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Lisbon

The Castelo de São Jorge (Castle of Saint George) sits on the highest peak in Lisbon. It was here that Sarah and I ran off to the morning we arrived. We got a taxi from the port and then held on for dear life. The road to the castle is winding and narrow, and our taxi driver, who probably makes this trek several times a day, didn’t seem to notice us wide-eyed and reaching for our seat belts.

After arriving safely, we almost turned back when we saw the line to get in, but then realized it wasn’t the line for tickets, it was the line to actually enter and it was moving quickly. I’m glad we went in. The views were vast and worth seeing. We strolled around until we felt like we’d seen enough. At this point in our trip there had been a lot of ancient castles on hilltops. In saying that, I don’t mean “if you’ve seen one castle, you seen them all.” They are all quite fascinating and rich in history, but when you are limited to a day trip in each port of call, you have to make the most of your time.

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This little wall was right next the entrance to the castle.

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My favorite of my castle photos

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Lisbon

We opted to skip the taxi and walk back down to the city center from the top of the hill, though that wasn’t much safer. The sidewalks were very narrow and with blind corners and cars traveling past at high rates of speeds, we were grabbing arms to keep each other from harm’s way. We ducked into pottery shops along the way, wishing it was easy to get these gorgeous ceramics back to California. We also saw thousands of various sized painted roosters, called The Barcelos Rooster, which is the unofficial symbol of Portugal. I did not know this.

pottery

A little side story about that rooster. My mom has had a very tiny one on her kitchen windowsill for years. I’ve never known or asked where it came from. A few weeks before this trip I was visiting and doing dishes. I looked up at the rooster and thought he looked dusty. I grabbed him and gave him a good cleaning and in the process, I peeled off most of the paint. He went from a colorful dusty rooster to a mostly gray rooster with peeling paint. I’m an awful daughter. I said, “oopsy” and stuck him back in the window. You can imagine my surprise when I saw gift shops in Lisbon full of these guys. Of course I bought her a new one and confessed about the old one.

Rooster

Our ultimate destination was to find food and drink. Isn’t that the best part of traveling abroad? We walked to the city square and discovered an information booth manned by a young local man. We asked, “Where do the locals go? Tell us where you would eat around here?” He said, “I would eat at home!” So we said, “Okay! Can we eat at your home?” He laughed and directed us to a side street where he said we could find a few choices. We were very happy with our food and giant beers.

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Tomorrow we dock in Oporto!

 

 

Cádiz

Adventure! We were excited to land here. Sarah and I, along with Rebecka and Dennis, had signed up for an excursion called the Forest Cycling Adventure at this port. We hopped on a bus from the port city of Cádiz that took us to the village of Vejer de la Frontera, a stunning hilltop town. I wish we could have spent more time there, but it was just our starting point on the 10-mile bike ride that took us down to the sea.

It was an unexpected surprise to begin our journey at Vejer de la Frontera because I didn’t know anything about these beautiful villages in the Andalusia region of Spain, where every building is painted stark white, the blue sky above and green hills surrounding making the perfect frame.

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The ride itself was guided by two locals. It wasn’t a challenging ride for my group, as the four of us cycle regularly, but there were others on the tour that weren’t experienced riders so we had to stop and wait on occasion. I don’t think any of us minded too much, though there was the occasional break from the group due to the desire to just GO!

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The view to the sea at the start of our ride

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Rebecka, Sarah, and I during a break

It was a little bit of a stretch to call it a “Forest” Cycling Adventure. I kept wondering where the forest was, but it was a gorgeous ride that took us on back roads with very little traffic. We eventually rode through a small campground surrounded by trees before we made a sweeping descent to the sea.

The wind was blowing something fierce. The plan was to visit a lighthouse, but when we began down the road that led to the beach, sand in our face quickly turned us around. We decided to find a place to have a cold drink before we got back on the bus and headed back to Cádiz.

We didn’t have a lot of time in Cádiz before we had to board the ship, but we made the best of it. We walked the pedestrian streets and found an outdoor cafe where we had a bite and sipped Albariño. (I’m actually not sure if that’s what we were sipping, but it sounded better than white wine and I know that while were in Spain, we sipped Spanish wine often. When you are traveling with a winemaker, you let her order the wine). We then made our way to the massive Catedral de Cádiz, where we climbed to the top of the bell tower to take in and photograph the sweeping views of the city.

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Our boat!

That night, the sun set in Spain and in the morning, it rose in Portugal. Next up, Lisbon.

