Our lost together locations

Sunday, November 29, 2009


That's it. That's the title. Lagos. (That's Lagos, Portugal, and not the one in Africa.)

As our hostel owner said, there's not much to do in Lagos but eat, drink, and hang out on the beach or do watersports.

So we did (everything but the watersports -- it's November, after all).

First, we sought out a beach. We found one. For some time, it seemed we were the only ones to find it that day. Then some other people came along. But in the meantime, there was only the sounds of the waves and the gulls. And us.

The sand was golden, the sky blue, the sun warm, the water... not too cold. (I didn't swim, though I might have if there hadn't been what seemed to be a respectable undertow. I just waded.)

Then, later, we went for dinner. Again, at the recommendation of our hostel owner, we sought out a local favourite where the two specialties we were told to ask for were prawns in the house sauce and a large dish of pork and clams. The former was apparently no secret -- we sat next to the open kitchen and a steady stream of platters filled with huge, saucy prawns came off the counter. We found them amazingly tasty, if salty.

When you order the second dish, the waiter laughs and warns you that there's a lot of food. No, really, a lot of food. Like, more than enough for two people (even though it's only priced at about 9 Euros, which is the standard price range for a single entree). We protested that David could eat his way through almost anything -- the night before we'd had two whole fishes (a grilled seabass and a grilled silver bream... mmmm...) and at a churrasquiera in Lisbon we'd had a whole grilled chicken plus a dish of spare ribs (though that had been shortly following my gastro issues, and I was, no exaggeration, starving).

The waiter shrugged and put the dish on the order. When it came up behind David on the counter, my eyes widened. "That's a LOT of food," I hissed. He glanced up over his shoulder. "Mmm-hmm."

To our table came a heap of saucy, salty, oily pork cubes, sausage, clams, potatoes, pickled cauliflower and carrot, and small black olives. We stared at it. We poked at it with our forks. We even ate some. It was delicious (if salty -- are you sensing a theme yet?).

At some point, David sat back, looked at the plate, and said, "Have we eaten any of this?" There was still a heap of saucy, salty, oily pork cubes, sausage, and potatoes (we had picked through the clams, veggies and olives by this point).

Laughing, the waiter wrapped it up for us. It's sitting in the hostel's fridge at the moment, and will make a good brunch all fried up again.

Chef grinned at us from behind his counter, madly flipping salty-meaty-seafoody ingredients in his pan and setting bursts of oil on fire for the benefit of me and my camera.

David watched, thoroughly enjoying the show.

After so much excitement (and food), all we could do was go to sleep. So we did.
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Sunday, November 22, 2009


So many names for this post.

Tropical Storm Dumbass.

The Day I Thought I Was Going to Die.

Thickie Comes Alive! (Like Frampton, but I'm not sexy in that 70s way (unless you were into the cop or leather guy from The Village People), can't sing and I have a shaved head (though I am hiding/harbouring curls currently) and I'm not from Down Under.)

Stepping Out. (I sorta wish I was Joe Jackson. The singer, not the baseball player. But I think he has bad teeth, which is not something I aspire to have.)

I decided on Super Bock is the Best! because that was the one that was most accurate. More on that later.

Jodi's been having some gastro-intestinal issues, and thanks to our friend Brigit, Rachel, Zarya (alphabetically!) and Zisimos (a Greek doctor we met in Barcelona at our hostel), she's been taking it easy and getting activated charcoal and acidophilus into her system to help her get better. We didn't see much in Barcelona (where the problems started) and Madrid (they continued) and while I felt like I shouldn't be out/about whooping it up, I was feeling cooped up. My primary concern was her health and happiness, since a wise man (Oren Rozen! BTW: If you're looking for a mortgage in Toronto/area, get in touch with him. He can be reached at 416.917.2346 or orozen@northwoodmortgage.ca and will work for your business!) told me that if his wife wasn't happy, he had NO chance at being happy.

Sage words indeed.

