Amazing what a difference a day makes… On Saturday night we were all kept awake by the noise from the square below us and from other people in the rooms around ours, but on Sunday night the hotel and square were pretty quiet and we all slept reasonably well (although we’re all looking forward to our beds at home tonight).

We woke up around 7:45 and slowly started pulling ourselves out of bed and started getting ready. A few last minute changes to how things were packed and we were ready to go. By 9am we were heading downstairs to checkout and settle up the bill. While I went to pay, Marie and Caitlin went to the store next door to get some yogurt and juice (no such luck… the store doesn’t open until 9:30am). Speaking of that store, last night we were in one of Madrid’s large department stores (Corte D’Ingles or something like that) and were thinking of buying a multi-pack of small bottle of fortified wines to use up our allotment of alcohol we can bring back to Canada… Turns out it was the last one and there was a woman who was quite agitated about getting it… Eventually we decided we didn’t want it after all so Marie went looking around the store to see if the woman who also wanted it was still there… She was and was very grateful to Marie for tracking her down to give it to her. The funny thing is she was the owner of the store next to hotel… What are the chances of doing a good deed for someone and having them turn out to be one of about 10 (out of well over 1 million in the city) you’ve interacted with in the whole city… We recognized the woman by the bright red shirt with distinctive yellow lettering she was wearing – she didn’t recognize us when we went into her store but it’s all good.

Back to our trip back to Victoria. We shouldered our packs and hiked the short distance to Plaza del Sol then made our way to the platform for a train heading to Nuevos Ministerios where we could transfer to the C-1 train that would take us to the airport. When we got to Ministerios, we found the platform for the train with no trouble at all (very well signed with clear instructions how to get to the airport). We had about 20 minutes to wait for the train to arrive so Marie and Caitlin scarfed some train station pastries while we waited. The train arrived almost exactly as scheduled and we piled on for the short (20 minutes or so) ride to the airport. In all a very civilized and economical way to get to the Madrid airport – cost was 2.55 euros each person and in total took about an hour from the time we arrived at the train station to the time we arrived at the airport Terminal 4. They only caveat would be to check the schedule online if possible as we were lucky and timed the trains just right (blind luck) – otherwise we could have been waiting over 1/2 an hour for the C-1 to arrive at Nuevos Ministerios.

Once at the airport we found our way from the train platform to the departures level and ultimately the shuttle for the other terminals. One confusing thing they do (that other airports handled better) is alerting fliers to the fact the your flight is really there but departs from a different terminal. When we looked at the departures board, our flight wasn’t on it. We knew from our paperwork that we’d be flying out of Terminal 2 but the poor German women who was also looking at the board was a bit panicked that her flight didn’t seem to exist. We explained the situation to her and she followed to the right terminal and the check-in counters.

At the check-in counters, the normal chaos was well underway. Some people were checking in using the electronic kiosks (which seemed to only work for about 1 out of every 2 people). They had one person checking in the decent sized line of people who for one reason or another couldn’t check-in electronically… For us that was our problem. We were unable to check-in electronically either online or at the airport due to some glitch in communication between Air Canada and the Lufthansa who was operating the flight… It’s kind of a pain in the butt in an era where getting a guaranteed seat is a luxury you have to pay for… In our case we had to take what we were given with respect to seats (a process accompanied by much sighing from the woman helping us and a discussion with her supervisor that seemed to have a lot to do with us (based on the number of times Canada and Canadians occurred in their conversation). Finally we were given our boarding passes (we’re sitting together from Madrid to Munich, Caitlin and Marie are sitting together from Munich to Vancouver and we’re all over the plane for the flight from Vancouver to Victoria). Now that we had our boarding passes, we were free to head for our gate. Total time from hotel to check-in: just over 2 hours…

Cleared security with few issues (the canned sardines in Marie’s pack caused them to open her pack and do a more thorough search but otherwise it was all routine) and found the gate with no trouble and had enough time to grab something to drink and a muffin before it was time to board the plane. This flight was on an Airbus A321 and appeared to be a very new place. It’s very open in the cabin compartment (lives up to its Airbus moniker) and is quite spacious in terms of head room and seats/leg room. Although the seats are a bit hard, I found it to be the most comfortable plane of all this trip. They fed us a decent lunch of chicken with a bit of tomato sauce and pasta and were reasonably free with the drinks… The only downside was the flight was a bit bumpy and you definitely feel the movement a bit more in the back of the plane than near the wing where we’ve been trying to sit for all our other flights.

We landed right on schedule at 2:45 and were scheduled to depart again at 3:20 so we needed to hustle to our next flight… But not to worry – it was delayed until 4:00 pm which left us time to hit the duty free to pick up some cigars (very expensive butI  got some hand-rolled Domincans and another bottle of port – a 10 year old Tawny this time – for those nights when I feel like playing a cultured sort of guy for a couple of hours…). When we got to the gate around 3:20 an announcement was made to say that no further information would be provided about our flight (which was quite visibly missing a plane at this point) until 4pm (our adjusted departure time)… Hmmm… At least it gave me time to get a couple of posts up on the blog…

At 4pm they came over the P.A. to say that the plane would be ready for boarding at around 4:45pm and would depart at approximately 5:15pm… Guess it could have been worse… although we are going to miss our connecting flight in Vancouver as we will be arriving right around the time it’s supposed to depart.

Boarding the plane turned out to be a fun experience as Caitlin went ahead of both of us and went through with no trouble but when Marie tried to board the plane, they quite brusquely I might add told her to go to the other gate person (no explanation just grabbed her passport and boarding pass and said “you go here”. This then happened to me when I tried to board. The woman did explain (in response to my question of what exactly the problem was) mentioned something about our tickets being group tickets… Which was strange given that I bought my ticket with cash while Caitlin and Marie booked their tickets (on a separate booking number) with RBC rewards points… They took a fair bit of time to sort the issue out (it seemed to be that the woman – remember she of the many sighs – had mixed up the names and passport numbers when she checked us in at Madrid. Eventually we had to get Caitlin to come back (she wisely waited for us at the top of the boarding tube) because there was something wrong with her boarding pass as well (but somehow they missed it when they checked her in). So now Caitlin is heading backwards through the boarding queue (by this time there’s virtually no one left to board as everyone else is on the place)… Where one the staff (other than the one who told her to come back) snaps at her for going out of the boarding area and snatches up her boarding pass… Lufthansa definitely needs to work on their customer service – pleases and thank-you’s and I’m sorries go along ways when your plane is delayed by almost 2 hours and your colleagues screwed up…

