Small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

12/9/13

Christmas Spirit

This weekend we finally had some down time and were able to catch up on a few much needed things like sleep, grocery shopping, and most importantly decorating our house for Christmas.

Saturday afternoon after we finally dragged ourselves out of bed we went and picked out a tree. For the first year Landon actually got into it and was really excited to get a tree to decorate. This year we went to Home Depot, but I think next year we might try upping the ante and cut one down ourselves.


Saturday evening Adam and I took Landon to a babysitter for the first time for a much needed date night. We met up with some friends for dinner and then went to Adam's work Christmas party. It was good to get out, just the two of us, and hang out with other adults. The hardest thing about living in Nashville has been not having anyone to watch Landon. We were so used to having a Grandparent to watch him anytime we wanted to go out that it's been a real adjustment and we've been reluctant to leave him with a stranger. With Adam's Christmas party this last weekend and mine this weekend, we finally had a good reason to buckle down and find someone who could watch him. Luckily for us, he had a good time and so did we.

We spent Sunday listening to Christmas music and decorating the house. And just like Landon was all about picking out a Christmas tree, he was all about decorating it as well. He rocked decorating the bottom three feet.





Being the big Kid that Adam is, he decided to wrap the dog in Christmas lights which followed by wrapping the kid in lights and trying to take few pictures. 


I've seen some really cute pictures on pinterest of people who wrap kids in Christmas lights. I'd like to get Landon a cute pair of Christmas pajama's and Kaiser a Santa hat and try this again. I'm all for cute pictures of these two.

This year I added two trolley ornaments from my recent trip to Lisbon. Someday I'll have a chance to visit all the amazing Christmas markets in Europe and have an entire tree of ornaments. For now I'm happy with the addition of these two.


It never really feels like Christmas until the tree is decorated. I wish we could leave it up year round. I just love how our living room looks with a big bright tree in the middle of it. Even though I hate indoor plants, I love having a real Christmas tree. They are never perfect, but you can always find the perfect one for you. Not to mention they smell like heaven! This year ours has a lot of imperfections character, but we love it.


While we decorated the tree Adam set up the gopro and made a time lapse video of the whole process. Gopro's are the neatest cameras. It's always fun to mess around and create videos with it. I hope to get better and more creative with using it in the future. You don't have to be a skydiver to make a great video and while ours won't get a million views on youtube we think it's pretty neat.

                     

This was our first really cold weekend in Nashville so we had to break out the cold weather gear. Landon discovered a new love for mittens which he proceeded to wear all weekend long. We also broke out a few of Landon's hats from last year. Is it possible that his head actually shrank this year? I swear this hat didn't fit him as well last year. I guess they really do grow into their heads. It's definitely a good thing for him. 
I just love those dimples!


Now that the Christmas spirit is in full swing it's Christmas music 24/7, nightly countdowns on our advent calendar, Christmas parties, secret Santa's, gift wrapping, and my favorite Midnight Mass. This year I'm determined not to stress about the little things and just enjoy every second. 

Only 15 days left till Christmas!



12/5/13

Lisbon, Part 2

Click HERE for the first part of my trip to Lisbon...

I woke up early the next morning and decided to spend the first half of my day in the nearby town of Sintra. Sintra is a UNESCO heritage sight and I’ve learned over the years that any place which receives that title is worth the visit. After getting off the metro I found myself lost and in search of the train station. For the first and only time on the trip I asked for directions. Something I’m quite proud of, not because I am too prideful to ask for help, but because there were few times I wasn’t able to figure it out on my own. In this situation, time was my motivator and after some help I was aboard the train to Sintra. As soon as I arrived in Sintra, I knew I had made the right decision. I can say that Sintra alone is the reason I will one day be going back to Portugal. As I’ve traveled over the years I’ve evolved as a traveler and large European cities don’t hold the same charm that they did when I was younger. Now I find more charm and magic in out-of-the-way villages where hidden gems reside. Sintra was quite the gem. With more than three palaces to explore, I decided to spend my time at the Pena Palace. Perched precariously at the very top of the hill town, Pena is as colorful as it is awe-inspiring.


Despite its more recent roots than the other palaces in town, dating back only to the 19th century, Sintra feels magical and untouched by tourist.


The cloister is an elegant sanctuary in the midst of the maze.


