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!)

Porto

Arrived safe and sound yesterday evening after a lovely drive along the coast from Lisbon.

We stopped in one of the little fishing villages and had a delicious seafood lunch. After getting used to the big city prices of Lisbon we accidentally over ordered thinking the portions would be small given the village pricing. Oops-but somehow we ate it all! Marinated mussels as an appetizer, big salad, fish skewer (turned out it was two!) and rice with monk fish (turns out it included shrimp, clams, crab, and some lobster) in a delicious soupy sauce. All in for $48 including some delicious lemonade. Not a cheap lunch but we certainly got a good value. Next time we will know to only get one entree!

The airbnb apartment is as promised as are the hills in this city!

After unloading our stuff and returning the rental car. We walked (always uphill it seemed) to the Lidl and then back to the apartment. Had some veggie soup from the store and then made early night of it.

Today we are going to explore our neighborhood and find a Francesinha, one of the two dishes Porto is known for. The other is tripe which I already know isn’t my fav…hopefully this triple decked sandwich with cheese gravy will be!

Lisbon Week Two

Our second week in Lisbon has been quite enjoyable…well except for some fog and rain issues on Thursday…but we can’t complain.  We are three months into this adventure and we have only had two or three days of less than ideal weather and so far we haven’t had any days where it has been ll unlike Houston which hit 106 this week according to friends there. We had to find a long sleeved shirt in the unpacked bag, close windows and snuggle under the duvet to ward off the chill of this apparently unusual weather Lisbon is having this week. From what the locals have told us, it is at least ten degrees cooler than normal….we are not complaining!

Early in the week, we attempted to take the #12 tram to go up the hill to the fortress that overlooks Lisbon.  We took the bus into town (we have gotten comfortable using the local transportation) and found the tram stop. Of course we weren’t the only ones waiting for it and since the trams are so small and we wanted to be able to sit so we could see out the window we decided to go have lunch and catch a later one.  Of course we weren’t the only ones with that idea.   When we got back, there were even more people in line waiting.  So based on my understanding of the tram’s route, there was one stop before the main one where we (and the hordes were waiting).  So off we headed to it…..halfway there, GoogleMaps suddenly says we are going the wrong way, so we turn around and head a different direction….halfway there, it does it again.  I get frustrated – I mean its not like we are walking on easy sidewalks in a flat city.  Everything is either up or down a hill and the sidewalks here are stone pavers which while beautiful to look at are very slippery (thank goodness we haven’t had to walk on them in the rain) and uneven.  So instead, we just wandered around the center part of town and decided we would get to the fortress another day. Ah the joys of “slow travel” and not having to do everything right now.

During our wandering we went into the church of Sao Domingos which was heavily damaged by the 1755 earthquake.  From what we could see and learn from reading bit, the roof collapsed during mass killing a lot of worshippers.  In addition to the roof which as you can see was replaced, there was damage to the altar and other parts of the church.

We also went by the convent up on the hill which was not rebuilt after the earthquake. We would have taken the elevator (designed by a student of Eiffel) but the line was too long….but it does say something about how hilly a place is when your bus ticket is good for an elevator!

Once at the church we elected to not go in as they wanted 10 euros….to see the sky, nah, we are unemployed you know! LOL

We then planned on taking Tram 28 (the one we took on our first day) back towards our apartment with a stop at the local market for supper.  Alas, after waiting well past when it was supposed to come by and seeing locals give up, we decided to do the same.  We walked downhill towards the other market where we had a wonderful supper.

As usual we halved and halved our meal. We had cold tomato soup and hot “market vegetable” (mostly sweet potatoes I think), some croquettes, seared tuna with beets and sweet potatoes and cod with potatoes and greens. All were yummy!

After finishing our dinner, we took the bus back to our neighborhood and then walked up the hill to our apartment as our local bus was also running way behind schedule. It was a long frustrating day but while we did nothing that we had planned to do, we did see sights that were on our list and certainly met our walking goal for the day!

