Wednesday, March 15, 2023

From Portugal to California

It's starting to rain. I'm under a giant umbrella at the park watching an ancient man go down the street with a box on his head—ingenious. The lady who runs this kiosk is staring at all of us to make sure we don't move her tables. That's forbidden. So everybody has to stand under my umbrella while their table gets wet. She's quite militant about it. That's why I pick this table. It's one of the few that's completely under an umbrella.

We'll be home by the time I post this blog. I may have some additional adventures to relate by then. One thing I've been meaning to explain to you, in general, is how my blog works. Many, many years ago I wrote an email to family when we were on one of our adventures. I'd hunt down a cyber-café and write a quick run-down. To save time, I learned to make a group email. The group grew. A-liu, my friend visiting from Taiwan sat me down and forced me to create a blog. 

So here's the part which will be interesting to those of my more conspiratorial readers; I only have four followers according to Google. That's because I own the list of my followers. If I decide to close this blog address, no problem. I take you with me. For this reason, I don't have a good relationship with Google. 

It drives them crazy that my blog gets so many views without going through them first—because your route is direct. It made them so mad they suspended my advertisement-income account every time I traveled because I'm cheating their system. That's why you don't see adds on my blog… I canceled my add account. I don't make any money from my blog, and I don't want to. But I do make money from my books which are located on the right side of this page.

Fashion is always of interest to me. This visit has been the rubber pants. I have no idea what these britches are made of, but they look like thin flexible rubber. All ages of women wear them and they don't look good on any of them. The younger girls wear the crop tops, crop sweaters, and crop jackets. Wearing a down jacket that bares the stomach seems counter-productive to me. Another fashion statement is the big huge shoes. We call them Frankenstein boots. A girl could have a slimming and dainty outfit on and then those shoes! But I can't skip the nylons—they wear nylons here… all types of designs, but lots of nude color. I haven't seen that since the 80s.

Most men wear fitted jeans/pants or nice sweats. Levi jackets are popular here, and the Levi pants are really expensive—around 100-150 dollars! So are Converse shoes… really expensive. The cheapest pair I've seen was $95, except the used ones at the flea-market.

The weird colored hair is popular here. Not as much as in the States, but definitely here. The difference is colors are much, much more intense. No soft hued green here. The one that really strikes me though, is the beards. Guys die their beards orange, green, and blue… though, honestly those guys look like northern European tourists.

They have an unusual sport here. Something we've never seen before. It's called futvolley. It can be played anywhere, but usually on the beach. A volleyball net is set up and the teams are placed in the volleyball format. The difference is they don't touch the ball with their hands! Seriously, it's only heads, shoulders, and feet. It looks like an incredibly hard sport to me… but I can't play either soccer/futball or volleyball, so I'm easily impressed.

Those of you who know me are aware that I can deliver the "Mom look." It comes naturally to me with no practice at all. Izzy says it's terrifying. I used it in Sweden when a guy was provoking Joe (like provoking a grizzly-bear). The man instantly backed down. Well, I got to use it the other day at the grocery store. Grocery stores are set up with an inside entrance gate and the registers as the exit. A guy was walking with shampoo and lotion containers toward the entrance gate. I stopped what I was doing and watched. He looked furtive as he crept through the veggie section. He passed through the entrance gate and kept his eye on the oblivious security guard. Then he opened his jacket and covered up his loot. I stared hard at him. He must have felt my eyes from fifty feet away. He looked at me and froze. We maintained eye-contact for a few seconds and then he turned around and went back through the veggie section. I watched him until he put the shampoo and lotion back and left. See… I have a super power! Of course, that wouldn't have worked in California. The guy would've just stared back at me as he walked out.

We're home now. The eleven and a half flight with an additional forty-five minutes at each end for some airport issues, was awful, as usual. We've decided that the Airbus is our least favorite airplane. Mainly because the light-switch is out of reach, so you have to stand up to flip it on or off. But worse than that is there's no discernable flow of air. There are no little vents above you. The upside is I don't feel so dried out. The downside is I have to fan myself with the safety pamphlet constantly.

I hate to throw a company under the bus, but Tap Air does a terrible job. The service and food are simply deplorable. In the entire flight they came by with a cheap lunch and seven hour later, a snack tray. Twice they came by and offered water… twice in thirteen hours. I always feel like I'm in survival training in the Army. Thankfully we learned from our first flight last year and we bring our own food. For someone like me, who doesn't normally eat any grain-based food, I have to be creative. I bought two ham and cheese sandwiches and threw away the bread.

