Thursday, August 11, 2011

Espana- SI! Portugal... Why not?!

A couple times a year James has to go TAD (Temporary Assigned Duty) to both Spain and Germany, and it was that time again. James was TAD for 10 days at the hospital on the base in Rota, Spain. They don't have an Opthalmology department there so James and his Doctor went to do surgeries and such. This worked to my benefit because I'm not working, so I hopped on a military (free of charge) plane headed to Rota! I was able to be with him for seven of his 10 days of TAD. Of course, during the day he has to work- and despite what some of you may be thinking, he does actually work while TAD. After work though, we were free to explore!

Over the weekend James' Doctor, Captain May, invited us to join him and his wife to explore Portugal. Both James and I have never had any desire to go to Portugal. I mean really- it's small, we don't know one word in Portugese (except maybe "no"), and Portugal is next to wonderful Spain (where I am actually familiar with the language!). However, now that we've been to Portugal, I want to go back... but we'll get to that.

So... Spain Day 1:
I was flying all day, so by the time I got settled and James got off work, we just went to dinner and relaxed.

Most meals start with bread and olives, which is both good and bad because I love olives and bread, but because of this I couldn't stop eating them and was pretty much full by the time our food came. Every night. I never learned. Hi... We went with Captain May to dinner at a local restaurant and for an appetizer he ordered Gazpacho. Gazpacho is a popular cold Spanish soup. It's kind of like Tomato soup (except cold) and then they give you sides to add like meat/seafood pieces, cut up veggies, boiled egg pieces, croutons, etc (depending on the restaurant). We all agreed it was best with just the veggies. *If you've ever had my dad's ceviche, it tastes very similar to a pureed version of that* I love potatoes so for an appetizer James and I got potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce. They were SO good I pretty much "ruined" what was left of my appetite on those (but I use ruined lightly). However, the meal continued and as an entree I had more potatoes, rice, veggies and meat with a creamy mushroom sauce- all so delicious!

Than we came back to the room and snuggled into our twin size bed- because that was all they had available when James made our reservation. Needless to say I was selfishly happy every morning when James had to get up for work.

Day Two:
I walked around the commissary and bought us some snacks and breakfast for the week, then I just wandered around the base until James was off.
After work and before picking up his wife, Carol, from the airport Captain May dropped us off at the "boardwalk." It was a path through woods just off the beach.

There were areas where you could go up some stairs to a look out point.

The views where great!

The beaches in Rota had different "fun stations" (the name is Heather-given), like jungle gym type areas, and my favorite- platforms to jump off and into the water. Some even had little slides on them to slide into the water.
The water wasn't very warm, so we never made it out to one of the platforms, I was a little bummed about that. Maybe next time!

Once the "boardwalk" ended, we continued to walk along a sidewalk that continued at the edge of the sand where there were loads of restaurants and cafes. It's like what we would call the boardwalk (at Ocean City, MD), except the walkway was cement, not wood boards.

At one point there was a huge rock that was dock-like, so we decided that was our stopping point.

We walked down, enjoyed the view and then took a break.

We sat on a bench for a few minutes, watching the little kids playing in the shallow rocky areas:
Lots of the kids had nets so I assume little fish get caught in the little puddles.

As we were sitting there, James noticed how cute our shadows were:
Que Romantica!

After our walk we worked up quite an appetite, so we walked to a Restaurant called El Presebre. There we had bread and garlic-olives (way delicious!), fried green pimento peppers (also super delicious), and we shared (I got a little smarter) garlic chicken with potatoes. Everything was delicious. *Are we noticing a trend in my descriptions of Spanish food? Mmmmm!*

Day 3, Friday:
Nothing too exciting during the day except packing for PORTUGAL!

Before we all left for Spain, James had told Captain May that I would be joining him in Spain for part of the time. Captain May and Carol had made plans to go to Portugal over the weekend and invited us to join them. James and I had never considered visiting Portugal, mostly out of ignorance as we knew nothing about the country, but since the opportunity presented itself - we couldn't resist a new adventure! And I'm so glad we made that decision!

After James and Captain May were off work we hopped in the car and the four of us were on our way! After the six-hour drive we arrived in Lisboa (Lisbon), Portugal! The town was much like any other European downtown area- crowded, a little dirty, small side streets, with a Starbucks (that's right, good ol' Starbs!) and McDonalds just around the corner! We checked into our hotel and then walked around a little bit on our way to dinner.

On our walk, we passed this huge theater and we learned that they play movies in English with Portuguese subtitles (which is why many Portuguese people speak English so well!), and they have assigned seating and legit ushers! It was a gorgeous theater and I enjoyed passing it everyday.

We ate a cute restaurant recommend in the Rick Steve's Portugal book.
This isn't the dining room we ate in but it was so cute I had to take a pic!

Most of the walls everywhere are hand painted tiles. It's a Portugal thing- very cool! Our dining room was the first place we really got to enjoy the painted tiles up close (but I forgot to take pics!).

Apparently Codfish is the food that Portugal is known for (even though the actually fishes come from Norway, minor detail). Carol ordered it and disliked it so much that she couldn't finish it. With that James and I decided not to even try it- and the May's wouldn't recommend it anyway. They tried it a second time and weren't too pleased then either! *Maybe Portugal should rethink the dish they are known for...hmm.*

After dinner we walked back through the downtown area to get back to our hotel. We past many other restaurants and little shops where the people automatically started speaking English to us (do we really scream "American" that bad?!) and tried to get us to eat at their restaurant... and then others were simply trying to get free money from us.

