Final Hoorah: Portugal, Tuscany, Copenhagen

Perhaps I’ve waited so long to write this post because I know it means the end of an era. Aka…no more travel posts. If I do maintain a steady blog posting it can only include adventure stories of work, sleep, or biking a few miles somewhere and back. For now and probably for the near future, I am at the end of my European holiday. My bank account told me it was time. But at the very least, my last week was amazing (minus the last 48 hours… tune in for details).

Before returning to the shores of Cape Cod, it came to me in Portugal. I traveled to Lisbon for a day on a layover and then left for the Azores to meet Alexa and Kacey, a big part of what make me call Cape Cod home. The Azores for the Franco’s are the motherland, or as they call it the Grandmother land. Grandma had traveled from Sao Miguel island many years ago, to pitch her life on Cape Cod. Although the trip was simply beautiful, it meant even more for the Franco’s being able to see, hear, and taste the heritage.

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Day one…as most day one’s go, started off a bit rocky. The Franco’s waited for 6 hours in the airport, there were no automatic cars for renting, and we ended up taking a bus then hiking up a mountain for 30 minutes to reach our house. Natascha, our Airbnb host was shocked that we showed up on foot, but with salty sweat coating our hair we were just excited for a warm shower. The home was a brightly painted bungalow overlooking the water and hills of the Azores, and Natascha and her husband were quite possibly the kindest and cutest couple in the world. The hike there was hard but worth every step for that view.

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We settled in, showered, and Natascha called for an automatic car rental (thank goodness), then with just the night ahead of us, we called a cab to some small restaurant the host suggested. First, let me explain that the Portuguese people are LITERALLY, (I don’t use this word lightly) the nicest people alive. If you want, to live somewhere where everyone is happy, move to the Portugal. Our taxi driver, native to Canada, spoke perfect English and gave us his contact information so we could ask for any suggestions on the island while in town. Then, when we got to the restaurant it was closed, with only the faint buzz of a TV in the background.

Victor, our driver and now friend, said, “Hold on, I think I have his cell phone.” Called the owner of the restaurant, who lives on site, and the man opened his restaurant for the three of us. It was like eating a home cooked meal and although he spoke no English, his smile and continuous pours of homemade drinks let us know he was immensely happy to host.

The food was the best I’ve eaten in all of Europe, Greece is a close second, but the fish he cooked was so fresh and perfectly spiced. The Portuguese leave the head on the fish which was a bit alarming, but all part of the experience.

Over the worst of things, we started out this next morning, with new friends and a car. We went hiking and endured twenty different weather patterns. Since the island is in the center of the Atlantic, I’m not sure it knew which season to pick. In the course of an hour, we had a hurricane, wind storm, sun and rainbows, freezing air, and perfect weather. But luckily everything we reached a viewpoint or Miradoura as the Portuguese say the sky cleared up allowing us to gawk at the stunning landscapes.

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We scoured the land for the most instagrammable and pinterestable pics. Without luck, we messaged Victor, our taxi friend, who gave us the exact location for the picture we wanted. Once there (despite the cold) we didn’t want to leave. But instead of tracing “Bri was here” in the sand, something that will blow away, Alexa vandalized the viewpoint with a Mocean sticker. Worth it.

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The Azores, like Santorini, are made from volcanoes. This mean many of the coastal sites have hot springs and there are lakes throughout the island. On the first day, we went to a spa right on the ocean rocks with water deposits directly from the Atlantic, only feet away. With the crazy waves and rocky coast, the spa allows a safe haven for bathing.

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Our last day was spent cramming in everything we didn’t want to miss. We trekked through natural forests, saw a tea factory, hiked to a lighthouse (personally my favorite view), and jumped in the Atlantic. The waves were INSANE! Kacey snapped some pictures while Lex and I held onto a rope for dear life and got covered in sea foam.

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Lisbon and Tuscany were ahead of us, but to finish the Azores trip off we returned to our favorite restaurant from the first night. Valdemar and Ana, the owners of the cute place, opened up again just for us and were so happy to see us the learned a few English words before we arrived and I got out the google translator so they could sit and eat with us while we struggled through a conversation. If for nothing else, I will return to the Island just to see these two again. They dated through a window (old school) before they were married and he used to be the number one scuba diver on Sao Miguel, he would spear all of his fish fresh for selling while diving.

