Cochem, Germany, is simply one of the most charming towns you’ll find this side of Oz.
Due to our impeccable timing (the beginning of the Coronavirus as well as arriving there late in the day), it offered itself to us as a sleepy little town. In fact, it often seemed as if we were the only tourists in the entire place!
Despite that, I’m guessing even during normal times it’s still a fairly sleepy little town. With only 5,000 inhabitants and nothing more of note than its charm, I don’t think it’s a common tourist destination. Of course, that may be one of the reasons we liked it!
The most exiting thing that happened to us there is that one of my shoes decided to come apart, resulting in half of the bottom of my shoe flapping about every time I took a step. We were walking past a construction site during the sole’s attempted escape, and so I began rummaging through some of the surrounding detritus in the hopes of finding a length of twine or maybe ten wads of chewed gum; anything to hold the shoe together.
A man approached us from within the building that was under construction while I was digging through the garbage, and upon seeing my predicament, kindly offered me some duct tape to help keep me walking.
But after walking another 20 minutes my other shoe, obviously being jealous of all the attention given his twin brother, decided it was going to get into the game and flopped apart in exactly the same way. We were too far from the construction site to ask for another length of tape, but then we spotted a shoe store in town. The manager also kindly helped me by allowing me to use some of her shoe glue.
Unfortunately, that didn’t last a terribly long time, so I mostly walked around Cochem like a drunken duck.
It’s sometimes very good to visit places where no one knows you or will ever see you again. That gives you total freedom to walk around like a drunken duck, complete with duct tape wrapped around one shoe! Quack quack!
Cochem Castle dominates the skyline, but it’s not a castle of particular note otherwise. It was long in ruins until 1868 when it was purchased by a businessman for a paltry sum and then reconstructed.
We didn’t get a chance to go inside because of the hour, but that same hour allowed us to grab a photo of its main tower shining in the sun.
But mostly it was the town itself that delighted us, with its narrow cobblestone streets amidst traditional German architecture.
It also has a beautiful river running through it, I mean, is that the definition of picturesque or what?
As you can see, it was packed with tourists. Actually, it could be that they all ran for cover upon seeing a rather large bearded foreigner stomping around like a duck.
Since there isn’t a lot of other news to relate about Cochem other than the views, we’ll just mosey on through the rest of this entry with a series of captionless photos. Enjoy!
So that’s Cochem, Germany. A town we’d never heard of, but one we enjoyed visiting all the same!
Now, trust me when I say that I haven’t given up on writing words, I’m sure to the dismay of many a peruser of this blog (“You use too many words, Dad, just show us the pictures!”), but since Tuntange, Luxembourg is another town we stopped in that really offers nothing of note, historically or otherwise, except for its beauty and a large estate/palace we wandered through for a while, here goes a series of pictures without my bothering you with any more words. That doesn’t happen often with me, so enjoy it while you can!
You don’t get to see an estate like that every day! (Well, unless you live there.)
When I first began learning Portuguese, I attempted to say something in it to one of our Portuguese friends and she immediately burst out laughing. I wasn’t sure what (besides my usual horrific pronunciation) made her crack up, so she proceeded to tell me I had just loudly and perfectly pronounced a very naughty Portuguese word, even though I was trying to say something else and had no idea what I had just said.
Which reminds me of a long time ago when we had a pastor and his family over for dinner, and one of our very young sons asked him if he could please pass over the “Kenfucky Tried Chicken.”
(Why we had somebody over for dinner and fed them KFC I’ll never know.)
Anyway, in keeping with the theme, you might automatically qualify for hell even if you innocently say something like, “I’m going down to that Fukang place,” or “Do you know what the Fukang restaurant has on special today?” or “Would you please throw out those Fukang leftovers, they’re starting to smell like a Panda’s ass!”
But when it’s all said and done, it’s just a Fukang Chinese restaurant. Since I’ve now written all that down for perpetuity, I can only hope they have decent Chinese food in hell. I do think Chinese fortune cookies there might be very entertaining, so at least there’s that.
We also saw this graffiti while in Trier. I’m not sure what the first word is, but “deine” is “your,” in German, so I’m thinking maybe “stretch your clitoris?” Or “strudel your clitoris?” How am I supposed to know what weird deviant things the Germans are up to nowadays? I’m also a little dubious about the graphic matching the words, but what do I know about German physiology? Maybe that’s what it looks like after you strudel it? We were left confused but a little intrigued.
Now I’m going to hell for sure.
But the star of our story isn’t Chinese words that sound like English swear words, or sexually-oriented graffiti, it’s Trier, Germany, a town we visited while we were in Luxembourg. We just used that lead-in, because later on I use the word “butt,” and this way anyone that would be offended by that has already run for the hills.
I had never heard of Trier, until I learned that in English it used to be called Treves, which I think I had heard of, but I have no idea in what context. If someone would’ve asked me to tell them everything I know about Treves, or Trier, it would pretty much have started and ended with “I think I’ve heard of it.” Now of course we’re experts.
I get a special kick out of visiting previously unknown-to-us places, many of which have their unique and special charms that make a visit absolutely delightful. I call them the “B” or “C” level attractions: not the first places you think of going to during an overseas trip, but once you live here and can meander anywhere, you stumble across some very delightful locales. Trier was certainly one of those.
Trier is also the birthplace of Karl Marx, who was born there in 1818, and went on to forever be famous for giving American Capitalists apoplectic fits every time his name is mentioned. That’s his house, which we didn’t tour because, y’know duh, we didn’t want to get Communist cooties all over us. Besides, they wanted to charge an admission fee. Karl Marx is surely spinning in his grave that his home is now beholden to the scourge of Capitalism! No wonder he became such a Groucho!
This is the Electoral Palace: the seat of the district government. This is why governments are always the butt of so many jokes, because of course wherever there’s a seat, there’s almost always a butt.
They have a lot of Roman history in Trier, seeing as how it’s only about 1,300 km (a little over 800 miles) from Rome, which was nothing to those guys in their heyday, what with all their advanced horse technology and all. Today, Trier is only about a 30 minute drive from Luxembourg, which is part of the reason we visited. It’s kinda fun to pore over a map and exclaim, “Let’s drive to Germany!” Which is almost as much fun as poring over a map and exclaiming, “Strudel your clitoris!”
If you look over an historical timeline of Trier, you’ll see that it was invaded and destroyed seemingly continuously. The Celts, Romans, Huns, Germanic tribes, Germanic Franks, Germanic Hot Dogs (just kidding), Vikings, French, and Prussians all had a hand in either conquering or controlling Trier. Which is what led to their most famous bumper sticker: “Go Conquer Someone Else- Trier Harder.”
With a population just over 100,000, it’s only a small city, but it is considered to be Germany’s oldest. The main old town area is easy to walk and has several impressive cathedrals and other ancient buildings. This church kinda looks like it’s right on the water, but that’s just wet pavement from a rainy day.
As usual, they built to impress should God ever want to pay a visit and feel comforted by all the expense and grandiosity they created just to make him feel at home. Huge organs are of course a must, because at his age, God is getting pretty hard of hearing.
Bavarian architecture dominates the area, making one feel like you’re back in Leavenworth, Washington, USA, which is modeled after a Bavarian village. Oh wait, Trier is an actual Bavarian town. Whew! Now we don’t have to go all the way back to Washington just to see Bavarian architecture!
This is the the Porta Nigra (Latin for “black gate”): the best preserved Roman city gate north of the Alps.
I got a kick out of this building. When you look closely, you can see a door on the right that features quite a steep first step, and there are no indications that a staircase ever made its way up there. Maybe that’s where the inspiration for the song “Stairway to Heaven” came from? Or maybe that’s a door specially made for angels so they don’t have to get their feet wet before entering? On the other hand, maybe they just had a stupid architect.
When reading over a timeline of the city, I came across the following:
1933: Hitler came to power, but his party only received 32.1% of the vote in Trier.
1938: The Siegfried Line was built (Westwall). Hitler attended the opening ceremonies, but refused to spend the night in Trier just because of that 1933 vote.
Three guesses as to who else this sounds like. Perhaps petty retributions over a lack of support are a part of the personality of any dictator, wannabe or otherwise?
It was a somewhat cold and rainy day, although we were able to avoid any downpours or anything else particularly nasty, other than the ghosts of Hitler, Marx, and a Germanic hot dog.
We really couldn’t get enough of the Bavarian style. It’s so charming and old-world-y. We thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the town, where we fit right in because we’re also so charming and old— . Well, yeah, just old.
They also had an impressive Roman Amphitheater, which held many of those infamous gladiator contests. Built in about the 2nd century A.D during Antoninus Pius’ rule, it could accommodate approximately 20,000 spectators. Maybe 22,000 if Russell Crowe was on the card, and even up to 25,000 standing-room-only if the famous Roman Gladiator Cheerleaders were also visiting from Rome.
Unfortunately, as you can see by this photo, Russell hasn’t exactly kept up with his gladiator training of late.
