Sunday, 25 January 2015

Rainy Adventures in Lisbon

The second stop on our Portuguese adventure was Lisbon. I'd been here once before in the winter when I was studying abroad in Barcelona, so I kind of knew what to expect. The city is beautiful and inviting and much larger than Porto. One thing I found a little sad was the amount of graffiti covering buildings throughout the city; clearly a sign of the times. We arrived late on our first night but were able to squeeze in a tasty meal at Club de Journalistas. This place is secluded and unassuming and the fare is a mix of Brazilian and international. My seafood paella and the dessert platter were the highlights. Our home away from home was Hotel Lisboa and it was just the right place: a little modern with a delicious breakfast included each day (plus they also had very attractive doormen!). Although it was raining on our first day, we made our way up the hill on a trolley to Castelo de Sao Jorge. You can see the entire city from the vantage's a beautiful sea of terra cotta roofs. After walking around the center of town in the afternoon and checking out the Arco Triunfal da Rua Agusta, we ducked into an adorable hipster hotel called Brown's Downtown and had a few Super Bocks (local beer) while sinking into cushy chairs. It was a perfect break from the rain.

Our second day was dedicated to exploring Belem. From the center of town, you can get there by trolley in about 20 minutes. The first thing you see is the Mosteiro de Jeronimos (the gorgeous old palace-like structure photographed below). If you head towards the water, you'll bump into the Padrao dos Descobrimentos monument and then a little further down the water is the Belem Tower, which served as a medieval fortress back in the day. The foodie highlight in this area is undoubtedly Pasteis de Belem, known for delicious sweet custard pastries. Don't miss it! When we made our way back into town, we spent time walking around Chiado, the fashionable area of Lisbon filled with boutiques and chain stores. Dinner was at Frado Dos Mares...all I can say is WOW. I had cod Lagereiro style (bathed in olive oil, garlic, herbs) and it was perfectly cooked. The ambiance is small but romantic and the service is friendly and welcoming. It was a lovely way to end our adventures in Lisbon before heading back to London. The next stop on our European trip was coming soon!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Winter In Porto

With a bit of spare time on my hands thanks to the lovely MLK, I've had a chance to catch up on blogging our European travels. After London, our next stop was Porto, Portugal. It hadn't originally been high on my 'must-see' list, but our quick visit changed my mind. From London, it's just a quick two or so hour flight, so when we arrived around lunchtime we felt refreshed and ready to explore. We stayed at Pestana Porto Hotel in Zona Ribeirinha and it is really gorgeous, right on the River Duoro. As you can see from the photo, there are vibrant colors everywhere you look. After unpacking, our first stop was lunch on the water...I can't quite remember the name of the restaurant we went to (truth be told, a lot of these places are overpriced because of the view). What I remember most is ordering the snapper and having it arrive whole...not my fave, but I learned my lesson. Just know that the Portuguese fare is mostly fish and potatoes. 

One highlight was walking across the Ponte D. Luis bridge over to the port wine tasting area, what the city is most known for. We visited a few tasting rooms on the favorite was Croft where we basically had the place to ourselves and got a chance to speak with the wine maker's family. The port was actually really tasty! We headed up Porto Cathedral right before sunset and took in the absolutely stunning views. The foodie high point happened on our second day at Leiteria da Quinta do Paco where they make insanely delicious eclairs. The dark chocolate and whipped cream one was so good, we got three. You'll notice there isn't much night life in this sleepy little town but there is plenty of shopping, including all of my favorite European stores like Massimo Dutti, Mango and Zara (I know these are in the US too but I swear the collections are different over there). Two days was the perfect amount of time to catch the highlights. If you do visit, I would recommend combining a trip to Porto with another Portuguese city like Lisbon or the Algarve if it's sunny. Enjoy!

Friday, 2 January 2015

Return To London

Happy New Year! Amazing to think it's 2015. With the busyness of the holidays, I never got around to posting about our European trip, so with a little down time today, I finally put pen to paper. Before the trip, Jim and I had so many thoughts about London and how we might feel when we got there. Would we still love it as much? Would we want to move back? Were we happier in San Francisco? And along with the questions came the excitement…to visit our family and friends and to travel and see more of the world…it's by far our favorite thing to do. Luckily, when we got off the plane in London, I felt a feeling of familiarity and closeness. It was like arriving there after any other trip, getting our Oyster cards and hopping on the tube home. We had such a fun time visiting with Matt, Kathy and their boys and seeing all of our friends and colleagues in the city. It's funny how after a year, most things don't change and you can still fit right in, except for the accents. According to our British friends, our accents have become much more American. We loved going back to Fulham and walking around our old neighborhood, going to the Sloaney Poaney for a cozy pint and then heading to the Chelsea match where they won. I also loved going back to Borough Market, shopping on Regent street and seeing all of the Christmas decorations that illuminate the city. The one thing I could have done without is the rain…but then again, that's typical London, right? Our Thanksgiving affair was fun with new traditions and lots of Veuve. I swear there were more Americans picking up turkeys than when we lived there. Aside from zipping around London, I loved mixing in a few trips to Porto, Lisbon & Paris...after all, one of the best perks of living in Europe is the ability to travel. More posts to come soon!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Second Homecoming

