Sunday, August 10, 2014


Our last day in Portugal was also our last day in Europe. Miles and I agreed that we were ready to come home. We've had fun, but it's time to get back to real life. Such as it is. I'm homesick and done living the life of a tramp. So it was nice today, knowing that we didn't need to push ourselves too much; we've had a great month abroad.

Since it was Sunday we visited the church I like best: mine. We walked with Dale and Valerie about fifteen minutes to a beautiful LDS chapel, retrofitted inside what was once a large family residence. The center of the church was a staircase of polished wood square flooring and ironwork railings. The outside was a courtyard with a little gray fountain in the center. Everything else felt like home, despite all the meetings being in Portuguese. Their schedule is, for me, backwards: priesthood first, then Sunday School, then Sacrament. But you can be assured that everyone was right on time for Sacrament, which is not something I'm used to. It was only a few minutes prior to the meeting that Valerie volunteered me to be the sacrament pianist. I was happy to do it, though I noticed that the rhythms of several of the hymns had changed to accommodate the Portuguese translations. That threw me. The bishop announced that he needed to start learning the piano, so that when he visited my ward in Provo he could play for us.

Later in the meeting this young man spoke, and his opening words were "I love the Apostle Paul." I smiled and stroked my beard, which I'm growing for another round of Paul films, and tried to understand the rest of his talk. In spite of the language barrier I could tell he was sweet and sincere. They all were. Is there any group friendlier than LDS wards abroad?

A friendly missionary couple from Saratoga Springs, the Markhams, gave us a lift back to the hotel. We changed clothes, and then Miles, Joseph, and I headed to the Parque das Nacoes ("Park of the Nations") which was built for Lisbon's 1998 world exposition, marking the 500th anniversary of Vasco de Gama's epic voyage to India. It's got an enormous mall, a modernist concrete pavilion, restaurants, a 475 foot lookout tower, gardens, and the second largest aquarium in the world, which was what we really wanted to see.

This aquarium was really something, you guys. I've never seen tanks that enormous or that many fish swimming nervously together. Don't they all look hungry? Aren't they all kinda watching each other? Is that just me? The aquarium is two floors, so when you look at the big tank on the first floor you feel like you're 30 feet underwater. Giant sharks swim right up to your face and it's all true: they have dead, dead eyes. The fish are organized by habitat, with each major ocean represented. There's a lot of advice posted everywhere about conservation and several video monitors that attempt to inspire us to "share" this "one big world" but nobody pays much attention to all that. Look! Otters! Watch that penguin dive! At one point I planted myself at the foot of the tank and started to feel like I was sitting on the ocean floor. A lady manta ray flirted with me.

After the aquarium Miles and I rode a cable car that ran most of the length of the Park above the ocean. It gave us a beautiful overview of the city and the Vasco de Gama bridge. Occasionally the wind would blow and the cable car would sway gently. Didn't mind that a bit.

We returned to the mall so that Miles and Joseph could hang out at this media store they love: it's called FNAC. Is that the worst name? Agreed. I sat in the cafe of FNAC and the friendly barista gave me a free Nata; she didn't think I had ever had one and I didn't really confirm or deny that. I thought that was very kind of her. Then I saw her eat two when no one was looking. I guess there were a lot of Natas for the taking today.

We said goodbye to Joseph, Dale, and Valerie at the airport. They're moving on to London. They were so incredibly generous with their time and, even more crucially, their energy while we were here. We saw Lisbon in a way that few do: in the company of experts. I will always remember these four days with them.

Miles and I came back to our hotel to pack, stopping for one last meal. I won't tell you where, but it starts with an M and rhymes with ShackDonalds. We're so European!

Saturday, August 09, 2014


It seems to me that it takes three days to really understand a place. The first day is always foreign, the second day is promising and exciting, and the third day you sort of settle in. That's how I felt today. I still couldn't find my way around the city, but I feel like I understand the patterns of it; the sounds, the people, the energy. I like Lisbon. It's colorful and energetic and honest.

