The Scottish Rail rolls east, passing flocks of fluffy white sheep. We throw out guesses of how many we’ve passed (500? 1,000?) - an unwinnable game. Somehow, the passing hills are illuminated by the muted grey sky, creating an Emerald city-like green glow. We take a sip of whisky (that’s whisky, not whiskey, and certainly not scotch) from a test-tube size dram, both because it’s weirdly cold outside for being spring and because that’s what you do here. Scotland is all about feeling cozy and, even when the rest of the world is wearing shorts, we’re 100% here for it.
The hills and mountains surrounding the valley have suddenly turned a brighter and deeper shade of green. The sky has also shifted, from muted greys with subtle blue hues, to a spectacular baby blue scattered with pillows of bright white clouds. The green fields are now strewn with the reds and yellows of wildflowers that have shot up from the fertile ground below. Spring came with a force in Lucca, our home of just six months, and after two months in quarantine we’re reminded of the multitude of reasons we chose to settle down in this little city in the northwest corner of Tuscany.
In the hour before sunset, the rice fields are magic. The golden light bounces off each long blade of grass, creating the illusion of soft waves in an emerald green ocean. Dragonflies swoop dramatically as farmers tilt their nón lá (leaf hats) off their head, no longer needing the shelter from the sun. Just five minutes away, the delightful chaos of Vietnamese motorbikes weave through ancient streets past vine-covered yellow buildings. The traditional market, alive with towering piles of fresh herbs, baskets of live crabs, bricks of white tofu and mounds of fresh noodles, flanks the side of the Thu Bồn River. It’s not difficult to fall in love here.
The colorful, tiled buildings of Porto’s Ribeira neighborhood stand at attention, greeting the mighty Douro River as it passes through the city on it’s way east to the Atlantic. Ribeira’s cobblestone streets are packed with restaurants, small bars, and traditional shops, but it’s the Dom Luis I Bridge that crests high above the Douro and steals the show.
It was early February. We were sitting in a bar in Hoi An, Vietnam, sipping a bloody mary, watching the superbowl without a care in the world, other than the 49ers defense. It was mid-way through our five week trip through Southeast Asia, where we were meeting activity partners and visiting boutique hotels to include in our Custom and Designed Trips. We were gearing up for a very busy 2020 - travel felt accessible and adventure was calling.
Every family has different holiday traditions. For us, the first week of January is a time to sit down, bust out the 2020 calendar, and embark on one of our all-time favorite activities… planning (our!) travel for the year ahead. Ever since we left our jobs and started this semi-unconventional, experience-focused life five (!) years ago, this has become our ritual - remembering trips from last year, dreaming up adventures for the year to come, and figuring out how to transform our travel dreams into a reality.
It’s been just over four weeks since we packed up our little Fiat and drove to our new home on the other side of the Mediterranean (well technically the Balearic and Ligurian) in Lucca, Italy. We know. A house in Tuscany sounds super romantic. But within two weeks of arriving, we had 6 feet of sewage pumped out of our front yard, no hot water or heat, and - after attempting to renovate our kitchen and bathroom at the same time (bold) - no running water and a hole in our stone kitchen wall that very closely resembled an archaeological excavation site. There has been more than one moment when we’ve longed for the ease of our rented apartment in Valencia, our trusty landlords just a phone call away, the ability to communicate, and a cafe table full of cheap wine, tapas and our wonderful friends to laugh with. But, even as we stood in the pouring rain, looking down at the almost overflowing tank full of raw sewage, trying to understand why the pump wouldn’t stop beeping, and later forking over nearly 1,000 euro for a new one, we’re confident that this crazy decision was a good one.
Introducing one of the world’s biggest travel myths:
A hotel is just a place to sleep.
We’ve certainly heard this sentence once or twice. Hell, we’ve even said it ourselves to justify paying a low hotel rate in a pricey destination. But wanting a great hotel (at any budget) doesn't make you high maintenance; it makes you smart. Because the truth is that where you lay your head down at the end of the day really matters, like a lot. In fact, it can easily make or break a trip.
Since moving to Spain three years ago, the two questions we receive more than any other are: “How did you do it?” and “How do you continue to make it work?”
It’s hard to believe, but we’re coming up on three years living in Spain. In some ways, it feels like just yesterday that we landed in Valencia, excited and eager to give this expat thing a try, only to have our life flipped upside-down for the six months following. But in other ways, when we think back to all the experiences we’ve had in Valencia and across the Iberian Peninsula, we’re reminded of how well we’ve come to know this amazing country that we call home.
Many people visit Spain and hightail it straight to Barcelona or Madrid. While both are great destinations, Spain has so much more to offer than its two largest cities. Choose to visit smaller towns to experience everyday Spanish life, medium sized cities for incredible architecture and mind-blowing food, or if you’re really itching for a big city experience, do something different and visit Valencia instead. Here are our top 7 spots beyond boring Barcelona (yeah, we said it)...
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