Lisbon: The Other SF

We spent a fun and culture-filled 5 days in Lisbon, Portugal. The city is A LOT like San Francisco. We arrived on bus from Lagos and crossed over the bay Lisbon lives on via a big golden/bronze bridge that has to be modeled after the Golden Gate Bridge. It looks identical. Amanda and I both had a weird deja vu experience entering the green, hilly city over the bridge.

The Lisbon 25th of April Bridge – looks just like the Golden Gate!

DSC_0224Lisbon is a beautiful city. It’s very hilly and has lots of districts with unique vibes to them. There is a mix of old and new areas sprinkled throughout. The oldest area (the Alfama) is basically the only place to have survived a 9.0 earthquake in about 1750 that wiped out much of the town with the quake, tidal waves, and fires. The areas directly around the oldest town are “European New” but still feel old to us! Then there are modern areas further away from the old town and city center.

Our favorite district is the Bairro Alto, which is on top of a steep hill (it’s name literally means tall neighborhood in Portuguese) packed full of bars and restaurants on the bottom floor and apartments above. At night it gets crazy there with college kids through people in their 30’s having a good time.

A cable car (purchased from SF!) going up, up, up!

We haven’t done much partying at all on our trip, so we decided we had to give the famous night life of Lisbon a shot! We matched with the true Lisbon timeline and left our cute little flat a bit after midnight… we didn’t go to bed until 7:30am!

In order to pull this off we took a nap from 9 – 10:30pm (I’m the king of naps) and then had a morning ritual before starting the party… I did a body weight workout and Amanda enjoyed yoga. We both had some espresso and then, we hit the town!

Espresso shots after midnight!!
Crazy packed streets!

In the Bairro Alto the streets were PACKED full of people. and this was just a typical Friday night. What they do is get a drink (1Euro beers and shots) in a little bar and then drink it outside in the streets with their friends. We’ve never seen anything quite like it.

We got to our club called “Urban Beach” at 3am(!) and it was just starting to fill up. There were a handful of rooms with different styles of music and a pool and beach outdoor area. We decided to call it a night at 6am after a ton of dancing and then headed back home for breakfast!

The next day was pretty much a waste :) totally worth it though.


We enjoyed Portuguese food in typical restaurants that feel more like German beer halls than cozy Italian restaurants. You get a lot of good meat and seafood pretty cheap in a social setting – it’s fun and tasty!

We also enjoyed our first European Christmas markets! We enjoyed people watching, mulled wine, Ginja, mimes, and more! We (especially Amanda!) can’t wait to find more Christmas markets in Germany.

Three other cool things:

1) We took what turned into quite an adventure to Belém to try tasty Pastel da Natas (egg pastries in flaky crusts) from their birthplace and also saw an old castle on the river that defended the Lisbon ports and a monument to the famous Portuguese explorers.

Pastel do natas!!
Pastel da natas!!
A monument dedicated to the Portugese explorers

2) Our first night we wandered down to the main square from our really comfy flat to find a huge crowd gathered in front of a big countdown being projected onto Lisbon’s version of the Arch of Triumph. To our surprise, an awesome projected light show slash Christmas movie short played on the arches following the columns and design perfectly – it was really impressive and fun to see.

The “Enchanted Doors” light show!


This main square used to be the premier port in the world. The Portuguese were the first to explore much of Africa, India, Asia, and South America and to bring back the riches and sell them in the Lisbon port (that was unfortunately destroyed in the big earthquake).

3) We got to see a professional fútbol game! Go Benfica! One of the best teams in Portugal.

Go Benfica!!

We really enjoyed Lisbon. It’s one of my favorite cities for sure. We found a great cafe to work in and went on a few beautiful exploratory runs. If only the people didn’t speak such a funny language…

We are excited to be heading to Frankfurt, Germany and to see the Nespor family, they are meeting us there for Christmas! Happy Holidays!

Different Culture in Morocco

Being in Morocco was fascinating. Of the places we’ve been in our lives, it’s definitely the furthest departure from what we think of as normal. We stayed in the medina of Fés which is the walled old town and one of the biggest, oldest active areas like it. There are over 1 million people living in the medina. It’s not just a tourist attraction, it’s a buzzing old city that we got to peek into for a few days.

There are hundreds of little “neighborhoods” in the medina each with a fountain for water, hammam (bath house), mosque, and community bakery. It is also home to the oldest university in the world which has now been converted to only teach the islamic faith.

