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Spain Spain, Portugal and the Queen Elizabeth Ship, September 2023

Georgia & Zig

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Spain Part 1: Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona on the Queen Elizabeth ship​

Labor Day, September 4, 2023

Because Sara, our granddaughter, didn’t have class today she was able to drive us to the Airport at 6:30 am. More secure this year, I guess, she didn’t play the music from “Titanic” for us. We got there way-earlier than we actually needed. Why they say to come 2 hours early makes no sense in a little airport like Bluegrass. We just sat and waited. Even “security” was a piece of cake.

The flight to NC and then on to Ft Lauderdale was also uneventful, except for us getting a complementary drink (scotch for me, bubbly for her) because Georgia had the foresight to pay for a marginally larger-legroom seat. My sweetie is really getting good at setting up these trips. She’s missed her calling—she should have been a travel agent.

The hotel in FLL was ok, but everyone we asked at the front desk about shuttle service to the dock tomorrow had a different answer. But everyone agreed on the virtue of the nearby Italian restaurant, and it was good—though they put way too much garlic on the garlic bread. It was either the garlic or the pepper & sausage foccacia sandwich that gave me the runs later. In any event, I was well cleaned out by morning.

Tuesday, September 5

We were sitting in the lounge killing time before we had to ask for a taxi. “Bridget” was there, too, waiting for a shuttle to the dock. We asked if we could tag along with her. That was fine and we were shortly on our way to the dock. Since 9/11 they have upped security here too. I’m glad we didn’t try to walk over there pulling our suitcases. But our driver somehow was unable to give me the change from the forty I handed him for our two $15 rides. Assuming Bridget gave him 15 he made $55 for a half mile drive, and the bell-hop at the dock was miffed because I didn’t give him a tip for taking our 3 carry-ons out of the back of the van and putting them on the luggage cart 3 feet away. Yikes! I can see that this is going to be an expensive trip.

We were processed through the preliminaries much faster than on the Queen Mary in New York last year. I think Georgia, God bless her, had done much of the preliminaries on-line. Did I tell you I was really glad she was taking care of things?

We weren’t even supposed to begin the process before 2:30 but we were already in our stateroom by then, unpacking and heading to the bar for some overpriced but still welcome liquid refreshment.

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Then on to the afternoon tea where we sat next to Jerry and Lilian from Montreal. “How many times are you going to Barcelona?” seems to be we are to greet each other on this ship. Once and you’re getting off there. Twice and you’re getting off after a turn around the western Mediterranean. Three times, and you’re getting off after another longer tour of the whole Mediterranean.

We were seated at dinner at 7pm as the ship set sail. My sweetie was so excited to feel the ship move under her feet. At dinner that first night we sat next to Sue and Kathy from Vancouver. Kathy was a retired structural engineer who had worked on the construction of the Twin Towers in NYC. The destruction on 9/11 had been particularly painful for her. She saw not only the appalling loss of life but also the collapse of her work.

Wednesday, September 6

Room service coffee with cream out on our little patio at 7:50. Georgia relaxed and got ready for breakfast and I went up to the Lido cafeteria and sat next to another Kathy, this time from Melbourne. She told me that you can tell the difference between Aussies and Kiwis by how they say “fish.” Aussies say “fish” and Kiwis say “fush.” Or was it vice versa?

I learned that there is no priest on board so there won’t be any masses said.

We had a meal at the Lido Restaurant on Deck 9 and Georgia didn’t miss her phone for an hour. Fortunately it had been turned in and we recovered it at the purser’s desk on Deck one. The international staff on-board is fabulous.

Lots of shows and entertainments planned at various venues around the ship. I enjoyed watching the hotel band and two singers rehearsing in the main ballroom. The singers’ two little children were charming as they danced and played on the ballroom floor. The young just enjoy being alive. It’s too bad that adults sometimes lose that feeling of joy.

We ate supper in the Britannia dining room next to a couple from North Carolina who travel by ship year round. They have stock in all the different cruise lines and that gives them discounts on Princess, Viking, Cunard, etc. Their itinerary this time was daunting, adding up to more than 2 months on one boat or another. They recommended “Shore Excursion Group” to show you around the ports and get you back to the boat in time.

When they left we talked to Mike and Roger from Tampa who suggested “Vacations to Go,” for discount last-minute cruises. Mike was a retired vascular ultra-sound physician and Roger was a retired travel agent.

Jason texted us that the apartment hadn’t gotten his rent and they were going to evict him and take him to court. He’d called Amy too. I went to the Library onboard and paid for internet for one 24-hour period for 24 dollars, checked the Union at Crescent portal and saw that they’d gotten their money on September 3rd just as I’d set it up. That’s the day he gets his Social Security money. I reassured Jason that everything was ok while wearing my suit for the “Red and Gold Gala.” A maid out by the elevator had to do-up my bowtie for me.

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Thursday, September 7

This morning we had room-service coffee then breakfast in the Lido then lazed around the ship for the rest of the day.

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Friday, September 8

We docked in Bermuda this morning. It didn’t look that far into town so I started walking. They had warned us that the road was very narrow. It was and what cars there were drove on the wrong side of the road. There were occasional sidewalks but not dependably. Rather than just stick to the road I took little side trips that may or may not be shortcuts through the woods and along the crystal-clear water. Whatever. The plants are luxuriant here, as I should have guessed—and the water is a lovely turquoise, even on an overcast day. The water is so clear that the rocks on the bottom look strangely dry. Saw an orchid-like flower. Maybe it was an orchid. Growing wild, of course. Saw a Japanese-style “moongate” on someone’s property. For luck, I’m sure.

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Walked for two hours and saw on the map that I wasn’t even half-way to Hamilton. Learned later that Georgia had seen me trudging along the road, as she blew by in the bus. I was getting hungry so stopped in a little “village” along the road and ordered a hamburger. It was delicious and I sat on a bench in front of the little store to eat it. Several passersby stopped to admire it. A very relaxed vibe here. Watched a workman “repairing” some fallen stucco in slow motion. I gave up on walking and caught a bus. It was 5 dollars and worth every penny, though I may have made a mistake in surrendering my seat to someone even older than me. Having to stand and hold the overhead strap while the driver practiced his downhill slaloms was hard on my shoulder.

In Hamilton, the capital of Bermuda, I saw Georgia on the street and we went in search of a museum. Found one with interesting photographs and a room where some ladies were displaying local children’s art.

Had some local ice cream (very grainy and icy) then headed for the dock to try to catch the ferry. I didn’t think my shoulder could take another Bermuda bus ride. It was so much better than the bus! Fifteen or twenty minutes and we were back at the ship. And there was a lovely olive tree at the ferry dock for me to admire.

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Saturday, September 9

Another cat-diary sort of day. Woke up, ate, relaxed in the sun, ate, rested, ate again, went to bed.

Sunday, September 10

Went to the Maritime interdenominational church service lead by the ship’s captain. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to see the Union Jack used as an altar cloth. I should have known that the liturgical colors at sea are always red, white, and blue. And all the hymns are all sea-related. Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer. I’m glad they didn’t serve communion. In lieu of consecrating the wine they might have sung “Yo, ho, ho, and a bottle of rum.”

Monday, September 11, 12, 13

Sick in bed. Probably from the crowded bus ride. Lots of humanity on a bus.

Thursday, September 14

In Madeira. Took the shuttle bus to town and then another wild-mouse public bus ride, like so many that we’ve had on the various trips through mountainous territory on miniscule roads. Got off at the Botanical Garden. Like Bermuda, the lushness of the flora was amazing.

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Had to start our garden tour with a little smackeral of something. Had “Poncha,” a local alcoholic brew and an ice cream bar.

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Stood at the wrong bus stop upon leaving and missed the bus back down. The drop-off and pickup stops are different. So that gave us a chance for some souvenir shopping at a little local tienda. It was crammed with doo-dads and knick-knacks. Postcards and magnets are always a sure-bet. Took the wild-mouse city-bus down the mountain to find the local farmer’s market. Filmed part of the trip down so I can replay it if ever I have hiccups.

The market was marvelous. We shared a tuna sandwich and a cider. And we were back on the boat in time for tea.

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We were supposed to set sail at 6:30 but didn’t get away until 8:30 because of some medical emergency. Someone on the ship was carried off to the local hospital. Leaning over the rail I was able to watch the harbor-pilot leap back onto the pilot boat and wave to us as we sailed away.

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Friday, September 15

I had breakfast with a lady from the border between North and South Carolina, up in the mountains. I mentioned that I’d lived in Asheville before the interstate highways when moonshine-running was the major industry—“Thunder road” time. “I know,” she said conspiratorially. “We called that part of Carolina the . . . [dropping her voice even farther] . . . ‘dark corners’” she whispered, looking around to be sure no one overheard her. “And that was where all the . . . [another quick look-around] . . . ‘moonshine’ was found. Big secret, I guess.

Later, outside the library I sat trying to solve one of our daily sudokus when I saw a wife trying to persuade her vacant husband to go for a walk around the deck. “I want to check something,” he said irritably. She didn’t ask what. She just told him to log into their internet account. They both sat. She, doing something online and him staring absently at his phone, apparently at a loss as to how to log on or what it was that he wanted to “check.”

She handled it all so wisely—not telling him what to do or asking questions he couldn’t answer, just sitting quietly while he ruminated. After 5 minutes or so she said, “Right, ready to go for that walk?” And they both stood up. I noticed then that she had a crippled leg. A crippled leg caring for a crippled mind—each being strong at the other’s broken places. In many ways, that’s what marriage is.

