Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Oops...I Did It Again

Well, it seems I have an addiction.  I wouldn't exactly call it a problem, though...

I went to Alicante, again.  There, I said it.  And it was amazing, again.  

This all started when my good friend Mel decided she needed a little vacation to someplace warm and awesome.  

With such great prices on Ryan Air flights, Alicante was suggested.  I couldn't let her go alone now, could I?  We all know very well that I didn't "need" a vacation.  But why the heck not?

Our other good friend Connie also needed a vacation from the long hours at work. you have it.  Girls weekend in Alicante!  

Note:  Please don't judge me for a repeat trip.  I have a new quest of picking up my Spanish studies from college (good thing I kept the textbook from freshman year in 2000), so I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to practice.  Okay, still not a good enough reason to justify two trips in two months?  See the pics below and you won't need any more of an explanation...

Hike up to Castillo de Santa Barbara.  I use the term "hike" loosely, since it took 20 minutes and the entire route was on pavement.

The forecast included rain last Friday, but Alicante pulled through with a full weekend of sun!

Just love this place.

We took a boat ride to Isla de Tabarca.  There was a stag party on the boat (Americans: stag = bachelor) and they were absolutely hilarious.

The water around the island was amazing!  So clear that you could see every single jellyfish swimming around the boat.  Mel, the super-Aussie, was a trooper and stayed in the water, while Connie and I made a couple of quick jumps in and out.  There's just something unsettling about being surrounded by jellyfish, even if they aren't poisonous...

We discovered this beautiful neighborhood on the way down the mountain from Castillo de Santa Barbara.  We also discovered a restaurant here where we had one of the best dinners of our lives - hiked up tons of stairs to get back to it later that night, and it was totally worth it.

These red pots were gorgeous - all the little details just make this place the greatest.

The Moment of Zen has to be the beautiful restaurant where we had one of the best dinners of our lives, as noted above.  The food was spectacular, the servers were so nice (they even gave me a menu in Spanish, knowing that I wasn't good, but I was trying), and the view from the side of the mountain was fabulous.  If you ever make it to Alicante, eat here!  I absolutely love that dinner is so late in Spain that they don't even open until 9pm.  

We didn't take any pics of the place, since we didn't want to look like rookies, so you can check out the view here if you need a visual.

So there you have it.  Alicante Part 2.  Promise we won't go back until at least Fall 2011...Ken has to make it there at some point!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mai Oh Mai

Can I just start off by saying that springtime in Norway is fabulous?!  I've heard this has been a somewhat rare, extra warm, and amazing I'd like to thank this fair country for giving us this lovely gift.

May is an excellent time to be in Norway, as their National Day is celebrated on the 17th of May (syttende mai, as it's called here i Norge).  The Norwegians dress up in their traditional gear (bunad), and the rest of us wear dresses and suits.  Everyone fills the streets, watching parades and celebrating.  And people smile at each other and talk to strangers - gettin' all crazy!  It was such a fun and festive day, and  I couldn't believe how many people poured into the streets.

We started the day off with a traditional breakfast at Pierre & Silje's apartment.  Pierre is British, and Silje is Norwegian.  So Silje decided it was her duty to show the immigrants a proper syttende mai frokost.  It was lovely...

Silje's homemade kransekake - very tasty.

The remnants of the kransekake after an attack by the hungry non-natives.  You also drink champagne with the breakfast.  And no, the chocolate cupcakes in the background aren't normally part of a Norwegian breakfast, but they are all this American knows to contribute to a gathering.  If you put flags on them they seem more legit, right?

After breakfast, we hit the streets to catch the parade and continue the celebration.  There were so many pretty bunads everywhere, and it was funny to see people partying it up in such traditional costumes.

With Silje in her bunad - I loved her cute hat.

Lovely details on Silje's bunad.

I then proceeded to photograph random people for other examples.

Pierre modeling Silje's hat.

Ken and I in our Tuesday best.
This pic doesn't do the crowds justice - insane amount of people and flags lining Karl Johan up to the palace.

The Royal Family waving to the crowd.

Another important aspect of syttende mai is the russ.  A russ is a graduating high school senior who is celebrating this milestone in life.  The russ version of celebrating includes buying buses that they decorate and pimp out with huge sound systems and lights, and driving the buses into the forest every night for a couple of weeks to party with their sound systems, get wasted, and do who only knows what else.  They also wear blue and red jumpsuits every day, so they're easy to spot on the streets.  Syttende mai is the last hurrah for the russ, and they park their buses in the city and party all day.  

