- Brett and I are slowly getting stocked up for the girls’ arrivals next week. The day before yesterday we shopped at Trader Joe’s, and yesterday we did our Costco shopping. So far we’re still under budget – I had forgotten how much less food costs here. We were almost overwhelmed when we stepped into our Portland Costco after shopping at our little one back on Kaua’i, and the amazing amount of selection as well (with a few exceptions though, prices on Kaua’i are the same as they are here). We still need to go to Winco, mainly to restock some travel supplies but also to pick up some bagels for our traditional Christmas morning breakfast. After that we will make a stop at New Seasons market for a couple of things and take YaYu to the big Fubonn Asian market after she arrives to get her supply of noodles. I am doing all cooking here at the house while we’re in Portland except for us going out once for pizza and once for dim sum while we’re together.
- Winter is coming. Actually, from what I can tell I think winter is already here. It was clear but only 34 degrees when we landed in Boston the other day. Portland has had rain and overcast skies and temperatures in the mid-40s since we arrived, all the things that drove us to move to Hawai’i a little over four years ago. Brett and I had toyed with idea of possibly settling in Seattle after we finished the Big Adventure, but after a few days in Portland we both know there is no way. I don’t know what we were thinking.
- We are not big TV watchers, but our Airbnb here in Portland has full cable, including all the premium channels, like HBO, Showtime, etc. so Brett and I are going to watch Season 4 of Better Call Saul, and I’m thinking when we’re done I may settle in and try to binge watch Game of Thrones. Meiling is bringing her stick with her so we can access Netflix. I think a month of TV watching while we’re here and Brett and I will be good to go for another year.
- Before we got to Portland, we thought we’d get a small Christmas tree, but now that we’ve seen what’s out there and the prices, we’ve decided not to. Instead, we bought a big, beautiful poinsettia at Trader Joe’s and with the girls’ blessings that will be the extent of our decoration this year. We’re currently working on getting all the girls’ presents wrapped but are also trying to keep that as low cost and simple as possible. We bought some inexpensive red and green twine when we were in Florence, and will wrap many of the gifts with kraft paper and newsprint and then add some string to make things a bit more festive. We also saved shopping bags along the way and those will get used as gift bags. The most important thing is we will be together with the girls and we want to stay focused on that.
- I’m seeing the dentist this afternoon and have my fingers crossed that my broken tooth won’t be as bad as I think it is, and that it will be salvageable. I was able to get my red glasses fixed at Costco while we were there – they were slightly damaged when I fell in Florence in November but are as right as rain now. Brett and I also continue to get better each day, but our colds this time have really dug in their heels. One of the problems for us is that the air is so dry (as it was back in Portugal and on all the planes) and that seems to keep things aggravated. But, we are no longer coughing nor having to blow our noses as much so hopefully we will be back to our healthy selves by next week. YaYu arrives in Portland next Monday night, WenYu on Tuesday, and Meiling will be here on Thursday. All three will be staying here until we leave in January.
Yeah – we are in Portland! Getting here took three days of travel filled with ups, downs, twists, turns and some nice surprises too. We still have massive head colds although they thankfully did not make us uncomfortable on any of our flights other than having to constantly blow our noses. The coughs are mostly gone.
The journey back to the U.S. began when we went to check in for our flight from Lisbon to Madrid and discovered Iberia had changed us to a completely different flight, one that departed four hours earlier than our reservation. Also, we no longer had nice seats up front, but had been moved to seats in the far, far back. Hmmm. Neither Expedia nor Iberia had ever contacted us about any sort of change, so this caught us completely off guard and we had to scramble to get our transportation to the airport changed, and finish our packing. We also had to pay extra to check our suitcases; they had been included in our earlier ticket. Thankfully the additional fee was quite small.
The Iberia flight to Madrid was extremely uncomfortable though, with no leg room whatsoever. Neither Brett nor I are big or tall people, but we were squeezed into our seats and couldn’t move our legs – I can only imagine how uncomfortable it was for people taller than us. Thank goodness the flight was just a little over an hour long. We also never saw a flight attendant the entire time except to greet us as we boarded and say goodbye at the door as we got off. We vowed never to book with Iberia again no matter how enticing their low prices appeared (the flight was ridiculously cheap, just over $100 for the two of us and our suitcases – a similar flight in the U.S. could cost around $150 – $200 dollars per person).
