Susan AKA Sue, AKA Aunt Susie: I am a former journalist and teacher at semi-loose ends who is still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I am restless and determined. I love a challenge.
Things I like: photography, yoga, mountains, a great book, exploring, music.
Things I am not so keen on: standing still, gray days, coconut
I say that not just because I love having you here, but because we have learned one incredibly valuable lesson that has made our travel easier and allows us to make small connections with other people: Learn how to say “Thank you” in the native tongue. “Hello” is great also, but thank goes a long way.
Today, we experienced both ends of the Parisian spectrum when the apartment cleaner unexpectedly showed up. Either we weren’t told he was coming or we forgot. No matter. We were about to do yoga, but quickly shifted to petit dejeuner (my favorite meal mostly because it consists of coffee and sometimes a cute cookie or, if you’re really lucky, a little cup of chocolate mousse).
We went for a little stroll and passed three or four cafes. We randomly picked one and, as is the custom, sat down at an outdoor table. Then … nothing. The waiter was inside setting up tables. OK, this is France, service is slow, it’s beautiful and we’re in no hurry. She came outside to set up the tables out there. She definitely saw us but still … nothing. We tried to shrug it off, but after 15 minutes we got up, walked a few feet and sat down at a different cafe.
This time, Steven did go it and make ourselves known, but this waiter was smiling. He came out almost immediately and took our order (cafe latte e cafe). The waiter asked us something and Steven answered, “Si.” We are having trouble learning Spanish while we try to remember some rudimentary French. I said, “oui.” The waiter said, “Si, oui, yes” and then something in French which I took to mean “It’s all good,” and we laughed.
So, you’re just about at the end of your patience in finding out what all this has to do with saying thank you overseas, but never fear, here it comes: In due course, our coffees arrived and we said, “Merci, gracias.” Then the waiter started to say “your welcome” in several languages. We kept this up as we paid l’addition as well, leading him to ask us where we were from. Not a deep conversation, but a connection where one might not have happened.
Here’s the list of the ones we have so far:
There will be a lot of gracias in our future, I’m sure, but I’d love to expand my “thank you” list. Please is also a good one to know. Feel free to add to the list, s’il vous plait.
We crammed a lot into a 12-day trip. We are both tired and happy. I forgot how exhausting tourist travel can be. Don’t want to miss anything!
Speaking of that, as I mentioned, Saturday, we were going to head to Sintra. I had read that the train leaves every 30 minutes. Hmmm, that turned out not to be the case. It may be true that there are trains every 30 minutes, but they leave from different stations. They only leave once an hour from Rossio station, where we were. Two bits of advice here: Use the machine to buy your ticket instead of waiting on the long tourist line. You can also buy you ticket in advance. Since it is a commuter train, it’s good whenever you ride.
We had just missed a train, so instead of waiting 55 minutes, we decided to hoof it up to the Castelo de São Jorge, which we could see from our AirBnB. We had a 5:0 food and drink tour and we didn’t want to rush it. You know me, so you know I would hoof it, but you don’t have to. There are elevators that take you a lot of the way if you know how to find them. Or the tram 9which we didn’t take at all) or cabs, which are pretty cheap in Lisboa. The castle is a 5th Century Visigoth fortress that was expanded by the Moors in the 11th Century.
Sometimes a surprise can be more stunning than something you were looking forward to: no expectations. That was the case here. Aside from the fabulous views, there were peacocks everywhere. We wandered for about an hour or two and then figured it was time for lunch. The Portuguese eat a lot of cod and one of their iconic snacks is a cod cake. We stopped at the touristy place at the top of the hill and bought a couple. Sure, we paid a bit more, but we were hungry and it was right there. Vacation money!
Next, we hit a wine shop that has a nine-generation lineage of wine seller and got advice on a couple of bottles of tinto verde for Jake to take home and one bottle we planned to drink as we sat on the terrace for our last night. We also went to Livraria Bertrand, the world’s oldest bookstore — open since 1732 — where I may have purchased a Pepa Pig book in Portuguese.
We took a short break so I could rest my weary ankles and then headed out to meet up with the food and (alcoholic) drink tour. I made a grand entrance by slipping and falling (very gracefully) to my hands and knees. I don’t think I have mentioned, but the sidewalks of Lisboa are made of small, uneven squares of limestone. Very slippery! Birks in need of resoling are not a good choice. Luckily, I didn’t hurt myself and off we went.
