Archive for the ‘Portugal’ Category

One year ago today, we boarded a plane and set off to make our dream of traveling around the world a reality. We are happy to report that we are still alive and well. Today we are wondering, how did this year go by so quickly?! But in all reality, when we revisit the past year in detail, we realize just how much we have experienced.

Our ‘Year in Review’ includes two photos from every country we have visited in the past year. One selected by Mike and one selected by Amy.  This was an insanely difficult task, since we have over 12,000 photos now! Some photos are memories of a favorite place we visited, while others symbolize our mindset at that point in time, and a few are just pictures that we really love. We hope you enjoy and thanks for reading our ramblings for the past year; there is still more to come!


Mike's Photo - Spain

Mike’s Pick – La Sagrada Familia – Barcelona, Spain

This place is unlike any other church in the world. Our visit to el Templo de la Sagrada Familia took place on the first full day of our journey and really started things off with a bang! I can’t wait to return to Barcelona to see it again when construction is completed after 2026.

Amy's Pick - The Alhambra - Granada, Spain

Amy’s Pick – La Alhambra – Granada, Spain

When we stepped off the train in Granada, we were shocked with an unexpected bitter cold. Despite the below freezing temperatures we had an incredible day exploring La Alhambra, one of the most stunning palaces I have ever visited.


Mike's Pick - Porto, Portugal

Mike’s Pick – Port Wine Boats on the Douro River – Oporto, Portugal

We try not to talk about work too much on our trip, but when you work in hospitality and tourism, a RTW trip is filled with very relevant learning opportunities. I have an all new appreciation for port wine after visiting several cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia.

Amy's Pick - Lagos, Portugal

Amy’s Pick – Lagos, Portugal

Lagos was the first of many improvised stops of our trip. To be honest we had never heard of it before, but it was along our bus route from Spain to Lisboa, so we stopped through for a few days. I will always remember Lagos with special sentiment because in my mind it symbolizes spontaneity.


Mike's Pick - Our Riad - Marrakech, Morocco

Mike’s Pick – Our Riad – Marrakech, Morocco

Sipping mint tea in the refuge of our riad was one of the most relaxing experiences of our trip. I loved starting and ending our days sitting right here!

Amy's Pick - Colorful Tiles - Marrakech, Morocco

Amy’s Pick – Bahia Palace – Marrakech, Morocco

The colorful and intricate tiles in Morocco are unbelievably eye-catching. I would love to use tiles like these to decorate our house someday.


Mike's Pick - Mike & Nils - Osted, Denmark

Mike’s Pick – Mike & Nils – Osted, Denmark

Nils (Amy’s host dad from her study abroad experience in 2006) was about as excited for our trip as we were. He and I took many trips “around the world” using these fun shot glasses printed with a world maps.

Amy's Pick - Candles - Osted, Denmark

Amy’s Pick – Candles – Osted, Denmark

These candles represent Danish hygge to me; it is a difficult word to translate into English, but generally embodies spending quality time with family & friends while being cozy, content and relaxed. There was plenty of hygge to go around during our visit with my host family.

Czech Republic

Mike's Pick - Hockey Game - České Budějovice, Czech Republic

Mike’s Pick – Hockey Game – České Budějovice, Czech Republic

During our time in České Budějovice, I had a high fever and terrible case of the flu. I spent three whole days  in bed and even considered going to the hospital, but still but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see a Czech hockey play-off game.

Amy's Pick - View from Castle - Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Amy’s Pick – View from Castle – Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Český Krumlov is one of those magical places that makes you feel like you’re living in a fairytale. I love this photo because it captures the European-style architecture and lazy river that winds through the town.


Mike's Pick - Naschmark - Vienna, Austria

Mike’s Pick – Naschmarkt – Vienna, Austria

A major theme of our blog over the past year has been food. In Vienna, the Naschmarkt is one of the best places to take a stroll, grab a bite, have a beer, and see some really great artisan food and crafts.  We were in Vienna for less than 48 hours, but made two trips to the Naschmarkt during our time there.