To be continued
 
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Spain Part 2: Queen Elizabeth ship to Cadiz, then Barcelona​

Friday, September 15, (continued)

The rest of the day was very “Cat-diary.” If you were an overworked CEO, emergency-room doctor, or harried housewife with twins, this life would have been heaven, but as an underworked, retired, lay-about, life on-board was dangerously dull and enervating. A “working” vacation, like Habitat for Humanity would probably be better for me. Or a painting-class vacation somewhere with a painter I admire. Hmmm. Sounds like something worth researching.

Saturday, September 16

Daytrip to Cadiz today. Up and out early. They really do have those excursions well organized. Only need our ID card to check on and off the boat.

Cadiz is small so we walked everywhere in this old city rabbit-warren. First to the Cathedral and up the bell tower for a view. Rather than stairs it had an inclined ramp running round and round a central support. It was an easier walk. That was how people came to invent a “screw” I’m sure. Nice view of the water and whitewashed pastel buildings of the old town.

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Met a German lady tourist. We took her picture for her with lovely background of church and sea. She was very grateful, “It’s hard to get a good picture of yourself traveling alone.” We’ve seen a lot of women traveling solo—not so many men. I think women are more adventur0us, or men are more lazy.

The market was charming. Fish and Seafood inside, and bread, fruits and veggies outside. The smells were delicious. We needed a corkscrew to open our bottle of Madiera and had no idea where to find one so I used Google-translate to see how to say “corkscrew” in Spanish. Then I showed the result to people at a drugstore, people on the street and finally at a liquor store. People always looked sort of surprised—especially when I illustrated opening the bottle with a “pop.” I did that because I just didn’t trust my pronunciation of “tornillo rapido.” People would smile and shake their heads. The druggist even walked outside with us and motioned toward the liquor store we’d just left. As we walked away I looked at our translation again and saw that Google had heard “quick screw,” instead of “cork-screw.” I guess that’s why our “screw” was rapido. At a different liquor store Georgia asked for a “Sacacorchos,” and the clerk not only had a corkscrew but gave it to her.

Near the water we saw an enormous rubber tree—hundreds of years old, with limbs reaching out for a hundred feet or more as large as small cars. Some of them were supported with steel I-beams and molded cradles to keep them off the ground.

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There was also a nice garden spot where we saw beautiful mimosas and other flowering trees. We were constantly serenaded by parakeets and some other small parrot-like birds hiding in the canopy. “Modern” buildings built on the shore were showing the effects of time and tide. It was sort of amazing that the buildings of glass and steel look so bad after 50 years in a city with its roots in ancient Rome. And the “old” cathedral looks better than the new one begun in the 1500s with the wealth brought back (stolen?) from the new world. The materials used were evidently not as permanent. It’s not so easy to improve on our elders as each generation seems to believe.

Our walk was exhausting but it was overcast so we didn’t get scorched hiking back and forth through the old city from the Cathedral to the museum (where the art exhibit was closed) to the various parks and food market. The stained glass we saw in various churches was unremarkable or non-existent. But we did see a gorgeous painting that captured perfectly the feel of the whitewashed city with vibrant woodwork under a blue, blue sky.

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But the best part of the day was the two kinds of focaccia we had with glasses of lemon-squash and tinto for lunch in the fish market.

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A damp towel and orange-water for us back at the ship was a very close second.

Sunday, September 17

I was disappointed that we passed Gibraltar in the dark. Missed seeing “the Rock.” The Mediterranean is even more calm than the Atlantic and our crossing had all the drama of floating across an enormous swimming pool. After breakfast we went in search of the church service, only to arrive as the young ensign was gathering up the worship aids. We were 1 hour off again. So I had to contemplate my sins alone as I read and snoozed in my deckchair.

Supper produced in me a sense of isolation as I realized just how different our life experiences and sensibilities were from the others around our table. There was another childless couple from Vancouver who cruised the world for 6 months of the year. Their passion was ballroom dancing. He was fascinated with Georgia. I sat next to a wealthy ex-soccer coach who was very ‘hands-on’ with me. His girlfriend (she was emphatic that they weren’t married) had a chest you wouldn’t (or couldn’t) believe and waxed eloquent on the virtues of cosmetic surgery. She had some suggestions for the lady sitting to her right. I don’t think the comments were appreciated. If only she had been blond and he had been tall these two could have been perfect caricatures of the sports jock and cheerleader couple. They lived in Sarasota Florida so he could be near lots of golf courses. I had nothing to add to a conversation about golf so I just relaxed and looked around the room. So much apparent wealth at all the tables.

He told me his name was “Nick.” I told him about my grandson, Nick, who wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago with me next year. He said that sounded great to him but wondered what part of San Diego I was talking about. I had to explain that it was a walk across northern Spain. He said it sounded interesting but his sporting days had ruined his knees. He got very excited and “handsy” with me as he drank his third glass of wine—urging me to find a way to walk with my grandson. “It would be something he would remember forever.”

I asked what he was retired from. He’d been trained as an electrical engineer and worked for large corporations and also started various construction businesses that he sold at retirement. I told him that with his background he would be a real asset to Habitat for Humanity—either as a planner or in the construction. He seemed interested, but after 3 large glasses of wine I’m not sure he’ll even remember the conversation.

As we said our goodbyes to the table I remarked that I’d probably stop by one of the other ship bars after we packed for disembarkation to have a final glass of scotch. “Which bar are you going to?” the pneumatic girlfriend asked. “I’ll have to check with ‘She who must be obeyed,” I replied, and took our leave.

Monday, September 18

Left a large (for me) tip of 80 dollars for our room steward who lives in Manila and won’t be able to go home to see his wife and children until next year. Life on a ship is not easy for the workers.

Disembarkation was a snap even though I’d misplaced my ship’s ID card. Luckily, my passport was an acceptable substitute and the ship’s officers are used to dealing with elderly befuddled passengers. We caught the right bus to carry us to the right square where we caught the right bus again to carry us to the right Metro station where we could easily walk to the right hostel. How did we ever manage to travel in foreign lands before Google maps? After check-in we found the neighborhood pastry shop. Its wares were delicious. We’ll be seeing a lot of them in days to come.

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Our tickets for Sagrada Familia are for tomorrow but we’re making a dry run today for practice. It was a piece of cake—only two metro stops from our room. We learned that there was a daily evening Mass so we wandered around the basilica taking lots of pictures of the fabulous decorations on the outside outside and waiting for mass to begin.

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We had a large gin and tonic and a sangria at a bar/restaurant across the street from the Basilica. Delicious paella as well.

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I imagine these are some of the buildings that will need to be cleared away to make room for the not-yet-finished “Glorious” entrance. There is just a blank façade right now. At the appointed time we showed up outside the crypt entrance and went right in. Gaudi’s tomb is in the crypt and we visited it to thank him for imagining this glorious building.

The Mass was in Catalan but the structure is the same everywhere. We just followed along in English. As we walked up to receive the consecrated host a little boy in his father’s arms behind me kept patting me on the back. I turned to smile at him and he gave me the biggest grin. Melted my heart. I live for these little whispers of heaven.

The trip back to our hostel was easy. After all, it was just two metro stops.

Tuesday, September 19

Tickets for Sagrada Familia today. So we started with another café con leche and pastry at “our” bakery.

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Then two metro-stops. Check. Walked up and through the entrance just like we knew what we were doing. Check. Georgia had already printed out our tickets. Check. She is amazing! We were given little beeper-sorts-of-things around our necks to hear what the guide was saying in heavily accented English. He was hard to understand but was working hard to explain Gaudi’s motivation and the religious significance of all the decoration. There wasn’t much on the technical aspects but we weren’t engineers, after all. For me the most moving statue Gaudi designed was the one of Jesus affixed to the whipping post in complete exhaustion. He looks at us through lowered eyes and his wrists are not tied—it is his love that is binding him to the post.

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The church doors are covered with a sculpture of bronze ivy leaves and little mice and beetles and lizards playing hide-and-seek. Gaudi infused everything with nature—animal, vegetable and mineral. We also liked examining the final model of the temple that he made. He was very much into making models. How could he have had a three-century’s view? 19th, 20th, and 21st? The light was shining in on the walls from the east windows. Just exquisite! Predominantly blues and greens with yellow.

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At sunset it will be predominantly reds and yellows and oranges from the west walls.

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After 2 hours of walking and listening we were left on our own in the museum and gift shop with its obligatory refrigerator magnets. The museum had much more about the technical parts of the construction. Wish I could have had someone explaining that to me.

Exhausted, we headed back to the hostel and took a siesta then walked to the Picasso museum. He was another Spanish genius, you know. Most of the stuff they have was donated by the great man himself in 1970, so it’s a large collection but not terribly deep. But in their defense, his artistic pursuits were so varied I don’t think any museum could capture it all. And like was said of Wordsworth, “He didn’t know the value of a trashcan.” Every little thing he did has been saved by someone.

Wednesday, September 20

The goal for today was to see two more Gaudi treasures. First we went to Casa Batilo, the birthplace of art nouveau architecture or “Modernisme,” as it was called in Spain. Built in 1904 for the Bernat family. So modern, it even has an elevator.

The doors and transoms often incorporate large flattened rondels and the rooms and walls form sinuous wave-like curves. I didn’t see a square corner anywhere, except on the stairs and on the parquet floors. Even the chairs and tables were curvaceous.

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There was a central ventilation shaft allowing both air and natural light to permeate the house. A rooftop family patio and garden disguised the light shafts as small fishponds but covered with glass instead of water. They admitted light but also reflected the sky and surrounding mosaics. In fact, there were beautiful mosaic and porcelain tiles everywhere on the floors and walls. Gaudi must have employed a horde of ceramicists. He was trying out ideas he would develop more fully in Sagrada Familia. The chimneys on the roof were designed to look like alien soldiers and they had holes for the smoke to escape that also moaned in the wind. The area was now a nice roof-top bar where we sat and sipped, and contemplated the beauty around us.

