Monday, September 11, 2017


I’m going to share my stories from my trip to Portugal here on my personal blog. For more of the practical information about how to get around and navigate, check out the post on my website,

The image on the left is me at the Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal.

Imagine me, flying from the US to Portugal, arriving 12 hrs before anyone else in my party. The flight was excellent. International flying is the way to go. Look at all the food I got, plus a bottle of water. And there was free wine/beer available. Glimpses of royalty:: pinky out.

But this was a little different. I tried to learn Portuguese, but it's actually a tough language. So I tried my best, but in a foreign land without knowing the language made me a little nervous. Luckily, I found a lot of supporting websites that comforted me in their ability to speak English. And I hate being that person, demanding the local to speak my language, but it wasn't too bad, actually. This blog definitely made me feel more comfortable.

 I had reserved an AirBnb for the first couple of days in Lisbon, but the host could not give me an early check in because the previous guests had not checked out. I arrived around 9:15am, and by the time I got through customs and collected by bag it was 11am. I decided to store my luggage somewhere and join a walking tour.

Finding the luggage storage place was . ..Interesting, we shall say. First I had to carry my bags up the stairs from the train station because there wasn’t an elevator. I later learned there was an elevator on the other side (arg). I come up to the street level (super paranoid because every trip advisor said to be wary of pickpocketers), everyone is speaking Portuguese and I can’t decide who to ask to help me. I had the address and I purposefully picked one near the walking tour starting place (on hindsight, I should have picked on near the ending location), but the street names can sometimes be hard to see. They are written on the sides of the buildings, and for some reason my GPS was not working and I couldn’t find the street I was looking for. I finally asked one guy who spoke English and proceeded to drag my 50 lb suitcase, plus rolling carryon down the wrong street. I stopped again and asked a local. She didn’t understand English, but she could understand my Spanish. She told me to go the opposite way and turn left. Sweaty, but hopeful, I finally found the place. There’s no greater joy than dropping your bags off and being free to explore.

I missed the 11am tour, so I booked the 2:30pm tour and had some time to kill. The metro system was super easy to navigate, so from the airport I caught the Red line to Alameda, then transferred to the Green line to Baixa-Chiado. The tour met by the big statue in the square. I grabbed some Tapas at a nearby restaurant in Baixa-Chiado, while I waited for the tour to begin. There's a ton of Cod fish in Portugal. I tried it, but still can't get into it. But if you love Cod, this is the place for you! 

Being all alone in a new county, it was nice to be on a tour with other tourists. For 3 hours we walked around Lisbon (Jaime was an awesome tour guide!) and learned about the history and culture. We walked up a massive hill so bring your walking shoes for this county. Leave your heels at home, ladies!!

After the tour, I went about getting my key to my Airbnb. I definitely recommend doing this in the daytime, before night falls, as it’s harder to navigate a foreign place in the dark. I totally got lost in Alfama and my host had to meet me somewhere and traverse the tricky path back to the place. I got the key, and then she walked me back to Baixa-Chiado, since she was fortunately going that way anyway. We took the flattest path possible, as my eyes were becoming larger and wondering how I was going to drag all my stuff, by myself, back to the house. We found a good drop-off location where the cars could go. So, it’s important to note that the streets are so narrow and some streets are blocked by permit (a physical barrier comes out from the ground), so only certain cars can get through. For some of the Uber drivers, they couldn’t get to where I wanted to go, and for some reason people would point to a fork in the road and tell you to go straight, so there was room for improvement in directions, so it’s super easy to get lost there. No one wants to be lost dragging a suitcase, so I was a creature of habit. Once I found a way I knew, I stuck to that so that I could get back home.

Sweat, faith, and tears got me and my bags through the cobblestone, stairs, and narrow streets. Every other person passing me told me there was a car coming, and me not having anywhere else to drag my bag. In future trips I will pack a much smaller bag, but I was bringing things over from the US as gifts, so I was above my weight threshold in 1 bag. Never give up!!! I finally reached the apartment. I thought the arduous portion was behind me. Nope! 3 flights of narrow stairs left to go. Let me tell you, when I got inside my apartment with both bags and locked the door, I felt like Rocky at the top of the Art Museum stairs. I may have even jumped up and down. No Lie.

