Monday, November 30, 2015

Rain, Wind and the Sunday Mail

We're back in London, our flight yesterday morning taking off in beautiful, sunny weather and landing in rain and gusty wind. Ah, England!

We took the Lisbon metro out to the airport at 7:30 a.m., and I didn't even get a cup of coffee into my body until we were in the terminal about an hour later. I was flagging a bit by that time, but I survived. The flight was uneventful -- we ran into one of our coworkers, Pete, and his wife in the Lisbon terminal, which was kind of funny. And at Heathrow we met another group of teachers from school, as well as a family with kids who are students, who had all just been in Bilbao. I guess everyone comes and goes on the same tides.

I finished my book, "The Night in Lisbon," on the plane. It was OK. I was then left without anything to read, so I resorted to the in-flight magazine -- which actually wasn't bad -- and then a borrowed copy of the Mail on Sunday. You know I'm desperate for reading material when I'm driven to a conservative newspaper.

Some of you asked the other day whether I have pictures of certain things I've mentioned -- the Marilyn Monroe potato chips, for example. The answer is yes, and when I get all my Portugal pictures uploaded to Flickr within a week or two I'll give you the link so you can see them.

Olga hasn't rejoined us yet. She doesn't come back from the kennel until this afternoon, when Dave will be home to meet her.

(Photo: The Beatles Store on Baker Street, Nov. 21.)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Cats, Dogs and Roosters

Yesterday we had a decision to make. We could take the train to Sintra, a town northwest of Lisbon where the nobility used to go to escape the rabble of the city, or we could spend our final day wandering a few more neighborhoods.

This wasn't a decision to be taken lightly. Sintra (which my spell-check wants to change to "Sinatra") is a UNESCO world heritage site and it's pretty much the one day-trip every Lisbon visitor is expected to do. Apparently there are forests and a colorful palace, among other things.

But Dave wasn't convinced, and since I am always fine just walking around and exploring, we did that instead. We walked through the neighborhoods of Mouraria (named after the moors, who lived among its steep, narrow streets in the middle ages) and Graça.

I was seriously considering doing an entire blog post about laundry in Lisbon. You see such an incredible assortment of clean clothing, towels and bedclothes hanging out to dry!

In Graça we sat at a cafe with an incredible view overlooking the city and had grilled cheese sandwiches. We watched a very energetic golden retriever annoy his owner by playing with a huge plastic bottle.

Then we kept walking back down into Alfama and eastward. We wound up getting kind of lost, which is always fun. We stumbled into Lisbon's famous outdoor flea market, which was packed with vendors selling vinyl records and toys and used pottery and clothing and all kinds of junque, but we didn't stay because Dave is not a fan of flea markets. (One point on which he and I differ -- I could have spent hours there! But it's just as well I didn't, so I don't have treasures to haul back to London.)

We eventually found our way back to our hotel, past more laundry and the occasional sleeping cat.

A huge Holland America cruise ship has been moored in the river below our hotel for the last few days. From the wine bar, with its infinity pool, we watched as it set sail yesterday evening. Then we went to dinner at a little tapas place, coincidentally near the flea market where we were earlier in the day. We hired a tuk-tuk, a sort of auto rickshaw, to take us there -- it was a Portuguese version of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Our tuk-tuk driver, Lisa, was a master of the back streets and took us past Lisbon's grand, illuminated São Vicente de Fora church and the domed Panteão.

Today, back to the airport and home!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Grinding Up and Down Hills

One thing I can say for sure about Lisbon -- the weather is just about perfect.

We spent yesterday exploring on foot and in a tram, a transportation method so ubiquitous here that it appears on t-shirts and souvenir refrigerator magnets. We took a special tram tour through Lisbon's older districts, with the driver cranking levers and the car grinding up and down the hills on metal rails. It was quite theatrical. Apparently on some of the steeper hills, the drivers have to lay sand on the tracks so the car can get a better grip. Woo hoo!

We found the British enclave, such that it is.

And we found the American enclave, too. Or at least a sign from a bygone era.

And the Norwegian one, too!

