Hanging with Family in Lisbon Part 1 – by Kelly and Dave

We took an overnight train from Madrid to Lisbon.  The girls really wanted to try it out and compare it to our experience in China. I would say it was pretty similar, with the European train actually being smaller. The sleeper car and cafe care were kind of tired, which is too bad. It’s probably going to be our last overnight train, as flying is the same cost or even cheaper.

Madrid was where we had to say good bye to Dave’s mom.  Five weeks traveling with her really flew by, which is a bummer.  We loved having her and were so lucky she was able to come visit us. Her Spanish really helped us get around. We hope she is having a great time on the rest of her travels in Spain.


Our trip to Portugal was mainly about visiting family.  My mom is half Portuguese.  Her family comes from the Azores – a group of nine islands about 850 miles off the coast of Portugal.  Years ago, my mom’s brother did some research and found our realtives in Lisbon.  If I am correct in the lineage, my mom’s grandma and her cousin Fernanado’s grandma were sisters.  Crazy, right?  Fernando and his wife, Maria Helena, and their sons Alexander and Francisco, along with their families, are our hosts while we are here.  I haven’t been back to Lisbon since visiting them all 22 years ago when I graduated from college.   We are so lucky to have this opportunity and I’m excited for Dave and the girls to meet them all.

Francisco and Alexander picked us up from the train station and our tour began.  After dropping our things off at Francisco’s Airbnb apartment where we would be staying, we walked down to Rossio Square and had coffee and a bite to eat at Cafe Nicola.  Codfish, or bacalhau, is a staple in Portugal, so I tried the bacalhau fritter and it was tasty.


Francisco continued our tour around downtown, the Baixa district.  Cobblestone streets, painted buildings, tiled buildings and fountains, all go to show the rich history of this city. We stopped to get a Lisbon specialty, Ginja, at a tiny bar off the square.  It’s a cherry liquor served in a shot glass with two cherries at the bottom.  Delicious!  So good in fact, that Francisco bought us a bottle to have at our place.

Francisco also took us to lunch at Ze da Mouraria.  What a treat!  We had to wait over an hour to get into the restaurant, but it was well worth it.  It’s a small, crowded, loud restaurant filled with locals. Towards the end of the meal a soccer chant burst out at the next table. The girls had no idea what was going on.  Francisco did the ordering and it was delicious – little squids with garlic and potatoes and beef with garlic.  And for a dessert a traditional custard tart.  Francisco also told us we were drinking what he ordered – green wine.  Although it’s called green wine, it comes in red or white, we had both.  It is called green wine from the fact that it is drunk very young. Having wine at lunch is very typical in Portugal. We can really get used to that.

We also went to visit the homeopathic pharmacy their family has run that is over 100 years old, which was very cool.  The girls loved all the old bottles that they still have and the apothecary table – collector’s items.  We then went back to spend our first evening at home.


The next day we were lucky that Francisco and his 14 year old son, Gui, came back into the city to be our tour guides.  Lisbon is a really cool city.  It reminds us a little of San Francisco as it’s by the water, has many hills, street cars, and their very own version of The Golden Gate Bridge – Ponte 25 de Abril.

We walked a lot on our tour of the city.  Thankfully we were with Francisco and Gui, otherwise the twins would have complained the whole time.  I wish they could be with us for the rest of journey to make our tours a bit easier 🙂  We walked along the pedestrian path, Rua Augusta, and then into the Chiado District, a hip area with boutiques and restaurants – a little like the Marina I guess.  We stopped for ice cream at their favorite spot, Santini’s.  This gave the girls some fuel for the rest of our tour.  We then walked to the Elevador de Santa Justa.  This elevator was built in the early 1900’s and offers an amazing view of the city and the castle.  There are actually a few elevators and funiculars in the city as well, that help people navigate the hills of Lisbon.  They could actually be considered shortcuts if you know where to find them.



After walking by the statue of famed Portuguese writer, Fernando Pessoa, and hitting a cool shop where all things were from Lisbon, we continued to Bairro Alto, another hilly area with cobblestone streets, restaurants and shops.  We ended at Mercado da Ribeira for lunch.  This is a large market hall filled with different restaurants around the edges and tables in the middle.  We followed Francisco to the hot dog stand and once we found tables, enjoyed the food, beer and company.  Walked home along the waterfront and through Praca de Comerico and Rua Augusta Arch.

