Monday, July 31, 2017

Days 11 & 12: Beaches and Tuk Tuks, but not Southeast Asia

Day 11
After the smashing success that was Coney Island, Sarah thought that it was a good idea that we give the kids a little more beach time. It didn't hurt that, every time we asked the kids what they'd like to do, they replied "the beach." So, to the beach we go!

Getting to the beach would be a little more challenging. The "commute" there would involve making it out of the Alfama, catching a metro train to the train station, riding another train out to Cascais (an hour outside of Lisbon) then -of course, finding a beach.

Getting to the metro station didn't prove too hard. My echo-location worked, though I definitely didn't take us on the easiest or fastest route, winding down through an unending series of staircases. But, still we stumbled across the metro entrance and descending to board the metro. This, of course, involved buying tickets, and if there is one thing we've learned, Lisboeta (as Google tells me people from Lisbon call themselves) have no interest in making their public transportation accessible to tourists. After struggling to purchase tickets, we finally boarded a metro train (crowded!) and several minutes later, were at the Cais de Sodre train station and queuing up to buy tickets for Cascais.

"Don't worry, honey, I think I know where I'm going." Leading Sarah and the kids down an endless string of alleys and staircases.
Queueing up to get tickets for the train. The claustrophobic, stationary chaos of the train station.

Unfortunately, the queue was long, but fortunately we bought our tickets just in time to run up a flight of stairs and jump on a departing train (crowded!). Luckily, while the guide books pegged the trip time at an hour, it seemed shorter than that, and soon we were unloading into Cascais, a resort town so dedicated to beaches that you basically walk out of the train station, wander a block down the main avenue, and are dumped onto a small and idyllic beach (if you removed 200 or 300 hundred people).

Idyllic, but over-populated.

Now, I'm going to be 100% honest here. I'm not really a beach person. Or, more specifically, I'm not really a crowded beach person. Give me an empty crescent of sand, and I'm in, but winding through sweating tourists, and I start thinking "this is sure a nice beach to leave soon." That said, the kids were super, totes excited. The sun was warm, the sand fine and golden and the waves nearly non-existent. So, while Sarah staked out a section of beach, and I played laisse-affair lifeguard, they set about braving the non-waves and building a string of sand castles.

The kids = super-duper happy to have more beach time.

After a couple hours of playtime, we broke from the beach to get some lunch. Sarah and I ended up sharing a spread of suckling pig, chips and salad and the kids had some random combination of cheese and bread at one of those tourist squares where the waiters basically dash at you with the menu. Then the kids had some ice cream and gelato before we hit the boardwalk.

Making our way from Cascais to Estoril along the boardwalk. 

Cascais is the western-most of a string of beach towns outside of Lisbon, and is connected to it's neighboring down of Estoril by a long boardwalk and series of beaches. I was happy to do some walking and exploring, and the kids were excited to pick a new beach, so we made the walk along the shore. As we neared Estoril, Sarah and the kids decided that a beach looked suitably beachy, and not oppressively crowded, so we hunkered down there for another hour or so of beach play.

One of the nice things about the beaches location was that we had a clear view of the passing trains, which we knew ran on a 20 minute schedule. So, when it was time to go, we literally called the kids out of the surf, cleaned up, walked up to the station and almost walked straight on to our (forgivingly not crowded) train.

Unloading at the station we decided to walk home but realized that everyone was rapidly becoming over-hungry from too much sun and play. I led us to what I thought was a well-reviewed snack stand, but it turned out to be some random snack stand serving touristic food to tourists. But, the kids enjoyed their ham and cheese pizza (so much so, Stella recommended going back) and the rose wine helped ease the blow for Sarah and I, before making our way back up the maze of Alfama to our apartment.

Day 12
On an extended trip, every 5th or 6th day ends up being sort of a "chores and laundry" day, and being day twelve put us on that day. Still, we'd hoped to squeeze in one or two fun activities. But, first off, grocery shopping.

Actually, I have to admit that, while grocery shopping in the states isn't usually my favorite activity, I always seem to enjoy it while traveling. Whether it's the opportunity to check out a fun farmers market, or (as in this case) heading to a small local grocery store to check out what weird and wondrous things they might sell that we don't have at home.

The grocery store in question was a 10 minute walk up the hill from our place, and was compact while still feeling like it had a good selection. While there were some oddball items available, we stuck to the basics, except for accidentally buying what we thought was cranberry juice, when it was actually some sort of undrinkable, syrupy concentrate used most likely for mixing drinks.

