Ecuador!

Had on time and uneventful flights on COPA from Miami to Panama City to Guayaquil. Lovely meals served on both and discovered that Guava Juice and Rum is a tasty cocktail!

After a short taxi ride to the combo shopping mall/food court/bus station and a little bit of difficulty in finding the ticket office, we boarded our bus to Cuenca. Because Ecuadorians are relatively small, we bought 4 seats to make sure we had leg room. They assigned us the front row so we had extra. I guess we traveled business class the whole trip!

The ride from the coast up to 8399 feet took about 3.5 hours but it was beautiful. The picture at the top of his post was just after we left the city. The rest are as we rode up higher and higher. Lots of switchbacks. I can only imagine how beautiful without the fog in must be in some places. At two places vendors literally jumped on the moving (albeit slowed down) bus and rode a bit. One had ice cream and two others had baskets of empanadas and other pastries. They then jumped off and I guess rode a different bus back to their starting point? We passed huge fields of sugar cane and bananas and/or plantain trees. At roadside stands we saw those, pineapples (hanging upside down), dragonfruit and tons of pumpkin and other goards.

Unfortunately we hit at Friday rush hour when we got to Cuenca so it took another 45 minutes to get through town to the bus station. Then a short taxi ride to our Airbnb and we can finally have a real night of sleep! We did go around the corner and have dinner from a Mom, Pop and 3 kids stand? Stall? Former Living Room? Around the corner. Had two skewers (one pork and pork sausage, the other turkey and chicken) with rice, lentils (or some bean that looks like a lentil) potatoes and plantains. Along with two warm cokes our total bill came to $6!

We are now back in the apartment and this is our view of the cathedral from our balcony.

More later…but after 57 hours of traveling with only a 2 hour plane nap and a 4.5 Hotel sleep, I am going to bed! ‘Night

Miami.

Will do a full post at some point soon about our Swiss flight. But we have landed in Miami in a thunderstorm so we are sitting on the tarmac waiting for the ground stop to be lifted.

In case you were wondering…

Swiss cheese doesn’t have holes! (At lease not all the time)

Landed in Zurich about 40 minutes late. Just fast walked from one end of the airport o the middle, down escalator wait with 400 others for passport control, down more escalator, wait for train, ride fun train with cows and yodeling sounds for three minutes, then up two sets of escalators and another fast walk almost back to where we started and now at the gate. Our outbound flight is late so we we could of slow walked. Lol

Just boarded this Airbus 330-300. And now waiting for everyone else to file aboard. Looks like we are going to be 30 minutes or so late leaving. Presuming of course we don’t have to sit on the taxiway again.

But in this seat I won’t mind to much I don’t think…especially if they keep the champagne (and it is Champagne-not sparkling) coming!

And the food looks like it will be tasty. The items with the chefs hats have been designed by some famous Swiss Chef. Maybe he will have some holey cheese on the plate!

And there is ice cream to go with the movie!

And then an arrival meal too!

Just announced we are going to be almost an hour late leaving but at least we will get to Miami before midnight. Supposed to arrival now about 6 I think. Hmmm, maybe we will get that compensation after all!

Aboard!

After a long night we were thrilled when the Swiss counter agent took our bags very early (5:45?) which allowed us to head for the lovely SAS lounge and have a shower! OMG I felt human again.

We just boarded our ride to Zurich and here’s hoping the rest of our journey to Cuenca is a little less eventful (and stressful) than the last leg.

Please don’t let troubles come in threes!

Greeting from Copenhagen airport at 3:24 am on 6/28/18.

So due to poor planning on my part, we “planned” to spend Mike’s birthday traveling from Porto to Copenhagen via Lisbon to catch our 6 am flight back to Lisbon that then connected to our flight to Miami.

All went great departing Porto, great Uber driver, nice lounge at the airport, great flight to Lisbon including ice cream!

While sitting in the lounge in Lisbon, our flight suddenly pops up with a “delayed-news at 7. Oh well let’s have another drink. Then got a notice we could check in for our Copenhagen-Lisbon-Miami flights. So I started to do so. Wait a minute, it says our flight from Copenhagen tomorrow morning is going to be two and a half hours late leaving…which meant we would miss our connection in Lisbon to Miami.