We started with ginjinha, which you can buy from little cafes and drink on the street IF you want to drink it. To Jake and me, it tasted like cough syrup. It is made with ginja berries, which are kind of like sour cherries, but it’s sweet and syrupy. ate (another) cod cake and learned that the one Jake had with cheese was not traditional, although it was quite tasty. The snack shops, where many Lisboans grab a quick lunch, sell many different handheld foods. João, our guide, took us to little hole in the wall places and that was great. We tried sparkly wine, tinto verde, and red wine along with the food.
At last, we had the famous pastéis de nata, an egg custard in a crunchy shell served warm and gooey. Yum!
After the food tour, we headed over to a neighborhood that was supposed to have a kind of roving street party with a woman we met on the tour. We did find a festival, but it wasn’t really our kind of music and after wandering some more, we called it a night.
Sunday: Our very last day 😦
We did make it to Sintra (one of 1,154 UNESCO world heritage sites) and it was worth it, but first we had brunch. We arrived at Quase Cafe in the windy narrow streets of Alfama just before it got really crowded and waited only a few minutes for a table. Jake and I did really well ordering a savory and a sweet breakfast. This time we got pancakes, scrambled eggs with mushrooms and cheesy pesto toast. It was a lot of food, but definitely fortified us for Sintra.
Once again, our timing wasn’t great, and we sat on the train for about 30 minutes. It did get a bit crowded and there isn’t AC so we were glad for seats, especially since masks are still required. From the train, we got on the Hop On, Hop Off bus, which has three different circuits around town. We headed for Pena Palace, mostly because it was at the top and we figured we would work our way down. If you are like me and you get seasick easily, you will not like this bus. Entry to the parks is not free, but you can buy combined tickets if you know where you want to go. Pena Palace is in a park that is worth exploring. I would say you can skip going inside the palace. It’s OK, but there are plenty of other castles and grounds to explore.
In fact, our favorite part of the castle was the Sentry Walk. The castle is built on the highest hill in Sintra and the view is spectacular. We also enjoyed wandering the gardens, which cover about three-quarters of a square mile and where five sequoias ordered by King Ferdinand are thriving among other trees from abroad.
I was very reluctant to get back on the bus, so I missed going to the westernmost spot in Europe. Oh well, next time. We took a TukTuk instead and had a much more enjoyable ride with an interesting driver. You can do a whole Sintra tour in a Tuk Tuk, but you can also take the buses or walk to a lot of spots (if you don’t mind hills). The driver dropped us in the town of Sintra, which mimics many other old European towns with narrow streets filled with restaurants and souvenir shops, and recommended we go to Quinta da Regaleira, which he said belonged to Freemasons. Carvings attest to that and an affinity toward Knights Templar and Rosicrucians. One cool feature are the initiation wells. Tourists can start at the top of one of them and walk the circular stairs all the way to the bottom, where the floor is a compass and Knights Templar cross. How the wells were used is a bit of a mystery, as you might imagine with those groups.
After exploring the grounds there, we were ready to head back. Bad train timing again, but we realized we could get on a train that was leaving in a couple of minutes if we didn’t mind taking the Metro from there. Better than waiting 50 minutes! So we hopped on, but when we hopped off, we found that the Metro was closed because of a strike. Luckily, Lisboa is full of cabs and they aren’t expensive, so we grabbed one and were back in no time.
Things didn’t turn out exactly as we planned for our last dinner. We wanted a restaurant with a view, but after some fumbling around (mostly by me), we didn’t like the place we chose and ended up at an Indian spot with a terrace that faced away from the view. Oh well. I accidentally ordered giant beers, so when we got back to the apartment, we didn’t really drink that much wine, but we did raise a glass (see below for pics of our last night). It was really good, though. Definitely no complaints!
We figure that we walked more than 80 miles and up and down hundreds of flights in our 12 days. The weather was beautiful, if a tiny bit hot in Barcelona, and all three cities are worth a visit.
Monday, we took a cab to the airport (less than 10€) and had an uneventful (thankfully) trip home.
Wow, this trip went fast! We arrived in Lisboa (Why do we call it Lisbon? A one-letter change just for the sake of it? Anyone know the real answer?) Thursday evening and hit the ground running. Our AirBnB host suggested a fado restaurant just a few blocks away, so we settled in and headed over for our 8 p.m. reservation. Maria da Mouraria is a tiny place in a converted house. There’s a three-course traditional Portuguese menu and by the time we were done with the appetizers, we were pretty full.
