Sunday, November 9, 2008


For my birthday this year Katrin took me on a weekend excursion to visit a new part of Portugal. This was our first overnight stay with Amelia, which added to the adventure. We decided to visit some historic towns about 1.5 hours to the south. Fatima is the site of an annual pilgrimage that receives hundreds of thousands of Catholics every May 13, most of them making the journey on foot from around the country, with the last few hundred yards travelled on their knees. It was on May 13, 1917, that three young children apparently saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary in this town and since then the Church has built an enormous square (twice the size of that at Saint Peter’s) to hold the visitors.

Juxtaposed with this bastion of Catholic faith, a mere 10 kilometers south, is a valley where those of the Darwinian faith can contemplate the 100s of dinosaur tracks that have been found preserved in the stone. There is a path surrounding the area, and you can even get down and walk among some of the very large footprints. Needless to say in this country of 98 percent Catholic there were hundreds of visitors lighting candles and worshipping in Fatima, but I believe we only saw 2 other couples tracing the steps of the dinosaurs with us.

The town we visited on Sunday was Tomar, a town with an enormous monastery built in a variety of architectural styles that used to serve as the headquarters of the Knights Templar many centuries ago. It was quite a place to explore, and very easy to get lost in once we were inside. The town of Tomar itself was very pretty and quaint, right on a river with a lovely park and had some pedestrian only cobbled streets filled with shops and restaurants.

But the real story of this trip was the ease of traveling with Amelia. She’s a good car sleeper and as long as we kept her rested and fed, she seemed to take everything else in stride. We had concerns about eating meals in restaurants with her, but the Portuguese are extremely amenable to having small children in restaurants…not only the employees, but the patrons too. At lunch the first day nearly every table had a stroller alongside, and dinner had several small diners as well. We never felt even remotely uncomfortable if she started to whine, as Portuguese restaurants are usually loud and boisterous, and no one notices or cares about the added noise. However, we’ve quickly learned that new parents can’t try to stick to a schedule. Dinner will not necessarily happen at 8:00, but rather when the baby decides it’s a good time to take her out into public.

We stayed in a cute B&B on the edge of a river in the very tiny village of Dornes. It would be a great place to return to in the summer with the dogs (which they allow, one of the few places we have seen in Portugal that do). The trip was enjoyable not only because it was the first time we’ve done a trip like this in several months, but because now we get to bring our daughter along. We’re talking about doing a similar trip in a few weeks when I have a 3-day weekend. After all, we need to practice for our Christmas visit to France, which will be a longer trip and will involve plane travel.

For more pictures of our weekend and Amelia's second month of life, click here.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

What Bad Americans We Are

Halloween is synonymous with Trick or Treating, or at least in the US it is. Here Dan had colleagues ask if children really go from door to door and people hand out candy to them. Neither Dan nor I remember anyone coming to our door last year, though we both vaguely recall me buying candy, just in case. This year I had an almost 8 week old baby, and I had my first winter cold since last December this week, so Halloween was not on the top of my head. So I was mortified when at 7pm on Friday night the doorbell rang and 4 costumed children were at my gate with outstretched bags! I had two things going in my favor at that point, 1) I had just made some cookies earlier in the week, and 2) the Portuguese don't seem to have the paranoia that people in the US do about their children accepting homemade goods for Halloween. So I bagged them up while Tazzy kept our young visitors entertained. We had a total of 14 trick-or-treaters this year, so we learned our lesson, and if anyone is brave enough to come back next year I will be more prepared! Chalk it up to yet another American export catching on in the rest of the world.