Porto, Portugal

After a few non-stop weeks of work and a looming big birthday, I knew I needed some time away from LA to re-coop, redefine and reconfigure everything I had been doing.  In all honesty, I had been so busy, I hadn't had a chance to work on the three things that I had sworn would be my main focus for the year.  So off I went to Porto, a town that my mother swore was her most favorite place to visit in the world.  Well, we all know how big the world is...but I have a lot of faith in my mother's tastes...so here I am.  And I'm so grateful I stopped by, Porto is truly lovely.  And you must know, that I say that after a week of 80% rain, so there was barely any amazing weather, and yet even with the rain and bone-chilling cold, I persisted and fell in love with this gothic city.  Which got me thinking, why is it so much easier to fall in love with a city, and so difficult to fall in love with a man?  Perhaps, if the man offered me the perfect combination of gorgeous viewpoints, history, mystery, fun and delicious food.  So, I guess I should be asking, why can't the men I date be more like Porto?? 

A view of the ancient city of Porto and the Dom Luis I bridge from the Gaia side (where they make all of the port, see the long roofs?  Those are port distilleries.)

A view of the ancient city of Porto and the Dom Luis I bridge from the Gaia side (where they make all of the port, see the long roofs?  Those are port distilleries.)

A week in Porto and I'm dreaming of brightly covered tiled homes.  How pretty are these apartments?  And I should mention, they are in a not so great part of town...look at what a little tile can do.

A week in Porto and I'm dreaming of brightly covered tiled homes.  How pretty are these apartments?  And I should mention, they are in a not so great part of town...look at what a little tile can do.

Pretty tiles are everywhere, but I especially love the blue and white tile scenes found on some of the churches.

Pretty tiles are everywhere, but I especially love the blue and white tile scenes found on some of the churches.

A view of a fish seller at the Mercado Bolhao.  The market has been around for ages, but recently has fallen on bad economic times.  The city is coming in to renovate the building and many of the shopkeepers will be moving to a shopping mall during construction.  In a few years, a new market will be opening.  I have a special love for old school markets, and am a bit sad to hear they will be going away.  But for health purposes, I suppose it is for the best.  And as a random aside, this particular fish seller was featured in Anthony Bourdain's, "Parts Unknown" episode of Portugal, and he will be revisiting her again this season.

A view of a fish seller at the Mercado Bolhao.  The market has been around for ages, but recently has fallen on bad economic times.  The city is coming in to renovate the building and many of the shopkeepers will be moving to a shopping mall during construction.  In a few years, a new market will be opening.  I have a special love for old school markets, and am a bit sad to hear they will be going away.  But for health purposes, I suppose it is for the best.  And as a random aside, this particular fish seller was featured in Anthony Bourdain's, "Parts Unknown" episode of Portugal, and he will be revisiting her again this season.

The Port Distillery Cellar of Ramos Pinto.  

The Port Distillery Cellar of Ramos Pinto.  

The famous  Livlaria Lello  where legend has it, JK Rowling came up with two ideas for her book 1) 9 3/4 train track at King's Cross in Harry Potter.  The bookstore is gorgeous and leaves one practically speechless.  But the part that supposedly inspired Ms. Rowling is the fact that there are tracks that run through the store, and a book cart at the end of the track that leads to nowhere.  2) The staircase at Hogswort's, you must see it for yourself, because it's too hard to properly explain.  Let's just say, the staircase looks like it may move at any moment and take you to a different location.

The famous Livlaria Lello where legend has it, JK Rowling came up with two ideas for her book 1) 9 3/4 train track at King's Cross in Harry Potter.  The bookstore is gorgeous and leaves one practically speechless.  But the part that supposedly inspired Ms. Rowling is the fact that there are tracks that run through the store, and a book cart at the end of the track that leads to nowhere.  2) The staircase at Hogswort's, you must see it for yourself, because it's too hard to properly explain.  Let's just say, the staircase looks like it may move at any moment and take you to a different location.

