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July 11, 2006

We watched this sunset before dinner in Crescent City, CA on our recent Redwoods Roadtrip.
Crescent City Sunset

July 10, 2006

Redwoods RoadWhen I was young, my parents took my sister and me to see the giant redwoods along the very northern coast of California. The size, age, and number of these trees made a lasting impression on me, and I've been wanting to share the experience with Ania. Her mom's visit was the perfect excuse, so we decided to go on a week-long roadtrip to see the Redwood National Park and surrounding area.

 


Mendocino


Mendocino was our first stop, and we were hungry by the time we arrived, so we went to the Mendocino Hotel, and had clam chowder and fish 'n' chips battered with Red Seal Ale, which we also had to drink & really liked!

After lunch, we browsed the shops, went for a walk to see the ocean, then got back in the car and headed north. Along the way, we stopped at a gorgeous beach just north of Ft. Bragg, then turned inland toward Leggett.

PHOTO SUMMARY: Redwoods Roadtrip - Day 1 - Home to Mendocino

A Different Kind of Drive Through

We stopped in the small town of Leggett for some "drive through":

Drive through tree, Leggett

Although 101 would have taken us to our "destination" (more of a base of operations, really) much more efficiently, the whole point of this road trip was to enjoy the experience of getting there, so we took the meandering and much more scenic Avenue of the Giants, a showcase of the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. It was getting late, so we didn't spend as much time there as we wanted to, but we knew we'd return the next day, so we just took in the scenery.

O Fortuna!

Eel River Brewing Company We got to Fortuna, where we were spending the night, around 8PM. After we checked in, Ania and I headed to the Eel River Brewing Company. We had a "six-shooter" -- a sample of the six kinds of beer they brew -- and decided on their tasty IPA to go with dinner.
 

Leg 1: Home - Mendocino - Fortuna

Redwoods Roadtrip Leg 1: Home - Mendocino - Fortuna

September 30, 2005

After another luxurious breakfast on Hotel Eden's rooftop terrace, we went up a beautiful free-standing elevator to see a view of Lisbon. What stood out for me was the view of the ruins of Carmo Convent, destroyed in the 1755 earthquake that devastated Lisbon.

Lisbon - Carmo Convent ruins

We could have spent days just enjoying the architecture of Lisbon...

PHOTO SUMMARY: Lisbon architecture After a quick walk and hitting a few shops, we jumped in the car and headed off to Porto. We stopped at Lucia & Carlitos' house in Oliverinha and somehow stuffed all our suitcases (for 5 people) into the car, had a quick bite, and continued on to Porto.

I really wanted to stop at the (the city's cathedral), but since we arrived in Porto later than we wanted, we just drove by and saw it from the car, then headed toward the hotel we'd thought to stay in. It was booked, but we'd already found one we liked a bit futher out. We were ready for a break and had to get up early for our flight to London, so we took a whirwind driving tour of the city -- whose architecture was no less rich and stunning than that of Lisbon -- and checked into the hotel. I really wish we could have spent more time there!

PHOTO SUMMARY: Porto architecture

September 29, 2005

We weren't sure initially, but after such a nice anniversary evening, we decided to stay for two nights in Lisbon.  We'd thought to leave today and try to go stay in a small seaside town, but after getting a sense of how much there was to see of this beautiful city, we  knew we'd want to spend more time here.

Rooftop breakfast

Our day began with a simple but fulfilling breakfast on the hotel's rooftop terrace, complete with a swimming pool and a priceless view of the city.  We couldn't help but feel like royalty, sitting in the sun and surveying Lisbon from on high.
Rooftop breakfast at Hotel Eden

PHOTO SUMMARY: Rooftop breakfast at Hotel Eden

A castle beckons

We could see a castle in the distance, so we decided that our first adventure would be to go find and explore it!

It was the Castelo do S. Jorge, about which Frommer's says:

Locals speak of Saint George's Castle as the cradle of their city, and it might have been where the Portuguese capital began. Its occupation is believed to have predated the Romans -- the hilltop was used as a fortress to guard the Tagus and its settlement below.