We started the day at the Gulbenkian Museum. It's a relatively small museum, but it spans 4,000 years of art history in one wandering wing. And what it lacks in quantity it certainly makes up for in quality - I saw some things in there that stuck with me the rest of the day.  I sent Joseph and Miles on a scavenger hunt (let's just say this: museums aren't their bag and they aren't afraid to let you know - growling, hunched shoulders, ipads, you get the point) They had to find ten objects that I specified in the museum and take pictures of them. Once they had all ten they could crash in the lobby and read their books. Here are a few objects they had to find:

This 3rd Dynasty Egyptian bowl. Alabaster - made for ointments. 4,000 years old.

5th Century Greek vase. Terracotta - featuring the abduction of Phoebe! And some naked dudes.

Oriental Rugs.

Portrait of an Old Man, by Rembrandt.

St. Catherine, by Rogier van der Weydon.

Boy Blowing Bubbles, by Edouard Manet, 1867.

This statue of Diana - scandalously nude! (she's normally not.) Jean-Antoine Houdon, 1780.

After the museum we wandered around the gardens of the Gulbenkian Foundation and watched some ducks. The gardens were full of little concrete paths that led in every direction. There were little streams and ponds, and I saw lots of people making out. I don't blame them! I found a little red dragonfly and got a picture of him just before he flitted away.

We had lunch at the cafe of the modern art museum. It was cafeteria style. Choose any four items, as long as you choose beans. That was the message I got. I pointed to three items, and then the guy just automatically gave me beans for my fourth. Luckily, the beans were the best of the four choices I made. Miles and I ordered dessert, which was a strawberry and creme pastry, and Valerie laughed because our conversation immediately died. We were too busy engulfing it.

We decided to have a late night, so in preparation we came back to the hotel for an hour or two to take a siesta. Just what the doctor ordered! Miles and I read our books and then I made the discovery, after two days here, that our hotel room has air conditioning. So we fired that up and I had a nap. When I woke, I snapped a few photos out of our hotel window. The colors of Lisbon are terrific in the afternoon sun.

Earlier in the day I had asked Dale and Valerie if we could go to a Fado venue; I didn't know much about it except that Valerie had mentioned it briefly, and I'd read a bit about it in my travel book. Fado ("fate") is Lisbon's own music: a tradition going back over 150 years. Apparently you can go to see Fado shows with live music and food; I really wanted to go. And I discovered that Dale and Valerie had never been; I think they were as curious to go as I was. Our hotel concierge made the reservation for us for 8 pm.

Having some time before the Fado, we walked around an area of town called Chiado. It's a hilly region of the city full of history and, it appeared, nightlife. There were street fairs, chocolate shops, teeming cafes, theatres, and windy little streets. There was a beautiful place to look out and see the city in the sunset. A little funicular shuttled people up and down the hill. Dale and Valerie showed us the Convento do Carmo, which is the ruin of the 14th century church left just as it was after the 1755 earthquake. Hundreds of people died when its roof caved in. I read today that 60,000 people in Lisbon died in the 1755 earthquake (or in the resulting fires and tsunamis.) How did I not know about any of this?

The streets were busy with people coming and going; it was Saturday night. People had plans. We certainly had ours. We found the Fado A Severa and settled in for a nice meal. The place was lit with candles, and the linens were white and pressed. Waiters were attentive and pleasant. We had a great conversation until the lights dimmed and the musicians arrived.

Initially it was two guitar players. Then they were joined by a woman named Alzira. She was peppy and fun. I was expected Fado music to be sad, but just about every song had a little spring to it. The whole thing felt jaunty. Dale assured me that the lyrics to the songs were sufficiently depressing (I've lost my love, I have only memories, I long for a hug, etc) but you would never know it from the bouncy little tunes. Following Alzira was a little break, after which the lights dimmed and out came Fernando, who bellowed his songs with confidence and a particularly nasal timbre. He might have been my favorite. You could hear that guy singing from blocks away. Then another break, followed by Lina. I get the feeling that Lina is the diva of the Fado Foursome: she was always making people hold her fringy wrap and I saw her give a few noisy diners the stink eye. Her voice was deeper and a little more somber than Alzira's. At one point she made kissing noises and encouraged us to join her in that. Then the two guitarists had a turn on their own. Their first song was oddly familiar, and then it dawned on us: it was the melody of the primary song "My Heavenly Father Loves Me." Was that tune Portuguese all along? Finally Natalino sang his numbers and encouraged us to sing along as well. All four finished the set with a quartet of Fado; the little dining room swelled with emotion and heart. Mine included.

