May 2008

Monthly Archive

prices in portugal

Posted by lynn on 29 May 2008 | Tagged as: portugal, travel

Lisbon From Castleit’s always fun to see how prices abroad compare to home. the dollar, of course, is at an all-time low compared to the euro (it’s roughly $1.55 to 1 euro), but lucky for us portugal is one of the more affordable destinations in europe. even with the weak dollar, most prices were fairly equivalent to home. here’s how a few things stacked up during our recent two-week trip.

  • coffee w/ milk (only comes in one size, small, and in a real cup!) = 0,90 euro, around $1.40
  • cappuccino = 1,10 euro, well under $2, not bad!
  • beer (bottle of sagres or super bock, both pale lagers) = 2 to 3 euros, or as cheap as $3… but this isn’t exactly micro-brew
  • litre of gas = 1,30 euros – let’s see, with around 3.8 litres to the gallon, this translates to nearly 5 euros, or $7.65 per gallon. makes our recent jump to $4.10+/gallon seem almost reasonable. hmmm. did i do the math right? probably. we americans have long been spoiled when it comes to gas prices.
  • converse shoes (standard high-tops) = 63,90 euros, YIKES! this is close to $100 for shoes we can get for under $30 at home
  • pack of cigarettes = 3,45 euros, which means nothing to me personally but is a good comparison point

on a different portugal note, scroll down if you want to see a few portugal photos – i’m adding them slowly and will have full albums up soon. but not til we’ve recovered from the little girl’s first birthday party on sunday!

sintra: princess melina in her portuguese castle

Posted by lynn on 19 May 2008 | Tagged as: melina, portugal, travel

Sintra Viewed From Castle

Castelo dos Mouros, Sintra

our portugal trip is drawing to a close. today is our last, and we’re spending it wandering the streets of lisbon, sipping cafe com leites with pasteis de natas (little custard pies), followed by a glass or two of alentejo wine and later some cataplana (seafood stew with potatos).

yesterday we had our last day of full-on tourism, with a day trip to sintra, a magical town just 40 minutes away by train. Palacio da Pena, SintraPalacio da Pena, Sintrasintra is nestled in the coastal hills and is home to at least a half-dozen palaces, dozens of port shops and little cafes, a bunch of large estates, and an ever-changing cast of local and international tourists. the whole village is lorded over by a moorish castle (castelo dos mouros) that dates to the 10th century, and above it the palacio nacional da pena, residence of the last of the portuguese monarchy at the beginning of the 20th century.

Sintra Road Signs: Melina Points the WayJoey's Really Big Beer, Sintra

we started our visit with a 10 minute bus-ride up the steep winding hills to the castle gates, then trekked, meli in her carrier, through the forest and up to the castle ruins. the setting felt all the more appropriate with strong winds and the shift of light and shadow from the swift moving clouds overhead.

the palacio da pena was another short bus-ride further up the hill, then a 1 km walk straight up a cobblestone path to where a fairytale scene opened before our eyes. colorful turrets, coral- and gargoyle-adorned archways, azuelo-tiled walls, and a tower with a painted clock sprouted from every direction. Streetside Wine Bar in Bairro Alto, LisbonOverlooking Lisbon: Dad Atop Elevador Santa de Justawe spent a good hour wandering around and through the fabulous palace, and enjoyed the splendid views that reached over down to sintra village and out to the coast. because it was such a long day, we also had meli’s stroller. (luckily they had let us store it at the gates to the moorish castle for our earlier forest trek.) to handle some of the steps at the palace we sometimes had to carry her in her stroller, lifting the entire chair princess-style, up and down short stretches. she grinned ear to ear each time we did. our little princess!

speaking of the well-fed princess melina, she has a new nickname: tremoços. tremoço are large white beans soaked in brine that joey grew up on in hawaii. according to a portuguese guy we met at our coimbra hotel, tremoços (what joey’s mom called the beans growing up) means “little snacks.” meli loves to snack, and she’s 3/8 portuguese. our little tremoços.

