Live. Love. Local.

When we travel internationally, we mostly stay away from the obvious tourist attractions. Sure, when we went to Paris we visited the Eiffel Tower. We spent some time at Notre Dame Cathedral because my husband is a sketch artist and he was drawing it. We didn’t make our way to Champs-Élysées, we didn’t visit the Louvre. We might have, but it just didn’t work out. It wasn’t a priority.

What we did do was walk the streets of the neighborhood where our quaint boutique hotel was located (Latin Quarter). We sat in cafés, ate croissants and sipped lattes. We visited the little ‘ready food’ kiosks for meals.  You can tell you’re staying local when the people you are talking to generally don’t speak English. And as rough as my French is, there is nothing better than trying to converse with a happy local gracing us with a big smile.

On our recent trip to Porto, Portugal, we stayed in an apartment in a quiet neighborhood far from the city center. There was a huge park across the street, a small café a few doors down, and a small market a couple blocks away. These places are where you experience local life.  Watching the old men and children feed the peacocks in the park, eating at the café and asking, “What do you have?” because there is no menu.

The owner beams as he describes his carefully prepared national dishes – maybe five choices. The woman working at the market trying to describe to us which type of meat was sliced and packaged because, well, we didn’t know enough Portuguese to figure it out. Is this a jar of mayonnaise? Try asking that question with a language barrier. Lots of laughing is involved.

Of course, Praça da Ribeira is amazing, the Duoro River is beautiful, Praça da Liberdade is worth the time spent. But going to a big busy public area doesn’t give you a genuine feel of the people. We love the people.

To me there are three ‘steps’ to discovering a new city, a new culture. First, we love to do a tour bus and get the macro perspective.  Learn the lay of the land. Figure out what we really want to see. Second, we will make it a point to visit one or two landmarks (Paris, Eiffel Tower… Porto, Dom Luis I Bridge) but after that we are all about local food, picking up a bit of the language, learning about the history and culture. These are the memories that last. These are the memories that make me smile.

Branson, Missouri

We took a little road trip to Branson, Missouri, “Live Music Capital of the World,” earlier this week.  Most of our friends found it surprising that we had never been before because it’s a short five hour drive away and most of them had been multiple times. Our time had finally come. My husband traded some of his artwork for a stay in a resort in Branson, so off we went.

On our first evening out we enjoyed dinner overlooking the Branson Landing Fountain at the edge of Lake Taneycomo. The Branson Landing is  a lovely outdoor mall with many shops and restaurants. We chose to have dinner at Cantina Laredo, a chain restaurant we hadn’t ever been to before, and we enjoyed it. It was a lovely evening to sit outside and we had a front row view of the fountain show which is set to music and accompanied by lights and fire. Very nicely done.

The second night we attended the Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner Show which is quite possibly the biggest thing going on in Branson today and very well done. It was a lot of fun and the food was delicious and more than any human can eat. They serve a cup of creamy soup, bread, a whole roasted game hen, plus a thick slice of pork loin, half a roasted potato, half a corn on the cob, and dessert. Thankfully, they bring around to-go bags after the show so you don’t have to feel guilty for leaving so much behind!

On the third day we visited the Talking Rocks Cavern about thirty minutes outside of town. The cavern was relatively small as caverns go, but I very much enjoyed the adventure. I grew up in west Texas near the well known Carlsbad Caverns, so it’s pretty hard to impress me with caverns. But this was steep steps and tight corners and narrow walkways and wet paths. This ‘not so perfect’ tour created a sense of thrill and accomplishment for having completed it. Between fear and health issues, some people back out. In fact, when you buy your tickets they let you know if you can’t handle it you can turn around and they will give you your money back.

Well, this old lady Conquered the Cavern! No money back for me!