Making food in the apartment! Sarah pulled together this great lunch: Salad, cheese, cured meat and olives. (The kids fell back on their usual bread and cheese meal.)

After shopping, and after having a quick bite to eat at the apartment, it was time for a tuk tuk tour! Like the bicycle cab in NY, taking one of the countless tuk tuks (or auto-rickshaws, as they are called everywhere except for apparently Thailand and Lisbon) would not be the first thing on our to-do list, the kids (especially Otto) had been entranced by them, announcing "why aren't we riding those?" every time one rolled by, packed with tourists.

So, at their urging, and after our obligatory gelato stop, we made our way to the nearby viewpoint, where we knew that rows of tuk tuks and their drivers would be assembled. I think Sarah and I had secretly hoped to at least ride and beat up old-fashioned tuk tuk, to give us flash backs to our time in India, so of course we wre paired with a shiny, new electric tuk tuk, covered in Batman and Joker decals and driven by a rambling, but affable Dutchman.

To Otto's chagrin, it turned out the a tuk tuk tour involved actually stopping at sites, instead of just speeding around town in a tuk tuk. But, I actually appreciated getting to check out some of the sites we'd missed so far, and getting a little history and context.

The kids snapping photos at a view point. While Sarah and I use our phones, the kids are using our digital camera. I'm sure there is a blog entry in the making where we feature the best of their photos. 

Our drive took us first to the Lisbon cathedral, for a quick peak inside, and to learn about it's evolution from Roman temple, to Moorish mosque and then Catholic cathedral. Then, on to a view point (actually the one we'd hiked to the second evening of our stay) to learn about the earthquake and tsunami of 1755. Then, it was down through the Alfama and into the Baixo neighborhood to hear about it's post-earthquake reconstruction using Napoleon era ideas of gridded streets as defense. Finally up into Barrio Alto to see the elevator and talk about the revolution which took Portugal from Fascism under Salazar to the democracy of today.

The tale of two tuk tuk rides: Stella appears to be living the good life, lemonade in hand and wind in her hair, while...
...Otto is involved in a rolling gun battle with Lisbon.

After over an hour or rolling around town, the kids had their tuk tuk fix, and Sarah and I felt a little more informed about the city we were staying in. So, it was back to the apartment, for the kids to have some down time, and for me to go handle laundry. Fortunately, just down the hill from our apartment is my New Favorite Laundromat Ever™: Clean, uncrowded, easy to use (the machines dispense their own soap!). It was great to drop of the close, and then retreat to our apartment for a glass of wine, while the laundry basically took care of itself.

With that chore taken care of, it was dinner time! On previous ventures from our house, we'd walked past a restaurant called Damas, that always smelled amazing. So, we decided to check that out. After several tourist trap meals, it was refreshing to discover that Damas actually seemed to be a Portuguese restaurant for Portuguese patrons. With a nice, varied menu actually scribbled onto a tile wall the food was tasty and thoughtfully prepared. The kids only snacked lightly (having gorged on toast in the afternoon), but Sarah and I had what might have been our best meal since we reached Portugal.

A photo of part of the menu on the wall. We actually took this at the waiters suggestion, so we could bring it back to our table and parse through it. Especially necessary since it's all in Portuguese. 

Then, to home and bed!

One last photo of a tram in Lisbon, at night, because you can never have too many of those.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

One Week In (at least for me): Reflections

A year or two ago, Tyler and I decided we needed to do something big to celebrate the 10th anniversary of our round the world trip.  An extended time off.  More exotic locales.  Something that would help us reflect on and revisit our past experience of being on the road. 

First we picked Thailand.  But Thailand in July/August?  Too wet and hot.  We looked further west:  Laos, Nepal. Still too wet and too hot.  After hearing about a friend’s trip to Portugal, we thought we might have hit on something.  Still Europe, but smaller, more manageable, and, hey, why not tack on a trip to Morocco while we’re in the neighborhood.  But the desert in July/August?  Likely unbearable for our temperate Northwest selves (not to mention children).  So we finally agreed on Portugal and the Azores, figured out how to line up our work obligations and time off and wound up with a week in New York, two weeks in Portugal, and one week in the Azores.

So, here we are, two weeks in (though for me, it’s really one week of vacation—the week in New York was quite work-filled for me).  Tyler’s doing an awesome job of keeping up with our different adventures and activities.  I thought I’d share a few thoughts from the road.