We had lunch at the Mercado de Ribeira, a huge food market near downtown where there's a sort of gourmet food court. I had a salted cod sandwich and "batatas Marilyn Monroe," which I ordered just because of the name. It turns out they're very thinly cut potato chips -- or crisps, as the British say -- and after I got them I realized they closely resemble Marilyn's swirling skirt in the subway grate scene of "Some Like it Hot."

After lunch we went to a Portuguese wine-tasting room near the main waterfront square (top photo) and sampled some whites and reds. Dave really wants to buy some port, but unfortunately our plane ticket specifies that we cannot check luggage without paying an extra £30, so we can't bring any back. (No liquids in cabin baggage, and all that.) I'm thinking we may be able to get some at the airport duty-free shops on the way out.

In the afternoon Dave headed back to the hotel for a nap, and I continued on foot exploring the neighborhoods of Barrio Alto, Baixa and Chiado.

I stopped at the Cafe a Brasileira, an apparently legendary Lisbon haunt, for a coffee. A Brazilian (I think) band played nearby on the public plaza.

Finally, last night, Dave and I went to a restaurant recommended by one of my coworkers. I'll avoid naming it so as not to attract search engines to my somewhat negative review, but think of the capital of California. It had a very red interior including huge red cellophane hanging lamps. Dave said it was "like being inside a blood clot," and we found the food unremarkable. Oh well. You can't win 'em all!

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Look at Lisbon

Here we are in Lisbon, where the sun is so bright and the shadows so deep that photography beckons at every turn. I took 230 pictures yesterday, and although most of them will be deleted, I am once again thankful to no longer be constrained by the limitations of film!

We got here bright and early. Our flight left England at 7 a.m., so we were at the airport before 5:30, and on the ground in Lisbon by mid-morning. Needless to say we were a bit bleary-eyed for the rest of the day, but we survived.

I had no idea what to expect of Portugal. So here's some of what we found. For one thing, many of the buildings are completely covered in tile, like the one above. They're colorful and super-shiny. Also, many sidewalks are composed of black-and-white cobblestones organized in patterns (now I know what inspired those famous sidewalks of Rio de Janeiro).

We're staying in an old neighborhood with narrow streets called Alfama. Our hotel is super-modern and super-minimalist. The room is white on white, with a blond wood floor, and the shower controls are so simple I couldn't figure out how to turn them on. I was about to go to the front desk and ask when Dave came to the rescue.

I learned the Portuguese word constipaçião from an advertisement in the airport. I hope I never have to use it. Other Portuguese words: bom dia, for good day, and obrigado, for thank you.

Judging from the street art, the Portuguese like to have some fun with their politics!

Yesterday at lunch, Dave and I stopped at a cafe in a secluded square and ate outside. I had roasted sardines, which were fabulous, and Dave had pork. We each ordered a small jug of wine -- the smallest amount possible -- which turned out to contain about half a quart. The sun was so intense that we had to change tables in the middle of the meal -- quite a change from England!

Then, last night, we went to an excellent restaurant with some live fado music, which is apparently a thing here. I'm not yet clear on what distinguishes fado from other types of singing, other than its Portuguese origins -- maybe I should read up on that. I had octopus for dinner, and Dave, once again, had pork.

Unbelievably, the passive-aggressive dog boarder e-mailed us yesterday and insisted that we buy her harness. So I threw in the towel and said fine, but politely and firmly added that we weren't coming back after Christmas, when Olga is scheduled to board again. (We've already paid a huge deposit so there's no canceling that.) I realize it's ridiculous to carry on this debate for days when it comes down to £25 and I just want to enjoy my vacation. I'm putting it behind me.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Foxy Fox

I happened to have my camera handy when one of our neighborhood foxes took a stroll around our back garden yesterday. Here he (or she) is -- in all her (or his) foxy glory.

Do you think it's the same one I photographed in August? This one seems to have lighter coloring, but that could be seasonal, I suppose.

It seemed quite confident and not at all skittish, maybe because it could tell that Olga wasn't home. It even walked right up to the back door, with Dave and I sitting in the living room. (I didn't have my camera ready at that moment, sadly.)

