Eat, Play… Live (Essen, Spielen…Leben)

EAT: I’ll admit, I had a preconceived notion of what German cuisine would be like.  Mostly the atmosphere of the restaurants; dimly lit, heavily cloaked in velvet, with antler décor and many food items containing blood.   We have yet to see anything like this here in Nuremburg, quite the opposite. The local eateries are very modern, gorgeous well-lit interiors, with bent wood furnishings, felted wool place matts and seat cushions, many including vegetarian options. Our first food experience was a vegan place just a few blocks from our apartment, we were eager to get a break from the jamón of Spain. The girls happily consumed lentils and rice, while Bernie and I tried the Veggie Burgers mine was called the Monkey Burger and yes it contained sliced bananas and had a peanut sauce and was quite delicious.  The second day we wandered into another well-designed establishment and I ordered a green bowl. We thought this was just a regular coffee shop, but to our delight they had a variety of wholesome and delicious food offerings, reminding us of home. Later in the week we stopped at this nondescript place called HOT TACOS.  The exterior was understated but to our surprise, the interior very quirky and quit charming and the food excellent.  This place was run by a New York born grown-up English speaking military kid, who was very friendly and took much pride in his establishment and could not figure out why we would leave Maui for this weather. They enquired if they could return home to Maui with us.

PLAY: We have discovered well-designed organic play structure, after play structure here in Germany. As our Waldorf friends know, our play structure at Haleakala was imported and built by German Engineers. I am coming to realize that this type of design is not unique to Waldorf Schools, it is just how the Germans design.  The structures are high off of the ground, daring, challenging, entertaining our girls for hours (or as long as we can bear the cold).  Grace said “Mommy can we go to the stick park?” A park we had missed while walking to the Kinder Museum. This structure is all but camouflaged to anyone who is not on the constant look out for a park. Contrary to the parks in Portugal and Spain, while prevalent, all appeared to be designed for small children 4 and under.  I have learned in my parenting that risk taking is a necessary part of a healthy development, that the girls need to experience danger to a certain extent in order to thrive, grow and learn to moderate themselves.  We have found that the Germans have incorporated this tree-climbing element into their design. The girls have been delighted by changing fallen leaves and begged to make piles to jump into, while I freeze.

We found the Spielzeug Museum at last, containing 600 years of toy making history. The girls enjoyed it, but had more fun the previous day at the Kinder Museum.

Live:  As we have told ourselves and others, our mission for this journey was not only to see new places but to really live in that place  and experience the daily life.  We are accomplishing that.  Amidst the touristing, visiting some local sights we are shopping at little markets for groceries, playing on the playgrounds, taking local transportation (the U-bahn) yes we have become quite accomplished in this.  We must look like we know what we are doing, so much so that a woman asked me to help her with the ticket machine in some foreign language (maybe Russian?). We love the U-bahn all of my public transportation fears assuaged by the expedient, clean and efficient transportation €11.40 (all-day ticket for our family). To our surprise no one has checked our tickets it seems to be the honor system, I question if the penalty is so severe that no one dare risk it.  Below are some clips of street entertainers and people out strolling about on a Sunday afternoon.  Exiting the U-ban yesterday, hear what we encountered:

Loving all things German, my husband, our school, the Mini Cooper, the country, etc.


P.S. Comments are totally welcome and invited we love hearing your thoughts.


Nuremburg, Germany…my return to the Fatherland

My deep roots are German on both sides of my family so this country understandably has a familiar and comfortable ‘feel’ to me personally. I last visited Nuremburg when I was a senior in high school (way back in the time machine in the year 1975). I was a regional winner in a national high school German language contest and the prize was a trip to Germany along with several dozen other high school students from all over the country. Each student was placed with a German host family where we ‘lived’ for several weeks and also attended school for a brief period. There were special bus trips arranged to Munich and Berlin (at that time there was still an East Berlin under Russian occupation and West Berlin). I recall that we were even briefly allowed to cross the check-point into East Berlin as part of the trip! Of course, there were also a few visits to some famous medieval castles. After countless years of  ‘not using it and losing it’, my German is now very rusty to say the least and I now wish that I had the time to ‘relearn’ German again before embarking on this admittedly impulsive world travel adventure with my family. But we have not had any real communication problems since most of the locals that we have interacted with speak at least a little bit of English.

