A Travellerspoint blog

Nîmes, the Camargue, and Pic St Loup


View 2019 on mrb430's travel map.

We're sitting in the Paris Orly airport with a few hours to kill so it's time to update you on our sightseeing from Montpellier. Truthfully, I haven't written much this month because it's been a month of not doing much. For us, France was all about relaxing and just living life. There are a number of reasons for this: France is expensive so the usual eating out and carousing were limited, Montpellier not being a tourist town there aren't many touristy things to do, and the simple pleasures can easily fill your day.

A FEW THOUGHTS ON FRANCE

We did get a good feel for France, I think, in our month stay. And there are all the normal things you'd expect, great food, surly service, and a beauty to the towns and landscape not seen in many other places. But there are also things we found strange. For instance, technologically France is far behind Spain. Their cellular service has awful coverage, very few places offer free WiFi, and where there is WiFi it's pretty poor. There is a dearth of useable information for travel such as integrated apps for buses, trams, and bikes. The French really need to learn the meaning of "the last mile". They have maps of bus routes but they don't name the stops just put a dot on the map, the bus route schedules have the stop names but no address to find them on the map, and there's no real-time data about arrivals. The tram system is totally separate so using it is a whole other adventure. I will say the trams have a pretty good app, though. When searching for a regional train, the search brings back limited results and it's only when you enter the purchasing of the ticket that all of the trains become visible. And don't even get me started on the bike rentals. They have a bike program with bikes in many places around the city but finding them and using them is haphazard. I could go on and on but we got spoiled in Spain where all of this was readily and easily accessible.

France is also the first place we've been where a prescription is required for basic medications. When I needed a refill the pharmacy pointed me to a doctor across the street who could write the prescription. For about $30, I met with her for five minutes while she wrote out the scripts. No exam. It reminded me of when we first got here and I had to go to a plastic surgeon instead of a dermatologist because the latter can't do surgery. Professions and roles in the community are very segregated and defined. The idea that one person may serve several functions seems very foreign in France. I suppose it maintains job security but it is very inefficient (says the American).

Of course this latter issue is what makes shopping and cooking a fun activity. Go to the butcher for your meat, the poultry lady for your chicken, the fruits and veggies lady for those, the cheese guy for that, the bakery for your bread, the grocery store for other staples. We spent many mornings after our walk putting together ingredients for the days meals. And I did a ton of home cooking. Having the freshest ingredients really made that a pleasure.

Montpellier also has a very interesting mix of the old and new. The Port Marianne section, is full of modern architecture that's very pleasing and interesting. If we lived here, we'd live in this section.
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It also has one of the most unique cathedrals we've seen.
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And it has a zoo - for better or worse.
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And two things I have to throw in for Scott. In French, I guess, "hotel" translates to more than just a lodging. As in Hotel de Ville, which translates to city hall, or...
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And I'll let this one speak for itself!
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All in all, we really enjoyed southern France but it's not on the candidate list for somewhere to stay longer.

NÎMES

Begun in Roman times, Nîmes is a beautiful city with lots to see. Unlike Montpellier, it has a lot of greenery and a very large park designed in a Romantic style that reminded us of Sintra. It has fountains and squares among its small streets that make it feel very open and well planned.
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The most famous site is the Arena de Nîmes, one of the largest of the Roman amphitheaters and incredibly well preserved. Touring its hallways and the passageways and rooms below it is fascinating. After the fall of the empire, it actually turned into a sort of mini-town with buildings and even a mansion built into it. This has all been removed now.
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And unlike many monuments, this one is still used. They were setting up for a concert while we were there.large_IMG_1663.JPG

The other major attraction from the Roman period is the Maison Carrée, originally a temple. It had an amazing history of uses including private home for awhile.
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The highlight for me though were the Quais and Gardens de la Fontaine. Built around the natural spring that fed water to the city, they are a beautiful place to walk and relax right in the heart of the city.
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At the top of the garden is the Tour Magne, the last remaining tower from the extensive wall that surrounded Nîmes. The views from the top were awesome.
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TOUR DE FRANCE

