Getting Around in Lisbon

In Lisbon, you’re spoiled for choice on modes of transportation: you can get around by car, taxi, tram, bus, subway, rental bike or scooter, hop on / hop off bus, walking, or tuk tuk.

Maggie and I had already decided that we didn’t want to rent a car, partly for the expense, and partly because it’s a pain to find a parking place in any city. It turns out Lisbon has a unique solution for that. In the central city, every neighborhood seems to have its own Neighborhood Parking Guy. (All the ones we’ve seen are men.) He might look like a hobo working for tips (the Alfama NPG is a dead ringer for Lyle Lovett), but he’s a vital part of the community. Every driver knows him, everybody is his friend. You’ll see him standing in an open parking place, waving down a slowly passing car, then directing the driver into a narrow spot like he’s directing an airplane into a terminal gate. It’s a real skill, and a necessary one: he saves drivers endless hours of driving around, and countless Euros in parking tickets. Looking at all the different ways cars are parked, NPG’s can get very creative in their definitions of parking places and how the cars should be arranged within them. They are modern art sculptors, working in automobiles and pavement. They should have a display of their works in a museum.

There’s a system of trams that’s part of the transportation system, but like San Francisco’s trolley cars, it seems like tourists get more use out of it than locals. That’s mostly because they’re so jammed with tourists that the locals would have a hard time finding a seat. For the most popular line, the #28E, we’ve heard that there can be a long wait at mid-day during the summer, but if you ride first thing in the morning or after dinner, that won’t be a problem. The tour guides issue dire warnings about gangs of pickpockets lurking at the entrance and exit doors of the trams, ready to strip the valuables off unsuspecting tourists in seconds, but we didn’t see any of that.

Within the neighborhood of Alfama, cars are a rare sight. The cobblestone streets are just too narrow and convoluted. The cars  mostly stick to the main roads, which makes walking in old town great for pedestrians. You still have to watch out for trolleys and tuk tuks rushing by, but that becomes second nature after not too long.

Our main worry walking in Alfama is getting lost. Actually, we don’t worry about it, we just do it. We have a couple of routes that we know, but finding a new place can be a real puzzle. Yesterday, following GPS, Maggie and I tried to find our closest stop on the #28E tram. We wandered around for twenty minutes, occasionally seeing some familiar landmark, but mostly having no idea of where we were. We finally gave up and decided to head downhill, find the river and figure out how many miles we had to walk to get home. The first corner we turned, we were face to face with somebody we knew! We don’t know anybody – who is this? It’s…the host of the restaurant across the street from our apartment! What’s he doing here? He’s…standing in front of his restaurant. We’re back where we started. We gave him a sheepish bom tarde and continued on our way, as if we’d planned it that way all along.

I think what we need to do is cut down on our choices. We haven’t had a problem with the bus or subway yet. The subway is a great way to zip across town and get to the general vicinity of where you want to be. Buses are air conditioned, clean, they run seemingly everywhere and they’re on time. There are so many bus routes, the city doesn’t make paper maps, so just like at home, there’s a web site / app: Whew! I think we’ve found our answer.




Getting Around in Lisbon

Lisbon via NYC

Well, I guess the Olmsteads took too long a break from Europe. We decided in the winter of 2018 that with a hot Austin summer rearing its head in the not too distant future, we would treat ourselves to a month’s long stay in one European country.  We have traveled to many European countries, but never to Portugal, so we didn’t waste too much time making the decision.  It did not hurt in our decision making process to know that Portugal is about 15 degrees cooler in the summer than Austin.

With my birthday coming up on July 13th, Clay informed me that for my birthday we would travel to Lisbon via NYC.  Listening to NPR, I had heard about a new Broadway musical called Hadestown that really appealed to me.  He bought us 2 tickets for Saturday night for my birthday.  We flew to NYC Saturday morning and planned to go see the musical Saturday night before flying on to Lisbon late the next evening.  As luck would have it, NYC experienced a major blackout from about 7:00pm to 11:00pm, and our plans were turned upside down.  Standing in line at 7:30 for the musical, parts of Manhattan went dark, including the venue for our show as well as our hotel, we later learned.

