Hello from Istanbul!

We’re about to head to Italy, but I thought I’d do a quick update of our time here in Istanbul!  The weather has been quite pleasant and Nick’s even managed to wear shorts a few of the days!

We learned about Islam and visited a few Mosques.  We’ve eaten all different kinds of street food and only had American food once (and it was shake shack, so who could blame us!).

And while there has been a little unrest in other parts of Turkey, Istanbul has, thankfully, been just fine.

My picture uploader isn’t working, so checkout my instagram feed for all the latest photos 🙂

https://instagram.com/brynashley/

 

We went to DC

Back in April we went to Washington DC.  It’s the only other city besides Seattle where we can visit and see tons of friends!

We started off with a hot, sweaty, humid wog (that’s a walk/jog) around the sites.

#america #vscocam #thatisall

A photo posted by Bryn (@brynashley) on

I couldn't not take a photo. Right?

A photo posted by Bryn (@brynashley) on

We were told that the weather was “perfect” – and I can definitely say that it’s been much hotter and humider, but it was still a little “wet” for us west coasters.

Thursday night we split up – I had dinner with Anthony and Nick hosted a Side Hustle meetup (where he meets and eats with his internet friends).  Per the usual, Anthony and I ate tapas.  For some reason, we always end up at small plate restaurants.  It worked out well that Nick planned a meetup, because he’s really not a fan of small plates.  He prefers big plates.

Friday was spent hanging with our high school friends! We enjoyed the (free!!!) zoo, lunch, lots of walking, and some delicious macaroons! The birthday cake was surprisingly delicious!

And we finished off the day with a Nats game with Kelly and Sean! It may be my 2nd favorite stadium.  The weather and dried off, the temperature was perfect, the nachos were filling and the Nats were victorious!  We saw 5 Nats homeruns.  5! That was a record for me for sure! When we arrived back at casa Hafner, we learned that we had walked roughly 30,000 or 10 miles! Oy!

Not gonna lie, it's a great stadium and a PERFECT night for baseball! #nats #nationals #dc

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We vowed to walk less on day 2.  So we headed to Georgetown for some pizza with Kelly, Sean, Michael, Karen and Charlie! Then it was off to the river, rounded out by a visit to the Kennedy Center. At that point, we learned that it was Embassy day, and proceeded to learn about the UK. No joke.

https://instagram.com/p/2eQp5ySyDB/

At this point, we were tired. So we decided that Shake Shack and the Nats game (via the TV), would finish out the night.  No trip to the east coast is complete without a stop at Shake Shack.  Nick and I dream about this burgers.

On Sunday, we bid farewell to our hosts after a stop at DC doughnut.  So many delicious flavors! I’ll be back 🙂

https://instagram.com/p/2gShqjSyBz/

We boarded our plane and were headed home…..but first, a quick pit stop in Dallas.  Where it really only made sense to have lunch with Kristen and Brian!  Despite having eaten our way through DC, we were ready for some delicious Texas burgers! It did not disappoint.  One of our best layovers yet!

And with that, we were back home, tired puppy in hand, and ready to eat some salad.

Kona, HI

We just got back from an awesome trip to Kona with Nick’s parents!

Eat

Best Shave Ice – Original Big Island Shave Ice Co (food truck), follow them on FB to be sure you know where they will be.  But the Blue Dragon parking lot in Kawaihae is the likely spot.

Best Poke – Da Poke Shack in Kona.  Pick your poke and pick your sides for around $10.  We got the bowl (comes with rice, sides, 2 flavors of poke) and then added 1/3 lb of just poke.  Perfect for a large lunch.  Thought the tuna consistency was a little better than Umeke’s but we never had bad poke 🙂

Best (and only) Acai Bowl – Basik Cafe in Kona (and SF!).  Just Acai bowls and smoothies.  Lots of combinations.  The regular is pretty big and the large is huge.  Naturally, Nick wanted the large.

Best local food – 808 Grindz Cafe in Kona. Tasty and inexpensive local food – only open for breakfast and lunch.

Local things to try

Apple Bananas – small bananas that taste less banana-y than a banana.  I enjoyed them more than a regular banana.

Musubi – rice + seaweed + meat.  Sometimes it’s spam, sometimes it’s fried chicken, who even knows!

Macadamia Nuts – Hamakua in Kawaihae had at least 10+ different flavors to taste.  They also sell brittle and ice cream!  So tasty!  Oh, did I mention the coffee too?!

