Time to head home

Well, it’s been a great trip, but it is time to head home. We have a night in Lisbon and then an 11AM flight to Philadelphia tomorrow morning.

This post is a bit of a mishmash of the last day, and some summary thoughts about random stuff. Maybe more about our Polestar EV than is really necessary LOL.

After driving toward Lisbon for a while we stopped about 45km from the airport to have lunch, which looked like it was in the middle of a field. Well, not a field but a vineyard. We had a really nice Tapas lunch. Calamari, Squid, steak a couple of different ways, and some nice wine in a very nice setting. One of the dishes was called Pica-Pau which I have the recipe for and will definitely try to make this summer!

Drop off at the airport was chaotic, but the metro to our apartment was fine. Although we learned on the ride that we didn’t have hot water in one of the bathrooms or the kitchen. After being ghosted by our first AirBnB host here in Lisbon this was a bit much, but this host did offer us the use of BOTH of her apartments. We don’t need hot water in the kitchen and we can do showers in one bathroom, so we’ll be fine.

We did get out and do a bit of walking around Lisbon, although we are all mostly tired of being tourists so our hearts were not entirely in it. We found a nice rooftop bar that had a view of the city and then a more non-touristy Italian place where the risotto was very good, and the tortellini with bolognese was ok.

Back to our apartment by way of a gelateria, a pastry shop, and a supermarket for a beer to watch the UCL final! On our way home tomorrow! Not happy that Real Madrid won. Boo.

As a postscript to this post, I’ll just recall a few of the highlights. I’m writing this from 40,000 feet as we approach the Atlantic coast of the United States.

  1. The hiking in Madeira, especially along the Levada at the beginning of the 25 Fontes hike. Also the lunch we had by the sea after that hike was amazing.
  2. Loved our meal in Porto at Taberna dos Mercadores. Delicious and fun.
  3. The wine tasting stop on the Douro was a beautiful spot to enjoy some good wine. The hike down the hill was not everyone’s favorite, but it will be a lasting memory!
  4. Chilling out in the Algarve, and the morning light on the cliffs along the seven hanging valleys hike.
  5. The unexpected lunch stop in the middle of a vineyard on the drive to Lisbon. The steak sandwich and the Pica-Pau were worth the stop!

Renting the electric car turned out to be a fun experience. It was a bit nerve wracking a couple of times, but I think that was more to do with being in a foreign country and not having a backup way to pay for the power if the app wasn’t communicating with the pump. It was really nice to have the nav system show you the expected battery level at your next stop. For a long trip, like a drive to California, it would definitely make the drive longer, and require planning! Having a vehicle that was connected to the internet and had charging station locations integrated into the nav system would be great. Our rented Polestar had that feature, but the rental company didn’t have the car set up for internet access. So we ended up using the phone for finding charging, and the car for navigating. A bit frustrating.

I would certainly recommend time in Portugal if you are looking for a vacation option! We did a lot in a relatively short time. You could easily spend a week in Madeira all by itself. We didn’t get to see much of Lisbon, but that was OK for us as I’d rather be away from the city enjoying the green spaces.

Posting this from Minneapolis. Up way too early this morning. Going east to west always disrupts my sleep a lot more than west to east. But at 4am my body was saying that it was 10am in Portugal and that I was being very lazy for sleeping in!

The Seven Hanging Valleys

This morning we were up early and out the door to do the seven hanging valleys hike. It is about 4.5 miles along the coast in Algarve. Each of the “hanging valleys” is really a cove so we have to navigate around or down and up each of them. Along the way are many chimneys where the limestone has eroded all the way down to a sea cave. We would have seen many of these caves if we had been able to do the sea kayaking the other day. Instead we will see them from above.

Jane drove us to the beginning and did the first mile with us before turning back and driving the car back to the hotel. Brian and I carried on.

Here are a few highlight photos.

Adventures with weather in the Algarve

The plan for our first full day in Carvoeiro (pronounced curve-way-go) was to go sea kayaking through the amazing Benagil sea caves! When we arrived on the corner where we supposed to meet our guide we were a bit early, and nobody else was there yet. Eventually our guide came, long hair, rings on every finger, tanned, very suave. “You are going to have a great day” he said! “I just know as soon as I walk out the door what the sea is going to be like, and today is a very good day.” Another guide heading up the hill asked him, “have you had a look?” We were on the side of the second guide having driven by the landing area. He walked around the corner and returned a few minutes later, with a smile on his face and a new question for us. “Are you ready to get wet?”

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of “getting wet” in the cold Atlantic waters. But I’m willing to be a good sport from time to time. This was one of those times. The next problem was my shoes. Sir, do you have sandals or flip-flops? Nope these are the only pair I brought, well you can walk barefoot down the hill and back then.

So, down the hill we went, and when we got to the landing area the waves were just crashing in, coming in fairly large curls of blackish water! Our guide was undaunted, “If you trust me a little, I can get you out past the breakers and into the calmer water. We probably can’t go into any caves, but it will be fine!” Given his track record so far none of us were inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, but nevertheless we noted a couple of kayaks going out in between the really bad waves. Suddenly the guides were all huddled around a phone staring intently, I heard the word “suspended.” And finally the guide admitted defeat. The maritime authorities have declared that all kayaking trips are cancelled this morning. I could still get you there, but you would all be breaking the law. LOL.

So our day of kayaking was a bust. Even worse, none of us took a picture of the waves!!

With kayaking out of the picture we headed to Carvoeiro to do the boardwalk. It was very scenic and considerably drier than the kayaks.

After doing the boardwalk we came back and made ourselves sandwiches, and hung out at the pool, reading, dozing, and whatnot.

For dinner we headed back in to Carvoeiro for dinner at an Indian restaurant called Gurkha Kitchen. It’s a Nepalese and Indian place that was very good. We / I was definitely in the mood for something a bit different than we had been eating for the last week, and this fit the bill perfectly. Papadams, some dumplings, some Nepal curry, it was great. We could have gone higher on the spice levels but we all enjoyed the food very much.