Then we made our way down and headed for another masterpiece: Casa Mila—la Podrera, an apartment building rather than a private residence. It too has the porcelain “Guards” on the roof (from which location you could see Sagrada Familia.)

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The tour led us through the attic designed to resemble a whale’s skeleton with each “rib” only needing to support itself. Gaudi’s architectural genius really began with his insight into how to distribute weight and stress through a building down to the foundation. He did this by designing the stress models upside down with the various weights attached to strings and thin wires to show the optimal shape the building should have to match the curves found in the model. He felt completely justified when the shapes then matched the shapes found in nature—such as in various sea shells and even in the skeleton of whales. He was both shocked and pleased to realize that no other architect seems to have ever thought of this procedure—continuing to build ticky-tack little square boxes. Nature doesn’t build things with right-angles. It’s not the most efficient (read ‘natural’) way to enclose space.

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Casa Mila didn’t have a bar, but did have amazing views and delightful models that Gaudi used in designing his various masterpieces.

We went looking for the fabulous Palau de la Musica Catalana designed by Gaudi’s contemporary: Lluis Domenech I Montaner. It was close to our hostel. We found out that there were still tickets available for “Carmen” tomorrow, contrary to what they said on-line. And we found a great restaurant just across the street where we adored the tapas: toast with tomatoes, meatballs, humus, chicken skewer, gin and tonic, and cava. The restaurant was small and packed and LOUD, but it sure had delicious food.

We took some nice pictures inside the hall then toddled off to bed.

To be continued
 
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Thank you for sharing these detailed reports! We were in Barcelona a year ago this week and loved it (even though I broke my wrist while we were there!) so it is lovely to see these photos and read about your impressions of the sites!
 

Spain Part 3: Barcelona then Porto, Portugal​

Thursday, September 21

Slept in late (to 7:30) then went off to see another one of Barcelona’s favorite sons: Joan Miro on Mount Juiy, Jewish Mountain.

Outside the museum was the cutest little munchkin statue whose prominent erection suggested that he was really glad to see us! Our friend, Dennis Dever said it was a good thing it wasn’t a water fountain.

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Inside, there were lots of other paintings and sculptures—many of them just as whimsical. Some of his sculptures were very reminiscent of Alexander Calder. There was a life-size photo of Miro sitting backwards on a chair. He looked full of fun, someone I would have loved to have a drink with.

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Next we walked to the nearby Modern Art Museum where we saw more Mir0, and also two El Greco’s and glass by Joaquim Mir. Lovely ceramics and exquisite furniture.

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To reward ourselves before heading home we had an0ther little smackeral in the museum restaurant snack bar. Walking down the mountain we needed to stop at the neighborhood gelateria on our busy street to watch the locals just living their lives. Mothers with babies, teenaged girls preening for nearby boys. Boys preening for the nearby girls. And a couple of bemused “elderly” tourists just enjoying it all.

Friday, September 22

Up early today and back to the Concert Hall of the Palau de la Musica for our tour. Chill bumps as we walked out on stage and saw the porcelain faces on the stage wall up close.

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No wonder performers feel like they have backup while on this stage. The amazing skylight seems smaller in person than it does in photos. And the hall itself feels very small and intimate from the stage. In photos the stunning glass skylight makes the space look huge, but in person it’s very ‘human’ sized and geared toward un-amplified human voices. I can see why it’s a favorite venue for so many artists. It’s the very antithesis of a football stadium.

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After the tour we went back across the street to a lovely little bar/restaurant. Our pretty waitress was shy when I asked if we could take her photo and asked her to take ours.

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Nearby we found the Banksy Museum. His work veered back and forth between whimsy and rage. He probably comes pretty close to my idea of modern “religious” art. You could write explanatory essays on each one but that would rob the work of its punch. It speaks to the viewer immediately or not at all—like all art, I guess. But the topics he deals with are the modern religious concerns: “What must I do?” as Nemetz used to say. To a lesser extent I guess it also deals with “What may I hope?” but not much at all with our earlier generation’s preoccupation with “What can I know?” Science and technology so dominate our lives now that hope and duty can hardly breathe. For me, one of the most affecting pieces was the Jesus on the Cross holding shopping bags.

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Barcelona street scenes are charming. On our way back to our room we passed a little tienda / pharmacie with hundreds of green plants displayed outside. And over the door was a lovely Moderniste awning.

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We stopped in a local post-office to buy a stamp to mail a postcard to our friend Janet Anderson—who traveled with us to Amsterdam in 2018 (can that really have been 5 or 6 years ago?) It was a narrow little store deeper than it was wide, with 6 clerks behind their individual little counters. I stood behind the man being served by a young woman at the first kiosk. She was just finishing up with him but rather than wait on me she waggled her finger at me and pointed to a “number machine” behind me. It had an “English” button, which I pushed, and then told it I wanted to buy something—namely a stamp. It spit out a little square of paper with a number on it. I waved the little square at the now idle woman at window #1. She waggled her finger at me again and motioned that I should walk around the corner at the back where I found an electronic screen indicating that my number, E91, would be served by the agent at window #1. I couldn’t help it, I started to laugh as I walked back over to my now smiling post mistress. I handed her the little piece of paper and my postcard. She saw it needed a stamp. The register said 1,79 euros. I gave her a two euro coin. She gave me the change, then the stamp, and then handed back the card. I took the stamp and peeled it off its paper backing and affixed it to the card, then handed the card back to her.

We smiled at each other and I turned to go, both of us beneficiaries as well as victims of the complex web of interconnectedness we have collectively built called modern life.

Afterwards we visited a lovely church with an ivory Madonna. Then went to get ready for the Carmen concert. On the way we passed a schoolyard chock full of students, teachers, and parents with their family dogs. There wasn’t a policeman or metal detector in sight. Just imagine!

Whoops. Disappointment. The skylight was wonderful in the night glow, but the concert was awful. The first fifteen minutes were bearable as the singers screeched at each other and us, but when it became obvious they intended to continue doing that for the entire concert I lost heart. It wasn’t Bizet’s Carmen, it was “Carmen, Carmen, Carmen,” a flamenco troupe. Oh my aching ears! We’d paid extra to get terrific seats. That made it all the worse as we couldn’t escape the aural pummeling. Trying to be fair, I’m sure it was excellent flamenco; it’s just obvious that I can’t stand the caterwauling that is flamenco. Accompanied by over-loud guitars, the piercing sopranos jumped up and down, stomped their feet and screamed at us for an hour without pause then gave a baritone a chance to jump and bellow for an additional 30 minutes and then proceeded to give us all an encore that I certainly didn’t ask for. I thought I was going to die. With all the sweat running off their faces it looked like they might die as well. The dancing was so energetic we saw flying hair barrettes, bits of costume, and earrings. I feared they might injure someone. With the sweat everywhere it looked like “Singin’ in the Rain” had been performed under fire hoses. Music as an extreme athletic event.

But eventually, with our bleeding ears ringing like the bells of St Paul’s we staggered home. As God is my witness I had no idea a handful of singers and dancers could make that much noise. Southern cloggers and Irish dancers should hang their heads in shame. So, I can check flamenco off my bucket list. Unless someone is holding a gun to my head I will never experience it again.

Saturday, September 23

Today was a travel day—going to Porto by plane. But first we had to get to the airport. We made the mistake of buying the bus tickets several days ago before we knew which ones we needed. And we remembered earlier trips when the drivers didn’t sell tickets. But here in Barcelona they do. So we had bought the city bus tickets and wandered all over Barcelona trying to find the right city bus stop(s) where we could catch a ride to the airport. Up and down metro stairs with suitcases, back and forth at the main stops, chasing one bus after another. A nice young man did his dead-level best for 15 minutes or more to help us find the right bus—only to fail in the end. No one would accept the tickets we had, and kept sending us somewhere else. Finally, we just decided to buy whatever tickets we needed from the Aerobus driver going to the airport. It cost us an extra 13,50 (7,75 each) but I wish we’d done it at first and saved the hassle.

And then at the airport we saw the Vueling Airline counter and scored first in line! Things were looking up. I wondered why everyone else in line was a (very) black African but figured it was just a lot of migrants going to Porto on the Atlantic coast, away from the Mediterranean coast. After a long wait in line we got up to the counter and the agent let us know we were standing in line to fly to Senegal, not Porto. The line we wanted was on the other side of the wall behind him. The line there snaked back and forth 7 or 8 times and we were at the very tail end this time, of course. Oh Misery!

Fortunately there were several agents checking people in and although the line didn’t move quickly, at least it moved at a halting walk. That was good because the agent told us we had at least a thirty minute walk to the gate. Luckily security went fairly smoothly and we made our gate with minutes to spare. We were about the last on board. Georgia was seated at the window and I was in the middle of three in the row just in front of her. Halfway through the flight the man by the window needed to use the bathroom. I and the other man in the aisle seat stood up to let him out. In the aisle I smiled and wished him ‘good luck.’ I suggested he take the middle seat when he came back so he wouldn’t have to climb over both of us. In excellent English, he said that would be fine. He didn’t care which seat he sat in. When he came back he wanted to talk about books. The first he mentioned was “The Biography of Silence,” by Pablo d’Ors. It’s a short meditation, he said, on confronting yourself through silence.

I told him that sounded like my experience walking the Camino. He was so excited! He walks a section of the Camino every year—sometimes alone and sometimes with his children. He then told me about “The Man who Knows How to Think,” by James Allen. In English it’s called “As a Man Thinketh,” originally written in 1903. He was so excited about that too.

In Porto he recommended we take the Tram to the coast to see the lighthouse, and travel over the river bridge for the very best view of Porto from the Gaya bank. He also suggested we visit the “Musica” at the Palaciao de Crystal with its lovely gardens and view of the river. He recommended visiting the place in Gaya where Port is made, and the Arab Saloon and the Palacio da Bolsa and eat at Enotecha.

