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It was so nice to get to sleep in today until 7:35am.  Yet, everyone on the bus seemed really out of it this morning.  Yesterday just had too much going on, I think.  It was good, but a lot.  Breakfast was very good.  I have been loving the bread here.  I had both a piece of rustic bread that we had the day before as well and a delicious roll that we had for dinner last night.  I wanted more bread and fruit and potatoes, but I got full.  Quite unfair.   ;-)

Today’s first stop: The Roman ruins of Conimbriga.  This place was fantastic.  We had about an hour there, but Jenn and I could have spent 3 or more easily, I think.  It was smaller than Ercalano (where we spent 5 hours), but it reminded me of that.  They had so many lovely mosaic floors.  The ones with animals or people were under a covered awning, but there were a lot of geometric patterned floors that were just out under the sky.  Plus the rest of the ruins were pretty neat too.  Some were hard to envision, but some were quite obvious.  We’re not entirely sure if parts were rebuilt or they just looked that good still.  Regardless, we had to rush back to the bus.  We could have used more time at the ruins, and we didn’t even make it into the museum.

Second stop: Coimbra.  We picked up our tour guide, Christina, and headed up to the top of the hill to see the Coimbra university.  The building is pretty nifty looking from the outside, which may in part be due to the fact that it used to be a palace.  I believe the words Jenn uttered were “Eat your heart out, Harvard.”  We went into two parts of the university – the library and the chapel.  Unfortunately we couldn’t take pictures in either.  The library was far more amazing.  It was designed specifically as a library, and we could see two floors of it.  Ladders are built into slots of the bookshelves and can be pulled out, which was neat to see.  The posts were black in two rooms and red in the third with gold designs all over it – mimicking the Chinese art that had been brought back to Portugal.  The ceilings were covered with paintings.  But mostly I just loved seeing all those books.  It made me very happy.  They keep it temperature and humidity controlled to conserve the books.  Interestingly, to fight off bugs that may damage the books, they have bats in the library.  While they cover the beautiful inlaid wooden tables every night, the first job every morning is to clean up the guano.

We had to wait a bit to get into the chapel, since it was somewhat small.  It also smelled funny, which I had a hard time getting beyond.  But the pipe organ is famous, because it has 3000 pipes.  We’ll have to ask at our church in Boston how many pipes they currently have, but the page I can find says 2300.  So I guess I should be impressed by 3000?  We also learned that tiles from the late 17th century are easy to spot because they look like Persian rugs (which were sometimes used instead of tiles at that time) and are only in blue and yellow for cost saving measures.

The guide then made us walk down from the hill to the lower town.  I and several other people were less than thrilled.  I still took a bunch of pictures, but I was very cranky by the time I got to the bottom.  So my opinion of Coimbra is not super high.  There was also a lot of stupid graffiti all over.  The college kids there need to get it together.  We were given quite a bit of time there, which some people seemed to really appreciate.  We had meat pastries for lunch again and sat and rested.  Then we moved to another spot and sat and rested and looked at the buildings and the people.  Finally on our way back to the bus, we bought our 4 postcard stamps and a new lens cap for me.

And back in the bus.  We started driving into the Serra da Estrela mountains, which were very beautiful.  They are much higher than the other mountains that we’ve driven through on this trip, higher than Shenandoah, for example. Terracing is very common here for all the vineyards, which creates fantastic views.

I also noticed at some point during our drive today that we were no longer seeing cork trees.  I think they are mostly present south of the Tagus River, so we must have lost them half way through yesterday.

Third real stop: The palace in San Mateus.  According to the schedule, we were supposed to see this tomorrow, but now it was today.  Daniel also arranged for us to go inside the palace, perhaps because many people were very upset about not getting to go inside the palace at Sintra?  We had to go to the gardens first though. I liked them a lot.  They did very pretty geometrical patterns with the topiary.  Relatively short to the ground, but very pretty.  We also walked down to part of the vineyards and managed to grab one eating grape each (thank you, God, for being tall enough).  The one grape was very tasty.  We could only go into a few rooms of the palace, since the family still lives in part of it 4-6 months of the year.  I really liked the wooden ceilings, even though they were relatively simple.  We also saw a Ming Vase, but I didn’t think it was all that impressive looking.  Large, but not very interesting.  I’m glad we were able to go in, but I honestly liked the gardens more.

The drive to our hotel was stunning.  Daniel put on some dramatic music to help us get into it more, which was fun and fitting, but it didn’t even need it.  We twisted and turned out way down the mountains, along the terraces, catching glimpses of the Duoro River.  (I must confess that I was glad when we evened out a bit, because I didn’t know that it was coming and started to feel the motion a bit.)  I hope some of the pictures turn out.  I was so torn between just enjoying it and wanting to take pictures.  I felt bad for the people on the other side of the bus, but so thankful that we lucked out.  They got more of the views driving to Mateus, but this was way better, I’m guessing.  There’s a chance that we’ll get to see it again tomorrow based on the seat rotation, which would be very spiffy indeed.

