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.
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!
Up, down and all around Waiheke Island we went this week and everywhere we looked were amazing South Pacific views and surprises along the way. Sometimes we just got lost and wandered into private driveways, hugged the narrow side of the roads with no sidewalks in sight or took the “tramping track” on beaches and through forests. What fun AND great exercise!
Of course there were moments when I didn’t think I could go another step or climb another hill. Yes, Waiheke Island is one rolling hill after another and there are stunning views from the cliffs as a result but the journey can be challenging no doubt. Thom would break into singing “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s off to work we go, we’re lost again oh no..” as we hoped that the journey would end before we passed out from exhaustion and hunger. Note to self-pack food 0n these excursions because we always get lost and several hours later stumble upon civilization starving.
First, we hiked a steep trail along the water by the wharf but then decided to veer off onto what looked like a country road though we soon found out at the top of the hill that it was a private driveway for the stunning homes overlooking the bay. Oops! Out onto the road, we stumbled upon WWII bunkers and observations compounds. Though they never needed to take any action, the islanders were ready just in case of invasion. I hope #45 doesn’t start another world war but Waiheke will be ready just in case.
WWII bunkers on top of Waiheke Island
benches are conveniently everywhere on the island for a rest when walking
On other days, we walked the width of the island from Shelley Beach to Palm Beach which is about 3 miles. It always looks closer on the maps but once we start out, we are pretty committed to finish the walk. When we walked to the wineries though, and I had completed several tastings of excellent island vino, I insisted we take the bus home because the fitbit was already showing 5 miles logged for the day. I’ll actually come home from vacation feeling fit and losing weight from all our excursions.
Honey to buy on the honor system
The start of Te Ara Hura walk on Waiheke
Thom exploring beach caves
Today was the best walk of all-we took on Te Ara Hura. This walkway runs along the northside of the island from Oneroa to Palm Beach. We started on the beach at Oneroa and lost the trail so we double backed to the street section and found our way through woods with LOTS of steps up the hillside hugging the coastline. Thankfully at Little Oneroa Bay there were facilities and a snack store to get the best popsicle in the world-some lemon, orange, coconut creation that made me swoon. Off again, up and down we went for miles until finally, as my energy was flagging, we hit the down trail to Little Palm Beach. This “clothing optional” beach has sand so fine and water so warm and clear it makes you never want to leave. The cool waters were a wonderful respite from the heat and sweat from the five mile walk. Ahhhh……another day in paradise!
While we are lucky most of the year to enjoy our beautiful place in Seattle overlooking the water, when we come home for the holidays to our house in Boise, we get to revel in family time and experience the rolling foothills, bitter cold (brrrrr!) and snow. Seriously, I brought warm clothes but you can’t dress in enough layers to cope with this frozen tundra crap. And, while Thom is squiring us around town in our cool red Kia that we keep here, the squirrel community has already declined, with more surely to meet their early demise, as seemingly endless supplies of the squirrel population have some freaky death wish to run right in front of our car ALL THE TIME! In speaking with David Sedaris at his recent Seattle talk at Benroya Hall, we explained our daughter lived in Boise, Idaho, to which he reacted by saying something to the effect that the squirrels were stalking him when he visited Boise and seriously, WTF! Yep, the squirrels here are plentiful and crazy but Thom may have a personal hand in changing that status. David, you’ll be safe to return to Boise soon to give an inspiring reading.
The day after Thanksgiving, we bundled up to go to the Idaho Food Bank’s fundraiser, Bowls, that is a tradition for many Boise families. People throughout the year decorate bowls and donate them for this event where you spend $10 to buy a bowl and then get soup donated from local restaurants. Last year, with temps in the 40’s, it was lovely and we lingered, eating our soup outside. This year, we quickly bought bowls, snagged some soup and ran home to eat. Still, we participated and all proceeds went to a worthy charity, that raised $39,000 last year at this event. Here’s hoping they exceeded that this year!
Our social life in Boise differs greatly from Seattle because we are Mia-focused here, soaking up the cutest darling in the world while we can. To say she is the most intelligent, beautiful child would be a vast understatement. She loves to dance and play hide and seek with her Gi Gi and Nai Nai. Mostly on-the-go, sometimes she will consent to sit down to color or read a story. Before the cold wave hit, we enjoyed the park by our house, creeping and crawling through and under tunnels, going up hills and swinging endlessly.
We rent our cottage in Boise most of the year to short term VRBO clients and it’s so popular we had to book it out to use ourselves while we are here in December. Close to the trails and Hyde Park social scene, I can actually walk to the local office here and work remote. With only 800 sq ft, it is a bit small if we moved here full time in the future so we are dreaming of an extension that would allow us to have a family room, modern bathroom and fireplace. I know that clawfoot bathtubs seem romantic and vintage but they are a royal pain to climb in and out of. Death by clawfoot tub-it could happen. Give me a multi-head walk in shower…please! I have to admit I’ve never stepped into the basement where the w/d is located, down a steep set of fold down stairs so that will have to be addressed too in a remodel–no crawling down into creepy space to do laundry for me. Thom, at this point, is calling me out that I rarely do the laundry and, while that is very true, there may be a time when I have to so plan we must for that rare scenario.
