The Reason to Go Back

Wrapping up Month Two of Remote Year with a bang (although rather than a bang,  the sound is ocean waves crashing combined with Kanye tunes on a ukulele, with overtones of rooftop whisky).

I’m having trouble with words today but I really wanted to explain Portugal in all its amazingness.  Someone described Lisbon as if the city has a secret hidden in plain sight, waiting for you to discover it.

The roads and walkways are done with a Portuguese pavement, which is small flat-ish stones arranged like a mosaic.  This is both beautiful and treacherously slippery.

Lisbon’s downtown is hilly, which means you can come upon a vista out of nowhere.  Pleasant surprise!

One of my favorite spots is the Time Out Market, which is a big hall that brings together a lot of the local restaurants in a shared space.  You can go with a group and each eat something from a different food shop – just be prepared to hunt for a seat.

But what’s going to bring me back to Portugal isn’t Lisbon alone, but the surrounding towns.  Easily accessible by train or car, these places are what make Portugal so fascinating.

I spent a weekend in Porto, the home of Port wine, bridges, and a landscape that rises from the river as if it’s 2 dimensional; colorful and begging to be explored.

My favorite part of Porto we stumbled upon accidentally-on-purpose.  My friends and I heard some music drifting down a small walkway, and decided to follow our ears.  We ended up at a street market with gorgeous art (my weakness!) and some stupid good sandwiches.

No available sandwich pictures, they were demolished too fast

I have so many other places I’d like to eventually explore in Portugal – like the fishing town Ericeira and the breathtaking Lagos.  I always say you need a reason to come back and explore somewhere more (the reason I’ve been to Nevada four times and still haven’t gotten a picture with the Welcome to Las Vegas sign) so I don’t mind that I didn’t hit all of the hot spots.  Portugal, I’ll see you again.  Xoxo

Next stop:  Morocco!

Connecting with a New Country

I’ve been in Portugal for about 6 days now and while I settled into my accommodations immediately, it’s taken me a while to get a feel for the country itself.

Remote Year has us in student housing – aka a dorm community – which I am right at home with.  It’s bringing back lots of memories from Bucknell University, my alma mater.  My current room may contain less textbooks and cheap vodka than my 2005 freshman dorm, but it’s just as cozy, minimalistic, and private.  We have shared kitchens on each floor and a big kitchen, common area, and rooftop terrace on the 6th floor.  Being an extrovert, I gain energy from being around other people so I am particularly loving this set-up.

But Lisbon itself had me a little … wonky.  It’s not in-your-face beautiful like Valencia, but still has an allure and charm. We’re living and working north of the city center/downtown which has a bit more flavor, but it’s only a 20 minute trudge up and down hills to get there.  (I’m being sarcastic – walking is the way to go!  Work those glutes.)  I’ve had plenty of fun moments so far this week — watching the Euro 2016 win in a crowded plaza was incredible — but a lot of them had more to do with my RY family and less with our new home.  Minus the grandma at a local restaurant dancing around with a potted plant on her head.  That was all Portugal.

Anyway, I missed out on the Remote Year city orientation (attending a sweet wedding) which may explain a bit of my Lisbon acclimation difficulty, or maybe that’s just an excuse.  I spent most of my first weekend in Portugal sleeping (wake up at noon, get food, back to sleep)  or working random hours, and started to become a little worried that (A) I was sick, or (B) that I’d never find routine here.  Happily, I ended up with option (C) give yourself a break and adjust in your own way, Casey.

So that’s what I did.

I spent yesterday afternoon on the back of a scooter, winding around Sintra, driving past castles and along the coast with some adventurous friends.  Wind whipping, bright sun, crashing waves, accidental horn honks, and wet labyrinth tunnels got me appreciative of just being there.  No pressure to see every landmark, climb every castle or summit, or to eat in every restaurant or find the best cafe.  I’m not here as a tourist, after all.  I’m here to be a part of the local culture, to live and work and go out and see exactly what I want to see, nothing more and nothing less.

My To-Dos for the month:

  • Take a surf lesson (my high school short board skills are definitely gone)
  • Eat my weight in Pasteis de Nata, an egg custard pastry
  • Head to Porto this weekend
  • Spend more time downtown
  • Find lightweight pants for Morocco (next stop)


Repacking the Suitcase

I went home at the start of July for a bomb wedding and had the opportunity to evaluate the possessions that will stay with me for the rest of my Remote Year journey – unless of course I lose it, break it, or share it.

What I Have Not Used So Far:

  • Sweater
  • Jackets
  • Cold weather clothing of any kind
  • Wedge heels (only wore twice)

What I Rely On:

  • Black maxi dress
  • All of my other shoes
  • Shorts
  • Jeans
  • Patterned tops

My theory in packing was to rely on neutral colors and styles for tops and bottoms.  This, as a theory, makes sense.  I’m wearing the same clothes every other week, so no need to stand out.  However, in practice this does not make me feel cute, attractive, stylish, or fun.  So I’ve swapped my gray, black, and white tops for things with a bit more flair to make me feel GOOD about what I’m wearing.  Because that’s what dressing is all about – to make you feel like a rockstar.

