Europe

Surprise…an overnight in London sans luggage

Surprise…an overnight in London sans luggage – London, United Kingdom

The flight out of Barcelona was delayed by about 30 minutes…and took a bit longer at take off too.  So, I missed the connection in London and am being put up at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Heathrow Hotel Hayes…about 10 minutes from Heathrow.  Big hotel, small rooms.  19.95 pounds allotted for dinner, 14.95 for breakfast and a free room and shuttle from/to airport.  I’m rebooked for tomorrow morning.  Oh…and my luggage?  I suppose it’s getting accomodation at Heathrow Luggage Motel.  Or on it’s way to Chicago…or maybe gone on holiday to unknown parts.  Great.

Waited for the Hoppa Hotel bus at stop 4.  Told Bryan I felt like I was waiting for the night bus (first time I’ve been here since reading Harry Potter!).  We made jokes about platform 9 3/4 and I said I was going to run at a concrete abutment and see if I could get through to Hogwart’s Express.  He laughed.  And so, I too laughed at my own stupid joke–finally feeling a little better after a few surly Londoners put a damper on the already dampened day.

Left side of the road driving, rain, proper English…it’s been a long time.

It seems I’m close to Windsor Castle here.  Interesting.  Early today, I wished to be home safely (to Windsor Avenue)!  I wonder if the “wishing well” got confused?  Ah…just full of fun today.  Actually would love to go to see Windsor Castle sometime.  Also saw signs in the hotel for the Windsor room and the Winchester room.  Odd given our living arrangements last year.

Dinner in the boring little Brasserie with extremely friendly waiters and a fish tank with 4 extremely bored looking fish.  Burger, chips (the British still don’t leave Americans alone with a ketchup bottle), glass of water and wine.  Nice little quiet time on my blackberry to Mama and work.

Bored fish in a hotel restaurant aquarium
Bored fish in a hotel restaurant aquarium
My personal message on the Radisson Edwardian TV
My personal message on the Radisson Edwardian TV
My room
My room

Currently sitting in a borrowed hotel bathrobe.  Wondering if I shouldn’t do a little “laundry”…think it’ll dry before tomorrow 6 a.m.?  I’d really hate to have damp “knickers!”   Listening to BBC…”Naught point 5% decrease”, “paid a visit to 10 Downing Street” — and shows someone ringing the doorbell of the prime minister’s residence/office!

Onward to Chicago

My 7:55 am flight from LHR to ORD was canceled. I learned this after getting up and out to the Hoppa bus to Heathrow at 5:00 a.m. UGH. Rebooked on the 12:15 flight in business class. Had cappuccino and chocolate croissant in terminal 3 and took my time looking at each and every shop…and some of them twice…and WH Smith, Borders 3 times each. Reading, people watching…what an interesting place. And finally at 11:05, the board gave us the gate number for AA #67 home. About 8 hours later, after passing between Northern Ireland and Scotland and skimming the southern edge of Greenland, landed safely in Chicago… No sign of the luggage–filed a tracer and left the customs area for the international greeting area where Bryan met me :)

It’s good to be home!

Barcelona trip route
Barcelona trip route
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Rambling in Barcelona

Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, 4/15/08

Barcelona's little cafes
Barcelona’s little cafes
Looking up in Barcelona
Looking up in Barcelona

Right after daybreak, I began walking. It was a brisk, but sunny day. The meetings began at 4 p.m. and I was not going to get stuck inside today. On the agenda: croissant and cappuccino at a lovely little cafe with marble tables, photos along La Ramblas, and I made my way into Casa Batllo and Casa Mila before the crowds got silly. Maybe a little shopping in the afternoon.

I became fascinated with the colorful, circles of glass in windows, doors and skylights. That, and the curves of things…from door handles to building fronts. It paid to look up as you walked…wrought iron balconies, colorful glass, and ornate pastel buildings from the graceful art nouveau period.

Casa Batllo
Casa Batllo
Casa Batllo
Casa Batllo
Casa Batllo
Casa Batllo

I got into Casa Batllo before the crowds came. Actually found myself alone in the exquisite dining room for about 5 minutes. Parquet floors, carved wood columns, light wooden curvy door frames with circles of glass as transoms. Blues, greens, magentas and pinks mixed with clear glass. Air bubbles frozen in the glass “on the day they were made.” The door handles were even beautifully curved to be easy to grip. Sea themes in the room with “undulating wood” and a whirlpool on the ceiling surrounded by golden sunlike rays. On the roof, a great view and a giant white porcelain cross dome–supposed to resemble a sword going into a dragon (the dragon being the rest of the roof of green and orange terra cotta tiles curving over the top. What a dream of a place. Stunning in it’s uniqueness.