Our hotel, the CS Vintage Hotel, is right on the river Duoro.  Daniel told us that we might want to get up and take pictures before we leave tomorrow, and until we got here, I scoffed.  We’re as ready as we can be for tomorrow, so that we can take pictures.  It’s very pretty.  I wish we were just staying here tomorrow to relax and enjoy it.  Right now, it kinda reminds me of when we drove into and out of Yellowstone.  I got a really cute picture of Jenn with the river and the mountains in the dusk light.  Maybe she can get a good one of me tomorrow in the morning light!

(No pictures attached today, because otherwise this wouldn’t go out.)


(Placeholder until I finish up this post.)


Mr. Bones

Forgotten information: Last night we saw news video showing Lisboa Alagada – Lisbon flooded.  The Plaza Rossi where we were several times was even flooded.  Other parts of town showed cars being swallowed.  Glad we left when we did!

Breakfast this morning was really good.  There was an omelette station for Jenn, and the pineapple was sooooo good today.  That combined with sunshine (and a rainbow when we went out to the coach!) and a woman allowing us the front most seat even though it was hers on the seat rotation made me very chipper this morning.  J

I’ve been forgetting to tell you how Daniel makes us start the bus tour – with a really cheesy song.  I haven’t quite started to like it, but I can see how it could grow on you.  It’s called Happiness by Ken Dodd.  Here you go for your “pleasure” - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4a5vaIsaxB8

We drove back part of the way that we drove in, at least through the mountains that I enjoyed so much yesterday.  Today they were even better!  Mist was hanging in the mountains, and it was such a gorgeous view.  I hope some of our photos turn out from that.

Eventually we turned to a more eastern direction into the Alentejo region.  We saw a lot of olive trees on our drive today.  Daniel told us that the olives we had last night were probably not actually black olives, since they were quite firm.  Most likely they were green olives died with squid ink in the factory.  Real black olives are much mushier since they are very ripe.  We also learned later in the day that olive trees can live to be 2000 years old!

Daniel also told us that Indian food is spicy because of the Portuguese.  The Portuguese sailors brought the hot peppers back from South America, and then took them over to India.  Japan’s tempura is a Portuguese creation.  So is the British’s custom of afternoon tea – that started after a marriage alliance between Britain and Portugal.

We stopped briefly at a hotel in Beja for a rest stop.  Though the hotel gave bad directions at first, which caused our bus driver to have to drive in reverse for 3 blocks.  Oops!

Today’s main stop was Evora.  When we arrived, we immediately got started with a walking tour.  First stop, the Church of St. Francis, which is unfortunately under restoration.  But the most famous part of it was still mostly visible – the Chapel of Bones.  Apparently there are about 5000 skulls in there and even more leg bones.  Some people were a bit creeped out by it, but I actually found it rather peaceful.  The monks designed it to be a meditation room – that we are all the same at the level of our bones, it’s only our souls and actions that set us apart.  Plus, there’s that whole dust-to-dust part.  It was quite calming.

From there, we walked up through the center of town, which is very cute.  There are the remains (a number of columns) of a Roman temple from the first century AD.  That’s a big part of the reason that Evora within its 14th century walls is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  We had a lot of fun taking pictures of it from various angles.

We had a simple lunch from a stand – a ham and cheese sandwich and a cheese sandwich for lunch – simple but tasty.  I do like the bread here.  Then we moved on to photographing the 16th (15th?) century cathedral from all of its exterior angles.  We didn’t bother going inside, since it didn’t open again until almost when we needed to meet up with the group.  We attempted to shop for cork bags and postcards, but I was a bit overwhelmed and we were short on time.  So we only ended up with a cork postcard, but just for us.  Both of us would be concerned whether it could handle being mailed.

We signed up for the optional (read extra cost) afternoon tour to Monsaraz.  It was absolutely worth it.  We had a stunning view of the Great Alqueva Lake.  And Spain is just on the other side.  So, Jenn can now say that she’s “seen” Spain!  ;-)  The little hilltop town is not very touristy… yet.  But it has a lot of fun angles and 2 cute streets to photograph.  In total, 30 people and a handful of cats and dogs live there.

Finally, we go to our hotel (M’ar de Ar Aqueduto) at about 6:15pm.  It’s very modern and fancy for a place that used to be a palace (Sepulveda) in the 16th century.  I felt guilty for not going out an exploring since we still had about 45 minutes left of light, but my leg was done.  I have been doing so much more in the last few days than I was at all capable of doing last week.  Which is great!  But I still need a bit more resting than I’m used to.

We went to dinner just up the street at a small local place – Restaurante S. Domingos.  Jenn had good (though maybe slightly overdone) garlic shrimp (no tails, but heads), and I had a very decent pork tenderloin.  We chickened out on the desserts since we had no idea what they were.  So we stopped into a little shop to pick up some chocolate bars for Jenn.  Then we checked out this little store that was 3 different vending machines – one hot food, two snacks and drinks.  Jenn found me Fanta Maracuja!  You probably don’t remember, but I really really liked this passion fruit drink in Brazil.  I’m a bit unreasonably excited about this find.  It’s just so tasty!