We returned to Nîmes a few days later after learning the Tour de France was going to do a loop from there. It was really fun and we enjoyed spending another day in the city. It starts out a few hours before the race with the "Caravan" coming through giving out hats and t-shirts, all kinds of other give aways, and periodically spraying the crowd with water to keep us cool as it was very hot!
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Then the cars come through with the support teams, and finally the riders.
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About three hours later, we made our way over to the finish line.
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THE CAMARGUE

From Wikipedia:

With an area of over 930 km2 (360 sq mi), the Camargue is western Europe's largest river delta. It is a vast plain comprising large brine lagoons or étangs, cut off from the sea by sandbars and encircled by reed-covered marshes. These are in turn surrounded by a large cultivated area.

The delta of the Rhone river where it empties into the Med, it's a beautiful and wild area. Grapes and rice are grown here and black bulls and white horses. There are huge salt flats and the Baleine Salt Works.
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It's also home to a large bird sanctuary where there are flocks of Greater Flamingos.
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Aigues-Morte
We stopped in Aigues-Mortes, built in the 1200's and one of the few towns where the walls of the entire city remain intact. Rising from the marshes, it is quite a sight and well worth a visit.
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Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
A small beach town at the very end of the road, this cute little town has a church that you can climb up onto the top of for views around town and out to the sea. There is a small arena here where they still do the French version of bull fighting in which the bulls are not killed (just tormented).
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Espiguette Beach
Le Grau-du-Roi, another small beach town near Aigues-Morte boasts the best beach in the area and it did not disappoint. It is backed by large dunes and is very unspoilt.
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We spent a lovely afternoon soaking up the sun before heading into town to see the canal side shops and restaurants and then home. It was a great day and fun to have the freedom of a car for the day.
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PIC SAINT-LOUP

Our last tour before we left was of the Pic Saint-Loup winery region. We found a tour through Air BnB's local guides service and couldn't resist it when we saw we'd be chauffeured around this beautiful loop road in an antique Citroën 2CV!
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The road circles around the mountain called Pic Saint-Loup. It was so interesting to see it from so many different angles.
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We drove through the cutest villages, one even having its market day.
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We visited the remote Chapelle D'Aleyrac, a chapel plopped down in the middle of the vineyards.
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It was a beautiful day and we even stopped for a small picnic complete with wine with a view and a fun house mirror.
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Our "chauffeur" Christian made the day so special with his love of the area and of his car. If you ever get a chance, look him up!

Well almost time to board. Stay tuned for Croatia! And follow us on InstGram @arrradventures.

Posted by mrb430 03:09 Archived in France Comments (0)

Finding Moderation in Montpellier


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Its' been awhile since I wrote about our life and not just our adventures. Today the mood has taken me so read on if you're interested or skip to the end for our most recent day trip to Sète.

The saying "everything in moderation" is originally attributed to the Greek poet Hesiod (c.700 bc), "observe due measure; moderation is best in all things", and of the Roman comic dramatist Plautus (c.250–184 bc), "moderation in all things is the best policy."

But I prefer Oscar Wilde: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

SETTING A NEW PACE

I can't speak for Scott but upon leaving the constant party that was Mexico, Colombia, Panama, and Honduras, I was looking for a little more moderation. (Scott definitely exhibits more tolerance for the party life!) Alas, as fate would have it, our arrival in Spain (see A Long, Strange Trip to Malaga) and our subsequent month in Malaga (see Living Like a Local in Malaga) continued the party and shifted our waking hours to accommodate it. After basically writing off a month in Portugal, we've arrived here in Montpellier and have found a place not only tolerant of moderation but encouraging of it. Add to this that Scott started off our stay here sick, which kept us in from the party for a few more days and meant we weren't drinking at all, and you have the makings of a new moderated pace of life.

As I've said many times in this blog, we do cafes a lot better than we do tourism. We enjoy whiling away days sitting outside or in our apartment reading, researching, and just being quiet. And I can literally spend hours sitting on our balcony watching the people walk up and down our little street. We've been doing a lot of that here and it's giving us time to reflect on this life we've chosen, why we chose it, why we keep doing it, and why we like it. Of course our reasons are not all the same but for both of us the anonymity of travel is enticing.