We had an overnight hotel reservation in Madrid, at a place located less than two miles from the airport, and supposedly just a 10-minute drive away. We got a taxi at the airport, and twenty minutes later our driver had us at the hotel! We’re still not sure whether he didn’t know where he was going, or if he was just trying to rip us off or maybe a little of both, but we were not happy when we arrived. We normally tip but this guy got nothing. Check-in at the hotel was easy and our room was comfortable, although the walls were quite thin – Brett joked he could hear the woman next door scratching her leg. We showered, got our clothes out for the next day, and went to bed as we had to get back up at 4:30 a.m. to be at the airport by 6:00 for our morning flight from Madrid to London. The hotel had arranged an early morning taxi for us, and this driver was on time, and made it to the airport in . . . eight minutes!
Madrid’s Barrajas airport is its own particular hell. I’m not sure who designed the place, but it really is not customer friendly at all. The taxi driver took us to Terminal Two to check in with Norwegian Air (there are four terminals), but after that was done we had to walk over a mile and a half to get to our gate in Terminal One! There are no shuttles or trams between terminals – everybody walks and there are signs up overhead reminding you of how many minutes away you are from your destination. We found our gate, had a cup of coffee and a pastry, but when it was time to board the plane passengers were put on shuttle buses and driven out to the plane, which was parked out on the tarmac outside of Terminal Two!
Our flight itinerary gave us a l-o-n-g layover in Gatwick airport (seven and a half hours), but the time there actually went fairly quickly. There were shops galore to check out, but we only hit up Boots for more tissues, some maximum strength Sudafed, antibacterial wipes for our hands, and a few bars of Cadbury chocolate to enjoy on our flight over to Boston. There were also loads of restaurants to choose from, and after looking at all the menus we settled on Wagamama for some good Asian food. I got two yummy filled buns and a plate of pad thai, and Brett ordered a big steaming bowl of chicken ramen.
As I was chewing on a pad thai noodle I bit on something hard and when I looked to see what it was discovered it was a big piece of my back tooth! Surprise! That little chip I had when I left Kaua’i and that had been bothering me a bit had developed into a crack and the soft pad thai noodle was apparently the last straw. I was initially very upset, but then realized that if it was going to break it had actually happened at a good time because we were heading to Portland where we would be staying long enough that I could get a dentist to take care of things before we left for India. Also, the broken tooth does not hurt at all, so I am not having to deal with any pain whatsoever. But still, this was not something we wanted or needed to happen.
Our flight from Gatwick to Boston was wonderful from start to finish, and I wouldn’t hesitate to book with Norwegian Air again for a long-haul flight. We didn’t win premier seats in the upgrade auction, but that turned out to be OK because our exit row seats were very comfortable with loads of legroom (and the extra we would have paid for premium seats is now available to cover my tooth repair). The dinner we were served was the best food I’ve ever had on an airline – perfectly cooked chicken breast and wild rice in a delicious sauce, with a lovely salad and wonderful chocolate mint mousse. We could find no fault with it at all. We loved it too when the adorable flight attendant from Spain described the menu to us and ended with “and doesn’t that sound delightful?” So cute! – when was the last time you heard that from a flight attendant? Norwegian’s fares are ridiculously low, but the seats were comfortable and the service superb, even in economy.
WenYu was there to meet us in Boston with a bag of hamburgers and fries! We were so happy to see her again, and we spent the evening chatting and catching up. Her boyfriend joined us for breakfast in the morning. They have been together for over two years, but this was our first chance to meet him and we liked him too – they’re a good match in both personality and temperament. He may look unassuming, but underneath his quiet demeanor is a guy who started his own company when he was ten years old which has now become a multi-million dollar enterprise. He’s known worldwide as one of the premier practioners in his field.
After breakfast we headed over to the airport to catch our last fight, a non-stop to Portland on Alaska Air. It was an easy trip as we had premium seats with plenty of legroom, and both Brett and I enjoyed one of their famous cheese and fruit platters for dinner (one of my favorite reasons for flying with Alaska!). The flight arrived in Portland on time, we picked up our car and then went to Trader Joe’s for a few things to get us through breakfast before heading to our Airbnb rental. Portland is cold and overcast, with rain predicted for later today, so we have been quickly reminded of why we left for Hawai’i four years ago! The Airbnb is very nice though, a great size for all of us to gather later in the month and celebrate the holidays together.
