A Travellerspoint blog

My Thoughts on Trip Planning

Here are some steps I go through when planning trips.

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Travel inspiration. It is pretty much a living and breathing part of me. Every day, I am drawn to some lovely picture in my Facebook feed, an image in a coffee table book, a podcast, a guidebook, or a friend's travel adventure. All of these things plant the seed for a future trip. On a monotonous workday, these are the thoughts that keep me content.

Research

Guidebooks are the seeds of inspiration. Borrow a stack of guidebooks from your local library. I peruse guidebooks on a near daily basis and keep notes of places that interest me. I regularly skim guidebooks of places that I am not even sure I will ever visit! If you are not a big reader, watch shows like Rick Steves, Samantha Brown, Anthony Bourdain (RIP), and Globe Trekker for inspiration.

Vacationer vs. Traveler

Which one are you? Do you long for a week at a resort where you will spend your days by a pool basking in the sun? Or do you enjoy actively exploring a region's history, culture, and landscape? Chances are, you have qualities of both a vacationer and a traveler. It is helpful to know how you like to pace your trip. I personally enjoy packing my days with sightseeing, hiking, and exploring. A couple of hours at a pool or a beach are plenty for me. I also enjoy great food and drink and like researching local specialties. Do you like your vacation to be predictable or are you excited about taking risks and trying new things? Again, you probably have qualities of both. Some people (like me) love researching a trip ahead of time and planning many aspects in advance. Others like the flexibility of planning your trip on the go. These are all questions you must ask yourself before diving into trip planning.

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  • Subscribe to travel sites on social media. Sites like Condé Nast Traveler, Intrepid Travel, Wonderful Places, The World, BBC Travel, Travel + Leisure, Budget Travel, Rick Steves, and Samantha Brown all have a presence on social media and post wonderful pictures, essays, blogs, and articles. I do not use Pinterest but know many travelers love it. You're sure to find inspiration even when you are not looking!
  • Google Maps is your new best friend. Once you begin to zero in on a country or region, study the map of what is nearby. I often plug in a couple of destinations to approximate the distance. Is it a reasonable drive or train ride? Do I need to find a logical stop in between the two destinations? Visualizing what is in between two places can open your eyes to new places that you did not even know you wanted to visit!

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Google Images is your other new best friend. Once a location piques my interest, I quickly Google the place and click images to see a range of photographs. If it isn't pretty or interesting, that might be enough for me to move on to another nearby town or village.

  • TripAdvisor can be fantastic for perusing attractions and hotels in an area. I use tripadvisor.com in conjunction with guidebooks to read reviews about a city or region.

Budgeting

Most people travel on some sort of budget. We definitely prioritize taking long trips over having fancy hotels and meals. Now that we are in our 40s, we do insist on hotels with in-room bathrooms, air-conditioning (when visiting somewhere hot), and local character. We still strive to spend $100 or less wherever we travel. Sometimes we go over or under that amount, but it gives us a target. When researching costs in a destination, I find it helpful to look at menus from recommended restaurants. Seeing various menus helps understand costs in an area. Checking on prices of a common item, like beer or coffee, can help clarify costs in a country. There is a reason why we have not visited Scandinavia or Switzerland! Those expensive places will be saved for later.

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Airfare

Luckily, I happen to be married to an airfare guru. He keeps track of our mileage plans, sets up online airfare trackers, and has a creative sense of how to put together a flight. On our upcoming flight to Greece, we used mileage to book our tickets to Athens eleven months in advance. For a couple of months, we only had one-way airfare - no flight home! Since he continuously checks various websites, a one-way special airfare from Athens to our hometown appeared. This time we will be flying Turkish Airlines through Istanbul to get the best fare!

Sometimes we arrange open-jaw flights to fly in and out of two separate cities. Buying one-way tickets is not expensive like it used to be. We live in a town with a rather small airport so driving to a large city often leads to savings. We will often park our car with a friend in a different city or ask a relative to drop us off. Airfare is a huge cost so finding ways to save is really important to us. Economical airlines such as Icelandair or Condor have lead to some great fares. Icelandair allows free stopovers in Iceland which we were happy to use!

