Sunny and Super Porto, Portugal

Jan 15, 2015

In Spain, January 6 is a major holiday – it’s Three Kings’ Day, the day commemorating the wise men’s visit to the child Jesus and the gifts they brought him. These days, it’s also the day Spanish kids receive their presents. Spain is a madhouse up to January 6, with kids still on winter break from school, people buying toys and gifts, and everyone getting ready to spend the holiday with their families.

Portugal, unlike Spain, doesn’t celebrate Three Kings’ Day. Which means low season starts right after New Year’s and accommodations are super cheap! We closed Pilgrim House for a few days for a sabbatical, and for Kings’ Day our family was able to get away to the nearby town of Porto, Portugal. We booked a tourist apartment for 170€ total for three nights, which seemed like a steal.

During our trip it was a bit cold, but the sun was out and we could get outside. The kids loved exploring a new place and there was plenty for us to do as a family. When I was researching Porto beforehand, I saw some activities for families but not many prices, so I’ve included the prices we paid to help you plan if you’re thinking of taking a trip to Porto as well.

We started out by driving from Porto across the river to the opposite town of Vila Nova de Gaia, from where we could get great, expansive views of Porto spread along the river Douro. According to everybody, a boat tour was one of the best ways to see the area, and this was the red boat we rode. The kids were free, and it cost Nate and me 12,50€ each (25€ total for the 6 of us).

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The boys and I enjoyed the view from the open deck:

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When it got too cold and windy we sat inside and looked out the windows:

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Nate and I tried to get a picture of just the two of us, but then M wandered by, of course:

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The iconic narrow and colorful houses of Porto:

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The boat tour took about an hour. Later, while we were still in Vila Nova de Gaia, we took a Teleférico cable car to the top of a mountain for a better view of Porto. We paid 20€ total for our family to take a ride up and a ride back (again – not too shabby!).

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K loved the two cable car rides. It was her favorite part of our trip:

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There are six bridges over the river Douro, and this one, the Dom Luis I bridge, was built in 1886. This was the view after we got off the cable car:

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And this was the view from the bridge itself. We thought it was beautiful! Porto has so many different tiers and layers, it reminds me of a sprawling wedding cake:

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In Porto itself, we visited the São Bento train station, famous for its tile depictions of scenes from Portugal’s history:

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Based on a recommendation from a local, we also visited the landmark Majestic café. It opened in 1921 and through the years hosted many influential Portuguese customers:

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Everything else in Porto was cheap, but we unexpectedly had to splurge here. K’s freshly-juiced pineapple juice was 4€, and everyone else’s hot chocolate was 3,25€. We ended up paying 20€ for six drinks – all for the privilege of saying we’d now experienced the Majestic.

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Winding down our trip, we tried to make one more stop, this time to the Lello and Irmão bookstore. You can see some photos of the interior here. Unfortunately, since it was low season, the bookstore was closed for inventory. Bummer!

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If you’re a wine lover, you may enjoy visiting some of the wineries and wine caves in Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia and tasting their port wine. The wine was traditionally transported up and down the river Douro in barrels on these wooden boats. Several boats are on display in the river today:

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And that’s about it! Our three days in Porto went quickly, but we had a refreshing, fun time as a family and built good memories. We’d highly recommend it if you ever have the chance to visit, especially during low season.

 

Les Fils for Christmas

Oct 23, 2014

About two years ago, our friends Jean-Philippe and Sandie moved back to France, settled into a new life in Paris, and opened up their own online homemade goods store, Les Fils.

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They design and make some cute things for kids:

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And fashionable accessories for us adults (modeled by Sandie):

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The best part is that a portion of their proceeds goes to assist associations caring for orphans.

We think they’re a grand couple, doing something great for kids and creating beautiful, quality products. Check them out, and bring some French flair into your loved ones’ lives this Christmas. As a bonus, JP and Sandie have offered free shipping to readers of The Sweet Road. Just enter in “THESWEETROAD” (don’t include spaces between the words) in the Discount box when you place your order! Woo hoo!

You can also find them on Facebook and Instagram.

 

A Song in its Own Time: Pilgrim House

Sep 22, 2014

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Looking back over the last few years and celebrating the milestone of opening up Pilgrim House, we think about this quote:

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” (Laozi)

Beautiful, right? You’ve all probably been there, where you’ve had a huge task to accomplish, a long hike to cover, or a business/ website/ ministry to start, and you’ve had to just take the first step. The quote is so motivational and inspiring! Just do it!

The problem is, of course, that you still have to take those other 1,999,999 steps! Blaaggh!

A few days before Pilgrim House opened, our sweet Wheaton College interns asked us how how it felt to be finally at that point. In answering them, we realized we actually weren’t surprised we were about to open. Our team had been intimately acquainted with every single step we’d taken to get there, and while we were definitely excited, we were also exhausted and thinking, “It’s about time!” In fact, we wished we could have opened sooner. Sometimes I still thought, “Lord, why did it take so long?”

Recently, the words of Treebeard* have been encouraging: “But there, my friends, songs like trees bear fruit only in their own time and their own way: and sometimes they are withered untimely.”

