Chapel of Bones

“We bones in here wait for yours to join us.”  This message over the door greets visitors who enter the Chapel of Bones.  Disturbing and disruptive.  Unlike anything I had ever experienced,  Capela dos Ossos is in the Church of St. Francis in Evora, a cute Portugal city that has been around for 2,000+ years.

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Three monks, concerned with the values they saw in Evora’s society in the 1600’s, created this macabre chapel to give residents a place to contemplate their love of material things against their inevitable death.  Using locales from the cemeteries around town, skulls and bones were gathered to form the walls, columns and ceiling.  Full corpses of an adult and a child also are on display.  To stand in that room looking at this religious expression of protest against wealth and status from so long ago shows that society never changes.  You have that same wealth disparity today across the world.  Will  human beings ever learn?

Not my cup of tea usually but staring at the display made me reflect on the need to be in the present, appreciate my blessings and not take one minute of this precious life for granted.  Because, just like these bones and skulls staring back at me, we will all join them some day.  All that matters then is the lasting good that we are able to create while alive.  Unfortunately, though, most shun thoughts of our eventual demise and focus on gathering as many material things as we can while alive.  The old saying “you can’t take it with you” comes to mind.  Why on Earth then do we spending all our time working to buy stuff that we don’t really need?

On Mother’s Day, I appreciate that Thom and I created two really outstanding human beings who are now making a difference themselves in the world.  Hannah and James make me very proud every day of the worthy life I have lived.  Until I depart to be only bones, I can only hope to continue to do good work and live a life well served.

Scenic Sintra

After a sleepless night (falling FINALLY asleep at 5 a.m. after counting a herd of sheep) I woke up at 11:30 a.m. and off we went to Sintra.  After a metro stop, a short train ride, and the bus ride from Hell, we were transported to another time where palaces and castles were the norm.  Amazing!

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Of course, the bus ride up to the beautiful Palace of Pena scared the crap out of me.  OMG!  Blaring his horn to alert anyone crazy enough to drive this lane, the driver confidently took the hairpin curves in the big bus up the narrow path.  I thought we were surely going to die.  But we survived to climb up a steep hill and roam about the palace where safety is more of a suggestion than a standard, i.e. don’t bring your toddler or aging parents.  They’ll die.  With gaps in the railing and steep drops into crevices, we watched our steps and checked it all out.

The views were breathtaking looking out onto the Moorish Castle and the sea.  Inside, the kitchens still full equipped with the biggest mort/pestle I have ever seen.  What. The. Hell.  Were they grounding up trees in there not spices??  Two of the original ovens used by King Ferdinand II’s staff are still displayed along with lots of other relics.  You can only imagine the three man lift required to haul up one of the large cauldrons to make soup for the King.  Damn.  The chapel from the early 1500’s was serene and peaceful.

Deciding after waiting awhile in line for the bus down the mountain, we blew off the Moorish castle (cool from a distance but it was starting to rain) which was further down the hill and thought we would just check out the town square instead.  Of course, first we would have to survive the bus trip down.  Packed in like the favorite Portugal sardines, I warned Thom to hold on tight as we stood or he would wind up in the lady’s lap he was huddled next to.  As the “Eye of the Tiger” came on the bus radio, the lively British gals that had stood behind us in line as we waited for the bus broke out into loud song.  Bus Karaoke was on!  Hilarious.

Tired from all that singing, we quickly exited on the main square in Sintra, checked out the News Museum with it’s Macho Media exhibit and headed down the quaint curvy streets.  There I found the best thing ever-Ginja!  Cherry liqueur shots served in a dark chocolate cup for only 1 euro.  You nibble a little chocolate, sip a little liqueur and repeat.  Of course, you could just throw it all at once in your mouth but I wanted to savor it.  Tasting like a cherry cordial that my dad used to love at Christmas time but with booze, it was a perfect union of tastes.  Yum!

Walking down the mountain in the rain, it was the end of a perfect day in Sintra, a fairy tale land where you can easily imagine another time where knights defended their kings and queens.  Magical.

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Shopping in Lisbon!

While Lisbon is so impossibly picturesque that you feel compelled to take pictures of everything, it is also heaven for shopping.  Not even in London did I find so many unique items for gifts and myself, of course. 