So the next day was spent recovering from Jet Lag and exploring the city. I loved Baixa-Chiado and knew it like the back of my hand, by the end of the trip. And if you are free at night it’s cool to grab a gelato and listen to the street musicians.

Now, if you go a little away from Chiado you will hit Rossio (the R’s in Portuguese are pronounced like a hard H) and you will most likely be offered drups. Just say no. Remember 8th grade health class? Just say no. Seriously, even if that’s your thing, I don’t think a mysterious plastic baggie from a stranger is a great idea. Drugs are illegal to sell, but lightly policed since it’s legal to do. Don’t be alarmed, just something to know. The more you know. . . 

I didn’t have any issues with pickpocketers, but I was glad I was aware of them. I used a cross-body bag and never kept valuables in my tiny female pockets (argg, I get so annoyed at how small female pockets are, but that rant will be in a separate post).

We did a separate tour of Alfama with [Ricardo] Dias and that was very interesting too. You have to try the Ginja while you are in Portugal, it’s a drink they are known for. Personally, it taste like cough syrup to me, so not a fan, but when in Rome .. .. at least taste it. You can get it for about 1 Euro.

We got rained on during our tour and of course this was the one time I didn’t have a Poncho. I ended up buying an umbrella, but now I have a small travel umbrella, so I’ll take the win.

The  food was great; seafood was awesome. There’s a place called the Time Out Market which has everything.  Grab a table and everyone can get whatever food they want. They also have music playing in the background. Everywhere you go you can get Tapas (small plates) so it’s a great way to try things. TripAdvisor is used pretty heavily there, so check it out for amazing restaurants. And if it says make a reservation, make a reservation, because they have no problem turning you away even if there are empty tables. We never felt rushed, even being there past closing, and the wait staff and owners were always very friendly. My favorite waiter was Telmo, who always tried to play me with my Portuguese, but I know I was his favorite customer.

For the soda-drinkers: they will try to pass 7-up for Sprite, like they do Siera Mist in The States. Be prepared. Enjoy your Sprites before you get to Portugal, they are a dime a dozen, but Coke is pretty easy to find. I even had a Fanta, but it was more lemony.

And for the Brown people: everyone will swear you are from Angola. There are a couple of countries in Africa that speak Portuguese: Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Equatorial Guinea. I didn’t take offense, I take the compliment that they understood my Portuguese. Take the win!

You would think that while I was out of the country I could avoid talking about one person in particular living in DC, but nope, he somehow managed to come up in jokes during the tours when explorers talked about making Portugal great again. Fortunately, we were on the same side of beliefs, so I didn’t have any trouble, but remember to stay away from controversial topics in foreign lands; especially if you are outnumbered.

There are plenty of places you can venture to from Lisbon on a day trip. We visited Sintra to see some of the unique castles and also went to Cascais and saw the most Western point in Europe.

One of our last nights in Lisbon, we checked out the area of Barrio Alto. This is like New Orleans during Mardi Gras. It is absolutely packed. I was pleasantly surprised. People were mixing their own business and not too sloppy. Of course you had the overpartiers falling over, but they stayed in their lane and their friends helped them it. Tons of people in the small narrow streets, with tons of clubs near by eachother. You are allowed to drink outside so people easily pay for their beverages and chat outside. Hundreds of people and music bouncing from club to club. The scene is a little young, but it’s nice to be out and about and meeting people. When the clubs close at 2am (ish, everything is ish here) people walk to the Pink Street, which is open much later. 

We checked out a club called B.Leza which had live African music the night we were there. So, you pay a cover 10Euros and get a ticket, which is actually a voucher. So then you can get your 10Euros worth at the bar. It was a bit confusing and written in Portuguese, but luckily our group figured it out! Great memories. We turned it early compared to everyone else, but it was like 4am!

The next day we took the train to Porto, Portugal, which is a short flight or a 3.5 hr train ride from Lisbon. Porto is very different from Lisbon. It’s more of a business city, wider streets, more modern. Porto is known for their wine, so while you are there, it’s a good thing to do a wine tasting or go on a wine tour. I believe Taylor’s and Croft offer a free tour and tasting.  Everywhere you turn you can see a church or tower. The architecture is phenomenal.