Tomorrow Jim and I head back to London, a place we called our home for nearly two years. We are so excited to catch up with old friends, co-workers and most importantly our family. I can't wait to head back to some of our favorite places like Fulham (our neighborhood), Chelsea (where I spent many Saturdays at the farmer's market and shopping on the High Street), Borough Market (you can never eat enough there) or anywhere else along the River Thames. What I'm most looking forward to is the feeling of being there, although we're a little nervous it won't feel quite the same now that we can't call it home. It's been over a year since we've been back, but I can just imagine us taking an accidental detour on the tube to head to Fulham. We've already been scouring old Tiny Bit of Joy London posts, reliving our favorite memories and preparing ourselves for the next two weeks. The camera is already packed along with a million other things. More to come on the blog very soon! Until then, I'll be posting lots on Instagram on @keirajoy so follow along.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Scenes From Chicago

And I'm back after a little hiatus that involved gearing up for my sister's wedding and lots of fun weekends in the city and jetting off to Chicago for the weekend! Our visit to the Windy City had been in the works for a while before we went last month. We've been trying to branch out to more American cities we haven't visited (very American of us, right?) I'd always thought of Chicago as an intriguing city but hadn't heard much beyond the typical icons like deep dish pizza and terrible winters. Let me tell you, there is so much more to see! Plus we lucked out with our stay at Hotel Palomar in River North. Read on for a day by day guide of our tour de Chicago.
The first stop after our 4-hour flight & delicious to-go sandwiches from Xoco (get the Woodland Mushroom Torta), had to be the famous Bean. It really is a trip to look at....Jim spent a long time looking at it, taking pictures and getting artsy with photography. It's right in Millenium Park which is beautiful and reminds me of Central Park. I love seeing green amidst a sea of skyscrapers.
After the Bean, we walked over to the famous Art Institute of Chicago (the #1 museum in the world, according to TripAdvisor). For $20, you get access to the whole museum and it has some pretty fabulous paintings by Claude Monet and David Hockney.
I absolutely love that Chicago sign; so iconic. What's not pictured here is the rest of our day, which involved going to the Girl & the Goat for a late dinner. It's such a cozy spot, perfect for a date night. My fave dishes were the Mt. Lasen trout with Pumpkin Brandade, Fried Brussels Sprouts, Candied Pecans and Pomegranate plus the Johnny Applecheese Bread with Chili Cheddar Butter.  
The first stop on our second morning was Glazed + Infused, an awesome recommendation from our hotel concierge. Wow is all I can say about these incredibly fresh donuts. Jim went old fashioned and I had the vanilla glazed. Filling but worth it.
We'd signed up in advance for the Architectural Boat Tour  after literally every person we know recommended it once they found out we were headed to Chicago. It was definitely worth the $45 for a 1.5 hour ride. Our tour guide was so knowledgeable about the architecture and also the city heritage and developments. There's something about sitting back in your seat on a boat that's so relaxing. I highly recommend putting this at the top of your to-do list when you're in town.
Lunch was a flurry of Italian activity over at Eataly. There are several locations around the world and all feel like a really lovely Italian marketplace with everything from produce stands to a coffee bar to a craft beer bar and restaurants in between. My idea of food heaven.
This is the stunning view from the Willis (Sears) Tower, which used to be the tallest building in the world before the Burj Khalifa was built in 2004. We braved the crowds to make it to the top and luckily we had a perfect day to see a 360 degree view of the city.
Cubs fan for a day, I suppose (although my heart stays with the Giants!). Wrigley Stadium is old but full of character. They weren't playing when we were there but it was still fun to see. Not pictured was the earlier part of our day spent wandering around Wicker Park & Bucktown, where you can find some adorable shops, cafes and restaurants. We felt like locals and for a second, thought maybe we could live there (and then quickly came to our senses when we thought about the long winters).

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