The Plan:It appears that I have been blessed with sufficiently good health to provide another opportunity for winter travel in 2013, so I will once again return to Portugal. I love the little fishing village of Cascais, now discovered by hordes of summertime European vacationers, but relatively free of tourists during the winter months. Located on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Tagus River and only a 30-minute commuter train ride from Lisbon, Cascais offers relatively mild temperatures, no snow, many wonderful restaurants, and lovely, though hilly, village streets in which to stroll on a mild winter day. There is also the beautiful, ocean-side promenade on which to walk and meditate most days.
I will depart from Newark Airport on January 9th and fly non-stop to Lisbon on TAP, the Portuguese airline. A bus and the short train ride should have me in Cascais somewhere around 8:00 a.m. their time. In a new approach for me, I used the internet to rent in advance a one-bedroom apartment. Customarily, I stay in a small hotel while I look for an apartment after arriving in country when I am spending a long time in one location. My trips of recent years have evolved into adventures where I stay in one place for most of the three months that I spend away from home. Prior trips were more ambitious adventures with much travel, whether by motor scooter, auto, train, bus, or plane. As I have matured (gotten old), I have found a longer stay in one place more relaxing. It gives me a greater opportunity to develop friendships, locate the local restaurants, and get immersed in the country's language and culture.
The apartment looked great in the photos on the internet and got rave reviews from all eight reviewers at airbnb.com which connects renters and prospective tenants. The apartment is located a few buildings up the street from the small hostel in which I spent a couple winters a few years back. The last time there, the hostel had taken a decided turn toward the seedy with gobs of mold on the bathtub walls and I promised myself never to return. The price of the apartment computes to $41/night which is probably less than that of the nearby hostel, anyway. Here's hoping the bathroom walls are free of mold.
Day trips from Cascais will probably include trips to Sintra, Estoril, regular visits to Lisbon, and perhaps, a bus trip to Seville, Spain, if there is a rainy spell along the Atlantic coast and I need to head inland. I am also planning a short excursion to Madeira, a Portuguese-owned island off the coast of Africa. Many folks have talked about visiting me in Portugal this winter, including neighbors, restaurateurs, and friends. I don't count on any visitors until I hear directly from them on which flight they will be arriving. My wife and another couple have promised to visit in mid-March and that sounds more firm, but I will await news of their flight's arrival before I believe it. Oh, there is probably a good chance that Schim, my Florida friend from several past trips, will make an appearance in Cascais if he finds out where I am headed. In a recent email, he asked where we were going this year and I told him that he was going to Singapore and I was going to Europe. I can see him now, exiting the Lisbon airport, eyes flashing to and fro in a state of panic when he realizes that Portuguese is another language he doesn't speak and that he is dependent on me once again. If he does make the trip, I have no doubt that I will have to lead him by the hand on the Portuguese tourist trail like a lost kindergartner on a school field trip. And, I'm just as certain he will look for the cheapest of restaurants in which to dine and that he will wheedle and whine to my webmaster (my daughter, Abby) until he gets to write his much more abbreviated (and grammatically impure) version of what happened on our daily adventures.
I invite you to travel vicariously with me on my journey, as many have in years past, and to communicate with me by email. I will have my iPad with me and will make regular updates on the web page. It seems like my adventures and misadventures always give me something to write about. Have a great winter. Tchau!
|January 10, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
Perhaps it was the caffeine in the two Arnold Palmer's (lemonade and iced tea) that I had for lunch in the Portuguese restaurant in Elizabeth, a stone's throw from the control tower, with my brother and good buddy, Larry, who drove me to the Newark airport. Or, maybe, it was the tiny seat in the almost-new A330 of the TAP Portuguese airline that denied me more than five minutes sleep on the six-hour flight, but I arrived in Lisbon very sleep deprived at 5:20 a.m., 40 minutes ahead of schedule. One would think that the two, half Xanax doses that I took on the flight would have counter-acted the caffeine, but one would be wrong.
The flight was exceptionally smooth and the service excellent, so I have trouble finding any fault at all with the passage, but the seats were miniscule. I sat on the aisle of the four-seat, center section on a flight where every seat was occupied. I realize that I am at Sumo weight - the highest number ever reached on my bathroom scale - and I know that my restaurateur neighbor, Gary, has nicknamed me "Double-Wide," but if the airline seats get any narrower, they will have to issue Vaseline with the purchase of my ticket. I still had six inches of strap left on my seat-belt, but my hips barely fit between the armrests and my knees pushed painfully against the seat in front of me. Sardine-like, I endured the fast, smooth flight and didn't feel too jet-lagged when I arrived in the time zone five hours earlier than home.
Customs and immigration were an absolute breeze; not a single question or opened suitcase, so I was on the curb waiting for the Aero Bus by 6:15 a.m. The Aero Bus is an express that runs through the main city streets where major hotels await travelers, then to the Cais de Sodre train station where the train to Cascais departs on an every-thirty-minute schedule. The first Aero Bus is at 7:00 a.m. and as I awaited its arrival, the jet-lag started to seep in. I made the connection, but the train ride was accomplished through the fog of sleep deprivation that got no better as I drank coffee (decaf) and ate pastries at the Pasteleria around the corner from my apartment. I visited an ATM after the coffee and strolled miserably in a light mist to the door of the apartment to await the 9:30 arrival of my young, attractive landlady - a new mother.
She arrived right on time and rushed through the orientation, at my behest, so I could crawl into the sack. The apartment is rustic and has no central heat, but there are a couple of heaters - one electric and one propane - and there is a large working fireplace. A well-appointed kitchen with dishwasher, a small bathroom with clothes washer, mold-free tub and shower, and wonderfully-hot water will make the apartment a comfortable headquarters for this year's adventure. The landlady will bring firewood when she returns to change the sheets next week, so frostbite is probably not an issue, though the tile floors feel mighty chilly on one's bare feet. I will make good use of the sandals I packed as a substitute for bedroom slippers. Unfortunately, there is a double-sized sofa bed in the quaint living room/dining room, so it will be difficult to keep my old friend, Schim, from making a visit. Somehow, he will find me.
After awaking from a five-hour catch-up nap, I am eager to visit the Melody Restaurant, an old favorite of mine, where the owner will remember me and prepare a wonderful seafood repast that will provide the energy to continue the unpacking process and to make the walk to the nearby supermarket (Jumbo) to stock the kitchen. Most updates will not be this lengthy, but I invite you to join me vicariously as I enjoy the pleasures of foreign travel in Portugal. Tchau.
January 11, 2012 Cascais, Portugal:
Old, red, 12-inch tiles on all the floors, whitewashed ceilings with exposed natural beams in each room except the kitchen and bath, a huge, working fireplace on one living/dining room wall, a terrace large enough for a 50-person party, WiFi, a big screen TV with CD player for movies (no cable TV), and palm trees within sight make this a wonderful place to call home this winter, despite the chilly temperatures that hover around 60 degrees during the day, dipping into the 50's at night. When the snow starts flying again at home, I know I will come to appreciate this winter location even more.
Of course, I don't know 50 Portuguese people well enough to invite to a party and a party with my friend, restaurateur Joe of the Melody Restaurant, as the only guest wouldn't be very exciting, but he is the only local I know well enough to call by name. Well, there is Rita, my landlady, who I will see on a weekly basis when she travels from her home in Lisbon to change my sheets and towels. Joe has three and eight-year olds, as well as several children from a previous marriage, and Rita is the mother of a new born, so both are quite busy. I imagine I will need to reach out to find other people with whom to party. Oh, I just thought of something: if Schim reads this, he will assume I am lonely for his company and head on over. No, I'm not lonely, Schim, just recounting the orientation process in a new land, though one in which I have wintered a few times before.
The most fun of the first couple of days in country were the two visits to Jumbo, the local supermarket. Shopping for basics is a bore at home, but when you don't know the name of simple things like napkins, hand soap, batteries, cereal, milk, orange juice, and so on, it becomes a treasure hunt to walk the aisles of a modern, foreign supermarket. Yay, there are napkins! After the first trip, I had figured out the Portuguese name for the above items, added a few more things to my list like wine and paper towels and was shopping like a local. Their fresh seafood section was amazing, displaying some of the strangest looking sea creatures found on earth, like monkfish and giant, tiger cuttlefish, as well as many finned fish not seen on western Atlantic shores.
I dined both nights at Melody and Joe, the owner/chef, recognized me after only a moment's hesitation. After his initial greeting, he retired to the kitchen to produce a set of photos from my previous visits to his small, local restaurant. Pictures of my family who visited during a reunion here a few years back and those of our close friends, Ron and Karen, and their family who also vacationed here brought back many memories and produced many laughs. The food he produces makes him a favorite of the locals and the list included in my orientation by Rita had Melody number one on her list of favorite restaurants. The first night, I enjoyed grilled linguado, a flounder-like fish, perfectly cooked and accompanied by a small salad (tomatoes, lettuce, and grated carrots), and white rice, along with the ever-present appetizers of bread, olives, goat cheese, sardine and tuna pates, and butter. I forced a rice pudding for dessert to be cordial. Last night I ordered my favorite, Arroz de Polvo, octopus rice, which is a delicious stew full of tender octopus parts and rice. I was in culinary heaven. No dessert last night, but I polished off a large carafe of the house wine and strolled home a happy camper.
The weekend should bring a walk along the ocean promenade to famous Estoril, where royalty once vacationed. Who knows, perhaps they still do. Tchau.
January 14, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
Somehow, I missed the most important factor in describing this 3rd floor apartment when previously updating the web page. That factor would be, in one word, ELEVATOR. Sorry about raising my voice like that, but, when toting the 47-pound suitcase upon arrival and rolling the Jumbo-laden grocery cart provided by the landlady, I get very excited about the tiny elevator that efficiently carries me and my supplies up to the apartment. The lift has been especially important because this old, athletic-warrior's knees have been barking like crazy in the cool, damp weather of the past four days.
Locals think the weather conditions are frigid, shivering upon entry into restaurants and stores, but the high temperatures each day are in the upper 50's and the lows have never dipped below 45. Yesterday was exceptionally windy and I did notice a chill on my cheeks as I strolled the town, but the Gore-tex golf jacket I pack for my outer layer handled it with no problem. Not so for the locals; they shiver and complain everywhere about the frigid conditions, which is a good thing since it means that the conditions of the past four days are atypical.
I spoke of a treasure hunt when shopping in a foreign supermarket and the same has been true in this well-equipped apartment. Over the weekend, I made several discoveries that will make life here a lot easier. First, I found a drying rack for laundered clothes that will sit nicely on the patio and help to rapidly dry my laundry. Secondly, another closet find was an ironing board and iron; I expect them to get little use in a location where nobody knows my name or cares if my shirts are wrinkled. Thirdly, after walking to restaurants in the mist on a couple of drizzly evenings, I located an umbrella hanging on the living room desk. Talk about a well equipped apartment! Finally, I found an extra down comforter that, no doubt, is for the sofa bed in the living room that would warm an overnight guest (No, Schim, you never entered my mind). That comforter is fantastic for curling up in front of the fireplace (no wood, yet) while reading the Jack Reacher novel in which I am deeply engrossed. How Tom Cruise can play the role of a 6'5", 250-pound, intimidating, ex-Army M.P. in this new movie is beyond me. He must have bought the film rights to the book. I can't imagine anybody else casting him in that role.
It has taken four days of irregular naps and middle-of-the-night awakenings, but this morning I awoke at 7:30, alert and ready for a new day. Perhaps, the worst of the jet lag is behind me. I decided to fight that battle by letting my body dictate my sleeping times. Had this been a week's vacation, I would have wanted to overcome the lag as quickly as possible; four days of unusual sleeping habits with two naps each day - mid-morning and mid-afternoon - seem to have done the trick. Here's hoping I am finally on Portuguese time, five hours later than Eastern Standard.
After coffee and a couple of cold mini-quiches at the pastry shop around the corner, I took a long walk this morning, looking for a new shopping mall described to me by a waitress at the Jumbo deli. After strolling 1.5 miles uphill in the direction described, I gave up, turned around, walked back down the hill, and stopped at the Jumbo deli for another coffee to rest the aching knees. Ordering coffee with cream, served in a glass is done by asking for "um galao" as in "gallon." A black coffee comes in espresso form in a tiny cup, which appears to be the preference of most Portuguese. Many women and yours truly order the "galao." Of course, I complicate things by requesting decaffeinated coffee (here pronounced "gee-caffin-a-gee"). That's more information than you need, unless you are coming for a visit. Have a good day; I need to return to Jack Reacher. Tchau.
January 16, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
Everything has been going swimmingly in my transition to a winter in Portugal. That is, until 3:00 o'clock this morning. Coming home from the Melody Restaurant, I had a medical epiphany: it wasn't the left knee that has been causing me all the pain; it was my sciatica. Perhaps, it was the carafe of wine consumed with my grilled cuttlefish that created the medical insight or, more likely, the shot of pain that traveled from that knee up to, well, to my sciatica, delicately located in the inner reaches of the muscle that got me the irreverent nickname, "Double Wide." Mind you, this nickname is only used by one living human being, but the pain was definitely coming from the source of that name.
"Aha," thought I, "it is probably the bed causing the problem. I'll sleep on the sofa to help correct it." Not! I awoke at 2:30 after a sound, wine-induced, four-hour nap, the sciatica and knee hurting worse than ever. I retired to my bedroom, climbed in bed, responded to a few emails, then rolled over to continue the zzzz's. At 3:00 a.m., before I could nod off, the neighbors below me in the second floor apartment crashed in off the street for the night. I could hear them coming down the street, arguing mightily. Doors slammed, voices screamed, doors opened, the argument continued back out to the street, returning inside with more slammed doors and more yelling. The elevator rattled, the gate crashed shut, its shaft perfectly amplifying the skirmish upstairs. The battle continued in a language I never identified - tourist or local, I'm not certain. The war was waged until 4:20 a.m. when they probably collapsed, exhausted where they stood. I know they wore me out. Part way through the event, uncertain of the security from apartment to apartment, and aware of the dangers from domestic violence, I got out of bed, and chose my weapons. Pepper spray from my backpack, a good first line of defense. If he or she keeps coming, the recently-discovered umbrella could deliver a well-aimed shot to the solar plexus or the adams apple. Could a drunken, enraged male climb over the screen protecting the terrace and enter the patio doorway I keep open for fresh air? I took no chances and armed myself with all the weaponry at my disposal. Standing in my underwear, while waving a ladies, curved, long-handled umbrella wouldn't have presented an intimidating threat, but I would have given it a shot. Drunken, that sight might have just frightened him to death.
