Day 13 Lisbon

We woke up without an alarm, which was a lovely treat although I didn’t sleep that well anyway because my legs were so stiff. We had our last breakfast with that gorgeous view and then packed up to drive back to Lisbon. We were not looking forward to 4 hours in the car. But it was mostly freeway and it was easy. Even getting into Lisbon center was painless and we found a parking spot right near the hotel, where we checked in and the concierge took the car keys and called the rental agency to pick the car up. Our two car rentals of the trip were both handled by hotels and went so smoothly that I will try to arrange that again on future trips.

So we dumped our bags and headed out to see just a few more sights in Lisbon.

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One of our first stops was a little wine bar near the Castle of Sao Jorge. And I’m so glad we found it because next door was an artist’s co-op that featured tiles by an artist whose work we saw in Obidos. While there we had gone back and forth about a particular piece but didn’t manage to pull the trigger, figuring we might see something we wanted more. I was so happy to find her work again.

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From there we headed down to the waterfront to check out the restaurant partially owned by John Malkovich. Do I look tired? I am so whooped.

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We went back to the hotel to freshen up, then wandered back up to the Barrio Alto to hit a favorite wine bar. We were sitting on stools in the street when this Hummer drove through. The funny owner said, “Perhaps not so appropriate for the city center,” as we all scrunched our knees in to make room.

Also in the Barrio Alto, we purchased our last souvenir of the trip. When shopping for souvenirs I seek out individual local artists, and we found this ceramics studio with the most insane sculptures you could imagine. They were all made of clay but with intricate carving and bright colors. I loved meeting the sculptor in his apron with his kiln behind him. I could have spent days studying these pieces. There was one tea pot with a lion that I really wanted but it was a bajillion Euros.

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But there was a hand-made bowl that caught my eye. He wrapped it very well and we took it on our way. He told me this story about a couple from LA who purchased one of his floor lamps and carried it home on the airplane. I asked him if they bought a seat for it.

From there we walked back to the Chiado and ate dinner at Sacramento. It was our last meal in Portugal. So what do you think I ordered? That’s right. Octopus.

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Day 12 Douro Valley Half Marathon

We woke up at 7 to prepare for our race, which didn’t start until 11. I knew I was in for a “day” when I squatted down to pack a few things and I had a hard time standing back up. But onward. We had our breakfast on the patio then started our drive at about 8 am. I’m  glad we started early because just before we made it to town some police officers stopped us. They spoke no English, but they gestured to us that the road was closed and we needed to just drive up there to Amamar and back down to Regua. Oh, okay. We’ll just do that. Up up up a windy mountain road, and down down down the other side. It added about 45 minutes to our 45 minute journey. Not only were we nervous about the steep, guardrail-less single lane roads to Anamar, now we were watching the clock and wondering where this road was going to take us and would we make it to the start of the race.

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Finally the road spit us out to a place where we could see people parking so we found a spot and started walking. We were confused because everyone was wearing pretty red race shirts. When we checked in we were told we couldn’t have one until the finish. Why did they get them and we didn’t? And no one had bibs on. Were we supposed to wear the bibs?

The start area was chaotic. I kept hearing people screaming, then pointing. Were we supposed to go over there? The race packet said that we would take a train to the start but people were getting on buses. A woman rushed up to me asking me a question. All I could do was shrug and say “I’m sorry.” A race organizer saw our bib numbers so he pulled us into a queue to get on the right bus. John needed safety pins, so he pointed to a man’s midriff and held up his hands and frowned. The kind runner spared one pin. I still can’t tell if this race start was more chaotic then starts in the US or if we were just confused due to the language.

We waited and waited for a bus. When one came, it was a bit of a free-for-all. When I say “The Portuguese people really touched me,” I mean they literally touched me. All over. John and I had to stand and hold on tight as the bus wound its way up steep and narrow roads. The boys behind me were laughing with a vigor that seemed more appropriate for a bar. But was I just being sensitive because I couldn’t tell what they were saying?

Get on the bus.

On the entire bus I think there were 5 women. That was my second (third? fourth?) indication that this race would be a little different. In the many half marathons I have run there are usually more women than men, and there are also people of all shapes and sizes. Here there were hardly any women, and lots of fit men. Okay. Race. What do you have for me next?

