Alps to azores 2019-2020 Another authentically amazing awesome adventure!
Looking back A recap and our thoughts about our Austria/Portugal trip
On the rocks, Azores, Portugal
We’ve been home a while, have had time to heal up and rest, and have pretty much returned to normal. This is our trip recap that we always post a few weeks after returning. As I have done in the past, I write about things in no particular order. If it pops into my head, I’ll write about it. Laurie has written about her thoughts as well, and we have lots of photos that weren't used with the daily posts.
This is always our longest post . Unless you have a fair amount of time to spend reading it, I recommend doing it a bit at a time. I certainly didn't write it all in one sitting. It basically compresses nearly three weeks of travel into one post so read it in pieces so it doesn't wear you out. Be sure to check out the gallery at the end for more photos we haven't posted yet. Let’s get started!
Mass Transit- Let’s be honest, the Europeans do this quite well. Trains, buses, trams, and airlines, there are few places we traveled that required our own car. It is incredibly easy to travel via mass transit in Europe. It’s efficient, reliable, reasonably priced, and FULL OF SICK PEOPLE!
Nothing is riskier than being trapped inside of a flying metal tube, train, or bus with someone who is ill. They’re hacking, coughing, and you cannot get away from them. Especially on a plane. I got sick from a flight from Frankfurt to Portugal and Laurie on a flight from Portugal to London. With Laurie, someone let a hacking toddler wander up and down the aisle on the plane and he coughed on Laurie. While a good idea for the most part, mass transit does have a downside, and this is it.
On the tube (subway), London
American Airlines- We flew a lot this trip. We went over via American Airlines with a transfer to British Airways for the final leg. We flew on frequent flyer miles we saved from our airline credit cards. I found a bit of a loophole in their fee structure and found flights from Nashville to Charlotte, from Charlotte to London, and London to Munich for 30k miles. While the cost in miles was pretty good, the associated fees were a HUGE bargain. Our fees flying from London to Nashville on British Airways were $300 each (plus miles), still a pretty good deal for a transatlantic flight. But our fees from Nashville all the way to Munich were only $19 dollars. THAT is a deal. While we were dealing with 3 separate flights, things went well and our trip was good.
Streetcar on a side street, Porto, Portugal
Lufthansa- Well. Then there was Lufthansa. We booked a Lufthansa flight from Munich to Porto. It was a direct flight and went at the perfect time. Several months after we booked it….they cancelled it. The also took the liberty of rebooking us from a late evening flight to a 6 a.m. flight with a transfer in Frankfurt. I emailed them to see what other options there were as I had ten days to contact them. They NEVER replied.
I wasn’t able to find a phone number for them and they didn’t respond to emails. So I rearranged our schedule, cancelled one night off of our hotel in the Alps, and scheduled a hotel at the airport in Munich so we could make an early morning flight. Two days before we left for Europe, I received an email that they had cancelled our flight and had rebooked us with a 25 minute connection in Frankfurt. Yeah….like that’s gonna work.
This time I was able to find a phone number. I called Lufthansa and they rebooked us out of Munich the night before, I cancelled our Munich airport hotel, and booked another in Frankfurt where we would fly in, sleep 7 hours, get up, and get on a plane to Portugal.
Coffee at a tiny side street cafe, Lisbon, Portugal
While in Europe we receive an email that they have cancelled the third flight and put us on another. We arrive at the airport in Munich to check our bags and get on our flight. Lufthansa staff direct us to self baggage drop, where you scan your boarding pass and they print out a bag tag. You put the tag on your bag and put it on a conveyor belt. We scan our boarding pass and it will not work. Lufthansa staff direct us to staff at a nearby counter. We stand in this line for maybe 15 minutes and finally get to talk to a person. Sadly, this person did not want to be bothered with us and literally refused to help us. Eventually she sent us to another counter where a nicer staff member helped us with the issue.
Local Schnapps bought from the family that made it, local farmers selling their wares. Christmas Market, Mayrhofen, Austria
At this point we find out that because of all the changes they do not have our checked baggage on our ticket. To our credit, I saved all receipts as PDF files on my phone. I produce a receipt where we paid for baggage (3 reservations ago) and they check our bags. We finally have hopes of actually getting on a plane.
