A Little Bit Country

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After London, we spent a week in the Cotswolds. It was a welcome break from dreary, busy London. It was still dreary in the country but blissfully quiet. I guess I’m not as much of an urbanite as I thought!

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We stayed in a stone cottage in the village of Nailsworth, known for its historical mills and…not sure what else really! We went there on a bit of a lark. I had never seen the English countryside though and it did not disappoint. The surrounding scenery made me feel like I was on the set of an English period film, and we all really enjoyed walking the footpaths into town. The fall foliage was just outta this world intense with color.

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It was damp and cold for the most part so we stayed indoors much of the time building fires in the fireplace, discovering new pubs (well, new to us –  some of them dated back to the late 1500s!) and taking muddy walks. Thankfully the family who owns the cottage had rain boots that magically fit us all.

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We also took a day trip to Bath, where we had a proper old school afternoon tea. And while Theo and Rafe explored the Roman baths, I had the pleasure of going to a real bathhouse with natural hot springs. When in Bath…

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The quiet time gave us some time to rest up before our long journey to South Africa (where we are now) and also allowed to us think a little deeper about next steps, including our return. While we were there, we were offered a spot at a good preschool near our house–a miracle I didn’t think would happen–so we decided to accept it.

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Truth be told, we had also talked about taking the rest of the year to continue traveling but we do miss everyone at home and think Theo would do well to be around peers. So, we decided to return, just a little later than we had initially planned. We’ll miss the holidays but we’ll be back in mid-January, in time for Theo to start at his new preschool, his 4th (!) birthday, and settling back into life in San Francisco.

 

 

London Calling

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We had a good last week in London but I think we’re all ready to say our goodbyes. Even by local standards, it was unseasonably cold for this time of year. Our Airbnb was fine but it was hard to overlook that it was a damp and rather moldy basement apartment. Rafe literally couldn’t stop sneezing and Theo developed a weird horsey cough. So yeah, maybe not so fine after all! Onwards today to the countryside where some fresh air will do us good, I hope.

Anyhow, London. My parents lived here for a time in the late 60s/early 70s, my brother was born here (and returned here for grad school) and I lived here for half a year as an undergrad. So I certainly feel a connection to the city…even though with each subsequent visit, it’s almost unrecognizable. That funky neighborhood where Vince used to live now has a Pinkberry and a Five Guys! And that one beloved pub around the corner from my old dorm– the one where George Orwell and Dylan Thomas were regulars, the one that had been in operation since the 1730s…CLOSED. Gentrification: inevitable and predictable.

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One night we had a babysitter and went with our host’s recommendation for dinner. (We knew nothing of “cool London” and needed all the help we could get.) We ended up at a casual local spot in the hip-happening Shoreditch neighborhood.
These days, since we usually eat at 5:30 pm, we had the tiny maybe 20 seater restaurant to ourselves. That is until I noticed the actor Jason Momoa (from Game of Thrones fame) –and a group of a dozen other vaguely recognizable actors –saunter into the place. They were in town promoting their new movie Justice League…I had a great view of all the action.
Meanwhile, Rafe was faced towards the wall and wondering what all the fuss was about. On the way out, someone else was coming in with an entourage. I was coming out of the bathroom and wondering what was going on. It was Drake! For a hilariously long awkward moment, Rafe was trying to walk around Jason and Drake engaging in an absurdly long and enthusiastic bro-hug. Pardon my girly excitement here, but you gotta admit it’s pretty random considering we were eating so early at a little ho-hum restaurant. We’re usually at home with our 3-year-old scarfing down a hastily-prepared dinner. So yeah, I was entertained.
So…London. We’ve definitely had our fill of its gray weather, leafy parks, cozy pubs, quirky coffee shops, double-decker bus rides, and Jason Momoa.
Oh, and the London Eye! How could I forget? It was $80 for a single revolution and that’s including sneaking in Theo for free as an “under 3.” He did say it was the most amazing experience of his entire life, so I guess it was worth it 🙂
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London, Revisited

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We arrived in London last week and it’s freezing! Well, it’s the 50s so not technically freezing but still! Quite a change from Majorca. I can’t believe it has been 11 years since we came to London for Rafe’s 30th birthday and 16 years (!!) since I studied abroad here. Just days before 9-11, I arrived in London as a wide-eyed 20-year-old. This city has always held a special place in my heart so it’s nice to revisit it. That, and we’ve officially maxed out all our time in the EU.

Each day, we’re making an effort to check out different neighborhoods. When I lived here oh-so-long ago, I didn’t venture out much from the central part of the city so it has been interesting to see other areas.

