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Barcelona

barcelonajesuscatherdral

Sleep:

Hotel Murmuri A beautiful hotel that was in the center of town and around a bunch of restaurants and shops.  The breakfast was great.

We arrived on Palm Sunday and just wandered around the gothic neighborhood.  There were tons of squares and pretty alleyways.  We kept stumbling upon parades and street performers.street fair

Do:

Plaça Sant Josep Oriol – A cool artist area where we bought some pretty street art, had snacks and people watched.  (And where I can’t find a good weblink for y’all.)

sagrada familiaBasilica de la Sagrada FamíliaGaudi is a bit gaudy but so spectacularly so!  There is so much to see at this cathedral that I felt like my neck had a kink in it from looking up so much.  This is a must do!  Definitely get tickets online ahead of time (there are separate lines to enter) to go in and go up one of the towers.  The neighborhood is also a great place to wander around in.  Hopefully you’ll wander right into La Paradeta.  It’s a lively fresh seafood market/restaurant.  You go up to the lady tell her what fresh seafood you’d like in pounds or numbers and they’ll cook it right up for you.  It’s cash only, with only bottles of wine for sale.  It’s absolutely delicious and fun!  The clams marinara were awesome!!!!mussels

Casa Batllo – This is a home Gaudi designed for the Batllo family.  It’s pretty spectacular and definitely worth trip.  Worth it to get tickets online.

Picasso Museum – A lovely museum with beautiful courtyard.  It has an extensive collection of Picasso’s earlier work and works of his early influencers.  Another place where getting tickets online beforehand is helpful.

From the museum, meander through the neighborhood and into Parc de la Ciutadella, which is very pretty.  A good picnic site.  You can see the Arc de Triomf, which looks like a smaller scale to its Parisian sibling.

Eat:

Pinotxo BarPinotox – Lunch here is a MUST!!! It’s in the Mercat la Boqueria. Go in via the “St. Joseph Sign” on Les Rambles and go right. It’s number 466 on this map! Make sure to tell the charming owner Juan, or his sons you want to sit at the bar.  Juan will tell you what to order. He told us baby squid and meat. We added chickpeas.  Both were amazing washed down with a wine or better yet a glass of Cava. For dessert Juan ordered Mel i Mató for us which is a Catalan cottage cheese w honey and delicious.  Our friend Annie recommended this place to us and after we posted pictures, we found out our friends Tim and Ron went 10 years earlier!St. Josep

La Vinotecca Torres – After this trip, we’re going to try and find wine bars as a first stop in any country.  We’re able to tell them what kinds of wines we like and they suggest in country suggestions.  Perfect!  We had the Mas la Plana cabernet sauvignon from the Pendes Region and it was great.

Petit Comite – This was a great place for dinner with excellent service and right near the hotel! The asparagus was perfect.  The pork cheeks were super tasty.  We had a rice casserole that was too salty.   For dessert definitely get the sweet cream custard, it had caramel almonds that were grounded up as a topping.  And a surprise, a very delicious fried crepe with powder sugar.

La Bodegueta  – Right next to the hotel, we ducked into this basement tapas spot for a drink and some snacks.  It was very warm and friendly. There’s a wall of old wooden-door iceboxes they still use.  They also serve drinks and food outside where you can leisurely watch the world pass.

Mordisco (sorry, can’t find English version of this site) – The grilled artichokes were stupendous, the veal carpaccio were perfect.  The baby strawberries for dessert, exquisite.  The only caveat, the service is horrible.  It sucked, and we’re pretty patient folks.  That’s the thing, the food was delectable and the wines were very good so I want to say it’s worth it to endure the inattentive staff.

Madrid

courtyardgardengarden 2

Transport:

We took the train from Barcelona to Madrid.  It was quick, easy and we’d highly recommend it.  Tickets were easily purchased on Renfe.

Sleep:

Preciados – This hotel was in a great location.  It was easy to walk to attractions, shops, and subway stations.  It’s a pretty tiny place and not very fancy, but clean and nice.  Be warned there are no doors for the bathrooms, so don’t do this if you’re on a first romantic getaway. Though, what it lacks in bathroom infrastructure, it makes up in toiletries; combs, toothbrushes, shoehorns, sewing kits and more.