However and ironically, while on a previous tour in Rome we were told that in real life, the gladiators actually tended to be a little pudgy, which allowed them to better absorb sword blows and avoid cuts to minor organs like, oh, say, their liver or heart. So maybe this is his real gladiator body. So go ahead and get stabbed now Russell, you’ll probably be fine!
No visit to a German town would be complete without tossing back a couple of steins of beer.
I was a little miffed, however, that they made us clean up the mess. Who knew that “tossing back” didn’t mean what we did?
It occurred to me the other day that Carolyn and I are actually now living that exact fairy tale ending. We didn’t feel that before because we always had another adventure awaiting us. We were to go to Spain and Mallorca next, with the rest of Europe beckoning, just as it has ever since we arrived.
But then Mr. Covid scuttled those plans as well as all other traveling in the near future. So we’re simply living life one day at a time. Since we’re retired, we essentially have no increments of change or excitement to look forward to. This is our life without travel. No wonder old people just talk about their health! I promise I won’t bore you with that here; suffice it to say once you are well into the second half of your life, pieces of your body just start falling off without warning, and other parts you didn’t even know existed start hurting for no reason at all. Plus doctors want to just start removing organs because the organs apparently get tired of doing whatever it is they were tasked to do in the first place. So treasure your youth when you have it, because no one wants to tell you the ugly truth about what it’s like when that’s gone. And we won’t be the first. Just be afraid. Be very afraid.
Otherwise, Carolyn and I are getting along great and we’re keeping ourselves occupied and entertained, even if it’s with activities whose descriptions would offer absolutely no interest to anyone else whatsoever. The interesting thing is that we’re in a sort of steady routine… it’s hard to tell one day from another; we have no touchstones to even know what day of the week it is. We have had more than one conversation where one of us thinks something is going to happen tomorrow and we both get confused until we realize that I thought it was Monday and she thought it was Thursday but it was really Saturday, plus whatever I thought was going to happen on Tuesday already happened last Friday but I forgot all about it. Then of course neither of us can remember what we were talking about in the first place.
Welcome to Happily Ever After!
So anyway, one of the results of being in a routine is that doing anything outside said routine is viewed with some suspicion or unease. Just like this blog. I still hadn’t finished my entry for our trip to Luxembourg… somehow with no further plans on the horizon and the blogging itself being outside of the routine, I just kept putting it off and putting it off. I may not even remember what the pictures were! But, dammit, I’ve gotta get it down before we forget it all, so without further ado, here is the next entry from our trip:
Vianden Castle gets its very own entry because 1) we took a lot of pictures, 2) I’m breaking out of my routine by doing this blog so I can only handle one topic at a time because it’s just all so weird now, 3) it is one of the most impressive castles we’ve ever visited; indeed, it’s one of the largest and finest fortified castles west of the Rhine; in fact, CNN included Vianden on its list of the 21 most beautiful castles in the world. And most importantly, 4) the photos were in the first folder I saw on my computer.
Vianden Castle was built between the 11th and 14th Century on the foundations of a Roman castle and a Carolingian refuge, looming over the quaint town of Vianden like a shepherd guarding its flock.
One little known fact about the town of Vianden is that they used hobbits as slaves. We know this because of the size of the doors where they lived beneath the homes.
Some of the hobbits eventually earned their freedom and so were able to live in nicer places, often labeled with a “58,” which, as everyone knows, is a numerical code for “hobbit,” because there are six letters in “hobbit,” and 6 is between 5 and 8, and the word “eight” ends in a “t” just like hobbit, and 8 minus 5 is 3, times 2 is 6, and that’s exactly how many letters are in hobbit! I mean, you can’t just make these eerie coincidences up, right?
One of the hazards of waiting so long to blog is that now neither of us remember if this was a church inside the castle or inside a church in the town. Heck, maybe it’s not even in a church, it could be part of an Oompa Loompa factory. Anyway, a picture’s worth a thousand words so make up your own.
We do remember this was a kitchen inside the castle. Funny how one always remembers specifics when it comes to food, huh?
You can get idea from this tower just how long Rapunzel would have had to grow her hair to escape. Of course, she wouldn’t have gotten far, dragging twenty pounds of hair thirty meters behind her. A pretty stupid story, really. But it had a really hairy ending.
In 1820, the Dutch King Willem I sold the castle to a businessman, who promptly sold everything, including all the doors and windows (true story… I know you think I make lots of things up, and sometimes I do. But if I say “true story,” then I’m not. Most of the time anyway). After this, Vianden Castle fell into decay and became a doorless and windowless ruin.
In 1966, restoration started, and in 1977 the Grand Duke of Luxembourg transferred it to State ownership. By then large parts of the castle had been rebuilt based on old images.
Vianden Castle is now a museum and is also used for official State occasions.
A view of the town of Vianden from the castle. Isn’t that the very definition of quaint?
And it gets even quainter with other views. In fact, it’s downright quaintalicious!
Just imagine this place as it was in the 14th century with masses of unbathed people jostling around horses and their inevitable poop, and knights tromping around inside metal cans with no place for their sweat to go except into their iron shoes. The middle ages always makes me wonder how our sense of smell didn’t devolve and disappear as a result of simply being overwhelmed. But, maybe their noses figured out how to just be whelmed. Hence, the term “nosewhelm.”
Which is a word I just made up but I had you going for a second, didn’t I?
Fortunately, there was no historical scratch and sniff on the tour so I just basked in Carolyn’s perfume. She always smells very nice.
How did I get this picture of the castle you might ask? Did they have balloon rides? Did I hurl my phone in the air as far as I could after pressing the auto-click camera button? It doesn’t take much of a super sleuth to notice some strange ghosting in the image, however. Is that a ghostly building in the shadows? That’s actually a reflection; this is a picture of a picture that was on one of the walls in the castle and it’s a helluva lot better than anything I could shoot so there you go.
There’s a cute little balcony for some Romeo and Juliet-style romance.
And here’s my own personal Juliet giving you some perspective as to just how immense the castle is.
Of course, forty years later, Romeo is sitting at one end of the table for dinner, Juliet is on the other, and they’re barely speaking. Living happily ever after my ass.
Wells can be a very deep subject.
I’m thinking that fireplace, as big as it might be, really didn’t put much of a dent in the cold air in this room during the winter. At least the knights could keep their nuts warm. Actually, I couldn’t find any reference to nuts native to Luxembourg, so maybe they were just keeping their barley warm. True fact: Middle Ages food for poor people revolved around barley. Grain provided about three quarters of their calories in the 14th century. That seems like barley enough. Doh! I oat to know better.
Not an easy thing to conquer especially if you’re wearing 15–25 kg (33-55 pounds) of armor. A funny joke would have been to line the walls with magnets.
This is the exact same face she made when I told her Trump won the election.
The town of Vianden is very small and quaint, and we were delighted to discover that there are a lot of Portuguese in Luxembourg because the pay is so much better. So while we don’t know a lick of Luxembourgish, and Carolyn only a little French from high school, we were able to communicate with the Portuguese because of our knowledge of, well, English. They spoke English well so we didn’t have to torture them with our Portuguese.
While in Luxembourg we talked with a number of Portuguese. The general theme was “Luxembourg is nice, but we really miss Portugal.” Plus they confirmed what I wondered… sure it’s nice to earn more, but everything costs more too. They all seemed a little homesick to me.
Still, it’s a very cute town, even if it was almost completely devoid of tourists because we were the only ones dumb enough to be touristing as the Covid pandemic started to hit. But hey, we didn’t catch anything because that meant there were very few people to catch it from even if they had it! So who’re the dumb ones now?
This was our plan for visiting the castle and town. No, seriously, the castle is also the sight of one of the most important battles of the Luxembourg Resistance during World War II. They actually fought inside the castle. This is what Wikipedia says about the battle:
On Sunday morning, 19 November, the Germans attacked the town with 250 soldiers of the Waffen-SS. After bombarding the town and the castle with grenade launchers the German soldiers began to attack the castle itself which was defended and fortified by four members of the Luxembourgish militia.
After heavy fighting around the castle, six German soldiers breached the defences via the gate of the castle, only to be involved in house-to-house fighting inside the castle. After sustaining several casualties, the Germans withdrew from the castle and concentrated their force on the town, but the strong resistance offered by the militia forced the Germans to abandon their assault and withdraw to the other side of the river to Germany.
Eighteen German soldiers were killed during the main battle. The 30 men of the Luxembourgish militia suffered only one dead, with three being seriously wounded, and three more slightly wounded. A single civilian was killed when a grenade exploded in her home.
When the Germans launched the Battle of the Bulge a month later, the 30 men of the Luxembourgish militia, being hopelessly outnumbered, abandoned Vianden and withdrew to the unoccupied south of the country. Most of them continued their engagement by helping the U.S. Forces during the battle.
Ah Vianden, such history, such beauty, we are honored to have seen ya.
Oh, and here’s the Taj Mahal for my daughter Cortney. An inside joke. We’ll see if she gets it.