Amy's Pick - Coin exchange at hostel - Vienna, Austria

Amy’s Pick – Coin exchange at hostel – Vienna, Austria

We only spent two days in Austria, using Vienna as a stopover for a train connection, however we found this clever coin exchange at our hostel. This photo reminds me of a game we play – whenever we leave a country, we try to use up all of the bills and coins that we have on hand, whether it be buying a piece of candy at a shop or giving it to a fellow traveler.


Mike's Pick - Széchenyi Fürdő - Budapest, Hungary

Mike’s Pick – Széchenyi Fürdő – Budapest, Hungary

Whenever I arrive in a new city and hear about hot springs, thermal baths, or the like I get really excited. Who doesn’t like a nice soak? After a few months of backpacking under our belts, a day relaxing in these amazing public baths was just what the doctor ordered.

Amy's Pick - View from Castle - Budapest, Hungary

Amy’s Pick – View from the Castle – Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is one of my favorite European cities. I love how the river splits it into the Buda side and the Pest side. This day we walked almost 14 miles, exploring both sides of the city and growing our appreciation for how massive, yet accessible, it is.


Mike's Pick - Old Town - Dubrovnik, Croatia

Mike’s Pick – Old Town – Dubrovnik, Croatia

After the Bed Bug fiasco was behind us, we really enjoyed the gorgeous walled city of Dubrovnik. I felt like I had been transported back in time.

Amy's Pick - Hvar Island, Croatia

Amy’s Pick – View from the Castle – Hvar Island, Croatia

This is my favorite self-photo of our entire trip. Somehow it captured Mike at the split second he was sneezing!


Mike's Pick - Stari Most - Mostar, Bosnia

Mike’s Pick – Stari Most – Mostar, Bosnia

When most people think of Bosnia, they think of the war. Few realize what an beautiful place it really is. The iconic bridge of Mostar was destroyed by bombs, but it has since been rebuilt and serves as a symbol of a country trying to heal.

Amy's Pick - War Tunnel Tour - Sarajevo, Bosnia

Amy’s Pick – War Tunnel Tour – Sarajevo, Bosnia

The Bosnian War is the first war I remember as a child, so visiting Sarajevo was very emotional. We took a tour with this man who lived through the war, and it was one of the most inspirational and educational things I did in the past year of traveling.


Mike's Pick - Cave Church - Cappadocia, Turkey

Mike’s Pick – Cave Church – Cappadocia, Turkey

Our first day of exploring in Cappadocia included the Göreme Open Air Museum and its ancient churches and dwellings. Built by early Christians fleeing persecution, it is arguably the “birthplace” of the entire religion. Visiting was a very spiritual experience for me.

Amy's Pick - Blue Mosque - Istanbul, Turkey

Amy’s Pick – Blue Mosque – Istanbul, Turkey

The mosques of Istanbul are a sight to behold. Spending a few weeks in Istanbul taught me so much about Islam. Visiting Istanbul helped me to understand that it is possible for traditionalists, modernists, and everyone in between to coexist without surrendering their cultural identity.


Mike's Pick - Food Stand - Shanghai, China

Mike’s Pick – Food Stand – Shanghai, China

For me, one of the coolest parts of traveling is snacking my way through a city. We ate these rice dumplings almost every morning in Shanghai. Some cities in the US have food carts/trucks, but nothing quite compares to the street food scene in Asia. Forget what the State Department tells you; my advice, when you travel abroad EAT STREET FOOD!!!

Amy's Pick - Rice Terraces - Dazhai, China

Amy’s Pick – Rice Terraces – Dazhai, China

In the midst of China’s traffic jams, overpopulation, pollution, and noise, the rice terraces of Dazhai were the perfect escape for a few days of peace. I love this picture because we spent nearly an hour getting this shot with both of us in the air.

Hong Kong

Mike's Pick - View from Victoria Peak - Hong Kong

Mike’s Pick – View from Victoria Peak – Hong Kong

It may seem like a concrete jungle, but Hong Kong actually has some really great hikes, beaches, and islands. I really enjoyed our hike around Victoria Peak which ended with this panoramic view of the city.

Amy's Pick - Cheung Chau Island, Hong Kong

Amy’s Pick – Cheung Chau Island – Hong Kong

The stark contrast between landscapes in Hong Kong surprised me: a mega city that also has remote wilderness islands. We spent the day at the beach and hiking the perimeter of Cheung Chau island.

