Friday, June 29, 2007

Passport Watch 2007 is Over

I have been checking the passport website ever since I sent it off but it never showed up in their system. My co-workers can attest as I would inform them everytime I looked and it wasn't there. I checked at least once a day, and more often than once, twice a day. However, guess what showed up in the mail today? My brand new passport! So now I can leave the country should any great trips come my way.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Passport Watch 2007

It's hard to believe but it has been 10 years since I first got my passport! It also means it is expiring this year and it is time to renew. Unfortunately with all the new rules, this is probably one of the worst years to renew! It is taking forever! I finally bit the bullet and sent in my passport, with the extra money needed to expedite the process. Supposedly, with expediting it, I should get my passport within a couple of weeks, as opposed to a couple of months. Since it is still a few months before my next vacation out of the country I'm not panicking yet. However, I continue to check the passport status daily and so far mine has not shown up in their system. But they have cashed my check so I know they at least have it!! If by mid-July it hasn't shown up (either in the system or at my house) then I will be calling my local congressperson and have them track it down for me. Until then I will keep checking the website!!

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Jana had the idea to call our trip MAD LIS as the airport codes for Madrid & Lisbon are MAD LIS respectively, and that's how our trip became the MAD LIS trip.

There were will be several references to Rick throughout this commentary so I probably should mention that Rick refers to Rick Steves, author of a set of European travel books. I usually will get his books when I'm going someplace, as I like the style of his books and the interesting tidbits he has. We generally speak about his book (and the information contained within) as if it was the man himself telling us where to go and what to see.

Day 1
There were no direct flights to either Lisbon or Madrid so we both ended up connecting in Newark. My flight from Seattle got in a little earlier than Jana's (from Houston) but before long we were boarding our flight to Lisbon. I slept off and on until the sun started coming through the windows (I forgot to put on the eyemask!) and then I was awake. We landed in Lisbon and made our way to baggage. Jana got her suitcase fairly quickly and when the number of suitcases coming up slowed down I began to feel a little anxious. Was my luggage going to be lost again? Jana pointed out that there were still a number of people waiting so most likely they were waiting for another cart to unload. It took awhile but sure enough more bags started coming onto the conveyor belt and finally I had my suitcase. It had been cheaper for us to fly roundtrip to Lisbon and then fly from Lisbon to Madrid than to fly into Madrid and out of Lisbon so that's what we did. We headed to the check-in area and checked in for our next flight. It was while waiting for this flight that we both decided it probably would have been worth the extra money to fly directly into Madrid as the jetlag was starting to hit us. Finally it was time for us to board our flight and I think I was asleep before the flight attendants had finished their safety briefing. The flight was only an hour long but it seemed a lot longer than that, probably due to my half asleep, half awake state but we finally landed in Madrid. This time our bags were one of the first ones on to the conveyor belt. We hopped in a taxi and were on our way to the hotel. The hotel was nice and our room was large, especially by European standards. We had realized on our last trip together that we had sides of the room. Jana's was generally the side closer to the door, while mine was the more inside and the side closest to the window. This room was set up a little different with the window next to the door. Me not being by the window didn't quite seem right, but the other way seemed more wrong so we didn't change. After dropping our stuff off, we went out in search for food which did not go so well. The restaurants were closed for the afternoon and would not open up again until dinner, which meant about 8 p.m. as they eat later in Spain due to the siesta in the middle of the day. We did find a convenience store and picked up a couple of snacks and headed back to the hotel to rest until 8. By 8 we were both hungry and went out in search of food. There was a pizzeria just down the street from our hotel and that's where we ended up. After dinner we went back to the hotel and crashed.