It was eventually resolved (and the woman who finally fixed the problem was decently apologetic and polite)… When we boarded the plane (dead last) there was another issue as the cabin crew were looking for the guy in 25D to move back to 39F to allow a dad to sit together with his wife and two young kids… Unfortunately I was the guy in 25D and we were hoping to change with someone so Marie and Caitlin and I could sit together… Unfortunately neither of the two guys flying solo who could have moved wanted to give up their aisle seats so I’m stuck in the 39th row sandwiched between a guy who is bundled up in a heavy jacket (which along with his stringy hair, swarthy skin and general air of oddness makes him look disturbingly like the guy most likely to release a weaponized form of anthrax into the plane’s air system) and a heavyset Iranian dude (got his life story after I figured I’d strike up a conversation with him even though he’s part of the reason I’m sitting between two dudes instead of beside my hot wife) who has a habit of getting up every half hour or so and then literally thumping back down in his seat (I’d hate to be the guy behind him). He also likes to pull the blanket up right over his head (it’s actually quite disconcerting as you’re constantly wondering what exactly he’s doing under there… and it sort of makes him look like one of the hobbits or someone who died…) and he sighs a lot. I see Marie and Caitlin occasionally when they go to the bathroom or get up to walk around… I was happy to give the dad my seat in 25D (which was a pretty sweet aisle seat in a separate section of the plane) but kind of miffed that the other two dudes weren’t interested at all… The cabin crew has been very apologetic that they couldn’t get Marie and Caitlin and I together and have been very appreciative that I gave up my seat for the other guy… Although I’d appreciate it if they didn’t show their appreciation by pouring heavy on the drinks – that gin and tonic almost put me under the table…

We’ve been flying for 8 hours of our scheduled 10 and they’re just turning the lights back on (I think I slept for 15 minutes for one stretch and maybe 45 minutes for the other) and getting ready to serve us our dinner. At least the food’s been decent on this trip and they’ve been good about coming around with snacks and water or juice to keep everyone hydrated…

Apparently they’re trying to rebook our flight from Vancouver to Victoria and will let us know what they’re able to do but one way or another we’re going to be getting home a bit later than we expected (we hope)… If it wasn’t for Ladybug, we could care less if they screwed up all our flights and took a week to sort it out… But we miss her and Caitlin and Marie are really excited to see her so getting home sooner rather than later would be a nice thing… Not to mention that when we land my watch is going to be telling me that it’s 7pm while my body will be telling me that it’s 4am…

We arrived at Vancouver International Airport around 7pm… right about the time our flight was scheduled to leave. We cleared customs without any hassles… No wonder you here so many stories of people exceeding their customs limits and getting away with it. I suspect that a lot of the customs screening is going on behind the scenes with sniffer dogs and x-ray machines and whatnot because we have not been subject to any kind of detailed inspection or questioning on any of the trips we’ve done. I think the last time we went through a detailed customs inspection was in 1996 when Marie and I traveled to Mexico – we got pulled out of the line up and they searched our bags carefully when we arrived in Mexico City.

After clearing customs we were told to head to the Air Canada counter to see about getting on a different plane to Victoria. The Air Canada staffed took our passports and now useless boarding passes and clicked and clacked away at her machine before concluding that we were not booked onto any flights for tonight and all the flights were full so too bad so sad go see Lufthansa and see what they can do about putting us up for the night in Vancouver… So downstairs we go to the Lufthansa counter where the woman clicks and clacks for a few minutes and says, wait a minute “you’re booked on the 11:45pm flight to Victoria tonight.” So she gives us a $45 meal voucher (enough for a decent meal at White Spot so not a bad gesture) and sends us back to Air Canada to check in and drop off our bags (which had to be picked up by us before clearing customs). How in the world Lufthansa can know we’re booked on an Air Canada flight but Air Canada doesn’t know that is beyond me…

With Lufthansa’s less than stellar customer service and a bunch of clerical screwups on this flight, we’re seriously considering them dropping them down a few rungs on our preferred airline list – like after Wizz Air and that no-name airline we saw in Rome a couple of years ago that painted their name over another airline’s name…

We grabbed a bite to eat at the Whitespot courtesy of Lufthansa and tried to play some cards but we’re all so tired we kept forgetting whose turn it was. After that we had to go back through security and were making jokes about what they would take issue with in our carry-ons after they’ve made it through a whacking great lot of European airports in the last 7 days… The tin of soap raised some suspicions and I got randomly selected for a body scan and Marie got randomly selected to have her bag and contents swabbed but other than that it was smooth sailing.

It’s now 11:20pm and we’re sitting in the gate area waiting to board our flight. We could have moved up to a flight that’s just about to leave but our luggage would still be on the later flight so we’re taking our chances (and given that a plane that was supposed to fly to Victoria is still sitting on the tarmac with maintenance people swarming all over it it’s actually a bit of a chance) with the flight we’re scheduled to take… I’ll post this up for now and finish the story tomorrow along with some final observations of the trip, etc.

Day 38: Madrid

Posted: August 25, 2014 in Madrid, Travel
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Day 38: Madrid

Our last day of the trip 😦

We all woke up very tired this morning. The room was really hot last night (until I figured out how to work their air conditioning system – then it was too cold for Marie and Caitlin) and I couldn’t sleep… And the noise from the square and in the hotel (Saturday night is definitely party night in Madrid) was too much for the ear plugs… Then around 6am we were rudely woken to shouted insults and angry swearing then the sound of police sirens… And the beds were too hard…When I went out on the balcony to check what it was all about there were 6-8 cops there and it appeared they’d broken up a fairly large fight… What was surprising was there must have been 150 people milling around in the square (many looked like they were just heading home from the bars).

Bleary eyes and aching bodies notwithstanding, we started our last day in Madrid early with a trip to El Rastro – the largest flea market in Spain (and one of the largest in Europe). It was a shopper’s paradise and Caitlin and Marie did some damage to their pocketbooks. Apparently there’s a limit of 3500 stalls scattered over an area encompassing about 10 square city blocks. Parts of it are a decent quality tourist market (lots of scarves, patchwork pants, etc.) with decent enough prices… The rest is true flea market with lots of antiques and odds and ends and DVDs, etc. There were lots of cool, funky things for sale but we’re pretty limited on the amount of stuff we can bring back and the packs are pretty full as it is… So lots of looking but no buying for us. Marie may also significantly damaged the image of Canadians in Spain forever in one stall… Her “who is this Renaldo guy anyways and what does he play” caused the guy to cough and sputter like he was having a seizure.

