Headed Back

So after a month in the USA it’s time to head back to Europe. Posting this from The Raleigh airport waiting for our flight to Miami where we will overnight tonight before flying to Lisbon and on to Copenhagen tomorrow where we will board Norwegian Breakaway next Friday. That’s Mike’s Mom on the phone beside Mike in the picture above and below.

After much effort, she got everything she “needed” into a rollaboard and a backpack. While it took awhile, she was determined not to pack in the medium sized suitcase that we kept suggesting. She said she wanted to travel the way we were. The sad thing is she has no room for any souvenirs. Not sure how that is going to go for a shopoholic!

We had great visits with friends and family (and the doctor and dentist) over the month at home.

It started with Claudigras, our friend’s Claudia birthday celebration at Seabrook Island,SC. We had a great long weekend with too much food and drink. Claudia even got a tiara to wear though it got cattywhompus after a few of the drinks!

During Claudigras we got to see my brother and his family who live in Charleston. Hard to believe the kids are so old…..especially since I’m not!

We had a short visit with Sam and Yost in Williamsburg mostly to discuss plans for their visit to Porto to see us in October.

We visited with our cruise buddies, Peggy & Lowell in Lynchburg overnight to finalize our plans for our week in Italy before we all board Norwegian Star in Rome in November for the transatlantic trip home.

The next weekend our friends from Durham, Scott and Robert came up to Mike’s mom’s lake house at Smith Mountain Lake. It was very relaxing to sit and have coffee in the morning and cocktails in the evening with the mountain as our view….or floating in the lake.

Labor Day weekend, our friends from Raleigh, George & Doug joined us at the lake for another nice weekend.

We drove to Salisbury to visit Cousin Martha for lunch earlier this week. Had some good western NC BBQ. Yum!

While we have had a wonderful time at home, I think we are both excited about our first visit to the Baltic region (well except that overnight in the airport for Mike’s birthday 😂) and showing Lois around Lisbon after our cruise.

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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”.

Last Greek Salad.

We headed out about 4 to wander Oia and have a very late lunch/early supper.

Below are some of the sights and photos of our final meal which was similar to all the others we have had here except for my birthday lunch. We have been forced to survive on gyro and Greek salads…how terrible! LOL. With the occasional baclava (apparently that’s how the Greeks spell it in English here?).

The shot above is from the “Minoan” Castle looking towards our hotel. Below is the view we have up to it.

Here is the great place we have patronized. Notice their gyro is horizontal and over charcoal.

And just to reinforce the whole stair situation below are a couple of shots of Stavros-one is our hotel’s porter toting other guests luggage to the hotel. Typically the porters have one bag in their shoulder and and carry another. But in this case, it appears overpacker’s anonymous hasn’t reached these new guests. I’m sure they are only here for one night!

In order to get to the first picture he has already come down at least 100 steps/ramps and made his way through throngs of picture taking tourists. You couldn’t pay me enough to be him (as if I could even think about doing it).

We have been amazed by the number of visitors here especially given this is the very beginning of season. It has been particularly interesting to see how many couples are here having their wedding pictures taken. It isn’t clear if they are getting married here. Most of them are Asian. They are wandering around town in BIG pouffy dresses and tuxedoes stopping every and anywhere to set up their shots-usually with a photographer and at least one assistant. And some like you can see in the pictures below go way off the trail to get just the right picture!

Of course everywhere in this town there are tourists in each others way trying to take the perfect picture. Mike and I laughed for s good 15 minutes watching the three ladies below taking selfies and posed shots of each other after trespassing into our hotel. What you see below is only a portion of what we witnessed.

It has been a great birthday and I’m so glad we were able to come to Santorini now as I sincerely believe that I don’t have many more of these steps in me…..wonder if I don’t make it back up to the shuttle tomorrow if they will let me move in?

So here is my wisdom for today…when you have a wish to do something, be sure and do it while you can.

I am so so happy I happened to see “that” pool 10 years ago and let it become the reason for this whole adventure Mike and I are on to commence. Thanks to his frugality, our great employers, and our wish to make it happen NOW, I got to fulfill this dream.

Last Day.

After enjoying a huge breakfast, I’m now spending my last few hours in “that” pool. Above is my view literally as I type this post. Hope I don’t drop the iPad! Now that I achieved this one guess it’s time for a new life goal!

Any suggestions?

Milan Week Three (part 2).

After our very long day to Firenze, we slept late and barely left the apartment. Did wash and started packing to leave. Our airport hotel (we have a 7am flight to Santorini) in Milan is going to hold our rollsboards so we are taking just our backpacks. We spend a night back at the hotel Saturday night. Just like in the US sometimes the cheapest way to get from point A to Point B that aren’t very far apart is to go to Point C which is miles out if the way!

In this case, to get from Santorini to Sofia and not have to leave at crack o’dawn or arrive in Sofia at midnight was to fly through someplace other than Athens…low and behold flying EastJet back to Milan works out pretty perfect…will leave Santorini at 11:20 am and after spending the night leave Milan on Sunday at 11ish arriving in Sofia about 3:30 pm. (Time change).

On Saturday we decided it was time to have a haircut. As some of you may know, I’m trying to have long hair for the first time in my life so my last haircut was at Raymond’s in Houston in late January. Mike got his cut onboard Viking Sky in order to use up some of our onboard credit. So his new faux hawk/shark fin needed some TLC and my head and beard were a mess!

We had passed a barber shop every time we walked to the train station in Paderno Dugano and the barber always smiled as we walked by. So after using google translate to prepare what we wanted-a ponytail sometime in the future for me and a redo of his new style for Mike, we stopped by only to find them having a crowd at 10 in the morning….”come back at 2″….same thing….hmm, we thought we had an appointment but I guess not….”come back at 4″ the nice lady at the desk says, barber smiles and says sorry but see you soon. At four we arrive to there still being a crowd. So we decide we better wait. Soon the nice lady introduces us to her son whom she has called in to translate. His English is better than my Italian but we still have some issues but it just makes the experience all the more fun!