I'm currently reading a book called, of all things, The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer. It's an okay spy novel but I was struck but the author's forward in which he writes that he'd been...

"...living in that tenuous non-place where many expatriate exist. It's neither the home you've left behind, nor an adopted culture - instead, it's somewhere in between: a country of the mind, in which English is the national language, the...buildings are an outdoor museum made just for you, and because of your disconnection from the culture, you can arrange your daily details pretty much as you'd like.
It's a world without roots, carrying within it all of the pros and cons this suggests...the rootlessness of the expat felt like a powerful thing to possess. I knew that at any moment, if necessary, I could disappear. Therein lies freedom."

That pretty much sums it up. It is the ultimate freedom but it comes from/with a certain disconnectedness from the world around you. We enjoy this anonymity but we also offset it by being together, by making each place we land our "home", however briefly, and by reaching out and making acquaintances when we need the human connection of others.

We like letting the currents of life guide us rather than fighting those currents to reach a destination. In other words, we arrange the daily details of our life as we like. We wake when we wake, we go to bed when we're tired, we eat when we're hungry, and yes, we party when we want to get out. We go to the beach if we need sun, we take a day trip when we're antsy (that's me usually), and we find the Irish Pub when we need company.

But it's been hard to maintain healthy routines. Neither of us gravitate to a healthy lifestyle naturally, when arranging our daily details these usually get left out! Looking back at our younger selves when we met, we are showing our age in our 50's. Part of this is natural and part of it can be addressed as we continue to move forward.

We're constantly talking about the big "what's next" and the truth is we still don't know. For now, we like being expats and making our home in a different place every month or so. We reaffirmed while in Portugal that we don't like to be on the move too often but prefer to spend more time between moves. So will we extend our time in a single place beyond a month? Will we do a six months on, six months off type year? Do we want more connectedness? These are all ideas and questions.

REFLECTING ON SERENDIPITY

And here my reflections on Serendipity come into play. If you've been with us for awhile, you may recall a post almost a year ago today on this topic. (On Serendipity, Transitions, and Cadeau) Saturday it will be a year since we lost our Boo and, in addition to thinking about her, I've been thinking about Serendipity. When you let life take you on it's own course, you end up where you need to be.

WHY MONTPELLIER?

Because moderation comes naturally here and a healthier lifestyle is easy.

CAFE CULTURE IS ABOUT SITTING OUTSIDE WITH FRIENDS
It is not, necessarily, about drinking. It's unusual for the French to drink more than a glass of wine or a spritzer during the day. There are Salons de Thé (tea salons) everywhere, all of the cafes have long lists of hot and cold drinks that are not alcoholic, and just sitting for an hour over a Perrier is totally normal. Notice the iconic green bottles on the tables of the cafe behind Scott.
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Add to this the French trait of not rushing customers off and you can enjoy sitting without feeling pressured to "order another". It doesn't hurt that a Perrier is typically about four Euros and a cocktail as much as twelve! So drinking in moderation seems less like a decision and more just the normal course of events.

EATING OUT IS EXPENSIVE!
At first, I thought with all of the prepared foods and cafes on every corner, we'd never eat at home. But given the combination of amazing ingredients, the relatively cheap cost of fresh groceries compared to eating out, and my love of cooking, we've been eating home more than expected. Smaller portions and meals is a direct result. Add to this that it's hot, which makes us want to eat less anyway, and moderation in our eating is just natural.

THE BUILDINGS ARE AN OUTDOOR MUSEUM MADE JUST FOR US
The Écusson neighborhood, the historic center, where we are staying is one of the largest pedestrianized zones in Europe. Strolling the narrow streets rewards around every corner with another plaza full of cafes and beautiful buildings. large_5bb32ec0-a3d2-11e9-a018-a359fbf00f17.JPG.

