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Last Days in Lisbon, Portugal

After renting a car and driving most of Portugal for ten days, we spend the last five nights in the great city of Lisbon. Full of historical/naval significance (the longest reigning modern European Colonial empire in history), shops, boutiques, museums, and cafés fill the buildings and fortresses of years past.

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Pedestrian walkway in Lisbon

Fabulous food and dramatic coastline emerge as our main travel theme of the entire Portuguese adventure.

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Views of the river from Lisbon

We find the final entrée on our “food list” in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant across the street from our poorly located hotel.

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Morcela de arroz – Blood sausage made with pigs blood and rice

Morcela (pig blood in sausage casing). Not too bad when mixed with rice. A tad too strong for us in its pure form.

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Pig blood baby

“You must try our other Portuguese tradition, Bacalhau a’ Bra’s,” (salt dried cod mixed with hash-browns) Antonio, our waiter says.

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Bacalhau a’ Bra’s

Well, all meals cannot claim a savoy title. The cod claims the title of “least favorite,” beating out Caracois (snails) by a fish bone.

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Caracois – “Poor man’s snails”

Our hotel’s location demands six-mile (round trip) sweaty walks to the center of Lisbon where the good cafés exist.

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Lisbon

A great way to burn off excesses of the past three weeks. Walking moves faster than traffic once the city awakens. Many guys try to sell me hash, weed, and cocaine along the way.

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Lisbon

“Those guys don’t have good stuff,” Antonio the waiter explains. “They are from Romania and just rip people off.”

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Lisbon on a lazy Sunday afternoon

Along with a poor location, our hotel offers see-through walls surrounding the bathroom. I don’t care how much you love your travel partner, some activities in the bathroom need to remain private. (Especially after eating blood sausage and snails)

We take three subway lines, and then a train to what guidebooks claim is the “must do day-trip from Lisbon – Sintra.”

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Castelo dos Mouros near Sintra

The city of Sintra disappoints. Although a walk through old forest up to the Moorish fortress and palace proves exhilarating, elbow to elbow tourists deplete our remaining energy.

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Palacio National da Pena in Sintra

The next day, we hop onto the “Hop and Ride” tour bus to the coastal tourist destination of Cascais.

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The cliffs near Cascias

If you’re going to do a tourist area, this would be the best spot in our opinion. Full of beautiful beaches and magnificent coastline, cafés compete for your palate pleasures.

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The beach in Cascais

To wrap-up Portugal according to our style of travel, we prefer the laid-back atmosphere in the small coastal towns.

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Green lip mussels

Feasting on an array of seafood, amidst waves crashing on cliffs and rocks, will stay with us more than historical accounts of greatness. But that’s just us.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Portuguese Feast

It’s time to drive north through Portugal’s mountainous interior in search of meat and liquor. Melt-in-your-mouth “piglet cooked in wood oven” starts things off perfectly in the town of Monchique.

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Piglet

José, the proprietor at our guesthouse Casa Mirante, shows us the fruit he uses to make medronho, a local brandy/moonshine, also known as “firewater.” Private distilling is tolerated, keeping this Portuguese tradition alive.

Jose

Jose

The fest continues late into the evening with peri-peri chicken and more medronho moonshine. Oops, suddenly even the street statues aren’t safe!

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Too much moonshine!

We’d do well to regroup the next morning with sardines for breakfast.

sardines

Perhaps it’s time to seek spiritual healing with a visit to the megaliths outside the town of Evora. Appearing around the sixth to fourth millennium BC, this large circular stand of stones represents one of the oldest monuments of humankind. Nobody knows exactly why they are here. Theories abound. If that’s not spiritual, what is?

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Megaliths near Evora

A drive through groves of olive and cork trees brings us to the medieval town of Evora.

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Stripped cork trees near Evora

Relics from Greeks, Romans, and Moors appear here.

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Evora

Our good fortune continues, as we happen to visit during the annual street fair. Who cares if we can’t find the hotel, while the GPS lady yells at us due to road closures? Bring on the street food! We’ll leave the moonshine alone tonight.