My father’s family hails from the Nuremburg area and I recall him telling me about one of his first jobs as a youth working for Grundig. I miss my father very much and some days it is hard to believe that it has been almost 18 years since his passing in 1999. In a couple of days we plan to take a short bus trip to the neighboring village of Rostal where my grandfather on my father’s side is  buried in a church cemetery. I recall my father telling me that his father was somewhat of a dissident and frequently got into trouble with the authorities. I regrettably never met my grandfather since he died in his 50’s and never made it to America with the rest of his family that emigrated after WWII ended. I see this as a rare opportunity for our girls to visit the cemetery of their great-grandfather and to learn a bit of their ancestry.

Emboldened by our experience with the public transportation system in Barcelona, we decided to take the subway (U-bahn) to explore the Altstadt (literal translation: old city) a couple of days ago. There is an intriguing mixture of very old and very new buildings. One building in particular caught my eye; the Neues Museum (literal translation: new museum). It was a museum of contemporary-modern art. No old masters adorning the walls of this museum and frankly, while quite interesting nonetheless, the interpretation of the artists’ intent is usually a bit of a head scratcher. You can decide for yourself from some of the photos attached to this blog. Even if the art exhibits failed to inspire me, the buildings’ architecture and helical stair did impress me.


On Friday, we visited the Rudolph Steiner-Schule (Waldorf School) in Nuremburg. We contacted the schools’ secretary thru their website (all in German of course) and requested permission to visit the school with our three children who attend the Haleakala Waldorf School on Maui. The secretary was very accommodating and arranged for one of the schools’ teachers (Julia Schlagbaum) to greet us and give us a private tour of the campus and to answer any questions. Julia teaches French and English at this school (which are the two languages that are taught at this Waldorf School as part of the curriculum). We learned from her that the Nuremburg Waldorf School is one of the largest in Germany with approximately 950 students in grades K, 1-13. It was raining pretty hard the day that we visited the school so we only got a quick tour of the grounds but enough to recognize the Waldorf gardening area and extensive playground areas. We also got to visit the 4th grade classroom and noted the familiar artwork on the walls and chalkboard (celtic knots) and the kindergarten classroom. A large addition was constructed about 17 years ago that included a ‘bistro’ gathering area at the main level which appeared to be very popular with the staff and older students. We also saw the impressive kitchen which prepares the hot lunches daily (3.75 Euros). The tuition is a surprising 350 Euros per month with even lower rates for siblings…..hmm. All in all, it was a good experience for all of us (even our youngest girls, Eleanore-2nd Grade and Grace-Kindergarten) to see and connect with another Waldorf School on the other side of the world! As we were leaving, the schools’ secretary surprised us by giving us a copy of the book “Der Sonne Licht” (translation: The Sun’s Light), which is a wonderful compilation of poems and stories used as a textbook by Waldorf teachers.


Saturday we started out with the intent of visiting a popular Toy Museum (Spielzeugmuseum) which displays over 600 years of German toy history and instead ended up at a Kindermuseum (Children’s Museum) instead (I misread the city map!) We decided to check it out since our children were already familiar with similar museums in other cities (St. Paul, Minnesota and Chicago). The very interactive museum was a big hit and we spent several hours on the three floors of the building which covered everything from life at the turn of the century to organic farming, sustainable development and greenhouse gases (ie., global warming – of course).

We also managed to get a ‘bit of shopping’ in as well! More posts to come. Stay tuned.



Curious Life


Life is a curious thing. If anyone could have told me 11 years ago that in 2017 I would be traveling the world for 9 months with my beautiful daughters and husband, I would not have believed it, yet here I am. It has been rough at times,  I’m not going to lie or cover over the gritty truth with smiling photos.

We have been living in Airbnb’s and therefore appreciating the local life, shopping in corner stores, taking local buses, washing and hanging the clothes to dry, the list could go on endlessly.

The thing is even if you told me last year we would do this I might not have believed it.

My skin is dry, my face broken out, and my bottom quite larger than when I left Maui mid last July (The bread is really good here). The children have crying bouts as often as I do. Bernie and I have laughed harder than we have our whole marriage, it helps that he does some kooky stuff occasionally (regularly). Through it all we are developing a closeness a bond, a tenacity… when I feel like quitting and going home Scarlet spurs me on saying we are going to do what we said we were going to do, we are not quitters. Then Eleanore says something delightful like:  “I’m going to move to California, no wait I’m  scared of the dark”.