So I go speak to the Lounge Lady, ” sorry sir I can’t help you, go to the transfer desk”. After helping the transfer desk agent understand that I would like to just overnight in Lisbon, he says “oh you’ll have to go out of security to the check in desks, I can’t help you” since my system doesn’t show that flight being delayed. About this time Mike texts from in the lounge that our flight to Copenhagen is now sorta back on schedule and is now boarding. Jeez! Make up your mind. So we decide we better stay with our checked luggage and we will deal with the morning flight craziness in Denmark.

So we OJ through the airport, get on a bus, ride miles…they literally had a traffic circle out on the tarmac! And finally boarded our plane.

Had a great flight and good meal…no really, the chicken with mashed potatoes in a mustard sauce was very tasty. Of course no birthday cake for Mike, dessert was jello….almost a hospital meal. Maybe preparing us for the next stage in our lives?

Anyway, spoke to the purser who said the crew on tonight’s flight was the crew for our morning flight back to Lisbon and he didn’t have any word they would be late. Hmm, maybe our flight will be on time and all this stress is for nothing.

Since there are no airport personnel working at 11:50pm when we get into the airport, I decide it’s time to call. After several dropped calls and 20 minutes on hold we are offered a change that gets us to Miami at midnight rather than 2:30. Since we have a 5 am departure headed to Ecuador that would mean a second night spent at an airport. We decided we needed to think about that for a bit.

We did and decided that given the boarding passes we printed showed an 8:30 departure that even if the plane and crew were ready at 6 that all the Danes who had checked in wouldn’t show up until closer to the published boarding time and that if we waited until we got to Lisbon to change to the other flight that we might not get seats in biz class which we paid for (albeit at bargain rates-that is why we have to fly from Copenhagen afterall).

So after I was on hold for 30 minutes, Mike calls on his phone and after only 10 minutes of Muzak he makes arrangements for us to take the previously offered flights. As the conversation is ending, he asks the nice agent for instructions on claiming the 600 euros per person compensation that the EU requires Airlines pay if you arrive more than 3 hours behind schedule. She tells him to speak to the transfer desk in Lisbon! Arrgh

A few minutes later, while I am literally on the phone with our Miami Hotel to cancel our room, Mike’s phone rings. It seems TAP has rebooked us on Swiss Air from Copenhagen to Zurich onward to Miami so that we arrive…wait for it…..exactly 3 hours late!

So, rather than sitting in a biz cabin that is 2+2+2 with angled flat seats we will be in a 1+2+1 cabin with full lie flat seats. And given how tired I am at the moment (4:30 am) I think they will be well used! And since I hadn’t finished the Hotel cancelation we will hopefully get some sleep before heading back to the airport on Friday morning.

Here’s hoping that the old adage that trouble comes in threes isn’t true. This one has been more than enough!

Porto Week 2

Had a fun albeit steamy week. The temperatures reached into the 80s and without an air conditioner we took the advice of Vasco, our Airbnb host and became “best friends with the fan”. There were only two days when we considered finding s hotel room for the evening but in the end a cool shower and our best friend nearby we were able to make it through.

On Wednesday we were up bright and early (what’s that? Oh crap it’s the alarm clock) to be at the train station by 7:45. We road west for about two hours where we boarded a tri leveled scenic cruising boat (looks like they can do large dinner cruises) for the ride back down the Douro to Porto.

The valley is known for its wine production and the hills were terraced with grape vines everywhere.

We were served a nice lunch aboard (in air conditioning!) so Mike and I spent a good bit of time there enjoying the cool. We were seated with a nice Swedish couple and had a great time discussing everything from healthcare and education, Trump and IKEA.

The trip downstream was broken up at three places by dams with locks. The highest is over 34 meters tall. The others are under half of that.

We also went under a slew (it’s a scientific term-look it up) of bridges including the ones closer to Porto. Other than the iconic one in all the Porto pictures, there was this one designed by Eiffel. The most amazing thing about all of them is how tall they are-well except one very low one.

