bit over the top! I stopped at a great looking fish stand and picked up two gambas (prawns) resting on a bed of ice. They are pink and I took a nice smell to see if they were as fresh as they looked. The woman who runs the place decided that I would get the wrath of her anger and she absolutely freaked out on me. She screamed at me about my decision to smell her shrimp, and I think she was a bit surprised when I was able to answer her in perfect Spanish, challenging her for trying to sell something when I wasn’t able to check the quality. I told her that I would buy them and she told me that I wouldn’t be buying anything from her… ever! I walked around the corner in disbelief and found another stand, the price was a bit higher, but I told them I wanted some shrimp but couldn’t decide. One of the three workers there picked up the ones that I was looking at and handed them to me and told me to smell how fresh they were. I froze, was this a trick, was I setting myself up for something. He insisted and I smelled the wonderful whiff of seafood plucked from the sea just a few hours before. I told him about the incident at the previous stall and the three of them started laughing hysterically and told me that “Oh yah, that’s Doña Rosales, she hates everyone, including herself”! Happy with the prawns I headed to a Bolivian produce seller and got the freshest salad ingredients in the whole market.

I cooked the prawns in a simple manor, as I’d seen them cooked at the Tapas place the day before. I cooked them in a very hot pan with just a bit of butter and olive oil, with the shells on and flipped them once, put some salt and pepper on them and a splash of lemon. They were great. Once I took them out I added my own creation, and put a bit more butter in, a dollop of crème fresh and mixed that around to put on top of our potatoes, creating a creamy shrimp sauce that worked great! We washed it down with some Rose and had an incredible meal for two for fewer than 20 Euros.

The last two days, we did something a bit out of the ordinary from our normal Europe day to day. We went to museums, yes plural. We went to Picasso museum in Barcelona and I was amazed at the collection and the amazing work that he put together in his life. I love the style of pushing the envelope, challenging society, and using ego, it seems that the Catalan blood boils like this for every creative person born there. We also drove 90 minutes outside of town the next day to Figueres, to Salvador Dali’s hometown to see his museum. I love Dali, he is probably my favorite artist of all time, and this visit was really special, even with the hordes of tours blocking parts of the exhibits and just being generally rude and annoying. The work is sensational, beyond belief, and one floor above creative. Plus, the way that he set up the museum makes it even better, with no sort of organization, no plan, no guide, and a way of taking you around to the same place you’ve already been for the specific purpose of making you notice something that you missed the first time around. It was Friday night, and we had rested in the afternoon, so we headed out with Marion for a great seafood dinner at a restaurant where you pick everything you want from the bed of ice and they cook everything after you’ve picked it. She then took us out to the Barri Gotic, where the narrow streets and little alleys hide hundreds of Tapas restaurants, bars and clubs. We had a great time after meeting up with two guys from Napoli who are friends of Marion, and we stayed out way past our bedtime, making the early rise the next morning and the four hour drive to Pamplona a bit tough.

Overall I really liked Barcelona, but there were some things that were a bit odd. First, this isn’t Spain, as any local will tell you. Catalonia has its own culture, its own language, which we could understand, and the Catalonians seem a bit standoffish and weary of anyone who isn’t Catalonian. We went out for a drink one night with a friend of mine who worked at Rosenblum a few years ago, and she said that it had literally been months since she had spoken Spanish. Also, at the bars, it was all Europeans not from Spain, all expats, but they told me that the locals go out away from the foreigners that live there. The anti Madrid/Spain feeling was noticeable on the streets as well. A week before that there had been elections and the people, unhappy with the new taxes and laws, decided to smash windows on all of the Madrid owned banks and businesses. The sentiment is that the Catalonians work harder, make more money, and in the end pay taxes that only go to help the lazy in other states. I really had no idea that this separatist mentality is so alive here. Also, there are many abandoned apartment buildings that have been taken over by “Gente sin Casa”, literally people without homes who move in, steal the electricity and have found ways around the law so they cannot be evicted. Finally, I was a bit shocked at the amount of petty crime on the streets. Nothing happened to us but apparently everyone else gets the wallet snatched while visiting here. There are tons of scams, pickpockets everywhere and very few police, who are required to speak Catalan, but most of the Catalonians refuse to work for the federal government. I’m very happy we started in Barcelona and can’t wait to see what else Spain has, especially now that we’ve headed northwest to Basque country.

