How I fell in love with Portugal’s wine country and other Portuguese tales [Vol 2. Douro]

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro

I had already shared how I was not expecting much on the wine front from Portugal before our visit. Shameful, I know. You may associate port wine with Porto but did you know that the grapes are actually harvested in the Douro region? In fact, if they are not from there, it’s not technically port wine. The process may slightly vary by the producer but in general, grapes are harvested and transported to Porto where they are stored for aging and eventually consumption. Also, there is a LOT more to this beautiful wine region than port wine, we tasted plenty of other varieties that were just absolutely wonderful.

For our trip, we decided to rent a car in order to travel through all of our stops:

Porto -> Douro -> Fatima -> Albufeira -> Lisboa

I 100% recommend renting a car if you can, as it not only gives you freedom from schedules but you can also explore at your own pace and change things up as you go if you so desire.

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro quinta nova

For our stay in Douro we stayed at Quinta Nova Nossa Senhora do Carmo, which you can see in this photo. When looking at where to stay in Douro, I saw plenty of gorgeous quintas in the region but I wanted to make sure we could stay in a quinta that offered wine tastings and actually had a vineyard. Our stay was short but wonderful. Due to time constraints, we actually did not leave the quinta once we got there and honestly have no regrets.

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro quinta nova wine and cheese vacation

We began our stay with a wonderful spread of ham and cheese and started tasting some of the wonderful selections from Quinta Nova right away. Their reserva was one of our favorites and definitely affordable considering the quality and taste, says the girl that is happy with a $10 bottle of wine at the liquor store, but you get it. 🙂

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My favorite part was walking through the vineyards, just me and Brian. There was not another soul in sight and the weather was absolutely perfect, not too hot or too cold. This region is truly a beauty and the landscape is breathtaking, unlike anything I had seen before. It’s also very calm, the kind of vibes you have to stop for and take a moment to really take it in because it’s a magical experience.

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro quinta nova

Quinta Nova offers a delicious dinner with a chef’s menu and of course, dedicated wine pairings. Each course was a unique experience and everything was purely exquisite. Dinner wouldn’t have been completed without an excellent dessert and of course, port wine.

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The breakfast selection the next day was also delicious but the best part was enjoying it all with a morning view. I mean, how often do we allow ourselves to not only enjoy breakfast time but enjoy it with this kind of view. Good coffee, good food and knowing that the day can only get better. That’s what vacation should feel like.

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You can never have enough of something wonderful, right? I would have loved to stay longer in this region and explore further. If you have the time, definitely recommend you explore other quintas and even take a boat through the river. Even if you are tight for time and can’t stay for the night, Douro is not far from Porto and you can do a day trip to get a taste of the magic (it’s only a little over an hour drive).

Stay tuned for more of my Portugal series and feel free to message me if you are planning to visit and have any questions about my experiences. 🙂

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro quinta nova

January was a trial month: Welcome to Beaches & Brie!

Playa La Selva Puerto Rico - Beaches and Brie

After many months of tossing and turning, I am thrilled to announce that Peace, Love & Diet Coke is now Beaches & Brie. Peace, Love & Diet Coke will always have a special place in my heart but I’ve felt for a while now that I needed to change the name to help shape my journey and portray more of who I am.

When I started Peace, Love & Diet Coke back in 2013, I was in dire need of a creative outlet. Adjusting to the workforce was not easy and this blog gave me the opportunity to share what was on my mind, no guidelines or parameters needed. I’ve learned a lot about what I love along the way, all while nurturing a hunger for life and adventures (and food, duh).

Food and travel are two of my biggest passions, as made obvious by my Instagram feed and ongoing rants about how I want to travel the world. Beaches & Brie is both an invitation and a declaration. I want to continue to explore places and plates all over the world, or as close as my backyard. Check out the new look!

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I’m still me, nothing’s changing. I’m just excited to roll this new phase out and continue to share places and plates with you, with some other interesting nuggets along the way. Stay tuned for more to come.

January was just a trial month, 2016 begins now!

 

[Strasbourg, France] Forever nostalgic

Strasbourg, FranceI will forever be nostalgic of the few months I lived in Strasbourg, France. I really don’t think that feeling will ever go away and I am ok with it, I’ve said it before. I think everyone needs to live abroad at some point in their lives, even if it’s just for a few months. To some it sounds annoying, but I have never heard anyone who has lived abroad say that they regret their decision. Seriously, it opens your eyes, your mind and your soul. It also empties your pockets, but that’s another story.

Instagram did not even exist when I was studying abroad. *Does quick Google search* Ok, Instagram was literally being built as I was studying abroad. I can only imagine the absurd amount of pictures I would have been posting on a daily basis if I had an Instagram account at that point. I had a basic Nokia phone with limited minutes and text messages as my loyal companion, I used bbm (Blackberry messenger) as the way to chat with my family and friends in the other side of the Atlantic and guess what? I took pictures with an actual camera and not a phone. Bizarre, right?