Day 2
Museums were the order of the day! We found what turned out to be a Spanish fast food restaurant (Pans) down the street from our hotel and stopped in for breakfast. We then made our way via Puerto del Sol (which would become a great landmark for us) over to the Prado. The line was long! And wasn't moving at all. We are about to head over to another museum and come back to the Prado later, when we decided to ask Rick (who will sometimes let you know of another way in). Sure enough, there was another entrance at the south end of the building. We headed over, deciding that if this entrance was as crowded as the north entrance we would go with Plan B and head to a different musuem and come back at lunchtime (when, according to Rick, the lines weren't as long). The south entrance had no line and we went right in. The Prado was great! It is known for Velazquez's Las Meninas which is really interesting - it's a view into the painting of another painting. We finished with the Prado and headed to the Renia Sofia, a more modern art musuem. We had lunch at the cafeteria at the Renia Sofia, but it wasn't very good, and it wasn't very filling. After lunch we started exploring the Renia Sofia. The layout of the musuem was very confusing and neither of us were very excited by the art. We did see Picasso's Guernica, a commentary on the horror of modern war. It is considered Spain's national painting. After what seemed like a long time we finally made our way through most of the museum and left. For me, this is museum I really don't ever need to see again. There was one more musuem in the neighborhood but both of us weren't super excited to see it after the Renia Sofia. But before we made our decision whether or not to go to the Thyssen we decided to grab a bite to eat considering our lunch wasn't that great. We found a restaurant still open and stopped in. I got spaghetti and
when it came it was the worst thing I had ever eaten. I tried to keep eating but couldn't. Jana took a bite and agreed with me. It tasted like a dirty sock and is now a point of reference for how bad a meal is - is it as bad as dirty sock pasta? At our second lunch we decided to go to the Thyssen and we were glad we did. The works of art contained there are major works by minor artists and minor works by major artists. They had several rooms of Impressionist paintings which made my day! With the musuems out of the way we made our way to the Temple de Debod, passing the palace on our way. Spain had helped Egypt rescue monuements and as a thank you Egypt had given Spain a temple. It was really cool to see an actual Egyptian temple, in Madrid of all places! After finishing at the Temple we made our way back to our hotel until we could eat dinner. We ended up back at the pizzeria. I had been thinking of trying one of their pasta dishes but after the dirty sock pasta episode I decided to stick with my old standby, Pizza Margarita. We finished dinner and walked back to our hotel.

Stair count: Each museum had a number of stairs but I didn't count them so no official count today.

Day 3
Our first night the room had got really hot and I had gotten up in the middle of the night and turned up the air conditioning. The second night the same thing happened, except when I turned up the air conditioning nothing happened. Our room was on the inside of the hotel so we couldn't really open up a window to allow at least some air flow. By the next morning, neither of us had gotten a lot of sleep because of the room being hot. After breakfast at the hotel we made our way on the metro over to one of the bus stations. I must say the Madrid metros have to be the cleanest metro I've seen! We bought our bus tickets and were on our way to Toledo. Yes, that's right, as in Holy Toledo. One of the myths/rumors behind the origin of the saying Holy Toledo is that Toledo was the most "holy" Jewish city in Europe. We arrived and started walking up the hill into town. At the crest of the hill we could either choose to go to the left or the
right. Not really seeing a path on the right and seeing what we thought was a castle on the left we started across the bridge to the left and up another hill. This was not the right decision. We got up to the top and the castle was not a castle, at least not one open to the public. Now remember, we are both operating on little sleep (due to the air conditioner being broken) and we've just walked up a steep hill for what turns out to be no good reason. Toledo was not making a good impression on us! We hiked back down the hill, across the bridge, and found the path up the town. At the top of the major part of the hill there was a museum in an old church. Now the best part about this museum was it was inside and cool as the sun had started to beat down on us. And it meant we could take a break from walking up the hill! It was actually a really interesting museum and they even had the tusks of a mammoth in the basement. Lunch beckoned us once we had finished with the museum and we ate tapas at restaurant in the main square. After lunch we set off again, up another hill to see the castle, which turned out to be closed to visitors as it is being renovated. We stopped in a couple of shops before heading towards the cathedral. The cathedral entrance was down this little winding road and didn't give off the impression of being very big which was quickly dispelled once we stepped inside. It was massive!! According to Rick it is the 3rd largest cathedral in Europe behind St. Peter's & St. Paul's. We finished touring the cathedral and had 2 things left on our list - a visit to El Greco's house (the painter) and a tour on the tourist tram which was supposed to have great views. The tram left on the hour so we decided to try and find El Greco's house. We were following the signs to his house when the signs stopped. It had started pouring rain at this point so we ducked into a doorway and looked at the map and tried to figure out where to go next. The rain let up and we set off again, running into some fellow Americans. We asked if they had seen El Greco's house and they had but couldn't direct us but they could take us back to the tourist information. We decided that was our best bet and followed them until we saw another sign for El Greco's house. Thinking we'd find it this time we said goodbye and went in the direction the sign indicated. When we reached the bottom of the hill hadn't found it we doubted that Rick had ever been to his house. He probably couldn't find it either which is why there weren't better directions in his book! But we had found a convent which we stopped in. We decided to give up on finding El Greco's house and decided instead to head towards the main square and catch the tram. It ended up not being our day as the tram was sold out and we would have to wait another hour for the next one so we decided to head back to Madrid. We took a taxi back to the bus station and got on the next bus. We had dinner at a place down the street (but not the pizzeria!).