We finished our day by walking across the big bridge and enjoying a cocktail in Gaia. This is the town where port was traditionally aged (cuz it was cooler???). Now all the port companies have tasting rooms and tours. We elected to enjoy our White Port & Tonic and Ruby Port Fruity cocktail (with some Olive Tampanade and Octopus toast) while people watching and lookin across the river to Porto.

After laundry day on Thursday, we rode the metro/tram 20 minutes or so out to Matosinhos, a suburb on the coast. We enjoyed walking through the market-the first floor is all seafood while the mezzanine includes stalls with vegetables, flowers and live chickens, turkeys and rabbits. I thought it interesting that there were no men selling or cleaning fish. I suspect this is a remnant if the old tradition that the men caught the fish and the women made sure to make some money from them!

After a coffee and roll stop, we walked through the town towards the wide beach here passing many restaurants across the street from the municipal marina getting ready for lunch by firing up their grills. Unfortunately it was rather early so we weren’t able to partake.

We were impressed with the beach and it’s promenade and saw several places that we thought would make a great retirement place. Especially because Matosinhos is FLAT! There is an interesting sculpture at the beach memorializing 72 fisherman lost during a storm. It is based on a painting of those left behind agonizing for those lost. I found it interesting that the artist included the Portuguese widows cankles.

We continued along the waterfront south towards the mouth of the Douro passing a fort as well as an interesting artwork over a huge traffic circle. It is made out of netting based on the inspiration of the Portuguese fishing nets.

Eventually we reached La Foz de Douro. This town is located where the river meets the Atlantic and is where Porto’s wealthy had (have?) second homes. We entered Foz through its Pergola along the water.

We stopped and had a delicious lunch across from the promenade. As usual we split everything. We started with a Caesar salad (meh), our final grilled octopus-tasty but not as good as some others, and risotto with asparagus and shrimp-it was incredible!

We then continued towards Porto along the riverfront until we finally decided it was time to get off our feet. We got on the bus and after a change in the center of town we’re dropped just down the street from our apartment. So only had one small hill that day but we got in 5.5 miles!

Porto’s big festival is held for St John (The Baptist) day. All week long we saw people setting up stages, banners, flags for it and noticed souvenir sellers had lots of plastic hammers and florists had these really tall stalks with an onion at the bottom and a huge purple flower sphere at the top. Turns out these are two of the three traditions of the Sao Joao Festival-the other being grilled sardines of course!

After some research we learned that the evening of June 23rd each year is the biggest party night of the year. Everyone gets together and eats sardines, heads toward the river “blessing” you with their leek (that flower) and bopping you on the head with the plastic hammer. By midnight both sides of the river and everyplace with a view is packed with partiers and at midnight there is a huge fireworks display from the bridge and from barges in the river. It is like New Years Eve and Fourth of July in New York City all rolled into one.

After the fireworks there is a concert and then everyone heads to Foz along the riverbank stopping to drink, eat and dance with the goal of being on the beach at sunrise.

Well, your faithful correspondent knew that sunrise was impossible and that if he made it to the fireworks at the riverfront that he would be arrested for public sleeping since he knew there was no way he was going to walk the 2 miles all uphill from the river to the apartment. Where else do they name stairs???

look closely in the picture below for the stairs….and the poor girl climbing them!

So our plan was to go down earlier in the evening, take it all in and leave early enough to catch an Uber or the bus back up the hill. So we slept late, had lunch at home and left about 7 pm with the idea that we would find some food trucks (we are tired of grilled sardines) and have a bite to each. Unfortunately unlike Valencia and Lisbon where every intersection or small park becomes a carnival, it appears in Porto that EVERYTHING happens at the river. The only food available was in restaurants and they all had lines of folks waiting to get a table and eat…sardines of course. Additionally it was still very warm and had turned humid (it looked like it was going to rain all day but never did-intercession of St John I guess!). So after 30 minutes or so of downhill wandering we turned around and headed home. It felt like we were salmon going the wrong way. Everybody, kids, millennials, middle aged parents and the elderly were all moving downhill.

