February - March 2018
  • Day22

    My last walk in old Lisbon for this year

    March 3, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ 🌧 13 °C

    It was raining when I woke up and went to breakfast. I went to the gym after breakfast -- still raining -- did some packing -- still raining. Finally, around 1:30, it stopped. I hurried out to the metro and went to the Rato stop where my favorite walk around Lisbon begins. I had all these great little stops along the route I could take to duck out of the rain -- pastelarias, churches, an archaeological museum, cafes with views, but at 4:00 when I descended from the castle to Rossio, it was still clear!

    So I just kept walking, all the way back to my hotel. I picked up some takeout at the Corte Inglés for dinner-in-the-room, and then slogged up Combatentes for the last time this year. I arrived at the Marriott about 5:45, and the rain began about 20 minutes later.

    There are more cranes around the city than I’ve seen in years. Lots of the little old holes in the wall are being replaced by trendy shops and cafes. The most creative was a shoe store/bar combo. The sign advertized shoes & booze.

    5:00 am departure from the hotel tomorrow. LIS-MAD-ORD-CMI. It will be a long day but oh well.
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  • Day22

    Last days in Lisbon

    March 3, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ 🌧 11 °C

    This week has had lots of rain, each drop of it very welcome here in parched Portugal. Luckily for me, it was mostly a teaching week. I have managed to squeeze in a couple of camino-related get togethers -- one on Thursday in Lisbon with a couple who just walked their first Camino last year and are understandably chomping at the bit to do more! And on my way to meet them, I ran into my friend who is now on the Supreme Court of Portugal. I hadn't emailed her because I thought it would be an intrusion, but that was the wrong decision. Next year for sure, we will get together, if only for a quick visit in a cafe near the court house.

    Yesterday afternoon, I met up with my ViaLusitana pals (the Portuguese camino organization) and we went to their albergue in Alpriate. This albergue is the perfect first stage from the Lisbon cathedral, about 21 easy kms to a little town that has opened its arms to the pilgrims. There is a café there whose owner has modified her offerings to appeal to the typical pilgrim (without a corresponding rise in prices), and the women of the village have decorated all of the tree trunks with home made lace and crocheted squares. I think it is called tree-bombing, but that is a very violent word to describe a very peaceful activity.

    The albergue is undergoing some serious renovations thanks to a grant from the American Pilgrims group, but my friends are certain that they will be open and taking in pilgrims no later than April 2. I would be skeptical, but I have seen this before. Two years ago, before the albergue first opened, I was out there helping to clean a little to get the place ready. I laughed when they told me they would open within the week, but, by golly they did. The numbers are increasing almost exponentially. Last year they had 856 pilgrims stay with them and helped hundreds more find lodging when the place was full. And to think I walked this route in 2008 and there was not one albergue and I saw not one other person!

    One more day in Lisbon, home tomorrow. I hope I can do my traditional two hour walk through my favorite parts of the old town later today, but the weather makes me doubt that it will be much fun.
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  • Day16

    Last Stop Cáceres

    February 25, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    Today, on the drive back to Lisbon, we took a little detour to stop in Cáceres, a bigger city than the others we have visited on this trip. It has no big museums, churches, or other "must see" sites, but it has a Renaissance core that is extremely well preserved and just beautiful. So it was a good place for a couple of hours' walk and a quick bite to eat before heading home.

    We sat in front of the toll booth to get over the bridge back into Lisbon for at least 45 minutes, maybe more. Traffic was awful. Then to top it off, I wound up on the wrong side of Marqués de Pombal and had to get lots of help from sympathetic drivers sitting next to me at stop lights. Thank goodness the Portuguese people are so incredibly friendly and helpful. But we made it home, squeezed in a workout, and had a quick overpriced bite to eat in the hotel restaurant. Ready for week number 2 of classes to begin!
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  • Day15

    In Merida where all is Roman

    February 24, 2018 in Spain ⋅ 🌙 6 °C

    So today we got up early and drove the 50 miles to Mérida before having coffee! Talk about tourists with a purpose. By 10, we had parked the car and were sitting in a café near the Arab Castle having our café con leche with a tostada. Boy, the coffee in Spain is SO much better than what we drink in Portugal!