We’re going back to Trader Joe’s today to do a bigger shop, and then will go to Costco tomorrow for a few things. I will be calling the dentist first thing tomorrow (Monday) morning, and both Brett and I have appointments to get our hair cut on Wednesday. Mainly though it’s now time for us to rest for a while, to get well again and gather our strength for Part II of the Big Adventure. We’ve had a wonderful time so far, but we’re happy to be “home” for a while.
The colds we picked up have kept us pretty much stuck inside here in Lisbon, although on the positive side of things we’ve spent more time exploring and enjoying our neighborhood than we would have otherwise. To pass the time while we recover (and we are nearly there – yeah!), Brett and I have been talking about all we’ve seen and done, the places we’ve stayed, and how we felt about them. We knew from the beginning that not every part of our trip was going to go perfectly, and that we’d be both pleasantly surprised and disappointed along the way so it has been fun to talk about it all in hindsight. Our rankings are rather informal, and it was interesting to discover and discuss what we agreed on, and what we differed on, and why.
- Favorite city: Strasbourg, France tops the list for both of us. We both thoroughly enjoyed our time in the city from start to finish, loved the local Alsatian cuisine and the city’s proximity to other countries and cities. Strasbourg was also a very walkable city, had an easy-to-use public transportation system, a wonderful mix of old and new, and also was set up to encourage bike riding. Locals were very friendly and helpful. Florence ranks right up behind Strasbourg, for many of the same reasons, especially how walkable the city was. Our third favorite city was Buenos Aires – we’d definitely love to go back.
- Least favorite city: Although we don’t regret including these cities in our itinerary, Rome was unfortunately our least favorite place. Although we liked all the historical sites, piazzas, and museums we visited, after we left we realized how on edge we had been the whole time we were there because of the constant reminders and warnings about pickpockets, etc. We also felt it was a big place where we just rattled around. Montevideo comes in as our second least favorite city – we were glad we went, but were also on edge the whole time we were there.
- Best Airbnb experience: Our stay at the Swiss farmhouse was hands down the favorite Airbnb experience for both of us. Besides getting to visit Lucerne, we got to enjoy authentic experiences with the family. Their hosting was exceptional, including having us join them for a traditional Swiss meal one evening.
- Favorite Airbnb apartment: Our Florence apartment was my favorite, even though we had to climb four flights of stone steps to get up to it! However, the ambience inside was comfortable and welcoming, the apartment was well-equipped, and the host friendly, communicative, and very helpful. There was also that beautiful view from the kitchen window! Brett’s favorite apartment was our tiny studio in Strasbourg – it was comfortable, had everything we needed and was in a wonderful location in the city (it’s my second favorite). We learned during our time there we could live in very close quarters and not get on each other’s nerves! We also had a wonderful host, and were privileged to dine with her family one evening. We also both liked our apartments in Buenos Aires and Montmartre, Paris, and our place here in Lisbon is also very nice. By the way, every single one of our Airbnb apartments has had a very comfortable bed – that was one of our big worries ahead of time.
- Least favorite Airbnb apartment: After some discussion we decided we least liked the apartment in Rome. The location was OK, but the apartment itself was huge and cold (marble everywhere) and we never seemed to be able to settle in or relax there as we did in other places. There was also construction going on above us from time to time (sometimes very early in the morning) which could be very noisy and annoying. Second on the list was our apartment in Montevideo. The apartment itself was comfortable, and was in a great location for getting out to visit the old town and La Rambla during the day, but the neighborhood was somewhat sketchy at night and we were warned against going out.
- Favorite travel day: Our three train trips through France from city to city, and our train trip from Florence to Rome are at the top of both of our lists for travel days – all were comfortable, affordable, and easy to manage.
- Least favorite travel day: The extremely uncomfortable 12-hour flight from Montevideo to Paris was pretty awful, but so was the river crossing and bus trip from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, and that trip from Bordeaux to Florence was one for the books.
- Favorite work of art: Brett’s favorite work was the Bayeaux Tapestry, an amazing historical work of art that has survived all these years. My favorite was Michelangelo’s David – it was breathtaking and more than I expected. I also found the unfinished carvings by Michelangelo in L’Accademia to be an emotional experience, seeing the figures emerging from the stone and his chisel work, and I could not take my eyes off of The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. I have always been a big Michelangelo fan, and I more than got my fill.
- Work of art that we should have liked but didn’t: None.
- Favorite museum: Both of us put the cathedral museum in Strasbourg (Musée Œuvre Notre Dame) at the top of our list. The Alsace museum in Strasbourg was also very interesting and engaging.
