Slow down, you move too fast

This is our view from the bedroom window – so lovely!

We are in a little village in Ireland for two weeks. This is of some interest to the locals, because very few tourists a) know someone to stay with in the village instead of staying at Dromoland Castle, the fancy hotel, and b) because we have very few plans while we are here. We drove through Connemara on the way from the airport in Knock down to County Clare, and since we had a car the first two days, we trekked to the Clare coast and saw the Cliffs of Moher. Besides that, though, our plan was just to stay in the village and soak up village life.

This was the original plan for the trip, you know. We were going to stay in villages and make periodic day trips to bigger cities to see the sights. But once we discovered the joys of Schengen, and that our time on continental Europe was limited to only 90 days, it suddenly seemed vital to see all there was to see whenever we were in a Schengen country. To facilitate this, we decided to stay in big cities and sightsee as much as possible (in other words, as much as Lori physically could handle).

It has been wonderful. We have had a fantastic trip so far (it’s already three-fourths over, which hardly seems possible). But oh my gosh – it has been exhausting. Some days, it feels like we have walked for miles, because we have been on our feet the whole day. Other days, in order to get the most from multi-day museum passes,  we cram in so many sights – so many museums, so many paintings – that it feels like our heads will explode from any further visual stimulation.

That won’t be the case here in Newmarket-on-Fergus. The view from our bedroom window is of rolling hills with cattle grazing. There is one main street through the village, two markets, a pharmacist, some banks and realtors, a few other businesses, a hotel and three or four pubs. We have discovered a little café that has wi-fi, and Quinland got a library card yesterday and showed me, beaming with delight, that she had checked out eight books. (She has already finished three of them.)

I am planning to spend the time writing blog posts at odd hours, as Q is finishing a paper for school. I have already posted a couple, and written drafts this morning for a couple more. (It is my Drug Day, the day I take the mega-steroids, so I can’t sleep. I warned Christine that I might rearrange furniture or pull weeds, as well. I never know if I will have energy in the wee morning hours, or be so jittery I can’t do anything.)

We are still going to see plenty of Irish sights, as it turns out. Christine’s brother, Brian, took us up to The Burren on Sunday, which was fantastic. Her mother has offered to take us to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, and I love nothing more than a good folk park, so I am psyched. We will walk to a Celtic ring fort that is just outside the village, and Christine is generously inviting me to meet her friends at the pub and at the Book Group coffee morning.

I’m learning plenty, as well: I stopped a man on the footpath the other day to ask about some flags in the windows of local houses, and we ended up chatting for ages about Ireland and America and history and politics and economics and teaching. (David and Quinland ultimately came up the road to find out what had happened to me, and they claim I was “missing” for two hours. It is very possible! Quinland was thanking her lucky stars she was not with me, for I have inherited my mom’s skill and tendency to speak to random strangers, and Q finds it mortifying.) I later discovered that this conversation was something of a feather in my cap, for the retired gentleman in question is known for “not mixing,” and the ladies of the town figure I might have been the first female he has spoken to in more than a decade. I say, “Good job, me!”

— Written a couple of days ago. I’ve been laid up after drug day, but I’m back up and around and at the Cafe again. xo – Lori

Daily Check-In:

I’m grateful for Christine’s amazing hospitality. It is so nice to feel “at home” somewhere.

Day 29 – A drive along the Douro

Day 29 = Monday, April 9, 2012

After enjoying the lovely hotel shower one last time, we headed out of Braga. Our first stop: Amarante. We wanted to go to a super-cool museum we’d heard about (the museum of Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, a famous Portuguese cubist) but it was closed on Mondays. We went to the tourist info office next door and were given loads of brochures about sights in the area, though we did not end up using any of them. (Not environmentally friendly or even just friendly-friendly, I know.) Instead, we went to the main square and watched a small boy in gleeful pursuit of the town pigeons.

The square contained a main church, but right beside it, up a stone terrace, was yet another church. We climbed up the terrace for a beautiful view of detail of the main church, of the São Gonçalo bridge (where the town’s residents withstood Napoleon’s troops for two weeks, until bombarded with barrels of gunpowder), and of the town.

As we climbed up, we’d picked up Very Small Rocks (name that movie) for Quinland to use with her slingshot. Sadly, the rubber strap had broken loose at one end. I managed to MacGyver it back into shape, of course, and she was able to shoot rocks into the river. She is really making me look like a shorty in this photo.

David went across the bridge to snap some photos from the other side and returned with a small fortune’s worth of pastries (though not the city’s famed phallic-shaped fertility pastries). We are all addicted to the Belem-style tarts, which have a creamy egg-yolk filling, but he also discovered some new egg-based delicacies. Yummmmm…

After saying goodbye to Amarante, we drove on to Regua, where we stopped and got a map of the Douro vineyards. The Douro region grows all the grapes for the famous port wine that is made down the river in Porto (Oporto, to some… but not to the Portuguese). The area is quite steep, and the grapes are grown on terraces on the sides of the hills that slope down to the river. In very rocky areas, small terraces are built on any available land, some holding only one grapevine.

