Monthly Archives: May 2015

Portugal

If you’ve ever been to San Francisco, you can’t help but be reminded of it when visiting Lisbon. The city’s multicoloured buildings rise up above the hills in all directions, streetcars wind their way up and down narrow lanes, and there just so happens to be a spitting image of the Golden Gate Bridge stretching across the Tajo River from Lisbon to Almada. Comparisons aside, though, it’s a cool place to explore — just so long as you don’t mind being approached every 15 minutes by someone looking to sell you everyday kitchen spices passed off as drugs. The walk along the waterfront to neighbouring Belém is nice, where the town lays claim to an ancient monastery and some excellent pastries (more on that below).

On my last full day in Lisbon, I took a train with some friends to nearby Sintra, an historic area full of castles, palaces, and mansions. Near Sintra, we also spent another day learning how to surf in the chilly Atlantic. It was some of the most fun I’ve had on the whole trip, and despite swallowing what felt like a litre of salt water in the morning, by the afternoon, we were riding the waves more frequently than we were falling.

Porto is relaxing — that’s the best way I can describe it. The weather isn’t quite as warm as Lisbon, but it’s comfortable all the same. I was there during the Serralves Festival, where I got to hear some fantastic live jazz and a little-too-experimental-to-be-enjoyable piano performance. Mostly, though, I was content to walk around the city.

Things I’ve seen:

Streets of Lisbon.

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Moorish Castle, Sintra.

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Porto along the river.

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What I’m watching:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2QqZvHdS04

What I’m listening to:

Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf

What I’m reading:

Patrick Rothfuss – The Name of the Wind

http://mommymeansit.com/white-in-america/

Best local food I’ve eaten:

I’ve had too much good food to pick one. Instead, I present my top three…

1. Portuguese tapas in Lisbon. My hostel prepared a nine-dish tapas on my first night in Lisbon, serving calamari, chorizo-stuffed biscuits, beer-marinaded pork, stuffed mushrooms, and a healthy amount of sangria. (I forget the rest of the dishes. I’m sure it’s unrelated to the sangria.)

2. Feijoada de Lulas in Lisbon. Another hostel meal, this time prepared in a cooking class. Essentially, it’s a chorizo and squid stew made of pureed tomato, onion, garlic, olive oil, and wine, seasoned with cilantro, basil, and piri piri, and served with rice. I ate three plates of it.

3. Pastel de Belém in — you guessed it — Belém. The egg custard tarts are a source of pride in the Portuguese town, and after having one, it’s easy to see why. They don’t melt in your mouth; rather, they explode in a hot burst of flavour, gushing out of the tart’s flaky crust.

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Spain

Barcelona may have taken the top spot as my favourite city in Europe (at the very least, it cracks my top three). It’s hard to put a finger on what makes it so special, but if I had to try to describe it, I’d say it’s the combination of being a coastal city with a distinct identity and language, beautiful weather, good food, unique architecture (see: Gaudi), and a vibrant atmosphere. I already want to go back. Speaking of Gaudi, the inside of La Sagrada Familia has to be experienced for its beauty to be understood. It’s crazy to think that the current basilica is only a fraction of what it will be when it’s finally completed.

I’ve written about Berlin as a street art Mecca, but Valencia took me by surprise. Unlike Berlin’s modern, urban feel, Valencia’s murals bask in the Mediterranean sunshine on weathered Spanish buildings, surrounded by cobblestone courtyards and mosaic-tiled churches. The city’s got a great park and beach, too; you can virtually bike from the north end of the city all the way to the beach in the south on tree-lined bike paths. Combine that with the beach’s warm water and soft sand, and you’ve got the makings of a captivating city.

I didn’t spend much time in Madrid, but the time I did spend I fully enjoyed. I got to see Real Madrid play Getafe FC in a game that featured 10 goals, three of which were scored by Cristiano Ronaldo in a 34-minute span. After missing out on seeing a Premier League match in the United Kingdom, it was the perfect opportunity. The rest of my time in Madrid, I relaxed in El Retiro and enjoyed the warmth of the sunshine. As the weeks roll on, I’ve found myself with less and less energy to spend all day walking around. These days, I’m more content to set up on a bench somewhere and read a book.