For a married man they rank up there with The Golden Rule.

So, we took the overnight train from Madrid to Lisboa/Lisbon Friday night and got in early Saturday. I've been looking forward to Portugal for a number of reasons. I have several Portuguese friends, two of whom are among my favourite people in this world, or any other. Spending time with James and Marcos is such a treat, and something that I miss dearly. I wanted to experience the people, the food, the pastel de nata (sweet egg custard tart) where they started and the port. OH THE PORT!!! Not to mention that after some expensive cities along the way, it would be nice to be somewhere that wasn't.

After a relatively on/off sleeping experience on the train (ear plugs don't help with rocking/stopping/starting of the train!), and a bit of a nap/lounge/chippy chap (AKA chit chat) with Jodi in our room, I decided I would venture out on my own. Bear in mind, I like to go places in North America (my “area of expertise” up to this point in my life) and overhear other peoples' conversations, and talk to strangers. I seem to have not listened to much my parents taught me - talking to strangers and all! Well, I do always show up at a function with something in my hand(s), I try my best to wear clean underwear (they're called “pants” in England!), I do have very good table manners (but don't always use them!), and I do VERY good laundry.

The truth is that most people speak a little bit of English in Europe, and if not, as my pal (and long-term/former platonic roomie) Emily said, facial expressions, pointing and using your arms/hands wildly comes in handy.

That doesn't change the fact that I don't speak Portuguese, even though I'm pretty good at impersonating Pedro, Marcos' dad. Mind you, I've never met him, but I think I do a pretty good job of impersonating Marcos impersonating his dad. Taking into consideration that Marcos' voice is 3 octaves lower than mine. I also like to use the “sh” and “zh” sound for “s”. “sh” if it comes before a vowel and “zh” if it comes before a consonant. This is someting I learned from Marcos.

I think I'd love to be here in Lisboa with Marcos, but that's a different story.

In any event, I wandered out of the very nice (up three flights of stairs) hostel in the city centre near Baixa-Chiado station.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

I had a tourist map and conferred with the hostel lady (NOT hostile at all. All the women here are VERY helpful and friendly. Jodi watched Portuguese Idol with one of them, but she can tell you about that!) I had my camera(s). I had my umbrella. It called for “Light Rain”. (foreshadowing)

I didn't have any money.

FYI: All the pictures from the walk are up on Facebook.

I LOVE LISBOA!!! I love the roads/sidewalks. Mind you, they're marble/cobblestone and REALLY slippery (“Slippy” if you're Dylan from our HelpX stay!) if you're wearing Nikes and it's wet. Remember, “light rain”.

I felt alive and invigorated to be out/about and wandering around. Much like I do in NYC when I was there pre-Jodi/traveling companion. Mind you, I've done it a few times since we've hooked up, as she will do things that I'm not interested in. Like getting her hair done with the girls. I “do” my own thanks.

I was planning on heading towards the Santos Design District. It seemed funky and fun and I could window shop. Something we've been doing a lot of on this trip, since I'm not about to buy stuff (minus the bottle of 12 year old Cardhu for 30 euro ($200 CDN back home) in the Pyrenees – which was 22 euro in Barcelona!) and carry it around with me. I did buy a 2 euro t-shirt in Glasgow. And a 10 pound (that's UK money, not weight) shirt in London. I don't think there's a picture of me with my Stonewall shirt. I'll have to do something about that at some point.

So, no REAL shopping.

At first I went the wrong way, which was the right way, but I went the wrong way after the right way and after going the wrong way after the wrong way after the right way, I was going the right way.

Got it?

I was now heading in the direction. Down towards the water. The rain was still “light”. The roads/sidewalks were still slippery and I was happy. (I feel like I'm writing “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. “And the tree was happy.”)

My Walk in Lisbon

My tourist map isn't the greatest map, but what can expect from a free map? Mind you, I'm not usually the map reader. Jodi's really good at it, and I'm usually driving, so she's usually reading the maps. This is something I should probably do more often. (foreshadowing).