Lava tube exploring! We have some relatives on the big island who took us on a tour towards the end of our trip.  We headed to a “secret” lava tube fed by a fresh water spring.  It was pitch black and the fresh water pool was totally clear and freezing cold!  So much fun!

Kona Recap

  • The waves were big and resulted in a donation to the sea.  In the form of snorkel + mask (times 2).
  • We ate shave ice on 5 different days.  Fro yo on one of the non-shave-ice days.
  • We received awesome, $35 massages at a massage school south of Kona.
  • Saw Venus and Mars almost every night and spotted them back home!
  • Lots of whales.
  • Fish cleaning the turtles while snorkeling at 2 step beach.  Which should really be called, pummeled into the rocks beach.

Portugal and the rest of the cities we visited

Lisbon, Belem, Sintra and Cascais

We spent the last 5 days in Lisbon, with day trips to some of the nearby cities.  On our first day, we just wandered the city.  In an amazing race fail, we ran up a decent hill only to find the castle had closed 5 minutes prior.  Sad day, as the epic sunset from the castle grounds was probably pretty fantastic.  The fail can be largely attributed to the fact that Lisbon is quite hilly and while the castle was only 3 blocks from our apartment, it was also +600ft up.  We used it as a good excuse for exercise.

On Day 2, we took another New Europe tour.  Lots of good information, with an overly confident tour guide who was way too cool for us….just ask him.  To his credit, we went inside a pretty cool church – that was quite plain from the outside but awesome on the inside (Church of Sao Roque).  There are 8 chapels in this church, and 1 of them cost upwards of $3 trillion dollars.  The cost includes the cost of materials – solid gold – and the additional cost to disassemble the chapel, get it to Rome, reassemble, get it blessed by the pope, disassemble, get it back to Lisbon, then reassemble 1 last time.  Which apparently cost less than just getting the pope to Lisbon.  Go figure.

Day 3 was wet.  Like really really wet.  Soaked shoes, unhappy campers etc.  But we pushed on.  Belem is a quick tram ride from Lisbon and home to the Jeronimo Monastery and Pasteis de Belem.  Basically a church and a bakery, among other things.

We visited the Jeronimo Monastery first. And to be honest, we were “churched-out” at that point.  The church is free, but the cloisters cost €10 each.  They were maybe worth €5 (and I’m being generous).  A cloister is basically an open space/courtyard surrounded by a covered walkway.  All the ones we visited were square-ish shaped.  This was one of the few times Rick Steves let us down.  I’m not sure how cloisters can be amazing…..but these were not amazing.

I just saved you €10.

Nick had read about a maritime museum not far from the monastery.  This was an adventure.  Between the puddle and downpour, we were pretty much soaked.  And in an attempt to jump over a puddle, I smacked my knee against a road sign….don’t ask.  Large purple bruise followed.  We arrived at the museum, only to find out it’s shaped like a “U” and we had passed the entrance….we were at the exit.  Back across the puddle landmines and we were finally at the maritime museum.  And Nick was in heaven.  The kid loves maps, and the first thing we saw was a gigantic map.

The rest of the museum was filled with more maps and model ships.  They also had original quarters from a fancy-person yacht.  It reminded me of the rooms in Titanic.

After leaving the museum, we headed for Pasteis de Belem, the home of the original Portuguese custard tart.  We’d already had our fair share of these tarts, but these were definitely the best.  Quite possibly a result of the tarts being served warm.  10 times better than a cold tart.  A few tarts, hot chocolate, and chicken pockets later we were ready to face the elements one more time.

Nick said it best, “From this spot some of the world’s greatest explorers set sail into the unknown in the 15th and 16th centuries. And to think sometimes the idea of finding a parking space in San Francisco stresses me out.”

And by this time, we were thoroughly soaked and cold and ready to head back to our apartment.

Day 4 was another rainy-ish day spent in Sintra.  But on this day, we sucked up our Seattle-pride and brought the umbrella (to be fair, we didn’t notice the umbrella until we returned from our previous rainy day outing).

There are a handful of cool things in Sintra, a few more famous than others.  We started out at Quinta da Regaleira.  A super cool estate with underground caves and grottoes.

Caves are a wonderful thing when it’s raining 🙂

We then headed to the more famous Moores Castle and Pena Palace.

