Barbados

As you may recall (I’m actually not 100% sure we talked about this on the ol’ blog), the choice to come to Barbados was based on a few things.

First, we had expected that sometime in this year of travel we’d have had some opportunities to swim around in some beautiful water somewhere. India we figured that Goa would be this experience, but Goa was not exactly that experience, and we quickly ran into fall and winter in Asia and Europe without ever having any “go to the beach and go swimming” experiences. So, we figured on the way home we’d stop somewhere tropical.

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The rest of Portugal!

I’m currently sitting at my kitchen table in Michigan, Tristan and Izzy are to my left and right working on homework. We’ve been home for three weeks. I mention this because although I know it sort of ruins the whole “reading a travel blog real time” thing, I feel like my memory is already fading and so I’m going to write as I remember things, which may not be perfect. After we left the mountain home, we headed to Porto. The drive was somewhat long, but not particularly eventful. Porto was pretty great. I think it was probably all of our favorite city in Portugal. It felt touristy, but perhaps also a bit more casual and a bit more approachable then Lisbon.

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Fatima, Grândola + Covilha (Serra de Estrella).

When my parents first got to Lisbon, we really had very little in the way of concrete plans set for the next 2 weeks. Initially, my mom and I planned to take the brunt of it, and the she got really busy with school and passed the task to me, and then I, knowing my lovely mother would want more input than she cared to admit, decided we would just “play it by ear” and plan as we went. That turned out to be a great idea, as it was that mentality that led us here. Originally, in our basic sketch of the trip, the plan was to head north and then take on the south, lounging on the beaches just before they arrived back home. Thankfully, our lack of concrete planning gave us the mobility to look at the weather, head south first and on our way up to Porto, stop in Serra de Estrella. It was my mom’s suggestion, and it turned out to be a highlight of the trip for all of us.
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The Algarve.

After a few days in the country, we headed to the Algarve, specifically, Lagos + Sagres. The city of Lagos was quite small and it was great for easy exploring. My parents went to the fish market, my dad waking up around 6 am one day headed down to pick out some delicious tuna for us for dinner. We celebrated Easter (Kev and i standing the entire mass from the balcony, my parents sitting at the alter) and found about 15 items wrapped in tissue paper hiding in various places around the house. We had a gin + tonic tasting event, “sponsored” by Kevin, who claimed (and was correct, sadly!) that given the chance to have 4 drinks, we couldn’t tell the difference between them. We went sea kayaking and swam in the beach. We went hat hunting for my mom (which turned out to be quite a feat!), and ate a delicious Indian dinner. My dad tried gelato for the first time, and they ate their first salted sardines (another Portuguese specialty). We ran on the beach, looked at cool urchins, played paddle ball while Kev practiced his card trick. We went to Sagres and ultimately to “the end of the world!” aka, the south-eastern most tip of Europe. We geo-cached and ate egg salad sandwiches and chocolate seashells on the side of the road. Needless to say, we killed it.IMG_6123
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Foupana + Tavira (Ihla de Tavira).

So, we drove south. Our ultimate destination was a little city called Tavira, and more specially, a tiny island off the coast called Ihla de Tavira. The plan for my exhausted parents, after weeks of preparing for this trip, was to chill out on the coast for a while, run on the beach, read a book, and relax. Knowing that we were going to be on the beach for the next few days, we opted to check out the Portuguese countryside, and man, what a great decision that was. We literally were in the middle of NO WHERE, or at least it felt like it, and it was a total change of pace from the busy city. We stayed in this amazing log cabin, were greeted by the world’s biggest dogs, and chilled out on the giant porch overlooking the desert-esque landscape. It was pretty cool.

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Lisbon.

So, needless to say, we were pretty excited that my parents were coming to visit. We ended up coming in to Lisbon via bus around 11pm the night before their arrival, and were picked up by the world’s most hospitable host (yet another Airbnb success story). Right off the bat, we were feeling quite spoiled, as it has not been the norm for us to have someone PICK US UP from anywhere, let alone in a car. Normally we’d be dealing with following our GPS god-knows-where and walking normally 1-4ish km from our stop to our place with our packs in whatever city it was that we happened to land. The fact that we had a real, live person meeting us to ease our transition into Lisbon was pretty damn awesome to say the least, especially after the 8+ hour bus ride in the back of a giant, bumpy bus with no air. On top of him being just a really wonderfully warm person, he also bought us dinner after explaining that he remembered “how difficult it was, traveling in the past, when [you’d] get somewhere late, and were starving and everything was closed…. ” Honestly, if there could have been a more perfect way to enter a new city, bellies full, warmed with the kindness of this man who we were only paying $22 per night to stay with, well, I don’t know what it would have looked like other than this.

