Liberty Day in Portugal – April 25

Portugal celebrates Liberty Day on April 25th. It’s a national holiday marking the military coup of 1974 that brought democracy and civil liberties to the Portuguese people. Liberty Day begins at dawn when the president and prime minister meet to officially start celebrations.

“The revolution had a deep impact on Portuguese life. Many who lived through it participate in the celebration ceremonies. On this day, it’s common to wear carnations on the lapel. Carnations became the symbol of the revolution when on the day of the revolution a flower vendor decided to give carnations away to show support. While marching through the streets, the military put the carnations in their gun barrels as a symbol of their peaceful intentions.”

In the Portuguese Parliament, a solemn session is held with “interventions from all the political parties and their representatives, followed by a speech from the Parliament President”. Then the Republic’s President delivers a speech.

Tonight, there’s a musical celebration in the park across the street from my apartment. The musicians are quite good and have a folk music sound – like The Kingston Trio or Peter Paul & Mary – if anyone remembers them…. There are also some female Fado singers. Of course, all the songs are in Portuguese.

I had an interesting outing in Belem earlier today. It’s the more modern part of Lisbon. It was a little too far to walk – about 5 miles each way – so I took the tram one way and the bus back. Using public transportation turned into a long, drawn-out process. I’m not sure how the journey could have been shorter as every vehicle on the road came to a halt in the gridlock and the subway didn’t reach my destination. Despite the long waits, glad I spent time in Belem.

Some miscellaneous photos from the day are attached. I’m leaving Lisbon tomorrow morning for 5 days in the Azores. More posts later….

Sintra Portugal

Black Swan Parc de Pena Pond

Yesterday I joined a small group of 8 for a tour of Sintra in the Serra de Sintra Mountains near Lisbon. It was a 9-hour outing including an uphill hike through lush spring gardens. Named for a Princess, Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Historically the climate and beauty of the area attracted Portuguese nobility who built “palaces, extravagant residences, and lush decorative gardens”.

Palais de Pena from the Park

Palais de Monserrate

We hiked through sumptuously beautiful Pena National Park and at the top, toured the Palais de Pena. The palace and park are creations of wealthy, extravagant Dom Ferdinand II, a German prince who married Portugal’s Queen Maria II.

Mural Palais de Pena

Pena Park and Palace are examples of the extreme Romanticism of 19th century Portugal. Ferdinand built the Palace “to be observed from any point in the park, forest, and gardens”. The park has over five hundred tree species from the four corners of the world!

Tank of the Friars Pena Parc

Parc de Pena

We took a lunch break in Sintra with free time to explore. I found a small tapas restaurant full of rowdy Portuguese. They welcomed me and I enjoyed laughing and spending time with them. To be honest, not sure what Portuguese dish I ate for lunch but it was uniquely delicious!

Frightening Pena Palace Guard

Our next stop was Quinta da Regaleira near central Sintra. Within Sintra’s Cultural Landscape, the estate is also classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “The property consists of a romantic palace and chapel, and a luxurious park that features lakes, grottoes, wells, benches, and fountains. The palace is also known as ‘The Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire’, based on the nickname of its best known former owner, António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro.”

Quinta de Regaleira

Other imposing palaces in the area include Quinta do Relógio, Monserrate, and Seteais. It was a wonderful day exploring – so much history and information. Portugal is a fascinating country! I only have a few more days in Lisbon and wish I were staying longer….

Seteais Palace

Quinta do Relógio

Lisbon Portugal

Alfama District Lisbon

I arrived in Lisbon (Lisboa in Portuguese) a few days ago and it’s a glorious, exciting city! This is my first visit to Portugal. Lisbon has many unique qualities, especially its layout on a “series of hills” with views in every direction. Artists refer to Lisbon as Portugal’s “City of Light“.  Blue skies, long sunny days, white limestone buildings and walkways, outstanding sunsets, and water reflecting from the Tagus River (Rio Tejo) all add to the city’s well-deserved nickname.

Lisbon Tram No. 28

Visitors compare Lisbon to San Francisco and Rome. The Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge is a smaller version of the more famous Golden Gate Bridge. Like Rome, Lisbon is known for its seven hills.

As Europe’s second-oldest capital (after Athens) Lisbon’s history is rich and the Portuguese people are warm and animated. Portugal is deeply affected by its Moorish neighbors in Northern Africa and adjoining European countries – Spain (Portugal’s former arch rival), France, and Italy.