As we approached Porto, I realized we’d not introduced ourselves. I told him my name and that Georgia and I had 4 children with the oldest at 49 and the youngest at 42. He said his name was Pedro and that he would fit right in the middle of our family at 45. He is a “Doctor of Kidneys” and he travels to the US for conferences—usually to San Diego. His wife is a vascular surgeon and they have been married 15 years with two children. It sounds like a strong marriage though he has to commute back and forth between Porto and Lisbon, where her hospital is.

You know how you can meet someone and know that you could be great friends? Well, it had just happened again.

We sometimes have terrible luck trying to get anywhere with suitcases on public transport. Old Porto was so cramped I didn’t have the heart to try to find our place there, so we hired a taxi. I’m glad we did. The traffic in the old town was at a standstill. The street was too narrow for even a second lane and there were lots of continuously honking horns. Seriously. Like for 10 minutes. I have no idea what they thought that was going to accomplish. Just to get away from the racket we paid our driver, got out and walked the last couple of blocks. I felt bad for him having to sit in the middle of that cacophony.

We managed to open the outside door with our code once we realized that the last digit was a number-sign. We were on the fourth floor and there was no elevator so we had to shuffle -thump up 5 flights with two roller bags. And then inside the apartment the bedroom was up another flight. Oh my goodness. Whew! “I’m coming ‘Lizabeth, this is gonna’ be the big one.”

But we were in a great part of town and just a block up the hill was the “Cocina dos Loios.” I don’t know if the two blonds did the cooking but someone sure did a great job! Loved the food and drinks they served. My gin and tonic was exquisite and Georgia said her Sangria hit all the right spots. We were splitting a mixed salad and a Portuguese take on something like Croque Monsieur. Lots of meat on bread, covered with cheese and floating on a lake of mild tomato sauce.

The Cathedral was just up the hill from our apartment so we went in for Mass. It was packed. There were some very rude and pushy Russian(?) Tourists who walked down the center aisle taking pictures and whispering to each other during the Eucharistic prayer. I shushed them, and one of them quieted. The other wouldn’t make eye contact with me and even walked up into the altar precincts for another photo op of the elevation of the host. Thank God they weren’t Americans.

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After the service we took some pictures inside the sanctuary; then stumbled up our six flights of stairs to crash.

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To be continued
 

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Portugal Part 4: Porto​

Sunday, September 24

I tried to make coffee in the room but it was awful. We’re going to have to find a coffee shop somewhere.

Toured the cathedral this time and admired the famous blue tiles on the wall depicting both religious and secular scenes.

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Took pictures of the river Douro far below from the plaza out in front. There were good buskers playing: a guitarist by the overlook and a tenor sax player around back. Took pictures of Gaia across the river then walked across the pedestrian bridge to Gaia to take pictures of Porto. We had to keep dodging the streetcar, of course.

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There was a street festival going on in Gaia, so we supported the local economy by buying some liquid refreshment. Then we walked up the hill to the monastery with a plaza out front overlooking the river far below where we sat and listened to a beautiful Polish singer singing Brazilian music with her husband accompanying her on guitar. We had to buy a CD from them and have it autographed.

Rather than walk back, we tried two times to buy streetcar tickets from the vending machine. Didn’t work either time so scoff-laws that we are we just jumped on the streetcar and rode for free. Had supper where we’d had lunch at an Italian restaurant.

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Didn’t get Pinsa this time, but our drinks were interrupted by a table of tipsy German youth hoping to attract the attention of the young women all around. Getting drunk and throwing pieces of pinsa at each other didn’t seem to work very well.

Visited the sardine-can museum. A must-see for all sardine-can connoisseurs.

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Pooped, we hiked up our 6 flights and fell asleep.

Monday, September 25

Found a terrific coffee shop, less than a block away! Calloo callay! Delicious and the owner buys, roasts and brews his own coffee. So good with a croissant. We’ll definitely be back.

Walking around the city we had to admire all the many different designs and colors of the tiles on the houses. And like other European cities they prune their sycamores century after century. There are some as big around as a tiny home.

We found the Crystal Palace park that Pedro had recommended. It was a nice walk and very relaxing to just sit in the garden and watch the peacocks, ducks, and geese. Pretty fountains where the pigeons were giving themselves a cooling bath and a nice view of the omnipresent river far below.

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We decided to try going down there.

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After walking a while, and arriving at several dead ends, we rewarded ourselves with some drinks and snacks at a bar that was stapled onto the hillside.

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At the bottom by the river, we took Tram #18 heading out to the lighthouse on the Atlantic coast. It was a nice clickity-clackity ride, being jerked around on hard wooden benches. We loved it! It felt like a tram in a flat San Francisco.

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The lighthouse was a lighthouse, but the waves crashing on the rocks nearby were gorgeous.

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The beach was nice too and the dogs we saw loved it. The seaside park was full of palms and sweet-smelling eucalyptus.

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We managed to catch a bus that would carry us to Cockburn Ltd where the world famous and delicious Port wine was brewed and bottled.

Fermentation in the initial wine is stopped by adding 80% distilled wine. Then it is called “port.” Ruby port is the young fresh wine. when aged for one year it becomes Tawny. Tawny Port is aged a max of 6 years. When you have a good port it should to be drunk quickly. It was a very interesting tour and all the tasting left me tipsy. The white port was our favorite—aged in stainless steel rather than oak.

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We missed our bus and had to walk back but I needed to walk off the port anyway. We stopped on our way home to have a piece of Lime Pie. It was much like Key Lime pie and provided a fine topping for a fine day.

Tuesday, September 26

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Got up for coffee with pastry and lemon cake at the coffee shop then on up to the Cathedral for more pictures of the town and river, then a second breakfast for me of yoghurt and fruit while Georgia went to find a laundry. After the laundry we went to a new restaurant where we sat in the window on the most uncomfortable stools I’ve ever perched on. They were repurposed bicycle frames with pedals for foot-rests. It was an even worse idea than it sounds, but we did have a delicious Ossabuco sandwich, Mediterranean salad and beautiful sangrias.

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Took more pictures of the decorative tiles along the street and watched a lovely sunset over the river.

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Wednesday, September 27

Another travel day. This time to Coimbra, the university town Bishop John recommended we see for its historic library. On the train we saw school children crossing a skyway over the highway. There was no screen preventing them throwing rocks. Just imagine! Much like the lack of metal detectors at the schools. And to keep things interesting we took the right train but sat in the wrong seats. The conductor warned us we’d have to move if someone came along wanting their seats. Not to worry; there were plenty of empty seats all around us. The train was going to Coimbra-B, whatever that was. We were following our progress on Google maps and could see that we were really close to Coimbra. We stopped and a young man got on—and sure enough, we were in his seat, so world travelers that we are we got up and moved across the aisle to some vacant ones. The train started up again and I figured Coimbra must be the next stop but our little blue dot on Google was now moving away from Coimbra. What?! I got up and asked the young man who’d gotten on what his stop had been. “Coimbra,” he said. “We were supposed to get off there!” I said. The conductor was walking by and I told him the same thing. He looked down at our tickets and wrote something on them: “Stupid tourists missed their stop,” or some such, I expect.

“Show this to the conductor of the return train.” He said.

The next stop was Pombal, about 20 or 30 minutes away. We got off and showed our tickets to the ticket agent who shrugged, as if to say, “What can you expect?” but out loud he said “The next train to Coimbra comes in two hours. You can take a taxi, or you can wait.” They had a station snack bar and a nice sunny patio with tables and chairs looking out on an apartment building construction site, so we waited.

The man running the snack bar had brought a delicious-smelling stew of chicken with rice and beans. I walked by motioning to smell the pot and smiling. The whole family smiled back but didn’t offer to share. Durn it.

We had to settle for coffee and little meat pies. His son explained that we wanted them heated. He shook his head in disbelief. Tourists! But they were good and it was entertaining watching the huge crane moving steel rebar from the staging are to the new apartment construction site. We speculated on how the operator could get up the skyscraper ladder and concluded that there must be some sort of remote control from the ground.

It looked like there was an old woman peering out her apartment next door until we realized that she was a trompe d’oeile—as proved by the “flying birds” on the wall beside her “window.” They came complete with their own “shadows.”

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To be continued
 
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Portugal Part 5: Coimbra and Fatima​

Wednesday, September 27 (continued)

The time went by fast enough and the return train arrived. It was an RT train, meaning it stopped at each and every town for all the local passengers. We showed our tickets to the conductor who read the note. I couldn’t tell if he rolled his eyes, but I’m sure he did. He said “Coimbra Central is the last stop.” I double-checked with the young woman sitting across the aisle from us. She concurred. (note to self: always double-check all directions) Coimbra-B, was obviously on the outskirts, and not particularly close to the University. The fast train traveled from there to Pombal took 20 minutes. It took more than an hour traveling the other way stopping at every little town.

And so we eased into Coimbra only a few hours late and walked to our hotel, Ibis, through a long construction site beside the river Mondego, where we saw students paddle-boarding. The construction was turning the river walk into a pedestrian park. It’ll be great someday. Now, it’s sort of a pain trying to find a way over to the sidewalk in front of the hotels. But we did find tomorrow’s coffee shop.

Ibis was a 2-star hotel. A place to sleep at night with a very firm foam-rubber mattress laid on wooden slats. The room had all the charm and warmth of an Ikea showroom.

Hungry, we went out looking for a good place to have supper. Google said there was a place, Bistro d’Alegria nearby so we looked for it. It was early and when we got there it was empty except for some blue-collar wait-staff milling around. They looked at us and mumbled to each other. Wondering if we’d wandered into some sort of gangland eatery I contemplated backing out slowly. A heavyset man with a 5-o’clock shadow walked up to us wiping his hands on a dish towel. He said something to us in Portuguese, probably along the lines of “Whadayawant?”

