Wednesday, July 29, 2015

10 days in Lagos, Portugal

     Hello again! Sorry it's been so long since our last post, but we've been busy!

Let's start off with links to our Facebook and LuAnn Andy's instagram accounts so you can follow along & share if you like!

    Lagos is a lovely place situated in Southern Portugal in the region called the Algarve, from the Arabic "Al-Gharb", meaning "The West". It was so-named back when the Arabs ran this part of the Iberian peninsula. Not to be confused with Lagos, Nigeria!

     We had a lovely bus trip here from Lisbon and arrived without incident. Our apartment is quite close to the bus station, so that was convenient. One of the first things that happened is I came down with a minor head cold so that was sort of a drag; just in time for the beach, too! Drat. It wasn't too bad though. Here's me suffering in front of our apartment building:

     Some funny items: the property manager couldn't meet us so her friend that lives in the same building came & gave us the keys and such. The apartment had some very odd decorating choices. I can only describe it as "50's kitsch".  No fan or A/C but it's SUPER windy so leaving the windows open results in anything that's not nailed down ending up on the floor. We only had one really calm night and only one or two mosquitos troubled us (again, no screens). The TV is hung on the wall in such a way that you can only watch it if you are sitting in the kitchen sink, so that's kind of dumb.

     The apartment itself has windows all around like a greenhouse, but there are no blinds or shades so the sun is quite strong in the morning and evening. In fact, we wear sunglasses to eat dinner if we cook here. The mini fridge would only stay shut with a chair pressed against it as the hinge springs were somehow messed up. The landlord doesn't live in Portugal and the property manager didn't really seem to care but fortunately we don't freak out about trivial things like that. We laugh. Mostly.

     We rented a scooter for the weekend and although I was too far under the weather on Saturday, Sunday we drove out to Sagres, at Cabo Sao Vicente, the South-Western most point in Europe. The lighthouse there had some amazing views of the rugged coast line. We had lunch at a cute little bistro in town but afterward the weather suddenly turned. It had been windy, but now it was cloudy, cold and quite misty so instead of hanging around and checking out the fort there we hit the road.

     I (again) made the mistake of getting the cheap 50cc scooter, who's top speed was about 70 KPH (that's 43 MPH) and even slower uphill with the two of us. That made the highway pretty challenging. It was a two lane blacktop, but people were going quite fast so there was a lot of people passing, blowing us around and generally making me a bit nuts. LuAnn commented when we got home that she felt like we just rode a lawnmower for 70 miles. Mental note: get the bigger bike.

     On the way back we stopped at Luz, another little town along the way, and went briefly to the beach there but as I wasn't feeling all that well we didn't really hang around. I wanted to get closer to home before we got wet, so instead we went to Praia de D. Ana, another beach with the crazy rock formations.

     That night we caught a local band at the bar/restaurant across the marina bridge and they were quite friendly guys and really good singers and players too, so that was fun. They covered a lot of the same songs I hear bands covering in the states.

     All in all we spent a good deal of time just chilling in the apartment or on the beach. We walked around the cute little town. There are a LOT of tourists here, especially Brits so that's sort of different. This place is really quite similar to "home" in that it could be any beach town anywhere in the states. There are some notable exceptions though. For one no one cares if your dog is on the beach. No one cares if you smoke or drink beer or whatnot. In other words it's ACTUALLY free, unlike places that like to CLAIM to be free but are really authoritarian nightmares. I'm not naming any names. I'm just saying... here we are enjoying our freedom.

     Here's an amusing case in point. LuAnn has been courting a job back in the states and getting through the phone interview process despite the challenges that international calling present, such as time differences and the ridiculous pain that "voice" calls are. Hello? Skype? Facetime? Anyway, things went so well they said "OK! Next step is to get your drug test. You have 48 hours." Uh...drugs are decriminalized in Portugal. It's not actually POSSIBLE to get a drug test unless it's for performance enhancing drugs for pro athletes. Marijuana testing? Yeah, that's not a thing here, sorry. So that was pretty weird. Fortunately they let her put it of until she returns to the US.