During our walk however we did get bopped but never leeked. My most memorable bopping was from the youngster in the picture who motioned me to bend over and then said yada yada yada selfie…hmm I tried to figure out what he was saying when he suddenly looked at me with the “you big dummy” look in his eyes and said Selfie Selfie Selfie!

After we got home we watched the parade (didn’t know about it) and fireworks on TV. It was a hoot watching the anchors calmly carry on while being hammer bopped.

After our lovely day seeing Matosinhos we decided we owed it to ourselves to see another beachside suburb so we went to the end of the metro line to Povoa de Varzim. The metro took almost an hour (5.60 euro roundtrip) and the second half of the trip was mostly through farm land with some villages here and there. Póvoa though is a larger town and it obvious is a popular beach resort in summer. But it still has a great square (half circle actually) in the older part of town-the bandstand reminded Mike of Stars Hollow for any fans of the Gilmore Girls. The smaller streets in the older part of town are pedestrian mostly and are lined with local shops -and a United Colors if Benetton of course but not a Starbucks in sight!

I had checked Trip Advisor before we left and as it was Monday a lot of restaurants were closed so we had to pass up the top three but I’m glad they were cuz #4 was great!We have been in Portugal for 4 weeks and this was by far our most memorable meal.

When we arrived at Piexiaria Barca we were a little concerned that we were the only patrons at 12:30. However, we shouldn’t have been worried-I think the cool overcast day and it being the Monday after a big party weekend in Porto meant there weren’t many diners. And it meant we got GREAt service and attention.

Amerigo greeted us warmly and we laughed our way through trying to communicate without speaking each other’s languages. After reading reviews we knew we were having seafood rice and thought we would have the monkfish. But Amerigo suggested the sole as being better that day so that’s what we ordered. We passed on starters as we have been disappointed in Portugal in the past when we can’t finish our entrees due to the large portions. We asked Amerigo to select a half bottle of wine for us and it was delicious. While we waited for our rice we enjoyed part of a delicious basket of bread and some processed cheese (the only flaw in an otherwise great meal). Suddenly Amerigo appeared with a plate of meat for us. OMG, delicious. It is called Salpicao and while often a mix of pork and beef, this was all beef. It is smoked and very wonderful. And it was complimentary! We tried to pay and he wouldn’t let us.

But the main dish was the star! While the sole was cooked perfectly and the rice tasty, it is (as another reviewer noted) the broth that is so incredible. Not fishy (at least in a bad way), salty, hint of saffron I think…anyway, we each had four bowls!Needless to say, no room for dessert.

We really enjoyed our meal and our time at Barca and will definitely go back if we make it back to Northern Portugal…which I hope we do.

After lunch we walked to the beach. It is very wide and has a wonderful promenade along its length. The street is lined with Cafes and other retail at ground level and mid rise apartment after mid rise apartment above and along the length.

We both agree that Póvoa is worth considering as a permanent residence. We could live there off season and rent it out during the hot summer when we want to be someplace cooler anyway. After strolling always, we headed back towards the metro arriving home around 6 pm. A fine day for our last day exploring Portugal.

Today we have been lazy except for packing our bags for our flight tomorrow to Copenhagen. We leave here at 2:30 and arrive there at 10:30 via Lisbon. You may recall that we are making this trek in the wrong direction in order to pick up our cheap biz class flights to Miami on our way to Ecuador.

So rather than lounging in a resort in Santorini for his birthday Mike gets to spend his schlepping luggage and sleeping in an airport. We have to check in for our flight (back to Lisbon) by 5am so we figure getting a hotel room for 4 hours is a waste.

As my brother Steve said, Mike needs to fire his travel agent and I agree with our friend Peggy, he now holds the “Golden Ticket”.

Porto Week 1

Hills, steps, hills hills and more steps and that was only Tuesday! Like Lisbon, Porto is just too hilly. Beautiful but too damn hilly.

We settled into our Airbnb which is on the top of a hill in a residential neighborhood about 3/4 mile from the city center and a mile from the river front. It has balconies off the bedroom (circled below) and the living room (front and back) but unlike the sunroom in Lisbon the living room view is of the neighboring apartment buildings.