This morning we woke up, took our time with coffee etc, and then headed for Sagras, it is the farthest southwest point Europe. You know this because there is a bratwurst stand that says Last Brat before America!

Unfortunately when we arrived a massive cloud bank was rolling in, and we couldn’t see anything! Also the fort was not open because the workers were on a one day strike! So it was kind of a bust. Here you see our selfie at Sagras and then another selfie just 30 miles away less then an hour later!

The second picture was taken in Lagos on Ponte do Piedade, it was so beautiful that after taking pics from above, we ended up driving into town, finding a charge point, eating lunch, and then booking a boat to take us out to see it from the water!

Memories of the Gold Coast

By the time we finished the boat trip and walked back to the car it was nearly 5:00, so we still had a very full day despite the challenges of the morning. We headed back to the hotel, showered, rested for a bit then had a light dinner at a nearby pizza place called Mona Lisa. It was kind of funny because it was just right around the corner, but then Jane discovered that they only took cash. We were nearly out, so it was kind of like college. Well, we have some euros, you have some euros, and if we turn in our towels at the front desk we can get our 40 euro deposit back and have enough money to eat! It sure beat jumping in the car and driving a mile to find an ATM!

After dinner Jane and I went to the end of the lane to enjoy a bit of sunset!

Just as we were about to go to bed we got the news alert. The jury was in! Would they convict Trump? We waited as the pundits did their punditry and then finally the verdicts were read. One by one, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty on all counts! A small celebration broke out and a chant of “Lock him up!” Of course, soon enough the convicted felon emerged to tell us that “it was rigged” LOL!! This is a good day for America, the system worked and finally we are holding Trump accountable. In any other decade in our history, for any other political party, the nominee would bow out of the race, or the party would demand the presumptive nominee give way. Sadly that will not be the case here.

Tomorrow some hiking and then just relaxing before head into Lisbon on Saturday. It’s hard to believe that we are heading back in just a couple of days.

Driving to Obidos and Ericeira

After our busy day in the Douro Valley it was time to head south! Our first stop of the day was the Europcar desk to pick up our electric ID3. But wait… we were upgraded to a Polestar 2! We had looked at all of the charging stations and decided this would be a great chance to try an electric vehicle! All was well until we arrived in Nazare - If you haven’t watched 100 foot wave you really need to watch a couple episodes! In Nazare it was time to recharge. Using the MIIO app, it was no problem finding a station, but getting the car to charge was like a clown show! Rookies! Two young American college students were trying to do the same thing, and it was pretty funny that we could not quite get it. We had all foolishly assumed that we could swipe our credit card and charge away! (Pun intended.) Instead we had to create an account on the app and preload it with some $.

With the car finally charging, we headed out for lunch and some sightseeing! We found a great burger stand, which was just what we needed after a week of enjoying mostly native Portuguese food. From there we walked to the lighthouse and enjoyed the views of the beach. There are no 100 foot waves this time of year, but it was fun to see the sights from the show in person.

From Nazare we went to Obidos, this is a cool old walled town, supposedly the birthplace of Ginja. For me it also brings back memories of the early days of the internet and working with Amazon where the URL always contained obidos. Obidos was their original page rendering engine, named after a town in Brazil which is the swiftest part of the Amazon river. The town in Brazil was named after Obidos in Portugal. We walked the walls and enjoyed the sights from this little hill town.

After Obidos we headed to Ericeira for a two night stay on the ocean. We had a two bedroom apartment booked, which was upgraded to a four bedroom. Even better was that the parking ramp for the hotel had parking with free charging for electric vehicles! The hotel was lovely and we were too tired to do much more for dinner than eat at the restaurant in the hotel. The food was good.

The plan for the next day was a day trip to the hilltop castle in Sintra, the Peña Palace. As we get older we get smarter, so rather than hike up the hill we used the Bolt app (Uber competitor) to get a ride to the top! Eight euros later and we were there! We walked down, but more about that later. The Peña palace is a huge sprawling complex with miles of hiking paths, castle walls, and a tour of the inside of the castle (which we skipped). There are other palaces and castles very close by including the Moorish castle. We enjoyed the hiking and sites of the castles.

Then it was time to see what we missed on the hike up! Boy are we glad we took the bolt instead of walking! As we were headed down a particularly steep section we met a couple coming up, breathing heavy and sweating. He asked “how much further?” I responded, “where are you going?” Expecting either Peña Palace or Moorish castle, the reply instead was, “to the nearest Uber!!” I laugh every time I think about that!

Holly had several options picked out for lunch and we ended up with a really nice one. Then back to Ericeira and some restful time by the pool.

Tomorrow we head off to Algarve for the relaxing part of the vacation!

Douro Valley

The train ride started peacefully enough. However when the conductor came to check our tickets the guy across the aisle was unresponsive. Like does he have a pulse? Unresponsive! A couple of stops later the EMTs got on the train and managed to get him awake. Soon after he was off the train. As usual the paperwork took longer than anything and we were soon 20 minutes behind.

We had thought that the train ride would be fun, with four seats facing each other, maybe a table to play Euchre or Qwertle. But the train was a “historic” train. No tables, no electricity to recharge devices. But the scenery was very nice. We got off the train in Pinhão to visit the Quinto Do Jollata winery, high above the city. We needed to either Uber or take a taxi. The Uber was advertising the ride for 5 euros, but no drivers were taking us up. There was a taxi with a feisty Portuguese woman driver. She told us 15 euros. When we said we were told that it would be 5 she slammed the car door shut in a huff. Then probably swore at us. We agreed to her 15 and got in for the ride. By the time we arrived we all thought that 15 was probably appropriate! The views from the winery were spectacular!

The tasting area was also beautiful.

There was a trail from the winery down to the city, and we had decided ahead of time to walk down. The host at the winery said to follow the dirt road to the end of their property then to climb over the fence to their neighbors, and continue to walk toward the bridge. By the time we got to the fence, one of us had had it! LOL.

Once back in the city we boarded a boat for a ride to Tua. More beauty but this time from the river!