Some people think there is a formula for buying airfare. They believe certain days of the week are better and waiting a certain length of time before booking saves them money. We have not found this to be necessarily true. On our last few big trips, we have purchased airfare nearly a year in advance and felt really good about the price we paid. However, we still follow the number one rule - do NOT check prices after you have purchased! What good can this do if you have already paid? Keep an eye on airfares and set up a tracker on a site like Kayak. There is no better feeling than buying tickets and knowing your travel is set!

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Accommodations

  • Once I settle on an itinerary and have airfare in hand, it's time to book accommodations. The earlier the better, in my opinion. We love small, independently run places that often have a loyal following of return visitors. Once you know dates, book these places online. I try to book directly with the hotel's website instead of using Booking.com or another large site. (Those sites take a big cut from small businesses.) Before picking a hotel, read reviews and try to understand the location of the place in relation to the attractions you'll be visiting. Use Google Maps to determine walking or public transit distances between your hotel and where you'll likely be sightseeing. If you are planning long in advance, you should have lots of options, so be picky! If the hotel emails you with a higher price than you expected, keep shopping around. If the hotel is in a guidebook, has 4.5 or higher star rating on TripAdvisor, a high score on Booking.com and a workable website, you're probably going to be happy.

When you receive an email confirmation of your booking, I'm old-school and I print out a hard copy. I like to be able to show a document when checking in, if necessary. This came in handy on our last trip to Germany when we did not get the room we requested. In the past, I used Google Translate to communicate with the hotel in their native language. On my last couple of trips, that was not necessary because many hotels have English versions of their website and clearly accept an inquiry in English.

Keep in mind that European hotels are much smaller than American ones. It is rare that a standard room has two beds. A room with two beds is usually considered a family room, and will cost more. Many small hotels only have a couple of family rooms making booking ahead even more important. When we traveled to Spain and Portugal, we took my mom which made us a party of five. In this situation, Airbnb and HomeAway became a more economical way to book rooms. We had great luck with the places we chose although some of the owners did not speak English. This didn't present a problem other than me wishing I spoke another language! We only picked places that had a fair number of positive reviews.

If you find yourself using reviews to help make travel decisions, don't forget to write some of your own either during or after your trip!

There's something exciting about emailing a hotel in Europe and waking up the next morning with a response. It is gratifying to research a hotel, decide it's "the one", and get the email that confirms your upcoming stay. I still reconfirm my stays a couple of weeks before the trip just in case.

Travel blogs and forums

I often use TripAdvisor, Fodors, and Rick Steves forums to see current conversations, questions, itineraries, and advice about the region I am researching. Sometimes I will look up food blogs or family blogs to see what locals are doing in their own city. Searching for something like "Athens family blog" or "Athens food blog" or "kids in Greece" will turn up many pages. Be prepared to go down the Internet black hole. Copy and paste things of interest into a document that you can edit and research later.

Customize your own travel guide

Once my accommodations are booked, I create a quick document for each location where I will be staying. The document will have a summary of the attractions that I might want to see. The list is always longer than what is practical. I find it helpful to offer my family a few options depending on our mood and level of energy. It is nice having a single piece of paper with an outline of your time in a city or region. I usually separate the document into attractions, restaurants (I list a few, most we will find while traveling. I have found it is good to have a couple restaurants researched in case people get hungry and I need to act quickly!), neighborhoods to explore, local transportation tips, and accommodation information. This document has to make sense to you and should be a simple outline. Often, I will notate page numbers in a guide book to reference for more detailed information.

Technology

On every trip I have taken abroad over the last twenty years, staying connected has become easier. Prepaid calling cards, Internet cafes, pay phones, and paper maps are all a thing of the past. It really is worth springing for data coverage on your smartphone. Using maps, TripAdvisor, and instant messenging makes your travel time more efficient and meaningful. Saying that, I still like to put the phone away and wander aimlessly. It is comforting to know that your phone really can help you get home if you get too lost! If you do not have a data package on your phone, bring it anyway as wi-fi is even more available in Europe. Laptops and iPads aren't really needed but we tend to travel with a couple for work that might arise, writing this blog, managing photographs, watching a show, or reading a book.

