Friday, November 25, 2011


So I flew into Lisbon from Madrid (about an hour flight, minus the hour time difference, means you arrive about the same time you left) and stayed at the Clarion Suites near Marques de Pombal, a huge, trafficky roundabout at the northern end of the part of the city you actually want to visit. It was perfectly nice, especially considering I had prepaid for it through a summer deal and my one-bedroom suite ended up costing me about 40 bucks a night. Not a bad deal.

Lisbon is fantastic and easy to maneuver in a way that Madrid just wasn't. The metro is easy to understand, and everyone speaks English. Everyone DOES NOT in Spain, which sucks. But Lisbon is generally friendly and calm. Or maybe it was just my sister's absence that led me to stress much less.

The first afternoon I went down to the Baixa-Chiado area, which is a lovely little shopping district -- the shop Nicholas is frickin' adorable and I got my mom's Xmas gift there -- and tried to take the trolley thing up to the Castelo. But I took the wrong one, heading towards Estrela Park, cause I'm a moron, and realized it about halfway up into the Bairro Alto, which makes San Francisco look positively level. Finally I got the right trolley, but got off a little too soon and ended up walking to the Castelo. I got there just before it closed, and it was a truly lovely site. Kind of reminded me, in terms of the walk, of climbing up to Coit Tower in SF. But the Castelo is much more charming than Coit Tower and has equal views, especially since there's a Golden Gate-style bridge crossing the Tagus.

View from the Castelo:

Archaeology in effect at the "back" of the Castelo:

Touristy neighborhood around the Castelo. I thought I'd wait to buy postcards, but I should have got them there. Best postcards in the city. Also, a helluva lot of Pessoa paraphernalia. He's like their James Joyce.

I walked back down to Baixa-Chiado after the sun set and up to Restauradores where I had a roasted chicken dinner at a restaurant recommended in my guidebook. I think I was in somehow the wrong half, as it wasn't the chicken described in the book. Anyhow, I would avoid that area, if at all possible, if you don't like being harassed by the restaurant hosts trying to get you to eat in their restaurant. Really the only unpleasant thing about the city.

After that I walked back up the Avenida da Libderdade to my hotel and called it a night. It's a huge Parisian-style boulevard like the Champs d'Elysee, though less fancy, and I felt perfectly safe.

The next day I attempted to go to Sintra. It was gray out, and I walked down to Rossio to grab the train, but it was a week day so the drivers were on strike (to protest austerity measures? I don't know.).
This is the staircase at Rossio. Rocking, huh?

In any event, it started pouring so I grabbed the subway to Parque das Nacoes. The Oriente station is lovely, and right across from a nice mall, and on the other side of the mall is the park.


So I loitered around the mall, went down to Continente, which is like a Portuguese equivalent of Target, to grab some fruit, and found triple chocolate cereal just like the kind I had in London (different brand name but same thing) seven years ago. I bought my fruit and went to check out the park, in the drizzle, which is semi-abandoned and weird and would have been cooler if I hadn't just come from Valencia and their amazing City of Arts and Sciences.
I took pictures of the sky cable cars and the Tagus and the music garden, but, honestly, I only really liked these fountains:

So I went back to Continente, bought my cereal, and took it back to the apartment. I chilled at the hotel for a while watching TV that was canceled in the U.S. months ago (Chicago Code anyone?) and endless repeats of The Simpsons and Family Guy. It was nice to decompress.
This is just north of the Marques de Pombal roundabout. Not sure what's up, but I dig it.

Then I felt like a full-on lazybones (like right now, as I'm going to blow off Pilates), so I walked up to Campo Pequeno, a very pretty bull ring that, during the off season, is home to equally bloody spectacles like Panda goes to School: The Musical and Smashing Pumpkins concerts, I kid you the fuck not. There's also a mall underneath it.

Interesting note: people will tell you Portuguese bullfighting is more humane because they don't kill the bull. This is not true. Yes, they don't kill the bull during the match, BUT they kill it immediately after, so the bull still isn't getting out of this shit alive. Just a FYI.

Then I had dinner at Pizza Hut (I know, I know) and went to bed.

The next day: Sintra!

Sintra is a fairly short train ride from Lisbon and totally worth it.
Look--a house that's also kind of a lighthouse. And it's inland!

Don't bother with any sights you don't have to hike to the top of the mountains to get to (or take a bus to if you're smarter than I am). I climbed something like 2,000 steps to visit both the Pena National Palace and the ancient Castelo dos Mouros. It's mighty tiring but both are very different and very worth it to visit. Might I suggest hiking boots, some water, and only going during the off-season like I did. I can't imagine the hell it must be in the summer or with major crowds.