Fado Performer

Lisbon’s spring weather is fantastic – clear and in the 70s during the day and 50s at night. My apartment is in Bairro Alto near the Baixa, Rato, and Chiado Districts. I’m almost recovered from jet lag and still learning my way around.

Chiado District

The narrow winding cobbled streets are confusing and the white limestone tiles slippery! Yesterday I was hopelessly lost but after stopping at several cafés to regroup, managed to find my way back to the apartment hours later. The metro is slow with many delays, so walking is the most efficient way to get around. For a relatively small city of about two million, the traffic gridlock is horrific.

Ponte 25 de Abril

Yesterday I explored Lisbon’s “medieval village-like neighborhoods” and rode famous Tram No. 28. The popular tram was crowded, so exploring was mostly on foot. After walking cobbled streets for hours my feet ached. I’m taking it easy today. Tomorrow it’s a day tour of coastal areas including parks, palaces, castles, and beaches in Sintra, Cascais, and Estorial.

São Vicente de Fora

Like Buenos Aires, Lisbon comes alive at night and I’ve enjoyed a few late dinners and Fado (derives from the Latin word for destiny) shows! This will be my first weekend in Lisbon. I hear Saturdays are festive and thoroughly enjoyed by the locals.

Cathedral Spires

My itinerary includes visiting little-known side streets as well as notable attractions including cathedrals, bridges, monasteries, museums, and castles:

Belem Tower

Most of the city’s original architecture was destroyed by the devastating 8.5 – 9.0 Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 followed by a tsunami and fires. The earthquake struck on the morning of November 1st, holy All Saints’ Day. Reports state that the earthquake lasted between three to six minutes. The earthquake destroyed eighty-five percent of Lisbon’s buildings, including most examples of Portugal’s distinctive 16th-century Manueline architecture.

Manueline Architecture

Lisbon’s Late Baroque architecture is magnificent. Each district has its own church. Today I saw several spectacular Cathedrals, including Sé de Lisboa. Photographs don’t capture their grandeur:

Alfama District

Next week I’ll spend a few days in the Azores (Asores in Lisbon Portuguese) and then on to Denmark in May. More later….

Portuguese Fado Guitars

Portuguese Tiles

Two Essential Elements in Planning a Solo Travel Adventure

Rome Colisseum

Rome Colosseum

Successfully planning an adventure trip requires thoughtful preparation – especially when you’re traveling alone. This post discusses two essential considerations – accommodation and transportation.

Why Plan? Why Travel Solo?

Travel planning is important. Disregarding it could mean losing precious time or experiencing an unexpected travel disaster. The process may leave you giddy and full of anticipation one day and exhausted from reviewing tedious details another. If things run amuck in unfamiliar territory there’s no one to fall back on, so solo travelers must be intrepid and self-reliant.

Rome

Ponte Sisto Bridge Rome

Planning a true adventure means stepping out of the familiar and leaving your comfort zone behind. In my travel blog, I describe a few hair-raising experiences that taught me to try to remain calm and always have a plan B.  Some adventurous souls travel on the fly, but even in today’s electronic world wise travelers think their trips out in advance. The key is viewing travel adversity as empowering, not terrifying, but it’s OK to scream a few times along the way!

Years ago, before taking to the road on my own, I traveled with one other person or in large and small groups. While focusing on the adventure, I also tried to get to know my fellow travelers and follow a deadline driven guide with a rigid, fast-paced itinerary.

Trevi Fountain Rome

Trevi Fountain Rome

At the end of those adventures I often felt dizzy and unfulfilled and asked myself why was I doing it? Was it to be safer, because I couldn’t plan a trip myself, or was I afraid of being alone and in need of having others to share the experiences? The answer to these questions was a resounding “no”. At the same time, I knew some semblance of structure was necessary to ensure comfort and safety.

When the basics are under control travelers can relax, forget themselves, and enjoy the real reason for traveling – learning about delicious new cultures and environments! Realizing I didn’t need someone else to do the planning was liberating.

Lison

Alfama District Lisbon Portugal

People are as different as travel adventures and the way you plan or IF you plan depends on your personality and the journey you’re contemplating. The consequences of your decision are more serious depending on where you’re headed – Canada on the lower-end of the scale (maybe) versus Turkey and parts of Asia and Africa on the higher-end. I’ve experienced both poorly and overly planned trips and lived to tell the tale. Reaching a happy medium is ideal.