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Fried quail eggs and blood sausage

Continuing to the northern coast, the city of Porto greets us with beauty and delight.

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Our castle in Porto

We spend two nights in a renovated castle, and feast on the local traditional dish of pork tripe with beans.

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Cafés line the river and streets in this friendly city.

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We make friends while sharing glasses of Port (we are in Porto).

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Making friends in Porto

Francesinha, a sandwich of egg, meat and ham smothered in melted cheese and sauce, is the local hangover cure.

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Francesinha

Back on the beach, the town of Ericeira grabs our heart.

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Ericeira

Known for sun, surf, and seafood, it’s a smaller town, close to Lisbon, and offers a laid-back atmosphere.

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Goose neck barnacles

This would be a perfect place for an extended stay.

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Lobster

For now, it’s off to Lisbon to wrap up our Portuguese adventure.

Celebrate Portugal’s Delights: The Best Meal in Three Weeks

After three weeks of hiking and public transportation around the hot Cape Verde Islands in West Africa, it’s time for some cooler temperature and creature comfort. Once we land in Lisbon, Portugal we indulge in the independence of a rental car in search of excellent food and scenic drives. Our car includes a “hot spot” which provides internet and google navigation from our cellphone. Let’s go! A road map would be useless on these infinite streets with no names.

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Looking back at Lisbon from Costa de Caparica

We stop in Costa da Caparica, a short drive and hot spot for tourists. Enter our first delightful celebration in the form of seafood pizza and beer. Finish with wine and cockles and shrimp sautéed in garlic. Our best meal in three weeks.

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All that is left of “one of the best meals in three weeks”

Let’s head south to the laid-back beach town of Vila Nova de Milfontes for some raw oysters and octopus salad. Our best meal in three weeks.

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Octopus salad

We will eat our way through Portugal. Delightful.

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Near the lighthouse south of Vila Nova de Milfontes

Our waiter for dinner that evening, Antonio, explains that he works 12 hours each day, with a two-hour break in the afternoon.

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Seafood platter

He recommends the seafood platter crowded with shrimp, lobster, fish chunks, and an array of shellfish. Our best meal in three weeks.

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The Rota Vicentina walking trail

Along the way south, we spend the day hiking a segment of the Rota Vicentina walking trail.

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Views from Rota Vincentina walking trail

No need to bring sleeping gear, as the 217-mile trail cuts through small villages where hikers can secure food and lodging.

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More scenery from Rota Vicentina walking trail

We stop in the small town of Zambujeira do Mar for a seafood salad lunch. Yet more delight.

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Zambujeira do Mar

Driving through broccoli-like forest, we reach the most southwestern point in Europe, Cabo de Sao Vicente.

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Broccoli trees

Cool temperatures and harsh wind with spurts of rain greet us at this hot surfing spot.

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It is a rainy, windy day at Cabo de Sao Vicente

Time to celebrate with wine and Cataplana Mariscos (like paella but no rice, just various seafood with potato), again, our best meal in three weeks.

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Cataplana – the Portuguese version of paella

The sun shines in the town of Sagres. We delight in dramatic cliffs and secluded beaches.

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Just one of the many secluded beaches in southern Portugal

Searching for coffee in the morning, a stranger who speaks no English motions for us to get into his car. We do, and he peels rubber flying down a straight road. We’re beginning to wonder.

Dramatic scenery near Sagres

Then he stops and lets us out at a local coffee/bakery off the main road. The kindness of strangers – traveling’s greatest delight. Stay tuned, as we continue to celebrate Portugal. Maybe we will have out best meal yet.

 

Santo Antao Island, Cape Verde: Made for Hikers

We ride up a snaking cobblestone road that separates many fertile valleys, canyons, and Ribeiras of Santo Antao Island.

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Ron up in the clouds on the road to Cova de Paul. Ribeiras on both sides!

The town of Ribeira Grande is the gateway to the island’s Gothic-like volcanic peaks.