The guidebooks mentioned this place would be a zoo by 11am so we got there early (just after 9am) when a lot of the sellers were just getting set up and it was pretty quiet (lots of police around – presumably to check the sellers’ licences). By 11am it was wall to wall shoppers. We stuck it out until around 12:30 then grabbed a bucket of cold Radlers (those yummy low alcohol content, beer based drinks I mentioned in an earlier post) and some tapas for lunch… Then it was off to the Museo Reina Sofia – home to Picasso’s famous painting Guernica – considered the most important Spanish painting and one of the most valuable pieces of art in the world – and a bunch of Dali’s and other modern artists’ works. Turns out admission is free after 1:30 (good timing for us) but they close some of the exhibits so we weren’t able to see all of the art (Marie cried inconsolably at this turn of events) but did get to see the biggies.

Then it was back to the Plaza del Sol area to shop for some souvenirs… At one point I discovered a chain restaurant called 100 Motaditos (or something like that) where they serve pints of beer for 1.50 euros (about $2.25 cnd) and all the tapas are 1 euro… I made myself comfortable while Caitlin and Marie finished their souvenir shopping… Then it was over to the more swanky shopping area to check out a store called “Lefties” that we’d discovered earlier in our wanders… Marie and Caitlin did some back to school shopping (and stretched the limits of our packing space to their very max) and then we headed back to our stomping grounds for a final dinner in Madrid.

We settled on the place next door to the restaurant we’d eaten at the previous two nights (you can only take completely indifferent service so many times). They had a fixed menu where you got 4 tapas and a main plus bread and dessert for 16.5 euros (reasonably priced for Madrid). The food was good, the sangria was good and the shots of Madronos liquor they gave us for free (not sure if that was intentional or not but they weren’t on the bill) were also good… By this point it was almost 11 and we still had to pack for tomorrow so it was back to the hotel room (a whopping 20’ away from our seats) and off to bed.

Hard to believe that 38 days have gone by… although, we’ve been traveling for so long now and seen so many countries and cities that we’ve all kind of forgotten the first days of the trip…

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The picture above is called “Girl at the Window” or something along those lines. It is by Salvadore Dali (as is the picture below which is more along the lines of what he’s famous for)… I include this picture because it is quite noteworthy… Mainly because it is one of the few (as in quite possibly none) pieces of modern art Marie has ever said “I like that” in response to… She likes it so much she bought a copy of it to put in her office…

 

 

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Day 37: Madrid

Posted: August 25, 2014 in Madrid, Travel
Tags: , ,

Day 37-38: Madrid

We started off with a quick breakfast of yogurt from a mini-mart near the Plaza Mayor and then headed to the Palace to beat the hordes. When we arrived there was virtually no line and once inside the palace we found it significantly less busy than many of the sites we’ve visited on this trip. Technically the royal palace of Spain (although the royal family now lives in a different palace somewhere else), it was built in the 17th century replacing the wooden one that used to be on the same site but burned down in the 1650s…  Apparently having your wooden royal palace burn to the ground is good incentive to make sure the next one is built entirely of stone so that’s what they did.

This palace is very similar in design and look to Versailles but the part open to the public is much smaller (we spent 8-10 hours at Versailles where this one took about 90 minutes). Unfortunately, you can’t take pictures in most of the spaces so you’ll have to take my word that it was very elegant and extravagant – one positive difference between this palace and Versailles is that much of the furnishings are intact as it’s been continuously used since it was built (where a lot of the furnishing in Versailles are copies or period pieces as the originals were stolen or destroyed during the French Revolution).

After the palace we checked out the Royal Armoury (included with admission to the palace). Your usual collection of swords, muskets, etc. and a great collection of model horses in full tournament and battle armour – very impressive. Some of them were so heavily armoured that seeing one of those bearing down on you at full speed must have been like watching a small tank come at you… It would have taken a brave pike man to stand and hold the line in the face of one these things coming at them.

After the armoury we paid our 8 euros to enter the cathedral… Well technically to enter the museum and the cupola – the cathedral itself is free to enter. First time on this trip that Caitlin was denied the student rate because she didn’t have her ID… Can’t say the young guy behind the counter was particularly friendly either… It seemed ironic that he was working in a church. In any case, this was probably the most disappointing site we visited on this trip. The cathedral is quite modern (it was actually finished in 1993) and is built to modern safety standards so you have a glass wall keeping you from being able to look down from the cupola on the cathedral below and everything is modern. You do get some nice views of the city from the cupola though. The cathedral itself is decent enough albeit a bit bland and modern after all the old churches we’ve visited.

After the cathedral we walked back to the Mercado de San Miguel and sampled some of the tapas, paellas and other food we’d seen there the night before. It was all quite tasty but quite expensive by our standards (our whole lunch came to 28 euros – about 42 cdn – which is 2-3 times what we we’ve been paying for lunch in most of the cities we visited).

After the Mercado we walked over the Museo del Prado – the Prado Museum – one of the best art galleries in Europe. It was very big… Some of the highlights included “Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymous Bosch – that dude was so far ahead of his time and the inside of his head was a scary place, some very nice and some very disturbing works by Goya, a fascinating exhibition on the way El Greco (who I always thought was a modern painter but was really a Renaissance-era painter) influenced modern painters like Picasso, Pollock, Dali, etc. It was quite interesting and El Greco’s works are amazing (another painter light years ahead of his contemporaries). After a while, though, our feet were hurting (the hills and cobblestones in Lisbon had pummelled all of us pretty good) and our eyes were glazing over a bit… But we did backtrack to make sure we saw the Raphael’s we’d somehow missed earlier… In all we spent about 3 hours in the museum – enough that Marie was wondering again where all the art comes from and Caitlin was reprising her suggestion that there be some kind of spay and neuter program for artists… The part that gets me about art is that aside from the truly great artists (put a Picasso or a Dali or Raphael or El Greco in a room with hundreds of other paintings and even the most neophyte viewer would be drawn to them – their works really do stand out that much) much of the art is sort of ho-hum… Unless you’re an art historian, it’s hard to tell the difference between a nice painting you could pick up at a garage sale and a museum quality piece (the really old stuff being an obvious difference).

After the Prado we walked through some of Madrid’s swankier areas and visited the famous city gate (I’m typing this on the plane without WiFi and the name escapes me) and the Fountain of Cibeles (I think that’s the name) – a couple of famous Madrid landmarks. Then we headed back to the Plaza del Sol and Plaza Mayor areas to find some souvenirs and explore… Marie even paid money for one of those cheesy tourist pictures where you stand behind some kind of costume (must have been something she ate). We also stopped for some tapas and drinks at one of the places near the mercado… Turns out Marie still doesn’t like mojitos so Caitlin ended up drinking both of them… Good thing they were pretty weak (you can’t expect much when they’re 2 for 8 euros I guess) or we’d have been rolling her home.

We decided to eat at the same restaurant we’d eaten at the first night (lousy service notwithstanding) because the food was good and the prices were better than the rest… Then it was off to bed for an even earlier start the next day (our last in Madrid and the last of the trip).