We really enjoyed the "traditional" castle architecture and design, but were disappointed that there wasn't much of an interior structure; it was much more a fortress than a dwelling.  Nevertheless, Ania and I both like castles and we had fun there!
PHOTO SUMMARY: Castelo do Sao Jorge

Exploring Lisbon 

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking down from the castle and through the town, and had lunch in a sidewalk cafe.
PHOTO SUMMARY: Exploring Lisbon

Belém

Next, we went to the Belem district, where we visited:

The almost overwhelming Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (and saw the tomb of Vasco De Gama):
Mosterio dos Jeronimos

The Torre de Belem:
Torre de Belem

The Monumento aos combatentes no Ultramar (Memorial to the dead soldiers in former portuguese african wars):
Monumento aos combatentes no Ultramar

Afterward, we drove to the resort town of Estoril, and saw this sunset on the beach:
Estoril sunset
We finished the evening with a very pleasant dinner in Cascais.


September 28, 2005

We wanted to see some of the highlights of the country while we were in Portugal, so after we recovered from the wedding and enjoyed Aveiro with family and friends, we set off for Lisbon.

Fatima

On our way there, we stopped to visit the villiage of Fatima, where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared before 3 shepherd children in 1917.
Fatima children
We were happy that Ania's mother, a devout Catholic, had the opportunity to visit a place so important to her faith.
Fatima
We had a delicious lunch of grilled pork chops and rabbit (Ania's dad Roman, ordered this, and I tried it for the first time; it was really good!) at the nearby "Tasquinha Fatima", then got back on the road to Lisbon.

Hotel Eden

After a fair amount of frustration, we finally succeding in finding our way to the Hotel Eden, a stunning art deco theater building that was renovated to create the hotel.
Hotel Eden Lisbon
It sits on the historic Praça dos Restauradores, which as Frommer's says "was named for the men who, in 1640, revolted against the Spanish reign. The event led to the re-establishment of Portugal's independence."
Praca dos Restauradores Monument
Thanks for the help, Frommer's!
Frommer's Portugal
I have to give credit and thanks to Frommer's for really good, accurate hotel information, as well as very useful information about Portugal in general.  I took our "let's just go and we'll figure it out attitude" a bit too far and didn't buy the guide before we left, but we were fortunately able to get online while we were there, so we printed a lot of great info.  Next time we go somewhere we've never been, though, I'm definitely going to support Frommer's and buy the book!   

We checked into our rooms and were not disappointed.  The staff were very helpful, and the rooms were clean, modern (and had air conditioning!), well-maintained, and in fact, more than we needed; they even came with a kitchenette!  We learned that hotel rooms in Portugal typically don't have power until you insert your keycard.

Anniversary evening: Lisbon by night!

Although it had already been quite a long day of travelling, we decided to relax for half an hour, then set out and explore the city by night.  After all, it was the evening of our 4th anniversary, and we were in Lisbon!

I'd gotten a restaurant recommendation from one of the front desk staff, but in terms of romantic ambience, it was hard to beat a late dinner outside at a sidewalk cafe.  We were even serenaded by street musicians playing the accordion!
Anniversary dinner in Lisbon
We could not have asked for a more romantic, lovely, or memorable anniversary evening than strolling around beautiful Lisbon on vacation with our family.
Happy Anniversary in Lisbon

September 27, 2005

Fernando & Emilia rented a house near the beach for their London wedding guest friends, so we went to visit them and relax for a while.
Aveiro beach house
Then we walked to the nearby, almost deserted beach and enjoyed a spectacular day.
Aveiro Beach
After the stress of travelling and preparing for the wedding, we all enjoyed a chance to relax and have fun at the beach, laughing, collecting seashells, running from the waves, and splashing in the water.
PHOTO SUMMARY: Aveiro beach
Each of us seemed to find a few moments of solitude, taking time to really appreciate being here on this wonderful vacation, absorbing the sun, sand, and sea.
PHOTO SUMMARY: Aveiro beach solitude
The beach also has a way of bringing people together...
Aveiro beach 3 sisters
After the beach, Fernando showed us around Aveiro, which he told us is sometimes referred to as the "Venice of Portugal".  We had a late lunch of "dourada grelhada" (grilled sea bream) and walked around the city.
Aveiro Venice of Portugal