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We left for Lisbon the next morning and luckily the hostel I stayed at previously allowed us to drop off our bags so we could walk around unhindered. The city, like the island, had very friendly locals, but Lisbon was completely sunny and hot with beautifully tiled buildings. It was colorful on every corner, and had the most amazing pastries called Pasteis de Nata; an egg custard tart with a butter crust, I gained weight in Lisbon from these since I ate 20 in a few days.

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We were more than halfway through our trip at this point, and everything seemed wonderful. Then we landed in Rome and our rental car company wasn’t there for our reservation time. We need to get a new car, much more expensive, and drive late at night to find something that was open. Alexa and Kacey hate Rome although they only got a terrible glimpse of it. Rome is dirty, yes, and the people are loud and rude, the drivers are insane, but it has its own charm it just takes a bit. They saw the Colosseum from the car and the outside of my Apartment building at 3 am.

We left after gathering my luggage for Tuscany. Since driving in Rome is awful, Lex was ready to get out to the country. The three-hour drive lightened their perspective on Italy with fields of flowers, castle towns, and rolling hills. We arrived in Chianti that afternoon, went to a castle and tasting then out to dinner in the city. The gardens were beautiful and our hosts much nicer than the Romans.

 

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Then on our last day in Italy, we drove out to Florence where I ate my last Italian pizza, I would give anything for another one. Lex and Kacey, were much more impressed here than in Rome, makes sense. It’s much cleaner and walkable. We climbed the Bell Tower and got a view of the Duomo, then left the city will full tummies on our way to the Mediterranean sea.

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Lexa had a strong to desire to swim in the water…although it wasn’t warm enough so we drove out there and since we were passing through Pisa we stopped to see the tower. This is when it all started.

***

Brought to you by Radio KISSKISS. This station comically became the soundtrack of Italy. It was one of the only stations and played the same ten odd American pop songs over and over, mixed with the occasional oldie and classic Italian tune. It got annoying in times of struggle near the end of our trip, but, for me, even when things got awful near the end, I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard “Ooh nah nah hey, I’m not your homie” for the hundredth time.

***

We parked in Pisa for maybe 40 minutes, saw the tower…which didn’t even lean that much and looked fake, it was disappointing, and then left. Pisa aside from this random tower is not a tourist town. It’s ugly and dirty, and oddly empty of people. But after dipping our toes in the ocean nearby, we noticed a ticket on the car. A parking ticket from Pisa. Apparently, we needed to pay for the spot next to a trash can in a back alley of Pisa (even though it wasn’t marked).

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( was the picture worth it…no.)

So we spent the next two hours driving around this stupid town trying to pay a ticket. Apparently, you can’t pay at the police station, only the tobacco store, and after going to five T stores, we found it’s only a select few stores that actually service the tickets. It was a ridiculous and frustrating goose chase around the city. But apparently, Pisa is notorious for its tickets, trying to scalp everything from tourists.

We left hoping for dinner in Siena on our way back to the airport in Rome when the change oil light came on. We were in the middle of nowhere and ended up buying oil from some random lady at a night cafe after driving through hills for an hour. We skipped the dinner plan since we didn’t want the car exploding.

After a few other trials on the way back, an out of order car and mad moods from the ticket fiasco, we found our way back to the airport. But with no gas station nearby we drove for an extra hour just trying to refill the car. We were there early, but it didn’t matter. We wanted food, a shower and to get out of that car which we got at least one of.

Finally, we were on our way to Copenhagen. We had a long layover there, so with all of our luggage we power walked the city, got our pictures and ate the best McDonald’s fries ever. I don’t understand why an American company, is better in foreign countries. Fix that, please.

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All that was left was a 6-hour flight home. This was it the end of my trip; the end of an adventure. Perhaps a bit of struggle near the end was good. It helped my sadness for leaving subside and made me tired enough to long for my bed in Cape Cod. But still, now that this post exists, it really is the end.

Thank you, Rome, and Europe for an unparalleled Holiday. In the words of a KISSKISS radio classic:

“Do you travel all the time like this?

I MIGHT!”

I hope to do it all again someday.

Farewell and Obrigado,

Bri, the barefoot traveler

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