From Lisbon to Faro

Today we left Lisbon, but not before checking out the last two things on our to do list: the oldest bookshop in the world and the Cathedral (Se Cathedral).

We first headed to the bookstore that opened at 9am. Google told us it would take about 10 minutes, so we went walking. Of course, its up on a hill and that required some steep hill climbing to get there, but it was worth it. The bookstore is from like the 1790s or something and has been in operation the whole time. It has been updated, but the location and idea stayed the same. They had a small English section, but I didnt find anything I wanted/needed so I ended up empty handed.

After the bookstore we walked back down towards our hotel, and headed up the other hill in town to the Cathedral. That opened at 10am, and we were a little early so we just sat and tried to take pictures from the outside. A construction crew decided to park their van right in front of the cathedral and not move it the WHOLE time that we were out there.

Once it was open we entered. This cathedral was like the life blood of the city. The money from taxes on the spices from Africa paid for so many of the religious buildings in the city, this being the main one. It has stood for hundreds of years and basically survived the earthquake from the 1770s. Inside the church is actually pretty boring, not gaudy at all! (which I mean I appreciate). However our little tour for $4 took us upstairs to see some of the artifacts of the church, including robes and other Catholic things I dont know what they are?!

After we finished at the Cathedral, we headed back to our hotel to finish packing and head to the airport – time to pick up our ride! We learned that the taxis we both took probably ripped us off a bit (I paid $30, he paid $19 on the way into the city). To the airport it cost us all of $12, very different pricing!

He dropped us off at the rental car facility, however I learned the hard way that we to go TO the counters INSIDE the airport in order to start the process. Their desks in the rental car facility are pointless. And the guys were rude. So Chris stayed with the bags at their remote desk and I headed into the terminal to get in what I thought was going to be a very long line to check in and get the paperwork taken care of. Thankfully Sixt rental car (our company) had a short line!

I had a really nice guy help me and talked me into upgrading (I NEVER do this). His argument was that we would save more money on fuel and have a more comfortable car if we upgrade. So….I did. It should save us over $100 in the end AND we ended up with a BENZ! So win!

I drove us out of Lisbon and over the April 25th bridge. It looks EXTREMELY similar to the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. It was built in the the 20th century by the San Francisco bridge company. They are the ones who built the Bay Bridge (originally). Anyway, it was a cool bridge to drive over, and just experience, mainly because of the twinning factor with the Golden Gate. That and I love bridges.

We had about a 2.5 hour drive ahead of us. I was really trying to hydrate after another hot day yesterday, so I was guzzling the water and Gatorade. After a bit I needed to stop for a bathroom break – a perfect time to get some snacks! Apparently every single person on the road decided it was a perfect time to stop as well, so the stop was PACKED. They have gas stations, restaurants, car washes and bathrooms all in one stop, like America would have a rest stop. There were so many cars there we had to circle the parking lot! After my bathroom break, we hit the road again, with a nice cold bottle of water and some snacks!

Chris navigated me to what we called the “heart shape.” He found it on Trip Advisor or something like that and it looked so cool! A natural rock formation that would line up to look like a heart at the right angle. So of course, we must go! (That and we didnt have much to see in Faro anyway) So the heart shape is near a beach and the roads were PACKED! We ended up parking in a lot that others had parked in. We started what we believed would be a short walk to the rock formation. I decided NOT to bring water, and lets just say that was the dumbest thing I have done in a long time! Our little hike became an adventure that was about twice as long as we expected.

It didnt help that we couldnt find a marked path, so we just meandered around and kept going to where we thought it was, long after Google had told us we were there. Me being, well me, decided to climb the rocks instead of attempt to find a path, so Chris and I scaled the wall of stone in flip flops on a mission to find the heart. We had some amazing views of the ocean, tons of kayakers and boaters out exploring, some cave like things, etc. However, we just kept striking out, until finally we found it. On our way to it, we realized we were on the wrong side of the warning signs….oops! Surprisingly we saw one other couple up where it was and that was it….but also it was EASILY 100* wit NO shade and we had no water.

