Monday, July 6, Evore, Portugal

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The view from the rooftop of my hostel in Evore. Imagine a medieval city, complete with circumvallating stones and Roman aqueduct. That’s Evore here in Central Portugal.

The Lonely Planet description convinced me to head east toward this ancient city about two hours by bus from Lisbon. Tomorrow I’m on an archeological tour or “megaliths”. The weather here, absent the oceanic tempering, is hot, 35 degrees Celcius (95 degrees Fahrenheit). And there is barely a blade of grass or a tree in this cobblestone town. But the evening temps are delicious. I spent an hour just basking in the beauty and coolness of our rooftop.

NIght time in Evore.
NIght time in Evore.

My last day in Lisbon was a bust. I rented a bike and took a ferry across the wide Tagus River to what was described to me as the surfer beaches. It was a challenging trip as a large hill was between me and my goal, but I made it. Once there I found a massive beach filled with thousands of folks working on their tans–with an occasional trip into the water. What I quickly realized is that I couldn’t get into the water myself. The area for laying out your towel was at least a hundred meters from the water. Where was I to put my wallet and other valuables? There just wasn’t any way I could safely store my belongings and enjoy the surf.

2015-07-05 13.13.29I did have one odd experience on my way back to Lisbon. I stopped for lunch confronting a menu entirely in Portuguese. I knew enough to be able to distinguish meat and fish categories but I had no idea what might make a good meal. The waitress recommended a fish dish called provo, which she brought me.  Odd fish, I thought when I looked down at a circular mass of flesh covered with little spines. I knifed into it. It tasted acceptable though it was covered in a greasy sauce that I didn’t like. It was only after about a dozen bites that I realized I was eating octopus. Not the best thing I ever ate, but passable.

I also passed this vessel on the Lisbon side of the river. I don’t know the story behind it but can guess that it’s some sort of tourist gimmick. It is amazing to think that Vasco de Gama went to India in one of these(this one, however, seemed to have an inboard motor):

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I’m not sure you couldn’t sail this thing on Lake Merritt in Oakland.

I watched the World Cup final but almost went to bed after the first 16 minutes.

And the Greeks voted No, a sensible thing, I think. Go back to the drachma (I might still have a few of those at home from the 70’s). Let the German banks bellyache.


Sunday, July 5, Lisbon

Today is the day of uncertainty. The US plays Japan, past midnight our time, but I’ll stay up to watch. The next day, Monday, I’m scheduled to leave here. I don’t know where I’m headed. Even in my usual peripatetic style I have some clue about where I’m moving to, but this time my chronic indecision is really in gear.

And the Greeks vote today. I’ve paid more attention to them than I have to Lisbon, fascinated by the spectacle. I read in a London newspaper the other day a ranking of EU members by their debt:GDP ratio. Greece was, of course, first. Portugal was second. Yet there is absolutely no clue here that this land is in jeopardy of the same crisis that afflicts Athens. It seems almost according to the caprice of the Western European bankers. If they demand payment the economy of the debtor nation collapses, pensions are rendered worthless, jobs vanish, Depression looms. If no one bothers to tell the folks in Lisbon about this they’ll carry on carrying on. I wouldn’t describe this city as merry or buoyant but there are a few of those giant cranes working, and the tourists are here. Two giant cruise ships have docked here just in the past week. {I read another article that reported people in Barcelona are fed up with all the tourists, especially the cruise people who seem to float above Las Ramblas without spending any actual cash.}

I hope Ms. Merkel doesn’t turn her gaze on Portugal. Why spoil this fable?

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I spent yesterday morning at a flea market. To get there I had to walk through the sinuous streets of the old city full of churches and working class apartments. It’s surprisingly tiring, I think because every sidewalk is made of cobblestones and the uneven surface consumes much more energy than a flat surface would require.
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Lisbon, like a lot of places I’ve visited is besotted with graffiti. This monster was a rare example of benign scrawling. Most of the city is spoiled with the usual ugly gothic scribble scrabble.
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A representative building from Lisbon’s core. Today I’m headed for the beach.

Friday, July 3, Lisbon

2015-07-03 10.40.36The view outside my window. I’m sharing a nice apartment via Airbnb, 25 Euro’s per night.

I’ve been extremely lazy the past two days. I arrived (with a tiny adventure, below) late Tuesday night. I stayed up till 3am watching the World Cup game then did a walking tour of the city Wednesday, Yesterday i did a guided five hour bike tour of the riverfront. That’s about it. I’ve had time to read, which is great but I have little to report of interest.

