Portugal Diary 6 (Guimarães and Campo do Gerês)

We went to the UNESCO World Heritage town of Guimarães on our way back into the mountains.

This place gets hit with bus tours that trek through the duke’s palace, for example. This might be where Hrothgar’s mead hall (Heorot) was!

It’s still very pleasant, though maybe an afternoon here is enough.

We drove up into Portugal’s only national park, Peneda-Gerês, via São Bento da Porta Aberta, an important Christian pilgrimage destination.

We arrived in what barely seemed like a village, Campo do Gerês, and stayed a few nights to walk in the surrounding mountains. The highlight of my trip, of course, was a visit to the town of Covide:

The weirdly narrow “house” is for storing grain safe from animals. Here’s the local cemetery:

It was in Covide that we found walking paths down which Google Maps tried to send us in the Mercedes E class. It was also there that we found a car with a great design for Europe’s ridiculously narrow and nonstandard roads:

The Citroen Cactus has Airbumps that can be sacrificed in the event of a scrape. Both Covide and Campo do Gerês are on the Caminho da Geira e dos Arrieiros, a 239 km route from Braga, Portugal to Santiago de Compostela.

Even if this path coincides with roads for cars, it’s likely hilly everywhere. The 28 km stretch above is particularly worrisome!

Campo do Gerês has a good museum on the Roman history of the area.

We did see some old Roman road sections and also columns in various places nearby.

There is a lot of good hiking and, for those who don’t mind cold water, swimming, around and in the reservoir impounded by the Vilarinho das Furnas Dam.

There is one hotel in Campo do Gerês, which has a good restaurant, and there are quite a few campgrounds and AirBnBs. The unpaved road alongside the reservoir has an excellent surface and is a good way to get to the border with Spain (a derelict unstaffed crossing).

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Portugal Diary 5 (Belmonte, Vale do Côa, Amarante)

Instead of taking the Google Maps route on blind faith, we asked locals how to get out of the Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela. This took us through Belmonte, which we discovered was home to a Jewish museum and also a church on a traditional route to Santiago de Compostela.

Belmonte has an otter sculpture and a variety of memorials to Pedro Álvares Cabral (1467-1520) who was born in the town and went on to become “the first human in history to ever be on four continents”. He is credited as the European discoverer of Brazil.

The museum is small, but provides a good overview of Judaism and how it was vaguely continued after the Inquisition:

There’s the inevitable castle in this hilltop town and also a church that has been turned into a museum regarding the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela:

I’m surprised that Sixt was so passionate about charging us for a minor scratch. They should celebrate any time that a foreigner returns a diesel-powered car that hasn’t been destroyed via filling it with gasoline. Here’s what the clueless English speaker might see at a pump:

“gasóleo” is diesel and “gasolina” is gasoline. The letter codes are also important. “B7” is diesel, though we were advised not to use the cheaper “simple” version because it can clog injectors over the long run (I paid up for the premium gas to keep Sixt’s cars in top condition and they certainly didn’t act grateful!).

Somehow we got onto the highway without misfueling the already-shaky Mercedes and made it to our next stop: Parque Arqueológico do Vale do Côa, a UNESCO World Heritage site discovered only in the 1990s. Book in advance if you want to do the English-language Jeep tour and see the Stone Age rock carvings in situ. The museum has a good restaurant and a great location, with the opportunity to take stairs all the way down into the deep valley cut by the Douro.

We probably should have figured out some wineries to visit near this museum, some of which looked spectacular from the road, and stayed overnight, but we’d already reserved a hotel in the small town of Amarante, about two hours west.

Amarante has some nice churches and a museum devoted to local hero Amadeo de Souza Cardoso, a painter who might have become the Portuguese Picasso if he hadn’t died at age 30 from the 1918 flu. It was mostly a nice place to relax and enjoy the small town Portugal lifestyle.

