Saturday, January 30, 2016

Beginning Portugal...Lisboa and Sintra

Typical "portuguese" roofs
Another county and we continue our travels. Are we weary of travel yet? For me, some days yes, but most days no. Each new place is a new adventure and we are so well suited to the lifestyle and travel style that we are comfortable doing this. I will say that it was lovely having a break with the family in England in between these two different countries - Spain and now Portugal.
view from our Airbnb - the river in front
Portugal is new for both of us - new geography, new language and all unknown territory. Thankfully I have researched so much before in my Lonely Planet guide that I am prepared for what we might like to visit in each place - it does take work to make these reservations and plans but it suits me well. I consider it an act of creative living and am grateful to be able to carve out this interesting life for us.
We began with a walking tour with Dick, an odd duck to say the least. We were the only ones so enjoyed many hours and saw all of the Alfama district (where we were and are staying), visited several churches and monuments and were introduced to all the important areas to return to. As is usual for us, we discovered a great vegan restaurant (Princesa do Costelo).
the Cathedral Se from above
In our several days we walked all over town, took a tram 28 and visited San Vincente - monastary with amazing tile work and views of the city. On Saturday we found the large flea market full with hundreds of vendors.
I was amazed when I found Celerio - a large health food store and veg restaurant in Roccio Square. Within a few days we found our way around many areas but realized that the 3 days were not enough. Through Airbnb I found another apt for our return and we wandered the streets of Alfama to find it. Many museums are free on Sundays so we headed down to river and to Museum of Fado. This is a Portugese style of music which comes from this area. The museum was an excellent introduction with the opportunity to hear recordings of many different singers. Here, from wikipedia is some information for those of you who might be like I was - new to this style.  "In popular belief, fado is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia. This is loosely captured by the Portuguese word saudade, or "longing", symbolizing a feeling of loss." Since we do not understand the words, the music sounds deep and beautiful. 

We are now on our second visit to Lisbon (or Lisboa as written in Portugese) as we have to pass through here on the way by train to many cities. Our return to Lisboa was well worth it as we already feel comfortable here and added a few new parts of town and sites. First was a walk to the Museu de Azulejos (Tile Museum) in an old Convent. Then a bus to the opposite side of town - Belem to see the Jeronimos Monastery and the modern art Museu Colecao Berardo - a large collection of modern art in a new cultural center. We topped off the weekend with the third visit to our new favorite vegan restaurant - Princesa do Castelo.

Cathedral in Belem

Alfama area - we lived right up behind
 these buildings

Cathedral in Belem

Museum of "Revolution" in Portugal 

View from one of the miradors
Roasted chestnuts - one of our snacks

on the tuk tuk to the train station
We were then off in a Tuk Tuk from our apt to train station to go to Sintra (only 45 minutes from Lisboa).  

Sintra Castle
After this short trip we arrived Sintra - walked all over small town ready for a week of adventures. We found ourselves both with colds. I think this was a first for us - both having colds and being a bit under the weather at the same time. The weather in Sintra was damp and cool which didn't help. We got good rest at night and managed to see some amazing sites in this very small, very touristy town. Many do day trips from Lisbon but we were happy for our 5 days - we did not rush with anything. So as not to forget, here is what we saw:  The National Palace of Sintra,  Moorish Castle, Parque de Pena including a walk to Cruz Alta. This is a great park with many walking trails - we walked all afternoon. We serendipitously found a trail to walk down cut through the forest that took us back into to town. 
At the Moorish Castle
View to the Moorish castle above Sintra

View of Castle from above
 Our Airbnb was a funky spot with loads of surfing artifacts. Again we were next to a yoga studio (even went to a class) with a little coffee shop with vegan hot chocolate and snacks - how does this happen to us in so many places. I feel like I am a magnet to these little special spots and am always grateful to find them.
Cruz Alta - highest point

Palace de Pena

In the Parque de Pena
We took a bus to Cascais via Cabo da Roca - most westerly point of Europe mainland with a windy, rough ocean with hikes (that we did not do) all along the coast. In Cascais we walked to Estoril along a boardwalk with time at the beach for a picnic lunch and to soak up a little sun to dry out our noses.

Cabo de Roca

Picnic in Cascais
Another day took us to Quita da Regalaria - another palace. We can appreciate these "over the top" palaces but enjoy much more their gardens - this one had some "otherworldly" experiences - cave walkways connecting different parts of the grounds - a steep well that represents heaven and earth, and various references to the knights templar.

In Sintra we mostly cooked at home....leeks with mushroom and white bean risotto. Someone left a small bag of risotto in this Airbnb so I used it as an opportunity to make it creating my own concoction of vegetables each day. 

I have come to realize that each place, though somewhat touristy, has great value to visit and we never know what to expect - around each corner or bend is another visual experience. I have enjoyed taking photos and glad to have bought a new camera while on the trip after breaking my old one. I highly recommend Sintra for a few days to travelers in Portugal.

