Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Dan in Iberia

It was the very second after they closed the door and announced that cell phones were to be shut off that I had my panic attack. It was Sunday night and I would arrive in Madrid on Monday morning. Yet I had made the hotel reservation for Sunday night, checking out on Tuesday. I really had only needed one night (Monday), and I was worried that they would cancel my whole reservation when I failed to show up on Sunday. I snuck my phone out and clandestinely called Debbie, leaving her a message to contact the hotel. She did, and all was ok there on Monday morning. Very very modern hotel with thin tv, fancy lighting, computer and spray-all-over shower.

The second panic attack occurred while I was unpacking. I forgot my electrical adapter! This could be very bad - I only have a couple hours of battery life in my laptop and would need far more than that. I asked at the hotel lobby where I could get one, and they suggested a long walk to a Best Buy type store. No luck. The store guy suggested this shopping mall. More long walking, still no luck. Finally, back at the hotel, they arranged for a cab to get me to a large kmart type store (Hipercor), where I finally did get my adapter. There is tons of construction in this new part of Madrid.

Now that most of the day was gone, I had little time for sightseeing. I learned to take a bus and two subway trains to get to the city center. It was pretty neat down there with lots of shopping and restaurants. I didn't really get to see much that was historic or cultural however; just typical European city life. Unlike other parts of Europe, relatively few Spaniards speak English. This provides many cultural experiences in and of itself.

There were no major problems with work, and I made it from Madrid to Lisbon with no major mishaps. Except of course for the problem of using ATMs. I tried 5 different machines in Madrid before they put me on the fraud list and called Debbie to tell on me. They were not allowing the transactions in the first place because Spain is a fraud nightmare for them. Debbie straightened them out. There were also some connectivity problems that kept me up on Tuesday night.

I spent the day on Wednesday doing a full day tour of Lisbon and the surrounding area. Portugal is really beautiful, and there is certainly more to see. Today I saw recreations of: the Golden Gate Bridge (the Portuguese version is called the “Bridge 25th of April”), the Rio De Janeiro statue of Christ, and the palace of Versailles. All were actually pretty impressive, generally built by the same folks who built the originals. There was lots more as well.

· The famous Tower of Belem: a castle on the river to guard the city. It’s sort of symbolic of Portugal.
· The modern monument dedicated to Portuguese maritime discoveries. The name says it all.
· Mosteiro dos Jeronimos: a famous old monastery and cathedral in Belem, and an excellent example of Manueline architecture. I’m not sure I can describe this style, but I may know it now when I see it. Of course it only exists on Portugal.
· The Coach Museum. The Portuguese are justifiably proud to have the finest coach museum in the world. Don’t ever settle for one of those lesser coach museums; this one is truly the best. By the way, it’s coach as in a buggy pulled by horses, not a sports team chief.
· Port wine tasting (a tablespoon) and a taste of Belem pastry – pudding in a puff pastry shell. Yum.
· A walk through the Alfama barrio. It’s a neighborhood that’s famous for its narrow streets and alleys.
After a very long walk to the hotel and back again during lunch, I continued on, and saw:
· The palace of Queluz. It’s the Versailles of Portugal. I kept wondering if they call the building in the Paris area the “Queluz of France”. This one really was very impressive as well, though. Even the gardens reminded me of the real thing.
· The town of Sintra. It’s a medieval town in the hills. It’s very picturesque, but I didn’t do so well with my photos there. I couldn’t even find the palace on the hill. But it was a neat place anyway.
· A couple stops along the Atlantic coast, one to see the ocean battering some rocks and the other to the town of Estoril, where there is some tourist activity and a casino.

That’s about it. Did I mention that it was a “full” day?

My day of work in Lisbon was busy, but I made it through. The client office is in a set of ultra-modern buildings in a different part of Lisbon. More to see if I ever come back.

Here’s hoping that I do.

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