We clear security and board our plane. It is efficient, well run, arrives exactly on time, and the cabin staff and crew are quite nice. We spend the night in a hotel in the Frankfurt airport and board the next morning to find a good crew who did their jobs well. Lufthansa’s flight crews are great. The rest of their staff and system…….not so much. Verdict on Lufthansa? Not a fan. Lufthansa is the national airline of Germany. I thought the Germans were supposed to be more organized than this.
Train station, Porto, Portugal
TAP Airlines- TAP airlines is the national airline of Portugal. After the circus that was Lufthansa (complete with clowns), we can only imagine how a much smaller airline from a smaller country will run. Expectations were not high.
We never fly business class or first class. We always fly economy and save our money for more adventures. We received an email from TAP a few days before we flew and it told us that they auction off unsold business and first class seats. They give you a range of bid prices ranging from 70 to 300 euros per person for an upgrade. My birthday was the next day and I decided to bid on the vacant business class seats. I put in the bare minimum bid. I receive an email from the airline saying we had been outbid, so I chuckled about the possibility of us actually “riding up front” and move on. Two days later I received another email saying our bid was accepted and we would be flying business class!
Our apartment on the beach in the Azores. The view was fantastic.
Be clear, I did it as a lark because it was going to be my birthday. We never expected to be successful and were actually quite surprised. It was cheap to upgrade and was going to be part of our adventure. I basically bought myself an upgrade for my birthday.
With our business class ticket we get access to the TAP airlines airport lounge. They have free drinks, food, comfortable chairs, showers (if you want to take a shower), it’s really a great way to wait at the airport. We board early, had nice seats, and they brought us a drink before we took off. A meal was served on the flight for all passengers, and ours came on a real plate with real silverware. The food was good, the drinks were free, and we had one flight attendant who did nothing but take care of 8 business class flyers. Flying up front is awesome!!!! We flew from Porto to the Azores and Azores to Lisbon on TAP. While we flew economy from the Azores to Lisbon, the service was good. The flight crew was friendly and worked hard to take care of everyone. Verdict on TAP Airlines, the national airline of Portugal? BIG fan! They should be giving Lufthansa lessons.
Christmas lights Lisbon, Portugal
EasyJet- EasyJet was exactly like their name…..easy. On time, they sold train tickets on the plane, the flight attendants were helpful and nice, we just love EasyJet!
British Airways- We flew from London to Nashville on British Airways. We’ve flown the direct flight two and/or from London to Nashville a couple of times. Their seatback units work great, the flight crew is always great, it’s always a pleasant experience. The beauty of the direct flight from Nashville is that I can leave work an hour early and wake up in London the next morning. British Airways is great!
Porto, Portugal at night
Being Sick- For the second year in a row, I wound up in a hospital in a foreign country. Also for the second year in a row, I was diagnosed with bronchitis. Both years I acquired this year end gift on mass transit. Last year on a crowded train and this year on a crowded plane. Laurie caught whatever she had on a crowded plane due to a sick child with no supervision. Not fun. Luckily, Laurie didn’t get sick until late in the trip.
I was sick for most of the trip. Laurie was very patient, but it really slowed me down and this affected what we did. I didn’t have a normal level of endurance which cut into hiking and other physical activities. We would have done much more in the Azores had I felt better. We would have spent more time out on New Years, but I was falling apart. Being sick while traveling is a real drag and really cut into things. Traveling was much more difficult and much less enjoyable, so much so that we’re considering different options next Christmas. Being in tight quarters with a lot of sick people is a recipe for a hospital visit. I’m living proof….two years in a row.
Mass transit that I can really get into!
Our packs- We’re not getting any younger and we know it, and humping a big pack on your back takes more of a toll as you age. Laurie had a few issues this past year with tenderness in her shoulder. So this year we decided to change things up and we purchased heavy duty roller bags by Osprey. They have similar volumes to our old packs, great features, a great warranty, but they don’t go on our backs. The Osprey bags and packs have a warranty for life. No matter how it was damaged, no matter who did it, no matter how they did it…..if it breaks they fix it or give you a new one. They weren’t cheap, but we were pleased with them. They have more ground clearance than other bags, bigger wheels, and a LOT of pockets.
