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View from the rooftop of my hostel in Leiria, Portugal: Castelo de Leiria by night

View from the rooftop of my hostel in Leiria, Portugal: Castelo de Leiria by night

I arrived at my hostel in the town of Leiria at 11:15 on a Friday night to find that the ground floor doubles as a clearly popular bar. “Reception” and the bar are one and the same, which left me competing with some drink-ordering young folk—not to mention waiting for two gin and tonics to be made—in order to check in. Once that was done and he’d shown me around (including the amazing rooftop view above), the bartender/hostel guy (who looks like he is straight outta Williamsburg, by the by—skinny jeans and all) showed me to my room and handed me my key. And a pair of earplugs.

Hey,  you can’t say they didn’t warn you, right?

September 22, 2016

I don’t know about you, but I think the people who work at this shoe store are a bunch of pendants.

 

Yes, that's a Pringles vending machine. Now you know.

Yes, that is a Pringles vending machine. Now you know.

September 17, 2016

Spent a lovely afternoon and evening in the charming city of Porto (Don’t tell Lisbon, but I think I like it better.), taking waaaay too many photos. So in the interest of actually sleeping tonight, I chose ones from the latter portion of the evening, which are also, I think, the most dramatic.

Sunset over Porto

Porto by night, with Dom Luis I (aka Eiffel) Bridge

OK, it’s only really “also known as” the Eiffel Bridge by me, who can’t help wondering why it wasn’t named that—you know, like the tower. Though I suppose everything the guy built couldn’t be named after him. He’s not Donald Trump, after all.

Anyway . . .  point being, since I have been unable to remember which Luis’s bridge it is (V has been my default guess. So I was off by four. Or, I guess, IV.), I began thinking of it as the Eiffel Bridge. And this is my blog. So there you go.

Porto—and its across-the-Douro River cousin, Vila Nova de Gaia—by night

Porto—and its across-the-Douro-River-cousin, Vila Nova de Gaia—by night

Vila Nova de Gaia is, incidentally, where all the port is aged and stored, each in its respective vineyard’s port “cave”—which I thought was a word chosen by the port-wine-tourism conspiracy to lure us tourists in with something more exotic, mysterious and earthy-sounding than “cellar,” but turns out (Duh, Mia. Aren’t you glad you googled before posting?) to be Portuguese for, you guessed it, wine cellar.

Anyway . . .  point being, this is where the port-wine industry pays its membership dues to the port-wine-tourism conspiracy. Which is to say you can visit the caves (which are emphatically not caves) for tours and tastings. Which I, as a lover of wine and victim of conspiracies, of course plan to do. Tomorrow. Before I get on an early-evening bus bound for my next destination. Should be interesting.

 

September 16, 2016

On my second (and last) day in Sintra, I visited two extraordinary palaces: the brightly colored fairy-tale majesty that is the Palácio da Pena and the Palácio de Monserrate, an extravagantly (and exquisitely) decorated 19th-century estate blending Moorish, Indian and Gothic Portuguese architectural styles, which was the summer retreat of Sir Francis Cook, an English textile baron.

Palácio de Monserrate

Interior, Palácio de Monserrate

Monserrate features a beautiful botanical garden (of which I sadly only had time to see a small fraction) with non-native plants from all over the world arranged according to their geographic origin.

The chapel on the grounds of the Palacio de Monserrate, one corner of which has been entirely overtaken and suffocated by this incredible tree

The Palácio da Pena is thought of as one of the major expressions of 19th-century Romantic architecture not just in Portugal, but the world. It is surrounded by a forest and gardens—from which the castle is visible from all parts, apparently—that contain over five hundred species of trees also originating from the far corners of the earth.

Palácio da Pena, with tourists (of course)

As with all the other buildings I have loved so far in Portugal, the Palácio da Pena has many a hand-painted ceramic tile (known as azulejos).

As with all the other buildings I have loved so far in Portugal, the Palácio da Pena has many a hand-painted ceramic tile (which are known as azulejos).

Another view of the Palácio da Pena

I think whimsical is a good word to describe this castle (other than fairy-tale).

I think whimsical is a good word to describe this castle (fairy-tale being the other obvious choice).