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I don’t usually take the time to comment on the pictures (just takes too much time and it’s hard to keep up with the blog as it is with all the stuff we do during the days) but I had to point out that this photo is of Caitlin – completely exhausted – after we left the Prado… And it was her idea to go there!

 

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Day 36: Lisbon to Madrid

Posted: August 25, 2014 in Getting Around, Madrid
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Day 36: Lisbon to Madrid

Our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 3pm-ish but we got up early so we could stop at the Oceanaria de Lisboa – the Lisbon Aquarium…

Our landlord (Pedro) met us at the apartment at 9:30am to handle the checkout and returning our deposit (100 euros). Very friendly (and chatty!) guy – we learned all about his business plan and operation – he has 3 apartments currently being rented out (he rents them from someone else and sublets them to tourists) and has just signed a lease on 3 more… He was telling us that a flat in the Alfama area the size of the one we rented (about 25 square metres) was selling for about 8000 euros two years ago but is now selling for over 100,000 euros! Given that he pays about 800 euros a month to lease the apartment he rented to us and he’s full 85% of the time at 60-70 euros a night, he’s not doing too badly but he’s got a ways to go before he can quit his day job…

After chatting with Pedro for a bit, we headed over to the Santa Appolonia train station to catch the Red Line metro to the aquarium. We navigated our way through Lisbon’s excellent underground system without any trouble – it’s weird how we can figure out the subway system in countries where we don’t speak or read a word of their language but figuring out the SkyTrain system in Vancouver is almost impossible…

We hopped off at stop nearest the aquarium and – as it used to be the end of the line until they pushed the airport extension through in July of this year, took advantage of their convenient luggage storage facilities (4.5 euros to store all our bags for a couple of hours) and then made the 10 minute trek to the aquarium.

It cost us about $70 cdn to get in and was mostly worth it – they have a huge central tank that links all the various ecosystems of the aquarium and is full of sharks and rays and all kinds of other fish. Because you can view it from multiple angles, you get to see every kind of fish up close and personal through the floor to ceiling viewing spaces. The rest of the aquarium is set up around the central tank and is based on various oceans and ecosystems… It’s actually pretty cool and kind of made me want to get back into diving again… The only downside was the three resident sea otters (the only marine mammals they have at the aquarium) were sleeping while we were there so we didn’t get to see them… Kind of a bummer for Caitlin who thinks they might just be the cutest critters on the whole planet (after her dog Ladybug of course).

After the aquarium, we piled back onto the metro and traveled the three stops to the airport. Once there, we hopped the shuttle bus to the right terminal and entered the line to check-in (we’d already checked in but needed to drop out checked bags and EasyJet – like other low-cost airlines we’ve flown this trip – doesn’t have a separate baggage drop for people already checked in… It was a big line up… After standing in line for about 5 minutes, though, a guy came along calling for any passengers flying to Madrid… That was us so we followed him out of the line to his check-in counter where he got us all squared away… Best airline customer service we’ve had in all our flights thus far (on any of our trips). He explained we’d have to consolidate our carry on bags down to one each (Marie and Caitlin were carrying small “purse” size bags in addition to their backpacks) or we’d have to pay 55 euros at the gate and got us all set up for our flight…

After leaving the check-in counter we immediately headed through security (they’re less than 2 minutes apart)… Along the way, Marie slammed the little bottle of Licor Beirho that she had in her carry-on (we all got quite a kick out of her hustling along with all her bags taking little sips of liquor from her tiny little bottle). Security would turn out to be all kinds of fun… You see, at this point in the trip, we’ve accumulated a lot of souvenirs (more on this trip than previous ones) and some of them are quite fragile. So we carry them on the airplane instead of putting them in our checked bags. So going through security in Lisbon, Marie and Caitlin were carrying two medium-sized day packs full of assorted souvenirs – soaps in tins, canned sardines from Lisbon, vacuum packed bags of teas and spices from Turkey, scarves, magnets, mugs and other stuff from the various countries and cities we’ve visited… You get the picture… I think the security guy manning the x-ray machine had a small seizure when Caitlin and Marie’s bags went through… Not surprisingly they were both pulled aside (by a very polite and friendly security screener) and asked to unpack their bags… This was no easy task as these bags have been packed for days and days (Caitlin kept exclaiming “I forgot I bought that” as she unpacked her bag) and they were packed very precisely to maximize space and cushion the fragile items… It was all good fun as they’re pulling all these items wrapped in bubble wrap or plastic bags or paper out and handing them to the security screening who’s looking at the items (and us) with a “what the heck is this?” kind of look… The best part was when the security screener finished with Caitlin’s bag, she turned to Marie and said “I’ve forgotten why I need you to unpack your bag.” It all turned out fine in the end. We’ve seen enough people having to throw out toiletries, aftershave, food (I especially remember the elderly woman in Turkey who had to throw out huge tubs of hummus or some other kind of quite runny dip she was trying to smuggle onto the plane), water, etc. that we’re pretty careful about what goes into our carry on bags and the staff were very friendly and positive. What could have been a very lousy situation was no big deal at all.

After security we made our way to the loading gate… which more appropriately should have been called a cattle gate as we all got packed into these loading areas waiting for the doors to open… Again, EasyJet demonstrated good customer service as they had a couple of guys going up and down the line tagging any overly large carry-on items to be “sky checked” (moved into a hold instead of the passenger cabin) so that it didn’t have to be done at the gate proper. Once everyone was loaded into the holding pens, we waited for about 15 minutes (this would have been more comfortable with something to sit on or lean against) before the doors opened and we walked over to our plane… No concourses or buses for EasyJet – just good old-fashioned foot power. We boarded our plane (an older but well-maintained AirBus A319) and settled in for the short hop from Lisbon to Madrid.

The flight passed without incident and we were soon on the ground at Madrid airport – although we made quite possible the longest “gear down” approach we’ve ever made (the landing gear came down so early that at one point I actually worried that the plane’s altimeter was off and we were going to try landing at 15,000 feet). Once we landed, we also taxied from one time zone to another (okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration but it felt like we taxied forever to get to our arrivals gate). Then it was pick up the bags and figure out how to get from Terminal 1 (where we landed) to Terminal 4 (where the train to the city leaves from)… We eventually found our way to the shuttle and made it to the terminal… From there we had to figure out where the trains were (took a minute or two but we found them) and made our way to the right platform. The train arrived right on time and, following the helpful instructions from our hostal, we made our way to Plaze del Sol in the heart of Madrid. Using Google Maps’ awesome offline navigation features we found the correct street and made the 5 minute walk to our hostal.