Almost every morning we head out in a different direction for a walk before it gets too hot. Another by-product of not eating out much is not having a couple of cocktails and a bottle of wine with dinner so we are getting to bed earlier and, yes, getting up earlier. Naturally. Today we decided to follow the aqueduct to see where it went. On the way we passed Montpellier's Arc de Triomphe and the Saint-Clément Aqueduct then followed the aqueduct up into the hills.
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So getting exercise, rather than a chore to be suffered, is just a natural part of our day.

SÉTE IS JUST A DAY TRIP AWAY
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The beautiful town of Séte is the terminus of the famous Canal du Midi completed in 1681 to link the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and is only a 20 minute train ride south of Montpellier. It is full of canals, boats, and lighthouses.
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It has a huge street market and is bustling with people, both foreign and domestic tourists.
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Séte is also famous for water jousting. From Wikipedia:

Water jousting is a sport practised principally in France and also Switzerland and Germany. It is a form of jousting where the adversaries, carrying a lance and protected only by a shield, stand on a platform on the stern of a boat. The boat is propelled by oarsmen or, in some cases, a motor may be used. The aim of the sport is to send the adversary into the water whilst maintaining one's own balance on the platform.

While in Séte we happened upon youngsters from the water jousting school of Séte getting in some practice. Really fun to watch. I imagine the professionals are really fun.
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IS THERE A DOWN SIDE TO MONTPELLIER?

We miss being at the beach when it's this hot. While Montpellier's beaches are, strictly speaking, accessible by public transportation, in reality it's a pretty long trek. Add to that there are no services except at private beach clubs where you have to reserve your chair in advance and the prices are exorbitant and, really, there are no services. But they are pretty so I'm sure we'll go a few times.

We may end up back at Séte, too, as the beach there is easier to get to and really lovely.
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And as Serendipity would have it, our next stop of Split, Croatia is "all about the beach"! But first stay tuned for two more tranquil weeks in Montpellier. And don't forget to follow us @arrradventures on Instagram.

Posted by mrb430 04:59 Archived in France Comments (1)

Magnificent Montpellier


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We left Porto and flew to Montpellier, France Monday and our moods improved immediately. It's warm, hot even, sunny, and beautiful. It's oddly comfortable even though we don't have air conditioning and we're in the middle of a record heat wave. Well, we all know we like it hot.

We are staying in the Écusson neighborhood, the historic center. It's more narrow, winding streets and huge medieval walls and homes.
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But these are lined with Fromageries, Boulangeries, Patisseries, and fruit and vegetable vendors instead of Tapas bars like Spain.
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We have a huge French doors that open to our small balconies and overlook the tiny Rue de L'Ancien Corrier. Musicians regularly set up beneath our window and play jazz. Jazz is not our thing and yet as I type this we are listing to French Cafe Lounge on Spotify. It's just somehow right here. (BTW try it out if you have Spotify - it's pretty cool.)
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Just around the corner are cafes.
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And at the top of the street is Halles Castellane. Our beautiful market. Not as big as our market in Spain but much more prepared food! I will not be cooking much here I don't think!
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Ok, I admit it. I'm a francophile. There is just something about this country. The food, the wine, and the beautiful language. Portuguese was like sandpaper on our ears and French is like honey. In addition, the people are warm and friendly (yes, I said warm and friendly). Much more than the Spaniards were even though I don't speak the language (I'm trying madly to learn however).

We are looking forward to exploring the Languedoc, the Camargue, eating shellfish, and going to the beach. Have a feeling it's going to be a good month. After the Portugal debacle, we are ready!

UPDATE ON SCOTT
For those following Instagram or who read the last entry, you will know Scott got sick on our cruise on the Douro. After a visit to a clinic in Porto and again here in Montpellier, (fingers crossed) he is finally on the mend. We don't yet know what it was as we are waiting on test results but the doctors here gave him some medicine that seems to be working. For the first day in TWELVE DAYS, he was able to really get out and about for awhile and his energy and appetite are coming back.

Interesting side note on insurance/healthcare costs abroad. We use Cigna Global for our health insurance and they have many direct-bill clinics so in Portugal we paid "nothing". In Montpellier, they don't have an affiliation with any out-patient clinics so we paid out-of-pocket and will be reimbursed. That gave us insight into the costs (US dollars).