South Korea

Mike's Pick - Haeundae Sand Festival - Busan, South Korea

Mike’s Pick – Haeundae Sand Festival – Busan, South Korea

There aren’t a lot of beaches in Colorado; so it’s not big surprise that I had never seen sand art like this before. These artists are ridiculously good.

Amy's Pick - Sushi Dinner - Busan, South Korea

Amy’s Pick – Sushi Dinner – Busan, South Korea

We had a hard time fitting this sushi dinner into one photograph! It included everything from raw sea squirt to mud eel. Even though we shared no common language with the couple sitting next to us, they walked us through each dish and how to eat it properly.


Mike's Pick - Restaurant - Tokyo, Japan

Mike’s Pick – Restaurant – Tokyo, Japan

When we sat down and ordered, we had no idea what we were about to eat. We just got what everyone else was having. I like this picture because it reminds me of how the cooks complimented us on our chopstick skills and Japanese table manners.

Amy's Pick - Fushimi Inari Shrine - Kyoto, Japan

Amy’s Pick – Fushimi Inari Shrine – Kyoto, Japan

I love this photo because of the sheer color!


Mike's Pick - Bowl of Phở - Hanoi, Vietnam

Mike’s Pick – Bowl of Phở – Hanoi, Vietnam

Phở. #enoughsaid

Amy's Pick - Madonna Rock Dive Site - Nha Trang, Vietnam

Amy’s Pick – Madonna Rock Dive Site – Nha Trang, Vietnam

SCUBA diving is one of the coolest things I have ever learned to do. This was our very first day of diving – we didn’t have the hang of buoyancy yet, so the fact that our dive master captured this photo was something of a miracle.


Mike's Pick - Banteay Srei Temple - Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Mike’s Pick – Banteay Srei Temple – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

What can I say about Angkor Wat? This place is just sooooo cool. Cambodia may not have delicious food like Vietnam or dreamy beaches like Thailand, but Angkor Wat is more than a good enough reason to visit.

Amy's Pick - Ta Prohm Temple - Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Amy’s Pick – Ta Prohm Temple – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

I love this picture because it allows you to actually see the thousands of years of history that has taken place at Angkor Wat. The sheer size of this tree’s roots growing into the temple walls helps you to appreciate its place in the past and present.


Mike's Pick - Elephant Reserve - Chiang Mai, Thailand

Mike’s Pick – Elephant Reserve – Chiang Mai, Thailand

We spent a lot of quality time with animals in Thailand: riding on elephants – cuddling with tigers – fending off monkeys.

Amy's Pick - Pad Thai - Bangkok, Thailand

Amy’s Pick – Pad Thai – Bangkok, Thailand

Pad Thai with tofu is my absolute favorite Thai dish and I miss eating it every day for breakfast! Surprisingly, considering all of the times we ate it, I can’t believe this is the only photo we took.


Mike's Pick - Mekong River - Vientiane, Laos

Mike’s Pick – Mekong River – Vientiane, Laos

This amazing sunset over the Mekong in Vientiane was one of my favorite from the entire year. You wouldn’t know it from this picture, but it seemed like the entire city came out to the river that evening to watch the sun slowly disappear.

Amy's Pick - Flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane - Laos

Amy’s Pick – Flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane – Laos

After the most horrifying bus ride ever from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang, we decided to fly back to Vientiane instead of enduring another death-trap bus. This was the most beautiful flight of my entire life – the mud brown Mekong twisting through deep green jungle.


Mike's Pick - View of Downtown - Singapore

Mike’s Pick – View of Downtown – Singapore

It may be a small country, but I was really impressed by Singapore’s modern architecture.

Amy's Pick - The Helix Bridge - Singapore

Amy’s Pick – The Helix Bridge – Singapore

The truth is that Mike stole the photo I wanted to choose for Singapore, so I picked this one instead. This photo is of the ground of a DNA helix-shaped bridge in Singapore. My nerdy science-loving side really loved this bridge:-) The A and the T represent the nucleotides adenine and thymine.


Mike's Pick - Salang - Tioman Island, Malaysia

Mike’s Pick – Salang – Tioman Island, Malaysia

SCUBA diving and beach-time pretty much sum up our month in Malaysia. 15 tanks each in less than 30 days. In retrospect, I think we should have stayed longer.