A number of times I commented that this was way better than the cloisters from the previous day, so just keep that in mind if you’re on a budget or short on time 🙂

We ended the day with a bus ride south to Cascais, to have dinner with a friend from high school!  Would have loved to explore Cascais a bit longer, but will have to make another trip out to Portugal for that!

It was another great trip abroad!  Where to next?!

Portugal and my new favorite tiny town

After Nazare, Coimbra, and Obidos, we headed to Evora, about 1.5 hours east of Lisbon.  It’s a fascinating little town, with a walled in city center.  It’s got a lot of history and culture, but is predominately comprised of older folks (60+) and college age students, thanks to the towns university.  To say I was the only 30 something Asian in the town would not be an exaggeration.

But I still loved it!  It reminded me of Oxford – my other favorite small European town.  Cobblestone streets and tiny mom and pops shops.

And did I mention the roman forum?

Yeah, that was unexpected (except it was….since I’d read about it before coming).  And the church that lets you walk on its roof.

Or the warm chestnuts!  We’d never had them but were hungry.  And since every single person in the town square was eating them, we got a bag.  Kinda tasty!  Not as good as a cashew, but they did the trick and were an excellent source of protein!

Turns out almost everything in Evora is closed on Sundays, so we did a lot of walking and exploring.  We ended the night at one of only 3 (or so) restaurants open on Sunday.  And ate a bowl of rice stew that could have easily fed a family of 4.  The diet starts Monday (After thanksgiving:))!

Portugal and the sleepy little beach town

On a tip from our good ol’ friend Rick Steves, we headed for the coastal town of Nazare.  Known for its big waves and adorable charm.  Half of the town is right on the water, while the other half is up on a cliff.  It sort of reminds me of Cabo and Pedregal.

Since it’s the off season, we scored a pretty nice hotel, across the “street” from the beach.

We hiked up the hill to the cliff-y part of the city for some views of the town below.  So many red roofs!  Nick noted that the red roof tile guy has a monopoly in Portugal!  Don’t you love that random tree in the middle of the city?!  FYI – I captured roughly 70% of the city in this single image.

While the weather wasn’t awesome, the views were still quite nice.

And the graffiti was top notch.

See Nick’s shorts?  I wouldn’t say it was shorts weather, but he packed his shorts and flip flops and was determined to wear them, rather than admit he’d packed something and never wore it.  So the shorts and flip flops made their debut in 60F Nazare!

On our first night, we had dinner at a tiny restaurant called Restaurante A Tasquinha (but they’re all tiny….so that’s not a good descriptor).  The owner, Carlos, greeted us when we walked in.  Nick ordered the sea bass and I ordered a rice/stew dish.  Nick got a whole fish, which the waiter kindly de-boned for us and my dish was a gigantic pot of rice and seafood – the Portuguese equivalent to paella is the best way to describe it.  It was delicious, especially on a cold and stormy day.  Before we could leave, Carlos “forced” us to take a parting shot of port with him.  He’s adorable.  I’d go again just to hang with Carlos.

Portugal, and that time I ate an octopus tentacle

After Madrid, we were headed for Portugal.  We landed in Lisbon, a torrential downpour currently underway.  After grabbing our little Fiat, we headed for the tiny coastal town of Nazare, known for it’s north-shore-like waves!  Hungry, or was that hangry, from an early flight and no snacks, we stopped in the town of Torres Vedras for lunch.  Midi had great reviews, and we were ready for our first Portuguese meal.  On a tip from a Portuguese co-worker, I ordered the octopus.  3 tentacles served over a bed of greens and boiled potatoes.  So. Darn. Good!

The octopus was not chewy at all.  It reminded me of shrimp in both texture and flavor.  If you closed your eyes, I bet you couldn’t tell the difference.  Aside from the severe oil drenching of the greens, it was an outstanding meal to begin our time in Portugal.

Nick claimed he could feel the suction cups while he chewed, but I think he was fibbing a little on that one 🙂

 

Madrid is so delicious, and that time we got a bonus churro!

You could say I was a little underwhelmed with the Barcelona food scene.  I’ll chalk it up to it being our first city, and having a few misses, but so far we’ve been far more impressed with the food here in Madrid.

I will say that Barcelona served up one of the tastiest meals I’ve ever had.  Teresa Carles is a vegetarian restaurant, and I guarantee that I could become a vegetarian if she cooked my food everyday.  But it was more the exception than the norm.