Packing

There are so many great resources on how to pack for a trip. I really do not have much to add except to stress PACK LIGHTLY! If you are going to Europe, everything you need is available there and you might enjoy shopping for a new dress or a pair of special sandals. It is pretty easy to do your own laundry or have it done. I do recommend bringing a few Ziploc bags, rubber bands, reusable shopping bags, a small duffel bag that you might fill to bring home, and a travel beach towel (They are awesome! They roll up very small and are great even as a blanket in a pinch).

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There's Always More...

As we prepare for our summer trip, I am sure I will remember other preparation ideas and tips. I will be sure to update this entry with any bright ideas I may have forgotten.

But for now, happy trip planning! I hope it brings you as much joy as it does for me. Dream big and be creative!

Posted by familyineurope 11:34 Tagged travel planning Comments (1)

Carcassonne and Home!

Girona, Minerve, Carcassonne, a couple domestic stops, and home.

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A few travel thoughts

My family members are rock stars. They made 45 nights away from home in 20 different locations an adventure of a lifetime! They trust me with travel planning and seem to enjoy the choices I make. They have endurance, patience, tolerance, curiosity, and open-mindedness - the qualities of all-star travelers. I'm so proud of them and get teary-eyed just thinking about this trip coming to an end.

Renting apartments in Europe

We stayed in 10 different Airbnb and Homeaway apartments. We liked all of our apartments but can offer the following suggestions for all renters.

1. People like a place in the bathroom to put their stuff. A shelf, chair, hook, or whatever. I know European bathrooms are small but it is nice to leave a few personal items somewhere besides the floor.

2. There needs to be more than one mirror in an apartment that sleeps 6. Please put mirrors in the bedrooms or on other walls.

3. I know Europeans aren't big on air conditioning. That's fine. But if you're renting your place to the world, please offer a couple of cheap electric fans. Not all of us are used to sleeping in 80 degree nights.

4. Spring for a new kitchen sponge. Add it to the rental rate if necessary.

5. If you have lamps and clocks, check to make sure they work. I can't tell you how many lamps we tried to use that either didn't have a light bulb or just flat out didn't work.

These are small gripes but would make a difference in a weary traveler's stay.

Now back to the blog...

Girona, Spain and on to Carcassonne, France

We left Barcelona on a quiet Sunday morning for the town of Girona. Girona is a big cycling town so DH was intrigued. We found parking and hiked along the historic city walls. It was a neat urban hike with lots of stairs and look-outs. Climbing to the top of things is really my favorite thing so this trail hit the mark.

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We found something that reminded us of home. Go Ducks!

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We enjoyed the narrow streets and relaxed feel of this town after the hustle and bustle of Barcelona. After a little shopping and gelato, we drove further north into France for a quick picnic. By this point, we were eager to get rid of groceries that we had accumulated over the course of this long trip.

Once we arrived in Carcassonne, we found parking after a little struggle and checked into our last apartment at the top of an older building. There were so many stairs.

We wandered around a bit on this quiet Sunday and decided on a recommended Italian place for dinner. Tripadvisor has served us well on most of our trip. This place was no exception. The caprese salad was probably the best I've ever had.

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We were wearing down and ready for a quiet night of sleep. Unfortunately, the local teenagers on the street below had other ideas and kept us awake with loud music and talking. We finally got some rest and were eager to explore the fortress of Carcassonne tomorrow.

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Minerve and Carcassonne

We began our day with a cute little bakery about 15 minutes from the center of Carcassonne. There was even a cute French cat.

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After a challenging and windy drive up some very narrow roads, we finally made it to the picturesque village of Minerve. Minerve is set in a canyon protected from attackers and nature's elements.

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After a delicious lunch in a nearby town, we headed back to explore the Carcassonne old city in hopes that the hordes of tourists might have left for the day. Luckily, many were leaving the city making our exploring much more pleasant and accessible.

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The charming and scenic old city reminded us of Mont St. Michel. We loved wandering around and remembering that this was really our last day sight-seeing in Europe.