    We had a really nice tourist day. From Moorish castle to Roman villa to Roman theater and Roman circus to Roman crypt to great vegetarian restaurant. After a nice long pause with really good food (in our experience, you can usually count on vegetarian restaurants in Spain to be good), we ended the day with a visit to the Roman Art museum, where you can get up close and personal with the mosaics, and then a quick trip through the visigothic art museum. The visigoths, who came in after the Romans, had a much less sophisticated but more appealing style to my uncultured taste.

    Before getting back in the car and heading home, we walked over the LONG Roman bridge. Really a beautiful bridge, still standing from Roman times. I have walked over this bridge before while walking the Via de la Plata, and hope to walk over it again this May as I walk the Camino Mozárabe from Almería, which joins up with the Via de la Plata right here in Mérida.
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  • Day14

    From tiny monastery to big monastery

    February 23, 2018 in Spain ⋅ 🌙 5 °C

    This morning while one of us slept in a bit, the other climbed up to the castle, then had a café con leche right smack dab in the middle of Trujillo's beautiful square. Watching the sun come up and bathe the stone buildings in morning light was pretty awesome. It's hard to decide whether the early morning sun or the night illumination is prettier. We did get going a little later than usual, and had some problems with the GPS (though I am now pretty sure I can do most of the basic operations, we'll see tomorrow). So we decided that rather than a long-ish trip to Mérida and its Roman ruins, we'd hope for an earlier start tomorrow and take today to visit two relatively nearby monasteries.

    The first, Yuste, is the plain and simple place where Carlos V went to spend his last days after abdicating. Out in the middle of nowhere, very peaceful. I was sad to learn that his son, Felipe II, had violated his father's wishes to be buried here, and instead had him transported to the pompous, overbearing monastery in El Escorial.

    From Yuste, we headed to Guadalupe, the gothic monastery that is now famous because of its 12th century "Black Virgen." It's in the middle of a not too remarkable town, but the monastery itself is really nice. And the rooms of the monks' handiwork from the 14-17th centuries had some beautiful things -- the embroidery (who knew monks did embroidery?) and the hymnals were my favorites.

    We drove a circular route, which is always more fun than a direct out and back. Through some really beautiful olive grove territory, which I will soon be walking through with my own feet. Very few tourists, lovely things to see, this is a great little trip.

    Oh yes and did I mention crossing the Tajo/Tagus/Tejo River and coming upon five columns on the side of the river, the ruins of a small Roman temple?
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  • Day13

    Back in Spain

    February 22, 2018 in Spain ⋅ 🌙 6 °C

    I finished teaching and was back in the hotel by 1, we were at the car rental place and on the road by 2:00, and 3.5 hours later we drove into the small city of Trujillo Spain. Finding the parador was surprisingly easy. Given the time change, it didn't leave us much of the day, but we took a quick stroll around to see the jaw-dropping plaza mayor. It may not be as beautiful as Salamanca's, but it is pretty gorgeous.

    Back at the parador, ready for a quick dinner in their restaurant. Parador restaurants are usually a bit pricey but decent quality, if not totally yummy. Since we have a busy day planned tomorrow, we decided to eat with the other old folks who beat down the door as soon as it opens for dinner, at the early hour of 8:30 p.m. No Spaniard would ever darken a restaurant for dinner at this scandalous hour, but oh well.
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  • Day13

    Hanging out in Lisbon

    February 22, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 9 °C

    For these two weeks, I am teaching Monday through Thursday from 10 - 12:45. The routine is familiar -- sleep in the Marriott across the street from the University, spend the morning at school. Afternoons are for using the Marriott's recently upgraded fitness center (hooray for new LifeFitness machines!!!), seeing friends and students back at school and generally just hanging out. Dinner is either at a favorite place nearby or a short metro ride away, like last night's return to Pizzeria Lucca on the river. At some point even deliciouslly grilled deliciously fresh fish gets tiring.