Waves crashing, Porto, Portugal
While we swore by packing cubes for so many years, the Osprey bags have enough pockets to compartmentalize things without using the cubes. They have a collapsible dirty laundry compartment which keeps dirty clothes from making clean clothes smell like dirty clothes. They also have straps that compress the suitcase and contents into a smaller package. While big fans of our roller bags, Laurie continues to struggle with finding a small day pack that fits her and does what is needed. I have a Maxpedition tactical backpack that in my opinion is the best day pack on the planet, but Laurie doesn’t like it. I told her “You find a pack you like and try to make it work. I find something that works and learn to like it.” The search for Laurie’s ideal day pack continues.
"Ooompah" band, Mayrhofen Advent Celebration, Austria
Austria- While the snow didn’t cooperate this year, I found Mayrhofen much more organized than Chamonix. Heated lockers for your gear, high capacity/high speed gondolas, ease of getting around, lift tickets at around 60 bucks a day, reasonable rental fees for gear. It was just a very positive experience. Austrian skiing, while not optimal this year due to lack of snow, has enough potential that we would consider trying again. Just not at Christmas.
Austria as a whole is a great country to visit. The food is excellent, the people friendly and helpful. We stayed in a “mom and pop” guest house actually ran by mom and pop, and it was a wonderful experience. The crew at the ski shop were very helpful with great recommendations of places to go and things to do, including non-skiing activities, restaurants, there were just great. Mayrhofen Advent, their idea of a Christmas market was wonderful. Mostly locals attended, and the booths sold local foods, things produced on local farms, schnapps made on someone’s farm, local beers, and a play by the children in the town. It wasn’t commercial, it was genuine celebration. It was one of the highlights of our visit to Austria and we loved it.
My European orange soda has betrayed me!
Soda- Europe pulled a fast one on me. Last year towards the end of the trip, I got a soda and it had a bit of a nasty aftertaste. I checked the label but it was in French and I didn’t fully understand what it said. I loved European orange soda as it had real oranges in it. This year I noticed the nasty aftertaste again. I couldn’t figure it out so I quit drinking orange soda and started drinking Coke, which tasted fine.
When we arrived in the UK, I read a label on my beloved orange soda and found that the Europeans have substituted sucralose (an artificial sweetener) for some but not all of the sugar in a lot of the sodas to cut the amount of sugar. I checked multiple brands of different types of sodas and found this to be common. Coke is the only one I could find that was sugar only. There may be more but I didn’t find them. The thing that bothers me is they market these sodas as regular sodas, NOT as diet or calorie reduced soda. I don’t like someone trying to be my mommy and changing things without telling me. I’m an adult and if I want my one soda a day to have sugar and not artificial sweetener, I don’t need someone else deciding this for me. They’re just nasty and I don’t like them.
Sidewalk cafes are everywhere in Europe
Conversations with Germans and Brits in a restaurant- We love to sit in a café and talk to others from around the world. We spent quite a bit of time chatting with a young British couple. We enjoyed talking with them and actually ran into them several times during our stay in Austria. We also chatted with a German couple one evening as well.
We have found the British to be similar to Americans. We have also found the Germans to be similar, but different. With the German couple, we discussed peculiarities in the U.S. like why “Bill” is a nickname for William or why “Bob” is a nickname for Robert. The male of the couple told us it was such a foreign concept to grasp, and that it challenged the methodical and logical way of thinking they are taught in Germany. He said something to the effect that “it makes my head hurt!!” I agreed that the two cultures, while they have many similarities, have their differences as well. I am aware that many Germans have rigid ways of thinking, and I also realize it is a cultural thing and not a personal thing. It is not without positives as this adherence to rules and plans makes for a very predictable outcome with few surprises.
A typical street. Our hotel is on the left. Earl's Court, London.
Being a student of history, namely WWII, I explained to him that when German command and control was cut off during the war, the unit commanders were told to hold in place and await orders. Americans, when command and control were cut, were trained to attack in all directions. This lead to well provisioned and organized German units being overrun by rag tag American units lead by an enlisted man…..because he was the highest ranking person left and the Germans would not attack without orders.