While we don’t have the urban walks, night clubs, professional sports teams and frequent concert opportunities like we do in Seattle, we did enjoy going to a Boise State basketball game last week that they won handily and plan on trying out a jazz club soon. I found an indie bookstore that was just enchanting in downtown Boise, which is a vibrant place full of shops and restaurants. They even have a vinyl store that, thankfully, Thom has yet to check out. The biggest difference is that with the frigid temps, it discourages the long walks that we love so much. Definitely have to be a gym rat here to stay in shape indoors in the long winter months. Oh well, you adjust and, while we might not love the weather, we do love our family and they are the first priority come snow or rain. So, it’s happy holidays, Boise-style, which means enjoying the Idaho Potato Drop (from a crane downtown) to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Yes, really. When in Idaho….
Who on Earth would predict that a musical about 9/11 and how the town of Gander, Newfoundland welcomed 7,000 passengers on 38 planes diverted there that day would be so inspirational and wonderful? NOT ME! Boy, was I shocked. We laughed and cried and didn’t want it to end. I have to tell you, when Thom told me where we would be going this past Thursday night, I was wanting to do almost anything else!! His dear childhood friend that has worked for 30+ years at American Airlines guiding flights around the world, Billy, and his wife were scheduled to come visit us for the opening of the play as he was personally involved with the main character in the story, Beverly the pilot of one of the flights diverted. Billy guided Beverly and her flight to safety that horrific day and they have stayed in touch ever since, bonded for life by tragic circumstances beyond their control.
Unfortunately Billy recently had surgery and couldn’t travel but we went in his place. Seated next to us were a nice couple who immediately told us that they were retired pilots who had been at the play for opening night and found it so amazing that they bought the extra tickets that Billy had purchased. Also friends with Beverly, who was at the theater that night, they had a personal connection to this particular story, having flown during that crazy time. Flying a few days after 9/11 for work, I remember thinking that air travel will never be the same and it certainly isn’t. No more greeting family at the gate and please take off your shoes, no liquids over a certain size, etc.
But back to the play that brings it all to life. With clever use of the actors playing several roles, the story is told of one particular flight flown by Beverly and diverted to Gander. The citizens take in this mass influx of people with some trepidation but end up feeding and housing them all over town for a week or so. Authors David Hein and Irene Sankoff nailed the snappy dialogue, plot line and wonderful songs. I have seen many a Broadway play and this would win a Tony for sure. Let’s hope they get publicity and make a run for Broadway. I only hope that they keep the same cast and band because they were top-notch and I can’t imagine anyone else in those roles. If you live in Seattle, GO SEE IT! It’s playing at the Seattle Repertory Theatre until December 13th. Seattle Times Review of “Come From Away”
Friday night, bearing beer and wine as boat-warming gifts, we visited our friend Brad’s newly acquired sailboat just north of Ballard. Draped in festive holiday lights, the 3 br/2 head money pit (all boats are!) was warm and cozy below and brisk up top as the 20+ people drank and socialized. Seeing the crowd drink scotch to warm up, I figured, “What the Hell!” and decided to join them and have my first taste of scotch. Hmmm…it sure does warm up your whole throat for an extended period of time. These scotch drinkers could be on to something. My friend Kurt has offered to “school me” on the varieties of scotch as he has drank his way across Europe tasting and sipping. Bring on Booze 101 classes! Now, I’m not a boat person, having owned a lake cottage and boat at one point and didn’t really enjoy them, but these sailors seem to be very dedicated and borderline obsessed with this lifestyle. Expensive, yes, but a social way to embrace the beauty of the water. As long as it stays at the dock and the wine/scotch is flowing, count me in. Ahoy mate!
What incredible talent (NOT the Seahawks but that’s another story) we experienced this weekend in Seattle-AMAZING! To start off, we were lucky enough to finally get to see Glen Hansard, who was performing at The Moore. The star of Once (my favorite movie AND Broadway play), Glen is a 45 year old Irish lad who can rock passionately and croon softly. The sold out crowd of devoted fans sang along, danced in the aisles and enjoyed his banter in the intimate setting. We didn’t want the night to end…
Falling Softly earned him an Academy Award in 2007 for Best Original Song and was the showpiece song for Once. However, his music from his new album, Didn’t He Ramble, was addictive and, coupled with his energetic live performance, it made me immediately want to see him perform again. Seattle should only be so lucky to have another Hansard concert soon. At the end, he and his bandmate surprised us when they popped up in the balcony, swung their legs over and serenaded us in a duet to die for:
Of course, I was hoping nobody ACTUALLY died but it was a close call as Glen was banging on his guitar and swinging his legs high as he perched above the crowd. Luckily no one was injured and he went on to join his whole band and crew to perform an acapella Irish ballad in his final farewell to the audience that was so sad to see him go.