There’s a ton more to do in Branson. We really barely scratched the surface. We enjoyed a meal at Branson’s Center Stage Grill which was very good, we had ice cream and pie at Cakes ‘n Cream Diner which had a fun atmosphere. We stayed in a condo with a full kitchen and we were able to buy groceries at Rhodes Family Price Chopper which was a very nice store with a great selection and fair prices. Also, I missed this, but Hurts Donut is supposed to be very cool and the donut photos are very intriguing! I’m super sorry I missed it! And of course, we ate one meal at a fast food – Chick-fil-A. The busiest place in town.

Flying in is a bit of an issue because the Springfield-Branson Airport is almost an hour away. Shuttles and other forms of available transportation will run you about $100 each way, which is not cheap. If you decide to fly to Branson, plan ahead to rent a car. You might as well, you’ll spend the same amount for a shuttle and have no wheels. But if you live within about six or seven hours from there, take a road trip. I imagine the drive in is beautiful from all directions, and it will only cost you a couple tanks of gas.

Perfect Porto

So, our six days in Portugal are nearly over. A day on a bus. A day in our room. A day on foot. A day of going separate ways and a dead phone which makes for great drama. A day at the airport. (We tried to fly standby home today, but the flight was full.) Poor us. Another day in paradise.

Fortunately, we left the airport by 1:00 pm and the Urban Sketcher Symposium is still going strong so Skip was able to rejoin his friends and is now blissfully sketching City Hall at the very top of Praça da Liberdade.

I am sitting under cover at a nearby McDonald’s sipping a quite nice, albeit tiny, cafe latte. And writing this post.

Porto is probably the most beautiful city I have ever seen. I believe I can say this without hyperbole. It’s clean. It’s historic. It sits on a mountain near the ocean AND a river. It’s beautifully manicured and life is in order here. The climate allows for the abundant growth of pretty much every plant I can imagine.

There are no words to describe this place.

We toured a port wine cellar on Thursday. It was a very nice presentation of the history and process of wine making, the differences in types of wine, white, red, rose, and tawny (which I had never heard of) followed by a tasting. But I particularly enjoyed the cool cavelike rooms they store the casks of wine in.

This one is older than me.

We walked down a hill that was SO STEEP I was clinging to the walls. I am not kidding!

I don’t know if you can tell from this picture but that’s pretty much straight down. We prevailed. It was the only thing that was between us and Starbucks and we were not backing down.

So. Come to Porto. Try the food with an open mind. Bring your walking shoes. And sign up for Uber. Uber has saved me. Thank you, Uber. I love you.

Porto. A Preliminary Report.

PORTO, Portugal. A place I have known little about until now. It wasn’t necessarily even on our list. But my husband is an Urban Sketcher and they’re holding an Urban Sketcher Symposium in town this week so here we are. And it’s slightly out of our comfort zone.

Between the language and the food, we have been a little lost. Lol. Do you know that the Portuguese language is extremely similar to Spanish? Yet ask any Portuguese person you meet and they will tell you they’re nothing alike.

Yes. Sí. Sím.
Why. Porque. Porque.
House. Casa. Casa.
Dead. Muerto. Morto.
How. Como. Como.
You get the idea.

Anyways, Spanish, which I have been vigorously studying, is no help.

The food, which literally everyone has told me is the best in the world, has been unusual. Of course! It’s Portuguese! It’s completely foreign to us. I enjoyed my Francesinha (hubs did not) and he ordered the cod (bacalhau) last night which was almost like tuna tetrazzini and I thought it was great, him not so much.

Francesinha- sandwich with cheese & sauce
Bacalhau (cod). Possibly served other ways too.

We ate lunch at a lovely seaside café yesterday and I ordered shrimp and quinoa paella which was delicious, but he ordered a hamburger and was unimpressed. I think maybe he’s getting old and cranky.

Shrimp and Quinoa Paella. Very good.

Also, we are both getting old and CREAKY. Things crackle and pop. This place is built on a mountainside. I look out our (third floor with no elevator) giant 18th century apartment windows and the young people are practically running effortlessly up this hill outside that I will have trouble going down. Porto is not for the old, weak and faint of heart.