Our recounting of the top castles in Luxembourg was rudely interrupted by a post about taking a walk. My apologies. But in this age of the coronavirus, nothing is more important than getting out for a walk. Now get out there (but stay away from everyone!), exercise those legs, and then come back to this blog. Now. Get out. Really. You’re becoming a potato. This will still be here when you get back. Go on! Shoo!
Done? Now, don’t you feel better? Okay then, you can sit in that chair for the rest of the day, totally guilt-free. You can’t tell me baldsasquatch.com isn’t looking out for your health, in addition to all of our amazing knowledge, trivia, and bad puns we provide. Besides, the truth is that we can’t lose half our readers to one heart attack!
Anyway, I originally used the Top Ten Castles of Luxembourg title because I thought it would be funny if someone searched on that and we came up and someone read it thinking it was written by castle experts. Turns out, when I plug that exact phrase in Google, we are now currently the top hit on the second page! Woo hoo! I better pull my doctorate in Medieval Construction and Castleology credentials out again!
I’m gonna lead with Brandenbourg Castle, just to illustrate the lengths we go to just to inform and entertain you, dear reader. Oh wait, um, except there’s a bit of broccoli in your teeth. You better get that. Anyway, here we are driving down a back road hoping like hell there isn’t a large band of forest people around this bend who hate Americans that live in Portugal. Or maybe they just hate rental cars. You never know.
After an arduous journey through an area that would feel like home to any hillbilly from Deliverance, we finally found this gem. That is, as long as you think a gem is a piece of petrified squirrel poop.
Oh, well, such is the life of a Professional Castle Hunter.
Anyway, blame its ruinous state on the French. In 1668, they attacked the castle, which subsequently fell increasingly into ruin. It is now owned by Luxembourg, but I’m guessing they might be willing to listen to some offers.
And now on to:
One of the coolest castles we saw in Luxembourg was Larochette Castle. Here we see the castle from the other side of town, on a viewpoint that must have been designed solely to provide one with a great view of the castle, and rooftops.
Built in the the 11th century, the castle was destroyed by fire at the end of the 16th century. Once the fire insurance paperwork is settled I’m sure they’ll get around to rebuilding more of it.
We couldn’t get inside, but a walk around it revealed some fascinating scenes. Talk about livin’ on the edge!
A stairway to Kevin.
You’d think someone back then would’ve stared at this cliff for a while, chin in hand, and mused aloud to the architect, “Yer thinking maybe that cliff will be staying put then?” Apparently so, because almost 1,000 years later, the cliff is doing just fine, thank you, while the house above now features plenty of natural air conditioning.
We thought it was just an old ruin you couldn’t get into. Turns out that Castle Hunting should not be a late winter pastime. This castle, like so many others we drove up to, is closed from October until Easter. Doh!
This is the Verlorenkost watchtower (which literally translates to “Lost Food”- honestly, Google it under German if you don’t believe me). The reason for that name is that there’s a legend that a cook was carrying pots full of food when she stumbled, breaking them all and ruining the food. Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up. Well, I can, but you can’t. And I didn’t this time. Next time I probably will though.
Behind these natural columns are doorways that lead into a secret dungeon where the Duke of Larochette used to keep his stores of chocolate bars, fortified wine, and girlie magazines out of sight of the Duchess. Okay, you see the difference? I made that one up. Everyone knows they didn’t have chocolate bars back then.
Some people mistakenly believe that the actor John Larroquette was descended from the folks who built this castle. We’d like to put those rumors to rest right now. We know his ancestors had nothing to do with the castle because we just made it up. So sue me in Night Court.
This little fella began following us all around the castle. He was one of the friendliest cats we’ve ever encountered, aside from being a gorgeous, albeit very well fed, specimen. Plus his expression is perfect to place right next to any one of my bad jokes.
In fact, watch this, see how it works:
What did the janitor say when he jumped out of the closet?
See how that works?
Okay, so we got to two more of the castles, and now I’m wiped out. This quarantine stuff really wears you out! After my nap, I’ll think about doing the next entry in a couple weeks, when I’m rested up again.
Okay cat, that’s enough. You don’t have to give us that look every time I try to be amusing!
Obviously this is a weird time for the entire world. In fact, due to the coronavirus, more people are now in “lockdown” than were even alive during World War II.
To pass the time, other than trying a jigsaw puzzle (which we gave up on after a few days… we decided we’d rather have our dining table back… which is a good enough excuse to obscure the fact that a 1,500 piece puzzle with large areas of single colors is a puzzle only fit for someone whiling away the hours on death row, or the certifiably insane), we are keeping busy by engaging in some minor hobbies in addition to my taking long walks in the area surrounding our house.
So even though I haven’t finished the entries for our Luxembourg trip (which seems like a lifetime ago), I thought I’d post photos from my last walk. It’s kinda strange… here we have that one time where you are handed the perfect “That’ll get done when I get around to it” time, and when life actually gives you that round tuit, you really don’t feel like doing most of those things you’ve been dying to get done. I think we all just need to feel like there’s something more than can always be done, even if we actually never will get around to them.
So thanks for giving me the round tuit, Mr. Coronavirus, but now that I think about it, I think I’d rather have a square one. So I’ll just have to keep putting off those things I’ve been putting off until I get a square tuit. In the meantime:
These two dung beetles provided some inspiration for me to make it a long walk. I mean, if one beetle can push a ball of shit five times as big as its body the equivalent of several kilometers, I can certainly add some extra kilometerage to my own expedition, especially since I’m sans ball of shit. Full of shit, maybe. But ball of shit, no.
I probably have 50 versions of this scene in my photo library. Every time I start out on a walk and see this, I have to admire it and take the shot.
Here we are looking the other direction after hiking for a while. I know I don’t have this exact perspective already in my photo library so yay!
This photo might make for a great jigsaw puzzle scene. That is, as long as someone else pieces together the whole water area. The town of Sesimbra is beyond the first promontory. If you look close you can see a hotel on the second one. Sesimbra is nestled right between the two promontories.
You wouldn’t know it, but before the lockdown it was a rare sight to see this much of the ocean without also seeing some boats. Today, not a one.
The waves crashing against the shore create the only noise you can hear when you’re out walking nowadays, especially in the nature preserve. Well, that and your breathing, depending on the incline you just walked and how many candy bars you ate the previous week.
There are paths everywhere. Despite that, most of the time I encounter no one, in fact almost no living thing at all. However, lately, because of the quarantine, I do encounter more people hiking than I used to. A friendly “boa tarde!” (good afternoon) is exchanged virtually every time, although I’ve noticed the younger people generally prefer “ola!” Or maybe they just want me to give them a cola, I dunno. This different language stuff is hard.
Once you get to the main road (the ocean you can see in the previous picture is beyond the horizon here), there are scattered houses, some of which are abandoned. This home here is in an area with about a dozen abandoned houses in an apparent failed development. Either the developer ran out of money, or they were building in a public nature preserve and the government told them to knock it off. Apparently, after the dictatorship was toppled in 1974, people built all sorts of things where they shouldn’t because the government was in chaos. Eventually, of course, things got under control.
They look a little nicer from a distance. Up close, they’re just shells of bricks and mortar.
Typically, abandoned houses in Portugal just sit and slowly (very, very slowly) dilapidate themselves to death. Since the construction style doesn’t seem to have changed for decades, if not centuries, it’s hard to tell if these ruins are fifty years old or two hundred. But man, you can’t see it so well but this place has a million euro view of the ocean and Lisbon. Amazing to let it go to waste.
Funnily enough, after they’re abandoned, almost all of them are plastered with “vende” (for sale) signs, often just with spray paint. This one has far more potential than most, obviously, because they get a printed sign in both Portuguese and English, which isn’t very common. Usually it’s just “vende” and some phone number that was probably disconnected in 1993.
This was a great home until that giant bowling ball came crashing through.
You don’t really think of forests when you think of Portugal, but while they don’t compare to the grand expanses of evergreens in the Pacific Northwest, they still have plenty of trees you can wander through. Almost no one in Europe has any idea what a sasquatch or Big Foot is however.
Lately I’ve been going one way through the nature preserve and then returning via the main road, especially now that there are fewer cars out.
This is normally a fairly busy street. Today, due to the coronavirus, I feel like Will Smith in I Am Legend. There are no zombies though, because it’s daylight. Duh.
Today, you can just walk and walk in almost total silence (if you tune out the huffing and puffing of course).
But all that silence sometimes makes you wonder if maybe you are in fact the last man on earth.
And then a dog suddenly snarls and barks and lunges at you from behind a fence, clearly desiring nothing more than tearing into your flesh… it’s today’s zombie!
Actually, this is a Portuguese Shepherd. It used to be German, but he emigrated.
Seriously, the main danger I face when taking these walks are from dogs that attack suddenly, constrained only by a fence or chain… usually. Plus I don’t always trust the chain or fence. I’ve never had a problem, but there are plenty of times I’ve encountered dogs running around untethered, and some of them don’t act too happy to see me.
