Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Have Another Sardine......."

Portimao is a small city in southern Portugal in the area that the Portuguese call the Algarve. The Algarve was discovered by the Brits about 20-30 years ago as a cheap, sun splashed beach spot to get out of their beastly climate. What used to be a sardine fishing village has become a sardine fishing port as well as a tourist hotspot.
Portimao was flattened by the same earthquake that did in Lisbon in 1755. As a result most buildings are relatively new. The photos below show a street, a church tower with Moorish influence, cathedral door complete with beggar, door with hands for a door knocker.

Below is a photo of a woman in a window.

One of the best things about Portimao is charcoal grilled sardines, which have been caught that morning. They bear no resemblance to the canned variety—they are delicious!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Lisbon is the capitol of Portugal and the main port. Portugal is one of if not the poorest country in Western Europe. A small country it is amazing to think of the power and wealth it had during the age of exploration, with colonies in Africa and South America. The old part of Lisbon is called the Alfama and is just below the castle of San Jorge.

Lisbon suffered a severe earthquake in 1755, which basically destroyed it as well as other places in Portugal. Some buildings that partially survived were incorporated in new construction such as seen in this photograph.

An Armenian oil baron went around the Middle East and Europe collecting art, carpets, etc., created a foundation to which he ultimately gave his collection. The Foundation built a museum, the Gulbenkian, to house the collection. This museum has become one of the premier art museums in Europe. There is a complete art history course in the European paintings collection-some of the best I’ve ever seen. The photo below was taken right outside the front door, and stands in sharp contrast to the inside exhibits.

We wandered through the old part of town, seeing the cathedral, buildings, narrow streets, doors and windows. We also visited a monastery and its cloisters. Portuguese like to use tile o the outside walls, as you can see.

We also saw a folk festival in action.

Friday, September 25, 2009

"Make a U-Turn as Soon as Possible!"

We rented a car In Le Havre, France in order to visit the Normandy invasion beaches and the Bayeaux Tapestry. More on the car adventure below.

Normandy is quite beautiful. Le Havre is at the mouth of the Seine River. One crosses the river on a beautiful suspension bridge called the Normandy Bridge. This leads to the picturesque town of Honfleur, little damaged in WWII. It is shown in some early French impression paintings, one of which by Claude Monet we saw in Lisbon. After leaving Honfleur we chose to drive to the the landing beaches along a road that is right next to the sea. We passed through picturesque villages, apple orchards, pastures with lots of white Charolaise cattle and an occasional chateau.

Then came the landing beaches, the first one being Sword in the British sector. The terrain here is quite flat and the houses are literally on the edge of the beach. I remember combat footage of this sector and seeing the British soldiers leaving their landing craft and walking up to and past those houses. Whether they are the same houses I can’t say but they are similar and their position is the same. We continued along the coast road, stopping at an old German gun emplacement and a place where there are still some old boats or artificial harbor present, including Juno and Gold beaches, attacked by British and Canadian forces.

Then we came to Omaha beach, the first of the two landing beaches of the Americans. Omaha beach has a bluff behind it and is a narrow strip of sand some 30 yards wide at least at the time we were there. I think it is wider by quite a bit at low tide. Those poor devils jumped out of landing craft, sloshed through cold water to and up the beach to the ravines and bluff and up all under withering fire. Most of them were 18-19 year old young men, never under fire before, who had not yet begun to live. The Army used mostly green troops for the initial assault because they were afraid combat veterans would tell them to get stuffed.

On top of the bluff a few hundred yards from the beach is the American cemetery, with about 9800 American troops buried under rows and rows of crosses and Stars of David. The markers that said “Unknown” were the most moving. Probably an 18 year old, barely out of high school, never knew the joy of love, never had a chance to experience children of his own, further education or the other wonderful things that make up human life.

After Omaha Beach we drove to the town of Bayeaux, just a few miles inland. After William the Conqueror mounted his successful invasion of England in 1066 AD, a tapestry was made in about 1075 telling the entire story. This tapestry is over 100 feet long and about 3 feet high, embroidered on linen. It is amazing; it is still intact and in good shape after 1000 years. It is housed in a special museum in Bayeaux. Below is a photo of Bayeaux cathedral and a medieval mill in Bayeaux.

I must tell you about our rental car experience. Since my French is limited to “merci” and “merde”, when we tracked down a rental car agency that had an office at the dock, we got our daughter , Frau Magister, who was studying in Strasbourg at the time, to call them. She did this and included a GPS unit programmed in English. This went off without a hitch and on our arrival a nice little car awaited. We went over the car and the GPS with the agent and then asked how we got to the Normandy Bridge. Big mistake. We started off following his directions, and very soon “Sally” the GPS chick said “Make a U-turn as soon as possible!” We of course didn’t and soon she was saying things like “Turn right here”, and more “Make a U-turn as soon as possible!” Eventually we stopped and asked for directions to the Bridge. We followed the directions and soon saw the bridge. About this time Sally became sullen and refused to talk. Her map function still worked plus we had a good paper map so we were alright.