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We’re staying in Hackney (think Brooklyn) on a road that used to bear the cute nickname of “murder lane.” But that was in the 90s. It’s still a little rough around the edges but way cheaper than staying somewhere more central and it still has everything people like us enjoy: a wood-fired-oven pizza joint, multiple beer gardens, a coffee shop/record store, a coffee shop/bike shop, and a yoga studio housed in a refurbished train depot. Hipster neighborhoods are kinda the same the world over, aren’t they?

2017-10-29 14.20.46 (Deborah_s MacBook Pro's conflicted copy 2017-11-02)The first day we went to Marks & Spencer, a seriously wonderful grocery store I’d been missing. Then off to the local playground where Theo was excited to play with kids his age. He kept informing us, “the kids speak English here! But a different kind of English!” Then off to the local pub for a proper pint and fish and chips. (Great travel tip about London: many pubs are child-friendly!)

2017-11-01 11.44.562017-11-01 12.00.06Since then, we’ve adjusted to the weather and the sad lack of sunlight. It has been getting dark by 4ish. While London is a magical city for wandering when the sun is shining, that’s a rare occurrence this time of year (or anytime, let’s be honest.) Thankfully, there’s a lot going on here to keep us busy. Just in the last few days, we’ve taken Theo to the V & A Museum of Childhood (featuring toys from all the way back to the 1600s), the Discover Children’s Story Centre, and the Natural History Museum. Oh, and a stop at the Disney Store for a Halloween costume. (It was the only place I could think of to procure an Iron Man costume, his little heart’s greatest desire.)

For Halloween itself, we found out that there aren’t a lot of neighborhoods were trick-or-treating happens but one of the few main ones is St John’s Wood, a fancy neighborhood where a lot of wealthy American ex-pats live. We wanted to go early since we knew it would get crowded later on, but Theo fell asleep on the underground ride there and rousing him awake was challenging. When he eventually woke up, the streets were as crowded as could be with roaming packs of candy-hungry children. He got into the swing of it quickly though and even went up to houses all by himself by the end of the night. All in all, a fun evening was had, even if the candy was unfamiliar (unwrapped violet flavored candies, anyone??)

Soller, Majorca

Well, we found it. The Shangri-la our family was looking for. All thanks to sheer procrastination!

After Portugal, we hemmed and hawed as to where to go next. I know, what a problem to have. We had only 2 weeks left in the Schengen zone (as Americans, turns out you can only stay in most of the EU for a max of 90 days before having to leave for another 90 days!)

Rafe was the one to find out about Soller, a village on the Spanish island of Majorca. I  knew nothing of Majorca other than some ill-informed impressions of Ibiza, which is actually a different island altogether haha.

We inquired about a nice-sounding Airbnb even though it was out of our price range. But since we were so last minute, they didn’t have other guests lined up, so we got a very steep discount. Again, procrastination pays off! (For any children out there reading: most of the time,  procrastination does not pay off.)

Soller was a huge surprise (I doubted Rafe — but I will publically admit here that he was right.*) I’m in love. From our cottage, we just walk down a very steep hill through cobblestone streets to the village center where there’s a square lined with outdoor cafes, kids playing soccer, tiny shops full of Mallorcan-made goods, and a real sense of preservation. Miro and Picasso lived here for a time, and the dinky train station in town (it only goes two places) has an impressive collection of their works.

From where our cottage is, looking down at the village, there’s nothing to indicate you’re even in the present day.  Just moss-covered stone houses, rambling gardens, orange and olive groves as far as the eye can see, and the peaks of the Tramuntana mountain range behind you. The loudest thing you hear is the gentle choo-choo of the steam train rolling by.

The setting is awesome for families. It’s mountainy (fresh air, quiet, walking trails galore) but with all the amenities of a nice town (mama needs her cafes) and also easy access to the beach. Its seaside sibling village, Port de Soller, is just a short ride away. As in, a charming 100-year old wooden trolley goes back and forth between the two towns.

Once you get off the trolley, Port Soller has a sandy beach and a nice promenade for strolling. It’s fairly upscale but not stuffy. Mostly families, bikers, hikers, and honeymooners enjoying life before it gets real. And the food is fresh and good. We will never tire of jamón and cheese baguettes at the beach.

We’ve encountered several European families who’ve told us they come here year after year. I can see why. If it weren’t for the fact that we legally can’t stay here any longer, we would in a heartbeat. Maybe we’ll retire here –that’d be nice, too.

* just this one time.

 

Love for Lisboa

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This was our second time in Lisbon. In fact, we were in Lisbon this exact same time last year celebrating Rafe’s 40th birthday.

We didn’t plan it this way.  In fact, we initially thought about skipping Lisbon but I’m glad we decided to go again.