Casa Batllo
Casa Batllo
Casa Batllo
Casa Batllo
Casa Batllo
Casa Batllo
Casa Batllo
Casa Batllo

Casa Mila was not as exciting…but after Casa Batllo, it had alot to live up to! I spent time on the roof admiring the view and the Darth Vader-like (or…maybe they look like something else to you?) chimneys. I think my favorite part of this casa was the apartment set up to look as it once did at the turn of the century. Spacious, delicate and filled with peach and rose colored glass, and door frames with that curving, flowing style.

Cafe Mila
Cafe Mila
Cafe Mila
Cafe Mila

Walked and walked and walked. Lunch was a pizza and coffee on La Ramblas by Casa Mila. I ducked into shops and began to wonder about the presence of long, skinny-legged elephants and horses as trinkets. Dali apparently spent some time here, and these elephants and horses are from this Temptation of St. Anthony.

Look who I found! Charlie has a Spanish twin!
Look who I found! Charlie has a Spanish twin!
Cheese lollipop with Laura and Sarah
Cheese lollipop with Laura and Sarah
Barcelona
Barcelona
Art Nouveau mosaics in Barcelona
Art Nouveau mosaics in Barcelona
Bikes for hire
Bikes for hire

Another interesting thing I learned that day–the cross shaped streets all have buildings with the corners lobbed off. This is designed to let people see around the corner and make the city feel safer.

I took the metro back to the hotel (Eurostars Grand Marina Hotel Barcelona) with time to dress for dinner and a bus top tour. Meetings would begin the next day. Dulces Suenos! (Sweet dreams!)

A couple of days later, past the meetings, I would ramble again. It was a rainy day and I ducked into shops throughout the quaint little lanes of Barrio Gothic. I purchased 2 really cool leather and “silver” bracelets, but mostly wandered snapping photos and watching. I saw a guy playing what looked like a wok, but sounded like a harp. ??? I saw dogs galore and more art nouveau and Gaudi books and art photos. I can’t make out the Klimt presence that I saw here…maybe they just love his art?

I’d like to come back here one day. It’s a great city for walking, seeing unique sites and snacking yourself silly at the tapas bars. On the final night, Lisa and I went walking to see the things she’d missed this week. We ended up with a tray of bad paella and a good pitcher of sangria–e:mailing Sarah who had left Barcelona that afternoon, but had missed the connection in Paris. She was alone in a pub having a pint and a burger. :)

In a taxi to the airport on a rainy day, passed this graveyard
In a taxi to the airport on a rainy day, passed this graveyard.  Created an old “postcard”.
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Barcelona on Business

Barcelona, Spain – Monday, April 14, 2008

I left on Sunday for a few days in Barcelona. For the first time, I flew business class overseas…posh! First though, it was O’Hare to JFK on Delta, then business class from JFK to Barcelona on Air France (operated by Delta…which means it really was a Delta plane…why do they do that??)

So, business class…is it worth the extra cash? Going east–maybe! The seats on the Delta plane let out almost all the way. They provided a comforter and a hearty pillow. Plus the meal was tasty and filling, there was champagne and all kinds of little goodies in a bag at your seat (headphones, lotion, lip balm, socks, blinders, etc). The TV screen was a separate little pull out thing. And there were a hundred buttons to move your seat in various directions for your perfect comfort. The biggest benefit was a few hours of real, good sleep during the little stub of night time that you get going east in the evening.

Business class legroom and bedding
Business class legroom and bedding

I arrived somewhat rested at 8 a.m. Shortly after checking in, Sarah (my co-worker) and I headed out for coffee and to see some sites. We rambled down La Ramblas, stopping for cafe con leche y croissants at an outdoor cafe in the sun. Beautiful temperature compared to Chicago! :)

On La Ramblas, we saw the flower market, the pet bird-hamster-guinea pig market (or was it also the chickens-for-dinner market?), street performers painted into various animals or superheros frozen until a coin is dropped in their waiting tins, and artists drawing from pictures, and giggling tourists. We turned right into one of the narrow alleys of Barrio Gothic with its gorgeous 3-globe street lights dangle down over the street (Calle de Ferran) and it’s cute little cafes. We twisted and turned down the alleys–purposely getting lost.

We eventually found our way to Casa Batllo and Casa Mila for a look from the outside. We were getting tired, the lines were long, and we wanted to see Sagrada Familia this day. Every 2 hours, we stopped for a caffeine boost and kept going.

sagrada familia spires & crane
Sagrada Familia spires & crane
Spires and cranes of Sagrada Familia
Spires and cranes of Sagrada Familia
Unfinished Sagrada Familia
Unfinished Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia…holy cow. What can you say about a place so big, so fantastically ornate with 4 massive spires on each side and stained glass like you’ve never seen before…and that is OPEN to the SKY, the rain/snow and pigeons? Inside, there is construction–piles of stone, iron and wrapped pallets of building materials everywhere. There are construction workers pointing and talking and working, and driving construction vehicles that beep and make the usual noises. There is construction dust. The wind blows inside–whipping the plastic pallet covers around. Pigeons sit on the pallets and coo. And all the while, the clouds pass over the gaping hole in the ceiling…just above a statue of Jesus. ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY SIX YEARS this has been under construction. They are hopeful they’ll have it done by 2026. Hmmm. Good luck with that!

