Portugal was a bit of a whirlwind in that we only had about three days to see it and one of those days was largely taken up with some non-tourist business we had to take care of, as well as recovering from one of the, shall we say, benefits of being in Portugal.
What benefit is that you might ask?
How about an extensive selection of wine at the local grocery store for as low as 1.08 euros? That’s $1.22 in American dollars. For a bottle of wine with a cork in it.
We’re not sure if the wine the owner of the apartment we stayed at was of the 1.08 or 1.89 euro variety, but after drinking a provided bottle, we both woke up with a bit of a headache. However, that surely had more to do with the music that was being played somewhere outside the apartment until, and I kid you not, 5:00 AM. On both Thursday and Friday nights, we could hear a rhythmic pounding drumbeat interspersed with the deep bass DJ echoes you normally might hear at midnight at a nightclub in the Caribbean. And it went on, and on, and on. We covered our heads with pillows. We stuffed kleenex in our ears. At various times during the night the music would stop… and we’d hold our breaths, hoping we were finally going to be able to drift to sleep. Our eyes would flutter and start to close, with our minds drifting to thoughts of bunnies and sunsets. And the longer the silence went on, a very slight smile of relief would grow on our lips, and then suddenly the BOOM POP BOOM POP POW POW POW HEEEEEEEEEYYYY YAAAAAAAAAAAH! would start all over again.
We’d look at the clock. 2:00 AM. 3:00 AM. And incredulously, all the way to 5:00 AM.
Maybe that’s why wine only costs a couple of bucks. You need to drink yourself into a coma to sleep through the music.
We were sad to have to leave a negative review on AirBnB (which, again, is a better apartment-rental system than VRBO) because Silvina, our host, was so nice. But between a location near an all-night disco and a living space designed for hobbits, we just couldn’t.
Here is Carolyn squeezing through the front door of the place. Just beyond it is the ladder, -er, stairs, to the third floor apartment.
This is the view from the apartment. The street was in the midst of a six month reconstruction project, but since we didn’t have a car, it wasn’t a bother.
I took a picture of this sidewalk just to comment on its construction. This design, using small square stones, is pervasive throughout Lisbon. While it’s kind of pretty and certainly durable, as well as I’m assuming fairly inexpensive, it really does a poor job of dealing with rain, which we saw plenty of during the entire visit. Puddles accumulate almost immediately due to the uneven surface. It has its charm, but if you’re going to visit Lisbon and you see a lot of rain in the forecast, bring your rubber boots!
Leaving Portugal was kind of interesting because we got to the airport in plenty of time, checked in our luggage, passed through security, found out what our gate was, and sat down to eat some breakfast and wander around the airport until it seemed like a good time to go ahead to the gate. We rounded a corner and came upon this huge line of people, all waiting to go through another security checkpoint. We weren’t the only ones taken by surprise. It was interesting to watch our fellow travelers round the corner only to see their eyes grow wide at the unexpected crowd. Employees had to regularly walk up and down the sides shouting out flights for those unfortunate enough to be booked on them but still be in line.
A simple sign upon check-in or in the main concourse would certainly have eased the problem. Once you’re in the main area and have your gate and having already passed through one security checkpoint, you don’t expect to encounter this. Fortunately, we were there in plenty of time and had no issues.
Carolyn even got to enjoy a huge cup of coffee prior to the flight. Upon purchasing this, she adds this story: Despite being in Portugal, the employee who took her order was French, and she greeted Carolyn with a big smile and a greeting in French. When Carolyn responded in English, her face immediately fell and her lips pursed and she reverted to the famous French rudeness we’d encountered in Paris. Oh you silly French people.
Anyway, here’s a handful of the remaining shots we took in Portugal, both of the apartment as well as around Lisbon and Cascais:
So off we went back to Ireland. We were originally scheduled to spend about ten days in the western part of the country, but we cut that short in order to return in time for Carolyn’s Dad’s funeral. Still, we were lucky enough to hit the main highlights of what we wanted to see.
The first was the town of Galway. Galway is the fourth most populated urban area in the Republic of Ireland, and is known as Ireland’s Cultural Heart. It has numerous festivals and celebrations, and is a sort of epicenter of Irish-speaking culture.