June in Lisbon is when they celebrate the Lisboa Festival which has a concert every night it seems (Katy Perry is the closing one on June 30th) and every square has at least one and sometimes multiple stalls set up grilling sardines and other tasty goodies.  We understand that on June 11 – St. Anthony’s Feast Day that these squares will be alive with music and fun.  Unfortunately that is the day we leave for Porto but most of the squares are already up and running a few nights a week.  So last Wednesday evening, we walked down the hill to the square nearest us and had dinner.  We each had a bowl of traditional and delicious Soda Verde (potato garlic soup with kale), a grilled sardine apiece and split a pork sandwich.  The sardines are bigger than what we get in the cans in the USA so you had to remove the bones.  They were really tasty but I sorta felt about them the way I feel about King Crab claws – good but not worth the work. LOL  There were a few others out in the square and they had recorded music playing from the stage where I presume a band will soon be.  I can only imagine how much fun we will be missing tomorrow night!

Thursday we used our rechargeable transportation ticket and headed northwest to Sintra.  This involved a walk to the train station located right below our apartment (if there was a zip line from our sun room we could be there in two seconds instead of the 15 minute walk), a train to the next stop where we transferred to another train which about 30 minutes later we arrived in the hill town.  There we bought a day pass on the circulator bus that went to all the sights.  Unfortunately as mentioned about, we had picked the wrong day weather wise to visit so we never got to see the view which purportedly allowed one on a clear day to see downtown Lisbon as well as the Atlantic Ocean.  However, the mist and clouds did add a certain mystique…especially to the Moorish Castle.

We started by visiting Pina Palace.  The palace was built in the late 1800s by one of Portugal’s princes who was a cousin of Prince Albert (you know, the one married to Queen Victoria).  He was also a contemporary and cousin of “Mad” King Ludwig and apparently wanted a romantic castle like his cousins.  He began by renovating a 16th century monastery using its cloister as the center point for the private apartments.  These were created by combining several monk’s cells and creating bedrooms and bathrooms (the first indoor flush toilet in Europe supposedly along with bathtubs and showers!).  These spaces are in the portion of the building that is reddish in the photographs.  The entertaining spaces are in the gold colored building and are a mishmash of architectural styles – renaissance, gothic, and even moorish!  I was impressed with some of the details – some were a bit overwrought but then so is the whole building. As has been the case through Portugal, the ceramic tile work is incredible.

We had hoped to walk through what appear to be absolutely beautiful gardens (you can see some of the plants above) to the Moorish Castle ruins a little lower down the hill.  Alas, the fog and mist had turned into full blown rain by the time we finished touring the palace so instead we took the bus back down to the center of town where we had intended to eat in one of the many local restaurants.  However, they tended to have very small interior dining spaces with huge exterior umbrellaed cafes for al fresco dining with views….however today those weren’t the places to eat.  So we ended up at Pizza Hut! I was just thankful there wasn’t a Taco Bell as I know Mike would have demanded we “dine” there.  And it was fun to have a refillable soda!

After lunch we boarded the bus and headed back up the hill to the Moorish Castle.  Thankfully the rain had stopped and there was only a drizzle.  We actually really enjoyed the walk (hike for us) to and through the castle ruins.  The grounds were beautiful and the mist and fog gave it a “Game of Thrones” feel.  We walked throughout the complex though I have to admit we only climbed up to one of the two towers – since we knew there was no view, we elected to not risk a broken hip (or worse-the crenelated walls were the only banister) by visiting both of them.

After the castle, we returned to the apartment and stopped in at an indian restaurant at the bottom of our hill.  We split a most wonderful garlic soup, some samosas, and a mango chicken dish.  It was so good (especially the soup on the chilly rainy day) that we went back the next night and got take-away!  After dinner we ended up riding our local bus up the hill as we had already walked over 5 miles and I was about to drop!

On Friday we visited two Airbnb apartments for our four day stay here with Mike’s mom in September.  One is in Belem (the town just west of Lisbon) and one in Lisbon. While we really loved the one in Belem – we both want to live there, it was unfortunately on two stories up a narrow staircase and the upper level had low ceilings (I couldn’t stand up in the shower or in half of the bedroom) whereas the other is about in the center of town, has a view of the river from its terrace and has an elevator. So, we have booked the place in town.  If however you ever want a beautiful apartment in Belem, let me know. The host was most kind and the place just lovely.