Forget the stair count, what we need today is a hill count! Up to the bridge, up to the castle that wasn't, up to the town, up to the castle that was closed, up to El Greco's house #1, up to El Greco's house #2, up from the monastery - whew! That was a lot of hills!

Day 4
We started off with breakfast at the hotel, and it was today that we realized breakfast was 15 euros a piece. Oops! With that revelation we decided we would eat someplace else for breakfast for the rest of our time. On the agenda for today was the town of Segovia. We were wandering around the metro station looking for the bus station until one of the workers directed us across the street to the bus station. We arrived in Segovia and learning from Toledo, we stopped off at the tourist information and got a map of the town. Map in hand we headed towards the Roman
Aqueduct. It is a pretty amazing structure, especially when you think it's around 2,000 years old and was made without cranes or forklifts or anything like that! We left the Roman Aqueduct and headed for the cathedral. The cathedral was just off Plaza Mayor. After we toured the cathedral we went back to Plaza Mayor to have lunch. Unfortuantely the weather wasn't the greatest, otherwise it would have been fun to eat outside. As it was we found a little place and ate inside. We finished lunch and continued on towards the Alcazar (castle). The castle was on the edge of a hill overlooking a valley, very picturesque. We could take pictures in the castle (which is a rarity) so both of us took advantage of that! When we finished with the castle it was time to climb the tower. 152 steps later we were at the top! The view was great - in the distance you could see the cathedral and in the way far distance, the aqueduct. We climbed down from the tower and headed back into town stopping by the aqueduct once again. We arrived at the bus station just in time to see the bus back to Madrid pulling away. Oh well, it was only 30 minutes until the next one. Back in Madrid we were once again faced with the question of what to do for dinner. We looked around but since it was Sunday not a lot was open and so we ended up back at the pizzeria.

Stair count - 152 up to the tower

Day 5
Most sights are closed on Monday so we had saved the palace for today as it was one of the few things open. But first we went to see the royal tapestry factory. It was a little way outside the center and so we didn't really have a great map of the area where it was located. Rick had given vauge directions which we followed but we could not find it. We walked down the block and back and were about to throw in the towel when we decided to walk up a block and back over to the metro station and there was the street were looking for! The museum was not quite what I was expecting but it was interesting. We actually walked through the factory floor where people were working on various rugs and tapestries. We learned that it takes 7 days to make 1 square meter of rug and 4 months to make one square meter of tapestry. The next stop on our agenda was another museum. Once again it was not quite in the center and we didn't have a good map of things outside the center. After walking a few blocks in the sun and realizing we probably weren't going to find it we decided to forget abou this museum and continue on towards the palace. I had just realized that I was hungry when we both spotted a pizzeria across the street! You apparently don't have to be in Italy to eat lots of pizza! After lunch we continued on back through Puerta del Sol and to the palace. The palace was immense! It is the the third largest in Europe. The chandeliers were beautiful! They even had the Royal
Farmacia that you could walk through, complete with jars of herbs and medicine. We finished up the day shopping at El Cortes Ingles, a Spanish version of one-stop shopping, with everything from groceries to clothes to electronics to a post office!! And yes, we did venture down to the post office (which was in the basement) but when we saw how long the line was we decided we would come back another time. We dropped off our purchases back at the hotel and rested until dinner. Dinnertime rolled around and once again the question of where to go came up. Having a good pizzeria near our hotel means never having to look hard for a place to eat dinner. Yes, that's right, once again we had dinner at Tuscania (the pizzeria). In fact, we were thinking if we wrote for Rick Steves we would have a section on the best pizzerias in each city!