We finally walked back to the apartment, packed up and prepared for our last road trip to Geneva, Switzerland.

Geneva (sort of) and home

We drove around 6 hours on France's expensive toll roads to a town just outside of Geneva. We picked a town on the French side to save money. On the way, we stopped in one French town famous for its nougat.

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We drove on and arrived at a regular hotel where we could pack and relax one last time. I found a nearby grocery store where I got teary-eyed once again. So many cheeses left untasted. I really was quite emotional in this random French grocery store as I reflected on our amazing journey.

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DH washed his wonderful car in preparation for its long 9-10 week journey back to the US.

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It's hard to believe that our trip is nearly over. On the way to Oregon, we will stop in Washington DC to see dear friends for one short night. We will also stop in Fargo, North Dakota for four nights for a family reunion. So even though the European part of our trip is over, there is a bit of fun left in the US.

For now, the 2017 portion of the blog is complete. It is finished without any concrete plans for future trips. Even though I'm excited to return home, I know I'll be happiest when I have new plane tickets in hand. So until next time, goodbye, au revoir, auf wiedersehen, tchau, and adios.

Posted by familyineurope 05:45 Archived in France Tagged geneva girona carcassonne minerve Comments (1)

Barcelona!

Lots of Gaudi, mountains, shopping, and wandering around this vibrant city.

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Drive from Teruel to Barcelona

We left Teruel after another round of pastries from Granier Bakery. This turned out to be our favorite chain in Spain. (Hey, that rhymes!) We drove a couple of hours to a beach town called Peniscola. Yes, I had fun pronouncing the town in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, everyone in Spain seems to enjoy Peniscola so our casual stop ending up being a big hot headache. It was difficult to park and wade through hordes of people. Despite that, I took a few nice pictures of the Mediterranean and some amazing sand castles.

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We gladly hit the road again and made it to Barcelona during rush hour. I don't mention enough how great my DH is at driving! We navigated to our pre-paid parking garage and left the car for four nights. There is no need to drive in Barcelona! We found our small apartment in the Sant Antoni neighborhood. There were lots of restaurants and shops nearby as well as Metro access. Check out the cute little door.

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We were hungry and made a stop at Rekon - a great empanada joint. Empanadas are all over Barcelona. They are cheap, yummy, and filling.

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Next, we decided to find a highly-rated beer place. It reminded us of our favorite spot from home! We splurged and hung out for a while eating dinner and enjoying a diverse selection of beer.

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Everyone was beat except for my mom and I. The two of us decided to check out the magic fountain. Gorgeous! We walked through some fun neighborhoods on our way back. It's incredible how late everyone stays out eating, drinking, and socializing! I had read about this but it is different actually experiencing Spanish culture. We saw lots of happy people enjoying their city. (Too bad they have this smelly sewage problem that can be common in large hot urban cities.)

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Gaudi - Park Guell, Sagrada Familia, and Flamenco Danging at Palau de la Musica

Today was the last day with my mom. She was flying out in the morning. So we decided to pack it in and see the best of Barcelona in a day. I booked tickets for Park Guell, Sagrada Familia and Palau de la Musica in advance. Our morning began with a bus ride to Park Guell.

I have seen many pictures of Gaudi sites online but it is more grand and out of this world in person. There just isn't anything like it. Park Guell was crowded but had so many photo-worthy spots.

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We moved on to Sant Pau Modernista Hospital. It's beautiful and one of the largest sites of modernist architecture anywhere. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to go inside because of our entrance time at Sagrada Familia. Next trip.

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Sagrada Familia is the most unique and stunning cathedrals I've ever seen. It truly took my breath away - both the exterior and interior. The lighting inside was especially mesmorizing. I've never toured an unfinished cathedral. There is an immense amount of work being done now as they try to finish it by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death. Most churches we have visited are old beyond comprehension. It was different viewing a modern basilica in progress with Gaudi's unique vision. There's nothing else like it.

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One side of the church lets in cool colors like blues and greens while the other side lets in warm oranges and yellows.

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You can see a construction guy working perilously high on this newer tower.