The plane from Dublin gave me my only story, and it’s a typical one for me, i.e. my lack of common sense gets me in trouble but somehow luck or the kindness of strangers/friends pulls me through. All seemed uneventful till we began our approach to Madrid Airport (from whence I was to get a connection to Lisbon). The engines were cruising quietly when mysteriously the pilot revved the engines as if he were worried about losing altitude. Hardly anyone took note until a few moments later when there was an announcement in Spanish, then in heavily-accented English. We were not going to Madrid after all, we were diverting to Valladolid, a tiny airport nearby. Was it the plane or the airport, I couldn’t exactly tell. I heard the word ‘fire’ in the announcement but had no context.

Then I heard another passenger say something about a grass fire near the airport with helicopters in the air to fight the flames. That seemed plausible, but still, there was that odd acceleration. I wondered it the pilot was giving us a subterfuge to lessen any worries. I saw Valladolid Airport off to the north of the plane, a very solitary patch of concrete (hardly long enough for a jumbo jet, I thought) on the Spanish mesa that includes Madrid. The landing went placidly. As soon as we got down the pilot announced the fire was out and we would soon refuel and get over to Madrid. But I would miss my connection. That was now my worry. Would I need to stay overnight in Madrid?

To Iberia’s credit they quickly assigned me a new flight three hours hence. I set my task of finding Wifi so I could notify my landlady of my tardiness. That took awhile. For some reason Mac computers have a hard time picking up these airport Wifi systems–this has happened to me before–but finally I learned I could get 30 minutes free. I sent off a missive to Lisbon and started on a leisurely stroll back to my gate. I had 90 minutes till the flight was due to take off.

But when I got within sight range of the terminal I noticed a bustling crowd pushing forward into a boarding ramp. “Last Call” was on the board. Was this another flight? There were two contiguous gates so I assumed this was another flight.

Except that it wasn’t. It was my flight. Madrid is one hour later than Lisbon (or Dublin). Fifteen minutes later and I would have missed my flight, a danger to which I was calmly oblivious.

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recognize this bridge? It’s an almost exact duplicate of the Golden Gate Bridge….built by the same engineers in the 60’s at the behest of the Portuguese dictator, Salazar.
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As with every nation I’ve visited there is a monument to the time when the nation was larger and more important in the world. In Portugal’s case that is the 15th and early 16th centuries, the time of Prince Henry the Navigator (he’s leading the group pictured here) and Vasco de Gama (3rd in line).
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Members of our bicycling tour group. They were all from one Israeli family.

Galway, Ireland was dull, a tourist theme park. Expensive shops, streets crowded with outlanders. I had only one day there and spent it walking.

Sunday night, June 28, Galway, Eire

To come to Ireland (and Northern Ireland where I spent the last two days) is to be immersed in a crisis that, I suspect, barely registers on the American consciousness. Europe is falling apart. I just read a book about Copernicus who lived in the time of the Holy Roman Empire. That was the last time (with apologies to Napoleon and Hitler) that much of Europe tried to be one nation. That one fell apart. Apparently this one is about to crumble too. Three factors get cited in the Irish press.

Russia. She has the natural gas and now she’s bitten off a bit of the EU (the Crimea first, perhaps soon to be joined by the Ukraine). Sweden announced today that they are bolstering their military in anticipation that they might be next on Putin’s menu. The Baltic States are petrified. But there’s no way Europe will actually fight to defend these folks. See 1938 for the last time Western Europe was asked to help defend the little countries of Eastern Europe. The more pressure Putin applies the more Europe gets pulled apart.

Migrants. The Irish are obsessed with the influx of Pakistani’s and Eritreans and others who are finding ways to wiggle into Dublin or Belfast. By American standards the numbers are laughable, a few hundred this year, but they obviously stand out physically among the lilly-white Irish. And once they get here they can drag out the litigation for years till they’ve become part of this Western nation. In Calais, where the ferries leave France for England, there is a community of several thousand migrants living in hovels. They wait for the lorries to slow down, then they hop on. Most get sent back at the border but a few succeed, enough to give all the others hope. And in Southern Europe thousands are crossing the Med to land in Greece or Italy or Spain. Two thousand died at sea last year. The problem for Europe is that the EU mandates no border checks. So once you get to Italy you can thumb your way to Calais. That angers the Germans and French and Scandinavians. If they get angry enough they will insist on reinventing those borders that the EU was supposed to eviscerate. Another body blow to the idea of a united Europe.

Grexit. That’s the new slang for Greek Exit. The Greeks, when they entered the EU in 1998, apparently went on a spending spree with all those new Euro’s they got from German banks. Money was handed out to pensioners and to the rich moguls who could buy politicians. Now they can’t pay the borrowed money back and the Germans are pissed. It looks like Greece will leave the EU and the common currency. Once that spell is broken people figure Italy and Spain will leave, too. A majority in England want to leave but PM Cameron is trying to forestall that. Will this Holey Yoeman Empire dissolve? I read one article that speculated that the Greeks (after they are kicked out of Europe) and Russians will make common cause and try to gouge out a chunk of Southeastern Europe. World War III?

