Monday, November 20, 2017

How to Chill in Portugal

I have to confess, the big city of Lisbon was getting to me. 

Sure, the guided walking tours gave me great historical and cultural perspective. Fado was interesting as was the dried codfish from Norway. But the hoards of tourists (and I’m one) reminded me that most of us come for a couple of days and leave. Sights dutifully checked off the guide-book list.

I had no way to dig deeper—no way to be part of a family, to get to know a little village, in other words to get connected. I could have rented a car and driven the lovely little roads but the cities’ streets are a nightmare and the drunk driving death rate is alarming. So, trains from city to city was about it. Unless… I could find a way to chill…

Praia da Ursa

Fortunately the Home Lisbon Hostel (my favorite with home-cooking by Mama) also hosted a Beach Day. Now that didn’t sound like much to a Florida girl but I had to get out of Dodge! We were told to bring food and water and good shoes. That was all. Why or why didn’t I bring my hiking poles!!! We were told the the Praia da Ursa is very private—that should have alerted me that it would be almost impossible for most people to get to it! To cut to the embarrassing chase, the descent was a slipping sliding goat path, with shifting sand and stone.

 The younger ones scampered down but two fine men took pity on this older woman with gimpy knees. One gave me an umbrella pole to use for a stick and the other lovely man gave me his arm! We did it! After that we had four hours to spend doing … nothing. Blessed nothing. (Well, you could have gawked at the nude bathers but that’s not that entertaining.)

Something about the pure primal rock and water...

... stillness and motion, calm and crashing … that allowed me to get connected to the bigger picture of creation and to change. Magma to cliffs to shrinking boulders and pulverized stones and sand. Any loneliness or disconnection on these travels is simply erased by this perspective. And I am challenged, as an antidote to discontent with city and noise, to look for the Divine everywhere. Whether as a brave young woman about to jump into the freezing water or the  strutting stud of a man, clothed only in a baseball hat. Or the green umbrella shelter of our group, mostly sun-burning Germans, who were  huddled for an afternoon.

As I look back on those four blessed hours they are solidly fixed in my “best Portuguese memory” folder. Yes, a car would have helped me find more beaches and solitude. But this was enough. And when it was time I climbed back up under my own steam, somewhat on my hands, earning me the moniker “Cat Woman” from two fine men.

Second choice? I hate to admit it – boating and booze.

Well, they are two out of the three B’s that some men choose (include babes). But I’m a non-drinking woman. At least until the Port Wine Tour. First a nice ride in Porto up and down the Duoro River, under the six bridges, amazed at their construction. The most famous… has an upper level for pedestrians. Dare-devils jump from the lower level (still high) level for money. 

Then the tour in which we visited three Port Houses and had I can’t remember how many tastings. Seven? Did you know there are also white and rose Ports? And that the only port that can call itself Port has to come from Porto? Something about the grapes grown along the Duoro River.
Well, Kathy got a little happy (snockered) … but when in Porto.. chill out.

Third hint for how to chill – pastry and delicious Manueline designs. 

What you might ask? My sister Jill told me I had to go to Belem for a day from Lisbon, so I caught the over-crowded jerky tram and did just that. Evidently the famous flaky pastry that cradles a molten yellow creamy rich egg-custard center, the Pasteis de Belem, originated in Belem when the King closed all the monasteries and the monks started selling pastries. The secret recipe generates a long-line, and 20,000 are sold each day. How many did I buy? Well, when in Belem… six sounded good. I did hand one over to an Israeli policeman sitting on my part bench, but none to the begging pigeons. And those five relished delicacies rate even higher than Port in the memory bank!

And the Manueline designs? See the St. Jeronimos Monastery built when King Manuel I in 1497was thrilled with Vasco de Gama’s discovery of a route to India and untold riches. Amazing natural sculptures, non-biblical creatures, and soaring vaults. Manueline is described as virtuoso complex ornamentation—even excessively exuberant, using nature, maritime themes, and symbols from discoveries. 

And the attached cathedral with Vasco de Gama’s tomb. (But folks, not a nice guy.)

Excessive pastries and ornamentation? Yep, another way to chill.

And how about the simple “being in the moment” memorable experiences?

I’d recommend early evening on the Placa de Comercia in Lisbon. Music. Kids playing in sand. Sand sculptures. And the strange beauty of the Christ statue (ala. Rio) and the Golden Gate Bridge look-alike.
And Porto, sunset viewed on a hill look-out, followed by a walk along the gaily lit Duoro River. Yes!!