After that it was check-in, dump the bags and head out for something to eat (EasyJet doesn’t feed you unless you pay for it so we all shared a chicken sandwich we’d bought at the train station but other than that had not eaten anything other than some yogurt since breakfast). We wandered around for a bit before settling on the restaurant attached to our hostal (which by the way seems to be a Madrid of Spanish thing – sort of midway between a hostel and a hotel). Our hostal was situated on Plaza Angel which has a bunch of “tables with umbrellas out in the square” sort of restaurants – most of them were pretty pricey (especially after Turkey which was cheap for food and Lisbon which was quite reasonable). Our hostal’s restaurant was reasonably priced and the food was good. The service on the other hand was exceptionally poor – they managed to elevate indifferent well beyond Paris standards (which is quite an accomplishment).

After dinner we wandered around a bit more and found Plaza Mayor (one of the major squares in Madrid) and the Mercado de San Miguel – a happening market with a Granville Island sort of vibe with lots of different tapas and drinks and exotic foods to sample. We decided we’d eat lunch there the next day! We also found a Madrid specialty – chocolate churros – yup… your good-old-fashioned churro dipped into what is basically a cup of thick gooey hot chocolate… They’re delicious… After a bit of wandering around, it was back to the room toff to bed so we could make an early start the next day… Our room was on the third floor of an older building that looked out onto the plaza below (we even had one of those cute Parisien style wrought iron balconies). The hostal has made a good effort at soundproofing the room (installing a second set of soundproof sliding doors) but we could still hear a bit of the noise from outside (and quite a bit of noise from inside the hotel as the kids and family in the room next to ours sounded as if they were right in the room with us). Otherwise, the room was very cute with high ceilings and a lot of character…

I’ve also include a picture below of Caitlin and Marie bundled up in their blankets at the restaurant in Lisbon the other night… Yes, they’re wrapped up in blankets in 26° weather… Caitlin definitely inherited her mother’s “I’m cold all the time gene”

The other picture is of the box of meringues Caitlin and Marie bought for 1.5 euros on one of the days we were in Lisbon (I think it was the same day I bought my bottle of port) – the guy obviously took a shine to them as he packed the box so full of meringues it wouldn’t close… He kept peeking over at the other people working in the store then stuffing more meringues into the box. When he passed it over he made sure no one was looking and kind of gave Marie and Caitlin a conspiratorial look and a big smile… They’ve been eating meringues for days… They’re so obsessed that when one fell on the ground as soon as they opened the box for the first time they both looked at each other with a “oh no, did that just happen?” look then shouted “5 second rule!” and picked it up off the street (the dirty Lisbon street no less) and ate it… Sugar is a dangerous drug kids…

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Days 33-35: Lisbon

Posted: August 22, 2014 in Lisbon
Tags: , , , ,

What an awesome city… we’ve had a great three days in Lisbon and have enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Day 33: We started off with a visit to a giant flea market/outdoor garage sale (aptly named “The Thieves’ Market). They were selling a pretty wide variety of stuff from household bric-a-brac to touristy souvenirs and everything in between. I think one guy was even selling an outboard motor… After the Thieves’ Market we headed over to the National Pantheon – started as church back in the 16th century but never finished until the 20th century when it was completed as a sort of monument to dead leaders of Portugal’s democratic movement… It’s a really beautiful basilica style building (similar to the Aya Sofia or those types of churches) but pretty sparsely decorated inside and without all the church trappings (no chapels or crucifixes or the like). The outer terrace provides a great view of the Alfama area (where we were staying) and the river…

After the National Pantheon we made our way over to the Castle (of St. George I think but I can’t remember exactly and the Portuguese name for it escapes me at the moment)… Along the way we made a bit of a detour back to our neighbourhood to grab a quick lunch (fantastic fried beef sandwiches – basically a small dinner steak fried with a bit of tasty pan gravy on a couple of pieces of peasant bread – after 2 weeks of donors and kebabs – it tasted like manna from heaven). Then it was off to find the castle… which proved more difficult than you’d think considering it’s a huge pile of rocks at the top of one of the highest hills in Lisbon… Turns out the area we stayed in is a bit hilly (by that I mean hilly like the Himalayas… we’ve been doing our own bootcamp each day just going to and from the apartment).

Along the way to the castle we found a nice viewpoint overlooking Lisbon with a great old church… Of course we needed to poke our heads in and check it out (Marie is a fiend for old churches) – this one was pretty cool – your typical dark and atmospheric gothic style church.

We eventually found the castle (it took a while and we had a lovely tour of the neighbourhood along the way) only to discover there was a huge lineup to buy tickets to get in (and by this time it was getting close to closing time so we figured it wasn’t worth it for that day). So we headed back to the main street we’d found (the one where the iconic #28 tram runs) and decided to hop on the tram and take a bit of a tour of Lisbon… After forking over 8.55 euros for the three of us we clambered aboard with about 100 other people (in a tram built for maybe 60 people) and shook, rattled and rolled our way around the narrow streets and alleyways of old Lisbon… It was awesome… And I didn’t see a thing (after giving up my seat for an older woman I was caught in the crush of standees and gradually got pushed further and further to the back as new people climbed on) for most of it.

We hit the end of the line and piled out into a kind of empty commercial area and poked around for a bit then climbed back on the tram (for another 8.55 euros!) for the trip back to the Alfama area… This time we got seats and were able to see a lot more of the sights along the way.

After our tram ride, we headed back to Alfama and the area of our apartment to find something for dinner. We settled on a place with a fixed menu – you got a plate of fish and potatoes or grilled meat and rice… And for the first time in all our travels were told we couldn’t play cards while waiting for our dinner… We’ve heard of this happening to other people but have never had it happen to us… The woman tried to explain that it was some kind of bylaw (I looked online for it but couldn’t find anything)… They also brought out a nice block of cheese, some bread and some chorizo sausage (without us asking for us) and then charged us 11 euros for it all (this isn’t unusual and we could have said “no” but it was quite tasty)… The meals were excellent… but the no cards thing kind of took us aback a bit… Especially Marie who was winning at rummy for the first time in quite some time…

After dinner it was back to the apartment and off to bed as we’d had a bit of late start today and were planning to get up early to get in a full day in Belem tomorrow.