We hit Galway on a day with absolutely stunning weather; something unusual in this rainy part of the country. People were out in droves, both walking through the town as well as just sitting by the sea in the parks, soaking up the sunshine.
It’s a beautiful town we’d have loved to have spent more time in. We didn’t stop to see any of the touristy stuff; they have some cathedrals and castles and the Spanish Arch (which isn’t much of a thing), but with the weather so beautiful and with lots of gratitude at just being able to see and experience a little of it, we were glad to have been there.
We stayed one night in a quaint little place called The Bellbridge House Hotel, wanting to be relatively near to the Cliffs of Moher, the grandaddy stop for this part of our journey.
Along the way, we captured this image of the setting sun; as usual all around Ireland, it was a beautiful place.
Also as usual in some of the places we stayed, the shower in the room provided about enough space to wash one butt cheek (don’t drop your soap!), and there was of course no cooling in it as well. Which was a problem because with the setting sun shining directly on to the room, it was a near oven in temperature, with only the ability to crack open the window a smidgen to help mitigate. So we hightailed it out of there and went down to dinner.
Which turned out to be a very good time. We stayed late enough to listen to the live music begin. Upon check-in, I had asked the clerk if the live music was traditional Irish music, which was something we wanted to experience before we left the Ireland. He assured us it was.
Apparently Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, etc. are all traditional Irish singers. We had hoped for a fiddle or something, but the “band” consisted of a middle-aged husband and wife team. The husband played the music tracks and the wife sang the tunes, a bit karaoke-style. However, she really did have a nice voice and we stayed and enjoyed what became a bit of the “traditional Irish pub experience.” Because it turned out that most everyone there was from Ireland, and we sort of stood out as the lone Americans.
It wasn’t long before a couple of them (the larger man in the peach-colored shirt was absolutely plastered, btw), coerced Carolyn out on the dance floor, where she had a rollicking good time dancing with the fun-loving Irish.
The Irish brogue in that part of the country, particularly if there is alcohol involved, is quite a bit harder to understand, so we nodded and laughed and didn’t understand half of what they were saying or asking us, but we did make out that multiple times they were really wondering if we were enjoying our visit to Ireland. Which we of course were.
As we left the hotel the next morning, I couldn’t help reflect that, despite traveling halfway around the world in order to rid ourselves of the stresses of the daily grind, we STILL COULDN’T GET AWAY FROM DONALD TRUMP:
Speaking of Trump, we talked to a number of folks in different countries about the U.S. and the world and politics, etc. Every single person was well-versed in American politics, I daresay much more so than the average American. Every single person was pro-American and anti-Trump, and not a one would give up their universal health care, despite freely acknowledging its imperfections. To a person (of course, none of the French would talk to us at all), they were very appreciative of the U.S. and genuinely like Americans.
When I pondered the difference between the cultures of the U.S. and these European countries, one major difference became clear: the very U.S. culture is virtually defined by the embrace of profit. It’s the reason we have ten times the advertising and twenty times the retail space per capita. It’s why we think paying an athlete over $100 million dollars (think about that– who needs anything close to $100 million dollars?) is perfectly reasonable. It’s the reason why a man like Trump could even hope to run for President, let alone succeed: because he’s the very embodiment of American culture.
If you look at, for instance, dining out, the difference in the U.S. and Europe is clear. In Europe, they want you to sit for dinner as long as you want. Once you’re served your meal, the server (actually servers… most of the time multiple people assist with the serving of the meal) virtually disappears. You have to hunt them down to get the bill. Once you do, the bill is charged at the amount of the meal price. Only rarely did we see another space to put a tip, and that was only in heavily touristed areas. What you see on the menu is what you’re charged, and if you choose to put a small 5-10% gratuity on the table, it’s certainly welcome, but not expected.
“Tips” supposedly stands for “To Insure Prompt Service.” That’s the culture in America: we have an assumption/certainty you have to be incentivized to do a decent job. Eating out in Europe refutes that notion. They provide even better service than what we generally see in the U.S., even without the need for the special tip “incentive.”