What the race had for me next was, it was really freaking hot. And yeah I know I’m from Phoenix. But we start our races at 6am. John said he thinks the race started at 11 so everyone could go to church. I don’t know. But I was sweating, and that’s saying something because I don’t sweat.

And the racers were fast. I was holding 9:30’s, and I was slipping farther and farther behind. Since the first part of the race was out and back, the leader passed running towards me then when I turned around I could see the people behind me. And the last runner was not that far from me. That meant I would need to keep up my pace or risk being the last one over the finish line.

My half marathon PR is 1:55. Since I haven’t been training as much since my parents died, my most recent half marathon was 2:09, on a flat course with a 300 ft gain and a 400 ft loss. I had planned to run a 2:10 here, which is perfectly respectable back home. But I started to get worried that I might really come in last.

River views.

Let’s just say you know your half marathon isn’t going well when you are having “marathon thoughts.” And boy was I having them. I got through about 3 miles by attaching myself to a runner with a nice pace, and refusing to let him out of my sight. I got through another 3 miles by promising myself I would spend the rest of the afternoon in a poolside lounger.

By mile 8 my legs were cramping so badly I thought about asking for a ride back to the finish area to meet John. I clearly was not recovered from our 18 mile trail run the weekend before. My hamstrings and calves have never hurt that bad. And I’ve done 65+ races, hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim, climbed the Alps and the Andes and Mt. St. Helen’s. Simply put, I was in a world of pain. Here’s how I made it through the last hour. It might startle you. I put my head down and ran.

Finally at the finish line I saw John waving. He told me I had to exchange my chip for a shirt. I really wanted that shirt, and I had gotten through maybe 2 miles of the race just by thinking that if I quit I wouldn’t get it. John led me to the shirt tent and I handed over my chip. The gal said “small” and I tried to refuse, but couldn’t find a way to communicate it. Dear reader, you know I am not a size small. But she insisted I try it on and this is how she did it. She slipped the shirt over my head–right over my cap and my glasses and she yanked it and got her fingers down to my ample bosom before she stated, “It is too small.”

I was not certain how she planned to get it off me. I just knew for sure I wouldn’t be able to do it since I was 1. about to pass out from exhaustion, and 2. because after 5 weeks of physical therapy for a rotator cuff impingement, I am still in too much pain to take off most clothing, even items that fit properly. So I just stood there with the shirt stuck around my chest. No problem. She said, “May I?” and I nodded and she pulled it back over my bosom, and over my cap and my glasses. Then she reached back, grabbed a medium, and handed it to me with a sprightly “Congratulations!”

I turned around and there was John to save me from my misery. Since there was no food or drink at the finish, I let him know that to prevent me from passing out he would need to find me some sugar and some salt, stat. We finally found a snack bar. A quick and heavenly 7up and some Lay’s potato chips did the trick. Note John’s sunburn (the beer was his!).

Recovery, with sunburn.

Now, this is not to say that I had a bad time at the race or that I would discourage you from doing it. In fact, I hope you all sign up for the 7th Annual Douro Valley Half Marathon. Now that you know what I know, you’ll make better decisions than I did. And I hope for your sake that it rains. I ended up with a 2:11, despite the course’s 1150 ft gain and 1200 ft drop.

After about a 2 mile uphill walk back to the car we were ready to get out of Dodge. I had really been looking forward to eating dinner later that night at the Restaurant DOC, but since it was located 20 minutes down a windy road from our hotel we decided to stop there for lunch after the race so we didn’t have to venture back out. We changed our clothes in the car and cleaned up with some wet wipes. We stopped at the beautiful restaurant and ate and it was a delightful meal. I had my favorite dish of the trip–octopus carpaccio with pomegranate seeds and olive oil candy.

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From there, as promised, we went back to the casa where we had a nap, a swim, a Jacuzzi, played Scrabble, patted the puppies, and had a lovely dinner on the terrace with Molly, who works very hard at teaching people to relax. I sure hope that now I have learned my lesson from her.

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Day 10 Porto

John and I were really looking forward to walking the gardens at the hotel. So after breakfast we headed up to see the large collection of trees, including this one whose roots looked like an octopus.