Changing Pace

Over our seven-month trip, we typically moved from one location to the next every two to three days.  Even since then, most of our vacations have been of the 7-9 day variety.   We decided to give a longer stay in one place a go.  It was partly practical—because of adding on the Sao Miguel in the Azores, it would mean a lot of chopped up days to arrive in Lisbon, head somewhere else, only to need to fly out of Lisbon again.  It also meant we could probably get a slightly nicer place by saving on cleaning and booking fees.  And we thought more stability would be easier on the kids.

So we have nearly two weeks in a small two-bedroom apartment in the oldest portion of the city.  It has felt like a luxury to be in one place.  We could have a day or so of fighting jetlag and still feel like we had lots of time to check out things of interest.  We’ve made friends with our neighborhood market guy and tend to buy our produce from the same little place around the corner and are becoming regulars at the gelato place around the way.  We’re figuring out how to find our way around and get better at figuring out what’s a reasonable walking distance.  And I do think the kids appreciate having one “home” to get accustomed to.

View from out the building front door--I love the colors

Walking right from our apartment, for evening gelato--you can see the narrow street and tram lines

At the same time, there are tradeoffs.  Staying in Lisbon has meant we’ve been in a city for most of our time, and cities are often where we have the hardest time finding things that make all of us happy.  If Tyler and I were here on our own, we’d likely wander different neighborhoods, try more restaurants, check out more museums—things that aren’t so exciting to Stella and Otto.  Staying in the Alfama neighborhood—picturesque, quaint, historic—also means any excursions involves climbing up and down hills, and we’re surrounded by buildings and stone walkways and roads.  It wasn’t until our daytrip to Sintra that I realized how much I was missing seeing more green and nature on a daily basis.

Map of Alfama--note the curvy streets.  We're near Igreja de Sao Vicente de Fore

We fondly call navigating around Portugal "echo-locating"--one advantage of being on a hill is we at least know whether we should be heading up or down....

Beautiful!  But not much green....

Sintra--Moorish castle on the hill, lots of green!

Over the past eight years, I’ve also come to appreciate the slowing pace that having the kids have brought to our lives.  We typically try and tackle one big “thing” a day.  The aquarium.  The castle.  A longer out-of-town excursion day followed by a day closer to home.   While we normally have more of a go-go-go pace of life, I have come to enjoy (and somewhat rely on) a pace that means after finishing the tile museum, we hang out at the garden while the kids play with rocks and look at fish and turtles.  (Doesn’t hurt that you can get a good and cheap half bottle of wine almost anywhere…)  It also means we can live out Tyler’s dream of waking up without alarm clocks most mornings, have leisurely starts to our days, and not wear ourselves out trying to squeeze in every single site or experience the city might have to offer, but which we might otherwise under-appreciate in the effort to see so much.

This isn't apropos of anything, but there's amazing graffiti around town.  These are two of my favorites

Traveling with Kids

I’d seen in one of our guidebooks that the Portuguese see children as a gift and enjoy their presence.  I’m happy to say that is true!  Our kids get good natured rubs on the head and are treated with kindness and good humor everywhere we got (by the Portuguese at least;  I can’t say the same for other European visitors necessarily).  And, while Tyler shared some of the challenges of being in transit with jetlagged kiddos, I have to say that the kids are actually doing awesome.  We walk.  A lot.  It’s hot.  We drag them to things that probably wouldn’t be their first choice.  And I think they by and large enjoy themselves, keep up good spirits, and are good sports about figuring out trains, subways, buses and the rest.  I also enjoy seeing how Otto and Stella are being good playmates for each other.  They are good at keeping themselves entertained with books and drawings, even in less than ideal circumstances.  And they really have only had each other to rely on.  We haven’t come across many other kids.

Waiting for a bus

On an extremely crowded train to the beach

Not sure why Stella started carrying Otto on her back, but this happens regularly

And they do have their moments.  One dinner we went to eat at a place that was Stella’s least favorite place, and at some point near the end of dinner she sat unhappily with tears streaming down her face.  Otto regularly drags his feet at heading out when he’s not 100% sold on the idea (though manages to forget his bad feelings by the time we get out the front door 9 times out of 10).  And there are times when Tyler and I are less than sanguine about making compromises in their best interests (like calling it a day and having dinner in when we really would have loved to head back downtown for a wine tasting, but it would require another 30 minute hot walk to a place the kids really don’t want to go after an already full day).  But, by and large, this has definitely felt easier and more fun than our prior overseas trips when they were younger.

One of the less stellar moments--post-dinner after a long, hot, tiring day before our 20 minute walk home.  Otto wasn't having so much of it.