Amy's Pick - Long Beach - Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

Amy’s Pick – Long Beach – Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

This is a place where two days turned into four, and four into six, and six days into two weeks. I loved living on the beach, relaxing, diving and having a blank mind.


Mike's Pick - Gnaraloo Station - Gnaraloo, Australia

Mike’s Pick – Gnaraloo Station – Gnaraloo, Australia

If you’ve been reading our blog since the beginning, then you may recognize our friends here.  It was our first time in Australia, but they really made us feel at home.  Juan wasn’t very pleased with the fishing that week, but the Coral Trout I caught is enough to keep me enthusiastic about giving it another go.

Amy's Pick - Fishing - Gnaraloo, Australia

Amy’s Pick – Fishing – Gnaraloo Reef, Australia

A memory of the first fish I ever caught in the open water!

New Zealand

Mike's Pick - Kaikoura, New Zealand

Mike’s Pick – Kaikoura, New Zealand

We almost left Kaikoiura the day before this picture was taken. I am glad that we decided to stay another night, because we would have missed out on a great hike and some unforgettable views.

Amy's Pick - Lake Wakatipu - Queenstown, New Zealand

Amy’s Pick – Lake Wakatipu – Queenstown, New Zealand

This is only one of the hundreds of beautiful scenic photos from our month in New Zealand. This road into Queenstown from the south is one of the most spectacular drives I have ever taken.


Mike's Pick - Laguna Tebenquiche - San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Mike’s Pick – Laguna Tebenquiche – San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

The water in this lake was so salty that it felt thick when I walked through it. The natural wonders of San Pedro de Atacama left me in awe day after day.

Amy's Pick - Pan de Azucar National Park - Chile

Amy’s Pick – Pan de Azucar National Park – Chile

After a week of camping at Pan de Azucar, one of the most tranquilo and beautiful places that I saw in Chile, we hitchhiked back into town to catch our bus. Our ride was from a local fisherman, and I had the luck of riding in the back of his truck along with his day’s catch. During that ride I remember thinking to myself “now this is traveling!”


Mike's Pick - Christmas Parrillada - Escobar, Argentina

Mike’s Pick – Christmas Asado – Escobar, Argentina

I’m really going to miss this. But I always have Tio Francis in Denver, so I guess I’ll survive 🙂

Amy's Pick - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Amy’s Pick – Iguazu Falls – Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

During our second day visiting Iguazu Falls, we were graced with perfectly blue skies and a rainbow across the falls!


Mike's Pick - Practice for Carnival - Montevideo, Uruguay

Mike’s Pick – Practice for Carnaval – Montevideo, Uruguay

Hopefully this was just a small taste of things to come during Carnaval in Cartagena.

Amy's Pick - The Hand Sculpture - Punta del Este, Uruguay

Amy’s Pick – The Hand Sculpture – Punta del Este, Uruguay

This sculpture is just plain fun. It makes you feel like there is a giant living underneath the sand, waiting to grab you off your towel while you’re sunbathing.


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Upon our arrival in Lisboa (a.k.a. Lisbon), we were excited to find that our “hostel” was more along the lines of a downtown loft. For the first time in nearly a month, we actually felt like we had a home of our own. While there were other rooms, the place was basically empty, and we were given a room with a balcony and an amazing view overlooking Lisboa’s main pedestrian street, Rua Augusta.

Rua Augusta Arch as seen from our room

As difficult as it is to admit, we were feeling our first spell of travel burnout after leaving Porto, and our luck in accommodations couldn’t have come at a better time. We made it to Lisboa exactly one month after beginning the international portion of our RTW trip, and had already stayed in nine different hotels and visited twelve different cities. All that moving around takes a toll, so we spent a good portion of our time being “normal” (making home-cooked meals, reading, playing cards, riding the trams, and just hanging out).

After a few days of recharging our internal batteries, it was time for Carnaval! Parades, parties, concerts, costumes, fun in the sun. What a fantastic event!