Before leaving Belem we had an early lunch at Pasteis de Belem-the bakery with the long lines for the tarts. After having had one (well at least one) I can say they are worth the wait. But we didn’t have to-we went inside and got a table (they have seating for 400 in their dining room and most tables were full) in their courtyard. Why anyone would wait in line I don’t know.

We had several (!) different morsels (including the Portuguese version of a Houston kolache) for lunch but OMG were the tarts tasty! They have a huge kitchen where they continually bake them so they are always warm and fresh from the oven. We also saw someone else with Mike’s grandmama’s sofa shirt!

June is when the jacaranda trees bloom here so everywhere there is a riot of purple-just beautiful!

Yesterday, we took the train to Cascais. This is the seaside town about 30 minutes west of here.  That’s a picture of the main beach at the top of this post. It is Lisbon’s beach community.  We really liked it.  It is the first place we have both said, “we ought to consider this for a long term locale.”

We had a wonderful lunch based on a Trip Advisor recommendation-the best moderate priced restaurant.  Sangria, Delicious tuna salad for a starter, greek salad, Bacalhau (the salt cod/potato casserole) and a whole octopus, and chocolate charlotte (with port) for desert – then the restaurant offered us either a sip of port or of a local almond liquor…we went for the liquor.  It was like amaretto but better!

After lunch, we wandered around Cascais and then along the paved beachfront esplanade to the next train station (about 30 minutes on foot) back towards Lisbon. On the train, we made notes about each of the towns along the train route so we can do some research if we decide this area is worthy of a return visit before we head back to the USA in November.  At first blush, I am afraid we may not be able to afford it, but I remain hopeful of finding an accomodation.

Today, we are going to pack and finalize our google maps (I hope they work better than the one we used downtown earlier in the week) for our drive to Porto tomorrow morning.  Presuming we get that done, we are planning on going out for lunch in search of the other traditional lisboa dish we haven’t yet had – Duck Rice.  I will probably do a short post about it if we find it.

Have a great week – pray or think good thoughts depending on your spiritualness tomorrow for our safe drive (EEK) to Porto!

Lisbon Week One

After arriving and settling into our AirBnb, we decided to take the iconic tram #28 which departs up the hill (yes, another town with hills….think Genova but with more ups and downs rather than just all up or down – ugh).  The ride is roller coaster in some places but we got to see some of the city.

Here is a video of part of the ride. You can’t tell how steep it is but the the higher the whine the steeper and faster we were going. Also watch Mike’s sleeve bouncing That’s whAt looks like Grandma’s sofa in the left corner of the frame, it’s a good indication of how much we were moving.

After arriving at the lower (flat) part of the city along the river, we had dinner at the old Market half of which is now a food hall/restaurant center priding itself on local chefs with star power at lower prices.

WOW, what a delicious meal!  We started with the appetizers that Portuguese restaurants put on the table without you asking but aren’t free! Below are (clockwise) marinated olives (eaten and paid for), tuna and anchovies “pate” (yummy on bread and paid for), some kind of soft cheese (didn’t try it but bought some at the supermarket-it’s ok)

Teen for the first time we had razor clams – omg, so good.

The octopus was braised and served with a roasted tomato slice, almonds??? and potatoes and was very good.

We also got to try the chefy version of Bacalhau which is a dish made of formerly salted cod, olives and potatoes.   It was very tasty and not at all fishy or salty which is what I was worried about. We are hoping to have the traditional version this week at a restaurant our waiter recommended. That one will have real black olives and not “dust”.

Thursday, we again headed uphill and went to the local neighborhood’s market which also has devoted a portion of the space to food stalls.  After buying some vegetables and lettuce for use at home, we had a late lunch – hamburgers!  We have both been craving one since they used to be a staple of our weekend eating and haven’t had one since we got off the ship on March 17th. Didn’t take any food porn there but here is the stall I hope to visit next time we are there!