library bats, blown fuses & many tastes of port

Posted by lynn on 16 May 2008 | Tagged as: melina, portugal, travel

Port Lodge Signs in Vila Nova de Gaia

Pigeon Lady, Porto

we’re now on our last day in porto and are enjoying full sunshine for the first time in a few days. luckily the rain has come in short bursts and hasn’t hampered our enjoyment of the steep hills and picturesque waterfront of oporto, or its yummy port wine. but i’m getting ahead. to pick up where i left off, in quaint evora:

ciombra. we bussed five or so hours from evora to coimbra, a university town about the size of berkeley, in the northish of the country. meli didn’t sleep much, from what i remember. once there we had two fabulous dinners just blocks from our city-center hotel, and spent our one morning walking straight up a hill to the university itself. the highlight was the renaissance-era library (biblioteca joanina), with thousands of books dating back five or six-hundred years. they only let 20 or so people in at a time and you can’t get very close to the books themselves, but the seemingly endless rows of gold-plated spines are quite impressive. students can still look at books, but through petition only. my favorite tidbit: one measure to ensure the preservation of the books is to keep a colony of bats in the library attic. they’re let out at night to eat any insects that might have gotten in accidently.

Sandeman Port Lodge

Spigot

oporto. we accidently took the slow train to porto and arrived to rain showers, but since then things have been looking up. (looking up unless you count attempting a load of laundry in our small apartment and blowing a fuse at least twice while trying to dry everything. we had to use a combo of the crappy drier, a space heater, an indoor clothesline, a hair dryer, and even an iron to get everything less than damp.)

we spent one afternoon across the river, in vila nova de gaia, tasting port at several lodges and touring the sandeman lodge. we finished the day back at the ribeira waterfront, at a small den called vinologia, where they serve up samples of port from indepedent lodges. we spent over an hour there with meli. Sleepy Girl, Duoro Valley Train RidePinhao, Duoro Valley she chomped on an apple while joey and i had a sampler of dry white, ruby, and 10-year tawny followed by a selection of late bottled vintage ports, or LBVs. delicious. i’m definitely a fan of the LBVs or the younger tawnies. my mom likes the sweeter rubies (if anything) and joey keeps asking the prices of the oldest tawnies. he had a sample of a 40-year for a little under 7 euro. gulp.

yesterday we trained up the douro valley. the tracks mostly follow the rio douro and eventually pass the beautifully terraced vineyards where all those grapes are grown for the port wine. we ended in a little town called pinhao, about 2 hours out of porto. we stayed all of 20 minutes, because there really was nothing to see and even most the restaurants were closed. for those familiar with california and even new zealand wineries and their tasting circuits, it’s pretty different here. most tasting is done in vila nova de gaia at the lodges where the port is aged, and not at the quintas in the countryside where the grapes are grown.

Apple Girl, Vinologia Port Tasting

Tremocos 'Little Snacks' in Porto

melina. traveling with a near-toddler has been a challenge (mostly at night) but also fantastic. having her grandparents with us had made it extra special. meli has been such a trooper: she naps anywhere – from in the stroller to the ergo carrier to joey’s arms – as long as she’s tired. we can spend the whole day out on the town and have dinner around 7 so she’s in bed by 9 or 10. (we’re on vacation time!) the only downside is that our normally great night sleeper hasn’t slept through the night once and usually ends up in our bed by early morn. it probably has as much to do with being in the same room with us as being in a different place, since she did best in lisbon, jetlagged but with her own room.

she loves all the different sites, sounds, and FOOD, and lunches regularly on tosta mista, or toasted ham and cheese sandwiches (which she probably won’t get at home since we don’t eat ham). she crawls and cruises all over the place, and makes friends in the seat behind her on any bus or train ride we take. at this very moment she’s using the stroller as a walker, pushing it around the internet cafe while daddy takes pictures.

“no mammals, please” – dining in portugal

Posted by lynn on 12 May 2008 | Tagged as: portugal, travel

University of Coimbra

Climbing Hill to University of Coimbra

even in the most touristed spots of central lisbon, food in portugal has been fabulous. and i’m not talking about just the yummy little pasteis de natas, or any-time-of-day pastries.

the portuguese eat late by our family-friendly standards. in evora we couldn’t find an open restaurant before 7:30 or 8pm, and here in coimbra (larger university town) things seem to open by 7. we’ve gotten into the habit of having a pre-dinner beer (my mom has coffee or water) at an outdoor cafe before following our noses, guidebook, or the crowds to a cozy spot not far from our hotel or the center of town.