It's a pretty healthy looking fox, with a nice bushy white-tipped tail and nice fur, and a penetrating gaze.

And there's our garden cam, fastened to the tree behind the fox, helpfully pointing in the wrong direction.

Work yesterday was non-eventful. Olga got picked up at about 7:30, so I got to work in time to attend our annual Thanksgiving assembly and then spent the rest of the morning shelving and organizing books. I found an unopened Cadbury's candy bar (chocolate and caramel) beneath one of the library couches and ate it for my midmorning snack. I'm not proud.

Then, in the afternoon I got an e-mail from the passive-aggressive dog boarder wanting to sell us a new harness for Olga. They said the old one is torn (and it is, mildly, on a purely ornamental part) and isn't strong enough for the dog. You may remember that this is part of what I hate about this boarder -- the woman who's in charge is constantly pushing us to buy stuff. So I said no, and they pretty much insisted, and I handed the matter over to Dave. It's still unresolved, but for now the harness is not on our bill. I couldn't help but laugh because when Olga got picked up in the morning, I thought I'd avoided dealing with her. And then she GOT ME ANYWAY!

I'll be coming to you tomorrow from Lisbon. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Olga Departs, and a Feeder Update

I had the craziest day yesterday. I guess everyone was getting books to read over the Thanksgiving holiday, because the desk was constantly busy. On top of that I had to help supervise and find books for two classes simultaneously while my coworkers were in meetings -- including one boy who'd been assigned to read a biography and was being somewhat stubborn about the subject. (A footballer, preferably Ronaldinho, and not an American footballer and certainly not a baseball player, all within a rather narrow window of reading level.)

Fortunately, today will be much easier, because we don't have kids in school. It's a professional development day. Which means I will be re-shelving books.

First, though, the dog-boarding folks are coming to collect Olga and take her to their spa resort in the countryside, where for the next four days she will no doubt receive Swedish massage and steam facials complete with cucumbers over her eyes, her ears done up in a towel. At least that's my assumption, based on the price.

Yes, I still feel guilty. But with her gone, Dave and I can focus after work on getting ready for Lisbon before flying out early tomorrow. (And we have dinner plans tonight.)

As you can see, our squirrel feeder has become more of a pigeon feeder, especially now that the squirrels have knocked out the protective little plastic window in front. I wonder what our neighbors think of this development, since the pigeons tend to sit on their balcony railing upstairs.

The squirrels, not content to relinquish such a reliable food source, periodically come and chase away the pigeon hordes, a process that involves a lot of insane wing-flapping.

The big Eurasian blue jays also come around almost every morning. I've seen them pop an entire peanut (in the shell!) into their gullet and hold another in their beak and fly away.

(Top photo: Flags of Tunisia, Palestine and Saudi Arabia in Cricklewood, on Sunday.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ye Olde Camera Shoppe

As I was walking Olga to the Heath on Sunday, we passed this old camera shop, Photo Craft, in Hampstead. We've been walking past it almost every week for a year and a half, and sometimes I'd look at the lenses in the windows and think, "I need to check that place out." It seemed like a bit of an anachronism. How many family-run independent camera shops do you see these days?

And then suddenly, in October, it closed. So much for that.

When I stopped to take these photos Sunday, workmen were dismantling the facade. (The guy on the bottom, hiding his face, told me he's "camera shy.") They told me the shop had been there for 50 years, and sure enough, when I looked it up online, I found a couple of news articles about the closing that said the same thing.

I was interested in this even older sign underneath the photo shop facade. The workmen had no idea what Leonards might have been. A cursory Google search couldn't tell me either. Maybe when they take the rest of that old clapboard away, all will be revealed.

Unfortunately I may not be here to see it, since we'll be gone this weekend. It depends on how quickly the new tenant, a beauty shop, moves in.

We're having a rainy, wet, cold morning here. I slept until 6:30, about an hour later than usual -- Dave even got up before me, which almost never happens. Olga, however, is still in bed.