Still going after 6 months

Heading off to Geneva to visit CERN and the LHC…something I’ve been wanting to experience since the Higgs Boson discovery.  I guess most people go for the scenery, skiing, and banking secrecy but I just wanted to stand above the protons smashing together 100 feet below and scattering whatever smaller particles the impact revealed.  I probably picked up a few rems as well.  I know it’s pretty nerdy to get excited about some unseen and unseeable particles but it was like standing at the center of the universe for me.

I did also manage to venture to my other great interest near Geneva…Gruyere with fabulous fondue.  The town was a train ride and short transfer away and well worth the trip.  A castle to visit, chocolate to eat and, of course, yummy fondue overlooking the oh-so-green valley.

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Where the heck am I…?

Thailand?  China?  Burma?  Nope!  I’m back in Portugal and north of Lisbon near Obidos which is pretty much in the center of the country.  This is a crazy “sculpture park” in the middle of nowhere called Buda Heden (Buddha Eden).  It was sponsored by a Portuguese investor and art aficionado after the Buddhas of Banyon were destroyed by the Taliban.  It has since expanded and includes an African sculpture section dedicated to the Shona people of Zimbabwe, modern art (including the Calder below), lovely gardens, and tree-lined walks where a sculpture pops up at every turn.  Oh yes, and blue terracotta warriors!  It’s definitely kitschy but so interesting and well-maintained.  86 acres with pools, hundreds of sculptures of which most are Asian.  And yes, there’s a huge wine shop.


From Lisbon I’ve made my way north to Obidos with its de rigueur castle and wonderful enclosed village, Nazare (one of the world’s great surfing venues), and then over to Batalha on my quest of the Avis dynasty which reigned from 1385-1551 and includes good ol’ Henry the Navigator.  I had finished a book about Phillipa, the first English Queen of Portugal who was the daughter that was married off to Joao I by John of Gaunt to seal the relationship between England and Portugal and to help in Joao’s fight with Castile.  They had 6 children who were the Illustrious Generation…one of which was Henry.  He and three of his brothers are buried here at Batalha Monastery along with their parents Phillipa and Joao, pictured below.  The sculpture on the sepulcher has them holding hands…so sweet!!61B44994-97F7-4766-AEB7-B099D2B04252



Now over at Tomar…I’m on a crusade (oh my, I mean a quest) to the home of the Templar Knights of Portugal.  Even the cobblestone streets have the Templar Cross embedded. There’s not much to see except the castle and convent and a small church where many of them are buried.

Onward, Christian soldiers…hopefully that era is over…never quite sure.

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My animal instincts…

Maybe a bit too much traveling? After my stay in the Basque Country (read previous issue) my next stop was the Azores. I miscalculated a bit, however, by flying to Lisbon to unpack and repack and fly out within 7 hours. Definitely no sleep this time. Anyway, that done, I headed to Terceira Island in the middle of the Atlantic. Again, not sure what to expect but maybe something interesting. If you are a hiker or swimmer or philosopher then this is a lovely place full of beautiful lava formations and swimming holes and plenty of time to ponder your belly-button. But if you’re looking for any culture, conversation or good food, maybe not. It’s very quiet and very empty and on the down-low.

Flores Island from the Zodiac returning from Corvo – not to be missed

Corvo caldera – take the minibus up and walk down (1 hour)

Graciosa Island

Swimming Hole on Terceira Island

Terceira Island – an inland man-made lake with cute duckies

Looking up from the volcanic tube in Terceira

After Terceira Island I headed to Graciosa and now in Flores where I made a RIB (rigid-hulled inflatable boat) trip to the island of Corvo where there is even less to do. But, again, if you are looking for scenery and sun and water, it is a beautiful place. I do recommend the trip on the “Zodiac”. Even with it being a cloudy day it was fun bouncing over the waves with 16 other people in very happy states of being. It really is the ONLY thing to do in Flores.

Anyway, rather than going on about how boring this place is I thought it would be nice to meet my four or two footed friends I’ve come across in the Azores on my various nature walks. A little limited in conversation but so darn cute!

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Basque Country continued…

I’m not sure what I expected but guess I’m guilty of nostalgia or just plain ignorant. (Yes, I know.). I’m picturing peasants and dirndls and folk dancing and rolling hills and well, “Country”. Who knows? Who knew? It’s a happening place with many, many tourists and a party atmosphere. Beachgoers, surfers, boaters.

San Sebastián/Donostia

Wow! Pow! Wham! Fireworks to close the Summer Festival. Thousands of people, hundreds of boats of every size in the Bay. Fireworks at 11:45pm. Then to the bars. Moms and Dads rocking the strollers back and forth, a drink on the table and a cigarette in hand. Still going on at 3am.