View from Mouros:


The train--notice the car is fairly empty. A bunch of screaming children came into the car I was in, a camp group, so all the unencumbered adults left that car and scattered through the rest of the train. I've been a counselor in that situation before, but I felt no guilt about leaving.

Then I tried dinner once again in Restauradores, this time at Valentino, also mentioned in my guidebook, also not super worth the yelling hosts of that area. I did eat super early, though, so it wasn't so bad.

Sunday, my last day, was a bit of a waste of time. Don't let the abundant automatic correos (little post office machines) littered around town fool you--most of them are out of order and will not dispense the stamps you waited till the last second to buy. It may very well eat your three euros, so be very wary.

I took the train to Belem to check out the Torre de Belem and the huge-ass monastery (that's not very respectful, but it's fairly accurate).
This is cool. I should have paid the two euros to go in, but I decided to wait for the Torre de Belem. MIS-take.

The Torre de Belem, which is pretty but I'm not going to give you any photos of because I did not enjoy my time there, was a clusterfuck despite it not being the most spectacular day, probably because it's free to visit on Sundays until 2. It's small, empty, and there's only one narrow, winding staircase to the top that also is how you get down. No employee is manning this stair, and it's a dangerous, unpleasant thing to try to maneuver. If you are mildly claustrophobic, it's not worth it. The Torres in Madrid were much more enjoyable.

I did like walking along the Tagus, and I did enjoy walking through Jeronimos, the monastery, after services let out, which was also free. It was actually too big to photograph well and trolley cables get in the way. But I got a couple decent inside shots.
Why does taking pictures in church feel so blasphemous? Probably because it is.

I then headed to Pasteis de Belem because, well, the guidebook said it was the ur pasteis place. But I'm not really a pasteis girl. I'm a queijada girl, so I headed to the other side of the block to a place that literally had queijada in its name.

And the queijadas were mad shitty. HOWEVER, they had chocolate salame, and it was awesome! And then I realized they have salame everywhere, and that is a serious Portuguese dessert, but it was too late, and I lost my chance at salame.
So that sucked. But I'm going to make some for Christmas.

Anyhow, I took the trolley back to Baixa-Chiado, then went to a coffee joint where there's free Wi-Fi (which was a joy) and sat for approximately two hours just rejoining the world of the Internet and continuing to be horrified by Penn State at-large.

Then I walked back to my hotel, ate some McDonald's (I know! Shut up!), and got ready to go home.
Which I did the next day. Thankfully the cab was only about 10 euros 'cause Aerobus didn't run as early as I needed to leave.

So now I'm back in LA and going to Portland next week. Gah!
I'm really glad I went, but I really do prefer living in a place to traveling there. Travel is brutal, especially when you don't know the language. You just feel like you're go, go, go, go. When you live in a place, you find the right restaurants and don't have to depend on a book. You don't have to fit in all the touristy spots at once. You know when the train drivers are striking, you know where the good Wi-Fi spots, you can just relax. You can really experience a place.
But for $500 rt from LA, I had to do it, so that's that.

I'm just pissed I didn't get a Portugal passport stamp. Damn you, customs!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

more Madrid and Valencia

I'm in Lisbon now, solo, but I'm gonna post about Madrid and Valencia before I totally forget what my sister and I did while we were in Spain.

On Saturday morning, we hunted for Bodega de Ardosa, but the place we saw was not appealing so we got croissants (mm) and hot chocolate at a nearby cafe. Don't recall the name, but I thought going with the Nutella-esque hot chocolate was a good idea. I'm a dolt.
After that, I think we took a siesta. A long one? I'm having a bit of trouble remembering. What I do know is we headed back to the Mercado Mayor where I bought something called a salame, which was KICK ASS, for later, and we had some gelato. Then we found the tapas place my sister's friend had told her about, Turf. The chicken curry was awful, and I ordered a plate of potatoes thinking something would be done to them, but, no, just baby potatoes. Allie liked her plates, though, so what do I know?

On Sunday morning, we headed to El Rastro, which is INSANE. It covers the entire neighborhood and is about 90% brass knobs, DVDs (legit??), and other random assorted junk. But the experience is something alright. Then on the walk back towards Atocha I got crazy hungry. Like, crazy psycho hungry. But there's not much on the road from Puerta Toledo to the Reina Sofia, so we had some Burger King, which has free WiFi that's actually accessible, unlike another nearby fast food chain (ahem, McD's).

Then we went to the Reina Sofia, which was quite cool and free on Sundays, and then we went to the Parque del Buen Retiro to wile away the hours until we had to grab the train to the airport and take the plane to Valencia.

