A Travellerspoint blog

Bretagne

I went to get our new car as Flavia straightened up the apartment on our last morning in Paris. Getting to the car dealer was a bit tricky, as I was almost pick pocketed in the station as I was trying to buy my ticket. Someone threw some change on the ground under the machine in an attempt to get me to pick it up so they could relieve me of my wallet. Fortunately, even though I heard the change hit the ground, I realized that it wasn’t my change, and upon closer look I noticed it wasn’t even Euros. I was particularly lucky that I didn’t fall for the trick because for that trip I did have my passport with me in my pocket. Someone ended up handing the money to me, hopefully they didn’t get their wallet stolen, and I took the few coins of South African Rand and boarded my train. I picked up our brand new white Renault Megane, and drove through Paris to pick up Flavia so we could set out to Brittany. Instead of the GPS taking us around the city on maybe an easier route, it took us straight across Paris, which was fine, except there were a few hectic moments when I realized that I was going to have to drive the notorious roundabout around the Arch du Triumph, but I just kind of watched the cars around me and hit the gas, nearly taking out a motorcyclist who flew past me screaming some nicety in French.

We headed west towards the coast and the Brittany (Bretagne) region, notorious for its beauty, its unique Celtic culture, and especially its seafood. The drive was pretty boring all in all, the first of many long drives over the next few weeks, and we pulled into a youth hostel in St. Melo around sunset. We are eager to save money during the finish of our trip, and are debating numerous ways, including couch surfing, or even camping, but to start we are going to go as cheap as possible when it comes to accommodation. The fact that we have the car simplifies everything because we can go to the cheapest place in town and if it is really bad, we can just drive to another nearby one, without that hassle of public transit. This hostel was fine, full of students on a class vacation, but we were mercifully placed in a quiet room away from them. We showered quickly and walked along the shoreline to the old walled city. The weather was perfect, cool, but not cold, and with only a slight breeze. We walked for about 35 minutes, a nice walk after a long day in the car, and the coast is beautiful here. We didn’t know what to expect, but this certainly seemed nicer than what we’d expected for the French coastline. The tidal change is extremely exaggerated here, with the water moving miles in and out, creating the perfect conditions for tidal shift that allows the seafood to be so clean here. But we weren’t just going to take people’s word on this, we had to try them for ourselves. We ordered a raw seafood platter, and recognized a few things at first. The oysters for one, are notorious in Brittany. They are small, which makes them a bit more approachable, as Flavia nor I particularly enjoys raw oysters. They were delicious though, fresh and clean, with no fishy taste or smell. The other things on the plate were a bit interesting, especially the two sizes of sea snails, known as Winkles and Wackles. The winkles are easy to eat, they are tiny little black sea snails that eaten raw and without seasoning have a bit of a natural spiciness to them and go down in just one or two bites. The big ones, about the size of a small pickle once plucked out of their shell, kind of taste like eating a boneless finger that has been floating in the ocean for a few days. It’s pretty rough going, I choked down two, and laughed at Flavia’s face as she glared at me for convincing her to eat one of them. We also had a plate of steamed mussels, which I think are Flavia’s new favorite food! We wandered the old city after dinner, and it was nice, but was full of mostly new buildings as 80% of the original city was destroyed in WWII. We walked home that night again along the water, really impressed at the beautiful architecture of the houses and small hotels lining the coast. The detail and individuality is expressed in each building, and life by the sea exposes small cracks and missing paint that give them a feeling of being well worn but still loved.

I planned on cooking the next night because of the beautiful markets here on the coast. We found a little market near the walled city. This market was spectacular, and above all the people that worked there seemed to be so happy with what they were selling, it made it nice and easy to buy some seafood and fresh veggies and pasta for the night’s meal, especially when everything together cost only a few Euros. We dropped the ingredients back at the hostel, and headed west, without any specific plans. I looked at the GPS and saw a road heading towards the water and then ending and decided to follow it. We arrived at a beautiful crescent beach that was completely empty, and sheltered from the breeze that blew on the road. The sand was soft and the sun was shining bright, and we had a small picnic with some cheese and a still warm baguette which we bought at the market. We lounged on the beach, our first sun in a while, and I walked along the water and then up a nearby hill while Flavia decided to just enjoy the sand and sun. After a relaxing day and a stop for a Crepe, we rested up then I cooked seafood pasta with some fresh mussels cooked in white wine. It was good!

We drove south the next day and stopped in the tiny port of Belon, where one of the most famous seafood restaurants in all the world promised us a great lunch. This port is really nothing more than a few boats sitting on the mud in low tide, and the restaurant Chez Jacky, which hadn’t opened yet. We walked around and met a family that had just been clamming out on the mud flats. A very nice man immediately opened up two raw clams and offered them to us to slurp down, wow! Even though raw shellfish are very salty, these really highlight the cleanliness of the water. The lunch was equally spectacular, not the 100 Euro seafood platter that Anthony Bourdain had when he visited, but great scallops, shrimp and oysters, with a small bowl of little sea snails to start with. We continued on to Quiberon, which was kind of a bust. Although it was on the coast, the weather was not very nice and the hostel we ended up at was completely dead, kind of a weird place all in all. We decided to just relax for the night ahead of a long drive down to Bordeaux.

Posted by JonathanU 18:11 Archived in France Comments (0)

Paris, je t'aime!

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De mochila nas costas chegamos em Paris, logo que desembarcamos do trem na estação Gare Du Nord eu já sabia que eu estava na França, caminhamos algumas quadras, já eram sete horas da noite, e cada esquina tinha uma “Braserrie” cheia de gente sentada nas mesinhas da calçada bebendo vinho e falando da vida alheia, a mais pura expressão da boemia. Claude nos esperava na porta de um edifício com as chaves do nosso apartamento, que passaríamos seis noites sem pagar nada, graças à bondade de um conhecido nosso na Califórnia, que como ele descreveu tinha um “petit apartment” em Paris, mas apesar de ser pequenininho tinha muito charme. O apartamento era parecido com uma quitinete, mas com muito estilo, assim que abrimos as portas pra sacada descobrimos uma vista maravilhosa, a torre Eiffel com o pôr-do-sol ao fundo, foi então que eu me apaixonei pela cidade, passamos algumas horas na sacada admirando a vista até que as luzes começaram a iluminar a cidade e dar a ela o seu ar super romântico.