Carnaval Lisboa 2012

Carnaval parade in Lisboa

Expensive Soul playing at Rossio Square during Carnaval Lisboa

Another must mention of our visit to Lisboa, was our day trip to Sintra. Just a short train ride from Rossio station, this town sits between tall green mountains and the sea. It is also home to two amazing monuments, the Castelo dos Mouros and Pena National Palace and Gardens.

Castelo dos Mouros, overlooking the town of Sintra, was constructed by the Moors in the 8th century

Mike atop a tower at Castelo dos Mouros

Pena National Palace

View of gardens from the Queen’s Balcony at Pena National Palace

While we are certain that Lisboa could be a great city for a single-destination vacation, our travel burnout and ironic timing with Carnaval turned our visit into something a bit different. It felt more like a “stay-cation” in a not so familiar place.

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A Taste of Porto

We spent three days in Porto, and while we did explore some of the city’s churches and attractions, a good portion of our time there was spent touring port houses and tasting port wine. It is the home of port, after all; the similarity in the nomenclature is no coincidence. Porto is a truly amazing city, but we will be dedicating this post entirely to the wine that bears its name. We hope that the information we share will shed some light on this lesser known wine and help others plan their own Porto adventure.

View of Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia

Although it’s called “port” wine, the majority of the port cellars are actually located in Vila Nova de Gaia, the town across the Douro River from Porto. The list of port houses below is by no means exhaustive; however, we feel that it represents the majority of the cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia. There are also maps and signs posted throughout the town to help guide you along the way (especially helpful after a few tastings).

Cálem: Closest port house to the bridge that connects Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia. Paid tour and tastings available.

Croft: Although a bit of a hike up the hill from the river, it is well worth the visit. Free tour and tastings available.

Tasting at Croft port cellar – 10 year tawny (left) & ruby (right)

Ferreira: Known as the Portuguese port wine because it is the only major port company has been continually operated by the same Portuguese family since its founding. Free museum that provides information about the company’s history. Paid tour and tastings available.

Tasting at Ferreira port cellar – branco, 3 year lágrima, 3 year ruby, 4 year tawny (from left to right)

Kopke: Tasting room only, no tour. Paid tastings available.

Quinta Do Noval: Tasting room only, no tour. Paid tastings available.

Sandeman: One of the world’s largest and most well-known port makers. Free museum that provides information about the history of port wine, the company, and marketing and brand development. Paid tour and tastings available.

Sandeman port cellar

Sogevinus: Tasting room only, no tour. Paid tastings available.

Taylor Fladgate: Free tastings. No tour, although there is an informational video playing in the tasting room. There is a restaurant on the property as well, with an outdoor patio where you can enjoy great views of Porto and the river.

Tasting at Taylor Fladgate port cellar – 2005 LBV

Vasconcellos: Paid tour and tastings available (free if you purchase a bottle).

Wiese & Krohn: Founded by Norwegian cousins, now owned by a Portuguese family. Free tastings. No tour, but there is a small museum that displays traditional port wine making equipment.

The port wine cellar at Wiese & Krohn

We took tours at Croft and Ferreira, where we learned the basics of port wine. One important lesson that we learned is that to be a true port wine, the grapes must be grown in the Douro Valley, which became a demarcated region (D.O.C) in 1756.

Port wines are fortified and filtered, so unlike table wine, they will not mature in the bottle. When you buy a bottle of port, drink it. Once opened a bottle of port is good for up to four months. The exception to this rule is when the Institute of Port Wine declares a “vintage” year based on the remarkably high quality of grapes from a particular harvest. These wines will age in the bottle and, once opened, need to be consumed within a couple of days.

At this point you may be wondering, why is port wine fortified with brandy? The answer, to get you drunk faster. No, not really. Port wine producers began to add brandy to their wine in order to preserve it better for transport by sea to England, their largest consumer.

The two most recognized port wines are ruby and tawny. Did you know there are more? During our visit to Vila Nova de Gaia, we learned that there are actually several different kinds of port. Below we explain them, in very simple terms may we add, so to learn more, you’ll just have to visit Porto yourself!

Ruby: Made from red grapes and aged for a relatively short period of time in very large French oak casks. The large size of the casks limits oxidation and flavor absorption, allowing these wines to keep a more natural “ruby” color and ripe fruit flavor.