Stair count - not sure but the palace had a number of stairs

Day 6
We had originally planned to take a daytrip out to Sevilla today but when we looked closer we decided we probably needed a few days in Sevilla and so decided to stay and finish up in Madrid. Jana wasn't feeling so well so she decided to sleep in and we would meet up later. I had breakfast at Pans (the Spanish version of fast food) and went back to El Cortes Ingles hoping that the post office line wouldn't be as long. I was wrong, it was just as long but I waited and got my postcard stamps. From there I contined on to Puerta del Sol, as not only was this a great
landmark, but I had recently read, it marked the very center of Spain. I stood in the very center of Spain, and of course, had to take one of my feet pictures to prove I had been standing in the very center of Spain! I continued on to Plaza Mayor, one of the largest and grandest public squares in Europe. I sat on a bench for awhile and people-watched before moving on. My next stop was the Basilica de San Francisco el Grande, which has the largest dome in Europe outside of St. Peter's in Rome. It was very beautiful, but not as peaceful as you might imagine as there was a group of schoolkids there at the same time I was and they were running wild around the church. I walked back towards the palace from the church and stopped to admire the palace once again. While I was admiring the palace I realized there was no better place to write my postcards, so I sat on a bench and wrote. With my postcards written I took a turn in the palace gardens before setting off again. I had three things left to do on my list for the day, two of which were closed for the siesta. Because one of the things (a convent) would only reopen for a short period of time, I wasn't sure I had enough time to do the third (the archeological musuem) before the convent reopened. I decided to take my chances that I could get in and out of the convent fairly quickly and would still have enough time to visit both the archeological museum and the church that held Goya's tomb. The mistake on my part was assuming I could get through the convent fairly quickly. I arrived at the convent about 20 minutes or so before it reopened and already there was a fairly long line. I'm not exactly sure when they reopened but it was several minutes late and then they were only letting a few people in at a time to buy their tickets and then you had to wait until 20 people were in as they would only let you go through the convent in a tour of 20 people. By this time I had already waited a while and so I was determined to see it through. I finally made it to the front of the line to find out the tour was only given in Spanish. Again, since I had already waited this long I was determined to see the inside. And at least Spanish is a romance language so I could understand words such as Austria, Portugal, Matthew, Mark, Luke & John, monastery, and Ministry of Finance. Finally the tour was I over and I made my escape. By this time I really could only do one more sight and I chose to see Goya's tomb. I got on the metro and made my way to the Chapel of San Antonio de la Florida to see Goya's tomb. The chapel not only housed Goya's tomb but the dome was painted by Goya. There are mirrors set up in the church to get the full effect of the paintings. I left Goya's tomb and set off back towards the metro. I probably could have made it to the archeological museum, but I wouldn't have had a lot of time so I made my way back to the hotel. Jana arrived back at the hotel not too long after I did. We had some time before dinner and it was still so nice out so we walked over to Puerta del Sol and the center of Spain and then made our way over to Plaza Mayor where we were asked by some American college boys if we had any floss. It was just so random that we were both cracking up over it. It was nearing dinnertime and we were determined not to eat at the pizzeria. I had seen a restaurant on my way to the monastery that seemed like a good choice. We were shown to a table in the back. Since it was our last night we decided to have paella and sangria, both of which were excellent!

Stair count - I was going to say no stairs but then I remembered the stairs to the garden, the stairs in the monastery and the stairs in the metro station. So not out of the ordinary but there were definitely stairs involved.