I saw a bank machine and after fishing my new special travel wallet out – it's the velcro-closing, small-but-big-enough-strap-to-go-around-my-belt Eddie Bauer travel cutlery holder (minus the travel cutlery) and it goes in my pants (that's jeans/dungarees/trousers/MEC long-legged apparel and my not undergarments – unless I put it in too far, in which case it makes me feel “special” in a WHOLE new way). Getting it out at times can be a challenge. As I was trying to fish it out, a woman came up and said something to me in Portuguese. I did a Charlie Chaplin/Laurel & Hardy head/facial expression job, and waved her ahead of me. As I not-so-blissfully tried to figure out where my wallet was.

A-HA! (not the 80s Scandinavian (Swedish?) band) I found it! I felt like a baby that just discovered their feet. But different.

I got my money and was back on my way. After taking a picture or two of art work and palm trees.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

Palm trees. Tropical. Tropical storm?

As I walked I saw a bunch of big squares with statues dedicated to military folks (AKA men) and lots of street names that weren't on my map.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

I wanted to get down to Avenida Vente e Quatro de Julho. I eventually got there. The sidewalks are quite narrow at times and it's pretty commercial/industrial and not so “window shopping” friendly.

I sensed that I should be “up” from the street I was on, but I saw IT. A bridge. When I'm in NYC, I love to walk across the bridges. LOVE LOVE LOVE to do it. That was what I was going to do. Get to the bridge (the one at Ponte 25 de Abril), go up and take pictures from there. So I was on a mission. To get to the bridge.

Lesson: Don't always try to duplicate what you do in one city/country when in another.

I saw “Banco BiG”. Big Banks really do exist in Portugal!

My Walk in Lisbon

I saw PAINFULLY crooked/messed up stairs. Several times.

My Walk in Lisbon

I saw fun graffiti – and I do love my graffiti! (not an example of the really good graffiti I saw, but it was fun nonetheless. Since I don't think of the Beach Boys as Portuguese, but there are beaches here, with boys.)

My Walk in Lisbon

I saw a really fun rainbow-type design on the side of an on-off ramp.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

I saw a very amateurish looking street cover/plate/thing.

My Walk in Lisbon

I wasn't really paying attention to where I was going, other than chasing the bridge. The bridge that I couldn't get to. So I turned right in an attempt to get to the bridge, not noticing that the landmark that I wasn't looking at (The Museu do Oriente) was there, and I thought I was somewhere else. (Again, foreshadowing and crappy map reading and me just being....ME!)

My Walk in Lisbon

I figured, that much like Toronto, Lisboa would allow me to go north, south, east, west easily. NOT! I thought I was going north, but I was going north-east. I thought I was going east, but I was going north-east. Before I knew it, I was walking through a bit of a restaurant/bar area.

The skies opened up. And I mean they bloody-well OPENED UP LARGE AND IN CHARGE!!! The light rains were now heavy rains. And a bit of wind to throw in the mix. After all, Lisboa is on the Atlantic. So I was getting soaked. But I was prepared, in that the camera was in my Goretex MEC jacket (which held up VERY well thank you, for the second time on the trip in rain), I was wearing my lightweight MEC pants (MEC is Mountain Equipment Co-Op for those non-Canadians) which dry quickly, and I was wearing my Nikes, 'cause they seemed more appropriate/lighter/more comfy for walking than my hiking boots. But not as water resistant. Oh well. Can't win 'em all. Oh ya, there was also my wee umbrella, which held up well and my $3 hat that I figured I would have chucked by now, but it seems to be THE trip hat.

The smart thing to do would have been to go to a little restaurant/sandwich shop, have a sammich and a beer and then head back. Am I smart? NOPE! I decided I should walk along the road that wasn't going east, but north-east.