In Tua we had a bit of an adventure finding the train station. We didn’t have a lot of time, and in our haste ended up away from the station, but deciding that the most expedient way forward was to simply walk the tracks, listening carefully for an approaching train!

We arrived safely! As it turned out the train to Porto was at the station but the train to Pocinho was not there yet. We looked for a conductor to see if we could just hop on and go back to Porto, and I finally found one, but just as I was asking him the question the train to Pocinho pulled in and he said if we wanted to go to Porto we had to get on right now. We dithered for a second to long and thus were committed to riding to the end of the line. In the end we all agreed we should have jumped on the train back when we had the chance.

The ride back to Porto was fine, but long, and at times VERY crowded. Speaking of crowded that is the only way to describe Time Out! Finding a place to sit took a couple of trips up and back, but we did eventually find a place for the four of us to sit. Jane and Holly saved our spots while Brian and I braved the ravenous hoards to gather our dinner. Jane had the duck rice which was kind of like a layer of rice with duck over the top covered in a thick layer of cheese. It was delicious. I had the Sea bass over Quinoa with Crayfish sauce. Also wonderful, but it turned out to be a starter! I wish I had ordered two!

To say we were exhausted after 12 hours on the train, and hiking and wine tasting is an understatement. Tomorrow is an easier day with just a bit of walking around town, and maybe visiting a port house.

Food Tour

We started today with a short walk to meet our guide, Maria, for a food tour of Porto. Maria is a private chef and sommelier who does these tours as well. She grew up in the neighborhood of Porto that we were visiting. We made several stops during our tour so let’s review, step by step.

  1. Nota and coffee and Hungarian cookies. We had been waiting to try the Nota since we landed in Lisbon. But we did not want to have our first taste be something mass produced for airport visitors. This did not disappoint. The Nota is a pastry filled with egg custard. Seriously, the egg custard reminded me of my mom’s whipped cream where you could feel the sugar crunch between your teeth as you ate it. We also had a shortbread cookie that was half dipped in chocolate called a Hungarian. Both were great. Lots of pastries are made with egg yolks because the nuns who originally made the pastries used the egg whites as starch to stiffen their habits.
  2. Spice store Romeo and Juliet (cheese and apple jam) At the spice store where Maria has shopped since childhood we tried the Romeo and Juliet, a slice of cheese topped with a dense slice of Quince on top. The salty cheese and the sweet marmalade were a perfect combination.
  3. Market From the spice store we headed to the main market. It is a beautiful open air market, newly remodeled I think. Apparently once you have the license for a stall you can pass it on to your direct descendants, otherwise it is very hard to get in.
    1. Figs with Walnuts: we started with a taste of a fig stuffed with a walnut. Pretty tasty even for me who is not a big fan of figs.
    2. Beans (lupins) and Olives: The olives were olives, enough said. (I’m not a fan) But the Lupins were really interesting. You peel off a thin shell and then eat them. The consistency and taste reminded me of a rather hard cheese, and Maria confirmed that the lupins are often used to make a vegan cheese.
    3. Oyster and Mussels: Fresh oysters and Mussels. Pretty good. Brian did the oyster on the half-shell, the rest of us mussels. Not sure I’ve had a raw mussel before, it seemed like it had been cooked and then served cold.
    4. Sardines and Cod on crackers: Ok, this one tested us a bit. Sardines were a real staple of the Porto diet, especially if you were a working class family. I really wasn’t even sure I wanted to try one, but when you are on a food tour you just do it, that’s what you are there for. I thought the sardine on a cracker was quite good. The cod was more fishy to my taste but still decent. We actually went back and bought a tin of sardines to take on the train to the Douro valley. The cod in Porto is all dried, and then reconstituted when it is time to eat it, can you say Luetefisk?
    5. Ginja: Time for a drink! Ginja is a cherry liquor served in a chocolate cup. I’m not a huge cherry fan, but this tasted a little more like anise, or if you are in a bad mood you might say cough syrup.
    6. Iberian and Black pork: Although I had tried the black pork, this was our chance to see the Iberian and black pork side by side. When we tried several slices of the different pork side by side it was easy to see why the black pork is so much more expensive. 60 euros per kg for the Iberian, and 180 euros per kg for the black. In fact Maria said that when you are getting the black pork it is important to have the butcher cut it in front of you so that you can verify that it is the black pork. When we got some to bring on the train we did just that. We also learned how they use every part of the pig, and how in the battle against Spain the residents of Porto were used as human shields to protect the city which never fell! (Porto Invictus) The humans used as shields were treated to the best parts of the pig whereas the people being protected made due with the worst.
    7. Bread: We tried the peasant bread made with malt, barley and wheat flour. It was a very dark bread, and tasted like it had molasses in it, but that is just the malt. It lasts for a couple of weeks, and then you use it in bread pudding.
    8. Bonus Ginja: as we were leaving the market another tour guide came up to us with a tray of Ginja — We didn’t use it all with our group, please enjoy another glass!
  4. Fancy Paste store: This was kind of an odd part of the tour. Whereas everything so far had been about the peasants and working class people and their food, this was a high end store featuring tubes of paste made from every region of Portugal. We tried some savory, some sweet, and some chocolate. We felt a little pressure to purchase, and so we did get three tubes to bring on the train.
  5. Hot dogs and drinks: Our last stop was at a local establishment that makes the best hot dogs anywhere. This place is famous because Anthony Bourdain loved the place and featured it on his show. Reportedly he and the owners also became good friends over the years and he visited every time he was in Europe. There was a line to get in, but the hot dogs (and buns!) were really good.
  6. Time Out market: As a bonus, Maria walked us through the Time Out Market, right next to the train station. This is kind of a high end food court where a few different Michelin starred chefs make their food available. It looks like the perfect place to grab a bit to eat when we get off the train from the Douro valley.

After the food tour we rested for a few minutes and then headed out across the bridge to Gaia. Along the river in Gaia is where all of the port houses are. The wine is transferred from the Douro Valley into town where it is aged and transformed into port. We planned on tasting in the Douro, but still enjoyed some time at the rooftop bar of one of the places. By the time we were done there we took the cable car back up to the bridge and walked back to our apartment. We were exhausted, so Brian and I walked to Rocky’s for some kebabs and pizza for supper.