     Finally we got the bus back to Lisbon the night before our flight to London and stayed at the VIP Artes Hotel there. We had to get our room changed because, although all rooms are supposed to be non-smoking, the one we got had definitely ben smoked in. Fortunately the replacement was fine. The next day we managed to get down to the Oceanarium (what we yanks would call an aquarium) and although it was rather crowded the exhibits were wonderful. The permanent collection was built around a giant center tank full of sharks, eels, rays and big fish of all kinds, with exhibits on the outside of the tank covering things like penguins, all manner of shellfish and different environments like reefs and such. Beautiful!

     They also had the world's largest free standing aquarium created by Japanese photographer and artist Takashi Amano. It's a shockingly beautiful 160 meter thing covering 3 sides of a huge room filled with a living freshwater aqua system with plants, rocks, and fish of all kinds. Photos don't do it justice. Check out the link as he is a fascinating individual. 

     Both parts of the aquarium really deserve their own post but there isn't time just now. Maybe we'll start doing throwback posts as time permits. See you all in a bit when we post on our trip to London and the English countryside!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Two weeks in Lisbon, Portugal

     As usual I'll start off with links to our Facebook and LuAnn Andy's instagram accounts so you can follow along & share if you like, with our profuse thanks. So! Lisbon is a hilly place!

     Get ready for a long post; we've been here two whole weeks! Woohoo! We fell in love with it almost immediately. We arrived on Wednesday afternoon July 1st with no trouble and got a cab to our cute little apartment in the Graca section of Lisbon, and walked around the hilly neighborhood some. Had some trouble finding a place we wanted to eat, found one that looked more like a neighborhood bbq than a restaurant, but it was so crowded we couldn't get a table...on to somewhere else.

     Thursday the 2nd: We went food shopping and found an optician, coincidentally. Finally broke down and got us both new glasses. Ours are both so scratched and I broke my mains twice and have been using the spares so that's done. It wasn't cheap but what the hell, had to be done. See? It's not ALL fun and games! Afterwards we headed up the hill to the Castello of São George & the museum there. They had some astonishing views. We ended the day with a nice dinner at home.

     Fri the 3rd: We rode the famous #28 Tram through town taking in the sights and caught a bit of the waterfront concert series. We had a lovely, if somewhat pricey dinner at the famous Pinocio restaurant. PRO TIP: in Lisbon they bring you bread, olives, and such at the beginning and then charge you for them only if you eat them. If you don't want them, ask them to take them away. It was a tough night for sleeping- very noisy and tons of mosquitos! Ugh. See LuAnn's take on window screens in the previous post.

     Sat July 4th! Independence day! Yeah, no one here cared. LOL. We slept late recovering from mosquitos & late night revelers. World outside the US! Why U no have screens?!?!? We watched Anthony Bourdain's Portugal episode from No Reservations and got the idea to have bifanas for lunch, which we did at Casa das Bifanas and WOW were they good! I had two of these delectable pork sandwiches!

     Hey, did you know Yelp had entries outside the US now? That's pretty great news because it turns out Trip advisor is basically useless for restaurant recommendations unless you are looking at the country/language you are in.  Anyway we came home and vegged out, watching movies, then hit the hay. I love/hate it when we have a TV to plug the laptop into. It's nice for a break but it's SUCH a productivity sink. Ron White sure is hilarious though. Watched a religious procession go by under our window, and heard fireworks in the distance, and were momentarily confused. We aren't in the USA! Turned out it was the Festivo de Lisboa at the Praca de Commercio:

     Sun the 5th: The news this morning was all about Greece voting No. Yikes. Lots of thoughts on Greece, but I try to keep politics off the blog. Suffice to say we feel for the Greeks. We found them to be a wonderfully friendly and hospitable people. As for us, we went to the Basillica de Estrela and the Jardim de Estrela across the street, then walked up to Eduardo VII Park and the saw greenhouses of Esfruta Fria there. Afterwards we walked home.

     Mon the 6th: We went to Ribeira Market, the large food market in Lisbon, but got there too late.  Instead we caught the #15 tram out to the National Palace of Ajuda. They had SUCH a collection of statues outside, named for all sorts of virtues. Temperance, Fortitude, Strength and so on. Who knew there were so many virtues? The collection inside was astounding as well, though I often question the tastes of the time. Velvet wallpaper is just not my thing. The dining room that seats 160 was elegant and is still used, as we were told by an employee that it was being set up for a state dinner while we were there.