Right now there is a parade of enthusiastic university students shouting and singing school anthems in front of my hostel. Many ways to be happy, chill or look for the Divine. Yay Portugal!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Portagal: a Rich Collage

Why did I pick Portugal? 

That’s always a worthwhile question when you are totally free and can basically go anywhere you want. A privilege, folks, and sometimes a dilemma. Friends told me to go to Spain and that would have been easier with my Spanish. But for some reason that actually seemed too civilized. Too easy.

Why Portugal? Because on the Mediterranean Coast of France in the town of Cassis, many years ago, when I could not find the hotel, much less a place to park, a Portuguese man, speaking no English, got in my car and navigated me to both. Kind! So, I thought, Portugal is full of kind people. So, let’s go!

My experiences of Lisbon and Porto have been a collage. 

Each city has churches, museums, castles, palaces, Moorish fortresses, monasteries, wall-paintings, meandering medieval streets snaking up hill-sides and views. Each hostel has walking tours that expand on history and customs. Each street has pastries. (And we are not going to mention the hordes of tourists and souvenir shops.)

Here are a few in Lisbon:

The best place to join the crowd with the setting sun. Is this the Golden Gate Bridge? And the statue of Jesus to the left?

And in Porto:

And are the people kind, you may wonder? Was my initial purpose fulfilled?

This welcoming clerk at the wonderful Home Lisbon Hostel poured me a glass of port  to celebrate my daughter’s pregnancy announcement (recieved on the bus from the airport.)

Yes, so very kind!

I’ve been told by the Portuguese that they are emotional. Either happy and kind or upset and grouchy. 99% of the time they were so helpful! A hostel guide helping me up and down a beach-side cliff. A young man running after me, after I’d asked him the way to the San Bento train station because it was a land-mark for a certain street, concerned that I wasn’t actually entering the train station. A cleaning lady worried the hurricane might have hit my house. A taxi driver actually refusing to take me to the hostel because it was just around the corner – and walking me to the corner. A waitress in Sintra writing down detailed directions to a bar that could tell me about the pre-Christian customs. A boat-ride ticket-writer, when I lost my ticket, walking over to the ticket-taker and saying I was valid.

Grouchy? Only maybe twice. A train ticket writer who was upset that I asked for a senior rate but didn’t have my passport with me. Can’t remember the other.

Warning you folks that Portugal may seem disorganized. 

Especially for me coming from the sane, organized and polite country of Norway. To get into the Lello bookstore, which JK Rowlings had apparently frequented when she taught in Porto, you had to get into a line. But no one told you first you had to buy a ticket somewhere else. And in that somewhere else no one told you you needed to leave your backpack, that is until you got back into line with your ticket and were told to go back and leave your back-pack and lost your place in line !!

Yep, the Lello bookstore does resemble Hogwarts. And this standard garb for University students probably inspired the Harry Potter get-up. 

(Re. Disorganization: And in Sintra a very helpful waitress wrote down the directions to a special bar. When I told her  the next morning that I couldn’t find the bar after one hour of trudging along a lane with admittedly a great view? A Portuguese shrug. “Well, they don’t have a sign.” Really??? Some things would be nice to know in advance.)

Would I recommend Portugal? 

For me, it was a must go. Yes, yes, yes!! But after about three to five days in each city, when the brain is confused by the disconnected collage, by the hodgepodge, I’d recommend to get out of the city. Take the tram from Lisbon to Belem and eat pastry. Get connected to Nature. Go to the sea side. Or a village.To a hill-side of Sintra with its changing light. Schedule a sun-set. Or inland to an Eco-village. Part of the greater collage of life experiences.

And experience them with me in following blogs... stay tuned.

Monday, November 13, 2017

You Know You are in Norway When...

You know you are in Norway when:

A sign in the express boat says “Be nice to everyone.” Hey—maybe each of us could get a peace prize!
You happily discover that the tiled bathroom floor in the chilly hotel is heated!
You are provided fur skins on chair seats to keep your butt warm.
Grass grows on  roofs.

The National News is not talking of war but of hanging rainbow colored flags outside of government buildings (and homes) for Gay-Lesbian-Transgender Day. Also, it is advising people to have more goats.
There is a monument to an Olympic champion of “ski-shooting.” What? Sounds like James Bond!
Because of the price of alcohol, in general a person doesn’t drink during the week. But if he wants to get drunk on a week-end, he does it at home first and then goes to the bar.

Only in Norway (in my experience):
Would a town festival have children’s games with this figure.

Would a lovely psychotherapist, Grethe Nordhelle, who works from her home feature a garden for healing and welcome her patients to come and stroll. She told me that plants create a sense of harmony. And “Never would one flower want to be another flower!”