    When my class ends today, though, we will change into tourist mode once again. For the next few days, we will head to Spain, to the city of Trujillo, well located in Extremadura (the region southwest of Madrid and north of Sevilla/Andalucía). I have walked through many of these cities, but am looking forward to seeing Mérida and its Roman ruins, Cáceres and its beautiful Renaissance historic core, untouched and well-preserved, and maybe Guadalupe or Yuste, two places with history aplenty. It's about 4 hours drive from Lisbon to Trujillo, home of the conquistador Pizarro, where I snagged a very good rate in the Parador. This place was built in the 16th century as a convent, and today is a nice hotel.
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  • Day9

    Whoever heard of Arrifana and Odeceixe?

    February 18, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ 🌙 13 °C

    Probably the same people who have heard of the beautiful places we went yesterday. But we never had.

    So, as we were checking out of our hotel this morning, I asked the woman at the desk for driving directions to take us to a little Algarve beach we remembered as being pretty, planning to stop for an hour or so on the way up to Lisbon. She threw up her hands and said, oh there are much prettier places on the way up to Lisbon if you stay off the superhighway and go along the western coast. Having seen a bit of that yesterday, we quickly agreed.

    First stop, the beach at Arrifana, with a vast expanse of sand, rocks all around, and views views views. Lots of walking and oohing and ahhhing. On our way to Odeicexe, we saw a castle poking up on the top of the little town of Aljezur, and decided a quick walk up would be good cardio. Not the most amazing castle I've ever seen, but it is always so interesting to learn that though the castle itself was built by the moors in the 11th century, there were many layers of earlier victors below.

    But the beach at Odeicexe, oh my goodness. We spent a couple of hours there, walking and eating our picnic lunch, and then the reality set in. It was time to head back to Lisbon, drop off the rental car, check into the Marriott, and get ready to work tomorrow!
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  • Day8

    South coast and west coast

    February 17, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ 🌙 13 °C

    Today we started at the fort that was possibly the site of Sir Henry the Navigator's school for "discoverers". From there we proceded a little bit west to the promontory that is possibly the southwesternmost tip of Europe. There we saw the beginning of the walking route, the Ruta Vicentina. I was tempted. Good lunch in a restaurant on the beach, and then left with a few hours and nothing to do.

    So, Joe suggested we head north, along the western side of the country. After about twenty minutes we saw a turnoff for "praias" (beaches) and took it. Well, it turned out to be a circular drive of about 8 miles that went from one gorgeous site to another. We even saw the remains of a 12C moorish fishing site

    The ocean was crashing and angry, the surfers were going at it, and the views were just amazing. We had never heard or read anything about this place, called Carrapateira, but I can't imagine why it isn't in the guides. It is gorgeous.

    Back in Lagos, getting ready for our last freshly caught sea bass (at least till we get to our favorite little restaurant in Lisbon tomorrow) at the Camilo Restarante, located at, appropriately, the Camilo Beach.
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  • Day7

    Lagos and its rocks

    February 16, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ 🌙 12 °C

    Today we first headed to downtown Lagos. The first African slaves to be brought to Europe landed here in Lagos in the 1440s. The slave market building now has a small museum, and it was understated but dealt with the horror of it straight on. One display in particular hit me, playing a reading of a chronicler's account of how the families were broken up upon arrival here and the suffering he saw.

    After visiting a few churches and walking along the marina, we had a quick lunch in an outdoor cafe and then spent the rest of the afternoon walking on beaches and headlands in and out of more amazing rock formations. The weather was perfect once again and we soaked it all in. Nothing too strenuous, other than the ups and downs from beach to headlands (averaging 275 steps) and totally enjoyable.

    Another fish dinner awaits, but I am skeptical it can top last night at O Camilo (where we will return tomorrow night for our last night on the road before Lisbon).
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