But before we came back to Atocha, we ate at an Irish pub just north of the park--so nice to talk with people who speak English, but there was an exceedingly unimportant soccer game on and a group of young teen Irish girls at the table next to us pretending to be bratty Barbies, so it was a tad odd.

Then we took a quick tour of Cibeles, which I expected to be a church, but is not, and watched weird tourists take inappropriate snapshots of themselves in a 9/11 photo memorial exhibit.

Then we ducked into the Ritz to try to find a Do Not Disturb sign for my mildly naughty collection, but found nothing.

Btw, Barajas is a devil airport and Atocha is a challenging train station if you have a lot of luggage. Just FYI.

So we got to Valencia late and since we were staying at the Solvasa, which is east of the riverbed, and the Metro (I heard) closes at 11pm, we took a rather pricy cab drive to the hotel. If you like body pillows for beds, this is your hotel. If you don't, you might want to look elsewhere.

The next day, it rained, but I got things off right by finding some amazing ensaimadas at a bread shop just behind the Solvasa (kind of worth the crap beds). After, we braved the storm and hit the Oceanografic, which is part of the City of Arts and Sciences, WHICH. IS. AWESOME.
My favorites from the Oceanografic:
1. sea dragons...
Who knew they existed? I feel like there's a Disney movie in this creature that needs to happen.

2. walruses! They're huge and terrifying and breathtaking. Just the broad brown back breaching the water, you can sense the kind of power a walrus has and suddenly become very thankful you're not in the Arctic between that walrus and something it wants to eat.

3. guitarfish! I think the name speaks for itself.

Then we had a weird lunch of spaghetti, chicken, and French fries called the cabin boy meal. The tomato sauce tasted like and had the consistency of warm ketchup, but the rest of it was fine.

After that, the rain had calmed and we walked back to our room for a siesta. That night, we walked back through the park towards Colon to try to find Fast Good again, but really that restaurant chain is gone, so SOL. On the way through the park, however, we found Gulliver, which is both a giant sculpture of the fictional hero and a playground. It was night, but the security guard still let us wander around and slide down his left sleeve. Anyway, we went to the Mercado Colon for dinner, which is lovely to look at, and I ate half a crappy burger at a crappy restaurant on the main floor.

On Tuesday, we did old Valencia, sniffing around the Cathedral de Valencia, but in our cheapness not paying to actually tour the inside, but we did drop two euros each on the Torres de Serrano, which is a gate that you climb up and get a great view of the city. Then we had lunch at Cappuccino, bought a new converter at El Corte Ingles 'cause my old one blew both its fuses, and headed back to the homestead. At some point, we stopped at the Mercado Central, but we got there just as it was closing, so not much happened.

Then we chilled out for the night, had some cheese, soda, ice cream, and store-bought tostadas at home for dinner.

The next morning was all about the beach! We checked out the America's Cup Museum b/c it's free and the whole reason Valencia in that area is built up, and then we hung out on the playa, my sister dipped her toes in the sea, and then I swung on some swings for a bit. We considered having paella, and then decided to go back to Aqua, the mall across from the Oceanografic, and eat at Foster's Hollywood. It's like a bizarro American restaurant--its heart is in the right, artery-clogged place, but it still feels off.

I bought socks.

We killed some time, then headed to the North Station to take the high speed train back to Atocha, where we'd take the Cercanias to San Fernando de Hernanes and somehow get to the AC Coslada so my sister could take the free shuttle to the airport the next morning and grab her flight back to America and I could fly to Lisbon. This went wrong in so many ways.

First, our train wasn't leaving from Norte. It was leaving from Joaquin Sorolla. Luckily, JS is a short walk from Norte and we had plenty of time to get there, but I only realized the problem by happenstance.

The AVE, though, is quite lovely. I highly recommend it. Much less stress than plane travel.

HOWEVER, Atocha sucks, and then when we got to San Fernando de Hernanes, we had a problem. No cabs were there, and no buses go to the hotel. It's an industrial, fairly creepy area, and from the Google map searches I had done, even though Google said you could walk to the hotel, by street viewing it, I realized there was an underground pass we'd have to walk through that had no sidewalk. We'd get slaughtered.

So adventurously we set off, with vague instructions from some fellow Cercanias rider that cabs were to be found in the direction we were headed.

It was dead nothingness for a while, and we started to get that icky feeling in our stomachs that our mutilated bodies would be found in the nearby brush or some abandoned building in the vicinity two weeks from now, but finally we hit a BP gas station and the lovely attendant called us a cab. If I ever win the lottery, I'm coming back to Madrid, finding her, and giving her lots of money.

Other than that, the AC Coslada was a fine hotel--my sister really liked it--what with free minibar beverages, nice beds, and that free airport shuttle. Just make sure you know how to get there.