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From Coimbra, our job was to drive to Porto for a tour of Portugal’s second largest city. Once we checked into the hotel we took a cab to the city center. What a beautiful day, and what a beautiful waterfront.

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We stopped for a really delicious lunch of clams, clams, and more clams.

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After lunch we headed down the river a way and walked into one of the Port Lodges, where we planned to do a tour. We were told that the English tour would be leaving in about 2 hours, but the French tour was leaving right away. John was game! So we took the French tour and I translated the highlights for him.

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From there we did the walking tour of Porto, seeing many of the sites on this hilly town.

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Tomorrow we’re off to the Douro Valley, for a day of rest before our Half Marathon on Sunday.


Day 9 Coimbra

Something I was really looking forward to was breakfast at our country manor, which promised to be one of the nicest around. It did not disappoint. We had lovely pastries and cheese and juice and coffee and kiwi, in a beautiful country room.

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From there we drove to a small town to see a huge monastery, Alcobaca. Its spartan stone pillars and intricate marble carvings were something we don’t see every day.

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We enjoyed our bit of sun as we continued to the small beach village of Nazare. We walked along the beach and sat at a cafe for a coffee before moving on.

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Our next stop was another monastery, this time in Batalha. We saw similar architecture, but with the addition of gorgeous stained glass.

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We tried to visit a small town called Lieres, but it was congested and we didn’t feel so safe, so we passed on to the even smaller town of Pombal, that sees very few tourists, and where we had a more traditional meal of Portuguese sausages.

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From there we drove straight to our hotel in Coimbra, the University town, and were able to tour around and even peek into several classrooms before the deluge came in earnest.

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After waiting out the rain in a series of doorways, even windows, and a few cafes, the pallor lifted and we tried a local pastry before heading across the river back to our hotel.

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Whew. I have to admit, we’re exhausted. We have our night here in Coimbra, then one night in Porto, then we’re off into the Douro Valley to our country Casa and a half marathon along the river.

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Here’s our room, a nice place to relax after a long journey.



Day 8 Obidos

We woke up the next morning and walked just across the way to have a croissant and a coffee. The rental car was due at the the hotel at 10:30, and it was still raining, so we were happy to wait just a moment for the arrival, since the cobbles seemed like they would be slippery. Portugal is the size of Indiana, so I kept reminding myself of that when thinking about driving. The staff at the hotel, when I asked them how to get to the beach town of Cascais, said, “Oh! Just head that  way!” and pointed. So off we went. John did a great job driving. It was raining, as usual, and we stopped at a few points on the coast, but were kind of tired of the wind and rain, so we kept driving. Wait. This is Portugal? Right? Not Ireland?

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And we were so looking forward to going to Sintra, but man did it pour rain the whole time. I managed to snap a few shots of the Palace without soaking the camera.

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So we gave in to the elements and hit the road for our final destination for the day, the walled city of Obidos. Here we had booked a room in a country manor. And despite the rain, we had a warm welcome and enjoyed the beautiful grounds.

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After check-in (and cleaning up a bit) we went up to the walled city for a stroll and some dinner before bedtime.

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We were ready for a quiet (dry) evening. Portugal, you are hilly, rainy and windy!


Day 7 Lisbon

Day 7 of our trip is our day to “do” Lisbon. So our first order of business is to take a tram to Belem, to sample the famous pastries that we have read about. Our hotel is really in a great location so that we can walk up the street to the Barrio Alto and Chiado, but we can easily catch a tram to Belem.

A little breakfast.

Also on our list for sightseeing in Belem was the Monastary and the Tower and the Museum of Contemporary Art. We were like a well-oiled machine, ticking off all the boxes.

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Soon it was time to take the cable car back to the Baxia area to have lunch.

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After a lovely meal, we walked up a massive hill to see a very special museum that was a highlight of the trip for me. The Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. It houses the 6000 art pieces collected by an Armenian oil magnate. It was inaugurated in 1969 and includes Egyptian, European, and Far East Art.

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That was some journey up the hill to the museum! So we took the Metro back to our hotel and had a rest, since our dinner tonight was one of the highlights of the trip, a 9 course tasting at 100 Manieras. It was so delicious. Can I eat that every night please?

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It was an easy walk down the hill back to the hotel for a long night’s sleep, well deserved.