It's nice to be in my own home. Picking out what to wear this morning was difficult. I'm not used to so many choices. The biggest shock, of course, is sticker-shock. It's amazing how expensive everything is in the States, expect gas which is the same if not less. Food and drink are the ones that hit us in the face all day, every day. While waiting for our flight from San Francisco, we ate at the airport. We split a hamburger, I had a glass of wine, Joe had two beers for $92.03.  I chose a comparison restaurant in Cascais. This is the most expensive community we visited in Portugal. It is similar to Carmel-By-The-Sea in California. We were one street away from the oceanfront at an elegant restaurant. We split a hamburger, I had a glass of wine, and Joe had two stout beers for 19.00 Euros (about $20.00). Even if you say it would be double at the airport in Lisbon, that's still only $40. By the way, their airport is only slightly more expensive than the outside prices. A ham and cheese sandwich was only 4.40 Euros.

Well, I'll talk to you next time we all go on a trip together.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Lisbon Surprises

Our time is drawing to a close. Our stay with Martinho and Antonio has turned into a competition of making dinners, opening good wine, and being clean and tidy. They will remain our friends when we move here. The other night they had a friend come over from London. Sadly, his father passed away here in Lisbon, and he just needed to be with friends… lucky for us he's also a chef in London. He didn't cook dinner, but the meal they purchased was definitely gourmet. We were flattered to be part of it. A week later another friend came for dinner. This was his first time to come to their house because they never have company when they have paying guests. Again, we were flattered to be part of it all.

Another benefit to meeting the second guy was he referred us to his attorney who handled his visa process. We have an appointment tomorrow. I think it will be about $180 each for getting our NIF (like a social security card), opening a bank account, and I don't know how much for setting up the documentation to get a D7 visa for retirees. We walked to his office today to see how long it would take. It's a really, really fancy office with a receptionist for the building. She used a swipe card to let us into the elevator area, then she entered the floor. The doors slid shut and we went straight to the fifth floor… no way to sneak off the elevator at a different floor.

Afterward lunch, I googled rooftop bars in Lisbon and we hunted one down using my Portugal Map app. I would NEVER have found this place! It is possibly the most eccentric hotel and bar I've ever been in.

When we left the bar to go home, everybody else also left their respective bars to go home. The soccer game was over. The metro was packed beyond belief. I actually refused to get on the first one because the people getting on were too rowdy for me. The next one was equally packed but calm. I had people calmly pressing into me from four sides. I wanted to get a picture of all the hands holding the pole in the middle, but I didn't want to seem weird, so I snuck this one of our feet.

I'm looking back on the impressions from the last two months and some things sort of stand out. Church is one of them. Riverside International Church has been a blessing for us. The pastor just did a sermon series on the book of Ruth. You may wonder why that would be impactful, but you have to understand the audience—95% immigrants. So, to recap; Naomi immigrated from Bethlehem to Moab (an enemy country) with the hubby and sons. Hubby and sons died, leaving Naomi with three daughter's-in-laws. Naomi decided to go back home to Bethlehem. The three girls decided to go with her, but Naomi refused to let them, but Ruth stood her ground and said, "where you go, I go." So now Ruth is the immigrant in a foreign land. She gave up everything to go to certain poverty and struggle in a culture who didn't like her people. As I looked around, I saw many tears being wiped away by people with the same struggle.

There're times when I feel like an outsider. Especially at the pool. All those elderly Portuguese water-aerobic ladies don't feel comfortable around me. They see me as a white lady who can't speak Portuguese… true, but still, it's awkward. The other day a woman got pissed because my Portuguese is terrible, so I switched to English. She waved a hand and said, "No, no English!" I told her I was trying to learn Portuguese in my limited range of words and she immediately softened. She slowed down and really tried to help me understand her. It was a major achievement for me. When I left the pool, the receptionist gave me a daisy to celebrate International Woman's Day.

Things surprise me sometimes. The other day I was walking along at a train depot and some teens rushed me from behind. I spun around—on guard! He just wanted tell me that my backpack was unzipped. Lol… that cracked me up. Then I was at a café and a lady poured her sprite into her glass of red wine. I'm at a loss for words. Then this one surprises me over and over again… the dude zipping past me on roller-skates wearing a bright one-piece pink leotard with his waist-length blonde wig flowing down his back. That's enough to get my attention, but the fact that he stops to randomly dance or climb a statue and make humping motions on it… well it just surprises me every time. A couple of weeks ago we went to Setubal on the train. We went to our train's sales window, but it was closed. We went to their competition's window and he said, "Just get on their train and pay for it when you arrive." I thought this idea seemed like something people would abuse. I was even more surprised when we arrived at Setubal and tried to pay, but again the window was closed. I asked the next window over and with a little wave of his hand in the air, he said, "Just go enjoy your vacation." I was in conflict for about five minutes, then I got over it and took his advice.