Praca 8 de Maio, Coimbra

Pedestrian Bridge, Coimbra

tonight, joey dined on stewed kid, or goat. it has a fancier name that i can find in the guidebook later, but the gist was a deliciously wine-marinated red meat that he, my folks, and even melina gobbled up. yes, my little girl loves meat, or protein of any kind. for my part, i’ve been enjoying the succulent seafood, from perfectly salted salmon steaks to thick flakes of cod soaked in a good inch of garlic butter along with potatoes and onion. i’m not even a butter fan and i was in heaven.

Fish Bone, Coimbra

Coimbra by Night

in evora, we had two nights of small-town dining, meaning more or less fixed price for whatever was cooking in the house. the food was always delicious, but on our second night we suddenly realized the pork the server was referring to wasn’t the thin meat served as an appetizer but the main dish. “she doesn’t eat pork,” joey said, pointing to me. “no porco.” the server seemed immediately to understand. “aaahhh! no porco! ok!” when he disappeared i half joked that he’d return with a big slab of beef. a bottle of vinho tinto later i found out it wasn’t too far from the truth: my pork substitute was a plate of two hamburger patties (well-seasoned, according to my husband and dad, who ate them with delight), a big scoop of rice, and a pile of freshly fried potatoes. ah well. i hadn’t said “vegetarian” (which i’m not), “no meat,” or the more accurate “no mammals please” that gets me stares of confusion even in vegetarian-friendly berkeley and sf. (i’m always surprised at how many folks think chickens are mammals.) suffice it to say, between the crusty bread and soft cheese, the pateed spinach, cauliflour, and the fried potatoes, and yes the robust wine and even the light dessert (layered cake with fruit) i ate quite well. i look forward to that traditio continuing as we head to porto tomorrow. mmmm….. port…

evora: medieval walls and a mocca joe

Posted by lynn on 10 May 2008 | Tagged as: family, melina, portugal, travel

Templo Romano, Evora

Praca do Giraldo (main square)

we left the comfort of our three-bedroom lisbon apartment yesterday and bussed 90 minutes east to the walled medieval town of evora. we all welcome the slower pace, smaller size, lack of hills, and quaint (if somewhat touristy) atmosphere.

we arrived in the middle of a light rain that continued most the afternoon, so spent some time at a tasty cafe called “cup of joe.” joey and i had afternoon beer and wine, meli sqealed with delight at the fountain across the way, and my mom enjoyed a hearty cup of mocca joe, a near pudding-thick concoction of hot cocoa, two kinds of caramel, and whipped cream on top. delicious!

Two Fountains (one being Meli's hair)

Jardim Publico, Evora

had a hard time finding a restaurant to serve us dinner at 6pm. no big surprise, we’re in the heart of portugal now. we did manage to find some tasty treats (salmon, boiled veggies and some delcious cheese with bread) down the road from our hotel. melina was in bed by 9 so that joey and i could enjoy an evening glass of wine back on the square while the grandparents stood watch. unfortunately, jelly bean woke as soon as we got back to our cramped room and spent the rest of the night in a wake-sleep-wake-sleep pattern. ah, the disruptions of travel. hopefully tonight will be better.

Praca de Sertorio (aka Meli's other fountain outside Cup of Joe)

Capela dos Ossos - Chapel of the Bones (yes, the walls are lined with human bones...)

sunshine greeted us this morn, along with a walk to a nice gardens complete with peacocks, some roman ruins, and, as always in europe, a number of churches. if meli’s lucky we’ll take her to the nearby playground or back to the fountain once she wakes from her nap. and we’ll try to dine as the portuguese do, closer to 8 in the evening.

our own lisbon story

Posted by lynn on 08 May 2008 | Tagged as: family, melina, portugal, travel

Arrival in Lisbon: Elevador Santa Justa

Meli's Fountain: Rossio, Lisbon

14 hours of flying and 5 hours of layover later, we made it to lisbon on monday afternoon. melina was a semi-champ. she slept for three hours in her infant-sized bassinet in bulkhead and played in it the other seven. ah well. she’s eleven months old and barely fit. but she slept nonstop – on my lap or in the stroller – for our second leg, meaning from the time of take-off at heathrow til the moment we arrived by taxi at our lisbon apartment. (this apartment is centrally-located with three bedrooms – i want to move in permanently!)