Eu poderia passar horas só olhando para os prédios, cada sacada, cada janela tinha um detalhe mais lindo que outro, tudo em Paris tem estilo, da maneira fashion de se vestir dos Parisienses até o açougue da esquina que apresenta suas carnes decoradas, como se fossem manequins na vitrine de uma loja da Champs-Élysées. As diversas feiras que acontecem quase todos os dias distribuídas por toda a cidade oferecem as frutas, verduras e frutos do mar mais perfeitos que eu já vi, tudo extremamente organizado e decorado, não tem como passar por elas e não comprar algo, e como eu e o Jonathan não víamos a hora de usar a nossa cozinha, compramos queijos, cogumelos, figos, morangos, amoras, tomates, vinho e como não poderia faltar o famoso “foie gras” patê de fígado de ganso, que apesar de soar estranho, é uma das melhores coisas que eu já comi, o Jonathan não poderia estar mais feliz, preparou um jantarzinho delicioso, regado a muito vinho, aproveitamos mesmo, afinal não é sempre que podemos comer bem assim. Falando em comer, nessa viagem eu aprendi a comer tudo, a minha mãe ia ficar orgulhosa de ver, eu nunca fui muito fresca, mas agora eu não tenho medo de experimentar nada, na verdade quase nada, não tem ninguém que convença a comer azeitona. Também comemos carne de coelho, carne de pato, perninhas de rã e tudo mais que tínhamos direito, foi uma comilança só. Quando não estávamos comendo ou bebendo vinho, caminhamos pelas ruas de Paris, visitamos a torre Eiffel, o museu do Louvre, fomos na Catedral de Notre Dame, na Catedral do Sagrado Coração, passeamos de barco pelo Rio Sena, caminhamos pelo Arco do Triunfo e a Avenida Champs-Élysées, os Jardins de Luxemburgo e também visitamos vários bairros de diferentes etnias e culturas, como uma parada ou outra pra comprar umas coisinhas que eu nem sei como eu vou por na mochila e também pra comer um croissant de chocolate saído do forno em uma das varias padarias, falando em croissant, eu já lembro das baguetes e das tortinhas de amora...haja estomago pra tanta comida.

Apesar da fama de mal educados e metidos, os Franceses me surpreenderam com a sua receptividade, sempre dizendo os seus “bonjours” e “mercis” e tentando se comunicar da melhor maneira possível, mesmo que não falassem Inglês muito bem, com o nosso pouquinho de Frances nós conseguimos se virar. Nessa viagem nós visitamos diversas cidades grandes do mundo, mas Paris com certeza esta no topo das mais belas, seis dias não foram suficientes para ver tudo, mas me deixaram com um gostinho de queiro mais, voltarei com certeza! Apesar de não querer partir, ainda temos muito que conhecer na França, hoje alugamos um carro e vamos viajar pelo país, conhecer o interior e as praias do sul, também rever algumas pessoas queridas no caminho e comer um pouquinho mais... Bon Appetit!

Posted by flaviaU 08:37 Archived in France Comments (0)

Almost Perfect Paris

The sweatshirts are right, I really do love Paris. We had such a perfect time; it’s hard to think of any way that life could have been better while we were here. Everything was perfect from the start. We had a free apartment from a friend back home, and we were a bit weary of what we were getting before we showed up, but the minute we stepped out onto the patio at sunset to see the colorful clouds behind the Eiffel Tower, we knew how lucky we were. The apartment was great, small, cozy, but perfect. It was quiet, located in a great part of town, near the Cadet station, and we spent the better part of our time here walking around the city, exploring the markets, eating, drinking, and relaxing. This city really inspires me. I feel like when I’m here, I need to do something, whether it be write or read and think, or cook. Cooking seemed to be the best way to express myself, and I played with Foie Gras for the first time, and braised a whole rabbit which we enjoyed for a few meals. This city really is perfect, except for the dog shit on the streets, but other than that it’s great. It wasn’t even that bad that everyone who lives here is a Parisian, quite the opposite in fact. I’m not sure how it happened, but everyone that we dealt with was extremely friendly with us, often stopping to strike up a conversation, wondering what we were doing in their town, how we were enjoying ourselves, and where we were going next in France. People were willing to speak English with us, although Flavia and I have grasped a fair bit of French already since we’ve arrived here, and are really enjoying the language. I find the pronunciation challenging, but most of what people say is understandable. I think the most important part was that we tried, we would always initiate a conversation in French. At least say hello, and ask if they speak English, I saw a few American who couldn’t even get that far.

This city provides endless opportunity to explore. It’s so diverse and beautiful, and so much detail and pride goes into every neighborhood, every building, and every fruit stand. People here seem proud of what they have and who they are, which may explain their reluctance to accept any change or influences that may shape their little perfect culture. We explored the normal touristy areas, the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, The Luxembourg Gardens, and the Louvre. We walked from our apartment to the nearby Basilica of the Sacred Heart, took a boat ride on La Siene and had Foie Gras and a bottle of wine at a corner café. We also made it to some areas that were a bit off the tourist map. The Jewish Quarter, was absolutely packed today (Sunday) and I waited in a huge line to enjoy “Paris’s best Falafel”. We also ventured down to the Place D’Italie, where a calm but busy Asian district had some beautiful bakeries and restaurants and we had an amazing bowl of Pho on a cold day. Today we explored Paris’s best market, and I was amazed at the true variety and level of quality of every piece of fish, the 30 something different types of pate, all the vegetables, fungi, meat, and piece of fruit available at the chaotic huddle of stalls. Flavia, of course, loved the shopping, and again will be faced with the “How to fit all this stuff into her backpack” dilemma. The streets were relatively calm here, and a few tourists remain, although most have already finished their vacations. The hot weather is behind us now, and although it was cold, the days and nights were clear and dry.