The rooms are decorated simply with different themes yet each room is stunning in its own right. Rooms range from elaborate furniture, to start of the art bathrooms, painted ceilings and muraled walls. No single room is too busy or has too much to take in at once, but I found myself wanting to linger in all of them.


There is even an entire room of paper-mache furniture meant soley for enjoyment of the King’s eye.


The views looking down on the thousand year old Moorish castle ruins, the village in Sintra, out to the sea and as far as Lisbon itself could be enjoyed for hours on end.


I did just that. Walking around the castle at a turtles pace and enjoying a late breakfast on the cafĂ© terrace. Pena Palace is the castle I’ve always dreamed of visiting. It feels more alive than Windsor itself and more exotic than those in Japan.


Next time I’m in Portugal, and there will be a next time, I will be sure to allow more time for Sintra including another visit to the enchanting Pena Place. The town of Sintra is charming as well with houses dotted up and down the hillside and an enchanting forest taking you there. In an effort to make the most of last few hours I decided to leave Sintra after Pena and travel back into the city. Given more time I would have loved to explore the ruins of the Moorish Castle and gone to Caboda Roca, the most Western edge of Europe. Had I not been alone and cognizant of daylight slipping away, I probably would have stayed out in the city all night, but there will always be a next time and there were parts of the city I had yet to see.

Arriving back in Lisbon I finished the last of Rick’s walks which started at the old palace square now called the trade square where ships would dock and sell their goods. A large statue of King Jose I marks the middle of the square and Lisbon’s own Arch of Triumph leads the way down the Rua Augusta with many shops and restaurants.


I enjoyed walking the street and seeing the vendors. Popular this time of year are roasted Chestnuts. Vendors roast them on site in their cart with a small wooden fire. All I could think as I passed them was how much my Dad would love them.


I mixed a little shopping with the walk and bought a few things for people along the way.  Part of the walk included the church of San Domingos. Unassuming on the outside this church was left partially standing after the Earthquake of 1755 and was rebuilt on top of the remaining structure.


You can easily make out where the old structure ends and the new one begins. I was not excepting the emotion that I would feel upon entering that church. I assume it is similar to the emotion one feels when visiting Auschwitz or Ground Zero. The Earthquake of 1755 happened on All Saints Day, a Sunday morning around 9:40 am when most of the city was in church and halfway through mass. Most of the citizens were found buried under the rubble of the churches and more than 1/3 of the population perished that day. As I sat in the seat looking up at the enormous ceilings I could imagine the terror that the congregation must have felt as the world collapsed upon them. Of all churches that I have ever visited, this church, with its lack of painted walls or ceilings, tells the greatest story. It takes your breath away in a way that is different than the grand churches of Rome and called for silence in a show of different respect. It was a humbling experience to be inside its walls.


In the same square as the church was a famous Ginjinha bar. A tiny little hole in the wall about six feet deep lined with bottles of Ginjinha, a small wooden bar and two men pouring shots of Ginjinha for 1.50 apiece. Ginjinha is the famous drink of the area made from Ginja berries and is considered a sweet grappa better than all others. I had to try it and after walking past it twice I finally got up the nerve to order myself a shot.


As to be expected, it pretty much tasted like cough syrup and although it may have rude, I decided against eating the two berries that came in the bottom. At least now I can say I know what Ginjinha is. I continued walking around the area and exploring each little square narrated by Rick Steves. Not being with Adam on this trip, I thought I would be able to spare myself of McDonalds, but when I passed one for the first time in two days, hunger, time, and my lack of enthusiasm about eating at a restaurant alone won over and so I continued with Adam’s tradition of eating McDonalds abroad.

McDonald’s happened to be in an area that I had been before and I made my way back to the city top terrace were I had started off my first day. I was looking for an artist I had seen the day before selling his artwork. A local painting of the city always catches my eye as a great souvenir. It’s great to walk past the painting every day in your house and even years later be reminded of the magical places you were. Since I knew I wouldn’t have to fight with Adam’s photography of Lisbon for wall space I bought a beautiful color triptych to add to our wall. I also got one last view of Lisbon just as the sun was setting.


As I headed back down the hill my hands full of bags and the streets growing more and more crowded with people, darkness closed in and I decided it was best to head back to my hotel and call it a night.

