Category Archives: Music

A Travelers Life…

Sorry… no interesting pictures, amusing stories, or fancy travel advice today.  This post is all about me!…kind of, it’s actually more about my life on the road.  Where I go, where I stay, how I get there, etc.

Earlier this week I hit the four-month mark on the road and started thinking about all the places I’d been.  That thought grew into a whole list of things, places, people, etc. and eventually into this post.  So as of Sunday August 4th I had traveled/done/seen/visited/met…you get the idea.

I’ve watched bull fights in Spain, major championship golf in Scotland, and live Fado in Portugal.

I’ve been to the top of Cathedral bell towers in three countries, the top of mountains in two countries, and the top of the 199 Steps in Whitby, England.

I’ve dipped my toes in the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean and North Sea, swam in the Caribbean, and surfed in the North Atlantic.

I’ve drunk cheap and awesome local wine in Spain and France, four different brands of Irish stout in Ireland, whisky and whiskey in Scotland and Ireland, respectively, Real Ale in England, a Belfast Bomber in Belfast, and moonshine adega wine in a Portuguese Adega.

I’ve slept in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles…and buses.

I’ve learned to think in Celsius, Euro’s, British Pounds, kilometers, and the 24 hour clock.

I’ve randomly been in cities that had some of their biggest yearly festivals and events when I was there but also been to places that had absolutely nothing interesting going on.  Both situations have been great experiences.

I’ve been on walking tours, bus tours, museum tours, castle tours, and pub tours (pub crawls).

Travel by numbers:

Time Away

  • .345 Years
  • 18 Weeks
  • 126 Days

Places Visited

  • 8 Castles/Palaces
  • 10 Countries
  • 16 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
  • 47 Cities/Towns/Villages

Places Slept

  • 1 Cruise Ship
  • 1 Hotel
  • 1 Surflodge
  • 10 Houses
  • 24 Hostels
  • 37 Different Beds

Transport

  • 1 Cruise Ship
  • 1 Cable Car
  • 1 Gondola
  • 2 Taxis
  • 2 Funiculars
  • 3 Airplanes
  • 6 Subway Systems
  • 9 Cars
  • 14 Trains (plus a few I’ve forgotten about)
  • 22 Buses (plus several I’ve forgotten about)

Met and Talked With People From

  • 47 Countries

Events

  • 2 Sporting Events
  • 4 Concerts
  • 6 Festivals

…and this is just the stuff off the top of my head.  I’ve seen and done all of this in only four months….and I’m just getting started!

5 Things I Learned in Portugal

  1. It’s not illegal to have drugs.   I had about 8 different people try to sell me ‘Weed, hashish, cocaine?’ during the first 9 hours I was in Lisbon.  It’s still illegal to buy and sell drugs, or to use drugs I think, just not illegal to have them on your person.  There is a progressive drug policy in Portugal, they treat it as a health problem instead of a criminal problem.  The results have been good as fewer people are dependent now than before the law changed.  One bad side effect: drug dealers walk up to anyone they think might want some pot.  Since it’s not illegal to have drugs on you, they only have to worry about being caught selling them. FYI…this only happened to me in the main tourist section of downtown Lisbon.  There were no more drug dealer encounters the other 12 days I was in Portugal.
  2. The Portuguese people are really friendly (see Adega Winery for one example), especially if you attempt to speak in Portuguese.  Nobody knows Portuguese….Spanish speakers don’t.  The Italians?…No.  French?…Huh-uh.  So they loved me when I tried to use the 10 or so words I learned before arriving.
  3. Coimbra is an amazing city to walk through.  And the university on top of the hill is the icing on top of the cake.  And the local music is a treat to see in person!
  4. Real Port Wine (and Portuguese fortified wine in general) is really good!
  5. Two days in Sintra is not enough!  There are so many interesting and beautiful things to see in and around this hill town, to do it properly (without rushing) you need to set aside three days.
  6. Bonus thing I learned…Obidos is a destination gem many tourist’s go to but few spend more than several hours in. My advice…..go there.  Spend the night.  Enjoy!
    Flower in Path, Pena Park, Sintra
    Flower in Path, Pena Park, Sintra

Obidos, Portugal – The Best Tourist Trap I’ve Ever Been To!