Do:

Gran Via – Skip it.  It was super cheesy with a bunch of trinket shops.  Though to get to other sites, you’ll likely walk on Grand Via so just see it from that vantage point and not as a destination.

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Mercado San Miguel – This is a must, in fact we went back multiple times!!! An amazing awesome market that is as picturesque as it is delicious!  I had the BEST mojito ever! (Life changing, I’ve never had another one that even comes close!) It was purchased at a stall by this raw oyster bar.  We also had some delicious fresh mozzarella from an Italian vendor and wonderful wine.

Puerta de sol – It’s one of the main squares and will may of the places you’re heading to will lead you pass this place, it doesn’t need to be a destination.  It’s like Time Square, it’s flashy, there are a lot of people, but once you see it, you’re good.

Royal Palace – It was a lovely palace.  We went on a Wednesday, which was great because it was free but there was also a very long line.  And it was raining so we didn’t see the changing of the guards, which would have likely made the place a lot more interesting.  Definitely make time to walk around the Jardines de Sabatini, it’s lovely with lots of statues.

Cathedral la Almudena – A simply beautiful cathedral.mary

Plaza Mayor – This was a walled in square much like Siena, Italy but not as quaint.  A good place to stroll and take pictures.

Fuente de la CibelesFuente de la Cibeles – We stopped here at night for some great city scene pictures.

Reina Sofia National Museum – This is a must if only to see Picasso’s Guernica an amazing piece that you should spend some time with just to take it all in (it’s physically huge).  There are plenty of Picassos and Miros and the audio guide had great information.

The shops in Salamanca District remind me of Boston’s Newbury Street and Beacon Hill, they were high-end shops and boutiques.   Beware of siesta time, shops close, and we didn’t get to do any shopping.

Jardines del Buen Retiro – This park is just gorgeous. The Palacia Cristal and monument to Alfonso XII are not to be missed.  Take a boat ride.  Have a picnic.  It’s a lovely spot.  From there make sure to walk along Paseo del Prado which is beautifully tree-lined like Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue.  This will take you to Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.boat ride

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum – There are some great impressionists’ work here.  If you’re coming from the Buen Retiro, you’ll likely need a moment to sit and relax before heading in which is perfect because there’s a lovely, loungy bar upstairs.  It was great for drinks but the food here was not good.

Calle de Fuencarral – This is a must in the shopping department.  I got some funky dresses and tops in boutiques along this street.  The shops here are unique and fun.

Corral de la Moreria – We came for the Flamenco.  It looks and feels touristy because it is.  But if you’re in Madrid for the first time, you’re gonna do touristy things and this should be one.  It was truly awesome!!! We took in the show with dessert.  The sample platter was tasty and the wine was very good.  You just can’t get a bad house tinto in Madrid.flamenco

Eat:

La Barraca – We almost didn’t go to this place because it looked too touristy but the paella was really great.  It’s way too much for two but you must have it.  We got the Barraca style one and it was a savory delight!  We also got the green beans, which were shelled and delicious.  I really wanted the flan for dessert, but we were stuffed!

Gin Club – Before La Barraca, we wandered into the Gin Club for a drink.  As with everything in Madrid, it would have been hopping had it not been 8pm – people party late here.  This was great spot and the mojitos were second best to the one at the Mercado.

Venta el Buscon – What a great spot.  We wandered in for a brunch and wish we had known to come for dinner.  It’s a cool space with a rustic feel.  A fun looking bar.  We had tapas in the morning and left wanting to recommend it to everyone.  Thanks for the recommendation John Sullivan.

El Anciano Rey de los Vinos  – We stopped in for some tapas and wine and it was a very festive scene with what appears to be locals.  There were old dudes at the bar having tapas and chucking the toothpicks on the ground, so they were either locals or rude.

croquettesLa Alacena Victor Montes in Mercado San Anton – Victor Montes is a restaurant but there is a bar type set up upstairs of this market where you can get awesome tapas.  Just go up to the counter, order wine and tapas from the display.  They’ll warm them up for you.  My favorite was the gulas, baby squid.  There is also a fresh croquettes bar, where you pick the ones you want and they flash fry them.  Great recommendation @SheltieDad

Transport:

We took Ryan Air to Portugal.  Beware, they charge for everything.  Buy up for priority boarding and seating.  They only allow one bag.  And they’re strict.