The other danger is from the cars… which is why I’m loving walking that highway right now. In Portugal, a driver will slam on his brakes thirty meters from a crosswalk (nicknamed “zebra” because of the stripes) if he sees someone even start to take a step in its general direction. But perhaps because of some subconscious need to balance the pedestrian vs. car scales of equality, when they pass by someone on the side of the road half of them don’t move their steering wheel at all, and so whiz by while nearly grazing your arm at seventy kilometers an hour.
Which is why I am very careful around houses on that highway… once in a while a dog will come out of nowhere from behind a fence, barking and growling like they’ve been starved for a week, which creates an automatic reaction in my body to jump back. But there are no sidewalks so I’m usually right on the road, meaning I have to make sure I don’t automatically jump back into the road because if I did, and a car was coming at the same time, I’d go from being a meaty dinner for the dog to becoming a pancake for the paramedics.
But, I do get to see some amazing views even while dodging the dangers. Here, Lisbon is off in the distance. Sometimes the views are so clear it just takes your breath away. Kind of a Vista d’ Coronavirus you might say.
This is the view we get after we drive down our side road and stop to turn onto the main highway. While we don’t have that kind of view right from our house, we get to see it every time we go out and about.
But the thing that really gets my goat is, well goats.
For some reason, the grass is always tastier on the other side of the fence. And because they have horns (and don’t know it because they never look at themselves in the mirror), once they poke their head through they sometimes can’t get back out. I had to grab this knucklehead by the horns and twist and turn and fight him until he finally got his head back out. But not only did he not bother to thank me, he just stuck his head right back through again. Fine, eat your stupid greener grass you stupid goat.
“Poupe” was one of the more puzzling and humorous words we encountered when we first moved here. Most gas stations have a big “poupe” sign on them. Now we know it means “save.” We were relieved to learn this, because otherwise we thought all those stores with poupe signs were advertising their toilet facilities, or in this case, how you can somehow create energy by pooping.
It seems that over 90% of the housing, perhaps all construction, features the beautiful terra cotta tile roofs that make any viewscape of Lisbon so spectacular. But if a builder ever veers from that standard, they pretty much do whatever they want.
Another oddity next door to that one, this looks like a pretty cool house with an amazing view of Lisbon across the water… and yet is apparently abandoned. I’m just waiting for the “vende” to be spray-painted on the wall so I can find out if we can maybe get it for a song. We’d need the big discount just to rehabilitate the yard. Or to buy a goat.
This is an old windmill that doesn’t have to do any work at all for this restaurant right now due to the coronavirus. Where we live is so windy we’re surprised there aren’t some wind turbines in our area (even though Trump tells us they’d give us cancer). Still, Portugal is very progressive with energy, recently producing more power from clean energy sources than it actually needed. Which may be another reason the windmill isn’t running, I dunno.
This is in our neighborhood, and I always find it amusing. Someone built a car ramp right on the edge of a cliff. Let’s hope they never accidentally lurch forward… both the car and driver would end up, well, let’s just say the hospital admittance form would probably use the word “crumpled” in the “patient condition” box.
After a long walk, home sweet home, obscured by the greenery.
I decided to finally put my doctorate in Medieval Construction and Castleology* to better use than building medieval towns with Legos®, so we set about identifying and exploring the best castles in Luxembourg. Because the only thing cooler than making a castle with Legos®, is seeing a real one in person.
(I hate those ® things. If I write Legos without the ® are they going to sue me? Lego! Lego! Lego! Ha! Bring it on you crazy Danish peoples!)
Anyway, there are about 130 castles in Luxembourg. We needed to narrow that down, so we made a list of the important criteria necessary for such a vast and complicated expedition. The list is as follows:
Find it on a map and drive to it.
Once armed with these strict guidelines, we put the pedal to the metal and criss-crossed Luxembourg to check out these amazing medieval sites. Of course, Luxembourg is only 82 km (51 miles) long and 57 km (35 miles) wide, so it only takes about an hour to get from one end to the other (20 minutes if you pretend Germany’s autobahn extends into Luxembourg), but still, it was a massive undertaking, eclipsed only by the logistics needed for the Battle of the Bulge, because, y’know, all they needed were nuts.
You’ll only get that if you know your trivia about World War II.**
So let’s start out with these first five, carefully presented to you in no order whatsoever.
Useldange Castle is thought to have been built in about the 12th century. The castle and its chapel were damaged during a war between France and Burgundy. France obviously won, because Burgundy is now only a wine, a color, and an anchorman, not a country.
It is mostly in ruins but they did a nice job of restoring various parts of the castle, including installing a metal spiral staircase which allows you to climb to the top of the tower for some great views of the little town.
The town of Useldange sports a bustling population of just over 600 people, which means it’s not much useldange to anyone anymore.
Beaufort Castle was kind of a bust to visit since it is closed to visitors in the winter. Such is the lot of Castle Hunters such as ourselves. Still, it is an impressive castle, dating back to the 11th century. It fell into complete disrepair in the 18th century, but was restored in 1893 and opened to visitors in 1928. Just not to us, because it wasn’t summer. I wonder if that ploy worked against invading armies? “Sorry, but put your stupid catapult away, we’re closed!”
The bustling town of Beaufort has a population of just under 1,500.
Bourscheid Castle sits on a site with archeological evidence of structures dating back to Roman times. It is estimated to have been built around the year 1000 (or as they called back then: “Y1K.”) It is one of the most important medieval castles in the area, as well as the largest.
The castle is open to visitors, unfortunately we got there 15 minutes before closing time and watched the lady operating the entrance desk spot us and then hurry to slam the door shut and flip the sign to “Zougemaach” (which is Luxembourgish for “closed”) before we could make it to the door. Oh, well. Not a big loss because it’s mostly open air anyway, so we stuck our faces up to the fence and saw it for free. Ha!
We enjoyed the cute conical caps, making us think of gnome hats. Despite our not being able to go through it, we could see that it is a reasonably impressive castle, earning itself a well-earned place in the top ten castles of Luxembourg.
The town of Bourscheid counts a little over 500 residents as its bustling populace.
Well, yeah, as you can see by my expression, Mersch was kind of a bust. That’s just part of the deal with castle hunting, sometimes you see something amazing, and sometimes you see something that used to be a castle and now houses the administrative offices of the county, or maybe just looks like a pile of Lego pieces because it’s in ruins.
But it’s relevant to this list because it’s also one of the castles that belongs to the famous “Valley of the Seven Castles.” There are even signs on the highway pointing to a drive where you see all seven castles. But they didn’t pick the seven castles for anything other than they were all castles in the same general vicinity. It’s not worth making that drive, except to cherry pick the better castles. Except that the tower on the left sort of looks like a surprised Pinocchio, so there’s that.
But unlike all of the other bustling metropolises with their populations of 500 or 600 people, Mersch has over 3,000! We could barely stomach the traffic congestion.
Clervaux Castle dates back to the 12th century.
As you can see, not all castles look medieval and like they were only built for combat. In fact, Clervaux Castle was built in a kind of bowl, with hills looming above on all sides… meaning it was one of the rare times we didn’t get any kind of a view from a castle.
The castle was the site of a pitched battle during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, and was destroyed by fire. It was subsequently rebuilt.
The neighboring Church of Clervaux.
Clervaux Castle doesn’t look very castley from this angle, but neither does this umbrella-wielding knight look very nightie.
A monument to the Battle of the Bulge, which is still a pretty big thing around these parts.
Which is why they erected this monument. I guess he won because he’s not fat.
However, due to the Coronavirus scare, the poor little town, with its bustling population of just under 1,500, was seemingly deserted. We talked to a proprietor (one of a multitude of Portuguese expats we encountered) who said that normally it was busy with people year round. Little did we know that was just the beginning of a long, sad tale of quarantines and limited travel around the entire world.
Next up: The best of the rest.
* I got my doctorate in Medieval Construction and Castleology from Trump University. Which means, of course, that I’m lying, which is about the only thing anyone could have learned from that defunct con job of a school. I just thought it would be funny for anyone who happens upon this entry by searching on “The Top Ten Castles of Luxembourg” to think they’d really struck gold with such amazing expertise and knowledge! But nah, we’re just a coupla Yanks who like castles.
No, I’m not talking about flying during the Coronavirus pandemic. I’m talking about flying Ryanair.
If you read the blog entry preceding this one, you’ll know that I poked a whole lot of fun at Ryanair for the way they recoup their money after advertising a 19 euro fare to Luxembourg.
Turns out, the joke was on us. Ryanair really is that bad. I won’t bore you with all the grimy details, but suffice it to say Ryanair does everything in its power to remind you that you’re flying on the damned-cheapest-airline around.
Like most airlines, they charge you for luggage. But unlike any other airline I’ve experienced, they don’t let the employees at the gate take your payment: they make you go to another line across the terminal to pay for said luggage before you can even check in… after you’ve already waited in line to check in. Because a helpful sign or employee might cost Ryanair something, and we can’t have that!