Porto Arrival

As much as I was dreading the flight on Ryan Air, it was a very smooth and uneventful flight. We had upgraded to premium tickets so we had assigned seats, as well as “priority boarding”. That just meant that if you were at the gate early enough you got into the queue to get on the plane ahead of the non-priority passengers. If you didn’t, then you were stuck in the queue wherever it was when you showed up. Luckily we heeded the alert to head to the gate a little more than an hour before takeoff.

I was seated next to a very cute two year old, whose parents were mortified every time he made a sound. I just kept smiling and telling them it was fine. He was fascinated with my iPad, but declined to help me with the NYT crossword. We arrived in Porto and our next destination was the Metro. We were not sure how to find it…

It was a very easy trip on the metro with one transfer to get within a couple blocks of our AirBnB here in Porto. It’s a lovely 3 level apartment overlooking a little alley off another alley. There is a restaurant right below us. After dropping our luggage we were all a little “hangry” so we found a restaurant just up the hill, we had a reservation for 9PM so we just wanted a drink and a few tapas. The restaurant also had the sandwich called a Francesinha. It’s a slice of bread topped with steak, topped with more bread and then ham and sausage, topped with bread and cheese and tomato sauce. It’s Portuguese hangover food. (For the record we were not hungover) For us it was like having a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with tomato soup poured over the top!! Talk about childhood memories.

We explored the waterfront area for about five hours before our next meal! Which meant walking around and stopping at a few different wine bars… Yes, periods of starvation followed by periods of foodie excess! Dinner was at a tiny (16 person) restaurant called Taberna dos Mercadores. This was a recommendation from my stepbrother Dwight and his wife Laurance. We made the reservation a month and a half ago, which was a good thing because there was a huge line of people with no reservations hoping to get in. We ended up seated next to two young women from New Jersey (They were in Portugal to see Taylor Swift) who tried to get in last night, but worked their way to the front of the line, only to be turned away! But they came back earlier and were rewarded with a table tonight. They knew exactly what they wanted to order the moment they sat down.

We were happy to have a more leisurely pace! The service was great, our waiter had a fun sense of humor, and the food was excellent. Holly had the flaming sea bass.

I had Veal and a HUGE pot of Risotto! Large enough for the whole table to share. Brian had Cod and Jane had Ribs. Soooo much good food. By the time we were done it was well after 10:00 so we made our way home and fell into bed!

What a great first day in Porto! And yes, for the record, we might need another Francesinha in the morning. Although we have a food tour starting at 11. Stay tuned.

Pico do Areeiro

We woke around 7 again this morning. One possibility was to do the difficult hike from Areeiro to Ruivo, the so called “peak to peak” hike. A hike that can take 6 hours, with a LOT of elevation change. We decided to just go to one peak and enjoy the view, then do an easier hike somewhere else. This was probably a good decision as when we arrived at the pico it was very “cloudo” and we could not see much. But I’m getting ahead of myself!

We left the condo, and got in the car to head out… We missed a turn, and ended up on a different route that was basically 6 miles of city driving straight UP HILL. I’m so glad Jane was driving as I would have totally ruined the clutch on our rental car before escaping the city! Stopping and starting behind city busses on what must have been nearly 45% grade. I’m not exaggerating, I looked it up and that grade does exist in Funchal! Many are 25% or more.

Once out of the city the roads were less steep and really quite beautiful. Driving through some really old trees with the sun filtering through, it looked like we were going to be very lucky and get a great view. We happened upon a pack of mountain bikers! What a climb for them.

Sadly when we arrived at the parking area the clouds were starting to roll in.

At one point we could not even see the top anymore. Much less any of the scenery below us! Nevertheless we climbed to the highest point for a quick picture.

The footpath of Ponte de São Lourenço

After Areeiro we headed to the far north eastern end of the island to get some completely different scenery. This was a highly rated hike that lets you see the ocean from both sides of the path as you walk along ridge lines and up and down. The popularity of this was confirmed as we started to see cars parked precariously along the edge of the road at least a mile from the trail head. We made a couple of attempts to get lucky at finding a closer parking spot and were rewarded with a safe and relatively close spot our second lap!

It was fairly far to do the whole out and back hike so I set this saddle point as my goal, although I will say that there was not a consensus among the group as to how realistic that goal was.

The trail was super busy but the sights were amazing. I really loved all of the colors in the layers of the rocks!

After a wonderful hike we headed back to our apartment. We decided to stop for lunch after parking the car, realizing that if we returned to the apartment inertia would set in, and we would likely just sit there and starve. So we stopped at the Coachella restaurant. One of those along the hillside where there was always a woman trying to entice us to stop in and try the food. It had good reviews anyway so we risked it. It was well worth the stop even though we were all tired and sweaty from the hiking.

We still wanted to go back to one of the places back in old town in one of the long alleyways full of restaurants. We walked up and down the alley, accosted at every turn by eager restauranteurs who wanted to convince us to dine at their establishments. It was awful. We finally selected one, and although the food was good, the service was indifferent at best and hostile at worst. I had a steak with pepper sauce and fries. Yes the fries were what I really needed. :-)

After dinner we walked through the entertainment district, listened to some outdoor music and enjoyed a lovely after dinner drink at The Ritz. Tomorrow is a leisurely morning then off to the airport for our flight to Porto!

Levada das 25 Fontes (alt)

This is our first full day on Madeira after flying Minneapolis to Toronto to Lisbon to Funchal, overnight, etc. etc. We powered through a half day of walking around town eating pizza and trying some local drinks. We had to go see the statue of Cristiano Ronaldo to see if it was as bad as it was in the pictures!

It was… Next ask yourself the question, why is his crotch extra shiny?? There is so much to do in Funchal, that I can already see we could have spent a week here easily. We did try the Madeira wine as we were walking around. Just eating our way through all the local places could take more than a week.

