Monday, May 21, 2012

May 21, 2012 Safely Home from Portugal

Our last day in Portugal was May 16, 2012. We put  some pictures up on the blog that night - but didn't have time to write anything- since we had to get up at 3:45 am the next morning and didn't finish packing until about 11 pm.

Our last day was another interesting adventure in Lisbon. In the morning we walked down to the commercial square and visited the Modern Design Museum - which is housed in an old bank. The museum had a display of clothing and small items of furniture from about the past century - with a written interpretation of what was happening as design changed. Since we were alive for more than half of the past century a lot of it was familiar. However, it was interesting to see how the changes had been interpreted by the design historians. I think that an awful lot of stuff that was going on in society was ignored.  To me the main thing missing was that there was nothing on the design of the technologies that came into existence during that period - but I suppose other museums covered that.I guess that is how history gets created - by people sifting out what they think is important or what is their area of interest and ignoring everything else. That day there was a temporary installation being made on the front of the museum. People on cranes were sticking thousands and thousands of post-it notes on the face of building. Apparently they are going to be arranged so that they represent a large M. I imagine the purpose is to reflect the impermanence - using the familiar square shape of not only the post-it but also the trillions of  square blocks which make up many of the roads and sidewalks in Portugal.

We had the best lunch - a bun with salty thinly sliced prosciutto and the freshest juiciest Portuguese cheese (almost cottage cheese) you ever tasted. After lunch we met our walking guide and took an old tram out to Belem - which is on the river closer to the Atlantic. There are many interesting cultural sites out there including the ancient art museum - all worth visiting - but the walk focused on the Age of Discovery. We started at the small stone chapel where the sailors went to pray before setting off on the long journeys of exploration. Our guide thought that only about 1/2 of them returned safely. The discoveries were driven by a desire for the gold and spices they had been trading with the Muslim traders. they were looking or the "motherload" which they thought was in India. Early Portuguese routes included longer and longer trips down the west coast of Africa. Henry the Navigator, who was a prince, made one of those trips and became interested in the idea that the earth was a sphere and developed navigation theory which allowed others to explore further. Ultimately the Portuguese rounded the Cape of Good Hope - a terrible journey - and made it all the way to India and Indonesia. Meanwhile, Columbus sailed west - on behalf of Spain - looking for India - and found the West Indies and the Americas. Soon the Portuguese sailed to South America. A deal was struck between Spain and Portugal about who could claim what - and the Portuguese were able to claim Brazil while Spain got everything to the West. I think it is all quite extraordinary - especially given that it wasn't really very long ago.

Interesting to us - we saw an Albin like Skol in one of the pleasure craft marinas in Belem.

Our poor guide had a bit of a mishap when he dropped his business cell phone into the shallow water near the chapel and, when he went in to retrieve it, slipped and fell on the slimy bottom. However, he cleaned himself up and gamely carried on - showing us other monuments and important buildings. The tour concluded with a most delicious pastel and tea at a famous Belem restaurant. Then it was home to our hotel on the new giant tram and goodbye to the two people who had shown us so much of Lisbon and helped us to understand Portugal better than anyone else.

I think the most unnerving thing we learned that day was that the whole of the downtown had been built on a river delta and were supported on wooden pilings - sort of like Venice. When the 1755 earthquake struck, it was mainly the buildings on the delta that fell down. Those on the solid rock on each side were largely untouched. Recently walls around underground  parkades have been built which are damming the flow of water under the buildings and wood pilings are beginning to rot. It seems to me it is only a matter of time before the next earthquake when the whole downtown will be destroyed again. Even our neat hotel will probably not be immune. No wonder no-one wants to spend money upgrading the existing buildings.(Of course we have a similar problem in BC where the city of Richmond is built on Fraser River delta and will also probably suffer badly when/if there is a "BIG ONE" out here.)

Our trip home wasn't quite what we had planned. We arrived at the airport at 5 am to discover that our flight was delayed until 9 am. Eventually we learned that the air traffic controllers were doing 2 hours strikes during each shift. We were assured our flight would go - and it did - but we arrived in Frankfurt too late to make our connection so were re-ticketed to a flight that went to Toronto. We had to run miles through the Frankfurt airport - but made it in plenty of time. We upgraded to business class for the first 8 hour hop - very delightful service - but then had to endure 6 hours in domestic economy to get to Vancouver - what a come down - from free gourmet meals and huge comfy seats where you could almost lie down - to a giant  sardine can - where you were bumped by everyone passing down the aisle and you had to pay for your own pizza. An unfortunate person 2 rows ahead of us suffered a heart attack on the plane - so we were definitely not the worst off.

Because we arrived at 9:30 pm (instead of 2 pm as planned) we could not get home that night by ferry or plane. We were kindly picked up by our family at the end of the Canada Line and spent the night in North Van. How great to see them again!

Now we are home. The house is bigger than I remembered and the garden looks very lush. The dog was very happy to see us. We've talked to family members and caught up on the latest news. We've watched the TV news and learned that the EU is having to rethink its austerity plan because countries like Greece are electing non-austerity governments.Was the whole austerity package just another example of people's deep sense of guilt - no matter what time period we live in or what religion we adhere to - we know deep in our hearts that we must eventually pay severely for the good times?

 The fields and forests around Frankfurt.

The joy of Business Class.

We need to think a lot more about what we learned from our trip to Portugal. But not right now - it's time for lunch.


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