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Where to begin?  Well, there is the LX Factory under the bridge that looks like the Golden Gate.  Filled with shops and cafes, it also houses the coolest bookstore I have seen and I LOVE bookstores.  Obolodamarta not only had multiple levels filled with books, it also had a temporary exhibit of Kinetic Art.  The inventor himself walked us around and told us stories about each of his creations.  From a miniature printing press to a Charlie Chaplin story machine, it was so fun and interesting.  I love just stumbling into these experiences as we often do as we wander.

Thom was tempted to get a tattoo at the local artist shop at LX Factory but I veered him away and took some great pics of street art instead.  Who knows if he will leave Portugal with new ink but maybe another day.  Tattoos are not a decision to be made in the moment but after careful reflection.

The next day we left our Alfama district and meandered up and down the cobblestone streets.  Definitely need to have sturdy shoes with grip to hike these streets in Lisbon especially as they get slippery in the rain that was off and on all day.  Finding a store that made bags out of recycled signs and garbage as well as bicycle tires, I was tempted but held off buying.  Pricey but worthy. 

Ducking out of the rain into the Cork Store by the fort proved to be an expensive interlude as we bought multiple gifts for folks who read this blog so I will say no more.  Let’s just say I bought so much I asked for a quantity discount and got it.  Always the bargainer I am!  Just expect Christmas present from Portugal my family and friends.  Thom is obsessed with man jewelry and got yet another bracelet for his already full wrist.  Seriously, that man wears way more bangles than I do. 

Thom also loves shoes so when we found a store with the unique concept of buy a pair of awesome shoes, get a bottle of wine, we both considered it but wisely remembered how full our closets are back home.  We also passed on the sardine shop knowing that while they look cute, they aren’t our cup of tea.

At Typographia, we could have gone wild but restrained ourselves to buy only 2 t-shirts. Very similar to our favorite store in Shanghai that had original creative designs on quality t’s, this little shop had so many cool t’s to choose from that it was hard to narrow it down but the one we choose for James was the best.  In chatting with the shop clerk as she rang us out, she asked if I had really read the words spelled out on the typewriter keys.  I had and it was hilarious but irreverent, just like our son, who will be the recipient.  We laughed and then the conversation somehow turned to weed.  In Portugal, the legal limit of pot is one gram but it’s still not legal though they won’t arrest you with that amount or less we were told. Sharing that we didn’t smell it all the time like we did in Seattle walking the streets, she said we just weren’t walking the right streets.  Point taken.  Shirts bought.

When visiting Portugal, I would suggest packing an empty suitcase and LOTS of Euros.  Whether you go for cork or sardines (they are obsessed with this salty little feller) or Port wine, etc. you will enjoy engaging with the locals as you find treasures to bring home.  Here’s hoping our luggage isn’t over the weight limit going home!

 

 

 

First Day in Portugal

16,554 steps and almost 7 miles later, we arrived back at our very “bijou” arbnb in the Alfama district in Lisbon, ready to kick back and reflect on our adventure today.  I.  Love.  Lisbon.

Despite a late start after sleeping off the jet lag, we put in a full 8 hour walk across town.  With rain coming down heavy all morning, we were lucky enough to cover some ground before the next storm rolled through.  Grabbing a table at a café on a viewpoint overlooking the sea under a dense tree that served as our leafy umbrella, we sipped coffee and ate heavenly custard tarts that Portugal is known for–I’m in love with this pastry and vow to have one a day.  At least.

A local sat down to busk for awhile playing us a selection of tunes including Amazing Grace.  Thom, of course, struck up a conversation and we learned he had been to the U.S. but not north of SoCal.  Thankfully he didn’t bring up U.S. politics as we are taking a break from the madness.  We’re looking forward to hearing Fado music at a bar tomorrow night.  Our arbnb host told us that Fado is soulful and melancholy, telling tales of love, the sea and tragedy.  Happy stuff.

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But the people here are friendly.  How friendly?  When Thom and I were arguing over what cheese to buy at the grocery, a local stepped in and handed us local goat cheese with a recommendation that it was delish.  Cheese intervention–Sold!