There’s nothing I can write that can wipe away the nostalgia that I’m feeling at the moment, so I will not keep trying. It’s all just really weird and beautiful at the same time. So join me while I reminisce, I hope all of you have a happy place and set of memories that can bring out the same sense of comfort and longing like Strasbourg does for me.

Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg, France

Somewhere near Strasbourg…

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[Puerto Rico] Orocovis: Roka Dura & Casa Bavaria

Orocovis Casa Bavaria

As you may have seen earlier this week, I was recently home in Puerto Rico and while I was there I got to do some fun zip-lining. Toro Verde Adventure Park is located in Orocovis, right in the middle of the mountains of Puerto Rico. A lot of people don’t think of mountains when they think of Puerto Rico, they just focus on the beaches but it really is a beautiful area. I mean, we do have amazing beaches, but our mountains offer a very different kind of beauty.

Orocovis Roka Dura

On our way down from Toro Verde we made two nice stops. After a morning filled with adventure and thrill, we were obviously starving. Locals to the area recommended we had lunch at Roka Dura, just a few minutes outside of the park. They said food was delicious and portions were generous.

Orocovis Roka Dura

They were not lying. This mouthwatering “mofongo” filled with chicken was even more delicious than it looks. The plate below is chicken with garlic cassava, better known as “yuca al mojo”. The chicken was nothing special, but the “yuca” was on point. I love “yuca” but have never ventured to cook it myself, I’m not even sure if I would be able to buy some around here so it’s always one of those special plates I treat myself with when I’m visiting home.

Orocovis Roka Dura

This spot had really nice views. It was early Friday afternoon and you could see the little bars around or “chinchorros” starting to get busy with people celebrating the weekend’s arrival. Although I was on vacation, I also joined the celebration admiring the killer view.

Orocovis Roka Dura Medalla

Second stop was Casa Bavaria. This one holds special memories for me. With a fusion of Caribbean and German traditions, Casa Bavaria was founded by a German couple who fell in love with the island and decided to make a life here. Its claim to fame has been their great Oktoberfest celebrations, that’s how I first got there. It is (or was?) tradition to organize “party” buses to take groups of people up the mountains and bring Oktoberfest to life in Puerto Rico. Each bus had different t-shirts and unique stories, often captured and plastered on Facebook. It was, well, a hot mess. Ahh, memories.

Stopping by this time with a fresh (and sober) pair of eyes, I was able to find so much more beauty in this place. People are so nice and the views are to die for. We only had drinks here, but a lot of people were enjoying a full meal around us. Oktoberfest or not, definitely worth the stop.

[Puerto Rico] Toro Verde Zip-line Adventure

Zip-lining Puerto Rico Toro Verde

Haven’t we all, at some point, wished we could fly? I know that was always my super power of choice when I was a little kid, you know, like Peter Pan and stuff. Still, with age, I have developed a sometimes irrational fear of heights. I even get the jiggles if I get too close to the bars of a balcony, even if it’s not that high.

This month, I got to channel my inner child and fearless Girl Scout spirit while zip-lining at Toro Verde in Puerto Rico. Toro Verde is an adventure park in the middle of the mountains (Orocovis, to be exact). I actually did not know that there are more miles of zip-line cables in this adventure park than any other park in the world!

Puerto Rico Toro Verde

If you are visiting Puerto Rico, Toro Verde is a must. Not only do you get to experience some thrill, but there is also so much beauty to take in and delicious food to eat along the way (more on that soon!).

 Puerto Rico Toro Verde

I recommend you keep an eye out for flash deals that regularly come up for the adventure packages. Either way, the money you pay is worth it. I did the regular zip-line tour ending with “La Bestia” (The Beast).

Last (and only) time I did zip-lining was in Costa Rica in 2004. I don’t recall it having been challenging. This time for me, the first cables were the hardest (although they are technically the easiest). I was nervous and afraid, what if my long hair got stuck on the cable?! What if I accidentally put my fingers in the wrong spot and they got chopped off by the equipment?! These were my fears. My mother’s fears were more along the lines of “What if I fall?!” – I guess that made more sense. I honestly did not even fear the heights on the first few because I was so focused on looking at the cable that I did not even look down.

Zip-lining Puerto Rico Toro Verde

Then, it was time for la bestia (cue for roar). The beast is the highest and second longest cable in the world. I believe the tour guide mentioned that the longest one is in South Africa, but don’t quote me on that.

Zip-lining Puerto Rico Toro Verde

You get all prepped up and told you will be laying face down and flying all the way to the other side for like a minute and a half. It seemed scary, but once I was in the harness waiting my turn, all I felt was peace. It was SO weird to feel calm and steady when I was diving across unknown heights in the middle of the mountains. I did not have to worry about any cables because I was going to be lying down so I was like, poof, no worries here!