Day 7
Our flight to Lisbon didn't leave until 1 p.m. so we got up, packed, walked down the street to grab one last breakfast at Pans, checked out and then got a cab to the airport. Once again the hour long flight seemed to take much longer than an hour but we landed on time. It must seem longer than it is because of the long descent, or that's my explanation anyway. We collected our luggage and got a cab to our hotel. We walked into our hotel room and I think both of our
mouths dropped open as we saw the terrace!! The terrace was huge, with a table and chairs, looking out over Lisbon down to the water. You could see the castle, the bridge and the statue of Christ across the river. Things got better when the hotel employee told us we could have our breakfast on our terrace every morning, free of charge! The hotel room was okay, nothing spectactular, but the terrace turned this into the best hotel I have ever stayed at. We got directions to the castle (follow the tram tracks) and started off. With the trolleys, the hills and the bridge, Lisbon is a lot like San Fransisco. We faithfully followed the tram tracks as they led us down the hill. Passing by a church, Sao Vicente, we decided to stop in. Behind this simple facade lay a huge building! It had all sorts of exhibits, including one of fables which were interesting to read. We climbed to the top and gazed out on another fantastic view of Lisbon. Leaving the church we continued following the tram tracks through these narrow, windy streets. We stopped off at another viewpoint and looked back up at Sao Vicente where we had just come from before continuing on up to the castle. All that is left of Castelo de Sao Jorge (St. George's Castle) are towers, ramparts and a few other remnants. We climbed up several of the towers for a different view of Lisbon. After we explored the castle we continued following the tram tracks down towards the waterfront. We got to the cathedral just as they were closing the doors and so continued on to Praca da Comercio, a large square at the water's edge. We explored the area (known as the Baixa) and came across several Hell's Angels from California. We also found the Santa Justa Elevator, which was built by a student of Eiffel and connected the lower city with the higher city. We rode up and climbed the staircase to the top. We ran into a few more Hell's Angels, this time from Switerzland. How can you be in a biker gang when you are from Switerland, the home of neutrality, Swiss Miss and Ricola? California, definitely, but Switerland? At the top we saw more fantasic views. It was neat looking up at the castle and thinking we had just been up there. We finished gazing at the view and rode back down. We stopped off at Rossio square, where there is a statue of Pedro IV. What is interesting about this statue is that it didn't start off as Pedro IV. The statue began its life as Maximillian but when he was assinated it became Pedro IV! Rick had recommended a restaurant but it could be hard to find as it was upstairs in a nondescript building and easy to miss. We were pretty impressed when we found it, especially given our track record so far, however the door was closed and there was no other way in to the building. We debated on ringing the bell and decided against it and wandered around looking for another restaurant, all the while keeping an eye on the closed door. A few other tourists stopped in front of the closed door and they did ring the bell but nothing happened. We ended up going to a pizzeria! Yes, we can find a pizzeria just about anywhere! After dinner it was dark and not knowing exactly how to get back to our hotel we took a taxi.

Stair count - 130 in Sao Vicente plus stairs at castle

Day 8
I woke up and headed to the bathroom to take a shower. Simple enought, right? Wrong! I could not figure out how to turn the shower on. I could figure out how to run the water, but not how to turn the shower on. I must have pulled, pushed, twisted, and turned every possible button and knob I could find. After at least 20 minutes of trying to figure it out I finally gave up woke up Jana who figured out what knob to pull in about 20 seconds. Our mornings are generally pretty random, for example on this morning our conversation went something like this:

Jana: Did you know they spell bikini with a Q?

Me: No.

Jana: I had "Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" in my head, that's where that came from.

Me: Well, I woke up with "We need a little Christmas, right this very minute" and it's not even Christmas, let alone Christmas in July!

Opening the curtains, we were greeted with a beautiful sunny day which meant it was perfect
for us to have our first breakfast on our terrace. The maid brought us the tray which had coffee, bread, meat & cheese. I would have been very happy with this but then she brought another tray with fruit, cereal, orange juice and yogurt! We enjoyed our breakfast on our terrace with the fantastic view (can you tell how much I love our terrace?). We finished breakfast and followed the tram tracks back down the hill, stopping by the cathedral. This time it was open so we stopped in and admired the inside. We continued on down to the waterfront and caught the trolley to Belem, a suburb of Lisbon. Our first stop was at the Coach Museum. There was coach upon coach ranging from the simple to the extravagant. From there our next stop was the Monastery of Jeronimos, a huge complex. We toured the church first, where Vasco da Gama's tomb is located. Next, it was on to the Archeolgocial Museum before wrapping up our visit with a visit to the Maritime Museum, where we learned about Henry the Navigator, who never actually sailed but was still called a navigator. At the Maritime Museum we ran into another Hell's Angel, this time from Italy. Italy I can buy, an Italian biker gang makes more sense than a Swiss biker gang. We went to the Tower of Belem next, which was down the street. We climbed to the top of the Tower for more views of Lisbon. We finished up our day in Belem with a stop at the Monument of Discoveries. Out in front of the monument is a huge marble map of the world, which was given to Portugal by South Africa. We took the elevator up and looked back down at the map - it was amazing! The monument is directly across the street from the monastery and the it was neat to see the whole monastery - it really is huge! No wonder it took us so long to go through the whole monastery. We took the trolley back to Lisbon and made our way back to the restaurant area we had discovered last night. We decided to try the restaurant Rick recommened again (Casa da Alentejo), and this time the door was open! We went upstairs and Rick was right, it was good! The decorations had a real Moorish feel, and the atmosphere was great! After dinner we decided to take the trolley back up the hill, well as far up the hill as the trolley went. We walked up the rest of the way to the hotel and sat outside on our terrace listening to someone down the street playing some sort of polka until we went to bed.