Posted by JonathanU 17:33 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Sul da França

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Depois da nossa visita ao artista Francês, dirigimos por umas 8 horas até o Rhone, localizado mais para o sul da Franca, essa região é famosa pelos seus vinhos e suas montanhas, e meio que sem querer nós acabamos conhecendo as suas montanhas primeiro, o nosso GPS resolveu nos levar para um caminho mais alternativo, ou seja, no meio do nada! Nós enfrentamos alguns obstáculos, a estrada bloqueada por vacas e um tiozinho meio suspeito e barbudo parecido com o homem das cavernas que resolveu nos seguir, dirigimos até que as coordenadas do GPS nos levaram ao nosso destino final: uma ladeira coberta de arvores foi então que percebemos que havia algo errado e resolvemos parar o carro, por isso é que às vezes não da pra confiar nessa tecnologia de hoje, o bom e velho mapa fez uma falta danada. Mas sem mais problemas, finalmente encontramos um hotelzinho de beira de estrada e passamos a noite, pois já estávamos exaustos, no outro dia resolvemos conhecer os vinhos do Rhone e no final do dia seguimos para uma vila de estilo medieval para rever um amigo do Jonathan que ele havia conhecido em 2003 quando trabalhava na vinícola em Oakland.

O Remi é um enólogo Francês que adora rock & roll e a cultura americana, ele é casado com uma francesa chamada Marion, eles moram em um Château construído em 1750, com certeza a casa mais antiga que nós já dormimos, eles compraram esse Château em ruínas e reconstruíram ele praticamente sozinhos ao decorrer dos últimos anos, mas agora a Marion esta grávida de 5 meses e eles tiveram que dar uma parada na construção, um lugar impressionante! Depois de 3 dias de muito vinho e muita comida francesa infelizmente já era hora de partir, agora com destino ao sul da Franca, a Provença francesa, onde estão as mais belas paisagens e onde a vida não mudou muito desde os últimos séculos, as vilas de Provença são todas quase que no mesmo estilo, ruazinhas estreitas, prédios de diferentes cores e fachadas antigas, um ar muito boêmio e super romântico, estamos na época da colheita e as plantações de uva estão carregadas de cachos, as folhas estavam mudando de cor, mais para um tom avermelhado de outono, um cenário lindo e regado ao famoso vinho rose de Provance. Passamos 3 noites na casa da mãe de uma amiga do Jonathan, como vocês já perceberam o Jonathan sempre tem um amigo aqui ou lá, que tem a bondade de nos hospedar, graças a eles a nossa viagem tem sido mais econômica, o casal, ela francesa e ele americano, se aposentaram e compraram uma casa linda no sul da Franca com um montão de uvas e agora eles fazem vinho pra se divertir, nós desfrutamos da gentileza deles e relaxamos por uns dias. Fomos visitar o litoral Francês, ou como eles dizem o “Côte d'Azur” e aproveitamos pra visitar o principado de Mônaco, um lugar riquíssimo e super luxuoso, onde os milionários com as suas Ferraris apostam dinheiro no cassino de Monte Carlo, a melhor atividade para se fazer em Mônaco é sentar na frente do cassino e assistir a passarela dos velhos ricos acompanhados das suas esposas muito mais jovens, vestidos em roupas de grife. Para o Jonathan a melhor parte da nossa visita a Mônaco foi dirigir na pista de Formula 1 do GP de Mônaco, na curva da piscina, mesmo não sendo a bordo de uma Ferrari ou McLaren, ele realizou o sonho de todos os seres do sexo masculino.


Do sul da Franca dirigimos até uma cidade de fronteira com a Espanha e passamos a noite lá, de manhã cedo seguimos em direção a Barcelona, já não vendo à hora de poder falar e entender o que as pessoas estão falando, nós amamos a França, mas o nosso Francês não nos ajudou muito, com certeza teremos boas lembranças do país, das pessoas e principalmente dos vinhos e da culinária francesa.