Next Morning – noon arisal. At the Patisserie: cortada and jamon and quiejo croissant. Hilarious, a guy picking out chocolates. He wanted an exact piece even though they were all the same type and batch. He picked out a dozen. Cute. And made the clerk organize them in an specific order in the box.

There is a crazy beach scene. Amazing weather. My stay in the old town, mindful of Lisbon. They have an excellent eclectic museum Telmo. I went on a lovely eco farm tour…solo with a sweet guide. She met me at a botanical restaurant where she treated me to a yummy smoothy. Then on a short train ride to the farm.

Now on to dinner at a Basque restaurant. Non pintxo. Rice with clams, ribs, red wine. They brought me a bottle. Hope I didn’t buy the whole thing. Oh well. One can’t complain about the food here.

Several people suggested I take a little stroll via the St. James Way…part of the Compostela de Santiago pilgrims journey. Well, forget the “walk” to Praia. Thinking a nice stroll along the shore with maybe a few steps. Yikes. I’m only half way there on a 6km walk and it’s been one and one half hours. I’ve got to start mentioning my age when someone suggests a scenic walk. Ha!

Meeting up with lots of French people coming my way. We’re pretty close to the border. Someone carrying an infant in his back. Others with major backpacks. Kids just hopping from one rock to another. People zooming past me. Oh, look! There’s someone actually resting.

Finally here in Praia (3 1/2 hours)…took a tiny passenger ferry across to a little village. Precious. Still could have gotten here by bus which is certainly how I’m getting home. I did learn one thing…I’m never taking the Camino de Santiago. This walk I took is just 6km of that trail. Good sampling.

Lunching at the only restaurant that wasn’t full and a little concerned. Not to worry. Quite delicious. Ordered the 20E menu with a Capricious Salad and Duck Magret and Cider. Wow, sour. Evidently a big deal here. Made my mouth pucker. 6% alcohol. Good olives. Starting to feel human.

Evidently Victor Hugo stayed here as there is a museum dedicated to him. Well, back to San Sebastián via the bus. Won’t do that again.

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Catching up…

Thoughts from Rome:

How can people talk soooo much. Sitting here outdoor at a restaurant in Trastevera after a delicious saltimboca romana. The woman next to me from England has not stopped talking. Amazing. Of course, I guess I talk a lot too but I only have myself to bore. She’s with her husband who seems about 90…he picks up a cigarette ignoring her blabbing. There’s a young woman with them..don’t know her role but she was kind enough to get up and smoke in the street. She seems a bit tired of them but maybe she’s a tour guide they hired and has to put on a good face.

You meet people in the strangest places. Ha ha, I met someone in the toilet of the Vatican museum who was from Oklahoma City. A fellow Okey. I restrained myself from asking if she voted for Trump. People seem to take the 5th when you bring it up.

Visited the Botanical Gardens today. A nice break but I am sweating and hot. Should have just had a drink…oh, wait a minute, I am having a drink. My extremities are killing me after yesterday’s walking but with a little wine it’s helping. Off to the forum, I think.

Had to make a stop at Tre Scalini and have a Tartuffo and Brandy. Lots of peeps. I come here every time in Rome. The first time I was 20, so that’s almost a half-century ago. The restaurant is still there. Prices and portions are a bit different now. Grazie mille Europe on $10 day.

Go at your own pace. Any time I overextend I’m regretful. There are so many cafes and bars and restaurants, one doesn’t have to travel very far to sit down again. It’s important to take advantage of that especially when you’re approaching 70. I wish that I would listen to myself more. Take a pedicab or Uber or a taxi. Don’t tax yourself (let the government do that) and enjoy. Lucky lucky lucky. Count your lucky stars.

Oh dear, getting maudlin with a guitarist strumming Let it Be. That Remy did me in.

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The Basque Country…beginning in Bilbao

From Lisbon to Bilbao it’s only a 2 hour flight. Landing in Bilbao to visit the Basque Country seems to be the easiest way to start your journey. The flight was about an hour late due to propeller problems. They took us to the gate on a bus (always the bus to the plane at Lisbon airport) where we saw the workmen messing around with the propeller. They immediately took us back to the gate where we waited a bit before reloading…on the same plane. Pray.

Bilbao is “The Guggenheim.” There’s a few other things to see such as the old town and, of course, pintxo introduction. You can put anything on a slice of thick French bread and call it a pintxo: cod and padron pepper, duck and sautéed onions, weird little spaghetti fish and sweet onion. Also a ravioli on bread. Not sure about the ravioli but it was recommended. I think it was blended squid smooshed into a ravioli and put on top of bread. Tasted OK until I bit into a little eyeball…evidently not smooshed enough.