Other initial Lisbon observations:

LOTS of hills so no rental bikes here but they do have lovely trolleys and tut tuts that can carry your tired ass upwards when you just can’t take another step or have a heavy bag filled with wine.  It happens.

People smoke INDOORS here!  Could not believe it when we walked into this cool bookstore with a café and everyone was on their computers drinking coffee and smoking away.  Cough, cough.

Pay to pee here as in most of Europe with .50 euros required. I will say that the magazine rack in the ladies room at the train station made me smile.  Really?  I guess for .50 euros you can use the facilities AND rest your legs while reading a magazine.

Wine is cheap, plentiful and tasty.  We’re talking $2.99 average for bottle of good, smooth vino.  Yes, Thom and I have already decided to spend quality time here when and if I ever get to retire.  You can dream.  Cheers!

Walking Paris

 I’ve always dreamed of seeing the Eiffel Tower in person.  Something about those big city landmarks speak to me and I’ve been lucky enough to live by three of the best-NYC’s Flatiron Building, Seattle’s Space Needle and Shanghai’s Pearl Tower.  On the way to Lisbon today, we got to live my dream and turned a long layover into an adventure in Paris.

Finally here in Paris!

“Think Amazing Race!” I told Thom as we raced through Charles De Gaulle airport.  We had limited hours to navigate through CDG airport in Paris, go through customs, find the RER train and make it to the city with enough time to explore.  Customs was a breeze as the French don’t chit chat like the engaging Brits who want to know every last detail of your trip.  Our security guy didn’t even say hello, which I was perfectly fine with as the line moved quickly indeed with no pleasantries unlike at Heathrow where chattiness caused 90 minute delays in processing.

Following the signs through the huge airport, we made one wrong turn that required retracing of steps (good for the Fitbit!) and sorting out which platform to aim for after a serious wait in line at the ticket machine.  Not cheap-20 euros each for a round trip to/from city, but riding the train allows for a glimpse into Paris not found gazing from a bus or taxi.  Behaving more like a locale got us into the city (with only one transfer required) in about an hour.  Not bad!

As we got off at the Eiffel stop, we ran up the stairs and looked around the leafy streets but no Tower in sight.  Where in the world is the Eiffel Tower???  Crossing the street to the River Sienne, we looked  up and to our right and THERE IT WAS looming over us and only a block away.  The Eiffel Tower in all its glory was just gorgeous.  Did I mention there wasn’t a cloud in the bright blue sky?  With no time to go up or even walk all the way around it, we walked into a park next to the Tower where school groups played next to heavily armed guards patrolling to keep us safe.    

After taking many photos, we found the nearest facilities (pay to pee here too just like London so have .50 euros handy) and then we took off walking by the river.  What a glorious day!  The wide paths easily accommodate both bikers, joggers and strollers.  The plentiful bridges and boats on the river add ambience galore.  While there were many cafes along the path, they had just opened for the day and weren’t busy yet.  I can only imagine how beautiful it is at night to walk along the river and see the historic buildings lit up.  Another time perhaps.

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Paris, like Seattle and London, has a huge ferris wheel by the river to entice tourists.  Like no other city I’ve been to before, though, stalls line the river path, selling vintage books, newspapers and magazines.  Oh how I wish we had time to sit in a café, sip espresso, eat pastries and read a good book.  Heaven.

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But time was wasting and Portugal was waiting.  So, 5 miles and 2 hours later, we had walked along the river from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame Cathedral and, as luck would have it, caught the express train to the airport so we made our flight with a little time to spare.  We promised each other that we would come back to Paris and explore the narrow alleys filled with quaint cafes.  Soon.

Naughtiness at the House of Lords

When in London after a long work day, tradition dictates that you go to the nearest pub and have a pint or two.  But I never take the traditional route and I don’t drink beer so after MY work day was over, I headed on over to the House of Lords to hear the Earl of Sandwich argue over the merits of an amendment to the Criminal Finances Bill.  Yep, I’m a political geek.