After each course, there was a fado performance with a singer, a guitarist, and a fado guitarist. The fado guitar is tightly strung and plucked. We heard both male and female singers. The meal (with free-flowing wine of your choice) lasted until 11:30 p.m. and was a great introduction to Lisboa.
Friday, we hit the one place that Jake had said he definitely wanted to go: the Oceanario de Lisboa. When we entered, there was an exhibit of small tanks with classical music playing. It was a perfect beginning since it set the tone for the relaxed and unhurried environment of the whole place. The center column is a huge aquarium.
My favorite was the sunfish – well and also the aquarium’s mascot who is a goofy-looking scuba diver named Vasco (of course his name is Vasco) – but the rays are always amazing to watch as they fly through the water. There are vantage points to view the main aquarium all around and everywhere the habitat is a bit different and so are the fish.
The aquarium is set up so you start at the water’s edge and move deeper into the ocean. We saw penguins, otters, amphibians, jellies, and all kinds of fish and sea creatures including a really cool octopus. We spent so much time marveling that we were very hungry by the time we finished. Luckily, the food at the aquarium is a cut above standard attraction fare.
We had opted for the combined aquarium and telecabine (cable car) ticket (speaking of tickets, always buy online even if you do it as you’re arriving – it saves so much time, but be aware that there can be complications with American credit cards or with having to input more information than seems necessary. We bought tickets while on line, but didn’t get the email, so Jake ended up going to customer service. They cleared it up quickly and we were on our way.), so after lunch we rode above the Tagus River taking in the views. From there, we walked along the Parque das Nações, which was set up for the 1998 World’s Fair.
After a short break, we had dinner at Eating Bear, which had some good veggie options and is a trendy place where they brought Jake a little grill to cook his own meat. The water suggested delicious wine and afterwards, we crossed the street and got dessert at Alice Gelato. They had a lemon-ginger sorbet that was fabulous. The strawberry and dark chocolate were amazing too. Jake basically had Nutella (chocolate and hazelnut) and tirasimu, but he said it was better than what he had eaten in Barcelona.
From there, we walked over to Hot Clube de Lisboa, which is supposedly the oldest jazz club in Europe. If you go there, be aware that it’s cash only. We had just enough for the 10€ cover charge and two bottles of (warm) water. We saw the Gileno Santana Trio. Santana is a trumpeter and after one set, Jake explained to me why they weren’t great, so we decided to leave. We were pretty tired and wanted to get up at a decent hour since our plan was to head to Sintra in the morning.
I’ll get to the weekend in the next blog. Needless to say, there was a lot of walking, food and discovery.
We had a very short stay in Madrid. We arrived in the late afternoon Tuesday and were gone by Thursday, but we packed in the fun. We had debated going on to Toledo from the train station, but decided we had had enough train for one day. Instead, we dropped our luggage, and decided on Vietnamese food for lunch, yum! On the way there, we discovered a flamenco spot and that gave us an idea. But first, we walked over to El Prado, about 20 minutes away. As you know, we like to walk and it gives us a great feeling for a city quickly.
El Prado is, well, a great, giant Spanish art museum. I was excited to see The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch (I think he is named after a literary detective, right?). Sorry, I don’t take pictures of paintings, there are much better versions online. After about an hour and a half (which seems to be a good museum limit because it gets too overwhelming after that), we headed to El Retiro park. I love a big city with a beautiful central park and Madrid did not disappoint here.
Since it was getting on 8 p.m., it was time to think about dinner. As you might imagine, tapas are abundant but we knew we were going on a food and history tour the next day, we opted out of patatas fritas. The non-tapas dinner: pizza and an Aperol spritz! We had been debating whether to go to the flamenco show and we went with our default answer: We’re here; why not? There was an option for dinner, but we skipped that. We did get appetizers and a glass of wine, because I needed more to drink after that giant mojito. The show was not what we were expecting mostly because we didn’t know what to expect. I was thinking castanets and frilly dresses. Wrong! The dance was passionate and there was a lot of stomping. We got an explanation (in Spanish and English with an Australian accent) and found that the dancers were improvising and encouraging each other as they went. The place was Las Carboneras. The venue is pretty small and intimate, which made it all the better.
The lesson: Yes is a good default answer on vacation.