We did a boat tour in Porto to see the 6 bridges. The boat ride itself was very nice and I was able to get some awesome picture from those angles. Also, I definitely enjoyed walking across the Pon Luis bridge the day before. You can get some great views of the city.  But I will mention some shadiness of which I was not too fond. So, the website indicated that the 6 bridges boat tour was sold out. We decided to go downtown and catch a tour by signing up in person. We get there and they say they still have tours available, so we make our purchase. They then tell us the next boat is in 20 minutes and we have to go to the river and LINE UP. We head to the river to line up and THEY tell us the next boat is in 2 hours and we need to SIGN IN. Luckily, we got the last boat of the day, but imagine if we didn’t and we were leaving the next day. To me, that’s not right.  We get on the boat, and you have got to be kidding me, but the speaker was speaking ONLY in Portuguese. Now, I am all for speaking the local language, but when I paid for the tickets in ENGLISH, and checked in in ENGLISH, it’s kinda messed up to not have an English version. Halfway through the trip another customer mumbled something about them having headsets for English translation - where? how do you get one?. Yeah, my review will reflect all of this.

Ignoring that, it as nice to relax on the river and see the sights. It's an hour ride, and in perfect weather, a perfect activity to do with your travel partner/group.

My favorite place in Porto was the Livraria Lello bookstore. It was absolutely amazing!!! The architecture was super cool and we learned that J.K. Rowling was inspired there while writing Harry Potter. (She lived in Porto for a while as an English teacher). The bookstore is just so different from anything else I had seen. With your entry voucher, you can use it towards the purchase of a book. 

There are several beaches “nearby” with the closest being Matesinhos. It’s not the best beach, any local will tell you, but since it was so cold we weren’t going in anyway, so it was nice to touch the Atlantic and visit for a while.

Porto was nice, but my heart belongs to Lisboa. We took the train back to Lisbon and flew out from there. Dinner and roaming the streets of Baixa-Chiado one last time. 

I had an amazing time in Portugal, and would definitely recommend it. I think it’s an “under the radar” country, when we talk about Europe. Everyone always talks about Paris and Madrid, but it’s definitely a place to go.

I was so very thankful that most people spoke English, but they also knew at least 3 other languages. I’m eternally grateful for Mrs. Taylor and Mrs. Davidson for teaching me Spanish, but I definitely see value in more continued lessons.  Regardless of what country you go to, I think it’s the polite thing to attempt to learn a few phrases in their language. People that did not speak English were happy to speak to me in Spanish (it was almost like a challenge for them) and I was glad I had that in my back pocket.

***A couple of years ago I posted general tips for traveling through Europe. You can read those here .

***I used 'we' a lot. Hopefully you have deduced I was not alone. My blog, my stories, muhahahahahha. Just kidding, I try to respect everyone's privacy. The other group mates also had an excellent time.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Stop talking . . . and listen

If you vote red, blue, or 51 shades of gray (new movie out, not trying to get sued), I’m talking to you. I promise, this is not a political rant, but something for all sides to hear, so keep reading. Thank you to my international readers; however, this post is directed at those living in the United States.

The county (USA) is divided and everyone is “yelling” at each other. Friday’s Inauguration is one of the most feared and anticipated events happening. On the one hand you have supporters who are excited for change. On the other hand you have non-supporters who are looking at their counterparts with huge side eyes, like, really? And the world is watching, wondering how this event in US History will affect world relations.

Let’s back up a second, though. I can’t predict the future, and neither can you. So let’s talk about what we can affect. Now more than ever we need to TRY HARDER. I’m not just talking to the Liberals, or just to the Conservatives, but to everyone. This mentality that our way is the only right way is hurting us. We have lost friendships over the last couple of months because people didn’t agree with us. Or people became disrespectful when we said something they did not agree with. What? We have the freedom to believe and speak our minds. It is a freedom that we often take for granted. But with freedom comes much responsibility.

We have categorized people by where they live or what they look like. We make assumptions about the other sides’ capabilities. We are talking and talking and talking, but not listening. My purpose is not to convince you that my side is right and you are wrong. My purpose, is to get you to consider their story.