My favorite part of traveling is making new friends.  And this trip was no exception.  I met Jill from Paris (left) on a Taste of Porto tour, where we tried some of the most delicious offerings of the city over the course of a 3 mile walk around town.  And Anna from Hamburg (center) was introduced to us at Ramos Pinto Port Tasting Room.  She had sat next to us and asked for a photo.  We invited her to join us for another round of Tastings at Croft's Port Distillery...and so a friendship was born.  The three of us, spent a few days wandering the city together, meeting up for meals and sights.  I couldn't have asked for two lovelier ladies.  I'm so glad I met them, and since they both left a day before me, I really missed them on my last day of wandering.  Its funny how like minded adventurers, can so easily fall into step with each other.  They were so easy to get along with, I felt like we had known each other for ages and not just a few days.

My favorite part of traveling is making new friends.  And this trip was no exception.  I met Jill from Paris (left) on a Taste of Porto tour, where we tried some of the most delicious offerings of the city over the course of a 3 mile walk around town.  And Anna from Hamburg (center) was introduced to us at Ramos Pinto Port Tasting Room.  She had sat next to us and asked for a photo.  We invited her to join us for another round of Tastings at Croft's Port Distillery...and so a friendship was born.  The three of us, spent a few days wandering the city together, meeting up for meals and sights.  I couldn't have asked for two lovelier ladies.  I'm so glad I met them, and since they both left a day before me, I really missed them on my last day of wandering.  Its funny how like minded adventurers, can so easily fall into step with each other.  They were so easy to get along with, I felt like we had known each other for ages and not just a few days.

One of my last nights in Porto, I had a small adventure with my two new friends.  We had heard of decent place to listen to Fado in the outskirts of town, but the tram had stopped running to that part of town, so we had to find an alternative.  First we ended up at a tourists Fado dinner show, where the food was grossly overpriced and according to reviews, "not so great."  So we left and decided to just find a good meal at a restaurant that Anna's friends had suggested.  When we showed up there, they were overbooked, but suggested we try their sister restaurant upstairs.  Turns out their sister restaurant,  Talisman , had delicious food AND a Fado show...everything worked out, even better than we had planned.  And it was the perfect night out.  

One of my last nights in Porto, I had a small adventure with my two new friends.  We had heard of decent place to listen to Fado in the outskirts of town, but the tram had stopped running to that part of town, so we had to find an alternative.  First we ended up at a tourists Fado dinner show, where the food was grossly overpriced and according to reviews, "not so great."  So we left and decided to just find a good meal at a restaurant that Anna's friends had suggested.  When we showed up there, they were overbooked, but suggested we try their sister restaurant upstairs.  Turns out their sister restaurant, Talisman, had delicious food AND a Fado show...everything worked out, even better than we had planned.  And it was the perfect night out.  

Neon Nights and Days in Vegas

I cleared my schedule last week, and decided to head to Las Vegas to visit the Neon Boneyard, which had been on my list for over 20 years.  Vegas is not my most favorite place to visit, but I figured it was time to get over my impatience with it and find my zen.  So I booked a hotel downtown, The Plaza, and off I went.  Turns out, all I needed was 24 hours of pure neon.  From the boneyard, to photographing old signs at night, to finding myself at the base of the Seven Magic Moutains (an art installation in the outskirts of town)....doing it my way, was exactly what I needed.   And along the journey, I found some delicious steak (Oscar's...where the tagline is, "Beef, Booze and Broads") and reunited with a dear, dear friend, whom I haven't seen in 4 years.  So that...was Vegas.

Elvis is everywhere in Vegas, especially at the Fremont experience, where I found three of them.

Old neon meets new neon. 

There's something great about hanging out in Downtown Vegas, it's still seedy enough to make the night feel like an adventure, but gentrified enough to easily find a decent cocktail and meal.

The Yucca Hotel Sign at the Neon Boneyard, is next level neon craftsmanship.  Each one of the pieces in the plant part of the sign were individually hand crafted.  I WISH I could see what this sign looks like lit up, I bet it's amazing.

