Iberian Road Trip – Segovia and Valencia

We made some ground through Spain on our last few days.  We traveled to Segovia, yet another UNESCO World Heritage site, which has a towering Roman aqueduct.  After a quick stop in Madrid to drop off the rental car, we took the train to our last stop, Valencia, home to Santiago Calatrava’s City of Art and Sciences complex.  Oh, and there was some paella in the mix, some really good paella.

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Iberian Road Trip – Salamanca and Ávila

Roman bridge, Salamanca

Back in 2002, while Bobby was studying at the USAFA, he was selected for a summer immersion language program (also through the Olmsted Foundation, the same foundation that has given us these three wonderful years in Europe).  It was his first visit to Europe and he quickly fell in love.  In fact, when we started the Olmsted Scholar application process a few years ago, Salamanca was on the top of his list for places to live.  Although we are extremely happy with the way things worked out here in Firenze, it is easy for me to see why he has always loved the Spanish culture and in particular, the city of Salamanca.  After a four hour drive in very wet and windy conditions, we arrived in the popular university town.

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Iberian Road Trip – Guimarães, Pontevedra and Santiago de Compostela

Beautiful sunset from our hotel

Our Iberian road trip continued north, first stopping in Guimarães, Portugal before heading into Spain, where we visited both Pontevedra and Santiago de Compostela.  With spring comes rain and it seems we couldn’t escape it on this trip.  Luckily, we did have a few sun breaks, so we tried to make the best of it.

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Portugal’s West Coast – Porto and Aveiro

WWI monument

After mentioning to some friends we were traveling to Portugal, we were told multiple times that we must visit the city of Porto.  I quickly did some research and found that it was a riverfront city full of colorful buildings, a pretty famous bridge, and home to port wine.  There’s not much that could go wrong with this scenario, so off we went.  We continued our road trip north, stopping first at Aveiro (which I will explain at the bottom of the post because it’s just not as exciting!) and then Porto, Portugal’s second largest city.

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Lisbon – The City of Seven Hills

Beautiful tiled house

Bobby and I arrived in Lisbon a few days ago, ready to kick off a twelve day tour of Portugal and Spain with my parents.  None of us had ever visited the country before, so we didn’t really know what to expect.  After walking around the first night, we quickly learned why Lisbon is nicknamed “The City of Seven Hills.”  We thought it felt more like 700!  The uphill battles, combined with the fact that the sidewalks are all constructed of mini-mosaics, certainly took a toll on our feet.  I suppose this is why the trams are so popular.

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Naples, the Second Time Around

Cloister of Santa Chiara

I have to admit, the first time Bobby and I visited Naples, we did not fall in love with the city.  We thought it was dirty (well, it is) and the people were aggressive (read: mafia).  Although these prejudices still exist, we decided to give the city a second chance and travel there last weekend.  We chose Ferrari’s high-speed train called “Italo” from Firenze SMN station to Napoli Centrale.  The trip, on the world’s fastest train, took a little under two and a half hours.  Not bad!  We met Bobby’s sister Eva and her husband Geremia, who is a sort of Napoli-guru, on Saturday morning.  Geremia lived in Napoli for years and travels there often for work, so he was a fantastic tour guide, showing us the best museums, churches, and restaurants the town has to offer.

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Touring Torino

River Po

We spent two days in Torino (Turin) and we could have stayed a few more because there is a lot to see.  In 1861, the town was named Italy’s first capital city and although most of its political importance has been lost since WWII, it still serves as one of Italy’s major industrial cities, along with Genova and Milano.  Because it is a principle European crossroad for trade and commerce, you would think that Torino lacks some of the finer cultural highlights.  This would be a false presumption.  The city has a rich culture and history and is known for its numerous art galleries, top restaurants, beautiful architecture (palaces, opera houses, castles), large piazzas and parks, world-renowned theaters, and many, many museums. With near one-million inhabitants in the city limits, Torino feels much larger than a lot of Italy’s other “cities.”

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Piemonte Food and Wine Tour [Part 2]

I can see it....

We continued our Piemonte food and wine tour by stopping in the famous wine town of Barolo, tasting some wines at the architecturally-stunning Ceretto winery, seeing a very unique twist on an Italian church, and visiting the 14th-century castle in Serralunga d’Alba.  What we sacrificed in food in our final two days in the Langhe region, we made up for in wine!  … [Read More]

Falling for Helsinki

Lovely reflections

Helsinki stole my heart.  It may have been the perfect weather, the beautiful shoreline, or the colorful autumn leaves making the city especially festive.  Who knows.  Like every other city we visit, Bobby and I decided to tour Helsinki on foot.  We arrived in late afternoon, and with only a couple of daylight hours left, we headed north to visit the famed Rock Church and the Jean Sibelius Monument.  We reached the shoreline at dusk and it was a perfect night to take the waterside jogging path back to the city.  The following day, we took the scenic route, walking again along the harbor to the fish market and up the hill to Kaivopuisto Park.  Here, we had sweeping views of Kruunuvuorenselka (what a word!) Sound.

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The Baltic Rim: Estonia

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral on Toompea Hill

Before heading to Estonia, Bobby read an interesting article about how the country stepped outside of the USSR’s shadow to become an internet titan.  One commentator wrote “for other countries, the internet is just another service, like tap water, or clean streets,” adding that ” for young Estonians, the internet is a manifestation of something more than a service – it’s a symbol of democracy and freedom.”  There is free WiFi everywhere in the capital city of Tallinn – in cafes, in bars, and even in the streets.  It’s been stated that one could walk for 100 miles from the city to its outskirts and never lose internet connectivity.  We definitely can’t say that in the United States.  Even Skype, which is now owned by Microsoft, was born in Estonia.  We were certainly impressed with the tiny country.

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