Old Town Shenkeng is famous for it's stinky tofu. As soon as you arrive the pungent smell invades your nostrils like a men's locker room. There's so much to see though, and it's a charming quaint street lined with all kinds of shops for eats and goodies...mostly different kinds of eats, with each shop offering you all sorts of samples, so it's almost like having lunch at Costco, but better.
Our arrival in Lisboa was a vibrant one, and began lively like a funny movie. Our Uber driver (yes, you can order Uber at the airport in Lisboa!), Thiago, zoomed up to us and popped out of his little white Hyundai wearing bright pink polarized sunglasses. He was full of the vibrancy you see all around the city and we realized we could communicate in Spanish together. Although, at some point he switched back to Portuguese, but we still had a largely, mutually comprehensible conversation with him speaking Portuguese and us speaking Spanish. This was much the case throughout our trip. Portuguese in Portugal sounds very different from Portuguese in Brazil, I have to say. It's much harder, and oft sounds like they're speaking Russian or German. It was strange and a little confusing, but if they spoke slow enough I could understand them.
We stayed in Alfama, the Old Town, and he couldn't actually drop us off in front of our Airbnb, so he got us as close as possible, dropping us off at Portas do Sol, a spot with a breathtaking view over looking orange tiled rooftops and out onto the river. There was a giant cruise ship docked in the river and it made it feel all the more like vacation had arrived. Then we walked down several flights of winding stairs until we we were greeted by a woman yelling down the alley way in a wretched voice that echoed between the centuries old walls and I thought she was crying and screaming at someone. When I turned my head to look at who she was yelling at, I realized she was just greeting her friend. Loud, and I mean LOUD fado music bellowed from her windows and I thought, "we made it!" This is Lisboa! A loud bellowing woman!
I picked the spot particularly for the old town charm, and there's certainly no shortage of charm here. The stairs and buildings are colorfully picturesque, with pretty paintings on random walls, and sometimes random paintings on random walls, football team flags hanging from windows, clothing hanging out windows, and on our street in particular, colorful streams lined the alley above our heads as if they were preparing for a large quinceñera or parade. You never know with old European towns, because you could just wind up in a dark, crumbling alley that smells like piss. Thankfully, I've not had that pleasure. So, we've been really fortunate with our Airbnb stays. It's also nice, because we like to stay in each city for at least a minimum of five days, we feel like we become part of the city and live a little like the locals.
Alfama reminds me of the Gothic center in Barcelona--you never know which each street is going to take you, and what you might stumble upon...sometimes literally, so be careful walking the cobble stone roads. I highly recommend bringing good shoes, because you'll walk a lot of hills, stairs, and cobble stone roads. I oft bring and wear my wedges when traveling because they look nice and they're comfy to walk in, even all day. However, I did not once touch my wedges on this trip. After realizing how uneven the streets were, and never knowing what we'd encounter, I opted for safety. Also, bring shoes or sandals with good grip on the soles if you can, because a lot of the cobble stone can be slippery. I was quite careful when I walked.
The guy who let us into the building walked up a few minutes later looking like Jesus got a bad haircut and was a character himself. He was also named Thiago. After we settled into our quaint studio apartment, we walked down to the grocery store located in a train station and picked up some basics like water, cheese, saucisson, chips, and cherries. Again, we really like to settle in and make each city our home for the few days we're there. It's actually really great for budget travel, not just because the accommodations are cheaper. We then also don't have to eat out for every meal. Eating out for every meal gets heavy and sometimes after a long day of sightseeing you just want to put your feet up and have a light meal.
Our first evening I made a reservation for us at Sr. Fado to help fully immerse ourselves into Lisboa culture. Alfama is like the center of Fado where there are loads of places you can dine at and enjoy a taste of Portuguese and Lisboa culture--literally and figuratively.