The Guggenheim is well worth seeing from the outside and the inside. An amazing fabric/balloon/mobile structure filled the inside space. It’s arms covered the entire inside space and was pretty incredible.

There was also a great Chagall exhibit focused on the war years (WWI). Very well done but NO PICTURES! I managed to get a few….just forgot you know.There was also a Serra monster work

And Ah Wei Wei had several works on display including Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn. In fact I thought their modern art and electronic exhibits, even though minimal, were one of the more interesting aspects.

Though the outside is otherworldly, the inside is a strong complement.

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What a doofus…

Sitting here at the bus station heading from Bilbao to San Sebastián. Thought I’d leave plenty of time to get tickets, etc. I tried the machines first and saw that the next one was at 5pm. It’s now noon. So, no that doesn’t jibe with my “research.” There’s supposed to be one every hour. Luckily there’s a puce-jacketed helper who tells me that there are other bus lines. Just go to the 2nd window and ask there. Whew!

OK, the gentleman there is very helpful and asks me when I want to go. Next One, yes! As he prints out the ticket he says 12:30. Great, that’s only 1/2 hour from now. I head down to the bus slots and see which one goes at 12:30. It says #2. I get in line. However the bus destination says Bergara. Well…I’m thinking that Bergara is further south but they probably stop in San Sebastián on the way. There aren’t very many people in line. So, 12:15 rolls around and I decide I’d better ask someone. I check with another bus driver who looks at my ticket and he says, whoops, you’re ticket is for Noon. And you missed the bus. I look at my ticket and it says 12:30. No, he says, that’s what you paid. 12.30 euros. The bus time is in smaller print below and lo and behold says 12:00 (Noon).

What a doofus. I’m always advising people to check and recheck and ask again but no, I’ve got it all planned and researched. It turns out my research was fine…there is a bus every hour. But in getting there early and having trouble with the ticket machine it put me in a bit of a panic and I just rushed off. It’s like when I was in Frankfurt and a fellow traveler told me what gate my connection was leaving from. It turned out the gate was right next door to where I de-planed. Just can’t learn, can I?

Anyway, I’m on the 1:00pm bus. The ticket vendor thought it was pretty funny that I confused the amount with the time. Ha Ha.

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Back to Lisbon…then to Coimbra…cell advice

My home away from home. Finally feeling that I can unpack before I have to repack. Funny thing is I have to work around my rentals so now I’m off to Coimbra for a few days while my place is rented. The good thing is that it gets me moving again and seeing more of Portugal.

Took the elevador (funicular) from Bairro Alto to the metro to the train station. All pretty seamless except for the obligatory crazy man on the metro. I did understand a few words: puta, buca. Other than that he seemed to be ranting at an unseen person. Harmless, though.

I’ve been pretty lazy here in Lisbon this time. Doing some minimal shopping for household stuff and sandals and yes, another suitcase. This time a little tiny rolly bag which I have now for my three days in Coimbra. Watching TV “news entertainment” (yes, you read that right), bingeing on Outlander now that I’ve been to Scotland and reading some historical fiction based on Filipa, the only queen of Portugal that was English…the mother of Henry the Navigator (Henrique), Afonso, Duarte, etc., what they call the Illustrious Generation. The book’s translation leaves a little to be desired but it does cover a number of Portuguese venues that I’m anxious to visit…one of which is Coimbra.

(Side note) A little caution, instruction, or whatnot about keeping in contact. I decided this time not to get an international package from my cell phone provider. Instead I’m relying on WiFi and WhatsApp. I’ve been on the road since the beginning of May and have managed so far. It seems WiFi is everywhere. And I’ve found that if you use Google Maps to set your next location, the route stays on your phone while your are moving from point A to point B. Very cool. It’s not perfect and if you change your destination midstream it won’t find it without WiFi. Oh yes, you should download the local map when you have a chance on WiFi..

OK, back to moving on. On the train and two stops later: Whoops, I’m in the wrong seat, the wrong carriage. Whoops, someone got on and has my seat. Little did I know that they were assigned. In England, it was a free for all. Luckily for me, it was just the next carriage. And…Someone is sitting in my seat by the window but the aisle seat is open…so guess I won’t kick her out. She’s totally ignoring me…something I would do.

And now, I’ve missed my stop. My oh my…just not paying attention and no announcements on the train. The conductor was quite amused when he checked my ticket and told me I had just missed the station. About an hour later I was able to get back from the next station to Coimbra-B. Pay Attention!