Day 34: We decided (after Caitlin doing a bit more research) to buy a Lisboa card that would give us 48hrs of access to all forms of public transport and free or reduced admission to most of the major attractions (it turned out to be well worth the 31 euro cost per person). We headed to the nearest metro station with a Tourist Information booth (where we could buy the cards) only to be told by the woman that she was just closing (at 9:25am when their card brochures said the shop was open until 1:30pm… grrr). So we paid our 6 euros for one ticket each and piled on the metro to the next stop (as advised by the tourist info woman) – turns out we could have walked it in about 10 minutes… Keep in mind this is the same tourist information service that wanted to charge us 24 euros for a taxi trip that ended up costing 14… Not impressed so far but will give them another chance… Turns our third time was the charm and we left with our Lisboa cards in hand to head for Belem – a small “town” a few kilometres away from Lisbon – it seems all the tourists in Lisbon had the same idea. We missed the first tram to come along by a fair margin (it was way too full) and ended up waiting about 20 minutes for the next one. I think the people of Lisbon take their sardines a bit too seriously as they were doing there best to turn us into a tram full of human sardines…

When we arrived in Belem about a half hour later (a little wrinkled and squished) we headed for the Museum of Modern Art (Caitlin’s choice) where Marie kept up a running art criticism commentary – “looks like it was done by a kindergarten kid… oh look – preschooler’s art… I could have done that – If I had no talent or interest in beauty at all…” It wasn’t the best museum of modern art I’ve ever seen (and some of it was of the “I don’t want to get it” variety) but overall it was a nice way to start the day (mainly because we had it mostly to our selves for a good portion of our visit).

Then it was over to the Discoveries Monument – a huge tower built in the mid 20th century to commemorate all the explorers and discoveries in Portuguese seafaring history. It was cool. Except for the fact that 3 of the 4 sides were completely covered in scaffolding and screening so we couldn’t see it (not the first time we’ve commented that construction people should check with us before they begin restorations). We decided not to pay the money to climb the tower (fair-sized lineup) and headed over the Jeronimos monastery – a very cool gothic church and accompanying monastic buildings and cloister… The lineup was pretty long and brutal (no shade, blazing sun) but it was worth it.

After the monastery we headed over to a Belem pastry shop that apparently invented this pastry that Lisbon is famous for… They make 15,000 a day and have been making them since 1837. They are fantastic. Unfortunately, I was sharing mine with Caitlin and she almost bit off two fingers trying to stuff as much of my pastry in her mouth as possible. I was a little frightened. Marie had tried the pastries (from a different shop and clearly inferior) and didn’t really like them so she had something else… I have no idea what it was although it tasted pretty good.

After loading up on pastries we hopped back on the tram and headed to the Belem Tower – a defensive fort built to lob cannon balls at any shops foolish enough to try to and sail up the river without paying off the King or monks or whoever happened to be controlling Lisbon at the time. When we arrived, the line up wasn’t too bad. For some reason, though, they decided that no one could go into the tower until everyone had come out (at least we think that’s what happened but no one said anything to those of us standing in line). We waited a long time… The tower was cool but maybe not worth the hour we waited.

After the tower it was back on the tram for the ride back to Lisbon proper and then a metro train to the Rossio and Baixa-Chiado districts. These are supposed to be some primo shopping areas but we’re pretty shopped out at this point in the trip (and the packs are getting pretty full) but we did same some Ginjinja (a sort of cherry brandy like liquor) at the place that supposedly invented it back in the mid 19th century and we stopped for a drink at a local watering hole (the type where you come in, order something, knock it back while standing at the bar and then leave) – I’m pretty sure Caitlin and Marie were the first women the place has seen in quite some time… We also checked out a very cool 16th century church that was badly damaged by fire in the 1950s but is still standing and still being used as a church… It was very enigmatic to see what had obviously been a very ornate and elegant church so badly damaged by fire. It was quite poignant actually…

After a bit of wandering around, it was time to head back to our neighbourhood (Alfama) for dinner. While waiting for the tram to our neck of the woods we hit a liquor store and stocked up on some unique Portugal liquors (small bottles of Ginjinha and Port and 700 ml bottle of Licor Beirao – sort of a Portuguese Jaegermeister type herbal drink that Marie has decided is the next best thing to Black Sambuca). We also hit up a little Museum of Beer celebrating Portugal’s beer industry (it was cute but there’s no way we could afford to eat or drink there). Once we got back to our neighbourhood, we settled on a little place right across the street from our apartment. Food was good. Service was interesting – the old guy (who probably owned the place) was doing well until he lost it on his 17 or 18 year old grandaughter(?) for talking or texting on her cell phone… This set off an extended squabble that lasted the whole dinner and took a toll on the poor guy’s attention span. But the food was good.

After dinner it was back to the apartment… We left just before 9am and didn’t get back to the apartment until well after 10 and most of the day was spent walking (on the cobblestone roads that Lisbon is famous for). Our feet were pretty done in… And we have a full day of stuff to do tomorrow as well…

Day 35: We got up bright and early and scarfed some yogurt and fruit for breakfast (excellent foraging again Dad!) and then headed for the castle that had been too busy earlier. We beat the lineups and headed right in to see some stunning vistas of Lisbon – definitely one of the most scenic overlooks you’ll ever find with the river in the background and the white and tile buildings with the red tile roofs… Very pretty to look at. I still think they should section off a part of the city and let you fire cannons from the castle into the area. After all they’ve got all these old cannons lined up pointing to various parts of the city and the river… I’d pay to do something like that 🙂

The castle is very interesting – it’s the real deal in terms of having been built to defend instead of as a fancy royal residence. The walls are huge. The murder holes would actually have worked and the overlapping walls, turns and curtain walls are all still intact. And it’s all situated at the top of a very scenic hill providing 360° views of the city… Well worth a visit – especially right after it opens when the hordes haven’t arrived yet.

After the castle it was off to the main cathedral – a 12th century Romanesque church with a gothic addition. Your usual dark and spooky kind of church designed to put the fear of God into the worshippers. We paid a couple extra euros to see the cloister – this was quite interesting as they’ve actually dug up the central courtyard of the cloister and exposed the Moorish and Roman structures that were covered over when the cloister was built. It was very interesting to see the layers of history. We also visited the treasury of the church and a particularly elegant library and audience room where the Bishop would meet important guests.

Before we hit the church though, the tram bypassed the stop for the church and deposited us right in front of a very good port, wine and liquor store that did tastings… We tried a few ports and green wines and other liquors and in the end I settled on a bottle of 20 year old port (that you can’t find in Canada because they aren’t allowed to export it) – I’m looking forward to tasting it again when we get home. At 45 euros for the bottle it’s one of the more expensive liquors I own… But nothing compared to the 2000 euro bottles of port we’ve seen in some places.