Wednesday, we did our food and history tour. Our guide, Abel (accent on the second syllable), was chill and fun. We got some fun information about the founding of Madrid by the Moors (aka Arabs) and the inquisition. Here’s a hint for all you “outside Catholics, inside Jews” or Muslims: Eat the pork or you’re a goner! We got to go inside the world’s oldest restaurant in continuous operation (according to Guinness), Restaurante Botín. The oven fire never stops burning. Maybe it’s a secret eternal flame. We also learned that businesses that have been running for at least 100 years get a gold plaque on the sidewalk.
Por sopuesto (that’s of course to you non-Spanish speakers), we did a lot of eating and drinking including Spanish vermouth and tinto de verano, which is basically a Spanish wine spritzer: red wine with Fanta limon and a splash of vermouth. Very summery and refreshing. Lots of meat (for Jake), cheese, olives. Apparently vegetables are not a thing here on the Iberian Peninsula.
Our plan had been to go to Toledo (not the verb tense). The tour ran a bit long, so we hopped in a cab to get to the train station. On the way there, I tried to buy tickets and found that the train was sold out. Who wudda thought? I guess there’s a downside to spur-of-the-momenting everything. Oh well. We decided that getting to Toledo at 5:30 wasn’t worth it so we walked back the way we came, took a short break at the AirBnB and headed out to the National Archeological Museum, where we had two hours until closing time. We used both.
We did stop and have a drink and I have to say that the drinks in Madrid (at least at the place we stopped) were STRONG. Wow. Plus, I got a chance to misinterpret some Spanish, which is always fun. We couldn’t decide whether the waiter was telling us we had to leave quickly because they wanted the table for diners or that she was leaving soon and we should go inside if we wanted to order more. It was the latter. OK, good for us!
Having been all tapased out, we elected to dine on … Vietnamese food! It was delicious the first time and equally delicious the second. You may have trouble remembering the name, but if you can remember Vietnam Restaurante and you’re in Madrid, give it a try.
Thursday was a travel day. We ate a yummy breakfast at Federal Cafe, hung out in the sunshine for a bit and then headed to the airport. I forgot that you often can’t check in more than 2 hours before the flight, so we sat a bit. Then we waited on line for about 45 minutes for one issue or incident after another (thanks TAP). We weren’t stressed. Everyone was on our flight and we figured the plane wasn’t taking off empty.
We are now in Lisbon and having a fab time. Stay tuned for the Portugal edition coming soon.
Can’t go to Barcelona and not Gaudi. Sunday we hit the highlights: Park Güell and Sagrada Familia. We knew we had to go to the park, but didn’t really know what to expect. It’s beautiful and there’s even some shade. Very important in the almost solstice day sun.
We walked. You don’t have to. (More on our crazy choices to walk later.) There’s a big hill and many steps BUT there’s also a couple of escalators. There’s also a nice bus that goes right there from the corner of our street, but why would we do that? Up we marched. The entrance to the park is at 150 (492 feet); the top is at 210 meters (689 feet). No me importa. It’s good for us. Jake is young and I am planning to go to Patagonia.
Anyway, the park is amazing and very Gaudi. We wandered around and thought we should go into the Gaudi Museum, but tickets had to be purchased online (pretty common these days) and the site was being finicky, so we gave up. We use the “let’s walk this way” method of exploration. There are several different suggested routes through the park, but we chose to wander. The path is mostly circular and we got to hear some lovely salsa music near the viaducts. Gaudi was inspired by nature, tried to consider ecological needs when he designed and was not at all a fan of straight lines.
Gaudi was very religious and very political. He was a Catalan separatist who even spent a few nights in jail after being arrested at a protest. We have seen the separatist flag flying around town, but, despite some fierce opinions, Cataluña is still a part of Spain. He also was kind of a weird dude. Because he had rheumatism and his doctor suggested vegetarianism, he ended up living on lettuce, olive oil, and some nuts. In his later life, he became a recluse and his shabby attire contributed to his death. He was hit by a tram, but nobody recognized him and he did not receive adequate medical attention because people thought he was a homeless person.
From the park, we walked back down the hill and ran into a little Lebanese restaurant. Yum! There are only so many patatas bravas one can eat. Hummus and falafel hit the spot. If you happen to be in the Gracia neighborhood, give Sannin a try.
While there, we debated whether we should go inside Sagrada Familia. Yes. We should. We looked at a couple of pics online and promptly bought tickets. Wow! The light streaming through the stained glass is breathtaking. Construction on Gaudi’s masterpiece cathedral began in 1882 and was supposed to be finished in time for the centennial of his death in 2026, but Covid had other ideas.