Accommodation – What Kind, Where?

When staying in one place for several weeks or longer, accommodation becomes more important, at least it is for me. Although you’re exploring most of the day, everyone needs a safe, private place to rejuvenate and collect their thoughts. For me a suitable accommodation is clean, well-managed, and in a suitable location.

Today there are abundant on-line booking sources, and they’re getting better and better. There are many choices depending on your budget and preferences – short-term apartment rentals, hostels, bed & breakfast, guest houses, refugios, pensions, homestays, hotels, paradors, couch surfing, and more. Because my goal is mingling with the locals and experiencing the “real” culture of a foreign country, I usually look for smaller reasonably priced accommodations with glowing reviews.

Skyline Prague Czech Republic

Skyline Prague Czech Republic

Before booking, research neighborhoods to understand which areas work best for your style, budget, and interests. If you book in the wrong location, it might be uncomfortable and could ruin the experience.

Unless you’ve stayed at a place before, remember that reality and on-line photographs are two different worlds. Read traveler reviews and make sure they’re “verified” and not written by friends or business associates of the owner or someone benefiting from your choice. Honest people who have stayed in an accommodation are in the best position to rate it. Their comments are valuable.

Church of Our Lady before Týn

Church of Our Lady before Týn Prague

Ask questions, communicate well, and clarify your needs – quiet, Wi-Fi, etc. Again, read reviews to discover catch-22s, e.g., buildings with 10 floors and no elevator, noisy cafés next door, poor acoustics, and locations in crime-ridden areas or far from transportation connections.

A healthy breakfast is important before a long day exploring, so if your accommodation doesn’t have a kitchen, look for those that offer breakfast. Finally, a concierge and friendly staff are key people.  Don’t hesitate to ask them for help. They take care of you and are your family away from home! At the same time beware of overly attentive staff who may invade your privacy.

To Book or Not to Book

Booking no penalty, “cancellable” accommodations before making non-refundable transportation arrangements is wise. I like to feel free to explore without restraints like worrying about making it to the next accommodation booking on time. I’m leery of accommodations that require full payment upfront and don’t like to commit to long-term bookings until I’ve seen them with my own eyes.

Bosphorus Strait Istanbul

Bosphorus Strait Istanbul

If you travel during high season, finding the right accommodation can be expensive and challenging. In this case, advance booking may be advisable. I’ve experienced the trauma of seeking accommodation in popular Cape Town South Africa during their glorious summer season. Vacancies are scarce and accommodations overpriced. The city’s infrastructure clearly hasn’t kept pace with the growing tourist industry and landlords are not especially tuned to the needs of their tenants.

During extended trips of 6 or more months, I don’t pre-book accommodations. Instead, I make reservations when I have a specific departure date and am ready to move on to a new place. This allows a traveler to linger in the special places they enjoy and say goodbye when uncomfortable.

Copenhagen Denmark

Nyhavn Waterfront Copenhagen Denmark

Transportation – Getting Around in an Unfamiliar Environment

In some countries renting a car and driving is the best way to go, but even with a good GPS, this scenario is difficult for solo travelers. I’ve driven solo in Italy, Germany, Spain, New Zealand, and South Africa and admittedly scared myself more times than I care to recall…. More than one pair of eyes is helpful.

When driving in a foreign country there are many learning curves from poor freeway signage to dim lighting and in some places driving on the wrong side of the road. Not surprisingly there’s never a shortage of reckless drivers all over the world!

Archipelago of the Azores

Archipelago of the Azores Portugal

If you’re in an accident or put a dent in a rental car, it will cost you big time unless you pay a large fee up front to cover any damages. I’ve learned that no matter how careful you are, it seems there is always at least one ding when you return a rental.

Most large cities have horrific traffic congestion but fantastic public transportation systems. It may take a few days to figure things out, but in the long run public transportation is often the most cost-effective, efficient way to navigate. If you’re rich you can hire a taxi or limo, but you may wait in bottlenecked gridlocked traffic for hours on the way to your destination. An inexpensive transportation pass works well and can help you get in touch with the “real” locals wherever you are.