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Southern France.

Jean Jacques, Elsie, and Christoph

After the weather in Palermo, Lindsay and I were both really excited to be seeing and staying with a family once again. So after flying to Marseilles and taking a bus to Monasque, we were so thrilled to get out and see Jean Jacques waiting for us.

Jean Jacques (JJ) is my very, very dear friend Nicola’s father, and Elsie (who we would see in half an hour later) is his mother. I had the brief pleasure of meeting them in San Francisco last year when they came to visit Nicola, but it was only that once. They are, in short, incredibly enjoyable people to be around and Lindsay and I both agreed that not for a second did we feel uncomfortable, awkward, or anything but filled with warmth, and thrilled and lucky to be getting to know them better.

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Barcelona Marathon.

Today, I woke up and decided to run the Barcelona marathon.

I don’t say that to brag, but it did feel quite a bit like that, if I were to be honest. Last night at around 7pm, Kev and I saw a sign advertising the race. I was a bit bummed, as had I known, I might have trained (I’d like to think so anyway :)) or done something to prepare for it, but I didn’t, and it was starting in about 12 hours from the time I saw the sign.

I woke up this morning and thought, “what the hell. I’ll just go enjoy the crowds and run as far as I want, and then stop” assuming it was going to be a 12-15km kinda run, as the MOST I have run on this trip was 9km. So we got up, walked to the subway, gave my biggest supporter a kiss, and I squeezed my way through the crowds to the starting gates. I didn’t register (obviously, it was closed) and so I was quite self-conscious the entire time about getting booted off the course. Thankfully, there were close to 20,000 people there, so I was able to remain pretty inconspicuous.

As we were running, I settled myself behind the 4’30 min mile markers and kept a slow but steady pace. I had no idea how far I was going to run, and just wanted to keep a normalized pace for as long as I could.

I couldn’t help but feel floored as to what a BEAUTIFUL city Barcelona is. After minutes of arriving at the bus terminal, Kev and I felt that this city had an unbelievable energy and life to it, and we loved it immediately. Running by Gaudi’s cathedrals, seeing the futbol stadiums, the unbelievable coastline and enjoying the sun – truly the city could not have looked more perfect if it tried.

Every 5km there were “refueling” stands supplied with oranges, nuts and water for our disposal. There were bands (most playing old school American tunes, which was awesome) seriously at every turn, dancers, Spanish guitarists, and unbelievable crowds the ENTIRE way. I have never seen anything like it. It was amazing, and truly such a testament to the people of Barcelona.

At km 12 – I felt amazing. There was no question in my mind that I was going to keep running.
Km 15 – the same. I decided here that I was going to run a half marathon, and then probably call it quits.

Around kilometer 20, I started to get CRAZY sore. My knees felt like they were going to fall off, my hips were tight, and my (stupid) Merrel “minimalist” shoes (which are NOT the shoes you want for distance, pavement running) where making the tops of my feet ache. I decided, okay, 21km = half marathon, that’ll be it.

Well, I got to km 21 and thought, “well, I’m already this far…now I’m literally stepping closer to the finish line with every step…” so I kept going. I have to say that at this point my time was 1:54. Despite the cheering crowds, honestly from km 25-35, I was really in a ridiculously rough state. It was here, that I must mention a few things….when I ran my first marathon in Bangkok (under similar circumstances) my mind was CRYSTAL clear. My body (knees) was aching like crazy, but my mind was in this “you are accomplishing a life-long goal. Keep going. This is nothing…” state for almost the entire race. I was never so confident in the power of the mind, and how our body really will do anything if we tell ourselves we can. That was NOT the case today (at least not during this 10km stretch). Minute after minute, I contemplated stepping off the course, and simply walking back to where I was going to meet Kev – but for some reason, I didn’t. I felt grumpy, sore, and honestly kinda sad.

probably contemplating walking next to this guy at this time
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Around mile 21 though, my world started to change. First of all, one of the corner bands started playing “Proud Mary.” Instantly, I flew back to my time with my nearest and dearest friends, David, Maj, Jenn, Olga (and a couple other coworkers) who busted out some serious moves to this song for our talent show last year. My spirits began to rise as I smiled and laughed, and sang it word for word until I couldn’t hear any more.

Seconds later, I turned my playlist back on, only to find “Aint no Mountain High Enough” blaring from the speakers. This song always reminds me of my mom and brothers, as I have countless memories of singing at the top of our lungs in the living room, BLARING it from the speakers, Kyle running around looking for homemade microphones of candle sticks, forks, stirring spoons or whatever other object might be laying around for us to use. Again, I started laughing and my spirits lifted.