Quita da Reglaria

Art on a wall in Lisboa

amazing texture in Lisboa

And now, some thoughts from Ricardo.

We have been here for over a week and have been to Lisbon, the capital and largest city and Sintra which is the place of kings going back to a Moorish fort. These palaces are well preserved and ready to be moved into, except that those days are long gone. We have seen a home designed after the Knights Templar and have read about their presence and wonder if they still exist. We have taken some long hikes and are still very thankful that our bodies can still manage but I do feel more tired then usual.
Plaza de Comercio, Lisbon

Here in Portugal thank you is OBRIGADO for men to say and OBRIGADA for women to say. It is not a verb and it translates to "obliged". Unlike Spain where the lisp sound or the TH sound is used which I can now understand, here in Portugal they SH every chance they get and if I'm lucky may understand one word. Often the words are the same in Spanish or very close and readable.  I just can't understand their accent but when I speak my Spanish I think that they can understand me, maybe?  Often I start in Spanish and repeat myself in English which seems to work.

The people here are super friendly and the food has been super good with many vegetarian options.  We have taken to eating the large meal at home since Susan's cooking is the best but every once in a while we will eat out and have never been disappointed. There is always a vegetarian choice and an Indian restaurant close by. Portugal doesn't seem as wealthy as Spain and some costs are a bit less expensive mostly with food bought at stores. Transportation is easy to access and we're using trains, buses and the occasional tuk tuk which is a three wheel motorcycle a fun way to travel in Lisbon. Caution - the cab drivers may be a little shady, need to stay firm and read the meters and make sure the driver knows that you will only pay the meter rate.
Tram #28 (ran outside our house)

The weather has been comfortable for walking, cool and brisk, but for standing  a tea shop still makes a better option. There are tea shops at almost every corner and they all serve the national pastry, 'pastel de nata'  which is very addictive and very yummy.  It is a pastry with a cream filling. I don't recommend trying one if you do you may want one every day and maybe more then once a day.

Packing for a trip like this is a task.  Every pound has to be moved from place to place. In order to help us we left a suitcase full of stuff in Madrid that we will pick up before our return to Mexico.  Even with this I still feel that we are just a bit over packed but unable to give up anything else.  We do comment every time we leave a place that we have too much.  We are getting accustomed more every day to this type of travel - mostly 4-5 nights in one place. What is missed is our friends and having a regular schedule of the things we like most.

We shall leave tomorrow for Evora - stay tuned as we still have a bit over 3 weeks in this amazing country.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Buxton is the new Beach!

Here we are at the
top of Solomon's temple
We are writing this post together as we are waiting to fly to Lisbon.
Inside the Buxton Dome

We took a very unplanned side trip which became a highlight of this European holiday so far. Why??? Mostly, because of the family- Dan, Fi, Aidan and Will and this magical, historical and centrally located place in England where they chose to put down roots. Buxton has become, for us, not only a place of great interest, but a place that we desire to return to again and again. We are already planning to continue our adventures for an extended period of time in 2017.
Buxton in the winter

So what about Buxton. It is the highest market town in England's Peak District and from here there is easy access to Manchester, London and anywhere in the UK. It is only three hours to Wales which is also on our list of countries to visit. I was excited to know that Buxton had not only a Buddhist center like the one in San Cristobal de las Casas, but Tai Chi as well. There is also plenty of yoga for Susan too. All this added to the fact that it has amazing healthy food options and is completely walkable which is really important to both of us (we did not use a car for the week). 

We were there for probably the worst of the yearly weather...cold and snowy but can envision the beauty of most of the rest of the year when it is lush and green.We managed to go for several hikes over the wonderful hills (covered in snow) including Solomon's Temple and Corbar Cross.  We also saw the map with literally hundreds of options for short, long or overnight walks - a walkers paradise. This further whet our appetites for the future.

"Twisting the night away"
Happy 13 to Aidan
"Our" family has a long history as we have traveled for many years to beach vacations when we all lived in NC. It had been a long time since we had seen each other but we went right back to where we left off. We met a few of their friends and had quality time with everyone especially for Aidan's 13th birthday celebration. 

We walked all around the downtown of Buxton, visited several tea rooms and a short day trip to Manchester which was only one hour away by train. We can't wait to explore so much more the next time.

Manchester ready for Chinese New Year


The world's first city to be
declared a nuclear free zone

This used to be the Mercantile Exchange and is now a beautiful theatre in Mancheser

Caves under Buxton
wearing our "wellies"

"Buxton is the new Beach" ..... our logo as it has everything we have loved about our beach vacations...especially sharing time together as we like it to do. Pack your bags and come and visit us in Buxton in 2017!

Buxton in the winter

We love Dan

Snow angels Susan and Ricky

Bye Bye family