I’d feel remiss to have an entry that didn’t at least talk a little bit about food.  Every cheese I’ve had here is amazing.  You can get entire bottles of tasty wine for 9-12 euros.  Amazing seafood.  (Of course, Stella is largely living on grilled cheese, and Otto on ham and cheese sandwiches, but, you know, they won’t get scurvy in two weeks.)

Homemade lunch--we typically have lunch at home but are increasingly having a second meal at home just for ease.  Also a little glimpse at our cute and cozy temporary home.

We have found that we do a little better if we go a bit afield of our neighborhood.  For our first few days, we’d wander through the alleys to find something that looked good, but we kept having the feeling that all the menus were basically focused on the kind of Portuguese food that tourists are looking for and expect—sardines, bacalau, octopus, cabbage soup.  That’s one thing that’s stayed true over 10 years—it doesn’t take much to find better and cheaper food, but it usually isn’t in the heart of the tourist section of town.

A small neighborhood restaurant in the Graca neighborhood.  That little dog is balancing on the tiny window pane unassisted.

My least favorite thing here is that if you have water, they always give you a plastic bottle.  It seems no one serves tap water!  And there is some recycling in the city, but not enough for all the bottles that are out everywhere.  We brought a Nalgene bottle with to have water on the go, but I’ve rarely found anywhere to refill it.  And we have taken to bringing bottles back and freezing them so we have colder water to drink for part of the trip, but it’s kind of crazy making to see so much waste.

Even artists agree!  A whale art piece made from empty plastic water bottles

A Few Final Thoughts

One thing that’s quite different than 10 years ago is how connected we are—how we are so used to being online, keeping up with political developments, seeing what others are up to.  Facebook was just starting to be a broader thing while we were away (we joined after we got home at a friend’s urging), and I didn’t have a smart phone until a few years after our return.  With all the developments around healthcare reform and other goings-on in the States, it’s been hard to want to get away from current events.  So we really haven’t disconnected, and I haven’t decided if that is a good or bad thing yet.  Ten years ago, we sparingly used internet cafes every few days to check emails and blog.  I think twice during the trip we found call centers to call home.  By and large, we were off the grid.  I’m toying with the idea of a break from devices and being online….we’ll see.

With all that staying connected we also ran into a new problem—one outlet converter is tough going when we have two phones, two tables, one laptop, and a few other sundry electronics!  It’s a regular game to figure out who gets to charge what and when.  On our big trip we had one camera, which we shared.  One converter was just fine.

I’ve also been a long user of hard copy travel guides.  I like to have it to carry, read through, look at maps, consider possibilities.  I’m now used to the internet at my fingertips, and having sparse descriptions so a small book can cover an entire country has not been enough.  Online research gives us so much more—more options, more info, more clarity on how to navigate the public transport options….  I don’t know that I’ll completely abandon the Lonely Planet books, but I’ll likely never solely rely on them again.


It’s funny how your sense of time changes—we have four more days in Portugal, and suddenly the time feels short.  I’m very excited about going to the Azores—I’m looking forward to the smaller populace, the sense of being on a small speck in the middle of the ocean, and still having two weeks of time to be with my family, take time to recharge and reflect, and soak in the rest of this precious time away from the daily grind.

Wisely taking the bus home rather than walking the full 25 minutes uphill.  Photo courtesy of Stella.

Day 9 & 10: Lisbon's Castles and River

Day 9:
Lisbon! We've arrived! After all getting a good night sleep, we were all feeling well rested, if still a little detached from time. So, after muddling around the house a bit in the morning, and having a breakfast of bread and eggs, we decided that the main event for today would be to explore
São Jorge Castle. Not only is São Jorge Castle one of Lisbon's biggest tourist draws, it also just happens to be a 10 minute walk up the hill from our place, making it a nice mix of "big" and "easy."

The day before, walking to lunch, I'd noticed a sign pointing up a narrow alley saying effective "to castle," so that seemed like a good place to start. Hiking up the steep a winding path, we past a "found art artist" working in a courtyard of rubble, and a musician playing in a short tunnel before ending in a pleasant, white-washed courtyard. There was a small restaurant here, so we took a break, grabbing some cheese, sandwiches and wine (the nice thing about setting out at noon is you get to jump straight to wine). 

Refreshed, we made our way up a short, cobbled road to castle gates. After grabbing some gelato (start courting the number of times the work "gelato" appear in the coming days. It's going to be a lot.) we bought out tickets and headed in. 

