About a year after we got married (nearly 15 years ago) I got some cheap flights to Barcelona and we embarked on a trip along the northern coast of Spain following the FEVE line as far as possible. One of the places we both remembered for its beauty, warmth and convivial atmosphere was Santander. The main thing that sticks in my mind is the amazing beach (which is up there with the beach at San Sebastian). Anyway we will see that in due course but for today we made acquaintance with the city once again. I didn’t remember the Sheffield-like hills so we got a good work out. The waterfront is really attractive with a park and a lot of interesting architecture. We didn’t plan it on purpose but we are here on the week of Semana Grande so there are loads of attractions and Weihnachtsmarkt-like wooden huts selling pintxos and beer. The girls are a bit big for it but they took a ride on an elegant old-style carousel. We still have a lot left to see in the parks and beaches area. Right now I have to admit that I have had no flashbacks to 2002, we must have a look at our photos when we get home because we surely saw the some of the same things but young love does have other priorities. One thing is for sure, the lovely atmosphere around Santander has remained much the same.
We flew on a very small commuter plane to Santander which was a first for our girls (why is it so small??). After organizing everything in advance I was relieved that our taxi was waiting and the very kind lady who owns the apartment was expecting us. We have an old style but very comfortable apartment in the suburbs with good access to the beach and the city. After the sweltering temperatures down south the cooler air of northern Iberia helped the angels catch up on their beauty zeds. At first we were planning on staying in a hotel but I am glad that we went for the ‘home from home’ Air BnB option. Lazing around somebody’s else’s pad in a far off land just feels so much more relaxing than doing the same thing at home.
Already in Spain I feel that bit more assured compared to Portugal since I can understand everything even if my spoken Spanish is a bit rusty. We have pretty much all we need in terms of supermarkets and cafes close by but the next couple of days are forecast to be rainy so we will be doing more city things and then think of a few trips once the sun comes out again.
We made it as far as Madrid after the first leg of our journey to Santander so we are taking advantage of the free internet while we wait. Yesterday we visited the emblematic Cristo Rey statue overlooking the bridge to Lisbon (modelled on the Golden Gate bridge because of the similar tectonic plates beneath). It’s a spectacular viewing point but there were relatively few tourists taking advantage. Afterwards we went to a local Italian for pizza and later on my sister invited some friends to give Daisy an early birthday party. It was a pretty awesome end to a lovely visit.
At first I thought that I couldn’t get Netflix here but it turns out I can and so I started watching S5 of ‘Suits’. I am always in a bit of a dilemma about ‘Suits’ because it has its good points but the soap-like ‘Ally McBeal’ aspects do drag it right down. One thing that I strongly dislike is when Harvey and Mike quote film lines at each other. It reminds me of a guy I used to know in the States who would try to link every real-life story somebody told to a film seemingly unaware of the fact that movies draw on things that happen to people so elevating them to a position of primacy is redundant.
During the day the weather is too hot to do much. If you were beside a hotel pool then that might work but away from the water you need to be indoors. We went down to Costa da Caparica in the early evening for a swim. The water was wavy but very refreshing and there were plenty of people left on the beach. I have to say that spoken Portuguese is still as impenetrable for me as ever. It’s so strange that the written form is so understandable but once the same words are spoken I can’t make head nor tail. At least in Spain next week that part of things will be very different. I had plans to get some Spanish magazines read to get my Spanish more active again but that hasn’t transpired since I used any ‘language time’ for Japanese. We will see how we feel once we get there.
We walked back from the beach which took about 45 minutes as we were going up a corkscrew hill. It was nice for the two of us to walk back together (the kids were in my sister’s car). We caught the sunset from a viewing point by the Pablo Neruda monument. It’s a pity that the authorities here don’t create more pedestrian and bike friendly pathways. It is very hazardous walking the roads as there are a number of drivers who go at full pelt even when they are on a dangerous bend. With children you just wouldn’t want to do it.
It’s normally a good sign for me when my brain starts craving activity again. I was going through a bit of a dip with Japanese and I brought some text books with me more with the hope rather than expectation of actually doing anything. For weeks my brain has been barely functional but combination of the sun and the rest and the water has made the hunger come back and I have finally been able to concentrate enough to learn some things that I kept skipping over. I have also watched some Japanese drama and I am feeling positive about learning. Considering that I am going to Japan at the end of August and I got the confirmation that I am registered for the JLPT4 in Düsseldorf in December that is a good thing. I need to keep it up now more than ever.
Today we went to an amusement park where they had ziplining and climbing. It was something different for our kids at least (though the cousins have done it plenty of times before). You remember a lot about your own childhood when all the kids get together. There is something straightforward about family bonds, the kids just automatically treat each other with the familiarity of brothers and sisters. At times they make up cool games and you can tell that they are making memories that will stay. Of course it’s not ideal that they don’t see the different sets of cousins too often but that’s the life we have so we make the best of these times together.
My brother-in-law is a wizard with food and last night he prepared some delicious pieces on the barbecue. I had the most perfect salmon and then my sister served up a divine lemon curd sponge. We were joined by a friend who had a very interesting story. He is from a Portuguese family that had made their way to Mozambique before the War of Independence made it impossible to stay and his family had taken refuge in South Africa. It was fascinating given the current events in the world to hear his tale of being in a refugee camp and then beginning a life in South Africa with no English or Afrikaans.
The rhythm of our stay hear involves lazy mornings and then a bigger lunch than usual. Today we all walked down to a local restaurant which was packed to the gills for the lunchtime service. For seven fifty you can have some tapas, a main, a dessert and a coffee. The fare was tasty and the place was very relaxed and family friendly. You wouldn’t find a restaurant like this on a tourist map but our family tell us that this is as typically Portuguese as it gets. My nieces and nephew call their Dad ‘Pai’ (the Portuguese for father which is pronounced like ‘pie’. I love it because it makes me think of pie and π. It’s silly but these little things keep me happy.
In the evening we went to Praia da Mata again. The water was a lot colder today and there were some serious waves again. The cousins are really enjoying their time together and that makes us happy too. Lazy summer days, making new family memories, life is good.
We don’t normally go anywhere alone together so it was really sweet of my sister to mind her three plus our three so that we could go across the water for a day in Lisbon. My primary memory of Lisbon is that it a fine city for wandering about and stopping off along the way to eat pastries. That proved to be the case as we must have covered a half marathon’s worth of kilometers up and down those hills. We arrived at the ferry terminal from Cacilhas and went walking up to the old town on the non-touristy side to start with. You really feel those glutes getting up the steep inclines and every brave warrior deserves a reward for his valour so we scored some delicious and cheap pastries and soaked in the city’s inner districts. There are a couple of nice parks and lots of nice views and colours but it is very dirty in parts with a rich stench of urine.
At a certain point we realized that we were not going to miraculously reach the castle so we found our bearings again by going back down to the riverside. There is a nice food hall called Timeout which has a good choice but with tourist prices. We had a roast pork sandwich with crackling which hit the mark. That gave us the energy for the hike up to St. George’s Castle and my memory served me correct as regards that place. The view really is awesome and you can’t visit Lisbon without seeing the castle and enjoying the view on a clear day. The prices of refreshments within the grounds are astronomical so the Coke we had on the way down tasted like the tears of an angel such was our thirst. We stopped off for further delicious nourishment at an ice cream shop before exploring the promenade. To our surprise some brave (or deluded) souls were swimming in the river which looked like a rather uninviting detritus soup from close up. Our tired legs were happy to make it back to the ferry terminal so that we could make our way back to the ranch to greet our girls and extended family after a very lovely Lisbon day for two.