Oct 13, 2014: Olive lamb (say it aloud)

Forgot from yesterday:  As we were walking out of Amorina (on a pretty well populated and popular street), I was offered hashish.  Following my look, the guy then said “marijuana?”  And the next part of the formula (which Jenn thinks she heard) is “Cocaine?”  My boss’s boss received the “Hashish?  Cocaine?” offer at least 3 times while he was out during the conference.

We had two minor freak outs this morning when first, the guy wanted our luggage 7 minutes early (we needed those 7 minutes) and second, another lady on our tour mistakenly told us we had to be on the bus at 8am instead of 8:30 as we were in line for breakfast at 7:45am.  The lady was nice enough to run back up to tell us that it was 8:30am as soon as she found out her mistake though.

The bus ride down to the Algarve was very lovely overall.  We drove through a different section of Lisbon and saw part of town (maybe the expo?) designed by Calatrava to look like the sails of a ship.  I figured Mom would be very interested in knowing that, since the Milwaukee art museum was designed by the same person for the same effect.

Just over the Vasco de Gamma bridge to cross the Tagus River, we saw a few pale pink flamingos!  We also saw a lot of egrets on the drive, as well as storks.  Somehow I had not realized that storks had black bottoms and white tops.  They seem to like to nest in the giant electrical towers and tops of defunct chimney stacks.

We saw a lot of cork trees – it’s one of Portugal’s major economic drivers.  In fact, the guys that strip cork trees get 130 euros a day.  However, cork cannot be stripped for 25 years, and that first harvest of the cork “bark” is not good for wine.  It’s used mostly for flooring.  Then you have to wait another 25 years to harvest the first batch of good cork.  After that, you can harvest every 9 years, so the trees are all labelled 1,2, 3, …. 9 for the last year (2011, 2012, … 2009) that it was harvested.  The good news is that the trees can live up to 200 years.  I feel very confused, because I remember the outcry a few years ago about the cork shortage, so I’ll need to learn more about that.  It’s illegal to cut down cork trees here.  Even if a cork tree dies, you need to wait 15 years to cut it down.  I’m guessing that’s to keep a person from poisoning it?  If you cut a live one down, you get a fine and you still can’t build anything for 25 more years!  I think I approve of this.  The trees are very interesting to look at and easy to spot, because the bottom is a varying shade of brown (depending on how recently it was harvested) and the top bark is grey.

We also saw a lot of umbrella pines, which are really beautiful.  They look like something that you think of in Africa or a Dr. Seuss book.  These trees are also the type that grow pine nuts, which are very expensive due to the effort to harvest the pine nuts.  The ones from Morocco are cheaper, though, since they get boys to do the work there.

Finally we saw many olive trees, which are about ready to be harvested.  We even saw one with ripe olives when we had a restroom break at a gas station.  (Yeah, we were pretty frustrated to stop at a travel stop like that too.  Ah well.)

Going through the Mon Chi (sp? – typing this up without internet access at the moment) mountains was quite lovely as well.  All the hills with trees were making me very pleased.

Unfortunately, our final destination was not that exciting.  Basically, Portimao is a beach town much like the beach towns in the Carolinas or much anywhere else.  We stopped first in Praia de Roche (or something close to that) to see the beach.  Which was a beach, though at least set amongst some pretty, though short cliffs.  I’m sure that during the summer the place is packed.  Today it had sections of empty lounge chairs.  Then we stopped for lunch in Portimao, which is famous for its sardines, apparently.  But sardine season just ended, and we weren’t interested anyway.  We just got salads for lunch, which was fine.  But we sat with a person who was super negative.  It definitely spurred me to try to be more positive about the trip (and everything) overall.  We did get tasty and HUGE ice cream cones though.

Going through town, Daniel (our tour guide) pointed out the chimneys.  They’re really neat in this area!  Almost every house has a differently decorated chimney.  Daniel mentioned that it has something to do with superstitions and evil spirits, but I’m not entirely sure how that involves the chimney.  But some look like lighthouses, some like miniature houses and some are just decorated in various other ways.  I don’t think any of our pictures turned out with the rain, but they are very neat.

Finally to our resort  (Le Meridien Penina Resort) at 3:30ish, to rest and type of these daily journals before dinner.  My leg is sore today, but not too swollen since I wore compression socks.  But, geez, am I tired.  I might need a nap before dinner.