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Town of Ribeira Grande on Santo Antao

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Looking up Ribeira de Torre

Visitors come here to hike. So, here we go. The driver drops us off in a volcano crater carpeted with crops and fruit trees, better known as Cova de Paul.

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First we have to climb out of the crater

From here, we trek out of the crater and then into the Ribeira do Paul. The trail switchbacks down for about three sun-exposed hours, to our guesthouse in the middle of nowhere.

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Just part of the long walk down

Stop to take in views of villages below, where block houses cling to the side of jagged peaks, often blending in with the scene.

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Cha Joao Vaz village

Terraces with crops of all kinds layer the peaks that we descend. This ribeira is best known for its grogue (strong alcohol).

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Typical homesteads in Ribeira do Paul

The trail eventually transforms back into the cobblestone road, and passes through several small villages. Friendly locals always greet us and often give a “thumbs up.” We stop briefly for a cold beer and plate of fresh goat cheese.

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Lunch at O Curral

Back at our guest house in the middle of nowhere, the shower still does not work. I’m sore in strange places. We lay on our bed, soaked in sweat, and listen to the drunken proprietor rant and rave at phantom tourists, or perhaps, at his partner. Doors slam and employees scatter. Eventually, the electricity turns on and we shower. Refreshed and renewed, we decide to leave the drunken proprietor’s place, despite having booked for another night. Let’s find some peace and quiet in the coastal village of Ponta do Sol.

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Ponta do Sol

We sit on a balcony and bask in the cool breeze. Sip beer, and stare at the ocean.

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Our favorite drinking hole in Ponta do Sol – Veleiro

Fisherman clean their daily catch of tuna and eel on shore. Children dive from rocks and swim in the turbulent pools.

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The active harbor at Ponta do Sol

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Kids will be kids

The streets come alive with warm and friendly people each evening. They often try to have conversations with us in a language we cannot understand. We are beginning to feel like locals as we recognize not just the people, but some of the free roaming dogs as well.

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Ron making friends, drinking grogue, and eating chicken

Time for a change from hiking the ribeiras. We follow yet another cobblestone road, this one hugging jagged cliffs that drop into the ocean below us.

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Hiking to Fontainhaus

We stop in the small village of Fontainhas for refreshment. Again, folks all wave and greet.

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Leaving Fontainhaus

Back at Ponta do Sol, we watch children and adults alike enjoy the water and each other. Gentle and genuine best describes the people of Cape Verde. Throughout these past three weeks, we have felt nothing but welcome.

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Saturday afternoon in Ponta do Sol

As for tonight, we must decide on dinner of either Cachupa (national dish of corn, beans, herbs, cassava, sweet potato and sometimes with meat), or should we try the baked goat? Life is good.

From Rolling with it to Dancing with it in Mindelo, Sao Vicente

We expect difficult travel in West Africa. Here in Cape Verde, which we call “West Africa Light,” (click on previous posts Ghana, Togo, Benin) the mindset of “just roll with it” works fine, but doesn’t make travel any easier. Last-minute flight cancellations (four thus far) happen, and it’s best to have wiggle room rather than be on a tight schedule.

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“Rolling with it!”

We’re exhausted, and there’s something draining about the African sun that is beyond mere temperature readings. Binter Airlines cancels our flight and comps us a room at the “Seafood Hotel” in Sao Filipe, on the island of Fogo, that comes with a meal of fried fish or chicken. I believe that nobody comes to Cape Verde for the cuisine. After a bottle of fine Fogo wine, we don’t mind getting up at 4:00AM for the rescheduled flight, until morning of course.

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You don’t come to Cape Verde for the food

When our two-prop plane finally shoots down the runway for take-off, Marilynn whaps me in the arm with her elbow.

“That guy across from you is freaking out!”

“I’m on the wrong flight!” he yells. He stands up and tries to bolt for the emergency exit.

The flight attendant and I make him sit, and eventually calm him down. Now, I’m his best friend, and am forced to listen to him bitch about the airline company the entire flight. I just nod, and am grateful that this flight duration is only forty-five minutes. Roll with it. (He’s lucky he wasn’t on a flight in the USA)

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Mindelo Harbor

We land in the port city of Mindelo, on the island of Sao Vicente. Set on a natural harbor, full of cafés and music, we instantly love this lively place.