Day 6 Funchal to Lisbon

We had half a day more to explore Funchal, so we scheduled a trip to the market (you know how I love a market) and a tour of the Madeira wine making process. We also planned to visit an ancient fortress.

Fruits for sale.

The market, frankly, was full of French people, which seems right up my alley, except that since we’re not in France, they are tourists from the cruise ship that landed this morning, and they keep standing around in packs, especially in front of doorways, smoking. Okay. So today I’m grumpy. What could make me feel better? Let’s look at the seafood! John and I have been eating a delicious fish called Scabbard. We walked further into the market to see some. Before we found the Scabbard, we saw this tuna. Can you say sashimi?

Sashimi anyone?

Perhaps we should have stopped there. Because Scabbard fish, my friends, looks like this. He is not a very pretty one.

He is not a pretty fish.

We had a 10:30 appointment to tour the Blandy Madeira wine company. So we wandered through the charming streets until we arrived for the tour. Once the tour began, we were treated to an insider’s view of the madeira making process. We also learned about the origin of Madeira wine. It was sent on 16th century ships stopping over at Funchal. But since the wine spoiled before it reached its destination, winemakers started adding spirits to it to stop the fermentation process. Today, Madeira is made from 4 different grapes, so you can get it in sweet, semi-sweet, semi-dry and dry.

Wine anyone?

After the wine tour, we walked up a massive hill to a Fortress, where the men doing construction told us to “come back in 2 hours.” Hm. Can’t do it. Better head back down.

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On our way back to the hotel we grabbed a quick bite to eat and went back to Reid’s Palace to pack for our flight to Lisbon. It’s sure hard to say goodbye to you, view.

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The flight to Lisbon was uneventful. Soon we were back in our Lisbon hotel, the Lx Boutique. Since it was raining we decided to have dinner right across the street at Oliviers. We had a quick dinner then went back to the hotel to sleep. Tomorrow is our big day to “Do Lisbon.”

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Day 5 Funchal

So we had our race. We had our Champagne Gala. What could be next on the list? A well deserved rest day. We started with breakfast in the dining room.

Would you like a pastry?

The staff offered to wash our running shoes, which seemed too dirty to even bother. But they got them good and clean. While they were working, we toured the grounds taking pictures of the exotic flowers.

Touring the grounds.

Soon it was time for lunch. We walked down the street to an Italian restaurant for some pasta.

Having some lunch.

After we ate there was a little spot of sun, so we decided to grab our chance to jump into the water. The island has no sandy beaches, but the hotel has set up this area for swimming.

John takes a jump.

We took turns jumping in.

Trish takes a jump.

Then we relaxed at the pool for a while.

Chilling at the pool.

Soon we cleaned up and walked down the street again for dinner. What a lovely rest day. We needed that.

Ready for dinner.


Day 4 Madeira Island 25K Ultra Trail Race

So, I love doing races. It’s a great way to see places I would not see otherwise. And it’s motivational. And it’s a fun way to meet new people. So when John found that there was a Trail Race on the Island of Madeira the same weekend we were planning to be there, he asked if I thought we could do a 100K or a 50K.

No way. I said. Too long. Too hilly. Madeira is a volcanic island with 90% of its land mass over 1,640 feet. Since the island is only 35 miles long and 14 miles across, that makes for steep peaks and impassable valleys. From sea to summit, this island is barely habitable, and can only be traversed through its miles and miles of tunnels. When viewing the hills from the road, it’s hard to imagine where to put a road or trail. Where would a race possibly take us? Up and down for 50K? No thank you.

The north coast of Madeira.

Then, several weeks later we were doing research on restaurants and activities on Madeira, and I noticed that they had opened a 25K. I did a little dance of joy. We could certainly handle 15.5 miles. We signed up for the race and started preparing. Little did I know what was to come.

On Saturday we were awakenend at 5 am by our breakfast being served in the room.

Breakfast before the race.

We ate and had some coffee, then got dressed and hopped in the car to drive the 1 hour to the north side of the island. There were hardly any cars on the road. Once we arrived at Porto Moniz, we had to wait another hour before the bus departed for the start line. It was foggy, windy, and cold. We kept looking at the sky, hoping for blue. All we could see was clouds.

The bus to the start.