We all made it past 9pm! Today we woke up around 7am local time. 1AM CDT. We had an extremely aggressive hiking plan for today and immediately realized we had to tone it down. So we opted for the Levada das 25 Fontes. A levada is an irrigation channel or aqueduct specific to the Portuguese Atlantic region of Madeira. Basically they are small channels designed to bring the rain water from the upper elevations to the region around Funchal and other areas that need the water. We saw the water flowing through channels along the roads as we climbed our way toward the start of the hike.

The first part of the hike was great, it was right along the Levada with great scenery lovely trees and greenery. Quite an engineering project if you ask me!

After about 4 miles of hiking we found ourselves at the actual 25 Fontes part of the hike! The usual way to the start of the hike was just a boring walk downhill on a very narrow road. So this way was much better and more interesting. But by then we were pretty tired from the long rough descent, so we only did a small part of the original hike.

By the time we finished it was 2:00 in the afternoon and we hadn’t really eaten anything other than a few snacks. So we picked a lovely restaurant down by the sea to stop for a delicious lunch!

The view was amazing and the food was great also! Brian had Scabbard fish, Jane had baked Octopus, I had Portuguese black pork and Holly had Tuna steak. All deliciously prepared over an open fire. We all shared and all the dishes were really good.

By the time we got back to our AirBNB we were ready for showers and then happy hour. At happy hour we tried the Poncha and some Portuguese green wine, and a cheese plate. We played a game of Qwirkle at another local establishment and called it a night at 10pm! Tomorrow is another HUGE day of hiking.

Northeast Migration Spring 24

It is time for the annual migration back to Minnesota. Close up the house in the desert for the summer, and get in the car for a few days. This spring our itinerary is:

  • Indio to Phoenix and meet friends for dinner.
  • Phoenix to Santa Fe with a stop at the Petrified Forest
  • Santa Fe to Kansas City (borrrrriiiiinnnggg)
  • Kansas City to Decorah IA.

Once in Decorah, I’ll be in board of regents meetings for a couple of days. The meetings this week are highly consequential with the announcement of the impending retirement of our president, Jenifer Ward, we have some real thinking to do about how to set the course for the next several years.

Most of the drive is pretty flat, following the high plains! Not many trees, the desert turns to fields for as far as you can see. But the stop at the Petrified Forest was interesting. The science behind the petrification of the trees, and the views of the mesas and the painted desert were really great.

We arrived in Santa Fe a bit later than planned due to a lot of road construction! But we walked around for a bit, then tried a couple Margaritas at the highly rated bar in the La Fonda hotel. We had a later reservation at Sazon, a James Beard winner in Santa Fe. Dinner started with a sampler platter of Moles and another Margarita. (I am now a huge fan of Mezcal over Tequila) After we had a chance to try the various Moles, our water presented the menu. Lots of different options to go with the various Moles, so it all made sense! Jane ordered the Cholula — a tower of chile poblano / ground lamb, pork and beef / nuts / dried fruits, spices over a cold creamy walnut sauce / pomegranate seeds / balsamic jalapeño reduction! Jane describes it as having the main course and desert at the same time. It was really delicious. I opted for the pork loin with one of the spicier moles on the menu, served with rice it was truly a feast! We even got a chance to chat with the chef, Fernando Olga, who dropped by our table in jeans, chefs coat and cowboy hat.

It was a great evening, but tomorrow is nearly a 12 hour drive to get to Kansas City.

Runestone Academy: SIGCSE 2024

I am Just back from Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE) 2024 conference in Portland Oregon. This is my 20th year going to SIGCSE, but only my second as an exhibitor. This link encompasses my thoughts on this year. Please click through and read it.

Andvord Bay

Our last zodiac adventure! 😭 But our first chance to put foot on the continent proper. Not an island off the content but the actual Antarctic continent!! 🐧The beautiful sunny weather of the morning had turned misty and cloudy by mid afternoon.

Lots of views of Gentoo penguins, and one lost Chinstrap!

The Gentoos were coming down to the water to take a swim/much needed bath, and then got spooked by our zodiac. As we were sitting offshore we saw four of them swimming toward us. They were underwater but we could see them very clearly. Suddenly they swooped right under us and flew out of the water onto the shore. Nobody had a camera or video going or it would have been the most spectacular shot of the trip.

As we drifted away, I did get a couple great sequences of them diving off the rocks into the water.

Damoy Point

This expedition is just so amazing. Every time you think you have seen “the best” then another day comes along with another bay, or a change in the weather to a beautiful blue sky and you are just standing there once again wondering how can it get any better than this?

We started the day with a landing on Damoy point, home to thousands of Gentoo penguins as well as British and Argentine emergency huts. The British hut was open so we were able to walk inside and have a look.

The penguins were cute as usual, although a bit more pungent than usual if you ask me. The bay was just incredible with mountains on either side soaring skyward. At one point we were hiking and Jane and I both stopped because we heard “thunder” it was an avalanche in the distance somewhere. We didn’t see it, and according to Ignacio by the time we hear it the slide is already over anyway.

World Navigator at Damoy Point

The really incredible part of the morning came after we were back on board and sailing through a big s-shaped area, the sun was out, the sea was dead calm and the reflections were beautiful.

So many reflection pictures, and it was just incredible to stand there in awe of it all. Then along came some penguins swimming and diving in the water. It was amazing we could see them under the water as well as when they came flying out of it. Look closely at this picture there are three penguins!

Close up:

Antarctic Circle Crossing

Polar Plunge Day

Today we officially crossed the Antarctic Circle. It’s a unique club to belong to. We were supposed to have a zodiac cruise or a landing, but the bay we were heading to (all the possible bays actually) were so full of brash ice and growlers that we had to slow our speed to only 3 knots. Also it was snowing like mad. So, it was determined that today we would not do that, today would be the day for the Polar plunge. Even more special since we were south of the Polar Circle.

Jane and Ann enjoyed it thoroughly, Jerry and I enjoyed watching our crazy wives. The plunging festivities started around 10AM.

The plunge itself is pretty simple. Strap into a harness, walk to the end of the “plank” count down from three and jump. Get back out of the 32 degree water as quickly as possible!

Enjoy a shot of your favorite adult beverage to celebrate!