Aveiro palms
As we approached the Igreja da Apresentacao Parooquial da Vera-Cruz, Fernando explained (with a pride I'm sure he did not intend for us to see) that it had been attacked several times, but never fallen.  He even described some of the strategies that had been used to defend the church, which at that time was the heart of the city.  I was impressed that he knew so much of the city's history!
Aveiro Igreja da Apresentacao Parooquial da Vera Cruz
We had a nice coffee at a cafe opposite the church, then went back home to freshen up for dinner.
Aveiro church cafe
That evening, we took everyone to dinner to thank our hosts, but for the first half hour, everyone was focused on the game of "futbol" until Manchester United won Frown.

As we left the restaurant, we said goodbye to Luis and Erica, since we were leaving for Lisbon the next day while the kids were in school.  Erica  started to tear up as she hugged us and got in the car.  Although we couldn't all speak smoothly to one another, our two families had definitely developed a warm bond of friendship.

Fernando suggested that we visit the nearby home of some of his friends, whose parents were hosting some of the wedding guests.  We were initially a bit reluctant to go, since it was late and we'd had a long day.  But, we had tended more toward saying "yes" more than "no" on this trip, and had been happy with the results thus far, so we didn't object.  It was a lovely home, and a very pleasant atmosphere.  It's hard to describe what made it so; maybe it was the collection of people from so many different places, the late night, the way people sort of drifted between inside and the patio  that surrounded us with grapevines, or the fact that most of us were here on vacation, everyone was having a good time just hanging out, and it was a lovely late summer evening!
Portuguese patio
I'm not usually one to go on and on about "authenticity", but Ania and I both felt that this was real Portugal -- the kind of experience you can only have by chance.  Thanks, Fernando, for giving us such a pleasant experience of your country and friends!

September 26, 2005

Nice, lazy day of recovery after the late wedding night.

Somehow, Mom (who doesn't speak Portugese or English) communicated enough with Lucia (who doesn't speak Polish) that she was able to make perogies and doughnuts (using a deep-fryer; how did she ask for that??) in Lucia's kitchen.  She'd brought cheese from Poland to make the perogies, and they were a great lunch!
Perogies in Portugal
We  had a really fun, relaxing evening, just enjoying each others' company...
Good Company
Late in the evening, Carlitos opened a 40-year-old bottle of port his father gave him for a recent birthday.  He'd been saving it for a special occasion, and it was extraordinary!
Portugese Port
Just before bed, Fernando sliced up a pineapple, drenched it with a semi-sweet muscat wine, and covered it with heavy cream.  WOW, it was good!
Pineapple Surprise
We stayed up later than we should have, talking and joking.  I think in the back of all our minds, we were conscious that spread over the globe as we are, this kind of time with family and close friends isn't likely to happen very often.

We made the most of it. 

September 25, 2005

The morning of Emilia and Fernando's wedding was full of the usual stress and frenzy that's a part of every wedding day, but we eventually made it out the door, and Emilia looked beautiful!
PHOTO SUMMARY: Emilia and Fernando Wedding 01
PHOTO SUMMARY: Emilia and Fernando Wedding 02
Wedding guests outside church

Brothers and Sisters
Brothers and sisters  

The wedding ceremony was lovely, but unfortunately, Carlitos & family -- best friends of Fernando -- weren't able to make it until the very end.  They went to take care of something that Fernando's father was originally going to do, but couldn't.  Carlitos explained that they thought it more important that Fernando's parents be there to see the ceremony than they.  Now that's friendship!

True friends
True friends

The reception was held in a really cool building with a circular shape.  Music logistics didn't work out early on, but we made up for it later.  I'm sure the dance floor was worn down a few millimeters; it was almost never empty from the moment the music started.  The music started out as typical wedding music for most of the afternoon, but then we got to see what a great DJ they had, as he threw down some awesome tracks later in the evening and took it from a wedding reception to high-energy club dance.