NYC Residents Staying Cool

Extremely disappointed when they told us at 8:30pm that the show was canceled, we left for a bar and drank a few beers.  We reminded ourselves that this was not a major problem.  We are retired and in good health, so we should not let a minor setback ruin our only night in NYC.  We toasted to that, and by the time we left the bar, it was a little after 11:00pm and our hotel’s power was back on.

The very next day (July 14th) we left for Portugal with a transfer in Paris, and arrived in Lisbon jet lagged, but excited.   We were met by our soon to be discovered  perfect Abnb host.  Since we booked his apartment in Lisbon for a month, he had volunteered to pick us up at the airport.  Walking out of the airport there awaited our handsome middle aged host with a big smile on his face. I then received the first of which would be many – European style kisses from both men and women – one on each cheek.  I am liking Portugal already.

Wondering if the apartment would meet our expectations, we arrived and opened our front door to walk up a staircase to our 2nd floor apartment.  Photos below show our small, but functional apartment.  We have been here almost a week now and love the location (except for a noisy restaurant across the street).  It is in a great location in the Alfama district of Lisbon, which is the oldest district in the city.








Lisbon via NYC

Traveling with Grandkids

Going on a trip with grandchildren adds another dimension to slow travel. You want them to enjoy the trip as much as you do, so you have to work to their schedule as much as  possible. That includes taking time out to let them be kids: explore, touch base with their parents and friends at home, and just hang out and talk. After all, half the reason to travel with your grandchildren, assuming you don’t live near them, is to reconnect, strengthen that bond and to find out what their thoughts are.

So, as much as you might be tempted to drag them from cathedral to monument and fill their heads with as much information as possible, we think you and they would be happier if stick to the tenants of slow travel:

  • See a few things well, rather than maximizing how many things you see. That gives everybody a chance to absorb an experience, have your own thoughts about it, rather than being spoon fed – which sounds a lot like the worst parts of school.
  • Take time to get everybody’s input on what they’re interested in. Not everybody will get to do everything they want, but if it’s divided up fairly, then everybody feels like they’re being listened to.
  • When it’s time to eat, try to avoid grabbing a meal on the run. Even if the kids want to eat fast food, you can usually all sit down at the same table and have a conversation.
  • Give everyone time to get a good night’s sleep. Children’s sleep schedules are different than and adult’s, and are constantly changing as they age. As much as possible, let them sleep as much as they need to. While they’re asleep, instead of getting frustrated that time is being wasted, give yourself some quiet time. This is especially frustrating if you’ve got kids of widely differing ages, so you’ve got youngsters up bouncing around early in the morning while teenagers are sleeping in. This might take some imagination to solve, like one grandparent taking the little ones out while the other reads at “home,” or arranging to meet the teenager at a certain time and (close by) place when they wake up.

Above all, patience is key. The main thing is spending quality time with the grandkids, not coming home with a pile of pictures.

Traveling with Grandkids

Europe Summer 2017 – Take aways

The 90 days we spent in Europe this summer was an education beyond what we expected.  Here are our short list of “take aways ” from this summer’s experience.

  •  Norway is in our view the most beautiful country in the world.  We haven’t traveled to all countries obviously, but from the places we have been, Norway wins hands down.  Bergen and Alesund were great bases for seeing the Fjords of Norway, and the train ride from Oslo to Bergen was simply amazing!


  • The Baltic countries are inspiring: they have endured the most horrifying events over their history, but have emerged as members of the European Union and are thriving! Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – you provided us with a reminder on why travel is important as an education. You are amazing countries with incredible resiliency.  The birds escaping in this photo taken in Riga, Latvia, is to me symbolic of the Baltics escaping their past and moving onward to freedom.
  •  Copenhagen?  You stole our hearts.  No wonder you are ranked as the “happiest people in the world!  You get it.  Hygge – we are incorporating some of the things I observed in Denmark into my life here in Austin.  Never too old to learn new ways of doing things.


