After a month of tearing through the entire southeastern side of the United States, we were very, very, very ready to get back to Europe. And what a glorious welcome it was, spending Christmas in Bordeaux, France!
Bordeaux at Christmas was exactly what we dreamed - cold nights of steaming vin chaud, pruned vine and almost empty wine country (whoo!), gorgeous architecture set off by winter-blue skies and shining lights. The people were INCREDIBLY friendly, probably some of the most open-to-meet people and chattiest we’ve seen in a while. It’s no wonder they’re so excited to share their home and culture - I mean, come on, THE WINE. We went to wine festivals, we went to wine country, we went to wine bars. Guys, it was a lot of wine. And it was glorious.
We were still getting over our jet lag, both physical and emotional, from our time in the States. It was great! But also it was the most exhausting thing we’d ever done, and that’s after 3 years of traveling full time. Bordeaux was just the dose of charming European cafes with piping espresso and happy Christmas markets with screaming - I mean laughing - children.
After Bordeaux, we took what might be the shortest travel day (2.5 hours on a bus) and made our way to San Sebastian, Spain. I’ve heard many, many things about the amazing cuisine in San Sebastian, and the fantastic culture of pinxto bars. Naturally, we pursued with curiosity and excitement.
Well. While I don’t want to say it disappointed, I will say that San Sebastian is not our favorite place. The food is ok, but honestly I think we prefer the spicy, sexy Andalusian cuisine over what we found in SS. The culture is definitely Basque, but I’m still not quite sure what that means? It’s got the inconvenience of Spain, but makes it not worth it since it’s not as charming or culturally standalone. It felt like a harder, unwelcoming Italy, but without any flavor. I don’t know. We didn’t love it. Also, it rained 26 out of the 28 days we were there. And I might have cracked a bone in my foot after 2 weeks. And the internet didn’t work for a week in our apartment so we had to move, then move back. It was just a lot of not great things compounding in a place we didn’t love. Probably not SS’s fault, but there you have it.
After a few humglum weeks in Basque country, we were eager to see how Portugal would fair, and boy did Porto SHOW UP. Porto is GORGEOUS. It’s all sunsets on the river, with candy-colored buildings stacked on top of each other and Gothic architecture complimented by painted tiles and good gosh it was just so magical!
First off, port in Porto is incredible. I mean, just freaking incredible. But also, the regular wine is fantastic. We went to the Douro valley for a weekend to explore the countryside, and it was layers of vineyards stairstepping across a winding river, with hotels and wineries and sweeping views.
Porto itself has a fun, lively culture with friendly people, open cafes, and delicious food. We just loved it so, so much. Plus it was starting to get warm (!), so spring was happily (if shortly) welcome.
After a few weeks in Porto, we took a few days to explore the Portuguese island of Madeira, which is a tiny island you can drive the circumference of in about 4-5 hours in the MIDDLE OF THE ATLANTIC. It never failed to impress me that we were on an island a little bigger than Texas IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ATLANTIC OCEAN.
Other than that harrowing fact, Madeira is just beautiful. It’s lush, mountainous and beachy, with great food and a really good tourist infrastructure. We got massages while there (treat yoself), took hikes, explored the views, and just stepped away from our computers to truly enjoy ourselves. It was so therapeutic and relaxing.
These three months back in Europe were culturally varied, a little (ok, a lot) rainy and dark, but so lovely to get back into the swing of things of our regular life. Happy to be home :)