The drive to the start was harrowing. Windy roads with no visibility through the fog. The ride took an hour. Once we arrived to the start of the race, we had to wait another hour before running. Yes, you counted right. We had now been up for 5 hours and we had a few hours of run ahead of us (I finished the race in 4.5 hours and John finished in 3 hours, taking third place overall). While waiting, we made some new friends. This is Diego, an Italian philosopher who spoke English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.  He also won the 25K.

Our new friend Diego at the race start.

When the “gun” sounded, all 31 runners took off onto a Jeep road through the fog. Visibility was bad and the trail was muddy and slick, with deep puddles every 400 yards. I fell too many times to count, but the first one was the best one. I’m glad I got dirty right away, and leared my lesson.

At the first check-in, I met up with Roxana, a 36 year old Spanish gal with whom I ran for the next many miles. We had a nice chat, took lots of pictures, and had a few snacks along the way.

My new friend Roxana.

I did get this nice shot of the lilies that graced many hills as we ran.

Lilies on the trail.

I would say that the trail had 5 types of running surfaces: 1. Muddy Jeep road, 2. Bushwhacking, 3, Levada, 4. Steep forest descent, and 5. Slippery cobblestone or concrete. Here is one of the many Levadas, a series of canals on the island that bring water from the rainy northwest to the dry southeast of the island. They make for popular hiking all over the island.

Levada in the mist.

Finally, in the last 2 miles of our 18 mile run, we made a steep descent to the water.

Knee Cruncher.


Finally we finished. Then we drove back along the north coast and stopped for some fish soup at a seaside cafe.

Fish soup time.

From there we went back to the hotel, showered, and fell into bed for a nap. At 7:30 our alarm went off, and we started getting ready for our Champagne Gala. The dinner was served in a massive hall with gorgeous chandeliers and a quartet playing Jazz classics and some Fado, the traditional Portuguese blues music.

Champagne gala.

It was a lovely dinner. Our day was a great study in contrasts. A muddy adventure meets a luxurious meal.



Day 3 Racer's Meeting in Porto Moniz

Whatever you do, don’t do what we nearly did. Don’t run out of gas in the middle of a volcanic island where you don’t speak the language and you can’t call AAA. More on that soon.

Our day started with a gorgeous breakfast buffet overlooking the pools and ocean.

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After breakfast we had a job to do. That was to accept our rental car in the hotel lobby, then hit the road for a 1 hour drive across the island to the town of Porto Moniz for the Runners’ Check-In for our 25K trail race the following day. You might remember Samantha, our faithful guide on our France and Spain trip–the voice of our Garmin Nuvi 275T who tells us where to go. She did her job well, even through the bajillion tunnels that bore through the massive peaks all over the island. Let’s all take a moment to applaud the civil engineers who somehow made this island inhabitable. Even the airstrip had to be built from scratch on pilings into the ocean, since there’s not a flat spot in all of Madeira. Besides the hills and curves, the hardest part about the drive was the pouring rain. I can’t wait to see it tomorrow in the sunshine.

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After our check-in, which involved proving we had all of the required items such as a whistle, a light, batteries, food, and water, we drove all the way back across the island where the rain had stopped and we did a gorgeous hike out on cliffs that looked like the Isle of Skye in Scotland. It was a muddy trek, which will serve us well since I think our 25K trail run is destined to be a Muddy Buddy tomorrow. BTW, John already told me I look like a total tool, so you don’t have to.

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From there we stopped in a small restaurant in a small town where we ordered the “Plato do Dia” again. I could only eat about half of it. My goodness it was delicious. The freshest fish you can imagine, in a light flour and egg batter–almost chile relleno meets the ocean.

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From there we drove to the far north point of the island to Santana to see the A-framed houses.

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This is where it got sketchy. We stopped at a Petrol station only to have the British owner come out and say, “We have no Petrol.” Our plan was to climb up and over the high hill that is near the peak of the island. But we got to about here when our gas gauge started beeping.

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Luckily we could coast back down to a town that had some gas. Still, promise me you won’t do what we did. Just gas it up sooner. Why wait? What is that? Fun? No it’s not.

Now we’re back at the hotel. After a lovely dinner, and plenty of hydration, we’re all ready for tomorrow. We’ll be getting up at 5 am to head back out for the race.

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