The rest of the day was spent cruising back to the North, so our time in the circle was fairly short. But it was nice to have a calm day to enjoy some reading and games and relaxing. Tomorrow we should have our final two excursions before we head back across the Drake to Ushuaia.

Argentine Islands

Antarctica is a continent. It is not “owned” by any nation, but is governed by an international treaty. Countries may maintain research bases in Antarctica but no country can claim a part of the continent as their own territory.

Today we got to cruise by a Ukrainian station. Under other circumstances we would have been allowed to visit the station, but unfortunately they were in the middle of a resupply process and could not accommodate visitors.

Vernadsky Research Institute

Resupply ship Noosfera

So, we cruised around and saw a little colony of Gentoo penguins. Visited an “iceberg graveyard” and saw some seals!

But the new animal for today was the Weddell Seal. Just lounging around on the ice pack.

The highlight of the afternoon will be cruising across the Antarctic circle. We were just commenting at lunch today that it was amazing how much we have seen but we have only seen a tiny tiny fraction of the continent. Everything we have seen and will see is part of the Antarctic peninsula that extends farther North.

Right now I’m watching a lecture on the Cetacians of the Antarctic. We have seen a lot of humpback whales, but there are also Minke whales, Fin whales, Right whales, and even Sperm Whales. Note that Sperm Whales are toothed whales not Baleen. Orcas are also quite common, including the ice pack Orca. This is a group of Orcas that engage in pack hunting. They will actually find a seal on the ice and attack the pack ice from below breaking up the ice and leaving the poor seal floating on a tiny bit of ice. From there they will push the seal off the ice and enjoy their lunch.

Yolaour Island

An easy afternoon to see some Adélie Penguins. So this is the third species of penguin that we have seen: starting with Chinstrap, then Gentoo (yes like the Linux distro) and now the Adélie. The Adélie is the only true Antarctic penguin.

The hike was easy and flat, and we were the first group this season to visit this large colony. We know that because our guides looked for a staircase from a previous ship and could not find one, so they had to dig one for us.

Our first bit of penguin drama came when the Skuas arrived. These are birds that are predators on the penguin eggs. They are very brazen predators as well, landing right next to the penguins laying on the nest! You can see it here with the one penguin looking quite alarmed, and the other just meekly pointing at the Skua as if to say “help?”

This guy however was definitely putting up a braver front! I got more of a “None shall pass” vibe.

But, the Skuas can’t be everywhere so there were plenty of additional Adélie to observe and enjoy their expressions. These three really got me.

Of course all is not just work in penguin land. I can’t imagine two penguins having more fun than these two little guys!

Finally, just a purely lucky shot. Our guide Ignacio has been talking about different techniques for composing shots and has talked about “frame in a frame.” I saw this from the zodiac heading back and thought it was a nice frame in a frame. It wasn’t until I got the photo onto my iPad and did a little cropping that I saw the Adélie in the middle of the frame!

Flanders Bay

What started as an ordinary excursion turned extraordinary when we found ourselves surrounded by humpback whales!

We were just cruising through some brash ice and looking at some birds when we heard the radio call from Jonathan. “I am nine o’clock from the ship and have four humpbacks.” We quickly made our way toward his position, gliding in very quietly the last 100 meters.

Then we heard and saw them a short distance away. Breath going out the blowhole, whoosh. Sometimes they would just glide along the surface like a giant surfboard, sometimes they would arch their backs and slowly sink back under the water, sometimes they would dive and show their tails as they disappeared under the water.

At one point two of them headed straight at our zodiac. One went directly under the bow, the other surfaced on the starboard side so close we could have reached out and touched its barnacle covered skin. We have been whale watching several times, but we have never had an experience like this! So close, and the whales just seemed to be curious about “the intruders” into their beautiful calm bay. At some point I just told myself to put down the camera, put my hands in my pockets, and just enjoy this rare experience. Some memories will just have to live in my mind.

After returning to the ship and sorting through the photos from this morning I favorited more than 50! Gotta be a little more choosy for this post, so here you go.

Tail, ship, mountain, sky

Coming at you!

Enterprise Island

This morning the waves were larger than yesterday and the skies were much grayer. So we had another zodiac experience, but much bumpier and wetter than the previous day. While not as lucky as the day before, the highlight of this trip was to visit a Norwegian shipwreck.

Although called Enterprise island, this island was originally named Nansen island, after the Norwegian explorer and Nobel winner Fridtjof Nansen. (Yes, Luther friends, that one). But the British decided it would be better called Enterprise. The ship itself was here from Norway to help the whalers in the area stick it to the Brit’s. It had a processing system on board that would turn the whale blubber into oil, thus avoiding a particular British tax on whale blubber.

The pictures from this morning are all from Jane. I didn’t take our larger camera because we were warned that we and everything we took was likely to get rather wet. And it was fine, sometimes it is good to just take in the experience and not worry about getting photos every few minutes.

Useful Island

One of the guides is sponsoring a Haiku contest:

Cute little penguin

Penguin Personality

Penguins are stinky

We could smell the colony of Gentoo penguins long before we could see them. And then we were there amongst them all. The wind was blowing hard and it was snowing. It was kind of miserable to be honest. But we had come to see the penguins and we were treated to a show. We saw them sliding down the hill, or just “swimming” through the snow. Some were laying on eggs. If they are on the rocks and laying they are on their egg. Some were swimming in the water. Several of them jumped up out of the water onto the rocks right where we were getting off the Zodiac! Curious little buggers.

Darn kids! Get off my rock.

Did you hear?

Thank you, Thank you, I’ll be here until April…

Guarding the egg.

Just trying to stay warm!

Ready… Set….

Just keep swimming

For an afternoon where the weather was not so good I have even more fun photos of these penguins.

Recess Cove

This afternoon’s excursion was a zodiac cruise, rather than a hike. Everything we saw we saw from the side of the boat. We were lucky enough to have our Excursion Leader Jonathan as our zodiac driver, so we had a super knowledgeable guide for the trip.