Here's another one I can't seem to get used to—being electrocuted by the converter. In case you didn't know, the electricity is different in different countries. Our hair dryers will self-destruct if you plug them into an outlet in Europe. Take it from me. So the converter converts the electricity to match your device. Oddly enough after you unplug the converter and touch the two prongs simultaneously, you will say a cuss word and fling it across the room. I hear that's a universal response. (Almost all new electronic equipment like laptops and cell phones have converters built into their chargers. Research it first.)

My table here in Alameda Park keeps wobbling. Joe surprised me by pulling out a wine-cork he'd cut into a wedge. He stuck it under one table leg and problem solved! He's so smart. Today was busy. First we went swimming, then rushed back to our place to change and drop off our gear. Then we walked 30 minutes to the attorney's office for a 1:30 appointment. We were starving, so we actually ate at Burger King first!! It's been a good fifteen years since I've eaten there and it tasted exactly the same. Our purpose was to hire the attorney to get us a tax ID number (NIF) and to open a bank account for us. Another surprise was it was $850 instead of $360. I suppose we could've done it without him, but it's pretty complicated… especially from the US. Then we went to a kiosk and discussed our plan-of-action over a beer and a glass of wine. Then we hustled home to drop off our documents and now we're at the park so I can write. The attorney told us that we have to have a six month lease prior to filing for a D7 visa. I can't quite wrap my mind around how that'll work.

We've got the house to ourselves this weekend, so the party's at our pad! Hah… more likely we'll make chili and hotdogs and watch Hercule Poirot. Proof that we're actually pretty boring. My legs ache from all the walking. I'm looking forward to getting back to Sacramento (even though it pouring down rain there) and my garden and my friends and family. I've made great friends here, but old friends' hugs are so much better. I would say my cat has missed us, but we had Izzy stay at our place this last two months, so I'm pretty sure she's been spoiled rotten.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Shrek and Donkey

Have you seen the second Shrek? Joe and I love the relationship between Donkey and Shrek, and we quote them regularly. A favorite is when Donkey said something like, "That's right... Shrek and Donkey off on another adventure!" We really relate to that. Last Tuesday we woke up to sunshine, so we decided to head for the beach. Dressed in layers, with my new tank top on under my long-sleeve t-shirt, we headed out on an adventure. This is when you have to decide how to react to obstacles. Adventure or ruined plans? If you set out to see what the day will bring—even if you made plans—it's possible to take a side step and see what's going to happen instead. (I'm building this up too much.) So, we hopped on the greenline metro by our place and went down to Cais de Sodre, the regional train station. We exited, swiped our passes and went straight to the train entrance in the same building. 

All of the turnstiles had a red X instead of the preferred green arrow. All of them. People milled about in confusion after trying to swipe their passes even though the red X made it clear that wouldn't work. We got an espresso and asked the barista. He didn't speak English, but he said, "Greve!" and walked away. I pulled out my translator to find out that greve means strike. Well, crap. An 8x11 piece of paper explained what was happening on a wall. A pissed off Portuguese woman standing by me said, "Until Thursday!"

The trams weren't on strike, so we went to Belem (our old neighborhood). It was a beautiful day and warm. Near our old place was an enormous park surrounded by a construction wall. The wall had been removed to reveal a gorgeous park directly in front of the Geronimo Monastery. As you know, I love statues. I fell in love with these horses.

We walked down to the ferry station to have a cheap beer and a glass of wine and watch the world go by. And, though this will mean nothing to most of you, a Honda Prelude pulled up in front of us… I've never seen one in Europe. It was in mint condition too. A very wealthy looking man got out and walked away. I sent a picture to my Prelude at home in the garage to tell her that I found her brother. It turned out to be a very relaxing day. We ended with pizza at our old pizza place (I got to put my tank-top to good use) and came back to Lisbon on the standing-room only tram.

Wednesday, after swimming at the pool, we went out in front of the Oriente Train Station mall and wandered along the bayside towards the Vasco da Gama bridge. We discovered a whole new area of restaurants and parks.