We waited in line for over an hour to go up into the spires. Inside the spires, opened slots on the side are designed to let the wind ring the bells inside. The view is fantastic. The Mediterranean and Barcelona laid out before you. There are workmen on the roof…and more pallets. And cranes vie for your attention among the spires and crosses.

Aside from being fascinated by the unfinishedness…I was amused by the vegetables atop some of the roof ornaments, and by the Judas kiss statue beside the magic square of 16 numbers. 4 across and 4 down….1, 14, 14, 4…11, 7, 6, 9…8, 10, 10, 5…13, 2, 3, 15. It was only after coming home that I found out the significance of the square…each row and each column add to 33–the age of Jesus at his crucifixion. Also, each of the 4 quadrants equals 33, as do the 4 squares in the middle and the diagonal line. Magic squares they’re called.

Judas Kiss and Magic Square at Sagrada Familia
Judas Kiss and Magic Square at Sagrada Familia

We sat at an outside cafe in the sun across the street from the Sagrada Familia for wine and a sandwich of ham/cheese. Took a few photos and headed back via taxi to meet up with other folks from our company.

Carol at Sagrada Familia
Carol at Sagrada Familia
Home sweet hotel
Home sweet hotel
Sarah and Lisa check emails at dinner
Sarah and Lisa check emails at dinner

Dinner that night would be tapas in a great little place. I loved watching the locals at the “bar”–the bar being a buffet-like counter of snacks and olives. One man sat there reading a newspaper, eating from a little bowl of olives with a tiny fork and drinking a coke with lemon. He savored each olive, eventually spitting the perfectly cleaned pit into his hand and into a little dish. We ordered some of the olives like he was having. They were a beautiful light olive green, the size of cherry tomatoes and were sweet–I could have eaten a hundred of them. The sangrias were delightful…I had about 4 of them :). Serrano jamon, cheeses, seafood, potato treats…what a lovely meal. Seven of us…and 7 Blackberrys–periodically checking e:mails….Kind of funny really.

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The Madeira Islands

The Madeira Islands

Thank god we left the Porto hotel before it got light and the roads got crowded! The airport was not well marked. We missed a turn and couldn’t find a place to turn back for a while. And then, there was no one at the car rental place–just a locked drop box for keys. Ugh.

At the airport, I watched a woman pray–with a gold book held up to her nose with both hands and an orange scarf over her head. When she finished, she wrapped the book in the scarf and tucked it into the small suitcase with her.

We arrived in Funchal, capital city of The Madeira Islands, landing on the stilted runway just after 9 a.m.  We rented a car and headed out to the verdant terraces of Madeira.

Our route around one of four Madeira Islands
Our route around one of four Madeira Islands

Stunning scenery and twisting roads up to Pico do Arieiro. At 6,000+ feet this is the place to see ALL of the island from the highest vantage point. We checked in to our great room with a balcony, had some of the fresh fruit they welcomed us with and went for a walk on the mountain-top miradouro.

I planted myself at the look-out point above the cloudline. I sat there alone for about 30 minutes–listening to the wind, to the misty clouds, and to the birds’ aerodynamic swoosh as they passed close by. It was incredibly peaceful up there…the rocks warm on my butt, the air cooling me, and the sun toasting me. I looked for an answer on that mountain. An answer to my life’s questions. Nothing came but peace.

Carol alone on the Pico do Arieiro
Carol alone on the Pico do Arieiro

We had a nice dinner there and were up and out for sunrise over the island at 5:20 a.m. Sounds of wind, full sky with all the stars. The sun finally greeted us at 6:15 a.m.

We spent the next few days driving around Madeira…the roads were frightening. Cliffsides, narrow, rocky, speedy drivers, huge buses, and tunnels.

Santana had the parrot saying “Hola!”, laughing like a crazy person, and crying like a baby.

Seixal was a lot of vibrant green terraces carved into a hill above the Atlantic and we caught some rain there. It smelled of dampness on that Saturday night. Families gathered in the tiny little streets to drink, eat and talk. We heard footsteps and kids behind the shutters way into the night. Bryan saw a line for bread the next morning–a long, patient line of people waiting in the rain for loaves of bread.

Seixal
Seixal
Seixal Terraces
Seixal Terraces
Riberia Brava
Riberia Brava

We drove out and into the middle of the island for walk in their rain forest of Rabacal. We hiked for a bit in the mist. Later we stopped at an unexpected, out of the mist, Jungle Rain Cafe (think Portuguese Rain Forest Cafe, with Italian food). I picked out a Sao Roque patron saint medal (patron saint of dogs) and one clerk asked another how to say “thank you” in English. :)  I used my very best “Obrigada!”