My trip to Lisbon would have been better if Adam had been along. I would have seen more, probably never gotten lost, and enjoyed his company tremendously. Had I not missed my connection and arrived in Lisbon earlier I would have had more time and been able to see a little more of each place as well. That being said, I enjoyed the short trip tremendously. I’m proud of myself for getting around and faring fine on my own in a foreign land. The opportunity to see new places and have new experiences was worth the loneliness for a few days. If anything, Lisbon only made my love and appreciation for traveling that much stronger and I look forward to visiting again in the future with Adam by my side.


12/4/13

Lisbon, my first trip...

 ...Alone.

This wasn’t my first time overseas by any means, but it was my first time overseas ALONE. There is a big difference. My company allowed me the opportunity to travel to Lisbon, Portugal for a few days for a business trip. While I can’t talk about my company on my blog (it is in the handbook) the trip was very little business that ended at the airport and allowed me two free days of sightseeing. As excited as I was for a free trip, the idea of traveling alone was intimidating. With the exception of my first trip overseas that I took with my family, I’ve always had the best travel companion, my husband. Over the years we’ve visited a number of amazing countries and we’ve always been a great travel team. I’ve always done the planning, we’ve coordinated the logistics together and he has always been the navigator. It’s worked great for us. So the idea of doing everything on my own wasn’t the most exciting prospect, but my love of travel outweighed any fears and I signed up.

Lisbon is a city. It isn't’t hard to reach or lacking of people and those are the things that made it the most intimidating to me as a solo traveler. The idea of being in a foreign city, trying to navigate the transit systems and find my way through the mobs of people all while ensuring my own safety is what caused me the most hesitation. On top of that, I’m a planner. I plan EVERY SINGLE detail of every trip. It’s something that I greatly enjoy, but for this trip I found out about the trip less than a week before leaving. As a matter of fact, I received the invite to go on Tuesday afternoon and was boarding a plane Friday morning. Normally for such a short trip I could have found time to plan within the three days notice, but last week was Thanksgiving and I spent exactly no time even thinking about Portugal until I started packing late Thursday night. A co-worker had given me the Rick Steve’s snapshot of Lisbon and another had given me a city map and recommended a good hotel and so I was ready to go.

Friday was a long day for me, as is any day of traveling overseas. I usually don’t mind the traveling part of the trip. The airport, the waiting, and the plane ride isn’t usually as torturous for me as it is some people. I have always been extremely lucky when it comes to traveling, but on this trip my luck ran out (My husband says its because I went without him...). My plane from Houston to Frankfurt was delayed over three hours. We started boarding late, they stopped boarding halfway through, and then once everyone was on board the captain notified us that the mechanics were working on the wing because it was missing some screws.  Once that was resolved he informed us that a plate was being changed out and after well over an hour on board he informed us that “a caution light wouldn’t turn off” so the mechanics were “investigating it further”. At that point they let everyone off the plane citing it would be another hour till take off. By now many people had missed their connections and some had decided to stay in Houston for different flights. Once we were all seated again the Captain informed us that they had to get the luggage of the travelers no longer on the flight off and we would take off momentarily.


Over an hour later our wheels were still firmly planted on US soil. This delay, especially the long search for luggage, caused me to miss my connection from Frankfurt to Lisbon. Upon arrival in Frankfurt, I was rebooked for a 7pm flight. 7pm finally came around only to find out that once again we were delayed. It wasn’t until two hours later that I was finally headed for my destination. I arrived late in Lisbon only to learn that my luggage had not. After almost an hour of dealing with the luggage claim I was finally in a taxi headed to my hotel. Given that it was after 11pm, I decided not to bother fooling with the transit system and get a taxi cab instead. I gave the cabbie my address and about 10 minutes and 15 euro later I was dropped off at the hotel, the only problem was that it was the wrong hotel. The hotel shared the first name of the hotel that I had booked and not being clearly written on the outside I didn’t realize it wasn’t the correct hotel until the front desk informed me of such. A few minutes later a new taxi arrived and this time within 5 minutes and 10 euro less, arriving at around midnight, I was finally in my own room. Day over!

To say my travel experience wasn’t good was an understatement, but I was determined not to let things out of my control ruin this short trip. With my long day and night and day of travel I had been able to read the Lisbon travel book and plan my solo itinerary. After a shorts night sleep I woke up early Sunday to set out and make the most of my day. I spent the early morning hours following Rick’s recommended strolls through the neighborhoods of Lisbon. First up, was a wonderful view down on the city from a high perched park called the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara.