Sunday was a special day.  We were invited to Alexander’s for lunch where all of Fernando’s sisters and spouses came to visit as well.  What a treat to meet everyone and have a day filled with family – almost 20 of us I think.  It was really great seeing the girls with their cousins – this was the one of the main things Claire wanted to do when we told her we were embarking on this trip – meet her cousins in Portugal.  Gui has a sister, Ines who is 12, and another cousin, Henrique who is also 14.  It didn’t take long until they were all up playing Minecraft – technology bridges all cultures.

I feel lucky to get this time with my Portuguese family.  More to come about our time in Portugal.  Internet isn’t great, so downloading photos takes awhile 🙂

Happy Easter!




Streets of Seville – By Kelly and Dave

We left Granada by train to head to Seville.  Such a nice way to travel.  It was only about two hours and we could read and relax while we passed by small towns. When we got the Seville the weather was amazing, much warmer than Granada. Once again, we lucked out on the place we rented in this great town.  It was probably the nicest place we have stayed thus far.  Not only was it huge, which is nice with 6 people, but it was literally in the middle of Barrio Santa Cruz.  This is the area that was the former Jewish Quarter of the medieval city.  Its winding, narrow, cobblestone streets invite you to get lost among the small restaurants and little shops.  Also in the midst of this neighborhood, is the cathedral, the Giralda, and the Alcazar.  So, we didn’t have to do much besides leave our house and we were in the middle of all things one might want to see while in Seville.  We even had a beautiful view of the Giralda.


We stayed 5 days and probably could have stayed 10. This town is so inviting and it was great because Dave’s mom lived here a few years ago while she was studying Spanish. Therefore, we had a built in tour guide.  It’s a university town and had a young, hip vibe. There were people walking around at all hours – although less in the early mornings when I went on my walks.  We were near the Plaza de la Alianza which looked to me like a movie set.  The buildings were painted in soft colors (picture not great) and the plaza was lined with horse drawn carriages waiting to take you on a tour of the city.

And we did take a carriage ride one day to Plaza de Espana.  This is one thing I definitely remember from the trip Dave and I took years ago.  It is a huge plaza that was built for the Ibero-American Exposition in 1929.  The girls were excited to go because it was a movie location for Star Wars Attack of the Clones.  I loved the railings that were made from beautiful Spanish pottery and the walls that were lined with tiled alcoves for each Spanish province.

We spent many days wandering the streets of Seville and of course resting when we could. When traveling with kids, one can’t forget to give them down time – probably more than we would like, but you can’t push them too much.  We found the girls favorite store, LUSH, while we were there, so a couple of afternoons were spent having spa days.

Dave and I wandered the streets around the apartment, which bordered the Alcazar.  Quiet and quaint.

We visited the school where Norma went, which was cool to see.  And of course we had to go have churros and chocolate where she used to go, Dona Carmen.

One thing we were told to do while in Seville was to see a flamenco show, so we did.  We chose Casa del Flamenco which had good reviews, a small space and was close to our house.  We were not disappointed.  We got in line early so that we were in the front row and the girls loved it!  So did we.  There were two dancers, a singer and a guitarist.  All were amazing.  It is a true art form – so intricate and emotional.  Both dancers were great, but the male did a solo that was incredible – incredibly fast footwork!

We finally made it to the cathedral our last day.  It was a very different church, all broken up into different altars.  Christopher Columbus is buried there.  But what we really wanted to do was climb to the top of the Giralda.  This was originally built as a minaret during the moorish period, but was converted to the bell tower of the Seville Cathedral.  You walk up a ramp made for horses to get to the top for some amazing views of the city.  In one picture, you can see the bull ring in the distance.

Street performers were pretty good in Seville.  A head that made noises, faceless musicians, but my favorite being Jesus – see the pictures below.  He is human like all others 🙂 After carrying his cross, he needed a smoke break and had to check his facebook account. Jesus is truly my homeboy.

