May 25, 2011

Day 7: Happy Anniversary!

Intro to the tour
Days 1 & 2 - Traveling to Bordeaux
Day 3 - St. Emilion
Day 4 - Rioja
Days 5 & 6 - Western Spain and Portugal
Day 6 - Porto

Day 7 was our 4 year anniversary! I had told the B&B owner that this was our anniversary, so she really took care of us - for breakfast we had homemade cressants (which were delicious), homemade tomato jam (which I had never had before, but it was so good), and eggs.

We had noticed the day before that our motorcycle headlight had burnt out, and we figured that a big city like Porto would be the perfect place to buy a new one. I casually mentioned to our hostess that we needed a new headlight, and she gave us perfect directions to a BMW motorcycle dealer! She really was the best - I hope we go back to Porto sometime to stay there again.

The headlight seemed like it would be an easy fix, but it kind of turned into an ordeal. Let's just say - thank goodness Brian knows his motorcycle. We tried to just buy the light so that B could install it. The mechanic insisted on installing it himself. Brian watched him and noticed he broke the fixture. The mechanic tried to tell us it was fixed, but Brian knew better (love my man). Bri was obviously unhappy, so the owner of the shop came out. After a lot of talking and some frustration, the mechanic ended up fixing the fixture and installing a component that will keep it from breaking in the future, which is a good thing. All for the cost of the light bulb, which was only like, 20 bucks. So it turned out great, but it took some effort to get there!

So then we were on the road! And oh, what a GORGEOUS ride we had planned for that day. It was Douro River valley day, which is a famous for its beauty and Port production.

First of all, the weather had really warmed up, which was so nice. B and I wore t-shirts and shorts under our motorcycle gear, which was a fun change from needing to layer up a bit more. And from the beginning of the day through the end, we were constantly in awe of our surroundings.

The plant-life started out very jungle-y in the morning. It was so green and lush and everything smelled so fresh! The road was awesome - just a two-lane road, winding along the river.

Welcome to the jungle!

Then the roads started to climb - when I thought we couldn't go any higher, the road just kept on going! When I looked out over the valley, I felt like I was looking out the window of an airplane! Then the road ran along the ridge of the hills - back and forth, twisting and turning, taking us through the cutest tiny towns, and giving us views that kept taking our breath away.

There were SO many farms in this valley. A lot of them were growing trees that looked like this one - all in full bloom!

Side note: I am terrible at timing pictures while we're driving. I'll think, "Oh, good view!" and I'll go to take a picture, and I'll capture the tree or sign or wall just after the view that completely blocks the view. More than likely, the picture above was one of those pictures, but it does show the type of tree we saw a lot of!

Anyway, so we just kept following the river all afternoon! It definitely became more arid as we continued inland from Porto. For lunch, we stopped in this small town on the river that had this view.

Fisherman heaven

We ate at this little restaurant.

And we had fresh cod with veggies and an ice cream bar for dessert. The cod was really tasty - much more than it looked!

Excited about our chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich

The bridge we took into town

Where we ate lunch

And the drive continued to entertain us with views like these:


At one point, I'm pretty sure we were driving on a trail only meant for tractors, but it was SO awesome and peaceful. It felt like we were a part of the little farming community.

These cliffs were so cool - the shadows on the rocks were really dramatic, and the colors on the rock walls were really interesting!

This day of driving turned out to be a really long one, but it was so worth it! We were definitely happy to arrive at our B&B for the evening. This one was really different - it was in this town that was really really old - I mean, they had ancient Roman ruins. We loved how our schedule had us in different surroundings each night. One night, in Porto, the next night, in the Spanish hill country.

We were the only guests staying at the B&B that night, so we really got the special treatment! The couple who hosted us didn't speak much English, though, so that made it interesting! They kept saying something about a "friend" and "later" and "English" s0 we concluded that one of their friends spoke English and would come over later.

In the meantime, we had our welcome beers by the fire, cleaned up for dinner, and then they served us a great meal. The guy called the picture below our "bambino" picture because of the highchair that's next to me. We had a good laugh about that.

So after dinner, we moved back to the living room and met their friend, Marius. And he was a HOOT! First of all, he looked like and laughed like a Spanish version of Dustin Hoffman. His English definitely wasn't the best, but we had a great time figuring out what each other was trying to say. At one point, he was telling us about his new donkey, and he was trying to tell us the name. To help us figure out the English word, he started to hum/mumble, "These ___ were made for walkin..." and we were like "BOOTS!" He said, "YES! My donkey's name is Boots!" We laughed so hard we were crying as he kept singing the song and laughing.

Our discussions varied from his new donkey to politics to funny sayings. At one point we mentioned that it was our anniversary, which made them very happy to celebrate with us. Marius insisted we take a kissing picture:

And then we insisted on taking a picture of him with our host:

The guy on the left is Marius - such a ham and he looks like Spanish Dustin Hoffman, right?? Maybe it's hard to tell in the picture :)

Anyway, we had a great time chatting and ended up staying up till 1:30 in the morning! It was definitely a memorable anniversary!

May 23, 2011

Day 6: Porto, Portugal (aka - more wine!)