Our best days and nights in Madeira were the last few. We got to Riberia Brava and checked into a great little hotel with a balcony over a parking lot and the ocean. There was a nice bottle of wine from the shop and a take out pizza and we hung out on the balcony for a while. We spent a lot of time at the rocky beach too. The sea glass and sea pottery opportunity was lovely–and I collected and walked and photographed for hours.

The view from our room in Riberia Brava
The view from our room in Riberia Brava
Carol collecting sea glass at Funchal beach
Carol collecting sea glass at Funchal beach

In Funchal, we enjoyed the old mansion B&B with it’s port selection. A proper Madeiran lady with far-away eyes and a neat grey dress ran that big old mansion with the resident tea-cup chihuahua. The first time I saw that little dog, he was sitting in his owner’s lap picking meat off a chicken bone that she held for him. The terrace was nice overlooking Funchal–we spent time out there for meals, dainty servings of stiff port in tiny, delicate stemmed glasses, and games of cribbage

We walked up the steep hill to the top (Monte) for the basket toboggan ride down. Near the beginning of the walk up, we passed an elderly lady walking very, very slowly up the hill. We respectfully nodded as we hurried past. About 10 minutes later, we were huffing and puffing and could barely walk, when we noticed the lady passing us–still at her slow steady pace. She smiled and nodded as she passed. Hmmm. There’s a life lesson in that.

The toboggan ride was fun. It’s a flexible basket resembling a sled, but on greased metal bars. Two men dressed immaculately in white pants and shirts with little boy hats pull it along with ropes, then jump on and ride while they guide the buggy down into town–over the streets and down the winding hill. Such a strange experience on a little island out at sea…600 miles from Lisbon, and 544 miles from Casablanca.

Funchal toboggans
Funchal toboggans

We spent a long time on the beach–listening to the waves roll in and scramble the rocks back down for another go, sipping sangria and hunting sea glass.

Here’s a 2:26 video of Madeira: Madeira Islands

And the last night, we watched the lights come on down in Funchal from the balcony. And like that, the trip was over. We flew home through Lisbon to Heathrow and on to Chicago on Wednesday 6/13/01.

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Vila Real and Porto

Vila Real and Porto

After Buçaco, we lost interest in Portugal. I hate to say it. The north was beautiful with its terraced vineyards, with homes clinging to the steep hills. Rivers run below the high roads. But Brownie and Buçaco were heavy on my mind.

We stayed one night in Vila Real–at an odd little hotel called Hotel Mira Corgo. The highlight there was the young waiter who proudly told us about the delicious “veggie-tables”. It was one of those priceless sayings that we use to this day. And by the way, the white asparagus and mushrooms were excellent!

Casa de Mateus
Casa de Mateus

In this area, we stopped at Casa de Mateus–to see the cedar tunnel. This was an old house, with fantastic gardens to tour. The cedar tunnel was planted in 1941, and now the aromatic tunnel is 115 feet long, 25 feet high and they’ve built curved ladders to groom the outside of the tunnel. It is so dense that I cannot imagine it rains on the inside. We got to enjoy the swimming pool at Vila Real for a little bit and then headed up to Porto.

Porto was disappointing to me. The Hotel S. Jose front desk lady was rude; she pointed at my Life is Good t-shirt (which had a dog on it), and said “we don’t allow dogs”. Me: “I don’t have a dog with me.” She: “Fine. Ok.” Me: ??? And then there was an odd moment about the parking (She: “we don’t have parking.” Me: “you said you did when we called to make the reservation. Look, here. It’s on the confirmation.” She: “Fine, ok.”) She and the stiff air-conditioned room were shocks to our systems.

In Porto
In Porto
Porto's Train Station
Porto’s Train Station

We spent a few hours seeing the sites and then back to the hotel to repack. Tomorrow morning at 7 a.m. we were off to the Madeira Islands.

Porto's tile
Porto’s tile
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Buçaco (Bussaco) and Brownie the tour guide

Buçaco and Brownie the tour guide

The route North in Portugal
The route North in Portugal

What an amazing place! The Buçaco Palace Hotel Luso–how do I begin to describe the 260 acres of ancient trees and immaculate gardens, lots of trails to walk through the forest, and an ornate, luscious old hotel with gargoyles and icing-carved details all around?

We walked and hiked this place for days. It used to be a monastery, where silent monks planted and tended the gardens. Stations of the cross little houses are hidden on the trails–coated in vines, filled with life-size clay figures (some broken), and among 300-year-old trees. There are quiet places to sit and meditate in the cool shade among sunbeams sneaking in the canopy of trees. This would turn out to be a highlight of our trip…primarily because of a little brown dog with extra toes. We called her Brownie.