After we got our pictures for the Gram (instagram that is) we decided to head back to the car cuz it was so darnnnnnn hot! This most definitely did not go as planned! I ended up getting so hot, having to pee AND starting to feel a bit nauseous. I felt heat stroke coming in. So Chris watched out for people while I jetted off to potty in the dust/clay and then we got on our way. However at this point I was really struggling. Chris was so kind and was making shade for me with his shirt above his head, making sure I was doing ok and pausing at every bit of shade we passed. He was going to get the car to meet me but was afraid I would just stop – he was probably right. Until I knew where we were it was probably best he didnt leave me, I think I would have sat down and struggled to get up. Once we knew where we were, he ran to get the car and I continued on the path. It was only about 5 minutes from the time he left to the time I got in the car, but I had never been so thankful for a car ride (lets be real, it was for the AC and water).

He kindly drove us to the Faro hotel (which I navigated us to the CENTER of Faro before realizing that wasnt the hotel – but hey I was out of it when I typed it in!). Its a little B&B that is almost more like a hostel, but we have our own private bathroom, and we are only here for the night. Once we checked in we cooled off in the AC since it was still well over 100*. Around 7pm we headed out for dinner at this place on the water thinking it would be cooler. It was NOT! But it was a nice restaurant. We got a cheese and meat platter, Chris got sangria and I got a Sprite. Chris got an omelet for dinner and I got the “cod and cream” which was really more like a cod cake – that was DIVINE! Apparently if you dont finish your cheese tray they dont think you are ready for dinner so we waited over 40 minutes for our dinner until we grabbed someone’s attention and they apologized because they didnt think we were done. All in all, very good restaurant though!

After dinner we walked through the old down, it was so quaint and pretty at night. We ended at a gelato place near the hotel, got our daily scoops and headed back to the hotel for the night.

It was a HOT and fun day. Note to self: ALWAYS BRING WATER.

Pearl Harbor to Diamond Head

On Sunday I decided I was going to Island hop over to Oahu and check out the historical Pearl Harbor. I was able to snag an Hawaiian Air 7am flight for $29!! I also was able to grab a Southwest flight back to Maui.

My day started early, I had to take my rental car and fill it with gas before returning it for the trip. I got to the airport around 6am for the 7am flight. The airport at that hour is all inter-island hopping folks. There wasnt a single person in line at TSA when I got there, it was awesome. Made it to the gate nice and early, so early in fact that two other flights boarded and left in that hour before my flight!

The flight from Maui to Honolulu was a quick 25 minutes. On the flight they served snack-size juice or water in prepackaged containers. They immediately collected the trash and we landed.

I rented a car from National for today. Since I am Executive level with them I was able to pick any car I wanted, and selected a Mini Cooper convertible. I thought, yes, a convertible!! I kept the top up in the garage thinking I would pull over once I got out and put the top down, but when I drove out of the garage the rain started. I was so bummed. I thought “I only have this car for a few hours and its raining!”

I headed the 8 minutes to the Pearl Harbor memorial. I had read online that the tickets before 11am were first come, first serve. I got there around 820. I was excited to take my SLR camera with me and get some good shots. I put it in my backpack along with my water bottle and headed to the entrance. Security stopped everyone with any sort of bag bigger than a CD. You had to bag check everything. Sadly, because it was still raining at that point, I choose not to bring the Nikon in. I checked my bag and entered. I was handed a ticket for 845am for the movie and boat ride out to the Arizona.

I bought a poncho and the audio guide as well. The movie is a brief history of the attack on Pearl Harbor. After the movie you board a boat and head out to the Arizona. Normally you get to get off at the memorial, but due to some damage at the dock, it is currently closed. Instead, the boat moves slowly next to the wreckage heads towards the Missouri, turns and moves slowly next to it so each side of the boat can see the memorial and wreckage. They ask you to stay quiet and respect the memorial – I would say half the passengers on the boat actually remained quiet. None of them were American, so I am guessing it was a language barrier that had not been crossed to get the silence message.

After the boat ride, I continued walking through the park. So much history surrounded the location and the Naval vessels still in the harbor. I stopped and read and listened to every board of information. I headed to the bus line to head to the Missouri. You cross through the active Joint Base to get to the dock where the Missouri is currently housed. Fun fact: the Missouri is no longer owned by the US Government, instead a private non-profit owns and maintains it. You are not allowed to have cameras out on the drive from the Pearl Harbor memorial park to the Missouri.

