Tragedy, and diversion

Our worst fears about taking an extended trip were realized when Carolyn’s father, Ray Worden, passed away unexpectedly. He was 89, and died almost instantly while doing what he loved: golfing. During the time I’d gotten to know him, I found him to be a funny, intelligent, sometimes goofy and self-deprecating man with a huge heart, and a keen mind.  He will be greatly missed.

While dying at 89 doing the thing you love best, and doing so after avoiding any kind of extended illness is something to which any of us might aspire, it still puts a huge hole in the heart of this trip.

But our journey to Portugal was already on its way, and it has actually offered itself up as a bit of a distraction despite the loss. While we’re not enjoying ourselves in the same way as before, we are still experiencing a new land with new wonders, and since this blog serves to document our memories so that we can look back and remember what we’ve done, it marches on.

We had rented an apartment through AirBnB about 20 minutes outside of downtown Lisbon. Upon our arrival, the first thing we noticed was that the street in front of the apartment is completely torn up and is under six month’s construction.

The second thing we noticed, after squeezing through the outside door, which may generously be described as “not wide enough for most Americans,” was that the stairway to the third floor apartment might be better described as a ladder.

The door into the apartment was probably designed for leprechauns, the top of it reaches only to my chin.

There is no washer/dryer, dishwasher, oven, or closets, or even hooks for clothes. The TV is about 7 inches diagonal and plays only one Portuguese news channel. The shower is even smaller than the one in the B&B we had in Ireland that I described as reminding me of what it would like to shower on a boat. The plastic curtain sticks to your butt as you try to shower, and if you turn around it pulls along with you, resulting in the floor being pelted by water. The stairs to the bedroom are as steep as the ones to the place; getting up to pee at night is met with a great deal of trepidation. There’s not an unreasonable chance that one of us will end up with a broken neck as we lay at the bottom of the stairs, surrounded by a pool of long-held pee. The walls of the place are thin enough that we have literally heard our neighbors sneeze, and they seem to like talking to each other at 1:00 AM.

Despite that, it’s actually kind of charming and we’re happy to be here. It does, however, remind me of when you read the word “historic” when looking at a hotel. Experience has taught me that it generally means the bathroom will be the size of a closet and it’ll be draftier than sitting on the deck of a boat. But it’s historic! Yes, which means it’s just plain old.

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The next morning we had our first meal in Portugal. What we’re finding pretty quickly is that while some people will occasionally speak broken English –and the Portuguese seem generally kind and polite and so will work with you– it is more common than not to find that they only speak Portuguese, or at least not any English. Most signs and packaging are in Portuguese only, so you would be well served to bone up on a few words, and if you’re here for an extended stay, learn a little Portuguese. We’ve had no problem figuring things out, but in our obligatory trek to a grocery store, we found ourselves guessing at what we were looking at as often as not.

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So we wandered around Lisbon just to get our feet wet… literally. It rained for most of the afternoon, including a very serious thunderstorm. So we bought another umbrella and soaked our feet and the bottom of our pants and still very much enjoyed the exploration.

Lisbon is one of the oldest cities it the world, and is the oldest in all of Western Europe. There are places where it looks it, but again, that’s part of its charm. The Portuguese apparently enjoy erecting large statues of their heroes; there are a number of them throughout the city, often on pedestals taller than eight or ten Shaquille O’Neals standing on top of each other.

IMG_2589Their mass transit is pretty easy to navigate. We’re staying in an area called Belem, and all you have to do is catch the “15” train for a 20 minute ride to downtown. It costs a euro. For only a couple of euros, we also ventured in the other direction on a larger commuter train to a place called Cascais, which is a sort of resort area 30 minutes north of town. It has a sandy beach and a nice resort-y collection of shops and restaurants.

It also has a “Jumbo,” which is a store that is, well, jumbo. It reminded us of a couple or four Fred Meyers stitched together, complete with a laundromat, bar, bank, food court, hair salon, and virtually everything you might need to buy in the course of a normal lifetime, including a very large seafood area. Which is a little unfortunate because of the smell that we believe to be their dried salted codfish. We’re not 100% sure because we apparently missed the Gas Masks for Tourists display outside the store, and so we were only able to get so close. It smells a bit like a combination of a fish that has sat in the sun for about two weeks and, well, death. As we approached the seafood area, passing by rows of food on one side and appliances on another, the smell continued to deepen, to the point that if there had been a car for sale for one euro right next to the seafood area we might’ve still turned back. I’m sure it’s something you get used to, but boy…

Next to the Jumbo they had an American-style mall; the first we’ve seen on our entire trip. We noted that in the food court, which didn’t feature any international chains, they actually serve you on real dishes, and then clean up after you when you leave.

Otherwise, it’s a cute area of Lisbon. We’re not hitting the tourist scene, whatever that may be here, very hard. Just wandering about, feeling the vibe of Portugal, and occasionally pondering our loss as we do so.

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