Once you’re in the new line, they make damn sure not to be in any hurry whatsoever. We went from getting to the airport in plenty of time to ending up walking right into the boarding line with barely enough time for a preflight visit to the restroom, and that was despite a lighter-than-normal security queue.
There’s more, but I’ll just leave it with this: I’ll never book another flight on Ryanair again. Not only is the aggravation they dole out not worth whatever savings you might gain, by the time they’ve tacked on all the other expenses, it may even be more expensive. If you’re flying with only a backpack or something… maybe. But I’d still worry about how many other corners they may cut in their efforts to be the CHEAP airline.
Be that as it may, when it was all said and done, we didn’t regret the trip for an instant. Luxembourg is a wonderful little country (actually a Grand Duchy… the only one in the world).
So try as they might to aggravate us, at least Ryanair got us there in one piece, and so far anyway, coronavirus free as well (not that Ryanair deserves any credit for that, I wouldn’t be surprised if they start selling seats based on the amount of disinfectant they’ve applied).
We were, in fact, very lucky to get in and out of the country when we did. Within a week of our return, borders were closing, airlines were cutting routes, and most countries were basically going into full lockdown mode.
If we would’ve been booked to leave a week later than we did, we’d probably would have not made the trip.
Which means we would’ve never seen this: the view of the “Grund” from The Walls of the Corniche, which have been called “the most beautiful balcony in Europe.” The Grund is basically the old city.
It’s quite a ways down; the walls we were standing on here were considered so impregnable they were called “The Gibraltar of the North.” But not anymore, because we were able to impregnate them easily.
We didn’t go down there because it looked like it went uphill both ways, and all the guides I read basically used adjectives like “charming” and “quaint,” which are usually travel euphemisms for “boring.”
But the views were spectacular.
The Grund is also a popular nightlife area, which means nothing to us because the world “nightlife” at our age actually means, “What’s on the telly tonight?”
This is also the place where they have the Casements du Bock, a 21-kilometer network of underground passages hewn from solid rock. Unfortunately, the tunnels were closed for the winter, so we could only wistfully imagine how exciting it would have been to be stuck in a bunch of tunnels while the hoards were attacking outside.
I can just picture a befuddled army lolling about down there asking each other, “How the hell are we gonna get up that?”
This is in front of the Grand Ducal Palace. It is the official residence of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, and where he performs most of his duties as Luxembourg’s head of state. Here, he’s seen also providing the security, due to the country’s current financial straits.
Actually Luxembourg is swimming in dough. If you need a loan or something, just go there and start asking Luxembourgers for money. Luxembourg’s GDP per capita is third in the world, only behind Qatar (“We’re so rich, we gave away the ‘u’ in our name”), and the former Portuguese territory of Macau (who can crow about having a gambling industry seven times larger than that of Las Vegas). The US ranks tenth in GDP per capita, in case you were wondering. Portugal is 42nd, but no one wonders about that.
Built in the early 17th century, The “Cathédrale Notre-Dame” is Luxembourg’s only cathedral. And it hasn’t even burned down yet!
This is a building.
Simon and Garfunkel would have loved this bridge if it were over troubled waters.
It’s obvious here that I fell in love with Luxembourg. Or maybe I have a thing for flagpoles.
One of the interesting things about Luxembourg is that they basically grow up speaking four languages: French, German, English, and Luxembourgish, not necessarily in that order. I didn’t know there was even a language called Luxembourgish until we got here. Actually, English isn’t on the official language list, because once they’ve put three languages on a sign, they’ve pretty much run out of room. There is also a lot of Portuguese spoken because there are a lot of Portuguese in Luxembourg, mainly because the pay in Luxembourg is a lot better. Of course, everything is more expensive than in Portugal, too.
The sign above is only in German, so I shot this photo in order to translate it. Unfortunately, Google Translate left me more confused than I was before: “Here you will find so large with grace, so much seriously associated with loveliness that there is nothing to be desired, Poussin had worked his wonderful talent in such spaces, goethe über Luxemburg, campagne in France.”
Uh huh. Oh, well, someone who actually speaks German might help me translate that better.
At least UNESCO leads with English. There are over 1,000 UNESCO heritage sites in the world. We’ve got a long way to go to see ’em all, but we’re trying!
Because a sunglasses-wearing harp-playing bird is exactly what this wall needed.
The Gate of the Day.
Some of the streets were a little barren, presumably due to the coronavirus. Not much else seemed overly affected, really, especially since it was our first time and we had nothing to compare it to. But it did seem less crowded than it otherwise would have been.
Kind of a cool old building they’ve turned into a think tank lab or something.
Because nothing screams “selfie” like a fountain in a park.
We heard this was a good way to keep the coronavirus at bay. So far it’s worked!
Luxembourg City is rather small, with just over 120,000 inhabitants, 70% of which are foreigners. When we rented our car I chatted with the gal behind the desk, and I asked about her French accent. I was wondering if she had the accent of Luxembourgish, which is pretty much a cross between French and German. She kind of laughed and told me she was French, and that no Luxembourger would ever work behind a counter anyway. Well then. Must be nice to be a Luxembourger!
The car came in very handy, as you’ll see in our next posts where we visit a number of the over 100 castles in the small country. Plus we got to go to Germany and Belgium, because as soon as you start driving out of the city, you can pretty much accidentally go over a border. The country is smaller than Rhode Island, the smallest state in the US (and the most weirdly named because it’s not even an island).
One of the great things about living in Europe is how quickly and cheaply you can get to all sorts of other countries and cultures. In fact, we’re now making some of our travel plans based solely on special airline sales. So, when I saw a 19 euro fare from Lisbon to Luxembourg, I thought, “Why not?”
My next thought was, “Where’s Luxembourg?”
Luxembourg is one of those places where everyone knows the name, but virtually nothing else. A quick poll of our friends indicates that absolutely no one in the world has ever been to Luxembourg. But it does sound exotically European so I quickly got on the RyanAir website to book the flight. After struggling with all the options and complications, I decided to call them. Here follows a transcribed version of the conversation… and I swear this is all true (except for the parts that aren’t):
Ryan Air (in a charming Irish accent that has me melting into butter): “Hello – Dia duit, and thank you for calling Ryan Air. How may I assist you?”
Me: “Yes, hello. I’m on your website trying to buy a 19 euro fare from Lisbon to Luxembourg, but there are so many options and add-ons it crashed my browser. Can you help me book the flight? I love your accent by the way.”
Ryan Air: “Oh, thank you sir. You’re making me blush! I can absolutely help you.” (I give her our account number and desired itinerary.) “Okay, so that’s no problem ‘tall. I just have a few questions for you so we can finalize this.”
Ryan Air: “First of all, will that be seat or no seat?”
Me: “Excuse me?”
Ryan Air: “To actually have a seat to sit in, it’s a 50 euro upgrade.”
Me: “Really? So if I don’t buy a seat, what happens?”
Ryan Air: “You have to stand in the aisle, usually near the toilet. Don’t worry, hand straps are available.”
Me: “Hand straps?”
Ryan Air: “Yes, to hold on to during take off, landing, and any rough air. They’re only 10 euros more.”
Me: “And if I don’t get a hand strap?”
Ryan Air: “We have complimentary zip ties to secure you to the plane, but that means you can’t buy the toilet pass. There is only one set of zip ties per passenger, so they have to remain on for the duration of the flight.”
Me: “Toilet pass?”
Ryan Air: “Yes, that’s only 25 euros.”
Me: “And if I don’t get the toilet pass?”
Ryan Air: “Then you can’t use the toilet.”
Me: “Even if it’s an emergency?”
Ryan Air: “Well, there is a small bucket in the section with the people with the zip ties, but we don’t like to publicize that too much, we prefer to emphasize, you know, “holding it.” But sometimes if there are a lot of passengers that are, well, a little stingy and elderly, so, ah, I think you can guess how things turn out. Especially if it’s a turbulent flight, ha ha!”
Me: “Okay, then we definitely want seats.”
Ryan Air: “Oh good, it’s so nice to talk to a non-stingy flyer! You’re obviously not Irish, ha ha! So I assume you’ll want the toilet pass?”
Me: “How long of a flight is it?”
Ryan Air: “Let’s see, it looks like it’s just under three hours.”
Me: “Then God yes. We’ll take the toilet pass.”
Ryan Air: “Okay great! Good choice. Now, would you like a level one, two, three or four padded seat?”
Me: “Come again?”
Ryan Air: “Each seat is available with a different depth of pad. One is just bare metal, as I’m sure you would assume. Two is with a one centimeter foam pad. Three is with a three centimeter foam pad. Oh wait! I see there are two seats available that also have the back of the seat padded as well! Those go fast if you’re interested.”
Me: “So the other seats just have bare metal on the back?”
Ryan Air: “Yes, of course. But you can bring your own pad for only twenty euros.”
Me: “Well, jeez, I guess we’ll take the ones with the pad on the back.”
Ryan Air: “Excellent. By the way, those are only available with the level four padding, so we’ll just add that to the total.”