We did take a 30min nap, and I was completely conked out.  I could have slept much much longer.  The alarm very much confused me.  But dinner was completely worth getting up for.  We went to Ababuja in a neighboring town.  I was a bit concerned when I saw that it was a fish restaurant, but it was on a completely different scale than the one the other night.  It was delicious from the very start.  First yummy bread (with a good olive oil and white wine vinegar if one so desired). Then they brought out two small pre-appetizer dishes to be shared:  The first was cooked carrots with garlic, olive oil and some other seasoning.  I don’t like cooked carrots, and this was really really good, especially on the bread.  The second dish held local black olives with the pits.  Jenn’s not a big olive person, but even she was digging into them.  She had 7-8.  I had 20.  They also seemed to have garlic on them.  And possibly some magic flavoring, because I did not want to stop eating them.  The main hostess smiled when I asked if they could be left when she was clearing the table.  The appetizer came next.  My vegetable soup was okay, but Jenn loved her shrimp in mango sauce.  She even sopped up the remaining sauce with the bread.  Then the main meal was brought out.  Jenn and I ordered lamb chops, and they were the ones that look like lamb popsicles – maybe butterfly cut?  I was watching them being grilled.  They were amazingly excellent.  I was even a bit tacky and chewed any remaining meat off the bone.  (It was fun to watch the grilling process overall.  We missed the large fish being brought in, but we did see someone being shown the fish that they were going to get.  The wait staff was also deboning the fish at the table for the individual couples who ordered.)  I specifically asked the hostess to please pass along my compliments on the lamb chops to the griller, because they were just so good.  Dessert was a chocolate cake, with perhaps a layer of almond?  It was pretty decent.  Finally, while everyone else was either drinking yet another glass of wine or a cup of espresso, Jenn and I asked if they had hot chocolate.  The hostess said she would see if she could arrange something.  Cups were brought out to us and it was nice and good, not too thick and very pleasant.  What we normally expect hot chocolate to taste like.  And then the hostess came out and asked how it was, and showed us her secret – it was made from her own personal container of Hershey’s unsweetened chocolate powder.  She said she buys it when she goes to Times Square in Manhattan.  {chuckles}  (Jenn wonders if she bought it in the Hersheys’ Chocolate World right there in Times Square.) I felt a bit embarrassed, and a little guilty that she would dip into her own personal stock.  But it was a very pleasant way to end the evening.


October 12, 2014: Evershifting

Today felt like a day of contrasts as we took an optional morning tour to Sintra and Cascais.  It was pouring when we left Lisbon, which was a bit of a disappointment for all of us.  As we travelled, we passed the big box store area (none are allowed in the city limits area.)  Climbing up the mountains? hills? to Sintra, the places started getting fancier again.  Sintra has both old castle ruins (the original summer palace of the royalty) and a newer fancy palace that shows up in all the postcards.  Unfortunately, it was still pouring in Sintra AND the line for the palace was quite long.  So we wandered up the street to Piriquita II to try the famous Travesseiros de Sintra (Sintra Pillow) – delicious puff pastries filled with egg and almond cream.  (Ooops, googling the pastry name made me realize that we were supposed to go to the original Piriquita, not the second store up the street.  Ah well.)  We also got hot chocolate, which was more like a drink made from melted chocolate bars – very thick and delicious. Unfortunately, it was far too much to each finish, but it was tasty.

We stopped briefly into a store to look at the cork products that Portugal is famous for – soft feeling products – hats, bags, etc. But they didn’t have a hat that fit Jenn, and I decided that 35 euros was too much for a wallet and 120 euros too much for a messenger bag.  Also, we’re not bringing home souvenirs for anyone.

From there, we drove through this beautiful national park – Parque e Palacio Nacional de Pena along the tops of the mountains/hills.  There were granite rocks/boulders everywhere from the original volcanic eruption that produced the mountains long ago.  Even better, heather was blooming in random patches!  I don’t think we got a picture because of the rain, but it was lovely.

We drove down out of the parks and mountains through Malviera and suddenly out at the coast at Guincho.  Wow!  It was truly stunning.  The waves were just going crazy in the weather.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  To our left were long sand dunes.  Thankfully we were allowed out of the bus if we wanted to take a picture.  Of course we wanted!  It was truly incredible to see these huge waves crashing.  In the background was Cabo da Roca, the most western point of continental Europe.  The wind was very intense, stealing away my lens cap (oops!) and almost taking Jenn’s hat.  But it was that very rawness of nature that made it a wondrous moment.

Sadly we had to go back in too soon, and we weren’t allowed out for any other pictures of the coastline, which was of course of most interest to me.  We didn’t even stop at Baco de Inferno (The Devil’s Mouth) were water surges through a natural arch in the rock.  Ah well.  Maybe someday we’ll come back and drive it ourselves to stop for those pictures.  I doubt it, by maybe.

Our lunch break was in Cascais where it finally stopped raining.  We took a few pictures of the harbor, a fancy sand castle, a wall full of flowers, and the town hall, but then we headed to Don Manolo’s for chicken piri piri.  It seems like they get a lot of tourists, but the half roast chicken in piri-piri sauce is absolutely delicious.  Mmmmmm.  Now I want more.

Finally, we came back along the ocean coast.  The houses on the way were phenomenally fancy.  As Laura kept joking, “Very poor people live there.”  Plus it was just nice to see the ocean on the drive.  At the mouth of the Targus River, we turned in to come back the quicker way, but that was okay at that point.  Both of us were tired and my leg was feeling a bit cranky.  So Jenn has been napping while I typed this, and I’m sitting on the bed with my legs propped up on pillows in front of me.  I’ve very glad we took this optional trip.


