15 December 2008

-2º and frosty

And I find myself back in Minnesota. It is -2º Fahrenheit right now. "Feels like" temperature is -18º. 'Tis the season.

09 December 2008

la sagrada família

La Sagrada Família, considered Gaudí's masterpiece, was begun in 1882 and will not be finished for at least another 20 years. Those big towers you see? The biggest ones haven't even been built yet. When it's finished, there will be 18 in all. Eighteen towers.

barcelona, spain

Two nights is much too short for Sevilla, but that was all I had before catching a flight to meet Melissa in Barcelona. 

Barcelona. City of many things, but for this trip, the city of Gaudí. We spent our one full day in Barcelona hopping from one Gaudí place to another; ate our picnic lunch in his Parc Güell. Good place for a picnic, I say.

06 December 2008

el laberinto

A palace garden isn't a palace garden without a labyrinth made of hedges.

el real alcázar

Although it was built on the site of a true Islamic fort, the Real Alcázar (translation: Royal Palace) was actually built in the 14th century by Christian rulers in the then-popular mudéjar (translation: "I love the Alhambra and want one for myself") style.

Not that I could really tell the difference between a 14th-century copycat and the real thing.

03 December 2008

sevilla, spain

From Lisbon I hopped an overnight bus to Sevilla, Spain. My instructions from veteran Sevilla-travellers at my Lisbon hostel (easily the best hostel in the world) were to "get lost and then go find some flamenco." They told me to get lost specifically in the Barrio Santa Cruz—one of the oldest barrios of Sevilla, known for some of Sevilla's most winding, narrow (cars don't fit), picturesque streets. The little alleys are so maze-like that even if I hadn't been trying to get lost, I still would have succeeded.

02 December 2008

pastéis de belém

Pastéis de Nata are little Portuguese custard tarts. The Pastéis de Belém shop in Belém, Lisbon is famous for their pastéis de nata, because they've been going since 1837, because their recipe is über-secret (rumor has it only three people know it), and because they're soooo good. They sell so many in a day that your little custard cup of heaven is guaranteed to be served to you fresh out of the oven, still warm. A sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar? Yes, please.

azulejos e pedra

01 December 2008

on porto and port (and european decorations)

Porto is port wine's namesake, and the place where most official port wine is blended and aged. Technically, though, the warehouses are across the river from Porto, in a separate town (although you wouldn't know it to look at it) called Vila Nova de Gaia. The big port producers all have Hollywood-style signs above their warehouses, peppering the hillside with "Sandeman" and "Graham's" and "Dow" and the like. The main tourist attractions in Porto, therefore, are the warehouses, where you can get a tour and—more to the point—a tasting for a few euros or less.

I went to Croft's warehouse for my free tour and tasting—and tasted a ruby, a white, and a twenty-year-old tawny. I could wax pretty eloquent about the history of port and its different types, but I'll spare you. Suffice it to say that I really like port. A lot a lot.

The top photo is of a Porto street (or two) and its seasonal attire. So far I've found most of Europe to be very good at dressing their cities for the holidays.

i spy

This storefront security camera proved more entertaining than was probably intended.

lisbon, portgual

30 November 2008

the douro valley

Port wine starts here, in the Douro Valley. After the grapes are harvested and crushed, the juice spends the winter in the valley, then makes its way downriver to the warehouses in Porto where it gets blended and aged.

The terrain of the Douro Valley is difficult, and the soil very rocky. The steep slopes require major terracing, and the poor soil doesn't allow much to grow other than grapes, olives, and almonds, all requiring roots to reach deep down to find water—some extending more than 50 feet through fissures in the schist.

I took the train into the Douro to the town of Régua (also called Peso da Régua). It was rainy and I didn't have a car so I couldn't explore the countryside, but there was a small (and interesting) museum on the Douro Valley and port wine that kept me occupied for hours. The train ride itself, though, winding alongside the river, was worth the trip alone.

[Note: I've given up trying to get this thing to upload my video of the train ride, so have posted stills from it instead. Click on the image and you'll see a larger version.]

seagulls and such

porto and the douro

28 November 2008

porto, portugal

Today finds me in Portugal, land of a thousand tile patterns. These tiles are my new favorite thing. And to top it all off, I'm in the city of Porto, home of port wine. Mmmm.

last visit to perugia

Perugia has been my crash-landing pad between jaunts (a free bed—errr, blanket on the floor—thanks to my sister's study-abroad semester). This marks my last Perugian breather, though—for this trip, at least. Final destination: the Iberian Peninsula.

22 November 2008

λόφος, δέντρο, πέτρα, θάλασσα (hill, tree, rock, sea)

On the advice of my domatia owner, Dimitri, I spent my afternoons in Nafplio exploring the coastal walks. A paved walk follows the edge of Nafplio's little peninsula from town and ends at the pebble beach just behind the hill. Another (unpaved) path leads from this beach, continuing southeast along the coast to a larger sandy beach, 3 km away.