The town has a clean hot springs pool facility (call to reserve; they speak English), but is mostly famous for cookies that Bruno would love (these are traditional fertility-related, not modern 2SLGBTQQIA+ symbols):

Here’s the view from our AirBnb (two nights):

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Portugal Diary 4

Renting a car at the Lisbon airport takes so long that I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone getting off a transatlantic flight. Catch an Uber into Lisbon or Sintra, spend a few nights, and then send one designated victim back to the Lisbon airport to wait in various lines for 1.5 hours (the Sixt folks said that our 1.5-hour wait occurred during a “calm” period and that it could and would get much much worse; a normally polite American grandma described her experience at Hertz on a different day as a “sh*tshow”). After the car is obtained, have the rest of the family or group Uber out to the airport (only about 15 minutes from downtown Lisbon) to meet the designated victim. Some folks waiting in the line to get paperwork and then the line for people who successfully obtained paperwork:

Try to avoid being given a plug-in hybrid. These are impossible to charge in Portugal unless you apply for an EDP account, which is impractical unless you have a Portuguese fiscal number (like our Social Security number), a European bank account with IBAN, a Portuguese phone number, and a few days to wait for various hurdles to be cleared. I never saw a charging station that accepted credit cards. Our plug-in hybrid Mercedes had almost no trunk space due to the big battery that we had no way to charge. It was dragged out from an obscure corner of the garage so covered with dust and dirt that it wasn’t safe to drive (the employees cleaned the windows for us before we left). To add insult to injury, the car failed within 48 hours and then Sixt charged us 61 euros for the tow truck that had to come out (we didn’t buy “roadside assistance” for their defective cars). A little more abuse after we got back to the U.S… Sixt charge us 395 euros for a purported scratch to a wheel (or maybe just a plastic wheel cover; we never figured that out), which included fees for “loss of use” (they already said that the car needed to go to a dealer for battery/computer repairs) and “damage handling fee”. I don’t remember ever scraping a curb (Portuguese curbs are, in general, low and rounded) so I think the root cause of this debacle might be that the car was delivered so dirty it wasn’t possible to see a minor pre-existing scratch.

The car-based portion of our trip began at the Mafra palace, which has its own basilica:

Being royal meant doing a lot of shooting:

It was also possible to read:

They also had a pre-flippers pinball machine and what seems like a precursor to foosball:

Here’s lunch at a restaurant a few steps from the palace:

Next stop was the Buddha Eden garden, previously described, and then Nazaré, Europe’s capital for big wave surfing in the winter. Here’s a view from Sitio de Nazaré, which overlooks the beach and has a nice church and square;

Then it was on to Batalha, home to a UNESCO World Heritage church and monastery. A Portuguese travel agent discouraged us from staying here, but it turned out to be a great base for two nights. We were surprised to learn that the monastery contains Portugal’s tomb of the unknown soldier (the country fought as England’s ally in World War I).

On the way to Grutas de Mira de Aire (limestone caves), we stopped to walk on a Roman road. Note the difference between 1x and 3x on the iPhone (at 1x you can see the Roman wind turbine and the Roman picnic tables):

Fortunately, they’re not afraid to punch up the caves with a bit of color:

On the way back to Batalha, we stopped at Castelo de Porto de Mós:

Then it was back to our AirBnB, which was a tiny but efficient 2BR ($105/night including cleaning):

One thing that we learned is that if you want fast reliable Internet, AirBnB is the best lodging option. The large Portuguese WiFi networks never seemed to be fast or reliable. Free WiFi at the Lisbon airport, for example, never worked at all (two visits a week apart). Hotel Internet was always slower than AirBnB WiFi and also subject to interruptions, dead zones, etc.

The next day, after some tow truck assistance to reset our Mercedes plug-in hybrid’s brain, we drove to Coimbra and Portugal dos Pequenitos, a theme park of miniatures covered in Celebrating Juneteenth here in Portugal. After that, we drove up the hill to the founded-in-1290 university to see the famous library (no photos allowed) and, coincidentally, a lot of graduation celebrations:

Coimbra is a nice town, but the hills make it tough to get around, at least from a Floridian’s perspective.

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Portugal Trip Diary 2

I’m wondering if it wouldn’t have been smart to stay in Belém, a neighborhood of Lisbon that is rich in tourist attractions. I would recommend that everyone visiting Lisbon start at the commercial immersive Earthquake Museum, a 1.5-hour experience that helps you understand how the various parts of the post-1755 city are arranged. Their motto is “expect the unexpected”, which got the 10-year-old tangled up in mental knots (“If you expect something then how can it be unexpected?”).

We hit the nearby Belém palácio restaurant (excellent basic Portuguese food, including the cuttlefish below) and then the obligatory tourist stop at Pastéis de Belém for pastries that are almost exactly the same as pastel de nata (crunchier crust, perhaps):

It was then time to experience peacocks at the tropical botanical garden:

(The 10-year-old’s standard statement on seeing any peacock: “Dad, buy me a shotgun and then… problem solved.” We actually do have a neighbor who received a 28 gauge shotgun at age 9 and, therefore, is equipped to deal with any problems caused by ornamental peafowl.)