On Friday, we got haircuts at the barber up the street (yes UP another hill) for the first time since we were in Milan.  While not quite the full family experience that was, it was fun and a third of the price and we both look a little less shaggy – me in particular!

That afternoon we went downhill (finally) and wandered through a nearby former warehouse/industrial area that has become a trendy multiuse development of startups, restaurants, food trucks and shops…felt very Portland.

We had delicious chicken, grilled veggies and chips along with really tasty iced tea.

Saturday, we took a cruise up and down the river.  What a great afternoon and early evening.

We went under the suspension bridge that is the view from our apartment twice. I really love the paintings on its foundations.

We also sailed by Belem, a neighborhood to the west of downtown that was originally the port for all the explorers we heard about in elementary school. We sailed by both the monument to them and the tower that was the last thing and first thing they saw of the old world.

Yesterday, we took public transportation west about 15 minutes to that town of Belem.

While there we visited the National Carriage Museum. Queen Amelia realized that with the advent of the motor car that carriages were going to become a relic of the past so in 1905 she started this museum.  It contains not only all of Portugal’s carriages but many from other countries as well as several early pope mobiles! One portion of the collection is housed in the beautiful old riding school while the larger part is in a new purpose built building. The intricate carvings on the coaches is amazing.

We then walked along the riverfront past the monument to the explorers – one side has sculptures representing DeGama, Magellan, etc. while the other portrays those who financed the voyages.

I had hoped we would have a pastel de nata (the stereotypical egg custard tart from Lisbon) from Pasteis de Belem where they were invented so I could compare them to the supermarket ones I tried. But the line down the street and around the corner wasn’t something I was willing to wait in.  Hopefully we will get by there during the week…and if not, we think we are going to try to stay in Belem when we are back in September with Mike’s Mom and surely then the line won’t be as long! <fingers crossed>

While in Belem we also visited the Monastery where the explorers used to pray before leaving to find the new world. The line for the cloister was longer than that for the pastries so we will see that in September but we did go into the church.   It is one of the few structures that remained after the big earthquake and has interesting details.  For example the ceiling over Vasca DeGama’s tomb is (as Rick Steves described) a veritable Scout handbook of knots.  At the main altar, the tombs of the kings and queens are held up by elephants which is Portugal were considered more royal than the lions used in most places.

The elephant also appears elsewhere in the city.  For example in the main square (Praca do Comercio) of Lisbon where we headed on the tram after leaving Belem, the statute of King Jose the 1st also includes elephants!

Before the earthquake this space held the palace, afterwards it was moved uphill and this space was created.  If you look at some of the pictures from our boat ride, you can see it from the water.  In addition to the (very) grand arch at its entrance there is a small beach here too.  It is the largest square in Europe.  This square is also where Carlos the first was assigned in 1908 while riding in one of the carriages we saw earlier in the day!

After wandering from the bus across the square to the beach, we had tapas and dinner at one of the cafes lining the square.  Once again octopus was the centerpiece – both as a cold salad and as a warm entree in olive oil with garlic along with some fries. Yummy!

So that catches me up….finally.

This coming week we hope to visit two Airbnbs under consideration for our stay when we are back with Mike’s mom, go up the hill to see the castle/fortress and take a different iconic tram ride through the hilly narrow streets – this one is #12.

We leave a week from today to Porto and have rented a car – it will be strange to be driving again after three months of letting others do it but we think it will let us see some of Portugal we wouldn’t otherwise see.

Have a great week!

Barcelonai

You may be saying to yourself, “Self, I don’t recall Clay mentioning Barcelona when he told me about his year of travel.” and you would be right!  We hadn’t planned on visiting Barcelona this trip (well at least once we decided we couldn’t afford to spend our month in Spain there).  But Mike’s brother Chris and his wife Jen along with their daughter Rebecca and her boyfriend Karol (Pronounced Karl – he is polish) decided to celebrate Rebecca’s graduate school graduation with a week in Barcelona.  We had to get from Sofia to Lisbon and that entailed a stop somewhere and Barcelona was just as good as Milan and lots better than Frankfurt, so we modified our Airbnb stays and spend four nice days with them.