My pictures cannot do it justice, but at least you can get some idea.
Between Gaudi jaunts, we stopped at a place I just happened to notice on the map: Plaça de John Lennon! Well worth the few extra blocks. It’s a plaza named after John with a small playground and murals. I took a few photos.
Don’t Do As I Do, Unless You Like Stairs
Today, Monday, was our last day in Barcelona. We stopped back at the La Boqueria market to wander by ourselves, since we had only been there on the tour. You really can’t beat watermelon juice that is just pressed watermelon. Yum! We walked around and took in all the foodie sites and we might even have some treats to bring home.
Steven (you remember him, he’s usually on these trips) had reminded me that there is a cable car, or telefèric, to the top of Montjuïc, where there is castle with incredible views of the city. You can take the Metro to a funicular that drops you right at the cable car. Do you think that is what we chose? If you do, you don’t know us. We walked. The market was halfway there so it made sense to us.
Today’s total, according to my semi-accurate phone health data stands at 24,160 steps, 9.2 miles, 34 floors. Not all at once, but a fair amount of climbing to the cable car.
If you are smart, you will take the funicular up and walk down (or don’t walk at all). You can also take the funicular to or from the top and only do the cable car one way (or not at all). We did the round trip and thought it was fabulous. The castle, with a separate entrance fee, offered more amazing views plus castles are cool! Mostly, you are outside the castle so don’t leave your hat and sunglasses in the locker thinking you’ll be inside like I did.
We did choose to take the funicular and Metro back. We hadn’t been on the Metro yet and we discovered that it’s very clean and easy. We had Venezuelan arepas for lunch at Tumatey. Muy rico! and finally, went to a bookstore to buy a Catalan Pepa pig book for the grandbaby. She’s going to speak many, many Pepa languages before we’re done.
After a break, we headed out for our last night and briefly debated going into Casa Batlló, which is only a couple blocks from us, but the 35€ price tag scared us off. Maybe next time.
Door-to-door for my nephew Jake, that is. He took and early flight from Chicago Midway to Dulles. I met him there, so we were both early since Steven is still on grandpa duty and he didn’t want to get stuck in DC traffic and not be at daycare on time.
Then, lightning delayed the flight two hours. No one’s fault, of course. One cool aside is that we had a woman pilot! I still don’t rate United very highly. The food on Delta is a tiny bit better (it is airplane food). My breakfast snack was the nameless grain salad they gave me with my dinner the night before since I ask for a vegetarian meal. I’m not sure why yogurt and a granola bar are not vegetarian, but ice cream with the special meal is. Or why I needed a gluten-free cookie. Don’t ask how it tasted — I didn’t try it. Jake’s food theory is that there is only one special meal and it covers all food issues. He may be right although they offer a long list of options. Also, since I’m being picky, if they are going to give out headphones for the inflight entertainment, they may want to at least make sure you can hear something through them.
We landed about an hour and 20 minutes late. We didn’t have anywhere special to be, so that was fine until we saw the immigration line. We spent two hours waiting to get into Spain. At least our luggage was waiting for us. Then we saw the cab line, sigh. However, that moved very quickly and soon we were checking in. For Jake, that was about 24 hours on the road. My assessment so far: It was worth the wait!
With time to spare, we stopped to get some caffeine and then walked over to Sagrada Familia, which Jake was immediately impressed with. Who wouldn’t be? We wandered and got the lay of the land. Everyone told me Barcelona was beautiful. So far, we’ve only gotten a small taste of it, but how can you go wrong when every time you look up, there’s a Gaudi rooftop?
Last time, after much-needed showers, we discovered that around the block from us is a wide street full of outdoor dining spots. Tapas and wine it was!
After 12 hours of sleep, we were refreshed and ready to go. We headed out toward the Picasso Museum figuring we’d find food along the way. Yes we did! We ended up at Zenith, which turned out to be a chain with cafes in Madrid and Lisbon as well. Hmmm, this may work out. The food was great. We shared shakshuka and berry pancakes. (Warning: the pancakes are SWEET, but the portions are European, so you won’t feel too bad about it.) Delicious!
Going to a museum that focuses on one artist gives a different understanding of the work. The Picasso Museum has a great collection of his early works and then uses video to show either close ups of his brush and color technique or what infrared photos showed of the paintings underneath paintings.