I’m going to cover the powerplant part of MAAT, the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, separately, but here are a few photos of the art part:

Visitors could take off their shoes and enter the installation to pound away on about 30 different drums. This proved extremely popular with some members of our group…

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Portugal Trip Diary 1

Palm Beach International has an in-terminal art museum. Here’s a work regarding homophobia that is so pervasive and severe that the artwork “to discuss homophobia” was selected for display to several million travelers:

Our 8-year-old was seated next to a New Yorker on the flight to EWR:

Incompetence by United Airlines resulted in the inbound plane arriving at PBI one hour late. That put us right into prime Florida afternoon thunderstorm territory so there was an additional delay while lightning struck all around the airport and the ramp was closed. I bit my nails as the 2.5-hour plane change time in Newark, during which we’d have to take a bus from Terminal A to Terminal C, was eaten away.

Despite the time crunch at EWR, I managed to get a photo of an all-gender family restroom, the last so-labeled that we would likely see for three weeks:

The young, slender, apparently healthy, and righteous wore their masks in the EWR terminal and then while walking onto our EWR-LIS flight:

All of my nail-biting was pointless. The flight was showing on time when we rushed to the gate to find… no Boeing 787. Flightaware showed that the plane had landed two days earlier. Where was the plane? “They’re bringing it over from the hangar,” said a United employee. “I don’t know why they didn’t do it earlier.” After everyone was boarded we couldn’t close the door because the in-flight entertainment system wasn’t working properly. We departed more than two hours late and, thus, could have enjoyed a relaxed dinner if the delays hadn’t been piecemeal.

The Lisbon airport is so close to downtown that Uber Black is only about $30. More comfortable than a tuktuk anyway:

We stayed at the Altis Prime apartment hotel in Principe Real. This is walking distance from the tourist Baixa while quieter and more convenient for doing business. The hotel is around the corner from a synagogue so, literally within hours after we arrived, the kids got to see a Free Palestine march:

(Only about 50 out of Greater Lisbon’s 2.9 million residents chose to participate.)

After a bit of napping to recover from our United Basic Economy experience (Economy wouldn’t have been any better; by the time we booked there weren’t any decent clusters of four seats available and the premium seats were all sold out), we headed down to the Baixa (heart of downtown) and found a quiet pro-Ukraine gathering:

The next day we went to the natural history museum that is near our hotel and found this juxtaposition of an electron microscope up against a tile wall, which is an 800-year-old tradition in Portugal:

The museum is next to one of Lisbon’s three (at least) botanical gardens:

From the garden it is a quick walk to the Bairro Alto, a neighborhood just above the Baixa that is served by an elevator and a funicular:

I remembered the Time Out Market as being fun, but that was in September. In June it is mobbed to the point that there is nowhere to sit and also insufficiently air conditioned:

The obligatory panoramic:

Here’s the kind of thing that we’re getting from AI today:

I wonder if instead we could get robot stonework so that modern buildings could be ornate and beautiful:

A couple of the pedestrian-only streets of the Baixa. Note the elevator to the Bairro Alto in the background of one photo:

To be continued…

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Return trip to the world’s best public aquarium (in Lisbon)

As part of this year’s trip to Portugal we bought a family membership at the Oceanário de Lisboa, which I think has a legitimate claim to being the world’s best public aquarium. The typical public aquarium is “one damn tank after another”. This was tweaked to “one damn tank after another plus a big tank in the middle” due to the work of Peter Chermayeff (fans of The Son Also Rises: economics history with everyday applications will be cheered to learn that this accomplished architect is the son of Serge Chermayeff, an accomplished architect). Chattanooga is also a strong contender and is also a Chermayeff design, but the planted aquarium exhibit designed by the late Takashi Amano puts Lisbon over the top. (Atlanta, funded by Trump-supporter Bernie Marcus, has whale sharks, but lacks a unifying theme). Here are some photos from June 2024:

The “one ocean” theme is moderately persuasive, but the younger members of our party preferred the phrase “otter fight.”