There is a Lidl down the big hill (which means coming home loaded is a chore) and thankfully a smaller market just down the little hill on the other side. We are tending to eat one meal out and eat in for breakfast and the other. That’s the view up the big hill below:

We have tackled the hills and only called an Uber once to get us back. That was today when I got overheated probably from wearing a ball cap (and probably dehydrated). Below are some highlights from several days of sightseeing.

We used Rick Steve’s walking tours on two different days. The first one started at the center of Porto at City Hall Plaza. This plaza is lined with incredible buildings some of which are commercial and some residential.

We then walked to the University of Porto which is located on the same square as Porto’s first department store-Amazens Cunhs. It has incredible neon lights including a peacock on its arts deco (looks like Miami Beach) facade. I like the store’s tag line “new fashions-we sell cheaper”

On the next corner there are two churches, one for the Carmelite nuns and the other for the monks. They are separated by a tiny house so that they could move between the two without going out in public. The inside are beautiful with plaster and gold leaf but it is the exterior of one that is the showstopper. The traditional tile work tells the story of the founding of the Carmelite order.

On the way to our next stop we passed by the oldest bookstore in Portugal which was supposedly the inspiration for the interiors in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Since the success of Ms Rowling and the crowds in the store you can no longer wander into the store. You have to pay 5 euro which is credited to your purchase. We didn’t go in so if you want to see more of the interiors google Lello y Imao Bookstore like I did to get the second picture.

The next stop was Clerigos Church and Tower. The tower can be seen from all over town and the Church was the masterpiece of the architect who designed the Carmelite churches and several other buildings around Porto. We walked through a slash in a hill (yea! flatness) that was created when an underground parking garage was built. The top is a park and the slash is restaurants and shopping. Pretty nice way to camouflage an otherwise ugly structure.

The other tour Mr Steve’s took us on was not quite up to his standards. Basically it was a walk downhill to the river. The only real places of interest were the train station waiting room with it’s beautiful tiles telling the history of Porto from the Middle Ages and the Stock Palace which wasn’t really a stock exchange or a palace but was the office for the commercial association. Still it was a lovely walk downhill. Now the walk back up….not so much. We cheated and took a funicular part of the way…unfortunately it wasn’t far enough! The walk along the river was beautiful and lots of folks were enjoying the beautiful day.

We tried to visit the cathedral today, alas it is apparently closed for renovations but we got to see the outside. We also walked by the fanciest McDonalds in the world. It used to be the Imperial Cafe, it’s on the square in front of City Hall.

We have had some tasty meals this week. One day we had Francesinhas at the place Anthony Bourdain said they were best. This heart attack on a plate is a sandwich that includes ham, pork, steak and sausage with an egg on top that is covered in cheese and after it melts served with a slightly spicy slightly tomatoey sauce. There name translates as little frenchy. They are sorta like an over the top croque Madame. They can be found all over town. Quite tasty and very very filling. But even though I was stuffed, the waiter twisted my arm to try his favorite dessert, Cloud of Heaven. Basically some meringue topped with custard and cookie crumbs. Yummy.

Another day we had lunch at a nearby restaurant, Mike had “the Portuguese Kitchen” which was a pot of chicken, pork, sausage, pot roast, potatoes, cabbage and carrots. I had Brazilian picanha with black beans, rice, plantain, potatoes and greens. Needless to say we brought home leftovers.

On one of our Rick Steve’s day we ate at a local obviously worker class place. For 4.5 euros ($5.22) you got soup, choice of 10 mains, bread and a beverage -including a carafe of wine. I accidentally ordered liver (damn you google translate) and Mike had fish. It was all tasty and certainly budget friendly!

This week our plans are to check out the coastal suburbs-maybe they will be flat? And on Wednesday we are taking a train 2 hours up into the Duoro Valley and then cruising back down the river to Porto. We also will be walking across the bridge seen in the river pictures to Gaia which is where all the Port wine is aged.

Happy Father’s Day! I’m remembering mine (and trying to understand the pants and why he was wearing them on the beach!)