Intro to the tour
Days 1 & 2 - Traveling to Bordeaux
Day 3 - St. Emilion
Day 4 - Rioja
Days 5 & 6 - Western Spain and Portugal

So after driving through a beautiful national park, we arrived in the city of Porto, Portugal. We really enjoyed our drive into the city - Brian was my personal tour guide! After some toodlin' around, though, I was ready to find our place and start exploring by foot. But we had a pretty hard time finding our B&B! It was a row-house that had no sign, and we had booked so many hotels, I couldn't remember exactly what this one looked like. Oops :) But we finally found it and were thrilled to see it was a really neat, recently renovated building that had really great character. And the owner was so welcoming. We settled in, cleaned up, and started looking over the map to figure out what we wanted to see in lovely Porto!

Our room at the B&B - so beautiful! And I loved the huge windows!

As I mentioned, the B&B owner was so sweet and had all kinds of fun recommendations on where to eat and what to see. She gave us some delicious Port wine as welcome drinks and made a great route for us to follow - so nice!

We had great weather and were so excited to walk around the city.

Porto Castle

First we made our way to the main bridge for a great view of the city to start our tour.

Boats transporting Port wine

Port factories

Then, it was definitely past our lunch time! We were starving, so we grabbed some food down by the river.

Fun restaurants by the water

Cheers! We loved the Portuguese beer, Super Bock

After lunch, it was time to explore!

The plazas and old buildings by the river were so cute.

These awesome old trolleys were all over the city.

We walked up this huge hill for a great view. It was so nice and warm!

We found this cool old bookstore - the inside had tons of intricate wood carvings

When it was getting close to sunset, we decided it was time to sit back and relax. We bought a bottle of port and took the bus to the beach to watch the sun set on a great day in Porto. We tried to take a trolley, but the LAST trolley of the day pulled away as we walked up to it. Oh well, the bus worked!

It was so nice to listen to the ocean

We moved inside to stay out of the wind as the sun got lower

Bri and I had decided to celebrate our anniversary this night (our anniversary was the next day), so he took me to a fancy restaurant called Tribeca that is famous for its live jazz (he knows me so well!). It was a beautiful restaurant with wonderful food. In true BK form, we of course had steaks with pear and goat cheese salad and molten chocolate cake AND sorbet for dessert! Wow, yum.

After a long day of driving, exploring, and a delicious meal, we both agreed that we were exhausted and ready to call it an early night. The waiters and bar tenders looked at us like we were crazy for leaving such a great table so early in the evening, but we didn't even care. We were pooped! Happy Port-iversary, Bri!

May 22, 2011

Day 5 and 6: Western Spain and Portugal

Intro - The Tour
Days 1 & 2 - Getting to Bordeaux
Day 3 - St. Emilion
Day 4 - Rioja Wine Region

Day 5 started with a mediocre Spanish hotel breakfast (no chocolate croissants - grr) and some cold, rainy weather. I usually tough through the cold because it typically doesn't last long. You know how road trips go - lots of weather changes. However, this particular day it was either just extra cold or I was being a weenie, because I made us pull over only 45 minutes into the drive so that I could have some hot tea. But it definitely helped to warm me up!

About an hour later, the skies cleared, but man the drive was kinda boring! It felt like we were driving through Spanish Kansas - lots of flat fields and only a few tiny, run-down towns.

We stopped in one of the towns for lunch, and it felt like something out of an old western, but in Spain. Do those even exist? We didn't fit in at all with our motorcycle! But they served up a good fish sandwich and paella.
Old Spanish Western town :)

As we continued on, we hit some crazy winds! Luckily, as we got into more hills, the winds died down. The hills grew more dramatic and beautiful as we went along. In those hills, there were tons of small towns that seemed completely deserted. They were really cool looking because they were all old, rustic stone buildings. It was really interesting and made us wonder what had happened to have people settle towns like those and then leave.

We saw a few of these huge Spanish bulls. It's hard to tell in this picture, but this metal bull is probably 30 feet tall

We stopped for coffee at a hostel in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, and the lady working the counter thought Brian was Spanish. We concluded it was because of his unshaven face :)

Our B&B for the night was really cool! We had to take several tiny roads to get to it, and the structure was extremely old, but the inside was refurbished really well!

Check out our room!

We spent the evening sitting on our porch, listening to a stream nearby, drinking wine, listening to jazz, and just relaxing. It was so nice to unwind and reflect on our great day of driving.

Dinner that night was prepared and served by the B&B owner, and it was really tasty! Great red wine (of course), croquettes, pork, barbecue rice, and flan with celery for dessert! I wouldn't have thought to pair celery and flan, but it was really good.

The next morning, the B&B owner was back in the kitchen and served us fresh squeezed orange juice, eggs, and crepes.

Time to head out

The weather that day was SO much better! Lots of sun and warm temperatures. It didn't take us long to hit our first good roads for the day. We spent a couple of hours driving through a national park on the border of Spain and Portugal, and it was gorgeous!

We were the only ones on the road (literally, we saw one other car), and the road was surrounded by lush vegetation and cool rock formations. For a little while, I thought maybe we weren't supposed to be on that road? What if it dead-ended? But we cruised right along without problems and just enjoyed the view! And the smells - they were so fresh and sweet. We drove by tons of really cool picnic areas with solid stone picnic tables - I wish I had packed a lunch!

The road we followed

We saw lots of these!

There were tons of orange trees (right side of the picture)

After the national park, it wasn't too much further to Porto, and I'll save Porto for another post!