Next, “Aint too Proud to Beg” and right after “Dancing in the Moonlight,” Sean and my favorite songs. I have perfectly clear memories of picking him up when he was in middle school (and I was a big bad senior in my rinky-dink Ford Ranger truck (complete with red pleather seats, mind you) honking to the beat of the ENTIRE song in the line of parents picking up their kids, trying to embarrass him (which never worked, and he only would roll the windows down and sing as loud as he could as we drove away).

Next up? “Wannabe.” and BOOM. I was back at our Senior Night with my besties, Court, Les and Laura, dressed in ridiculous getups in front of a green screen, doing everything in our power to lighten a difficult time in one of friend’s lives by singing and being silly.

Next? Missy Elliott’s “Work it”. and BOOM! Again, instantly transported back to 14, with another one of my best friends at the time, rollerblading to boys’houses we had crushes on, and getting ice cream from our local ice cream parlor.

At this point, I was still in a LOT of pain, and while my spirits were MUCH brighter, I was still in a bit of a fog. Next on the song list, “Rather Be.” I just found out about this song, but could not get over how perfect the lyrics were for this time in my life,

“We’re a thousand miles from comforts. We have traveled land to sea, as long as we’re together, there’s no place I’d rather be.”

All of a sudden though, among the THRONGS of people, there was Kev. Just sitting there, cheering all of the runners on. And, I started crying. With a HUGE smile on his face, he jumped up and started running alongside me, lifting my spirits with every step. My biggest supporter and #1 fan. I could do this.

For the last 2 km, as I quite literally hobbled to the finish line, I was bombarded with memories of my Dad signing us up for the Bobby Crim when I was just 7 years old, and all of us running together as we crossed the finish line, or the countless XC races he cheered me through in the freezing rain, as he told me to “push the hill!”. I was reminded that the hat that I was currently wearing was one my mom gave me after she and her best friends (Jan and Kathie) completed the RIDICULOUS feat of walking a marathon one day and a half marathon the second day, for Breast Cancer, and how unbelievably proud I was of them. I remembered running through the streets of San Francisco, with one of my dearest friends, Emily dressed to the nines in whatever ridiculous outfit we could think of for Bay to Breakers. I remembered my dad preparing for his marathon which he ran for my grandma and her battle with Lupus. I remembered getting a call from my best friend (the non-runner!) after she finished her first half marathon in Colombia and how infinitely proud I was of her. It was minutes before I was about to cross that I truly reflected on all of the people who have helped me get here. Running this marathon, or not, these people and countless more helped me learn how to make small goals to accomplish even bigger ones. These people have given me the confidence to even CONTEMPLATE such a feat – and I realized and appreciated just.how.thankful. I truly was to them.

It was about here, 100 feet from the finish line, that I got yanked off the course for not having my bib (despite trying to tell the guy that it was “con mi esposo!” He didn’t buy it, but that was fine. Looking up at my time 4:20:25, I realized I had surpassed my initial goal of the 4:30 group and felt like gold.

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Minutes later, Kev caught up to me, armed with bags of ice, anti-inflammatory cream and H20. Again, my biggest supporter. As we sat on the steps talking about the run, I couldn’t help but to feel like “Damn, that was something, but this was nothing….” totally clear-headed, and feeling remarkably loved.

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Reggio di Calabria.

We arrived in Reggio di Calabria via train (my first!) really not expecting much. I had read online that there was a great promenade for running (which proved to be QUITE true), but other than that, we really were coming simply because it was a great jumping off point to Sicily, which was to be our final destination in Italy. It turns out, that little ol’ Reggio di Calabria turned out to be awesome. We arrived to our hostel (after booking through hostelworld) only to be greeted by quite possibly the world’s sweetest guy ever who walked us down the street to another place, as the place we had booked was having water problems. Glancing at each other sideways (we have heard that story before), we followed the guy, only to have him take us to a perfect room in a perfect location. Rooftop terrace, great breakfast, wonderful, warm conversation…we couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Anyway, after talking to the guy, it turned out a few hours after we arrived there was something that translated to “the great stroll” which literally meant the entire town comes and walks around the main street eating gelato, window-shopping, teenagers chasing their crushes through crowded streets, lovers loving, families pushing their kids on tricyles…it happens every week, and it was honestly magic. It truly made me wish that I lived in a city where we (not only) had a main street, but had the type of community feel that they had here. Kev and I followed suit and walked up and down the streets snacking for about 2 hours before we came back to our room and turned on HOUSE OF CARDS.

The next day we….