     Tues the 7th: We caught the train to Sintra, and took the local bus to the Castelo Dos Moros and the Pena National Palace and Garden. Both were absolutely gorgeous. The whole area is worth reading more about. We actually discovered it watching the Amazing Race where it was a pit stop and at the time we said  "I hope we get to see that some day!" The castle is every 10 year old boys dream castle and the palace is straight out of Cinderella. Awesome!

     Afterwards was a low-key dinner in town, then the train back to Lisbon where we walked oh so very s l o w l y back up the hill to do some reading and crash. The shortest route home is through a street we came to call "Pusher Alley" because it was so obviously a place where they were selling weed, and more. All drugs are decriminalized in Portugal. They treat it as a health problem instead of a crime. Hence, low crime, low addiction and low prison populations. Wow, I wish some other countries would do something sensible like that!

     Wed the 8th: Big errand day! We got up early (for us), made coffee, got breakfast, we got haircuts, picked up our new eyeglasses we ordered last week, went grocery shopping, had leftovers for lunch, picked up our laundry and went to Oriente Station on the metro to get bus tickets for Lagos next week. Phew! Next we wandered through the Vasco De Gama Mall. Holy SHIT!!!! We haven't seen a mall since Singapore and before that Bangkok! Months! Not only that, we found the Portuguese equivalent of a Target (name?) ! I was almost brought to tears by the sheer volume of stuff and the number of choices! I haven't seen a bona fide supermarket really since we left the states. It was overwhelming, and not entirely in a good way. I hate to say it, but I must admit it felt a bit like home. That seems a bit shameful but what the hell? After so many months on the road to be able to find anything you want...sublime. LuAnn's eyes were glazed over.

     We walked through the whole mall and out to the river through the old fairgrounds when we realized the World Expo had been held there in 1995. Unlike so many countries who let their fairgrounds just disintegrate, Portugal has repurposed them wonderfully effectively. Good job guys! We got home on the metro (which is fantastic here by the way) and LuAnn made chicken parm! Woohoo! Serious comfort food! All in all, a fantastically productive day.

     Thu the 9th: Ugh and Ow! Ow! Ow! Slept until 11 and both very slow moving. Two days in a row we walked about 8 miles (16km) so we were both pretty shot. While booking a hotel for the one night before we leave for the UK I am again struck by the complexity of the modern world. I've mentioned before how not having a fixed address upsets folks like the DMV, IRS, banks, INS, etc... No one can deal with nomads. That surprises me a bit because I know so many people who fit that description. The context of this point is that booking hotels, plane tickets, etc, etc... always requires a phone number and I don't have one. Gotta get one of those google voice numbers. I bet the guy who used to have my American number gets a lot of junk phone calls for me. I use his number a lot. Anyway we ended up going to the Monastery de São Viente de Flora down the street from our apartment which had such amazing azulejos tile murals, including a whole section illustrating Fables de la Fontaine! Amazing!

     Fri the 10th: We did some cleaning & headed off to Museum of Calouste Gulbenkian. What?! Yes, we decided to walk some more. LOL. First some more bifanas though. I love those things! We took the metro from Rossio there and was it ever worth it. The museum was absolutely fantastic, full of all manner of great art works from all over the world.

     Afterwards we came home & watched The Theory of Everything, about Stephen Hawking. Then I had to re-read his book A Brief History of Time. So much to do! So little...uh...yeah.

     Sat the 11th: We finally had a full crash. We were just too beat to do anything. Slept late, listened to Serena Williams win Wimbledon, surfed the net and generally did fuck all. When you are traveling full time you just have to have days like that every so often. You can't keep up the pace! We did manage to catch a little Fado, the local folk music, at a special concert on the way back from a dinner of Tapas at Tasca Del Sol where Francisco made us yummy shrimp and all manner of goodies! Here's a little Fado. Not the greatest audio OR video but what the hell?

     Sun the 12th: We got up and walked down to the Cais De Dois train station and took Tram 15E again out to Belem Tower on the Tagus River (which reminds me of the Hudson!) and checked out the Monument of the explorers and the gardens, fountains and Monastery of Jeronimo. They have an interesting history museum with an exhibit about all the stuff they've found in the waters around here.