Morocco is the first area we’ve ever been that isn’t historically predominantly Christian. The native Berbers were peacefully converted to Islam when the Arabs arrived I think around 800AD. To the visitor, some of the differences of being in an Islamic country are:

  • Five times a day, at synchronized times based on the sun, every mosque has a man sing through a loud speaker notifying everyone it is time to pray
  • The people are incredibly friendly, welcoming, and hospitable – every single person we met
  • The definite majority of women wear lots of clothes, most of them covering everything but their face and some covering everything but their eyes
  • Zero alcohol

There are lots of other differences, but those four seem to be most directly impacted by religion.

Based on conversations we had with locals some more interesting things:

  • Unemployment is about 35% (wow!). There are lots of people wandering around aimlessly
  • Main industries are tourism, fishing, architecture, mining phosphate, and exporting crafts
  • Everyone speaks Arabic, most people speak French and lots of people speak Spanish and English too. It’s amazing how multi-lingual the country is
  • The immigrants into the country are “African” as they call them meaning from further south and are dark skinned
  • Moroccans look very middle eastern and so do the native Berbers, many of whom still live in the desert, hills, etc in tribes

I couldn’t help but think that it’s probably very similar conditions we’re fighting in in the Middle East: Arabic, mosques everywhere, densely packed houses in mazes of alleyways, multi-layered square houses with open courtyards, no windows, and used flat roofs. With the density and confusion in a medina like that it would be incredibly hard to find who you’re fighting and handle them. It is crazy to think about.

Oh, and the Moroccan food is unbelievable. Some of the best food we’ve had!

Visitting Morocco was an unbelievable experience. It was eye opening learning abut Islamic and eastern traditions, seeing a very poor economy up close, and experiencing over-the-top hospitality from every Moroccan we encountered.

The most important phrase to know as a white person in Morocco? “La shukraan” in Arabic or “No thank you” in English :)

Our Life in Nerja – What are we doing each day?

Amanda and I have been living in Nerja, Spain for two and a half weeks now. It’s been amazing. It was the slow down we needed after about a month and a half of pretty fast paced travel. This experience of “living” in another country is also what we both have looked forward to the most on our trip.

Since we’ve settled down in our apartment for the month of November it’s been a lot of laying on the beach, swimming, yoga, tapas, cooking dinners in, reading, working and learning in our quiet apartment, and workouts on our roofdeck or at the beach. I’m sure this doesn’t sound bad to anyone but it’s our ideal way to spend time :) A balanced life between physical health, learning, fun together, and experiencing a unique culture.

Being way more productive than the Spanish

Amanda is keeping in touch with her clients and is even keeping some of them on track from afar by sending them fitness plans. She is also working on a new fitness certification, doing an online course to become and EXOS Performance Specialist. She’s learning a lot of fitness knowledge she can apply with her clients. I’m often her test subject for odd movements and tests! She works on it about an hour a day watching videos, taking notes and moving into pretty hilarious poses with her headphones in (she’s even doing one right now while I write this on the tablet!)

If that isn’t enough Amanda is also taking a 2 hour Spanish course five days per week. She’s making a ton of improvement and is getting around Nerja with her Spanish just fine!

I’m keeping busy working 10 to 15 hours a week contracting with Aquila. It’s interesting work with a familiar team so I’m happy doing it. It’s also a nice way to fund our travels. I’m still pushing some on Spectafy and I’m actually going to a conference in Barcelona Wednesday about Smart Cities to meet with some interesting people.

For fun I’m also researching more and more about self driving cars (I think that’s going to happen sooner rather than later and will be a primary method of transportation for a few decades). I got a couple little microprocessors and I’m getting them talking to each other and reading sensors for a fun project I’m tinkering on.

Besides that Amanda and I both made challenges for the month that we’re doing a darn good job sticking with. She is doing an hour of yoga every day and I’m swimming in the ocean every day. I can’t swim very well so I think Amanda comes to the beach with me for amusement and to make sure I don’t drown (the warm sun probably doesn’t hurt).

Getting familiar with the community

We really like a lot of the Spanish culture. It’s a fantastic place to vacation or live for a while.

Amanda has her favorite fruteria (super fresh fruit and veggies here, TONS of agriculture), panaderia (bakery), supermercado, tienda de zumo (juice/smoothie shop), and much more! I have my favorite cafe for WiFi, green tea, and sometimes toast with tomato and olive oil (local staple) or bacon sandwiches (yum!).

We have our favorite tapas spots (Redondo, La Puntilla, El Pulguilla, El Chispa, La Marina – roughly in that order). We’ve become regulars at some of them! You just can’t beat mingling with super friendly locals over 1.40€ drinks that each come with free snacks about half the size of a typical American appetizer. Our favorite tapas are paella, chorizo, pil pil, carne con tomate, grilled squid (Amanda likes this, I’m not that into that one), and prawns grilled with the shell on (my go to when Amanda gets gnarly squid).

