Is it weird that we can afford to travel like this?

Speaking of weird, I look like the mothership has just returned for me in that photo.  Anyway…

I know it is unusual for a family to take a six-month trip anywhere, let alone to pack up and go to Europe.

I do; I know that. I am incredibly lucky to have a chance to do it, to have a boss who understood how important it was to me to do it now, to have friends at work who are the ones who are making it work.

But I don’t feel like I am able to take this trip because I am rich.

Again, I know that I am “rich” in many ways. We have two incomes and we are both healthy enough to work, for now. We have jobs and cars and a house and medical insurance. Many people don’t. We are undeniably rich in those things. But many other people who have all these things think they could never afford to travel like this.

The thing is, we are able to afford this trip because we have been saving for twenty years. Twenty years of used furniture and shopping at Goodwill and decorating in “Early Hand-Me-Down” style and rarely going out (except for way too many Dollar Menu hamburgers) and being as frugal as we know how, for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

When I hear “Oh, it must be nice!” I think, it IS nice, but we had a whole bunch of not-so-nice while other people lived it up in little ways that added up over the months and years. Heck, that’s even true about the trip itself! We are renting apartments wherever possible because its cheaper than even youth hostels in most cities, especially since – with a kitchen – we can cook for ourselves and save on eating out. We go to museums on the free days and eat in the cheaper tascas, and we aren’t paying for any tours or guides or even souvenirs, for the most part. Would it be fun to stay in a fancy hotel and eat at amazing restaurants and buy fabulous souvenirs and mail them home? You bet it would! I’d love it. But we could only stay two weeks at that rate of spending, instead of 24. This is better, for us.

Now that I’ve written this, I’m contemplating not posting it. It is sooo not meant to be a “Look what we did!” post, but a “Look what you can do!” one. I especially don’t want anyone to think that I was always happily frugal all those years; you can get David to verify that! But now, I must say, I am happy with the end result.

Daily Check In:

  • I’m grateful! to everyone who helped make this trip a reality, and especially to David, for cracking the whip. (I’m kidding; I take care of the finances, but I have certainly learned how to be a cheapskate through his shining example.)
  • I’m lighter! by about 4 hours of sleep… argh. I really need to get this sleeping problem under control. It’s just that I would so much rather blog than sleep…

Day 14 – Belém madness

Day 14 = March 25, 2012

This is the first post I have tried to draft from my cell phone, which was the only electronic device I could get my hands on today. I apologize in advance for all the swiping and/or autocorrect errors I might fail to find and correct once I got to use the computer.

In Portugal, many museums are free on Sundays from 10-2. David figured out which area had the greatest concentration of these, so this Sunday, we decided to go into Belém .

We set an alarm so we could get out there by 10 and not waste any of the free hours. David got up promptly. First he asked Quinland and me, very sweetly, to get up. Then he fed us each breakfast in bed. Finally he commanded us to get up, now. We scurried out at that point.

We got down to the Metro at 9:45, but we still had to connect with a tram to get out to Belém, which is a few miles west of the center of Lisbon. At least we caught the train… two guys ran for it, one threw his bag in front of him to keep the doors open, then tried to pry them open enough to squeeze through… but the doors closed and his bag rode away with us. We were only going one stop before transferring to the tram, so I left it prominently on a bench for him to see when he caught the next train. It was so early, there was no one around in the station, either to watch out for the bag or to mess with it.

We hightailed it to the tram stop, where a zillion tourists were waiting for the tram to Belém … which did not come. Everyone was asking each other if they knew Portuguese, or if they knew that the deal was, but no one did. Various splinter groups would leave periodically and start walking to the next station down the street to catch the train out there. I asked my Portuguese brother, who walked by with a beer at 10 am, if it was the right stop, and he confirmed that it was. After waiting almost 30 minutes, an awfully frustrated David hiked down to another tram stop to discover the truth. He was told, “The tram does not run this morning.” Every Sunday morning? Just today? It was impossible to tell, but obviously we would not be catching it here.

We shared the news with the people at the stop, then started our own mass exodus to the train station.  We barely made it, and were glad to see that many of the people who had made the decision to leave earlier were on it with us.

As the train pulled away, we suddenly realized why the tram was not running. Starting and ending in Belém – and following much of the same route as the tram – was… get ready… the Lisbon Marathon! Yes, we were about to go to Belém, temporary home of thousands upon thousands of sweaty runners and discarded water bottles. (I grabbed some caps off the ground for another set of pieces for Ridicula. David and Quinland distanced themselves from me quickly, but I have no embarrassment gene.)

In David”s words, the experience was of visiting Belém was 80% different than what we had anticipated.

After a picnic snack of Pastéis de Belém (lovely custard pastries), we headed into the deep, dark National Coach Museum. Quinland was instantly bored. Perhaps starting her with three museums she loved set the bar too high. I was thrilled by the place, as I could picture all sorts of Jane Austen characters dressed in the uniforms and riding in the coaches. Did you know that the word “coach” comes from the Hungarian town of Kocs, where the first vehicle with a body hung on leather straps was produced? Neither did I. This is the kind of info that I find endlessly fascinating. Because of this unfortunate tendency of mine, David and I have a pact to let Quinland set the pace in museums. My practice of reading every word on every sign, even in languages I do not speak, can be a wee bit time-consuming.

