Friday, March 25, 2016

Sintra ~ They beat us back...

En Francais on dit "il papa."

The Italians say "il papa."

The English say something not so nice about the Pope.

In any event, we could've used a little Divine Intervention.

Sintra ~ Beating a Retreat

Jude and I were up and out early (by our standards) to catch the train from Rossio out to Sintra.  The Pena Palace was our destination.  This is supposed to be an incredible hilltop castle built by an eccentric German royal expatriot.  The exterior details are jumbled, colorful, and Crazy Good to look at.

Upon arrival in Sintra we needed to find a WC.  Jude and I spied one right there on the train platform, but balked at the rather steep 1.20Euro demanded to open the door.  Just behind us a more desperate family put their 1.20Euro into the slot and the door wouldn't open.  A rail employee worked (unsuccessfully) to free their money and (unsuccessfully) liberate the door from it's lock.

So much for efficiency.

Meanwhile, passengers were funneling through one and only one exit turnstile.  After a several minutes of standing in a very long queue, and absolutely no thanks to the rail station employee, we saw people suddenly move to the other side of the exit gate where we found four working turnstiles.

So much for efficiency.

Sintra ~ Beating a Retreat

We crossed the street and dove into a cafe, ordered two bicas, grabbed the key and headed to the WC.  The coffee was good and the two only set us back 1.30Euro.  For 0.10Euro more than the unusable/unavailable/money-eating WC at the train station we got a quick Pick Me Up and Welcome Relief at the same time.

Very efficient, this.

Another long line across the street to await the bus that would take us up the hill wasn't as terrible as we first feared.  One bus loaded and left with the first quarter of the queue and our second quarter of the queue boarded a bus 5 minutes later.

While in line we met a couple vacationing from Nantes/Saint Rochelle.  We exercised our under-used French.  Upon entry into the bus, and as we whipped from side to side up the switchbacks up the steep steep hill that leads to the Moorish castle and the Pena Palace we continued to exercise our under-used French.  We finished our under-used French conversation by complaining that the very very long queue to purchase tickets wasn't moving.  "Quelle horreure.  C'est insupportable!"

So much for efficiency.

Sintra ~ Beating a Retreat

Jude and I were tired, hungry, dejected, and for the first time on this trip defeated.

Since it looked like it could take upwards to an hour to buy entry to the park, we bid our French friends bon courage and we made an un-characteristic and very un-American retreat.  The vast crowds, the steeply sloped hillside, the unmoving lines, and the prospect of having to further wait just to have lunch once inside the palace caused us to send the White Flag racing up the pole.  So down the hill we retreated with the next bus.

So much for efficiency.  The French can move people in and out of it's major sites much better than the Sintrians.

Very sad at the unexpected turn of events since we were "this close" to the entrance to the Palace, we found a restaurant, ordered lunch, and drowned our sorrows in a shared 50cl bottle of tinto.  After an excellent and large repas we were pleasantly surprised to pay less than 30Euro.

Very efficient, this.

Sintra ~ Beating a Retreat

Our return to Lisboa/Lisbonne/Lisbon was made, at first, in a nearly empty railcar/voiture/coach.  There were only four of us quitting Sintra.

Back in Lisboa/Lisbonne/Lisbon, up the Baixa we walked (only two blocks from Rossio) to find Yet Another Long Line. This time we queued for the utterly charming elevator trolley that would take us up the hill to the Principe Real.  First one train arrived and took a bunch of people.  Good.  Then it returned and... wot's all this?  Gods!  Not again!!  The driver/conductor/conducteur closed the grill to the trolley and said he'd be back in 5 minutes.  It was Official Break Time.

So much for efficiency.

Ahead of us in the queue was a tour group that sounded very much Italian.  Sure enough, our suspicion concerning their country of origin was confirmed when they broke out in song.  Yes.  That's right.  They started singing.  In the face of inefficiency, they sang.  There was a bit of laughter, too.  There was a lot of shared warmth and happiness.  The singing continued until the by now Well Rested and Very Refreshed driver/conductor/conducteur returned.

Jude found us a place on a box in the driver/conductor/conducteur quarters at the other end of the trolley.  Seated in the driver/conductor/conducteur's seat was one of the Singing Italians of the tour group.