Private ER consultation with IV fluids and anti nausea meds: $85.19
Full Blood Workup and fecal tests (for bacteria and parasites): $166.49
Sonogram: $61.24

Also, I went to see a plastic surgeon (dermatologists can't do surgery in France) about a cyst that may need to be removed (it doesn't). I got in the same day and it cost $90.70.

The idea that the US has the best healthcare in the world is an unbelievable fraud. I can't even imagine what two visits to the "ER", diagnostic tests, and treatment would have cost us but I know it would have been more than $320. Oh and his meds were under $10.

Well just a quick update now but stay tuned. July is gonna be fun! Happy 4th to all those back home. Hope you have a great holiday.

Make sure to follow us @arrradventures on Instagram for more updates.

Posted by mrb430 11:30 Archived in France Comments (0)

Lisbon, Porto, the Douro River, and Beyond


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Oh Portugal, we wanted to love you. But as I sit on our balcony in Porto looking at the Douro River covered in fog and clouds I am in wool socks and a down jacket while the rest of Europe is in a heat wave. Your beauty is undeniable, your people are friendly and speak English, your residency requirements are easy but your food and your weather (two of the most important aspects for us) leave a bit to be desired.

FUN FACTS ABOUT PORTUGAL

Like much of Europe, the cable TV has American content. Unlike most of Europe, it is not dubbed but rather subtitled in Portuguese! As a result, many people learn English from TV and almost everyone here speaks some English. It doesn't hurt that they get a ton of British tourists.

Coimbra is home to one of the oldest universities in Europe and the students here still wear the traditional cloaks. They inspired J.K. Rowling to cloak her Harry Potter characters in similar ones.
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Portugal is hilly, mountainous even. We had no idea that virtually the entire country is rolling hills and a range of mountains that even my parents from Colorado were impressed by. Makes for beautiful scenery and challenging walks!

The Portuguese have a serious animosity/inferiority complex towards the Spanish. I can't tell you how many times I heard some disparaging remark about the Spanish - usually said in that "I'm kidding" sort of way where they're really not. Apparently it comes from the many wars and battles between the two historically but I'm thinking in modern times it's also a bit of a defense mechanism to say "hey - we might be small but we count!" Conversely, I'm not sure the Spanish think about the Portuguese much except maybe as a nice place to visit.

LISBON LIFE

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Lisbon is a beautiful, historic, and very hilly city worthy of a visit if you find yourself in Portugal. Built among seven hills on the Tagus River, the city spreads up from Praça do Comércio (Commercial Plaza - above) onto each of the hills with the São Jorge Castle dominating the view.
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And through the Rua Augusta Arch (which you can and should go to the top of) into the pedestrian streets of Baixa. large_IMG_1429.JPGlarge_ebc3f850-9a54-11e9-ae89-df7fe2e0ab07.JPG

The streets of the oldest quarters are narrow, winding things while the newer areas are full of wide boulevards. The oldest area and the only one to survive the massive Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 is called Alfama and the "streets" and stairwells are a maze of history. The best way to see it is on foot, via the trolleys that navigate its "wider" streets, and the ever present tuk-tuks that zoom up and down the hills.
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Hold on! Those tub-tuk drivers are crazy!

If you can, time your visit for June. During the entire month Lisboa è Festa is underway with open area parties organized in each neighborhood almost every night. The streets are festooned with streamers and there are open-air food and bar stands and of course sardines over wood fires!
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In the evenings, at the bigger ones, there is live music and dancing.
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We stayed in the neighborhood called Barrio Alto where a party begins every night about 10 PM and lasts well into the morning. It's a fun vibe with everyone standing in the streets drinking and socializing. The bars are tiny and really just there to house the live music and serve the drinks. The party is in the streets.
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VIKING RIVER CRUISE ON THE DOURO