     There was also the usual amazing church as well as the giant monastery with various exhibits, including an amazing one abut the last 500 years of history with parallel tracks for world history, Portuguese history and the history of the monastery itself. Fascinating! Came back and went to a cool little Fado restaurant on the corner of Sao Miguel and Sao Raphael called São Miguel D'Alfama which we highly recommend. Great music, great food & serice, no cover charge; all in all a lovely place.

     Mon the 13th: Our second to last day in Lisbon, turned into another low key day. Leisurely breakfast and reading, then lunch of Bifanas (yes, we are addicted), and some light food shopping. More crosswords, reading and a yummy home cooked salmon dinner and a hilarious and fun Argentine-Spanish language movie Wild Tales.

     Tue the 14th: Our last full day in Lisbon, spent catching up on the blog, going to the flea market down behind the Monastery down the street and down to the Museo de Azulejos! Now making dinner & packing up to head to our next destination cause tomorrow we leave for Lagos! Yay! Back to the beach!

LuAnn on screens, trash and travel fatigue

     In no particular order, here are some things that have crossed my mind in the last couple months as we venture across Europe. It will make my daughter happy. Is not even a "list", that internet annoyance of late, as in:"My 7 Top Thoughts on Our Travels". Anyway, here I go:

     Why, oh, why does nowhere have window screens? The last screen I saw was back in the US. I'm sure theres a perfectly logical reason for this, but what it is I can't guess. I've worked in the building industry long enough to know that yes, there are standard sizes, and these old European buildings are far from standard, but screens are easy! With the lack of screens everywhere, and no air conditioning, your choice for a good night's sleep is to leave the windows wide open and fight mosquitos all night, or close the windows entirely and sweat all night. At least in Asia, without widow screens and air conditioning, they had bed mosquito nets.

     I often complain about the abundance in the world's most beautiful cities of garbage, trash, litter, rubbish. I've written about it before. You know what else really saddens me? Cigarette butts!!!! I wonder what the world was like before the invention of filtered cigarettes. Seeing these beautiful ancient cobblestone streets without also seeing thousands of butts in all the cracks...or seeing a gorgeous tropical beach without cigarette butts all over it. Wow, what would that be like? When I lament this, Andy says in the past there were worse things in these European alleys to wade through, and I know that to be true, but really we are drowning in cigarette butts. This was a majorly noticeable problem in Rome, Athens and Istanbul. For sure, Europeans and Asians smoke a lot more than Americans. A whole other problem of course, since who targeted Asians so hard to smoke when the domestic market went soft? Oh, yeah, US companies. Anyway, I my humble opinion, they should stop making filtered cigarettes. If you want to smoke, do it without a filter, it will certainly kill you either way.

     Travel fatigue is a real thing. We've been on the move quite a bit since leaving Indonesia on May 15, where we spent a solid month. But that was a lot less sightseeing and more relaxation. Since then, we've been to Singapore, Istanbul, Athens, Santorini, Rome, Milan, Amsterdam, and are currently in Lisbon. We knew moving at this pace would be tough, but this is the Europe leg and there is much to see and some destinations were just too expensive to stay too long. But, all these cities have so much to see, and we are museum people, and so we have been walking 5 to 8 miles a day for weeks. We generally do not use taxis due to the expense, plus we like to walk and wander. We usually use the metros, but more often then not, our destination still may be a good distance away. Not only that, but Santorini, Athens, Rome, and now Lisbon are extremely hilly. We often wonder why we are not getting skinny! Oh, wait, we are also food people. Dammit. My point is I am glad we made this trip now before we get any older. We have begun to realize the necessity for downtime; days for doing nothing, without FOMO.

     So, theres a few thoughts. We are looking forward to relaxing on the beach in the Algarve of Portugal, then going on to England, where we are going to be doing a house and dog sit for a month near the Cotswolds. After that, all signs point back to the ol' USA. Where they have screens.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


Amsterdam!!! Windmills and everything! Just like I pictured it!

BTW did you know we also have a Facebook page? We also post a lot more pictures on LuAnn and Andy's instagrams so please check 'em out and if you like, follow along, share, etc..? Thanks!