The Neon Boneyard just may have inspired me to take a lesson or two in neon crafting.  

Seven Magic Mountains can be found about 10 miles outside Las Vegas.  When I first saw it from the road, on my way into Vegas, I became obsessed with visiting it.  The neon paint is like a siren song, luring one in from the freeway.  Luckily, I ignored my instincts which were to drive across the open desert directly to the rocks...that would have been very bad.

Patagonia (as in the place, not the outdoor apparel store)

Okay, I admit, prior to booking my trip (on a whim), I had no idea what Patagonia was all about...except that I really like their outdoor wear, everything outside of the clothing store was lost on me.  I decided to come here, because I heard it was close to Antarctica, and I had time to kill, since I wasn't working.  And I like to hike, so the Patagonia place seemed like it might be good for me.  Fair warning, my kind of hiking and the Patagonia kind of trekking, aren't exactly the same thing.  I like to amble over 4 miles of flat land with a bottle of water to drink so I don't faint, in the moderate Los Angeles dry heat.  Patagonia's (the location not the brand) idea of a trek involves 14+ kilometer's of hiking trails, wild rapids and glaciers, where you may die if you don't bring enough water....what?  My first Patagonian hike was in El Chalten, and all I brought with me was my camera, my unicorn, Opal, and a few gluten free cookies I had gotten from my hotel in El Calafate.  I had a half liter of water.  My hike was over 20 miles long...20 MILES!  (you read that correctly).  In the end, my feet hurt, my shoulder's ached, I was starving and thirsty, but I did not die and my mind was blown by the sheer beauty of the Patagonian countryside.  The colors, the viewpoints, the vast open spaces.  I was rendered speechless by the beauty and wanted to spend all of my time outside just staring at all the prettiness that was around.

The glacier at El Calafate is breathtaking.  I took a boat out to get a closeup view of the glacier, the calving ice makes the most incredible thundering sound.  And the blue ice and water hasn't been edited, that is what it looks like.  So beautiful.

The glacier at El Calafate is breathtaking.  I took a boat out to get a closeup view of the glacier, the calving ice makes the most incredible thundering sound.  And the blue ice and water hasn't been edited, that is what it looks like.  So beautiful.

A random viewpoint from my long hike in El Chalten.  The glacial water is so fresh and clean, there were many people filling their water bottles from this stream.  

A random viewpoint from my long hike in El Chalten.  The glacial water is so fresh and clean, there were many people filling their water bottles from this stream.  

Another viewpoint on a hike in El Chalten, at points there were fields of wildflowers, but the deeper/higher altitude you got on the hike (and closer to a glacier) the more snowy it became.

Another viewpoint on a hike in El Chalten, at points there were fields of wildflowers, but the deeper/higher altitude you got on the hike (and closer to a glacier) the more snowy it became.

I visited a gaucho ranch to do some horseback riding.  The ranch was about 10 miles up that riverbed.  Between where I was standing to take this photo and the ranch, there was only one small campground, otherwise it was open land for miles and miles.  Simply gorgeous.

I visited a gaucho ranch to do some horseback riding.  The ranch was about 10 miles up that riverbed.  Between where I was standing to take this photo and the ranch, there was only one small campground, otherwise it was open land for miles and miles.  Simply gorgeous.

Antarctica

Everyone who goes to Antarctica has a very specific reason that drew them there, whether it be research, bucket list, the seventh continent or a childhood dream after reading about Shackleton. I was no different, in that I had long dreamed of going to a place that few had gone before to have a real adventure, but also hit my seventh continent before I turned 40 years old.   The high expectations for my trip could have brought about great disappointment, but I was lucky, it ended up being one of the best journeys of my life, thus far.

Itinerary:

Our first landing: Brown Bluff (63*32’S 56*55’W), where the weather proved to be perfect with sunny, blue skies and temperatures around 40 degrees.   Upon landing the zodiac on shore, I was welcomed by a colony of 40,000 Adelie penguins.  It was a sight to behold...the smell, unforgettable.   Later that day, while back on board the ship, we ran into a pod of 20 killer whales that followed us for about 45 minutes.  I thought the morning excursion was perfect and the trip could not possible get anymore incredible.   But to find myself on the bow of the ship watching the orcas, I once again couldn't believe my luck...and thus began a chain of incredible events, where every part of my journey was more amazing than the last. 