Last year, with just a few days, we stayed in a hotel. This time, we had a full week so we went for a more authentic experience and rented an apartment in Mouraria (the ancient Moorish quarter). The neighborhood hits that balance between quiet and lively, where you feel like you’re really in the mix of things but it’s also not too dense or chaotic. For a Goldilocks traveler like me, I loved it.

From our balcony, you could see  São Jorge Castle and beyond. You could also neighbors leaning from their balconies, having long conversations with each other across the street or from one floor to the next.

2017-10-11 20.23.32 (2)You can tell just walking around that tourism has really exploded here, even compared to last year. For good reason. Lisbon is a joyful and colorful city (and one of the sunniest in all of Europe).

Yet thank goodness, it still retains tons of charm and is cool without trying too hard.

One night we went around the corner to an outdoor wine bar and they served us some great wine for just a few bucks a glass. While we were hanging out, a spontaneous duet broke out between a Fado singer (Fado is the national folk music) who happened to be walking down the street, and a lady leaning out of her second-story window. It was all very dramatic and beautiful, and the whole scene almost seemed staged. But it wasn’t! That’s just Lisbon.

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And our host went above and beyond. When my dad and Susan ended up having to stay with us the first night, she was so welcoming. She even took the two of them around town all afternoon to run some errands!

Two years in a row, Lisbon remains the jam.

The end.

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Some of the best pastel de natas to be found in Lisbon.

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So many stairs in Lisbon. So many.
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My own personal paparazzo…but since he’s only a few feet tall, all his photos of me are missing my head. 
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Just climbing out of a castle moat.
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For Rafe’s birthday, yet again in Lisbon, we went to a fun restaurant called Pharmacia on the grounds of this beautiful building. In the back of the building, there’s an interesting and creepy museum dedicated to the history of pharmaceuticals, right up Rafe’s alley.
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Tuk tuks are a fun way to get around town. Not all locals agree apparently.
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I surprised Rafe with a birthday visit to this cool barbershop to get a proper hot shave for his mountain man beard he’s been growing out.
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SO EXCITED.
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Street art at the LX Factory, hipster central.
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This couple, lower left corner, were taking wedding photos right outside our window.
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This almost looks like 2 pics stitched together – but it’s one! This is walking around our neighborhood. 

Fam Time

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For 10 days, we rented a big house in Cascais, a relaxed beach city 30 minutes outside of Lisbon. For the first 5 days, Rafe’s mom and husband visited –and for the next 5, my dad and his girlfriend. It was such a special time to spend with family. Back home in San Francisco–even though we all live in the Bay Area– we rarely if ever have this much quality time just hanging out. We miss them all already! Next up is Lisbon for the week.

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The house was on a big estate shared with the owner’s house and we got to use their pool, which was a huge treat. Theo hasn’t had formal swim lessons yet but he learned a lot in our short time there. And he has NO FEAR. I hear that is a good thing?
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First time for Catherine and Michael eating pastel de nata – the delicious Portuguese egg tart pastry. Theo showed them how it’s done (i.e. eat it in as few bites as possible)
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Breakfast selfie!
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Swim time with grandma.
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More swim time! Theo and Michael.
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Grandma and Theo on the carousel in town.
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Getting some energy out post-pasteles de nata. Love the tiles on the building and the square.
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Rafe and Catherine.
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Picking out a lobster for dinner! Just kidding. I think Theo ate a bowl of plain rice this night. But the lobsters were the biggest we’ve ever seen.
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The Cascais farmer’s market was insane. I was overwhelmed with the incredible variety of produce on offer. I would consider living here for the farmer’s market alone!

 

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Grandpa and Susan in the pool with Theo. Pretty much the theme of our time there.
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Not bad for a place called “Mouth of Hell.”
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We walked from Boco do Inferno along the coast for a bit to lunch and Theo found this play area, a literal dream come true.
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Riding a tuk tuk during a day trip to Lisbon. Theo was pretty excited that in a single day we rode a train, a tuk tuk, a taxi, and a tram!
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Lisbon is hillier than San Francisco (it’s called the “city of 7 hills” so you almost feel like you deserve a treat just for walking around.
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Not sure what’s happening here but I’m guessing Theo is plotting something. At a local playground in the fancy Principe Real neighborhood.
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We got a bonus day with my dad in Susan in Lisbon! They were headed to Seville after visiting us in Cascais but their dates were mixed up so they ended up coming with us to our next apartment in Lisbon for the night. We’re staying in the Mouraria neighborhood, one of the oldest and most charming parts of town.
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Our host recommended we check out Chapito, a circus school/restaurant for dinner. I think the circus performers are waiters? Not sure, but the hike up there was intense.
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The climb was worth it for this view! A lovely last night visiting with my dad and Susan before they headed off to Seville.