The highlight for us was the 1957 Las Meninas series, in which Picasso reinterpreted the same scene many times in many paintings done on the same day. The museum is housed in what were five palaces built in the Catalan Gothic style. The entrance feels like heading into the bat cave.
We spent about 1.5 hours there, but I feel like I could easily go back. Neither of us was sure how we would feel about the museum, but we figured it was a must and it was.
Next, we were off to a paella cooking class with Just Royal BCN. First, we did a tour of the famous La Bouqueria market. I love European food markets and this one was as amazing as the rest. Because we were with our chef, we got some samples and I am sure we will be back for the turron, which is sort of nougat, sort of marzipan. (Yes, Steven, you will love it!)
The class itself was led by Teresa, who was fun and a great teacher. We tasted a variety of tapas and got explanations about them, made Spanish omelets and Catalan creme plus, of course, paella. Group activities can be a lot of fun if you have a good group — and we did. Mostly Americans since it was in English, but also a man from Morocco and a woman from Jersey (the real one).
We asked Teresa what to do after the class, since it ended at 7. She suggested the jazz club just downstairs from the class, which was in in Plaça Reial. For various reasons, we ended up at a different club, Harlem Jazz Club, but it was waaaaaay too early for Barcelona, so we decided to wander. We headed over to the waterfront and just took in the sights. I know you want more photos, so see below. The building being renovated so classily with the Samsung ad hiding the scaffolding is the Catedral de Barcelona.
Finally, we were off to the Harlem Jazz Club to hear … a blues band? At first, we were a bit disappointed, but Chino & the Big Bet exceeded our (admittedly low) expectations. They were a bit bluesy, a bit jazzy, a bit swingy and Chino is full of energy. The Big Bet seems to be a revolving duo of bassist and drummer and Chino has been around the Barcelona scene for at least a decade. He speaks great English too, since the crowd seemed to be mostly English speakers.
They ended the night by leaving the stage with their instruments setting up in front of the bar and playing “Sweet Sue Just You.” Thanks! It was 2 a.m. We walked back to our AirBnB and crashed.
Surprise! We’re restless in our apartment in Baltimore, so Friday we went to DC to wander around, but first we had a very important errand. We visited the Polish consulate to apply for my EU passport. It was a bit of a disappointing experience in that the room was tiny and stuffy and the man behind the plexiglass barely spoke as he stamped away at my documents. The good news is that he didn’t ask why I speak not a single word of Polish plus we will be able stay in the EU as long as we want (if we want). Aside from that, we took a long walk and did the math in our heads about how house poor we were willing to be to live in a city. I’ll let you know if we ever figure it out.
We did have fun strolling around and noticing that every apartment that is for rent is a luxury apartment. Good for us. Who doesn’t love luxury? Do you think they come with a butler or house cleaner?
We definitely like the restaurant variety and the ability to get around by Metro. We didn’t like the traffic trying to get back to Baltimore. Apparently it’s not only construction season, but car crash season as well. We have noticed that many cities are great as long as you stay in them and don’t drive.
One downside to being out of the country is a lack of baseball, so we’re taking advantage, especially since we are three blocks from the park. We went to a game last week and then decided to hit another on Friday after DC. It was Orioles vs. Guardians (who are from Cleveland and used to be called the Indians) and we were watching a no hitter for 5+ innings (guess which team didn’t have a hit). The Orioles tried to make it a game in the eighth, but they came up short and lost 6-3. Oh well, it was a beautiful night for a game and we got free T-shirts.
Saturday, we did the digital nomad thing and hit the storage locker to swap out a few things. It’s difficult to keep track of where everything is and what climate we need to prepare for. Afterwards, we had a belated birthday dinner for Steven at a restaurant called Cypriana. The hummus was amazing, the rest of the food was fine, but uninspired. We are getting spoiled in our international travels. We aren’t “foodies” in that we don’t want fussy or overly fancy foods just simple food done well.
Today, we decided on a mini-roadtrip to Frederick, about 45 minutes west of Baltimore. It’s a cute little city with a few breweries, a bunch of restaurants and stores plus a walkway along a creek lined with more restaurants, etc. We had a delicious lunch at JoJo’s Restaurant. Getting really good vegan food around here is difficult, but my vegan power bowl was tasty. There are only so many fake burgers a person can eat! We wandered (as we are wont to do) and then got a flight of beer from Attaboy Brewery. The day was perfect: sunny, low humidity and about 80 degrees, so we were glad for the chance to put the top down on the trusty Saab and hit the road.