Málaga

Málaga is the southernmost city in Europe located in the Andalusia region of Spain. It lies on the Costa del Sol of the Mediterranean Sea. Málaga is one of the oldest cities in the world. It’s traceable history goes back 2,800 years. It is the birthplace of Pablo Picasso and my friends and I had the wonderful experience of going to the Picasso museum in the city where life began for this legendary artist. But first we visited Alcazaba, a fortress palace that was built in the span of six years beginning in 1057. It was built after the fall of the Roman Empire when the city was under Islamic rule. It was a fascinating walk through the splendors of this ancient place. It was maze-like with meandering pathways that took you through lush gardens and tiled walkways, stone archways and small rooms, where you couldn’t help but wonder what went on so long, long ago in each and ever corner.

Alcazaba

Keyhole Archway

Sarah and I up high in Alcazaba with the sea behind us

We next took a taxi to Museo Picasso. You are prohibited from taking photos of the exhibits, so we enjoyed the experience for exactly what it was; surreal and in the moment. This famous and beautiful Picasso was there. I stared at it for a very long time.

Picasso | The Three Graces | Paris, 1923

This Jackson Pollock took up an entire wall, and I was very pleased to see his work there as well. (Both photos borrowed from the museum’s website).

Pollock | Mural | 1943, New York

After the museum, it was time for food. With no tour planned on this stop and no one to guide us, we walked through the center of town searching for a place to eat. We sampled Marcona almonds from a street vendor along the way. They were the best I’d ever had. With no time to visit the Málaga Cathedral, we still walked toward it to take in it’s splendor from the outside while we looked for a place to eat. There was no shortage of restaurants to choose from, but we found a place slightly off the beaten path and it was perfect. You could tell it was family owned and there was a large group of lively locals. In fact, we were the only foreigners there and somehow that made the experience more enjoyable, as if we had been let in on a secret. At the end of our meal they delighted us with tiny glasses of complimentary liqueur and a piece of candy.

Málaga Cathedral

Marona almonds and other deliciousness

Just a snippet of our tapas experience

Back on the ship that night, we went a little crazy with dessert in the Grand Dining Room. I know I’ve said the food was excellent on the ship. This photo proves it.

As we departed Málaga, our Cruise Director announced that we would be leaving the Mediterranean Sea that night via the Strait of Gibraltar and making our way into the Atlantic Ocean. And then there was this glorious sunset. Later on, I managed a bad photo of The Rock.

The Rock of Gibraltar

Next up, Seville.

Cartagena

This ancient port city, located in the Murcia region in southeastern Spain, has a natural harbor that has been used for thousands of years. Going back to the 16th century, it has been an important naval seaport and is home to Arsenal de Cartagena, the Spanish navy base.

See that tiny strip of land? That’s La Manga

The boat arrived on a cool, but cloudless morning and along with a few others, Doralice, Sarah, and I boarded a bus that would take us 35 kilometers outside the city to the resort town of La Manga, a seaside spit that is 21 kilometers long and 300 meters wide. On one side of this vary narrow strip of land that is packed with highrise hotels and condominiums is the Mediterranean Sea, and on the other is the Mar Menor lagoon. The lagoon’s water is warm and rich with salt and minerals. Unfortunately, our time there was too short and we were unable to take advantage of the healing properties of the dark mud and clay. We could only watch from a short distance as others walked the beaches, the mud a sign of where they ached, though a few must have thought a head to toe covering would bring about maximum healing.

 

Taken from the bus on the road to La Manga

A stop along the way at Faro Cabo de Palos

The Mediterranean Sea with La Manga in the background

My buds

We were given about an hour of freedom in La Manga so we quickly made our way to the nearest hotel in search of refreshments. We thought we would find a terrace overlooking the beach and sip a cocktail. We were close. There was no terrace, only sand, and instead of a cocktail there was an asiático served hot in a plastic cup. This is a popular local coffee drink made with sweetened condensed milk, brandy and Licor 43, and it was perfection. We washed down meat flavored chips with our asiático and watched the mud people.

Asiático and Boca Bits

Healing Mud

Back on the bus we returned to the port city for a visit to Castillo de la Concepción, which is located on the highest peak and offers the best view of Cartagena. To get to the top of the peak there is a panoramic elevator. We walked around taking photos of the lovely views and of the peacocks who reside there. I was mildly obsessed with the peacocks, and so, was rewarded with a fanning of feathers by this one guy.

The Lift to Castillo de la Concepcion

Mr. Peacock

The view of Cartagena with the ancient Roman colosseum to the right

From there, the three of us left our tour group to explore Cartagena on our own. We visited the Roman Theatre Museum, which was fascinating because though the colosseum was built sometime between 5 and 1 BC, it wasn’t discovered underground until 1988, and thus began the archeological excavations. We wrapped up our day in the city center where we found food, drink, and shopping along the pedestrian streets.