Me: “How much is–“
Ryan Air: “We still need to determine the seat location. Would you like the “Top-flight” inflight service personnel, standard, or sub-standard?”
Me: “What does that mean?”
Ryan Air: “Well the top-flight inflight service personnel have been rated an 8 or above.”
Me: “Rated how?”
Ryan Air: “By the passengers. We take a poll after each flight, just before we get to the gate.”
Me: “And they base that on…”
Ryan Air: “Overall service, as well as presentation.”
Ryan Air: “Frankly, most people base it all on looks. As you can imagine, the real good-looking ones can get away with throwing the peanuts at you, while the homely ones usually have to work a little harder. Just like in the real world, of course! The sub-standard are generally homely and a tad unfriendly, although you didn’t hear that from me.”
Me: “Really? So why doesn’t the airline just fire the sub-standard ones?”
Ryan Air: “I’m sorry, sir. I don’t know how it works in your country, but over here we don’t fire someone just because they’re ugly! I mean, trust me, (now in a whisper) the guy sitting next to me here wouldn’t be sitting there if we had that policy!”
Me: “Well, whatever. I just want a comfortable seat. Gimme a standard, um, attendant. So what has all that come to?”
Ryan Air: “Well first we have to figure out your luggage situation before we go any further. Are you planning on bringing luggage?”
Me: “Of course.”
Ryan Air: “Okay, so that’s 75 euros for each checked bag as long as they don’t exceed the two kilogram limit.”
Me: “Two kilograms? Isn’t that like about four pounds?”
Ryan Air: “Four point four, to be exact. Will you need to upgrade that?”
Me: “Well, yeah, I think our empty luggage weighs that much!”
Ryan Air: “Ah, yes, I see here you are American. I’ll just check the “American luggage” box, that’s only five euros. In any case, you’ll definitely want to buy a weight upgrade for it. The good news is that it’s only ten euros more.”
Me: “Okay, for how much weight?”
Ryan Air: “That’s per kilogram, up to ten kilograms. Over that is an additional five euros per half kilogram.”
Me: “What th–“
Ryan Air: “But you can bring some things aboard too, if you need to, you know, travel on the cheap.”
Me: “Like a bag?”
Ryan Air: “Well, we usually start with the clothing.”
Ryan Air: “Yes, will you be wearing any clothing on the flight?”
Me: “Um, yeah, I mean, I hadn’t really considered anything diff–“
Ryan Air: “We do have to account for the added weight, and to, of course, prevent the cheating that sometimes goes on. So if you prefer the nude section, we can save you an extra 50 euros right there.”
Me: “The nude section?”
Ryan Air: “Of course, for those who need the absolute cheapest fare, although we do insist on the ten euro purchase of a non-returnable Ryan Air towel for you to sit on. Of course, we also have clothing kiosks near the gate when you land, if you also don’t purchase a carry-on luggage pass. Would you like an entry pass to our clothing kiosk for twenty euros?”
Me: “We’re not going to fly nude for God’s sake!”
Ryan Air: “Ah, yes, I forgot you were American. No worries. We’ll just add the clothing option, just be sure to keep it under three kilograms, we will be weighing you with and without before boarding. Would you like the private weighing room for twenty euros more?”
Me: “Gawd, I guess so. But I’m still wondering what the total is.”
Ryan Air: “Of course. But while I’m adding that up would you like to consider our food options?”
Me: “Sigh. Okay, you mentioned peanuts earlier. At least we get peanuts, right?”
Ryan Air: “We can certainly add that to the total. They’re only two euros apiece.”
Me: “Well considering the costs of all the rest of this stuff, that’s not too bad. We’ll take two bags.”
Ryan Air: “Great! How many peanuts per bag?”
Ryan Air: “That’s two euros per peanut, so you just have to tell me how many peanuts you want all together.”
Me: “Two euros per peanut? What the hell?”
Ryan Air: “It’s supply and demand, sir. You can’t exactly stop at a convenience store while you’re 30,000 feet up in the air, now can you, ha ha!”
Me: “We’ll pass on the peanuts. What total do you have so far?”
Ryan Air: “Of course. Bear with me, I’m still adding it all up. But before we get to that, I am required to tell you that we have travel insurance available as well, which we strongly recommend. You never know when you or your spouse might fall ill, run into a conflict, maybe get a flat tire on the way to the airport, or even find out we just went out of business.”
Me: “Hard to imagine that, when you’re charging two euros a peanut.”
Ryan Air: “Ha ha! That’s capitalism for you! Anyway, on the insurance, it’s only forty-five euros each. That will refund your base fare should a major medical problem, such as death or a similar event, occurs.”
Me: “The base fare? Wait, so you’d refund me only 19 euros?”
Ryan Air: “Absolutely. And that will even be refunded to your survivors in the unlikely event of a fatal plane crash. Would you like the twenty-five euro survivor notification option?”
Me: “Wait, wait. I still don’t understand. If I even buy a fraction of the stuff you’re offering, we still only get 19 euros back?”
Ryan Air: “Yes, of course, remember, you’re flying on an amazingly inexpensive fare! I must also tell you that we have found, in the event of a fatal crash, the survivors –if you purchase the survivor notification of course– receive a lot of peace of mind when they receive that 19 euro check a year or two later.”
Me:” I’ll take my chances. I still need to know how much all this is going to cost me.”
Ryan Air: “Of course, I’ll give you the total in just a second… “ (lots of typing can be heard). Oh, by the way, I’m seeing our time allotment for this call has almost been exceeded. For just five euros, we can extend the conversation another five minutes.”
Me: “What? Why don’t you just type faster? Or talk faster! Why would I agree–“
Ryan Air: “Okay, sir, I can see you’re a little more, shall we say, frugal than you were letting on at first. No worries. (Starts speaking very quickly.) I can wrap this up shortly and we can avoid that fee. As a reminder, that in the event you do agree to the flight, this conversation is being recorded and will act as our legal agreement, and will be documented inside our Customer Retention & Appreciation Procedures.”
Me: “Customer retent–”
Ryan Air: “Yes, our Customer Retention & Appreciation Procedures, or CRAP, are very important to us. Do you understand all the CRAP as I’ve explained to you?”
Me: “Yeah I certainly understand most of all this is crap, but…”
Ryan Air: “I just need a quick ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for our records. Do you understand?”
Me: “Um, I guess, yes?”
Ryan Air: “Very good sir. As per our terms and conditions, we have recorded your answer for the non-refundable flight and charges. With everything you’ve asked for, we have now charged your credit card on file for the flight, which is 678 euros, per person, each way. With the added taxes, convenience fees, airport permission charges, and sales tax on the fuel surcharges, that comes to 2,712 euros. At Ryan Air, we appreciate your business! Safe trave–”
Recorded Message: “Your time allotment has been exceeded. Your flight has been (in a different voice) booked and your credit card charged.” (Back to the original voice.) “Thank you for flying with Ryan Air!”
Me: I stare at the phone for a while.
“Honey! Guess what! I just booked that nineteen euro fare to Luxembourg!”
Carolyn: “Cool! Where’s Luxembourg?”
We’ll let you know all about it if and when we make it.
Just when you thought this blog might have finally met it’s timely demise…
Our Fall trip to Austria and Slovenia had to be canceled due to Carolyn’s emergency spine replacement surgery (well okay, just parts of it), but she recovered sufficiently to able to go on our holiday trip to the United States.
Due to our multiple experiences flying from Europe to the Pacific Northwest and back, we’ve learned that it’s actually more enjoyable and comfortable to cut the trip into halves. While fewer stops is always good, after a ten to twelve hour flight the pooling of fluids in your body makes your lower legs look as if you’re wearing hockey shin guards under your pants and your shoes feel like size four ballerina slippers. When you walk down the aisle to the restroom, you feel exactly like a cross between a ballerina and a hockey player… one that waited to pee about thirty minutes too long.
In addition to that, each one of the plane’s toilets looks as if a terrorist accidentally set off a hand grenade inside. Which reminds me of this VW ad. It’s worth a click for a quick laugh. Plus it features the car we own in Portugal, the (Marco) Polo.
Anyway, if you break up the trip to a couple of five or six hour segments, you not only save your shoes from looking like a Pillsbury crescent roll tube after you bang it on the counter, but you can actually use the toilet even right before landing and experience only a minimum of dry heaves, depending on which bodily function you are unfortunate enough to require at that time and, more importantly, depending even more on which bodily function the person who just walked out was unfortunate enough to require as well.
As a result of all these scientific calculations, we decided to make a stop in New York City for four or five days. Carolyn had never been, so we wanted to take in all the famous sights. I will say this about New York: Back in the late seventies and eighties, I traveled there a few times, and generally found it dirty, scuzzy, and dangerous. But this trip, I felt very safe, the city was clean and the people pleasant.
Statistics back those observations up, as crime in the city spiked in the 1980’s, mostly due to the crack epidemic. But today, crime is now among the lowest of major US cities. Indeed, New York City is now about the 10th safest in the world. Again, statistics back up what we felt with our “spidey senses.”