As I walk the streets here, I am constantly adding reasons why this is my favorite city I have ever been to. I love the way the people carry themselves and dress, as if they could put an old bag on and still walk like they had the best clothes in the world. Some people do dress in the incredibly expensive brands, but there seems to be a renascence of cheap clothes, worn correctly, or so incorrectly, that it’s almost right! I love the faces on the people, the nonchalant egotism that exudes from the moto drivers, the way the clerk at the store holds his cigarette, and the way that the train station announces with prominence, “I’m beautiful and so is everything around me”. The metro is great here, fast, efficient, safe, clean, and of course, a bit stinky. It’s easily navigated and very cheap. We didn’t take any taxis in the whole time we were here, and that’s the way it should be in a big city. I love the way that the wine shops are so perfectly set up, that the owner knows exactly what you want, and that you are gonna love it. We drank wine here, of course, but mostly at home, also trying a few glasses of wine from regions that we don’t know as well, like the Loire or Burgundy. I love the bakery right up the street, and basically up every street in Paris, the unspoken competition between owners to create that perfect baguette, or the softest butter croissant. Most of all, I really love sitting on this balcony and feeling inspired while looking at one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world.

I call this blog almost perfect because we didn’t go to the U2 show last night, which was something that we’d planned since the start of the trip. I thought it would be easy enough to scalp tickets the night of the show, boy was I wrong. When we showed up at the stadium, it was like something I’d never seen. It seemed that 30 percent of the people there were looking for tickets, and only a few scalpers were ripping people off. Everyone had a sign asking for one, two, three, or more tickets. We met a group of Dutch people who took the train from Amsterdam, paid for two nights hotel, and got to the gate just to find out that their tickets were fakes. We had hoped to spend 100 euro a ticket, but the least expensive tickets from the scalpers were 250 each, way over our budget, so in the end, we considered ourselves lucky that we hadn’t been ripped off, took the train back to Paris, bought a bottle of wine and a take away pizza, and sat on our balcony watching the hourly flashing lights on the Eiffel Tower with U2 playing on the Iphone.

Paris is known for its food, although we are still on a budget, but we managed to find a few good spots. I always want to be in the kitchen when we have one, so I really enjoyed going to a market, buying farm fresh ingredients, going to a butcher shop, watching them cut up exactly what I want, and then taking everything home and seeing what comes out. The first night I cooked, I really felt great to be in the kitchen, I seared Foie Gras for the first time, and served it with some amazing figs drizzled in honey and paired that with a sweet white from just outside Bordeaux . Then I made a nice salad with fresh Heirloom tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, fresh parsley, and oil and balsamic trying to keep everything simple and fresh and paired that with a fruity red from the Loire. Finally I made a nice cheese plate with some Italian and French cheeses with a great baguette from the corner bakery and voila, we had an amazing meal. The other night I cooked here, I prepared a whole rabbit in a beautiful red sauce, and then slow cooked it for a few hours on the stovetop (no oven here). We only ate out a few times, once the night we got here when I had a great salad with, what else, but Foie Gras and duck giblets. We also went to a restaurant that only prepares Canard, and the Cassoulette and the Confit were of course spectacular!

Tomorrow we are leaving Paris to explore the rest of France. We decided a while ago that we would probably be ready to take it easy from this point on as both of us are getting a bit tired. Life is great, I’m not complaining, but the travel days, where we have to walk then wait for the metro, then wait for the train, then get to a new town and try to figure out how to get to wherever we need to go is getting old. To simplify our lives we decided to get a car. There is a great program offered by Renault USA that will allow us to lease a new car, and drive it all over and return it in Madrid before we fly out with full insurance for a very good price. This will allow us to really explore France, Spain, and Portugal, without worrying about how to get around. Although there are a few more cities we want to see, I think both of us want to explore the countryside a bit more and see the smaller towns and wine regions in these countries, and for this we will need a car. So tomorrow we set out for Brittany, for a few nights at least, wherever the road takes us. Paris was great, and I can only hope the rest of France will be as enjoyable.

Posted by JonathanU 18:02 Archived in France Comments (0)

Ireland

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Our ferry trip was uneventful, much nicer than the last few boats we were on, and once we arrived into the port we sped out of Belfast on our way down towards Dublin. The whole way I was hoping that we would make it before 7:30 so that I could run to wherever the Aviva stadium is so that I could see the Irish national team take on the mighty Andorra squad for the 2012 Euro Cup qualifiers. We made good time until we got absolutely stopped in traffic, ironically enough, for the match that I was hoping to see. Fortunately, our hotel ended up being only a few blocks from the stadium and once parked after crawling through the streets, I through the bags into the room, headed out onto the street, picked up a green Ireland beanie and walked towards the big glass stadium. I managed to pick up a ticket just outside the gate and then moved my way through the hordes of people on the way to the grounds. The stadium is beautiful, probably the nicest stadium I have seen, and this happened to be its inaugural game. What a treat for me to sit seven rows from the brand new pitch and watch the Irish take it to the Andorrans, 3-1, with a couple of beautiful goals. I was surprised at how absolutely enormous the Irish players are, almost the size of (American) football players, and they easily handled the smaller Andorrans, a team of amateur players, but the little country placed high up in the Pyrenees mountains put up a great fight. I was extremely content after going to the game, especially since I would not be able to see any Premier League games, I guess this would have to satisfy me, at least until we make it to Barcelona or Madrid.

Dublin was nice, the weather helped a lot, as the forecasted rain held off while we were there. We were a bit outside of downtown but much enjoyed walking the streets and as has been the case so fare on the isles, everyone we met was extremely friendly and helpful. Travelling with my parents has been very… cultural, I guess would be the best way to put it, and we greatly enjoyed our morning visit to the library where the Book of Kells is housed. It was astonishing to see the way that these religious texts were produced, with such amazing intricacy and detail, using such primitive ink to produce these astonishing texts. The Book of Kells is one of the oldest surviving historic documents and the way it has been preserved, after being written on sheepskin more than 1000 years ago, it still looks new. After that we took great walking tour of the city with a history doctorate student from Trinity College. Her enthusiasm and bubbly nature made the tour fun, and her knowledge really tied together a difficult history lesson about this revolutionary country. After a quick lunch we went to the Chester Beatty Library, a free museum that housed a collection of items picked up on travels through SE Asia and the Muslim world. The exhibits were surprisingly beautiful and informative and we really enjoyed everything from the collection of Buddha statues to the historical collection of religious documents, including some of the world’s oldest Qurans and early Islamic artwork.