By 5:00 a.m. I drifted off to sleep and never heard another peep. I awoke at 9:00, showered and shaved, making no effort for quiet. I placed my first batch of laundry in the washing machine, heard some water running, and the load started spinning. White tee shirts, a pair of khakis, and a well-worn, blue, dress shirt made up the first load in my initial attempt at washing my own clothing. No water showed in the window of the front-loader and I saw no soap suds from the little cake I threw in when I couldn't figure out in which of the three slots to place the pastilla (soap cake). The laundry tumbled like crazy but didn't even look wet. I watched for half-an-hour, mesmerized by the tumbling clothing, but I couldn't change channels and the directions on the dial were in hieroglyphics I couldn't comprehend. I opted to leave the machine do its thing and headed for the Jumbo supermarket for breakfast and to purchase a couple of necessities (like Ketchup for my fries). I slammed doors, bounced the gate of the elevator shut, and loudly whistled Roger Miller's "Trailer for Sale or Rent," as I changed floors and walked out the door. Turnabout is fair play, right? I hope I disturbed their sleep!
As I returned from the Jumbo, it began to shower about halfway home, of course. Laundry day and it is raining; it's been going that way since 3:00 a.m. Can't catch a break. The red light was lit on the washing machine, and surprise, the clothes were wet. Smelled good, too. Must be washed. I stretched the tee shirts over the rack that I had cleaned and spread on the patio before the rain, but under the overhang. The khakis and shirt I hung on three hangers and hooked over the posts on my bed. I improvised a pants hanger by draping the slacks over two hangers. Things are starting to come together. The rain shower has even stopped. Perhaps, it will be a good day in Cascais after all. Tchau.
January 19, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
Gale force winds, accompanied by bands of rain whipped horizontal in the storm, pounded my windows and whistled through every crack on the top floor of the old building in which my apartment is located. They're still blowing as I approach noon the following day. The noise awoke me a couple of times last night with its intensity and I wondered about the jeans and the fleece sweatshirt I hung on the terrace to air before I climbed into bed last night. When I awoke, showered, and shaved, I ventured out on the terrace to check to see if the clothing had blown into Spain. No, both the jeans and the sweatshirt were miraculously hanging where I left them and free of the horrible stench which required such radical treatment in the first place. Let me explain...
The sciatica has made me a noticeable cripple, needing to stop every five or ten minutes when walking to relieve the pain that presents itself on the outside of my left knee. Joe, the owner of Melody Restaurant, noticed this on Thursday night and inquired about my infirmity. When I explained my problem, he mentioned that he gets a "Fisioterapeutic (their spelling) massage" from a friend of his when he has back problems and would I want him to call and make an appointment for me. Well, yeah!! He complied and on Friday I taxied to a high rise building in Sao Joao de Estoril (if you're following on your map) and located the office of the "Fisioterapeuta," after a visit with his lovely mother in her penthouse of the building. Her apartment had a gorgeous view of the Estoril and Cascais bays, but her son's office is located on the ground floor. Joe hadn't explained that to me, so I inquired of somebody I met in the elevator and they sent me to the penthouse, where Rui Pina, the Fisioterapeuta, lives with his mother. She and her two dogs accompanied me to the elevator of the 14th floor and escorted me all the way downstairs to his office. The Portuguese are amazingly hospitable people.
Rui was short, balding, dressed all in white, and had round, wire glasses that didn't appear to be helping much with his vision. Turned out he was legally blind, spoke very little English, but had spent four years studying physical therapy and massage in Cuba. I can't make this stuff up, but I entrusted myself to the hands of a blind, Cuban-trained, therapist who looked like a Mr. Softee driver. To say I was a little on edge as I faced the treatment would be putting it mildly. My fears were reinforced as Rui stretched my hamstrings until I thought they would pop and bent my arms behind my back to "stretch my core." His English got better as the treatment progressed, but I almost jumped off the paper-covered table when he put an ice cube on the base of my spine, declaring that "we start with cold." COLD? COLD? That wasn't cold; that was shockingly frigid! He left the ice on, moving it to and fro, until it melted away. Thank God! He then took a vibrator and massaged the lower spine (he had me stripped to my skivvies), continuing up the spine and onto my shoulders. Felt good. Then, came the infra-red lamp, keeping in on several spots until I was more than well done. He followed that with an ultrasound treatment at my spine and down my left leg to the knee. Wait, I know it's a long story, but he then hooked me up to an electrical stimulus machine sending pulsing shocks along my lower back and down to the injured knee. This is a pretty thorough treatment!! Finally, he began the massage. A good massage, not great, but he proudly used "an American product," Bio Freeze, that had a strong, pungent, menthol, nursing-home smell to it.
As I left his office in another cab, I smelled like a walking bottle of Vicks. The cabbie rolled down his window as soon as I entered the cab and dogs on the street ran whining away from me. This stuff smelled atrocious. By the time I got back to my apartment, stopping for lunch at, believe it or not, a hot dog shop across the street from my apartment where I could sit outside downwind of everybody, I decided I needed to shower to rid myself of the foul smell. Taking off my clothing, I noticed that the horrid oil had permeated my undershirt, the outer shirt, and even my fleece, sweatshirt that I had layered under my Gore-tex windbreaker. The jeans were also contaminated near the base of my spine, so I took the sweatshirt and the jeans and hung them on hangers outside on the shutters of the doors on the terrace. It worked like magic, the airing. The treatment and the massage, not so much. It is a little better, but I have the feeling that it will take a few more days of rest to get back to 100%, if I'll ever be that good again.
I must look like a sight, walking down the street limping along dressed in black and sporting a black eye. Did you ever notice how everybody looks at a guy with a black eye? I do now. Like a crazy guy that gets in bar fights and definitely nobody to mess with. The black eye came from a small accident, but this update has gone on long enough. I'll get to the black eye tomorrow. Tchau.
January 21, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
People watching, that's what I do. Other than the time when I was the only person in a restaurant, I don't think that I am ever the only English speaker in the place, but table conversation in all of the restaurants in which I have dined has been in Portuguese. Not being very conversant in Portuguese, unable to politely eavesdrop on dinner discussions, and tired of watching the food on my plate slowly disappear, I tend to people watch. Who knew that you can look at some people too long? Not I, but as the wiry, tattooed Portuguese man at a nearby table jumped from his seat and headed at me shouting what sounded like epithets, I rose to discuss the point with him. He had obviously consumed more than the bottle of wine that sat on the table between him and the gorgeous wife/girlfriend he apparently contended I was ogling, because he had fire in his eyes. I barely got a word out when he swung with a roundhouse left that I easily ducked. Upon doing so, however, I bumped my eye on the refrigerated cabinet at the Melody Restaurant containing chocolate mousse, their delicious rice pudding, and a couple of cheesecakes that looked fantastic. Now, I was angry! The eye hurt immediately and I reverted to the physical, using the judo training of many years past to react to the blow. I quickly put the attacker in an arm bar, used a hip toss, and lowered him gingerly to the floor. Joe, the owner/chef, quickly interceded explaining to the misguided soul that I was an American and that I meant no harm. Peace ensued, but the eye was black the next morning.
It was difficult to write that version and keep a straight face. What really happened was that while reading my iPad in bed in the middle of the night during one of the jet lag, wake-up periods that plagued me until only yesterday, I dozed off and the iPad fell from my hands. I have removed the cover from the iPad to facilitate using the keyboard for writing updates, so there was no protection when the corner of the contraption struck me right below the eye. I immediately thought that the eye could get black, but I rolled over, forgot about it, and quickly went back to sleep. I was shocked in the morning when I glanced in the mirror while brushing my teeth to discover that I looked like a defeated prizefighter. Thank you to the thousands (maybe three) of you who expressed concern about my well-being, but the black eye is only a bump in the road.
The sciatica is feeling much, much better, the jet lag has disappeared, and the sun is shining. All is well in my world. The weather has been atrocious since I arrived on the Iberian Peninsula; it has rained every day except one during my almost two-week stay. Some days, the rain was off and on, or only a shower, but yesterday it rained most of the day, beginning while I was on the train, sans umbrella, to Lisbon for Sunday dinner. Because of the weather, I had to taxi to and from the expensive, but disappointing restaurant that I had researched on the internet. I got drenched walking back from the train station to my apartment, not even a block away, but I'm drip dry and recovered quickly. When not raining it has been overcast and dismal, presenting a dreary picture of this beautiful place. Perhaps, today will be the start of a brighter spell.
The food has been excellent. I even ventured into a Brazilian Rodizio the other evening to partake of Brazilian cuisine that brought back memories of my winter in Rio de Janeiro. I did not choose the option of strolling waiters carving meat from various cuts of beef and pork, but opted only for the less expensive buffet table. I am not a buffet person, because I tend to eat too much, but this buffet was enormous; the Pennsylvania Dutch would have been envious. Lasagna, stuffed meatloaf, chicken gizzards in sauce, lightly fried chicken, beef short ribs, various salad choices including red beets, and a huge bowl of my favorite - octopus salad - were among the many, many choices offered on the buffet. As usual, I ate too much and waddled home. No more buffets for me.
I made up for that yesterday in the rain of Lisbon. I only had two small plates and a half-bottle of wine in Romiro, a well-known and supposedly inexpensive, local seafood restaurant. By seafood, I mean shellfish; there were no finned fish on the menu. Clams, oysters, scallops, crabs, lobster, shrimp, and small conchs were the order of the day. I had a small plate of tiny clams (maybe 20) cooked in garlic butter that were tender and delicious and a small plate of small shrimp (perhaps 15) also done in a garlic butter. The bill was $43.65, which knocked my socks off. The bread, however, was absolutely awesome. Warm and buttered, with the rough texture of an English muffin, but with a crisp crust, I ate the entire portion, dipping frequently in the garlic butter. The Portuguese are renowned bread makers and that bread made my day. I had skipped breakfast and dined sumptuously on a bowl of cereal last night, so I didn't exceed my daily dining budget. I think that now I will take advantage of the sunshine and stroll to the marina to look at a few yachts. Tchau.
January 23, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
When traveling alone in a foreign land, the pleasure and excitement come from the different culture, the people, the language, the food, and the will to survive in an alien environment. But, an equal thrill emanates from the contact with other travelers or expatriates who are also living their dream. I remember Lorenzo from California whom I met in Baja California, then traveled with the following year in Argentina. A delightful compatriot, full of laughs, jokes, and a bright way of looking at the world. He is one happy camper now, having married the girl to whom I introduced him when I invited her to join us from a neighboring table in an Argentinian cafe while we waited for the trans-Patagonia train to depart. The happy couple are living in Argentina for half the year and in the mountains of Northern California during the other half. With his lifestyle now, he has perpetual summertime and a gorgeous companion, Graciela, with whom to appreciate it.
There was Tarak, the Australian lover of dance, who traveled to Buenos Aires to learn the polka or some such national dance. He and Lorenzo were drinking buddies who hooked up again this year when Tarak saved enough money to return to Argentina for more polka lessons. Another great guy, he is a delight to be with and to talk with during his many long distance phone calls to me from down under. I have stayed in touch with both of them. There was the British trucker who permitted me to sleep in the second bunk of his lorry when my scooter had broken down in France and I faced the prospect of sleeping on the very cold, damp ground. I stayed in touch with him via email for quite a long time.
I met many students while teaching English to business executives in Spain, but Virginia and Gumercindo stand out. I have kept in touch with Virginia and have even visited her in Madrid. I spent a delightful Carnival Festival in Cadiz, Spain, bunking on the sofa in Gumercindo's living room. Let me not forget Derek Burger and Gawie, the two professional hunters in South Africa who escorted me on the photo safari to Botswana and Namibia. Great guys who made every day exciting. Camping with them while completely exposed to the wildlife in the three-country, national park was one of the top experiences of my life. All these folks are great people I have met from my traveling experiences who have made my life exceptionally richer. There are many other locals and travelers far too numerous to mention from other winter trips who have brightened my every winter experience.
And then, there is Schim!! He came into my life as a fellow teacher in the English school in Spain, despite my every effort to ignore and avoid him. From Orlando, Florida, Schim demands attention. Divorced, but possessing a gorgeous significant other who has also somehow fallen under his spell and who must also tolerate his eccentricities, it is incomprehensible to me how he has won her heart. With me, it has been years of begging and cajoling, through letters, emails, expensive Christmas gifts and whining telephone calls exhorting me to allow him to visit during my winter travels. I have succumbed on a few occasions just to stop his embarrassing display. Helpless in foreign lands without me, he met me in Mexico City for my second drive through Mexico and Central America to Costa Rica. He flew to Buenos Aires, accompanied me to Uruguay, and rode with me on the bus through the Andes to Chile. Just last year, I endured his two-week visit to the Baja. During a couple of his travels with me, he coerced my webmaster and daughter, Abby, to publish his version of our days together which entertained readers of my blog with his simplistic, slanted view of our experiences together. Don't get all weepy on me, but the Schimster is back! No, he is not here, yet, but he threatens to come any day now. He has even begun writing comments on my website by again showering Abby with gifts and groveling phone calls. I thought I had him diverted to Singapore this year while I came to Portugal, but no such luck. He has already begun to whine on his web page, "Schim's View", about the sleeping arrangements here, complaining about the quality of his bedding AND he has never even set foot in Portugal. Brace yourselves, Schim will soon make life interesting. Tchau.
January 24, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
In yesterday's nostalgic look at people I've met while traveling who have enriched my life, I don't know how I could have forgotten last year's crew in La Paz, Mexico. Rainbow Hawk, Fred, Tom, and Tony kept my spirits up with daily conversations, some deeper than the others that dealt mostly with the beauty of passing senoritas. I owe them a debt of gratitude for their friendship.