Theories abound as to why New York City has improved so much. But I doubt it’s a coincidence that it has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, and they also had a long period where a Democrat was mayor. Just sayin’, especially since Trump likes to blame state and city problems on Democrats where he can, and I hate that kind of partisan nonsense, so I speak up. So there. Regardless, we were delighted to feel as much relative safety as we have in major European cities. Good job New York!
Well, onward and upward with this photo spread of all the major sights in New York City complete with a helluva lot fewer words.
First stop: Times Square. Back in the seventies and eighties it was dominated by a bunch of adult theaters and graffiti. Today it is a glittering testimony to the technology of huge animated billboards. And crowds. Hoo-wee. Might’ve been because of the holidays, but I haven’t seen that many people crammed together since Voodoo donuts announced a free donut day. And they were all friendly. Who woulda thunk in New York?
The answer to the question: “Where the hall is Carnegie?”
We tried smiling in front of it. Honest we did.
This is the Rockefeller Center skating rink. No one goes there anymore because it’s so crowded. So we didn’t either.
It would have been fun to see the Rockettes. We had to settle for this outdoor shot, but then Carolyn made up for it by doing the Can Can for me back in the hotel room. But that’s all I got to say about that.
We even braved the subway. Being lifelong suburbanites (and possibly both of us being a little, shall we say, “short bussy,”), we find mass transit to be a challenge, even when we know the language. As a result, we walked from one end of Manhattan to the other, being proud of ourselves for exercising when it was really only because we felt too stupid to try the subway more than once.
Speaking of the language, while it was nice to be able to understand everything we read and heard, apparently there are still some hotel professionals who struggle with English. “Your are here” indeed.
A must-see while in New York City has to be the 9/11 memorial. They didn’t allow photography throughout a lot of it, but the memorial was very well done and very much worth seeing.
One of the actual fire trucks that arrived on the scene only to be crushed by falling debris.
There are two outside pools where the footprints of the twin towers used to be.
This was the original retaining wall, which was a key piece of engineering in order to keep the Hudson River from seeping in. It is now part of the museum.
It took the better part of an afternoon to see everything in the memorial, but it was time very well spent.
We opted not to take any of our remaining time to go out to Liberty Island, settling for this shot from the docks. It was too freakin’ cold, so we were satisfied to confirm from the shore that the Statue of Liberty still exists.
Every year, the Staten Island Ferry provides 22 million people transportation between Staten Island and Manhattan. And it’s free. No wonder crime is down in New York!
We’ve got this Brooklyn Bridge to sell ya!
Somehow this photo from Paris got into our New York City collection. No, wait, this was in Greenwich Village! It is, in fact, the Washington Square Arch. It was built in 1892 to celebrate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration as President. And we thought arches like this were only European…
One of the most pleasant surprises was going up the Empire State Building. We hit it when it was near-deserted. Walking through any maze of roped-off lines with no one else in sight is always a nice feeling… unless you think everyone else knows something you don’t.
The experience wasn’t cheap, costing over thirty bucks apiece. But for that you do get to save your wife from the clutches of King Kong, at least after you take the photo.
And you also get to see some magnificent sights. I never tire of experiencing scenic views from atop castles or skyscrapers. Everything looks so clean and beautiful.
The building even had its own red light district. Actually the light is from the heaters which were installed to prevent the wind chill from turning people into Empire State Ice Cubes.
The city looks almost science fiction-y from that far up. Just need some flying cars!
That’s the very tippy top, where King Kong met his demise.
They make it pretty hard to jump off, although at least 30 people have jumped from the Empire State Building since it opened in 1931. The last guy to do it did it in 2006, and that was from the 66th floor, so these barriers are apparently working.
During the elevator ride, you are entertained with a ceiling outfitted with a video presentation. The one on the way up was more interesting than what they played on the way down, making it look like the building was being built as you soared skyward. I didn’t think to take any pictures of it until the way down, when it was really just a kaleidoscopic art piece.
Now back into the city!
This place was as busy as Grand Central Station! Mostly because that’s what it is.
The clean up and safety of the city is no more exemplified than with Central Park. It is now a beautiful park, and is safer than 83% of the cities in the state of New York.
I got a kick out of this pencilly building bordering Central Park. I guess if land is real expensive, you buy a small plot and then go up, up, up!
Gotta do a dog when you’re in New York.
Also gotta do the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Met. The Met is the largest art museum in the US, and one of the most-visited museums in the world. About 7.3 million people visited the met in 2018.
Our offerings to the gods have a lot more plastic in them than they used to.
The Met houses over two million pieces of art spanning much of the history of human culture. We didn’t have time to see half that. Or a quarter. Actually, I estimate we saw .00015 of it all, so I’m sure we missed something cool!
Speaking of cool, it snowed while we were there. We were as giddy as school children since Lisbon outlawed snow not long after it was founded.
The majority of our visit, however, was to see friends and family over the holidays, and ring in the new year in the country of our origin. Family photos are rarely of interest to anyone who’s not in them, so the number of photos below bears no resemblance to the importance or delight in our visit. We tried to get to everyone, but sadly there are so many hours in a trip like this, so don’t have your feelings hurt if we missed you. That said, if you’re someone who lives in the Pacific NW and we didn’t see you this visit, please contact us right away because there are damn few people as it is who read the blog this far! If you’re one of ’em, we gotta see you next time!
When you discover that your grandchildren now tower over you.
This is the perfect face for a grandkid to make when opening a present.
Carolyn and her progeny and their girlfriends.
And then when the photos are taken five drinks later.
After the unwrapping frenzy, the men sit back and talk about the good ol’ days.
One of the activities we were taken to was axe throwing, which apparently is a thing now.
After Carolyn demonstrated her expertise, I decided I would make sure I always treat her well.
My oldest son and one of my top two grandsons. Well I only have two, but he’s a great kid, mostly because he thinks I’m really cool for some reason.
Despite the great time we had, and the fun seeing our old haunts and family and friends, we were happy to get back to Portugal.
This entry was supposed to be about what we thought would be an amazing trip to Vienna, Austria; Salzburg, Germany; and Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Instead, the universe said, “Oh, hell no! You guys have been traveling enough and having too much fun lately. It’s time you experienced something a little less awesome.”
So it dished out about a year’s worth of bad luck and trauma all crammed into the space of about 48 hours.
Because, y’know, you can’t live in a country with the best weather in all of Europe, populated by the kindest, humblest people on the planet, with a cost of living that makes our retirement even possible, with cuisine we have fallen in love with, where within a matter of hours we can land in just about any city in Europe, and with a health care system whose quality and cost puts America’s to shame, without being reminded that, well, you still live inside these fallible and aging human bodies.
We’ll start with Carolyn: she had to be rushed to the emergency room and receive emergency surgery on her spine.
To start from the beginning, Carolyn has had some aches and pains in her bones for a while now (probably due to her tragic high jump history). It’s also one of the reasons we wanted to move to a warmer climate. She has been receiving physical therapy as well as trying to tone up via a thrice-weekly aqua-size class.
But a few weeks before we were scheduled to depart for our whirlwind tri-country tour, the pain suddenly became so intense that her head started spinning and she began spewing naughty words in the same tone of voice I first heard in The Exorcist. After one of our windows shattered from her screams, we decided maybe it would be a good idea to see a doctor.
So I sprinkled some holy water around, loaded her writhing body onto the hand-truck, and then wheeled her out to our car. While I folded her into the seat, her shrieks set off several car alarms in our neighborhood. I did my best to reassure her by telling her that a little pain never hurt anybody. Immediately I learned that Linda Blair’s evil stare has nothing on Carolyn when her back’s hurtin’.
To shorten what will already be an even longer story with more twists and turns, she ended up in an operating room the same day after being carted away in an ambulance. The hospital scrambled to find a neurosurgeon, and they finally located one named Doctor Watermelon wandering incoherently on the side streets. Fortunately, he sobered up fast, and actually turned out to absolutely terrific. He was kind, humble, down-to-earth, spoke English well, and he wielded a mean scalpel. I’m kidding about the side street thing, but not his name. His name is Dr. Melancia, and in Portuguese, melancia translates to watermelon.
(Last names can be interesting here, we’ve seen or heard of names that translate to chicken, rabbit, wolf, war, and pine tree. I kept seeing a billboard asking people to vote for a rabbit, and was confused until I was told it’s not uncommon for animal names and other things to be used as last names. I wonder how that started?)
Anyway, Dr. Watermelon removed three broken chunks of spine that had been pressing on her spinal nerves, and placed a carbon spacer in there to open up the space and keep that temperamental nerve happy. Apparently nerve pain is a different kind of pain from what you might experience when, for instance, your finger is chopped off. It might be described as to what it might feel like for a woman to give birth to a pumpkin –with the large stem still attached– while a sadist fires a blowtorch on her back as he sings the theme song from “It’s a Small World.”
