Thursday Sunsets: Rome, Italy

I know Italy isn’t necessarily known for its sunsets, but this was one of the first views I had upon arriving in Rome in March 2009. It was quite the first impression. We stayed right near the vatican so we’d be able to see the Sistine Chapel on our very last day before leaving for the airport. The lovely Hotel Alessandrino was just steps from St. Peter’s Basilica, pictured here:

I also sort of chose to feature this photo today because it was from a trip I took with my two roommates at the time, and next week, one of them is embarking on a whole new phase of her life. So this post is dedicated to Jessica – I hope Shanon brings you as much happiness as we did during our years in JAR.

Thursday Sunsets: Marco Island

This past weekend, one of my very best friends got married at the Marco Island Marriott Hotel on Marco Island, Florida. It was a really beautiful ceremony on the beach, and we all got to walk down the aisle barefoot – an added bonus.  After they said their vows, we enjoyed this amazing sunset.  I love that they’ll always have (the professional version of) this photo to remember their big day for the rest of their lives:

Beautiful couple, beautiful sunset.

The bridal party also had some fun on the beach while the professional photographer did her thing with the newly married couple:

Thursday Sunsets: Fire Island

The sun is setting on the work week and while we aren’t quite at the weekend yet, you can feel it on the horizon. And so I bring to you the first weekly installment of Thursday Sunsets, where each week I’ll highlight a beautiful sunset from around the world. But we’ll start off local, with one of my absolute favorite places in the world, and the sunset that inspired this post.

Fire Island, NY:

Making Friends Over Fado Music

We had spoken to Ricardo, the concierge at the hotel who booked our trip to Lagos, about the Fado music he played, and he wrote down the name of the restaurant he was playing at on Thursday night, the night of our return from Lagos to Lisbon. He played there every week, but he warned us that there was a chance he wouldn’t make it this time because his wife was nine months pregnant. Still, with no cell phones or way to contact him, we decided to take a cab to the restaurant to see what kind of adventure we’d have there.

As our cab pulled up to the restaurant, I heard Randi speaking to someone out the window. I stepped out and saw a woman with a full pregnant belly, who ran up to us, kissed us on both cheeks and said, “Ricardo, these are the girls you told me about? Oh I’m so glad you came!”

Ricardo and Elena led us into the restaurant, and Elena sat with us as Ricardo went to set up his guitar with the other musicians. It was a small restaurant, with only about 10 tables inside. Everyone in this restaurant clearly knew each other very well and looked at us quizzically, wondering why these foreign strangers had come to join in their weekly Fado tradition. Elena introduced us to our waitress, Matilda, and then suggested we order the cod. I was so sick of cod by this point in the trip, but I really wanted to take her up on this recommendation, so I agreed.

Elena told us about her upbringing in a small town outside of Naples, Italy, and how she met Ricardo while working in Ireland. He won her over by playing an acoustic version of “Hit Me Baby One More Time” on his guitar one night in their hostel. Elena was engaged to someone else back in Italy, but after meeting Ricardo, she decided to marry him instead. They had a traditional wedding near Elena’s family in Italy, but they now live in Lisbon, close to Ricardo’s family.

Before the music started, Elena prepared us for exactly what was about to happen, which we were so grateful for. The tradition of playing Fado music is very different than anything I’ve seen in America. The closest form of music I can compare it to is opera. After our meal was served, the lights in the restaurant were dimmed, everyone grew completely quiet and the four men softly began playing their Fado guitars – these beautiful, round bodied string instruments. A man from the audience stood up and began singing a slow, emotional tune, which I was fascinated by, but Elena whispered to us that he was one of the worst Fado singers in their group. Other singers from the audience took their turns, performing about three songs each. Then, to our surprise, our waitress, Matilda, took her turn. Once this petite woman began singing such an emotional, moving piece, Randi and I finally understood why Fado was such an incredible art form. She put her entire soul into this performance, conducting the entire thing with her eyes closed, and bringing the entire restaurant to tears. Elena told me that earlier this year, Matilda had lost her husband to cancer, and this was her way of expressing her grief. I couldn’t understand the words, but I could feel how much Matilda ached by listening to her song.

We eventually finished our meal and said goodbye to the group, and Ricardo and Elena drove us back to the hotel. We hugged them and thanked them profusely for giving us this amazing, truly unique and authentic Portugese experience on our last night in Lisbon.

We left for New York the next day, and our vacation was over, but Randi and I now have lifelong friends in Portugal.  Two weeks later, we got an email that baby Francesco was born, weighting 3.320 kg, and the family couldn’t be happier.

Lagos: A Rocky Finish

We’re overjoyed to wake up in our new hotel the next morning to see sun shining over the marina.  This is our beach day, and it doesn’t take us long after doing a bit of shopping in town (supporting a local artist and his wife) to find an outdoor café overlooking a beautiful sandy beach.  We eat a breakfast of eggs and freshly squeezed orange juice, and walk down the steep steps to join the other sunbathers on this beach.  Randi suggests we stay at this beach all day, but I’ve heard people talking about the Pont de Piedade, and I have this strong feeling that it might be worth checking out.  I push her to come with me to try and find this sight, the western most point in the Algarves.  We ask a local shop owner how far of a walk it is, and he tells us 20 minutes.  So we begin our trek.

As we clearly exit the beach town and find ourselves wandering into what looks like the local business/abandoned homes area, we find ourselves completely lost and unsure of how to get to our destination.  We stop at a real estate office, because we figure, hey, if they sell homes in Lagos, they probably know how to get to places in the area.  Wrong.  Three of the workers standing out front on their cigarette break have never heard of this Point de Piedade.  But they all speak perfect English, which is incredibly helpful.  Luckily, there’s a British man inside the office who comes out to help us.  Why the Portugese natives didn’t know where this place was but the British fellow did, we’ll never know.  But we’ll go with it.  He looks at us quizzically when we tell him our destination, and laughs when he realizes we’re trying to get there on foot.  We’re directed back to town, where we are to take a taxi or a public bus.  After our experience with the public bus in Cascais, we opt for the taxi.

Our second try – we take the taxi up to our destination, and the driver leaves us off at what looks like an abandoned cliff, with only two shops standing out front – one selling souvenirs, one selling pizza.  She tells us to be careful and not walk too close to the edge.  We realize what she’s referring to as we walk towards the edge and see that we’re at the top of a ridiculously steep set of rocky stairs with no railing.  My fear of heights kicks in, but we’ve made it here on our second try, and we have to see it through after all this effort.  I climb down the steps, crouching just enough to have my hand next to me for balance at all times.  Randi is walking in front of me (below me?), and reaches a break in the steps.  She looks out and calls up to me.

“Amy, you’re really going to like this.”

I do my awkward crouch-walk down to where she’s standing, and look out.  Before me is the most beautiful natural scenery I’ve ever encountered.  It literally makes me gasp, and I now understand the meaning of the word breathtaking.  There’s no way I’ll ever be able to describe this in words, so here are some photos.

We continue climbing down these steps to get a better look.  Every point we stop at is more glorious than the next.  When we reach the bottom, we park ourselves on what seems to be a dock that no one else is currently occupying.  We sit, staring in awe at these grottoes, a magical aquatic fantasy that we seem to have found ourselves in.  Randi comments that this is certainly the grand finale of our Portugal trip.  It was definitely the most visually stunning thing we saw on the trip, but our cultural grand finale was still a few hours away.