Day 4 (Day 2 in Portugal):
We started the morning with breakfast pastries, and cappuccinos. Well, I had a capp, everyone else had chocolate milk! Then we headed to the Tourist information office where we picked up "LisboaCards," which would allows us free or discounted entry to many sites for the next 24 hours.

Once we purchased our tickets and picked up some pamphlets we hopped on the train headed to Sintra.

The train ride was scenic... and the graffiti was actually pretty cool too, hah.
In white it says: "This is a reggae party. All night long."
I thought it was blog-worthy, hah!

There was a Pizza Hut at the train station in Sintra.
I thought that was both cool and random.
I suggested we eat there for lunch. I don't know why everyone laughed.

On our train ride we saw lots of cork trees, and then when we got to Sintra we saw tons of things made out of cork:
Pretty neat.

Our first top was the Royal palace:

This was on our way in. The city in the background looked cool... and we forgot to take a pic of the front. Oops.

James was a little too tall for this stairwell.

After the King's daughter got married he painted this ceiling with ducks because they were her favorite and he missed her.
How cute!

Some cool painted tile walls- so you can see what the Portuguese are artisically know for:
This was in the western most room in the western most palace in Europe!
Be jealous...
If it were a clear day, this view would probably be incredible, sigh!

Um, can I have a kitchen this open please?!

I just thought this doorway was pretty:

On our way up the mountainside to our next destination I saw this Twlight-esque photo opportunity.
Part eerie, part beautiful!
"... Edward?"

And finally the Disney-esque Palace of Pena!

The Palace of Pena was an old monastery that was ruined by the massive earthquake of 1755. In 1838 King Ferdinand II turned it into the royal family's summer home. Then after several years of vacationing, trading, selling and buying, it was finally turned into a museum in 1910.
Say "hello" to Carol in the background!

Not sure what else to say about the palace so just enjoy our pics...

(The above reminds me of Aladdin...)

After the palaces in Sintra we took the train back to Lisbon and explored the city a bit.

We visited Jeronimos Monastery which was completely paid for with spice money (from spice trades with India).

Check out the beautiful Manueline style courtyard (the artist named the style after King Manuel I):

Next the chapel:

Here you can see the tomb of Vasco Da Gama (who navigated/founded the spice trade route):

Afterwards we walked to the water directly across from Jeronimos where you could get a full view of the monastery:
It's huge... and b

Definitely gives you an idea of the loads of money they made off the Indian spices!

By the water was this cool statue with a cross...

On our walk to check out the statue I made a pit stop in Maryland
There's no place like home...
*If you can't tell, I'm standing on world map- directly on MD... and probably a little of the surrounding states, but who's measuring...


I thought the cross statue alone was cool because it was so big and right on the water but if you look at it from the side it's a ship:
The two sides are the same idea just with different people.

Close up for your viewing pleasure...
Each person symbolizes a real life (historical) person or group of people.
For more information please visit

To cross the water in and out of Lisbon there is a bridge that you might recognize:
The designers were the same ones who designed the Golden Gate Bridge... creative group they are...

At this point food was calling our names!
There's a pastry ahop by Jeronimos that is locally and nationally popular so we had to check it out... I give you- Pasteis de Belem:
This place so so busy we had to wait in a lengthy line for the to-go counter. But given the amount of people inside and out, we figured they had to be worth it!

Since there was seating we went to Starbucks (at least that was my excuse for getting an Iced Mocha...) to sit and try out these famous pastries.

DELICIOUS! We all loved them!
supposedly only three people know the exact ingredients... I wanted to go back and get more, but I didn't want to be a glutton. The tragic truth.

OH! And it was James' birthday that day, so he was blowing out his pretend birthday candle on his honorary birthday cake:

After pastries we headed back to the plaza that we started at and worked our way back. There were tons of stores with really cute clothes and I wish I had hours to shop! *Thus why I said want to go back.* And I'm not even kidding. If the opportunity re-presented itself, I'd be there!

After our walk back to the main part of town, we took a trolley to the upper part of the city and then walked our way back down to check out some more of Lisbon. And just around the time we were hungry, we ended up at a mall where we got to eat at a Brazilian steak house for 11 Euro a person... almost nothing! Everything there was so good. Although, as usual, I got pretty full off of the appetizers. Oops!

I think we managed to squeeze a weeks worth of site seeing into one day. Good thing it doesn't get dark until about 10pm here. Literally. It's great.

Day 5:
We would have to head back to Spain later that afternoon, so we just walked around and explored until we were ready to go. We walked up to the castle on the top of the hill...

but decided not to go in, because Rick Steve's said the best part is the view, which we saw elsewhere:

On our walk back down, we took some little side streets and back alleys- taking some more cool pic along the way:

For our last stop we hopped on the bus, then metro and were on our way to Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. This is an art gallery which was the personal collection of the Gulbenkian who said when he died he wanted all the art to be kept under one roof. His wish was fulfilled. He had over 5000 pieces, and to our delight, the museum was free on Sundays! There were loads of fancy plates and other ceramics, some books, paintings, bling-ed out hairpins (my favorite) and broaches.
...And James favorite:
A tapestry with cherabs- this one is peeing on the other ones head.

Finally, we ate a delicious lunch at the Gallery's cafeteria then headed back to Espana!

The rest of my three days there we just spent walking around Rota, and one afternoon at the beach. It was good to get away with my favorite person for a few days! What a blast! We were so thankful for the opportunity to go to Portugal! Who knew Portugal would be so great (and I'm not just talking about the clothes I saw, hah)!

Now back to Italy for two days...



  1. Twin bed?!? hahahaha! I would have been a grouch for days!

  2. Beautiful pics, as usual. That really was Twilight-esque...kinda freaky!