Plus, everyone on this trip is wearing the same clothes over and over.  It’s a non-judgemental group here with Remote Year Magellan, so there is absolutely no reason to be self-conscious about wearing my Oh My God Becky tank top every two weeks.

So, I went through every item in my suitcase (clothes, electronics, tchotchkes) and made hard and fast decisions while holding them a la “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” (a great read by the way, if you’re into that sort of thing).  Other items I ditched included my iPad which I never used, the wedge heels, and my hair dryer, curling iron, and straightener.  For those last three, I realized I was wearing my hair wavy every day which is (1) easy, (2) quick, and (3) comfortable — it’s dang hot in a lot of the places I’m going and blasting my face with heat is about the last thing I want to do.  And I reasoned that if I were to ever want to do my hair differently, I have friends who share.

Side note: I’ve used both my spork AND my headlamp in Portugal. I’ll call that a win.


Pile of items left behind. Why did I think I would use a resistance band?!



A Wedding and FOMO

Feeling a whole lotta crazy as I sit here at the airport.  And not just because I’m traveling from Philly to DC to London to Lisbon.

I attended my cousin Caitlin’s wedding to her German man Derek this weekend and I don’t think I’ve ever been to a wedding where every single person was on the dance floor by the second song.  As my uncle put it “This family really needed a wedding.”   From the sick dance moves performed by my 16 year old cousin Mitch, to the ridiculous garter toss, to the moment when my cousins Ryan and Tyler walked their very proud Mama Suzanne down the aisle, to the series where all grandsons twirled my Nana around like she was a ballerina, it was a blast all around.

As Maid of Honor and a self-proclaimed badass, I gave a toast to the newlyweds.  And because I am so proud of Cait and Derek and the way they shared their love with me, I wanted to share my speech with you. 

Welcome!  My name is Casey Carr-Jones and I am Maid of Honor and cousin of the bride.  On behalf of Caitlin and Derek, I’d like to thank you for attending this amazing celebration of their marriage!

I’ve known Caitlin since she was born, and in between the matching outfits and last minute sleepovers, we were fast and close friends.  A lot of my favorite memories with Caitlin are our time spent down the Jersey Shore in Stone Harbor, which is a place where Nana and Grandad have been taking our Moms since they were little.  The building where our families live is about a block away from the local fire department, which as you can imagine is quite busy during the summer with all the fireworks and barbeques.  Anytime someone called in to report a fire, the fire whistle sounded and the entire fleet of firetrucks would whizz off to attend to the fire (in many times would be a false alarm).  

Now little Caitlin had an obsession with anything loud and obnoxious, and she quickly fell in love with the fire station.  Anytime the fire whistle went off, Caitlin would run to the corner, watch the fire trucks head out, and she would chase them to try and spy on the fire.  It doesn’t matter if it was 10am and we had just gotten to the beach, or 5pm during dinner, or even in the middle of the night.  If the whistle went off, she was running.

A lot of her other girl cousins started to join her on these sprints, myself included.  We would run to the fire (or non-fire), spy for a few minutes, and walk back.  It was on these walks that Caitlin and I would share details about the goings-on in our lives.  It was on one of these walks that Caitlin started talking to me about this guy named Derek.  Now, I had heard Derek’s name for several years because they were in the same friend circle, but this time it was a little different, more serious.  A big crush.  And then later that summer, the day they both left to attend separate colleges in fact, they started to date.

I, the well-meaning older cousin, tried to give Caitlin advice.  Don’t do it!  I said.  Definitely don’t go to college with a boyfriend.  It’ll never work out.

Now I ate my words continually during the course of your relationship and I have to say how happy I am that you two fought through a long distance relationship and have grown so much as a couple.

Caitlin, you are my best friend, my confidante and sidekick.  You are so patient, positive, silly, and go-with-the-flow.  You make it so easy to be your friend and you never have a bad word to say about anyone, except maybe Ryan or Tyler.  I am so thrilled that you met Derek and that you decided to spend the rest of your lives together.  Derek, you are so protective and sweet to Caitlin, and it’s almost unbearable how generous the both of you are to others and to eachother.

I know that when Caitlin gets up to do something spontaneous like chasing a fire truck, Derek is the kind of guy who will lace up his sneakers.  And if either of their sirens goes off in a time of need, I know the other will come running.
So I’d like to propose a toast: to Derek and Caitlin, to firetrucks and forever.

And now, airport FOMO has set in.  I mean REALLY set in.  Luckily, I was very busy with weddingness and a Stone Harbor, NJ vacation with my uber-awesome family so I hardly had time to keep up with emails and messages from my fellow Remote Year squad, but now I realize that everyone’s had one extra week.  One more week to bond. One more week to learn about each other. To explore Lisbon.  To take sweet Instagram photos with #nofilter.  I would never have missed this week for the world, but it’s still scary to rejoin a group that I only recently met.  I just hope that I can fit in as well as I *think* I did in Valencia.  Here goes nothing!