And I believe that’s why those who are going to vote for Trump can never be talked out of it, no matter how boorish he is, how ignorant of world affairs he is, or what stupid thing will come out of his mouth next. Because he represents what America is all about: making a profit. Sure, sometimes making a profit means telling a lie, or twisting the truth, or being boorish, so when Trump does those things, it simply doesn’t matter. To you Trumpsters, Donald is a prophet- er, profiteer. That is the unspoken underpinning of the culture of America. If there is no profit involved, such as the government, or virtually every climatologist in the world being convinced that climate change is at least partially caused by humans, then there is no credibility. Indeed, climate change deniers are often absolutely certain that it’s a conspiracy for someone to make a bunch of money (even though shifting all that money away from the massively polluting gas companies would probably be a great thing for us all), because it’s so hard to understand how a scientist could just be doing his or her job, without the need for extra tips/profit. So it must be there somewhere. And if not, it’s simply not a credible source.
Europeans don’t suffer from that mindset, and so Trump is seen as a clown, albeit a dangerous one that makes them nervous. Americans who have embraced the American culture as the world’s best culture of all time, will never see him in the same light. That’s why there is no changing of any opinion, no matter the facts. It’s a lot like telling a Parisian to stop being rude. You can present a bunch of data to that person, telling him that the tourist dollars alone would be a boon to the French economy, and he would just shrug his shoulders, and still be rude, probably having no idea what you’re even talking about.
And now on to The Cliffs of Moher.
The Cliffs of Moher were certainly one of the top bucket list items of things to see for Carolyn. They are cliffs that rise dramatically over the Atlantic ocean to a height of about 700 feet. As a bit of trivia, they were used in that great film, The Princess Bride (called “The Cliffs of Insanity.”) The cliffs get about a million visitors a year… and it’s very understandable why.
We also were privileged to be there on what had to be the most perfect possible weather day to see the cliffs. Clear as a bell, and warm enough to not wear a coat, with virtually no wind. It was simply mahvelous.
Upon arrival, you’re greeted by these cute little buildings built by Hobbits. They house the visitor’s center as well as various gift shops. But no shoe stores because Hobbits don’t wear shoes.
The background in the picture on the left are part of the cliffs, on the right is O’Brien’s Tower, built in 1835.
Along the way was a lady playing a beautiful harp. It was the closest we came to hearing traditional Irish music live, but it set a very nice tone for the visit.
The walk to see the cliffs, once you got past the government-owned area, was generally divided by a rock wall, allowing the sane people to walk safely and the daredevils to get closer to the actual cliffs.
I asked one of the rangers on the grounds how often someone fell off the cliffs. He told me that actually having someone accidentally fall was rare, despite, in his words, the frequent stupid behavior of standing too close. However, it is a site that is used by those who wish to commit suicide. He said at times there were up to eight a year of those. Which is why this sign is also posted:
Despite that, some people just have to stand as close as possible to the edge in order to take a picture. The thing that made me the most nervous was people walking around with little kids. I wouldn’t have held one of my kids anywhere near the edge. Unless they were really pissing me off at the time, of course.
This is the look from one side of the cliffs, toward the tower, with a view of the Aran Islands in the background:
And this is the iconic view that you may have seen elsewhere:
And here follows a slightly edited collection of photos of the cliffs. It was hard not to take a picture, move over a couple of feet, and then snap another one. And on and on. And then on the way back, wonder if you had taken just exactly that picture. So even though this is edited, it totals 69 different –or sometimes just slightly different– shots. But we’re glad we have ’em, because it’s surely one of the natural wonders of the world.
In the end, we’ve been so happy and grateful during all this to be able to take such an extended vacation. So many vacations are either just to relax or perhaps only see the highlights of a city, as we did in Amsterdam, Paris, London, Dublin, and Lisbon. But it was surely a highlight of the trip to have multiple weeks and a car to drive all around the Emerald Isle, seeing so many beautiful things, taking our time, and having what you might call both a relaxing and adventuresome trip all in one.
And throughout, our love and appreciation for each other has grown. While we were already both very confident in our relationship, there’s nothing like being shoved together for six or either weeks, enduring uncertainties and challenges and a lack of road signs to prove that we not only are good for each other, but that we belong together. We both feel very grateful to have found each other at this stage in our lives.