I asked if we could have a table for supper. None of them, after all were being used. He looked around as if trying to figure where he could squeeze us in. There were “Reservato” signs everywhere except at the little table beside us at the door. He said that they were expecting a crowd later; “It will take a long time for your dinner. Is that ok?” As long as we could have gin and tonic and Sangria it was fine with us if they took all the time they needed. So he seated us at the vacant table and brought us silverware.

The special that evening was a pork and potato stew that he plumped hard for. “It’s pig!´he said. “Very delicious!” I didn’t want pig. He also mentioned a pasta dish, but I wasn’t interested in that either. “Beef?” I asked. “Si!” So Georgia ordered Pig and I ordered Beef. Then he tried hard to have us order some hors d’oeurves. “No,” I said. Just the Sangria, and G&T were going to be fine for starters.

That must have offended his sense of decorum. He brought us the G&T and a pitcher of Sangria filled with chopped fruit and a bread basket and plate of olives. And later he brought us the appetizers as well! He said he wanted us to taste them. The meal took 30 minutes or so to prepare, but that was fine. We savored our drinks and munched bread, olives, and meat pie hors d’oeurve.

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The steak was 4oz of deliciousness nestled in a sea of tiny French fries and covered with an amazing sweet reduction sauce, done medium rare and sliced in 3/8” strips. “What’s in the sauce?” I asked. “It’s a secret, you know,” he said. “A demi-glace.” The sherry he had used tasted expensive.

Georgia’s “pig and potatoes” was piled up in the center of the plate. I couldn’t identify the spices in it though we both liked it. I was still glad I got the beef, though I had to admit that her potatoes were better than my little matchstick fries. Hers were cubed and had a slight “crust” to them. Fried or roasted in some delicious oil. For dessert we shared the fruity remains of our Sangria.

By this time the “Reservatos” had arrived. The tables were now full of fit young soccer players. Probably a whole team plus their coaches. The waiters were busy and enjoying themselves shooting the breeze with the players. We interrupted just long enough to thank our host for a wonderful meal and toddled off to our Ikea showroom.

Thursday, September 28

Today was dedicated to seeing as much of the ancient University of Coimbra as possible. It was quite a hike up the hill. Both the Cathedral and the University were built on top of a flippin’ mountain, of course.

I know it’s heresy but I have to admit that the churches and religious practices of the 1500’s to the 1800’s are starting to bore me. I understand the Catholic response to the protestant reformation but it’s all starting to feel like one museum piece after another. All the vibrancy of a living religion has been sucked out. The old and the new cathedral in Coimbra were pretty but sterile. And yet, religion comes alive for me during the Mass. I guess the churches in the city-center are sort of locked into being museum pieces. Maybe they’re more vibrant and contemporary outside the city.

The University campus was blindingly white. White buildings, white pavement, no trees, no clouds and no breeze, just sun and blue, blue sky. But they did have a lovely huge botanical garden down the hill a ways. Not much breeze there but at least there was some shade for us to sit in.

Walking around the campus we admired the designs worked into the pavement with those 2” square cubes of black stone. It was probably basalt. On the main drag they formed 8-pointed stars. And the 17th century feel was occasionally lightened by some contemporary art and murals.

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The science museum was fascinating, especially for Georgia, who could see and appreciate the grandparents of the lab equipment she used throughout her career.

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One exhibit of “color without pigment” caught my eye. I’d never really thought about iridescence “working” without the use of pigment—just in the ways the light rays were refracting.

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A lovely young transplanted Englishwoman helped us find the famous library. She’s been studying languages here for 11 years. I wished her well for her next 11 years. Rueful smile.

The library books were covered with dust and locked in cages covered with chicken wire. More like a book prison than a living library. They keep bats and let them out at night to eat the moths that might destroy these basically unread ancient books. So much effort to find ways to pass the knowledge of the past on to the present and thence to the future. We humans are a strange species, but how we love knowledge.

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Visits to the library are timed and we were hustled through on a strict schedule from the basement “student jail” to the upstairs library and study carrels, then out the front door.

We had lunch in the student cafeteria. Meh. Student food is pretty much the same everywhere. Utilitarian. The best part of the visit was the Botanical Garden. Fish and birds and people-watching. I could have happily spent the entire day there.

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Toward sunset we stumbled on a student gathering outside the old cathedral where (bawdy?) songs were being sung, chants were being chanted, much laughter was laughed, student hazing was conducted, much beer was drunk, and much hair was let down. The dress code might be very ancient with their academic cloaks, but the student behavior was very modern.

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We stopped at a bar stapled onto the hillside to invigilate the view—a very picturesque village on the opposite hillside. Somehow we managed to make it down to the Ibis without killing ourselves (or each other) by winding our way back and forth through the labyrinthine medieval streets, always heading down.

Friday, September 29

Another travel day; this time to Fatima, famous for the 6 apparitions of the Virgin Mary to 3 children in 1917. From the Ibis we took a taxi to the bus station in Coimbra. It would have been too hard pulling the suitcases through all the construction and cobblestones. The taxi dropped us at the front, though I didn’t realize it was the front and walked around to the side to go in, climbing up at a loading dock. The station was loud, crowded and confusing (to tourists). The bus was 15 minutes late and that had me in a tizzy approaching every driver I could find to be sure we didn’t miss ours. They must get sick of dealing with anxiety-ridden tourists. But when it came, we had great seats: #1 and #2, right behind the driver and the drive was smooth and uneventful.

In Fatima we were hungry and found a restaurant on our way to the shrine. I ordered a hamburger “with everything” and Georgia, showing admirable restraint ordered a salad. Her salad, however, was huge and my hamburger “with everything,” was pure wretched excess. At least a half-pound of burger and cheese, bacon and ham, and bread, of course, swimming in a pool of tomato soup. The only thing it didn’t have was any of those nasty vegetables, like lettuce or pickles or tomato. Georgia gave me some veggies for my burger and I gave her some burger for her veggies. Team work.

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After stuffing ourselves it was a sort-of easy walk over low cobblestones to the Our Lady of Mt Carmel retreat center. I’m glad we had Google to direct us though. Fatima is a gigantic religious complex with several religious sites: an outdoor chapel built over the site where the apparitions occurred, a 19th century basilica with amazing modern stained glass, an immense 20th century basilica to seat thousands and an outdoor altar for the crowds in the hundred thousands between the two basilica’s. And this doesn’t include the dozens of minor chapels for individual groups to meet. It was all mind boggling. Oh yeah. Plus the hundreds of shops selling souvenirs outside the grounds.

Our room in the retreat center was on the second floor and the dining room was on the first floor. The exit, of course, was on the ground floor; “zero” in the elevator. The retreat center was also very large with many floors and different wings.

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Its rooms have housed famous pilgrims in the past: Pope Benedict xvi, and Pope John Paul II, for instance.

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The rooms are simple, without air conditioning or TV but with nice big windows that can be opened at night to let in the delicious coolness.

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The whole complex is hot even in September, this is Portugal, after all, but there was one place “out-of-this-world” hot. It was a grotto, where you could light genuine beeswax candles in honor or memory of loved ones. The candles came in all sizes, from 6 inches to two feet or more. But no matter what the size, none of them burned for very long. There were so many candles of all the various sizes resting on metal grills, you couldn’t stand there. The heat was unbelievable and our little 1-ft candles bent and began melting instantly on the untouchable metal frames. From a distance the grotto resembled a gigantic smoking barbecue pit or perhaps a volcano. But the beeswax did make a lovely smell.

We went to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary first. That was the 19th century style church closest to our room. I was surprised to find very modern, very colorful figurative stained glass windows throughout. Lots of them, three tiers of windows.

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Before mass they ring the bells as a call to prayer. We were sitting in the sanctuary (to secure our seats) when the ringing started and went on for 10 minutes or so. You can’t really hear the bells very well from the inside—though from the outside the cacophony is thunderous. But on the inside you can “Feel” the bells and sense a deep rumbling as the church itself responds to the sound. It’s just amazing.

To be continued
 

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Portugal Part 6: Fatima, then Lisbon​

Friday, September 29 (continued)

The sanctuary was large, but not gigantic. It was probably constructed in the early twentieth century in a 19th century style of white marble. As with Coimbra the whole complex was blindingly white in Portugal’s relentless sun.

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Over our four days in Fatima, we went to four masses. First, to an English Mass at the little chapel marking the site of the apparitions.

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Then one in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, then one in the gigantic Basilica of the Holy Trinity. And finally at the outdoor Mass between the two basilicas.

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All of the masses were packed with people. Hard to image how many there were.

If I could make a suggestion I would urge them to find some way to have shade outside. The Portuguese sun was just brutal. The open-air mass showed people crammed against the edge of the space so they could try to fit into the shade from a few pine trees. Towers or sails or plantings could provide some respite at least, and allow more people to attend.

We followed the same basic schedule each day—dictated by the meals (included with our room!) and the time of the mass we were attending that day. Breakfast was between 8 and 9 in the morning. It was a typical European breakfast, with sliced meats and cheeses, fruits such as apples and bananas, and oranges, and occasionally pears. Plus a cracked-wheat roll. There was also dry cereal, milk, juice, and a spectacular coffee machine making delicious latte. Lunch was served at 1pm. It featured the same rolls and coffee, water, but also a salad, squash soup with different additives over the 4 days. Sometimes cabbage bits or shredded carrots or leeks. It wasn’t bad, but was bland. I had to add salt and hot sauce to mine each day. There was also meat of some sort each day. Chicken or pork or cubed steak or beef stew served on noodles or rice or potatoes.

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Supper was the same salad and squash soup with variations in the meat. And a dessert of some sort. Little packaged treats like ice-cream cup, or custard. And wine. Every lunch and supper we were given a full bottle of wine. White wine, though I’m sure we could have asked for red. Just for the two of us.

