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Lisbon, Portugal is a beautiful and vibrant city. It has a laid back, ramshackle charm that is very unique. The locals are incredibly friendly and every where you go you will hear shouts of “obrigado” which means, “thank you.”

But Lisbon really comes alive after dark. Everybody is out walking and shopping, drinking, eating, and having fun. There are the more touristy things to do – go to a fado show or nightclub – or you could be more like the locals and just stroll. The people watching is fantastic.

When I visited Lisbon, I stayed in a cool Airbnb apartment just off the Largo do Carmo, a sweet little square with good restaurants, jacaranda trees, hot guys in uniform, and a ruined nunnery – all the makings of a great setting.

By day this area was full of tourists. But come dusk and it starts to mellow out and the locals come for a drink and to let their children play in the darkening square. I remember being amazed that parents would let such young children be out so late, but things didn’t really seem to kick off until after 9:00 PM. Children would all play together in one big group, skateboarders used the nunnery entrance to show off their skills, and the adults gathered to drink and talk.

Even though I was an outsider, there was a wonderful community feeling, one that just made me happy I was able to sit and observe.

I didn’t spend all my evenings in the Largo do Carmo. I joined in the wandering crowds going in and out of stores in the popular streets and just sat and watched different scenes of nightlife unfold. But passing an evening in the Largo do Carmo is one of the activities I remember most from my trip for its laidback, family-friendly ambiance and warm feeling of inclusion. If you are ever in Lisbon, I highly suggest you give it a try.

November 3, 2015 0 comment
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There was one part of my France trip that I was more excited about than any other – canoeing the Dordogne and visiting the opposing castles. You see, during the 100 Years War, the French and English built castles on opposite shores of the Dordogne River. The castles are usually considered “paired” – one English to one French.

Today, you can visit the castles by land or, more excitingly, by canoe, traveling the Dordogne river. There are many canoe outfitters and tourist companies who will drop you off and pick you up at various stops along the river. You just canoe from one castle to another, hiking up to each one, and paddling on to the next.

I wanted to do this – badly. But remember what I said about all that rain in Spain? Well apparently is had been raining a lot in France too, and the river was far too high and fast to boat. How high, I learned the hard way.

Unable to take the river, I decided to follow my travel guru and personal hero Rick Steves’ advice to walk the river path between Beynac and Castlenaud. The signs submerged in the river should have been a clue. But oh no, I kept going. Water across the path – I took off my shoes and waded it. More water, kept going. Finally I got to a point where a whole field was flooded and the water was moving fast. I waded up to my knees before I realized  – this was not going to work. So I walked across some fields and out to the road and walked to Castlenaud that way. Was I sad about the river – hell, yes. But the way I made the trip makes for a pretty good story and a day I will never forget. Disappointment happens on trips – what matters is your ability to make the most of it.

October 27, 2015 0 comment
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Vatican city is a pretty cool place. The smallest country in the world, with barely 100 acres of land, Vatican City is a must-visit on any trip to Rome.

But, every visitor should know that a trip to the Vatican means a strict set of rules to follow. And I mean strict – Vatican officials take these rules seriously and so should you.

Most importantly, when visiting the Vatican all bare shoulders must be covered up and legs must be clothed to the knee. No shorts. No tank tops. Period. It doesn’t matter if it 50 degrees or 100 – cover up! And this goes for ALL of Vatican City, not just St. Peter’s. As this rule apples (though less strictly) to most religious sites in Rome, a good work around is to carry a scarf or two with you in your bag. You can then just drape it over your shoulder or tie it around your waist to meet the dress code.

The Vatican is a top tourist site, so there will be lines. Long lines. Do everyone a favor and be a gracious visitor. Not cutting, complaining loudly, pushing, shoving…you get the idea.

Another rules that should be obvious, but surprisingly isn’t – don’t touch the items in the museum! I have seen tourists just cavalierly reach out and touch art and sculptures – it’s a museum people, not show and tell. Plus, you don’t want the Swiss Guards on your bad side – trust me!

Finally, be careful to follow rules about photography and videography. For example, you absolutely cannot take photos inside the Sistine Chapel. Just don’t even try it. And if at any time an official says to you “no photo!” just follow their instructions. There’s no need to get thrown out of Vatican City – although I imagine that would be a pretty cool story!

October 26, 2015 1 comment
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