Next stop, Málaga, birthplace of Antonio Banderas.

The Boat

I had never been on a cruise. I was never sure I actually wanted to go on one. I love to travel and explore, but the desire to do so by way of a giant floating hotel wasn’t on my list. Mostly, I thought the limited time in each port just wouldn’t be enough. Still, I’ve always been curious about them and had heard from people who cruise that it’s important to pick the right cruise line. Oceania appeared to fall into that category.

As soon as I got home from the watering hole the evening that Sarah extended the invite, I went online to check out our specific cruise. My eyes watered in anticipation of the places we would visit. I had never been to any of these cities, let alone countries. My visits to Europe have been limited to Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, and Italy. I had never been to Spain, Portugal, France, or England. And while the stops would be brief in our ports of call, I was positively giddy.

On our last morning in Barcelona, Sarah and I went for another run down to the water. It was then that I first saw our ship. The big “O” loomed 10 stories up on top. I couldn’t wait to get on and see what was on the inside.

First Sighting

First thing’s first

I don’t want this to read like an advertisement so I’ll just say this: The food was delicious, the service impeccable, the beds luxurious, and our stateroom, while small, was perfectly comfortable with plenty of closet space and a nice sized bathroom. We also had a balcony where we drank gin and tonics and looked at the sea.

Our first night, in what we thereafter called, “The Purple Bar”

A lasting memory to take with me was Natalia. She was our housekeeper from Russia; an adorable young blond woman with an infectious smile who took excellent care of us and called us, “My ladies.” No doubt she treated everyone that she was assigned to the very same way, but she had a knack for making you feel like you were the most important person on the ship and I adored her. You sometimes meet people who make an impression and though I really didn’t actually know her, I wish I did.

Not once did we stay on the ship in lieu of exploring a port. Had we, there were plenty of daily activities or a beautiful swimming pool to lounge around, but we didn’t want to miss what was beyond the ship. We only had one full day at sea, and that was toward the end of the cruise between Bordeaux, (where we actually did an overnight and were able to spend more time), and Honfleur, our last stop before disembarking in London.

And we’re off. Goodbye Barcelona. Until we meet again.

First stop, Cartagena.

Barcelona

It was once a place I could only imagine in my head; lively, colorful, and bold. It was that and so much more.

We arrived on a Friday morning after a long and mostly sleepless flight, greeted by sunshine and a cool breeze. Excitement was the drug keeping me awake. I was in Spain.

These were my companions: Sarah (Winemaker and bestie), Gail (Sarah’s mom and friend), Marcus (Sarah’s nephew and newest friend of mine who I adore), Doralice (dear friend), Teri, (friend and Wine Club Manager), Rebecka (Winemaker and friend), and Dennis (Rebecka’s husband and friend).

The hotel check-in time was 3pm and as it was still morning we dropped our bags and went for a walk. Within blocks of the hotel were two of Antoni Gaudí’s most famous buildings; Casa Batlló and La Pedrera. For those that don’t know, Gaudí “is considered the greatest exponent of Catalan Modernism and one of the leading lights of the Art Nouveau movement in Europe, despite his architecture evolving into such a personal style that is rather difficult to classify.” (Giordano, Carlos, Nicolás Palmisano, and Ricard Regàs. Visual Guide to the Complete Work of Architect Antoni Gaudí. Barcelona: Dos De Arte, 2015. Print.)

We decided on a tour of Casa Batlló, but first we were hungry. Rebecka, with a travel guidebook in hand, directed us to Tapas 24, which was in the neighborhood. We arrived a little before they were ready to begin lunch service, but they said they would serve us if we were okay with a limited menu. That was fine with us. My first meal in Barcelona did not disappoint. It was simple food; pan con tomate (toasted bread with tomato and huevos rotos (broken eggs with potatoes and sausage). Delicious is an understatement. Perhaps it was because I was in Barcelona, perhaps it was delirium from lack of sleep, perhaps it was hunger, or perhaps it was the olive oil, but I was so happy.

Casa Batlló

Casa Batlló was once the private home of the Batlló family. In 1904 Joseph Batlló contracted the services of Gaudí to construct a new building at the site of a building built in 1877. Batlló wanted the building torn down and a new one designed by Gaudí, but Gaudí convinced Batlló to renovate the existing structure. Two more levels were added along with a completely new facade. The end result was a work of art, complete with eight private rental apartments and a roof terrace.