Tawny: Made from red grapes and aged for a longer period of time in small French oak casks. The smaller barrels allow for greater levels of oxidation and contact with the wood. These two elements cause tawny to become amber in color over time and develop deeper sweetness similar to dried fruit or honey.

Colheita: A small category of tawny ports, which bear a harvest date. However, unlike vintage ports, colheita is not bottled right away, but allowed to age in the barrel, sometimes for decades.

Branco (white): Made from white grapes and aged in a similar style to the ruby. These ports range quite a bit in terms of sweetness and some producers even make a style known as “chip dry,” which referrers to a taste that is as dry as a piece of wood.

Lágrima: Made from white grapes and aged in small French oak casks for a longer period of time than white ports. Interestingly, this style of port wine is not commonly exported from Portugal due to the belief that it would not be agreeable to non-Latin palettes. So be sure to get your fix while you’re in Portugal!

Rose: The newest innovation in port wine, roses are technically ruby ports, however, are limited in their exposure to the grape skins during the fermentation process, giving them a lighter color.

Vintage: When the Institute of Port Wine determines that a particular year produced exceptionally great grapes throughout the entire Douro Valley, they declare a vintage year. This occurs approximately twice per decade, with the most recent vintage being 2007. Due to the rarity of these ports, they are quite pricey. Unlike other styles of port wine, which are made using grapes blended from various years, vintages are made only with red grapes from that year. Vintage port wines are bottled after just two years of aging in the barrel and are not filtered, which allows them to be stored and aged further in the bottle. The oldest vintage port available for sale is from 1863!

Late Bottle Vintage (LBV): Very similar to vintage ports, but much more affordable, LBVs are made when a particular winery feels that their grapes are exceptional during a given year. LBVs are not declared by the Institute of Port Wine, however are dated with the harvest year. A great tip is to purchase a LBV with the same year as a vintage port.

Enjoying a day of port tasting in Vila Nova de Gaia

If you enjoy wine, you should definitely add Porto to your list of travel destinations. Or, for a more affordable alternative, head to the nearest wine shop, pick up a few bottles of port and invite some friends over. We will be adding a glass of ruby, our favorite port, to the end of many meals to come.

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Lagos was a pleasant surprise. There is no train service between Sevilla and Portugal and a direct bus ride to Lisboa or Porto is quite long, so we decided to enter the country via its southern region, known as the Algarve. Our first stop in Portugal was the small town of Lagos. Initially, we intended on staying only one night as a way to break up the long trip. Just minutes after arriving in Lagos and walking through its peaceful cobbled streets, we knew that we needed to stay longer, so we did.

One of Lagos’ many squares

Octopus made of black, white and red cobbles in Lagos. We have found this style of cobble art to be typical of Portuguese sidewalks and pedestrian streets.

Being situated at the most southwestern corner of Portugal, Lagos is home to some of the most beautiful beaches and stunning seaside cliffs we’ve ever seen.

Cliffs and rocks jutting out of the ocean in Lagos

We spent our entire first day walking the trail from the city center to the Ponta da Piedade, a panoramic viewpoint at the west end of town. We strolled up and down the many staircases, which lead from the cliff tops to the sandy beaches below.

Stairs leading down to a beach in Lagos

Crystal clear (and cold!) water off of a beach in Lagos

Enjoying our hike around Lagos

After arriving, we learned that Lagos was recently featured in the #1 spot on TripAdvisor’s list of “15 destinations on the rise” and we could not agree more. From walking around the town, we could tell that the vibe in the high season is likely much different as there are a number of highly visible clubs and bars throughout the town. We, however, really enjoy the peace and quiet that comes with traveling during the off season. Each local we spoke with was welcoming, friendly and eager to talk.

The truth is that we wish we had more time to spend in Lagos, but the road was calling and we had to keep on moving north to check out the more well know cities of Porto and Lisboa.

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The past nine days of our RTW trip were spent cruising on the Norwegian Jade. We know that cruising isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think of budget backpacking, but while researching destinations in Spain during the planning phase of our adventure, we came across an incredible deal on this cruise.

Our ship, the Norwegian Jade

The Canary Islands were of particular interest, not only for their relative obscurity and year round temperate weather, but also because much of Mike’s family lineage prior to arrival in the Americas comes from this small group of islands.