Buçaco Palace Hotel
Buçaco Palace Hotel
Buçaco Palace Hotel
Buçaco Palace Hotel
Lovely little Brownie
Lovely little Brownie
Brownie with Bryan
Brownie with Bryan

On our very first hike, we were greeted steps out the front door by this scrappy little caramel-colored girl dog with floppy ears, extra toes, brown nose and beguiling amber brown eyes. She let us pet her, and then turned briskly away, walking ahead and looking back at us to follow her. We did. We kept up with her, up the steep rocky paths into the woods and up to a stunning view down to the hotel. Each time we followed her into the woods, we traced our journey on the trail map the hotel had given us–but never once needed the map to find our way. We just followed Brownie as she walked the paths to some of the most stunning and isolated viewspoints. She came back for us if she got too far ahead and waited for us while we stopped to admire a tree or a view. This went on for 2 days. We took her, and “Joe” the German Shepherd, breakfast, lunch, and dinner scraps as payment. We walked in the mornings, afternoons and evenings too, playing with Brownie in the hotel courtyard and letting her guide us to see all the trails at Buçaco. This dog was happy, sweet, independent and playful. I wanted to rescue her–take her home and began to work it out in my mind. I knew though that she would not be happy on a 6 ft. leash in a 1,000 square foot apartment in Chicago with 3 other dogs. We ate a lot of meals outside in order to share them with Brownie and Joe. They gave us great happiness, and I think they enjoyed our company too.

Buçaco Windows
Buçaco Stairwell Window
Buçaco's dining hall
Buçaco’s dining hall

The hotel was so beautiful, empty foyers, empty stairwells–massive and marble. It was filled with chandeliers, stained glass, and wood work. And our bathroom! Spacious! The toilet, tub and sink seemed lost in the big echoey room.

We spent most every waking moment out with the dogs. There was a cascading walk of 10 terraces (steps numbered: 8-16-16-16-15-15-15-14-14-13) with a fountain running between the dual walkways. There was a 357-year-old cedar (planted in 1644 and now supported by an iron gate and cords tying it to earth) and a massive Tasmanian eucalyptus planted in 1876–and I do mean massive, straight-as-an-arrow and at a horseshoe bend in the road. The trunk couldn’t have been circled by 7 people holding hands…maybe 8 or 10.

One afternoon, we went out to walk and Brownie was nowhere in sight. We called, whistled…nothing. We began our walk–distracted and dampened by not having Brownie with us. As we neared the mid-point of the walk, Brownie raced past us on the path. Instantly brightening our day with her spunky look back at us. One day we went to nearby Coimbra for groceries to picnic with and picked the dogs up McDonald’s cheeseburgers…THAT was a hit!

On the final morning, we found them curled together beside a hedge. Stretching and smiling as we brought them breakfast scraps. We took a long slow walk to the Coimbra Gate enjoying both Joe and Brownie’s company that morning. I cannot describe the sadness I felt driving away that afternoon, looking back in the rear view mirror as the two of them sat by the steps of the hotel wagging their tails at other guests. Right before leaving, I met another lady who had saved her bacon for them too. :)

Brownie with Bryan
Brownie with Bryan

I wonder where they are today. And if they are safe, happy and healthy. They were angels.
As all dogs are.

To see a 2:21 video of Portugal, that ends with Brownie and Joe: Portugal-QT

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Through Obidos to Tomar

Through Obidos to Tomar

We were driving north to Tomar where the Knights of Templar lived in austerity. As it turned out, I much preferred the tiny white town we passed through called Obidos.

The sunny day made the Obidos white lane homes sparkle. Flowers cascaded from flower boxes. Narrow alleys hid little shops with unique pottery. And a sharp S-curve gate house made cars slow to a crawl entering the small town. Really wished we could have spent more time there.

Obidos Miradoura
Obidos Miradoura
Obidos Lane
Obidos Lane

We drove a long while to reach Tomar and our hotel (Pousada de Sao Pedro) overlooking the dam. It’s a rather posh little hotel and restaurant. We ate a good meal there with the local Tomar Convento de Cristo vinho tinto (red wine), and then wandered half way across the dam before I got a little nervous about the whole theory of a dam holding all that water back. I practically scurried back to the side.

Tomar Plaza
Tomar Plaza
Around Tomar
Around Tomar

The next day was a beautiful sunny day. We walked a bit around the square, visited a pet store, watched people feed the pigeons and then headed out for our drive to Buçaco–which would turn out to be a highlight of our trip.

Tomar tiles
Tomar tiles
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Sintra

Sintra

Unlike our start to Evora, we drove straight to our Pensao (Hotel Jardim) in Sintra. This was some hilly terrain, trees shading the curving streets. We stayed at a charming old house–a villa really–with 12 foot ceilings, 10 foot doors, old pine floors, french doors opening onto a small veranda of green wrought iron, and a bathroom with a western window opening out to the castle–which allowed you to bathe privately in the sun. The grounds had a romantic old pool, long and thin, surrounded by cedars, mountains, and a garden. It was peaceful and quiet. Obrigada!

