Friday, November 30, 2012

Portugal: Lisbon and Sintra

We took our first out-of-Holland vacation last weekend, choosing Lisbon as the destination based on the desire for warmer temperatures and the fact neither of us had been to Portugal before.  We decided to try Air BnB for lodging, and were wholly satisfied with the experience.  At 40 euro/night, we enjoyed a cozy two-bedroom apartment that was ten minutes from the airport and 15 to downtown.  As a bonus, Ana, one of the hosts, makes awesome jewelry.  Christmas presents, your calls have been answered!  

Highlights of the trip were hiking around the Serra de Sintra, trying to identify Spanish topography from the airplane, eating a whale's weight in bacalau, and drinking awesome wine for awesome prices.  These included, but were not limited to, vinhos verdes (white AND red... why red?  Why not?), an awesome Douro tinto at an equally awesome Alfama wine bar called Arcaz Velho, and delicious Porto and an on-the-house Moscatel at a pretty good Bairro Alto restaurant called Alfaia.  We never paid more than 12 euro for a bottle.  Lowlight of the trip, for me, was not going running for three days (see: wine) and nearly crawling out of my skin as a result on the day we left.  Lesson learned.

It was rainy and overcast until Monday, so we chose Monday to take the train to Sintra, about a 45-minute trip, which we filled with cribbage.  I will hereby post a torrent of rainy Lisbon pictures, such that the sunny Sintra pictures will seem especially impressive:

Baixa district

Lisbon Cathedral, aka Sé de Lisboa

From the wall of Castelo São Jorge

Lisbon was a nice capital city for walking, of which we did plenty.  On Sunday, we focused our explorations on the west end of the city, including the giant Aqueduto das Águas Livres, before catching a bus out to Belém to see the Torre de Belém and the Monument to the Discoveries.

An original Banksy?  We may never know.

Aqueduct, from anear.

Aqueduct, from afar.




Torre de Belém, completed 1519, on the Tagus River.

Torre, 3rd Floor.

With all the wonders of Lisbon, however, none compared to a sunny Monday in Sintra.  The pictures tell the tale, except for the part of the tale where it smelled like the Oregon Coast.  Or Western Washington.  Your preference.  Regardless, it smelled fresh and clean and wonderful, and I have to tell you that part of the tale, because pictures can't explain smell quite so well as I can, even though I can't explain it to perfection.

Moorish castle!  Like the one we saw in Xàtiva, Valencia... but greener! 

Palácio Nacional de Pena... let's go there next.

Another cat finds Ed.
King Ferdinand II's backyard.

This place was a monastery long before Portuguese royalty lived here ca. 1850-1910.
King Ferdinand II had a very nice collection of copper pots.  Rumor has it he was also fond of warm woolen mittens.

The back 40, looking easterly.  Lisbon is about one frame to the right.
Looking westerly over the Serra toward the ocean.

First vacation out of Amsterdam was a great success!  Back to biking and running in the chill.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Welkom Sinterklaas en Piet!

I came back early from the training weekend in School specifically to see Sinterklaas steam into town on Sunday.  I endured much ridicule from many of my Dutch running acquaintances for this.  Be that as it may, Sunday was a gorgeous day, and Ed and I had a great time.  If you have questions about the hundreds (thousands?) of men, women, and kids dressed in black face paint and jester costumes, read about the morally confusing history of "Zwarte Piet" online.  It's fascinating.

First stop:  Maritime Museum, just down the street, to await the arrival of Sint's "pakjesboot."

Waiting for Sint at the Maritime Museum (Scheepvaartmuseum)!

"Who is nice?  And who is naughty?"

SINTERKLAAS! And the Zwarte Pieten!

Pieten on the loose!
From there, we biked to the pool for a quick swim.  Rather, Ed swam, and I forgot my swimsuit at home.  How do you forget your swimsuit?  Oh, well.

Zuiderbad... isn't it fancy for 2.50 euro per visit?
 Back outside!  We rode to our old neighborhood on Utrechtsestraat to await the parade.

That is a special umbrella, especially for catching kruidnoten.

Politie without a helmet!
Politie with a helmet!
 Here come the Pieten!

Making kids sing for flags.

This kid knew how to use his kruidnoten-catcher.

One of many Piet bands.

Piet on a fake horse.

Off-center axle bike Piet.



With all this excitement, where was the man himself?

Sint!  There he is, and there is his famous white horse, Amerigo.

Piet on a real horse.

There were several Tractor Horses.

Gangnam style Pieten.

The highlight of the parade was when a Piet caught Ed looking the other direction and shot-putted a fistful of kruidnoted at his face.  I'll bet those crafty Pieten love to catch confused-looking expats.  Another Piet [cautiously] took Ed's Seahawks hat and filled it with kruidnoten.  

A day well spent.  To top it off, I had a fun scavenger hunt waiting for me at home, with a Donald Duck Christmas comic as a prize!  Sinterklaas must have had a "pakketje" on his "boot" with my name on it.