After the church we headed back to our apartment to drop off our purchases from the morning and to have lunch at the place we’d eaten at on our first day – 3.5 euros for a pork sandwich and a glass of sangria… Yummy! We also stopped and bought some linens from a great old guy across the street from our apartment – he spoke absolutely no English, loved Caitlin and Marie and chattered away non-stop the whole time we were in his shop…

Then we headed to the Chiado district (kind of an upscale shopping area) to check out a Museum of Design that Caitlin was interested in (actually pretty interesting) then made our way over to a ruined convent (damaged during the 1755 earthquake and then ripped by fire) then stopped for a drink and to listen to an impromptu music show, then explored the Bairro Alto area (one of the more rough and tumble neighbourhoods now converted to a whole bunch of bars and restaurants for the tourists). We eventually found ourselves back in Rossio where we’d been the day before (not exactly sure how that happened) so we headed back into Bairro Alto to find a place to eat dinner and settled on a place with outdoor seating that provided blankets (a nice touch) – It was still in the mid to high 20’s but Marie and Caitlin were freezing after the high 30s and low 40s weather we had in Turkey… I was comfortable…

After dinner we made our way back to a tram stop and headed back to the apartment to pack and get ready for our flight to Madrid and the last couple of days of our holidays…

Lisbon is a beautiful city full of interesting and friendly people. The architecture is beautiful without being pretentious. The food is simple and down to earth and very tasty. There’s lots of history and a melting pot of culture and no shortage of little alleys and interesting squares to explore.  In short, it’s a great place to visit… In fact, it’s the kind of place I’d like to live for 6 months or a year to get more of a feel for the place. We’ve walked our feet off (even after all the walking we’ve done on this trip we’re all hurting) and have had a great time… We’ve had very full days and there’s a still a bunch of things we’d like to have done if we had more time. Kudos to Caitlin for talking us into to adding it to the itinerary for this trip!

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Whew… that was quite the travel day. We left the guesthouse at 7am precisely (it was a bit of a struggle as no one really wanted to get up so early) and made the trip to the Izmir Airport in far less than the 90 minutes Google Maps said it would take… In fact we got to the airport so early the check-in desk for Pegasus Airlines hadn’t even opened yet. So we kind of wandered around a bit looking for something to eat (most of the places hadn’t opened yet) and a WiFi connection…

The airport is quite new and has obviously been built with expansion in mind as there’s a lot of empty spaces and room to grow.

After shelling out an arm and half a leg for some muffins (that cinnamon raisin bagel I talked Caitlin into turned out to be an olive bagel… not so good with strawberry jam apparently) and juice we checked some emails, updated the blog (I’ve been a few days behind the whole trip) and basically killed time until it was time to board our flight.

We boarded. The plane took off. They served nothing to eat or drink unless you paid for it. The plane landed. It was pretty usual stuff… But we were landing in Athens… Home of the best feta cheese anywhere in the world. And Alfa beer… We ate better in the Athens airport than we have for days. I ordered a special at one place that included the biggest piece of moussaka you’ll ever seen in your life, a Greek salad and a cold Alfa beer (for €12 which isn’t exactly cheap but Marie and I were able to share it… sort of… Marie didn’t like the moussaka and was a little greedy with the Greek salad) – I was even able to convince the woman serving it all up to let me add some extra feta to the Greek salad… It’s funny – we hunt high and low in Victoria for authentic Greek feta and this stuff from some chain restaurant in the airport was better than anything we can find at home… And Alfa beer is one of my all time favourites and I’ve never been able to find it in Victoria.

We also found the whole check-in process a lot more civilized. We’d booked the flight from Izmir to Athens through Pegasus and they have no baggage drop desks – it doesn’t matter if you’ve checked in or not, you stand in the same line just to drop off your checked baggage. With Aegean, you don’t check in at all at the desk – they have kiosks or you do it on line and the only reason you approach the desk is to check your bags… It went much faster and even though we were flying two different airlines (Aegean to Rome and TAP from Rome to Lisbon) and had book our flights through Expedia, they were able to check our luggage through and make it all work…

Soon the gastronomic delights had to end and it was time to board the plane for our flight to Rome. Again, the plane  took off. But this time they served a decent hot meal of meatballs, rice with tomato sauce and a dinner roll and free drinks… It was positively decadent compared to the budget Pegasus flights we’ve taken since we left Istanbul. The plane landed (obviously or I wouldn’t be writing this) and we deplaned and headed into the heart of the Rome airport… Last time we were here, I’d found a little paper/pen store that sold Lamy fountain pens for 1/2 what they cost at home and wanted to replace the one I’d bought a couple years ago (it’s started to leak a bit) – I was able to find it eventually and their prices hadn’t changes since the last time we were there… Score!

We grabbed a snack from a serve yourself restaurant and used the free WiFi to finish up a last blog post and then it was time to board our flight… so far we’d spent about 6 hours in lay overs and a couple of hours of actual flying so we were all starting to feel a bit bedraggled…

Again, we boarded. The flight took off. And this time they served a chicken pasta with almonds and spinach and a cream sauce… Marie salivated all over herself at how good it was and tried to steal from Caitlin and I… I thought it was pretty good but wasn’t worth gnawing our child’s off over… The flight passed without incident (although they did announce that we were flying around some 100 km/hr winds and it might get bumpy but nothing really materialized) and we landed in the Lisbon airport a little after our expected arrival time of 9:30pm.

After picking our luggage up we headed for the exit and tried to figure out the best way to get to our apartment – having found out when we landed that our landlord wouldn’t be able to pick us up at the airport after all… After a bit of discussion we settled on grabbing a cab and checked with the tourism information booth about their prepaid taxi vouchers… Turns out they’re running a bit of a scam on the tourists as they were going to charge us €24 for an 8km cab ride (that in the end cost us €14 with a generous tip)… If we’d been traveling a greater distance it would have been a deal perhaps but for a short hop it was considerably more expensive to go the prepaid route… The scammish part of it was that the woman wasn’t wholly upfront about that when we asked…

Our cabbie whisked us to the front door of the apartment where our landlord’s surrogate checked us in, ran down the basics and collected our money. The apartment is located in a very historic part of Lisbon and is quite cute (albeit a bit small for three people) and the landlord has gone to great lengths to make it very homey and livable and even provides a decanter full of ginjinha – a traditional Portuguese liquor – and fresh fruit and pastries and a couple of Fado CDs (kind of a Portuguese jazz but that’s a bit of an oversimplification). Although the stairs to the apartment are something else (my shoulders touch the walls and if one were to fall on the exceptionally narrow steps it would be game over). After taking a bit to acclimatize ourselves and sort ourselves out after a full day of travel, it was lights out and off to bed for all of us after a long day of layovers and flights.

I’ll be doing an “omnibus” update on three days in Lisbon as soon as I can get to it… The short version: Lisbon is amazing. Great people. Great food. Beautiful views. Awesome architecture… I’m putting it my top 5 favourite cities of all time…

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Today we drove the 26km to Dilek National Park… apparently half the population of Kusadasi did as well. The drive went smoothly (thanks to our handy dandy iPhone navigation) – although there were a couple of interesting moments as the highway comes to a grinding halt at the roundabouts in the middle of a couple of small towns.