After not being able to just “drop in” last night as we walked by on the way home (due to the presence of a knife of the Swiss Army variety in Thom’s pocket), we left the weapons at the hotel and off we went.  The House Of Lords works late into the evening so by the time we cleared security after being searched, me so thoroughly that Thom asked if the security guard had asked for my #, up we climbed to the Stranger’s Gallery where visitors can sit quietly and observe.  To enforce that rule, you have to check in all your bags and cell phones with a guard before entering.

With gold-plated pretty much everything and knight statues glaring down from their lofty perches above the floor, the Earls, Ladies, Lords and such sit (and sleep) during the proceedings on red leather banquettes.  If they aren’t sleeping, they are looking at their iPads or speaking on the topic at hand.  All very formal, we snickered (quietly) when one Lord spoke of the “naughtiness” of the vigilante posse hiding wealth by buying up London real estate through LLC’s (owners anonymous) registered in British territories and driving up prices so that buying a home now costs 39x the median income of the average Londoner.  Citing one example in nearby Cambridge, a new development of 292 homes were snatched up by foreigners, primarily Chinese and Russians, with only 2 homes purchased by UK residents.  Shocking-sounds like Seattle.

I did feel quite young sitting there watching these old guys bicker and debate whether there should be stricter government control in this area of finance.  With the average age of about 70 years old and probably only 10% women, there was definitely a strict dress code with the men in suits and the ladies in skirts.  I was disappointed that the only person wearing a white ringlet wig was the youngest person in the room running the technology.  The clerks who run the notes to the Lords were very formally attired in tails and large metal medallions hanging from their bodies.  Posh.

Leaving as the debate was still raging at 7:30 p.m., Thom and I couldn’t wait to discuss the experience.  Yes, for political geeks, this was the highlight of our London trip.  Cheers!

 

Treacle Tarts at The Wolseley

Harry Potter fans will understand my fascination with treacle tarts.  Why did Harry and his gang love eating something with such a funny name?  What is a treacle?  Well, thanks to The Wolseley in London I can now answer those questions.  Treacle tarts are amazingly delicious and treacle is golden syrup.  Yum!

I owe a big thanks to my friend, Karmann, who turned me on to this elegant yet approachable restaurant near The Green Park and The Ritz.  After cheering on the late finishers in the London Marathon that ended at Buckingham Palace today, we made our way through The Green Park, filled with marathon fans soaking up the last of the sun.  What a beautiful day it was whether you ran a marathon (how do they do that??) or just enjoyed a walk through a market or park.

Seated as soon as we walked in to The Wolseley and starving, I ordered the recommended chicken soup with carrots and dumplings that was light yet deliciously rich at the same time.  With bits of chicken, I quickly finished it while Thom shared with me a few bites of his chicken, bacon, and avocado sandwich and pommes frites.  Not only was the service impeccable but the prices were not too expensive given that London in general is very expensive indeed.  Surrounded by marathon finishers still wearing their medals and celebrating with champagne, steak and caviar, we quickly moved on to dessert.

Treacle tart-what would it taste like?  I had done no research and had no expectations.  I wanted to be surprised. Well, it came warm with a side of clotted cream that actually helped cut some of the sweetness.  Think pecan pie without the pecans and with a flaky crust.  Very dense and delicious.  No wonder Harry, Ron and Hermione ate these up when they magically appeared at Hogwarts.  After seeing Platform 9 3/4 at the Kings Crossing station this morning, it was only fitting that I end my day with their favorite Hogwarts dessert.  London is definitely a magical place.

 

Exploring London’s Parks

London has THE BEST parks.  Friday after checking into St. Ermin’s, we immediately set out to explore and push on to avoid the dreaded jet lag.  Unfortunately, we hadn’t gotten any local currency yet so when I tried to use the public loo later in St. James Park, I discovered there was a 20 pence coin required to gain entry.  WTH!  You have to pay to pee?  Thom’s solution was a suggestion to walk all the way back to the hotel.  NOT a  really timely choice so I went with my own solution-act really pathetic and prey on kind strangers who DID have the required coins.  Bingo!  Within seconds of asking the closest coffee kiosk barista in the park for directions to an ATM and explaining the situation, another customer quickly found the right coin and offered it to me, rolling her eyes at Thom and telling me there was no need to walk anywhere and she was happy to help me.  There you go!  Afterward, I promised Thom that I would “pee it forward” and help other desperate ladies out next time I go, keeping a stash of required coins just in case.  Ladies need to stick together!