We arrived at the Hotel Rec (which Chris found and we loved) around 8 pm on Saturday night and the others arrived around 1 pm on Sunday.  Mike and I spent Sunday morning wandering through the park below the Arc d’triumph (who knew Barcelona had one too?) and got back to the hotel as they were arriving.

We all went and had a late lunch and then the travelers checked in and took naps until that evening.

The hotel has a beautiful rooftop lounge and terrance and we ended up having a Jamon tasting and just relaxing that evening.  Mike bought the ham at a speciality store around the corner and boy was it tasty….but not inexpensive – we had three levels, the most expensive was 199 euros a kilo or about 105 dollars a pound!  Wowzer!  Needless to say we only had a taste of it.  Most of us thought the much more economical $50 a pound ham was just fine….of course his majesty Burton thought we should only eat the good stuff from now on!

Monday we all went to Park Guell together. This was originally envisioned as a residential development in the hills above Barcelona and Saudi (architect of La Sagrada Familla) was charged with designing the common spaces.  Unfortunately, it never took off – I guess just like our neighborhood in Knightdale, the best laid plans don’t always come to fruition.  So at some point the it was all sold to the City and turned into a park.  Most of the park is open to the public but the “monumental” area requires a timed ticket to try to keep the crowds down….notice my use of “try”!

Through our the park there is a lot of decoration done with tile shards. This is the technique that Calatrava uses on his modern buildings-remember the cultural center in Valencia?

The Hyperstyle Hall was designed to serve as a covered gathering space for neighborhood events -that’s it at the top of the steps and its roof as the public plaza. It is currently having repairs made which allowed us to see how the dimes on the underside are made above. So while most visitors were unhappy about the construction fence I enjoyed it!

There is also an interesting area of the park which creates a walkway that has a wave form on the interior and interesting columns on the outside, including one called the wash woman and another reminiscent for the spiral columns of the canopy over the altar at St Peters in Rome.

Gaudi’s work may have influenced lots more architects than I realized-these columns at another spot in the park reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s columns for the Johnson Wax Building. Knowing Wright’s ego I’m positive he would say he was unaware of them!

You will have to make your own decision:

On Tuesday, we continued our Gaudi experience by heading to La Sagrada Familla.  This is the church that Gaudi started and that still isn’t finished as you can see from the construction shot at the top of this blog post. When Mike and I visited in the 90s, they said they hoped to have it finished by 2020, they are now pushing to have it finished by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.  I doubt they are going to make it as they haven’t yet started on the biggest towers…but who knows, with modern building techniques, perhaps they will.

Mike and I had planned on going inside and I “knew” I had bought the tickets – hell we didn’t buy the airline tickets until we were sure we could buy tickets for the same time as Chris and crew were going.  So Monday, I go to find the tickets in my email, hmmmm, not there?  Let me check the credit card…hmmm, no charge?  Did I just imagine it?  Anyway, it appears I dropped the ball, so while Chris et al climbed the tower (been there done that, not gonna do it again) and spent time contemplating inside this magnificent building, Mike and I sat outside and people watched!  Luckily we will be back to Barcelona as our first and only mainland port stop on our Transatlantic back to the USA in November and I am definitely going to buy a ticket for inside this time!

We are also making plans to have lunch at the restaurant around the corner from our hotel where we had wonderful tapas (including grilled octopus better than any we had in Greece) on our last night in Barcelona.  Yummy!

on Wednesday, Mike and I metro-ed to the airport (again arriving too early to check our bags, had a quick visit to the lounge again courtesy of our Priority Pass and then boarded TAP Portugal airlines headed to Lisbon.  While the checkin and boarding process had some of the same issues we experienced in Sofia – again due to contracted airport employees I believe (and so tweeted to TAP), we were pleased with the flights.  On our slightly over 2 hour flight we were served a sandwich and drinks! When is the last time in the US that you saw anything other than a packet of peanuts on a short flight (unless you were seated up front)?

We arrived in Lisbon uneventfully and made it to our Airbnb via UBER after seeing the loooooong taxi line.  Since we have been here we have learned that UBER is easy and cheap here…in some cases, no more expensive than taking the bus!

More on Lisbon coming right up!