Once we got into the park (15 lira for a car) we drove the 11km to the last beach (you can’t drive any farther – apparently there’s a high-security military installation past the last beach) and then started the exasperating process of trying to find a place to park on a single lane road with cars parked on both sides of the road… It was a series of go forward, back up, go forward, try to turn around… With some clown inevitably honking or trying to squeeze past into a spot easily three sizes too small for his BMW… Eventually we just gave up, turned around and went back to the start and walked a little further (maybe 200 meters) to the beach. Once there we found they were out of loungers and umbrellas (not for Marie or Caitlin – they’re sun-worshiping freaks who want to get that cancerous brown glow) so we threw our towels and stuff on the ground in the first available space and jumped into the inviting crystal blue waters… The beach here is a little steeper so the water gets deeper (and colder) faster than at Ladies Beach but it’s crystal clear, warm and super-inviting. Which is why everyone who’s anyone in Kusadasi was also at the beach today (it was a beautiful summer Sunday so a trip to the beach seemed like a great idea for everyone).

We splashed around a bit and relaxed in the water and then piled out onto the warm (actually smoking hot) smooth pebble beach… Marie and Caitlin added to their cancerous bronze glow while I pulled a shirt on and tried to keep the sun from turning me into a smoking husk. We stayed long enough to dry out swimsuits out pretty well then piled back into the car to make the drive back to Kusadasi.

Once we got back, we hung out at one of the restaurants on pub street that had wifi and updated the blog, checked in for our next flights and just hung out for a bit… Marie and Caitlin got bored while I was catching up on the blog posts and left to do some shopping while I stayed behind (it was a chore to sit in the cool shade and drink cold fruit juice while they braved the sun and tacky tourist shops).

The rest of the evening was spent doing a bit of souvenir shopping and then walking the promenade and finally topped off with dinner – at one of the waffle shops where Marie and Caitlin had banana-chocolate and strawberry-chocolate waffles as their last meal in Turkey.

When we got back to the hotel it was time to pack for tomorrow’s flights to Lisbon and turn in… Until the moment Caitlin emerged from the bathroom in her pyjamas and flopped on the bed… A few seconds after sitting on the bed she started to squirm a little and exclaim there was something on her bed that was prickly… That lasted about 3 seconds when she jumped off the bed screaming something had lit her butt on fire and started dancing around on the floor asking Marie to see if something had bit her and made her bleed… At that time a large ant scurried out from the blankets where Caitlin had been sitting…

The next few minutes were a comedy of errors as Caitlin’s dancing around in obvious pain complaining about being stung on her butt, I’m telling Marie to put some Sting Stop on it as soon as she can and Marie is basically taking her time doing her own thing, finishing her packing and generally ignoring Caitlin’s obvious (and growing) distress. Eventually, Marie decided that the half-naked teenager yelling “my butt’s on fire… is it bleeding… oh god I think it’s bleeding” was worthy of pulling her attention away from her pack and she took a look… So now you have to imagine a half-naked teenager standing on a chair showing her butt to her mother while wondering if something stabbed her with a spike coated in battery acid… It was all I could do to keep from laughing myself to death… Eventually Marie dug out the sting stop and slathered some on the quite visible welt left by whatever had bitten or stung her… Around this time, the ant (or so we thought it was) dropped out of some clothes Marie had picked up and she deftly stomped it with her sandaled foot and continued attending to Caitlin – who was still muttering something about her “butt feeling like someone had lit a match under it” and generally continuing to put her years of drama classes and acting experiences to work…

A few minutes later the “insect from hell” as Caitlin had taken to calling it, started moving again on the floor (and yes, Marie had actually stepped on it pretty good and it had promptly stopped moving). We managed to trap it under a glass and started looking on the internet for ants that bite or sting… Imagine our surprise to find out that Caitlin wasn’t bitten or stung by some kind of vicious Turkish ant but had, in fact, been stung by a wingless wasp – variously known as a “cow killer” or “velvet ant” – an insect noted for the potency of its sting (one site described it as having one of the most painful stings in the insect kingdom)… Marie was starting to feel a little bad at this point (now that it was evident that Caitlin had been stung on the butt by a wasp instead of just bitten by an ant) so she walked to the local market to get us all some drinks (especially a cold one in a glass bottle so Caitlin could put it on the quite obvious welt on her butt – a treatment used to good effect by Marie after she had bruised her butt quite spectacularly while horseback riding). Marie returned with a couple of cold drinks (no beer, though, because we discovered the market could not sell beer after 10pm) and eventually all the hullabaloo died down (although Caitlin continued to note that her butt – and her dignity – were sorely wounded)…

It’s really hard to put into words the humour of this particular incident… Caitlin is dancing around the room literally half-naked (having shucked her bottom clothes in fear of there being more than one hell insect) cracking jokes and trying hard not to completely “lose her crap” as she would say and I’m spending most of my time looking the other way trying to preserve her dignity (and trying to figure out whether we’re going to need to call an ambulance for her if it turns out whatever bit her is toxic or requires medical attention) and Marie is just kind of continuing to pack while occasionally checking the welt on her daughter’s butt and making appropriately motherly comments like “wow, I’m really impressed you didn’t cry – wasp stings really hurt…” – all the while Caitlin is continuing to come up with a series of ever more creative rants against the indignity of it all… It was definitely one of the funniest moments of the trip – except for Caitlin of course – apparently these things have a really painful sting and getting stung on the butt is definitely one of the more sensitive body parts I can imagine getting a wasp sting on…

Oh yeah… After identifying the culprit it was dispatched humanely… Turns out those suckers are really quite hard to kill… I have to admit I had never heard of a wingless wasp – apparently there are quite a few different varieties of them… I think this is just more evidence that someone up there either hates people or has a really twisted sense of humour…

Eventually (after thoroughly checking every square millimetre of her bed and clothes) Caitlin crawled into bed and we all called it a night – tomorrow we’re up bright and early to make the drive to Izmir Airport to catch our flights Lisbon! We’ve all really enjoyed Turkey but are looking forward to a change of scenery, a change of food and a change of culture… And Caitlin’s been waiting to go to Lisbon and Madrid since the trip started so is so excited that even a painful wasp sting can’t dampen her excitement for seeing Lisbon tomorrow!

We did take a picture of the offending insect but we didn’t take any other pictures today (left the camera back at the hotel rather than take a chance leaving it in the parked car or on the beach while we were swimming) – you’ll have to imagine the crystal blue waters and the teeming hordes of people…

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