Monday, May 19, 2008

Dinner Party

We’ve had friends over for dinner several times before, but recently we had our first full-blown 12-person dinner party. We invited people over at 8:00, which meant we didn’t see anyone until 8:50. Interestingly, the German invitees called us to tell us they’d be running late…little did they know they’d arrive before the Portuguese invitees anyway. After some socializing and caipirinhas and showing off all the tricks our dogs know, we sat down to one of Katrin’s amazing Thai meals. We decided to do an Asian meal since the folks here don’t eat much ethnic food. It was delicious and people were gobbling it down, although some weren’t quite able to handle the spiciness of the Tom Yum soup. Dinner was followed by music courtesy of a couple of friendly guitar players and singing that took us until a bit after 3:00am, at which point many of our guests decided to head to the bars. From our experience, this is a pretty typical dinner party here and it was great fun to host this time. Hopefully our neighbors didn’t mind the singing too much!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


One of the nice things about living in Portugal is that we now have a few more holidays than the US. So we took advantage of some of my time off of work to do a European vacation…possibly the last time we’ll do a big trip until the little one is big enough to join us. We decided to go to Greece, one of the destinations we’ve both wanted to get to for a long time. And it turned out that spring was a great time to be there. We had lots of sunshine and temperatures in the 70’s, and yet small crowds and off-season rates. The only disadvantage of this time of year was the water was a tad nippy, but we braved it anyway.

We headed to Athens for a couple of days, mainly to see the Acropolis. It’s a very cool cultural site to explore, being a large area of ancient temples, theaters, markets, residential areas, etc. And of course topped off (literally) with the architectural wonder the Parthenon. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to battle the crowds and heat when most visitors go in July and August. We also explored some of the cute neighborhoods surrounding the Acropolis, but there doesn’t seem to be much else to Athens, which looks more like a dilapidated sprawling South American city than a European capital. So, after a quick 1.5 day visit it was off to the islands.

We flew to Santorini, which is an incredibly picturesque ancient volcano rim surrounding an enormous caldera submerged into the Mediterranean. We were told the power of this volcano when it went off about 1500BC was 40x that of Krakatoa, and I could believe it looking at the size. But the beauty of Santorini is in its whitewashed villages that cascade down the cliffside with amazing views across the caldera. It is also known for its much photographed white churches topped with blue domes. Our hotel room was literally a cave room that was built into the cliff, which is quite common (and great for keeping warm in winter and cool in summer). The old villages are lovely to explore as they are only big enough to move around on foot, no cars, and boating out to the currently active volcano to hike around and swim in the hot springs was great fun. But Santorini is really best for the cruise crowd that wants to stay for a day, take some pictures and shop. Beyond that it’s not as adventurous an island as we are used to, so we were off to Naxos for some additional exploration and beach time.

It was a 3-hour ferry ride to Naxos, our last stop of the trip. This more unknown island is actually quite big with a lot of little mountain villages to explore. The main town of Chora is very cute, right on the seaside, with some nice beaches nearby. This was a good place for us to wind down the trip with some exploring, biking and reading on the beach. The highlight, however, was stumbling into My Big Fat Greek Picnic. On May 1, a holiday throughout Europe for Labor Day or May Day, we were exploring the island by car and decided to visit a monastery. Since the gate was open, we did not realize it was actually closed for the day. But in the parking lot was a big family celebrating the holiday with a picnic. They invited us over and plied us with the most succulent lamb off the barbecue I’ve ever had, not to mention enormous amounts of wine (none for Katrin, sorry), dolmas, feta, etc…all homemade from the families lamb, goats, vineyard, and garden. They loved having a couple of Americans around and then started playing some traditional Greek music and dancing – holding hands and dancing in a circle, the men occasionally dipping and slapping their feet and knees. They got a big kick out of putting Caesar-like laurel wreaths on our heads and including me (Dan) in their dance. It was great fun and a very lucky way for us to experience Greek culture and hospitality up close and personal. Our goal should be to try to stumble into a group like that in every place we visit.

For a much longer pictorial tour of our trip, click here.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Since you've been asking

Here is a now outdated photo of my expanding was taken before we went to Greece (April 24th), so it actually looks small compared to what the last couple of weeks have done. I guess we will have to do another one soon.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Paris in Springtime

Well we have been quite busy lately. I was off to Paris to meet my good friend Antonia for a few days in mid-April, leaving Dan at home to care for our invalid cat and the pups. That was followed by a quick week at home and then we were both off to Greece (will post that trip report soon!) In Paris, Tone and I had a fabulous time sight-seeing, shopping, eating wonderful food that was in no way good for us, and generally wandering some of the lovely Parisian neighborhoods.

We had a museum pass for our first two days, so we were quite busy trying to fit in all of the sights that we wanted to see that it covered. We managed to hit the Louvre, Orsay, Orangerie, Rodin, and Army museums, plus the Arc de Triomphe, the Conciergerie, Saint Chappelle, Notre Dame, and possibly some others I have forgotten to list! We were very tired but happy girls at the end of each day. One of the highlights for both of us was climbing the tower of Notre Dame and walking amongst the gargoyles while looking out over all of the city.

The next two days we were able to slow down and enjoy Paris at a more leisurely pace. We strolled through the neighborhoods of Montmartre and the Marais, sat and observed life from several parks, cafes, and pastry shops, and made the required stop at the Eiffel Tower.

We had a fabulous time, all over Paris flowers were in full bloom, and it was so great to get to see Antonia again! For some quick photographic highlights, click here.