I also need to address concerns from readers about the noisy neighbors who kept me on edge one night in this especially-peaceful, little village. I never heard another peep from them; I believe they moved out the following day. There are two apartments below mine in the building, usually rented for longer periods of time, I'm told. On that particular occasion, it must have been a short-term rental, because I never saw or heard them before or after that. The apartments are now vacant; I know this because the elevator is always where I left it, only moving when a realtor stops by or when the cleaning crew came by to clean up after the noisy neighbors vacated.
Concerns about my sciatica have been expressed and I can report that that nerve is somewhat improved. Not improved enough to keep from awakening me at night on occasion, so I have made another appointment with Mr. Softee for an additional treatment. This time, I'll ask him to hold the stinky BioFreeze. I am well enough to increase the length of my walks, though. Yesterday, I walked up the hill to the beautiful, old fort that guards the Cascais harbor. Inside the fort a beautiful, new, five-star hotel has been constructed; price for yesterday was only $120/night and I didn't think that was too bad. Can't imagine what it would cost during the high season, however.
I strolled outside the fort to the Museo de Mar, Museum of the Sea, and made a quick pass through that attraction. It was interesting, containing much information about the fishing industry and there was a school field trip being lectured as I departed. That brought back a few memories, since the kids were of middle school age.
The weather hasn't let me down; it continues to be horrendous. An expatriate Brit whose path I continue to cross in restaurants, Dr. Francis Haley, a dentist who has lived and practiced here for the past ten years, told me that this is an exceptional January. He has never seen so much rain and that would verify the information I gleaned from climate charts on the internet before I left home. Yesterday, the sun shone for part of the day, but drizzle began in late afternoon. Today, the rain began in the early morning, but again it is only a drizzle. The record continues, there has been rain on 14 of the 15 days I have been in country. I think the climate charts I studied said the average for January was eight days of the wet stuff. Call Guinness, I think we may have set a record! Tchau.
January 27, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
Noah's record is safe; we will not surpass his forty consecutive days and forty nights of rain this winter in Portugal. We made a run at it, but Saturday (yesterday) was absolutely gorgeous - sit in the sun, see the waves breaking on the beach, watch the sailboats racing - gorgeous! And that is just what I did, quickly adjusting my scheduled trip to the movies to see Django. I couldn't waste the first sunny day in two weeks watching a matinee. I drank a Coke Zero (yuck), sitting in the sun watching the events on the water off the small, rock-framed beach only a block from my apartment until it just got too warm. I retired to my apartment to check on the laundry hanging in the sun on my terrace where I dined on a take-out, tuna sandwich and finished the novel of the day, an Afghanistan war story about the action that killed a number of Navy Seals. Ah, what a day! All of us, locals and the few tourists in town at this time of year, have been waiting for a break in the weather and it finally happened. It wasn't long lived, however; this morning (Sunday) brought more showers, though with an occasional glimpse of sunshine. The good news is that, after today, there is no more rain in the forecast for the rest of the month. It was great to see those sunshine icons on the weather forecast after weeks of rain clouds. I'm ready for this.
Don't make the trip to Portugal for the beef, the baked potatoes, the variety of salad dressings, or the number of vegetable species. You won't find them in abundance here. I have had seafood for every meal except a couple of lunches where I bought some takeout chicken to eat at home. There are several chicken restaurants within a block or two of my apartment and even, gasp, a McDonalds on the corner about half-a-block away. But, this is a seafood paradise with fish and seafood restaurants lining the streets. Give a Portuguese diner a choice between prime rib or a thick steak and fresh fish and they will opt for one of a variety of fish every time, almost always served with freshly-cut, french fries, boiled potatoes, or rice, and a salad. I haven't seen a baked potato. If you ask for vegetables (leg oo mish), you will get a plate of broccoli, julienne string beans and julienne carrots boiled to death like grandma used to serve, cooked softer than a bowl of oatmeal. I have never been served a salad dressing other than olive oil and vinegar, other than in the Brazilian rodizio buffet where I ventured one evening and was astounded to find a choice of thousand island and ranch dressings to supplement the oil and vinegar. The diet seems much healthier here and I am already planning to dine on the octopus and rice stew this evening at the Melody Restaurant. I have even reduced a notch or two on my belt.
Mr. Softee, the blind, physical therapeutic, massage practitioner, had his way with me again, twisting, stretching, icing, heating, and finally massaging the area causing my sciatica problems. The improvement I feel usually comes on the following day, but I was foolish enough to walk the oceanside promenade all the way home after my visit to his office on Friday. Walk I did, in pain all of the way, requiring a number of stops to rest the knee where the excruciating sciatica pain presents itself. It was three miles or more in distance, so I was proud that I persisted in the mist-shrouded stroll, popping the umbrella up and down all the way.
If you are wondering about the dearth of photos, let me explain the problem: there is only one thing that I have forgotten to pack for my three month stay. I have the Kindle and its charger, the iPad2 and its charger, the camera and its charger, but I forgot to pack the photo attachment to the iPad. The early photos that I took of the apartment were taken with the iPad's camera, and that would be exceptionally inconvenient to carry around waiting for photo ops. I priced the attachment here and it would cost me forty dollars to buy another, a wasteful expenditure. So, I am hoping that, if Schim announces his visit, I can have my spouse mail the attachment to him for speedy delivery to Portugal. But, who knows if the big guy will be making the voyage. I will wait until the end of the month and if I don't hear anything concrete from him, I will purchase a duplicate attachment. I wouldn't want my readers to miss the beauty of Cascais. Tchau.
January 28, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
And the sun shone brightly! I'm sitting in the sun that is plenty intense enough to get the first coat of color on my winter-bleached face. It felt so good and I felt so bad that you couldn't be here to enjoy the 60-degree temperatures in this beautiful place that I decided you shouldn't have to wait to see a few photos. I packed up my iPad and took it for a walk, no leash required, to snap a few photos. They should be on the web page within hours. It felt and looked awkward holding up my iPad to snap the photos and I was acutely aware that if I dropped the thing the web page and my communication system would terminate forthwith. There aren't many photos, just enough to make up for my poor packing job which would have made you wait far too long to get a visual image to associate with my winter environs.
During yesterday's lengthy drizzle, I went to see "Django Unchained" at the theater a little more than a block away at a small shopping center. If you haven't seen this movie, don't bother! I certainly don't know what all the hoopla was about. It was full of excessive bloody violence and foul language and I can't imagine why critics thought highly of this flick. Quentin Tarantino, the director, is thought to be a genius, if one is to believe all of the Hollywood hype. If he is a genius, I'm Albert Einstein. He had a bit part in the movie, too, and his acting was just as atrocious as his directing. The only positive quality about the film was that it depicted the horrible treatment of slaves in a bloody, violent way that was probably even more degrading, if that is possible, than that experienced by most slaves.
This update was intended only to inform you of the photos that will be available for viewing soon. The film critique was free of charge. If anything exciting happens, I'll brief you immediately. Tchau.
January 30, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
Had I known that the number of rainy days in Portugal this year would more than exceed double their January average, I could have stayed home in my favorite lounge chair, wrapped in a fleece blanket, and read my Kindle. I could have called out for ethnic food and fantasized about being someplace warm and sunny. That would have saved a lot of money, but now that I am here and have experienced three consecutive sunny days with high temperatures in the low 60's, it is beginning to seem worthwhile. Having just checked weatherbug.com for the weather at home, I realize that the high temperature there will exactly match that here today, but the next five days here are forecast to continue at a 62-degree high, while the dreaded Canadian cold front will return to bring the frigid air back to Pennsylvania. Things are looking up.
An unusual experience at the movies, watching Django Unchained, went unmentioned in my recent film critique. Tickets are sold for assigned seating in that theater, but the usher told me that if I didn't like my seat, I could change. I didn't even check where my seat was located because there were only ten other people in the 100-seat theater for the matinee. I went to where I wanted to sit, screen-center, two thirds of the way back, and plopped down in front of a young couple whom I didn't give so much as a glance. Midway through the film, shortly after the 10-minute intermission that I've endured in all Portuguese theaters, somebody's cell phone rang musically at full volume in the auditorium that was quiet except for the film dialogue. Had that been my phone, I would have frantically groped for the instrument to shut off the persistent ringing and glanced apologetically at my fellow audience members, embarrassed that I hadn't turned the ringer off. Not the young lady sitting behind me! Believe it or not, and I had trouble doing so, she answered the phone and began to carry on a loud conversation, interrupting everybody's enjoyment of the film as all eyes swiveled to focus on her. Knowing no Portuguese words to describe my disgust at her behavior, I simply turned in my seat and growled a rather loud, "Hey!" A sentence or two later in her phone conversation, she hung up the phone and we could again concentrate on the terrible movie. When the film ended, she and her partner were nowhere to be seen, having exited rather quickly. I certainly couldn't have lectured her with my rudimentary Portuguese vocabulary, but I would have shared one of my "disapproving looks" about which my children now joke.
Speaking of phones, I remember back when we had no cell phones. I even remember when my family got our first phone, a black, circular-dial phone whose line we shared with another neighbor. I went months, maybe years, without talking on the phone as a young person. Now, many of us, especially the young, can't be without a phone for a minute. Like smokers who check their pockets for cigarettes, lighters, or matches before leaving the house, we check our pockets to make sure the phone is with us constantly. This technology is good?? One of the nice things about traveling each winter is that I have never taken my cell phone with me. I never have to look to see if it is charged, is it in my pocket, or where I left it. Freedom!! I also never get interrupted by its ringing. Winters are a voyage back to the past where phones are concerned and the silence is golden.
I have had to make three telephone calls since my arrival in country and it has taken some ingenuity to get that accomplished. The first time, I went to the small, nearby mall, walked into a Vodaphone shop, and asked if they spoke English (I possess that important vocabulary). They didn't, but the international signal with thumb and little finger and a pleading look got me permission to make a call from one of their personal phones to the realtor from whom I was attempting to rent an apartment for friends arriving in March. The second trip to Vodaphone got a clerk who spoke English and she directed me to the post office where there was a public phone. The plaintive look got me nowhere. In order to use the pay phone in the post office, one must get the attention of a clerk who is attending to the long line of people who have taken a number to wait their turn to do postal business. What an inefficient system! Finally getting the attention of the clerk, who later told me it was unnecessary to take a number to make a call, I dialed the number, completed the call, and eventually rented an apartment in the building next door to mine. To pay for the call, no coin slots in the phone, I again needed to get the attention of the clerk, who interrupted her work with the number holders to take my money. The calls were expensive, more than three dollars for a short conversation. My landlady explained that it is more expensive to call a cell phone, so I assume that was the case. Here ends the telephone lesson of the day.
I have had some interesting meals since I last described my dining experiences, so perhaps that is the tack I will take amanha. Tchau.
February 1, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
A beautifully rare, perfectly-seasoned, Irish, black Angus rib-eye, that's how I fell off the wagon. I have had fish or shell fish for every dinner save one since I landed on these shores. The other dinner where I went slightly off the fish wagon was the night I had a little poultry. Well, I guess one couldn't call it a little poultry - it was an ostrich steak. Last night, however, I found a restaurant where I had a cocktail the evening before with the couple who owned the place and learned that they took pride in the imported Irish, black Angus steaks that they served. This Brazilian couple, both of whose parents were native Portuguese, had every right to be proud. I had one and so did John, a retired Brit engineer, who was sitting across the room from me in the intimate restaurant and mimicked my order when he saw the great steak I was eating when he entered the dining room. We talked across the room during our meals, but when another couple came in to dine, I joined him for a final glass of wine.
John plays golf with a group of 12 men who have a buddy's trip every June. John finished dead last in their annual, five-day tournament last year and that honor was accompanied by the responsibility to plan and organize the following year's event. That was what John was doing in Cascais, his first visit to the place. A recent widower, John lives in Sussex, but has a summer house in the south of France near Bordeaux. He flew down here, made hotel reservations, transportation arrangements, tee-times at the five courses they will play, and was in the process of compiling a list of good restaurants where the guys can dine. He will certainly add the Armazem 22 Restaurant to the list, because we both rated the steaks excellent. In years past, when I desired some beef, which happens every month or so, I would jump on the train and head to Lisbon where there is a great Argentinian restaurant that serves wonderful steaks. Now that I found this place, my trips to Lisbon will not be necessary. John and I will meet tonight at an Italian restaurant where I have dined in past years and I'm certain this restaurant will make John's list, too. No sense dining alone when you can eat and talk golf at the same time.
There is a much wider selection of ethnic restaurants here than I remember. There was never a sushi restaurant in town and now, there must be five or six. I had some tolerable sushi in one of them one evening. I have also eaten Indian, South African (ostrich), Italian, and Brazilian at the Rodizio, but the preponderance of my meals have been in Portuguese restaurants.
For breakfast today, I had a galao (glass of coffee with cream), a small, rice muffin, and headed to the post office to mail a birthday card to Schim's mother who will turn 95 on the 19th of February; I thought she might appreciate a card in Portuguese. The post office is close to the bus terminal, so I headed over there to see about the bus schedule to Sintra, a gorgeous, nearby mountain town with a colorful castle at the peak of the mountain. While at the bus station, I inquired about getting a bus pass which cost me $28.00, but is good until the money runs out and it reduced the price of a trip to Sintra by almost half. Upon learning where the bus stop was located within the terminal, I noticed that the next bus was only half-an-hour from departure. I waited, jumped on the bus and rode to Sintra for lunch, a forty-five-minute ride. I had to walk a considerable distance up the hill into the center of town from the Sintra station and the sciatica started my knee barking again. Will this thing never heal? I had lunch in my favorite Portuguese restaurant in town, ordering the daily special - duck rice - which was superb and included some blood sausage, smoked sausage whose name I couldn't pronounce, and the pulled duck. It was served with four orange slices, no doubt from the heavily-laden trees I observed on the ride there. Quite tasty. Not too long ago, it was possible to buy blood sausage at our Central Market, the Germans eat it, too, but it is not sold there any longer. Now, I have to get my blood sausage fix when I am in Spain, Germany, or Portugal. Today was the second serving of the delicious, black sausage that I have had on this trip.
I returned home on a different bus route, this one hugging the coast after it descended the mountain, stopping in Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point on the European continent. The Rock is a windswept cliff where the temperature is always ten degrees colder than in Cascais. I never exited the bus, remaining aboard for the short ride back to town. I am obviously now home, a little exhausted after a five-hour, day trip and ready for my afternoon nap. Tchau!