Our second day in Dublin involved a lot of walking. Flavia and I explored the shopping streets while my parents checked out a nearby museum and the we ignored the warning of a local and walked a long way across town towards the Kilmainham Gaol Jail to see where many of the revolutionaries were kept during the early 19th century when executions were commonplace to squelch all attempts at independence by the Irish. The history is interesting though because in the end the use of executions is exactly what created the biggest uproar and the anger that led to the final revolution that allowed the Republic of Ireland to gain its independence. The jail was opened in the 1700s as a new style of jail allowed to let light and air in, and the chill from walking the halls is felt from the cold Dublin breeze as well as the stories of torture and execution that lives in the walls forever. From the jail we thought we deserved a break and headed to the Guinness Brewery where my old Diageo business card allowed me to get the employee rate for the family (don’t tell them please) and we enjoyed the tour, but not as much as we enjoyed the brewery fresh beer up at the 360 degree view in the glass enclosed bar up on the 7th floor of the building. The crowd was lively and we luckily found a few seats along the glass where even Flavia enjoyed a full pint.

We drove all the way across the island early the next morning on the way to the Dingle Peninsula. I had no idea that there could be four hour drives on the small island, although we made good time stuffed into the Audi. Dingle was nice, although we were exhausted after travelling all day. We had amazing seafood for dinner, some of the freshest oysters, muscles, and fish right from the sea, and the best seafood chowder that I have ever had. It’s been nice to be spoiled although we are just eating too damn much! We will miss the great dinners, although the English and Irish breakfast are just too much to eat everyday, and I won’t really miss a plate of eggs, bacon, sausage, haggis or blood pudding for a while! The drive around Dingle was spectacular, and even though there was heavy rain in the forecast, it held off and we even had some sun throughout the day. The scenery was what we expected from Ireland, tons of shades of greens and rocky cliffs, rolling pastures, sheep and cows, and slate walls. The area was fairly empty and we had the narrow road to ourselves as we toured the peninsula. At night we listened to traditional Irish music, heard the Irish bagpipes and some wonderful fiddle playing. The music was good, although it was a bit repetitive, and the beer was great, and we headed home around midnight on both nights. We then picked up again and headed all the way back across the country to Rosslare, where we streamed the Raiders game, then cursed them, then ate a cheap dinner before going to sleep. I guess it won’t be so bad to be away from Oakland for the first half of the season! Now we are back on a ferry taking us back to the UK, where I will drop my parents at Heathrow before we spend one more night in London and then taking a train through the Chunnel tomorrow for Paris.

Who would have known that the UK and Ireland were so big? I can’t believe that we managed to put almost 2000 miles on the car in such short time. It was a lot of driving, and although it was difficult to travel with my parents for three weeks, we certainly had a good time. One thing that really made everything great was that the weather was perfect from the minute we left London until we dropped my parents off at the airport. The fact that we had sun everyday really allowed us to enjoy the countryside, walk off the breakfasts, and experience the beauty of the Islands without the expected terrible weather. Flavia and I have fallen into such a groove travelling together that I think it would be difficult to include even the most easygoing people into our schedule. So tomorrow it’s just the two of us again, winding down the final few months of our adventure, making a few adjustments to make it a bit easier for us while fatigue starts to set in and our budget starts to run low.

Posted by JonathanU 09:06 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Escócia e Irlanda

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View RTW - 2010 on flaviaU's travel map.

As últimas três semanas foram uma verdadeira aula de história, nós visitamos vários lugares de muita importância na história Inglesa, na Catedral de Salisbury vimos a Carta Magna, a carta que foi utilizada para limitar o poder soberano por lei e proteger os privilégios dos homens livres, na região de Cotswolds de grande importância a arquitetura típica do período medieval dos séculos 13 a 15, passando por Coalbroockdale, onde a Revolução Industrial teve origem na Inglaterra no século XVIII, transformando o país no primeiro país industrializado do mundo. Na fronteira com a Escócia visitamos a região dos lagos, com montanhas cobertas de verde, inúmeros lagos de água cristalina e um montão de ovelhas, um cenário magnífico da área rural da Inglaterra, de lá cruzamos para a Escócia, com seus castelos e Igrejas de estilo Gótico, sua historia de reis, tronos e batalhas, a Reforma Protestante e o Calvinismo, a capital Edimburgo preserva a fisionomia medieval, com seu castelo dominante no topo de uma rocha, as ruas estreitas, os diversos arcos de entrada e o seu ar monstruoso, com diversas estórias de caça as bruxas e assassinatos sangrentos. Claro que com a contribuição do meu sogro, o “professor Mike”, e as suas leituras diárias, a nossa viagem fez muito mais sentido, querendo ou não aprendemos tudo e mais um pouco, ele não escapou nenhum detalhe, nenhum museu, nenhuma figura histórica.

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Conhecemos uma infinidade de pessoas mais do que dispostas a nos ajudar, sempre com um sorriso no rosto, os Escoceses principalmente, sempre muito amáveis e extremamente receptivos, nos surpreendemos com a qualidade da gastronomia tanto Inglesa quanto Escocesa, sempre comendo muito mais do que o necessário acompanhados de muita cerveja e whisky escocês, a noite em Edimburgo é super animada, degustando whisky ao som da musica tradicional escocesa (violino e violão), e o Mike fazendo amizade com metade do bar, incluindo os músicos, que até convidaram ele pra fumar “Canabis” no lado de fora, muito engraçado.