Thursday we still couldn't go to the beach because of the stupid strike. I did a little research to find out where some of the more special churches were. San Sebastian was my first goal. We got on the redline metro and went to the San Sebastian stop (the end-of-the-line). We looked ignorantly at the several stairwell exits and chose poorly. We ended up in a mall designed to trap you inside it for the rest of your life. I'd actually read about this place online. One man said it was the most complex Escape-Room he and his family had ever been in. It took us thirty minutes to figure out how to get out. After ending up in the garage, the food court, the children's books, and the intimates section, I finally asked an employee. He pointed us in the right direction and told us to go up two floors. We did that and got lost again. I asked another employee and she pointed us in the right direction and we escaped! Unfortunately we just missed the opening hours of the church.

I looked on my map and found their version of Central Park nearby. What a find! 

We wandered down to another church, Igreja de Sao Roque. This is the most elaborately decorated church I've seen in Europe. It's almost as fancy as the cathedral in Puebla, Mexico. We walked by the outside of the convent that didn't survive the 1755 Quake. It's frame is majestic against the blue skies.

Down the winding streets we went to search out the Fado House I'd read about… Lisboa em Fado. This place is unique in that they don't serve food with their show. Those places are expensive and serve a huge amount of food, or they have places where you don't have to buy food and the people are packed in like sardines.

It was a good show for 19 Euros. It started with a video of the history of Fado and then the singers came out. It was truly amazing. I'm sorry to compare it to anything, but for my American friends, it was a mix between opera and country-western. Do you remember my blog about Saudade? This was Saudade in song. Soulful, yearning. A couple of doors down was an English pub, so we had a hearty meal and watched soccer.

Friday was pool day again and we didn't have to share our lane with anyone. I've come to realize that I'm a princess when it comes to sharing my lane… I loathe it. We went to Alameda Park so I could write and Joe could read. When we got bored, we looked around for a street we hadn't been up yet and off we went. We walked by this huge ugly building that reminded us both of the Capital of Panem in the Hunger Games. It was clearly some sort of federal building but had a lovely garden to wander through, which we did, of course. Turns out that our host works there.

Our quest was a big round building I'd seen on Google Maps. It was even better than we imagined. I think it's an auditorium for shows and concerts, but restaurants skirt all the way around the exterior. We went in one door, but I don't think we were supposed to be inside. We walked around anyway. We snuck out through another door and found a bar frequented by the college age crowd. We eventually found our way home and I made big hamburger patties with a sunny-side-up egg on them. Very Portuguese and delicious.

Saturday, we walked down to the central plaza. I wanted to buy a new pair of shoes. Unfortunately they're either too expensive or they didn't have my size. It was a fun day anyway. We decided to hike up to the thieves' market again and I bought an Ecuadorian pullover jacket, which I absolutely did not need. Shrug. Joe says I'm addicted to shoes, scarves, and jackets.

A week ago we booked another Airbnb for two nights in the sunny beach town of Parede. This is the area of the coast near Lisbon we like best. I bought a pair of shorts for the trip, plus I had my tank-top… I was set. Unfortunately, as the dates drew nearer, the forecast changed to rain. This was a major set-back for me at first. I wasn't happy. Then I searched for another way to look at it—all I could come up with was; now we'd see what our favorite area was like in the rain. We made it to a cliffside restaurant for dinner between cloudbursts.

So here I sit in our adorable little tiny home. I can see the rain falling on the bright blue pool just outside my door. We went for a walk this morning and stopped at a little old café for a delicious cup of coffee, and Joe had a chocolate croissant (total $3). Then the electricity went out in the café. A guy came over from the construction site next door to get a couple of beers. The gal gave them to him and told him to come back and pay for it when the electricity came back on.

We headed for the cliffside promenade in spite of the rain. I love the ocean waves, especially in a storm… though this wasn't a storm, just a light mist. We walked about half a mile before Joe realized he'd left his backpack in the café. It was remarkable to both of us how unconcerned we were. So, here I sit… damp, cold, and content in our room with big windows.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Does and Don'ts

Here's a hodgepodge of things to either do or be sure you don't do;

Paying the bill; Whenever you plan to spend money, ask if they accept credit, debit, or cash—depending on how you want to pay. It's not unusual for a place to accept only cash, or only credit card… good to know in advance. At a restaurant, they bring appetizers to the table automatically. They also charge you automatically. So don't nibble on those olives unless you want to pay for them. Don't get me wrong, they're worth it, but you should know you'll usually pay for it. The servers will make it clear if it's free.

Birds; Don't feed the seagulls anywhere near a restaurant. If a seagull flies toward you, don't scream and duck. A guy did that at an oceanside restaurant the other day and it drew lots of laughter. If you have your clothes drying out on the clothesline, and you hear the doves cooing, that's not a lovely sound. It means they're happily pooping on your clothes. By-the-way, don't feed the doves or pigeons either, at least not at a restaurant. The other day we were at an outdoor food court at a mall and this guy came by with a falcon on his arm. He released the bird every so often to scare off the birds. Worked like a charm. Scared some of the guests as well.