  • What an amazing way to see the U.S. from a different point of view.  Visiting other countries provides perspective, other viewpoints, and a chance to see how other countries have dealt with the same problems we’re having: some do it better, some worse.  Clay and I both understand that our lives somehow have changed, and for the better I might add.  You truly never see your home country the way others see it, but when got off the plane in NYC, we both looked at America from a slightly different perspective. We love you America – warts and all.  You still will forever be our first and mostly likely last love.

The big trip of 2017 is a wrap, but the education encourages us to go again in 2018, to see what other lessons are are awaiting us.   There is so much to learn.  We can’t wait!

Europe Summer 2017 – Take aways

Home, but Not

We’re back – no problems with the flights: in spite of the remnants of Hurricane Harvey still lingering in the area, the flights were as smooth as they could be. All the bad stuff went to the east of us.


We’re back in our “temporary” digs, that we’ve been renting from friends of friends for the last two years. It’s been great, but Maggie and I are ready to settle into our own place. We’re going to crank up the home search engine, and find some place that’s easy to take care of, easy to lock up and leave for a while, and easy on the budget, so we can do some more traveling.

Home, but Not

Farewell to Denmark

We head home today – the flight leaves here at 1:00 PM, we arrive in Austin at 9:30 tonight. It looks like most of the remnants of Hurricane Harvey are dumping on Houston, so Austin skies should be clear enough that our flight will be on time. We’re sad to be leaving – there’s still so much to see and do – but will be glad to be home, hang out with friends, and do what we can to help people in Austin dry out.

We’ve learned a lot this trip – a lot of it by not over-scheduling ourselves, but leaving time to hang out and have a conversation with the locals and with other travelers. (Going to places where most people speak English was a big help.) When we took a little time to relax, we could often find somebody else who was in the same mood, ready to share what they’d learned. In Denmark, this is all part of hygge (see the previous post) – but we found like-minded people everywhere we went, whether they had a word for it or not.


We found places where we could become short term regulars, and by coming back to the same places, we could continue conversations with the long term regulars and learn more about our surroundings. In Copenhagen, our local was the Trykbar, right around the corner from our AirBnB apartment. The staff and other customers were all open and willing to share what they knew, where to go, and what to not miss.


We’re already looking forward to the next trip – don’t know where or when it will be, but we’ll be sharing the experience, whatever it is.


Farewell to Denmark

Hygge (pronounced “HUE-gah”)

Hygge is actually very difficult to explain or define.  It roughly means creating a warm, cozy atmosphere, and the Danes excel at this from what I have observed.  Does it contribute to the report that names the Danish people as the happiest people on our planet?  We’re trying to find that out.

My first observation is about candles.  Candles?  I am not sure why exactly, but almost every restaurant, coffee shop, wine bar– even sports bars have candles burning from opening to closing time.  It created for me a warm feeling that even with the beautiful sunshine outside, coming inside to the glow of candles and fresh flowers created a relaxed, less tense atmosphere.

From reading about Hygge I learned that friends and family play a big part in hygge as well.   Just sitting around a table talking with friends and family about the small and big things going on in their lives generates hygge.  Can’t wait to hygge with family and friends upon our return to the U.S.

Probably the best article I found on Hygge was from the BBC Magazine.  Take a look at this article which I found very helpful for me to better understand what I am experiencing here in Copenhagen.

The photos below are just random photos taken on this trip that represent Hygge!  Forgive me for keeping this so short, but there are candles to light and Clay is finished with his blog inputs and time to Hygge.

Breakfast                                        Lunch

Even Happy Hour with beer and nachos

Hygge (pronounced “HUE-gah”)

Remembrance and Forgetting

Before they were called the U.S. Virgin Islands, the islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John were Danish colonies. Denmark sold them to the U.S. in 1917, after having had possession of them for over 250 years. During their rule, the Danes, like other Europeans, decimated the populations of the Caribbean islands through war, disease and displacement. The Europeans found tropical paradises and turned them into plantations, churning out sugar cane and other crops on an industrial scale.