"Someday, all of this will be yours!" Taking in the lay of the land, from Sao Jorge.

São Jorge isn't the type of castle with decorated rooms, but rather vast courtyards and plenty of walls to walk and towers to climb up into. In the archeological section there's ruins dating back to the early icon age, speaking to how long it's been an important location for the city. It also has stunning views of the city that surrounds it, giving us our first sense of the geography of the city.

At the bottom of a huge set of stairs (Otto counted them, he could tell you), on a wing of the castle that stretched down the hill. You can tell Stella is getting hot, and not having the idea of walking back up.

As we explored area after area, the kids' curiosity slowly gave way to fatigue, so we stopped for some lemonade and to admire the peacocks perched in the trees above us. Then, after a quick pass through their museum of related artifacts, we headed back to base camp to regroup. 

That evening, Sarah suggested to try to track down a park she could see on the map "north" of us. Winding in that general direction, we became mildly lost in that way were we knew we could get home, but had no idea where we actually were. Eventually, we stumbled across another stunning viewpoint of the city (we discovered, later, it is the highest point in the city), but couldn't linger long because Otto had started doing the pee-pee dance, so we made our way down a short but steep hill to a tapas restaurant. Forgivingly, they were prepared for English speakers, but happily, they weren't just a restaurant for tourists, and we had a first truly good meal in Lisbon. 

Late night kids. Bedtime has been running late here, with the kids generally not headed to bed until after 10pm. But, since there hasn't been too many days where we needed to get up early, and the time in Lisbon is so far gone from Seattle, we figure "what the heck, why not."

Content, and tired again, we headed home. 

Day 10:
For our second full day in Lisbon, we decided to head to the neighborhood of Belem. To get there, we'd have to venture out of the Alfama, down to the water front, and catch a tram (streetcar) there.

To get to the Praca do Comercio, we fell back on one of my few, random abilities. Basically, while Sarah and I were on our big trip we discovered that, if you give me a map, a destination and a few minutes to stare at the map *generally* I can sort of blindly get us from point A to point B. It's not necessarily the fastest or best way to get there, but it's consistent enough that -more often or not- Sarah and I just sort of fall back on it. 

So, after squinting at the map for a bit, off we went, winding through maze-like streets of the Alfama. But, sure enough, we eventually emerged on the waterfront, a short distance from the Praca. 

We'd been presuming (hoping) that our tram would be one of the old fashioned trolley-type vehicles we'd seen rattling through Lisbon, but unfortunately, the tram running out to Belem was a newer model, not dissimilar to Seattle's streetcars. It was boarding the tram that we would learn a hard lesson. When it comes Lisbon's public transportation, there's two types of vehicles: Intolerably packed with people or Soon-to-be intolerably packed with people. This was the former. 

After winding our way along the waterfront, we unloaded from the tram on the far end of Belem, not far from it's premiere attraction: the Tower of Belem. The Tower was originally constructed toward the center of the river, to defend Lisbon from invaders from the sea. But, a large portion of the west(?) shore have now been reclaimed, and you can walk almost the entire way to the tower, which now sits only a hundred feet or so off shore, and is accessible by a foot bridge. Unfortunately, being Monday, the Tower was closed, so all we could do was snap some photos from the outside; but the kids were excited to find steps down to the river, allowing the to splash their feet and shell hunt for the better part of an hour. 

On the shores of the Tagus. The kids seemed fairly indifferent to the one-of-a-kind historical structure, and were more interested in splashing in the muddy water and collecting undersized shells.

After letting the kids play for a bit, we made our way over to a nearby outdoor restaurant so the kids could grab a lunch and Sarah and I could grab a glass of wine. Then, after naming some pigeons*, we started walking to Belem's second biggest destination, the Monument to the Discoveries. 

While the Age of Discovery is a complex period by a modern perspective, it was a Golden Age for Portugal, a sea-faring culture who was able to reap the financial rewards of the newly discovered lands and trade routes, and the Monument erected in commemoration of that period is suitable inspiring, with a host of larger-than-life explorers, royalty and artists all marching forward and staring bravely across the waters to the opportunities they see there. 

Onward to discovery! (And, maybe a little incidental slave trading, genocide and disease spreading.)

The kids enjoyed finding Seattle and New York in the giant marble map next to the monument, but were quickly growing tired in the oppressive Portuguese sun. So, after clicking the obligatory photos, we made our through a well manicure park (with ducklings!) to the bus stop and home again. 