Pastries; Expect to get it wrong when you order a pastry. It's hard to tell what's inside. (Frango=chicken, porco=pork, carne de bovino=beef, veggies=veggies, chocolate=chocolate). Joe came back to the table the other day with a hot-dog in a pastry, or as we say in the US—pig-in-a-blanket. I know my husband well. Before he could take a bite, I asked, "You know that's a hot dog, right?" "It's not chocolate?" he asked holding it up to look at the dark brown blob sticking out from the end. Nope. He enjoyed it anyway. Now it's a standing joke.

Trains; A couple of things about the metro and the trains. Firstly, be prepared to get off at your stop, because you don't have much time. At the door you plan to exit, if on a tram or train, look for a sign (usually subtle) that says that door is broken. Hustle over to another door. Remember that you have to push the little open button or you don't get off. When you're waiting to get on a train, push the open button outside… if it doesn't open, then scurry to the nearest door and try that one. Absolutely give up your seat for an elderly lady— they are the unofficial rulers of this country.

Cars; When driving here, make sure you stop far enough back from the light to be able to see if it turns green, but don't worry… the cars behind you will be sure to tell you! When parking pay close attention to whether or not you are completely in the marked-out space. Especially near tram or trolley tracks. If the vehicle is over the line even a little bit, the tram/trolley can't go around your vehicle. Everyone has to get off the tram/trolley and find some other means of transportation while the conductor waits for the police and the tow-truck to show up. The other day a car was wedged into its spot pretty tight, so the tow truck driver jacked the whole car up on a rolling jack and three policemen helped him push it sideways out of the spot—then he towed it. The conductor stood on the sidewalk the whole time having a smoking-break.

Smoking and lights; Everyone smokes here. Accept it, or don't come here. The other day, there was a young man smoking pot at an outdoor restaurant—I don't think that's accepted though. Speaking of restaurants, when you use their bathroom (casa de banho) be aware that the lights are usually on a timer. If the lights go out (about 30 seconds of not moving), just wave your arms.

Huh?; Polvo is octopus... good to know. Here's one that baffled me for weeks. The sign on the door that says PUXE (pronounced push) means pull. You're welcome… I saved you from looking like a dummy like I did. Empurre (pronounced impoo-hey) is push. When you're in the line at the grocery store have your grocery bag ready. Fill it as he/she rings it up, then pay. Be prepared for them to say NIF? If you don't know what that means, then say no. People waiting in line get very impatient if you dawdle. Oddly enough, that only applies to grocery stores. Everywhere else you are the only person in the world when you're at the front of the line… remember that when you're waiting.

Manners; Pay attention and help those around you. It's the Portuguese way. The other day a guy at a café got down on his hands and knees to do something. Pretty soon someone else went over to see if he needed help. Joe joined in. He went in the café and asked for a sharp knife. It wasn't until it was all over that I was told that a pigeon had a fishing line tangled around its foot and it'd gotten hooked onto the drainage grate. We were at yet another café and I noticed an older woman standing in front of the automatic doors. She was trying to get it to open, but it wouldn't. I got up and went over to stand on the inside pad to get it to open. She was laughingly grateful. Just look around. People in this country help each other.

Water; Here's one that actually irritates me to no end. A lot of restaurants will charge you for water—even if you ask for tap water. Obviously, I dislike paying for water when the tap water is healthy, but it's more because I hate the throw-away plastic bottles. Just pour me a glass of water! They only do it in high-tourist places. By-the-way, at cafés clear your table. It's not expected, but it's really appreciated.

Parking; Make sure you pay for a parking pass and make sure the spot you parked in is allowed for overnight parking, if that's your plan. When going through parking lots in the morning, we'd often see cars with the wheel boot on it, along with a ticket and a banner wrapped around the car… it's definitely obvious when you shouldn't have parked there.

The other side; There are pedestrian overpasses and tunnels everywhere. Just look longingly to the other side of the train tracks or freeway, and someone will point you in the right way. The tunnels are usually bike friendly slopes, but if they aren't they'll often have a rail to set the wheels in.

Signs; Last, but not least, beware of instructions painted on the sidewalks. Trust me, if it's a lane for bikes, you could lose your life. Bicycles are everywhere. Pay attention. There're also signs to indicate other things like what direction you should be walking, where dogs can be, and some things are a mystery.