We unloaded the car, packed our backpacks and hiked up, up, up to Castelo de Mouras. After we passed the house lanes by Santa Maria–tiny lanes and short houses tucked into the alleys, we got into dappled shade, passing moss-covered rocks and big trees. Up, up, up. Sweating, aching calves. Up, up, up! Finally arriving at the Palacio de Pena grounds to look up and see this eye candy of a castle.

Along the walk up, up, up to Pena Palace
Along the walk up, up, up to Pena Palace
Bryan & Carol at Pena Palace
Bryan & Carol at Pena Palace

Pena Palace is–to this day–my favorite of all castles! It was described in tour books as a “crazy casserole”. It is all different styles–Gothic, Moorish, Victorian, Bavarian, lots of Neptune and sea themes too. Colors of bright yellow, deep reds, vivid blues–tiles, stucco, bricks. Red steeples, golden domes, yellow turrets. Windows of all shapes and sizes–each with elaborate carvings. A little of everything.

Pena Palace Window Moorish
Pena Palace Window Moorish
Pena Palace window Gothic
Pena Palace window Gothic
Pena Palace Window Neptune
Pena Palace Window Neptune

Inside we saw it’s “charming intimacy” in each of the rooms. One room–a teak room with white gothic reliefs had a chandelier resembling a morning glory vine in full, dripping bloom. Other rooms were filled to the brim with tapestries in rich colors. Rooms were painted deep teals, or terra cottas, or covered in blood-red damask. Some walls were covered in mosaics or in frescoes of art nouveau ladies. The queen’s room was a dizzying relief pattern, repeated on the walls and ceiling in carved and colored detail…and mimicked by the lace, feathers and ornate chairs filling the room. There was an inner courtyard, with verandas all around and cool tiles, shaded ferns and bubbling fountains. The dinner table was gushingly set for 12 with 7 glasses at each place setting. There was too much to see. I bought the book to absorb it all. This was originally a monastery, about 500 years ago. Later (in the mid-1800s) Dom Fernando decided to turn it into the fantasy that it is today. Rumour is that his mistress (later his wife) buried all the jewels in the Pena Palace garden. Buried treasure or not, the place is a treasure.

Pena Palace medley
Pena Palace medley
Pena Palace Moorish
Pena Palace Moorish
Pena Palace view from the guard house
Pena Palace view from the guard house
In Sintra
In Sintra

The first morning in Sintra, I sat out on the veranda gazing at the misty valley and the narrow blue-tiled pool below the villa. The place seemed quite mysterious and serene. We picknicked in our room one afternoon. Wine, cheese, and the good old stand-by: frango pastries.

Pena Palace tiles
Pena Palace tiles

We would end our two days in Sintra by driving the “ring”. Driving was interesting….One lane, two-ways, narrow and curving. Leaving busy Sintra on a quiet Sunday morning was a good idea. We went past the Arab Fountain where locals filled their gallon jugs (despite signs warning them of “inconsistent water”), by the ornate Palace Hotel, and stopped to visit the “recuperating” Monserrate villa before going out to the Cabo da Roca (western most point of mainland Europe).

The Arab Fountain
The so-called Arab Fountain

We had Monserrate to ourselves that morning. It was lonely with its intricate ric-rac decorations around the exterior, peeling paint and overtaking vines. The grounds were lush with old, giant trees–one 10 foot diameter trunk had bundles of broom-like branches hanging down to the ground like a giant umbrella. We explored a crumbled chapel with tree roots taking over. The place made me feel inconsequential. I wondered if I sat really still on a stone, how long before a tree root enveloped me?

Monserrate
Monserrate: Lovely and Lonely

Our next stop would be Obidos on our way to Tomar and Buçaco.

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Evora

Evora

Portugal: Lisbon to Evora to Sintra
Portugal: Lisbon to Evora to Sintra

How can it be so hard to find the massive Ponte 25 de Abril bridge over the Tagus river??? We could see it, but it took us almost an hour of driving around Lisbon to find the entry to the bridge and A2 Sul. To add insult, it was a toll bridge.

It was May 30 and we were headed for Evora. The drive wasn’t anything to write home about–it was hot, silly sunny, and hazy. We enjoyed the fresh air, the breeze and seeing the cork oaks dotting the landscape. Strange to see truck beds full of large pieces of tree bark, which was the harvested cork.

Arriving into Evora was easy enough. Finding our hotel…not so easy. What’s with us today and this relentless hide-and-seek driving game?!? It took an hour driving around in Evora to find our hotel. We were in the right area the whole time…circling the place because it wasn’t labeled, nor were the streets. It was way too appropriate when U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” came on the radio.