Wedding reception hall

September 24, 2005

We planned to drive around Portugal with Ania's family, so we rented a station wagon and headed to Aveiro to meet up with Emilia.  We saw even more cool modern architecture as we passed through the outskirts of Aveiro:
Aveiro Arena

Cafe in the park

Our first stop in Aveiro was a pleasant little neighborhood park.  We had our first Portugese "cafe", admired the scenery & architecture, then walked around a bit to explore the neighborhood and stretch our legs while we waited to hear from Emilia.

Aveiro Cafe
Ania and I both like ironwork, doors, gates, and churches.  We didn't have to look far; these surrounded the park.

PHOTO SUMMARY: Aveiro Neighborhood

Reunion

Emilia sent us a text message to get back on the road we'd been on and head a few block further down town.  "Text Mom when you get there," she wrote.

Huh?

Just after getting there, we caught a glimpse of Mom's blonde hair zooming toward us as she ran to embrace her daughter.
Aveiro Reunion
Lucia, one of Fernando and Emilia's close friends here, had brought Mom & Dad to meet us -- they were dying to see Ania after more than two years apart, and Emilia was still busy with last-minute wedding preparations.  

New friends

We followed Lucia to the house where she, her husband Juan Carlos "Carlitos" (pronounced "Carlitosh"), and their two kids, Erica and Luis live in Oliveirinha, a small suburb of Aveiro.  Our host family, long-time friends of Fernando,  welcomed us with a memorable warmth and friendliness -- we knew this was going to be a pleasant stay.

Carlitos and Lucia
In true Portugese tradition, dinner was served sometime around 10PM, and it was delicious!

Dinner with our host family

Clock-wise from the left: Ania, Emilia, Carlitos & Lucia, Roman & Wanda (Ania's parents), Luis, Erica, Marta

Portugal Map Small 

Thanks to Frommer's Travel Guides for the image and great information about Portugal!

As we were on approach for our landing in Porto, we noticed that the city seemed to have a lot of bridges in close proximity.  Later, writing this, I did a quick search and found a Porto city tourism site that indeed refers to it as "Cidade das Pontes" (City of Bridges)".
Porto City of Bridges
I really enjoyed some the architecture we saw during our brief tour of the city, especially that of the airport:

Porto Airport 01 Porto Airport 02

Porto Airport 03

I knew we would see lots of old cathedrals and historic buildings in Portugal, but it didn't occur to me that we'd see a lot of interesting modern architecture as well! 

September 23, 2005

When I'm going on vacation, my first true sense of  relaxation comes when the ground -- with all the cares of daily life -- falls away as the plane jumps into the air.  Ania and I were on our way to Portugal for the wedding of Emilia, one of Ania's sisters, and her fiance, Fernando, who grew up there.

Goodbye S.F.

We were to arrive in Portugal on Saturday, attend the wedding Sunday, then spend the week visiting with everyone and exploring the country.  After that, we'd spend a night in London at Emilia and Fernando's apartment on our way to Poland, where we planned to spend time at home with family.  Neither of us had ever been to Portugal, and it's been more than two years since Ania's seen her parents, and longer for me, so we were really looking forward to the trip.

We were having a pleasant, (we really like flying on Lufthansa!) uneventful flight, until sometime in the middle of the night, something compelled me to open my window shade and take a look outside.  I was not at all prepared for what I saw.  The flight was taking the polar route, since it's the most efficient way to get around the globe, so we were pretty far north.  I had heard about the aurora borealis, but never seen it, and it was one of the most amazing sights I've witnessed.  I woke up Ania and we spent the next twenty minutes or so gazing in awe.

Our camera wouldn't have done it justice anyway, but we were both so entranced that it didn't even occur to us to try to take any pictures.  Fortunately, many very nice photos of the northern lights are available on the web.

Northern Lights

NOTE: We did not take this picture.  Source: Google Image Search, "Northern Lights"

One of the things that struck us was the movement of  the ghostly, glowing sheets, so slow and graceful we almost couldn't detect it.  The ethereal undulation of the lights was a remarkable counterpoint to the drama and power of this sight, which I can imagine might have inspired the word "heavenly".  I have never been so awed by nature, and I know we'll never forget this experience, a first for both of us.