As you can see from these too-up-close photos, I did not get a chance to see for myself (literally) whether the castle actually *can* be seen from everywhere in the gardens. This is because, sadly, due to the previous day’s rain (and not in some small part to mismanagement of time (aka laziness) on my part, I was left with only enough hours in the day—if I was going to see both palaces, which of course I damn well was—to basically do a shoot-and-run. My companion for the day’s adventure—Tauna, a lovely Aussie trauma nurse who lives in Hawaii—and I therefore were forced to become (thankfully temporarily) what she referred to as “terror tourists.” Honestly, we spent most of our time at Pena waiting for *other* tourists (terror and otherwise, but mostly terror, in our terribly impatient opinion) to get out of the way of our shots. If you want to see one of those great, iconic shots of the full castle, you could, of course, google it and see many, but I humbly suggest that you rather view such a photo here first, on this great website I discovered last night (when they liked my post; thanks, guys!), Salt of Portugal.

Yet another view of the Palácio da Pena

So, yes, once we’d seen and photographed everything we possibly could at the castle (the fabulous views will have to wait for when I post my entire photo album), we were off to make our way to Monserrate—which, with an accident that put all traffic to a standstill such that we got off our bus and started walking (until we got back to town, where we found a tuk tuk; they have tuk tuks here!)— we also barely had any time to see. After our photographic and just general love-fest with the house, we were in a hurry to leave, but I did some quick time recalculating and decided we had 20 minutes to see the gardens (which I policed very strictly, believe it or not; I *had* to make my train), after which we were blessed with yet another instance the good travel luck/karma (depending on if you asked me or Tauna) we’d had that day for the most part, when the every-half-hour bus we needed to catch (or walk an hour back) appeared about one minute after we’d crossed the street from the palace to the bus stop to check the schedule. (It was almost quarter past the hour, by the by.) Phew!

And so I made my train and then my bus and arrived in Porto by 11:30pm (Arrived about eight minutes ahead of schedule and my hostel is four minutes from the bus station . . . nice). So tomorrow’s photo(s) shall be of Porto (and not just of me drinking it, though that will happen at the end of my self-propelled five-or-more-hour walking tour, you can count on that!).

September 15, 2016

Lago da Cascata

Waterfall Lake, Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal

I spent the better part of the afternoon today exploring the somewhat surreal, somewhat magical grounds of the Quinta da Regaleiro mansion and gardens in Sintra, Portugal, the brainchild of Italian opera-set designer Luigi Manini, who appears to have been hired to bring his fantasy to life, no expense spared, no idea too over-the-top. The guy had clearly read a lot of fairy tales as a child. And then graduated to Knights of the Templar adventures. (Apparently the main house is full of Knights of the Templar symbols for those in the know. Which I am not. Sorry.)

Labyrinthine Grotto

Labyrinthine Grotto, Quinta da Regaleiro

Here you will find many a fountain and grotto, as well as several underground tunnels—not all of which are shown on the tourist map, including the one from which the Labyrinthine Grotto above gets its name. It somehow hadn’t occurred to me to wonder about the origin of this lovely grotto’s name—any more than it occurred to me to wonder who Leda was when I went to Leda’s Cave.

So perhaps it is fitting that, since I never bothered wondering, I found out the answer purely by accident, and not without a bit of luck. Which I needed, because a few minutes after I’d wandered into a dark cave tunnel armed with nothing but my camera to “light” the way, it was looking like I’d have to turn around, as it was so dark I didn’t even know if what was in front of me was more tunnel or I was about to walk head-on into a dead-end wall. But then rescue came in the form of an Aussie mom-and-daughter pair wielding a phone flashlight, which enabled us to continue walking—somewhat precariously at times, as the further we went, the wetter it got (which should have been our hint right there)—and find out where the tunnel ended, i.e., at the grotto at which I’d taken the above photo about fifteen minutes earlier.

So, yeah. The whole place is pretty crazy. But also pretty. But also, yeah, kind of a nutty dream movie-set of a place.

Unfortunately, it was also a pain in the ass that it rained most of the time I was there, and when it got heavy I had to sit on a carved stone bench under a carved stone overhang for an hour and wait it out. (I know. First World problems.) The silver lining, however (Hey, how many times does one get to use that in the context of actual rain?), was that when the rain lightened up enough for me brave leaving (with my sun hat turned rain hat and my linen shirt damp and useless against the cold), I again passed Waterfall Lake, which had been my first stop at the Quinta three hours earlier, when it had been so full of pain-in-the-ass tourists (I know. How dare they?) that it was impossible to get a photo without them marring it. With the rain falling, it was now blissfully empty. So, Mother Nature taketh away, but she also giveth, and the above photo is proof. Obrigado, mãe.