Oporto

portoporto boatsporto church

Sleep:

Hotel Teatro – This was a beautiful hotel with some quirks.  There were no dressers in the room.  And during breakfast they didn’t have enough seating.  It’s also in downtown not the waterfront.  In hindsight we would have picked the waterfront.  The service at the hotel was wonderful.

Do:

Se Cathedral – Oporto’s Cathedral is a must and pay the 3e for cloister.  This gets you up close and personal with an ancient church.

bridge Pointe Luis I Bridge – It’s a lovely bridge that was designed by a student of Eiffel.  Definitely walk across (via the upper level) and hang out in the Vila Nova de Gaia neighborhood.

Calem – It was a good quick tour of the Calem port house.  We were gonna skip a port house tour, but our waiter at lunch said it would be like going to the Vatican and skipping the Pope’s house.  We didn’t want to be those people.  At the end, you get a great variety of port samplings.

Ribeira Neighborhood – This is the waterfront area.  You should definitely walk through.  It’s very picturesque and festive.  Grab a drink and enjoy the people watching.  Come back at night for the Quay Bar (notes below!)

Wander through the Virtudes Area and by Cordoaria Park (both of which I couldn’t find websites for.)

Livraria Lello – This is simply a gorgeous old bookstore that’s said to have been the inspiration behind JK Rowling’s description of Hogwart’s Library.  The only downside, there are no pictures allowed and the staff is EXTREMELY strict about enforcing the rule.

Sao Francisco Church – A beautiful church that you should see but feel free to skip the very creepy catacombs.

Hotel Boavista – For a spectacular sunset, check out this hotel’s terrace.  Be warned, the red wine came from a box and was horrible, but the view was stunning! After drinks, make sure to walk down to the beach to take pictures.  (We read the Crystal Palace Gardens was good for sunsets but we didn’t make it over.)sunset

Palacio Bolas – Who knew a former stock exchange could be so interesting?  It was an informative guided tour that took us inside a very beautiful building with plenty of interesting history.  The opulence and building surprises make it worth a visit!

Eat:

Wine Quay Bar – What a super cute spot for some charcuterie and delicious in-country wine.  Moses runs the spot and speaks English well.  He’ll help make some suggestion for great Portuguese wines and you can just relax in this very cozy spot.  It’s small and there’s awkward seating, so I would not recommend to any families with children or non-agile travelers.amantis

Dom Tonho – We went to this restaurant in the Gaia neighborhood and just sat and enjoyed the day.  It was the perfect spot for people watching, to enjoy the Douro River view and enjoy a delicious meal.  Order the baccala with potatoes and the veal stew. The octopus appetizer with black-eyed peas was also yummy!  The main waiter spoke impeccable English.  Actually, most folks in Portugal spoke a lot of English!

Shis – This was really amazing for dinner.  It was a stunning space that overlooks the ocean.  The food was so delicious.  I was so excited about eating that I forgot to take notes on what to eat.  This is perfect for post-sunset at the Hotel Boavista.

Cafe Majestic – This is a landmark in Oporto and is a beautiful building.  It has great old school charm, but really, it’s very touristy.  We had coffee and enjoyed the space but it was under impressive.

Caravela da Ribeira – This is a hole in the wall you should definitely duck into for a great lunch.  (There’s no website, but I linked you to TripAdvisor so you can get the address.)  The folks here don’t speak English, but with the help of some pictures, pantomiming and Google translater we were able to order.  The lamb was awesome and so was the baccala.  I also had the kale soup that was mighty tasty!

Hotel Teatro Restaurant Palco – This was our hotel’s restaurant and we went because it was our last night and because it was Easter and everything was closed.  It was very good.  The pork croquettes, veal medallions, and the pork three-ways were all delicious.  The scallops were cold and beware of small portions.