We have been discussing something that we’ve both known all along. Germans tend to be rigid and rule/system followers, while Americans tend to be flexible and adaptive. This doesn’t mean every German or every American, but more of a “cultural” view. We also both realize that both methods have their virtues, and neither is inferior to the other. They’re just different and each works better than the other in specific situations. They were nice folks and we really enjoyed spending a fair part of the evening with them.
Doing laundry in Munich, Germany
Snow- The snow in Austria didn’t pan out, for the second time in as many years. We were spoiled when we went to Chamonix two Christmases back and had the best conditions we had ever skied in. It hasn’t happened since. This year and last year yielded sub par snow and crowded conditions. While we’ll try to ski again in Europe, it won’t be at Christmas. Austria was, however, wonderful.
TSA “extra” security- I was flagged several times for “extra scrutiny”. It turns out that on my passport, my last name is followed by “JR”. When this follows my last name, it is my legal name. American Airlines has it where there isn’t a way to put this in. British Airways computer system has it where it is included. The TSA computer marks me because my name is different from one airline to another. It’s a pain in the ass and I need to figure out how to fix it, especially since I’m Pre-Check/Global Entry and have probably had more FBI background checks through the years than the president.
Our tiny hotel room
Small hotel rooms- Think you’re cut out for living in a tiny house (the ones that are so popular in the USA now)? Want to find out if you really love someone and can get along with them when the going gets rough? Stay a few days in a phone booth sized European hotel room in an old building. You’ll find out quick.
You have to work together as you both can’t be in the bathroom. Often, you both can’t be walking in the room at the same time. You’ll have maybe a foot on each side of the bed and maybe 3 at the foot of the bed. You may have to sit at an angle to use the toilet as the sink is in the way. One of you can unpack and put your things away…..but only one of you. The other has to sit on the bed and wait until you are done. You have to coordinate and work together or you’ll beat each other to death. One might think this is just in budget or bargain hotels, but it’s not. Granted, the London hotel on this trip was tiny and for London it was quite a bargain. But the hotel in Lisbon had a tiny room about the same size, but it was fairly high end. We have found the same in France at times. It’s not like that everywhere, but don’t be surprised if it happens to you. It’s a part of travel and it’s only for a while.
Part of the old town, Porto, Portugal
Portugal- Portugal was a new country for us and we didn’t really know what to expect. We found Porto to be a bit on the “gritty” side. There were a lot of abandoned buildings and I read that due to rent control, the owners could not recoup the cost of the repairs and upgrades due to the artificially low rents. Consequently they just let the buildings degrade.
The Azores were incredibly beautiful, not at all “touristy”, and really inexpensive. I saw a deal this week for roundtrip air and hotels for 7 days in the Azores for $799. That’s a bargain. It was by far our most enjoyable part of the trip. We loved the Azores and I expect we will visit again. Lisbon is a nice city, similar to many other European cities. Our cab driver asked about our travels and we mentioned Porto. He asked what we thought of Porto and Laurie said it was “gritty”. The driver said “Yes. Lisbon is much cleaner and much better organized.” He was correct. Good mass transit, lots of things to see and do, all at a reasonable price. We liked Lisbon.
Abandoned building, Porto, Portugal
Portugal cleanliness- I noticed things while visiting Portugal, like restaurant staff handling food without gloves. I watched a worker pick up food that had fallen between the pans on a buffet and throw it back in the buffet. The streets were a bit dirtier than other European cities, especially in Porto. Lisbon wasn’t that bad and probably comparable to many other European cities. The Azores were mostly rural and it really wasn’t comparable. When I was in the hospital, I felt terrible and wasn’t really paying attention. The nurse had already established an IV and injected medicine before I noticed that she didn’t “glove up”. She did wipe my skin with alcohol before doing the IV but to do a stick in the U.S. without gloves is pretty much unheard of nowadays.
Blue oceans contrast green fields. The Azores, Portugal
Portugal Hospital- We were sent to the “private” hospital and paid cash for my care. It was modern, clean, and well run. We were in, triaged, examined by the physician, given further treatment, and out the door in an hour. This was on a national holiday (New Years Day). I have no idea how it would have went in the “public” hospital. The one we went to ran so well I don’t want to even bother to find out.
