Archive for March, 2012


Sunday, March 18th, 2012

Before I discuss last weekend, I need to day that today, Ted in a quad with his partner Erik-Jan and a couple of junior rowers came in third in the Men’s quad in the Club division of the Head of the River regatta in Amsterdam – this is the biggest and most prestigious regatta in the Netherlands, so that’ a huge accomplishemnt. (Unfortunately the Dutch only award medals to first-place winners. Coming in third in a field of 18 boats deserves a medal!)

Last weekend, we spent my birthday in Lisbon, where we managed to have a nice relaxing long weekend by resigning ourselves to not seeing all there was to see – I think you’d need a week or more just to see all of the major museums, monuments, palaces, beaches and so on. Also, we did so much walking we found ourselves needing to rest before dinner!

The weather cooperated beautifully, with blue, blue skies and temperatures that ranged from sweater-and-jeans in the morning to jeans-and-Tshirt just barely not being too hot in the afternoon. Going in March was great, because not only were the temperatures comfortable but the tourist crowds were much sparser than it looked like they’d be in summer. Ted booked rooms at the International Design Hotel right at the foot of the Rossio square in the Baixa district; I thought the graffiti design on our floor was a bit silly, but the hotel was very comfortable, the staff were helpful and able to give us lots of advice on getting around, and the location was perfect. The Baixa did show signs of recent economic troubles, with a bunch of closed stores, but was still interesting to walk around and full of restaurants.

If we missed a few things, we still saw lots. We also ate some really tasty seafood, drank wine, and enjoyed just being in the sun in a city at the water’s edge. I had salmon one night, shrimp (of course) another, and golden bass the third – I didn’t realize that last was going to be an entire fish complete with head and tail, but then the waiter deboned it for me which made eating it easier (he also took away the head, so it wasn’t staring back at me). Tasty.

On the down side, the public transportation system doesn’t seem too robust; on the way back from the Maritime Museum, for reasons we still don’t understand, our tram and another just ahead stopped and made everybody get off. No other trams or buses seemed to be coming so we started to walk back, a bit over 5km. Finally we saw a few trams/buses go by, but they were so packed they weren’t even stopping. We eventually ended up catching a tram for the last bit, about 1.5 km.

Onour first day, we headed out to Belem, where we daw the Monument to Discoveries and the Belem tower itself, which was built in 1515 as part of the defenses of Lisbon. (You can click on any image in this post to see a larger image).

Near Belem is also the spectacular (and obviously very rich) Monastery of the Jeronimos. Out there is also the Palacio de Belem, the current residence of Portugal’s President, whose former riding school has now been turned into the Museo des Coches, which houses some spectacular royal carriages.

Late that afternoon we ad salmon (me) and an omelet (Ted) at an outdoor restaurant near our hotel, then went out later in the evening for wine and snacks.

On our second day, we started with the Museum of Tiles (Museo do Azulejos). Tiles are a big thing in Lisbon; many houses are completely fronted with elaborate painted tiles, so it was interesting to see how they were made and how they developed. The Museum is set in a forme convent, which has a spectacular chapel that is also on display. Incidentally, most of the tiles are flat and painted, but the Museum had an ingenious adaptation for blind visitors; in several places there were displays set up with Braille explanations and 3-D renderings of the tile patterns to be felt by people who couldn’t see the displays.

After that we headed back to the Belem distric to visit the Maritime Museum, which has sections for military ships, fishing boats, and pleasure boating. Of course, our favorites were the enormous rowing boats – the one in the picture below was last used during England’s Queen Elizabeth’s 1957 visit to Portugal.

The evening before we’d seen a tempting menu for the hotel on top of a hotel nearby, so we tried that this evening, and had a tasty dinner with a spectacular view up the Avendia de Liberdades. The food was excellent (I had shrimp with asparagus) but the evening was most memorable for the long discussion with the Belgian woman at the next table who didn’t quite seem to be able to grasp that I don’t speak French. (In her defense, after she’d repeated “puree de pomme de terres” about five times at the waiter, who spoke Portuguese, English and some French but apparently not that particular phrase, I did turn around nad say “I think she wants mashed potatoes!”)