Having said all that, THIS PLACE IS LOVELY BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS. It’s amazing and we love it. Haha. Had you going, didn’t I?!

The Pointe de Don Luis I Bridge

Yesterday we did the Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour and it was fabulous. The weather here is as close to perfect as weather can be. I’m a little sunburned, but I don’t care. I enjoyed the cool breeze in the bright sun for about three hours (we circled the city twice) and I have no regrets.

Don Pedro IV, Praça de Liberdade, Porto, Portugal

Today the conference began so my husband has been gone since about noon and I’ve chosen to stay close and rest. BUT TOMORROW I’m taking the train tour, the river tour, and two wine cellar tours. So expect to hear all about it on Friday… when I will probably need another day of rest!

Asbury Park Boardwalk

The beach. Fresh ocean breezes, the sound of the waves tumbling to shore, toes dug deep into the cool sand. Nothing compares. I was raised in the southwest, so any time I had the pleasure of visiting the beach, it was a treat. As a child, the saltier, stickier and more sunburned I was, the better.

As an adult, the sticky, gritty, beach is a bit less appealing. Sipping a cold beverage in the shade whilst sitting in a comfortable chair- much more appealing. Imagine my delight to discover the concept of a boardwalk.  I mean, California has its piers and Florida has, well, mostly sand. It wasn’t until I first came to the greater New Jersey/New York area that I discovered the sublime addition of a boardwalk to the beach.

In my perfect world, all beaches are Asbury Park.

With its long, smooth, wooden walkway, its variety of eateries and shops, and its lovely beach, Asbury Park is the best of all worlds.  Stroll along with your family, grab a Korean Fusion Taco or a Coney Waffle cone. Linger with your lover and enjoy a martini at Stella Marina in the cool breeze. Stay into the evening at The Anchor’s Bend. Dig your toes into the sand, enjoy the fresh air, sip a beverage – you might even get to experience some terrific live music.

the anchors bend
Enjoying an Evening at The Anchor’s Bend

I can regale you with tales of relaxation and tranquility, describe to you the riches to be found in the various shops, tempt you with lunch, dinner and treats, but don’t take my word for it. Check out the awesome and informative Asbury Park Boardwalk website.

There’s plenty more to know than what I can tell you!

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

The 15 passenger van is careening around curves and buses and school children and parked cars and hairpin turns. Oddly, we are careening UP the mountain. The roads are two lanes: no shoulder, no guard rails. We are traveling at maintained speeds of at least 40 miles per hour and only stop when we are impossibly blocked by other vehicles. The van is cool; the air conditioning is on full blast the entire two hour trip. This is a good thing, because I am getting a little nauseous and if it were warm in the bus there may have been an incident.

We are heading to La Paz Waterfall Gardens, just north of Alajuela in Central Costa Rica. Just a little day trip. My driver, Ray, is competent, even skilled, and the danger I sense is real, but no worse for us than any other vehicle on the road. Our guide, Arlin, and the other passengers, a mother and adult daughter from Mexico and a couple from Argentina, are relaxed and talking, seemingly unaware that the edge of the road drops directly into a deep ditch which would flip us over and send us hurling down the beautiful jungle mountainside should our driver miss the road by anything more than 12 inches.

My husband and I are in San Jose for a sketch workshop he is attending. So while he is walking the streets of San Jose, I am taking this tour alone. The traveling together is fun and good, but he loves to sketch and can spend hours doing so. I ultimately end up entertaining myself for several hours at a time or sometimes full days. Today is one of those days.

Recently I’ve been working intensely on my Spanish. I spoke Spanish fluently as a child because I was raised with a Spanish speaker in my home. But as I grew older I used it less and less and I’ve spent more time trying to get it back than it took me to lose it -many times over. Sometimes I can barely remember English words, lol, so remembering Spanish words can be a challenge. But fortunately I understand it better than I speak it. Since the entire tour group (besides me) were Spanish speakers, we got this tour in Spanish. All day, for ten hours, Spanish in the jungle. I had told our guide that if I missed anything I would ask questions and it worked out wonderfully.