That was a full evening. We arrived at the restaurant at 19h30, as soon as they opened, because after 15 minutes you risk losing your table and left around 23h30. It's a very quaint space, family style. The whole experience is much like dining in someone's living room, and what I loved about it was that there were guests from all over the world--Poland, Germany, Sweden, Australia, France, Iraq, the States. As soon as you arrive, a basket of soft fluffy bread sits on the table next to a tray of cheese and charcuterie. This is all included in the menu, unlike regular Portuguese restaurants where they charge you even for bread. The cheese gave off an unpleasant odor which made me question how I was going to enjoy the long night, but then it was so delicious I soon forgot the smell. The second course was seafood heaven! It was a big pot of baccalau, shrimp, clams, and squid all stewed together and we ate it over rice. The dessert was very interesting. We were both anticipating one of Portugal's famed pastries, so what we received was a bit underwhelming--a plate of strawberries, whipped cream, and something that looked like thinly shredded cheese. It was not cheese though. It turns out it was actually egg yolk, that they somehow made look like shredded cheese, and it was sweetened. It tasted lovely, and the strawberries were so fresh and delicious, they came straight from the family's farm. I suppose it was a good choice for dessert because it wasn't too heavy. Finally, around ten past ten the Fado started. Fado reminds me of the lyrical storytelling of classic country songs like that of Hank Williams, it has the power and soulfulness of Etta James' voice, and sometimes sounds like Russian folk music. It's certainly comparable to the blues, as it's very poetic and sad, but it moves through you like a particular energy that only music can create. The melody is led by the 12 string Portuguese guitar and it's a beautiful experience. Make sure to experience fado when you're in Lisboa. For us, it was the perfect introduction to the city, which like the music, is like a sexy old woman...neglected, but as alive as ever. My friend describes Lisboa as a beautiful old woman, like an opera singer. That's a much prettier description, and just as accurate.
Keep in mind, Portugal is quite a poor country. The gap between the wealthy and poor is great. We did see some nicer neighborhoods outside the center, and our apartment was nicely renovated; but in general, the infrastructure is not well maintained, and the working wage is low. Chris and I noted, that the city reminds us of a mixture of Barcelona and Tijuana--which we enjoy both. It's great fun and a wonder, and it is becoming more and more popular a destination.
If you get the chance, we highly recommend it. Stay tuned for more on our experience in Lisboa.
BIG LOVE & HUGS
I got a lot of funny looks and “WHY???” when I told people I was going to visit Nürnberg on this trip. To be quite frank, how I originally landed on this charming medieval city was totally a logistical decision. When planning this trip, I just knew I wanted to visit Amsterdam and Austria (Salzburg and Vienna, in particular), so then I just filled in the rest. I looked for a German city I had not been to, near Salzburg, and voila. After a bit of research, Nürnberg ended up being one of the cities I was most excited to see --and I was most certainly not disappointed.
The first few days of the World Cup have been pretty exciting, and it seems Brasil took away a few lessons from Sochi. Apparently, accommodations were all ready for everyone, but the stadiums were not. At least our athletes have not been breaking down walls after getting stuck in bathrooms.
Thank you, Mr. Mandela. Simply, thank you.
1) “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
2) “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
3) “A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”
4) “For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
5) “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
6) “I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”
7) “We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.”
8) “As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself... Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.”
9) “ As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
10) “I am the captain of my soul.”
11) “We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”
12) “There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
13) “Appearances matter — and remember to smile.”
BIG LOVE & HUGS
As one of the 5 fashion capitals of the world, Milan has always been at the top of my list of places to visit. It’s a very small city, and it annoyed me every time someone gave me a weird look for wanting to spend more than two days there. The thing is, if you’re going to Milan just to see and do all the touristy things, then yeah 2 days is probably enough. However, if you’re also going to go shopping and roam the city a bit, then you need at least another 2 to 3 days.
First, you must see il Duomo. “Duomo” is just a term for Cathedral, and Milan’s Duomo is an incredible piece of architecture. My family is Catholic, so we attended Sunday mass there, which was a really cool experience, because most, if not all, attending mass were tourists, and you could hear people responding in their native languages.
The coolest thing about il Duomo though, is that you can go up to the rooftop, and not only do you get a great view of the city from the rooftop, but that is where you can truly appreciate the incredible piece of gothic architecture it really is. I mean, “incredible” doesn’t even begin describe it.
When you first enter the piazza, and you’re standing in front of this massive, gothic style cathedral, you’re just in awe of its presence. It’s the fifth largest cathedral in the world, and the largest in Italy. On the rooftop, however, it’s a feeling of more than awe that you experience. You find yourself deeply mesmerized as you discover the intricate details paid to the construction of the cathedral—the spires, the statues, the arches, everything. No wonder it took six centuries to complete! The last details were not completed until 1965.
I really think Karl Lagerfeld should do a show on the rooftop. It would be a sick show.