Below is the mansion, in which, presumably, the man who let Luigi Manini’s imagination run wild—Brazilian coffee magnate António Carvalho Monteiro, aka Monteiro dos Milhões (Moneybags Monteiro. Of course.)—and his family lived.

Main house, Quinta da Regaleiro

Main house, Quinta da Regaleiro

Lastly, I give you the view from the top of the admittedly pretty incredible “Initiation Well” (before the rain got heavy enough to scare away the majority of us tourists, unfortunately).

Initiation Well

Initiation Well, with tourists

For all these sights, but especially the latter, the interweb’s photos are far superior to mine. So I suggest giving it a google if you want a better idea.

Tchau! (Yes, that is really how it’s spelled in Portuguese. Obrigado yet again, interwebz.)

September 13, 2016

Alfama

This may be my favorite of all the photos I took today. I didn’t even notice the multicolored clothespins until I saw the full-sized image on my computer. They add the perfect touch, don’t you think?

Spent most of my second day in Lisbon wandering the winding streets of Alfama, which resulted in my getting lost, both figuratively and literally, among its narrow streets and old-world homes and charm.

As the city’s historically Jewish and Muslim neighborhood, that Alfama has retained all three is not a coincidence. It is at least partially due to the fact that after the massive 1755 earthquake devastated the city, chief minister and master rebuilder Marquês de Pombal—while apparently holding quite tolerant views for the day, such as “You can’t kill that person just because he’s a Jew.”—chose not to implement his new formal (and “earthquake-proof”) grid style here.*

Alfama

I know I’m just romanticizing, but when I see houses like this, it always seems to me that if you lived here it would be quite hard to come home every day and be unhappy.

Alfama is full of little lanes and alleyways, steep hills and (when you’re lucky) stone stairs to help you scale them. And there are places within the district where you can stand and all you hear are the birds and the voices, laughter and music coming from the residents’ homes (or the streets, where they do much of their socializing and sometimes even their cooking, apparently). It was truly amazing to be in the middle of a city unable to hear any traffic sounds.*

Alfama

I actually prefer the imperfect, weathered facades to the pristine, freshly painted ones.

At one point I turned onto a street so narrow that one man was sitting in his doorway chatting with his friend “across the street” as if he were across a dinner table. (Actually, I’m fairly sure my family dinner table growing up was wider than this street.) Which led to the highlight of my afternoon: petting the homeowner’s big, happy, lumbering mutt of a dog named Di (“Because it’s Di everything,” said his weathered owner. “Di Rosa, Di Silva . . . De Nero,” he grinned winningly at me, flashing his charmingly awful teeth.), who almost immediately got up, leaned heavily into my legs, then proceeded to heave his massive girth (He was almost as wide as the street. No exaggeration.) onto the cobblestones, rolling over to gleefully demand his belly-rub. As was his right.

 

*Shout-out to my Lisbon Chill-Out Free Tour guide, Pedro, who taught me everything I know about Lisbon (which, granted, still isn’t much, but it’s a hell of a lot more than it was yesterday).

September 13, 2016

These are a few shots from my second day in Lisbon, which started with a 3.5-hour walking tour* and ended (with wine tasting . . . yay!) after I’d walked about 5 more hours.

I mentioned how I wanted ALL the azulejos, right? (Those would be Portuguese ceramic tiles like the ones covering this building.) Lisbon is full of places like this. Amazing.

Still life with scooter

*Shout out to Lisbon Chill-Out Free Tour and my excellent guide, Pedro, for all the interesting history and great present-day tips.

September 11, 2016

Sunrise over Paris. Way, way over Paris.

Oh, yes, my friends. Believe your eyes. Photos of the day are BACK. I’m in Lisbon (via Paris, as you can see in this photo) and finally decided to bite the bullet.

Why re-start my blog (or at least this part of it) now and not, despite having either contemplated or planned on doing so on one of the other trips (read: vacations) I’ve taken since returning to New York from my Southeast Asian travels more than six years ago, you ask?

Oh, hell, I don’t know.