Heed these notes of caution. Riding packed public transportation during busy commute hours isn’t a great idea, especially if you’ve feeling tired. Clever thieves and pickpockets know what they’re doing and can spot their most vulnerable targets easily. You can be sure that they won’t show you any mercy.

In Europe, traveling between cities and countries via the Eurail system or local train connections is comfortable, affordable, and in most cases less expensive than flying. PLUS, you meet new people and enjoy incredible scenery along the way!

Bosphorus Strait Istanbul Turkey

Bosphorus Strait Istanbul Turkey

What If You Need Help?

If you’re involved in an accident or need help from a local organization, be calm and realize it may be a frustrating experience. I remember being pickpocketed in Rome and reporting the theft to the Polizia Locale. It was a long drawn out process and felt more like I was being arrested than reporting a crime. In the end, the experience produced the paperwork needed to send an insurance claim for my stolen camera.

Istanbul Taksim Trolley

Taksim Trolley Istanbul

I recommend visiting the US Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) and registering your trip – especially for long-term and solo travelers. The State Department’s notes, cautions, and special alerts are interesting and informative. When you register, you’ll receive email alerts about situations of concern in the countries you’re visiting. Keep in mind that even though this information is noteworthy, sometimes the warnings may be overkill.

Wherever you travel abroad, it’s advisable to know how to reach the nearest US Embassy.

Other Considerations

Up front planning and understanding the basics of booking accommodations and local transportation helps demystify your journey, making it easier and more enjoyable. Other considerations for long-term travelers include preparing for language differences, obtaining visas, exchanging money, and packing light but for both hot and cold weather. A variety of travel apps help address many of these concerns but they’re topics for future travel blog posts.

Next Solo Adventure

I’m planning my next travel adventure through five European countries on the way back to South Africa where I have a retirement visa. I decided to revisit three magnificent cities that stole my heart in the past – Prague, Rome, and Istanbul. Portugal and Denmark are new destinations on the itinerary. I’m so excited about the next adventure! Is anyone else planning a trip? I’d love to hear about it!

Oregon Ice Storm

Mother Nature had her way with Oregon this week as plunging temperatures and freezing rain delivered havoc with an onslaught of fallen trees and damaged power lines. We love our trees but they come with a price. Beautiful icy vistas were the unexpected outcome of the treacherous weather!

My area in the south hills was without power long enough to get everyone’s attention. The severe cold coupled with the sound of falling branches and cracking, splitting tree trunks continues. Temperatures remain in the 20s to low 30s as we listen to the sound of occasional thawing icicles falling on the roof. It’s unnerving being surrounded by frozen, skyscraper-sized trees bending low from a heavy coating of ice.

Side of House

Side of House

I ventured out yesterday and delighted in the beauty of dramatic skies and sunshine casting a halo-like glow on the ice-laden trees! It was like being inside a magnificent ice palace. Too dangerous to stop for photos while driving I managed to photograph a favorite area near my home – photography does not capture the magnificent show!

Cleanup begins as soon as things thaw out a bit. So far my roof and skylights have survived unscathed but maybe it’s too early to say.  Can’t help thinking about the beautiful beaches and warm summer weather back in Cape Town!

Franschhoek Valley South Africa

Franschhoek Valley

If there’s a “heaven on earth” Franschhoek must be as close as you get! The small traditionally French town is one of the oldest in South Africa. Embraced by three mountain ranges – FranschhoekWemmershoek, and Groot Drakenstein – the beautiful valley is a few miles east of Stellenbosch and Paarl and a one-hour drive from Cape Town. In 2000 Franschhoek became part of the Municipality of Stellenbosch.

Huegoinat Monument

Huguenot Monument

French Huguenot settlers arrived in the valley during the 17th and 18th centuries when France outlawed Protestantism in their homeland. The Dutch government gave land to French settlers in the area originally known as Olifants Hoek (elephants’ corner) because elephants crossed into the valley to calve.

Wemmershoek Mountains

Wemmershoek Mountains

Most wine farms in the valley retained their original French names. The buildings are examples of beautiful unspoiled Cape Dutch architecture. To preserve the spirit of the original settlers, there are restrictions on renovations and new construction. The area has miles and miles of vineyards and Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve with scenic hiking trails and sweeping views of the fertile valley.