Stair count - 120 to the top of the tower (per Rick)

Day 9
No shower issues today, and breakfast was on the terrace again. The first thing on our agenda was to visit Cristo Rei. One of items on my list of things to do before I die is see Christ the Redeemer in Brazil so when I found out there was a similar statue in Lisbon I was determined to see it. We followed the tram tracks down the waterfront and past it to the ferry terminal where we caught a ferry to Cacilhas. According to Rick, we could catch bus #71 at the ferry terminal
which would take us up to Cristo Rei. We walked all over and looked at all busses but could not find a #71 bus. So we took a cab up to the base of the statue. The views of the 25th of April bridge were fantastic - I'm running out of adjectives to describe the amazing views we continued to see so if I start repeating myself I'm sorry. The bridge is called the 25th of April to commerate the date of Portugal's revolution and liberation. We took the elevator up to top of the statue and admired another awesome view of Lisbon from Belem to the castle. We learned that Lisbon's statue was actually copied from Brazilian statue. They liked it so much they copied it! We took the elevator back down and went to the bus stop and waited for the #101 bus, so Rick needs to update his book. Back across the river we got on the metro and went out to the Gulbenkian Musuem. The Gulbenkian is a facinating museum, covering 5,000 years of history. As we were leaving the museum we noticed several police cars, black cars, guards and lots of poliemen. Several minutes later, it was a full fledged motorcade leaving the museum and going around the roundabout. I wonder who was at the museum with us? We took the metro back to Baixa where we took the Santa Justa elevator. Only this time we weren't going up to admire the views, instead we were using it to get up to the upper part of town to visit the Museu Archeologic do Campo. The really interesting thing about this museum was the building it was in. It was in the ruins of an old church, Convento do Carmo. The church was ruined in the 1755 earthquake. Our next stop was the Basilica da Estrella. We took the metro and walked up the hill in the direction the sign appeared to point us in. Well when we got to the top of the hill we realized it was not the right direction so we set off back down the hill. We started up the right hill and finally made it the Basilica but wouldn't you know it, mass had just started as we got there. So we took a quick peek before leaving. We took a trolley back down to Baixa and ended up having dinner at the pizzeria. We took the trolley back to our hotel and sat outside enjoying our terrace.

Stair count - 20 here, 30 there, I'm sure they added up but no official stair count

Day 10
Breakfast was served on the terrace. Boy, I could really get used to this! But instead of following the tram tracks down to the waterfront we walked down a different hill to the metro. We took the metro to a train station and caught a train for Sintra, a town about 15 miles north of Lisbon. I will say this before I get into too many details for this day, I probably took more pictures
today than I did in all of Spain. It was my favorite day of our vacation. At Sintra we took a bus up to Palacio de Pena, a palace way up high on the hill. The bus only took us so far and then we boarded a tram which took us the rest of the way up the hill. The castle is an interesting mix of fantasy castle and Moorish elements. It's also extremely colorful! We walked around the palace, admired the view, and toured the inside. We took the tram back down and had lunch at the little store at the entrance. It wasn't the greatest, but it was no dirty sock pasta! Our next stop was the Moorish Castle, which was down the road. To get to the castle we had to follow a path through the woods. Before long you could see the castle through the trees. I was so busy looking at the castle, as opposed watching where I was going, that I tripped over a drain and I went down. Jana heard me falling and braced herself so I wouldn't tumble to far. I was just hoping I wasn't going to take her down with me. As soon as I stopped falling I jumped up as quick as possible! Fortunately, I was not hurt and just ended up with a couple of bruises. Note to self, while walking around castle ruins, keep eyes on the ground! We finally made it to the entrance of the castle. Inside, we were able to explore all the ramparts and towers to our hearts content. We started up what I thought was I short set of stairs but when I got to the top I saw that it turned and the stairs continued up as far as the eye could see. These stairs were extremely uneven and rocky and given my recent track record I took it slow and easy as I continued climbing up. The climb was so worth it. I know I've waxed on about all the fantastic views but they didn't hold a candle to the view at the top of this rampart. You could see the Pena Palace in the distance and we realized we had taken a picture from the palace looking down at the castle and now we were at the castle taking a picture of the palace. We sat up at the top of the ramparts and just enjoyed being in Lisbon. We met a couple of girls, one who was celebrating her 30th birthday. I shared that I had just celebrated my 30th birthday. After resting and enjoying where we were, we started down and then up the other side. This was my favorite thing we did the entire trip. I just loved climbing all over the castle ruins and the view! We made it down just in time to catch the bus and arrived back in Sintra. There was another castle in Sintra, and if we had more time we would have visited it as well. But instead we took the bus out to Caba da Roca, the most westernly point in Europe. And think, at some point, people probably thought it was the most westernly point in the world! We got the certificate, proving we had been at the most westernly point! We caught the bus to Cascaish, a resort town, where we caught the train back to Lisbon. We decided to have dinner at Casa da Alentejo. Are you surprised it wasn't at the pizzeria? And we ended the night with a trolley ride back up the hill. Halfway up the hill there was a car parked a little too close to the tracks. One of the passengers had to get out and direct the trolley past the car. The trolley did make it past the car, with inches to spare! There was an "official" viewpoint just above our hotel and I had wondered if the view from the viewpoint was different from the view from our terrace so we climbed up past our hotel to the viewpoint. The only difference I noticed was that from our terrace you had a better view of the castle, while from the viewpoint you had a better view of the bridge. We walked back down to our hotel and packed.