Dimitri tells me that he walks this path every morning, and indeed, the locals were using it throughout the day as their jogging/walking/romantic stroll route. When Dimitri first told me about the walk, he tried to explain how great it was in his halting English: "Hill, tree, rock... sea," was the best he could do, but in the end, it's probably the best description possible, because that's exactly what it is. Walking the path, there is nothing but hill, tree, rock, sea... and sky.

Μυκῆναι (mycenae)

The morning of my second day in Nafplio, I took a bus to the ancient ruins of Mycenae. I won't outline Mycenae's history here; suffice it to say Mycenae was a central power of ancient Greek civilization, ruled by the likes of Perseus and Agamemnon, chronicled by Homer in his epics.

21 November 2008

palamidi fortress

The Palamidi Fortress, overlooking Nafplio and the surrounding gulf, is by far my favorite ruin. It was built by the Venetians in the early 18th century, and consists of multiple (at least five) bastions. After climbing the 860+ stairs up the hill (that's just to get to the entrance gate; once inside, there are many more stairs, depending on where you'd like to go), you're free to explore the whole expanse of the fortress on your own (and at your own peril).

Wandering around was so much fun (many of the bastions are well-preserved, and still have rooms and tunnels and such to poke your head into) that I made a video for you to join in. Prepare yourself for some jostling; it's quite difficult to keep the camera steady while scampering over 300 year old cobblestones.

λουλούδι (flower)

Nafplio is a two and a half hour bus ride from Athens, in the Peloponnese. The chatty Greek woman who sat next to me on the bus informed me that Nafplio was Greece's first capital, after its independence from the Ottomans in the late 1820s, until 1834, when the capital was moved to Athens. 

Prior to all of this, Nafplio was a major stronghold for each occupier, of which there were several throughout its history: the Byzantines, the Franks, the Venetians, and the Ottomans. The architecture of the old city center has a lot of Venetian influence, and is incredibly picturesque. There are flowers, um, everywhere. The last photo above is of a street drain. Clogged with flower petals. Not garbage, not stinky brown sludge. Flower petals.

20 November 2008

Ναύπλιο (nafplio, greece)

Greetings from Nafplio. I arrived last night in the dark, and woke up this morning to a sunny (albeit a bit chilly) morning, finding myself on the coast, overlooking tiled roofs, with two fortress ruins towering above me. So far, so good.

18 November 2008

greek donkeys

Before they built the cable car in the late 70s, the only way up to Fira from the old port down below was by donkey. Of course, now the donkeys are mostly for the tourists, but even without riders, donkeys still make their way up and down the caldera multiple times a day, bells tinkling. I have no idea what the man says when he answers his cell phone, but it's probably to the effect of, "Oh, nothing. Just riding a donkey."

σκύλος (dog)

My last day on Santorini, I headed to Perissa, at the south of the island, to check out the black sand beaches. This was my beach buddy. He joined me on the bench I was sitting on, and then proceeded to accompany me for the rest of my wanderings around Perissa—even sat with me at the bus stop for the half hour wait. I called him "Dog."

fira (of santorini)

Fira is the capital of Santorini, and sits at the edge of Santorini's giant caldera. Apparently the island used to be in the shape of a circle, but then around 1500 BC, the volcano (which is still active; it's that island in the center of this picture) erupted and formed the caldera, swallowing much of the center of the island, and turning it into the crescent shape it now is.

17 November 2008

Σαντορίνη (santorini, greece)

Santorini, island of cliff-hugging white-washed towns, black volcanic sand beaches, and breathtaking sunsets (or so I'm told... the sunset weather did not quite cooperate with my schedule). The top photo is from Oia, the town of sunsets, the photo below is from Fira, Santorini's capital, and my home base.

greek dogs and such

My first two nights in Greece were spent in cloudy Athens. In Greece, there are loose dogs everywhere. Usually large loose dogs. I'm not sure if they're all strays, or if their owners just let them run free during the day, but in any case, they spend their time alternating between lying on the sunny sidewalks playing dead, and following random passersby around, presumably looking for handouts. This particular dog pictured was neither large nor leash-less, but it was entertaining.

Also pictured is, yes, the Parthenon.

Ελληνική Κουζίνα (greek cuisine)

Mmm, Greece. Mmm, gyros.

Souvlaki, gyros, the thick yogurt, the greek salads, tzatziki, moussaka, not to mention the various pastries... it's easy to eat well (and pretty cheaply) in Greece.

12 November 2008

saħħa, malta

My last Malta post. How sad. I got back into Perugia late last night. Next stop, Athens! Above: the Maltese cross.