Later, we checked out Golden Square on the way to Carnaby Street.  A park with stunning public art AND a communal ping pong table in heavy use, this may not be on visitor’s “hot” list to see but it was just lovely.   Shoe lovers will appreciate the largest stiletto you will ever see.  Now that’s art!  None of that crazy abstract crap you have to figure out in museums.

On Saturday, we headed out to the most popular spots:  The Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Garden.  Very close to our hotel, The Green Park showcases Buckingham Palace on it’s perimeter.  While we didn’t see the changing of the guards, we did check out the guards and the massive palace.  Really, who needs all that space???  Looks like a big money drain to me.  Walking through the Wellington Arch and checking out the many war memorials, you are reminded everywhere in London of WWI and WWII.  So many lives lost.

Right next door to The Green Park is Hyde Park, totally deserving of all the accolades I read out about it in the travel books.  From the cheap ($2 euros a day) bike rentals to the large lake with paddle boats and rowboats and horse trails, it is amazing.  Thom quickly got a hot dog to wolf down for energy before our long walk.  My only beef with the park system is the lack of trash cans in all the parks.  What’s up with that London?  Surprisingly given the lack of receptacles, the parks are very clean but the few trash cans overflow like crazy, the only unsightly view in the otherwise clean space.

Hyde Park even has chairs you can rent by the day to relax and gaze out at the water.  Very reminiscent of Central Park in NYC, one of my favorite places, people were stretched out on benches and the lawn enjoying the rare sunshine.  And can I say, the dogs here are SO well behaved it’s crazy.  Off leash in the parks, I have yet to see dogs growling or fighting.  They just walk docile and obedient with their owners by their side. Thom asked one dog owner why the dogs are so calm and he replied, “Lots of opium.”  Be calm and drug your dog?  I’m sure he was just kidding.  Probably.

Right next door to Hyde Park is Kensington Gardens.  We were needing a break from the sun so we ducked into the Serpentine Gallery on the park grounds to check out the spring show featuring the work of John Latham, a pioneer of British conceptual art (1921-2006).  Thought-provoking for sure, the use of books was prevalent in the conceptual art pieces.  Interesting exhibit but the bathrooms had the best technology I’ve seen.  Dyson water faucets also served as hand drying jet blasters–all in one and very cool.  Better than the art!  Heading over to the Prince Albert Memorial we enjoyed watching an intense street hockey game.  Damn, they were good.  Hockey scouts need to be checking these dudes out for their teams!

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John Latham’s art-these are books if you can’t tell

 

Moving on, we checked out Kensington Palace, with the beautiful Diana White Gardens to mark the 20th anniversary of her death.  We did feel that the security was pretty darn lax and gates were unguarded and would be too easy to hop over.  What?  In fact, walking down embassy row later in the day past all each country’s gorgeous building, we didn’t see any armed guards except for the Israeli post where they were armed with impressive weapons.  In China when we walked Embassy Row, you would see armed guards in front of every embassy.  Here, one guy came running out of an embassy yelling “YO!” to the Domino Pizza guy at the curb to deliver a hot pie.  Classy.

We tried walking by The Orangery next to Diana’s White Garden but a very fancy, or as the Brits would say “posh”, wedding was going on so here the security was tight and we were politely turned away.  So, they guard weddings better than they do embassies here in London?  With top hats and tails for the guys and long gowns for the ladies, this wedding was one fancy event.  We considered trying to crash it but thought better of it and moved along to continue our 11 mile hike that day.  What a great day!

 

Chechnya Protest in London

We just happened to wander by the Russian Embassy in London as a crowd gathered to show support for gays being rounded up and held in detention centers in the Russian republic of Chechnya.  Part of a purge by the Russian government in response to a planned gay pride parade, Londoners we saw wanted to spread the word of this atrocity so action and pressure by world leaders will hopefully stop it.  I am happy to help.