They pushed me and so I started flying. What a freaking fabulous feeling. I was a bird. Like, as much as a bird as a human can be. I felt the wind on my face as I was zipping around and I was able to take in all the beautiful sights around me. There was a little river, I saw some birds flying near by, it was all wonderful. All I could think was how amazing it felt to be so close with nature and fly. I also thought, damn, I wish I had a GoPro strapped up on my helmet!

Zip-lining Puerto Rico Toro Verde

Seriously, if you are ever in Puerto Rico, experience the beast. It’s breath-taking and I would even consider it a therapy session. I had forgotten the thrilling sensation of facing your fears and the adrenaline rush that comes with it. Big thanks to our tour guides (pictured above) they really took us through this adventure and always made sure we were comfortable, safe and having fun!

Puerto Rico Toro Verde

P.S. Zip-lining: When you learn the value of fanny packs.

[California] Sausalito Sunsets & More Rosé

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During my recent trip to California I got to visit a lot of fun and interesting places, one of my favorite was the city of Sausalito. After spending the earlier part of the day at Muir Woods (more on that later), we were taken to this lovely waterfront town. I love the water and although I can appreciate the beauty of the mountains and forests, there’s nothing like being by the shore.

I immediately knew I wanted to spend more time exploring my surroundings, but knew we had a ferry to catch back to San Francisco. Relying on just online reviews and outside seating, we decided to have dinner at Salito’s.

Knowing that it was our last day in California, we were taking it all in. Everybody seemed happy and without a single care in the world. Except maybe the couple next to us, they were clearly on a first date and it was so fascinating to watch them both react to each other. No, I was not creeping.

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That, my friends, is Salito’s crab alfredo. Not bad at all, although I must say, their mussels and sauce was delicious!

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Note on those sunglasses, got them in California, love the reflection but totally lost them. They must be in some unpacked bag in my room right now, but that may not be the case. I’m not so concerned about the money (they were super cheap), I am saddened more by how well they photographed. Check us out on the shot below!

After dinner, we still had some time before the ferry departure. I saw people drinking by the water and I immediately knew where I needed to be. Turns out, this place called Bar Bocce allows you to eat and drink by the water in a very casual and comfortable setting. I only had drinks, but people around us were enjoying some very delicious pizzas. Note to self: return to this place with a blanket and a big appetite.

This is me at Bar Bocce’s backyard. That face says: “I love my wine, I love this place and yes, I know it sucks that I have to leave”. It’s like you can already see the inevitable sarcasm in my eyes, right?

Waiting for the ferry was not bad at all. Perks of waiting for the last ferry? You get to see the sunset as you leave Sausalito behind. You can also attempt, for the one hundredth time, to take the perfect picture of the Golden Gate Bridge.

What I Can Do in 38 Years

Cape Cod by Cristina Nogueras

What are 25 years? They are nothing without perspective. I think of all I’ve done in my 25 years of life so far, it seems like a lot. Now I think that the time I’ve lived is the same time that is standing between me and hitting 50 years of age. It feels like another world of possibilities. Then I think of all the people that I see every day reinventing themselves after they turn 50, just like my mom is doing now. That’s now a third lifetime, according to this perspective.

That being said, a year seems like nothing, right? The thing about time that makes it so painfully wonderful is that it’s relevant. Waiting a year can seem like an eternity, yet it can go by in a second. Whatever struggles you are facing now may seem small and simple compared to the big picture. A year apart for a long distance couple may seem like torture, but all worth it when you then have 20 years of marriage. Five years of school might seem endless, but it pays off when you’re thinking of a career that spans over three decades. Yet a month of unpleasant tasks can seem like a lifetime.

In life, day-to-day struggles seem big and unbearable. You can’t seem to understand just how small they are until you overcome them. That seems unfair because you really need something to get you through each day and you know that at the moment of struggle, every pebble seems like a boulder.

It’s beginning to scare me how fast time can pass. If you don’t sit and think about it, it really does fly by. You have no control of how quick time goes by, but you can control what you do with it. Time is going to pass anyways, might as well spend it towards something that will make you happy, something that will make you feel complete. That’s the eternal journey, isn’t it? It’s all about being happy, right?

So now that I’m 25, I can keep hitting myself in the head saying that “it’s too late to start now” or I can quit moping and get some perspective. My dad is 63 and he is still doing amazing things each and every day. He challenges himself every day and never ceases to amaze me. I still have 38 years to be where he is.

Heck, I can conquer the world with 38 years in my hands.

P.S. – Just in case you don’t know my dad and you still need some perspective, Hillary Clinton is 67 years old. I’m good.

* Photo by Cristina Nogueras *