Faded, lace and iron on the streets of Evora
Faded, lace and iron on the streets of Evora

But, it was simply a posh Hotel Solar de Monfalim Évora, little room #207…high stucco’d walls and a 3.5 x 7 ft “veranda”…and air conditioning! We spent the day wandering the narrow, cobblestoned lanes. Lots to see–rooster-themed pottery, friendly dogs, moorish influenced tiles, a church with mismatched bell towers/steeples. I especially liked the looks of one shop, where behind the counter there were hundreds of wrought iron key hole / door latch covers in Moorish, gothic styles and also all these arabic/syrian lamps with the beaded shades.

Evora dog
Evora dog

For two days, we walked lovely little Evora and ate the simple foods of Portugal–chicken pastries (we point, and ask “frango?”), strip steaks with onions/tomatoes and eggs, and wine. A favorite memory turned out to be this tiny little place we found when wandering by the aqueduct, called O’Portao. It only had four tables and an ice cream cooler in the front. We went back for dinner. One woman in a pink dress took our orders, cooked them and served them too. She brought wine in a rough hewn, brick red, terra-cotta pitcher. Our meals of strip steak and mushrooms and fries was plain and perfect. We sat and listened to the family behind us out for dinner. We watched the kids come and go, opening the ice cream cooler, leaning in, sorting around, and paying the lady for their selection before leaving again. We wandered the area afterwards, admiring the diamond shaped patterns on the Evora sidewalks.

Largo da Porta de Moura's marble fountain in Evora
Largo da Porta de Moura’s marble fountain in Evora

Tomorrow, we were off to Sintra for two nights, a little place east of Lisbon.

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Languid Lisbon

Languid Lisbon

Next we were on to Portugal. We flew through Casablanca again and got into Lisbon mid-day. The taxi to the hotel took less time than getting our luggage. Bom Dia! We were in Portugal!

Four flights of stairs up to the Pensao Aljubarrota Lisbon–room 8. I was delighted with the old house, the ambiance of the room and its tiny terrace overlooking a quiet street. Despite the room being only about 10 x 10 ft, there were THREE sets of french doors in the room, a massive old armoire and headboard, a tiny dressing table and a shower, bidet, and sink en suite. The toilets were down the hall. It was a satisfying little daydream to imagine living in this tiny studio space with just the minimum amount of “stuff”. I liked sitting out on the narrow sunny, balcony–just enough space for two chairs and a small table. Lights were strung along the railings, and candle stubs melted onto the balcony floors. Other balconies across the way and down the street had flowing pots of flowers, drying laundry, and brightly painted chairs and tables.

Our balcony
Our balcony
Carol on the Lisbon balcony with Marrakech henna'd hand
Carol on the Lisbon balcony with Marrakech henna’d hand

It turned into a favorite thing to do…to sit on that balcony. We washed clothes in our sink and hung them to dry on the balcony. I sat out there with it, sipping cold cokes and eating crackers. I wondered about the people living behind all the other balconies’ French doors with flowing white lace curtains opening into unseen living spaces. Sometimes you’d see someone–a matronly woman stepping out to pinch back the flowers, a shirtless man sitting out for a morning smoke, a young mother–with a kid on the hip–hanging out baby clothes with one hand.

Lisbon Tiles
Lisbon Tiles

Lisbon was HOT. The heat made us lazy, too languid to even be cranky. We spent time at cafes outdoors–sipping cold drinks and watching tourists, pigeons, hash dealers, and the locals.

The bad part of our pensao was the “curfew”–the outside doors locked from midnight to 9 a.m…no getting in or out. There was no air conditioning, no fans, and a limited breakfast. Nights could be loud as the neighborhood came to life. It was like Rear Window on that balcony. But with the heat, the noise, and knowing you’re locked in…nights could be very, very long.

One night we went to Fado at Canto Do Camoes…expensive, but a delicious meal of salmon with hollandaise sauce, thin green beans, potatoes, and white asparagus in butter. Bryan had steak with mushrooms and garlic and lobster bisque and we shared two bottles of red Portuguese wine. We listened to the singers…this melancholy saudade–a sort of ethereal, aching, yearning for something lost or unattainable…Portugal’s “country” music.

We spent one evening walking up along the Miradoura de Sao Pedro de Alcantara. From there you have beautiful views of the crowded, red-roofed Baixa area below. One day, we walked up, up, up and spent the better part of the day on Miradoura de Santa Luiza–gazing below and getting the breeze and the view while eating and drinking and postcard writing. Peaceful. We walked in Alfama–laundry hanging across the narrow streets, school kids walking in packs, ladies standing outside windows talking to ladies inside their half doors. Narrow alleys, steps up and down and tidy balconies filled with color.