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The meals were hardly opulent, but they were very tasty, and we could have as much as we wanted. With the wine, they provided a very relaxed and refreshing afternoon and evening. Perfect background for a retreat center. We didn’t really meet many of our fellow pilgrims. There were lots of priests leading tours and retreatants from all over the world. We heard English, Spanish, French, and tagalong, but mostly Portuguese.

Our room was hot during the day, though we tried to keep the shutters closed to block the sun. We would still have to go somewhere after lunch until 5pm or so to avoid being scorched. That’s the time we would see some of the exhibits on the apparitions, or read and write in one of the lounges and living rooms scattered around the center.

We also ventured into downtown Fatima with its 8000 permanent residents to buy souvenirs from the hundreds of souvenir shops. We also enjoyed the cool interior of the Basilica of our Lady of the Rosary under the beautiful stained glass.

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People-watching was my favorite pastime along with trying to guess people’s nationality. English, Spanish, and French were pretty easy but Polish, Slavic, and Portuguese were tough. Portuguese contains lots of the same sounds as Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, etc. There are lots of nasal sounds in Portuguese and the stresses in the sentences are different from the other Romance languages. Written, it’s similar, but not when spoken.

Speaking of “spoken,” the Portuguese love their cell phones. The national motto is “All the World is a Telephone Booth.” On buses, in cafes, or walking down the street people talk on their phones in speaker mode. For some it wasn’t so much a conversation as it was a filibuster. I swear that one lady on the bus went for a good 10 minutes without taking a breath.

The children of pilgrims were well behaved and adorable. Even the littlest ones. European-style strollers are much more manageable than those behemoth SUV-style ones favored by Americans. They will actually fit on buses and small sidewalks. They don’t require their own traffic lane.

There was a charming portrait of Pope Francis in the living room where we often sat. The artist captured perfectly the kindness and humor in his smiling wave.

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And our fellow pilgrims, imbued by the spirit of the place perhaps, were wonderful. Kind and polite, and peaceful. There was no pushing and shoving and not the slightest hint of pickpockets . In fact, there’d been no hint of pickpockets anywhere on this trip—even in the crowds around Sagrada Familia. But then, we didn’t visit the hotbed of Ramblas or Parc Guel this time. And we were more experienced Metro-takers than we were before. Come to think of it, there weren’t even as many beggars as before. There was only one family of beggars who’d staked out at sidewalk here in Fatima, taking turns with Mom, Dad, kids, and a little black dog in various combinations over the 4 days we were here.

Each Mass was special in its own way. The English mass was special for being first, and being held by the lovely little chapel marking the spot of the apparitions. The priest was evidently from Florida leading his own group of pilgrims and the words were familiar. The Mass at the Basilica of the Holy Rosary was very moving for its shoulder to shoulder crowd of worshippers. The sounds from all the combined voices and magnificent organ echoing off the walls was hair raising, and it was all lit by the magnificent windows. The Mass at the arena-sized Basilica of the Trinity was also very moving and instructive as we watched the ushers trying to corral such a huge group into some semblance of order to receive communion. Here’s a photo of the interior at a rare moment when no Mass was taking place:

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It was the same for the mass in the blazing sun with 20+ Eucharistic ministers trying to serve thousands trying to find relief in the few shady patches. I had wondered about lines of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder facing the altar until I realized that they were standing in the pitiful shade of tall light posts in that enormous area.

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Monday, October 2

And so, another travel day as we packed up and headed for the bus station again. Less anxiety this time if the bus was late but our seats weren’t as comfortable as on the last trip. We were in the middle of the pack and the guy ahead of us leaned his seat way back and the lady behind us complained when we tried to lean our seats back, so I had to beg the guy ahead of us to sit up straighter. He wasn’t happy about it, but he did. The highway to Lisbon was much like a US interstate and a quicker way to get somewhere but pretty boring.

At the bus station in Lisbon (Wow! Lisbon is BIG) we decided to get a taxi so headed for the taxi rank. No Problemo! We just had to follow the crowd out of the station and saw the signs. Taxi took us to our door for 10 euros. A real bargain. I would have died wrestling our luggage on and off city buses. We called our AirBnB host, Carlos, and had a beer at the local watering hole while waiting for him to come open the door for us. He was there quickly, opened it up, showed us around the place and gave us advice on where to eat and what to look for in the neighborhood. Big flea market in the neighborhood plaza tomorrow. Georgia’s eyes lit up. We still needed more souvenirs and gifts for people back home.

Travel days just wear us out so we went to the neighborhood Tapas Bar that Carlos recommended and ordered a plate of six different tapas to share, plus wine and a G&T. Georgia also ordered a plate of burned peppers she pretends to love! OhhhKay. We sat at a nice outside table on the wide sidewalk. Great for people-watching. Most of the other tables seemed to be speaking English as well. This doesn’t seem to be a hotbed area for tourists but maybe there are a lot of Airbnbs nearby catering to travelers like us. Back in the room we watched some English-language news (SkyTV) to catch Trump rant about how unfair it is that he should have to obey the law. He was, after all, once the President. Boo-hoo. And off to bed. Nice air conditioning and a small but hot shower.

Tomorrow we’ll try to start seeing this huge city, the second oldest city in Europe, behind Greece’s Athens; founded even before Rome as a stop on the way to the spices of India. Built on 7 hills, I’m afraid we won’t be agile enough to walk everywhere, and too cheap for taxis we’ll be at the mercy of bus and metro schedules.

Tuesday, October 3

Flea Market! It was an easy walk along a tiny sidewalk to the neighborhood church and central plaza where the sale spread out in all directions on tables and in booths and even on blankets just laid on the ground. There were hundreds of vendors selling anything you could want. There were tools of all kinds, and toys, jewelry and gems, clothes and curtains, tiles and towels. We bought toys and earrings and insects caught in clear epoxy for grand children and more comestibles for us. You need to keep up your blood sugar level to really do the maximum shopping.

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Waiting at the bus stop to head downtown we met a very thin young woman from Algiers who was anxious to meet her “friend” at a nearby nudist beach. I told her about our trip to Elba (She never heard of it, and seemed to have never heard of Napoleon) to the nudist beach where all the nudes seemed to be old men. She laughed.

We caught the bus and headed for the main square, Placa Comercial and as practice for our walking tour this afternoon. On the way we passed two enormous cruise ships docked on the riverfront. No wonder we saw immense herds of tourists boarding and de-boarding local buses at nearby stops. They were having to contend with construction at the docks as Lisbon tries to gear up for even more tourists in their future. I’m sure it used to be much more hard-scrabble down on the docks. And parts of it still are as we would learn tomorrow from our trip to the Antique Museum. We met our guide Beatriz under her orange umbrella in Placa Comercial for the city tour. She was much more interested in the history than the art of Lisbon. In a country as pummeled as Portugal has been over the centuries, I guess that makes sense.

The central monument where we met features people trampled by an elephant on one side and people being trampled by a horse on the other. The trampling was not really explained anywhere. I guess the artist was a populist, or maybe the Portuguese just hate pedestrians. “Get a horse!”

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The year 1755 seems to have been the pivotal year in Portuguese history, or at least in Lisbon. There was a huge earthquake just off the coast, felt as far away as Algiers and Norway. It’s been estimated as over-9 on the Richter scale. Buildings collapsed all along the coast, especially in Lisbon. People ran to the open areas in terror and when they got to the waterfront they were amazed to see that the ocean was gone. As you might imagine they were amazed and then, about 10 minutes later the Tsunami arrived and finished the complete destruction begun by the quake.

The king had been out of town when the quake hit and his palace was destroyed. He was terrified and refused to move back or live in a stone building again. Even the castle on top of the mountain was reduced to rubble. It wasn’t rebuilt until the 1970s and even then only the exterior walls were put up to provide for tourist photo-ops.

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To be continued
 

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Portugal Part 7: Lisbon​

Tuesday, October 3 (continued)

The Carnation Revolution of 1974 that ended 40 years of fascist rule was named for the flowers handed out to the soldiers tasked with protecting the dictator, Estado Novo. The long-serving dictator, Salazar, had died in 1970 and the people were promised democracy but dictators often come to think that their country would be better off if they just stayed in power. (Sound familiar after the 2020 election?) In 1974 the people insisted that democracy come. And they insisted peacefully. The flowers they handed out to the soldiers persuaded them to step back, because they were sick of the dictatorship as well.

The relationship of the Portuguese to their colonies was strange: Macau, Mozambique, Angola, Brazil. Macau wasn’t “owned,” only rented from the Chinese for 100 years and reverted when the time was up. Brazil was more popular with the king of Portugal than Lisbon was,, so he became the “Emperor” of Brazil and resigned as king of Portugal, wishing the Portuguese “good luck” under his son, and daughter. The African colonies became independent at the same time as Salazar and friends left the stage.

Beatriz’s walking history tour was mostly uphill from the dockyards to the mountains but she utilized public escalators as she introduced the various personalities and topics along the way. Then she dropped us off in a completely different area from where we began.

We made it back to our neighborhood without too much trouble (thank you Google Maps!) and went to supper at the tiny restaurant called Affair close to the apartment. We ordered and shared a bread plate with little butter-containers of pate of fish and sardines. It was disappointing. An octopus-ink colored pasta with mussels, clams, a couple of shrimp and one large prawn was somewhat better.

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Georgia “oooohed and ahhhed.” I was underwhelmed. The gin and tonic was nice, of course. Her wine was good too.

Wednesday, October 4

Caught the local bus to the Musee Nationale de Arte Antiga. It dropped us off at the base of a flight of stairs leading from the hardscrabble dockyards to a park we could only just see far above us.