Checked out the Farmers Market right downstairs from our place…
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Admired (and utilized!) the amazing Boardwalk Promenade for running/strolling (told you!)
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Ate delicious (cheap!) food – Great bang for our buck.
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Seafood Risotto
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Fish Lasagna
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Perused an awesome outdoor flea market!!!
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Took in gorgeous ocean views (Sicily just across!)
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One random memory: one night we went to this place that was recommended to us called “Lord Byron” for typical snack foods (pizza, calzoney type things, etc). It was PACKED because 1) it was SO cheap (everything was a buck) and 2) it was the perfect spot for young kids and their friends, or families to hang out. That night, we went and grabbed a quick bite to eat and a couple beers and walked outside to some of their outdoor seating. Right next to us, there was a table with about 10 10-12 year old kids chowing down on their snacks, and one kid drinking a beer trying to look SO cool in front of his friends (which, by the glimmer in their eyes, he was). Anyway, it was a great memory, one that made us both wish we were 11 again, and one I think we’ll always have.

Honestly, it was a great time. The weather was damn-near perfect, and I think we both were a bit sad to have to leave. It was such a slow moving city, but one that also had such a great vibe and energy to it. Attention those heading south! BE SURE TO STOP in REGGIO DI CALABRIA, stay at Casa Laguana and enjoy Southern Italian hospitality!

Amalfi Coast (Minori, Amalfi + Sorrento).

Our trip to the Amalfi Coast was honestly kind of a pain. From our hostel in Rome, walked to the metro, which we took to the outskirts of the city where we did another ride-share. We met at this rinky-dink little gas station (Q8) on the side of the road. From there, we drove about 2.5 hours to an airport, where we hoped bus to a city called Salerno. We were the only ones on the bus (guess we were the only ones stupid enough to head to the coast when rain was in the forecast!). After about a 45 minute ride to Salerno, we were again dropped off at the bus terminal where we grabbed yet another bus (after waiting in the pouring and FREEZING rain for 1.5 hours) to Minori.
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The bus ride the the Amalfi Coast was BEAUTIFUL, but never having great luck driving, I was crazy sick with the switchback turns. Another hour later, we arrived in beautiful Minori, where we were lucky enough to get to walk 950+ steps up the side of a mountain (no joke) with our packs. (Like I said, wasn’t the best day of travel we’d ever had, but certainly not the worst!). We arrived (somehow!) in great spirits (probably due to our insane view) and despite having un-perfect weather, were thrilled to be there.

So, our time in the Amalfi Coast looked a lot like this:
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Ridiculous, right!?

Although the weather wasn’t great while we were there, the views were nothing short of spectacular.
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The colors of the towns “popped” even more given the dark sky contrast
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And the fog/mist rolling in over the hills was awesome.
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We could almost imagine what it would have been like to visit in the summer, or some warm months when swimming might have been possible, but instead we collected rocks…
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Read on the pier (and made new friends)…
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Watched the sunset roll in…
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Enjoyed the town (and the cute little lemon trees)…
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Ate some delicious pasta a couple of nights, and had a really memorable night chatting with the owner one night (we were the only ones in the restaurant, so we were lucky that way). Talking with her was a highlight of our time in Minori, as was her delicious homemade limoncello that she gave us at the end of our 2.5 hour long meal. It is interactions like these that are definitely one of the perks of traveling in the off season. We saw her on various nights of our stay, and both times she took our hands and greeted us like friends. It was great.
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Enjoying views like this from our guesthouse (again, 950+ stairs up the side of a mountain just like you can see mirrored here)
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Walking from town to town on the windy sea-side roads….
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Kevin posing in Minori.
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Enjoying the SEAFOOD pasta (where it couldn’t have been fresher!)
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AND, taking a 7-course cooking class in Sorrento!

Because of all the rain (and the fact that we had been meaning to take a class while we were here), we decided to “bite the bullet” and take the class. After an almost 2 hour bus ride (only about 20km away, again, the switchbacks are no joke) we finally made it to the beautiful Sorrento. It was just us in the class, which was yet another instance where traveling in February has worked to our benefit. About an hour into our class, the chef’s father (speaking no English), beautiful mother (who was one of the classiest women I have ever met in person, and reminded me so much of my great-grandma) and aunt (also, Italian speaker only) arrived to come see what was happening, chat with us and talk food. Honestly, it was exactly like you might imagine an interaction with a bonafide Italian family might be. They were warm, and gracious, hilarious and honestly made our time 1,000 times better than it already was. It was awesome.
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All in all, our time in the Amalfi Coast was amazing. We were especially happy to have stayed in Minori, which was far less touristy than the other cities in the area. Despite our original plan to make our way south, south, south, we decided to head a bit north to Naples as rain was still in the forecast and we figured that if we were stranded in the rain, at least we would be able to indulge in copious amounts of pizza (which we did, but that’s for another post).
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