Friday, June 1, 2012

Up and Down

Ola everyone!! We took the night train from Madrid to Porto which was an adventure in itself. We were unsure about how our sleeping compartments would work since our tickets had Thomas in bed 15 and me in bed 11. Well, being the Americans we are, we assumed the beds go in numerical order...I was so paranoid that we would be in separate compartments. Thank goodness they don't follow the American way.

We arrived safely to Porto with not much sleep from the night train (we were right next to the bathrooms and tunnels tend to make the train a little noisy!). While waiting for our rooms to be ready, we grabbed lunch with Hobson (Thomas's advisor) and walked down to the conference center so they could check in (keep in mind, we had not showered in a day and a half so I'm sure we were a pleasure to be around!). Once we were finally able to get into our room, we cleaned up and went to a reception for the conference on the river. By the way, we were upgraded in's a glimpse into our luxurious hotel...

Thomas' conference went well, which included attendees from all over the world. He made contacts with folks from the UK, New Zealand, Latvia, among others. Hopefully publications will materialize! While Thomas was away for a minute, Hobson raved about how well his presentation went. He said he knew he never needed to worry about him and talked about what an effective presenter he is. I'm so proud of him!!

While Thomas was busy with the conference, I ventured out on my own and toured the city. Porto is an absolutely beautiful city. The only downside (literally) is you're either walking up a hill or down a hill! This town is not flat!! I'm pretty sure I burned a lot of calories! And don't worry, I told our concierge I was going to wonder around by myself in order to see if there were any areas to avoid. Although there is more of a language barrier here, the people are still very nice! We definitely would like to return to Porto and the surrounding regions!

On our last night, we had the opportunity to attend a dinner and port wine tour at Taylor's across the river with the conference (thanks to Hobson for getting us tickets). The winery had a beautiful view of the city. We were lucky to have a very interesting table for dinner which included people from Italy, Uganda, South Africa, and Nigeria. We talked to the man from Nigeria for a while after dinner. It was amazing to here his story about why he was attending the conference and see so much passion for his cause (oil spill and water availability issues).

We arrived in Lisbon last night and are currently heading to Cascais, a beach town on the Atlantic, for the afternoon. We'll post again soon!


Monday, May 28, 2012


Hemos estado en movimiento desde su llegada a Madrid (We have been on the move since arriving in Madrid). We started our first full day in Madrid with another bike tour since we had so much fun on our first one in Barcelona. Needless to say, it was not the leisurely tour we anticipated. Madrid is not flat by any means. Our tour guide, Jose, was ready to cover some ground. I would estimate we rode about 10-15 miles in a 3 hour timespan with several stops in between. Our group this time included 2 girls from London, a couple from San Francisco and us. A few highlights from the tour...the park, "El Parque del Retiro", (see picture with people boating in the pond) was once used as the gardens for the Palace until the 1960's when it was opened to the public. We rode through a lot of plazas and numerous cobblestone streets. The Royal Palace no longer houses the Royal family but it has over 3000 rooms. Try playing hide and seek in there!!! The picture below is Plaza Mayor. This particular plaza once served as the local bull fighting arena. People would gather in the balconies around the plaza and watch the bull fights.

Again in Madrid, it's quite surprising to see so much retail in this area. Every street we turn on is full of clothing and shoe stores. To my despair, I have not seen one antique store! I'm hoping for more luck with antiquing in Portugal (or at least finding some hand crafted linens!).

We ate dinner at a great restaurant overlooking the Royal Palace and ended our night at Las Tapas Flamenco Live Show where we experienced a local favorite in Flamenco dancing. Unfortunately, we were not able to take decent pictures of the dancers but we tried to capture the intimate setting we were in. Not exactly what we were expecting..


Today, we are starting to feel a little weary from the biking and walking so we enjoyed a morning to sleep in and leisurely stroll down to the local market for an early lunch. What is nice about the market and their culture in general is most serve tapas so you can pick through several different types of food to create your meal. Afterwards, we walked down to the park to take a few more pictures and relax while we wait for our next adventure...the overnight train. Tomorrow, we anticipate the change of a new country and different culture and language.


Tener una buena tarde (have a good afternoon)!


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Of All The Gin Joints....

We started our Friday exploring the Barri Gothic area in search of our bike tour. We found our tour guide, "Buddha" (originally from Sidney), in the same plaza where a political protest was ongoing. Barcelonians as we learned love a good riot. Our Fat Tire Tour group included the eclectic Buddha, college girls from Connecticut, newly weds from Michigan, two couples from London, and a Chinese man. We rode throughout Barcelona (see attached pictures) learning the true history of the city with a little "Buddha" flare. By the way, Barcelona missed out on the chance to build the Eiffel Tour for the World's Fair, instead they got something that looks fairly similar to the Arch de Triumph in Paris. After three hours of touring the city, we ended up on the beaches of Barcelona for lunch and Sangria. Buddha gave us some great dinner recommendations in the Born area. We ended up at a toothpick tapas bar (see pictures) that was phenomenal. It was self serve, and they literally charge for how many toothpicks are on your plate.
By the way ladies, if you love to shop, Barcelona is the place to shops everywhere!!

Saturday...after a three hour train ride, we ended up in a much different place than Barcelona...Madrid. There are sooo many people here. Everywhere you turn there are crowds of people. Among the chaos, we settled in for dinner outside our hotel along the street which is a typical venue for dinner in Spain. Of all the gin joints in all the worlds, we happened to sit next to a couple that once lived in Enterprise, Alabama. Jose and his wife are now a long way from Enterprise currently residing in San Juan, Puerto Rico and delivering organs for medical purposes to the United States including Birmingham. We ended dinner having after dinner drinks with Jose and his wife discussing rednecks, UAB, Tulane, water policy, the green movement in Puerto Rico, and Bear Bryant. We have an open ended offer for a plane in San trip possibly?

Tomorrow holds another bike tour and a Flamingo dance for dinner. Details to follow...

FYI family...Marques is corked and more expensive in Spain.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

No Reservations

Trying to live the life of Anthony Bourdain is pretty much unrealistic for us, but I felt we really got close today as we arrived in Barcelona and started to tour around on our own. If you haven't ever watched Anthony Bourdain "No Reservations" on the travel channel, I would highly suggest it. Although he is a little crude, he gives a great reflection of the culture from each city he goes to. Thomas and I became obsessed when we started planning our trip to Spain and Portugal. Of course we started our journey through the new international terminal in Atlanta which really makes you feel like you're flying in elite status...decorated with low hanging chandeliers as you approach the top of the escalator and enter into the main lobby and begin your way to your terminal which isn't nearly as crowded as the other part of the airport. We landed in Barcelona at about 8:30 in the morning (1:30 am central time). We braved the railway system blindly as we made it to within walking distance to our hotel and had a little entertainment on the way (note the accordion player). We barely made it through the afternoon without a nap, but made a morning of walking down the La Ramblas (the most famous and diverse street in the city). We ventured into the local street market where they sell fresh seafood (see the huge "prawns" in the picture), tons of fresh fruit and veggies and more candy than Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. We also wandered down to the coast and admired all the sailboats in the port. The best part of the afternoon was lunch where with "no reservations" Thomas ordered fried small fish tapas thinking it was more like small filets. Small fried fish is the same as small fried minnows (notice in the picture the beady eyes staring at you!) After taking a break in room, we ventured back out into the Barri Gothic quarters for an afternoon cocktail and stroll before we ended our night at a fabulous tapas restaurant at the end of the open air market.

We had a great day today on our bike tour. Stay tuned for more pictures and stories to come.