Posted by flaviaU 22:04 Archived in France Comments (0)

The South of France

We packed up from Sebastian’s house and headed east for the Rhone, one of our favorite wine regions in the world. Somewhere between following a herd of cattle through a small town and being told to turn down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere in the Rhone Alps, I decided to disregard the advice that Richard, our GPS voice, was giving, and even after the glaring looks of the bearded mountain man who stared at us as he passed, I knew that, no, no, hell no, I wasn’t going down that muddy track in the middle of a rainstorm! I had illusions of Flavia trying to put the car in first gear while I pushed with all my might as I tried to get the car out of France’s biggest mud pit (also known as the national soccer team’s latest World Cup performance), and Sebastian’s advice of “be very careful when going through the Rhone mountains, it’s very easy to get lost”. We tacked on an extra hour to the ride but eventually made it to our beautiful Formule 1 Hotel. Formule 1 is the most budget of budget chains in France, and at 29 Euro a night, it’s worth every dollar… or something like that. It’s basic beyond basic, just a sink in the room, a bit of hair from the floor on the comforter, and bathrooms that make you wish there was an outhouse, but it’ll have to do at this point in the trip.

The next morning we headed for the very north of the Rhone region, to taste some wines in Condrieu and Cote Rotie. These regions have their vines planted on steep slopes running up the west bank of the Rhone River, and it seems to be almost untouched by tourism. We were only able to taste at a few wine shops, because most wineries are not equipped to give tastings during harvest. The wine here is mostly Syrah, blended with a bit of Viognier, and the whites are Viognier, then a bit further south in Hermitage they are Roussanne and Marsanne blends. The wine was tasty and I was glad to get to this area, although the prices are a bit high, and we left empty handed knowing that further south we would certainly find some great wine at some decent prices.

We headed down the main highway that cuts through the Rhone. Although highways in France require you to pay a toll, I am amazed at the condition that they are in, it’s actually like you are getting your money’s worth. They all seem to be freshly repaved, without a shrub or a weed on the shoulder, and there isn’t a pothole or crack anywhere in the whole system. There is also a well kept rest/picnic area about every 10 miles, when you need a break. When it’s time to pay, simply chuck a bit of change into the basket (they give change) or just insert your credit card and you are on your way. In fact, in France it seems that everything is being upgraded, fixed, or renovated, and I’m amazed at the effort that the government is going through to create jobs, keep the construction industry going, and keep the country out of the mess that we are in (damn socialists!).

We arrived at Remi’s house in the early afternoon, just after siest time. I worked with Remi at Rosenblum during my first year while he did an internship and it was good to see him after seven years. Remi is a Frenchman with a California attitude, with a Bayou boy’s love for blues, and a talent for wine making that can only be born within a Frenchie! His house is a spectacular 250 year old Chateau that he and his wife, Marion, have been rebuilding stone by stone for the past five years. They bought the place in a state of complete rubble, then tore down a bunch more, insulated it, and have been slowly putting it together, creating a huge, beautiful, and classy home. Remi is the winemaker at the only nearby winery in Orgnac l’Aven, and his pregnant wife works in a hospital lab 45 minutes away. This area is full of Provencial style towns, full of narrow streets, stone houses, and a beautiful castle on the top of the hills, allowing the kings to survey their land. Remi and Marion were more than welcoming, as she cooked for us and he loaded up our car with free wine. I guess it wasn’t all free, as the second morning we were there I actually awoke at 7am, a bit weary from the wine from the previous night, and went and dug out a tank at his winery. Digging out a tank involves climbing in through the porthole and using a shovel and a rake, actually digging out all the leftover grape skins and seeds, breathing a very healthy dose of CO2, getting a few blisters on the hands, and a great workout.
Remi was able to take off from work early that afternoon and we zoomed over to the east side of the Rhone to do some wine tasting. We started in Chateauneuf-du-Pape where we were very disappointed by the wine we tasted at our first stop. Here they blend 13 grapes, although a great majority is Grenache, but as Remi explained, too many wineries rely on the region’s name recognition instead of producing actually good wine. At the second winery we were poured a glass of wine that was extremely corked and then had to convince the reluctant pourer that yes, indeed, it was corked, and the fact that she only have a tiny bit of wine in the bottle meant that she have been pouring corked wine all day! We sped out of there towards Remi’s favorite region, Vinsobres, one which we had never heard of. The wine here was great, fruit forward, Syrah based blends with some Grenache, aged in new oak, and the price… about 7 or 8 Euros for the best bottles! It was great to see all the old men, coming in on a Friday with their plastic jugs, and filling them at the gas station style pump and paying by the liter. We made a quick stop at “Le Cave” in Gigondas on the way home, where they have 50 wines to taste for free.

