Tuesday, April 24, 2018

On to Porto

      4 April 2018
My, Sunday night again! It’s been only a week since we left! We’re now in Porto, an old city in the north of Portugal. Things have been moving fast, but let’s see if we can step back and see how they went…

(Sunday, April 15, that is) We left, locked the door behind us, and headed to a friend’s house to spend the night. All week we’d been working towards our departure. The house is empty; the garage full. All the big stuff is gone (Goodwill; sold; given away; or stored in the middle of the garage), the final few random boxes finally cleared out. The car is settled in among everything else, with new oil and the battery disconnected.

The house is locked up tight, the rooms empty, the refrigerator off and open, the toilet valves shut (my son once had a terrible experience where a toilet connection failed while he was gone and he came back to a flooded house; rare, but let’s not take chances, ok?). Our new tenants will be along in a couple of weeks and we want everything to be as perfect for them as we can make it! Meanwhile our downstairs neighbors have been briefed on yard watering, mail pickup, trash day, and all the other exciting details of home management. They’ve been great, and we know we can count on them to keep track of things in our absence. Other neighbors have a house key, and everybody has emergency contact numbers. Ouf! It’s been a busy week.

It all feels great, and we’re ready to leave!

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Sunday night
Now that we’ve got the house settled, we’ll be spending the night with a friend who lives quite near the airport. (It turns out that Uber and Lyft have pretty much killed the regular taxi services, but the “ride sharing services” are at the whim of the driver, and no one is out and about at 5 in the morning, when we’ll need to be at the airport.)

But now it’s Miller time, and after most of a beer I find myself sinking into a state of relaxation. No, actually, I’m falling asleep in the middle of a conversation. But that’s ok, because we’re done until tomorrow, when it’s up at 4:30AM to catch our 6:30 flight! (And Beryl, thanks again for giving up your beauty sleep to get us to the airport at 5AM!)

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Monday Morning
Now we’re relaxing in the lounge at SFO, San Francisco’s airport. Our departure from San Luis was spectacular.  The rain had stopped, the sky was clearing, the sun just below the horizon as we ascended. It’s always special, flying in and out of SLO; seeing those familiar hills from a different perspective. Today there were trails of fog and mist threading the valleys as I tried, mostly in vain, to discern exactly where we were. The hills were that intense green that we only see here for two or three months a year – and seemed mysterious in the half light. I was acutely aware that we were leaving, and that we don’t expect to be back on the Central Coast for a year, maybe more, making the misty landscape unrolling below even more poignant.

It’s a quick flight to SF. I always like that low, slow (well, 150 MPH) arrival over the bay, with the wheels touching down just as the land appears [and hopefully not sooner!]. We’re flying business class on this trip, thanks to careful management of our frequent flyer miles. This first leg was short, but now we’re enjoying one of the perks of Business Class: the United Lounge. Well away from the bustle of the hoi polloi in the main terminal, we can relax in armchairs with our coffee and snacks on a low table. There’s various breakfast options: dry cereal, hot oatmeal, fruits, sugary pastries. Coffee, bien sûr, and a Cappuccino machine (missing il mano del barista, of course, but not bad for all that). There’s also a full bar, but it doesn’t open until 8 AM (and we’d probably have to pay for drinks, unlike the coffee and snacks!).

Paula relaxing at the SFO United Lounge
We do need to get on to our destination, but this lounge almost makes me wish we had a longer layover here!

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Monday Night
Well, that was the wrong thing to say. We are now in a lovely hotel in Newark NJ, scheduled to fly to Madrid on Tuesday. We had a considerable delay in SF; one in which we could have, note, gone back up to the lounge. We did make the first leg of our trip, to Newark, but arrived too late for the flight to Madrid. The airline put us up in a hotel for the night. We had a full day there on Monday, with our flight leaving at 8PM. We thought we might get on over to the Big Apple, only a $5US train ride away, but it was cold outside, and spending a few hours walking around did not appeal. Besides, even in Business Class air travel is exhausting. We rested up and got to the Newark airport extra early.

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The flight to Madrid went well, we arrived OK, and getting to the apartment was pretty simple. The few days we spent in the city were fine, although it will take more time to digest it all. We’re just not really drawn to Madrid. Last year we spent three months in Seville, about two hours south of Madrid, and found it to be lovely, elegant, and sophisticated. Madrid is… well, big. And crowded. Some fantastic monuments, great parks, world-class museums, lots of statues and fountains, but no heart, no romance. Or so it strikes us.

We did lose a day in travel, which cut into our time in Madrid. And we were pretty jet lagged during our time there. We’ll be back in Seville in a week, and will have had time to mull over our experiences of the two cities. Maybe then we’ll have more to say, but for now, it just didn’t light us up.

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Here we are, a week into our travels, another Sunday evening. We spent the day walking our legs off in the historical part of Porto. Went down to the river (with thousands of other tourists) and had a very nice late lunch. More explorations in the coming few days, then we’ll be off to Seville for a week. While here we are looking forward to exploring the Duoro wine region (or at least some tasting rooms!), and take a simple river tour.

We’ll have more to say about Porto soon. Meanwhile, here's some photos of monuments and other buildings i found interesting in Madrid.

A modern building near where we stayed. I particularly like the tile work on the turret.
 Oddly, in spite of all the cathedrals built in the New World (and in Spain!) Madrid, the capitol city since 1561, never had one until 1879, when Almudena Cathedral was started, to be finished only recently, in 1991. The interior unusual, with colored ceilings...

Santa María la Real de La Almudena, Madrid's cathedral

Beautiful colored ceiling of the dome

Unusual painted ceiling of the cathedral
View of the organ 

Kilometro Cero, the reference point for highways in Spain, in the pavement in front of the Direccion General de Medios de Comuniacion in Plaza Puerto del Sol, Madrid (those are my toes at the bottom)

Same thing for France, in front of Notre Dame in Paris (Photo from the archives. My archives.)

A monument to Miguel Cervantes. Don Quixote and Sancho are at the bottom, hidden in the trees. In the left background: a monument to Franciso Franco, dictator of Spain until 1975 -- Madrid's first skyscraper.

The huge Royal Palace, with a pretty nice fountain in front
And... the Madrid metro. Not so different from the one in Paris (and elsewhere, presumably). We'll compare the London Underground when we're there in a few months.

Up next:
         Seville, Spain; and probably something about Porto, Portugal

This week, an extra bonus...

There's a timelessness to travel. Especially air travel. Hours spent waiting: waiting in line, waiting in the lounge, waiting in those hard seats at the gate jammed in with hundreds of other zombie travelers. Inside, always inside. (Because, you know, security perimeters and TSA, underwear bombers and drug smugglers. So, don't leave, or it’s the whole security ordeal all over again.) Recycled air and artificial light.

And then you're on the plane! Relief; relax. Nothing to do now but… wait. Wait in a long metal tube crammed with other people. Hours pass. Recycled air and don’t go outside! (It’s -60 degrees F out there! Yikes!)

Finally, arrival at the destination! How exciting! Feeling fuzzed out, dulled by hours of staring at the seat in front, wandering in another vast confusing space with no connection to time or location. Day? Night? Could be either… and you’re plunged into that limbo known as “Jet Lag”.

Travel is so exciting.

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