Sintra ~ Beating a Retreat

We instantly struck up a conversation.  "Where are you from?"  "Paris.  But we're Americans.  Where are you from?"  "Rome."  "Ah, il Papa!"  "Si.  Si.  Il Papa!!"  "What are you doing here?  Rome is soooooo beautiful."  "Ah, thank you, thank you.  We're here because Lisbon is nice, too.  Not as beautiful as Paris, which is second only to Rome in beauty, by the way.  Lisbon is nice this time of year."  [smiles all around]

"Can I have your photo?"  as he points his tablet lens in my direction.  "You look just like [some character from a famous Italian opera who's name I can't recall]."  It was a Good Thing that I was having a Good Hair Day.  The waxed 'stach was behaving itself.  "OK. Take a second, please."  "Oh, with pleasure.  This time with your wife, too" as we lean together to have our portrait taken.

"By the way, my name is Arcangelo.  Just with the angels.  Il Papa and I are like brothers.  We are all close, we Romans."

Sintra ~ Beating a Retreat

There are times when I feel too d*mned much like a German-American.  Time-tables.  Economies.  Money.  Solutions.  Efficiencies. Exactitude. I still carry all these things with me, even after our move to Europe.  How well do these attitudes toward life serve me?  I'm no longer sure.

Perhaps that's the secret, isn't it?  Song.  While not exactly curing/correcting/solving in the American view of things, song might be a good way to respond to the inefficiencies of life.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Lisbon ~ Findings ~ Initial Report

We needed to escape Paris for awhile and Lisbon called to us.  We'd never been there before and didn't really know what to expect.  So off we went to spend the month of March in a place we knew nothing about to experience things we had no way of preparing for.

Lisbon ~ Food
... with a huge steak there's no room for the veggies...
Steak price?  2.50Euro.  No joke.
Having spent the month of March, what we feel about Lisbon is probably best expressed by way of contrasts.  Paris against Lisbon.  Lisbon against Paris.  So here goes...

Lisbon ~ Drink
Organic porto... the same one Jude found in the US...
Weather -
Paris - Wet, cold, gray for winter months.  It snowed the day after we left.  It's been cold and wet the entire month.

Lisbon - Arrived to 60+F, clear, warm, sun.  Most of our days have been clear and warm, with only the occasional rainy day.

Lisbon ~ Tiger Prawn (before consumption)
Shrimp for lunch - just one - a Tiger Shrimp! - it filled the plate
People -
Paris - Reserved, conservative, and it takes time to get to know someone.  But once you've gained their trust, your friendship is nearly unshakable.

Lisbon - While it's far too early to know how people will be over the long haul, our initial contact with the locals has been wonderful.  Lisboans seem to be warm, open hearted, and quick to smile and talk.  Many people we've talked to seem to feel the French are snobbish and are difficult tourists to please.

Lisbon ~ Frangasqueira Nacional
The white was on sale for 1.89Euro
Restaurants -
Paris - Bistros are shutting down at a frightening rate.  The restos that are left tend to cater to tourists and leaves us with the strong impression that tourists can all too quickly be over-charged and served poor quality food since they won't complain and won't be back after their vacation is over.

Cafe - 2.50Euro
Entrecote pour deux - 60Euro (no sides)
Hamburger - 15Euro
Glass of red wine - 5-10Euro, depending
Mid-day formule - around 15Euro with soft drink (typically no wine)
Indian food - you have to go to the Gare du Nord area to find anything decent and you can spend 45Euro for two people for 2 dosa, wine, and desserts
Take-out BBQ - Ya, right.  No way, Jose.

Lisbon - The restaurants here cater to tourists, too.  But the wait staff are friendly (see "People" above) and the food is great.

Cafe - 0.60Euro
Entrecote pour deux - 29Euro with THREE beautiful sides (pumpkin/sweet mix, potato, fries, salad)
Hamburger - 6Euro
Glass of red wine - 1.50 to 3.30Euro, depending
Mid-day formule - around 8Euro with wine
Indian food - Oh man! Shrimp entree, salads, curried shrimp plate, wines, beers, desserts 30Euro
Take-out BBQ - Whole chicken 8Euro.  Rack of ribs + half a chicken 9Euro.  Sides are cheap, too.

Lisbon ~ Small Things
... from the farmers market - great bread,
sweet potatoes, chorizo sausage, and
two un-marked bottles of fizzy "green" wine...