February 4, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
John and I had several meals together over the weekend and it was great to have a dinner companion to discuss issues of the day, the 9/11 attack, golf theories, and even the eternal question of the existence of life after death, which we settled last evening. No, you'll have to find out for yourself. It is amazing how much wisdom and insight exists in a bottle or two of wine. By Saturday, John completed his golfing arrangements for the 12 players scheduled in June, so I offered to show him Sintra on Sunday. He drove his rental Fiat Panda and we snaked along the coast, stopping in Cabo da Roca, which I saw for the second time already this year. I imagine I'll return once again if Schim ever hits these shores. The parking lot at Cabo da Roca was crowded with at least 100 motorcycles. It must be the place to ride on Sunday morning and certainly, the twisting roads would provide a challenge for two-wheeled riders, some of whom passed us at great speed at dangerous points on the route. No wonder so many motorcyclists get killed.
There were bikes of every variety in the lot and their riders, in an equally-large variety of leather, biker gear, were in the coffee shop drinking coffee when John and I joined them after making the pilgrimage to the Rotary monument erected at the rock in honor of Rotary's 75th anniversary. Since Rotary celebrated its 100th anniversary this past year, I imagine the monument has been there for a quarter century. At least, the advanced math skills haven't left me. John and I continued on to Sintra and drove to the top of the mountain to see the colorful and spectacular Palace of Pena, where the Portuguese royal family spent summers until 1885 when the king died and the republic was formed. I'm a little vague on Portuguese history, however.
We drove back down the mountain to the village of Sintra and enjoyed a light lunch sitting outside in the sun. I know that I couldn't have done that at home without acquiring a severe case of frostbite. We took a shorter route home and agreed to meet for dinner where we had originally met a few nights ago. Unfortunately, that restaurant wasn't open, despite having advertised a Sunday feijoada (beef, pork, and bean stew) to which I was looking forward. We happened to run into one another while walking the tiny streets of the village and selected another restaurant where we were thrilled with the meal. John had a beef and clam dish served in a dish lined with what looked like potato chips. I had a delicious roasted octopus (naturally) which was simply scrumptious. We had a great time with the wait staff who spoke English and after we started the second bottle of wine, resolved that issue of life after death. A great night.
John is off for Bordeaux today, back to his home in southern France that sounds spectacular. After a few weeks there he will return to his home in Sussex, England. I will miss him; he is a good man, an excellent dinner companion, and a very safe driver. I'm hoping that his golf handicap will drop this summer by implementing all the suggestions I made about his game, although that has never worked for anyone else.
Rita, my landlady, visited this morning to change the bed linens and exchange towels. I told her that changing linens would not be necessary since, once again, I had only slept in half the bed for the past week. Next week, I'll sleep on the other side of the queen-sized, rock-hard, bed. She left the linens for when she returns next week and I asked her to bring a little firewood for my fireplace. I'm sure the apartment will be cool in the summertime, but it is tough warming up the thick walls and tile floor during the shorter winter days and longer winter nights.
I have had a number of experiences with haircuts while traveling, some good, some shockingly bad, so I ventured forth after Rita departed for my first foreign coiffure of this winter. It was either that or shop for rubber bands to secure the ponytail that was developing. In a shop where three or four women cut men's hair and where I think I got a horrible haircut in a previous winter, I sat anxiously on the chair as the barber/beautician began. First, she shampooed my hair, though I had done the same only two hours previously, then she proceeded to whack away with thinning shears, straight razor, scissors, and three different sized clippers. Gray hair was flying in all directions, but I must say that I am pleased with the outcome. I got a very nice haircut, shaped and sculpted mostly with the straight razor. I'm ready for warmer weather. Tchau.
February 7, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
There are octopus, then there are OCTOPUS! When John, the Brit, and I had the dinner where I mentioned my entree was roasted octopus, the head of that octopus was about the size of a large, coffee shop, breakfast muffin. It was, of course, not as upright as a muffin, since roasting will generally soften the muscles that holds any head erect and with an octopus it could probably only be erect if it were alive and full of sea water. But, there it was, lying in the center of the dish, head covering the eight tentacles (octo, right?) underneath. There were four, boiled potato halves around the marine creature that was covered in a delicious red sauce containing many cooked onions. I easily ate the entire serving and had room for dessert, though sufficient self-discipline was employed and I ordered none.
Then, came Monday night and I wandered into a restaurant where I had eaten in previous years and asked if they had chocos (cuttlefish), which was what I craved for dinner that night. Cuttlefish have the consistency of squid (calamari) and I like them almost as much as I enjoy their eight-tentacled neighbors. The waiter said yes, but when I ordered them, he said that he thought I said "charcoal" and, indeed, there was a sign on the wall advertising a charcoal grill. "No chocos tonight." My Portuguese pronunciation must need a little work. He quickly said, "we have octopus," though, and that made my day. I asked if they came grilled and he said, "yes," making me salivate. When the salad was finished, and, at least at this time of year, all salads are lettuce, tomato, onions, and shredded carrots, he approached with the order of OCTOPUS. The order consisted of five, partial tentacles of the creature sliced horizontally and sitting all alone on the plate. Beautifully grilled, the pieces of tentacle provided more meat than the entire roasted specimen of a few nights prior. I would love to have seen the entire specimen, because this baby must have been huge! The meat was tender, though, and I enjoyed every morsel. When eating tentacles of that size, one must swallow quickly to ensure that no suction cups attach themselves to your trachea. I survived the meal nicely and left the restaurant with a satisfied smile on my face.
Almost every year while on the winter adventure, I celebrate my birthday alone in quiet solitude in some restaurant not much different than most restaurants in which I have been dining and with no more fanfare. I can think of one exception when my grandson and I celebrated our birthdays together, standing on a table in South Africa while the crowd boisterously sang the birthday song. At the conclusion of the singing, each of the birthday celebrants, there were two or three others standing on the table beside us, was handed a shot glass full of a clear liquid to toast. I drank the harsh liquor and then watched in horror as my 11-year-old grandson started to drink his. I leaped across the table and stopped him, not wanting him to begin a bad habit too early, only to find that the joke was on me. The waiters had slipped him an apple juice and I had over-reacted, much to the joy of the wait staff and the gathered throng.
This year, I am throwing myself a birthday party! No special birthday to celebrate, although when one reaches this age, just to have another birthday is a cause for major celebration. No, I'm throwing myself a birthday party because I found a place small enough to hold all the people I know in Portugal. There are 10 or 12 seats in this tiny deli-like establishment, called "Diniz," that features charcuterie, cheese, olive oil, and wine. I have been hanging out there the past three nights, enjoying a plate of pata negra, a little cheese, and a glass of wine before dinner. Pata negra is ham made from the black-footed pigs of Spain and Portugal that eat nothing but acorns. It is the finest ham in the world, bar none, dry-aged for as long as three years. Much cheaper here than in Spain, too. The camaraderie is wonderful in the tiny place; it helps that the proprietor and most of his customers speak English, so some of my weak attempts at humor can finally be appreciated. If my landlady and her husband can attend, which is doubtful, Joe and Rosa, owners of Melody, and a couple of Brits that I met the other night in "Diniz" will also be invited. That means that I need to meet at least six or eight more people in the next two weeks and that may be impossible. So... consider this an invitation to my birthday party! Just email me that you will be here on February 24th and I will save room for you. You are going to love the ham! Tchau.
February 11, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
Scarves are a big deal in Portugal and all over Europe. It seems odd that I never wore a scarf in winter time, nor was I trained as a child in the importance or the art of folding, wrapping, twisting, inserting, or hanging the things around my neck. I get it now, though. Evenings are still chilly in the Lisbon area, occasionally reaching a low of 41 degrees, and it has amazed me the difference wearing a scarf can make in warding off the cold night air. As a part of an efficient packing process, I utilize the layering of clothes to keep warm in cooler winter temperatures. This year, I wear tee shirt, long-sleeved, sport shirt, a full-length-zippered, black, fleece sweatshirt, then my rain-proof, black, Gore-tex, golf windbreaker to protect myself from the chills that I travel each year to avoid. There have been a few evenings when the layering was barely enough, but with the judicious and artful wrapping of the scarf around my neck, instructions provided on Skype by my wife, I am amazed at how much more cold air I can take and feel comfortable. "Fold it in half, looping one end; take the un-looped end and bring it back through the loop (after wrapping around neck) and tighten," were the instructions and they work like a charm. I brought with me a long, Tommy Hilfiger, half-red, half-white, framed in navy scarf that, if wrapped right, gives a whole, new savoir-faire to my appearance as I go out to dinner each chilly evening and the wrapping keeps me warm. All this time, I thought European men were merely making a fashion statement, but wearing the scarf fills a very important utilitarian role that I will remember on every cold night, no matter my location.
It has been windy, apparently we are having their version of March these days, but the sun has been shining brightly and the days are warm with temperatures expected in the lower 60's for this upcoming week. Friday and Saturday were gorgeous days here on the Iberian peninsula and I got out and walked the ocean promenade on Friday and made a day trip to Lisbon by train on Saturday. Both required much more walking than I have been capable of with the continuing battle over sciatica pain. It apparently means that the sciatica is starting to heal, go back in place, or whatever it does when it disappears for years on end. I now find that if I walk until I feel pain start in my knee, I sit and rest for a few minutes, then continue. I walked on the beach promenade on Friday, stopping when the pain began, to watch a couple fishermen with long surf poles fish the Atlantic waters. I sat long enough to observe one of them catch what looked like a small sardine that he returned to the water. It looked to me like he should have used it for bait.
Sunday, the day was so beautiful that I was motivated to board the train to Lisbon to search out a market for Schim to visit if he ever gets to Portugal. I don't know what it is about markets that attracts him, but wait, yes I do, it's free entertainment! In whatever country we happen to be located, he heads to the local market for his dose of the local culture. Not a bad idea to some extent: there are fresh fish on ice, meat stands, flower vendors, produce purveyors, and many opportunities to observe the differences in our cultures. I'm not certain that is what attracts Schim, but I know that it's free. He has already questioned me at length via email about the existence of markets in Cascais and while I have visited the small market here, I had no idea about markets in Lisbon. I figured I had better do some research about them, because if he shows up knocking on my door one day, he'll start whining about market visitations the very next morning.
I have taken to eating my larger meal at lunch, then heading to Diniz for a couple glasses of wine and some charcuterie for a light dinner. Friday night, I ran into five men there, all young fathers, who were celebrating the birthday of one of their cohorts. All but one of them spoke English, shared their appetizers with me, and treated me like I was invited to the party. Naturally, I bought an additional bottle of wine for them to consume, ordered a plate of ham to share, and subsequently invited them to my upcoming celebration. One of the young men owned a restaurant that I visited the next evening and was welcomed in a very local place that was a five-euro cab ride on the outskirts of town. I was one of the first arrivals, but every seat in the place was full, all by advance reservations, a very short time later. I was seated at a table where there was a cancellation. Reservations were marked with the person's name and number in the party on each table with felt markers scribbled on brown, butcher's paper that served as table cloths. The menu was painted on the wall and I quickly realized that I was in an alien culture, because all of the extensive menu items were completely in Portuguese. That really doesn't pose much of a problem for me, since I can now identify most foods or, if not, I order anyway because I like most everything and surprises don't bother me. Nobody in the place was speaking English, but I imagine that quite a few could carry a conversation in my native tongue. Sure enough, one waitress and one waiter spoke well enough that they provided service in English. There are probably people that would have been uncomfortable in that situation, with all the chattering in an alien language and the confusion of an unknown menu, but that foreign flavor is exactly what I enjoy so much about my winter adventures.
One of the other young fathers owns a surfing shop at famous Guincho beach and promised me free surfing and surf paddling (where you stand and use a long paddle to navigate) lessons. He promised great photos to show to my readers. I think I may just pass on that offer, but all of the guys seemed eager to attend my party. Seats are filling fast; get your reservations in. I wonder if Schim will show up? He'll love the new scarf look! Tchau.
February 12, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
By the time you read this I will be long gone - the victim of cabin fever caused by too-slowly-healing sciatica and two days of overcast, dreary weather with occasional drizzle. I was awakened in the middle of the night on Monday/Tuesday by a hard downpour; I could hear the water splashing off of the awning onto my terrace and battering the roof overhead, but the past two day-times have just been a depressing grayness with infrequent spritzing (Pennsylvania Dutch for drizzle). I have had enough; it is time to tear loose my shackles and get out of Dodge, er, Cascais.
This afternoon, I headed to a couple of rental car outlets in my neighborhood and priced car rentals. Not bad, $70 euros ($94) for three days, including insurance and unlimited mileage. True, the insurance leaves me exposed for the first $1,200 (900 euros) of damage in an accident, but maybe my credit card will cover that. I figure I'd play the odds like insurance companies do and save the $110 the rental would cost with EuroCar, where the insurance covers every penny of a fender bender. I have used this rental company, Auto Jardim (auto garden), in years past and had no problems - famous last words. They're the low bidder by more than half and I should have learned about cheap rentals from last year's experience in Baja Mexico, but I rolled the dice again. In case you haven't read the blog from last year, I ended up buying three, used tires (later reimbursed) on a two-day rental when I picked up Schim at the airport. That was a more exciting adventure than I anticipated for a car rental, the car vibrating so badly even the Mexican drivers blew their horns and waved their arms, telling me it was unsafe. Portugal isn't Mexico, however, so we'll see.
"Where are you going," you ask? Come on, I know you did. I'm going south to the Algarve, the southern most portion of Portugal where I spent my first year (2000) in the very touristy town of Albufeira after commuting by motor scooter (125 cc) from Bologna, Italy. Leonardo, my scooter companion, and I enjoyed the ride and the stay in the Algarve, but Cascais is a much prettier place. There are places in the Algarve that are only a couple of Ferris wheels shy of being Ocean City, Maryland, but that's where I'm headed for a few days. After crossing one of the bridges in Lisbon, I'll be meandering south along the Atlantic coast, in case you are following on a map. Hmm, which curiously, I do not possess.