Portugal food- The food was somewhat unusual at times. It was not unusual to be served potato chips as a side dish in what we would consider a “nice” restaurant. The food was simple, with lots of fish and meat/potato type dishes. It was filling, but for something more flavorful you had to go to “ethnic” restaurants which were uniformly good. We came from Austria, where the food is pretty good. We were also in a part of Austria that was around 30 miles from Italy. Italian cooking influenced a lot of the local food in Austria so we had fantastic pastas and Italian dishes. Food in Portugal was a bit of an adjustment.
A wonderful steak with onion sauce. It came with spaetzle, a type of home made German noodle. Mayrhofen, Austria
Taxis in Portugal- Taxis were very reasonable. We used cabs several times in both Porto and Lisbon. I kept thinking something was wrong as it seemed the meter went long periods of time before it moved. A ride of a few miles was less than 5 euros. A cab ride all the way across Lisbon to the hospital (about ten miles) was 15 euros. Taxis are cheap in Portugal.
Azores food- The food in the Azores was actually kind of bland. There weren’t a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit, odd because much of it is grown in the Azores. We cooked at the apartment a couple of nights, had seafood one night which was quite good, and oddly enough ate at the mall food court one night. The food court had grilled local meats which were very good. So we had a good meal at the mall…..go figure.
Cheeseburger....with a fried egg. Azores , Portugal
Azores costs- The Azores were dirt cheap. Our rental car was 5 euros (like $5.50) a day. We had a two bedroom place on the beach for 50 euros a night ($55 U.S.). Food was very inexpensive, souvenirs were cheap. We had a big lunch in a bar/restaurant one day, with drinks and dessert for ten euros ($11) total. The Azores are an incredible bargain, not to mention a wonderful place to visit. See it before it is discovered.
London- We had a two night/one full day stop in London on the way home. Our final flight was a direct from London to Nashville so we decided to get there a day or two early as we really enjoy London. We went to Camden Markets, had great food, and hoisted a pint in a neighborhood pub. We always comment about people in the UK and how friendly and helpful they are. The people in London are incredibly friendly and helpful and the further you get from London the more helpful and friendly they are. We love London and you should go visit.
One of the few days we actually got snow. Mayrhofen, Austria
Europe travel at Christmas- While in Europe, I read an article about travel this Christmas. It stated that travel this Christmas in Europe was setting new records. We have traveled Europe at Christmas many times and I would guess that the number of people traveling is triple what we saw a few years ago. This is probably due to the strong economy. It’s also due to less traditional views of the holidays.
Regardless of why, there are a LOT of people traveling over the holidays. When this many people travel, things are crowded. Couple this with mass transportation and illness spreads like wildfire. We both wound up sick and it seemed that many around us were as well. I wound up in the hospital for New Years in 2019 AND 2020, something I don’t want to repeat.
We didn't stay here, but this is a really cool hotel. Mayrhofen, Austria
Being sick really impacted what we were able to do as well as how I felt. I remember how excited I was on previous trips and how much I enjoyed seeing new places and doing new things. This year it was much more difficult and I didn’t enjoy it as much. I truly struggled. It was tough. While we will definitely continue to travel to Europe (as well as other places in the world), I think we’re going to avoid traveling to Europe at Christmas. We’re thinking of Europe travel in the early spring or fall. These are “off” times where there would be fewer people traveling, with less chance of getting sick. Fewer crowds are always enjoyable.
Volcano lakes, the Azores
In closing- We’re not sure where we’re going to travel next Christmas. We’ve discussed a few options and we’re already planning. As for our next Europe trip, we have many places we haven’t seen and want to visit. We’ll be back soon.
Please don’t let our situation this year discourage you from traveling. Even when it was difficult it was still rewarding to see new places and meet new people. Travel and learn new things, eat strange foods, see how other people live. All these things give a new perspective on the world and bring an understanding of people who live lives very different from our own. It’s a perspective you can only get by seeing it yourself. Thanks for following along with us. We love sharing our experiences, and hope they foster a curiosity that can only be satisfied by seeing the world. Until next time.
Laurie's closing thoughts
Laurie with the Bluesmobile, Azores
Some rather random final thoughts about our trip this year. We had some unexpected challenges this trip that have made us evaluate how, where and when we want to travel in the future.