Today, the Castello Sforzesco houses several of the city’s museums and art collections. I’ve been to many castles, and aesthetically it’s not the most impressive, but just walking through the castle is still a very unique experience, because it’s strange and so interesting to imagine the castle and its grounds as it was in its early days, and the transformation throughout the centuries.
As you walk through the grounds, you are very aware of its medieval strength. In fact, it feels more like a fortress than a castle or a princely estate. It's certainly a nice stroll through the grounds.
The Last Supper
One of Leonardo’s most famous paintings is in the Santa Maria delle Grazie, a church and Dominican convent in Milan. I suppose it’s like going to the Louvre in Paris to see the Mona Lisa. It’s simply a must.
San Sira Stadium (AC Milano)
Of course, if you're in Milan while there is a football (soccer) game, definitely go visit the stadium. Unfortunately, I did not have time to visit the stadium, because it was a little out of the way and there was no game.
The shopping that Milan is famous for, is along four adjoining streets near the Duomo, collectively known as Quadrilatero d'Oro (Golden Quadrilateral): Via Montenapoleone, Della Spiga, Via Borgospesso, and Via Sant'Andrea. Here you will find all your high-end stores, including all of Italy’s most renowned designers. You’ll also notice that throughout Milan some of the Italian designers tend to have more than one store, but don’t expect to see the same things in each store. So, if you’re in Milan for such goodies, you will surely have a very good time. Plus, most of the male sales clerks are almost as lovely to look at as the latest limited edition handbag at Versace is.
Of course, when in Italy, it is most important to indulge in as much gelato as possible. It is just never the same in the States, no matter how good the ice cream is, though not surprisingly so. In Milan you’ll never be short of gelato, because there are gelaterias everywhere. And as is with finding good Italian food in Italy, there is not such thing as bad gelato when you’re in Italy. Just a little tip: if they don’t add a wafer to your gelato, grab a spoon and a napkin, because they melt fast—even when the temperatures are cool!
Once you’re in the historic center, Milan is very easy to walk. You can also take a taxi, the metro, or even a little city tram. It’s a lovely city, with lots of good-looking people. I was surprised one morning when I hopped into a cab and the driver was this hot, very funny and charming young man. Apparently lots of Russians and Japanese people like to visit Milan, because at many of the restaurants, you’ll see a little sign on their outside menu, that they also have menus in Russian and Japanese. I thought that was very considerate.
So, the next time you find yourself in northern Italy, don't forget to visit the city that captured the hearts of Napoleon's relatives and kept him from conquering much more of Italy, because they just loved Milan so much they didn't bother continuing south...(history according to my aunt).
BIG LOVE & HUGS
Docked in Long Beach, California, is the RMS Queen Mary. Intent on not falling behind in the shipbuilding race, Britain’s John Brown & Company built the RMS Queen Mary for the Cunard Line, which sailed mainly in the North Atlantic Ocean from 1936-1967. After it’s final voyage in 1967, it retired in the Port of Long Beach, in the greater Los Angeles area.
Growing up just north of Long Beach, every year I had friends who would venture to The Queen Mary during Halloween for some scary fun on the ship. I never went, and I can’t remember if I ever went on a normal day as a child, but after I went today I have no idea why I had never been before.
A few months ago, one of my best friends told me that The Queen Mary is hosting a Princess Diana exhibit. If you know me, Princess Diana was (and still is) my style and humanitarian icon. So, I could not wait to go.
The exhibit was as lovely and interesting as can be. In fact, it was more than an exhibit on Princess Diana. There was a whole display of history on the royal family from the time of King George V and Queen Mary, to present day. The collection of letters from various members of the royal family is quite impressive. My favorite letters were birthday cards that Princess Diana wrote to certain friends, and the label card placed in front of each noted “…adult-rated birthday card from Princess Diana…” I loved that. The woman was so witty. And of course, the main attraction—some of Princess Diana’s dresses that were auctioned at Christie’s just before her death—was fabulous.
After we made our way through the exhibit we headed to the tearoom. We tried this really nice hazelnut chocolate tea. I’ve never had such a tea, but I love hazelnut chocolate so I was immediately intrigued. When the waitress brought it over it smelled divine! It was so lovely. So we sipped our tea accompanied with miniature sandwiches, scones with Cornish cream and jams, and mini desserts. It was my kind of perfect day…and it got better!
After tea we walked around the deck and explored the ship a bit, which was AWESOME. Every time I saw a set of stairs I got excited to see what was below or at the top of them. It felt very reminiscent of Rose and Jack and Titanic. And of course, when you have the chance to reenact Titanic…you DO IT!