Now onto Madrid!  We arrived and headed to the Mercado de San Miguel.  Right outside the Plaza Mayor, it’s very possible this place is a tourist trap.  But the food was delicious, so we didn’t care.

After a few trips around the market, we settled on the mozzarella guy.  Nick went a little more traditional, choosing a mozzarella/pesto/jamon/sundried tomato tapa while I chose the burrata/tomato jam/fig balsamic tapa (I’m a sucker for burrata – which is basically softer/creamier version of mozzarella).  OMG they were amazing.  They were also really big, so we only needed a few more small bites to curb our hunger.

food in madrid

We ended up deciding we needed a salad for dinner, so we got a pre-made Caesar from el Corte de Ingles (it’s a department store with a grocery store in the basement, random!).  Then we picked up a pizza from Pizzateca, just a few blocks away from our apartment.  I know what you’re thinking, “pizza?”! But it was the 2nd best pizza crust I’ve ever had – 2nd only to my dad’s crust.  The toppings could have used a few more spices, but we took it “to go” and missed our opportunity to add the typical (and not so typical) pizza seasonings at the restaurant.

Day 2 we headed to Ginger for lunch – on a tip from a fellow traveler we met in Barcelona (Ginger is near the Plaza Mayor).  She recommended their menu del dia for just 10.35 euros.  It’s a 3 course meal that comes with bread and wine.  I had a salad, the Spanish version of fish and chips, and this pear/orange dessert while nick had a quesadilla, meatballs and ice cream.  Delicious!  And the Spanish fish and chips were super tasty (FYI the chips are just seasons potatoes)!  The menu was Spanish only, and they spoke limited English, but you’ll be fine!

Dinner may have been Nick’s favorite meal so far.  The food to euro ratio had substantially improved and the meal also came with a beer.  Or rather, the meal came with the beer.  You see, there was a law passed in the 1800s that said you had to serve some food with alcoholic drinks.  People were drinking (or 2) at lunch, and afternoon productivity was on the decline.   So they passed the law in an effort to improve productivity.  And whether it’s still a law, or a just a tradition, we were happy to take part.

We headed to El Tigre on a tip from a friend.  Nick ordered a beer and walked away with this huge plate of food, all for 5 euros.  I said to him, “I think you could’ve gotten the same size plate if you’d ordered a smaller beer.”  To which he replied, “uh….but then I’d have a smaller beer.”  Touche.

so much food at el tigre in madrid

We ended the night in truly glutinous style with a trip to the famous Chocolateria San Gines.  The walls are adorned with the faces of all the famous people who have visited.  Yet, it was the cheapest churro/chocolate spot we’ve been to since arriving in Spain.  6 churros and a chocolate will set you back just 3.80 euros!  A steal!  And we even got a bonus churro! Win!

chocolateria san gines madrid

Barcelona, and the time I got a little hangry

Montserrat is a short, 1 hr train ride from Barcelona (see my notes below for tips on train tickets to Montserrat).  And it’s really pretty.  So we went.

Montserrat is a Monastery set amongst the mountains.  We didn’t think about this when packing, nor when we set off for Montserrat that morning, and we only packed our thin raincoats because there was rain in the forecast.  Turns out, it’s a bit cooler at Montserrat than Barcelona.  As we rode the gondola up the mountain, we looked around at our fellow travelers, most wearing snow pants and down jackets.  We were nervous.

Thankfully, it wasn’t actually that chilly on the mountain and we were treated to some pretty awesome hikes and views.

If you decide not to hike at all, you can still see some pretty awesome things.

But if you decide to go on a moderately sketchy hike, you can see this!

By the time we reached Montserrat, took the required gondolas and funiculars, and went on our hike, it was roughly 2:30PM.  We were running off almonds, cashews and a granola bar.  I was hungry, but the only food in sight was cafeteria food.  And everyone knows that food at the top of a mountain is always expensive and never that amazing.  Nick tried to convince me that we’d be happier eating something delicious back in Barcelona, but by that time I was hangry.  A little hungry and a little angry.  But logic overcame the hanger and we powered through back to Barcelona.

It’s about now that I need to mention Nick’s awesome Spanish skills.  4 years in high school + a few years running a painting business means Nick has pretty decent conversational Spanish skillz (yes, with a z).  This came in really handy when I accidentally sat on my metro card, making it unreadable.  When all was said and done, I had a new metro card.  Nick even threw in a “muchas” to his “gracias” which I thought was a nice touch.  This kid.