- Least favorite museum: We were totally overwhelmed and exhausted by the Uffizi Museum in Florence. We felt we were drowning in the amount of art and as a result couldn’t appreciate it as we should have. L’Accademia, Palazzo Pitti, and the Bargello museums all offered a better experience in our opinion.
- Favorite cathedral: The beautiful Duomo in Siena tops my list, followed by the Strasbourg Cathedral and St. Peter’s (including the Sistine Chapel). Brett especially like the Duomo in Florence, especially the experience of climbing up to the dome.
- Least favorite cathedral: There is no such thing. They were all different and fascinating to see.
- Favorite historical site: Both of us were surprisingly awe-inspired by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris – we gasped when we saw it and then stayed and looked at it for a long time before moving on. Also, the Normandy beaches and the American cemetery were very special experiences for me, and we were both deeply affected by the Pont du Hoc site. Brett’s favorite historical site was the Lion Memorial in Lucerne, an emotional experience for him.
- Least favorite historical site: Nothing we visited was disappointing – we enjoyed every site we visited, from the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires to the Colosseum in Rome. It was thrilling to visit these places.
- Favorite tour: My favorite was the wine tour south of Bordeaux, while Brett liked the one to St. Emilion more. We had the same guide for each tour – she was a delight! The tour through the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Forum was also good, but exhausting.
- Least favorite tour: The street art tour in Buenos Aires started out well, but strayed from its premise so we bugged out.
- Favorite meal: The best meal for both of us was the traditional Tuscan meal we enjoyed in Siena – so delicious! And, while I loved the pizza, pasta and risotto we enjoyed in Florence and Rome, and baguettes, pate, cheese, pastries and quiche in Paris, the one thing I really want to have again is a tarte flambée like the ones I enjoyed in Strasbourg. The pasta with fresh pesto in Riomaggiore was also something pretty special as was the cheese fondue in Switzerland.
- Least favorite meal: I don’t think we had a disappointing meal.
- Best overall travel experience: Flying first class from Kaua’i to Portland at the beginning of our travels was pretty special. So was getting to eat gelato every day in Florence. We’ve also been pleasantly surprised that so many things have cost a lot less than we thought they would, and we’ve been given senior discounts in several places where they weren’t advertised. And, with a couple of exceptions, everyone we have come into contact with has been very, very kind and helpful!
- Worst overall travel experience: Getting sick in Lisbon has been the worst – we have only gotten to do a tiny of fraction of what we hoped for besides feeling miserable for days. I guess we’re going to have to come back some day.
One thing that struck both of us while we were talking about all of this is that if we had to do it over again, we would stay a longer time in one place and then branch out from there. Strasbourg and Florence top our lists for a variety of reasons, but most of all because of the time we spent in each of those cities. We never felt rushed, or guilty of missing out on something if we stayed in our apartment for the day to rest. We also enjoyed having the opportunity to get to know our neighborhoods in more depth, of having shopkeepers and neighbors recognize and greet us when we went out.
It’s time to go home for a while though. And, Part II of The Big Adventure begins in just another month!
Brett and I both still feel quite miserable (although better than yesterday), but today was gorgeous – warm and sunny – so we decided to go out for a short while and visit the showroom of Fábrica Sant’Anna, located a short distance away from our apartment. Fábrica Sant’Anna is Lisbon’s oldest azulejos (tile) maker, in business since 1741. Portugal is known for its decorative tiles, which can be seen everywhere and can cover entire buildings (serving as sort of temperature control) or be used to create historic or cultural murals, tile panels or other decorations. Although we had hoped to visit the national tile museum, the Sant’Anna showroom was an easy outing for us and a delightful way to check out traditional Portuguese tiles and ceramics.
Fabrica Sant’Anna is the last of its kind in Lisbon, a store where every piece of ceramic is made and painted by hand – many of the tile products seen around town in souvenir and other shops are actually machine-made these days. Prices at Sant’Anna are not low, but they are lower than many other tile shops in Lisbon. The Sant’Anna ceramic factory is in Belem, west of Lisbon, and tours are available by appointment. However, their shop in the Chiado neighborhood display all their products, from individual tiles to dishes to decor to fountains to bathroom sinks, in designs from traditional to modern. Blue seems to be the predominant color used, but all the colors of the rainbow can be found throughout the shop.
