Cruisin’ on Porto’s Douro River

A Place Stuck in Time (that’s a good thing)

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Porto, or Oporto, is Portugal preserved. Simply put, it’s an awesome place. An old city with a Venice-like character to it, but without so many waterways, except for the Douro River.

It’s the Douro River that makes Porto so cool. They’ve made an industry out of river cruises. Down at the main river launch, which is easy enough to find, you can choose from a short, half-hour trip around the immediate area for €10-€20, or you can reserve a luxury cruise that lasts a lot longer, for a lot more money.

A 30-minute boat ride is easy enough to find since there are plenty of private charter boats that will take people cruising around the river while blasting Portuguese pop music on deck. Cheap, fun, unconventional. Enjoy it.

Cold War Memories from Berlin

For History Buffs, a Must See

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Today, Berlin is the thriving capital of a modern nation, but its recent history puts it at the front line of the Cold War, where East met West. Literally.

Relics of Europe’s communist era are scattered throughout the city, from remains of the Berlin Wall to Checkpoint Charlie, perhaps the world’s most famous crossing. These reminders are preserved to help us remember what the world was once like, and how close we came to ending it.

Anyway, on a lighter note, Berlin has great nightlife, friendly people, and great views of the city from its TV tower. If you’re lucky, you can find re-enactors at Checkpoint Charlie dressed up and walking around as Soviet and East German “officials”, selling you related merchandise, like a reproduction East German visa.

More about Checkpoint Charlie

Build a Molecule: How Belgium Welcomed the Nuclear Age

Biggest. Molecule. Ever.

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The Atomium. This one’s right up there with atomic cars, moon bases by 1960, and computers that run the house (at least they got that one right, didn’t they?)

Remember the 1950s, when nuclear power was cool but barely understood? The Atomium was the culmination of the public’s fascination with this relatively new discovery.

Built for the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, this massive, shiny amalgamation of giant spheres and tubes symbolized a new technical age of the nuclear variety. In its infancy, nuclear power was seen as the answer to the world’s energy problems. It would even take us to the stars, so it seemed only natural to build a monument to it. As controversial as nuclear power is, one can’t deny how telling the Atomium is of a different time.

Sadly, the Atomium doesn’t seem to get much attention outside of Belgium these days. And since Belgium is a popular spot for foreign backpackers and weekend tourists alike, we couldn’t NOT feature it. The views are spectacular, even if you visit on a bitter cold, cloudy winter day like we did. Then again, how many people can say they’ve been inside–and to the top of–a giant molecule?

There’s a restaurant inside, too.

Atomium’s official website (English version)

All the Way Up

Imagine Scaling a Skyscraper

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When we visited Vancouver (our favorite Canadian city) a few summers ago, we wanted to do something extreme, so we went to Grouse Mountain. It’s not a completely vertical climb to the top, but the abnormally steep, two-mile trail is, in one word, challenging. There’s a reason the trail is called the Grouse Grind. Grouse Mountain itself is a popular ski destination in the winter, although we recommend the ski lifts for that.

Located across the harbor in North Vancouver, the Grind is not Everest, but it’s definitely not the bunny trail, either. It’s actually dangerous (see yellow sign image), so climb at your own risk and please be safe. By the time we got to the top, we were drenched in sweat. Good thing we rode the cable car sky tram back down.

Are you up to it?

Learn more at the official website