And what would a blog be without mention of food and restaurants.  We were lucky enough to have a friend from Moraga, Allison, who had recently studied in Seville.  She and her mom, who had visited her, each gave us a list of some of their favorite places.  While we would have loved to try them all, we didn’t get a chance, but we did try some good ones.  We were only two blocks from Bodega, so we hit that the day we arrived.  It was a quiet afternoon there and we were able to get a table.  We ordered based on Allison’s recommendations – berenjas con miel – honey and eggplant, flamenquin, pollo con salsa – it was all delicious!  And I discovered something better than sangria – tinto de verano – delicious wine and lemonade spritzer.  The Bodega gets pretty crowded during meal times with people standing and waiters shouting orders.  Dave’s mom and I went down one afternoon and stood at the bar and were in the thick of it all.  Thankfully she spoke spanish, so we did alright.


Eating at the Bodega

Dave and I also got a date night and went to Ovejas Negras.  We loved it!! Thankfully we got there when it opened at 8pm, because a list grew quickly for people waiting to get a table or our seat at the bar.  We had mushroom risotto, pork cheeks, Galician beef, and ceviche. Including 4 drinks the whole dinner was 36 euros.

We did venture from Spanish food a couple of nights and hit a delicious Italian restaurant – l’Oca Giuliva.  After being in Spain for over 4 weeks, we needed something different.  Very good if you get a chance and also gets crowded.  One night we had to sit outside since the inside tables were all reserved, but that turned out to be a good thing.  We were front row to watch the men practice for Semana Santa – the week leading up to Easter, a very important holiday in Europe.  We saw the men practice carrying the “pasos,” or floats, through the streets.  There are 30 men – “costaleros” – wearing back braces that climb under the float and walk very slowly and carefully down the street for miles on Easter. This is quite an honor.  These floats are massive and on Easter are beautifully decorated.


We were sad to leave, but had to head to Madrid in order to get the overnight train to Lisbon to visit my cousins.

Alhambra Tales-Granada by Dave

After spending 3 weeks in Barcelona and getting our bearings set in Europe, it was time to ramble on – to Andalucia -a short one hour flight away.  When we landed we were hit with the coldest weather we have had so far – in the low 30’s and for a couple of days the high was only in the 40’s!  (In Chicago this would be called “summer”).  But we came prepared and bought some cold weather clothes in Barcelona. Keep in mind that it has pretty much been summer for the entire trip from August to January. Though it was cold, it was crisp and clear -clear enough to see the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance.

We once again lucked out with the location of where we stayed. We have mainly used Tripadvisor, Bookings.com, and Airbnb this entire trip.  We were on Gran Via-one of the main boulevards walking distance to the cathedral and quaint streets where locals and tourists alike seemed to congregate.  What Kelly and I noticed was that it didn’t matter how cold is was, people were sitting outside the cafes enjoying their time and drinking cold beer all bundled up.  The other thing we noticed were all the fur coats everywhere-old school.

We were also close to El Albaicin neighborhood, which is the muslim quarter of the city.   I found a great Shawarma place for dinner, partly out of sheer necessity. We checked into our hotel at around dinner time, we didn’t have time to hit the grocery store, and the starving kids didn’t want to leave the room to eat out as they were tired and it was raining and freezing cold outside. I think we went back 3 times.  It’s called Marchica Shawarma and worth looking for. While I love Spanish food, it was nice to have something different besides Jamon, queso y pan.

We also found this narrow, winding street called La Calle Calderería Nueva.  Its middle eastern themed shops were full of beautiful tile work, leather, hookahs and colorful, glass mosaic lamps. It also had an array of clothes that would be best described as Grateful Dead Chic-drab, loose clothing that is easy to spin around in. A store like this on the Haight would make a fortune.

We took a small bus to the top of the El Albaicin neighborhood to Mirador de San Nicolas. This was a great look out point to see The Alhambra across the way.


There were stalls set up selling handmade goods. The girls got bookmarks with their names written in Arabic. There were also locals playing Spanish guitar, clapping, singing, and dancing. I felt like we I was at an outdoor Gypsy Kings concert.   My mom asked one of the vendors where to have lunch and we wandered around the cobblestone streets for a while to find the restaurant Casa Torcuato-a boisterous place filled with locals where you throw your used napkins on the ground. We had a great lunch of grilled fish, Spanish omelettes, and potatas bravas with spanish beer served in wine glasses-classy.

