This past week, I received an email that TravelPod would be closing and that we should download and archive our travel blog. I had been thinking about TravelPod only a few days before, trying to remember when was the last time I’d added an entry. Turns out, I got derailed in Havana, in 2010, but I did begin blogging on this WordPress site sometime in 2012-ish.
So, now…TravelPod ending. Wow. I was first introduced to TravelPod by my friends Amy and Mark. Their honeymoon was a six month trip around the world in 2004. They posted entries from all over the place. And from our hometown–to where we’d returned after 16 years away–we followed along, reading with both awe and envy. Our lives had gone a bit–let’s just say, “off road”. Or maybe it’s more descriptive to say that we drove our life down a very familiar street…hoping to see the old views, but now it was distorted, faded, colors running and surreal. We adjusted, adjusted again, and eventually returned to the highway that is Chicago. Yet, we have had so many knocks and bumps in the past 5 years that today, it feels as if we must be on a bombed out highway…a journey that has all of the rockiness, but none of the joyful thrill and exhilaration of a true off-the-roadmap travel experience. TravelPod reminds me of that.
It remembers me. It reminds me. It calls me. That world “scorecard” is still there. And I need to pull out the wish list roadmap and get to it! And I need to write! There are many journeys we take that aren’t on a map.
In the meantime, I’m happy to say that all of the old TravelPod entries are coming to live here. In fact, they are already here in pretty raw form with bricks of copy. They need editing, and they need their photos, so stay tuned. But a big THANK YOU to TravelPod for setting up an easy downloadable archive for moving to WordPress. Our first live blog was to Antarctica in 2007. I wrote from a ship tossing across the Drake Passage. Reading it reminds me of the night I sat in our little cabin writing and watching our things swing, sway and tumble as the waves rocked and rolled us. I get chill bumps–and a little seasick again–just remembering that sensation and the *THRILL* of being at the end of the world. There were other “live” blogs too–though none quite like that. Later, I also went backwards into time and added some journal entries from previous trips. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to clean up all the imported entries. And I’ll be daydreaming about the next “TravelPod” entry!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tulip time in Europe! Our first big trip beyond Ireland and Great Britain // March 31 – April 15, 1997
Arrival in Amsterdam, The Netherlands
We arrived into Amsterdam 6:30 am on April Fool’s Day. Two dogs made the KLM journey from Chicago too. I thought about them all night down in cargo and was happy to see them at baggage claim on the other side…tired and tentative, but good. There is no quarantine of incoming pets–just registration/vaccination papers to show.
It took some frustrating minutes to figure out how to get to Centraal Station from the airport–but we asked around and pieced it together: Metro Train (f6,25 each), and then a Strippenkaart got us on the #16 tram for 5 stops to our hotel. The room wasn’t ready, so we left our bags
behind and went for a walk on a beautiful sunny day. We walked through the flower market as they were setting up… gorgeous flowers and oh the fragrant smells!
The Anne Frank House
We decided to head over to the Anne Frank house early to avoid lines later in the day/week. Our jet-lag heightened the moment–we walked up the stairs, saw the bookcase door ajar, took a step up, ducked and walked into the Secret Annex. The rooms were very small. Hard to imagine 8 people spent 2 cramped years here…little fresh air, no sunshine (the windows were covered with screens to prevent peeking eyes from seeing them hiding there). There is no furniture there now. It was taken by the Nazi’s and Otto Frank chose to leave it empty when the museum was established. Anne’s room was very narrow. A statue stands where her head lay at night. As we were leaving the Annex, I looked down the long, narrow, steep stairwell that ended at the forbidden front door. It was one of the most intimidating pictures I’ll ever have in my mind. My vague feeling of fear cannot compare to the mortal fear they lived with. Anne’s actual diaries are in a glass case next door. The ragged little red/orange/pink/white plaid “Kitty” with it’s feathered pages closed to the public’s eyes was there beside her rewrites, which were open to us. I can’t read German, but I studied the pen marks and lines. Neat, confident strokes. I read the book when I was a kid. To be standing in front of the source, in the building that held her, was humbling. When we left the building, I stopped to stare at the cobblestones, the trees, the sky, the canal in front…what did they feel like when they were discovered and taken out onto that same narrow street in August 1944 after 2 years in doors?
Jet-lag in Amsterdam
We walked silent past the building, the church who’s bells told them the time, past street vendors setting up–and back to our neighborhood. We ate at an outside cafe in the sun–people watching. We ate pancakes with butter and powdered sugar, sipped our cafe au laits and listened to a pitifully bad street musician…tired from the overnight flight, dazed by the Anne Frank house and warmed by the sun. Dogs everywhere…hanging at the restaurant with their people, riding the trams, in the markets.
Around 11, we checked in to the hotel (The Seven Bridges Hotel). Room #10 with an orange yellow door…all the way at the top. Narrow, spiraling stairs…in a series of 13-5-15-13 steps as the staircase wound it’s way up. The room is small–double bed, marble top table, marble top sink counter and 2 oriental rugs. 3 mirrors reflected the light from one window facing East and one skylight over the bed. We would sleep for 4 hours.