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Dancing in the streets of Mindelo

It is a nice break from the silence of Fogo Island.

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Many cafes have live music

Enter our short attention span…, how long can we watch the active fish market by day, and explore the back alleys full of restaurants and live music at night? Three days.

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Just outside the fish market

 

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Looking at the Presidential Palace from our terrace

They hand out vomit bags on a one-hour ferry ride to our fourth island, Santo Antao.

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Leaving Sao Vicente

Avoiding seasickness, we soon fight motion sickness on land, while riding in a packed Collectivo that whips around dramatic coastal scenery.

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Driving the coastal road of Santo Antao

Once the driver turns inland and uphill, volcanic craggy mountains conceal lush, green canyons.

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Next stop – Cuidade das Pombas (Paul), Santo Antao

From banana, papaya, and mango trees to corn and sugarcane, Santo Antao provides produce for all the islands. We plan to hike down from the Cova de Paul (volcanic crater) tomorrow.

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Making Grogue from sugar cane

At our guest house, an older French man, whom we think is the proprietor, is drunk on Grogue (sugarcane rum), and slurs only a few words of English. Simple things, like trying to order dinner a day in advance are difficult. The room is sweltering hot, and the shower doesn’t work because of an electrical outage. Roll with it. And we do. Oftentimes, difficult travel culminates into luscious reward…like tomorrow’s cool hike! Stay tuned.

 

Hiking Pico de Fogo, Cape Verde West Africa

fter roaming around the laid-back island town of Sao Filipe, Fogo Island, we hop into a Collectivo for a twisty, crowded ride with many stops.

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Sao Filipe

We’re heading uphill to the base of Pico de Fogo, a towering active volcano. The desert terrain transforms into black ash and volcanic cones.

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The landscape begins to change

At the Casa Marisa guest house/restaurant in the village of Portelo, our cement room sits atop the crust of “new lava” in the middle of Cha Das Caldeiras, a massive, ancient crater. The eruption of 2014 destroyed this village.

Marilynn runs out of the bathroom. “There’s something weird going on with the toilet and the floor’s burning my feet!”

I look in disbelief at simmering water in the toilet. The floors are too hot to walk on barefoot. “Maybe it gets cold at night and the floors are heated?”

Pico above our hotel

Pico de Fogo towers above our guesthouse

Turns out that the floors are indeed heated. Not by design. By accident. After the 2014 eruption, they quickly rebuilt the Casa Marisa, where we will sleep the next two nights. The new lava below still produces steady heat, to the point of boiling water in the toilet. It will take about eight years for the lava below to cool.

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Living in Lava

Too hot to sleep in the room, we sit on chairs atop warm cement outside, surrounded by crusted lava. The smell of sulphur in this terrain reminds me of a steel mill. The hot African sun radiates down upon us, the ground heats up from below, and a Swiss man who hiked the volcano yesterday informs that it does not cool down at night.

We stare at the behemoth Pico de Fogo, one of the steepest volcanic cones in the world, and begin doubting our ability to hike it tomorrow. Are we chicken?

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Here we go

After a restless night, full of barking dogs and volcanic subterranean booms, we meet Cecelio, our English-speaking guide. “We’ll hike slow and take breaks, he says. “It’s not competition, it’s vacation. Use lots of sunscreen, wear sunglasses, and drink lots of water.”

Off we go, along with a young Swiss couple. Cecelio, who is forty-years old, explains that he has lived here his entire life and has twenty-one brothers and sisters. He’s been guiding volcano hikes since age nineteen.

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Views back to our village as we begin

We approach the volcano through scattered fig trees and individual grape vines, watered only by humidity and minimal rainfall. A small winery converts muscatel and touriga grapes into reds, whites, and rosés, but not enough to export.