Actually, the sun has just popped out and the forecast is for full sunshine the next few days, but it is time to spread my wings, though one is a little gimpy. If the urge strikes me in the Algarve, I may make a run to Sevilla, Spain, only a few hours ride from Faro, though the insurance only covers me in Portugal. Come on, credit card! Leonardo, the scooter, and I made the ride between Faro and Sevilla four different times on two visits to the Iberian peninsula and the highway is a great, four-lane expressway. Sevilla is one of my favorite cities in Spain; I have wintered there in the past and it might be worth the risk and the drive to munch on a few tapas. I'll charge up my iPad, throw a couple sets of underwear in my backpack, and hit the road by 10:00 a.m. If I find some WiFi, I'll update along the way. Tchau.
February 14, 2013 - Lagos, Portugal:
From their brochure, I was expecting a Fiat Panda. I was pleasantly surprised when the congenial, comedic, car-rental clerk took me to a VW Polo that had four good tires with much, evenly-distributed tread. Clearly, this is not Mexico. The Polo performed admirably as I negotiated my way through the congested streets of Lisbon and over the very high (sweaty palms high) 25th of April Bridge, designed and built by the builders of San Francisco's Golden Gate and past the huge, statue of the open-armed Christ that overlooks the city. I left the expressway shortly thereafter and headed for the coast, always keeping the Atlantic on my right. Almost magically, the Polo headed south until we ran out of road; then, we took a 25-minute ferry (I love ferries) to a resort area called Troia before continuing south to a village named Conforta where I had a great, though expensive, lunch at a restaurant recommended to me by Gonzalao, owner of Diniz. I mean a great lunch! But, since I am typing this, one finger at a time, on my iPad without the keyboard, I will not describe it here. Relieved, aren't you?
After lunch, I headed inland on two-lane roads past the amazingly-rich, agricultural interior of this narrow country. It was difficult to drive, watch the excellent road signs, and identify agricultural endeavors, but the old geographer tried. A list of the endeavors that I observed would include major rice farming, wheat, a little irrigated corn, sheep and goats with shepherds nearby, cattle, chicken houses, orange and lemon trees heavily laden with ripe fruit, and finally the magnificent stands of cork-oak trees, many stripped of their cork bark in the eight-year, harvesting cycle. Portugal produces much of the world's cork and I always think of those farmers as I open wine bottles with rubber stoppers or screw caps.
I underestimated the time required to reach the Algarve, southernmost region of the country, and ended up after nightfall, straining my eyes to watch the unfamiliar road as it snaked through the low mountains. It didn't help that I got stuck behind a heavily-loaded oil truck, never with enough room to pass on the curvy roadway. I was exhausted when I reached Lagos, then got lost once again in town trying to find the center and a hotel. I finally located both and am currently ensconced in a delightfully-clean and bright "albergheria," complete with a full, English breakfast (51 euros).
Today, I plan to revisit this city, move on to Portimao for lunch, then travel to Albufeira to look for a hotel. Tomorrow, I will survey the changes to Albufeira where I wintered during my first visit to Portugal, then return to Cascais via the A2 expressway. I have written off Sevilla for this trip, not so much because of the additional 50 euros the insurance would cost, but because of the additional wear and tear on my lower back. The sciatica flared up painfully several times yesterday in the car, but feels surprisingly good this morning.
When I picked up the Polo yesterday, I asked the clerk for a map which he supplied. He also included the admonition, "sometimes, it is better to get lost; you see more interesting places." A great piece of advice and the philosophy I almost always employ. I was happy to comply as I drove the small, twisting roadway in the dark last night, though I may have muttered his name once or twice while following the slow truck up hills. Tchau.
February 18, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
The speed limit was 120 kph (km per hour), so that's where I kept the speedometer for the first 10 miles or so on the A2 expressway from Albufeira in the Algarve to Lisbon. My sciatica was not going to take another nine-hour drive on the back roads or a run to Sevilla in Spain, so I headed out of Albufeira on Friday, glad to be on the road "home." I was disappointed once again with Albufeira and all of the commercialism that has destroyed what was once a peaceful, fishing village. High-rise, apartment buildings, apartment hotels, and time share properties had sprawled even farther around the town since my last visit. I had trouble finding a hotel room, but was determined not to wait until dark had fallen to locate one. Finally, I ended up in one of the apartment hotels, because there were few real, single-night hotels anywhere to be found, since the business here is mostly week-long vacations. When I drove into town, one of the main streets was closed because of a major bicycle race and I was directed through the tiny, back streets of the village and finally past the apartment where I first wintered in Portugal. Things had changed little to my apartment building except the direction of the streets. Twice, I had to turn around because the streets had been converted to one way in the opposite direction I was headed. People were kind enough to yell and wave arms to attract my attention before I caused a major accident. Turning around on the tiny streets was part of the adventure.
The apartment hotel had no studio apartments, their smallest, available that evening. So, I bargained a little bit and was able to crash for the night in a one bedroom apartment at the studio rate (38 euros - $50). I told the desk clerk that all I needed was a bed and shower and I would not bother the rest of the apartment. I was also planning to dine in their restaurant and drink at their bar, but I could go someplace else. He quickly asked me to wait while he talked to the manager and ultimately, they wanted my 38 euros and the restaurant business. I learned the hotel was packed when I entered the dining room of the large restaurant and found no tables available. Gray-haired couples were everywhere, some speaking British English, others speaking German. They had come, probably for a week or more, to enjoy the warmth of the Algarve sun and like them, I was enjoying the warm weather. Both days in the Algarve, the thermometer in the Polo registered 67 degrees Fahrenheit (19.5 Celsius). The weather must be so bad in Germany and Great Britain that these folks get to sunny climes and over-broil themselves in the sun. I saw several sun-burned folks in shorts and sleeveless shirts during the day and there were plenty of red faces in the dining room that evening.
As I headed up the toll road toward Lisbon, I soon realized that there were no other cars on the highway. One other car had entered the highway when I did and I didn't see another car for half an hour. Gradually, the Polo and I realized that we could cruise a little faster, so I cranked it up to 130 kph. While driving, I remembered the photos that I had snapped of a spectacular beach near Portimao. I took a couple shots with my iPad, so I'll be able to share them with you. Pretty impressive beach features, I'm sure you'll agree. I also thought about the list of agricultural endeavors I had listed in the last update. How I could have forgotten the many vineyards I passed through in the Alentejo region south of Lisbon, one of the two great wine regions of the country, is beyond me. Oh, the other great region is the Douro Valley east of Porto in the north of the country. I also forgot the thousands of olive trees I passed when traveling in both directions. Those trees produce huge crops of olives, enough so that in almost every restaurant a plate of olives is served, along with a basket of bread, before each meal. The memory is failing, but olives and wine are two of the most important agricultural economies of this country. Add them to that list for the pop quiz that will follow this year's adventure.
When the big Mercedes passed me like I was sitting still, I pushed the accelerator a little harder and started to cruise at 140 kph for most of the rest of the trip. That Mercedes and one that zoomed by a half-hour later must have been going 20 MILES per hour faster than I was. The highway speed limit was 75 MILES per hour and when I reached my top speed, chasing the Mercedes, I was traveling at 87 mph. I was moving, but with nobody else on the four and sometimes, six-lane highway, I felt pretty safe and the Polo was up to the task. I wonder how fast those Mercedes were going? Must have been well over 100 mph. Traffic got heavier as I approached Lisbon, I even passed a few trucks, so I slowed back down to the speed limit. When I had to pay the toll, I saw why the expressway was so empty: the toll = $27.35. Obviously, the locals cannot afford to drive that highway and I wouldn't want to pay that much toll every day. I wasn't finished, though, I still had to pay a $3.87 toll to cross the big, beautiful Vasco da Gama bridge across the Tagus River and into Lisbon. The very long bridge is one of those suspension bridges with all the cables outside, creating a dramatic architectural feature. Portugal seems to be making a statement with the construction of its latest bridges. All are architectural things of beauty. I also took a couple photos of the da Gama bridge through the windshield, but it was covered in fog while I was crossing, so I'm not certain you can get real feel for its beauty and I won't be able to share those shots with you until my wife arrives with my camera adapter for the iPad. Fog is not a bad thing crossing a bridge when one suffers from acrophobia. I couldn't see a thing under the bridge and my palms didn't sweat at all.
Another $2.00 toll to navigate the maze of expressways around Lisbon, without a wrong turn I might add, and I was "home" in Cascais. The hotel clerk in Albufeira estimated that it would take me four hours to get back to Lisbon, but the sciatica didn't even stand up to the 2.5 hour journey on the expressway - so glad I didn't decide to meander home on the back roads. I returned the car 17 hours early, got no credit or refund, despite my negotiation skills, returned to my apartment, and crashed on the sofa to rest my back. I was welcomed at the Diniz wine shop when I returned for tapas that evening and had a great weekend meeting new people there. I needed that adventure, but it was great to be "home!" Tchau.
February 20, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
It is strange how I thrive on the differences in the culture of the countries I visit, but eventually tire of the routines, the diet, the lack of amenities in the basic apartments I rent, the absence of my family, and anyone else whom I might engage in English conversation. It happens on almost every trip that, eventually, I yearn for home. I'm not homesick; that usually subsides in the first couple of weeks, but I have begun to miss the wonderful standard of living that I enjoy at home. One of the benefits of this length of travel is that I never fail to appreciate, once I arrive home, the quality of life that I lead. I have missed the central heating system that we take for granted, but which many homes in Europe do not possess. In my apartment, I have a propane heater in the living room, a fireplace (and since this past weekend, sufficient wood to build a roaring fire), a small, radiator-type, oil-circulating, electric heater in the bedroom, and a heat lamp with pull cord over the door in the bathroom. For most of the time on this trip, the only place I felt really warm was under the feather tick in my bed; that room has been the warmest in the apartment where even now, the sun shining brightly outside, I sit in the living room with my fleece sweatshirt over a tee-shirt and long-sleeved, sport shirt. Well, I also feel plenty of warmth at the little wine bar, Diniz, where the tiny room, the small toaster oven, a few warm bodies, and the flowing, red wine sometimes make me perspire. The temperatures have not been that low, 40-degrees Fahrenheit was probably the low of the winter, but the absence of central heating, the thick walls of this old building, the old windows that cannot be sealed, the fireplace without flue that allows cool air to sink to the living room floor, and the damp air off of the ocean have made this a chilly winter experience. Go kiss your furnace or heat pump this very minute!
I will head for the Melody Restaurant for lunch today and I know exactly what they will place on the table before me. They will place a dish of olives infused with garlic and olive oil, a basket of bread (pao), a small, whole, sheep cheese, and a small plate with tiny, containers of sardine pate, tuna pate, and butter. The containers are produced in a factory someplace and look very much like restaurant butter or jelly packets at home. That combination of items is served in almost every restaurant in the country. Occasionally, a homemade item or two may be offered as well. I have seen a small container of pate de foie gras, a small, circular, paper-wrapped, fresh mozzarella cheese, and only yesterday, a large, beautiful octopus salad. The interesting practice here is that you do not have to partake of those items, but if you do, you are charged for each one. Eat one piece of bread, one olive, one sardine pate, or packet of butter on your bread and you will be charged (separately for the bread and the butter). It is never very much, but it adds up. If Schim arrives, he has been delayed by the serious illness of his 95-year-old mother, he won't go anywhere near a slice of the great Portuguese bread that is served. The point here is that I am tired of olives, the great bread, the sardine and tuna pates, and the sheep cheese. The octopus salad yesterday was different and absolutely scrumptious, however, and I will miss that concoction when I return home. I could use a cup of tomato bisque or split pea and ham, and something a little different than what is served daily. The ethnic restaurants do not serve those typical starters, though. I had sushi last night and Italian one day last week and was almost relieved not to see the olives and sardine pates staring back at me.
I won't be playing golf at Oitavos Dunes golf course any time soon, though today and yesterday were warm and sunny - perfect golfing days. I stopped there on the way back from the Algarve to inquire about pricing and got a rude awakening. I know I am going to sound like Schim here, but they charge $80 for greens fees now, which is low season, and beginning March first, the greens fees double to $160. That is a little steep for me. Not only that, but that price does not include a golf cart. Oh, golf carts (the British call them buggies) are the same price, low season or peak season - $93.50. I don't have my clubs with me, so I also inquired about renting sticks (golfing terminology for clubs) - $60. Without figuring in the glove and balls that I would have to purchase, a round of golf after the first of March would set me back $313.50 plus transportation to and from the course. I would have to refinance the house to manage a round. I won't be doing that, especially because I haven't played since September and would be frustrated with my game in the process. I could go practice on the range, however. I priced that, too, and they want $6.75 for 47 practice balls (no idea why 47), but when I asked if I could borrow a couple of clubs to hit the practice shots, they informed me that I could rent them at $8.00/each. This is not my kind of golf course, but not to worry, there is another course in Estoril and I have hit range balls there before. They loaned me clubs.
I also met a warm, friendly, American ex-patriot the other night at Diniz. Alex just joined the Estoril golf club and mentioned over shared tapas that we should play a round together at his new course. This sounds like a better deal, especially when he told me that I could borrow his wife's full set of brand-new clubs. Alex is a native Hawaiian, his wife is from Seattle, and they moved here because she enjoyed Cascais so much when she traveled here with her mother and sister. Alex never traveled until a recent trip to Great Britain. An electrician, he said he did nothing but work all his life, he is now 70, on contracted jobs for the federal government, some of which lasted for seven years. He seems to be enjoying retirement and Cascais now, though. Last night, I stopped at the popular Irish Pub around the corner for a night-cap - decaffeinated, Irish coffee -and Bill, the bartender who knew me from an earlier visit (or two), offered to loan me one of his three sets of clubs. Life is good!
February 22, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
The bus did not return along the coast highway after reaching Guincho, where a few brave souls in wetsuits were surfing and a couple others in similar black suits were stand-up, paddle boarding (with the long-handled paddle). Guincho has hosted many international surfing and wind-surfing events and is familiar to all surfers. The bus swung inland through a series of sand dunes and into several small villages that I would never have seen on my own. There was no guide, sharing information about the towns, but I was happy seeing the small villages I didn't know existed. The bus then cut back through the Quinto do Marinha development where beautiful, old houses on fenced and walled lots surround the two golf courses and mark the wealth of the owners. I returned to the bus station after the 45-minute ride feeling much more familiar with my environment.