My parents joined us in Lisbon and we began our touring with Viking of the Douro River. It was so nice to spend the week with them and share the experiences and travel. SO glad they could come! As I write this, they are now in Barcelona exploring that city before another cruise in the Mediterranean. Now as ever, they are our role models!
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Before leaving Lisbon, we visited the Belem Tower and the Jerónimos Monastery. We also toured Alfama and took a tuk-tuk ride (see picture above).
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The highlight though was the river itself. Divided into three main sections, the first closest to Porto and the most developed, the second that has the majority of vineyards for port and wine, and the third that is highlighted by narrow gorges, it is some of the most beautiful scenery we have seen.
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Part of the fun is going through the five locks along the river. A first for Scott and I, it was really cool!
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My parents did the included tours every single day but Scott and I only made it to a few. The ones we did we really enjoyed: a trip to the Aveleda Winery, the Mateus Palace at Regua, and Salamanca.

QUINTA da AVELEDA
I have been drinking Vinho Verde from AvEleda since I was in my twenties so when I saw it was on the itinerary I had to go. It was a beautiful trip as the winery is set amongst rolling romantic gardens that had their hydrangea collection in full bloom.
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I made Scott pose with this one so you could see they are bigger than his head!

It was also filled with lakes and little buildings that were beautiful.
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And the cellar tour and wine tasting was very interesting!
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MATEUS PALACE AND GARDENS
This is a picturesque palace with an amazing formal rose garden. Lucky us! June is roses month!
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SALAMANCA
The furthest point on the river that we traveled to was only five kilometers from the Spanish border. As a result, we took a day trip to Salamanca, Spain. And for the record, it was warm and sunny and the food was great! Haha! Serendipitously, Scott and I were also able to re-up our phone plans and pick up some medicine.

Salamanca is a beautiful city they call the "gold city" because it is built out of sandstone that oxidizes into a beautiful gold color.
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Another highlight is one of the oldest Roman bridges in Europe.
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Definitely put this on your radar for a visit to Spain and/or Portugal. I wished we had more time there.

AND NOW FOR A LITTLE HONESTY...

I've learned to never say never but it will be a very long time before we do another river cruise. Although I was skeptical going in, I tried to keep an open mind. Many of you have heard me say I'd never do a cruise (remember never say never) but I thought it would be a great way to spend time with my parents so when they suggested it, we went for it. You've seen the good parts of the cruise above. The river was beautiful and peaceful. The places we visited pretty and interesting. But...

It was a shock to our systems. After being just the two of us for so long, we were thrust into a group of 103 other people in close quarters who were all on their vacation and anxious to chat and get to know each other. It was like going from the hot tub to the snow bank! After getting our schedule down for so many months, you know waking up late, sitting about until noon, exploring our surroundings leisurely, we found ourselves in a world where the perky voice of your program director comes into your stateroom at 8:30 AM reminding you your tour is leaving in fifteen minutes, getting on buses, getting off buses, following a tour guide with a little sign as you speed past the highlights, having the tour guide talking in your ear constantly through the wonders of the audio earpieces, and having every waking moment scheduled. From the time you eat, to the time you socialize, to the times you are entertained, it is all scheduled. We just don't do schedules anymore and it was really disconcerting.

Add to that, Scott was sick most of the time and stuck in the stateroom. He was miserable. The internet was mediocre so he didn't have much to do except binge-watch Clint Eastwood movies (the only real TV station they had was having a marathon apparently). Not sure what it is with him and boats but his track record is not good! This left me on my own to navigate this new and strange world and it had the makings of disaster. In the end, I opted out of a lot of tours and activities and just enjoyed being on the ship alone while everyone was gone. I woke up late, made my own schedule, and recharged for the return of my new 103 best friends. And here I have to give a shout out to the group of six Brits that adopted me the last two days. If you guys are reading this, you know who you are. If not for them, I'm not sure how I would have made it to the end without a total meltdown. So a HUGE thank you to their generosity and kindness. And also to the bartender and musician who gave some semblance of normalcy to my evenings.