The museum featured a very wide range of “Portuguese” art, of course, from the Portuguese colonies and from Portuguese artists and Portuguese collectors. We tried to hurry through to get to the paintings. We were anxious to see Bosch’s triptych “The Temptation of St Anthony.” But it was really hard to hurry. The parquetry and furniture woods were so beautiful from Brazil and the African colonies. The linens and weavings so arresting and the statuary so sublime we just couldn’t hurry. The tile work, of course is unmatched and the religious art was stunning. One great monstrance was covered with diamonds and precious gems. I can only imagine what price would be put on it.

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I loved the paintings! There was an amazing monochromatic Monet painting of a snow scene. But all the paintings were worth seeing—not just the Temptation. A painting entitled “Inferno,” from the “Portuguese School” was suitably macabre with priests and friars being eternally boiled in oil, and devils funneling pig poop in some sinners’ mouths. People hung from the rafters over charcoal fires. Yikes! It made the “Temptation” look tame by comparison, but then Bosch was only picturing temptation, not punishment.

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In the center panel we see Anthony kneeling and making a sign of benediction towards us viewers. He’s on church steps with a crucifix on an altar visible through the doorway. Strange nuns flank him. The one on the left offering a paten to the other on his right. There’s a disembodied head in her lap as she reaches out to receive it.

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All over the painting we see nightmarish priests and laypeople also offering chalices and patens to each other. And amphora metamorphosing into the rear ends of animals. Enormous pigs and little bird-like demons. Men buried in sand. Armored fish. Demons emerging from eggs and reading to each other under a bridge. Misshapen animals and nightmarish humans ushering a fainting brother toward a humanoid billowing tree draped over a house. Flying fish tormenting a praying brother (Anthony?) lying on the stomach of a flying pig.

Lots of people, demons, and animals being stabbed with swords, knives, and arrows while Anthony tries to read his book. He looks at us in dismay. Many images of wicked looking nuns pouring wine for the demons.

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I think Freud would have paid Bosch to come lie on his couch.

All that temptation and torment makes a body hungry so we went in search of the ubiquitous museum café. There, we met Rosemary and Rick from Kitchener Canada. They plan their own trips and avoid group tours too. He also teaches an architecture class in Rome. I envy him the time in Rome, but not the teaching, though he says he gets to pick out his own students from hundreds of applicants. Wow. Just Wow!

He told us that if we could only visit one museum in Lisbon it should be the Gulbenkian, one we’ve never heard of but we will definitely look for it. We tried to find a contemporary or modern art museum. The “National Contemporary Art Museum” was being overhauled and what they had on display was a bust.

Needing a 5 o’clock aperitif we set out looking for a colorful bar. We found “Pink Street,” of all places, with a popular strip club.

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Didn’t get there (durn) but did get some glasses of white sangria then caught bus 95 to take us home again.

Thursday, October 5

It’s a good thing we started out early because it was very hard to find the Gulbenkian. Even Google didn’t know where it was and directed us to some random hotel lobby. I asked one of the bellhops where we were supposed to be. He said that he’d had several others looking for it as well. We weren’t alone, though that didn’t make my sweetie any happier. The correct address was listed under “Gulbenkian Foundation” instead of Gulbenkian Museum. So we had to walk a ways and then catch another bus.

I’d discovered a way to tell the native Lisboner men from the tourists. They dress just the same (unlike the Italians) but Lisboner men carry purses with long leather straps so the purse rests on their hip and the strap crosses their chest. And I also “discovered” that Lisbon is a huge port, and not just for cruise ships. There are one or two of them each day but then there are also hundreds of cranes loading and unloading container ships in the docklands.

Rick and Rosemary were right. The Gulbenkian was a national treasure and an amazing private collection. It was laid out chronologically and every era seemed to be a treasure, but because I was anxious to see the paintings we hurried through exquisite statuary, tapestries, woven rugs, and ceramics.

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Let me just say his taste was second to none and his pockets were very deep indeed. The Egyptian pieces, the Rodins, and the glass and ceramics would be prized anywhere. With the paintings it’s like seeing a living history of painting: Rembrandt, Corot, Turner, Fragonard, Monet (another snow picture and a rare ship picture, and a still-life with a plate and quilt), Manet, Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargeant, and a portrait of Monet’s wife painted by Renoir!

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There was no VanGogh, nor Jackson Pollock, nor Warhol, but I heard that they are actually putting up a new building to hold the modern and contemporary collection. Wow. Just wow!

We tried to visit the Botanical Garden but arrived after their “last admittance” time so went looking for a quiet drink somewhere. Found a lovely park with a nice café and lots of tables on the surrounding sidewalks. There was a Fado guitarist and his drummer-accompanist on stage. Georgia sat on the roots of another one of those enormous rubber trees and I snagged an unused chair. I stopped a waiter to ask if he would bring us some drinks. He checked with someone else and came back to tell us he couldn’t serve us because we weren’t sitting at a table. I saw an unused table and dusty chairs in a discard-area behind the storage unit and went and fetched it. That made us legit, I guess. He took our order and got a rag to wipe our table. “If anyone asks, you are table 125.” I can’t really imagine a circumstance in which I would be asked what table number I am, but ok, maybe Lisboners are interested in that sort of thing, so I committed it to memory. The music was excellent, as were the drinks, but (durn it) no one asked what our table number was.

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I noticed something else when it was time to go. Time passes really slowly in Lisbon, at least at the bus stops. The time listed for the arrival of the bus stayed at 2 minutes for a good 20-25 ‘normal’ minutes.

Friday, October 6

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We stood in longgg lines to visit Jeronimo Monastery. Talked with Mercedes and her daughter, Kayla from the Atlanta area. She is a real-estate agent and very heavily made up. Kayla is a student at the University of Georgia majoring in Finance. “No Way!” became the standard response to everything when we mentioned our connection to Athens and the University. “You majored in Philosophy?? No Way!” “I signed up for a philosophy class, you know, Intro to Philosophy, but I dropped it. I heard that it was too hard, and I didn’t want to spoil my GPA.” I was really tempted to give her the Nemetz quip: “You don’t want an education, you want a gold star on your forehead.” But you don’t immediately insult new acquaintances. You wait a while.

Mercedes had been born in Iran and her family fled when the Shah was overthrown: “My father was a general in his army and was put on a ‘death list.’” She had been 13 at the time. She is now just weeks away from being 60 and they travel a lot—she and her daughter. Her husband is not interested in travel to “foreign” lands. Kayla is engaged to someone in med school and I wonder if her future prospects are worrying her. She wanted to travel the world the way we do, without ‘tour groups’ but confessed to a “first love” who’d lived in Oconee county—“You lived in Watkinsville? No way! Did you know the Hardigrees?” “But when I told him I wanted to travel, he said ‘Nah, we got plenty of golf courses right here.’” I wondered if he knew my golfing table companion from the boat. Maybe American men are stereotypical.

Mercedes was so very glad (she said) to be living in the US. “I wish those who run America down could go live in Iran under the Islamic revolution.” I felt bad for her. There is obviously a lot of pain there and a longing for home. It’s one thing when we leave home because we want something else, but something entirely different when home leaves us. She got excited talking about the recent upheavals in Iran but said the government jailed and killed so many of the protesters that mothers were afraid to let their daughters go out and the revolt died down.

She can’t go home again. The life she longs for, of luxury and private schools under the Shah is gone. Her attempt to recreate a new version in Marietta is not satisfying and when her daughter leaves home to get married she is afraid her small world will close down even more. No amount of makeup is going to fix that.

They had been passing by when they saw the crowds and long lines and wondered what was going on. Georgia told them Jeronimo was a world heritage site. The line would take at least an hour and there was no shade, unless you bought and umbrella from one of the sidewalk entrepreneurs. Georgia pointed across the road to the park where we had bought our tickets. “How long is that line?” “About 30 minutes.” Suddenly all four of us did the math. “Is is going to be worth an hour and a half standing in the sun?”

The daughter immediately got on the phone and bought tickets on line. That cut off at least 30 minutes for them. We commiserated with each other about standing in line, “But we got to meet these nice people ahead of us! said Mercedes. “Zig Zeigler, No Way!!

Well, we finally did get in and the cloisters and church were certainly worthy of World Heritage status. The carving and details were a delight to the eye. Everywhere you stood and whichever direction you looked there was a delightful photo op. I have no idea if there are any monks still living there. If so, they must feel besieged by visitors. I know I would.

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To be continued
 

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Portugal Part 8: Lisbon​

Thursday, October 5 (continued)

We said goodbye to our new acquaintances and took lots of photos of the Monastery then left to try to find something to eat. A little pizza parlor with a few tables set up on the sidewalk under mature sycamore trees fit the bill perfectly. No one was at the tables, but a lovely young black woman was sitting in a car parked at the curb. When we sat down she hustled out to put out menus and silverware for us. Georgia wanted pizza and I wanted something lighter. “Are these fresh sardines on the pizza?” Georgia asked. “Yes,” said the girl. “I mean Fresh!” Georgia emphasized. Yes,” the girl replied, looking slightly puzzled, (“This crazy American must think we would use stale sardines on our pizza!”) Somehow I had a bad feeling about this exchange.

I ordered bruscetta.

Sitting there in the shade with our drinks was heavenly after the crowds in Jeronimo, and Google maps showed that we were now close to a “Tropical Botanical Garden.”

The bruscetta didn’t come on toast or a baguette as I expected, but rather on a pizza crust, and the sardines were “fresh” only because our waitress had just recently opened the sardine tin. Georgia was not pleased, but said at least the bac0n was good. When I paid our bill and handed the waitress a 2 euro tip her smile was so captivating. I wish I could have painted her portrait at that moment.

It was an easy walk to the Botanical Garden where we found more of those Dr Seuss-designed trees and dappled sunshine. And there were terrific benches here and there for sitting and thinking things. And families strolling and pushing strollers. And birds making Melodye, as Chaucer says. It was so alive I could have sat there the rest of the day.