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We were hungry by this point and tired of tourists. We headed back to our non-touristy neighborhood and stumbled upon a really nice restaurant for lunch. Mom had a burger, DH had a spicy roast beef sandwich, I had tandoori chicken skewers and the girls shared a schnitzel with tomato sauce and cheese. Yum! We were stuffed and called it linner (lunch and dinner combined).

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After a wardrobe change and break, mom and I headed out to explore the Gothic Quarter and to do some shopping. We found ourselves on the busy Ramblas and couldn't believe how many people were in the old part of the city. We went to the famous La Boqueria Market for fresh juice smoothies.

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We eventually found a quiet cafe to share a bottle of wine before our big night at Palau de la Musica. The building was gorgeous and the dancing was incredible! I knew little about Flamenco dancing and was surprised at the intensity, singing, drama, and physicality. They moved their feet so quickly and used their arms and hands very expressively. The dance was so moody and beautiful. It didn't hurt that we had great seats in a gorgeous concert hall. What a treat!

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Goodbye to Mom, Tibidabo Mountain, tapas and more empanadas

I woke up early to take the Aerobus with my mom to Barcelona's main airport. It was wonderful having my mom along for the majority of our trip. She is always up for anything, is in a consistent good mood, and ready for any adventure. I'm so lucky that she likes spending time with us! We can be a challenge at times all in our different ways. I was sad to say goodbye but am thankful that we live so close in Oregon. We will see you soon, mom!

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The Aerobus was a breeze and I made it back around 10:30am. We decided to ride the Tibibus up the distant mountain called Tibidabo. (I just like saying Tibidabo.) The bus ride was long, windy, and steep. What great views over the vast city of Barcelona! We climbed up a tower on main church for a real bird's eye view over the city. There is an amusement park at the top with several rides. It was expensive so DD#2 and I just rode the iconic ferris wheel.

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We rode the bus down and DH found a bar to watch the Tour de France. The rest of us took a leisurely walk through some shopping neighborhoods.

We met up once again and decided to check out the hip Blai Street for dinner. Our apartment manager suggested this street for lively tapas. It was hard finding an available outdoor table. Once we found one, we selected a few pintxos and ordered an average paella. I was hoping to find a more authentic paella on this trip but it wasn't in the cards. Oh well. We were still a bit hungry so we stopped in for empanadas again.

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Montjuic, Barceloneta, more shopping, & jazz at La Pedrera

We had a slow start at another cafe for more pastries and coffee. The morning pastry diet is about to come to an abrupt end!

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We started our day at the Las Arenas mall. It's a disused bull-fighting arena that has been changed into a modern shopping mall. DD#1 scored a cute shirt at a store called "Teenager". The 12 year-old was thrilled. There were some great views from the roof of the Las Arenas including Tibidabo from yesterday.

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We took a subway and a funicular to Mount Montjuic to find some green space and yet another view. The castle looked nice but we didn't go inside. There were some nice views of the cruise ships and port of Barcelona.

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We took the funicular and bus to the Barceloneta neighborhood for a seafood lunch. Unfortunately, the rest of Barcelona wanted a seafood lunch on this sunny Saturday. We tried three different recommended places (all busy) before settling on a more pricey place. It was just nice to rest our sore legs by this point. I liked the narrow and livable streets with laundry set out to dry.

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DD#1 and DH went back to the apartment to watch some Tour de France while the rest of us did our last bit of Barcelona shopping.

We had a quick pizza dinner at a restaurant across the street from our apartment. They sold the pizza by weight kind of like frozen yogurt back at home. Interesting!

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I was spoiled tonight and had pre-purchased a ticket to see a jazz quartet on the rooftop of La Pedrera (Casa Mila). It's another one of Gaudi's buildings. The rooftop was stunning and it was difficult to focus on the music. The sun set and the scenery kept changing by the minute. What a memorable night! I only wish DH could have been there with me. Next time. And believe me, there will be a next time in Barcelona.

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Posted by familyineurope 22:59 Archived in Spain Tagged fountains barcelona mount park las la de montjuic sagrada familia magic guell musica empanada pedrera arenas palau tibidabo Comments (0)

Segovia, Teruel, & Albarracin, Spain

More castles, amazing ancient little towns, cathedrals, and food.