It was especially nice because the AC in our AirBnB is out and it was a bit balmy in here. We do have excellent hosts, however. They came by with a portable AC unit and then refunded us $200 for our trouble. Sometimes, you just meet good people.
I’m guessing the next time I write, it will be from Barcelona. I’m very excited, since I have never been there, so if you have any tips for me I’m happy to accept them. Or any for Madrid or Lisbon, too 🙂
When we last left off, we had arrived in Florida. We spent Mother’s Day there with Steven’s mom (Hi Mom!!), Aunt Es and Robin (Hi to you beautiful ladies, too). On Monday after Mother’s Day, we began the 15.5 hour drive up to Baltimore for our granddaughter’s birthday. She’s 2 and the cutest baby ever. I dare you to argue!
Fifteen hours is a long way, so we made it 12 and decided to stop. Here’s a hint: If you make the drive from South Florida to Baltimore, find somewhere to stop that is not Emporia, VA. I called it a one-horse town and Steven said I was being generous (extremely generous).
We are now ensconced in a lovely AirBnB only three blocks from Camden Yards. Sadly, the Yankees were in town already, so dutiful wife that I am, I allowed Steven to drag me to a game, which also sadly, the Yankees won. The nice thing about being so close to a ballpark with a losing team is that it’s easy to get tickets. We decided at 6 o’clock to go to the 7:10 game and got great seats. Steven and his son had gone to the game that Monday and took advantage of the 1992-priced promotion tickets. Baseball for $18 a seat (The Yankees won both games! Gooo Yankees!).
Our next family event was my nephew’s graduation from University of Maryland. We thought we had lucked out when he told us we didn’t have to attend the whole school morning ceremony, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. We waited almost four hours to hear his name and watch him walk across the stage (which took 15 seconds or so), and that doesn’t count that we got there an hour and a half before it got started, which was already 30 minutes behind. Most of the basketball arena was empty by the time they got to him because the hungry, freezing masses started to leave after their loved ones walked. I feel bad for those last few grads, but we were all exhausted by then. It was wonderful to see the family and spend endless hours sitting next to my niece getting delirious and slap-happy from the endless recitation of names.
Next up, week spend a week watching our granddaughter, which will be fabulous and exhausting, so my nephew and I will be heading to Barcelona (Madrid and Lisboa, too) at the tail end of that to recuperate. (Leaving me to handle the last day on my own…Steven and a two year old, who will be looking after whom?)
We flew back to the US yesterday with little to no drama. Just a short delay at JFK and a bit of confusion about how to get from one terminal to the next. Delta wasn’t exactly clear about the process, but we made it. We stayed at the Sheraton at the Brussels airport and I have to say, that was great. The train from Bruges left us a few escalator rides from the hotel, which was directly across the street from the terminal.
We had most of the day to wander, so we took the train back into central Brussels, which hadn’t really impressed us the last time we were there. This time, we headed up to Parc du Cinquantenaire, about a 30-minute walk from the central train station. The park was built in 1880 for the 50th anniversary of Belgium’s freedom. When you walk toward the park, you can see three arches topped by a bronze chariot with four horses plus a beautiful view of Brussels. It houses three museums — Royal Museum of the Armed Forces & Military History, the Royal Museums of Art and History and Autoworld. Can you guess which one we visited?
Yes, you are correct — Autoworld! It’s a little pricey for what it is, but you can just wander and look at all kinds of cool cars. We think the museum buildings are repurposed train stations. Autoworld has sweeping arched ceilings, almost like a plane hangar. After the museum, we admired the landscaping and sat in the park a bit. Steven is excellent at finding restaurants that have food I can eat, so we set a course for our last Belgium beer and dinner. We sat outside at Au Brasseur, watching the people and enjoying the Belgian sun (which was in short supply during our trip). Our impression of Brussels is that its probably a very livable, international city (if you don’t mind the weather), but I wouldn’t put it at the top of my tourist wish list.
Middle Eastern or Asian food is always a good choice for me and my wonderful husband (in whose best interest it is to avoid hangry me (it is called self-preservation)) found a delicious Lebanese-Syrian place just a few minutes from Au Brasseur called East@West. Of course, the owner (at least I assume he was the owner) speaks four or five languages and they had a fabulous selection of vegan options, even kibbeh, which I have never had because it’s always meaty. This version had walnuts, which Steven said he had never had. We thoroughly enjoyed everything and then headed back to the hotel to get in one last night in the EU.