Since we were here a week I kept notes in a daily diary format that's a little different for us.

Day 1 Wednesday 6/24
     We flew from Milano and arrived about 8PM, met our host Jack at the airport in front of the famous iamsterdam sign, and made it to his nifty houseboat all without incident. We were very excited to be able to stay in an authentic houseboat on the canal ring. It was everything we hoped it would be- Jack originally had used it as a recording studio, and it was complete with a piano!  We got settled, walked up the street and had dinner at the local Italian place (LOL!) and got a brownie, AKA space cake, at the coffee shop.

Day 2 Thursday 6/25
     We had decided to try to cook as much as possible in our lovely houseboat kitchen, so we foraged for supplies. Note to future travelers-we found alot of places here don't take VISA for some unknown reason. After making lunch, we went to the Amsterdam branch of St Petersburg's Hermitage Museum for the exhibit on Napoleon, Jospephine and Tsar Alexander I. Quite an astonishing display. They also have a large collection of Dutch paintings of all the Meisterburgers and Bugermeisters and they were some ugly, unhappy looking people. LOL. Afterwards we went home and made spaghetti & meatballs. Apparently we aren't over Italy yet. Finally we watched Chappie on the giant wide screen projection TV, another great perk of this fantastic houseboat. And yes I love Die Antwoord. It was great. Don't hate.

Day 3 Friday 6/26
     Jack came by and took us on a tour of the canals on his funky little runabout boat, so we got a better understanding of the somewhat confusing layout of the city. Then we walked down to the Van Gogh Museum and spent the day there. Got some more goodies from the coffee shop and everything after that is a blur. LOL -just kidding, we watched American Sniper. Very noisy in the city with all the celebrations for Pride Week, plus the excitement of Marriage Equality passing in the US finally. Yay Equality!

Day 4 Saturday 6/27
    We went to the city center, rented bikes and biked to Vondelpark, Amsterdam's version of Central park, strolled around Jordaan, a cosy historical section of Amsterdam. It finally dawned on us that we were taking it very easy here in Holland and both very grateful for it, since we have been walking miles every day in Greece and Italy, and our feet have been feeling it!

Day 5 Sunday 6/28
     The late sundowns here, officially around 10:10, have been messing with our sleep a bit. Its not really dark until 11:00. So we are staying up later, and getting up later. So after another late rising, we biked to the Maritime Museum, which was a really amazing place with Holland's extensive marine history. After spending several hours there, we headed over to St Niklaus church where they were singing:

     Then on the Old Church and the Red Light District. It's interesting that they are side by side. The girls don't like to be photographed by the way, as the signs everywhere will tell you. It was early yet but there seemed no shortage of clients. The girls mostly looked Eastern European or African. Bunches of bachelor parties. Tons of tourists, including us. After a spell we headed over to Chinatown for pho at Little Saigon with Jon & David, friends from the States then pedaled home on our rent-a-bikes.

Day 6 Monday 6/29
     LuAnn not feeling well so our plan to bike to Haarlem was scuttled. Instead Andy spent half the day trying and failing to get a cash advance and the other half the day working on recording some new songs. LuAnn painted a watercolor of the houseboat as a gift to leave for Jack. Then we watched Imitation Game, the movie about Alan Turing

Day 7 Tuesday 6/30
     Got up, had coffee at home & got ready. Got a bagel and headed to the Rijkmuseum. That was a full day all by itself. Afterward we returned the bicycles and headed home to pack. Next morning Jack gave us a lift to the airport and we left him with a CD and watercolor of this place we liked so much. Hope to stay there again sometime!

Next up: Lisbon, Portugal!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Milano, Lake Como and Bellagio!

Milan! Been wanting to visit here since our honeymoon in Italy some years back! Il Duomo!

     BTW, in case you are new here, we also have a Facebook page and many more pix on LuAnn Andy's Instagrams, so please check those out, follow along, share, etc? Thanks!

     So EZJet cancelled our flight to Milan on very short notice and with a weak explanation, but we got train tickets for less, didn't have to pay an extra 80 euros for luggage and still only took a couple of hours. Yay! We arrived in Milan, got a cab to nearby Hotel Venini. Good location but ugh, two double beds pushed together do not a queen bed make; very bad bedding. Boo! We trotted over to the Sforza Castle where we heard a live orchestra outside playing classical music, and saw tons of swords, armor and guns, plus a lot of sculpture.