Pick your shots: Traveling during the holidays has always had its challenges. Things close down over Christmas and New Years so we try to time where we are to minimize the impact it has on what we want to see and do. For example, we have avoided the UK over Christmas because everyone we have met from there confirms that everything shuts down, including public transportation, from the 24th - 27th.
Places that have more cultural and religious diversity generally have more things open. Usually we plan the day to just walk around. In Porto all the main stores, museums, etc were closed. However, there were restaurants that were open and not just Donner Kebab places. And all the souvenir places were open and some functioned as mini marts. Most were run by Muslims and I had an interesting conversation with a young woman working in one about some of their customs around the holidays.
Cable cars descending from the mist, Mayrhofen, Austria
New Years day can actually be more challenging with things being closed. It can be even more difficult to find an open restaurant that isn’t fully reserved. We were lucky and found a very good restaurant in Lisbon. We tend to eat earlier than most Europeans so we were able to get a table. New Years day was partly spent at the hospital with Bill. I was grateful that there was a pharmacy open. I was also very grateful to the hotel staff for helping me figure out where to take Bill and how to get there.
Getting sick sucked. I don’t know what hit me on our last day in Porto but it thankfully passed quickly. I wasn’t able to enjoy what looked like a decent meal on the plane which made me sad because we probably won’t be traveling business class again. Kind of nice to know how the other half lives. The next pandemic will be started by an irresponsible parent allowing his kid to broadcast germs throughout a crowded airplane. The flight crew, ever polite, looked askance at the parent but I was not as polite. Kids have really big germs and I caught whatever he had so I was sick while we were in London, and ended up with a sinus infection at home.
The Zillertalbahn (Zillertal train), our transport in and out of Mayrhofen, Austria
It was interesting to see first hand the routines of the flight crew being in the bulkhead on that flight. Whenever one of them went into the cockpit (being British they were delivered cups of tea) another one stood guard facing the passengers and blocking the doorway. Nobody was allowed in the bathroom up there until the flight attendant came out of the cockpit. There is a key code outside the cockpit door and the one who was standing guard made sure nobody could see the numbers the other one was punching in. It was nice to know they took security seriously.
Austria and Portugal are very different. Austria was clean, streets and restaurants and bathrooms were tidy and well cared for. Our hosts were marvelous and I would recommend the Gastehaus Ahornblick in Mayrhofen to anyone. Mayrhofen was a pretty town, easy to get around and except for the lack of laundry facilities, had most amenities. Everywhere was set up for skiing or hiking. The guys at the place we rented our skis from were very helpful, and when I had a problem with my boots, worked with me to get a pair that fit better.
Buying hand made souvenirs in an artist's market, Lisbon, Portugal
I wish the weather had been more cooperative. It may have made a difference in my experience. When the snow did stop, the views were amazing with the slate grey skies and white mountain tops. Snowy conditions give a flat light that makes it hard to see the differences in terrain like ice vs. snow. And then it got really crowded. So between not being able to see well, trying not to hit anyone or get hit, skiing this time did not work for me.
Portugal was much more real in some ways. People were just going about daily life and the cities were filled with tourists but also just people who lived their and were on holiday. One striking difference was the number of homeless people and beggars. They were everywhere, outside churches and on the streets, sleeping in doorways and approaching people walking on the streets. We were warned about pickpockets so I kept everything under my coat or in my hand. Obviously the economies of the two countries are pretty different. I overheard a tour guide being asked about the beggars by someone in her group. She acknowledged that it is a problem that the government hasn’t been able to solve.
Snow was not cooperative this year. Zell am Ziller, Austria
Portugal in general was very inexpensive and the climate along the coast was mild. Consequently it is a popular winter holiday destination for much of cold and snowy northern Europe. We met a trio of young people at a restaurant ( the all you can eat Japanese place) from Scandinavia who were there for a week. Europeans get so much more vacation time than we do and they seem to travel whenever they can. It always amazes me how many young people travel, and how many have been to the USA. When I was that age I couldn’t afford to travel much in the USA, let alone Europe or other farther destinations.