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Growing grapes

Our trail turns to ash, and then shoots straight up a side of unstable stones. Cecelio makes sure that we take frequent water/rest breaks, especially after stints of scrambling on all fours. He’s an excellent guide, who knows how to find the most stable row of stones. Hiring a guide is imperative, and there’s no turning back once you begin.

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Ceceilio and Ron lead the way

About three hours later, we sit atop a massive volcanic cone that surrounds a serene monster crater that will explode again one day. The five Italian hikers already up top applaud our arrival.

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On top looking into the crater

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Views of our village from the top

Now, to get back down. After negotiating some craggy cliffs, hanging on to a cable in places, we stare straight down at a massive slope of black lapilli (ash scree). Woohoo! Jump right in, baby! Glide down the mountain with long strides in knee deep ash.

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The way down

Slide to the bottom in no time at all. Reminds me of sliding down giant sand dunes in Namibia and in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia a few years back. Gobi Desert Mongolia …, Namibia

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Running down through the ash. Now this is fun!

The walk back to Casa Marisa twists through a black ocean storm of solidified lava. A few rooftops of block houses show how the lava of 2014 entered through the windows and took back the territory.

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Lava reclaiming the land in 2014

Time for some well-deserved beer and wine. Tonight, we not only meet our chicken face to face, we devour it!

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Dinner

 

 

 

 

THREE MONTHS AT HOME

After spending three months at home taking care of necessary business, my wife and I prepare for a four-month travel adventure that will begin in West Africa’s Cape Verde Islands. We purchase one-way airline tickets, as we often travel without reservations beyond the first few nights lodgings.

Enter the energy of “Three months at home,” a powerful, psychological experience that wreaks havoc upon our freestyle spirit of travel. Daily television news shows, politics, an overload of internet information, all this bombardment sprouts seeds of fear and paranoia in us. Suddenly, our world appears doomed. War is inevitable. If fatal violence doesn’t get you, a new disease will. Don’t leave home. The world is a scary place, and it’s either melting or blowing up!

I’m getting sucked-in. Starting to believe that the whole world hates Americans, especially since the recent divisive election. Many people think that our country tolerates racism, and we’re a couple of white Americans planning travels to West Africa?

There’s more. Azores Airline employees are on a two-day strike. Reviews on Trip Advisor warn us to stay clear of this terrible airline, describing the planes as old and decrepit, the staff rude, and common delays up to ten hours. Reviews also tell us that our hotel on the island of Fogo has no air conditioning, and previous guests have felt unsafe. I’m nervous. Even my free-spirited wife starts to get nervous. We don’t know what to believe anymore. Too much information coming in from all angles. Let’s get out of here!

We start to feel better the moment we hit the skies. The world beyond television and internet welcomes us. It’s a life full of real people, nice people. Face to face interactions and experiences dominate, rather than distant opinions, tirades, and preconceived notions. The reality of travel on our Azores Airlines flight proves to be one of the most unique, fun experiences we have ever had on a plane. A stranger invites us to his house for a big party next Saturday. Musicians play guitars, bongos, sing and dance down the aisle. Flight attendants serve cake and fill our glasses with champagne, in celebration of the airline’s maiden direct route.

azores plane

We land in the city of Praia, on the island of Santiago in Cape Verde, and wait during a four-hour layover. We’re the only white people. Strangers welcome us with friendly gestures and attempts at conversation in English. Four guys at a nearby table buy us a round of beers. A young woman from our flight invites us to join her for lunch with her cousin during the layover. We decline, merely because of exhaustion.

fogo volcan

Our final flight lands on a live volcano – the island of Fogo. We look forward to hiking to the top. To hell with the energy of “Three months at home,” that spirit killer which had tried to prevent us from leaving our “comfort zone.” We escape its grip, back into freestyle travel, and it feels fabulous. Stay tuned for some travel blog posts that explore new adventures. Peace, love, and happy trails to all.

 

 

 

Slovenia: Into the Julian Alps

Driving all day through torrential rain leads us to change course, and head to the mountains instead of the Slovenian beaches.