Would there be an  Henie Onstad Kunstsenter. This amazing center founded in the memory of his wife, a famous gold-medal figure skater, is an art center, an outdoor art installation complete with banana sculpture, an world-class restaurant with tablewear sculptures and a Sanatorium. In this Sanatorium Carsten Holler “deploys techniques that alter the patients’ physical and psychological sensations, inspiring doubt and uncertainty about the world around them —  this disorientation and ambiguity allows for rehabilitation and recovery.” Sort of describes my world trip!! Check out

Only in Norway would  the misery of The Scream by Munch,

 and  the Nobel Peace Museum be within blocks of each other.

The Peace Museum is almost overwhelmingly inspiring and the antidote to selfishness and self-centered misery. It made me want to take action! And the acceptance speach for 2016 by Colombian President Juan Santos, who ended a 50 year war against all odds, definitely reminds me to “Use all things as an opportunity.” 

Only in Norway you walk out of the Nobel Peace Museum to hear a military band and think, "Well, peace just went down the drain!" 

 ... to discover that is was the Salvation Army Band! And what were these hordes of people gathered for? "The Homeless World Cup!" 


It turns out that the so-called “marginalized people” play the soccer-- homeless, prostitutes, ex-drug addicts, HIV.  And here are some of the national teams following the band to the stadium for the week-long competition. Zimbabwe doing their African dance. The Russians shouting. The Norse a little more restrained. Again I thought, “Only in Norway!” Actually it is a world event, changing countries each year. But only in Norway is it applauded by the Crown Princess!

US/Norwegian Differences:

I must admit getting jolted by differences in Norway, and maybe all of Scandinavia, compared to the States. The USA is home and I love it and am returning to it but, my friends, there are other ways of doing things.

In Norway you are not allowed to punish your children physically. The language of the law also implies verbal punishment.  (Do a google search on corporal punishment for children—you will be amazed at how many countries agree on non-spanking.)
Health care is paid for (small deductibles). Free nursing home and long-term psychotherapy. Doctors have reasonable hours, good pay, simple billing and no malpractice. (Oystein and Liv’s son is a doctor. We had an interesting discussion on national comparisons.)

Conservation is taken seriously. Oystein’s town does composting. The right lanes on the highway are for electric cars.

Exercise is a way of life. Bicycling, walking, skiing....  I asked a couple by the mountain cabin if they minded carrying their weekend luggage all that way across the marsh on the boardwalk? “We love it — it builds muscles!”   And, “We love the winter – we get to ski!”

And the list goes on and on. A peaceful and sane society. Genuinely nice people who historically and culturally care about the good of all. Drawbacks? High taxes. Expensive products. And I was told that most  wives actually work to finance the life-style.

So if you ask me, “What is Norway?” 

...after a pondering of water, rock, fjords, fish, cheeses, coffee, kindness to strangers, whizzing bicycles, mostly wilderness, I would have to say it is family.  It is a small country where generations know their history. I am shown handcrafted items by Liv made by a grandfather and told stories of summers spent with grandmothers. Where parents are given one year of full parental leave and another year of partial salary in honor of a healthy family bond. 

And I was so fortunate to have been included in two cabins, hikes, berry picking and a generational home in Oslo with Oystein and Liv. Thank you so much!

And thank you Norway for a beautiful time. Yes, visit my friends!
Now on to Portugal.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Wandering Oslo and Other Intrepid Explorers: Part Two

Part Two:

And the Fram and the Kon-Tiki Museums

What is it with these Norwegians? All these boats! Ropes and expiditions! Crazy men who don’t know borders! 

The Fram was built especially to withstand the crushing ice of the Arctic, in fact to be pushed up by the ice. They did it – Nansen succeded in drifting with the floe of ice across the Artic. And he and friend set off from the ship to make a mad dash to the North Pole by sled, and succeeded. You can see the  reinforced front, a propeller that could be lifted up, a very excellent and happy cook, and snug quarters, complete with piano and gramaphone.These Norwegians—they know how to survive long winter nights. They did it!

And Amundsen on the Gjoya found the Northwest Passage. I touched both of these boats. Crazy Norwegians!

And Thor Heyerdahl – he didn’t know how to swim and never learned to sail. But the Kon-tiki did it – proving you could harness the current from Peru to Tahiti and that maybe some Peruvians did populate Polynesia. And the Ra II boat was modeled from the reed boats at Lake Titicaca. (I can vouch for that having been there!)

Next stop: how am I to cope with this constant wandering? 