Despite me feeling a bit guilty about it, we did not end up going out this afternoon.  Jenn was just completely beat.  And I honestly just wanted to relax and keep my legs up (they’re pretty swollen).  I even took a short nap myself.  It would have been nice to see the ruins of Carmon Convent, but we got to see a bit of them from the top of the Castle yesterday.  And while I liked the aqueduct museum, it wasn’t a must-see.  I just suck at relaxing.  I blame my mom.  ;-)  However, after napping and whatnot, we did go for a swim.  The whirlpool was the same temperature as the regular pool, though!  Boo.

Clean but hungry, we set out for dinner.  The original plan was to eat on this block, but other than the coffee shop, everything was closed.  The next closest place was fish.  We ended up walking really far away (1.5 miles – yikes!  though we did pause often for looking at menus), but we got to see the Commerce Plaza, which was something I apparently wanted to do more than I thought.
We ended up at the Museu da Cerveja (translated: Beer Museum), mostly because the decorations were interesting, we were tired, and it looked like they had bread or potato stuffed with cheese.  However, we found out really fast that the breaded potato stuffed with cheese was not what it appeared.  Not only was it not really potato, but rather mixed with some sort of fish, the cheese (Queijo da Serra) was kinda sour and gross.  Ah well.  The steaks we got were good tasting at least.  Chewy, but they tasted good.  Since we were at the Beer Museum, I also got a Pret (dark) beer that was made there.  It was pretty good, though Jenn sniffed it and decided it wasn’t even worth trying.

Instead of just heading back, we went off in search of dessert.  We ended up at Amorino gelato (which supposedly has a store in NYC, though we had not come across it there).  Jenn had chocolate and caramel inside a crepe, and I had chocolate hazelnut and cherry inside a foccacina (sweet bread).  Jenn’s was better.  We walked the little bit back up to Praca Rossi and cabbed it back to pack and sleep.



October 11, 2014

Errata:  Yesterday the plaza we hung out in was actually Plaza Rossi, not Dom Fernando.  (Unless it’s another plaza with 2 names.)  Also, I forgot to mention that a street performer was playing and singing Fado music at the overlook, and by the time we were ready to move on, I was ready to not hear anymore.  I know it’s the traditional blues-ish music, and perhaps a real performance night would be much better, but I’m okay taking the risk.  ;-)

For me, breakfast this morning was a bit of a let-down after the amazing breakfasts at the Epic Sana.  (I was really wanting the fresh mango again and the yummy way they made mueusli.)  But as Jenn pointed out, it was a good spread, and we were both able to find more than enough food.

Then we started our morning tour, which was fantastic.  Our guide, Laura, or Laurena (her pet name), was really really good – both excellently informative and funny.  The first stop was for pictures at the top of the Edward VII park with the giant Portugal flag.  Unfortunately, there was a pretty heavy haze and a touch of fog, so we weren’t able to see the Targus River or the Castle.  But it was still nice to see.  Interestingly, they have both a greenhouse, but also a bamboo sided and roofed garden area to house other plants and trees.  (We didn’t get to go in, but it still intrigued me.)

Our next out-of-the-bus stop (with lots of information in between) was a brief walk in the Alfima district – the old town.  Though, very little of the city is “truly” old (by European standards).  A horrible earthquake (they guess a 9 on the richter scale) occurred in 1755 and destroyed part of the town.  But it was the time of candles, so the fires destroyed more.  And then 2 tidal waves came in and destroyed almost all of the rest.  So most everything (except ruins here and there, as well as the monuments in Belem) are from the late 1700s, early 1800s.

Anyway…. We went for a short walk in Alfima, which was quite pleasant.  It’s more of a real part of the city – not full of tourist items, but rather very tiny grocery stalls, bread stalls, a pub with one 2 person table, things like that.  The streets and all the shops are small.  The old ladies were pretty small too!  But interesting little streets, spots with the painted ceramic tiles, real life, etc.

Then we headed for Belem – the monumental section of town.  Much of Belem survived the earthquake, so the monuments are older there without reconstruction.
                First stop, Belem tower.  I had seen a picture of it, but it was much better in person with the back jutting out.  It’s the location that a lot of sailors left, most notably Vasco de Gama – the guy who sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and connect Europe to India by sea.  Also in the same spot is a new airplane memorial to the 1920s flight from Portugal to Brazil.  It wasn’t non-stop; in fact, the trip took months, but it was the first transatlantic flight.
                The Henry the Navigator memorial monument was surprisingly good – clean and sleek, but showed a lot of important people.  There was also a nifty mosaic map with dates of the Portuguese “discovering” new lands.  It was a gift from South Africa.
                St. Jeronimo’s Monastery.  It turned out that we couldn’t go in since there was a wedding (and then a baptism planned after), but at least we got close enough for pictures from outside.   The bride was lovely though, and the ring bearer adorable.  PLUS, we got our surprise there – the surprise that we were really hoping for….. Laura (with the driver, Eugene’s help) got us Pasteis de Belem (http://www.pasteisdebelem.pt/en.html).   They are these famous custard filled flaky pie crust pastries.  The bakery was started when all the monks were expelled briefly from Portugal, but still needed to survive. St. Jeronimo’s Monastary was near a sugar refinery, so they started making these treats.  A coworker of Jenn’s told her that we must try them.  I didn’t have high expectations, particularly having tried a knockoff version (pasteis de nata).  However, the crust was still warm, the crust was buttery and flaky, cinnamon and powdered sugar were freshly sprinkled on it, and it was amazing!