Anyhow, I'll report on Lisbon when I can and I'm gonna do photos in a separate blog.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Got into Madrid early yesterday morning. Let me say, Barajas, the airport, is massive. We walked at least a mile to get to the Metro. If you're going to go, I suggest taking as little luggage as possible because it's sort of a pain to get to Atocha (or anywhere) from the airport this way.
In any event, we got to the station, finally figured out that street names are on the side of buildings, and found our way to the Hotel Agumar, which I wasn't sure was going to be any good, but is perfectly fine for our budget (and is very close to Parque del Buen Retiro and the Prado), if a tad too warm.
Couldn't check in for a while, so my sister and I decided to go get some breakfast at the Chocolateria in San Gines. Walked around a little unable to find it, so be aware it's down a little alley next to the San Gines church if you go. Personally, I thought the hot chocolate was great but the churros were a little gross.
After that, we stopped at the Mercado de San Miguel, but we'd just eaten, so we didn't get anything and will hopefully go back before we leave. This was on the way to the Conde de Miranda to get some cookies from this monastery.

Be aware: they don't speak English. I'm not sure what happened, but after some confused discussion they ended up giving us our money back as well as a bag of what I think is lemon shortbread. Who knows?
We walked back up the Calle Mayor to the Cathedral de la Amuldena, which is not your typical European grand cathedral in that it's very new and very... colorful.

Whatever. It's a sight.

From there we went north to the Royal Palace (Palacio Real) and snapped some shots, but didn't go inside.

The line was wicked long and our budget is fairly tight.

We walked down to the Sabatini Gardens, then decided enough was enough and took the Metro back to our hotel where we showered and crashed (my sister in vice versa) until late in the afternoon.

A real unintended Spanish siesta!
The Prado is free from 6 to 8 on Friday nights, so we walked up to the Prado -- tip: if you're coming from the south, you have to walk all the way around to the Prado's north entrance to grab a ticket, then walk around to the east side of the building to enter.
We saw a lot of Catholic paintings, more de Goya and Velasquez than I think I've seen total in any other museum, and a single excellent Picasso.
After that we walked to Alonso Martinez (or Tirso Molina, can't remember) and took the subway up to Ruben Dario and the Calle de Juan Bravo in hopes of finding dinner at Ferran Adria's for-cheap-people Fast Good. It either wasn't there or we were as blind as bats, because we never found it, so, starving (all we'd eaten all day were some damn churros), we walked north to Cinco Jotas, which is apparently a ham place, and I don't eat ham. But they had chicken, so I was fine.

The service was pretty slow for us Americans and pretty fast for our fellow Spaniards... maybe because they had to cook my chicken? Anyway, the food was fine, and we had to walk quite a bit out of our way to get to the Metro, since Ruben Dario was closed.
Then I got a little robbed, but it's okay because it was only a bit of American cash that usually goes to my gas tank, which I am not currently using. Since the bitch (I think it was the old woman shoving me into the subway) didn't take anything important like my phone, credit cards, etc., I should be okay.
Now I'm waiting for my sister to get dressed, so we can go get some food.

Will try to post again in Valencia.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How Fiction Works

I'm reading the James Wood book, and I'm not too far in, but I already see a reading that I think may be a little strained regarding the following line from Henry James' What Maisie Knew:

"Mrs. Wix was as safe as Clara Matilda, who was in heaven and yet, embarrassingly, also in Kensal Green, where they had been together to see her little huddled grave."

Wood says the word embarrassingly is there as an indicator of Maisie's feeling towards having to go to Kensal Green with Mrs. Wix, the experience of seeing an elder grieving. And yet there is an equally if not more likely explanation for the word choice, especially since embarrassingly is placed where it is and not, say, somewhere in the last clause--the embarrassingly I read as referring to the duality of the afterlife--one's soul is beautifully in heaven and embarrassingly moldering in a cemetery. The embarrassment is humanity's at not being able to vanish body and soul into Paradise. Kensal Green, as far as cemeteries go, is perfectly lovely, so I don't see anything that would suggest that a visit to the cemetery itself would be embarrassing, which would also be a fair reading. If embarrassingly truly described how Maisie felt about going to the cemetery with Ms. Wix, wouldn't the sentence read:

"Mrs. Wix was as safe as Clara Matilda, who was in heaven and yet also in Kensal Green, where, embarrassingly, they had been together to see her little huddled grave."

or somewhere in that final clause? Wood may not be wrong, but I think embarrassingly is placed too vaguely to be sure, and he puts quite a lot on the word considering that.
Am I wrong? If so, why?

No one cares, do they?
In summing up, I wish I had some kind of affirmative message to leave you with. I don't. Would you take two negative messages?
-- Woody Allen