We set sail from Barcelona just after sunset on Sunday, January 22 and headed out to sea for two days before making our first port.  It was a real treat to sail through the Straight of Gibraltar and catch our first glimpse of Africa, lit up on the midnight horizon.

Funchal, Madeira – Madeira Islands (Portugal)

Our first stop was in Funchal, the capital city of Portugal’s Madeira Islands.  Despite being located in the North Atlantic, the island felt very tropical with an amazing variety of flowers and birds.  We caught city bus #21 first thing in the morning which took us up a narrow and curvy (to say the least) road leading to the mountain top village of Monte.  From here, the famous Funchal toboggan drivers set up shop.  The toboggan rides, which originated as a way to rapidly transport ice to the shore from the mountain top ice houses, have turned into a major tourist skeptical. While we did not indulge in a ride, we had a blast watching shrieking passengers skid down the mountainside.

Toboggan Ride

While most tourists take the toboggans down, we took the scenic walking route, which allowed for some incredible views of the Atlantic with Funchal in the foreground. If you’re interested in the particular route that we took, Google search “walking monte to funchal” and you’ll find step by step directions.

View of Funchal

The steep scenic route did a number on our legs but also allowed us to check out the local architecture.  We were inspired by the walled courtyards with beautiful tile work, all perfectly framed by pink and orange tropical flowers.

Tiled courtyard with colorful flowers

By the time we reached the city center, we were ready to relax. The islands of Madeira are known for producing their own variety of Port wine, so naturally, we had to try some. We picked up a bottle and headed for a nearby park to enjoy our last few hours in this island paradise.

Blandy’s Madeira Wine

Santa Cruz, Tenerife – Canary Islands (Spain)

On our second day at port we were blessed with particularly great weather, so headed for one of Tenerife’s few sandy beaches, La Playa de Las Teresitas. We heard that the beach was only a 20 minute bus ride from town and ambitiously attempted to walk instead. While walking, we discovered the Canary’s ubiquitous outdoor public gyms, but after over an hour, the sidewalk became an onramp to the interstate, and we were forced to take the bus.

Outdoor gym in the Canary Islands

When we finally made it to la playa, we were stoked to say the least! We think the picture says it all.

La Playa de Las Teresitas

After Amy’s pale skin couldn’t handle the sun any longer, we hoped the bus back to the city center to check out the city’s music hall, El Auditorio de Tenerife.

The beautifully tiled Auditorio de Tenerife

Arrecife, Lanzarote – Canary Islands (Spain)

The island of Lanzarote is best known for its picturesque and rugged volcanic landscapes, but we were drained of energy from our previous day in the sun and chose to stay in the small town of Arrecife.  While this city is noticeably smaller and less energetic than our first two ports of call, we did enjoy its captivating blue waters and small fishing town feel.

Fishing harbor in Arrecife

Málaga, Spain

Our final stop on the way back to Barcelona was the port city of Málaga, situated on Spain’s southern coast near Granada. Prior to our arrival, we knew very little about Málaga, but were pleasantly surprised. The city is very modern and well kept, but is still host to some amazing ancient structures.  To get a better view, we headed to an old roman theater known as el Alcazaba and hiked up a fantastic nearby trail. From the top we were able to view many of the city’s main attractions including the Plaza de Toros and Catedral del Obispo.

View of Málaga

On the Ship

Most of our days at sea were spent relaxing by the pool, reading, playing cards, and enjoying the Jade’s fantastic live music and entertainment. Because of Mike’s background in the hospitality industry, we were both interested in the operational aspects of running a floating hotel. After speaking with the Hotel Director, we had the opportunity to take a behind the scenes tour of the ship, including the kitchen, galley and provisions areas, bridge control room, laundry facilities, waste disposal center, and theater. We were amazed at what goes into making a cruise happen smoothly and seamlessly.

Tour of the Jade’s laundry facilities

Tour of the Jade’s massive walk-in produce cooler

The Jade’s Staff Captain explains the radar system during the tour of the Bridge

We had a fantastic time at sea and it was a great opportunity to rest up, eat three (or more) good meals per day, and prepare ourselves for the upcoming month of hostel living and a relatively unknown itinerary. We are now in Valencia and looking forward to exploring the home of paella!

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