After being dropped back at the hotel at 1pm and switching out some gear, we went down to Restoration Plaza and the gate of St. Anthony (not actually a gate, just a side street) for lunch.  One day, Jenn and I will learn to make sure to eat sooner so that we don’t get cranky at each other while trying to decide what to eat.  We finally settled on Italian, even though we’re in Portugal.  We clearly needed to eat now and it sounded good.  My mushroom (fresh mushrooms!) and salami pizza was delicious, and Jenn really enjoyed her carbonara.  I’m glad the guide warned us that bread and olives and butter brought to the table cost extra, because we had to wave it away from 4 different waiters.

The weather cleared up and blue skies were above once again, so we changed our plans and took a taxi up to the Castle.  I decided that Jenn really needed to see the view.  And it was really nice to go back up there for me too.  Now I knew some of what I was looking at after the tour in the morning, so it wasn’t just a mess of random buildings.  We got to hear a bit of a live concert floating up from the Praca do Figuiera, but we also watched firefighters fighting what seemed to be a very bad fire just a bit beyond that.  We climbed up to the castle walls, but while Jenn walked around, I stood in line for the Camera Obscura.  It’s a periscope that reflects down on a concave canvas – a concept invented by Leonardo da Vinci, but installed here in 1991.  It was very interesting to see the 360 degree view of town displayed like that, even seeing cars and some people (!) moving far away.

We had to hurry a bit to get back to the hotel.  I was glad the cab driver was a bit aggressive and took some different roads down to avoid the traffic backup.  Also, I feel weird taking cabs this much on a trip, but the hills are very steep and honestly my leg just can’t do more.  Traffic was still bad when we left at 6:15pm to head for the optional fish dinner.  Jenn and I chose to do it, because it involved a ferry across the river and a view of the city at night on the way back.  Plus, we figured it would be nice for Jenn to get all the tasty fish listed.  And Daniel (our guide) said they could make me a steak.  I must confess the experience was a bit disappointing.  The non-fish food options were not all that good, but Jenn enjoyed her shellfish at least.

The ferry across the river was enclosed and we really couldn’t see much (partially because of the weather changing to a light rain, maybe, but I’m not sure it would have been better since it was such a short ride).  We got off at Calcilhas and pretty much walked right into the restaurant.  I had half a Sargus beer since it was handed to us on the way in.  There were some fried fish (and weird pureed meat) appetizers.  Jenn said the fish ones were okay, but the prawns were much better.  Then she got crab legs (and some odd crab puree thing), which everyone had to open with a small plastic hammer/mallet and small cutting board thing the size of a coaster.  It was amusing to watch everyone fighting and squirting and laughing.  Then came garlic shrimp, which seemed to be good, but Jenn’s headache (dehydration) was getting to her and she was getting full.  There were also clams and finally grilled sea breem, neither of which Jenn enjoyed very much.  But the dessert of fresh pineapple and mango with whipped cream was very tasty.  And the port was actually pretty good.

It seemed like everyone besides us was drunk on the way back, which … shrugs and sighs.  We did get to see the Christ the King statue relatively close from the road, which was nice.  I think I like it better than the almost identical (and created first) Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio, but mostly because of the base.  However, they didn’t stop for photos, which was a bummer.  That would have at least made the trip and extra cost seem more worthwhile. The rest of the drive into town was okay and somewhat interesting, but nothing to really write home about.

And now it’s late and we should have been to sleep a while ago.  Oops!


Almost there

Jennifer arrived this morning (after another long passport line, where she kept reminding herself that she was almost there), and sent me an email from the hotel at 10:15am telling me that the hotel room wasn’t ready.  I suggested that she come up to my hotel, which she did.  So we had some food, and then she got a 1 hour nap while I worked.  Unfortunately, upon getting a cab to the new hotel (Altis Grand Hotel), arriving at 1:30pm, they still did not have a room ready.

I convinced Jenn to go down the street to the gardens that were on the map.  However, there was no obvious way into the gardens where it seemed like it should be.  In fact, it was a solid row of buildings.  Hmmm.  So we went down to the main avenue, because I remembered plazas down there.  We stopped at a bench about 0.3 miles down the way to rest and look at the map.   But while it was in the shade, it was facing a Hugo Boss store, so not interesting.  Jenn was not pleased about leaving the bench, but she did it anyway, because she loves me.  I said we would just go down the street and look at the fountains.  So we walked and looked at buildings and some fountains and obelisks.