On our last full day in Lisbon, we headed up the hill to the Castelo de Sao Jorge – this is a very obvious site for defense, so ruins there go back to the 6th century BC, though the main castle does back to the 14th century. The castle has spectacular views over the city. One relatively recent addition was fascinating, though we didn’t take any pictures of it; the Ulysses Tower boasts a camera oscura which provides a 360-degree view of Lisbon. There was a royal palace adjoining the castle which is gone now, but the peacocks still remain to lend majesty. After seeing the castle, we walked down toward the water to check out the Se (Lisbon’s Cathedral) whose oldest facade dates to the 12th century.

From the Se, we walked back to our hotel, but it was still fairly eary, so we decided to pay a visit to the Oceanarium, which occupies a building in the Parc das Nocoes that was part of Lisbon’s ’98 exposition, held to mark the 500ths anniversary of Vasco de Gama’s voyages. This trip didn’t imporove our opinion of Lisbon’s public transit; the bus was packed full, tended to stopp unexpectedly for long periods, and took most of an hour to get out there. (We took a taxi back, which took about 15 minutes.) The aquarium itself was nice, though – they say it’s the world’s second-largest.

We had dinner that night in the heart of the tourist second of Baixa at a seafood restaurant, where I had the aforementioend golden bass, while Ted tried the cod (historically very important to Portuguese maritime history!)

On our final day, our flight out was early – it was painful to wake up before 5AM to catch our 5:30 taxi to the airport. However, in all the times we’ve left hotels early to get to regattas or airports, this was probably the best take-away breakfast we’ve ever been given: a bag with two cups of coffee, two orange juices, four small sandwiches (cheese and ham-and-cheese) and a whole plastic container of small cakes and cookies.

an entry in three parts, with pictures

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

I. Meeting E.
Last weekend, we had a quiet Sunday planned, just rowing and then cooking jambalaya. Good thing we didn’t have hard-to-change plans, because Saturday evening we got a text message from one of Ted’s cousins; she was in Amsterdam for a few days and did we want to come visit? Well, of course we did; we used to baby sit her nad her sister when we lived in Houston, but we’ve only seen them a handful of times since then. We met her at her hotel on Sunday morning, only a she hours after she arrived, and she valiantly fought off jet lag as we visited the Royal Palace in Dam Square and the Amstelkring museum. The latter is a hidden church – a Catholic church hidden within a canal house dating from when Catholics were tacitly but not openly allowed to practice their religion. Ted and I thought it was wonderful when we visited on our first trip to Amsterdam in 1996, but this time it was undergoing construction and wasn’t too spectacular. After that we just hung out in a cafe and swapped family stories, until it became clear that the cousin really needed a nap. It was a good day, and a lot of fun for us to get to know her as an adult. And we even got home in time to make the jambalaya!

II. Laten we gaan schaatsen, schat.
We’ve now crossed off one more item on the list of Things To De Before Leaving the Netherlands: on Sunday we went ice skating. I think it’s just coincidental that the Dutch for “skating” is so similar to a common endearment (the title of this section means “Let’s go skating, dear”) but it is true that they take their skating seriously around these parts. Unfortunately we weren’t able to go skating on the canals while they were frozen, due to my trip to Japan, Ted’s trip to Taiwan, and the fact that we had no idea where to rent skates. But this week, some other expats invited us to go skating at the local ice rink before it closes for the year in a week or two.

You know what, it’s been a loooooooong time since we were on skates. I used to go now and then as a kid before the Ice Palace became a roller disco (remember those?) and Ted didn’t get to go too often, because his nearest rink was in Portland. But we let go of the walls after only a few minutes, and after a couple of hours we were achieving some speed, though no grace.

III. News from Home
Our dock is up! There are still a few finishing touches, the already-existing bulkhead needs to be shored up, and the dock needs to be inspected and approved by the Army Corps of Engineers. But after two years work with our architect and struggle with the ACE, we have a dock!

(The two years weren’t all spent on this; we were also forced to remove stairs to our upper deck and parts of the lower patio due to infringement on Army Corp land and a cracked gas pipe to the fire pit that was there, and we’ve also put in some landscaping. Still, a really surprising amount of the time was spent on designing and ordering a dock that would both work for rowers and meet the Army Corp’s rules.)