Franschoek Vineyard

“The name of the area changed to le Coin Français (the French Corner) and later to Franschhoek (Dutch for French Corner). Many of the surnames in Franschhoek are of French origin and settlers named their farms after the areas in France from which they came. La Motte, Champagne, La Cotte, Cabrière, La Provence, Bourgogne, La Terra de Luc, and La Dauphine were among some of the first established farms.” These farms are now renowned wineries, many with famous four and five-star restaurants.

Cape Dutch Architecture

Got a late start and missed the last “wine tram” of the day. I drove the sometimes isolated vineyard route getting lost on back roads trying to find La Bourgogne’s outside restaurant. Instead I stopped for late lunch at Café BonBon at La Petite Dauphine off Excelsior Road. It was almost 3 pm and only a few people were dining on the peaceful , quiet patio. The food and beautiful scenery were so amazing I lingered for hours!

Dutch Reform Church

Huguenot Monument

To honor Franschhoek’s heritage, the Huguenot Monument stands at the end of the town and a nearby museum chronicles the history of the area’s first French settlers. Each Huguenot farm has a fascinating story.

Wine Tram

In 1904 a secondary train line was built between Paarl and Franschhoek to replace ox drawn carts farmers used to get their produce to market. “Steam locomotives operated along the route until diesel locomotives took over in the 1970s. In the 1990s railway service ended. In 2012 a clever private operator reinstated the tram line. Now known as the Fanschhoek Wine Tram, the renovated tram transports tourists between wine estates in open-sided Brill Trams of circa 1890.”

Cape Dutch Architecture

The popular hop-on-hop-off wine tram is a great way to tour the wineries. The area experienced a boom in the 1990s that never stopped. “Ideal summer weather, snowy mountain peaks in winter, and a location near Cape Town made Franschhoek a sought after address.”

Franschhoek Wine Tram

Franschhoek Wine Tram

Franschhoek Valley has similarities with Northern California’s Napa Valley and boosts some of the top restaurants in South Africa. This, together with “the strong wine culture and pristine natural and architectural beauty,” turned Franschhoek into what many describe as the “food and wine capital of South Africa”.

Franschhoek Valley

Franschhoek Valley

Shops in Franschhoek village include art, antiques, and galleries with restaurants. Cozy cafés line the main thoroughfare. It’s easy to lose yourself in this place. The valley is a “springboard to other wine routes and the Four Passes Fruit Route,” of which Franschhoek is also part. The four magnificent passes include Viljoen’s, Sir Lowry’s, Franschhoek, and Helshoogte.

Groot Drakenstein Mountains

Groot Drakenstein Mountains

Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve

Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve

Cape Town Opera’s Carmen

Mezzo Soprano Violina Anguelov Carmen

Mezzo Soprano Violina Anguelov Carmen

Cape Town Opera’s production of Georges Bizet’s popular Carmen is glorious! It plays through October 29 at Artscape Theatre and I attended the sold-out Saturday evening performance with a friend. The spectacular production was dedicated to the memory of Carolyn Holden, flamenco choreographer and founder of La Rosa Spanish Dance Theatre. Holden devoted her life to dance. She died an untimely death in 2013 at the age of 50. She choreographed the Opera’s 2005 and 2011 productions of Carmen.

Carmen Billboard

Carmen Billboard

Renowned author and award-winning Opera Director Michael Williams did a spectacular job managing the opera’s staging. On the creative side, Set and Costume Designer Michael Mitchell’s “atmospheric designs conjured up a hot and sultry Seville”.

Carmen and Don Jose

Carmen and Don Jose

The large cast included the adorable, talented Erub Children’s Choir, magnificent soprano, mezzo, tenor, and baritone choruses, and a company of flamenco dancers who brilliantly performed the late Carolyn Holden’s choreography. The always remarkable Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra led by renowned British conductor Tim Murray accompanied the scintillating operatic performance!

Mezzo Soprano Violina Anguelov Carmen

Mezzo Soprano Violina Anguelov Carmen

The cast performed exceptionally well. Mezzo-soprano Violina Anguelov – Carmen – and Canadian Tenor Luc Robert – Don José – gave bold, flawless performances clearly delighting a happy audience!

Soprano Noluvuyiso Mpofu’s voice is hauntingly beautiful in the role of the complex and betrayed character Micaëla. William Berger’s rich baritone voice well-portrays Don José’s rival, the flamboyant bullfighter Escamillo!

I enjoyed every moment during another evening of incredible Cape Town entertainment!