Don’t ask me questions I can’t even answer myself, please. Just sit back and enjoy the return of some brand-spankin’-new miandering photos! (Or at least, I hope you will . . . )

Yes, it’s been well over a year since my last new blog post (in September I posted an old unpublished one I’d found, which was basically a glorified photo of the day). Yes, I survived my skin graft surgery and continued, albeit only for a short time, on my journey. Yes, I’ve been home for almost a year now. Yes, the last post I wrote (about the volcano incident that put an end to my mianderings for several months) was just about exactly 15 months ago and yes, that is, coincidentally or not, just about exactly the amount of time I’ve been back in the States now.

No, I did not intend to abandon my blog. Believe it or not, even after I stopped traveling and returned home I still had every intention of continuing to write posts. And yes, that means I am now well on my way to hell.

But in any case, I am finally doing it and am hoping that this magical ability I seem to have found to force myself to finally write something for the blog (Is there a law against how many times you can use the word ‘blog’ in a blog post? If not, perhaps there should be.) will, if not continue, at least serve to guilt me into not letting 15 months pass before the next one.

The truth is I still have photos galore and gone-but-not-quite-yet-forgotten travel stories to share. All I need is some more of that magical motivation dust to get me to, in the wise words of a previous generation’s Nike ad executives, just fuckin* do it.

And so I shall give you the briefest of updates and then direct you to what is, OK, really the briefest of updates: my six-word memoirs recounting the end of my trip. (Yes, I finished those back in February right after I got home, but no, I didn’t ever get around to telling anyone.)

Without further ado (about nothing, we know), I give you a brief account of the last 15 months.

Learned from a scientist friend (a rocket scientist, actually, and we know that rocket science and brain surgery are our culture’s jobs with the highest degree of apparent difficulty) that I’d inaccurately named my ‘lavafoot’ photo album. What had left me with third-degree (aka full-thickness) burns was volcanic mud. Lava, you see, glows. Which makes it a lot harder to step in accidentally. Who knew? Well, aside from the rocket scientist, apparently quite a few people—all of whom thought I had to be crazy for stepping in lava and who had obviously paid more attention in science class than I had.

Had skin graft surgery in Sydney on October 30, 2009. It hurt. A lot. A whole hell of a fucking lot. Awoke from the anesthesia to be confronted by the meanest nurse in history who basically yelled at me for moaning in pain. Spent another month at my cousin’s slowly starting to walk again with two crutches, one crutch, no crutches, escaping an oxycodone addiction by getting headaches and nausea from oxycodone, and wondering at my twice-to-thrice-weekly hospital visits why on earth that stupid-ass surgeon told me I’d be ‘better’ in a week. (It must be stated here the my cousin Tara, her husband, Andrew, and their lovely daughter, Scarlett, have my undying love and gratitude for taking me in and taking such good care of me [and taking me to all those damned hospital visits] for way longer than they should have ever been expected to.)

November 11, 2009. One of my last dressings. And the day the physiotherapist took me off crutches.

Graduated from twice-weekly dressing changes and evil skin-scrapings by the least sympathetic physician’s assistant in history to a compression sock which hurt like hell at first to wear but now (yes, 15 months later I still have to wear it) now luckily only hurts if I don’t wear it. Had twice-weekly physical therapy with the two kindest, most sympathetic, sweetest physical therapists in history. Had my health insurance run out on me but was treated anyway by said kind, etc. therapists (whose kindness made me cry more than once, I’ll admit. Yeah, things were really rough there for a while.)

November 18, 2009. My first try with the compression stocking. It hurt so much and made me bleed so I had to abandon it. Now this is what my leg looks like every day.

Healed enough that I was ready to leave my cousin’s and go on a 10-day silent meditation retreat—my third and, as I said after my second, my last. Spent a few days in the Blue Mountains which were quite lovely but not, like I’d originally thought, anywhere near my meditation retreat. Returned to Sydney for a week or so more of recuperating, then went to stay with my friends Lars (whom I know from high school) and Jilli and their son Nemo in Castlemaine, about an hour and a half outside of Melbourne. They were wonderful hosts to me for about two weeks and I’m so very lucky to have gotten to stay with them. Went to Melbourne for a week or so. Met some lovely folks there and enjoyed the city quite a lot.

Kangaroos! Just a short walk from my home-away-from-home in Castlemaine.

Flew to Tasmania to finally start ‘traveling’ again. Found you couldn’t really ‘travel’ anywhere in Tasmania without a car, so rented one with two boys too young to rent one themselves. Saw beautiful scenery. Felt really old. Traveled for another incredibly frustrating week on my own basing my itinerary on whatever buses happened to be running on whatever days.