The main highlight was a couple of crab seals. One was sleeping and molting, but another was awake and a bit more active and we saw him dive into the water. He resurfaced again and we were hopeful he would climb back on to his little iceberg but he decided to keep swimming. We learned that these seals have teeth that they can use to hunt seals, but they are all kind of trident shaped and when the seal closes its mouth it acts like a mesh. So a seal can gulp up a huge mouthful of water containing krill and then close its mouth, expel all of the water through the teeth, and it is left with a yummy mouthful of fresh krill. This is exactly what Baleen whales do on a much larger scale!

We also learned a little about how to read the history of an iceberg. Since the ice on an iceberg melts faster than the ice out of the water bergs will often rotate many times. You can see on this one how that is the case. They call the left of the on pictured below the keel. And you can see the rings on the right as well.

On this one you can see how the center of gravity has shifted more to the right, lifting the thinner part up out of the water on the left.

Today was really quite a day. The guides all told us at recap that we had been extremely lucky and we had seen about 75% of the things we were likely to see in an entire trip in a single day! Which was funny because I had just commented that if for some reason we suddenly had to leave today, I would still have counted the trip a great success. I’m glad that we will have more days to see and re-see so many interesting things.

Palaver Point

Achievement Unlocked - seventh continent visited.

This morning was very exciting! We awoke to a sunny day, and very calm seas knowing that in just a short time we would be taking our very first hike on Antarctica. A colony of Chinstrap penguins and a little climb to a beautiful overlook. There were humpback whales, just chilling, off the bow of the ship. What a day!

We went through the drill of putting on our wellingtons and parka, hat, gloves, life jacket, backpack… I felt like the Michelin Man. We had our first experience with the automatic boot scrubber (to keep contaminants off the continent) and got onto the zodiac. It was a short ride, but the excitement began to build early when a bunch of penguins started jumping out of the water just ahead of us. Once we got on land there was a path to follow to allow us to see many views of the colony without getting too close. I’m definitely glad we invested in the new lens. We were well back from the penguins but the lens makes it look like we were much closer. So, walking in the snow, enjoying the views… There is not much more to write so I’ll just share some of my favorite photos from the morning.

Zodiac Arrival

Penguin Choir

Penguin Conductor

The climb and the ship

Leopard Seal - molting

Crossing the Drake

How many oceans are there on earth? Most of us learned about four - Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic. But there is a fifth called the southern ocean that surrounds Antarctica. We need to get across it. This is also often referred to as the Drake passage. The winds have free rein to go all the way around the earth unimpeded by any content in this region. So, yeah, swells, big ones. And, uhhhhh seasickness for many many passengers.

I’m getting a little ahead of the story, but the early morning trip to the airport and the charter flight to Ushuaia were uneventful and pretty uninteresting. After arriving we took a motor coach tour of Tierra del Fuego, which was interesting since we had been there before with much more time to hike, so we kept trying to remember exactly where we had hiked. We pulled up to our yacht at 3:00 and were among the first passengers welcomed aboard. No lines, no reception checkin. Here’s a glass of champagne! Sit on the couch here and let me scan your passport and take your picture on my phone. OK, here’s your key, you are now checked in! We were scheduled to leave at 6pm but we were told that due to the holiday things were running behind. By the time we headed to bed right after dinner we were still in port. We were too tired to care, and we slept until 8AM the next morning. Between the time change and the lack of sleep it felt great.

At our first briefing of the day we learned that not only had we left late, but we had also picked up 20 passengers from our sister ship that was having engine trouble after passing through a storm on the Drake passage days ago. We learned more about our excursions off the ship and that the first three rules are “be flexible” The captain and the expedition leader work together to find the best, safest, most interesting landing spots for the day. With changing conditions that is often not known until hours before we are told and ready to go. We were so impressed with the expedition crew! Lots of specialties and advanced degrees in all kinds of fields will be leading us.

By the time of this first briefing we were well into the Drake and there were a LOT of seasick passengers. I know I am not immune to it, but I am lucky that I don’t get seasick easily, so far so good. Jerry and Jane have not felt the best but thankfully they haven’t got sick either.

Later in the day we got fit for our parkas, life jackets and boots that we will wear whenever we leave the ship. We also had a fascinating lecture about the Albatross in the drake passage. This is the best place in the world to see them, and we have enjoyed watching them soar and dive amongst the swells. They can literally fly for up to 9000 miles without stopping. With their 12 foot wingspan they are some of the largest birds in the world. Unfortunately they are endangered. As creatures of the sea (they are only on land to breed and hatch and care for their young) they have been really affected by plastics in the ocean, and by bad fishing practices. Eat your seafood responsibly people! And, do what you can to reduce your use of plastics.

My first photo of an Albatross

By dinner time we were all feeling pretty good. We had a very nice meal and enjoyed some after dinner entertainment by our cruise director before turning in for another good nights sleep. The winds and the swells were predicted to increase during the night, and that proved to be the case. We were definitely rocked and rolled to sleep. Waking up a few times as the bottles in the mini-bar all clanged together. During the recap briefing we were asked to predict when we would see the first iceberg. Not “bergy bits” or pieces of floating ice, but a real true titanic size iceberg!

Our first iceberg

I didn’t expect to see one on day two, but there it was just after lunch! I was looking out the window of our room and for a moment thought it was another ship in the distance, but once I got the binoculars it was clear that it was a berg.

Of course the other side of the ship had an even bigger one to see!

Iceberg 2.

We still have a good long distance to go before reaching Antarctica, but things are going to get more and more interesting.

Buenos Aires

We decided to splurge and book our overnight flight to Buenos Aires as Delta One tickets. There are some nice perks with that. Easy drop off of checked luggage and access to the Delta lounge while you wait. The seats lie totally flat for the overnight flight. Maybe we will be able to sleep, we thought. Not so much as it turns out. But we made it, having left Minneapolis at 3:00pm on Tuesday we arrived at 9 something the next morning in BA. An hour to get through customs and an hour to get downtown in a cab, It was pouring rain, the hotel lobby was packed with people waiting to leave on their Viking cruise. And our room was not ready, to be fair checkin was not until 3, and we were not the only tired travelers arriving on an overnight flight.