After about a half mile, we finally got to the main plaza, the Praca Dom Pedro IV, where there were nice stone seats for us to rest again.  And the fountains I promised.  We probably stayed there for a good half hour, just people watching and enjoying the wave pattern of the cobblestones (all layed by hand).  Probably our favorite was a mom pushing a little girl in a stroller.  The little girl saw the pigeons and put her arms straight out and made some noise, so the mom (completely straight faced), swerved the stroller to aim at the pigeons and let the little girl “chase” them.  It was very adorable.  The mom was clearly tired, but showed her love in this little way.

Eventually I started feeling pretty hungry and a bit antsy.  I still wanted to check out this one church that I had read about.  And the map showed it as being just down the block, so no problem.  We crossed the street and looked at a couple menus, but meh.  And then we dead-ended at stairs and a ramp.  Jenn started up the ramp, so I followed.  And then more stairs.  We stopped and stared at the map some more.  I kept hoping to hear some English around us to help with directions, but nooooo.  Those only show up to annoy randomly.  Sighs.  So, we went up the set of stairs thinking that something would be more clear at the top.  But then the stairs kept going!  And after another set, we stopped again for several minutes.  I had already needed to stop part way up this set.  Again, no English voices, though a guide stopped and spoke in another language.  So we took some pictures from that view.  And some pictures down the narrow streets.  It seemed as though we were in the edge of Barrio Alto, which I heard was something to check out.  And then we started up another set.  It went on forever, and I had to pause once more, but finally we were at the top.  And there was the church!  Finally!  Looking at google pedometer, it was only 0.12 miles of stairs, but…. Oof.  It was a lot.

We went directly into the church (though we were maybe supposed to go into the museum and pay first? Ah well).  Igreja de Sao Roque was interesting.  If you looked at it one way, it was pretty darn ugly and garish.  But a person behind us said “Wow, this is beautiful!”  And when we took a photograph, it did look really nice.  So if you made your brain shift, you could see that too.  But it gave us a place to sit again.

From one website (http://www.golisbon.com/sight-seeing/sao-roque-church.html):
“The church with the plainest façade in Lisbon has one of the city's richest interiors. Each of the chapels is a masterpiece of Baroque art but the showpiece is the fourth one on the left, the "world's most expensive chapel."

Designed in Rome using the most costly materials available, including ivory, agate, porphyry, lapis lazulli, gold and silver, it was blessed by the Pope and shipped to Lisbon in 1747. Of note is also the chapel's "paintings," which are not paintings but extraordinarily detailed mosaics, and the ceiling painted with scenes of the Apocalypse. Today this chapel is considered a masterpiece of European art.”
Unfortunately, I could not remember those details when we were in there.  We kept looking for paintings that looked like mosaics (the one detail I did remember), but we just couldn’t see it.  Nor did we remember to look up at the side chapels.  There were a couple really freaky looking chapels though.  Some of the angel heads looked like demonic dolls.  But we did like one of the chapels – just curious if that was the expensive one.  Looking at Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Igreja_de_S%C3%A3o_Roque#Chapel_of_St._John_the_Baptist), it was definitely the chapel that we liked the most and stared at the longest.  Those paintings did not look like mosaics at all.  Wow.  That is crazy.

We moved on eventually from there too.  Since the map said there was an overlook around the corner, we decided to at least check since we came that far.  This time it was true.  A very mild uphill, but no stairs.  And the overlook was gorgeous.  It was the perfect weather day really.  Blue skies, good temperatures.  We could see the river, the castle, and a lot of buildings and churches.  And we got a very cute picture of the two of us there.  I was tempted by a guy doing some paintings, but I didn’t know where we would hang it, so I forced myself to keep walking.  Jenn started videoing this guy “juggling” a stick, but he flipped her off and walked away.  The good thing was that he was then in the shade when he lit the ends on fire, so it was easier to see that.


We never did get food, but we did get a cab back to the hotel, where we could finally get into our room.  It’s smaller and not as nice as the place I was staying earlier this week.  So it’s hard to not be a bit disappointed.  But it’s also a little bit closer to the town center (about 0.6 miles closer), so that might be part of it.

Dinner was at a restaurant in town with family style dining.  The baked cheese was really good.  So was the grilled asparagus.  Not sure about some of the company, but we’ll see how it turns out.

Now, bed.  Night y’all!



Oct 9th - Running Waters

(written Oct 13th)

During break today, Mike (my boss’s boss) organized a small group to go to the aqueduct and water museum - Reservatório da Mãe d'Água das Amoreiras. It was relatively close by, though near the end of my range at 0.5 mile. But I’m so glad I went. It was a small place, and my leg was super exhausted by the end, but it was pretty darn neat. There were nice painted ceramic tile images, the custom here in Portugal apparently (I really did no reading about Portugal before this trip with everything going on) and a lot of interesting angles inside, as well as a nice view from the roof. I didn’t enjoy the stairs up to the roof, but I’m still glad I went up, particularly since there was a view down through the center of the aqueduct. I’m not sure if it’s still in use ever, but it’s neat from both the outside and the inside.

One other thing that I realized was that I really want a 28-300mm lens before my next trip. It’s a very expensive lens, but I think it would make me much happier to have while traveling.