Lisboa

plazaelevatorframed view

Transport:

We took the train from Oporto to Lisboa.  It was, again, simple and highly recommended.  Booked our tickets online at Comboios de Portugal.

Sleep:

Hotel Britania – The good news, the front desk was super helpful.  The place was nice and the rooms were big!  It was close to two metro stops and some cool shops (loved the shoes at Fly London) and restaurants.  The interesting, it was located across the street from a strip club.  There was a homeless man who directed cars to empty public parking spots and if you didn’t tip him after parking, he’d vandalize your car (we didn’t drive).

Do:

Start your stay by buying a metro pass for length of your trip.  A great, inexpensive and easy way to get around.

peacockviewCastelo Sao Jorge – I loved this place!  You’ll easily spend a few hours walking around, checking out all the views and sites.  One of the highlights, the crazy awesome, gorgeous peacocks.  Go to Praca da Figueroa to catch bus 737 to the castle.  Take tram 28E down to Cathedral (though we missed it).

Cafe Luso – We went to the Café to hear some Fado and were NOT disappointed.  The location is negotiable but experiencing Fado is not.  It’s so soulful; the singers will make you want to weep.

Take an afternoon just to walk around town. The Praca Dom Pedro IV is the main square and has an exquisite mosaic tiled floor.  We wandered around and spotted an elevator that we later learned is the Santa Justa Lift.  Definitely do this.  Use your metro ticket to get up the top, then pay the extra 1.5e for the tip top.  You’ll exit to an amazing view of Lisboa.  When you leave, you’ll be going down to the Bairro Alto neighborhood.  It’s a great place to stroll.  We continued our circuitous exploration and found Rua Augusta, which was a bustling street, but oddly where we were asked twice if we wanted to buy drugs.  There’s also Avenida da Liberdade, which had the most beautiful, mosaic tiled sidewalks.   We made our way to  Baixa-Chiado  where we found great shopping.

graffitiIf you have time take the metro to the Picoas stop.  There’s awesome street art there by Os Gemeos who did the graffiti art at the former Occupy Boston site.

Eat:

BA Wine Bar – This is a must.  It’s a cool little wine bar much like Quay.  It has delicious charcuteries and amazing Portuguese wines.  See Rui.  Tell him what kind of wine you like and he’ll pair you up with a better Portuguese version that’s very affordable. (There was not website for the bar, so the best I could do was provide the TripAdvisor review page.)

Restaurante A Palmeira – This was an authentic Portuguese spot where the lady yelled at me for asking for a cup of sangria.  Only pitchers.  Folks still smoke in restaurants here so just beware.  We ordered the pescadinhas fitas com arroz de legumes and the Entremeada na grelha com ananas.  Both were amazing and the soup was great.  Beware the fish comes with head and tail.  It might make you squeamish, but it’s tasty enough to make you glad you ordered it.  The soup starter was also super tasty!!!

fishsangria

Assintura – What a lovely restaurant with an amazing tasting menu.  This was definitely a place we’d recommend to all Lisboa visitors.  And thanks to our trip to the BA Wine Bar before hand, we knew to order a bottle of the Dona Maria Amantis Reserva.

Café Nicola – A bit touristy but we sat outside and had a nice lunch.  Joe ordered a chicken dish, I got a farmer soup and a cuttlefish and shrimp stew.  All were tasty.

Miscellaneous:

We only pack a carry-on so we always need to find a laundry.  In Lisboa, we found the 5 a Sec Laundromat in Baixa-Chiado.  I can’t remember the cost but it was reasonable for drop-off/pick-up.  The lady behind the counter was very nice but spoke limited English.  Google Translator was very helpful.

Take away: Everyone goes to Spain but you should go Portugal.

Transport:

We flew Royal Air Maroc to Marrakesh.  There was a connection in Casablanca.  Get your snacks and water before leaving.  The Casablanca Airport is sparse.  And did not have very good signage.  So just pay attention so you don’t get lost wandering to your gate.  We had to book the flight via Kayak.com.