     The exhibits closed before we could see it all so we ambled down to Milan's famous cathedral, Il Duomo, strolled around the piece of art and architecture that is Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel I, one of the oldest and most exclusive shopping malls in the world, got some dinner and explored the neighborhood around there.

     Leonardo Da Vinci gave us the stink eye as we passed.

     By now it was dark, and they were projecting graphics on the museum building next to the Duomo with music and text about the history of Milan. After that we headed home; all in all a pretty quiet travel day.

     Since we hate guided tours and following the guy with the red umbrella, the next day we rented a bitchin Volvo V40 which I nicknamed the Silver Streak and we headed out to Lake Como and Bellagio. This was a major reason we decided to come to Milan; to see some of the lakes region.

     We had some fun driving around the mountains there. It was not for the faint of heart. After not driving for so long it was kind of a hoot, actually. We got some picnic stuff at a local market, got to Bellagio and had to park, which was tough, it being Sunday afternoon.

     We had our picnic and took the entirely silly looking and undignified shuttle train into and around Bellagio proper where we then strolled through town and booked a small boat tour, which was also super fun. We saw the villa of Richard Branson, but LuAnn was a bit disappointed to hear that George Clooney's was too far south on the lake to see.

     When we got back we figured out we missed the last train so we had to walk back to the distant parking lot where we were forced to leave the car. I left LuAnn to sit on a bench and jogged back where I met two drunk tourists from Seattle desperate for a ride, so I gave them a lift back into town, and we headed back towards Milan. Stopping in Lake Como we had a nice dinner al fresco while we watched a big band there play the last night of a swing festival called Swing Crush. Let me tell you, we saw lots of jitter-bugging & West Coast triple-step but nobody there was East Coast rock-stepping. Nevertheless American swing is alive in Italy! The sunset was fabulous. Driving back to Milan in the dark not so much.

     The next day I returned the car and managed to get a haircut at a Chinese hair salon where they all spoke fluent Italian; only 10 euro! We went down and bought tickets for the Duomo, the roof, the museum and archeological site and I immediately lost the tickets once inside. I talked our way onto the roof but really,  never give me anything to hold. Apparently they were in the pocket with my phone and pulling it in and out to take pix, I must have dropped them. Guh.

The views from the roof were stunning, as well as seeing a good bit of the 3000 statues adorning the cathedral.

     We took advantage of an unusual custom they have here in Milan, the appertivo menu, which is like an all-you-can-eat buffet deal where you buy a drink and the food is free. Bargain! It was yummy, too! That night we went to Cafe Nerino and I can't say enough great things about it. The line is out the door and reservations are recommended. We showed up & waited anyway and ended up seated with some Spaniards who didn't know what to make of us. The food was so good I made a reservation for the very next night before the meal was over! I forgot to mention the Expo 2015 was going on, which is like the world's fair, but tickets were expensive enough that we said "nope", but was the reason for all the international flags draped along the streets of Milan.

      The following day we got our bus tickets to the airport, then went to Pinoteca Di Brera, an amazing art school with a museum that had an incredible collection including famous Italians like Caravaggio, Raphael, Bellini, Tintoretto and many more.

     Then we went back to Sforza castle and saw the giant musical instrument collection there. It rivals anything I've ever seen, even the one at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC isn't as big or detailed. Fantastic! I was so into it I very nearly got our day bag locked in over night since we were so slow in leaving. Only some frantic running around saved the day. Good thing my Italian is still sort of functional!

     That night at Cafe Nerino we still had to wait like an hour and again it was so worth it. At the end of the meal the manager brought out a selection of ice cold liqueurs for us to try to make up for making us wait...regardless of the fact that as you are waiting they serve you complimentary Prosecco. Truly phenomenal, definitely the best meals of the trip so far. I even had the same thing; sliced tenderloin, potatoes with bacon and spinach. Tell them we sent you!

     The next morning bus trip to the airport was uneventful, though it was a good reminder of how big the city really is! We got our flight to Amsterdam with no trouble and unsurprisingly that will be the topic of our next post! Thanks for reading!