Upon arrival at La Paz Waterfall Gardens, we were treated to a personal tour of the animal sanctuary. This is a beautiful place with photo ops galore. It’s like a small San Diego zoo… only the zoo is exactly where the animals would have originally been found. Lush and green, lovely walkways and enclosures, the nature park and animal sanctuary is a perfect place to spend a day.

After a buffet lunch of local cuisine and typical American fare, we headed toward the falls.

I was a little concerned about taking this trip because I don’t get around as well as I used to. Warnings abound on the tourist sites mentioning the level of difficulty. Not for the first time, I found the warnings to be overstated. In fact, all I had packed for our trip to Costa Rica were some heavy-soled flip flops and that’s what I wore. I was fine. My takeaway is wear whatever shoes are comfortable to you and you’re good to go.

There are a LOT of steps. These warnings of internet lore are true. The upside is most of them are downward. You start at the top, walk down, and a shuttle takes you back to the top of the park. It’s really not too hard and there are handrails the entire walk.

We didn’t experience any rain (yay!) but it is typical for it to rain at some point, so bring along a raincoat or poncho.

This is a perfect trip for people like me, who are not hikers and backpackers, to get out and experience the jungle in the mountains. Don’t let the internet tourist warnings about the difficulties put you off. I saw lots of people older than me and dozens of school children taking the walking in stride. Unless you’re in a wheelchair, you’ll be fine!

My warning to you is this: the ride up and down the mountain is the hardest part. If you are prone to carsickness, don’t stare at your phone or read, try to get a seat towards the front of your tour van or bus, and keep your eyes on the horizon! You will pass coffee plantations, strawberry fields, cow pastures, cute villages and school children walking along the road. As hard as the ride was, the ride was almost my favorite part. I highly recommend this tour.

¡Pura Vida! 🇨🇷

Traveler or Tourist?

We’ve been traveling more in recent years and eventually we decided to be more intentional about our travels and really see as much of the world as we can. And as a result, we decided to start this blog.

Of course, one of the first things you do when you start a blog is come up with a name. You’ve got to have a brand, a handle, or something that folks can refer to when they’re looking for you and (hopefully) telling others about you. We discussed options for hours, pros and cons, is it clever, had it been used, and finally came up with Tumbleweed Tourists. Love it. It suits us.

Imagine my surprise when I learned a few weeks later that “Tourist” is a derogatory term! I stumbled across a blog the other day numbering all the ways tourists are obnoxious dweebs and travelers are sophisticated eaters of local cuisine who stay out of the way and love all cultures.

I continued to read more blogs, and even news articles about how tourists are. I searched the Twittersphere for others with the ‘tourist’ handle. And I decided to stand my ground. We are tourists. But we are NOT Ugly American Tourists.

Call yourself a traveler if you like. I’ll keep calling myself a tourist. But if you’re like me, neither of these labels mean anything to us because we are, simply put, people. People who love the world enough to go and see it. Those of us who travel go to great effort and expense to experience other cultures and see landmarks and meet people and learn other ways of thinking – in the end, in my humble option, we are all the same.

So rather than divide us into tourists and travelers, let’s list a few things which keep us on the list of folks which the locals love to see coming.

  • We try to blend in, but we retain our uniqueness.
  • We try new foods, and even if we don’t like them, we smile and say thank you and appreciate the experience. (You can now forever tell people you tried blood pudding and it wasn’t that bad.)
  • We try to learn a little of the language and we do our best to use it.
  • We try to learn a little about the culture ahead of time and we refrain from offending as much as humanly possible.
  • We try to spend a little time with the locals.
  • We smile, we say thank you, we appreciate, and we praise, as is appropriate to the culture.

There’s more, but you get the idea. It’s the same as in life: Leave people glad they met you. That’s all anyone can ask!