I went up a hill and to what I thought was a dead-end. I thought I was going to get mugged or hit by a car. I didn't. I went down the hill and ended up at the railway lines. I could have turned around, but figured I'd get mugged or hit by a car, so I crossed them. I looked both ways. SEVERAL TIMES. No trains. I remembered the third rail is the electrified one, but that's in Toronto. It was raining. If any of them were electrified, I figured I shouldn't step on them. I crossed. I went back to take a picture.

It seemed right.

My Walk in Lisbon

Instead of turning left and going back, I went right and carried on. Why go back the way you came in a city you don't know, with a map that doesn't show all the streets, when you can carry on going north-east when you think you're going east? Geez, DUMB QUESTION!!!

I went by what looked like assisted housing/projects/government housing/social housing, call it what you want. They were bright and pretty but looked depressing/depressed. (This shot is not the best example)

My Walk in Lisbon

They were in the middle of nowhere (where I was mind you), by highways and train tracks. People didn't willingly live in places like this. Since I teach in a government-housing neighbourhood that has a VERY bad reputation (some of it rightly deserved) I figured that as an outsider I was at risk. I was going to get mugged, stabbed, shot, beaten up. You name it. I was done for.

But I continued to take pictures. Like the bridge that goes over the road, the steps that lead up to the bridge and the grass worn away on the median where the people jay-walk to get to the bus stop.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

If I was going to die, I wanted to at least have a chance of my photo story being told. I know, it's overly dramatic, but hey...I have a vivid/active imagination.

I thought about how I needed to get over the next little rise, so that I'd see stores and restaurants and bars and city life. It didn't happen. I kept saying to myself that I should turn around. Not listening to myself shouldn't come as a big surprise, since I've never seemed to listen to anyone.

The sidewalk ended. Shel Silverstein reference #2.

I kept walking.

I passed places that weren't on the map.

I seemed headed for a highway on-ramp. This would not be helpful at all. I'm not about to try and hitch-hike (nor take the bus) when I don't know where I am, in a country where I don't speak the language.

I sucked it up and turned around.

I stepped in the same muddy patches I had going there, until I decided to run across the three lanes of road to get to the middle/median and the grass. There's no mud in the grass, but there sure is a lot of water ON the grass. My feet were soaked. My pants were soaked. My jacket was soaked. But the camera was dry and I walking fast. Why walk slow when you think you're going to die?

I thought about the fact that I couldn't die. No one would be able to tell Jodi. She'd be in the room, wondering where I was. That couldn't happen. I couldn't die because there was no way that my parents, ESPECIALLY my mother would be able to handle that. She's tough, but at this point, not that tough. I thought about how I couldn't die, because I hadn't bought any port in Portugal. How I hadn't had a tour in Porto. How I hadn't toured through Italy with Jodi. How we were both looking forward to her parents meeting up with us in Spain. How we were going to our family and friends in Israel. How we were going to Greece.

I wondered about the affect it would have on my friends – but I've always wondered about that. About how people in my life would react/be affected by my death. I'm not the lynch-pin for my friends the way that an ex-girlfriend's friend was in her social circle, and when she was killed in an accident it sent several of them into orbit. I know my death would affect my friends, the same way that their death would affect me.

How I felt like I hadn't done enough with my life.

My life started to get amazing at 30. I have/had a sense that my life was going to get better at 40. That's two months away. My aspirations of becoming a professional baseball player are gone. I wouldn't have made it at 20, and I'm not going to make it at 40. I have a few dreams that are VERY much alive. To do something with my baking professionally. To be involved in the opening of an Urban Nutrition Education Centre, so that I can really make a difference. More of a difference than I can as a classroom teacher.

I realized while walking fast, in the grass, in the rain, with my umbrella either over my head or closed up as a “weapon”, that if I return to the classroom I want to be the best kindergarten teacher I can be. Yes, I want to go back to kindergarten. I want to be Jean Rehder and Geremy Vincent and me – I can only dream of being Agnes Hanna – all in some super hybrid.