Da Escócia, atravessamos o oceano para a Irlanda e depois de um dia super longo chegamos em Dublin, cidade mais importante do país, com vários locais históricos, incluindo a Trinity College, onde esta localizado o Livro de Kelles, um dos livros antigos e mais belos do mundo, que contém os quatro evangelhos do Novo Testamento escrito em latim em pelica (vitela tratada), e foi meticulosamente ilustrado pelos monges irlandeses por volta do ano 800 aC., lá também uma das mais antigas bibliotecas do mundo, conhecemos a cidade fazendo uma caminhada histórica e aprendemos muito sobre a sua historia e sobre os muitos conflitos de sua separação (Irlanda do Norte pertencente a Inglaterra e a Irlanda), inicialmente provocadas entre as religiões protestantes e católicas, marcadas pelo massacre de 3.600 pessoas em 1972, o famoso Domingo sangrento, ou “Sunday, bloody Sunday”. De Dublin continuamos a nossa viagem pela Irlanda, ao som de U2 dirigimos, para a costa oeste, na península de Dingle, muito parecida com a costa norte da Califórnia, com varias praias e penhascos, um cenário maravilhoso, regado a vinho branco e frutos do mar. Em alguns dias o Mike e a Gail voltam pra casa, não poderia ser mais grata por essa viagem que eles nos proporcionaram, um luxo comparado a nossa vida de mochileiros, mas acho que eu e o Jonathan estamos preparados pra voltar a nossa rotina de viajantes, sem muito compromisso, sem horários, sem rumo certo, a Franca que nos aguarde... Prépare toi France, nous voilà!

Posted by flaviaU 15:02 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

All over the UK

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We departed London for the start of our 16 day adventure around the UK and Ireland. The first difference when travelling with my parents is that things are planned and booked, and we would have to adhere to a pretty tight schedule if we are going to see and do everything that they want to see. The second major difference is the upgrade in standard of our B&Bs along the way, which is a very pleasant change from what we’ve grown accustomed to. We passed through Salisbury on the way to Bath, stopping to see the Salisbury Cathedral, which was built in the 12th century and is arguably the nicest church in England. The highlights of it are the spire that rises more than 400 feet as well as one of the few remaining early copies of the Magna Carta, written in Latin, and protected behind thick glass. After a quick walk around the grounds we continued onto Bath, where we’d spend one short night before moving North. The town itself is beautiful, centered around the historic Roman Baths in the center of town, it has transformed itself into a weekend trip local, and with the bank holiday weekend in England, it was packed, but very pleasant. The center of town is mostly walking streets and the building have been cleaned and renovated, giving the town a beige look surrounded by green fields and forests. On our first night we did the Bizarre Bath tour, which was an absolutely hilarious walk around town filled with a few tricks, more insults, a bunch of jokes, and a few laughs that even the guide had never seen before (like the guy riding a bike through the crowd dressed as a druid while honking his horn. My parents really enjoyed the town, and did a walking tour the next day, while Flavia and I just wandered and spend a while in a garden nearby. I guess the two of us are a bit spoiled by what we’ve seen thus far in Europe and perhaps a bit accustomed to old towns.

That afternoon, we jumped back into the Audi, and headed north to the Cotswold region of England, full of rolling hills, farmland, and immaculately preserved towns. Building codes in this area are some of the strictest around, so everything is kept stylistically in the same way that it has been for centuries. As we drove down High Street, the main street that runs through each town, we noticed the slight differences in each town, thatched roofs in one, rough stone as opposed to smooth stones on the exteriors of houses, and then the width of the center street, designed to be wide enough to get a flock of sheep through. We stayed at a very antique lodge in the town of Stow on the Wold, where we ate upgraded pub fare and drank very good beer and ale every night. Even though I’m trying my best not to gain 50 pounds before we return to the US, the UK is not making is very easy for me. Breakfast is traditionally a few eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, and fried bread, and everything except for the fried bread is delicious, and absolutely not nutritious. Did I mention that they also serve muesli or cereal, and fruit for appetizer? The lunches and dinners are always huge servings of tasty pie, something fried, or layered with cheese, and accompanied by chips and a pint. Same goes for dinner, big servings, lots of food, and an uncomfortably stuffed feeling afterwards. Although we have a car, we still have been walking a lot, so we are exercising, I even dusted out the old jogging shorts (once) and went for a breathtaking run around the hills, literally I had no breath left when I returned! The town of Stow on the Wold was very pleasant, with a beautiful old church and cemetery next to the lodge, a nice town center, a relaxed feel, and a bunch of townies that hung out on the little island every night, staring and laughing out the tourists.

After three nights in the Cotswolds my dad convinced us that we needed to go to the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, the Ironbridge Gorge, where Flavia and I marveled at a bridge that went over a small stream that in its day was a revolution the world over. To us, it kinda just looked like a bridge made out of iron. We then went to two museums where we marveled at the way that the world changed when the demand of iron went up, the creation of new materials was an everyday occurrence, and we were amazed that they had to put so many rooms in the museums. I was happy when we made it through because I calculated that there was plenty of time to go see a real amazing site in Manchester, Old Trafford Stadium, where my team, Man United play. We hit the highway with the GPS telling us that we would make it in 90 minutes, until the road signs began to tell us that there was an accident ahead and as the traffic stopped I watched our estimated arrival time get later and later, until it was almost 4:30, when the last tour of the stadium left. We pulled into the parking lot at 4:26 and ran to the museum and just made it as the tour set off, success. I really had wanted to go to a match while in the UK, but unfortunately there wouldn’t be one while we were nearby, so this was the next best thing. I felt like a little kid as we toured the empty grounds, went into the players’ lounge and dressing room, and got to sit on the Audi seats on the reserves bench that I’ve seen so many times on TV since I was a little boy. My mom was happy because she got to see where Becks met Posh Spice all those years back. Content, we continued up north to Keswick, where another adorable B&B awaited us in the Lake District of England.

We drove on narrow country roads along lakes and up into the mountains. Honestly, I was blown away at the lush surroundings, mountains, and beautiful views of lakes and pastures that we saw as we cruised around the empty roads. This area was spectacular, and we hiked up to the top of a pass, where sheep scattered as we passed by and we were presented with a 360 degree view of the empty peaceful area with rare sun shining overhead. In the small towns that we drove through, we got in country traffic jams, when a few sheep rushed onto the road and were in no rush to clear off. The town was lovely as well, as all the streets were pedestrian only, and we dined at wonderful restaurants. I have been very surprised at how good the food has been. Everyone kind of expects that the UK will have bland food, but there has been a noticeable renascence of the culinary world, and the Middle Eastern, French, American, and other European influences have allowed for an influx of new spices and recipes that has resulted in wonderfully prepared dishes, especially in the pubs. I’ve eaten Grouse, rabbit, venison, and the originals of Steak and Ale Pie and Fish and Chips. Later that night I joined the daughter of the B&B owner and her boyfriend to watch the Euro Cup qualifier in a packed pub where England triumphed and the crowd went wild and I felt very good to be in that town. It’s still nice to be back in the English speaking world, to be able to strike up a conversation with everyone that we meet and to not just be able to chat but to really talk.