[Info from later in the tour – Still don’t know if the aqueduct is still used, but it was built after the earthquake to bring water in the city, partially as a response to the horrible fires that occurred with the earthquake. So it was built at the end of the 1700s and spanned from 18 miles away.]

Since it was the last night, our evening activity after dinner was Trivia Night. I wasn’t sure that I would want to participate since I suck at trivia, but I’m really glad I did, since it was a lot of fun overall. I was able to help some, though I didn’t really like the rounds where I knew nothing at all. Our group ended up coming in second place, though! And the group that came in first shared some of the winnings – a nice port wine. I only had a sip, but it was much better than the red port that was provided free. The sweet muscatel (sp?) wine was also pretty good. The party mostly broke up at 12:45am, and I gave up and went up to my room to call Jenn while she was in Philly for her layover. But some people went out at that point. Crazy people. Though they said it was because they had a chance to be free of children.


Overarching Views

During the break today, I decided that I wanted to go to the Castle (Castelo de São Jorge) with everyone else since I heard it said that you should go.  But it was supposed to take 30-40 minutes with a downhill and an uphill.  No way I could do that.  So I asked if anyone wanted to take a cab with me, and Katie and Abhishek volunteered.  The cab ride itself was an experience.  At one point, he turned a corner and apparently cut off a small delivery truck.  There was a bit of shouting, and then the truck driver got out and came up to the window and hit our driver in the arm.  His friend took him back to the truck, but there was still more shouting, then our driver opened the door and grabbed a tablet or something.  Maybe to take down the driver’s info?  I don’t know.  I was very amused, but also checking to make sure the bill didn’t go up too much while waiting.  It only cost 0.20 euros (about 35 cents) for the entertainment.  J

I am really glad we took a cab.  It was up quite a bit.  And it’s all cobblestones, which aren’t much fun.
I was a bit frustrated at first because Abhishek was taking no pictures, and Katie very few.  Jenn and I match much better for this.  But, it kept us from being up there too long, which was good, because my leg was very ready to be done at the end.

The view from the castle was really nice.  You can see a lot of the city and the water.  Jenn and I will have to decide whether to take her up there Saturday afternoon or do something else.  The castle itself was ruins, but some interesting architecture.  We climbed the walls of the castle, and I was glad that my physical therapist had made me practice tall steps too.  There weren’t a ton, but they were taller than usual steps.  We climbed up into one tower as well, but the extra view was not worth doing more.  I was glad that Katie was having some vertigo, so she didn’t want to.  It wasn’t many more steps, but it was still more than I wanted to do.

We were going to look at the Camera Obscura or Periscope, but we wanted to try to make it back in time for the talks and the sooner one was in Portuguese.  So we would have had to stay another 30min for the English tour, and then stay in there for another 15-20 minutes.  I wasn’t too bothered.  My leg was definitely getting tired.  We didn’t check out much more before timing it just right and catching a cab when we walked back out.

Some people went out again tonight, but a couple of us just went up to the roof for an hour to sit, chat, and enjoy the full moon and the view out over the bay.  We even got to see a few small fireworks!


Super Bock

What do you think when you hear Super Bock?  Snowboard move?  New band?  Apparently, it’s Portugal’s version of Bud Light.  Not bad, but nothing special.  But it was free and tasted okay tonight.

Breakfast was really good this morning.  I love the deli meats and cheeses and fresh fruit of good European (and the same in Brazil too) breakfasts.  Mmmmm.  The mid-morning pastry was tasty, as was the chocolate mid-afternoon pastry.  Though the berry soup was a bit odd – it reminded me of unsweetened thawed frozen strawberries.  Lunch was very meh – not much for a non-fish, non-egg eater.  I’m really glad I’m not a vegetarian.  Dinner was also a bit disappointing after the yummy desserts last night.  Ah well.

The retreat (I’m here for science) has been really good overall – lots of good talks and good to meet people that I’ve only had teleconferences with.  And chances to get to know other people better.  So it’s effective at what it’s supposed to do.  Other retreats should take note.  I also liked not having to carry with my poster and just show up to a put up poster.  So spoiled.

During the afternoon break, I got to chat with Jenn for a bit, which was very nice indeed.  Then I walked around the block across the street – all the walls are covered with graffiti art.  Some of it was really good.  Almost all of it I enjoyed.  To me it was a kind of museum.  I felt very satisfied at the end, despite my leg being very tired. Oh man, no wonder I was so tired.  It was 0.75 miles.  I stopped a lot, but that's really really far for me.

THEN I went up to the rooftop to swim.  It was wonderful.  Despite being an overcast day and the bay being a bit gray in color, I really enjoyed it.  It was perfect.  Well, not quite.  I wish I hadn’t felt concerned about time.  But that probably kept me from hurting myself swimming too long.  Here’s a pic, though it doesn’t even show the view out over the water:

They even provided towels big enough to easily wrap around me!  And it was soft!

And the day ended with the Super Bock and a fun conversation with various coworkers and people across related departments.  Overall goodness.




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