Friday, August 08, 2014


Day two in Lisbon, and today we stuck a little closer to home. Our rental car was one day only, which was enough time to see the mountains and the beach. Today we used the ole metro, which is fine by me. We also used some streetcars and some buses. More on that in a sec.

In order to catch the bus to our intended destination, the Mosteiros dos Jeronimos, we needed to head to an area called Baixa. It's sort of the old town. There was a massive earthquake in Lisbon in 1755, and Baixa was levelled. Tens of thousands of people died. They rebuilt the streets in a linear way, not unlike the Brigham Young method, and the streets are now grand esplanades of shops and pedestrian plazas.

Dale and Valerie were trying to get us to the Belem, on the other side of town, but the lines for buses were long and we tried to outsmart the public transportation. And I think we did a good job of it. Actually, they did a good job of it. Miles and I just followed like droopy little dogs, happy to take pictures of stuff and make bad puns. At one point we got on a streetcar, rode it for about a block, and then were booted off by the conductor. I was just in the process of buying my ticket to ride it - dropping my coins into the machine. He kept shouting at me to get off the streetcar. Then he'd punch the buttons on the ticket machine and all my money would come out. And I'd start putting it back in. I was going to buy a ticket! He was shouting at me, and Dale and Valerie were shouting at him, and the whole thing was pretty exciting. Eventually we got off, and that man probably laid down and had an aneurysm.

Instead we got on a bus, and eventually it looked like this in there:

So many smells!

The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (or, The Monastery of Jeronimo) was pretty impressive. Built in the 16th century to house the tombs of men who helped make Portugal awesome, it's a grand spectacle of what they call the Manueline Style - pretty epic, with lots of intricate stonework and walls shaped like ropes, exotic plants, faces, and mythical creatures.

The Nave was really tall and striking, with a fan-vaulted ceiling.

We visited the tomb of Vasco da Gama - a prolific explorer who opened Portugal up to the spices of India.

The cloister was my favorite part. So peaceful in there, and the light hit the stone beautifully.

After the monastery we went to a bakery called Pasteis de Belem, which Valerie told me is the finest bakery in Portugal. Earlier, we had run across the "second finest" bakery, and I enjoyed the fact that these bakeries are actually ranked. We stayed for lunch, but the highlight, besides the beautiful blue tiled walls, were these little pastries called Nata - flaky crusts with hot custard inside. Oh, gravy. Those were little cakes of Kolob. Could not have been tastier. I ate two, felt amazing, took a selfie. This is just moments after eating two Nata. Can you sense my happiness and satisfaction?

We next visited the Torre de Belem, a defensive tower from the 1500's shaped remarkably like a boot. It, too, is designed in the Manueline style, and was once an island when the river was higher. There was a dungeon that used to flood when the tide rose, drowning the haplessly chained prisoners. The exterior has intricately carved ropes, knots, shields, and a rhinoceros. That was my favorite part. My least favorite part was when I got stuck up on the watchtower and the guards wouldn't let us come down the one and only staircase. But they let plenty of people come up! So the room eventually filled with more and more people growing more and more frantic because no one could get out! It was drama in real life. But I got out eventually, basically, by shoving. You know, I did what the gypsies do! I don't know about the rest of those tourists, though. They may still be up there. Or dead. Oh well, what a beautiful place to go!

We walked along the riverbank until we saw the Padra dos Descobrimentos, which is a monument in the form of the prow of a ship. It celebrates all of the brave Portuguese navigators. We loved it chiefly because of the view from the top. The wind was blowing lightly up there, and the sun was setting, and the ocean was sparkling. And it felt great. The tiles below created a map of the world, dotted with early Portuguese settlements.