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Segovia, Spain!

We had a long drive from Nazare, Portugal to Segovia, Spain. After washing the car and getting a picnic, we powered through with just one short stop. The drive was around 5.5 hours. We saw a few of these giant bulls along Spain's desert highways.

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We were pleasantly surprised with our the yard of our airbnb. We had some outdoor space for lounging and playing games. We were staying in a town called Torrecaballeros just outside of Segovia. We found a nearby pizza place and ate outside despite the heat. We were all beat after a hot day.

Segovia's Alcazar, Aqueduct, and Cathedral

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We started off the day with a small breakfast in our apartment. We had an ambitious plan to see several big sites in Segovia. We began with the giant Alcazar Castle. Apparently, this castle inspired the Walt Disney logo. I can see why! We climbed to the top of the tower and explored the interior of the castle. Each room had elaborate ceilings and medieval decor. We saw great views over the town of Segovia including the huge cathedral and the sparse desert landscape surrounding the town.

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Next was the central part of Segovia. We found a casual cafe for empanadas and sandwiches. It was a hot day but we still meandered, shopped, and eventually found the famous aquaduct. Amazing engineering!

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We were really thirsty by this point so we found a scenic spot for beer and a break.

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We were rejuvenated enough to see one last site - the huge Segovia Cathedral. We walked around looking up with our mouths wide open once again. It reminded us of the cathedral in Burgos. Simply stunning attention to detail both inside and out.

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It was a hot day and we were tired. We found a giant Carrefour grocery store where we bought dinner and loads of fun snacks. We made a lovely antipasto plate with bread and olives and called it dinner. We played lots of cards on the back deck and got some much needed sleep.

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La Granja, Swimming, and Burgers

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Our town was very close to the palace of La Granja. It's a smaller version of Paris' Versailles. We weren't allowed to take photos inside but we took several of the grounds and fountains. It was very hot once again so we were moving more slowly than usual. Even though we took in one site, it was more of a down day. We got caught in the palace's huge labyrinth at one point.

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We had a small lunch of leftovers before walking to the nearby pool. Mom and DH stayed back for some R&R. The pool felt great and I am pretty sure that we were the only non-locals around.

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We headed back to the same restaurant that we ate at on our first night in Segovia. This time, it was good old hamburgers.

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We enjoyed Segovia but were hot and ready to move east toward Teruel.

Teruel - More Driving, Tracking Down a Ronaldo Jersey, and Parking in an Elevator

Today started with a few minor mishaps. We were caffeine-deprived and a little cranky. (We'd run out of the special coffee pods for the machine.) We stopped at a grocery store that didn't have a coffee shop (many do) and realized that one of the kid's Chromebooks was left at the apartment 15 minutes away. Ugh! After emailing the owner, we were able to get access to the apartment again to rescue the computer. By this point, we needed to hit the road. We drove about an hour to the outskirts of Madrid to a Real Madrid Official Store. My mom bought a jersey for my soccer-loving niece.

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We found the jersey at an upscale outlet mall that had a Starbucks. I don't usually drink Starbucks at home but a giant 16 oz mocha never tasted so good!

We drove another 3.5 hours to the relatively unknown town of Teruel. We picked this town because of its proximity to Albarracin, a beautiful desert hill town that my brother and sister in-law had recommended. Teruel was a hit! We scored a beautiful apartment just around the corner from its main square. DH was a little apprehensive of the unique parking arrangement at first. He had to drive down a skinny mostly pedestrian street to turn into an elevator. The elevator took the car below street level to a reserved parking spot. It was tricky at first and the apartment owner didn't speak any English. She was sweet but the process was nerve-wracking.

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Once settled, we found ice cream and beer on the main square. We did a little shopping and wandering around the town. Mom, DD#2 and I split off for a while and explored. There was an old aqueduct, many beautiful towers, and gorgeous buildings. People seemed relaxed and friendly. We finally decided on a restaurant on the main square where we shared three combination plates of meats, different potatoes, and veggies. Sharing a bottle of wine usually costs between 6-9 Euros. What a treat!