Finally getting off at Coimbra-B and transferring to Coimbra (A–but not called that) is the only way by train to get there. It takes 3 minutes to get from B to A and could be walked without baggage. Just note that the train schedules show times from Coimbra-B, so one has to account for the trip from A to B, particularly on the return.

It’s hot as hell here too…I just can’t get away from this weather. Forgetting to load the location of my next stay into Google Maps and not having WiFi at the station, I head to the nearest cafe and tune in there. My stay is a 2 minute walk and a 2 floor walk up. Not bad. A crazy-looking room but totally fine. It’s not a decor I would pick but it was a good-size room and well-equipped.

Monasterio de Santa Clara-a-Nova (yes, nova means “new”)

Se Cathedral in Coimbra

Muséo de la Ciudad – a wonderful collection and well-organized

Yes! An illuminated manuscript.

Universidade of Coimbra

Definitely make Coimbra a stop if you’re heading to Portugal. It’s a mini-Lisbon. Lots of music in the streets during the summer and some must-see venues. Particularly the oldest University in Europe with its wonderful library (AND illuminated manuscripts!!) and a couple of monasteries. Managed to sneak into a wedding. Sweet. Also, an excellent museum celebrating its 100th anniversary…from Roman days to current days. Plenty to do in 3 days. Also had a tasty meal at Passeite, a tiny restaurant making everything with olive oil. Yummm.

I’m a sucker for ruins and the Monasterio de Santa Clara-a-Velha (old) has a great presentation of the the monastery being dedicated to the Poor Clare sisters. The monastery was founded in 1280 and the founder, Mor Dias, was excommunicated later. The convent was dissolved in 1311 and refounded by Queen Isabel (Elizabeth) in 1314. Isabel died and was buried in 1336 in the church in an amazing tomb

Tomb of St. Isabel (Elizabeth) now in the “new” monastery

but after being repeatedly flooded by the Mondego River a “new” (Nova) monastery was built in the 17th century and her remains were moved up hill.

Definitely worth a visit if you’re into ruins, as the convent and grounds were uncovered in the 60’s. That’s 1960 btw.

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What is it about taxi drivers?

Well, it happened again. Taxis for Trump. Now this fellow (and it was a fellow) was from Bulgaria where, he said, they had ruined his country. He had been in Isle of Man for 4 1/2 years and would never return to Bulgaria. I neglected to ask him if he would migrate to Russia under Putin. Lost opportunity!

Driving taxis wasn’t his goal and he had applied to the University here to get his degree in IT. His commentary went on for the length of our 10 minute drive from the ferry. He was definitely a Trump guy and realized he couldn’t vote but that Trump was “good” for his people. Obama was weak; Hillary was a Communist, Trump was strong. Where did he get his information? Yes, you guessed it, the World Wide Web. He overcharged me on the taxi ride, going the long way around as it turned out. Might have known…those Bulgarian guys…Ha.

I wished him well with his education and hoped he learned something about politics. He took the comment well…and scoffed.

It just goes to show you that people stay in their corners no matter what. There’s no consideration of another point of view. We are in our tribes/cults…whatever. An excellent opinion piece in the Guardian says it better than I. The Death of Truth…, July 14, 2018.

Let it Be, Let it Be. Off to Liverpool.

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England: London and overdosing on Theatre

Great luck with seeing Mark Rylance and Andre Holland in Othello at the Globe. Standing in the Returns line for about an hour, a young woman came up and sold me a single gallery ticket for 20 euros. It was opening night, so this was amazing luck to actually have a seat.

It was a fantastic performance as you can imagine. Earlier that day, assuming I wouldn’t be able to get a ticket for Othello, I stood in line for and hour for the matinee of Hamlet. And I got one of those as well. It was for the floor and one has to stand up (NO Sitting!) for the whole 2 1/2 hours, with intermission. That cost me only 5 euros and was well worth it. A great production. I managed the whole day (5 hours + 2 hours in line) and was very thankful that I was able to have a seat during Othello.

The night before I went to see The Book of Mormon which is quite hilarious as long as you’re not religious. It’s a mockery of all religions as I saw but, of course, mostly The Church of the Latter Day Saints. Some very clever wordplay but a little too many poop songs for my taste.

Of course, I went to the British Library so I could view the manuscripts that we had discussed at Oxford. And the British Museum and the V&A Museum. All terrific. I didn’t run across any great restaurants in the five days I was there but I really wasn’t looking for a food scene. And I was spoiled in Scotland last month.

Going home…to Lisbon, that is. Stay tuned. My traveling year isn’t over yet.

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