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Sunday, 28 February 2016

Jaro and his bike are now in Chile (late February/16).....

The morning workout.....

Vultures are really graceful fliers.  See them often right outside my balcony, but they go by too fast to get a photo.

The other really great fliers here are the Pelicans - who fly super-low over the water.
But these you can see in lots of other places too.

All sorts of critters near the fish market......

Hoping for some fish guts, no doubt.

Photos belong to Jaro Franta.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Cruise and Land Tour in Portugal - July 3rd/2015....

Leaving Lisbon, we drove south to the Serra de Arrabida Mountains - a Natural Park covers much of it.  The park covers the small range of limestone mountains which stretch east-west along the coast between Sesimbra and Setubal.  It was established to protect the wild, beautiful landscape and the rich variety of birds and wildlife, including eagles, wildcats, and badgers.  The sheltered, south-facing slopes are thickly covered with aromatic and evergreen shrubs and trees such as pine and cypress, more typical of the Mediterranean.  If allowed to grow uninterrupted and continuously, the shrubs will become as large as trees.

The first stop was in Setubal.  The tour guide had a specific purpose for stopping here - the farmers market which has won international awards, especially for its wide variety of fish.  

Leziria Plain of Ribatejo - this stop at a Horse Ranch turned out to be very interesting.  We were given the following information regarding the Lusitano - a prehistoric breed which goes back tens-of-thousands of years.  They bring these horses along slowly - for the first three years of their lives, they are put out to pasture and then they begin to ride and train them.  By six years of age, they have turned completely white from their initial dark colors and, unlike other horses, the Lusitano can move sideways.  When asked about the relationship between the Lusitanos and the Lipizzaners in the Spanish Riding School in Vienna - the farm owners said the Lusitanos turned into Lipizzaners after the six-year period for turning white.  The value of these horses ranged from about $20,000 for mixed breeds to about $80,000 for the pure-bred Lusitano.

While at the farm, we were told an interesting story - the founder of the farm was a Mr. Jacinto, and King Carlos I and his wife Amelia visited the farm to buy horses.  During the King’s stay, Mr. Jacinto and the Queen had an affair.  Mr. Jacinto was so deeply affected by the affair, and the impossibility of continuing it, that he grew a long beard and became a recluse for the rest of his life.  They emphasized that this was a true story, but not in any history book.

Lunch was included, and was served at the main house on the horse farm.  There was the usual olives and hearty bread -  we started with pumpkin soup; the main course was a chicken and vegetable stew with rice; and the dessert was a custard flan.  The wine was unlimited and a soft drink of cucumbers, mint, and lemon in iced tea was available in pitchers on the table.

We stayed at the Pestana Vila Sol Spa and Golf Resort in Vilamoura - a very nice resort.  There were rooms in the main building and individual townhouse-type cabins. - I had a very nice room in the cabins.  We stayed at this resort for two nights. 

We went to downtown Vilamoura along the docks.  Many boats and yachts were moored in the docks, and there were many restaurants and tourist shops lining the wharf. 

We had an included dinner at the Mariscada restaurant. There were the usual olives and bread and some appetizers -  deep-fried fish fritters, cheese, smoked ham.  I selected their fish soup; the main course was a fish stew with shrimp, cod, oysters, crab, mussels and monk fish (which is a substitute for lobster) and potatoes.  The wine was unlimited, and they also served an almond liquor with a slice of lemon.   Dessert was a cake slice topped with almonds and caramel. 

Photos belong to Phil Bianco.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Cruise and Land Tour in Portugal - July 2nd/2015....

On the Trafalgar bus tour, there were a total of 51 persons.  Being by myself, I had a seat on the bus to myself.

At 5:30 pm, we departed for a short tour of Lisbon.  The only site that we visited was the Park Edward VII, which was named after the British monarch in 1902. 

Afterwards, we went to a local restaurant for a welcome supper, where we sampled a number of Portuguese dishes.  The wine was included and unlimited.   The first dish was a green salad with goat’s cheese and olive oil, then baked mushrooms stuffed with chopped olives and herbs; meatballs; a baked sweet red pepper stuffed with cod and mashed potatoes; baked asparagus with pumpkin sauce and baked chicken legs.  Another dish was baked goat cheese with a red berry sweet preserve - this was unusual and unexpectedly delicious.  For dessert, we had an apple crumb with vanilla ice cream.  It was a very enjoyable meal with which everyone seemed pleased.

Next morning, the hotel offered a buffet breakfast which was just mediocre.   The selections in the hot section were not appealing to me and the cold selections were the usual sort of things and were alright.

This was a very busy day.  Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, and the oldest in Western Europe, predating other modern European capitals such as London, Paris, and Rome by centuries.  We began with a city tour which included the historic sites in Belem - there were three major sites which we visited - the Belem Tower, the Monument to the Discoveries and St. Jerome Monastery.  

Trafalgar offered an optional tour of Cascais and Sintra, which I took.  The drive to and visit of Cascais and Sintra in the afternoon were an optional excursion at a cost per person of  €45.00.