We had booked a bike tour to keep us going in the afternoon, but that was cancelled due to the rain. So we hung out in the lobby, watched some soccer, and had a light lunch waiting for our room or for our friends Ann and Jerry to arrive.

The highlight of that first day was the dinner experience we booked at Fogon. Everything is cooked with the highly elaborate Argentine grill called a perilla. There are 9 courses on the menu, but the 2 surprise courses brought the number to 11.

The Parilla

The chefs were all very friendly and very entertaining. The food was absolutely delicious and a celebration of being a wine loving carnivore.

Smoked “eyebrow” with a pinecone

Our dinner didn’t start until 7:30 which is very early for the Argentines, and it ended sometime after 10 when most of them are just getting started. We were glad to get back to the hotel and put our overstuffed bodies to bed for the night. We had an all day tour of the city booked for the morning beginning at 9:30. Note that Buenos Aires is 3 hours ahead of Minneapolis so we were not too jet lagged, but still quite sleep deprived.

The tour of BA was fabulous, our tour guide’s name was Fabio and he was both knowledgeable and an excellent story teller. We had lots of questions and he seemed to really thrive on our back and forth. Our first stop of the day was at the government center. It was a big day/weekend as they were inaugurating a new mayor as well as a new president. Our impression was that this new president was going to be a trump-like disaster for Argentina, but it seems most people remain hopeful, that he will be an influence for change but moderated by the legislature that he must work with. Democracy in Argentina over the years has not been easy with many coups and rebellions. I won’t try to recap it all in this post, but I feel compelled to re-watch Evita with a new perspective. We did see the balcony that Eva Peron and Madonna both used.

Speaking of Evita our second stop was at the cemetery where she is interred. Her mausoleum is one of the most visited places in the city. This cemetery is just amazing as everyone is in some kind of crypt or mausoleum. When a family buys a place there they own it forever, but if they stop maintaining the site then it begins to decay. So we saw many amazing graves and many that had been grand years ago that were now full of spider webs and weeds. It was like a small town all to itself with streets and avenues going all over.

Having had our fill of beef the night before we politely asked Fabio for a different option for lunch. He pulled through and brought us to a small family run place that made killer empanadas. By this time it was well after 1 and we didn’t finish lunch until 3. We still had one more stop on our tour!

The highlight of the final stop was a drive by of the stadium where the Boca Juniors play. The club of Maradonna! The blue and yellow colors of the teem seemed oddly familiar to me, and I’ll tell you why. It seems that there were two teams in the city with the same colors, and they had a match to see who could keep the current colors, the loser would have to choose new colors. The Bocas lost, and the owners declared that they would adopt the colors of the next ship to dock in the harbor. That ship turned out to be flying the Swedish flag!

It was 5pm by the time we arrived back at the hotel. We were going to have dinner, and then take in a Tango show which didn’t start until 10! On top of that our bus to the airport for our charter flight to Ushuaia was going to be leaving between 4:30 and 5:00 AM the next morning!! Sound a little crazy? Well, we made it through, and are enjoying a couple of down days on the journey to Antarctica to catch up on sleep. More on that in the next post.

The dinner was pretty forgettable, and 3 out of 4 of us enjoyed the Tango show. OK, the music was good, I just have never learned to appreciate dance. For me the show could have ended after an hour but it kept going for another 40 minutes with various flourishes and bows and a dramatic rendition of “Don’t cry for me Argentina” to wrap up the show. It was after midnight by the time we walked back to our hotel, and yes, the alarm needed to be set for 4:15AM. There will be time to sleep later.

Mesa Verde

Today started out with another harrowing drive. We received about 3 inches of snow overnight, so my first duty was to clear the snow off the car. The snow was melting off the streets and it was warm enough that I really wasn’t worried about the drive. Until we started up the million dollar highway, on snowy, icy, roads, with no guard rails! We were doing 5-10 miles per hour on some parts. Luckily once we reached the summit things improved dramatically, but it was a very long first hour of driving.

The highway was built in the 1880s to connect Silverton with Ouray. It is supposed to be stunningly beautiful. Hopefully we can return in the warmer months to find out.

Our Journey for the day

From Silverton we continued on to Durango and then Mesa Verde National Park. It was a great time of the year to visit as the crowds were pretty small. The downside is that the ranger led tours of the cliff dwellings had ended a few weeks ago. Still, we were able to see a lot of the detail of the construction extremely well.

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Mesa Verde, Machu Picchu, and other ancient constructions always astonish me. How could they have done all of that building? So much progress in engineering that seems to have been lost. What happened?

Westward Migration

Today began just North of Denver, dry roads and a cloudy sky. We had coffee and got our day started, we were on the road by 8:00. Our path today would take us to Ouray with a stop at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Not our usual route out of Denver, up I70, but rather down US285 and over Monarch pass. Not more than 20 minutes down the road the conditions changed drastically. Cars in the ditch and ice on the roads. We slowed our progress considerably and soon the ice changed to water, but the skies got cloudier and the snow started. The conditions were not too bad until we climbed up toward Monarch pass. A pickup (pulling a camper!) had slid off the road, we slowed way down and joined a line of other like-minded travelers.

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Once we were over the pass, the temperatures warmed above freezing and the roads thawed and the sun came out. We paused for lunch at the Alpine Brewing company in Gunnison. We continued west toward Montrose but took a detour slightly North to take in Black Canyon NP. It was cloudy and we could hear thunder in the distance. Its odd to look down on the clouds in the Valley.

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I kind of felt like maybe I could hear the dwarves from the Lord of the Rings.

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The thunder got louder and closer, and before we knew it it was sleeting like crazy. In less than five minutes the roads were completely covered in slushy ice. But once again as we descended slowly the roads cleared.

We continued on our way toward Ouray and were treated to a beautiful sight as the clouds briefly cleared.

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Our evening in Ouray was pretty uneventful. We walked around downtown, but it was pretty quiet as it was cold and rainy. We had dinner at Brickhouse 737 in Ouray and it was a great meal. Quite a nice change from breweries and other on the road meals.