Unloading from the bus, not far from the Placa do Comercio, we decided to do dinner in a large food pavilion, the Time Out Mercado da Ribeira. As someone whose done a decent amount of travelling, Time Out is a weird enigma to me. Any time you type, say, "best food in Lisbon" (go ahead, try it) usually the first result you'll get back (if not TripAdvisor) will be a Time Out list. I guess they do magazine or travel guides or something. I'm not sure. Still, for equally enigmatic reasons they have a food pavilion in Lisbon, and have filled it with what seems to be really excellent food vendors. Anyhow, we had a great dinner there. The kids got gelato. We picked up a couple bottles of wine. And we will likely go back before our stay is through. 

Mercado da Ribeira. Lots of food. Lots of drink. Lots of people.

Full of food and dessert, and with the air cooling, we wandered home. Happy and full. 

Stopping by the Praca do Comercio, at sunset, Stella is rocking one of her unique looks. She's tied her shawl around herself into an ornate dress, of sorts. This has been a default look for ages.

One of what will be many attempts to get this photo: The street car, the church, the narrow street, leading to our apartment. We haven't got the perfect composition yet, but this photo, by Sarah, might be the closest. 

*Quick note on "naming the pigeons": So, I made the mistake of jokingly saying something to the extent of "of look, it's Mortimer, Percy and Eugene" when three pigeons approached us. The kids found me giving the pigeons names that, roughly 5 days later, I'm still required to name pretty much every pigeon we come across. I think today there was a Snowball and Dusty ("but weirdly, the white one is called 'Dusty'"). I'm running out of names.

One other quick note: It's probably worth mentioning that over half the photos in the blog entries so far, on this trip, have been by Sarah. We've both been snapping pictures, but her phone and -thus- her camera are a lot better than mine (plus, she's just a good photographer). So, I keep stealing her photos. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Day 7 & 8: Marathon to Lisbon

What to write about what was almost two non-stop days of travel? Well, actually, it was basically one really long day, but it was also a long haul, and definitely knocked us for a loop.

On the morning of our departure, Otto and I slept in a little, had some breakfast at the hotel and then got started packing while Sarah and Stella ran to Mood, the fabric store famously depicted on Project Runway. (I'm sure they can provide you with more details, mom!) Maybe Sarah will chime in with more details, but the one thing I do know is that they didn't see Swatch (I asked).

They returned to the room, and Sarah and I finished packing, then it was out front, to hail a cab, and off to JFK. Despite some minor hiccups getting our baggage checked, we boarded without issue, and -since I sat next to Stella on the flight to New York- it was Otto's turn to sit next to me. This was the first time (that he can remember, at least) that he had an in-flight screen imbedded in the seat in front of him, and, well, he was thrilled.

Awaiting our flight at JFK. Everyone in tip-top shape!

Our flight departed JFK after 4pm, so we were flying through a truncated night, and landing in Paris around dawn. After a few hours of TV and video games, I started suggesting to him that he try to sleep a little... but he wasn't having it. So, after a few more attempts at arm twisting, I basically shrugged: "Well, we don't have anything planned in Lisbon, so he can be tired, I guess."

We landed in Paris, and went through immigration smoothly enough and had a little over an hour till our flight to Lisbon. And that's when Otto started to fall apart, rapidly shifting from playing an app on Sarah's iPad to listlessly complaining about his legs hurting (he's telltale sign of being overtired). I basically carried him onto the plane, where he proceeded to crash against Sarah (who was trapped between both now-sleeping kids) and "awoke" only once or twice to cry, complain about being uncomfortable, and then crash again.

Awaiting our flight to Lisbon... Otto looking a little rough. Sarah holding in there. Stella in overtired spaz mode.
On our flight... Otto is definitely looking rough.

At this point, in addition to the kids being asleep, Sarah and I were both moving from "punchy" to "exhausted."

We arrived in Lisbon, and while Sarah led a bleary-eyed Stella, I carried a sleeping Otto (in addition to both our carry-ons), and deposited like a corpse on the airport floor, while we collected out luggage from the baggage claim.

Otto, sleeping on the Lisbon airport floor. Perhaps not our proudest parenting moment. But, he's here, and alive.

We emerged from the airport, and began searching for the driver we'd arranged to take us to our apartment, but he was not to be found. Thankfully, after 10 minutes of increasingly panicked searching, he arrived, and helped us load our stuff.

Next thing we knew we were zipping into town, with two kids trying to blink themselves awake. "Your spot for our apartment is a good one" Our driver assured us, "easy to see things and get around." Winding into the Alfama old town, he pulled into a narrow street, and unceremoniously deposited our baggage on the curb.