I like the aquarium so much that I tried to book an apartment at the nearby Martinhal hotel, but I am glad that we didn’t. The #Science museum next to the aquarium is also great, but there isn’t enough going on in the Parque das Nações at street level. It would be a good hotel for someone who intended to be entirely car-based, but not for someone who wanted to walk to restaurants and shops. The Myriad, which is in the same new area of the city, is much better located for access to a lively pedestrian area (a riverfront restaurant row) and a massive shopping mall (as well as a big train/bus station). The failure of this neighborhood to be a pleasant walkable lifestyle, as most cities and towns in Portugal are, is a sobering reminder that humans don’t seem to be capable of building decent new neighborhoods. The countries that are addicted to population growth (e.g., the U.S., via low-skill immigration) are thus doomed to have an ever-larger percentage of the population living in lonely lifeless suburbs. Parque das Nações has moderately high density and is in a country with a rich tradition of urban planning (going back at least to reconstruction from the 1755 earthquake) and still it doesn’t come together.

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Helicopter from Los Angeles to Maskachusetts, Part 6 (Abilene to Kentucky)

We didn’t start quite as early as planned in Abilene, but we managed to crank shortly after 8:00 am:

We flew over the Promised Land of free wind energy and then straight over the top of DFW:

You might think that it is rude to fly directly over one of the world’s busiest airports. However, that’s often exactly what the best controllers want you to do because airplanes don’t take off or land vertically and, therefore, a helicopter direct overhead doesn’t present a separation challenge.

We stopped at Galaxy FBO at KADS, one of the busiest general aviation airports serving Dallas. There, I received the happy news that inflation has been conquered by our wise leaders and their appointed technocrats in Washington, D.C. It is just that our used minivan keeps going up in price because it is so rare and desirable.

If you don’t like California’s lockdowns and 13.3% state income tax, it seems that they aren’t going to run out of houses in the Dallas suburbs any time soon:

From there, it was on into Arkansas and over the mountains to Mena (KMEZ) for lunch at Cruizzers Drive-In (better for sculpture than food):

Our next leg took us to Jonesboro, Arkansas (KJBR) for fuel and then across the Mississippi river to KCKV (“Outlaw Field” in Clarksville, Tennessee):

Our final leg was to KSME, Somerset, Kentucky, a truly magnificent facility:

At the Marriott, I wondered if they wouldn’t get more people to cooperate with their environmental goals with a sign reading, “Like Jeffrey Epstein, these towels aren’t going to hang themselves.”

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Helicopter from Los Angeles to Maskachusetts, Part 5 (trying to get through all of Hell and half of Texas)

Discouraged by reports of low clouds at various points along Interstate 10 and Interstate 20, but encouraged by forecasts of improving conditions, we launched from El Paso (KELP) to Van Horn, Texas (KVHN). The airport was deserted, but we managed to get the FBO guy on his cell phone and he popped right over to help us fuel the R44 from the pumps. The big users of this airport have been the U.S. Army with some drones and Blue Origin/Jeff Bezos with Gulfstreams and helicopters coming to see rocket launches (not stopping to chat with anyone at the airport).

We departed after refueling and, sure enough, the forecast great weather hadn’t materialized. As the highway climbed, the cloud deck didn’t move, which meant that the ceiling kept getting lower and lower. We hadn’t gone more than 10 minutes from KVHN before making the decision to do a 180-degree turn. We then called our FBO guy back to get the keys to the crew car and went into town for a truly great early dinner in a classic hotel:

After dinner… the same damn clouds. But they certainly didn’t look very high. Maybe we could go over them at 7,500′ and… we did! It’s unusual to fly over a cloud deck in a helicopter and if we’d had to do an autorotation to the highway it could have been challenging, but I have done autos on instruments in training. Anyway, the faithful Robinson never hiccupped so we made it over the last of the mountains and the broken cloud layer without incident and landed at Abilene just as it was getting dark. Abilene Aero lent us their crew car for the overnight hotel stay.

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Helicopter from Los Angeles to Maskachusetts, Part 4 (El Paso Interlude)

In Helicopter from Los Angeles to Maskachusetts, Part 3 (They Built the Wall in Texas) we saw that man proposes and God disposes with respect to flying weather. Unable to proceed over the next batch of mountains, we enjoyed El Paso, Texas for about 26 hours.