It was a perfect way to really see Lisbon for the first time and see where the city ended and the water began. There is always something extra beautiful about a city on the water and Lisbon is no exception. With Rick’s good directions I managed to follow his path and found myself at a beautiful church called Sao Roque. I’m not sure there is anything I love more than visiting the churches of Europe. From the grandest of the all, St. Peter’s, to the local parish church that my Grandmother and Great-grandparents attended in Croatia. There is something magical and spiritual in every single one. As was this church with a beautiful painted wooden ceiling that gave the effect of a domed roof, a masterpiece in its own right.


The vast morning light spilled in from the high windows and lit up the gold of the altar seemingly announcing the presence of God. After visiting the church I continued down the streets of Lisbon and into square after square of charm. Many of the buildings of Lisbon are decorated with colorful tiles and just walking the streets and admiring the colors is an enjoyable adventure.


One such square contained the hallow outline of a church that was part of a larger convent. Most of the convent was destroyed during the great Earthquake of 1755 including the churches roof. That earthquake demolished most of the city killing thousands. The outline of the church was left as a reminder of the events that took place.


Afterwards, I took the trolley up to Sao Jorge Castle which offered more stunning views down on Lisbon and a sweeping look across the bay. Lisbon seems to have drawn on other cities for some of their landmarks which include a San Francisco bridge and a small Christ the Redeemer on the opposite side. 


I thoroughly enjoyed the views, but found myself wishing I had someone to enjoy them with. Coming down from the castle I got lost which was frustrating as I knew that it would never happen with Adam by my side. I asked myself what would Adam do and came up with a plan to walk downhill toward the water until I found another trolley that I could hop on. I figured the lower I got the better my chances were to find a metro station as well. I probably spent a good hour lost and riding on trolleys until I finally had my bearings again. I decided to take a break and grab some lunch while I planned the second part of my day.

Only having two days in a place, and them being on a Sunday and Monday, wasn’t ideal. Many places within Lisbon are closed on Monday which meant that I had to pack a lot into Sunday. I was also cautious of it becoming dark and making sure I wasn’t out late by myself at night. Lisbon isn’t known for being the safest of cities and I didn’t want to be alone AND lost in a foreign place. I decided that despite the early closing times I would take the hour trip to Belem. Belem is only three miles outside of the city limits, but I knew with transportation and wait times I wouldn’t have long in Belem before the sights began closing. The major reason I wanted to visit Belem was to see the Monastery of Jeronimos. This monastery stretches 300yards and was built in the 1500’s as a thank you to early Portuguese explorers by the King.  


The monastery alone was worth the trip and time although all of Belem was highly enjoyable. Being a Sunday afternoon I arrived during evening Mass, but it wasn’t just any mass, it was an ordination mass. Since the church was packed to the brim I bought a ticket to tour the cloisters and museum. When I reached the second floor of the monastery I was greeted with an amazing surprise, the high choir and bird’s eye view of the mass taking place below.


I’ve only had the privilege of attending ordination masses twice in my life and neither on this scale. Just like the Jesuit church of San Roque from earlier, the awe and presence of God was immediately felt. Knowing no Portuguese I am normally lost when others speak, but being Catholic and knowing Mass I could follow and respond in perfect unison as the parishioners prayed to the saints. It was the first time that day that I didn’t feel alone.

I spent a good amount time in the church and exploring the monastery. The cloisters were especially ornate and a peaceful area to enjoy.


It was well worth the precious time it cost me and once I left it the sun was going down and the other sites were closed for the day. I spent the sunset walking around the waterfront in Belem. A spectacular monument sits at the edge of the water rightfully titled the Monument to the Discoveries and dusk was the perfect time of day to enjoy the area.


By the time the sun had set I decided it was time to go back into Lisbon and was able to meet a coworker for dinner. We met in an area we both were familiar with getting to, but found it to have very few places to eat. After walking around quite a bit we stumbled upon an American style dinner called the Great American Disaster. In Lisbon not everyone speaks English and despite having American in the title it seemed that no one in that dinner spoke any English. After fumbling our way through ordering we enjoyed great burgers and fries (a rare indulgence when I’m abroad). After getting on the Metro, saying goodbye, and going our respective directions, my first day in Lisbon was in the books.