“Do you wish beard haircut?” Si I respond. Suddenly a tiny elderly man appears from the back and I’m ushered into his spotless cubicle which has an old fashioned barber chair.

Turns out this whole place is a family – grandpa now does beards, Son hair, Son’s wife the front desk, and grandson is in his last year of barber training and does the washing (and in our case translating).

What a great experience, the grandfather and I “discussed” me loosing some or all of my beard-I’ve said for years that when I get old it’s coming off so I get my babyface back and loose all this white hair! But he convinced me that with his efforts he would make me younger and thinner and that I had too pretty a beard to loose. So I guess I’ll wait til 65 to loose it! Anyway, he proceed to use scissors, lather and a straight razor to clean up my face. Amazing….I’ve only had an electric trim before.

After he finished with me, I was moved to the washing station while Gramps did the same for Mike.

After my wash Son took over and also used a straight blade (a first for me) to reduce some of the volume and trim the ends which from my reading is exactly what is supposed to be done. After me, the same was done for Mike.

Throughout both we and they took pictures, us for this blog and Mike’s Facebook and they for their Instagram and Facebook as you can see below- we are now their friends from Texas!

All in all it was a great experience that will be hard for the Portuguese to top I’m afraid (since I figure that’s when we will next need a trim.)

Sunday we finished packing, and had the best carbonara Mike has ever made. Late afternoon we walked into the center of our village for our last gelato and found the fixer upper pictured at the top of this post. If we were younger we might consider trying to save it!

For dinner that night we went to the little restaurant at the end of our street for our last real pizza for a while…so tasty and a great way to end our stay.

Monday ate our final caprese salad-poor basil plant, it gave its life for enjoyment.

Also gave the apartment a good cleaning. While we probably don’t have to leave the place as nice as we are are doing,as new Airbnb-ers we need good reviews so we try to leave it as we found it when we arrive.

After lunch we were heading out and Cinzia’s daughter offered us a ride to the train station…so nice to not have to roll our bags there!

Out Train from the village to the station where we were to catch the Malpensa (Milano’s airport) Express train was on time and the five stop ride was uneventful. But the next leg not so much!

We were here to catch the 15:03 to the airport. When we arrived the previous train to the airport was on Binaro 1 so we ran but missed it.

That board over Mike’s head showed “our” train but not a binaro. So we decided to just wait there until they told us which one our train would be on. At 15:04 they finally notified us it was bin 3, up the escalator, wait for slow elevator, go down, get off on bin 3, and of course by then the train had shut and locked the doors. Jeez, no notice and now we gotta wait for the next one. Of course the next train had it’s binaro posted the whole time….wait for it. Yes, binario 1!

Anyway, made it to the airport, found our shuttle to the Hilton Garden Inn (yes David, your favorite) and checked in. After a restless short sleep, we caught the 5:15 shuttle back to the airport to catch our EasyJet flight (which was easy!) to glorious Santorini.

The driver from our hotel was waiting when we exited the airport and after a drive up to the top through incredibly awful traffic -cruise ship excursion busses causing most of it, we made it to Oia.

Thank god for the hotel porters who carried our backpacks through town and down the 100 or so steps to our hotel.

We checked in and they showed us our beautiful cave suite. We had originally booked the low end room but do to a credit card rejection which we think was due to our change of address, we lucked out and were able to rebook at a savings or almost $1000 AND be in s suite with a living room and kitchenette. It only added about $75 to the cost of the total stay over our original room and I think we will save at least that much by eating in some meals and have 925 bucks leftover!

After getting in “that pool” a day early and exactly 10 years after seeing it for the first time, we had our first (of many) Greek salads-no lettuce! By that pool.

Later we reclimbed the stairs up to the Main Street and bought some wine and dips along with real Gyros ( so much better than that pressed meat crap) and had it on our terrace at sunset. After such a long day, went to bed by 9:30!

Awoke on the first day of my 60th year and has a delicious breakfast by “that” pool. About noontime we headed down to Ammoudi, the fishing village right below us.

That death march had us taking the “stairs” down to the fishing village on the Caldera and then taking a path that required rock climbing to get to a spot to get in the Mediterranean Sea where there is an island with a hot spring and a 15 foot place to jump in the water-needless to say after my Cozumel experience I did not jump off that cliff!

The hard part was climbing over the rocks to get out then hike back to the village. It might look familiar from Mamma Mia.

We had Birthday lunch of Greek Salad, olives, spicy cheese spread (Greek pimiento cheese), grilled octopus and grilled swordfish and a birthday baklava.

A nice couple sitting nearby bought us beers after seeing the birthday baklava so we had a nice chat with them. They live in the U.K. but she is from Estonia. Notice it’s the local brew, Donkey, this one was yellow sorta s blue moon style…but they have red, brown, etc donkey brews too

The extra beer did not help the 200 steps back to hotel. They are not normal stops they are slopped and have donkeys going up and down. We both had to fall in the pool after that climb! Thank we have been walking 5-8 miles regularly but the stairs were still murder.

All in all a great way to start my 60th year. But I’ve told Mike that while I want to swim in the Med for my 70th, it has to be from somewhere flatter!

So now you’re all caught up and I’m headed back to “that” pool!

Made it!

Promise I will finish posting about our the last couple of days in Milan but just a quickie to say we made it to Santorini and finally after a zillion steps to our hotel which is as beautiful as I had hoped. And as you can see, I made it into “that” pool and it isn’t even my birthday yet!