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Albarracin, More Teruel, and a Police Incident!

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I woke up sort of early (that's 8am these days) and went for a lovely run around the town of Teruel. It wasn't the most aerobic workout due to my many stops to take pictures.

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We had a nice breakfast at Granier Bakery right on the main square. It was just over 6 Euros for pastries and coffee for all of us. Such a deal!

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Of course we had to try the fartons. Ha!

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We drove a short 40 minutes to the beautiful town of Albarracin. On the way, we drove by the strangest airport. Google informed us that it's a maintenance and storage airport for commercial jets that opened in 2013. Interesting.

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The scenery was so dramatic as we approached the town.

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Albarracin is a desert hill town that still seems 500 years old. It was so much fun weaving in and out of the narrow streets much like a maze. There were stairs, steep ascents, and little alley ways everywhere. It still seems relatively undiscovered by tourists. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring despite the heat.

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At one point, DH and I left the rest of the crew with ice cream and beer on the main square so we could climb up to the old fortress walls that once defended the city We were the only ones up there hiking! It was hot but the views were remarkable.

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We found a pretty riverside park for a picnic lunch before heading back to Teruel for siesta and dinner.

On our way back to Teruel, I had the bright idea of finding a municipal pool. This little detour took us through a small neighborhood near a police precinct. Just as we spotted the pool, three police officers pulled us over. We were not speeding or doing anything out of the ordinary. Our car has tourist license plates that were unfamiliar in this small Spanish town. The officers looked at our passports, car paperwork, and made lots of phone calls. They took several pictures of the license and the car and had many questions. After 15-20 stressful minutes, they finally let us go. It wasn't exactly scary but kind of unnerving. I think we provided them with some training for the day. BMW European Delivery was obviously a new concept to the Teruel Police Department!

Some of us climbed the scenic San Salvador Tower in Teruel. The outside of the tower is decorated with colorful tiles making it one of the prettiest towers that I've climbed. There are five similar towers in town. You can climb through some of the towers because they straddle the street.

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We found a grand historic staircase that lead to a park where the kids let off some steam.

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We had some yummy tapas for dinner including things like lamb meatballs, scallops, chicken spring rolls, and the most popular Spanish tapas, patatas bravas. We started our dinner outside but a huge and windy thunderstorm rolled in forcing us to move inside.

Teruel was a great surprise. It's such a lovely and pleasant Spanish town. On to Barcelona!

Posted by familyineurope 13:46 Archived in Spain Tagged alcazar cathedral la teruel aquaduct segovia granja albarracin Comments (0)

Portugal! Sintra, More Lisbon, Obidos, & Nazare

Castles, medieval walls, and one gorgeous beach!

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Sintra - Three Castles in One Day!

We left the house relatively early after having a quick breakfast. We were very excited for a long day-trip to the nearby town of Sintra. We had read about summer crowds and wanted to get a head start before all the tourists arrived.

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Thanks to our Rick Steves guide, we found parking that we wouldn't have discovered otherwise. We took a city bus up some of the curviest and most narrow roads imaginable. The bus driver was amazing! Our first stop was the beautiful Pena Palace. This palace was created by relatives of Germany's Mad King Ludwig and the similarities were easy to spot. Pena Castle was colorful, a bit Disneyesque, and architecturally stunning.

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We had a scenic snack at the castle before hiking about 10 minutes downhill to a completely different castle - The Moorish Castle. On the way, we ran into another family we knew! This time it was a family we had met through daycare years ago. So weird! The Moorish Castle was comprised of ancient ruins that were so much fun to explore. We climbed around and kept marveling at all the various viewpoints. It was so hard to stop taking pictures!

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By this time, we were hungry. We took another bus down to the town of Sintra. We ate at the recommended Restaurante Metamorphosis. DH and I shared cataplana. It was a delicious fish stew full of seafood. Yum! DD#1 had a Portuguese sandwich called a Francesinha. The rest of the crew shared a yummy pork and clam dish. After sharing a bottle of vino and relaxing, we were ready for one last Sintra attraction.

