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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Porto Post

Port cities hold a special place in my soul. The history is long, fascinating and often hard. Porto hit it on all counts. The battles of religion, royalty, and other bad guys created a fiercely independent people who knew how to disguise whichever historical element might do them harm on a given day.
Two religious orders were forced to build side by side
to be permitted at the gates of the city
Porto history includes a period of dictatorship during which this staue of Justice was created, without blindfold or scales for example. The rigidity of the dictator rule is strikingly at odds with the splashes of joyful color elsewhere throughout the city.

Each tree in the garden
represents a different
human emotion.

In fact the diversity is woven into the very fabric of the city, with the former Crystal palace replaced by what locals refer to as the UFO, a rather unattractive sphere used for sports, but leaving behind the Garden of Emotions. 

A view over the world
from a window of the former
Crystal Palace

There are beautiful tiles everywhere, usually found where the money is. One exception here is a home where tiles were hidden during a long siege. Post-siege the owners found the tiles and applied them to the exterior walls. Of course the rightful owners claimed and tried to remove the tiles to relocate them to a more deserving manor, but gave up when they realized the tiles would not survive the removal.
Humble home, beautifully tiled.
Tiles everywhere - look up!
Tiles by Dutch artists

 We of course had many enjoyable meals, but none better than lunch cooked by "Mama" at this little abode. Entréés, mains, shared dessert, a bottle of wine, all for 10€ a person. Great food at an excellent price, and we felt like we were in someone's welcoming home.

Highlight was a walking tour Porto free walking tour with guide André da Silva. Knowledgeable, kind and helpful, we all saw some behind the scenes we would have otherwise missed. At one point we came upon The Garden of Virtues. I felt a stong presence of an older hiistorical, perhaps biblical people. In fact this was once a Jewish cemetery, then  a private garden attached to a mansion, it is now available to rich and poor.

There were a few stairs...
Having walked a million miles
we came to a gate, closed and locked.
So we climbed over it.

The Garden of Virtues

Memorable Sunday morning moment. Fifty or so brides parading sdown the street, one just a little different from the others.

Lello Bookstore
This beautiful bookstore was the inspiration fr J K Rowling's staircase in the Harry Potter series. For some reason you are not allowed to take photos, so don't tell on me.

Of course no trip to Porto would be complete without lunch at Taylors (best view in town), and a little tasting session.

The view from the terrace at Taylors

My actual tasting was much more modest than this photo suggests

Walking along the river a still typical scene of a porto boat. Tradition meets modern engineering.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Mozart En Plein Air: The Magic Flute

Sometimes it is good to push your luck.

Last month it was a chance to see cinema en plein air. Imagine a huge screen and thousands of well behaved people gathered in a big park in Paris. Everyone has a picnic supper including wine. For 7 euros you also get a nice folding deck chair and a warm fleece blanket. The opening short film is truly bizarre, and the feature film is set in Buenos Aires. I say that to let you know it was not a happy film. Come on have you ever seen a happy film set in Buenos Aires?

The picnic was good, the park nice and the company excellent. The air was chilly but the fleece blanket took care of that.

Fast forward to Friday Sept 13, La Flute Enchantee, again in plein air, this time at Les Invalides. My friend Carole called during the day to see if it would be cancelled due to the rain. The lady assured her that it would stop raining at 5PM. She was so convincing we headed out to the opera.

Hotel des Invalides

During the first song it started to rain, just a little bit. Before the planned intermission they had to stop the show to let the rain have its moment on stage. We all huddled under the beautiful arches while we waited for better weather.
Don't be fooled by the glamour - Parisiens are tough
No matter the downpour, we all waited out the rain..

During the second act the leading lady, Pamina slipped on the rain-wet steps. I know it hurt. She jumped back up and sang her heart out.
In fact the entire cast, wet and cold as they were, continued to traipse around the slippery stage and sing like the professionals they are. We huddled miserably in our seats, unable to open our umbrellas for fear of blocking our neighbours' view. But we stayed and were rewarded handsomely with beautiful voices, lighting and scenery. Not for those sensitive to Mother Nature's whims, but really worth seeing.


Au naturel

Notice Napoleon watching over it all.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Flying High

Saturday morning I got the call at 7:15 "all clear to fly". Good. I was already up, showered and dressed. Managed to run into Simon as he was boarding the metro mostly by good luck after having missed the agreed upon metro by one minute, and headed to Boulogne to meet our friend and pilot, Arnaud.

A nice drive to Etampes and we were at the airport. Lots of friendly rabbits hanging out and also a hangar full of planes.

Lots of planes
Not ours thank heavens
Also not ours but rather nice

I think I am bigger than the plane!

I have been speaking happily and confidently about our upcoming adventure. Now I realize how small our plane is.

Okay no worries, we'll just put a little leash on it to take it to the runway, top up the gas, do a thorough check, turn the propeller until the engine catches, and get ready to go.

Last chance to change my mind

During the pre-flight briefing Arnaud gives the following instructions:
  1. Please don't vomit all over the plane
  2. Please do not touch the joy stick or put your feet on the pedals
  3. Please do not talk to me when I am talking to the control tower
  4. Please do not pull the cord that releases the parachute. There is only one parachute. It is for the plane not you.
Okay. Got it. It must take a lot of trust to believe the average passenger won't do something stupid, like pull the parachute release.

Do I want to drive? No thanks you are doing just fine..
No auto pilot here. The real pilot has work to do.

Lots and lots of farms
A surprising number of chateaux
Looking at all the farms surrounding the chateaux makes me believe I have stepped back in time. People really still live this way? In a real chateau? And they are not even royalty. I hear that a chateau can support a whole village of people.

What a great way to spend a Saturday morning! I am very lucky tobe living this amazing life.