That night we landed at Paulet Island (63*35’S 55*47’W), where we were greeted by a colony of 100,000 Gentoo and Adelie Penguins.  I can't even begin to describe what that looks like, except to say that it's black and white dots as far as the eye can see...and then some.  While out on land, weather turned to a blizzard and we had to head back to the ship, where hot toddies awaited.

My first continental landing on Antarctica at Brown Bluff.  Check out those Adelie Penguins marching behind me.

Adelie and Gentoo Penguins, a small cross section of the 100,000 found in the Paulet Island colony.

The next day, we anchored at Cierva Cove (64’09’S 60’53’W) on the Danco Coast, where I did a few hours of SUP in the polar waters.  I've never paddle boarded in such quiet, calm surroundings, where the only sound was the crackle of ice in the water and the splashes of penguins porpoising toward shore.  I could have stayed out there for hours and hours, because all I wanted to do was listen to the quiet space and breathe the freshest air my lungs had ever felt.  And no, I wasn't afraid of falling in or of freezing (I had a drysuit and many layers of clothing on).  Before I had to head in, I did jump into the water, just to see how cold it would be...of course it was freezing, even with multiple warm, dry layers on.  

That night, when the crew announced the polar plunge, I surprised myself with how excited and determined I was to jump in.  Considering, I knew first hand how cold it was combined with how much I really hate freezing weather...it was truly a testament to how deeply I'd fallen in love with Antarctica, I couldn't fathom missing a moment or an adventure.

Around 11pm (it was summer down there, so the sun barely set), we were entertained for almost an hour by a humpback whale and it's calf, who was learning how to breach the water.  The baby seemed to be really enjoying itself as it jumped out of the water over and over again.  I couldn't stop watching to go to bed, it was just too incredible.

Standup paddleboarding in Antarctica spoiled me for all future SUP adventures.

Enjoying the sound of silence.

Enjoying the sound of silence.

Wearing a loud print while jumping in for the Polar Plunge, does not make the water warmer.  The fluffy robe, hot chocolate and toasty sauna were the best possible welcoming committee when I got back on the ship.

I woke up the next morning for an early yoga session and found myself in Wilhelmina Bay (between Reclus Peninsula and Cape Anna) in Orne Harbour (64*37’S 62*32’W).  Again, I was spoiled by a gorgeous view and fear I may never look out another yoga studio window and feel that much gratitude.  We took the zodiac out amongst the icebergs and saw chinstrap penguins, another humpback whale and its calf and so many seals.  

After lunch we landed off Danco Island (64*44’S 62*37’W) where we hiked up the hill to a gentoo penguin colony, had a snowball fight, then took time to just sit and watch the world from a relatively high vantage point.

That night, I was able to camp outside on the Antarctic continent at Damoy Point (64°49'S  63° 32'W).  I admit, I didn't really sleep, because I was too excited about being on shore,  and I couldn't stop staring at the sky (the sun didn't really set) plus there was this one little penguin that was wandering around, checking us all out.  So, I spent most of the night, really listening to the silence and stillness of where I was.

The morning view from the deck, right outside the yoga studio.  Can you believe how glass-like the water was?

The tail of a humpback whale found in Wilhelmina Bay.

Camping on Damoy point.  This photo was taken shortly after midnight, as you can see the sun hadn't quite set yet.

We finished off our adventure with visits to the Southernmost post office in Port Lockeroy (64*49’S 63*30’W) and a journey through Dallman Bay and the Melchior Islands (64*19’S 62*57’W), then back through to Drake Passage toward Ushuaia.   Without any hesitation, this was one of my most favorite journeys ever (in case you are curious the trips that would get honorable mention status for favorite journey would be Egypt, Bali, and my first Grand Tour of Europe).