Our next stop was Edinburgh where Flavia and I felt truly spoiled in a room with hand carved mahogany furniture and a sparkling new bathroom before heading out and taking a major walking tour with my parents, where we went high into the hills surrounding the city while biathletes sped on bikes and jogged below in an international race. We walked the royal mile, which was a bit too crowded for our liking. Edinburgh was very nice though, the old town was spectacular and the people were the nicest I have ever seen. A simple question about what we should do while here resulted in our cab driver jumping out at our stop, pulling out his map book and giving us a few options while discussing the best pubs in each town as well as exactly what we should see. The food was more of the same, the best duck confit I have ever had and pleasant service, decent prices, and then we headed to a pub where the locals say the best Scottish music is played. We went in and somehow got a table right next to two musicians who were warming up for the approaching jam session. The lead fiddle player immediately started talking to us, and then played every song he could with the word California in the title, then the one Brazilian song he knows for Flavia. As the other musicians came in and the bar filled, we were left with the best seats in the house and Fred, the violinist, would take every opportunity to chat with us, even asking my dad if he had a bit of cannabis for him when he went outside for a break! The music was great, although a bit repetitive and my dad and I enjoyed great wisky (not whiskey). The next morning I was a bit apprehensive about my breakfast as I had decided to ask for haggis and eggs when I put my order in the night before. The haggis looked like a hockey puck on the plate in front of me and as I slowly cut off a piece, I took the plunge and stuffed the fork into my mouth, not knowing what the hell I was about to taste. Instead of wrenching and spitting the food back on the table like Flavia expected, I tasted a spicy, salty, and meaty bite of heaven, which was beyond all of my expectations for the concoction of sheep innards chopped up, mixed with spices, then cooked inside of a sheep stomach for three hours. Perhaps the silver lining of this one was that he fried little pieces before serving, but either way it was great. That night we headed into the old town where a fireworks show set to the tunes that the Scottish National Orchestra played nearby lit up the sky and the castle in the center of town for 45 minutes, a great spectacle in this beautiful city.

We left Edinburgh two days later, racing through morning rush hour through the city then crawling through Glasgow as we hoped upon hope to make it to Stranraur for our ferry to Ireland. As the minutes ticked away we pulled in just in time… Just in time to be told that our ferry had been canceled and we would now be leaving two and a half hours later on the afternoon sailing. Great, so now here I am, on our last few minutes in the port waiting room writing about this 1000 mile journey around England and Scotland, at least they have free WiFi here! We have another week with my parents to explore Ireland, next stop, Dublin.

Posted by JonathanU 12:30 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Londres e o Norte da Inglaterra

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Chegamos em Londres de manhã e ao meio dia já estávamos a caminho do primeiro encontro, o primeiro de muitos, para rever uma amiga muito querida do Jonathan, a Rosie, uma das varias pessoas que conhecemos que mudaram para Londres. Londres é uma cidade muito multicultural, a New York City da Inglaterra, com uma infinidade de restaurantes das mais diversas culinárias do mundo, principalmente de origem Indiana. Londres é super metropolitana, com milhares de bares, boutiques e gente jovem, sempre vestidas ou quase sempre, com os últimos modelos da moda, mas faça chuva ou faça sol a mulherada adora os seus vestidinhos curtíssimos e no caso de Londres faz muito mais chuva do que sol, falando em chuva, claro que a nossa visita não poderia completa sem o famoso clima Londrino, céu cinzento e chuva, só pra dar o charme e a fama da cidade.

Como eu já mencionei, Londres foi a cidade dos encontros, primeiramente com os meus sogros, que nos aguardavam no lobby do hotel felizes da vida em rever nos depois de 7 meses e certamente preparados para explorar a cidade com os seus guias de viagem, em um ritmo um pouco diferente do nosso, pois eles estão de férias por 3 semanas e não 10 meses como nós, já na mesma tarde fomos conhecer a Westminster Abbey, o Big Ben e o Museu Britânico, foi a primeira vez deles na Europa depois da visita que eles fizeram a Espanha na sua lua-de-mel, eles estavam muito empolgados e nós resolvemos passar bastante tempo com eles durante o dia, pois já tínhamos ocupado todas as noites para rever nossos amigos. Na segunda noite fomos para o um dos “pubs” mais antigos de Londres pra encontrar o Allisdair, amigo do Jonathan do tempo que ele viajou para a America do Sul e um dos personagens do seu livro, o Allisdair é um Escocês muito bacana, passamos a noite com ele de pub em pub e depois de varias cervejas ou “Ales” como dizem os Britânicos, saímos para jantar com os pais do Jonathan, que também apreciaram a companhia. Na próxima noite saímos com o Glenn e Julia, casal que conhecemos cruzando a fronteira do Camboja com o Vietnam, também viajando por alguns meses como nós, eles voltaram de viagem há uns meses atrás e estão tentando se acostumar com a vida real, que não é fácil, mas segundo a Julia, de pouco em pouco tudo começa a voltar ao normal, da até um medinho de pensar na nossa volta, mas ainda é cedo pra pensar nisso. Visitamos quase toda a cidade de Londres, o tempo resolveu colaborar e finalmente vimos os primeiros raios de sol, andamos de metro o tempo todo, sempre olhando pra trás pra ver se o Mike e a Gail não haviam se perdido, até pensamos em amarrar uma cordinha neles, mas não precisou...pela primeira vez em 7 meses comemos muito bem sem nos preocuparmos com o preço, pegamos taxis ao invés de ônibus, ficamos em hotel 4 estrelas ao invés de hostels, apesar de não estarmos acostumados com o luxo e a companhia de outras pessoas, não da pra reclamar mesmo, estamos realmente tirando férias das nossas férias.