Next stop: Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, the Jerónimos Monastery. We couldn’t tour the church, as they were having Mass, and the cloister didn’t interest Q much until we put the fancy new camera in her hands. Then she disappeared, moving to every corner of the place, discovering a gargoyle shaped like a grasshopper and the best place to see the courtyard from above.


We stopped in the park on the way to the Belém Tower (Torre de Belém). We have a little foldable frisbee, and D and Q played while I snapped photos and rested.

  

When we got to the Tower, we all had a bit of a fright. The curving staircase – with its worn, slippery stone steps – had no handrails and was barely wide enough for one person, yet people insisted on going up and down simultaneously. Yikes. It was worth it, though. The views were spectacular. The basement area had such a low ceiling that we practically had to crawl through the doorway. Luckily, there was a skylight.

 

Since it was after 2 by this time – and we had saved enough money to balance out the oceanarium charge – we had lunch at the great cafe at the Museu Coleção Berardo, the Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. It had a cafeteria-style line, but with gourmet food and desserts. Yum…

The Berardo had an amazing temporary exhibit called The Art of War, featuring WWII propaganda posters from the U.S., Germany, France, and a few other countries. I got to see an original copy of “If you ride alone, you ride with Hitler.” (Check that one out on Google images.) The exhibit ended with a propaganda film. I told David I wanted to watch it, so he took Quinland out to see the regular exhibit. When I didn’t meet up with them after more than 30 minutes, they came looking tor me. Luckily, I met them coming out. I’d fallen asleep watching the movie. It’s now official – I am Zumu.

 

We were all exhausted, as usual, so we strolled through the park back to the train station. It was interesting to see all the local people in the park, having picnics, playing soccer, making out in the grass… yeah, I was surprised how many young couples there were, taking advantage of.. the lovely weather. We stopped at the Pingo Doce supermarket in the train station, loaded ourselves up with groceries, and trudged home with heavy bags and heavier legs.

I fell instantly to sleep and slept through dinner, waking up once to taste a lovely bruschetta Quinland had made. Then I woke up, D and Q went to bed, and we traded places so I could get on the computer. Of course, I am writing this blog post at 2:03 am, I have an alarm set for 7:15, and I will probably fall asleep in public again tomorrow. It seems to be a never-ending cycle so far.

Expenditures: Train to/from Belém, five Pastéis de Belém (we each had 1 and 2/3; why did I not just get 6?), lunch at Berardo cafe, groceries.

Experiences: Talked to tourists of many lands; saw an ungodly amount of trash and wondered why runners would litter (do I ascribe some environmental consciousness to those who run out in our environment?); finally tasted those pastries; learned all about coaches; climbed scary steps and saw cool views; learned about rationing and war bonds and saw horrible, tasteless caricatures of the enemy – from both sides.

Curly girl

The very first year I taught school was just after David and I were married. At the time, I wasn’t sure I was going to keep my maiden name, although David encouraged me to, as a) my first and last name go very well together, and b) his last name is very common and mine is not. (Note: 99% of my readers know my last name and David’s, but in my “raised as the child of an FBI agent” paranoia, we’ll stay on a first-names-only basis here at the blog, for now.)

Just to try it out, I decided to have my first and second graders call me by his last name, so that I could see how I felt about it without actually having to change it. So I was stuck going by “Mrs. T.” all year, though I knew in the first week that I was not going to change it. It just didn’t feel like me, and if my husband didn’t want me to, then there was nobody advocating for the change!

Just before the end of that school year, I got my hair permed. Now, I had straight hair my whole life, just like Quinland’s. (Okay, not just like hers, which is as thick as Zumu’s, the lucky child.) Not until pregnancy hormones did a number on it did my hair curl. I am not at all fond of my hair curly, either. In fact, when I asked for that particular perm, my hairdresser refused to do it, on the grounds that I had made her promise not to give in to me if I were to have such a lapse in judgement. I had to explain to her that I knew it was going to look bad and that I was going to be unhappy with it, but that I wanted it done anyway, as I was getting ready to go to Europe for a year and wanted easy-care hair.

To make a long story short, she permed it, I hated it, and my second graders were completely freaked out. “You look like Curly Sue,” one said. “No, she’s Curly T.,” said another. That is how I always think of myself now with my curly hair: Curly T.

Why are you hearing about this now? Well, did you ever see the Friends episode  when Monica’s hair gets big and bushy because of the humidity in Barbados? I don’t know what the humidity is here in Lisbon, by my hair is completely unmanageable. It doesn’t matter what I do with it, within 10 minutes it is completely frizzed out. Ack. Easy-care hair it is not.

Tonight, on the Metro on the way to Game Night, I asked Quinland if it looked presentable. She stared at it, tried to put it behind my ears, tried to flatten it down with her hands, then looked me in the eye and said, “There’s no hope.”

All advice will be considered and attempted, if possible. I don’t have enough hair to try Monica’s cornrows, though they looked fun to swing around.

Daily Check-In:

  • I’m grateful! to the kind young man who played the last few games with us tonight, and to all the Portuguese gamers who made us feel so welcome.
  • I’m lighter! I finally got a massage yesterday. I feel sooo much better.