Things I’ve seen:

Arc de Triomf, Barcelona.

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DEIH's "Cosmos Revealing Himself." Spotted in Valencia.

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Real Madrid vs. Getafe.

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What I’m reading:

http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/article/domain-spain-how-likely-catalan-independence

http://grantland.com/features/my-letterman-years/

What I’m listening to:

Promise – “Smile Today”
Koncept feat. Soul Khan – “Aspirations”

Best local food I’ve eaten:

Tapas in Madrid. I had calamari with olives and pepper, bacon-wrapped mushrooms, and a Spanish omelette. All were delicious.

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Greece and France

Athens is a really cool city. Of course, there’s the ancient allure of the Acropolis and the Agora, but beyond the city’s historic sites, there’s a lot of life and character — and a lot of stray dogs, too. What I’ll remember most about Athens is the view from the top of Lykavittos Hill, looking down towards the Acropolis and the Greek Islands in the distance. You really get a sense for just how massive and sprawling the city is.

Santorini is an island paradise, and the sunset in Oia lives up to its reputation. I had some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life ATVing around the island and discovering its charms. Santorini has an interesting landscape of volcanic ash, black sand beaches, red sand beaches, and striking cliffs. Also, the hostel I stayed at had two pet dogs, so suffice it to say, it was awesome.

The French Riviera’s beauty is beyond words. Taking the train from Ventimiglia in Italy along the coast to Nice was mesmerizing. It’s surprising how close everything is, too: in a little over 40 minutes, you can go from Monaco-Monte Carlo to Nice, and then to Cannes, with a dozen picturesque beaches in between.

I only spent a day in Marseille, but it reminded me of Liverpool in a way: both are port cities with a bit of an industrial feel, but plenty of character. Walking up to the terrace of Notre-Dame de la Garde, you get an incredible panoramic view of the entire city.

Things I’ve seen:

Last day in Athens.

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Sunset in Oia.

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Nice, France.

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Cannes.

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Spotted in Marseille.

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What I’m reading:

Dan Brown – Inferno

What I’m listening to:

Classified – “The Day Doesn’t Die”
Classified – “Growing Pains”
Kanye West feat. Adam Levine – “Heard ‘Em Say”
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – “10,000 Hours”

Best local food I’ve eaten:

Gyros everywhere in Greece. They come with fries in them, and they’re delicious. (They’re also simultaneously the worst food I’ve eaten: one place made them with hot dogs for meat, which is a crime against all that is good and tasty in the world.)

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Italy

In Venice, there’s a photo opportunity around every corner. It’s really cool to walk around a city with no cars — just narrow canals and even narrower streets. It’s easy to get lost wandering through side streets.

Perugia is a hidden gem in the heart of Italy. I wouldn’t have gone there had it not been for a friend who was staying there, but I’m so glad I went. The historic city is perched high above the rolling Italian hills, and it offers a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside.

Rome is invigorating and suffocating at the same time. There’s so much history to see, and there’s always something happening. Walking through the Colosseum was a surreal experience. After three days of weaving through swarms of people, though, I was ready for the relative quiet of Italy’s Amalfi Coast.

I split my time between Sorrento, Capri, and Amalfi. It was amazing to see Sorrento’s black sand, and the water was warm enough to swim in. Capri is a dream-world. I rented a boat with some friends, and we cruised around the island, stopping to tour the Blue Grotto and swim through the Green Grotto. Later, we took a chairlift up to Anacapri, which offered an amazing view of the island from above. In Amalfi, we headed up to Ravello by bus for another incredible view.

Things I’ve seen:

Under the bridge.

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Morning in Perugia.

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The Colosseum.

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Sunset in Sorrento.

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Anacapri, Italy.

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What I’m reading:

http://www.newsweek.com/merchants-are-killing-venice-324987

http://www.torontolife.com/informer/features/2015/04/21/skin-im-ive-interrogated-police-50-times-im-black/

Best local food I’ve eaten:

Gelato everywhere. I started buying it in tubs at the grocery store, because it was cheaper than going to gelaterias.

Runner-up: Pizza in Capri. A lot of the pizza I’ve had in Italy has been a little too limp and light on toppings for my liking, but it was perfect in Capri.

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