My favorite thing about Tasmania was the road signs. You know I’m only slightly kidding.

Returned to Hobart (Tas’s capital. And yes, all Aussies call it Tas. Or Tassie.) for a few more days of sightseeing nearby but fell into a funk which became a depression which I later self-diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder.

You see (the theory goes), my foot was finally healed enough that it no longer needed 100% of my body’s energy to be focused on its healing. And once that physical stress was no longer in the spotlight, well, what appeared to happen was that the emotion, trauma, whatever you want to call the non-physical stress I’d been through for the last three months finally caught up with that other part of my body: my brain.

At that point I became entirely dependent upon the kindness of strangers, and I am forever grateful to a German woman my own age named Steffie who was my roommate in the godawful youth hostel in which I was staying. She took me out for brunch to celebrate my 41st birthday and, as I deteriorated shortly thereafter, cooked soup for us in the hostel kitchen to make sure I ate something other than the eggs I had boiled for myself before the PTSD had really taken hold.

After one godawful week boarded my scheduled flight to Christchurch, New Zealand. My plan was to travel a month there and then fly back to Australia to catch my already-booked flights to Thailand and Burma (both tickets I had already purchased back in Castlemaine when I still thought I wanted to keep traveling). Almost wasn’t allowed on that flight because the one leg of the trip for which I was missing a ticket was the one from NZ back to Australia, and apparently you can’t enter New Zealand without having an exit ticket. Even if you can show proof that you’re booked on a bloody flight from Melbourne to Bangkok one month later, so OBVIOUSLY you’ll need to be leaving New Zealand to do that.

Spent a tearful hour or more putting a very nice travel agent (who assured me she’d seen worse) through hell finding out what my options were (A ticket to Fiji I wouldn’t use was in the offing. Clearly they’d done this before.) and trying to choose one. Finally I decided, since I was not allowed to purchase that one missing flight back to Australia (which I’d previously just assumed I’d purchase when I was in Kiwiland) because I didn’t yet have a visa, which was required in order to buy a ticket to Australia, that I’d simply had enough and this was probably a sign that I should just go home.

Spent approximately $1,600 on a flight from Auckland to New York for a month later, having been told by the travel agent that it would cost me only $150 to change the date. Made it to Christchurch, which was fucking cold. Realized New Zealand was fucking cold, especially the more beautiful parts to which I’d planned to travel (I was not, however, no matter how desperate things got, going to sign up for that Lord of the Rings Tour), and not only was I miserably depressed and lacking any motivation to plan my month of travels, I did not have the appropriate wardrobe for said month of travels.

My favorite thing about my hostel was this sign. You know I’m not even slightly kidding.

Was made even more depressed by staying in yet another youth hostel (this was what my budget would allow, unfortunately), was lucky enough to meet a friendly local yoga instructor / web designer with whom I saw several movies and basically had my only social contact in New Zealand, and decided what I needed to do was just get the hell out of there and go home—which I did, one week, several more tearful trips to travel agents and over $500 more dollars later.

Going, going, gone.

Realized on my way to the airport that it was the first day in weeks I hadn’t felt depressed.

Knew I’d made the right decision.

I’ve written way too much now to bother going into detail about the last 11 months at home. It’s pretty boring stuff anyway, so you’re not missing much. Suffice it to say that after recuperating with my dear friends Jessica and Hartley (and the lovely Zoe and Mollie) in Allentown, PA, and couchsurfing with various wonderful friends in the city, I moved back into my old apartment in May, two weeks ago finished my second long-term temporary job of the year, and am once again officially unemployed (the kind of unemployment without the unemployment check, unfortunately).

So I should have plenty of time to edit and upload those thousand-plus photos, some of which (can anyone say Angkor Wat?) I’ve been sitting on for almost two full years (!) now. Well, I didn’t do it any of the other times in the last year I was unemployed for several months at a stretch, so…don’t hold your breath. But do wish me some more magic motivation dust and…well, in the wise words of a past generation’s New York Lottery ad executives: you never fuckin* know.

Meantime, feel free to check out those six word memoirs, and at the very least I have many long-overdue photos of the day to post for you in the coming weeks.

Lastly, for the curious of mind / strong of stomach, what post-volcano blog post would be complete without updated photos? The ‘lavafoot’ album is still online, and new and, I’m pleased to report for all our sakes, much-less-gruesome photos have been added.

*OK, that particular word was mine.