I spent two good days in a small home in Belfast. The elderly lady of the house was retired from teaching. She bent my ear for hours and treated me like a long-lost relative. I ate well–too well. And she even ferried me to a local museum my first afternoon. Which was nice but also a bit uncomfortable. I decided I needed a rest from that kind of thing and found my way to a hostel here in Galway. The Atlantic is a stone’s throw from here. I hope to check it out tomorrow.

june2015dublinI had a young woman take my picture at a botanical garden near Dublin.

paintingfromdublinmuseumI’ve managed to take in some museums. This painting at a Belfast art museum caught my attention. glassartnorthirelandmuseumAnd this glasswork I found fetching.

Saturday, June 27

The people who created the gardens I visited near Dublin wanted majestic, evergreen trees. So where did they go? To the Western US, of course. This is a giant sequoia but the place also had Monterey Pines, Incense Cedars, Colorado Blue Spruce, Thuja’s, and many more.

It’s interesting how Airbnb has changed my traveling experience. I get less reading done and I’m sure I’ll not lose as much weight because the hosts all pamper you, suggesting places to visit, preparing sandwiches for your day and generally treating you like you are their long lost cousin from Utica and they are so glad to see you.

I’m in Belfast which, to my surprise, is a much gayer place than Dublin. The latter seems almost shabby and dour; Northern Ireland seems to have shed the taint of “The Troubles” when Protestants and Catholics spent their days trying to kill each other. I have a bunch more to say but the day is nearly half done (I stayed up to 3am watching the US-China soccer game) and I must get going for now. I’ll try to post this evening. I have some Dublin photos, nothing great, to put on here.

Rhoddies and azaleas were still in bloom here.

Wednesday, June 24, Dublin, Eire

Why I Travel:

I’m sitting in Newark Airport waiting to check in for my 5:45 flight to Copenhagen, thence to Dublin. I would be checked in already except that, by lucky chance, I espied a foursome of electrical outlets over in a corner by the window. Someone else had one outlet occupied charging his phone, but that left me two for my computer and phone. So, rather than risk finding an open outlet in the boarding area I decided to sit here and get my gadgets fully packed with nourishing electricity.

Which leaves time to ruminate on my chosen topic.

1. To lose weight(and lower my blood pressure). Two months spent at home would surely have me adding pounds. My fridge would hold all the usual temptations. The TV would beckon. But on the road I have none of these temptations. My time will be spent—if previous trips are any forecast—walking and looking and walking and looking. My appetite will magically disappear. It has been typical for me to eat but once every 24 hours, and then only because custom demands it.

2. To read books. Away from the TV I’m forced to entertain myself other ways. I can usually get through two to three books per week. And trying to find anything to read in Dakar or Luang Prabang directs me to authors and subjects that I wouldn’t otherwise meet. To keep the weight of my backpack tolerable I limit my inventory to, at most, three tomes. That means I must prowl the streets for anywhere that might have an english language book. Often there are only a handful to choose from.

I began this trip with A More Perfect Heaven:  How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos. And already I’ve learned one fascinating factoid. It seems that Copernicus was a medical student at the University of Padua. Left behind in his effects was his textbook, Brevarium practice by Arnaldus of Villanova, a thirteenth-century physician and alchemist. Arnaldus did surgeries apparently. As part of his work he anesthetized patients:  “To produce sleep so profound that the patient may be cut and will feel nothing, as though he were dead take of opium, mandragora bark, and henbane root equal parts, pound then together and mix with water. When you want to sew or cut a man, dip a rag in this and put it to his forehead and nostrils. He will soon sleep so deeply that you may do what you will. To wake him up, dip the rag in strong vinegar.” There’s no mention of what to do with women but I assume they weren’t eligible subjects.

3. To see the world and make myself a more broadminded fellow. I’ve been doing this touring for two decades and so far I can’t point to any evidence that this putative enlightenment has ever reached me, but I keep hoping that the effects are just delayed.

4. To meet people, which I have. Though I secretly dreamed of meeting the one female in the world who would want to pair up with me. That never happened but she might still be out there.

I spent the last week on the East Coast. In keeping with tradition Doug and I took in Shakespeare in the {Central} Park. This year was “The Tempest”.  To get the free tickets one must line up early in the morning for the noon ticket distribution. This year, due to inclement weather, our 6:15am arrival put us near the front of the line. Here’s a bad photo of the line.

the line for the tempest

On the flight to Copenhagen I was pleased to see that SAS gave us a few free films and TV programs. I opted for the first episode of a new Showtime series, “The Affair”. What I didn’t know is that the show featured graphic sex. All of a sudden there were two attractive naked actors engaging on the hood of a car. This wouldn’t be a problem, of course, except that the Danish family sitting next to me could see my screen. Fortunately dad was closest, and his pre-teen son was farthest. But still….it was tense.

More anon.