Seriously, it was SO much fun. And quite surprisingly, The Queen Mary is full of cafes and restaurants. I mean, how many restaurants does one ship need? Apparently at least 8, plus gift shops! It’s a great place for a photoshoot, a party, other private functions, and even a wedding. They have a wedding chapel, but they also have an outside area with lined benches and a gazebo that was clearly created for weddings. You can also stay on the ship and live out your 1930’s transatlantic dreams ;).
I’m definitely bringing my family here for lunch one day. If you’re in the L.A. area, you must visit The Queen Mary. I promise you’ll have a fabulous time!
BIG LOVE & HUGS
I read an interesting article on BBC News that discussed a finding that war is not innate in human nature. I thought it was interesting, because I’ve been thinking that it is. When you look around at all the countries going through wars right now, and then you look back at Vietnam, Korea, WWII, WWI, the revolutionary wars of many countries, the Napoleonic Wars, the Thirty Years’ War, and so on and so forth, it seems like war is just a part of human nature—or man’s nature.
The article was based on a study by researchers from Abo Academy University in Finland. Patrik Soderberg, an author of the study, said: "This research questions the idea that war was ever-present in our ancestral past. It paints another picture where the quarrels and aggression were primarily about interpersonal motives instead of groups fighting against each other." In other words, murder, but not mass murder.
Based on studies of isolated tribes from around the world over the last century, the research team analogized these tribes to the hunter-gatherers of thousands of years ago, because of their similar lifestyles. What they’ve found is that, as “hunter gatherers made the transition to farming, groups became more territorial and with a more complex social structure.” Thus, war followed as humans settled down. Ironic, huh? We settled down just to get rowdier.
Needless to say, this article really caught my curiosity, because it’s nice to think that war, and mass violence, and bloodshed is not something that is innate in us. And then it’s also somewhat daunting to realize that if it’s not innate in us, then bloody hell have we really become a bloody mess.
On that note, God bless our soldiers. May they all come home safely.
Here's the link to the original article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23340252.
BIG LOVE & HUGS
I had been craving pork pies for weeks, and upon a little internet search, I discovered there’s a Brit store right near my house. Whaat? How did I not ever know? Mostly it’s souvenirs, sweets you can buy here in your regular grocery store, and some other small things. BUT, to my delight, there is also a refrigerator full of meat pies.
So of course I bought a few, and finally had one, and it was divine. I mean, so divine I started raving about my pork pie to a vegetarian Jew until I realized the irony in that. But seriously. I had a Stilton pork pie, and what’s better than meat and cheese wrapped in a succulent crust. Of course, it was the most meat and salt and dough that I’ve had in weeks so my stomach was definitely in a little bit of a shock, but it was sooooo wonderful. Definitely not something I could eat everyday or I’d start to look like one.
But you know what I love about meat pies as much as I love eating them…I love that so many cultures across the world have their own variation of meat pies. The Brits obviously have a variety, the Chinese have a variety of variations, the Russians have their pirozhki, the Latinos have empanadas, the Greeks also have a variety, and the list goes on and on…so see, we’re not so different after all, are we? We all love meat pies. Well, not the vegetarians, but you know what I mean.
So cheers to the person who made the first meat pie! We’re all united, because of you, and we don’t even know it! Until now, that is…because I’m going to create an international meat pie day…if there isn’t one already, because these days there’s a day for everything.
BIG LOVE & HUGS
I’ve found most language apps (well, free language apps), to be quite inefficient. However, recently I discovered “Duolingo,” and I totally love it! First, it includes German, Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese, which is nice because then I don’t need to download a new app for each language I want to learn. Secondly, it teaches you more than just words and phrases. If I wanted a mere translator, I would get one. And actually, I already have Google Translate downloaded on my phone, which I know can be a real lousy translator, but whatever. Hence, the need for something easily helps me actually learn and practice languages. The lessons are organized by level of proficiency, and they’re fun. They’re structured in a way that reinforces what you’re learning by having you translate to English, translate to the foreign language, and even practice verbally speaking it. I haven’t gotten far enough to see if there are grammar lessons, per se; but I’ve found that if you just pay attention you start to recognize the grammar rules involved.
If you’re planning a trip somewhere, or you just want to learn new languages, try it out! I think you’ll enjoy it, and find learning languages to be lots of fun.
BIG LOVE & HUGS