We cooked dinner for Remi and Marion on our last night in Orgnac. I had to argue with the butcher not to cut the steak widthwise, and I think he called me crazy as he cut up a chicken that I bought as well. We stocked up on beautiful ingredients from the local market, and I was happy to prepare Remi’s requested meal, BBQ. I made some steak South American style, just a bit of course salt, a crack of pepper, and taking it off without cutting it open. I then made my father in law’s chicken recipe and my famous garlic mashed potatoes and we ate and drank outside in their courtyard, happily enjoying local wine (except Marion who drank soda), and Remi pulled out his guitar and a bottle of Chartreuse, and I sang all his favorites as he played the blues and classic rock while drinking the ever so strong green liquid.

We continued south the next morning towards Provence. We had another place to stay, at my friend’s mother’s place in Le Luc. I’ve known Sylvie and her husband Dean since I was about 16, and it was nice to finally have a real conversation with them! They live in a beautiful Mediterranean style house outside the city, with a nice 2-acre vineyard in the back yard, a pool, and plenty of room for us to crash for a few nights. They were more than welcoming, and we really enjoyed the amazing French food that Sylvie prepared for us, homemade Quiche, Provencial style lamb, and braised rabbit. We spent one day tasting the local specialty, crisp, light, pink Rose, and the other day driving along the beautiful Cote d’Azur all the way up to Monaco. We stopped in Nice and after spending 45 minutes navigating the streets looking for parking, we made it to the last 15 minutes of their market, then snapped a few photos from a viewpoint, ate a quick lunch and got out of there. The town that day was inundated by a few cruise ships and we never like the atmosphere in a town when it’s swamped with “cruisers”. We then drove to the tiny city and country of Monaco. We pulled into the nicest parking garage in the world and then walked the streets, marveling at the 100000 dollar jewelry in the windows, the Ferraris, Maseratis, and Bentleys. We walked for a bit, then I drove on the famous Formula 1 track that curves through the city, before we took the beautiful highway home, through tunnels and over bridges, until we made it back to Le Luc.

We left France two days later, and I have to say that this country far exceeded my expectations. I loved it here, the food, the people, of course the wine, pretty much everything was perfect, and the people seem to strive to reach perfection with what they do, whether it be making perfect wine, stocking only the best ingredients at the market, placing a plate of perfection in front of you at their restaurant, everything done… right. I wish I could speak French, I really do, and I want to learn. France is a country that we could live in, retire in, or just spend a few months here one year making wine or just enjoying the good life, which is plentiful throughout the country.

Posted by JonathanU 21:00 Archived in France Comments (0)

Wine, food poisoning, and going way off the map

I was extremely excited about getting to Bordeaux. This is the perfect place to start this sort of “Wine Route” that we will follow until the end of our Europe adventure, which will take us through some of the best wine regions in the world. Bordeaux is the most recognized and most prestigious one, and ever since he Dutch drained this marshland leaving rocky, well draining ground, this region has become the foremost producer of the noblest of noble grapes in the world. I was a bit nervous as we arrived here, because again we were arriving somewhat unprepared. “This ain’t Napa”, as one blogger said, there aren’t welcoming tasting rooms everywhere. This is a land of appointments, reservations, and people looking down their noses at anyone who doesn’t look like they are going to fork out 2000 Euros for a bottle of 2005 Chateau Lafitte-Rothschild. Flavia and I weren’t deterred though and after settling into a hostel in Blanqueford, in the heart of the Medoc, we walked to a nearby winery. We were welcomed as it was a smaller and out of the way winery and we tasted a few wines while doing our best to understand the French pourer. He was very kind but a bit frustrated that he couldn’t say everything that he wanted to, so he sent us out to the winery where two Brazilian girls worked, so that they could continue to tell the story of the wine from there. This was a great move, as we made friends with the girls and spent an hour, then a few more later that night, drinking and talking wine, reminiscing about Brazil and just enjoying speaking Portuguese for a little while.

We made it out early the next day and drove north through Margaux stopping at a winery where we got the expected Bordeaux welcome. A woman took one look at me, said we needed an appointment, and without even looking at her computer, told me they were full and that we couldn’t do a tour that day. I was a bit annoyed, and slightly worried that this trip would be a bust, and headed down the street to another winery. We pulled up to Chateau Kiwan and I decided to take a different approach this time. I whipped out the ol’ Diageo business card and the woman smiled and said that of course we could have a tasting and smiled and spoke perfect English and started pouring us some wonderful wine. The wine in Bordeaux is comprised of five grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and just a few still producing Malbec. The wines in Margaux are usually an even blend making up about 90-95% blend of Merlot and Cabernet, with the remaining percent using Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc. To be perfectly honest, I’m not much of a fan of Bordeaux wines, I find some of them to be a bit light for me, but these wines really show the quality of the region, the wonderful soil, the effect of cool evenings and warm days creating a long growing season, the mix of traditional and modern wine making techniques, and the care and precision that has been used here by families for generations. At our next winery we were greeted the same way, by someone speaking perfect English, who was happy to just pour and tell stories, show us around their beautiful winery, spend an hour or so telling us everything, take our picture, and then send us on our way with the understanding that we weren’t planning on filling our trunk with bottles of their wine.