Like the other islands in the Caribbean, the Virgin Islands had become a part of the Triangular Trade route, that miserable period of human history when European countries sent trinkets, cloth, guns and alcohol to the west coast of Africa, to be traded for human beings, who were sent to the Caribbean to work as slaves, working in the fields to put sugar on European tables. The same trade route brought African people to the future United States, to raise sugar, cotton and tobacco.


The Danes were no better and no worse than any other slave masters. The Middle Passage was a crime against humanity, no matter who was in charge. About 120,000 people were brought over in Danish-flagged ships, and that only counts the ones who survived the journey. Once they arrived, the newly enslaved people were treated the same: separation from family and culture, the indignities and confusions of being sold in a market, back-breaking work in abysmal conditions, disease, beatings, every scrap of their humanity ripped away. It’s no wonder their average life span on the plantations was less than 10 years.

Denmark abolished the slave trade in 1792 and emancipated the enslaved people in 1848. They can take some credit for being the first country to abolish kidnapping people to work the plantations, but that’s a small comfort. The final driver for emancipation was a massive revolt on St. Croix. Out of desperation, the Governor General declared all the people emancipated. As in the U.S., emancipation didn’t end the problems, but created a free but desperately poor underclass, a problem that would continue in various forms to the present day.

This year in Copenhagen, Denmark’s Royal Library has an exhibition of the art and photography of the Virgin Islands, starting with the maps and etchings made by the first Europeans. These brought more colonists, who made watercolor paintings of idyllic landscapes, showing beaches covered in white sand, lined by tall mountains. In the 19th century, the first photographs show portraits of smug plantation masters surrounded by potted plants and exhausted servants.


All of this jarringly displaced by hundreds of black and white photographs, taken when the islands were sold to the U.S. and the first travelers arrived with cameras, few preconceptions, and no need to support the current structure of island society. They took pictures of everything they saw: pretty beach scenes, people living in shacks; white people in clean clothes, black people in rags.


I’d like to report that the effect was devastating and there was an immediate call for aide to the poverty-stricken people of the new territories, but the fact is that in 1917, there wasn’t a lot of difference between poor blacks in the Virgin Islands and poor blacks in rural parts of the mainland U.S. The fact is that those conditions continued for a depressingly long period of time.

More recently, cheap air fare has helped a rise of tourism that has brought money and some relief to the islands, but no more visibility to the plight of the poor. The imagery from the islands has returned to a high tech version of the idyllic watercolors of the 18th century, only now the beaches are lined with high rise hotels and covered with white people lying in the sun, served by the descendants of the people who were brought there years ago. The conditions of the people have greatly improved, but that brief period of honest imagery isn’t even a memory for most. According to the exhibit, Danish schools teach the stories of the white heroes who freed the slaves, with little mention of what went on before.

That ties in pretty well with the current state of the history discussion going on in the U.S., where our attention is on the images of Confederate generals on pedestals, but we try to cover up the living conditions of real people today. We deny the undercurrent of racism that has always plagued the U.S. – not just in the South, but everywhere; not just in rural conservatives, but people who call themselves urban liberals as well. We all bear a part of this history, and pointing fingers doesn’t even begin to solve problems. We only can only begin by looking at ourselves with honesty, and giving others – all others – the respect they deserve.

Remembrance and Forgetting

Copenhagen – We made it

Flew to Copenhagen from Lithuania early Sunday morning.  (Note to self – don’t ever schedule a 6:30am departure again)   Arrived too early to check into our apartment so we took the short ride into town and stored our luggage at the train station.  Copenhagen (population 600K) is a large city, but very compact so we walked the entire central city to get acquainted with our home for the next 8 days! In our groggy state, we found ourselves unintentionally passing by the train station again and again. We joked that we  were probably being monitored on the security cameras, marked as potential troublemakers.