When we left Bayeaux to return we decided to give Sally another shot. I punched “home” on the GPS and presto! Sally started speaking. She said useful things like “take the second exit on the roundabout” or “take the exit to your right in 400 meters”. There is a perfectly good tollway from Bayeaux to the Normandy Bridge but Sally would have none of it. She would once or twice put us on it for a short ways and then get us off as soon as possible. One of these secondary roads was a one lane dirt cow path between two highways. We followed her faithfully and soon were in Le Havre. She had us turn at almost every intersection until we were right downtown, at which point she announced “Home” and quit. I saw no port, no dock, no 1300 passenger ship. I was about to panic when Cheryl spotted a tour bus go by with “Rotterdam”, the name of our ship, on it. We followed it around a few corners and saw the ship! Yeah!
Don’t tell me computers and GPS units aren’t sentient beings.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I Amsterdam

No, I did not make a grammatical error. The picture above is of a sign made of large block letters at the edge of a park in Amsterdam. The building in the background is the Rijyks Museum which houses a large collection of Rembrandt and other Dutch masters, such as Jan Vermeer. Rembrandt’s use of light is just amazing. “The Night Watch” is there, possibly his most famous painting. Many others are also there, including several self portraits, which I really liked. The “Night Watch” is a huge painting; sometime in the 17th century(?) they decided to hang it in the city hall between two doors and had to cut off about 3 feet so it would fit. Makes you ask what the hell were they thinking?
We stayed at a hotel in a small village near the airport. We took a hotel shuttle to the airport and caught a train to downtown Amsterdam, the central train station. We walked from there to the Rijyks Museum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank Museum. The Anne Frank museum is the house where she and her family from the Nazis during the WWII. Very moving, especially her bedroom. The krauts paid whoever betrayed them the equivalent of $1.42. The betrayer has never been determined. The father is the only family member who survived the Auschwitz and Belsen camps.
We also walked along the canals.

The canal houses, shops and warehouses were built primarily from the 16th thru the 18th centuries.

As you can see many of these houses are now leaning. Amsterdam is built on swamp, and thus the foundations are not too stable.

There were many interesting doors and windows, one of which is shown here.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Quakies and Green Chili Burros

A couple of weeks ago Lance P.(“Pussy”) Boyle and I went on a day trip in search of big trees. According to the web site American Forests: National Register of Big Trees the biggest quaking aspen in the US resides in the Pinaleno mountains of southeastern Arizona. Lance had seen it once before with the help of a Forest Service person and thought we could find it again with Forest Service help. We planned this for late spring, but one thing and another kept coming up and we didn't make it until late August when the monsoon was at it's height.

We left about 0600 on a cloudy morning. By the time we got to the San Carlos Reservation it was raining; the rain really got heavy in Safford. It continued to rain partway up the mountain but quit near the top. The last 15 miles or so is dirt road so the jeep turned color from red to brown. We got near where the tree was supposed to be and checked in with the Forest Service for final directions. By this time the rain had stopped, but the cloud cover remained in place making the light flat and fairly lousy for what we had in mind. We were at about 9500 feet elevation. It was light jacket temperature.

We found the quakie easily enough. Picture taking was another matter altogether. The tree is on a pine needle covered slope and difficult to photograph because of other trees, poor light, etc. Plus trying to remain upright on a wet pine needle slick slope with camera and tripod is no small feat. Some how we managed without serious accident.

I was surprised to find that the bark of the big quakie was black and scaly on the bottom part of the tree and didn't become white until a ways up the trunk. It is one big tree. It is 130 feet high, with a diameter of 4-1/2 feet and a 36 foot spread of the canopy. I don't doubt that there are other quakies as big or even bigger than this one, but finding them is another matter. Quakies can live to be 150 years old.

We also found a big Douglas fir(above), supposedly the #2 Douglas fir in the US. I could not confirm that but it is also one big tree. It is about ¼ to ½ mile from the big quakie and equally as difficult to photograph for the same reasons.

Having spent many years traveling, working and eating in southern Arizona, I maintain that you take your life in your hands when you enter an eatery outside of Tucson. Zula's in Nogales is great and there was a diner in San Simon that served a great green chile burro, but only on Thursday. The other days the menu was barely edible, let alone the food. But I digress. We got back to Safford about 1430 hours and decided we needed lunch. We went to old downtown Safford and found a restaurant that Pussy claimed to have eaten in once and survived. It was clean and had people eating at tables which I thought was a good sign for a midafternoon Saturday.

I ordered a green chile burro. The waitress asked if I wanted it enchilada style. I replied “Of course.”
The chips and salsa were good, so I was very hopeful and looking forward with anticipation. After a bit she served the green chili burro, enchilada style. The entire plate was smothered with RED SAUCE!
I was stunned. The inside of the burro was green chili pork. In all my years of green chili burros this was a first. A Mexican gastronomical faux pas of the first order. I went ahead and ate it; the Good Lord only knows what I would have gotten if I'd complained. Later I found out what the problem was. My daughter's in-laws roots go back to Thatcher and she informed me that I had eaten in the wrong town! Surely this would not have happened in Thatcher! Oh, well. At least I survived.