After several days hiking the sites in Lisbon and Sintra I decided to spend a couple of days in a more subdued atmosphere.  I was looking for a less hectic, slower pace.  Hello Obidos!

Obidos - Castle Town
Obidos – Castle Town

Obidos, in east central Portugal, is a small but charming hilltop town that happens to have a castle (now a hotel) and town wall still intact.  Part of Obidos is actually within the 14 meter tall wall.  It’s a big destination for tourist day trips from the surrounding cities, mainly Lisbon, but since I was staying two nights and not coming and going like the normal tourist I was able to calmly walk around the town (more than once) as well as see the sights outside the wall without feeling rushed ‘to get everything in’.

Here are my Top 5 Highlights in no particular order:

Spending more than 90 minutes walking around on top of the entire wall, admiring views from every angle along the way.

Walking the Wall in Obidos
Walking the Wall in Obidos

Walking out-of-town to find the enormous Santuario do Senhor Jesus da Pedra.

Santuario do Senhor Jesus da Pedra
Santuario do Senhor Jesus da Pedra

The ancient Roman aqueduct.

Roman Aqueduct, Obidos
Roman Aqueduct, Obidos

Sitting in front of Saint Maria Church in the middle of town and staying long enough to see an outdoor orchestra performance (I’m not exactly sure what the performance was for but there were three different orchestras all playing together and it was an idyllic setting for such an event).

Santa Maria Church, Obidos
Santa Maria Church, Obidos

Drinking Portuguese wine while talking politics and ‘what’s wrong with the world’ with a traveler from Poland and the Spanish owner of the hostel we both were staying in (sorry, no picture).

In the title wrote this is a tourist trap town, and it is only in the fact that tourism IS a large part of the economy here.  There are silly souvenir shops on every street, a bunch of restaurants all selling the same Portuguese foods and guided tours through every back alley.  But what’s missing was just as noticeable to me.  There were no über pushy salesmen trying to get you to spend Euro’s in his store or any gimmicky buildings that seemed out-of-place (in fact, the buildings within the wall all seem built around the same time period, I’m guessing 200 to 250 years ago).  There wasn’t an arcade or a shopping mall.  Everything was as it should be….as it’s always been.

So, yes it’s a tourist trap, but different from the normal trap.  It’s subtle, calming, classic….perfect.

Coimbra Fado – Justin Bieber Couldn’t Carry Their Cape’s

By chance I was in Coimbra at the time of the 2013 Queima das Fitas (Burning of the Ribbons) celebration.  This is an 8 day event each May that celebrates the end of school for graduating students.  The festivities include a parade with each degrees graduates having their own float (and a lot of beer), several nights of concerts/parties that last until 7 am, sports activities and many other events and traditions.

One tradition is the Serenata Monumental Coimbra, which happened a couple of days before I arrived in Coimbra.  I would have had a great seat for the show too; my hostel windows overlooked the square that hosts the concert each year.  It’s a performance of Coimbra fado music which is distinct from other forms of fado because it has historically been performed only by male students and former students of the University of Coimbra.   Traditionally Coimbra fado was a serenade performed by the male student outside the window of a female student he was sweet on.  If she felt the same way toward him, she turned the light on and off three times.  The roots of this music are so deep in the city it’s widely considered the music of Coimbra itself.

Coimbra Fado Instruments
Coimbra Fado Instruments

The singers and musicians all wear the traditional academic outfit (or at least part of it; the cape).  The concert I saw had all three men wearing an all black suit, black shirt and black cape.  The instruments played along the singer in Coimbra Fado are the 12 string Guitarra de Coimbra (Coimbra fado guitar designed by the father of Coimbra fado, Artur Paredes) and a classical 6 string acoustic guitar.

You can generally find Coimbra fado being played each evening in bars, city squares or at the Fado ao Centro where I saw a performance.  Fado ao Centro is a cultural center designed to promote Coimbra fado.  Check out the Unmapped Travels Facebook page to view a short video I took at the concert.

A performance can either be just three men or up to a couple dozen as seen in this video of the Serenata Monumental Coimbra 2013 that happened a few days before I arrived.

Though at the concert I saw I didn’t know what the words meant they were singing I did know, thanks to an English explanation before each song, what the songs were about.  It was a very entertaining event and well worth the surprisingly cheap ticket price.