Pierre needed help opening a beverage at one point in the day, so he stopped off in a russ bus, where some nice teenagers helped him out.

We don't know this teenager, but I had to capture Pierre reliving his glory days.

So, it was a great day, and we appreciated seeing a bit more Norwegian culture!

Other than syttende mai, we've been cruising around the city on foot and bike, enjoying all this spring loveliness.  

Botanical garden in Tøyen.

St. Hanshaugen.

More Tøyen.

Outside of the Munch Museum.

Authentic Scandinavian engangs grill-style grilling in Frognerparken.  Please note the blue bikes in the background.  These are the Oslo City Bikes, and they're awesome.  You pay a tiny amount for the year, and you can swipe your bike card to check out bikes at stands all over the city.  Then you just drop it off at any stand when you're done with it.  We love it!

I hope you've enjoyed the pics above.  For the Moment of Zen this week, I'll give you the gift of this photo.  

Nader, Ken, and Daan all Euro'ed up for Connie's Eurovision party.  Sorry ladies, they're all taken.  I'm sure you're pretty jealous...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pretty Portugal

As I've mentioned in previous entries, Ken had a rough go this busy season.  He pretty much worked day and night for three months solid.  

So, he needed to escape.  To a place with a nice beach and cheap drinks.  

Thus, we found ourselves in beautiful Portugal last week.  Before we moved to Norway, we had big plans to visit Portugal on a Euro trip.  So, it was fun to visit a place we'd been wanting to see for awhile.

It also turns out that everyone in the UK who was looking to escape the Royal Wedding madness also decided to visit Portugal.  You would've thought we were in London with all the British accents flying around.  Our Portuguese dictionary was basically useless, because every menu was printed in English.  I was kind of looking forward to having to work for it...

Anyway, we chose the Algarve region of Portugal due to the amazing pics we'd seen of the area.  And those pics weren't lying!

Our first stop in the Algarve was Lagos, which ended up being our favorite spot by far.  The scenery there was just amazingly gorgeous - hard to beat! 

Beautiful Praia Dona Ana in Lagos.

Hiking around.

More from the hike.

Boat ride through the grottoes.

Safety first.

It was a small fishing boat, so we were able to go through a lot of the arches and into some of the small caves.  Who doesn't love a good boat ride?

After a wild night of partying it up with two fun and cool retired accountants we met at dinner (read: not so wild if it's a party of four accountants), we headed to Tavira, on the eastern end of the Algarve.

Took a ferry out to a huge beach on Ilha de Tavira.


We also stayed in Faro, the largest city in the Algarve, for a night on our way to Lisbon.  It rained, so our beach days were over.  Even after frequent coatings with SPF 55, our skin was ready for a break by then anyway.  We walked around, and I tried to make Ken pose with the nice paintings on the city walls.  He wasn't having it, so I made him be the photographer instead (which he equally dislikes).

Outside of the Algarve, we were able to explore Lisbon for a day on the front end of the trip and a day on the back end.   Such a lovely city.  It reminded me a lot of San Francisco, actually.  Lots of hills, and even a Golden Gate-esque bridge.  It was a bit sad though, because many of the beautiful buildings in the city were abandoned and run-down, and apparently a lot of jerk graffitiers have decided that Lisbon makes a good canvas.

We found a wonderfully charming area of the city called the Alfama, which is the oldest district in Lisbon.  It was full of super narrow and winding walkways, people sitting outside chatting, and laundry hanging from balconies.  We walked through quickly, because you feel like you're invading the homes of the people who live there since it's such tight quarters.

And perhaps the most fun you can have in Lisbon: riding these rickety old trams up and down the steep hills in the neighborhoods.  They're like the SF cable cars, only more like roller coasters.  

We'll wrap up Portugal with some pretty details.  Every city we visited had such beautiful doors, tiled buildings, flowers, and mosaic sidewalks.

 We had a long layover in Brussels on our way home, so we took a train into the city for the afternoon.  It's a very pleasant city, with lots of beautiful buildings.

There were also waffles.

And the classic statue of the peeing boy, Manneken Pis (charming, eh?)  He was dressed in a scouting outfit that day.

And now you have the best of Brussels in one pic - waffles, Belgian chocolate, the Manneken Pis, and Ken for the day.  I suppose the fries are missing though...

Moment of Zen:  

 More delicious mojito than you can handle (1/2 litre!) for 6€ in the Bairro Alto in Lisbon.  Magical.