At 4:00PM sharp we were at the apartment with our luggage, and met the 2 sisters who gave us a map and a great overview of the city.  I fell in love with the dining room immediately!

dining room

After a visit to the grocery store for breakfast supplies and the local wine store, we were ready for the Copenhagen visit to begin.  Sadly, we realized that this was the last 8 days of our European adventure so we decided to focus on the week ahead and not the departure on 8/28.

Copenhagen – We made it

The Baltics – Ühesõnaga

That word in the title is Estonian for “in a nutshell.” Estonians know that it signals a really long explanation is coming.

Clay and I decided that this trip we wanted to go somewhere we had never been before.  We wanted the place(s) to be different from the usual vacation spots we go (& others, too).  Our other criteria included being cooler than Austin, Texas in the summertime (easy one), affordable (to make up for Norway, Finland, and Denmark), and have an interesting history that would expand our knowledge of the world.  The Baltics met all our criteria, so we began the process of learning about traveling there.

baltic capitals

We decided to visit the three Capital cities in the three countries, and perhaps take day trips from there as well.  The three are:   Tallinn, Estonia;  Riga, Latvia; and Vilnius, Lithuania.  Travel between the countries is very easy (via bus!) and affordable (about 10-15 Euros each).  We booked our Airbnb using our criteria which is easy to filter on the Airbnb Web Site:  Our place must have good reviews, be affordable (easy in the Baltics), have a washing machine, be close to public transportation, and a have bedroom that’s separate from the living area.  I read every review before making a decision on where to stay.

I asked an Austin friend who had traveled to the three Baltic countries about her favorite.  She liked all of them, but seemed at a loss to pick her favorite.  Now, I get it.  I struggle with that myself when I was trying to pick “my” favorite.  At the end of this section, I will tell you my favorite and ask Clay to do the same, but it really (of course) does depend on what you like.

Here are the positive and negatives of visiting the three cities in my opinion:


  • Beautiful old town
  • Affordable
  • Excellent Museums
  • Beautiful Parks and Palaces
  • Good public transportation
  • Incredible Maritime Museum
  • Wonderful food at affordable prices
  • A little too Touristy (cruise ship people make old town hard to navigate)
  • Locals not as friendly as I had expected


  • Beautiful Old Town
  • Affordable (slightly more affordable than Tallinn)
  • Public transportation – outstanding!
  • Live music (best of the Baltics!)
  • Outstanding Art Nouveau architecture (wow)
  • Outstanding Auto Museum (see earlier blog)
  • Great restaurants at affordable prices


  • Beautiful Old Town
  • Incredible number of outstanding churches
  • Extremely affordable (lowest of all 3)
  • Public transportation (good but not outstanding)
  • Outstanding Museum of Genocide Victims (wow!)
  • Good restaurants at extremely affordable prices
  • Not so many tourists! (not a port city)
  • Friendliest People in the Baltics
  • Museums good, but not the quality & number of Tallinn & Riga

Now, I would have to say that all the places were fun and entertaining.  We never left a place that we were happy to be leaving.  I have to say that Riga was my favorite, edging out Vilnius by a very small margin.  Tallinn was great, but just too touristy, but after the cruise ships left, the city became my favorite!

I will let Clay have the last word and get his thoughts on this subject.

I’ll add on to what Maggie said about our favorite cities: Riga was our favorite city as far as things to do: interesting history and art museums, entertaining night life, nice (and affordable) restaurants – it’s all there.

That said, our favorite people were the Lithuanians. Estonians and Latvians are helpful and earnest, but they are very reserved. Out in public, they simply don’t acknowledge a stranger’s presence unless it’s absolutely necessary. Likewise, they don’t make their presence known in public unless there’s a really good reason. Lithuanians are a totally different breed. People would smile back at us when we smiled at them. They would say hello. They seemed to be having more fun than anybody else. Vilnius has a lot of churches, but it’s not big for art and history museums, but the people more than made up for that.

The Baltics – Ühesõnaga