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Our last Sintra castle was more of a mansion called Quinta de Regaleira. The grounds surrounding the mansion were the best part of the attraction. We loved climbing up and down towers, upside down wells, caves, ponds with stepping stones, and hidden walkways. We kept losing each other and had to use our phone flashlights to find our way. It was exciting!

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Finally, we made our way back to the car and drove to Lisbon after a very long and full day.

Last Day in Lisbon - Belem Neighborhood, Shopping, & More Alto Bairro at Night

We split up and took the subway back to the main part of town. DH decided to get a haircut so we met up later. Today was all about Portugal's famous pastry - pastel de nata. We found not one but two places that made them on site. Yum! Each one is handmade and is the flakiest and yummiest custardy goodness ever.

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We met up and did some shopping along the main shopping street in Lisbon. The girls scored some new shoes before we finally took a tram to the Belem Neighborhood for lunch and sightseeing.

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It was a hot day and the tourists were out in force. Luckily, we found a small local place for lunch and shared an appetizer of snails. The kids and DH really liked them. I couldn't quite get over their little antennae. My mom was a good sport and tried a little of everything new.

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We checked out the huge Jeronimos Monastery church. Another gorgeous church with amazing ceilings and architecture.

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We wandered to the nearby LX Warehouse Market for a little shopping. It wasn't quite what we expected. Too trendy and the destination brewery was closed. Boo! We found a grocery store and took a train back to the apartment.

Although we were tired, DH and I rallied and took the subway back into central Lisbon for a late dinner. We wandered the many tiny streets in the Alto Bairro neighborhood. We were offered illegal drugs multiple times. Creepy! Apparently, Portugal has decriminalized drug use making it easy to procure a variety of things. Nothing we are interested in, that's for sure! We had yummy sardines and and codcakes. We were ready to say goodbye to Lisbon, for now. I have a feeling that we'll return in the future.

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Obidos and Nazare

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Today was a short driving day. I picked up bagels and pastries from nearby shops. Every neighborhood has lots of bakeries. We drove a short one hour to the cute town of Obidos. It's a picturesque white town with red roofs surrounded by a cool medieval wall. We were able to walk along the wall for some great views. The wall didn't have a guard rail of any kind. We just made our way on some uneven ancient rocks and wore good shoes. I loved it!

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Once off the wall, we took many pictures and did a little shopping. We found a few souvenirs to take home. DH was very patient with all the girls while we piddled and shopped.

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We only had another half hour drive to the beach town of Nazare. After a few wrong turns, we found our way to our apartment up on a hill overlooking the beach. The apartment had a great view of the town below. We had a very scenic drink before taking the neat funicular down to the lower town. We had a casual dinner before finding Gelatomania for dessert. We walked along the sand and were eager for the beach day ahead.

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Nazare Beach, Seafood, Swimming, & Shopping

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I started the day with a long run to Praia do Norte beach. It is a famous beach that has some of the biggest waves and best surfing in the world. I was an early bird and shared the beach with just one guy and his dog. I also headed up to check out a small historic lighthouse.

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We found a nearby bakery where we sat outside and had coffee and yummy treats. The coconut concoction was our favorite. We took the funicular back down to the cute town of Nazare where we did some shopping and parked on the beach for a while. The water felt great and we played for a few hours.

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Until they were plain worn out.

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We found a seafood place for lunch. The cockles were pretty good! The kids opted for grilled sandwiches at the cafe across the street.

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I had to buy the local barnacles to try. They looked like dinosaur claws but were actually pretty darned tasty!

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Luckily, there was some nearby exercise equipment to work off all that seafood.

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After riding back up the funicular (I just like the word funicular!) we showered, regrouped, and got ready for a nice dinner in town.

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We found a highly rated place on Tripadvisor and made it in without reservations. The place filled quickly. We shared seafood rice and grouper. The portions are big in Portugal so we've learned to order fewer things. Add some bread, olives, and wine and we had a great meal. After another walk along the beach, we called it a day.

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Except that mom and I found a place for 70 Euro cent glasses of wine before heading up the funicular!

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Nazare was the perfect place to take a little vacation from our vacation, so to speak.

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Back to Spain tomorrow!

Posted by familyineurope 23:50 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

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