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The Slovenian countryside

Despite my disdain of writing clichés, the overwhelming response that Marilynn and I have of Slovenia is “beautiful.”

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Bled Lake, Bled Island, Bled Castle

Once we park the rental car in the town of Bled, after a daylong drive through rain and fog, a beautiful lake appears outside our window when the clouds lift.

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The church on Bled Island in Lake Bled

We’re staying at the four-star hotel “Penzion Vila Preseren” for less than 60 US dollars, that includes fresh breakfast. Prior to this visit, my only impression of Slovenia has been its sausage.

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From across the lake you can see our hotel – the very small white building to the right

Let’s walk off some sausage on this sunny morning with a five-mile stroll around the lake. It’s a slow walk, due to distractions of beauty such as an island church and a castle in the mountains.

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Bled Castle

After a short drive to Bohinj, we’re on a gondola lifting with skiers to the Vogel Ski Resort area, in the heart of the Julian Alps.

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Bohinj Lake, near Bohinj

We just roam around, stopping for a couple of cold ones, content to watch the skiers and snowboarders fly by.

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Views of Bohinj Lake and Mt. Triglav (the tallest mountain in Slovenia) from the gondola

Slovenia beckons a more outdoorsy type of people. We stop in a small village in search of the traditional Slovenian sausage (We’re not that outdoorsy today).

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Watching the skiers at Vogel Ski Resort

“Can I recommend a traditional meal?” our waitress says. “We just made a batch of homemade sausage.”

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The Julian Alps

Well, you can guess our response. I discover a sense of irony when our waitress divulges her name. Melania. No kidding. The three of us discuss our travels.

“I loved the mountains of Montenegro,” Melania says. “Away from the coast you’ll find more natural beauty, and no crowds of people.”

She serves our lunch, and the sausage exceeds expectations.

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Home made Slovenian sausage – Beautiful!

Beautiful, just like Slovenia.          Ron Mitchell

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Slovenia

 

 

 

Driving, Eating, and Drinking Croatia

We stop at a roadside inn near Plitvice Lakes National Park, looking for a place to stay.

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Just a few of the lakes in Plitvice National Park

Yet another restaurant/accommodation, “House Sapina,” in the small town of Korenica, pours us a free shot of wormwood based liquor.

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Yuck!

If you don’t indulge in the local food and drink of any country, you insult them. In the spirit of “world citizenship,” we must honor our duty! I enjoy the actual spirits more than Marilynn. Of course, we shall spend the night in this lovely place.

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Veliki Slap, the tallest waterfall in Croatia

In the morning, we hike through Plitvice Lakes National Park, around multiple waterfalls, seven lakes, and limestone-formed pools reminiscent of Havasupai, Arizona.

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Walkway through Plitvice Lakes National Park off season

Despite our off-season travel in the winter, the shuttle bus fills with friendly Asian tourists. This place must be a madhouse during summer months.

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Photo from a brochure of walkway in Plitvice during season

Time to drive down the mountains to the coastal town of Opatija, full of old, elegant villas and hotels that the rich and famous used to frequent. We find an apartment on a hill, and better yet, a local eatery. We’re only about an hour away from the Italian border, so no wonder the friendly patrons resemble “Sopranos” cast members!

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Why do I feel like I am eating with the cast of the Sopranos?

“You must try our gnocchi in truffle sauce,” our waiter suggests. “We grow some of the best truffles.”

“I make my own gnocchi at home,” I respond, trying to impress.

He’s not impressed. “Try ours,” he says, almost rolling his eyes.

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Gnocchi with truffles and mushrooms

Well, the waiter was right. The tiny cut gnocchi in a sauce of truffles, porcinis, Istrian sausage, and sheep milk cheese could be my new personal favorite dish.

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The Amphitheater in Pula

The following day we have time to drive to Pula, a city on the coast that highlights an amphitheater built by the Romans for Gladiator games. I can’t help making an analogy to the NFL stadiums in the United States. Let the games begin!

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Rovinj

A final drive north to the fishing town of Rovinj, where the streets are empty and the food is excellent.