The Spanish schedule has taken some getting used to, but we’re doing it! Wake up around 8, don’t go to bed before 11:30, have two small breakfasts, a big lunch around 2, tapas around 7 and dinner about 9pm.

We’re having an unbelievable time here, really enjoying our time together and our time to better ourselves all while soaking in a new culture. The best part… we still have 2 weeks here and then… well, who knows! :)

Our favorite of the 6 beaches in Nerja – Playa Carabeillo
Eric about to go on his daily swim
Enjoying some delicious wine and tapas
Reading on the beach and watching the sunset
Tapas on fire!

Homemade Cioppino!

A night in our Nerja apartment making Cioppino! We bought fresh muscles, clams, shrimp, and swordfish from the market and made this delicious dinner! Served with some fresh whole-grain bread (“pan integral” en español) from the bakery around the corner – yum!



PS: Did you know that Cioppino originated in San Francisco?? I had no clue, would have guessed somewhere in Italy! You learn something new every day ;)

Granada – A fascinating cultural city

Granada is an amazingly diverse and fascinating city. It’s definitely the city in Spain I’d recommend visiting the most from where I’ve been.

We only spent two days here, but we’re planning on going back soon as it’s only a short bus trip from Nerja where we are now.

The Moors from north Africa ruled much of Spain for a really long time, especially the southern region of Andalusia. Granada was a capital and cultural center of the Moors in Spain and one of the last strongholds before the Spanish pushed Moorish control (and Muslim religion) out of Spain in the reconquest ending in 1492 (A familiar year and a good one for Spain for a few reasons).

In downtown Granada there are five main areas:

1) The Alhambra is a massive and intricate castle on the hillside taking up a big chunk of the city center. This was the Islamic palace when the Moors ruled from about 700 until 1500. It’s incredible. We weren’t able to go inside as tickets sell out months in advance, but we’re hoping to get in next time we go.

2) Albayzin –  the Islamic region with lots of cool architecture, colors, winding alleys meant to make it hard to push the Muslims out by authorities, and delicious food.

3) Sacromonte – the gypsy part of town built in white caves into the hills above the city with fantastic views, supposedly the best flamenco around, and really cool houses!

4) Realejo – Jewish part of town with lots of residential areas we didn’t explore much (yet).

5) New Town – there is a main street and pretty much once you cross it everything gets “new” which means something like less than 300-400 years old :) The majority is a nice modern city with all the usual including some cool parks.

Having all of this existing seemingly at peace in one city is awesome. Oh, and the Serra Nevadas are really big mountains covered in snow looming over town to the southwest. Highly recommended.

Our delicious Moroccon dinner in the Albayzin neighborhood!


Sacromonte, so cool and unique!
The Granada Cathedral
Another shot from the Sacromonte area


Bilbao & San Sebastian, Spain

The Basque region! The northeast part of Spain is known as Basque country. It’s a beautiful region know for it’s “amazing” food (more on that below), dramatic coastline, and they have their own language! Everybody also speaks Spanish, but it was quite confusing looking at signs, menus etc. when they were written in Basque but we thought we were looking at Spanish haha.

First we went to Bilbao (picture above) – it was a cool city! Bigger than we expected and surrounded by green hills. After 2 days there, we ventured via bus to San Sebastian: a cute beach town!

Both places are famous for their pintxos. Going out for Pintxos – like tapas – is a fun experience where you hop from bar to bar and pick small things to eat. The interesting thing is although the concept and experience is super fun – the food, in general, is not good – I mean worse than microwaved bagel bites. There are exceptions! We did find two places that were great! They were recommended to us by our airbnb host. I definitely think you need to get recomendations in order to try the world renowned and highly saught after pintxos. These good spots were fantastic! You have to make it to La Cepa and La Cuchara de San Telmo. Because if you don’t, the rest are just cold, fried foods, all stacked on a piece of bread. We were both so confused… these are the talked about pintxos?? Haha :) I guess we are more the german brats and pretzels type rather than the squid ink croquette and french fry and mayonnaise sandwich type.

Regardless of the interesting food experience we had a great time in both of these cities! We did some swimming and hiking in San Sebastian, explored the awesome cobblestone old town areas, and had our fair share of “vino tinto” (red wine). Here are some pics!

The Guggenheim - Bilbao's most famous site to see. What an incredible piece of architecture!
The Guggenheim – Bilbao’s most famous site to see. What an incredible piece of architecture!
A close-up of a big glass ball sculpture outside of the Guggenheim Museum.
A close-up of a big glass ball sculpture outside of the Guggenheim Museum.
The view of San Sebastian from the top of one of our hikes
The view of San Sebastian from the top of one of our hikes
Amanda checking out the beautiful beach and the town. Straight across the Old Town, where we stayed. Definitely where you’d want to stay when visiting San Sebastian.