After lunch we stopped by Chateau Pontet Canet where we were welcomed on a tour with just two other Americans and they drove us around explaining some of their odd farming techniques like the use of horses in the vineyard because the grower feels that the tractors are compacting the soil, and also the use of some biodynamic techniques for picking or using less sulfite spray. This wine was spectacular though, we were poured a glass of their 2002 vintage, and as we were now in the Paulliac region, the wine was more heavily Cabernet Sauvignon based, which made me happy! This was one of the best Bordeaux wines I had ever tasted and the day ended very well. I was pleased with the reception we got all in all, and it was probably a lot due to the fact that I worked in the industry. If you are going to Bordeaux or any foreign wine region I would strongly suggest reserving for tastings ahead of time.

We found a room in the run down town of Paulliac and settled in for a quick rest. As I laid down I started to instantly feel like I had a fever, and my stomach started to cramp. I shivered and felt warmer and warmer as the minutes past. Flavia and I had eaten the same thing for the past two days, so I couldn’t figure out what I was getting, I thought I just needed something to eat. We walked down the street but after one block I was too weak and my legs hurt too much so we turned back to get the car. As we started the car, I had no coordination and couldn’t get the car into gear, finally we drove around the block but I was too out of it so pay attention to the road so we turned around, went back to our room and I went to sleep. Two hours later I woke up and hurried to the bathroom, vomited, fell back to sleep, then woke up 8 hours later feeling 95% better. It was a strange and very powerful case of food poisoning that could only have been caused by a hardboiled egg on a salad, that I ate, and Flavia didn’t. It wasn’t pretty, but I guess eight months into the trip, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

As we drove towards the other side of Bordeaux towards St. Emilion, I was relieved that my illness was just for one night and that I would still be able to taste when we went to the wine shops. Bordeaux is split by two rivers and we had already tasted on the left bank, so we drove around the city of Bordeaux and towards the right bank, where the wines are more Merlot heavy, and as we all know, “I’m not drinking any f*%king MERLOT”! I pulled over to pick up a disheveled hitchhiker who was late for work and guided us into the town, forever grateful for me dropping him off in front of his wine garage and promising me a free tasting and a few free bottles when we came back a bit later. The town of St. Emilion is absolutely beautiful. The left bank is fairly bland, completely flat, and although there are beautiful Chateaux everywhere, the land leaves a bit to be desired. On the other hand the right bank is beautiful, with rolling hills, stone houses, narrow streets, and lots of overpriced wineshops offering graciously free tastings. I wasn’t overly unimpressed by what I tasted, but as one shop owner told me, “90% of the people that walk through that door know nothing about wine so it’s pretty easy to sell anything with Bordeaux on the label”. We ate a quick lunch then drove wearily to the Cognac region where we were going to stay with a friend. At this point the word friend is used a bit loosely. We didn’t really know who we were going to stay with. One night while we were eating dinner in Vienna, a rather eccentric and giggly Frenchman began talking to us, and didn’t stop until we had finished eating, done the dishes and made our way out of the dining room. Sebastian is a bit loony, but very nice, and invited us to stay at his house in the middle of nowhere if we were in the area.