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One man carefully spread out a roll of paper to write his message, “Free Love.  If compassion is higher form of wisdom, how wise are you?” while others organizing the event spoke to policewomen and the crowd.  Photographers captured the moment and others wrote encouraging thoughts on the pink triangles.  I wrote “Love Trumps Hate”.  Thom explained to me that in Nazi Germany gays had to wear pink triangles on their clothing.  Frightening times when we see history repeating itself and our nation’s leaders are doing nothing to stop it and some are encouraging it with their hate-filled rhetoric.

Laying pink flowers on the sidewalk, the mood was somber but defiant.  A group of men allowed their pictures to be taken as Londoners stopped to read the signs.  We walked by later on our way home, happy to see the signs undisturbed and folks reading the messages.  Grassroots efforts like this work as we are finding in the U.S. with our protest marches, calls to Congress and other efforts trying to stop the madness that lies in POTUS.  Where we can support other countries with their efforts to stop the hate and embrace love, we most certainly will.  Never give up and never back down.London_April 2017-8261

London Shopping-Vintage to Vinyl

Eleven miles and 25,000 steps later, we had walked ALL over London.  Literally.  We embraced “shop till you drop” and had fun doing it.  Starting at our historic boutique hotel, St. Ermin’s, at noon after sleeping in (jet lag sucks) we walked to Notting Hill.  Yes, that Notting Hill but, alas, we didn’t run into Hugh Grant.  Buggers!BC655D29-FC10-4252-920C-07883DB7450F

This terribly charming area has shops galore including Portobello Market, a street filled with stalls featuring furs, teapots and more.  But first, it was National Record Store Day and we were looking for vinyl and lucky enough to stumble upon the Music & Goods Exchange.  Searching for treasures among the used vinyl, I found “Stompin’ at the Savoy”, a compilation of 19 classic cuts from the archives of the Savoy featuring pioneer jazz, be-bop, rhythm and blues.  Dedicated to and featuring Charlie Parker, the tracks are from 1940-1960.  Thom picked up singles from Elvis Costello as much for the covers, which we will frame, as for the music. Can’t wait to spin some tunes when we get home!

I love bookstores second to none so imagine my excitement to not only find the original bookstore featured in the movie, Notting Hill, but we also found a great sale at another bookstore.  Picking up a “Royal Snap” very British card game, I now have a plan to play cards with Mia next time we go to Boise.  “Albie and the Space Rocket” was another purchase.  “It seems like just another ordinary night to Albie until he wakes up to find…penguins stealing the furniture, moose tangoing in the toilet and zebras asleep in the kitchen cupboard.  But who has left a trail of baked beans?”  Can’t wait to read this silly tale of adventure to Mia!  Of course, I’ll have to explain what a “bloke” is and so on.  Love those British terms especially “cheeky”.   I got Thom “From Churchill’s War Rooms” as he plans to visit the actual war rooms while I am working this week.  Booorrring! He knows that would not be at the top of my “go do” list so off he goes by himself.   Yet another bookstore we stumbled on wasn’t open but we read the sign by the door which shared that this shop was the inspiration for the travel bookshop featured in the movie.WP_20170422_19_16_40_Pro

Finally reaching Portobello Market, we navigated the crowds to find Mary’s Living and Giving, a thrift store that benefits Save The Children.  I had read about this amazing shop and it did not disappoint.  From Kate Spade to DVF, there were bargains galore and a friendly clerk to assist.  I’ve decided to start a new tradition and get Hannah vintage fashion wherever I travel and this time she’ll be gaining a black sheath with fringe and zipper treatment.  Super cheeky and all proceeds to a worthy cause!

Around the corner, we found another vinyl store, Rough Trade, where we browsed until we were informed that closing time was upon us so basically, “GET OUT!” Now dark, we started our long journey home.  Walking in front of a group of millennials at one point, we chuckled at their conversation discussing a game they like to play in the pubs called, “Daddy or Sugar Daddy?” asking women with older companions to share the truth.  Wonder how many cocktails they get thrown in their faces while playing this cute game.  I’m betting quite a few.

At one point along a lonely, creepy stretch of road, I was ready to try to hail a cab.  My back hurt, my feet ached and I was a little bit scared.  “Princess Snowflake get your ass moving” was my compassionate husband’s response to that idea.  Hitting 11 miles on my overworked Fitbit, we finally arrived back at St. Ermin’s.  Time for an adult beverage.  Cheers!