We took a bus through town, over the river, and through the woods, until we hit Joseph's favorite place: the Centro Colombo mall. It's one of the top three largest malls in Europe and it puts our little City Creek to shame. Apparently it has a roller coaster in it, but we never made it that far. We stopped at a steakhouse and then died and went to heaven. Followed by chocolate mousse. In the grand tradition of shopping mall meals, we walked around the shops afterwards. Miles and Joseph disappeared into an electronics store until, a little while later, I finally found Miles. Doing what Miles does best:

Thursday, August 07, 2014

bom dia

We had one of those early mornings where you sleep for two or three hours, then catch a cab in the middle of the night, wade through the airport, sleep on a plane, and suddenly you're in a different country. And you wonder how and if it all happened. But we made it to Portugal.

This is not my first time in Portugal; I was here with my friend Ricardo Pinheiro in 2010. But that time I was in Northern Portugal, above Porto. And this time we're down south, in Lisbon. It's a beautiful place. We're hosted by Joseph's parents, our good friends Dale and Valerie Hegstrom Pratt. They picked us up at the airport, and we smashed all five of us, and our compact luggage, into a little rental car, which was hilarious. My first views of Lisbon were the backside of a Samsonite.

My second view of Lisbon looked like this:

Dale and Valerie wasted no time with us, which I appreciated. I knew that if I lay down for a quick nap it would be hours before I was up again. So we jumped in the car and headed for Sintra, the hillside summer retreat for Portuguese Kings for centuries. The little town was fairly crowded - there was some festival or something going on, I think. But it was beautiful and the hillsides were covered with trees and summer homes.

We first visited the  Museu do Brinquedo, which is the toy museum. It's one man's extensive toy collection from the 1930's on, and it's right downtown above the fire station. I love old toys, and the creepier the better. Miles filled his camera with creepy doll faces; he spotted them way better than I did. My clear favorite, however, was this Pinocchio.

We had lunch in the town square next. I had some spaghetti and Miles had a pizza. I forgot how Portugal works - meals go on and on and there's no sign of leaving the table. This isn't what we did, necessarily, we ate and moved on. But I noticed that the tables around us were settled in for a couple of hours. They ordered more and more and talked and talked. A meal is an event!

We next drove to a beautiful monastery, hidden in the forests of Sintra. It consisted of a few stone buildings huddled around a little open courtyard with a fountain. The doors were tiny, the
windows were tiny, the paths were tiny. It would be perfect for kids and hobbits. And it was crawling with beautiful orange moss and everything smelled like Rosemary. Miles and I found the Monks' toilets and were excited by this. And it was quiet, you could really only hear the wind. So peaceful. Valerie mentioned that she's reading a book about how to incorporate the monastic life into modern spirituality. Not a bad idea. You do feel closer to God there.

We next climbed a pretty steep path that led to the striking Palacio Nacional de Pena, an amazingly colorful toyland palace on the top of the mountain. The royal family lived here for some time, and the entire place is eclectic and creative. I kept thinking to myself "this is real. this is all real." Because, you know, it looks and feels like Disneyland. The views from the top were striking and I loved watching the clouds blow by, skimming the tops of the trees. Off on the distance we could see the ocean. We all shared a package of local Sintra cookies made, the guy told me, with "cheese and cinnamon" which sounded gross to me for some reason but were delicious! I'm bringing some home, if they survive being packed away among the rolls of my laundry.

We decided it was time for dinner so we drove down to Cascais, a coastal city where the Hegstrom Pratts claim they want to retire. Every so often they pointed out to us their dream retirement house, and never the same one twice. Eventually they will have to settle on one! And then vacate a bedroom a few times a year so Lisa and I can come crash. We ate seafood on the beach at sunset, which sounds romantic only because it is. I had paella, and Miles branched out with a hamburger and fries. A video monitor was playing Enrique Iglesias' "Hero" video, and Joseph and Dale sang along with using the literal video lyrics, which made me laugh pretty hard. Guys on the beach paddled a smashball back and forth and a little girl ran up and down the deck with a big red ball.

For dessert, Dale led us all to Santini's - known as one of the top three gelatorias in the world. No argument here. The line out the door said it all. I had chocolate and hazelnut and it was so delicious and over so, so fast. At the end of the night we walked back to the car through the center of Cascais over little alleyways tiled to look like waves.