A Quickie in Valencia

After one month of living in Valencia, Spain through the Remote Year program, I believe that I could live here happily for years. But I also believe that one can visit this city for 5 days and really get a sense of the culture and flavor.

I know a few people who refuse to travel long distances unless they can stay for 2 weeks.  THIS IS IRRATIONAL and usually just an excuse.  Be brave, little Piglet.  If you keep waiting until you have enough vacation days or until you have enough money to stay at that 5 star hotel, you’ll never make it.  You’ll just end up using your days off to watch tv or run errands, and will spend your money on less meaningful vacations.  Place more value in world travel.  Take the red eye and get a move on.

So why do you want to follow my advice instead of just consulting Trip Advisor, Yelp, or Google? Cause I did it.  I tried some really crappy places too – I went to overpriced tourist-trap restaurants by accident and even sat down to tacos and waited an hour before realizing that in fact, we did not communicate properly to not only say we wanted tacos, but that we’d like them today please.  Gotta love Spain.

Here’s why I love Valencia:

  • Manageable layout: Valencia is flat, big enough to have neighborhoods with different vibes but small enough to walk from end-to-end.
  • Friendly locals: They may not know much English but they will work with you (with a smile) to get on the same page.
  • Sunny and consistent weather.
  • Great sleeping/eating patterns.  5 meals a day, sleep in, siesta, and stay out late.  If you come from the east cost, you can just stay in that time zone without much jet lag.


A few notes:

  • This itinerary assumes an overnight flight on Tuesday night.
  • Breakfast:9am / Almuerzo (second breakfast): 11am / Lunch: 1:30pm / Afternoon Snack: 6pm / Dinner:9pm
  • All shops and restaurants close between 2 and 5, and nothing is open on Sundays.  Plan accordingly.
  • Recommended hotel/hostel location: Either in El Carmen which is old city and near many plazas and cathedrals, or Russafa which is south of El Carmen and more trendy.



Arrive in Valencia in the morning, attempt to check in to hotel or just leave your bags at the front desk

Ease yourself in with a Paella de Valencia from La Lola.  Note that Paella de Valencia contains chicken, rabbit, and sometimes snails.  You can also order with just chicken, or seafood, or vegetarian.  It’s okay if you feel super full afterwards – lunch is meant to be the heaviest meal of the day.


Dinner outside at La Plaza de la Reina – pick any restaurant that can seat you outside.  Order tapas and enjoy the fact that it stays light until 10pm.  Order an Augua de Valencia (local cocktail) and enjoy the sunset.


Breakfast @ Bluebell Cafe in Russafa – a fave of many Remotes, which has tasty coffee, smoothies, and mimosas, delicious chai bowls, and my fave: avocado toast on rye.  Followed by carrot cake.  And more coffee.

Walking tour! I didn’t do this til my last week and it was a blast.  There are several options, I went through for the Old City tour and saw the central market and Valencian cathedral among others.  These tours are free but you should tip the guide at the end because most likely the tour was a combo comedy/history show. Absolute must-do.

Hungry for lunch?  Check out La Papardella which serves Italian with a Spanish twist and has a special lunch menu.  Only want a snack?  Grab a Churro @ Valor in the Plaza de la Reina.  Be sure to order with dipping chocolate.


Dinner – Picnic in the park (take the ramp down by Pont de Real and walk south).  Grab a baguette, meat (jamon/ham or chorizo) and cheese and a bottle of wine and head to the park.  Pro tip: bring a wine bottle opener and cups, and a big blanket to sit on.

Nightlife: If you’re walking south from the park, grab a craft beer at Tyris on Tap in el Carmen, or check out Olhops down in Russafa for a similar vibe.


Take the morning and explore the City of Arts and Sciences.  Walk around the giant modern buildings, try the museum or the aquarium or planetarium.

In the afternoon, hit the Beach – hail a cab, ask the driver to drop you at Playa Malvarrosa.  The blue and white huts along the beach serve Heineken and some snacks.  Plenty of restaurants along the water to pop in for a late lunch.


Dinner at La Finestra – you have little-to-no control over what type of pizza you’re getting, but prices are amazing and the atmosphere is locals-only.

Umbracle – finish dinner around 12pm and walk over to the Umbracle, which is in the City of Arts and Sciences you saw this morning.  You’ll find it has transformed overnight into a club scene.  Note that locals don’t show up until 3am but if you want to avoid a line and the crazy crowds, it’s okay to arrive a little early and enjoy your drink before the music really starts pumping.


Pop into that pastry shop or cafe you’ve been eyeing all week for breakfast.

Head over to Carrer de Colon for a little shopping and exploring.  Pop into Zumm Salads for a lighter meal (for a change).


Dinner @ Gordon 10 – this is a nice steak place disguised as an English pub.  Order the price fixe steak dinner – you will not regret it.  ~30 euro will get you multiple courses, steak, plus dessert plus a bottle of wine.  Bueno.


Travel day, departure.

So there you have it.  A solid long weekend in a beautiful city in Spain.  Now get those flight alerts going and make it happen!