The saving grace for me this year has been my iPad2 and the WiFi provided by the owners of this apartment. I am able to generate updates, stay in touch by email, and even telephone my wife daily at a ridiculously low rate, literally pennies per minute. The WiFi is located in the apartment, so I get a strong signal and am also able to download NBC's evening news, though I must wait until 3:30 a.m. when they are finished broadcasting on the west coast. They must delay putting it on line until their broadcasts are finished. It is great when I awake in the middle of the night to see what's happening in the world. I have no cable TV, but the iPad has kept me in touch with current events. When I have time on my hands, and that has happened quite often with this sciatica problem, I have also read my local newspaper (Lancasteronline.com), kept abreast of all the news about my Phillies, and even had time for other downloaded entertainment. Only last evening, before the tapas hour at Diniz, I thought of Anthony Bourdain and the travel channel, googled it, and watched his whole show on Mozambique where I crossed the border a few years back. The night before, I googled comedy routines and was presented with routines by Bill Cosby (the dentist's visit), George Carlin (naughty words and others), Eddie Murphy, and a couple more. The iPad has been a God send. I do not get the best reception in my bedroom at night and occasionally the nightly news is interrupted by the in-and-out WiFi signal, but that's OK. The reception is so much better here with the WiFi in the apartment than last year in La Paz where the unit was located on the ground floor and reception on the fourth floor was never very strong.
I have made a couple changes in the treatment of my sciatica: I have removed the wallet from my back pocket - a move that has been recommended by doctors and chiropractors through the years. And, thanks to a suggestion by my daughter, I have begun taking ibuprofen to help the inflammation. Duh, I knew that, but it took a reminder to get me to make the change. I hate taking medications. The back is feeling a little better and I'm hoping the new practices will finally get the pain in the nerve to subside. Interesting that the nerve is located beneath the gluteus maximus muscle, because it has surely been a pain in the butt. Tchau.
February 25, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
By the time the night was over, sometime considerably after midnight, I made a down payment on the bill and wandered the block-and-a-half home, happy to have enjoyed another birthday. It was great to do so with new friends, rather than alone in a strange restaurant and, by the time the party ended, I had an invitation for a round of golf at the new golf club that Alex and Barbara, the Hawaiian couple, recently joined. They also invited me to dinner at their house, Gonzalo gave me a set of four, framed photos of Cascais, and an invitation to join him today at a restaurateur's food fair in Lisbon. My friend, Joao, offered to provide free limousine service to the airport to pick up my wife and friends on March 10. Two British teachers, Jenn and Valerie, from the English school in nearby Carcavelos, were eager participants and seemed to really enjoy themselves. Jenn teaches English and Valerie teaches special education. Valerie, originally from Ghana, taught several years in the Los Angeles, CA, school system. I met Jenn and her husband, Simon, at Melody Restaurant at dinner one evening, and last night Simon worked late in his restaurant, so Jenn brought Valerie for support. Simon arrived after his restaurant closed and had plenty of time to join the celebration.
Saturday brought a trip to Guincho Beach and a visit to Antonio's surfing business where he insisted I try to get up on a board. I tried to avoid the embarrassment, but his instruction was so good that, eventually, I gave it a shot. There were a number of spills in the chilly water, but there was one wave, maybe the tenth one I tried to catch, that I got a pretty good ride out of. He takes pictures of new surfers and he got one of me. I have included it in this update, simply because I am so proud of the accomplishment. Great thing to achieve on the day before your birthday.
Shock of shocks!! Holy Orlando, Batman!!! Schim is on his way. The guy just can't stay away when there is adventure to be had. He has never been to Portugal, but he will get here on Wednesday morning for a two-week visit, departing the day after my wife and friends, Ron and Karen, arrive. Schim's 95-year-old mother has improved enough for him to make the trip after a long delay and a lot of doubt. His flight lands at 6:00 a.m., so I told him to take the Aerobus to the train station in Lisbon where I will meet him. He begged me to meet him at the airport; he is so insecure, but there is no bus until 7:00 a.m., and the first stop is at the airport. I would have to take a cab to get there in time and he'll have to cool his heels and work his way to the train station. He's a big boy, right?? No doubt, he'll start contributing a convoluted version of his visit soon after he arrives. He speaks no Portuguese, but expressed satisfaction that he was flying TAP, the Portuguese airline, because he claims to have mastered the language. He thought that about Spanish, too, and stayed close by my side, intimidated by the cultural differences. Stay tuned. Tchau.
February 27, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
After dropping off his trunk and backpack at the apartment, we walked the streets of the little village to the fish-auction building, fisherman's beach with colorful boats bobbing on the water, through the main square, and, finally, to the local market open only on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Schim loves markets and the walk was an interesting orientation to the colorful, Portuguese culture. Schim bought a scoop of large olives to snack on in the apartment and we wandered back through the streets as he attempted to get his bearings so that he can navigate his way home when he explores the tiny streets alone. He is looking forward to lunch and dinner, Portuguese style, and I am eager to hear him order in the language he claims to have mastered. His first comment when he entered my apartment was, "Boy, this place is freezing. Isn't there any heat?" And, while walking the streets, he kept haranguing me to commit to accompanying him to Southeast Asia next year. One year at a time, Schim, one year at a time!
We will go to lunch at Melody, where yesterday Joe gave me a Benfica scarf to honor his favorite Lisbon soccer team and as a birthday present to me, despite the fact that he couldn't attend the party because his restaurant had late dinner customers. The next few days should make for some colorful commentary in simply reporting Schim's clash with the Portuguese culture. Stay tuned. Tchau.
February 28, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
Diplomatically, there may have been irreparable damage to Portuguese-American relations, but I am working hard to smooth over the severe affronts to the Portuguese people after Schim insulted all the customers in Diniz last night by stating that they would "soon master the Spanish language." Schim knows six words in Spanish and only one in Portuguese: "euro." Fortunately, Gonzalo recognized the ugly-American side of my buddy and verbally stepped in to caution everybody in Portuguese that Schim was jet-lagged, therefore insensitive. Jet lagged or not, the Schimster is unaware of the cultural pride of the wonderful people of this country. To suggest that this country is "so close to the Spanish border" that the people should speak Spanish went straight to the heart of a Portuguese complaint that they can understand their Spanish visitors, but the Spaniards make no effort to understand them. I would estimate that it will take two weeks to assuage the damaged feelings.
In a major surprise at yesterday's lunch at Melody, Schim wolfed down the bread, olives, cheese, and sardine pate before his grilled sea bass, rice and vegetables arrived. At least at the first meal, he ignored the expense and enjoyed his introduction to Portuguese cuisine. He insisted on a large carafe of red, house wine that I was forced to share, despite my aversion to consuming alcohol before the evening meal. The net result, of course, was that I slept three hours in the afternoon and ruined a good night's sleep. I was awake from 2:00 to 5:00 a.m. before finally dozing off until 9:15 a.m. There will be no afternoon alcohol for me during the remainder of his visit, no matter the vast quantities of booze that he consumes at any hour of the day or night.
One day into his visit and he has already used my shaving cream, toothpaste, shampoo, and soap and consumed the cheese left over from my party and the entire bag of Nutter Butter Bites that I purchased in the Newark Airport before my flight took off. He said they were still "very fresh." I was so happy for him. This morning we shopped for groceries at the huge Jumbo market a couple of blocks away and he was like a kid in a candy store. He ridiculed the grocery cart that I pulled to the store, saying it was un-masculine, but he quickly filled it with bread, eggs, sausage, cokes, cookies, Snickers bars, crackers, and willingly pulled the loaded cart all the way home. He plans to cook us American breakfast in the morning - so much for the Portuguese cultural experience.
This afternoon we are planning to take the local bus to Guincho so that Schim can see the area. I am eager to see his reaction to the small villages through which the bus will pass. Hopefully, we will not disembark so there is a chance we can preserve what is left of Portuguese-American relations. I'd hate for Lisbon to pull their ambassador to the United States. Tchau.
March 1, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
Relax. There will be no long update today. There is absolutely so much material about the cultural clashes of my roommate that it will take time to edit the material. From electrical shock, damaged coffee makers, inoperable stove tops, ordering breakfast in one of his three vocabulary words in Spanish, constant whining about the "absolutely frigid conditions," to unceasing complaints about a short taxi ride to a restaurant that was full, there is just too much material to process. Perhaps tomorrow, I will be able to wrap my head around the many foibles that have shocked the Portuguese-speaking world.
Today, in another attempt to elucidate about the rich culture he has entered, I will venture forth on a bus tour of Lisbon. If I can get us back safely to our apartment this evening, without succumbing to the riots his insensitivity will surely cause, I will consider today a smashing success. Tchau.
March 2, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
As the train pulled into Cascais last evening at 10:30 p.m., a smile crossed my face knowing that I had beaten great odds and survived a day with Schim in Lisbon. Not a single arrest and no international incidents marred our visit, during which we utilized six modes of transportation - foot, train, bus, taxi, trolley, and tram (think the Pittsburgh incline). We must have walked five or six miles during the day and both of us were growing weary by day's end. The trolley and taxi were the most noteworthy of the transport modes, since the antique trolley, jammed to sardine-like standing room only, wound up through tiny streets to the castle overlooking the city. Schim said later that he enjoyed the experience, but he looked very put-upon when he gave up his seat to an even more elderly gentleman. I had given mine up at the first stop to a very elderly lady with a cane (wish I had thought of that), but at that time Schim never budged. On the trolley, we enjoyed talking to three college students, from Seattle, Boston, and New Jersey, but currently studying in Spain, who were here for an adventurous weekend. They didn't seem upset, despite being jammed tight against two men old enough to be their grandfathers, and we shared a few laughs about the crowded conditions.
Also unique was the experience with one of the two taxis we took, this one from the Alfama to the Restauradores section of the city where we headed to take the tram up the incline to Bairro Alto, the so-called "high neighborhood," where we would have a great dinner. Exhausted from hiking the last half-mile up the steep slope to the castle that we never entered because of the queue and the price of the ticket to enter, we also taxied down to the Alfama, the oldest section of the city and the poorest, but the only area to survive the 1755 earthquake that devastated the city. We walked a few of the very tiny alleyways of that part of the city but, still exhausted from the previous climb, we stopped in a tiny, dingy bar and had a shot of the local, wild cherry liqueur (ginha) and a bottle of water. A cab driver was also inside, taking an afternoon break by drinking a beer, and he was apparently a friend of the old woman tending bar who was thrilled by our visit (4 euros). When he was leaving, we asked if we could take his cab to Restauradores, and he reluctantly said, "Come on!" We didn't realize that two more of his afternoon drinking buddies would also accompany us in the Mercedes cab that made for a ride as tight as the trolley we had recently evacuated. It was a rather long taxi ride, made longer by the rush hour traffic that had us stopped several times in traffic behind more jammed trolleys. The driver put on a CD with Fado music (the sad, Portuguese blues-like wailing) and our three companions joined in song with the female performer. I added a refrain or two of my own and we had a marvelous ride through the busy, city traffic. When I went to pay the cabbie, he said, "nah, no problem," and refused, despite my insistence, to take a penny for the trip. Schim and I were flabbergasted at the driver's generosity. In what other major capital of the world would a cab driver take you for a long ride and waive off the fee? What wonderfully hospitable people the Portuguese are!
I need to point out that Schim went grudgingly to the tourist areas of the city, not interested in entering the cathedral where lies the tomb of explorer Vasco de Gama, though he followed when I entered. A few minutes later, we stopped for lunch at the famous Pasteis de Belem bakery where tens of thousands of small, custard-filled sweets, called pasteis de nata, are baked daily. He didn't want to go there, either, but loved the serrano ham and mozzarella sandwich and the pasteis that we liberally sprinkled with confectioner's sugar and cinnamon at our table. Later, he acknowledged, "Good lunch stop." Reluctantly, he next accompanied me to the giant sculpture memorializing the Portuguese adventurers that stands on the edge of the River Tagus and which visitors from all over the world travel to see. It was like pulling teeth to get the Schimster to see the highlights of this interesting city.
For dinner at Adega O Texiera, my favorite Portuguese restaurant, we dined with the staff at 7:00 p.m. because Schim was hungry and the owner permitted his "friends" to rush the dinner hour. As usual, the owner provided entertaining service and filleted and plated our fish table-side. The appetizers of melon and presunto (prosciutto), olives, and a creamy, Brie-like cheese were delicious and the coffee service in clear, round, flame-heated pots is like none I have ever seen. A bottle of Alentejo wine was followed by a bottle of Douro wine and we weaved down the hill for the train back to Cascais. Twice on the ride home, Schim said, "Good day!" Maybe, it was worth the effort to get such an enthusiastic evaluation from the big lug.
March 4, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
"Treat the Schimster more kindly," implored a member of his family after reading my travel blog. This in an email forwarded to me by the man himself in a shameless display of malevolence. I need to make something very clear here: the updates I write are my only opportunity to reciprocate for the constant barrage of derogatory comments I get all day, every day from this member of that family. Comments about my clothing, my age, the size of my derriere, my choices from the menu, my afternoon abstinence from alcohol, and my profligate spending of money. This from a man who sells his used clothing on eBay, rather than donating them to charity; who uses a Flowbee to cut his hair to save a buck, who yesterday refrained from seeing the gorgeous castle in Sintra to avoid paying the entrance fee and the bus fare up the mountain. The man who continues to use my shampoo, my shaving cream, my deodorant, and my toothpaste despite the availability of the same in his toiletry kit not three feet away. Of course, I spend more money than he does; he is a dependent of mine.