One thing I have noticed this entire trip is how much more affordable it is to eat out. Granted we live in San Francisco, but we can have an entire meal with drinks for 5 people for about 40ish euros. And tipping doesn’t really exist in most countries we’ve been to on this trip.

On our last day we took a group tour to the Alhambra, which was the main reason we went to Granada. This was the only day we could get a tour, the other days were totally sold out. Its the most visited monument in Spain. The girls were troopers for not only getting up early but walking around the grounds for 3 hours, which was probably one hour too long for them.  Kelly and I remembered it from our last trip to Spain, but it had been awhile.  The architecture was beautiful – archways, ornate ceilings, beautiful tiles.

I liked the size of Granada, it was quieter than Barcelona and is more of a university town, with beautiful mountains and skiing nearby.

Next stop: Sevilla

Barcelona – so sad to say goodbye

If you’ve never been to Barcelona, put it on your list.  I loved it!!  Have been twice before, but this time I really took it all in since we were there for three weeks.  Since I last blogged, our days have been filled with seeing the sites, walking the streets, art classes, cooking classes, the beach and more!  There was also time for days and hours of down time when everyone was exhausted and didn’t want to go out.  So homework, mine craft and Harry Potter filled those days.

I was going to try to make this short in text and long in pictures if I could, but then it started to get away from me 🙂  It also took me awhile to get pictures downloaded – you never know how internet will be when you’re away from home.

I would like to give a few tips here and there and some suggestions for those people who might be reading this and heading to Barcelona soon – we seem to have people from all over the world reading our blog, which is cool.  If you have kids and are heading to this city, grab the book Mission Barcelona.  It is a small book you can tuck into your suitcase – remember we are in carry ons – and it is a great guide for kids.  It works as a scavenger hunt as you tour the city and major attractions.  It makes sightseeing more fun and gives kids a reason to get out and see the sites even when they  might not want to 🙂  I will also be getting the same book for Rome, Paris and London.


We were staying in L’Eixample neighborhood on Girona at Arago.  This was a great neighborhood.  La Concepcion market and grocery story were around the corner.  We now rate our places not only on how they are on the inside, but whether or not there is a good market nearby – it makes it so much easier when you are staying at an apartment.  We were also by some decent neighborhood restaurants – Betlem, Rene and a great fresh pasta store, Pilia Pasta – not a sit down place, but a place to grab fresh pasta, lasagna, raviolis and homemade sauces to take home.  Be sure to try the dried dessert pasta – yummy!  We also took a night off of Spanish food and Dave and I walked to Cafe Emma – a great French place with fresh oysters, escargot and french onion soup.  Another place a short walk away was La Pepita – probably my favorite dinner of the trip!  Delicious, gourmet tapas with a fun atmosphere with lots of graffiti on the walls.  It’s small, so get there early.  We enjoyed this dinner with Liz, a friend from San Francisco and her roommate, Lindsay, who were on a short holiday.  So fun to be able to see friends while we travel!

La Sagrada Familia – Another amazing, if not the most amazing, building designed by Antoni Gaudi.  The building began in 1882, but won’t be done for another 10 years.  The stained glass windows are probably the prettiest I have ever seen.  For those of you who are planning a visit, bring your own headphones.  The audio guide is great and they have a separate one for kids, which I appreciate, but the ear buds were uncomfortable.  The girls and I couldn’t actually keep them in, so they didn’t end up listening to the tour – I relayed what I heard to them.  Just a tip.  Had empanadas and gin and tonics at cute pub across from the park next to the cathedral – Piacere Caffe.

Park Guell – It never gets old seeing Gaudi’s work.  It is so unsual and unique.  Park Guell is no exception.  It has great views of the city and ocean in the distance.  The girls loved running around and hiding any place they could find.

Mosaiccos Art Class – To enhance the learning of Gaudi, I read about an art class for the girls.  Really, adults can do it too, we saw a few working on amazing projects while we were there.  The girls spent two afternoons at Mosaiccos – they liked it so much the first time, they wanted to do it again.  Angelika, the owner, was great with the girls.  They picked out what they wanted to create and then set out to do their own mosaics.  They learned to cut the glass and glue it down.  These will be great momentos of their time in Barcelona and will hopefully remind them of Gaudi and all that they saw.