Markets - 
Paris -
Faux filet pour deux - 15Euro - enough for dinner with leftovers for lunch
Chicken - 11 to 15Euro, depending - enough for two dinners and one lunch
Salmon - 15Euro - enough for two dinners
Lettuce - 1.10Euro each
Potatochips - 3Euro for a medium sized bag of Tyrell's

Organic red wine - 8 to The Moon Euros for table wine
Commercial white wine - 8 to The Moon Euros, depending
Commercial red wine - 8 to The Moon Euros, depending
Organic Porto - forget it, I've tried to find the bio stuff and it's seemingly impossible

For serious drunks - 1Euro/litre in the south of France, 1.5Euro/litre in Tours, 3Euro/litre in Paris - BYOB

Faux filet pour deux - 5Euro - two LARGE cuts with enough for 2 dinners
Chicken - 2.84 to 3.17Euro, depending - enough for two dinners and one lunch
Salmon - 5.03Euro for two HUGE steaks - enough for two dinners and one lunch
Potatochips - 0.99Euro - locally grown potatoes in LARGE bags - evil-good!
Lettuce - 0.50Euro each

Organic red wine - 4 to around15Euros for table wine
Commercial white wine - 1.89 to around 12 Euros, depending - ...and if you're at the Principe Real farmers market on the first Saturday of the month, there are folks who will happily sell you "green" wine in un-marked brown wine bottles for 2.50Euro - evil-good! with it's tart taste and light effervescence... or just go to a wine shop and see if the white Promessas on sale for 1.89Euro...
Commercial red wine - 2.89 to around 20 Euros, depending... the red Promessas is 2.89Euro - evil-good!
Organic Porto - 12.95Euro at the local Bio shop

For serious drunks - It's hard to beat the 1.89Euro Promessas white or the 2.50Euro "green" fizzy stuff from the Saturday Farmers Market.  However, it wouldn't surprise me if the Lisboans had their own well someplace hidden away where you could fill your own bottles for free.

Portugal looks like it's the "low cost region" of the EU.  No wonder the Germans and French reps in the EU have placed strict limits on how much Portugal can ship into the rest of Europe.  The EU is scared to death that prices would collapse and French/German farmers would starve from selling nothing.  The EU appears to have taken the American tactic of paying Portuguese producers _not_ to produce, just to keep their products off the market and the keep prices artificially high.  True story.  Such is the effect of the Deutschmark, er, I mean Euro, on the nature of "business" here in Europe.

Lisbon ~ Cake
... seen through a patisserie window...
Paris - Well, it is the capital of the French world, after all, so what language do you think is spoken here?  Parisians don't like to make mistakes.  The school marmes made sure everyone learns their place in the pecking order of culture and society.  So unless a language can be mastered perfectly, forget it.  English?  Out.  German?  Out.  Italian?  No way. OK.  In circumstances of extreme duress we'll speak some English.  But don't push your luck. 

Lisbon -   Surprise! Portuguese is definitely spoken here.  So is nearly perfect English spoken by much of the local population.  In the markets people start speaking English the moment they realize we're struggling with the Portuguese. Interestingly, when we sometimes/many-times forget which language to speak it turns out a great many Lisboans speak beautiful French, too.  I bought a hat and spoke only French with the kind sales-lady.  The bums on the streets beg in French to us.  On the other hand, we've had more than a few Americans who've tried to speak Portuguese with us.  No one is shy about speaking just about any language.

Lisbon ~ Dessert (porto + cake)
... goodness in two small packages - one dessert and one glass of porto -
a perfect way to end any meal...

Reality Check -

If Lisbon is so fabulous, why aren't we moving here?  Here are a few good reasons.  

To start with, this would not be an easy city to grow old in.  There are hills steep enough to make you weep.  Second, the sidewalks are narrow and slick.  The stone used to make the sidewalks are highly polished and, therefore, slippery beyond belief.  We're just one fall away from a broken hip.

Thirdly, the summers here can be hot.  With global climate change Lisbon is bound to only get hotter.  You couldn't live here during the summer without an air conditioner or an apartment up in Bretaigne.

Lastly, our friends are in Paris.  It's impossible to leave them.  As we've become friends with Parisians we've come to appreciate the depth and breadth of the experience.  We would have to restart our lives again.  It would be a long process to form friendships in yet another country.  Jude and I just aren't ready to go down that road.  No, not at this age.

For the shoulder seasons, however, Lisbon is just the ticket to happiness, health, warmth and sunshine.  I'm sure we'll be back.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Escaping the Winter Doldrums...

Last year Jude asked a really good question; When it's late-winter here in Paris and after we've become too cold and stiff to enjoy the city and after we've become so bored that we feel we're going to go crazy, would you like to get away to somewhere warm and sunny?  Would you like to thaw out a little?

Lisbon ~ Path to Heaven
... on an unassuming little street...