It was near-miraculous that she was put under while experiencing excruciating pain but when she awoke (seemingly for her, only a few seconds later) the only pain she felt was from the cut on her back!
By the way, this surgery was performed without insurance coverage. Our policy will only cover pre-existing issues starting next year. Since we are in Portugal, that news didn’t come with the terror that we would have experienced in the US: the total bill for the neurosurgery here was under 9,000 euros. Which isn’t small change, but it probably would have been ten times that in the US. Between that and the insurance rates, believe it or not even with that surgery we’re still money ahead. Just as one example, getting a saline IV in the US runs anywhere from $100 to $500 (I’m not making that up, I looked it up). On our Portugal bill, they were 98 cents. 98 cents! The sooner America gets its head out of its ass when it comes to health care, the better.
Speaking of asses, I know the picture here makes it look like she now has two butt cracks, but that’s just the scar… plus the bruises where Dr. Watermelon spanked her for laughing at his name after she started feeling the affects of the anesthesia.
But the universe wasn’t done with us yet. After all, what’s one spinal surgery when you can have so much more fun?
Being oblivious to the universe’s determination to humble us, on the way back to the hospital in the morning I stopped to get some gas. To my surprise, my Portuguese debit card declined, which I thought was odd because I had just transferred a sizable amount from the states a few weeks prior. So when I got to the hospital I checked online… and lo and behold, all our money was gone! What the– ?
Since she was in the safe hands of the kind and professional hospital staff, I drove to our bank about fifteen minutes away. Sure enough, some buttwad had stolen our card number and made about eighty different travel purchases all around Europe. (Using stolen cards for travel is a fairly common way to turn that ill-gotten money into value because by the time anyone figures it out, it’s all spent, plus they don’t need address verifications, etc.)
So here we were without a Portuguese penny to our name and my wife recovering from spinal surgery.
In Portugal, they handle that type of fraud differently than in the US. I had to go to a police station and get a police report and bring it back to the bank before they could initiate anything. They told me the nearest police station was about a fifteen minute walk away, and since the bank was closing for lunch (yes, they do that here), I decided to walk.
I can just hear the universe snickering as it decided to poke it’s snarky finger into my iPhone and make Google Maps act as if it was sitting under one of those cartoon magnets Wile E. Coyote used to buy from Acme when he was trying to catch the Road Runner.
Accordingly, after a ten minute walk, Google Maps told me I was going in the wrong direction. So I reversed course, passed by the bank again, and walked another fifteen minutes in the other direction. It guided me to this very large building that didn’t look much like a police station. It turns out it was a university. I have no idea how Google Maps changed that, but I swear I didn’t put anything about a university in there. So I asked a couple of young men if they knew where a police station was. They immediately bolted in terror, thinking I was going to report them for something. They were college students, after all. No, actually, the Portuguese are very friendly and helpful, so we were able to figure out that if I continued to walk another ten minutes, I’d find a station.
And I did. Except that it was manned by two officers who spoke no English. Which wasn’t a huge problem, because I can communicate in Portuguese like a non-precocious two-year-old, but more importantly, the bank had given me a note telling me exactly what document the police needed to produce.
Despite the fact that it was written in Portuguese, they told me I had to go to another police station across town. So back I walked another 25 minutes to my car, which was sitting in front of the now-open bank, and drove to the other police station, with Google Maps still acting as my guide.
Turns out it was a police station in a heavily-touristed area, seemingly there to handle all the touristy problems dumb foreigners like us experience, like dealing with waiters who berate us for leaving some money on the table after lunch. I guess my Portuguese baby talk didn’t convince the original two cops that I live here, so they sent me to the station more accustomed to foreigners.
Since it was so crowded, parking was nowhere to be found, so I parked about twenty minutes away, up a long hill amongst a thousand tiny roads. I could only hope I’d find the car again, but to be safe, I pinned it in Google Maps.
Meanwhile… let’s flash back a few weeks to a swim we were having in the local public pool during aqua-size class. A big rubber mat had hit me square in the eye as I was horsing around. I didn’t think too much of it, but afterward I started noticing little black floaties in my vision. So I looked it up on the internet. It said that floaties are not a real problem; they’ll generally dissolve after a while. BUT, if you happen to see a white flash in the corner of your vision, get into see an ophthalmologist right away! You could go blind!
Since I wasn’t seeing anything like that, I had been simply waiting for the black floaties to disappear. However, on the drive back from the hospital the night before, I started seeing white flashes! At first I thought they were reflections from oncoming cars, but eventually I realized I was beset with the dreaded, sight-stealing white flashes the internet warned me about. My concern about that was temporarily pre-empted by our drained bank account, but as I sat in the police station waiting for my number to be called, it felt like the flashes were getting worse, and I started wondering if I’d go blind while I waited for an officer.
Plus I started seeing filmy things every other time I blinked. I mean, going blind is not on my top ten to-do list. My vision is bad enough as it is.
Plus I had to pee in the worst way, and there were no obvious bathrooms. That’s almost as bad as thinking you’re going blind. I did eventually find a bathroom behind an open door that said “Do Not Enter.” But I went through anyway, figuring they’d have to risk getting peed on if they did in fact try and stop me.
It was then that I had an epiphany: since I would be going back to the hospital that day, maybe they could squeeze me in for an urgent ophthalmology visit. In the US, I figured there’d be a snowball’s chance in hell an ophthalmologist could see me the same day, but as this is Portugal, I had some hope.
Anyway, my number at the police station was finally called, and my hopes for a “quick in and out” were quickly dashed when I realized she needed to total up all eighty charges, line by line, plus take all of my information, including my parents’ names (seriously). Forty-five minutes later, I finally got out of there, police report in hand, and perhaps my eyeball as well, I thought.
So I walked back in the direction of the car, hoping I could navigate the maze of little roads Lisbon is so famous for. After a while, I thought, hey, I pinned this in Google Maps. I should be fine. So I looked on Google Maps. I spent fifteen minutes standing on the sidewalk trying to figure out where the hell Google Maps puts the information about the pin you set. I finally gave up and started walking some more. Long story short, I got pretty close, and looked at Google Maps again. There was the pin. Turns out it only shows it to you when you get close enough. The programmers responsible for Google Maps should be sentenced to a month in Lisbon having to find where they pinned something just so they can realize a better system can be had.
Of course, now the bank is closed (many close at three here… hey– lunch can be exhausting!), so I decide to drive back to the hospital where at least I might be able to be seen by someone. But it is now rush hour, in tourist season, and no one cares that I’m driving with increased panic that my eyeball is going to melt down my cheek.
Even though the bank was only fifteen minutes from the hospital, and even though the police station I ended up in was in between the bank and the hospital, Google Maps was showing that the drive would take about an hour. It was about the only thing it got right.
But then it really started going haywire. It directed me to go the wrong way on one-way streets. I also ended up in bus/taxi lanes, where I hoped that people would think I was an Uber driver. I managed a U-turn in the middle of a city street because the line of cars ahead of me stretched to infinity, and it wasn’t moving. Google Maps even wanted me to turn straight into a building… I kid you not. There was a long building to my right, with not even a driveway in sight, and it wanted me to turn into it. Once I passed the fake street, it re-routed me again, this time I think to Iceland.
Anyway, I cursed at Google Maps and shut it off and made my own damn way to the hospital, eye in hand… which actually came in handy because it was still attached and I could look all around and even behind me to spot other bus/taxi lanes I could illegally drive in.
I finally made it to the hospital, and lo and behold an ophthalmologist was able to see me within about thirty minutes. Her name was Dr. Peaches. I’m just kidding. Actually I never even got her name, but she was very nice. She examined me, and told me something or other (I forgot the name of it, but it wasn’t the retina) was slightly detached, but it shouldn’t be a big problem and no, I wasn’t going to go blind. After hugging her and kissing her feet, I went up to Carolyn’s room to let her know that between us, her spinal surgery still held the crown of physical problems.
But the universe, being so big and all, wasn’t quite done with us yet. The same day, we received a phone call from Carolyn’s son Ben, who was visiting and staying at our house, asking how to turn on the washing machine. Turns out, it was broken. Yes, the universe chuckled at that one. Also, when I was driving to get something from the pharmacy for Carolyn, I plopped a stick of gum in my mouth, and my gold crown came right off in my mouth. And then the universe poked a small hole in our car radiator.
We think it’s done with us for a while, deciding to move on to more important things, like making the political situation in America even worse. For once I’m hoping that Trump continues to wreak havoc… even something as big as the universe has got to be so totally occupied with that mess that it surely has forgotten us by now.
In the end, all’s well that ends well. Carolyn’s back is healing, I can see just as badly as I ever have, our washing machine was repaired, my gold crown was glued back in by the dentist (for 20 euros), and I had some money transferred from the US, because it will take weeks before they’ll restore all the charges here. But they will be restored. Plus we had multiple awesome friends not only loan us money but also deliver us some delicious food. We may be tempted to fake another surgery just to get more of that.
And we’ll deal with the car’s radiator when I’m done panicking over it.