Cooking class and Boqueria Tour – Cooking is always a fun way to enjoy a new country. Barcelona Cooking School was great!  Candido was our chef for the day and started out by giving us an amazing tour of the famous La Boqueria on La Rambla.   It’s one of the biggest markets of its kind in the world!  They have everything you could need and more.  The girls each had to come up with the craziest three foods they saw and here are some of them: goat’s head, blood, pig tongue, brain, and a bull’s penis – yup, you read that correctly.

Cooking was a fun way to spend the afternoon. It was a small group of 11 people.  We cooked butternut squash and pear soup, Spanish tortilla, seafood paella, tomato bread and crema catalana.  It was great for the girls who peeled and chopped pears, potatoes, chopped onions, spread garlic and tomato on bread and enjoyed the fruits of the labor.

Figueres – We took a day trip from Barcelona to Figueres, home of the Dali Museum.  We had heard about how great it was and were told by numerous locals that we had to go.  We decided to do an overnight since it was a two hour train ride to the small town.  It is worth it if you have the time and of course if you are a Dali fan.  His surrealism art can be a little weird for some, for example the girls counted how many butts and boobs they saw throughout the exhibit – 83 to be exact.  Quite humorous to see their reactions.  I loved the museum!!  Especially the large domed room – it’s like nothing I’ll ever see again – such a beautiful and unusual place to showcase art.  The best part was his jewelry exhibit which is in a connected museum. Don’t miss it if you are there!!  Doesn’t take long and is really original.  We stayed at the Museum Apartments – clean, new, modern and steps away from the museum.  Be aware that Dave was awake all night with the church bells ringing.  Had great coffee and hot chocolates just a few doors down at Dalicatessen.


La Rambla/Plaza Catalunya – I lost count of how many times we came down here.  It was walkable from our place and had everything you could need – stores – which we used numerous times to build up a winter wardrobe, restaurants, tourist shops, people watching and more.  We finally made it to the end of La Rambla, where we not only saw the Christopher Columbus statue, but finally found the people dressed as statues that we had heard so much about.  We were slightly disappointed because there were only 3. Supposedly there are many more in the summer when the weather is warmer and there are more tourists.  We were glad we at least found a few – The John Lennon music box was pretty great.  Plus we marked a few more things off in our Mission Barcelona book and Dave finally got down to the beach.

Museu de Xocolata – Cute little museum in El Born about the history of chocolate.  Girls couldn’t get over that their ticket into the museum was an actual dark chocoate bar with a bar code that they scanned to get in.  There were many amazing statues made of only of chocolate, plus informational panels to read and movies to see about the history of chocolate.  Did you know that chocolate came from the Aztecs, but the sweetened version we know today came from a recipe made by nuns?

El Born neighborhood – I think Dave and I covered all of the little twisting alleys in this neighborhood while the girls were at art class.  It’s amazing how many shops and restaurants are squeezed in next to one another.  Don’t forget about siesta time – shops do close up, not all, but most.  And it’s another world once they are open again.

La Pedrera – Our last day we hit the last of the Gaudi buildings we hadn’t seen yet.  La Pedrera was good, but not as good as the others.  The rooftop was great to see with all the curved and tiled chimneys, plus looking at one apartment as it would have been back in the day was interesting.  If you are an architect buff, this one might interest you more.  The attic, which was impressive with its brick archways, housed a lot of interesting displays on the architecture of it all.

Sad to leave this wonderful city, but I know we will be back.  Here are just a few other restaurants we went to and liked while we were here:

La Fabrica – great small shop with homemade Argentinian Empanadas in El Born neighborhood – I think we had to go back 3 times in about 30 minutes because they were so good.

Sagardi – Great for small tapas – down near Santa Maria del Mar in El Born neighborhood.  Sat outside one evening with local street musicians singing and playing guitar.  This is the type of tapas place where you count the toothpicks from each piece you eat.

Canete – Enjoyed a great lunch with Dave’s friend, Amir, who was in Barcelona for a conference.  You will love their motto, which is not suitable to print on this blog 🙂  It’s a block or two of La Rambla is El Raval