Marrakesh

alleydonkeysouk

Sleep:

Dar Hanane – This riad was simply an amazing sanctuary.  It’s in the medina and so close to the souks, yet the second you walk through the doors, you’re transported out of the frenetic market place and into a serene oasis.  Mandy and Aziz are great.  Mohammed was most helpful.  There’s also an honor system bar, with wine and beer, where you write down what you had and pay when you checkout.  Most Muslim establishments don’t have alcohol.courtyard

Transport:

Definitely arrange for transport from airport to riad. The minute you turn into the medina walled-in old city, steel yourself.  It was overwhelming to see mule-pulled carts, speeding scooters, running children, open-air butchers, and hunched over men with wheelbarrows, all at once at a frenetic pace while you’re trying to crawl along in the back of car.  Honestly, it was a bit scary and freaky but then this place becomes magical.

Do:

marketSouks – These are the wonderful market stalls where you can buy leather bags, spices, and trinkets.  Definitely wander through and just look.  I’d read up on what to avoid and know about anything you’re planning on purchasing.  A handmade bag may not really be sewn together and rather, a cheap, glued together piece.  Also, haggling is a must.  We bought spices at our first stall and definitely over spent as we didn’t even offer a lower price, we just paid what the merchant said was the ‘best price.’  I think a good place to start is to cut in half, every price they give you.  We eventually got the hang of it and you will too.

Jemaa el-Fna Square – It’s the square at the entrance of the medina and it’s really like the town square, with restaurants, shops, and entertainment.  It’s a must see because you’re in Morocco but we weren’t really into snake charmers or monkeys in diapers dancing.

Koutoubia Mosque – You should definitely walk over to take pictures outside and take in the site but you can’t go in unless you’re Muslim. Next door you can see is the Lalla Shrine.

Riad Tzarra – It’s a sister riad to Dar Hanane and this is where you want to have a hammam.  This is where they will bathe and scrum you. You will be naked. Just an FYI.  Also, follow it up with a massage.  It’s pretty awesome!

Maison de la Photographie – This was a cool little museum with some great photography.  Definitely stop in to check it out.  And after wandering around, make sure to head upstairs to the rooftop terrace for some tea and a snack.

Eat:

cafe

Cafe des Epices – This was a great spot to tuck away in and grab food and some tea, always have tea!!!  The kefta sandwich was delicious.

Le Foundouk – A beautiful restaurant where we had a lovely meal.  We don’t remember much as we realized we misbooked our flight home as we were getting seated for dinner.  We do remember they sent someone to walk us from our riad to the restaurant, which was helpful as we would not have been able to navigate the alleys at night.  And the restaurant did serve wine.

Miscellaneous:

Take pictures of things not people.  People did not like being photographed.

teaSay yes, when offered mint tea – it’s simply awesome stuff.

Sahara

stormdunesdesert

Do:

Just contact Nick at Desert Camp Morocco and he’ll take care of everything.camp

camelsOur driver and tour guide was wonderful and picked us up in a 4×4 SUV from Marrakesh and drove us the 10 hours to Erg Chigaga Luxury camp in the middle of the Sahara.  There were plenty of food, bathroom, and photo stops along the way.  Once you hit the desert, before you make it to camp, it’s a crazy drive on sand, past nomadic tribes with herds of camels, and through a mesmerizing landscape.  Take a Dramamine or get the motion sickness bands, because it is rocky.  But when you arrive at camp, it’s like seeing a mirage come alive.

The affable Bobo runs the camp and his hospitality and genuine good nature can’t be exaggerated.  The camp has a comfortable bed, a connecting bathroom with toilet, sink, and a place to ‘bathe.’  When you want to bathe, let the crew know and they’ll bring you a tub of solar-warmed water that you’ll mix with the cold water for a quick soap and rise.  I washed my hair and everything so I thought it was great.

There is a dining tent and a lounging tent with plenty of beer and wine.  And the food the cook prepares is really delicious.

We had dinner with a British couple who were honeymooning at the camp, then after dinner, the crew had a sing-a-long, replete with amp for the guitar.  It was awesome.  The 20-step walk back to our tent was lit by a million starts overhead.jam session

camel rideIn the morning, we got up for a sunrise camel ride that was really life changing.  You’ll see images; colors and hues that you didn’t think really existed.  It was magical.

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