When I got back to the area of restaurants and bars, I took a few pictures. Some of the locals were really surprised at the time spent in lining up the shots that I wanted. Partly because of things in the way, and partly because I just needed to do that.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

I took pictures of the street intersection where I turned the right/wrong way.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

The wrong way to get back to where I thought I was heading, but the right way for me at this stage in my life. I needed a bit of a wake-up call. Something to invigorate my soul and sense of self. Spending time in the Pyrenees with Jon and Deb and their boys showed Jodi and I that we could have some purpose in our time over here, without necessarily having to be in a big city. That was great for both of us. We're eternally grateful for them opening their doors and lives to us.

As I was walking on Av. de Ceuta 6 towards wherever, I wanted a Super Bock. Not because it was some kind of mythical beer that I had always wanted. Not because it was from a region of the country that was near and dear to me. This was not a hajj like I had been on in Scotland, in search of where my grandmother first lived. This was about my being alive and desiring a beer.

So, as I turned back on to Avenida Vente e Quatro de Julho, I wanted to find some place that I could walk into and say, “Ola, Super Bock per favor.”. Which is what I did. After a car swerving intentionally to spray me with water. I didn't care. I was alive and was already wet. All I could do was smile and laugh.

My Walk in Lisbon

The half-pint was one euro. Even better! It wasn't the best beer I've ever had, but it was one of the most satisfying.

On the way there and back I took a few pictures for Jodi's blog (her paying gig) about knowing the roots of words and how it can help you in multiple languages.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

I continued with my theme of taking pictures of roads/the ground.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

I took pictures that reminded me of friends.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

I took pictures of The Beatles.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

I took pictures of street scenes.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

I took pictures to be a s**t disturber.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

I'm still me, but I'm better for the experience of having done what I did yesterday. I don't expect to repeat the same thing. Mind you, I'll still chase after bridges and wander around cities, but I'll be a little less hap-hazard about it in the future. Hopefully.

As I was walking back towards the city centre I realized that I had left around 1:00 and it was after 4:00. I hadn't eaten anything before leaving, and I hadn't eaten anything since.

I saw a fruit/veggie store and headed towards it. I got a couple of apples and saw they had wine. I went in to the store. I asked if the woman spoke English and she grabbed her co-worker. I said, “Dry, inexpensive (not the best word to use for non-English speakers! DUMBASS!!!) port?” She pointed at two for ten euros. She showed that they had open bottles and sampling glasses. The first was really good and the second was even better.

Quinta do Infantado Joao Lopes Roseira Reserva Especial is the one that did it for me.

But I still didn't have any food.

I decided I was going to get something from one of our guidebooks. That just seemed right. After the day I'd had, to do something simple. I got under an awning – yep, still raining, but back to “light rain” - and looked up what sounded good/cheap/fast.

The winner was a few doors down from where I was standing on Rua Augusta.

My Walk in Lisbon

It just felt right. In Toronto, in Kensington Market, there's an Augusta Street. In Portugal, it's pronounced Aw-guzh-tah. I'm not sure if Augusta in Toronto was named by the Portuguese, but I don't care.

(The deep-fried fish pancake sandwich and pork/veal/mystery meat sandwich, along with a cod fritter and a hot dog fried log thing that tasted like liverwurst were delightful. The pastel de nata were heavenly.)

But I still didn't have sport drink and water for Jodi, as she had requested before I left. Nor did I have any sort of soup stuff, which also would seem to be a good idea. I spent an hour criss-crossing the neighbourhood, trying to find sport drink. Water wasn't too hard to find. Sport drink was PAINFULLY difficult.

Until I got down the street from our place.


I also found a couple of good Sagres beer. The Preta and Bohemia Reserva 1835.

Dinner in our room was GREAT! Jodi had some soup and I ate all the other artery-clogging/heart-stopping food.

And I started to dry off.

I haven't told her much of this story, other than I was happy to be alive, I had a Super Bock and I had an AMAZING day.

Now I feel like I need another kind of adventure. So I'm going to get ready to go out and wander somewhere. This time making use of the map a little more. It should be easier with a lack of rain.