The last part of his quote hopefully doesn’t apply to us so we’ll focus on the first part. I’m encouraged because looking back, I see that the Pilgrim House song has been sung this entire time. In other words, if we were to sing a song about Pilgrim House, it would go all the way back to the beginning, not just the first day Pilgrim House actually opened. Some of the fruit came when we opened, but I’ve realized that the journey has made the song. The song has come from the journey.

Maybe it’s always like that – you don’t just talk about a couple the day they get married, but you talk about their whole relationship and story. Or you don’t just talk about when a church had its first public service, but you talk about the very first small group of people that met together.

The story for Nate and me started 19 years ago, when Nate took his first backpacking trip to Europe with Wheaton College. A year later, he went again, and I was on his team that year. Our teammates will have different stories of how God, over time, planted things in their lives that eventually brought them here to Spain. Our team is a convergence point of different journeys, yet in this moment we get to work together on Pilgrim House.

Our friends, Jim and Sharon P., finished the Camino in June and gave our Wheaton interns an impromptu orientation session before the Wheaties headed out on the Camino. One thing they said was that when they crested a hill, they always looked back to see how far they’d come. It was a moment to celebrate their accomplishment, instead of continuing to trudge along, head down, ready to drop.

So in this moment we look back and remember how the Lord brought things together to allow us to open up. If He hadn’t done it in the ways that He had, Pilgrim House wouldn’t be as strong as we believe it is now: from how the team formed, to how we got our location, to plowing through all of the paperwork, to the waiting, to planning all of the details, God has done some miraculous things (and I don’t say that lightly). It’s been deeply faith-building to watch this song get sung. One wonderful thing is that even the hard times of waiting will be only a verse or two in the entire Pilgrim House song, and even opening up will just be a small part. There’s still so much of the song to come as, God willing, Pilgrim House keeps going and bears more fruit in its time.

* Treebeard is an Ent, a talking tree-like character in The Lord of the Rings. His motto is, “Do not be hasty.”

Speaking of Lord of the Rings, Boromir said it best in the first movie: “One does not simply walk into Mordor.” The closer we got to opening Pilgrim House, the punchier our team got from the stress of an enormous to-do list, and we made up our own quote: “One does not simply walk into Santiago and start Pilgrim House.”

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Seven in Spain

Sep 4, 2014

Today is our seventh anniversary of our arrival to Spain! Craziness.

Here’s what Nate and the boys looked like the morning after we flew in:

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We were trashed!

A lot has happened over the past years, and I’ll write more about that later. Suffice it to say we’re so grateful to have spent this time here, learning the language, watching our kids build a life, and starting Pilgrim House with the team. God has been good.

 

North Country: Viveiro and Covas

Aug 31, 2014

Last weekend we were able to get away for a short, 3-night family vacation. We explored a part of Galicia we hadn’t seen much of yet, the northern coast, and stayed in a beach town called Covas. The weather for the first couple days was beautiful, and the views were as well.

On the way to Covas, we stopped at Chao do Monte, a popular scenic overlook. This was Galicia at its best – ocean, rocks, mountains leading into the water, and tiny little towns in the valleys:

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From there we headed to another scenic overlook called O Cruceiro:

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The best view came from the foot of the cross, looking out toward the Atlantic Ocean:

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The lighthouse at Cabo Ortegal was the next stop, but on the way we stopped to take photos when we saw this. We felt like we were in a sci-fi movie:

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It was a wind farm with probably a hundred wind turbines:

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And livestock. Lots of livestock. It’s not often we get to see heavy-duty turbines next to idle, free-roaming cattle:

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After a short drive we made it to Cabo Ortegal. Nate took this photo. Spectacular!

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The view from the lighthouse:

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Little M chasing his brothers around and around:

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This is one of my favorite photos from this day – the older boys love M so much they’ll take the time and effort to hide so they can scare him. Can’t you feel their anticipation?

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The four together:

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Our next couple of days in Covas were mostly spent at the beach. It was our first time swimming all summer and the kids loved it:

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The beach at Covas is on the Cantabrian Sea:

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These three rocks together are known as Os Castelos (the castles). Next to them is a monument (not shown in this photo) dedicated to the 500 victims of two Spanish warships that wrecked in a storm in 1810.

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One morning we visited Viveiro and the church of San Roque:

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Viveiro below, and the beach of Covas on the right:

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B found some blackberry bushes:

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Capela de San Roque:

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The raised structure on the left is called a hórreo. You can see hórreos all over Galicia, and people store their grain in these to keep out the rodents and the rain.

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Also typical in this area are stone picnic tables and round stone buildings (this one is a bathroom!):

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The San Roque church complex has a nice modern playground. If you’re ever in Viveiro, we definitely recommend stopping here – it’s a very family-friendly scenic spot.

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On our last day, we drove to another lighthouse, the one at Estaca de Bares. The weather had turned foggy…

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But the coast didn’t lose its charm:

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As with the end of every vacation, we arrived back home tired but full of good memories. Here’s to the next family vacation, whenever it is!

 

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