I DID get to spend some good, quality time with my parents, though not as much as you might think given the long bus rides and crazy schedules. Next time, I think we should just rent an apartment and hang out together! For sure the food would be better if we cooked it ourselves. We thought the one thing we could count on was a cruise having good food but this cruise even undermined that assumption. My parents and Scott assure me it's better on the big boats but I remain skeptical. And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

PORTO

The cruise departed and arrived back to Porto and Scott and I are spending another four nights here before heading to France.
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It's our favorite city in Portugal as it combines the beauty of the tiled buildings and narrow pedestrian streets with a sizable city built around the riverfront. Oh, and it doesn't hurt we're off the boat and into our own apartment.
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So far we've ventured to the grocery store and to the local cafe but mostly are sitting on our porch catching up on life.
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If we ever get out and about exploring before we leave, I'll post a few more pictures.

AZULEJOS

I really would be remiss though if before I close I didn't mention the amazing Portuguese tiles called Azulejos. They cover the outsides of buildings, the inside and outside of churches and palaces, they are decoration and story-telling. There is even an amazing museum dedicated to them in Lisbon. For 500 years they have been a part of the story of Portugal and their development over that period is a story unto itself and an interesting one at that.
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Well the fog has burned off and the sun is out and themes are warming. Time to end and get out and about for awhile. Don't forget to follow us @arrradventures on Instagram for more frequent updates. Next up, Montpellier France and our plans for the fall!

Posted by mrb430 04:46 Archived in Portugal Comments (1)

Impressions of Sintra, Portugal

And Thoughts on Being a Traveler Not a Tourist


View 2019 on mrb430's travel map.

WE ARE TRAVELERS, NOT TOURISTS

This has come to be a significant difference for us as we strive to live in other countries. Let me explain.

THE DIFFERENCE
Arriving in Sintra, Portugal was like landing in a town-sized amusement park. It is filled with tour groups, long lines of tourists waiting for buses and to enter attractions, and overpriced cafes all offering the same fare. Don't get me wrong, it is a beautiful town but here is where the difference between being a traveler and a tourist comes into play. We've been doing this long enough now that we are very used to the life of travelers. In other words, staying in different houses and making them our own, balancing eating out with eating in, finding the local things to do and ways to live, taking local transportation, and seeing the tourist sights when and if the mood strikes us. We no longer feel the need to visit every palace, every fort, or every [insert tourist site here] in every place we visit. We often want to just hang out and read, walk the streets "shopping", or sit in the sun with a glass of something. Getting out of the house before noon is unusual and we even spend entire days lounging around our "house" sometimes. This is what it means to live on the road.

The problem when we land somewhere that is so touristy is that we can't find a grocery store, the local transport is crammed with tourists not knowing what they're doing, there are no locals around to interact with and very few, if any, local establishments (aka cheaper and more authentic). You are bombarded by loud, impolite people at every corner and groups walking 3-4 abreast on the sidewalks oblivious to you coming the other direction. Also, housing is much more costly and usually not as nice (for what we can afford), which means not nice to just hang out in.

So, we end up hanging out in the most out of the way place we can find until late afternoon when the tourists are getting back on their buses and then heading out to explore and see a sight or two. I'm sure this may sound snobby. Believe me, I know how fortunate we are to be able to travel the way we do. And I certainly wouldn't want to discourage anyone from being a tourist (although please try to be considerate of others when you are). When you're on vacation, you want the ease of tours and to see the main sights of everywhere you go. You're in a rush. And we used to do that, too. In fact, we will be doing it again as we do our river cruise on the Douro River with my parents this week.

It's just that now constantly interacting with people that are in a rush, on a deadline, and often a little lost can be tiring, stressful, and frustrating when all you want is a relaxing cup of coffee in a quiet cafe before you start your day or to stroll slowly down the street from your house to that cafe without having to elbow your way through. This could be an American "personal space issue" but as we are American and we do consider forcing others off the sidewalk rude, it's irksome. I will admit I've come to a point where I just keep walking at them and will actually run into them if they don't make space. I learned this in Malaga as it's the norm there and while I feel distinctly un-American it also makes me feel like I'm winning small victories for civility every time I do it. We've already started veering more and more away from these places and this way of travel and you will likely see that trend continue in our future.