Happy Sunday everyone.

It's good to be alive!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mucking about in France

On the day we arrived at the gite, Deb took us up behind the building to her vegetable garden plot and asked us to weed it out. At the time, it was a few small squares of turned-over and de-rocked soil bounded by a nice little slate border. Only one section still had growing vegetables -- cabbage and broccoli -- the other two, about the same size, were weed-covered and had a few last dried-out stalks of plants.

"Any rocks you find," said Deb, "just toss onto the wall. If you get a chance, you can pile the dead leaves from that big pile there onto the beds and cover the leaves with soil so they'll be ready for spring."

And so began an odyssey in soil.

Once the garden was weeded out, the soil turned, the leaves and soil piled back on, we realized that we could keep going. Beyond the prepped beds was at least three or four times as much ready space for a really big garden -- the soil just needed to be dug up and turned.


Here is a photo of David turning the soil in the existing bed on, I think, the second day. You can see the massive pile of leaves on the right-hand side of the photo. The soil under it all the way back to the far corner was mostly unturned -- Deb had turned the very corner part earlier this year, but it had gone unused and in this photo is still covered in weeds.

We had gotten good and underway when we were hit with two or three days of more or less constant rain. Although there were a couple of breaks in the weather where we could work outside, we didn't make much headway until the weather turned fine again. In the meantime, we did indoor stuff like helping around the house, looking after the kids, and cooking (OK, mostly it was David doing the cooking). I even went to a yoga class with Deb one evening!

Then a few days ago we were finally able to get back to work. This photo is pretty deceptive -- it looks like a lovely garden plot. The pile of leaves is mostly gone, there appears to be a nice soil surface.

Ah... what lies beneath...


Lots and lots of rocks. Big rocks.

At one point, a tine snapped off the garden fork. At that point, David turned to the pickaxe to manhandle the rocks out of the soil.

This worked much better, and he was able to open up trenches that really seemed more rock than soil.

He really had to get in there.

It made a mess of his jeans.

Most of the rocks were about fist-sized, ranging up to about football-sized. A good number were watermelon-sized. But every little while, David, with much cursing and muttering, would haul a real doozie out -- there were seven or eight rocks each the size of one of those old computer monitors that were such a pain to have to move every time you wanted to untangle the cords behind them -- but much heavier and correspondingly awkward to move (we mainly just rolled them with much heaving).

Here's a photo of one of the "watermelons":

Mixed in with the soil and rocks was all kinds of detritus left by the previous owner(s): mostly broken terracotta roof tile and concrete chunks, probably dumped there when one of the buildings had been renovated; but also just plain junk like plastic bottles, bits of metal, old building material packaging; and enough roots that the handsaw came in handy on a couple of occasions. Deb and David agreed there was an element of archeology to it -- we even found an old shell casing!

Finally, yesterday afternoon, the whole plot had been dug up. Our co-HelpXer, Joey, had raked more leaves that had been added to the soil. At this point, David looked (deservedly) pleased with himself.

But we were left with a huge pile of all those rocks! So our last task today was to heave them over the wall and add them to the side facing the footpath that passes by the garden. Let me tell you, I have a newfound admiration for people who construct dry-stone walls (we saw a lot of those in Ireland) and even more so for various pioneering people who ploughed entire crop fields out of stony ground. I suppose we should have realized how much stone might be lying under the surface of a plot of land lying directly under a mountain, but it all looked so innocent when we started out!

So, now... go back to that second photo in this post. Now imagine that all the rocks that lie beneath the surface are part of a newly-enhanced wall. The largest ones hem in the cabbage-patch in a small feat of decorative landscaping.

Now imagine that that entire plot of land is filled with every manner of gorgeous vegetables. That's the image we've had in our heads, thanks to what we've (half-)jokingly called "The Vision" that David started out with whem all we were doing was weeding.

We hope Jon and Deb send us photos!