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The streets of Rovinj

Again, the gnocchi impresses. This time it’s a larger cut, mixed with Ox Tail stew.

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Gnocchi and Ox Tail stew

However, it’s time to drive out of Croatia, onward to eat and drink our way through Slovenia – homeland of the first lady. All we ask for is that the travel angels keep us safe on these narrow, curvy roads, where everyone flies at high speed!              Ron Mitchell

 

 

Roaming Croatia in a Rental Car

After another mind blowing scenic bus ride from Mostar, Bosnia to the Croatian coastal city of Split, we decide to rent a car. (We’ll split in few days) For a large city, Split offers leisurely beach walks past marinas, bays, and beaches where crowds swim and sunbath in the summer.

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Walking the promenade in Split

Every city or village has an “old town.” Roman architecture dominates the old town in Split.

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Diocletian’s Palace

We finally get our first taste of the infamous Ston oysters at a sushi bar in old town, before heading back to our room at Marina Venta.

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Finally, Ston oysters

Our balcony overlooks a marina, where sailing masts glow in the sunset. Although the café/bar above us sounds like chairs and murmurs dancing on the ceiling, the restaurant below offers the first non-smoking eating area we have seen in Croatia. The farther north we travel, the more nonsmoking restaurants we encounter.

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Another room with a view

Crowds gather for coffee, drink, and carnival entertainment next to the entrance of old town at the promenade. We could certainly spend more time in Split, with plenty to do, but it’s time for a new twist to our independent adventure with the freedom of a rental car.

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Carnival party in Split

One advantage to travel in the off season is the lack of crowds and traffic. One disadvantage is closed restaurants in smaller towns. Like when we take an eerie, lone stroll through old town in the village of Primosten.

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Primosten

It’s the third small town where we have tried to find food, and we’re starving. Everything’s closed and the place is void of humans, until Marilynn spots a man carrying a bag.

“Excuse me,” she says. “Is there any place open in town where we could get something to eat?”

“No,” he shakes his head. “I’m getting ready to cook my lunch with some friends. You’re welcome to join us if you don’t mind eating fresh sardines.”

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Lunch!

Soon, we sit in Vinko’s café “Dalmacija” (also his residence), which is closed to the public this time of year. Cold beer and a fresh salad doused with the best olive oil we have ever tasted accompanies our lightly dusted sardines and fresh cut fries. Could things get any better? Yes.

Vinko breaks out a bottle of Pelinkovac, a bitter sweet liquor based on wormwood. After a few shots on the house, he breaks out into song.

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Vinko!

“It’s now or never, come hold me tight!

Kiss me my darling, be mine tonight!”

We love this man. Thank you, Vinko!

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Krka National Park

Let’s drive into the mountains, and hike around the waterfalls of Krka in the National Forest. Hiking after beers, shots of Pelinkovac, and sardines must be good for you, right? We stroll around waterfalls that gush from small lakes over layers of limestone formed pools. No problem.

maslenica-2

Rovanjska

Onward to the small town of Rovanjska, where we finally find lodging at Dora’s apartments. With no restaurants open in town, we rely upon our survival kit – salami, cheese, fruit, bread, wine, and beer.

Dora makes coffee in the morning. We feel like family having a conversation.

“I was a refugee myself once,” Dora says. “My family fled to Germany during the bombings here from 1990 to 1995, but always had intentions of coming back to Croatia someday.” She retrieved an object and set it upon our table. “This is my souvenir of one of the bombs that destroyed our house.”

morter

The piece of bomb Dora found in what was left of her family house

Marilynn and I are yet again fortunate to be tourists. We drive to the coastal city of Zadar, in search of the Sea Organ and Sun Salutation.

zadar

Old town Zadar

After the bombings, reconstruction included a long cement/stone wall along the Adriatic coast. Architect Nikola Basic designed a set of marble stairs with pipes that create musical notes from the air generated by sea waves.

sea-organ

It’s a place of relaxation, listening to nature communicate to humans naturally, in tones that resemble the sound of whales. We could sit here all day.    Ron Mitchell