"Your apartment is here. The woman will come. Just wait for her here."

And then he was gone.

We stood swaying on the narrow street, watching Lisbon's famous street cars miraculously squeeze down it, and past us.

After about 10 minutes a woman came walking down the street. When she got within a couple paces of us, she stopped, surprised. "Are you the people renting the apartment?" We nodded. "They were supposed to call me." Too tired to feel put out, we shrugged, and she led us in.

Our apartment on the 2nd (read: Amerian 3rd) floor was happily what the pictures led us to believe, and she gave us a quick tour, punctuating he comments with a quick "click, click" out of the side of her mouth like a noir film gumshoe. (Or, maybe the Fantastic Mr. Fox.) Then, like that, she was gone and we all promptly collapsed from exhaustion.

I forget which of us napped, or for how long, but the rest of the day was a daze. It was before 10 when we arrived. So, at some point, we made our way over to a view point, and had a overly large meal at a touristic restaurant there. (I ordered a pork dish that was easily enough for 2, plus we had a whole bevy of side, appetizers and food for the kids.)

A first view of our neighborhood in Lisbon. Seen from a viewpoint 5 minutes from our apartment.

At another point Stella and I made our way down to the little corner grocery store to grab some basic provisions to get us through the afternoon and next morning. While this store was far from what you'd call a quaint corner market, the owner has (a week on) probably become our best friend in Lisbon: Cutting us deals on food, giving us advice on services and introducing us to his wife who just arrived from Bangladesh a week ago herself.

Then, finally, we made our way down into the maze-like roads and staircases of the Aflama district. I'm sure Sarah or I will go into more detail about the Alfama, but it definitely makes a surreal experience trying to navigate the warren of pathways while seriously jetlagged.

Wandering the Alfama neighborhood... oh no, I think we are loosing Otto again.

Eventually, we chose a restaurant (more of out of fatigue then anything) and set down for dinner... only to have Otto curl up and fall asleep before we even ordered. Sweetly, the ladies running the restaurant brought out an extra cushion for him, and we continued on with out meal.

...and he's out again. (Don't worry folks, by the next morning he was back to his normal self, as were the rest of us.)

Finally, still exhausted, but at least full, and close to what one would call a reasonable bed time, we made our way back to the apartment, me carrying a crashed out Otto uphill the whole way. Safely in our apartment, we all followed Otto's lead and slept.


(As always, a little caveat here: Describing the difficulties of travel, and the difficulties of having kids always seems a little self-serving, and -I imagine- is easily met with the world's smallest fiddle because, ultimately, they are both decisions Sarah and I made. Navigating travel and navigating parenting are both things we chose to do. And both are things we love. So, hopefully, an entry like this is seen not as a "woe as me" but with humor and self-depreciation. Because, with both parenting and travel, the worse it gets, often the better the story is after the fact.)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Days 5 & 6: Solo Daddy, Natural History and Laundry

Day 5
On our fifth day, Sarah had work related meetings for effectively the whole day, so it was solo daddy duty with the kids in New York. Sarah woke early and headed out, but the rest of us lingers, playing cards, eating cereal from cups and taking our time before heading out to the day's site to see: The Natural History Museum.

Eventually leaving the hotel we hoofed out way through the heat of the day, to the Subway station that would take us to the museum, grabbing pastries for most, and an obligatory pretzel for Otto. We hiked down the stairs to the subway platform, jumped on a train, and promptly discovered what an express train was. We'd hoped to get off at 81st St, but ended up getting off at 125th. Luckily, the kids (never quite knowing what is going on, anyhow) were fairly in-phased by the situation, and we all quickly boarded the train back.

Outside of the Natural History Museum, it became apparent that the kids (and I) would need food before venturing in, so we grabbed some food from the food carts across the street, and ducked into central park to enjoy a quick lunch...

...actually, wait, this is probably a good time to talk about how these sorts of situations play out. "Grabbed some food, and ducked into the park" actually played out more like this.

- Otto and Stella get whiney. I get irritable. I realize we need food. And, it's hot.
- I propose we get food at food carts.
- Otto agrees. Stella maintains that's an awful idea.
- Cross street with moping Stella in tow.
- Order food for Otto and I. Stella maintains she is starving. And, whines about hotness.
- I convince Stella to suffer through a grilled cheese from a food cart.
- Both kids have food. But now claim to be dying from heat.
- Offer to buy kids a smoothie from stand, let Stella pick type, since she didn't want to do food carts.
- Without tasting it, Otto announces Stella's smoothie choice is gross, though he likes each ingredient individually.
- Proceed into park with moping Otto in tow.
- Listen to kids argue over which side of path to sit on.
- Stella wins. Otto mopes and refuses to touch smoothie. But, at least he eats his hot dog.