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But Georgia, inspired by Rick Steves, insisted we go have another photo op at the Statue of the Explorers. He had recommended it as a not- to-be-missed site, doncha know? Getting there involved a good bit of walking, including walking through a tunnel under the road, and crossing construction sites and standing in the sun with several thousand other people just to follow the footsteps of the Rickster.

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I began to get pretty testy, and when it came time to leave, Georgia’s internal map didn’t agree with Google’s, so we stood there in the sun arguing about which way to walk. She evidently thought the tunnel under the main drag was the only way to get back to the other main drag. I figured Google knew some other way and that was why it was directing us elsewhere. Losing my temper and feeling completely disrespected yet again, I said “Fine, you go the way you want and I’ll follow Google,” and I walked off briskly in a huff. The fact that Google was leading me to a commuter train instead of our bus was beside the point. I walked along self-righteously for a good 30 minutes assuming that Georgia had found her precious tunnel and was on her way to the bus stop. So I hurried along to wherever it was that Google was leading me—which happened to be a skyway over the railroad tracks and highway. Ha! “Take that Ms Smartypants with your stinking tunnel!”

In the middle of the skyway there were stairs leading down to the train track. Google seemed to want me to follow them down. And at the end of the skyway Google said I’d gone too far, but there was a bus stop there. Getting nervous that I’d not heard from my (aggravating) sweetie in a while I sent her a text message that I had reached the overpass and would meet up with her at the bus stop.

She replied that she couldn’t see me: “Which bus stop?”

That confused me. Then there were a flurry of odd messages back and forth, in the middle of which was the plaintive cry “Come get me! My phone is going dead!” Feeling guilty, I started walking back along that other road toward our original bus stop. Sure that I would meet her coming toward me I figured we would just get lost together, so I texted “start walking along the main drag in front of the Monastery.” That prompted more confusing messages from her culminating with “You’re not even looking for me.” Weird!! What does she mean? “Look behind you,” she said. Huh? And so I did stop, and there she was, behind me! How did she do that?? I must have passed her somehow. But no. She hadn’t been able to find the tunnel so she had followed me on my trek to the overpass, both of us getting more and more angry with the pigheadedness of the other.

So now, together again’ we just walked to our original bus stop and caught our regular bus, number 735, and proceeded safely and peacefully back to our rooms. I’ll never admit to her that I was wrong. The fact that I might have made a teensy weensy “oops” when I didn’t specify “bus” back to our room and Google suggested a train instead, was beside the point. The point was she has a knee-jerk tendency to disagree with anything I say or do. After 50-something years of me being pretty consistently wrong you’d think I’d be able to get over it. Sigh

One last thing: At the main bus stop we found a drum corps wearing black uniforms with silver trim and sardine-shaped shakos on their hats. They had gathered quite a crowd. The drumming was very good, but the choreography was even more amazing. They bobbed up and down and twisted their heads back and forth in sinc, perfectly mimicking a school of sardines flashing through the waves. The crowd loved it and clapped and danced along with the drums!

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Saturday, October 7

Last day in Portugal.

We tried to find a church with a Saturday vigil mass. I walked up the street to a little church, St Anthony Chapel Valley, featuring a niche containing a little statue with the Saint holding the child Jesus. It said it was built over the birthplace of the saint, who was more normally associated with Padua in Italy. It was locked up tight with no sign indicating mass times. Cute building, but no way in.

So we went to the outdoor market again. Tuesdays and Saturdays there are thousands displaying their wares and hoping to attract others looking for bargains, or just “displaying their wares,” and hoping to attract a member of the opposite sex who might also be looking.

It’s hard to believe, but the crowds were even larger today than the crush we had been in on Tuesday. Today, many of the women were wearing shorts or short skirts. They reminded me of the horses at Keeneland—not because of their size, so much, as the fact that they were stamping their feet trying to dislodge the biting flies. Long pants, even in the heat, would have been a better idea. Georgia found some nice gifts for the kids and I found a nice beer. “What size you want?” the bartender cried. I indicated “large” and he cheered! Georgia wanted a café latte and so we joined the crowd of lo0kers, just looking at the crowds.

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And then we walked around, looking for the Se, Lisbon’s cathedral. The bus we got on stopped at the bottom of the hill we knew the Cathedral was on top of. We argued again. Her Google didn’t agree with my Google on how to get there, so we went with hers, of course. Hers lead us up a dead end alley into a closed restaurant patio. Surely she would admit I had been right this time, and then we saw a little sign saying “Elevator to the Se.” No fair! Deus ex Machina.

Judging by the people we saw, there certainly isn’t a dress code or “covered shoulders” in the Portuguese churches. There wasn’t a mass today at the Se, and one we found at another church won’t be until 3:15. We had late lunch at a sidewalk café obviously popular with families. Lots of LOUD children playing. Grandparents hugging grandchildren and cousins toting each other around piggyback style. I loved it! One of the older grandchildren didn’t want Grandma’s hug. She’ll miss that one day. Mom tried to correct her. Grandma said, “Never mind, God Bless you!” In the distance we heard bells ring a call to prayer in a perfect triad: 1st, 3rd, and 5th.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures in the Se treasury, but honestly I wasn’t tempted at all. More jewel encrusted vestments bespeaking wretched excess that Stephen Fry says would appall “that Galilean carpenter; that Jew [who] would be so ill at ease, that simple and remarkable man.”

It’s an argument we’ve heard before on our travels and one that does have real force with me, but one I call the Judas argument for when the woman who came to Jesus poured out the costly ointment on his feet. Fry-like, Judas was indignant and complained that the money could have been used for the poor, and then went to the chief priests to ask what they would give him to betray Jesus. They gave him thirty pieces of silver and the Bible doesn’t say Judas gave the money to the poor. No. Ashamed of himself, he flung the coins into the temple and went and hung himself. And even the chief priest didn’t give the blood-money to the poor either, but used it to buy the Potter’s field.

At the disciples’ indignation, Jesus, “that simple and remarkable man” said “Leave her alone. She has done a beautiful thing.” Fry admits that he loves the church’s beautiful music and architecture, but can’t seem to see it as acts of love from thousands of people over the centuries. Love prompts extravagance and self denial. The church is full of people doing beautiful, selfless things and gifting beautiful things for all. And the Lisbon cathedral is just such a place. The tile work, the paving stones, the carvings, the glass, the altar, the organ. Everything is extravagant. Not particularly popular in our Ikea world, but in its time it shouted out the glory of God for people who had little enough beauty and glory in their personal lives.

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But we are a world that judges the past by the current winds of fashion. And the current winds of fashion lack both beauty and grace. The environment is being raped, the poor are being trampled in pursuit of the almighty dollar and violence is the way to “fix” every social problem. I guess it’s no wonder vocations and marriage rates are falling. People are hesitant to “gift” themselves to someone, let alone something.

sigh. Thus endeth the lesson.

After the Se, we had a nice sit-down in a little stone plaza where a man and his little black dog were playing fetch with a hard rubber ball. The dog had taught the man to throw the ball across the empty courtyard and bounce it off the distant wall. To reinforce the lesson the dog would race over to get it and bring it back to the man so he could practice again. Over and over and over. I wondered who would give up first. It was the man. There was also an interesting 7-foot statue of a man with an open book where his head should have been, by the sculptor Jean-Michel Folon, honoring the Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa.
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Then we headed for the Basilica of our lady of the martyrs, where afternoon mass was scheduled (we thought) at 3:30. We got there much too early and sat behind a sweet tiny woman who gave us a beatific smile. “English?” she asked, and gave us to understand that Mass was at 5pm with a rosary and exposition starting at 4pm.

There were only a handful at the rosary and the priest was very low-energy. The whole Rosary-Mass combination was almost mournful. We couldn’t understand the homily in Portuguese, of course, but looking around even I could tell how boring the homily was. No humor. No energy. It’s kind of sad that a drum-line mimicking a school of fish could draw such an enthusiastic and energetic crowd and the proclamation of the “good news” could be so sparsely attended, low-energy, and mournful. The side-chapel beside me had a glass-fronted reliquary holding a couple of skulls facing each other. Blasphemous, I know, but I wondered if they had passed away during some prior proclamation of the “good news.”

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For supper that evening we contented ourselves with drinks and tapas at our favorite neighborhood restaurant: fried potato skins with ketchup and tartar sauce. We’d had mixed grilled meat before mass. It had also been delicious: Tapas of sausage, steak, chicken, pork, with a side dish of some indeterminate vegetable.

After telling the hostess/owner how much we’d enjoyed our meals at her place we headed home to pack for an early start tomorrow. Carlos, our AirBnb host was calling a taxi to pick us up at 7am.

Sunrise from AirBnb window:

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Sunday, October 8


We packed and straightened up the apartment, then got up early and made it outside by 6:50. The taxi arrived at 7:05 and off we went. The line for checking our bags was long and when we finally got up to the counter the lady warned us our gate was far away, at least a 30-minute walk and we still had customs and security to go through. Substantial lines at both places but they moved quickly and we found ourselves able to people-watch again at our departure gate. Watched “Angels in the Outfield” and “Frozen” again and got about ¼ of the way through Indiana Jones’ “Dial of Destiny” before we landed. I’m not surprised it hasn’t done well at the box office. It was certainly loud enough, but not very exciting. “Indie” has been through all this before, and the characters were not captivating at all. Georgia watched “Hello God, it’s me, Margaret,” and said she liked it. And so we landed at JFK airport in New York. With each takeoff and landing, my sweetie read the safety card front and back.

Back in Lexington at the Bluegrass International Airport our sweet granddaughter, Sara, picked us up with a big smile and an even bigger hug. There’s no place like home.
 
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