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Pra fechar a nossa visita com chave de ouro, marcamos de encontrar todos os nossos amigos em um bar no bairro alternativo de Camden, pra nossa felicidade todo mundo apareceu com os seus respectivos companheiros, inclusive a minha amiga Viviane, que eu não via a 5 anos e que esta vivendo em Londres, eu tinha até esquecido que a “Bife” era tão alta, com certeza a mulher mais alta do bar, super bonitona com o corpão e os cabelos loiros, causando uma impressão na ala masculina ao redor, conversamos um tempão e eu matei as saudades da época da facul, nós nunca fomos super grudadas naquela época, mas ela sempre foi uma pessoas muito querida, é sempre bom rever pessoas que as vezes parecem estar esquecidas, mas que no primeiro minuto que você as vê todas as lembranças parecem voltar. No final, depois de muito beber a galera já tava mais pra lá do que pra cá e só sobrou o Allaisdair e a Luiza, sua namorada Italiana, de lá fomos comer tapas espanholas e beber sangria, mas não demorou muito pra todo mundo querer ir embora e dormir.

Nos despedimos de Londres, alugamos um carro e viajamos para o norte da Inglaterra, a primeira parada em Bath, cidade histórica conhecida pelas suas águas termais e ruínas romanas, nos hospedamos um B&B super charmoso e visitamos a cidade na companhia do Mike e da Gail, o Mike sempre muito interessado em historia, tava sempre contando estórias pra gente, mesmo quando nós não estávamos muito interessados em ouvir, mas ele não desistia e nos carregava de um lugar para o outro, fascinado com tudo que ele via. De Bath fomos para a região de Cotswolds, onde varias vilas de estilo medieval ainda preservam sua arquitetura até os dias de hoje e é onde você pode conhecer o verdadeiro estilo Inglês, super educado e cordial, muito bem vestido e refinado. Visitamos castelos e vilas, todos famosos por seus morados ilustres, como Shakespeare entre outros personagens da historia, as casas pareciam ser de contos de fada. Apesar de apreciarmos a companhia dos meus sogros, tinha até esquecido que a Gail e o Jonathan não podem estar no mesmo lugar juntos sem discutir, eu estando sempre no meio dos dois pra parar a briga, mas no fundo, no fundo eles se adoram, a Gail sempre tem as melhores intenções, mas às vezes ela tende a se preocupar um pouco demais com tudo, típico comportamento de mãe mesmo e o Mike por outro lado ta sempre tranqüilo, tudo ta bom, não tem tempo ruim pra ele. Continuamos a nossa viagem para o norte, seguindo para a Escócia e Irlanda nos próximos dias, ganhando mais uns quilinhos.

Posted by flaviaU 17:39 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (1)

Europe Map... so far

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As tulipas da Holanda


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Como todo mundo sabe, a Holanda é famosa por suas tulipas, bicicletas, canais, pontes, vitrines indiscretas e para a alegria dos turistas, os coffee shops. Conhecemos vários holandeses nos últimos meses e todos nos aconselharam a conhecer outras cidades da Holanda alem de Amsterdam, pois com toda a sua fama de liberal, os holandeses não gostam de ser associados a Amsterdam, então resolvemos nos hospedar em uma cidadezinha adorável chamada Utrecht, localizada a 30 minutos de Amsterdam, Utrecht é tão linda que eu até poderia viver lá, as casas são todas com fachadas de tijolo antigo, com janelas enormes de vista para os canais, com suas milhares de bicicletas e ciclistas, sem carros, sem barulho, sem poluição, vários restaurantes, boutiques e bares, um sonho! Mas como todo lugar perfeito, a cidade tem seu preço, tudo custa muito caro.

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No outro dia de trem chegamos em Amsterdam, compramos um mapa sem perceber que o mapa que havíamos acabado de comprar era um pouco alternativo, a primeira pista foi o fato de que não haviam muitos nomes de ruas ou pontos turísticos, foi então que nós começamos a nos perder, pois todas as ruas parecem iguais, não existem esquinas, a cidade é de formato circular, um labirinto de canais, coffee shops e as famosas vitrines indiscretas, e examinando o mapa com mais atenção percebemos que as únicas atrações citadas nele eram os coffee shops, o que não nos ajudou muito no sentido de conhecer os vários pontos turísticos da cidade, mas por outro lado conhecemos as atrações mais alternativas que Amsterdam tem a oferecer. Com o passar do tempo também percebemos que não éramos os únicos perdidos no meio de toda a perdição, grupos de mulheres e homens zanzavam pelas ruas, celebrando suas despedidas de solteiro e solteira, de bar em bar, de janela em janela na “zona da luz vermelha”, um bairro de prostituição que virou ponto turístico onde as mulheres pousam praticamente nuas em vitrines individuais tentando vender seu “produto” e quando elas conseguem clientes elas só precisam fechar a cortina, isso acontece desde de manhã cedo até de noite, o mais bizarro de tudo é quando você vê famílias inteiras passeando por Amsterdam que sem querer se perdem pela zona da luz vermelha, cheia de sex shops e vitrines, o cenário não é exatamente familiar, mas sem saída o que resta fazer mesmo é rir, Amsterdam é a verdadeira Disneylândia para adultos, a “Las Vegas” da Europa. Mas é claro que alem da diversão adulta, a cidade tem muito pra oferecer em termos de cultura, possuindo vários museus, galerias de arte, música e festivais, a arquitetura é impressionante, vários prédios são inclinados, te dando a sensação de que eles vão cair a qualquer minuto. Da loucura de Amsterdam viajamos para o sul, que segundo os holandeses é a verdadeira Holanda, sem turistas, sem coffee shops, sem prostitutas, na cidade de The Hague ou Haia, mais conhecida por ser a sede da família real holandesa e também a sede do Tribunal Penal Internacional, onde mora o casal de holandeses Taco e Hannake, que conhecemos na Jordânia em Junho e que nos convidaram a passar uns dias com eles na Holanda. Com eles conhecemos um pouco mais da cultura holandesa e apreciamos a ótima companhia.