Downtown El Paso seems to have been set up to serve Mexicans who came over for a day of shopping and then returned over the bridge. Here’s what it would look like to arrive from Ciudad Juárez:

After our brothers, sisters, and binary-resisters from south of the border get through the 1950s-style shopping district, they arrive at the Square of the Sacred Rainbow Flag:

On the way they might pass this multi-story mountain lion (64 feet high!), fashioned from recycled trash by Bordalo Segundo of Portugal:

Inspired by the street art, it was time to duck into the (free) art museum. Meanwhile, I checked the radar to see whether we’d made a good decision (“sunk cost fallacy”?). From 2:30 pm:

The art museum had the usual stuff, plus an exhibit on Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, murdered by an embezzling employee who tried to hide her crime by claiming to have been sexually assaulted.

Here’s another temporary installation, a sculpture by Vanessa German:

Black Girl on Skateboard Going Where She’s Got to Go to Do What She’s Got to Do and It Might Not Have Anything to Do With You, Ever, 2022. Lemony things: vintage French beaded flowers, a yellow skateboard like I never had when i was a fat little Black girl in Los Angeles when riding a skateboard meant that you could fly, Capidomonte Ceramic Lemon Center piece, a dance in my thighs, high yellow so-flat paint, porcelain bird figurines, decorative resin lemons, papery yellow flowers, meanness transmuted, love, oil paint stick, rage, self-loathing transmuted, a joy-bitch, masturbation, plaster, wood glue, black pigment, giddiness, freedom in the body, freedom in the Soul, wood, tar, wire, a distinct and purposeful healing, hope, yellow flood light, heart, yellow decorative ceramic magnolia figurine, acceptance, abandon, not being afraid to be full of your own self in your own divine body, divinity, fear transmuted, plaster gauze, magic, silicone, tears, epoxy, water, tomorrow, now, yes.

Wandering around after the art museum, we happened on the Paso Del Norte, a hotel that put our Marriott to shame:

Some images of downtown, including the very first Kress store (part of the fortune built turned into the art museum and its collection). See if you can spot the Science-following photographer:

We enjoyed dinner at Tex-Mex institution L&J Cafe (1927), preceded by a walk in the grass-free graveyard:

Then it was time to enjoy El Paso by night, including a minor league baseball game (packed with enthusiastic spectators) and fireworks from our hotel’s pool deck:

The next morning I did my annual visit to the gym and also looked out from the pool deck:

Speaking of the gym, they still had their coronapanic signs up. Is there any kind of procedure for taking these safety notices down?

To undo any negative effects from the gym, we hit the Glazy Donut on the way out of town. Note how easily Internet content can be corrupted:

Then it was back to the airport where the skies were clear at least to the next stop (Van Horn, Texas) and forecast to improve beyond Van Horn:

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Helicopter from Los Angeles to Maskachusetts, Part 3 (They Built the Wall in Texas)

Our story picks up again on an April Saturday morning in Tucson. When checked the previous night, the forecast weather beyond El Paso was a combination of ugly and iffy. Despite the weather forecast and having flown 5 hours (collective-cracked time, so closer to 6 hours of rotor-spinning time), we were at the airport a little after 7:00 am.

After weight gained via the previous night’s Sonoran hot dogs it would have been nice to steal this civilian Blackhawk with which we shared the ramp (they were dropping supplies into the forest for powerline construction):

Here’s Interstate 10 climbing over some of the hills in southern New Mexico. It is possible to do the trip at 5,500′, the highest elevation that we must fly in order to bring a helicopter from coast to coast along I-10:

We stopped for the bathroom and found some porn for pilots:

Due to a slight headwind, we couldn’t make it to El Paso on one tank. We stopped in Las Cruces for fuel and on-airport bbq:

Once we arrived in El Paso, just after noon and having flown only three hours from Tucson, we discovered that the forecast wall of bad weather in Texas was, in fact, impenetrable by prospective helicopter migrants. My copilot wanted to press on, pointing out that conditions weren’t so bad at various airports to the northeast, e.g., 1200′ ceilings were available in Carlsbad (elevation 3295′). I reminded him that we’d have to climb above 8,000′ to clear the mountains between El Paso and Carlsbad and that the 1200′ ceiling wasn’t going to follow the terrain. It hadn’t occurred to him that airports tend to be built at the lowest elevations in a region, not on hilltops or mountaintops. (He had more than 500 hours of airplane time and nearly 200 hours of helicopter time so I can’t explain this gap in knowledge.)

Million Air KELP is a favorite spot for military instructors and students. It’s also a great place to make sure that you don’t get sunburned when transferring from your pavement-melting SUV into your Greta Thunberg-approved Gulfstream:

We headed downtown:

More about El Paso in our next thrilling installment…


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