We made our way to his area, ignoring the fact that our GPS could not find his street, although it did direct us through the windy and narrow roads of the Cognac region towards his town. The area here is rolling his and farmland, but the only things farmed here are a bit of corn and lots of green grapes used in the local Cognac production. When we made it to his town, which was only a few square blocks, we drove up and down the streets, hoping to see his, but to no avail. Then we started asking the locals, no one had ever heard of his street or knew him. We went out of town a bit and asked a few more people and fortunately one man gave us very detailed directions on how to get to the street, but unfortunately since we don’t really understand French or specifically small town country French, we had no idea where he was telling us to go. Then back in town we found a very gracious couple who took us to their house so we could check on the computer, which also had never heard of his street, and then call him, although his phone number wasn’t working. We had now been searching for an hour, and we left the house and we tried to figure out what it was that the man had said for us to do, since he seemed like the only person who had ever heard of this street. I thought he said to drive out of town a bit, so we did, for about five minutes, and then we realized we’d gone too far. As we turned around to head back, we saw a small street sign that said his street’s name, Rue des Merovingiens! It wasn’t in the town he said but in a different one, with the glorious name of Herpes. Now that we had found ourselves in the middle of Herpes, we had a bigger problem, finding his house, since there were no house numbers. We began asking around but no one knew Sebastian, until finally the 10th person recognized his last name, since apparently he goes by a different first name in Herpes. So in the end we found the house of a person who provided us a street that wasn’t recognized in our GPS, in a different city than what he told us, who gave us the wrong phone number, who lived in a house without a number, and goes by a different name than what we knew him by, but we still found him! Now that’s crazy!

Our time with Sebastian was great though, he treated us very well. He lives in a 160 year old stone house, that he purchased a few years back in a state of rubble for 10000 Euros and has slowly rebuilt it, using many of the old stones and original wood. Due to the stone walls, the place is bitterly cold, but it has more character than just about any house I’d ever been in, it’s truly unlike anywhere else I’ve been, and sleeping in a 100 year old wooden bed that bowed like the inside of a canoe and was about 4 inches shorter than my body was certainly a different experience. He took us to his grandmother’s house on a Sunday afternoon for a nice home cooked meal, and we sat and talked with his sister and grandmother for a few hours about life, really seeing how things move in that part of the country. It’s very isolated and old out there and life moves at a crawl, although the nearby Cognac industry does provide a source of income for many of the residents. In the evening he and I painstakingly made it through tasting all of the Cognacs he had in his possession, a tough job, and I began to appreciate the complexity of this spirit that I’d only had a few times. Staying at Sebastian’s was another story that I think Flavia and I will appreciate more and more once we get home, as this wasn’t Paris or some famous town, instead it was the opposite, it was real life, in a small town that no one will ever go to and no one will ever know, but for me, this was the opportunity to really get to know France in its shadows, away from what’s under the spotlight.

Posted by JonathanU 09:01 Archived in France Comments (0)

Pé na estrada

View RTW - 2010 on flaviaU's travel map.

Alugamos um carro, que será nosso pelos próximos 50 dias, e com ele visitaremos 3 países, começando pela Franca, depois a Espanha e por fim Portugal, vão ser muitas horas de viagem, mas com muito mais liberdade, sem ter que depender de trens e aviões. A nossa primeira parada depois de Paris foi no norte da França, mais precisamente na região da Normandia e da Bretanha, a Normandia historicamente famosa durante a Segunda Guerra Mundial, foi o lugar onde aconteceu a batalha de Dieppe em 1942, o ataque das forças aliadas (principalmente canadenses e britânicas) aos ocupantes alemães (nazistas), mais tarde, foi lugar da Batalha da Normandia, também conhecida como "o dia D”. Já a Bretanha é rodeada pelo Oceano Atlântico, conhecida internacionalmente pela qualidade dos seus frutos do mar, principalmente as ostras, as melhores que eu já provei, com gostinho de água salgada, bom falando em provar coisas com gosto de água salgada eu provei tudo que eu tinha direito, nunca imaginei, comi até escargot, de todos os tamanhos, mariscos, ostras, até umas outras coisas que eu nem sei o nome, afinal tem que se provar tudo pelo menos uma vez na vida... Uau! Quem diria que essas palavras sairiam da minha boca, vivendo e aprendendo!