The next night, another sold out show for us, but this time taking place at the beautiful and spacious Benroya Hall, where we laughed till we cried as David Sedaris read story after story of his tales from picking up trash from the roadside near his home in England (he is known as “Pig Pen” to his neighbors), sharing his North Carolina vacation home with his dysfunctionally hilarious family and just commentary on life in general from his unique yet twisted perspective. Of course he has written many books but he read, not from those, but from his New Yorker articles: http://www.newyorker.com/contributors/david-sedaris
Funniest story of the night for me was his tale of having a lipoma (fatty tumors like what Izaac, our Viszla gets all over his body-I call him lumpy in an affectionate way) removed illegally by a fan who took him “across the border” from Texas to New Mexico. David got his lipoma chopped into small pieces and sealed in a baggie on ice for the journey to his summer home where he intended to feed it to his favorite turtle, who was also disfigured by a tumor, this one on top of his small head. Unfortunately, the turtle had died recently according to his neighbor. So, dropping the bloody unfrozen tumor bits and pieces to turtles under the bridge near a tourist mall, he was asked by a Southern gentleman what he was feeding them because they were snapping it up mighty fine. “Chicken” declared David to the guy he deemed a red neck yahoo by his tacky t-shirt. David then thought to himself, who I am to judge? I am, after all, feeding a turtle parts of my body. Good point, David.
David also read from his many diary entries, which will comprise his next book. An avid Fitbit user, he once hit 72,000 steps in a day, which is just impossibly hard to do. WTF! I was dying in Amsterdam when I hit 18,000. But I get it because he explained that his Fitbit was taunting him, luring him, day by day, into more steps with sassy text message challenges. Mine tells me frequently that I am an “overachiever”. Duh!
When regaling us with his thoughts on politics and specifically the rise of Trump, he didn’t even know where to begin but spoke of his talk to a German fellow who asked David what he thought of the Trumpster. David likened him to a cartoon character whose Vice President would just have to be…. wait for it…..THE Hamburgler. Of course, David had to explain to the German what a Hamburgler was in American culture. Spot on, David.
I also got a chance to hear Jesse Eisenberg speak at my work on his new book, Beemis gives me hiccups. At Q & A, I told him he appeared to be channeling Woody Allen and asked him what he thought of the great man since he had just worked with Woody on a new movie. His nervous mannerisms, thoroughly NYC attitude (born in Queens) and self-deprecating style was SO Woody. He strikes me as more of a writer than an actor just from our brief meeting.
Afterward, I researched Jesse and found out he had idolized Woody since high school, sending him screenplays at an early age. Nice to know when Woody dies (as David S. would surely point out) we have a younger version standing in the wings ready to take over Woody’s post as the neurotic New York artist.
My only regret this weekend was that we were not able to see Allen Stone perform in NYC at the Apollo. I’m sure it was legendary! Next week we are off to Boise to spend the holidays, where we will continue our date nights and seek out adventure when we are not babysitting the incredible Mia! Nai Nai is on her way, baby girl!
Now, I’ve been to Vancouver many times but mostly for business reasons. BORING! This past weekend, I got to go for fun with Thom and my best friend Patti and her husband Larry. Got to hand it to Patti and Larry-they have faithfully visited us everywhere from NYC to China to Seattle. So now it was time to add Canada to our list! After enjoying the Amtrak up to Vancouver, we had a blast, though I did walk too fast and too far for my friends. Sorry Patti!!! I actually got up early Saturday to walk 3 miles by myself around the waterfront (sunrise!) and burn off some energy so I would walk slower the rest of the day. I don’t realize how fast I walk because Thom is just as bad until I get around folks who don’t get a chance to walk as much as I do. Let’s face it, most people drive everywhere they need to go especially if they live in the country. I’m an urban chick and my idea of a good day is being able to walk 10 miles. Crazy!!!
Now, I have never dug into the history of Vancouver but now I can say with authority that this is a city built-in a very similar manner as Seattle and San Francisco-natural resources and a wild, wild west attitude. After seeing great reviews on TripAdvisor, I signed us up for two free walking tours-one each day-for Gastown and Chinatown. Now, you may say that you get what you pay for so why go on a free tour??? I thought the same but so glad we went because Ali and Leni, our guides, were both enthusiastic and knew their stuff. They entertained us with stories and a well thought out walking tour designed to make the history of Vancouver come to life. This is their job (or at least one of them-they are not getting rich working for tips) but they ask that, if you liked the tour, you give them something for their delightful storytelling and expertise. Check them out if you are in Vancouver: http://www.tourguys.ca.