We finished the night at the Churreria Granja.  A little abuelita selling churros and chocolate.  Obviously we owed it to ourselves to try it.  We dipped them in the chocolate and they were delicious.  And we were hopped up on sugar for the next few hours.

NOTES on Tickets to Montserrat

I don’t think they make this as easy as they could.  But that’s ok.

1.  Go to the Plaza/Placa de Espanya station
2.  Find the R5 train
3.  Go up to the ticket machine. This is where it gets tricky.  There are a lot of options.  We went for the Trans Montserrat ticket – this ticket includes the train trip from Barcelona to Montserrat, the trip up the mountain, the additional funiculars once you are at the monastery, and 2 metro tickets (just because).  There are 2 ways to get to the top of Montserrat – either by cable car (5min, standing) or by funicular (15min, sitting).  It costs the same, but you have to choose (your own adventure, ha!) when you get the ticket.  And you can’t change your mind after.  The additional funiculars at the top of Montserrat take you to the many hikes at the top of the mountain, but this is where the views are pretty sweet and the hikes are kinda sketchy – don’t worry, there are lots of non sketchy hikes as well.
4.  Get on the train and take a snooze.  It’s going to be around 1 hr.
5.  There are 2 different stops depending on whether you go up the cable car or the funicular.  The cable car/Aeri stop is first, followed by the funicular stop.
6.  Enjoy your time!

A few more notes:

  • While the cable cars and funiculars are on a schedule, we found that they would skip or add a car from time to time.  We thought we were on the early cable car before our train home, but our cable car never showed up and we barely made it.
  • If you like climbing, there’s lots of climbing to be had.

Barcelona and the phrase, “I’m your bitch for the next hour”

We started off our 2nd day with a free tour from New Europe Tours.  Yep, you heard me right, it’s free.  And it was awesome.  The tour guides are paid in tips, and the free tour works as a mini advertisement for their other, more specialized tours.  Had we known about it, I might have signed up for their Tapas tour – although, knowing how much Nick disliked Tapas, I guess it all worked out!

Our tour guide, Leon, a British transplant, knew more random facts about Barcelona than anyone should, and used the phrase “I’m your bitch for the next hour” to make sure we got all of our questions and recommendations from him before the tour was over.  Turns out a lot of the other tour guides from other companies dislike him.  He’s super loud (which is awesome when you’re on his tour), but it bugs some of the other guides, and he mentioned that one local dumped a bucket of water on him one day for being too loud.  But seriously, the guy was hilarious and knew his stuff.  He also runs the daily Gaudi tour if you’re interested.

The tour was followed by a lunch of potato balls, meat balls and muscles.  Super random.  Ironically, there’s a big sign that says they don’t speak English….but then they handed us English menus.  So I’m not sure what that was about.

We hit up another Gaudi spot on day 2, Park Guell.  It’s on a really high hill – we’re talking SF style steepness.  Thankfully, there were escalators during part of the walk.  You can also buy Park Guell tickets online, which is probably a good idea.

So Park Guell is a park, with a lot of mosaic-y art.  This lizard is famous according to Nick.  And there are these benches that are also adorned with stained glass.  While sitting on said benches, a throng of school girls came racing towards us and plopped themselves down on our bench.  One of them turned to us, I assumed to ask us to take a photo of the group.  No.  In moderate English she asked us if we would “please move” so her friends could sit with her.  Ha!  It was only 5 euros to enter the park, but if you decide to go, I’d recommend taking a picnic and lingering a bit.  We were in and out pretty fast, and I definitely preferred la Sagrada.  Just saying.

Did I ever mention how it’s totally a thing to eat late here? Like really late. 9pm is a perfectly reasonable start time for dinner.  By our 2nd day we were feeling like locals and made it til 9:15pm before looking for dinner.  We went with pizza (la pizza del born, http://www.lapizzadelborn.com/ there’s another, thinner crust looking place a few doors down that people also seem to like). And it was actually pretty delicious.  Then we were on the hunt for some dessert.  Guess what.  All the dessert places close early.  This doesn’t make sense, but it also doesn’t matter.  We wanted dessert and couldn’t find any.  We eventually found some delicious, over priced gelato in front of the Barcelona Cathedral.  The cathedral was also very pretty. 🙂  And that was day 2!