With our hotel room still not quite ready, our group split up. Sarah and I hopped on the “on and off bus” knowing we could see much of the city in a relatively short amount of time. We had no intention of getting off the bus. We were weary and killing time and thought this a good way to see the highlights of the city. We plugged in the English headset, put them on our ears and then struggled with heavy eyelids and nodding heads. Two hours later, we checked into our room, but then promptly made our way to the roof.

Jetlagged and blissed out, we sat sipping wine and taking in the entire city that we had only two and a half days to explore. For me, it didn’t matter what we did or where we went. It was all new to me and I knew I would be delighted with whatever was chosen. If I am unfamiliar with an area and someone else isn’t, then I prefer they take the reins. Just tell me what time to be ready. I did very little research before this trip because I knew I didn’t need to. I wanted to be surprised. I know that I am an easy traveler, low maintenance, and possess a ridiculous childlike wonder when it comes to knew experiences. I’m known to do happy dances.

Dinner that night was at Cervecería Catalana, highly recommended as the best Tapas in Barcelona. The wait was long, but so worth it. I can’t remember everything we ate, but these thinly sliced fried artichokes quickly became a favorite dish of mine in Spain.

After a good night’s sleep, Sarah and I began our day with a run down to the water. We were out of the hotel before 8am. The streets were so quiet and unoccupied. I loved running by the small shops that were just beginning their day, but not quite open. There were a few elderly folks out for a morning stroll before the city awoke, and the smell of fresh baked goods and coffee kept hitting our noses, tempting us to forget about the run.

Our excursions continued to be about Gaudí. He is so pervasive in this glorious city and with so little time, we wanted to see the stand outs. After the run, our group gathered to visit Park Güell. This is a 42-acre public park that Gaudí designed beginning in 1900. It’s a combination of landscaping and architectural elements. We walked the paths to the top of Carmel Hill and enjoyed another beautiful view of the city.

Park Güell

Park Güell

From there we were in for an amazing treat. By way of a friend’s recommendation, Doralice took us to Entrepanes Díaz for lunch. It was a tiny place off the beaten path, which most likely serves locals more than tourists. Incidentally, Doralice speaks Spanish, which I’m certain was a relief to the gentleman that greeted our gang at the door. We were the first to arrive, as it was still a bit early, but he was warm and welcoming. The food was excellent and the memory of that place is one of my favorites from the entire trip.

After lunch we went to what is considered to be Gaudí’s most famous work, La Sagrada Familia, an expiatory temple dedicated to the Holy Family. Gaudí toiled 43 years on this project, but died in 1926 at the age of 73, before it could be completed. Construction did not resume until 1954, and still it is not completed, but it is considered a masterpiece of world art. We were all in awe, from the moment we saw it from the street upon our arrival, to the moment we departed in our taxi. In fact, curiosity took hold from the rooftop of our hotel with its spires towering above the city skyline.

La Sagrada Familia

Inside La Sagrada Familia

Saturday night took us out of the city to Codorníu for a private tour and dinner with the entire wine club. Codorníu is the oldest Cava producer in Spain. The winery dates back to 1551. As much as I would have liked to have one more evening on the town in Barcelona, this was a wonderful experience and I’m very glad that were were able to visit a place so rich in history.

Tomorrow we set sail.

 

 

 

The Invite

An ordinary Friday last August. Your dearest friend and “sort of” coworker texts and asks if you want to get a beer after work. I say “sort of” coworker because while we work at the same winery, we don’t work together at all, and we were friends for quite some time before her commute became my commute. She’s a winemaker. I’m in the compliance department. I make sure that everything we are doing when we ship the wine that she makes to various states is legal. I also make sure that we are complying with the laws set forth by the U.S. Department of the Treasury that regulates the production and sales of alcoholic beverages; the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, otherwise known as the TTB. Boring stuff if you aren’t me I suppose because I actually like my job.

Anyway, back to that beer. We met at a place we occasionally frequent. Does that even make sense? If you only occasionally frequent an establishment then you don’t really frequent it, do you? But it’s on our way home and on the occasional occasion that a cold beer needs to be drunk before we make our way home, this is our place. We never say no to each other. At least not that I can recall. It’s a given. If one of us needs a quick beer, the other is available. I sat across the picnic table from the girl who has been my closest friend since moving to Healdsburg almost nine years ago. We both had an ice cold pint glass full of Trumer Pils. We cheered. And then she said, “Do you want to go as my guest on the wine cruise next May?”

I burst into tears. In a nutshell, there is a wine club cruise to far off lands every other year. A cruise that the winemaker goes on and is afforded a guest, be it husband, family member, friend… Since knowing my friend, who I will call Sarah because that is her name, she has always taken a family member. She said, “I want to take you. We will have a blast!”

I literally jumped up and did a happy dance.

 

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