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.

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!

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!

Playas del Coco, Costa Rica

Usually when we travel, we stick to the big cities. We spend our time walking city streets or trying to figure out train schedules. We Uber. And we do love the city. But this trip out, on a lark really, we decided to visit the arid and quiet western coast of Costa Rica.

The airport near Liberia is a short three hour flight from Houston Intercontinental and we were in our rental car headed to our hotel on the Pacific Coast well before noon. By 2:00 pm, we had eaten a delicious traditional Costa Rican lunch of arroz con pollo, checked into our room, taken a walk, seen monkeys sleeping in a tree and realized those loud birds carrying on high up in the trees were parrots.

We saw so many iguanas it was funny how impressed we were with the first one we saw. By the way, I am told the black ones are not actually iguanas, they are called ctenosaurs, but it seemed like the general consensus was that all large lizards are iguanas. Ctenosaurs lay real still until they don’t, and then they move fast like a tornado. We were walking along the road and got too close to one which unexpectedly bolted and scared us half to death. I actually attempted to jump into my husband’s arms. I thought surely those things must weight 20 pounds, but I looked it up and they only grow to four pounds. I’m telling you when a three foot, four pound lizard goes from zero to TWENTY MILES PER HOUR in a split second it will send a shock right through you. But I digress.

We made our way to Playas del Coco on our second day. I’m not saying this place is some major tourist destination, but it was perfect for us. It’s basically about ten blocks of shops and restaurants all on one street that dead ends into the Pacific Ocean. They have created a lovely space along the water with sidewalks, landscape, restaurants, shops and seating areas. It’s a wonderful place to spend a lazy afternoon.

In Playas del Coco I met Tina, the best snow cone maker in all of Costa Rica. I know this because it says so on a sign posted on her cart. And my snow cone was very delicious and topped with a large marshmallow covered in sweetened condensed milk and sprinkles, then a strawberry and a little pink umbrella. I’ll have to take her word for it that it was the best snow cone in Costa Rica, but it was definitely very good!

We both fell completely in love with this quaint corner of Costa Rica. More than its raw beauty, its amazing wildlife, and the laid back atmosphere, it was the Costa Ricans we didn’t want to leave behind. We knew very little about the country before we visited. We picked it for the criteria it met: warm climate, close destination. What we discovered is that the people there are kind, warm, friendly, funny and easy-going. They love to visit with you in your broken Spanish and tell you how well you speak the language after you’ve only managed a few words. They are quick to tease and quick to laughter.

Costa Rica is a rare find indeed. I can’t wait to go back to explore and learn more!

A Sense of Paris

We made our first trip to Paris last spring and we hit the jackpot weather-wise. A light breeze, 70 degrees and sunny in the daytime and 60 degrees at night. Every single day. At night we slept with our windows wide open.

I spent hours and hours in the weeks prior to our trip reading about Paris and trying to learn a little French. And surprisingly, we needed more than a little French at times. But mostly it was ‘Bonjour,’ pointing at what we wanted, and ‘Merci!’ We tried though. We really tried to blend in.

My husband wears a ball cap pretty much every where we go, but I absolutely insisted he not wear a ball cap in Paris. We compromised and I bought him a newsboy cap and he looked so darn cute in it. And in fact he really blended in, which of course was my goal. I believe our mission was accomplished. It was a wonderful trip.

Takeaway

1. Learn a little French and give it your best to use it. Most people in most cultures at the very least appreciate the gesture. And then, realizing your French is hopeless, they will immediately switch to English if they can. Some will find you amusing. Some will say in their head, ‘Sit down before you hurt yourself.’ But most of the time they will greet you warmly and do their best to help you.

2. Blend in. In any culture, observe and emulate. But especially in Paris. Parisians take pride in their culture and you will be appreciated because you took the made the effort.

Pictured is my husband in his newsboy hat.