The search for the warmest, sunniest place in late-winter Europe was actually quick and easy.  It came down to just two places.  Seville and Lisbon are, on average, 17degrees C/64degrees F during the month of March.  Both places seemed to have enough things to do to keep to old people entertained.  As a bonus, Jude's daughter, Jami, said she'd like to join us.

The two of them, mother and daughter, plotted and planned and scanned the internet and found a highly rated apartment in Lisbon.  It would be perfect as Jude really wanted to be close to the ocean and Seville seemed just a bit too far in-land.  A Paris-winter cold digit pointed to a place marked on the map as Terra Incognita Lisboa.

Terra Incognita, indeed.  None of us had ever been to Lisbon and we were concerned about signing up for Yet Another Great Adventure into the Vasty Unknowns.  As in the 1400's, we needed to ask a few serious questions. Would our airplane be able to traverse Large Distances?  Was this city on pilot's navigational charts?  Would the wax that holds the wings melt if we got too close to the sun?  Would the sea boil with Heat and Monsters?  If we arrived safely, would we be met with Head Hunters of the Skull Downsizing kind?  Or would Terra Incognita Lisboa be peopled with a kind and gentle race?  And most importantly, what in the Great Unknown Land do they eat?

Lisbon ~ Frangasqueira Nacional
... and with little to no warning...

Unfortunately, Jude's daughter had work to tend to and couldn't make the trip.  Fortunately, we'll see her later this year.  Which means we have a big (by Parisian standards) apartment all to ourselves and the entire Great Unknown to explore.

Against all Dread and Fear and Concern we left a cold, wet, and very dark gray in winter and safely landed in bright, clear, sunny, and springlike warm Lisbon.  The next day it snowed in Paris.  We'd gotten out just in the nick of time.

In the end, none of our Questions of Concern applied.  There were no Boiling Oceans and no sun-induced Dripping of Icarus` Wax.  No monsters were spied.  All seemed Good and Civilized.  Our apartment was beautiful and filled with light.  The only unanswered question was about food.

Our trips typically begin with an exploration of the regional delights.  It's what fuels our adventures and (hopefully) thrills the senses.  Our Landing in Lisboa was no different. The Arrival Night's meal was spent looking from a windowed terraced restaurant.  A little bat flitted and angled, swooped and spun in the air.  The grilled shrimp and shrimp curry were excellent.  We easily sensed the fact that the Portuguese had strong connections with Goa, India.

Lisbon ~ BBQ
... where things are warm and cozy...

The Second Night led us to a Take-Out Joint that Jude had researched.  Our lives will never be the same again.

I'm not sure that the Portuguese come by grilled meats themselves.  If I read the Charred Remains correctly, BBQ is here thanks to the Brazilians.  There are charcoal briquets in the local supermarkets.  There is wood to season the smoke.  There are meats just begging to be be BBQ'd.

The place Jude found is take-out only and can get pretty darned busy.

Chickens are butterflied flat and placed over a fire.  Turkey is skewered alongside onions (oignon - formerly in France, but now ognon - search me, the French don't like change, yet changed over 2,500 words this year) and green bell pepper.  Ribs, oh the ribs, are just as you've seen in America.  Glorious and ever so tasty.

Lisbon ~ Frangasqueira Nacional
... is a place more properly called Paradise...

Then comes the sauces.  There is a sauce that has a very mild but persistant "heat" to it.  I'm not sure what the peppers are, but they are glorious.  Dripped and laid over hot steaming fresh off the grill meats presents a perfect match of tastes and mouth watering sensations.

For sides, we saw that they have white rice, a nice tomato salad and a couple other things we haven't tried.  The potato chips are supposed to be pretty special.  The last time we were there they had brownies under glass for dessert.

If you need wine, the tinto Promessas at 5Euro a bottle was surprisingly good.  The blanco Promessas is available, as is a small selection of beer.  There is water for those crazy enough to be driving around Lisboa.

Lisbon ~ BBQ
... with a grill manned by a True Master...

How good was it?  So good that we've eaten their BBQ 5 of the past 7 days.  Crazy.  Yes.  We are crazy.  But it'd been such a long time since we'd had anything this tasty.

The Hole in the Wall is up in the Principe Real on Rua da Imprensa Nacional at number 116.  The place is called Frangasqueira National.  The grill is manned by a True Master.  If you stop in, please tell him the old man with a waxed mustache says to say "hi."

Lisbon ~ BBQ
... to the table with BBQ ribs, tomato salad, 
and a few things we added to make a Most Perfect Meal.

[I took a few photos during our visit]