A região da Bretanha tem muita influencia céltica, que ocuparam esse território durante a sua fuga dos saxões na Irlanda, ainda hoje a cultura dessa região relembra os celtas, na musica, arquitetura, culinária e no dialeto bretone que ainda é falado. A costa norte é cheia de cidadezinhas medievais, construídas dentro de muralhas, para a sua defesa durante batalhas, mas que ainda acabaram destruindo grande parte das cidades, a arquitetura reflete uma mistura de pré e pos batalha, mas ainda cheia de história. A culinária é maravilhosa, tanto nos restaurantes quanto nas feiras ao ar livre, os frutos do mar são abundantes, os queijos deliciosos, e a especialidade da região, os crepes, estão em toda a parte, doces e salgados, então nos também praticamos a nossa atividade favorita, comer, comer e comer... depois de alguns dias seguimos viagem para a parte leste do estado, muito diferente do norte, onde a construção parecia ser mais dos anos 70, nada muito bonito, um pouco abandonado pois já estamos fora da temporada, sem muito interesse nos resolvemos passar uma noite e continuar dirigindo até Bordeaux, a região vinícola mais famosa da Franca, onde se encontram os vinhos tintos mais caros do mundo, nas regiões do Medoc, St. Emilion e Sauternes. Passamos a primeira noite em uma cidadezinha fora de Bordeaux, onde encontramos duas brasileiras que estavam fazendo um estagio em uma das vinícolas, as duas estudam vinicultura em Bento Gonçalves, no Rio Grande do Sul, elas nos mostraram um pouco da vinícola onde trabalham e ficaram felizes da vida em falar um pouco de Português. No segundo dia resolvemos provar os tão prestigiados vinhos, os lugares mais famosos como o Chateau Margaux, o Mouton Rothschild e o Chateau Latour não aceitam visitantes, a não ser que você agende uma visita com meses de visitação ou você seja convidado para visitar-los, então como nós não somos muito importantes, resolvemos visitar as vinícolas menores e fomos recebidos muito bem, depois de 3 vinícolas nós resolvemos encerrar o dia e encontrar uma pousada pra passar a noite. Seguimos para St. Emilion no outro dia, e no caminho paramos pra dar carona a um menino que estava atrasado pra trabalhar em uma das cantinas da cidade, ele falava um Inglês super carregado com sotaque Frances e com uma ressaca tenebrosa, o Jonathan dirigiu o menino até a porta do trabalho e ele acabou nos convidando pra voltar mais tarde e provar os vinhos da cantina de graça, essas coisas são sempre boas para o nosso carma, as boas ações sempre acabam sendo recompensadas.


A nossa próxima parada foi a região de Cognac, como diz o nome é onde se faz o famoso cognac, região que resolvemos conhecer após o convite de um artista que conhecemos na Áustria a uns meses atrás, o Sebastien estava hospedado no mesmo hostel que a gente em Viena, depois de uns 20 minutos de conversa ele nos deu um cartão e disse que iria esperar a nossa visita, sem saber o que pensar dele, nos resolvemos arriscar e visitar a vila onde ele morava. Pra te dar uma impressão só lugar, imaginem o lugar mais antigo que vocês já conheceram, imaginem esse lugar com mais de 160 anos de vida, pois então, essa é a vila que ele mora, com uma rua onde todas as casas têm mais de cem anos, no meio do nada, primeiro de tudo o nosso GPS não sabia pra onde ir, dirigimos em círculos por mais de uma hora, perguntando a todas as pessoas dos vilarejos mais próximos com o nosso Frances horrível, que não adiantou nada pois toda vez que eles explicavam onde era nós não entendíamos nada e a maioria das pessoas nunca tinham visto estrangeiros na vida e estavam morrendo de medo da gente, quando nos estávamos quase desistindo, por sorte encontramos a rua onde a casa dele estava localizada, perguntamos de casa em casa e finalmente encontramos o Sebastien. Ele é uma pessoa muito amigável, mas um pouco excêntrica, como todo o bom artista deve ser, na verdade eu não sabia o que esperar, mas ele nos recebeu com um sorriso enorme e nos tratou muito bem, a sua casa estava em ruínas datada de 1850 quando ele a comprou, depois de 5 anos construindo ela sozinho ele finalmente terminou, uma mistura da arquitetura original com o gosto excêntrico dele, certamente uma casa muito especial. Passamos o final de semana comendo, ele até nos levou almoçar na casa da avó dele, uma senhora muito simpática que nos acolheu como se fossemos seus próprios netos, uma experiência incrível. Na ultima noite o Sebastien fez uma apresentação de suas obras de arte, uma arte moderna, cheia de formas e efeitos, algo muito inesperado, mas muito interessante. Ele foi uma das pessoas que fez a nossa viagem interessante, o que prova que as vezes não é tão ruim confiar em estranhos.


A nossa aventura continua, mas não por muito tempo, em exatamente dois meses estaremos de volta na Califórnia, tudo passou muito rápido e agora eu começo a sentir um friozinho na barriga de pensar em voltar, mas como em todo sonho, você sempre tem que acordar, a nossa hora esta chegando...

Posted by flaviaU 10:55 Archived in France Comments (0)

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