Sarah and I repeat some variation of this, several times a day. So, when you see a sentence like "so we grabbed some food from the food carts across the street, and ducked into central park to enjoy a quick lunch" just presume that there is a lot of bickering and moping going on, but I'm bypassing it for brevity.

Onward! Entering the museum, and weaving our way through a surprisingly thick crowd, we begin to explore -as one ex-coworker put it- "the dead things zoo." I'm sure that a large portion of you reading this have been there, and those of you who haven't have likely seen it in movies or on TV. Room after room of amazingly taxidermied or otherwise realistically recreated animals placed into life-size dioramas, beautifully staged, and gorgeously painted. Other rooms do the same with various indigenous cultures (presumably not taxidermy) or rooms and rooms of gems and rare stones, cultural artifacts and other flotsam and jetsam of cultural history. Apparently, somewhere in there, there's some bits about space and astronomy... but, in over 3 hours of exploring we never found it.

The kids next to some giant, illuminated gem. Stella loves looking at rocks and crystals, so of course Otto is completely bored by the idea. The gems and minerals sections was A LOT bigger than he would have liked.

Stella and Otto looking at a couple of sea lions that haven't been alive for the better part of a century. Still amazing attention to detail. Incidentally, they spent most of their visiting fighting over who got to take pictures with that camera.

Totes not real, but stunning. 
The volume of stuff is incredible. This is, like, the "diversity of life" section, and it's just a giant wall like this. This is probably a 6th of that wall, and there's rooms and rooms of this stuff. I'm sure we missed the majority. 

Frankly, it's amazing. The type of place I'd love to revisit, if we lived in Manhattan. Sprawling, informative and with a certain old-world charm that can't be recreated. Could you imagine a museum effectively sending big game hunters to Africa today, to score a new exhibit?

Happy, but overwhelmed, we made out way back to the hotel to meet up with Sarah. Reunited for dinner, she suggested we go to Todd English's Food Court under the Plaza Hotel. The Plaza is an amazingly fancy hotel on Central Park, with the food court being a high-end recreation of a European food court. Fancy? Yes. Tasty? Also, yes.

No story here. Just Sarah and Stella talking at dinner. Just thought the entry needed more pictures of Sarah and the kids.

After dinner, we'd planned on catching a taxi home, to spare the kids a walk; but we were cornered by a Pedi-cab. A bicycle taxi wouldn't have been something Sarah and I would normally do, but we could see the kids eye grow wide at the idea, so we all piled in. And, admittedly, it was fun, rolling down 3rd, late in the evening, with our driver-cum-tour guide shouting out sites to us.

Touristy? Yes. But part of what Sarah and I have learned is that what the kids want to do is often the touristy thing. And, if they have fun, ultimately we do to. And, maybe, just maybe, riding a bike cab through Manhattan is a *little* fun.

Day 6
Honestly, in comparison, Day 6 of the trip was pretty quite. The kids had begun to run a little ragged from being drug around NY for the better part of a week, and Sarah had some last work to get done in the AM hours. In addition, we were rapidly running out of clean clothes, and needed to do some shopping to prepare for the next leg.

So, after Sarah returned, I stuffed our dirty laundry in our backpack, and rode the subway two stops north to a public laundromat. The stuffy two hours I spent there were definitely not the most fun, but possibly the most authentic, as I sat next to a straining fan, pretending to read while listening to some twenty-something tell her friend how much her running shoes stank ("so, I just need to wash them before the photoshoot, so I can get something athletic, y'know") and another man sang along loudly to whatever he was listening to over his phone.

Beyond that, it was a couple random errands (Post Office, drug store, H&M for a couple more short-sleeve button up shirts for me), and then dinner.

Dinner, on our final evening in NY, was at a multi-tiered Korean BBQ place in the shadow of the Empire State Building. Sarah had gotten in touch with an old High School friend, Chris, who she hadn't seen in the better part of 20 years, and he'd recommended meeting there. The food was good, and after several days of only talking with each other, or the kids, I think we were both grateful for someone to talk to, and it didn't hurt that Chris made a thoughtful and funny dinner partner.

Having the power go out, albeit momentarily, added a nice night-cap to our final evening.