Several times during the Trafalgar land tour, the tour guide treated the group to a pastry or other sweet treat.  As soon as we finished the tour of the monastery, we got pasties de nata which are custard-cream tartlets - they were hot out of the oven and very tasty.  There is a story behind how pastries like this came about - in 1833, when all the religious orders were dissolved and their lands and buildings appropriated in Portugal, nuns turned to making pastries to support themselves.

Cascais shows once-palatial residences which have been converted into bed-and-breakfasts and other businesses.  There is an impressive modern casino and shops are oriented to tourists.   There seems to be no limit to the number of painted tiles in Portugal - they are everywhere - on the inside and outside of buildings, historical monuments, churches, railroad stations, commercial buildings, personal residences.  We will see many more tiles.  For lunch, I just had Gelato ice cream.
Near Cascais, there is a weather-beaten coastline called Boca do Inferno.  This is, or is very close to, the farthest western point of the European continent.

Sintra’s stunning setting on the north slope of the granite Serra, among wooded ravines and fresh water springs, made it a favorite summer retreat for the kings of Portugal.  
We returned to Lisbon where we saw some more city sites; then we had another optional excursion to a restaurant offering Fado entertainment, at a cost per person of  €64.00.

The Luso is a dinner theater offering Fado entertainment.  Like the blues, Fado is an expression of longing and sorrow. For this supper, as for all suppers in Portugal, there were olives and bread on the table and the serving of wine began immediately and continued throughout.  We started with a green salad with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and olives.  Then we received the customary vegetable soup, a tradition in Portugal.  I had a generous portion of cod fish on a bed of mashed potatoes with some type of cheese sauce on top.  There was a flan for desert and espresso coffee.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Jaro and his bike are now in Chile (middle February/16)....

Nice little route for the daily training ride.  Start from my place in Valdivia (at lower right), cross the bridge to Isla Teja, then along the university campus up towards the park for a little warm-up.  Then up into the student residences section, before turning towards the loop around the residential blocks at top left of the map.

This little loop is about the length of a criterium circuit but features a couple of climbs, including a very steep one that tops out at about 61m altitude, right near the top of the map before the fast descent back down.
With six tours of this loop, the complete route takes almost exactly one hour.

Yellow + checkers means "taxi", but I do not know how they operate.

I missed a really great shot -  One of those massive sea lions waltzed up onto the harbor deck right next to the fish market - and between a group of startled pedestrians.  By the time I realized what was happening and got the camera out, he dove back into the water, making a big splash.  Maybe next time.......

Photos belong to Jaro Franta.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Cruise and Land Tour in Portugal - July 1st/2015....

We followed this cruiser on his Christmas Cruise down the Danube River.  Now we are going to follow him on his Cruise and Land Tour with Trafalgar and AMA Waterways in early July/2015 in Portugal.  Here is his Blog...

The costs of the tour:   Trafalgar $2,833 (with early payment discount)
 Solo traveler                AMA Waterways $5,426(with past customer discount)  

On June 30th, I used my accumulated mileage to fly US Airways to Lisbon - from Jacksonville to Charlotte, then to Philadelphia - we were about two and a half hours late in departing for Lisbon because bad weather at a number of hubs was causing planes to stack up.  We were about an hour late in boarding and another hour and a half sitting in the plane at the gate and on the runway.  A group of ten persons was late, and US Airways decided to wait a half hour for them.  The flight went alright, and as far as the food was concerned, it was typical airline food.

Prior to leaving home, we all received a welcome email from the tour director with a photo of himself so it was easy to identify him when we exited customs at the Lisbon airport.  The flight arrived about two and a half hours late, and the baggage retrieval was the slowest that I have ever experienced - they must have taken a coffee break every five minutes. 
At Lisbon airport, I converted some US dollars into EUROs and it turned out to be good that I did this.  Usually, I find a currency exchange near the hotel where I am staying because exchanges give better rates than banks, and exchanges outside airports give better rates than those in airports.  There is a problem converting cash in Portugal - there are currency exchanges in airports and train stations, but I was unable during the entire trip to find an exchange where I could convert cash.  All banks in Portugal refuse to convert cash - I have never experienced a problem like this in any other country.  It was not until July 9th that a hotel in Fatima broke the rules and was nice enough to convert some cash for me.  For those using cards at ATM machines, there are no problems acquiring money, but  I do not like to use cards when I travel - a personal preference.  On July 17th, on an excursion with AMA Waterways to Salamanca, Spain, I had no problem finding a currency exchange where I converted cash US dollars into EUROs.

Trafalgar drove us to their hotel, the Turim Avenida Liberdade, where we had an opportunity to relax for a few hours.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Jaro and his bike are now in Chile (early February/16).....

More sights around Valdivia....

Part of the university campus - and although the campus is open to visitors, I never bothered to go check it out up close.  Interesting building, though.


Downtown Valdivia has many of these indoor malls.  The charge for a withdrawal on this ATM was just CLP4.00 - about 78 cents.  Turns out that is the standard ATM charge in Valdivia.  At the airport in Santiago, it was a bit more - about a dollar.

This building is about half way between my apartment and the bridge - I think it is a small museum of some sort.

Photos belong to Jaro Franta.