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.

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