Yesterday, we rode the bus to Sintra, via Cabo do Roca, the western-most point on the continent. A normal tourist, seeing this cape for the first time, would have followed my advice, exited the bus, explored the cape, its monuments and views, and waited for the next bus in the coffee shop where 250 motorcyclists were drinking coffee and kibitzing about what must be a regular, dangerous, Sunday ride on the narrow, twisting highway. On our bus ride to the cape, at least 30 bikers passed us at break-neck speed around dangerous curves in the road. One biker didn't quite make one turn and we passed slowly in the bus as other members of his "club" gathered around the motorcycle lying on its side on the berm of the road. We saw no sign of a biker with serious injuries, so the guy was very fortunate and only suffered minor injuries; he apparently was going too fast to navigate the turn, but was able to brake before crashing into the nearby trees. We stayed on the bus for a one minute bus stop in the parking lot near the cape, one of us apparently fearful of paying for another cup of coffee, then rode the narrow, scenic road to Sintra where, even at this time of year, tourists flock to explore the steep, very narrow streets and to see the spectacular castle of the last king of Portugal. I have visited the castle, now a national park, six times, once before again this year with John, my friend from England and France. I only returned to Sintra for the third time this year so that Schim could see the magnificent castle, a tourist stop enthusiastically enjoyed by every other visitor with whom I have shared this treasure. Schim refused to pay the bus or taxi fare to the top of the mountain and the entrance fee to see the beautiful, ornate, and colorful castle with magnificent views of the surrounding area. Instead, we sat in a small adega (basement restaurant) and ate sandwiches and a glass of port that Schim adamantly insisted I drink, despite my disdain for afternoon alcoholic beverages. We then took the train back to Lisbon, walked through the center of town back to the Cais do Sodre station, and made the connection back to Cascais. I traveled for the sixth time to two of the most important tourist sites in this country only to share their beauty with Schim. He saw neither of them, but will say he visited. He even took photos of picture postcards in Sintra to validate his visit, though he never really laid eyes on either of them.
Last evening, however, was a far different story; he listened to my advice. We went to Diniz where Gonzalo had promised to have his wife, Francisca, make us an authentic, Portuguese feijoada. Schim had stayed at home the night before to save money when I dined alone at Diniz on serrano ham, bread, olive oil, and wine, but accompanied me last night, looking forward to his first taste of feijoada. He was overwhelmed by the meat and bean stew, ate heartily, and shared his pleasure with Gonzalo who was delighted. Schim even got a recipe from Gonzalo and promised to try to produce the same dish at home in Orlando. We also shared a nice bottle of Douro wine, split the bill, and walked home with the Schimster talking enthusiastically about the meal all the way home. By the time he leaves for home (only one more week :-), he may finally get the message about taking advice. Nah, not the Schimster. Tchau.
March 7, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
We spent the day yesterday pounding the streets of Lisbon and fighting a train strike to search for a hotel room in his price range for this weekend. I suggested the Salvation Army or the local mission, but we kept looking AND walking. After entering a dozen or more hotels and finding them too expensive or too basic for his needs, we headed home without a room. Immediately upon our return to the apartment, encouraged by my desperate pleading, he booked a room on the internet at the head of the main street in Lisbon so that he can prowl the streets of this most interesting city. I offered to let him stay with us until his departure on Monday morning, but, in an answer to my heartfelt prayers, he declined, opting to see if he can survive on his own in this alien culture after two weeks of my intensive training. I wish him well, but will make no bets on his success.
When we finished our futile search for a hotel in Lisbon, we walked on weary legs to the train station for our ride home. As they inexplicably were on our way into town, the gates were open, so there was no charge for our entry onto the platform. We hadn't been checked by a conductor on the way in, nor had our frequent travelers pass been checked while on board and we were nonplussed. Turns out that our rides were free (Schim's price point!) because it was the first day of a national train employees strike and there was only a very skeleton staff to operate the trains. We found a seat on the train, but sat in the station for an hour-and-a-half on a line that runs every 30 minutes. We quickly found a seat on the nearly empty train, but as the minutes ticked by, the train filled to standing room only. When it finally left the station, people heading home from work were jammed like sardines into the car. We were delighted to be home, but had to reconsider our plan to train to Porto the next day. We are now planning a trip that will, no doubt, excite the Schimster: to the new, large, shopping mall a 30-minute bus ride away. Having done some kind of work in the retail field, he will want to look through every store, critique their placement of product and pricing, and share all that valuable information with me. We leave now; I can hardly wait. Tchau.
March 9, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
On several occasions, the speedometer on the ends of the first-class coach registered 130 mph as the bullet train whistled through the very green Portuguese countryside while we sped our way home from a day trip to Porto, some 200 miles north of Lisbon. The digital display also indicated the time and inside and outside temps as we hurtled along the tracks, the German-made cars tilting on every turn. It was raining hard in Lisbon when we left, but we had a warm, sunny day when we arrived in Porto. As seniors, we paid only half fare for the tickets, so Schim picked up the tab. Mark your calendars! It was 12.50 euros each for the slower (only 30 minutes slower) train north and only 21.50 euros for the first-class ride home. The slower train, taken earlier, beat the time we would have arrived on the speedier train north, so the ticket agent recommended the slower trip.
Schim can now say that he saw Porto: he saw the port caves (Taylor, Sandeman, Fonseca, Graham, and all the others) from across the river and saw Porto from the brief walk we took up the steep hill from the Douro River to the town's center square. Despite his objections, on the way back to the train station, I had the taxi stop at a park that overlooked the spectacular view of the beautiful city from the spot where I first viewed the town when Leonardo (the scooter) and I stopped in awe to take photos. Schim did seem impressed by the sight once we got there. Not interested in a city tour or a taxi across the bridge to actually visit the port caves (as the storage warehouses are called), he was no more interested in them than he was in the large (free) art museum in Lisbon where works by famous masters like Picasso are displayed. It was a long, long day and this morning over coffee at the local bakery when Schim inquired as to my favorite part of the day yesterday, I responded, "When I crawled into bed last night." It was worth the effort to share that beautiful city with him, though I couldn't admit it. I am anxious to read his description of yesterday's trip, so I won't attempt to describe it further here, having done so on my previous visit to the city.
I interrupt this update to announce that the Schimster has departed. Good-byes were spoken, hands shaken, tears filled my eyes, and he headed down the elevator only seconds ago. I wish there were some way to warn Lisbon, but he is now making his way up the block to the train station. He will stay two nights in this nation's capital at a hotel he booked on the internet and, with time off for good behavior, may yet catch his flight to Orlando through Newark on Monday morning. I'm not too confident about the good behavior part in Lisbon, since I have seen him in action, though I wish him well. It was a treat, of sorts, to see Portugal through his eyes which viewed this country for the first time. I would think that the place has impressed him. It would have impressed him far more had he taken the time to really experience the place and see its treasures. He left, for instance, never seeing the gorgeous, Pena castle of Sintra, Boca do Inferno, the port caves, or a single cork oak tree, though I tried diligently to spot one from the train at 135 mph. We should have rented a car and driven through the countryside where he could have leaned against a freshly debarked tree and learned about one of this country's major exports. Ah, well, perhaps he will return.
I now await the landlady, who will change linens and towels, and a cleaning person who will spruce up the apartment for the arrival of my wife tomorrow morning. I also will pay the final payment and pick up the key for the apartment next door in which my friends, Ron and Karen will stay. I eagerly await their arrival and will pick them up at the airport with my friend, Joao, who offered to provide that service. The updates may be less frequent during their two-week stay and I'm certain that most of you are delighted about that. I'll try to keep you apprised of the more interesting events, rest assured. Tchau.
March 11, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
If you have checked Schim's portion of this blog, you will have seen that he has apparently survived his two days alone in Lisboa and flies this morning through Newark to the land of sunshine in Orlando. It almost sounds like he enjoyed his introduction to Portugal, though I caught but a rare glimpse of that satisfaction while we shared my apartment. There has been a noticeable reduction in the consumption of my toiletry supplies since his departure, that is for sure. Safe travels, Schim.
My wife and friends, Ron and Karen, landed safely a few minutes after schedule and we thoroughly enjoyed our first day and evening together in Cascais. We had Sunday afternoon dinner at Melody and Joe outdid himself for us. My wife and I had great, roasted leg of lamb, and Ron and Karen both enjoyed sea bream that caused Karen to exclaim, "this is the best fish I have ever eaten in my life!" That is how good and how fresh Melody's seafood always is. Joe likes to say, "it was swimming in the ocean only a couple of hours ago and now it is on your plate." And that, my friends, makes all the difference in the world in the flavor of the fish. The ladies topped off the meal splitting a pizza-like slice of almond cake, and Ron and I went for the delicious rice pudding that is the best I have ever eaten. When we were finished with our meal, Joe magically appeared from the kitchen with five shot glasses brimming with the concoction he calls a "Kalishnikov." He joined us to salute the arrival of the three newcomers to Portuguese soil. Joe knows that he will see much more of us during the next two weeks. The Kalishnikov, made with honey liquor and heaven only knows what else, went down smoothly and induced great afternoon naps for the jet-lagged travelers. I joined them to be sociable.
Last evening, we walked up the steep, short hill to Diniz which Gonzalo had opened so we could enjoy our first night together. He dazzled us with tapas that included mozzarella with pesto, lemon, and olive oil; serrano ham; mushrooms stuffed with cheese and speck (the mild German-type bacon); a delicious gooey sheep cheese that we couldn't get enough of; flaming chorizo, cooked nearby on a red clay dish; and mussels with cheese and herbs that perfectly concluded the evening. We also finished a couple of bottles of very good Douro wine and I felt that the new arrivals had fully immersed themselves in the local culture by meal's end. A couple of local men at the nearby table (the only other table in the place) happily took photos of us and discussed with Gonzalo what local restaurants they should recommend to us. It was a delightful evening.
On the way down the hill, I mentioned my customary Irish coffee to end the evening, and Ron (Mr. Music Man) heard music drifting our way. There was a live duo playing and singing Irish songs as we entered, and a couple of revelers, he Norwegian, she Swedish, happily agreed to let us join them at a table with the only empty seats left in the place. During the hour we stayed, enjoying the great music which evolved into our era of rock and roll, the Swedish wife had her husband, Gunnar, Ron, and even me for a few seconds at the end of a song, up dancing. By the time the Irish coffee, Baileys on the rocks, a pint of Guinness, and whatever else Ron was drinking were consumed, I was more than ready for bed. The others, now fully awake and operating like they were still on Eastern Time, agreed to try to get some sleep. Tomorrow is another day and we meet for breakfast at 10:00 a.m. Tchau.
March 16, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
For several readers who have requested my wife's version of events, here is her take on yesterday's day trip by auto to the beautiful Portuguese coastline north of Lisbon:
We had a great day yesterday. We rented a car and drove along the coast through many small picturesque villages on winding and hilly roads. One town in particular, Ericeiria, took our interest as we unexpectedly turned into the town. It looked like a new and upcoming area but when we got back into the center of the old town it was so quaint and our car barely fit through the streets. We were not sure what town we were in and asked two ladies who were standing in the doorway of a grocery store on a very narrow street what city we were in. They did not speak English so between limited Portuguese, Spanish, and hand gestures, they were able to tell us. We all laughed and they asked where we were from and then mentioned "papa", the pope and seemed happy. What an experience that one does not get on a tour bus!
there we continued to the town of Peniche, also along
the coast, and had lunch down along the port where it
was recommended we eat. Their fresh fish were on the
glass enclosed porch and three of us had wonderful
seafood. From there we went to our original
destination of Obidos arriving around 4 p.m. as it
turned cloudy. We were greeted by many tour buses and
people. We discovered there was an International
Chocolate Festival. The crowds on the narrow streets
did not appeal to us so we walked a few blocks towards
the center among crowds and many vendors and souvenir
shops and meandered back to our car through a side
street. The area is known for a cherry liquor and
since it was a chocolate festival there were tiny
chocolate cups being sold with the liquor from which
to drink it. We got away without making any
March 18, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
Though I feel more than a little guilty about it, I am home alone while the rest of my visitors head to Sintra and Cabo do Roca on the bus. I have been to these places four previous times this year and could not face another trip to the scenic mountain town. My wife is a little chagrined at my decision, but I have chores to do today. The colored laundry is hanging on the terrace to dry and the whites are completing the washing process in that wonderful, white machine that has saved me almost $200 this winter. We will leave tomorrow morning on a two or three-day adventure, so there will be no time to get the laundry clean and dry before the trip.
We spent a restful St. Patrick's Day yesterday while Ron, Karen, Andrew (their grandson), and Lexi (his girlfriend) spent the day touring Lisbon, where I have also visited many other times this winter. My wife preferred a day of rest over another trip to Lisbon, since we had been there for dinner a day or two ago, but the remainder of the group spent the day touring Lisbon's tourist attractions. Andrew and Lexi are studying in Madrid for their collegiate, junior year abroad, and this is Lexi's first trip to Portugal. Andrew had been here previously when Ron and Karen invited their family to join them on a Portuguese holiday. We joined up in the evening for dinner, pasta and pizza at a local Italian restaurant, then adjourned for a nightcap to the Irish pub around the corner. Though it was well decorated for the holiday and was full when we first passed on our walk to the pizza joint, it was deadly quiet and music-less when we arrived. I had my nightcap, then headed home, since I did not nap and was up early in the morning. The rest stayed for another drink before heading home, but Ron and his grandson headed to the other Irish pub in town where they found enough music and St. Paddy's Day entertainment to last until 1:30 a.m. They'll be tired campers walking the hills in Sintra today.
This evening, Andrew and Lexi will take the 50-minute flight back to Madrid and their Tuesday classes; tomorrow, Joan, Ron, Karen, and I will board the bullet train for the almost three-hour ride to Porto. In Porto, we will rent a car and drive north to the region known as Galicia in Spain. Our final destination is Santiago de Compostela, the terminal point for the famous religious pilgrimage to what is thought to be the final resting place of Saint James. It is supposed to be a beautiful city in a gorgeous, green part of Spain, one which I have never visited in my many visits to that country. We will stop in many interesting, small villages along the way as we did last week on our way to Obidos, an hour north of Lisbon. There will, no doubt, be many tales to tell about this group's serendipitous pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Stay tuned. Tchau!
March 20, 2013 - Santiago de Compostela, Spain:
All has gone well in our train/auto pilgrimage to this beautiful, old city where we will view the cathedral and crypt of remains thought to be that of the apostle, Saint James, as soon as everyone's afternoon siesta has ended. All has gone well unless you count several hours attempting to exit the Spanish town of Vigo last evening after dark when the lack of reasonable signage kept us circling in rush hour traffic, attempting to find a hotel. Finally in desperation, we found and were able to follow a sign to the toll road that took us to the beautiful town of Pontevedra, Spain, where we were able to secure hotel rooms. The driver (yours truly) was at his wit's end, desperately needing a bano and a break for his sciatic nerve. The stop came after seven or eight hours, including a fantastic lunch break, in the upscale VW Golf we rented at the Porto airport after taxiing there from the train station where the Avis office was closed for lunch.