Stair count - 165+ up the first rampart, 70+ up the second rampart, not to mention several hills

Day 11
Our flight left on the early side, but not too early that we couldn't enjoy one last breakfast on the terrace!! I took one (or two) last photos from the terrace before we left and headed to the airport.

And so ends my vacation. Until next time!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Random 8

I was tagged by Mandi so here are 8 random facts about me!

1. Even though electronic tickets mean I don't need a ticket I will check over and over that I have my e-ticket receipt and passport (or driver's license). Literally I will be in the car on my way to the airport and I will check and 2 minutes later check again. I blame this on the vacation my family never had - we were halfway to Portland when my mom realized she had forgotten the hotel vouchers and we turned and came home.

2. I did not get my driver's license until I was 18.

3. My favorite flowers are tulips.

4. I need to be at least 5 - 10 minutes early. I will then sit in the parking lot until I will be right on time.

5. My thumbs are double-jointed.

6. My goal is to write a book someday.

7. I once killed a plant that was supposed to be "unkillable". I do not have a green thumb at all.

8. My favorite Disney movie is Sleeping Beauty.

The directions are:

“Each player posts eight random facts/habits about him/herself and then tags eight other bloggers to participate. In turn, the folks who are tagged write a post listing their own eight facts/habits, along with these rules, and then tag eight more people . . . and so on.

Each blogger must list the eight people they are tagging, and visit their sites, leaving a comment notifying them that they have been tagged and inviting them to read your entry.”

Instead of tagging 8 people I will issue an invitation to those who do read my blog to join in the fun if you feel so inclined!

Thursday, June 07, 2007


I signed up for the Danskin triathlon again as soon as registration opened. However after signing up I didn't do anything else. I had grand plans of beginning my training program early (well, if I'm perfectly honest I had planned to keep up my training after I finished my first triathlon but that didn't happen). Aiding and abetting my procrastination was the fact I didn't start training last year until late June and I now have one triathlon under my belt. But I was reading on Mandi's blog how she has started training for the NYC Half Marathon by getting up early to run and I was inspired! So tonight instead of heading to the gym I headed to the pool. I had forgotten how much effort it takes to swim!! After my second lap I was about ready to say that was enough, at least I'd gotten into the pool. But I continued on. I lost count of how many laps, but ended up swimming for about 20 minutes. At least it's a start. And from now until the triathlon (August 19th) I will be at the pool (or lake) at least twice a week. Now, all I need to do is start riding my bike again and I'll be really on my way.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

What a View!

A sneak preview of the pictures from my trip. Here is the fantastic view from my hotel room in Lisbon. The picture does not do it justice!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Home Again

I'm back from my trip to Madrid & Lisbon. I had a really great time. I liked Madrid, but I loved Lisbon!! It is in my top five favorite cities! Of course, this could have something to do with our hotel room terrace (and the view from the terrace!). I will try to post pictures and a commentary about my trip in the next week or so but until then I will leave with you some of the menu items from the hotel restaurant in Madrid. Their menu was posted in the elevator and was no end of amusement to Jana and me. Something must have gotten a little lost in translation! :)

Hake to the Roman
Cod to the Oven
Cod to the Ember
Sirloin to the fat salt
Tomato to the fat salt