Getting around Europe can be quite inexpensive using Easy Jet and other discount airlines. Trains can be more expensive, but I really prefer train travel. I don’t think we really thought through the impact of taking 7 flights. Going through security, checking bags, etc and having to be there several hours early makes it less than ideal for me. But I will say, so far we have been fortunate and our bags have arrived with us every time. That wait to see if our bags get spit out onto the conveyor belt is one of my more anxious moments. Shhh...probably shouldn’t jinx us. In the future, I think we will try and limit the number of places we go if the distances are long.
An island of beautiful views, Sao Miguel, Azores, Portugal
Highlight of the trip - definitely the Azores. I would love to go back there. Another place I would love to go back to is Iceland. There is so much more to both places to see. The Azores though are SO much less expensive. And the climate is better. Before we went we read about the unpredictability of the weather. We found this to be absolutely true.
The tea plantation was very interesting and they were clearly proud of it. The oldest and only tea plantation in Europe proper. The main crop on the island was oranges until disease destroyed the crops in the 1800s. This forced them to look for an alternative. Now there is a type of pineapple they are known for and produce for export. Port wine is also a big export and traditional drink but after I got sick, I was wary of it. It’s pretty strong compared to regular wine.
Waves crashing into volcanic cliffs, Sao Miguel, Azores, Portugal
All the blue tile and other tile work on the buildings throughout Porto and Lisbon was lovely and unique to Portugal. Apparently roosters bring good luck, so some of the tiles feature them in the middle. Rooster figurines were sold in all the souvenir shops. Fish are also a big deal there so figurines and dishes painted with fish were prevalent. I wish I could have brought home some more of the traditional pottery from Portugal because it is quite lovely.
The food in Portugal was OK - we had a few good meals. Soup is a big deal there, kind of a national dish and I was so excited because soup is my favorite food. Every place sold soup of some kind, even small lunch counters. However, it was often very bland, thickened with something and not so great. I kept trying it to see if it got better and it really didn’t. Oh well.
Camden Market storefronts, London
I do love London too. It has an energy similar to NYC for me. And I hate to admit it, but it was really a relief to be somewhere that communication was easy and we could negotiate getting around easily. Stopping in London was kind of like coming home. I know enough Spanish and German to get by in those languages. And written Portugese is enough like Spanish that I could often read it, but the spoken language is completely different.
Camden Market was fun - a place we have talked about going but never had time. The vintage stores that were unique and the most interesting. It would be fun to really shop there. There were a number of what looked like chain stores, but in that setting were also quaint. I know the British are far from perfect (ie: reactions to Prince Harry and Meghan), but we have always had a good experience in the UK for which I am grateful. For a big and crowded city, London is a pretty easy place to be a tourist in.
Our new Osprey packs
A few words about my pack since Bill mentioned it. Before we left I had a shoulder injury and a pinched nerve in my neck and it was time to stop carrying all that weight. My Osprey rolling duffel is 75 liters, his is 90. I got mine partially for the size and because it has a day pack that you can attach to it, eliminating the need to carry a pack at all. It didn’t work. The day pack was too small. So I ended up having to carry a day pack. Also, mine does not have a laundry compartment. Other than that, they are very similar.
In my day pack I put all the items that I absolutely don’t want to lose so it can get a little heavy. And yes, I am still looking for the perfect day pack. This year I decided to take my compounded eye drops that have to be kept cold so I keep them in a little metal thermos. I need them if I have trouble with my eye, which of course, I didn’t. I have a prescription to show TSA. I got stopped every time we went through security. Note to self - don’t take anything strange on an airplane. So imagine doing this 7 times. Another reason train travel is prefered.
Sunset, The Azores, Portugal
Next time we travel to Europe we won’t ski unless we are going there specifically for that. And if we do, it won’t be during the winter holidays. Because we were traveling to different climates, I had to pack several options for outerwear. I will say that I wore everything I brought at least once except rain pants. And if we had gone hiking in the Azores, I would have worn those. I wore a pair of Frye boots and packed my light weight Foresake hiking boots. My feet were very comfortable throughout the trip. Very important when traveling - after having problems with blisters in Barcelona I’m careful about that. My wardrobe when traveling may not be the height of fashion, but I am comfortable. All in all, it was a good trip but I have to say, this time I was really glad to get home. Next year I think we have a trip planned state side, giving the whole flying thing a rest. See you all then!