We had been in Bruges once before (which, you, our faithful reader already know), but we didn’t really have enough time, so we headed back. We made the mistake of not checking the train schedule careful and only found out that there was no speedy train from Amsterdam to Brussels on Saturday (or it was sold out), so it took about four hours. Oh well. Live and learn. Overall, I love the European trains!
Once again, we stayed at Hotel Academie, which is in a great location on a quiet street, but steps away from the tourist madness. The staff is lovely and helpful and the room features beautiful wallpaper with birds and flowers. Also, the bed is very comfortable! We stayed in an executive room, which offers a little more space. There’s even a closet (and it had a Murphy bed which we called Ellen after our friend in Chicago who has one in her apartment) . What’s up with all these hotels that have no place to put your clothes???
Anyway, the hotel is also two doors down from (surprise!) a beer place that is famous for a 12-glass tasting.. We thought it would be a couple of sips each, but no, they are half glasses full. I’m a light-weight, so I left most of it up to Steven (it is a tough job but someone has to do it). As is the case in most places we’ve been,the bar was playing a lovely selection of 1980s-90s American pop and I know all the words. Steven asked me the name of one of the bands, and as I said Duran Duran, so did two guys behind us. Next thing we knew, we were fast friends with Stephen and Oewen (that’s an approximation because he said his name was tough and sometimes he tells people to call him John). Anyway, they were really good guys and we had an fun learning a lot about Dutch life.
Sunday was museum day. We unenthusiastically figured we had to hit the Choco Story, or the chocolate museum. We thought it would be a tourist ripoff, but it was very informative about the history of chocolate and at the end we got all-you-can-eat chocolate (just don’t stuff your pockets and take it with you). We also hit the Torture Museum, but 100 methods of torture was a bit too depressing for us and we were glad to be done with it.
A great thing about having a bit more time and being wanderers is that we discover places we might have otherwise missed. Before leaving Bruges, we headed in the opposite direction from the hotel and ended up on a route that rings the city with a bike/walking path.
And now we are back for a bit, just in time for Mother’s Day and the famous American holiday Cinco de Mayo.
As we approach the end of our wonderful stay in Roma, we are faced with more goodbyes. Today, we said arrivederci (or ciao) to our trainer, Angelo, (from Rabbit Sport Center) who not only tortured us with full-body exercises for our aging carcasses, but invited us out for coffee with his partner, Meg. Not only is Angelo a very buff trainer, but he’s an excellent photographer. Meg works for the United Nations, so they are a real power couple, and sweet as well. Meg grew up in Toronto, so we were able to have a more comfortable conversation. Understandably, Angelo was shy about conversational English, but he did great (with some translating of more difficult topics like the differences in health care).
Meeting new people, making a connection, learning about their culture and their lives makes life sweeter, but arrivedercis sting. We always say, “We’ll see you again, somewhere, sometime,” and we always mean it. Of course, we are moving targets and so are many of the people we meet. We’re attracted to open people with adventurous spirits, so they are just as likely to pick up and move as we are. It makes having a giant party a bit of a challenge.
Someday, when we settle down, we will issue a permanent invitation to all our far-flung friends and we will truly mean that they are welcome to stay with us. We now have friends in Mexico (in addition to our favs, Kenta and Doug), Brazil, Paris, Burgundy, Rome, Nice, The Netherlands and Jerusalem. Feel free to add to our list.
Although leaving here is melancholy, we will be reuniting with a friend we met in Paris, who lives in Israel. Not only will we meet him, but he is moving out of his place to let us stay there and his mom is meeting us there because he will be at work. Thank you, Gilad and family!
Speaking of Israel … We’ve been assured by all our Israeli connections that we will be perfectly safe despite the reports of increased tension. Passover and Ramadan (and Easter) apparently remind everyone that sharing a tiny piece of land is impossible for all who have the power (but not the will) to change things. Sigh.
We are leaving our AirBnB in Rome on Saturday and flying to Israel on Sunday. One of the foibles of our life (and increasingly feeble minds) is that we make logistical errors. We thought we booked the place until April 25, but Noooooooooooo, April 23. So, we’ll be staying at the airport, which works out since we have a somewhat early flight and are flying El Al, so we want to make sure we get there in plenty of time to get through security. But, keeping all the details straight can be difficult, even with Steven’s excellent spreadsheets.