Castelo de Sao Jorge w/ Grandma & Grandpa

Meli Guards Portugal: Torre de Belem

meli’s favorite lisbon “sites” are the fountains and the PIGEONS. she loves those birds. in fact she now mimics their call. it’s her new happy sound that she uses each time she sees flowing water or a moving animal. she’s also enthralled with all the new sites and sounds and is sleeping fairly well, considering the jetlag and strange place.

my folks arrived tuesday morning and we spent the day wandering the bairro alto and baixa (lower town). met a ton of local folks trying to strike up a conversation with us and not a single one stopped after we said “no comprendo” three or four times. the portuguese (like my mostly-portuguese husband) are certainly tenacious.

Walking Towards Torre de Belem

Joey (he's the dot) @ Padrao dos Descobrimentos, Belem

yesterday we trammed over to belem, on the far edge of town, to see the torre de belem (old fortress), mosteiro dos jeronimos (cool, really big church and pantheon) and eat what are touted as the best pastries in lisbon, or the pasteis de belem, little custard tarts. our server claims the bakery sells 35,000 each day. we did our share by purchasing a full dozen for four adults and one toddler. the verdict? YUM.

today we wandered around the alfama district and checked out a castle with fantastic views of the city. meli had fun riding in her stroller over the cobblestone bumpedy bumps. she’s talking about it right now with her pigeon grunt.

this keyboard is a little different and we’re timed for our usage, hence the odd tone of the writing. on a final note, tomorrow we’re off to evora (smaller medieval town about 2 hours west of lisbon) by bus.

~ciao for now!

31 days & counting…

Posted by lynn on 01 May 2008 | Tagged as: melina

Colby Park Push Toy

Happy Girl

The first birthday countdown is on. I know from Kai that we’ll be saying this for the next couple years, but each day Meli seems more like a little person (ok, toddler) than a baby. On the other hand, her development is also starting to feel more nuanced (new awareness and associations rather than giving her first smile or eating her first piece of toast). At eleven months old – and a few days from her first trip abroad – here’s what our little girl is up to.

Move. Melina crawls everywhere and pulls up every chance she gets. At daycare the teachers tell us she escapes the infant room – through the baby gate into the waddler room – at least 10-15 times a day. ShoppingWalk in the ParkWhen we arrive each afternoon she immediately crawls to the gate and pulls up, then shakes it back and forth like a wee prisoner trying to escape. She’s also started doing this in her crib most mornings. She’s not cruising furniture yet, but at a park last week she finally figured out how to take a step when a push toy started to roll away from her. She’d walk a few steps then fall to her knees and keep on going as if nothing had happened. She now does the same at home with Kai’s toy shopping cart, and can get pretty far before slipping down.

Cupboard

I Like Apples

Eat. One mom in our play group recently commented about Meli: “I’ve never seen a baby eat with such gusto!” She does love her food. She snatches morsels from my plate if they’re within reach, and laments loudly when she sees an adult eating something that looks good to her. A few weeks ago she swiped an apple from the fruit basket and took a bite with her two lonely bottom teeth. Daddy helped her get it started for real with an adult-sized chomp, then Melina gnawed on the apple – skin and all – for a good 30 minutes.

Kitchen

Baskets

Play. Keeping with the food theme (and the interests of her brother) Melina’s favorite toy is now the big-kid kitchen that Daddy put in the corner of the real kitchen. She and Kai stock their mini fridge, open and close the door of their mini oven, and cook up wooden cheese and toast while we prep dinner just a few feet away.

Talk. Still babbling away. She’s really trying to communicate now, and will point to specific objects and say their names as they sound to her. To us, most of what she says sounds like “cat” or “dad.” Thor and Joey feel quite honored.