Lunch was in the Porto suburban town of Matosinhos, where we luckily selected a place (Tito II), among many near the port of the city, because a man was cooking squid and sole on a jury-rigged, charcoal grill on the street in front of the entrance. Thinking the place to be rustic, we entered to find a sophisticated, rather-formal, dining room lined with lovely stone walls. A complimentary glass of port started a meal that could best be described as a five star, seafood bonanza. From the delicious, tiny, striped, clam appetizer, to grilled octopus and sea bass, to the humongous, grilled tiger prawns that brought gasps of delight from all, the seafood was spectacularly fresh, perfectly prepared, and still has us talking about it a day later. In Pontevedra, the tapas and laughs we shared after several glasses of the best sangria ever, while trying to settle our check with confused Spanish waiters, were needed to lighten the stress of a long, tiring day on the road. The beautifully-lit cathedral and convent in the quiet plaza where we sat gave solace to frazzled nerves and the strength of the brandy-laced sangria allowed all of us to sleep soundly. Hasta Luego!
March 22, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
Home, sweet home!! It was a long day of travel after two nights on the road, but we arrived safely in Cascais sometime after 10:00 p.m. last evening. I arrived from Lisbon 40 minutes later than the umbrella-packing others, because my train card had no fare left on it (Schim gave it to me) and they boarded the train as it pulled from the station before they realized my plight. I purchased another ticket, missed their train that was leaving the station as they boarded, and caught the next one to Cascais where a downpour drenched me on the short walk from the station to the apartment. The Gore-Tex jacket offered some protection for the quick walk, though my head and backpack were soaked. Thank God, it was me and none of the others that missed the train in Lisbon. That could have caused major anxiety for all and several additional rides on the coastal train line to try to find the lost soul.
It was a three-day adventure with no reservations made in advance and it brought back memories of winters past, as I meandered around the world finding lodging, food, and transportation along the way. This time, I had three companions to protect and the meandering involved a rental car obtained spontaneously at the Porto airport, as well as train tickets purchased by walking up to the station ticket counter in Lisbon and, on the return trip, in Porto. It was an adventure described as a great trip by Ron who never likes to let any grass grow under his feet. The women were a little less enthused about being on the go, but there were sufficient laughs to make the entire experience a tale worth telling for many years to come.
In Santiago de Compostelo before we departed, we visited the cathedral, viewed the sarcophagus of what is thought to be the remains of St. James in the tomb below the altar, and climbed the tiny, claustrophobic-causing stairs above the altar to give a reverent hug and offer a prayer to the huge, gold statue of the apostle that is customary and for which pilgrims on the religious camino to Santiago stand in line for hours during the summer months. There was no line yesterday, it being a rainy morning, and perhaps, one of us offered a prayer for better weather, because the skies cleared, the sun came out, and we had beautiful weather for the remainder of the trip back to Lisbon. It took about three hours to make the drive on the toll road from Santiago to Porto and we talked several times about the beauty of the old cathedral and the impact of visiting the ancient, walled city. The ornate fresco on the ceiling of the cathedral and the amazing amount of shiny gold statuary around the altar made an impression on all of us and the entire experience was one of reverence and introspection.
We visited the town market prior to heading for the cathedral and I took many photos that will be added to my photo album later today. The cultural differences explode in market visits and I hope you get a feel for those differences in the pictures. We stayed in a boutique hotel that we found just outside the walls of the old city when a couple of us entered out of desperation for a bathroom stop. Ron inquired at the small desk about rates, the women evaluated the rooms, and we booked the recently-remodeled, modern rooms in the ancient building for 75 euros. It was a bargain in a great location and included an expansively-delicious, continental breakfast the next morning. The visit was made more delightful by Pepa, the young desk clerk/ breakfast preparer, who was a former exchange student in Oregon "when she was much younger." She looked plenty young to us old-timers and she offered great advice on how to visit her city.
How good was the Tito II restaurant in Matosinhos? Good enough that we went five miles out of our way to wind our way back to the fabulous restaurant along the port in the suburban town outside Porto. I have included a few photos of the meals there to explain our enthusiasm for the place that one among us called, "the best restaurant in which I have ever eaten!" Unfortunately, the staff at the place remembered us and were too generous with the complimentary port aperitif and added a large dose of free brandy to finish the meal - this on top of the bottle of wine shared during the meal. The women were overwhelmed by the strong drink and Ron and I were both challenged by the hospitality, but we endured. The women began fits of laughter that lasted through the return of the rental car, the subway ride from the airport to the Porto train station, and the 45-minute wait on the platform for seats in the first class section of the bullet train back to Lisbon. I conversed briefly in French, Spanish, and Portuguese with a man on the platform who was born in Coimbra, but who lived near Lyon, France. Fortunately, he spoke no English as I slightly elaborated on his comments to my companions, still giggling because of their intake of the foreign firewater.
My wife will head home on Sunday and Ron and Karen will fly an hour earlier to Madrid where they will join their son and daughter-in-law, grandson, and girlfriend and her parents on a trip to Estepona, a Spanish beach resort on the Mediterranean. They will spend the next two days doing laundry, packing, and resting for their trips. I have little more than a week to enjoy the improved weather, the Portuguese culture, and my new friends before I, too, return to the land of stress and frenetic energy. I may have another update or two before I return. Stay tuned. Tchau.
March 26, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
Alone again, just me and the nasty, persistent mosquito with whom I shared my bedroom last evening. My wife is safely at home enjoying the thing she missed most about our comfy condominium: central heating. That is what she responded to my son at the airport when he asked, "What did you miss most about home?" I always say that staying away for three months makes one really appreciate the luxuries we enjoy at home and, apparently, central heating is one of the luxuries that my wife treasures, even though she was gone only two weeks. I told you this apartment was cold. We would be surprised by how few people in the world enjoy central heating, including many Europeans.
Ron and Karen are now residing in a resort near Malaga, actually in Estepona on the Mediterranean, where they are, no doubt, enjoying the company of their family. I wish for them sunny skies, warm temperatures, and ocean water much warmer than here in the Atlantic. I also hope they find a great tapas bar and enjoy some fine Spanish, Rioja wine. They will return here in a week to spend two days in my apartment before heading home from Lisbon.
About the mosquito, she kept buzzing my ears, no matter which way I turned, and I sleepily kept slapping at her as she kept dive-bombing. I paid the rent here and she had no right to the free room and, especially, the free board that happened to be my blood. It was a problem I faced only one other night here in Portugal, but one that is probably pretty common during the warm, summer, tourist season. When I awoke this morning, thinking the insect had filled up on my fluids, since she hadn't bothered me over the last few hours of sleep, I looked in the bathroom mirror to find the poor thing deceased and stuck to my cheek. I guess we won't be sharing my bedroom any time soon.
There is a little mental adjustment necessary when one is suddenly alone, as I was when I first arrived in Cascais. I am going through that process again, but have less than a week to adapt before Ron and Karen arrive and an additional adjustment is necessary. No, Schim, I don't miss you and you need not rush out to buy a ticket to return. I will make out fine; as a matter of fact, there is an outside chance that my toiletries might last until I return, since you are not here to consume them.
This morning, I took a walk, carrying an umbrella since rain was forecast, and ended up sitting on a wooden bench in the beautiful park across from an ancient fort and reading my Kindle. I read for twenty minutes or so, before a few small droplets splattered on my screen. I excused myself from the colorful chickens and pigeons that were pecking and clawing the flower bed at my feet and went for a walk through the park in a light rain. It was a great walk under large trees that offered additional protection from the raindrops and the beauty of the park, which includes a beer garden that is open in the summer, was intensified by the light shower. It was a great morning. Some of my time is filled by watching the Phillies on my iPad as they play their final exhibition games in Florida before returning north at the beginning of the month for the start of the regular season. I'll bet they're looking forward to playing in the cold and snow of Pennsylvania. I am eager to return to Lancaster with its famous central heating systems, but not looking forward to any of the extended winter. Tchau.
March 29, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
Sitting on the ocean-side promenade at high tide in a long-sleeved shirt, with the hot sun warming my face and adding to the little tan I have developed, while the angry waves crashed against the rip-rap that shore up the promenade and splashed all the way across the wide, granite walk-way forced the exercisers to time their bursts through the areas that were being showered by the surf. It was a beautiful day and the order of small, striped clams cooked in wine, olive oil, butter, and garlic sauce with spinach, and numbering about 30 in all, were scrumptious. I was glad that I went for the walk to Estoril and stopped at the ocean-side restaurant. Finally, a little decent weather in Cascais after an exceedingly wet winter. Life was good!
That was Tuesday and I haven't seen the sun since, except for an occasional glimpse as the storm clouds built to empty again. As I look out the window this minute, the ugly gray, overcast sky that has made the day so dreary has given way to a category three shower. I have become an expert at classifying rainfall on an unscientific scale of one to ten, because I have seen it all this winter. Well, perhaps the harshest storm, late one night accompanied by the loudest thunder I have ever heard, was only a nine, but it was too dark to really evaluate. Suffice it to say that it rained hard enough to knock down one of the old awnings that covered one table on my terrace. My skin is starting to pucker from time spent in the rain. If this were a one week vacation, instead of a three-month hiatus, I would be really bummed. Now, only a few days before I go home, I'm more philosophical. I have had some great days, like the one on Tuesday, but they might only account for 40% of the days I have been in-country. Methinks that the old geographer should have been smart enough to see that January and February were the rainiest months of the year before he left home. Me also thinks that the old geographer will head to Florida next year like most of the American snowbirds.
I have only the weekend to spend before Ron and Karen return from Spain and we all begin packing for the flight home. Tonight, I have a dinner engagement with a local widow whom I met a couple of nights ago at Diniz. I invited her to pick a restaurant where we could share a meal so that neither of us have to dine alone. It was a simple, platonic offer; an opportunity for me to spread a little good will among the natives. Gonzalo, who knows my wife, listened to our conversation and approved of the arrangement. I hate dining alone every night and this should provide me an opportunity to learn a little more Portuguese. I'll let you know how our meal turns out. You can bet that she'll select a seafood restaurant. Tchau.
April 01, 2013 - Cascais, Portugal:
Well, I never!! At least, it has been so long since a woman stood me up that I don't remember if it ever happened before. It has been almost a lifetime since I took a woman other than my wife to dinner, so perhaps it is just an unpleasant memory that has faded with time. The nice widow for whom I was doing a cultural favor by treating to dinner, because I reminded her of her late husband, never showed up at Diniz where I waited for 45 minutes, encouraged by Gonzalo and Sonia to give her a little more time. Finally, I told them to which restaurant I was headed, in case she showed up really late, and hailed a cab headed for a great seafood restaurant, called Mar do Inferno, since it was located at the local salt-water, blow hole that is a famous local tourist attraction (another one that Schim never saw). Since I had budgeted for two and now had only one mouth to feed, I selected a nice restaurant and had a great meal, so typical of the fresh fish and seafood that is daily Portuguese fare. My feelings were not damaged at all, but women really don't care much about men's self esteem and most men have learned to handle rejection. It was a gorgeous night and I walked home on the seaside promenade, enjoying the stars and the large waves pounding the rocky shoreline. As I got to the Main Street in town, I happened upon an outside Good Friday service and procession that I joined since it was heading back toward my apartment. Not as colorful or unique as some Easter celebrations I have experienced in the past, but the worshipers seemed just as ardent as those in Costa Rica and Argentina, as they sang and recessed through the street back to the church. I excused myself and headed home to bed to lick my rejection wounds.
Saturday, I did a little shopping and finally found a piece of Portuguese kitchen equipment for which I have been looking three months. It is an ingenious contraption to hold a skewer for presenting fish, seafood, or meat in a way that makes the entree unique to serve and easy to remove. Those who have struggled to remove shrimp, fish, onions, or meat from a restaurant skewer would appreciate this creative solution to that problem. I will give it as a gift to a restaurateur friend of mine, thinking he might find it interesting enough to have reproduced for his restaurant at home.
I spent Thursday and Saturday evenings at Diniz in some lively discussions with people from Sweden, England, Portugal, Argentina, and Mozambique. For such a tiny place, there is always a wonderful camaraderie that develops among diners. Perhaps, it is sharing the tiny space and even sharing the tapas that make the atmosphere so warm and intimate. If I can get in the door, it is that crowded some nights, I can pretty much count on spending an interesting evening in conversation.
Easter was a wash-out! An all day rain wiped out whatever celebration people might have planned. There was nobody on the streets or in the restaurants. On the way, I changed plans to dine at Melody, since I had been there the day before, and dined at a little restaurant two doors down the street that was usually closed on Sundays. They had a large sign in the window, advertising Easter specials, but there was nobody, I mean nobody, in the place. Feeling sorry for them, I entered and enjoyed a fantastic lamb stew, white rice, a delicious pitcher of sangria, then flan and coffee. Nobody came in during my entire leisurely meal and I was probably their only customer for Easter dinner. They appreciated my business and the tiny, older mother, a wonderful cook, shared her recipe for the lamb stew with me, translated by her two sons who were the very attentive wait staff.
I have but two more wake-ups before heading back across the big pond. I am eager to return, see my family again, and to attempt to enjoy the much more frenetic lifestyle of the USA. The winter has been enjoyable, especially the wonderfully warm and friendly Portuguese people and their food, but the weather was way too wet for me. It was also way too moist for the locals, who say that every seven or eight years they get a winter like this, but they were complaining almost as much as I about the foul weather. It was an interesting visit and I love the Portuguese culture which I will greatly miss. This will be my final update as I begin to worry about packing, luggage weight limits, donating clothing to lessen the load, and making final arrangements to get back home. If you have traveled vicariously with me this winter, I hope you enjoyed the rather tame experience. There was a little travel and some excitement, but nothing like the drives to Costa Rica, the scooter trips through Europe, the dog bites in Mexico, or the South American adventures. Perhaps, I am getting a little old for all that excitement. Thanks for joining me. Have a great summer! Tchau!