Globalization has been great for the world. We are able to trade goods and purchase things from other countries that we could not, or chose not, to make for ourselves. But again, anything exploited eventually goes bad. Soon it becomes cheaper to import than to manufacture.  Manufacturing goes down and jobs get eliminated.  People stop going to school for those lost trades, and now you HAVE to import the materials because you have lost the skill to make them. The import country is free to raise the price with no competition. This is no secret and businesses do it all the time. So it’s really unfair to later get upset and add more taxes to this country for just using good business practices.

Just like it’s unfair to claim that immigrants take away all our jobs. First of all, the country was founded on immigrants and it is something that has always been celebrated. Secondly, most of the jobs people claim are taken by immigrants, are jobs they don’t want to do. And if they are jobs they DO want to do, then why is the assumption that the other candidate wasn’t qualified? Many times I have heard ‘the [Black/Hispanic/Asian/etc] person took my job.’ What? If you and I both apply and you don’t get it, why can’t it just be that you were not as fit? The minute a minority and majority party is involved, there is often a raised eyebrow as if to say the minority did not truly earn it. That is a problem. Building a wall instead of addressing the actual issue, is a problem. Paying considerably less money for hard labor is a problem. So we should fix the problem. Not put yet another band-aid over it. The reason the wall is so offensive is because people act like Mexicans are unwanted. Imagine if you were Mexican and living in Texas and you knew that people around you think you shouldn’t be there, when you are a tax-paying citizen just like them. How would you feel?

Consider that your kids are being bombed daily on their way to school and you have to turn off the lights at least once a week, for fear of being seen. Imagine being in a country where someone might try to kill you, just because. As a parent, you would do anything in your power to protect your family; even leaving the place you call home. Refugees are living this life every day. While it may seem a burden to bare the responsibility of taking care of people that are not from your country when your own country has issues, what part of being human is it to ignore someone when you are in a position to help them? What happens when you are the one that needs the help? Immigration reform is a HUGE topic, that I can’t cover in this little post, but I am just pointing out issues that we need to talk about. To look beyond how this issue affects us at home, but to think, what if we were in that position and home wasn’t safe? We can’t protect everyone, but as one of the most developed countries in the world, don’t we have a moral obligation to at least try?

Imagine walking home in the dark on a cold winter night. You have your hoodie on and are minding your business. A cop car pulls up and you are scared. Why should you be scared if you didn’t do anything? Sometimes whether you do something or not is irrelevant. When you see tons of people that look like you being shot and killed for no reason, with no real punishment, you feel as if your life does not matter. That is what Black Lives Matter is all about. It’s not a terrorist group, and the label that caring about a subset of an American group in America would ever be classified as terrorism is more than offensive. Yet, we easily dismiss it with All Lives Matter, which was never excluded. When we consider one another we stop and think of why someone would need to tell me that their life mattered. If we can’t listen, and instead we just get defensive and dismiss what this person is trying to tell us, we are not really trying.

Or instead of a hoodie at night, imagine this person had an hijab in plain daylight. How would you feel if you were scared to wear a baseball cap to the game? Not everyone in any group is bad and to automatically stereotype that they are perpetuates hate. It starts with kids teasing one another and “random” hate crimes. This is a problem we need to address.

Lastly, I want to challenge you to meet someone that looks nothing like you this year. Not only meet them, but have a conversation. Learn the difference between Transgender and transsexual; understand what makes Black hair so unique; get a refugee penpal who had to leave everything they know and love to save their life; talk to someone who voted for the other candidate and truly ask them why; learn about the education system for farm children; research why affirmative action is in place and the socioeconomic gap in minorities; ask an NRA-supporter why they love guns so much; learn a language different from your own so you can understand how difficult it can be; talk to someone 10 years younger and older than you, and find out what is/was “cool” in their day; talk to someone on the opposite religious spectrum as you and find out the basis of their beliefs (or non-beliefs). And finally, something as simple as, listen to a Pandora station opposite of what you normally listen.

There are 325 million people in the United Sates. Surely, we the people, can have some control over our destiny. It can't be just one person.