Lisbon's balconies
Lisbon’s balconies
Lisbon trolleys
Lisbon trolleys

Another night near sunset, we strolled up in Barrio Alto to the Praco do Principe Real, a very scenic area. It was an old neighborhood–colorful but peeling-paint houses and big trees with purple flowers. In the park, there was this massive old tree–cedar, I believe–supported all around with an arbor. The arbor held the tree up and open like a giant umbrella. The trunk was large and muscular, the branches gnarled and twisted through the arbor supports. Kids played, couples snuggled, and a chess game went on beneath its branches. We took the yellow Gloria trolley down to the plaza below and got ice cream at twilight. SO HOT back in the Lisbon valley!

Barrio Alto, near the big cedar arbor
Barrio Alto, near the big cedar arbor
The lilac tree
The lilac tree
Barrio Alto, Lisbon
Barrio Alto, Lisbon
Lisbon Cathedral
Lisbon Cathedral

One morning, we woke Guissepe up at 8 a.m. to let us out for coffee and the flea market. That was a good day. I found lots of little trinkets–a tiny rosary, a single delicate little port glass, old chandelier beads, a glass absinthe bottle, a cafe tin canister, and an art nouveau lady made of silver. All the little bits and pieces that I love and collect like a magpie collects shiny things.

Lisbon: view of Baixa
Lisbon: view of Baixa

On our final night in Lisbon, we spent the evening on the Miradoura, feeding the birds and watching the sunset. We returned to pack up and sat with Guissepe in his small, breezy evening kitchen–enjoying wine and cheese. He’d been open for four years now, but had lost his partner to leukemia three years ago. It was not the way he’d intended “the pensao plan” to go. I looked around the crowded space taking in the stacks of books, the photos taped to the walls. We had noticed Guissepe many times during our stay, sitting alone on his balcony smoking, or strolling, hands-behind his back, down the streets near his home–the working pensao. It was humbling sitting there in his tiny kitchen listening the dream and the reality.

Faded film Lisbon to the sea
Faded film Lisbon to the sea
Faded film Lisbon streets
Faded film Lisbon streets

The next morning, we took the metro–boarded at the Linha Caravela “C”/green line’s Rossio stop, changed to the blue, “A” Linha Gaivota at Baixa-Chiado to the car rental place around the Parque stop. We rented a little car and loaded up–bound for Evora and up to the north of Portugal.

Portugal Flag
Portugal Flag
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The 2001 trip begins: 6 Hours in London

Through London to Marrakech, Portugal and the Madeira Islands 

June 2001: London, Marrakech, Portugal, Madiera
June 2001: London, Marrakech, Portugal, Madiera

This was to be a trip for all the senses… For the eyes–Moorish influences, crayon box of colors, repetitive artwork and script (trance or mania?), cork oak and olive trees.  For the nose–spices, oranges, jasmine, mint, cedar.  For the ears–Fado music and the calls to prayer.  For the taste buds–Portuguese wine, Madeira port, and Moroccan mint tea.  And for the skin–sun’s warmth, henna’d hands, stones, glass & tiles sanded smooth in the sea.  But first…the three weeks begin with 6 hours in London…

Six hours in London

We arrived from Chicago on Thursday 5/24 into Heathrow around 10 a.m.

It was a longish layover, so we took the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station…then on the Hammersmith & City Line to Liverpool Street, and a ten minute walk down Bishopsgate Street to meet our friend, Robert for a pub lunch at Simpsons.  We sat upstairs in a tight old wooden booth…a smoke filled room. After lunch, we three headed down to a sunny courtyard for beer and wine. As we sat around the keg table–we debated the age old travel question–“When are you really there? When does it count?” On the ground in the airport? Staying a night? Eating a meal? Exchanging $ for …?

We had to be back at Heathrow by 2:30 for our 4 p.m. flight to Marrakech…so did London “count”?

Robert & Bryan
Robert & Bryan
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Back to Dublin

Doolin back to Dublin

The drive to Dublin was thankfully uneventful. We checked in to our B&B–Aida Boyle’s house in Upper Rathmines called St Judes.  It was a grand old Dublin home with 13-foot-high ceilings, plaster trim decorating the ceilings and a massive marble fireplace…and a goose down comforter. Love my Dublin!

Aida Boyles B&B
Aida Boyles B&B

We spent the last few days of our trip walking all over the city, like I’ve done a hundred times before.  Stopping in Bewley’s for lunch or breakfast with white coffee, taking a rest and getting a pint in the Foggy Dew, evening hours in the Long Hall, and just enjoying walking these grand old streets.

In the Long Hall
In the Long Hall

We would be out until 4 a.m. at the discos with Nick and Catherine. Dancing and singing at the bar below the Harp. We knocked over a table dancing to a Neil Diamond song.  Nick: “See your man there? He’s been coming in here for two years and hasn’t grown a stitch. It’s like two eggs in a hanky, that one“.

Kids busking in Dublin
Kids busking in Dublin

Another sunny day in Dublin–watching the kids busk on Grafton street and enjoying pints in McDaids. Tomorrow, we were heading home via London, Reykjavik and Baltimore…

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