To finish up our trip, on Monday, after exploring Porto, Braga, and Coimbra, we traveled by train to Lisbon, Portugal’s largest city.
Lisbon simultaneously holds the title of Europe’s second oldest capital and the newest city of any we’ve explored thus far in Portugal, although it’s still ancient by US standards. This is because it was almost completely redesigned and rebuilt after a 1755 earthquake measuring 8 to 9 on the Richter scale destroyed nearly 85% of the city.
Sebastiao de Carvalho e Melo, Marquis of Pombal, is credited with spearheading the new design: replacing medieval alleyways with wide streets and plazas on a central grid, and also engineering buildings to collapse in on themselves in the event of another catastrophic event.
I think our favorite day for the most unexpected adventure in Portugal was our our visit to Sintra.
When I thought about a day trip to this UNESCO World Heritage area from Lisbon, I expected to take a train ride and then spend the day hoofing it from castle to castle. I hoped for good weather, but at this point in our trip, that was kind of iffy.
We had a couple of credits on Airbnb due to pandemic trip cancellations, as well as a gift certificate (which, by the way, is a FANTASTIC gift idea for the person who has everything and likes to travel), so we splurged on a Jeep safari.
The day started with a near disaster as our driver stopped to pick us up in front of our building in the middle of the busy Rua da Prata in rush hour, then gestured at us to jump in the car as the approaching traffic collectively slammed on their brakes.
At this point half of my freaking family (in particular, the two I would have expected to know better) darted across the road while all I could manage was to squeak out “bus!” by way of warning.
Our original plan was to rent a car in Porto, drive inland to Coimbra for a night, then drive further inland to stay at a mountain town called Monsanto for another night. After reading a few blogs, and then a few more blogs about the driving and parking experience in Portugal for the inexperienced, we decided to stick to places we could access by train and save our Portuguese countryside tour for another trip.
After seeing drivers thread the needle through the narrow streets of Porto, we were certain driving here might not be our thing, like, ever.
If Porto is any indication, humans have been working on the proper stair height for more than 2,000 years, and only just recently agreed upon a standard.
I never appreciated that standard until now. In this ancient town, you’ll find differences in height between flights located in the same building, and even stairs in the same flight. Aaand, fun thing about bifocals, they make me a lot more clumsy with stairs. Introduce a mask into the equation (which can make said bifocals easy to slip off), I’m a walking disaster waiting to happen.
Most days we’re averaging 40 to 50 flights a day, and while I’m glad to have the stamina, I feel like I’m missing a lot because I’m concentrating so hard on not falling to my death. Good thing I’m traveling with some patient people….
One of my favorite things about travel is stepping off an airplane and into a place where all the sights, sounds, and smells are unfamiliar. It’s kind of like ascending the first hump of a roller coaster. I’m excited and scared about what’s going to happen next.
Of course, it’s not until right at this moment I remember how this analogy breaks down when it comes to family travel. The arrival point is the funhouse-that’s-not-actually-fun part of the carnival, and for us it typically includes one kid who’s mad at me for “doing it wrong” (this trip: the way I rode an escalator), another who’s sulking and hangry, and an argument about which train stop will take us closest to our hotel, followed by a kilometer of dragging too-heavy suitcases over wonky cobblestones to lodging we won’t have access to for an indeterminate period of time.
Throw in a very near miss by about seven pounds of sea gull poop, and you’ve got the gist of the first half of our first day in Portugal.
You guys, I just noticed the 10th anniversary* of this blog has quietly come and gone and I did nothing to make note of it. What started as a simple task to keep family from freaking out while we traveled, burgeoned into an up-to-thrice weekly effort to build an audience platform that might make me more attractive to publishers, and then waxed and waned according to how funny (or pissed off, embarrassed, caustic, or inspired) I was feeling week by week has really atrophied as of late. And I feel terrible about that.
Someone asked me recently “are you evenwriting anymore?” as if it’s something like a tree falling in the forest: not really there unless someone is able to respond to it in some way.
In short, writing? Yes! Pushing pithy material out on this poor blog? Not so much.
I should start by letting you know I’m no sex expert. Sex isn’t even really what this is about, but I think a disclaimer is necessary if I’m going to post anything remotely related, considering how much traffic comes my way since I wrote that thing about pineapples––really just speculation on whether our neighbors were swingers (jury is still out on that)––which was picked up by a porn aggregator site that now regularly steers about a third of my blog traffic this way.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one to complain about an
audience, ever. But I think whether you’re here for the pseudo-porn or the
more regular fare of random, inane stories, it might be good to switch up to higher-brow
entertainment once in a while, just sayin’…
Anyway, where was I? …Right. Boffing. Boinking. Bumping
Uglies. The Horizontal Greased-Weasel Tango. Or more specifically, straightforward
conversations with teenagers on the topic.
Ten things I wish someone would invent to make traveling easier
One of my chic-iest friends posted an Instagram photo of a little, clear plastic clutch she’s going to start using for travel in place of the standard Ziploc the rest of us plebs employ to schlep our lotions and shampoos and other liquid stuffs onto airplanes.
At first, I thought “isn’t that just the coolest thing!” I mean, we’re all just one kitschy plastic tote away from either looking our put-together best or coming across like a crazed hoarder unloading a packed lunch all over the TSA belt. Amiright?
So, I whipped out my credit card and went to the website straightaway, and found out those cute, little totes the size of sandwich bags are a whopping $88 bucks apiece. Which is when I decided I’d stick with my non kitschy ways for a little while until I win the Lotto or something.
… But it made me think about other travel conveniences I’d come up with if I have the extra cash, a really sharp inventor brain, and some free time. Unfortunately, I’m a little short on … well all those things, but I’m going to share my ideas in case there’s an inventor type among you with the corresponding money and spare time.
Because, you know I’m a …. (let’s all say it together, now …)
First of all, don’t come at me about the title, you guys. I know teens does’t rhyme with the way you’re supposed to say New Orleans, but it’s cute and kitschy and SEO friendly, and y’all know I’m all about the market.
Secondly, you should know this trip just about didn’t happen, even though we’ve been planning it for months. We were going to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon as Mike’s official 50th half before age 50, and show our son, his girlfriend, and our exchange student one of our favorite cities in the world, which we’ve been unable to visit since before Hurricane Katrina.
After a couple days of getting Jack situated in his new digs in Wiener Neustadt, we had some time for sightseeing. We’d contacted Hanna, a former exchange student who lives with her family in nearby Baden bei Wien, a spa town famous for its hot springs. Baden is a short train ride from Wr. Neustadt, and Hanna met us at the station to take us to her home for lunch with her mother, Monika.
Afterwards we took a walking tour through town, and Monika pointed out the sights. It had been really warm in Austria since we arrived. It was a relief to have some cloud cover and cooler temperatures.
Baden is the premier resort town of Austria, surrounded by forested hills. It’s historically known for being the favored retreat of Austrian emperors and famous composers. During the summer it hosts Europe’s largest outdoor photography exhibit. The theme this year is “I love Africa,” and we strolled through photos displays of wildlife and people from a different continent.
The town has a very upscale but relaxed vibe. It felt a lot to me like our own Sun Valley, only less cowboy and more Mozart.