Nas próximas 3 semanas estaremos na companhia do Mike e a Gail, os meus sogros, que como eu havia dito no blog anterior, irão viajar conosco para a Inglaterra, Escócia e a Irlanda, que vão ser as férias da nossa viagem, pois eles planejaram todos os passeios e reservaram todos os hotéis, não teremos que nos preocupar com nada, então vai ser só fechar os olhos e relaxar.

Posted by flaviaU 20:50 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Holland and London

We took our last long train up to Utrecht. We had been told that for value and calmer surroundings, this student town located a quick 30 minutes outside of Amsterdam would be more appealing to us. We checked into our big hotel, a kind of nice break from staying in spare bedrooms, changed and hit the town. The city was big but quiet, even on the weekend. There were the expected canals, the flowers, the thin buildings with big windows, and the sun even came out for a few minutes. We toured the mainly pedestrian streets, keeping keen on the zooming bicycles that took the right of way. The way to spot tourists in Holland is to see the ones that don’t have wheels attached to them. Everyone rides a bike, not an expensive one, or even a distinguishable one, but just one that would get them from point a to point b and not worry them too much when they are stolen. We walked (yah tourists) and settled in for an unexpectedly immense Indonesian dinner, which is a cuisine that we have never had before. Within a few minutes, we suddenly had 15 small bowls of food on our table, and we ate until our belts tightened and enjoyed a new mixture of spices in the tiny local restaurant. Holland has a lot of Indonesian immigrants because they colonized the country, so it’s interesting to see the different cultural influence that they have as opposed to the other SE Asian countries, especially since there isn’t a large population of them in the US.

After dinner we strolled over bridges and along the empty canals, with Flavia gawking at the beautiful architecture and then we decided to get some coffee. We headed to a coffeeshop on an old boat on one of the canals and enjoyed the Dutch roast, which is something that I did quite frequently during my previous visits to Holland. The coffeshops are wonderful with a full selection of different types of coffees, each with a distinct smell and taste, and each coffeeshop creates a unique atmosphere for the guests. We liked the boat, but it rocked a bit too much, so we wandered town a bit more and settled in for the night. The next day we did a quick dance to keep the rain away and took the train into Amsterdam, where we wandered the maze of streets, stopping in for a quick Dutch roast before getting helplessly lost in the maze of streets. Now, I know what you’re thinking, but honestly even after all the cities we’ve been too, Amsterdam did seem to be a maze of narrow alleys and winding canals, so even the most keen traveler would get lost. We enjoyed the day though, even with grey clouds looming overhead, the rain held off. Amsterdam is beautiful, the architecture, the people, the attitude, everything except for the… selection… in parts of the red light district. I think Flavia was taken aback a bit when she saw an African woman the size of the doorway, standing in a doorway of a tiny room. Most of the “Ladies of the night” looked unhappy, uninspired, and extremely unappealing, must be a tough way to make money. The narrow little alleys lined with red neon lights are definitely something unique and even though I’ve been to Amsterdam a few times, I still laugh when I walk through the red light district. The sky did eventually open up and after a few beers we were stuffed and tired and although the original plan was to stay well into the night, we decided it would be best to head back to Utrecht.

Our final day in Amsterdam was rainy. The storm the previous night turned historical, when it blew over the infamous Anne Frank tree and the next day the streets were littered with everything that didn’t have strong roots. We tried to brave the streets, but it was too much, so we headed for a beautiful coffeeshop and enjoyed some Dutch roast with a SE Asian theme, mellow and relaxing, and a nice break from the rain. We had to kill the day, because our friends nearby in The Hague were expecting us in the late afternoon, and after spotting the 3 hour line to get into the Van Gogh museum, we knew we would have to arrive a bit early. It was ok though, Taco was waiting for us at the bus stop after our hour trip to the little visited city on the cold and windy coast of Holland. We met Taco and Hannake on a short van ride in Jordan and they made the mistake of telling us we could stay with them if we were passing through. We took them up on it and spent two nights in the cute little city, with one day wandering the streets, and two nights of great meals, one prepared by yours truly, and lots of fun conversation and information about the Netherlands. For me it was nice to see the city, even though the beach was about as cold as I’d been in about a year!

We made our way to England early in the morning, and after a quick and cheap flight from Schipol to Gatwick, we met Rosy, a friend from college for lunch at Chipotle. I had been craving Mexican food for a month and although as my brother would say, it was too salty, it was good to see an old friend and even better to be back in London, one of my favorite cities in the world. I’m not sure what the charm is, maybe it’s the shitty food, the even worse weather, the high prices, or the rude people, but I love this city. I live here 10 years ago (wow I’m getting old) and I have been yearning to get back. Flavia and I have met lots of people from London on the trip and it was good to see a few of them while we were here as well. It was also good to catch up with a few people that we hadn’t seen for a few months, my parents! They flew in later that afternoon and it was nice to be with them after the long break when we lived with them before we left for the trip. My parents have been travelling a lot more in the last few years, and it’s pretty unbelievable that they haven’t been to England yet. We wandered under grey skies, visited Westminster Abby, and ate great Thai food once the sky opened and let loose. It was nice to travel with a guidebook other than Lonely Planet, because honestly, we think that the Lonely Planet for Europe is kind of crap. The problem is that if it’s in the LP, then everyone knows about it, so it loses its charm. Instead they travel with the Rick Steves book, and so far everything recommended (and discouraged) has been right on.

We spent the next few days wandering around London with my parents and hanging out with our friends. We hung out with Alasdair, who I travelled with in South America, and he took us to a 500 year old pub near his work before coming to dinner with us where I ate a whole Grouse. We also saw Glenn and Julia, who we met in Vietnam and we watched Rugby and Soccer in Camden Town until Glenn had one too many ales! I took the family to my favorite cheap deli in Kensington after visiting the Science Museum, and we sat in the park and ate, as I did almost every day when I lived here. London was great, I love navigating the tube, jumping from train to train, not worrying about where I’m going or what language I’m going to have to try that day. It was nice to speak English again, all the time. We haven’t been in an English speaking country since March, and being aware of everything that’s going on was a nice change. It seemed very comfortable to be in London, and we were happy to be with my parents, with friends and back in a place that I know so well. We picked up a brand new Audi on Sunday morning and left London heading west towards Bath, the start of a nice adventure around the British Isles.

Posted by JonathanU 16:55 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

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