After our Chinatown tour, we headed straight to the best rated (Yelp!) restaurant in the transitioning Chinatown area. Now, the Chinese residents are moving out as they can afford to so this Chinatown is not a vibrant area but with it’s seafood and produce markets, it did remind me of our home in Shanghai. I miss it so much! Lots of raw fish, baskets of dried seafood and veggies. So pungent smelling!
We went to the New Town Bakery and indulged in egg tarts, potstickers and yummy dishes galore. We met a lovely lady from Perth, Australia on our tour who was in town on a grant from her city job to tour the world and study best practices in urban planning and invited her along to lunch. Of course, now Thom is hooking her up with his contacts in NYC to help her out. So nice to help other world travelers!
The Gastown tour ended thankfully right next to my favorite place to eat in Vancouver-the Water St. Café. Seriously, every time I go there I eat the salmon risotto and this trip was no exception. Patti tried it too and literally licked the plate. So creamy, so delicious!
The whole Yaletown and Gastown areas are filled with restaurants and interesting shops as well as being historic. Of course, Thom found a few vinyl stores and had to shop for his ever-expanding collection. With a new Nordstrom’s and their local chain, Roots, everywhere, it was hard NOT to spend money. With a good exchange rate, I wish I had brought more luggage more to carry home Canadian treasures. Oh well, next time! Only a few hours drive from Seattle, I’ll be back soon!
I am probably not the best authority to write about the cuisine in Amsterdam but I will give it a shot. Thom and I have very simple tastes and are very happy eating a picnic on the train and don’t frequent fine dining establishments. Foodies we are not! As I think back on the best food I ate on our trip, the cheese with basil and dried tomato stands out as does the hot, buttery sugary poffertjes and waffles from the markets. Yum! I do like my dairy and sweets.
That being said, if you have finer taste buds (and most do) there is a wide variety of restaurants for everyone’s taste in all the places we visited. As always, ask your concierge at the hotel for recommendations on their favorites. Here are some other observations:
Coffee–Screaming Bean (in several locations) delivers the best cappuccino in Amsterdam and maybe the world. Thick and creamy foam tops a rich smooth coffee underneath. Super friendly folks serving in a quaint coffee shop make it a must try when you are here. Many thanks to my friend, Kurt, for recommending to us.
Grocery–There aren’t many groceries and practically no competition in the city but Albert Haijn does have whatever you need for a first-rate picnic for the park or train or hotel room. Also a good place to buy chocolate for the perfect souvenir to take home. We got some awesome salads to go one night for a quick, cheap diner (under $10 euros for 2 people). I also saw some Aldi Food markets but didn’t go in to check them out. I also found a smaller Mqkt chain that had a cheese to die for–basil and dried tomato–that pared well with salami and pears and raisin bread. Perfect picnic!
We didn’t eat out many times but did stop at one German restaurant that promised authentic cuisine. Thom proceeded to have weinerschneitzel and fries. Initially, he said he didn’t want ketchup or mayo but decided he needed some mayo. Now, based on the waiter’s prior attitude and the steep stairs he had to climb to get to the kitchen on the floor above, I knew this would not go over well and it didn’t. “You said you didn’t want any!” the waiter growled at Thom. “Yes, but I changed my mind. Okay?” Grudgingly, ten minutes later Thom finally got his mayo and felt compelled to eat it fearing retribution from the waiter if he did not. Were we in Paris???
I got the brandy-soaked raisin pancake that filled a plate and paired nicely with a Merlot. Yep-when in the Netherlands, drink with your breakfast-type food. Every bite was enjoyed. No butter or syrup was offered and I was afraid to ask the testy waiter. They are tight with the butter here. At our great breakfast at the Andaz, when you ask for toast, you get barely warm bread, no butter. Today, I asked specifically for “crispy” bacon and got the limpest fatty slice of meat you would ever want to see. Really???? Crispy means fry that sucker! Same with eggs, unfortunately. I remember also having this issue in China and having to keep asking for “hard scramble” several times to get barely done eggs. Oh well-first world, five star hotel issues I guess.
We don’t go for fancy restaurants but we walked by many in Amsterdam including one, MoMo in the area near the museums. Swanky! There are many white-table cloth type places as well as many beer halls with outside seating and lounge seats and heaters for the cool nights-even blankets at some places. You can find all types of ethnic food easily too. Lots of Argentine steak houses along side the pancake houses. We even found a place today, Bagels & Beans, that is a chain around town and has great bagels served with the largest pile of cream cheese that you could ever eat.
So, whatever you like to eat, you can probably find it in Amsterdam. Happy eating!