Once at the Missouri you have a to buy a ticket in order to board the ship. It was like $30 – but that came with a 35 minute tour and historical context. I bought the ticket that also came with a discounted Bowfin ticket. I boarded the ship and waited a few minutes for the tour to start. My tour guide Jacob was a young guy, I would have guessed like 20, but turns out he was 32!! On this tour I learned that this was the last Battleship commissioned for the US Navy. It was also where WWII ended! The Japanese officially surrendered on board here!

After the Missouri I hopped back on the bus and headed back to the Pearl Harbor Memorial park. I headed over to the Bowfin submarine and was given another headset to get an audio guided tour. Touring the Bowfin really gave me some respect for Sailors. They live in some of the tightest quarters and somehow can stay sane.

After I walked off the Bowfin I headed to the museum because I heard there was a Styrofoam cup that showed what the pressure of being down 500 feet did to objects.

At this point its about 2pm and I was starving!! So I put the top down on the Mini Cooper rental car and headed over to the Spaghetti Factory! Its my favorite place. I think mostly because of the family ties and the memories of the family going to eat at the beach at the Newport Beach location every summer. I got my usual brown butter and Mizithra. I was able to enjoy my book (Becoming by Michelle Obama) and my food over the next hour.

After my lunch I went back to my car and headed to Diamond Head Park. It was only about a 20 minute drive from downtown – on the one little interstate they have. Ok, so its not that little – but why does Hawaii have an interstate? It doesnt go to another state?! I didnt do much reading up on Diamond Head – other than it could take like 45 minutes to hike up to the top. I figured it would be a good way to end the day. Another thing I read was that parking isnt free, if you want you can park on the street.

I arrived at Diamond Head and was on the driveway into the park when I noticed a spot that didnt have any signs about paying anything. I grabbed and noticed a group of people walking through the tunnel to get to the park. I left everything in the car but my wallet and headed into the park. Little did I realize I had about a half a mile walk to get to the park entrance and another quarter mile to get to the start of the hike. It cost $1 to hike – and of course – I had no singles. In fact, I only had a $100 bill. There was a sign that said “No Bills Over $20.” I thought for sure I would be turned away, but the lady manning the booth was amazing – she said since it was just me, it was fine to walk on in!! Woohoo!!

The path starts out all paved, handicap accessible. It was cool!! It doesnt last though – maybe about a mile of the hike – then it because rough travel. There are a lot of stairs and a lot of switch backs. So many stairs!! At this point I was really starting to question if this could only take 45 minutes. I had only 1.5 hours for the whole thing or I could miss my flight back to Maui. I continued to the hike (like really hiking up, via stairs but lots of them!) I had to stop and take a break at the lookout – ya know a rest with a view!!

I headed back onto the trail and continued to the hit the stairs. Im not sure I can say this enough but SO.MANY.STAIRS. When I got to the top of the hike, there was a wonderful breeze and a beautiful view!! And…..it only took me 38 minutes!! Seemed longer, but only 38!! I took in the views, enjoyed the breeze, snagged some selfies and headed back down.

I got to the bottom in 18 minutes! And I wasnt even trying – but going down stairs is less stressful on the lungs! I was able to get back to my car and head to the airport. Because the hike was so quick, I was early to the airport. My flight was at 730pm and I got to the airport around 615. I was flying Southwest back – and it was their inagural day of flights from Honolulu to Maui. We didnt get anything special – but the earlier flights of the day did. I enjoyed my 20 minute flight with my little cup of sealed water and pretzels.

Empty Southwest Lounge – there were only about 20 of us on the flight!

I grabbed an Uber when I got back to Maui and headed to the hotel. My Uber drive was great – gave me coupons for the Aquarium that I gave my cousins and a coupon for a restaurant – we didnt end up using, but it was the thought that counts!

It was a long, eventful day – and worth every minute of it!!

Road to Hana

I set out to experience what I have heard AMAZING things about: The Road to Hana. I unfortunately had two work calls I had to take first so I didn’t leave the hotel until about 1030am. I was expecting traffic and that’s pretty much what I got.