After spending awhile looking at and gushing over the many different tile patterns and other products on display (and being thankful we don’t have room in our suitcases for any of it because we would have otherwise purchased several pieces), we headed back to the apartment. On the way we stopped in a pharmacy to ask about cold medicine and came away with cough syrup for Brett, cold tablets for me, Tylenol, and throat lozenges . . . all for a very affordable price. And they are working! We are still far from being well, but we are coughing less and feeling a bit better.
We also wanted to make another stop at the neighborhood bakery we visited the other day. The waiter recognized us from our previous time there and in a matter of moments had us seated and our treats in front of us: a peach cinnamon bun and café Americano for Brett, and sponge cake and fresh-squeezed orange juice for me, loaded with vitamin C in every sip! We also ordered two Pastel de Nata to enjoy later this evening.
After we finished our treats we were feeling too exhausted to do anything more so it was time to head back to the apartment, happily downhill all the way. It was a short but lovely outing in our neighborhood, and we’re glad we made the time. As for tomorrow, who knows? We will see how we feel in the morning before deciding if we are up to going out again, and if so, we’ll decide where then.
Warmest wishes for peace, joy and love to you and yours as you celebrate this Hanukkah season.
Brett and I used to talk about possibly moving to Lisbon for a while once we got all the girls launched out of the nest. After a few days here though we realize that as much as we like Lisbon we would have never been able to make it because:
- There are way too many cobblestones! They are everywhere, and there is no getting around them. Add in all the hills and steps and my bursitis and my knee are not happy.
- I don’t think we could ever understand or speak Portuguese even if we studied it every day for the rest of our lives. All we can say or understand right now is obigado/obrigada (thank you).
Still, we are having a wonderful time so far in this friendly, beautiful city in spite of us still suffering from colds, which have now settled into our chests (along with sore throats).
We awoke on Thursday morning to pouring rain and heavy winds which made it impossible to get out of the apartment other than for the most basic needs. We did manage to walk to a nearby supermarket although not without our umbrellas being blown inside out more than a few times, and both of us getting soaked. We spent the rest of the day doing laundry and getting some planning done inside our cozy apartment while the storm raged outside.
On Friday morning though there were blue skies and warmer temperatures, so we got up and out to explore around our neighborhood (Bairro Alto). We ended up walking all the way down to the Praça de Comércio to get a closer look at the mighty Tagus River, and on the way home we stopped in a local bakery for some delicious coffee and pastries. I have to say that Portuguese pastries are amazing! And, affordable, too.
Lisbon is decked out for Christmas from head to toe. Decorations are up everywhere, Christmas music can often be heard, and shop windows are filled with seasonal displays. They really get into it here!
Yesterday morning’s weather looked like a repeat of Friday’s, with blue skies, so we walked over to visit Castelo de Sao Jorge and then take a ride around Lisbon on the #28 tram. We took two seven-story elevators up to get to the base of the castle. We learned there are all sorts of ‘secret’ elevators around Lisbon as well as trams that do nothing but bring people up from the bottoms to the tops of hills or back down, but many people still do it the old-fashioned way, walking up and down the hills.
The castle was extremely beautiful as well as interesting, and provided many, many beautiful views of the city. The castle itself reminded us of the ones seen in picture books, with its moat and a bridge crossing it, many battlements, and easily discernible living spaces inside the castle walls.
Afterwards we finished at the castle we hiked down to catch the #28 tram at the Martim Moniz stop which is one end of its route. Brett almost didn’t make it on the tram with me thanks to some incredibly pushy young tourists who came from the back of the line to the front and shoved him out of the way. We rode the tram for quite a while, admiring the views and the many gorgeous tiled buildings and murals. Our original plan was to ride all the way to the other end of the line and then back, but we ended up getting off in our neighborhood and walking home after deciding we did not want to deal with another hoard of tourists getting back on at the other end. We were also feeling a bit worn out, and the temperature was dropping more than expected making us feel chilled (and we had also both started coughing again).
In Florence we ate gelato every day; here in Lisbon we plan to eat a Pastel de Nata (egg custard tart) every day. Our host was right, there are both good ones and better ones, but even the merely good are delicious!
We’re taking today and tomorrow off from any major sightseeing – neither of us feel very well and we are afraid of getting sicker before our big travel back to the U.S. begins on Thursday. There are things we can see and do close by in the neighborhood, there’s always laundry to take care of, but mostly we’re going to rest, relax and hydrate and see if we can get ourselves feeling better than we do now (which is pretty miserable).