A number of the quintas (vineyard estates) hold tastings and give tours, but the price can be a bit steep. This would be especially true for us: one person driving, one under-age, and one on alcohol-enhancing medications. We really wouldn’t be getting our money’s worth.

David found one quinta that was supposed to offer free tours, so we headed out to it. It did offer free tours, but when we arrived we found it closed for lunch from noon until 3:00 pm. With our jam-packed schedule, we would not be able to wait and still get to Porto on time to meet our next landlady. Still, we poked around the exterior, got some lovely pictures, and had a chance to stretch our legs and sit in the shade (and visit the facilities).

By this time, we were all starving. We drove on to the Alto Douro (high above the river), to a little town called Sabrosa. After peeking into (and rejecting) a pizzeria, we stopped and had an amazingly good lunch at a restaurant that looked like a truck stop from the outside. David asked for a recommendation and got a special kind of sausage stuffed with chicken and garlic and onion and bread.  He said it was the best food he’d had in Portugal so far. After lunch, we raced back to the highway so we could get to Porto by 5:00 pm.

We got to our cute little apartment, where we met Cristina, the landlady, and saw Quinland’s very own room-slash-closet. We took a nap (yeah, we nap a lot) and then raced to meet BGG-er Felipe and his friends at Café Santiago (oops – had that wrong, now corrected!) to try some francesinhas, an iconic Porto treat. We had to wait ages for a table, so we got to chat and share info on ourselves. Felipe’s friend Miguel and his girlfriend were wearing robes like wizard students from Harry Potter; apparently JK Rowling had lived in Porto with her first husband and was inspired by the students’ traditional garb. (Q went to Pingo Doce to get laundry soap, as we have to take advantage of any apartment that has a washing machine.) We learned all about Porto and the chip the residents on their shoulder because they are not respected by Lisbon.

The francesinhas were crazy. They are smothered sandwiches of steak and egg and bread and cheese and tomato-and-beer sauce, served on french fries… and apparently different restaurants purport to have the very best versions (and have their own legions of fans). The name means “little French girl,” for reasons unknown to me.

I wish I had taken a photo… you can Google away if you’d like to see one up close.

Afterward, they took us to the Majestic Café to get café. Quinland and I had hot chocolate which was MELTED CHOCOLATE IN A CUP. When you are expecting chocolate-flavored milk, the moment when the chocolate hits your lips is something you’ll never forget. We talked politics over our drinks, then said our goodbyes, kissed and kissed everyone (in Portugal, all women kiss – and are kissed – twice on hellos and goodbyes; men shake each other’s hands), and went home. I tried to put on a load of laundry so that it would air-dry by the time we had to pack in two days, only to discover that the soap I’d asked Q to get was the wrong kind of soap for this machine. Argh. At least it was a good excuse to go right to bed.

Expenditures: Pastries in Amarante, lunch in Sabrosa, dinner and drinkable chocolate in Porto, worthless laundry detergent, rent.

Experiences: So many! New food delights, gorgeous scenery, Portuguese student traditions, Lisbon/Porto rivalry, that lovely melted chocolate… and more. A fabulous day, all around.

Day 28 – He is risen! Happy Easter!

Day 28 = Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter! (Yes, I am currently posting this in mid-July, so you will have to cast your mind back. Way back….) I didn’t take any photos today at all, for – as you will see – it was a very low-key day.

We got up early for Mass. Quinland wore her dress-up outfit and complained about her shoes every step of the way to church.  The Mass was all in Portuguese, of course, but we Catholics can follow along anywhere! We were intrigued by two things: first, the ushers were dressed in the following outfits that you may remember from the Holy Week parade:

Second, the church was very crowded, like every Catholic church on Easter Sunday morning, but the latecomers did something I’d never seen before. At our parish, they put extra folding chairs up the sides of the church and in the vestibule for the overflow, but here in Braga, folks just went right up the aisles and stood there. Right up front. Blocking the view, as Quinland pointed out, of those of us who were on time for once.

After Mass, we let Quinland take off her shoes and wander the streets barefoot. We detoured on our walk home and walked through the main square of the city. Most days, they have all kinds of stalls there, selling food and crafts – very much like Portland’s Saturday Market – but they were closed for the holiday. Q was sad, as she’d wanted crepes from a crepe stand she’d noticed the day before. We then went home for the traditional Easter Sunday nap, a new tradition we just started this year. Quinland amused herself by creating a handmade version of Piranha Pedro for us to play when we got up. We lounged around and played games and got takeaway from Telepizza for dinner.

Expenditures: Pizza!

Experiences: Portuguese Easter Mass; an Easter without our friends and family at our annual Easter Egg Hunt. I hope you all missed it as much as we did.