I hit some traffic right at the beginning of Hana highway, but that was mostly just little town that caused people to drive slowly. Once out of the town, the speed limit dropped to 30 and basically stayed that way for the next 30 miles. Often times the speed limit would drop to 15 mph to take curves more carefully or stopping completely to allow traffic from the other direction proceed. Much of the drive is spent waiting for oncoming traffic to clear a bridge as they are all 1 lane.

The views were beautiful, lush and green vegetation made the 2 hour drive (each way) worth it. Many people dropped along the drive to get out and swim or hike – but there were so many people stopping there was no where to park so I just drove straight through on the way there. I holkeed up my gopro to the windshield inside then realized I was going slow enough I stopped and hooked it up outside on the side mirror.

I made it to Hana and turned around to head home. About 15 minutes before I made it to Hana I noticed a sign that said “lava tunnel .” I stopped at the lava tunnel on the way back – it was interesting, not what I thought at all, but interesting nonetheless.

I hit the road back to the hotel, stopped a few times to take pictures and enjoy the view. I arrived back at the hotel around 4pm. When I got back I went to meet up with Mike, Amy and the girls for dinner. We spent a little time on the beach but couldn’t decide on dinner so we parted ways and I went to read and order room service, while they went to their little restaurant on their property. The day ended amazing with some fancy macaroni and cheese along with onion soup and of course beautiful views from the balcony!!

Iceland

Looking to head to Iceland – to see what the hype is all about? Here are some things you should keep in mind!

  • Almost everyone speaks English (but you should get the Google Translate App just in case to read signs, packaging, instructions, etc)
  • They take American Express! Random fact, but it can be difficult to find an Amex accept-er outside the US. And here they take it! (Check your credit cards and debit cards to see who has the best/lowest international transaction fees)
  • Their gas stations only take debit card or cash – or a credit card with a pin! Many gas stations are unmanned, but the system is pretty much self explanatory. Keep in mind, it works exactly like the US – it verifies you have enough to cover a FULL tank (or you can pick a smaller set amount) and then you only actually pay what you use.
  • Many gas stations have a grocery store or restaurant in the parking lot or very near. Utilize them! Food is very expensive here – your best bet is to stock up on snacks and food that you can cook at your Airbnb or Hostel.
  • Bringing your own reusable bags will come in handy as well. Iceland is actually very green (reusable energy, recycling, minimal waste, etc) Lauren recommends these. They are silicon, water resistant (think phone in wet situations), and perfect for holding sandwiches, oatmeal (bowl on the run), cut veggies, etc. They also take up like no room in your luggage to get here!
  • The weather really can change every 5 minutes. It may sound crazy, but the weather there can be unpredictable and random. From snow to sleet to rain to sun – expect it all and expect it all in an hour.
  • Bring gloves in the winter – the amount of times your hands spend out them taking pictures is almost equal to the amount of time your hands are in them – but your little fingers will thank you for the warmth.
  • Get out of Reykjavik. In most cases its actually cheaper to rent a car than to take the day tours out of the city. There is so much more to see outside of the city (like the rest of the entire island) so get out and explore the hidden gems of this beautiful country.
  • If you rent the car, get at least the gravel protection – they offer a million different plans, but the gravel protection is the most useful. This is especially true if you go North in the country.
  • Make a list of the things you want to see and on your way to see them you will end up seeing even more than you planned. Be prepared to have your plans altered due to weather.
  • Many of the attractions here are free – unless you do a tour – so take advantage of that and see all you can!
  • Unless you do tours, I would recommend about $75-100 a day for budgeting purposes once you are on your trip. You will probably come home with money (unless you drink a lot or do tours) but this would cover food, gas and souvenirs.
  • I would budget about $50-100/night for housing. Using Airbnb gives you options – but if you are traveling solo you are looking at $100-150/night for Airbnbs. In that case I would use hostels (they have many) to save some cash. If you can really splurge on your trip stay at FossHotels – primo properties with modern flare!
  • You can really only find true more, American style hotels in Reykjavik – otherwise they are more like guest houses. They may call themselves hotels – but they may only be 6-8 room quarters, some you even have communal WC.
  • Stores close pretty early here, usually between 6-7pm. Restaurants are open later usually until about 10pm. If you want groceries or to shop, get out early!
  • No need to tip! Another nice benefit of leaving the US is not needing to tip – there is a service charge in your price, so just swipe, sign and walk!