THE SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCE
And then there are the social media effects and, in my mind, they are twofold. And let me first say that I know we participate heavily in social media and so are as much to blame as anyone at this point. The first issue is that so many of the most famous places to visit anywhere you go are heavily represented in gorgeous, photo-shopped photos on the internet. If you look at too many of these in your research, eventually getting to the real thing can be a let down. In a way, you've already been there so you kind of say "yeah, looks just like the photos". I would really suggest you avoid this by using tour guides more and the internet less.

The second issue is all of the people at all of these sites trying to recreate these awesome photos for their own social media posts. The endless posing and the seeming lack of interest in the thing itself other than for its InstaGram-worthiness is unsettling. It also leads people to be very selfish. They seem oblivious to others that are taking pictures and will walk through or stop in the middle of someone else's shot to get their own. This could also be an American "personal space issue" but nevertheless. I think its this quest for the best photo that makes people fall off the edge of the Grand Canyon viewpoint - Darwin Award anyone? For us, it means taking a lot less pictures at these "prime" spots, trying to focus on why we came and what the history is instead of on getting the best photos. It also drives us to the less touristy and more out of the way things to see. You may see these changes in our future posts.

Ok, enough on that. Just wanted to share some of the reality of choosing life on the road, trying to actually live in the places we visit, and the implications.

SINTRA SIGHTS

But, like I said, Sintra is a beautiful place with an interesting history and many fine sights. Sintra, as with most of the Iberian Peninsula, was first inhabited very early and changed ownership with the Romans, Moors, and Catholics among many others over time. Because of the devastating Lisbon earthquake in 1755, not much is left from these periods except the ruins of the Moorish Castle that dominates one of the tallest hills...
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...and the Palace of Sintra that started as a moorish palace and dominates the town square with its two iconic towers.
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The small streets, winding walkways, and beautiful old walls are likely also a result of the moorish influence.
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Sintra today is the result of Portuguese and European aristocracy rediscovering Sintra in the early 19th century and building their summer palaces (huge houses) there. This was the height of the Romantic Period of architecture and literature and the cooler climate and green mountains appealed to those tastes. We could see why. Sintra is built among the towering hills of the Sintra mountains and the roads and walkways are steep and winding. It makes for incredible views as the various palaces peek out in layers up the hillsides.
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The two we visited were the Pena Palace and the Quinta da Regaleira. One of the best parts of the Romantic influence is all of the huge gardens and green landscapes associated with it, which turned out to be our favorite parts.

PENA PALACE
The Pena Palace was built by Ferdinand II and is the height of Romantic Architecture. It's at the very top of the highest hill and the trip up on the bus is along a very narrow, winding road through green gardens and forests. It is a fairy tale palace of color and texture. Everywhere you look you think "this is the vision of a palace that a little girl has in her fairy tale dreams".
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It was so windy and cold at the top of this highest peak that we felt we would be blown from the ramparts! We were happy to head away from the crowds and down into the enchanted gardens. They imported plants from all over the world such as giant Sequoias and Australian Tree Ferns. It is a fabulous place and so worth a visit!
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QUINTA da REGALEIRA
This palace is especially nice because you can walk to it from town. The palace is beautiful with richly detailed carvings inside and out.
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But again the gardens were the highlight.
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There are towers and plazas and two grotto systems that travel from one place to another in the gardens through tunnels underground. To enter one, you climb down into the famous Initiation Well. The design and execution are as detailed as for the house.
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Yes, the pools are literally covered in violent-green algae. Made it a little surreal like there was a carpet you could walk out onto.

All in all Sintra is worth a visit as long as you know what you're getting into. We moved on to Lisbon and are really enjoying the city and again being in a place large enough to absorb the tourists and give us space to move and live. As an aside, the only place we've visited so far that Scott can really see himself living for any extended period of time is Amsterdam, DESPITE THE CRAP WEATHER. I think a large part of that is that it absorbs the tourists well and there is so much area that's really beautiful but outside the main tourist zone that you can be a "local". Stay tuned for more on Lisbon in our next post.

Don't forget to follow us on InstaGram @arrradventures for more frequent updates.

Posted by mrb430 03:51 Archived in Portugal Comments (3)

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