The month in Norway is ending and I've been bouncing from coast to coast, hostel to cabins to home... It can be a bit disorienting. Even though I found the map for Oslo, there really is no map for the art of wandering. 

Well, I could be like the Norwegians – tough guys!! And be disciplined. See the picture of Thor—sitting on raft writing. Comrades around him. Lousy conditions, but he was disciplined enough to do it. 

And so can I. 

My wandering has a purpose. A story. Even though it started with an abrupt chance in life circumstances, it really is about my choice, my freedom, my journey. And I honor my journey! (I'm talking myself into courage, my friends.)

So, it may not be to the North Pole or Polynesia but after seeing the fjords, intrepid explorers and a Norwegian physician I'm ready for Portugal!
(But first, have to find the bus home...)

Wandering in Oslo and Other Intrepid Explorers: Part One

Today was another first day in a big city without a map. 

A day of not knowing where north is when google map says go north and there are five streets intersecting, plus a tram and bus line. When Oystein walked his bike with me to the bus stop and said, "Get on 31 and get off at Solle, I had no idea of how to get home or where to go or what to do. Just that this was the beginning, another first day.

I’ve had many such days, haven’t I?

What about Tokyo, the first day, fifty years ago? My Japanese sister had walked me to the bus stop the day before and had written the Japanese characters to look for when each bus stopped. But when I had to do it myself? Looked like Greek to me! And each bus passed before I could decipher the destination.

But it eventually worked out. And today worked out. In fact, just fine.

First stop—Dr. Sunde

Was I looking forward to a doctor’s visit in a foreign country? Well, actually yes. I tore something three weeks ago lifting a carry-on into the over-head for the third time in one day. And it was the only time I didn’t ask for help and look where it got me!!! Rip! Nothing has helped for the last three weeks. Maximum dose anti-inflammatory. Not lifting (well, except for helping Oystein lift a zillion old roof tiles and an emormous picnic table...). His physician son recommended this shoulder clinic.  I was still in pain, couldn’t lift over my head and had to decide about whether to do farming in Portugal.

See the two pictures of the office. One shows absolutely typical magazines to read while waiting—a choice of movie star trash or sailing. The second picture is absolutely not American! Shoes lined up under our coats. All the patients and the doctors walking around in socks!  "A Norwegian custom when it’s wet outside," the receptionist told me. Well it was dry as a bone outside, but when in Norway...

Dr.Sunde was kind, thorough and funny. He didn't act like an orthopedic surgeon and in fact isn’t. He's bit of a renegade GP who is known for his ultrasound diagnosis and preference over MRI. He prides himself in rescuing people from unnecessary surgeries because of inaccurate MRIs. He found a torn supraspinatus tendon and bursa full of fluid. Treatment? I asked for an injection and promised to take it easy. In one week I’ll be shown PT exercises and off to Portugal! Farming? We'll see. (And I promised to obey the physical therapist who emphatically told me, with a smile, "Always ask for help!")

Emboldened by success and helpful people, I next wandered into a hair salon ansd asked if someone had time to trim my bangs? She did. And when I offered her payment, she said it was free – because she wasn’t busy then anyway. Wow! So I gave her a hug and took Lena’s happy picture.

Second stop -- get a map, get a plan

I then took a bus 31 from Solli, or at least that was the plan, until a woman said I could just get on the tram and it would get me to the train station too. I did and it did. But then again the problem of getting out google maps and trying to figure out which way was north towards the tourist information center. Eventually someone showed me the sideways sign in the shadows and yes! Boy was I happy to find tear-off maps of Oslo. And brochures. Voila!! I could come up wiht a plan!

I bought a three day Oslo pay, discounted for seniors, and a two day on-off bus pass.And spent hours in the Viking museum.  This was the one thing I had to see in Oslo! Maybe because after riding through the fjords and seeing how difficult farming would be on those slopes, I could begin to understand the need perhaps to plunder (though not to rape). And above  all I could admire their fortitude. 

Third stop --The Viking Museum

There was something reverent in the museum. Those timbers, those nails, those lines and mast and curves – are actually Viking! 

The three Viking Ships were recovered from burial mounds And all the little things. A wagon. Animal carvings. Bucket full of apples... One of the three ships had two women in it. A queen? They were richly provided for. 

Vikings -- intrepid explorers that could certainly inspire me (without the swords, thank you.)

All I had to conquer was the not understanding the buses, trains, and how to somehow get back to Oystein and Liv's home!

And the Fram and the Kon-Tiki Museums

What is it with these Norwegians? All these boats! Ropes and expiditions! Crazy men who don’t know borders! 
To Be Continued in Part Two... (Can’t transmit all of blog by this wifi!!!)