We came with a finite about of space and it is difficult to say no to buying just one more little stuffed animal (x three) especially when I have mommy guilt for packing up and selling all of their stuff. Every time we have to move to a new Airbnb, and pack up the house I feel like I am going to have a mild mental break. Then the Universe grants me another little boon, like low shipping costs, friendly postal workers, no line and an ample parallel parking space in front of the Correus (post office). Proving that all of my worries are needless and a waste of vital energy. I have been trying to learn this lesson for ages, don’t stress, be in the moment, breathe. It goes against my waiting for “impending doom” nature.

We’re really doing this it is sinking in 50+ days in and booked through January… there is no going home. We are home. We are doing this to connect with each other, ourselves, other cultures.

The beauty of this curious life is that we don’t know what is next or just around the IMG_6623corner and when we think that we do we’re mostly wrong. The surprise, the feeling that yes the Universe holds me I am supported… oh and that shopkeeper who ripped me off on stamps the other day also has to answer to the laws of Karma.

P.S. I wrote this a week ago and now I am happy to report my butt is shrinking, my face has cleared and I got a dental cleaning for 19euro ($23). Life is better!


Celebrating Grace’s 6th Birthday in ¡España!



Our Grace is now 6 years old! Her birthday is on October 20. She shares the same birthday as my dad who passed away in 1999. The old saying of ‘how time flies when you are having fun’ is so true. I can’t believe how quickly the past six years have come and gone. I have such a vivid memory of the day that Grace was born. We brought her home to the first house that we rented after arriving on Maui February, 2011. The house was on West Kuiaha in Haiku and we had these great neighbors, Neil Vonhof and Tracy Mills. I remember Tiffany handing our new baby to Neil. I am not sure how much baby holding experience that Neil had but he seemed to enjoy the experience. Even though we have moved from West Kuiaha, we continue to keep in touch with Neil and Tracy who we now consider to be lifelong friends.

Another milestone occurred during our travels; Grace lost her 1st tooth in Madrid a couple of weeks ago! Much to our surprise, her tooth fairy (named Lupita), even found her in Madrid and left her a lovely note with (2) one Euro coins.

To celebrate Grace’s birthday, we ordered a ‘special strawberry cake’ from the bakery around the corner. We all had little presents for her that we had purchased here and there in various shops in Portugal and Spain the past couple of months (carefully hidden of course). We had a very nice lunch at a seaside restaurant in the quaint neighboring village of Sitges. The weather even cooperated and the girls were able to spend a few hours in the water afterwards. A heartfelt thank you to all the family members and friends who sent birthday greetings to Grace!

We are now down to our last few days in Spain. We have a rental car to return at the airport and then will spend one more night in a Barcelona hotel before departing to Nuremburg, Germany next Tuesday.  Not much time to ‘brush up on my German’ but I will give it a try anyway. The Nuremburg area of Germany is where my father had one of his first jobs in his youth (Grundig). His father (my grandfather who I never met since he died in his 50’s) is buried in the small neighboring village of Rostal, Germany. My father is never far from my thoughts as I tread my way gingerly thru this challenging 24/7 task of parenting three young girls along with my wife, Tiffany. My father and mother raised 10 children and I marvel everyday how they accomplished this feat and got us all to adulthood! 0C0AA9DC-3A90-4F11-807F-A1B01EA0D63D

Our last Airbnb in Spain is a quirky, narrow almost 3 story tall space. The owner is a free-lance architect (arquitectura in Spanish) and we think that this is actually where he lives when the space is not rented. The place has a rustic and also a postmodern industrial warehouse type of appeal. There are some very interesting architectural features that would definitely not be approved by any building inspectors that I know. There is a large opening in the upper level bedroom (which is actually about 13 ft. above the main floor) where the flooring has been removed and the wood beams are exposed. What makes this unique is not the hole in the floor but the fact that there is no railing. The photos kind of speak for themselves. There is also no handrail on either side of the concrete & tile stairs which is designed as a partial archway bridge.  No doubt that this is the reason that the Airbnb description states that this dwelling is not suitable for small children! Tiffany and I had intended to sleep upstairs and we did this for one night until Tiffany had a premonition that one of the children would wander upstairs in the middle of the night looking for us and accidentally fall thru the opening in the floor. Tiffany was also concerned that I might ‘sleep walk’ (which I don’t) and would also unintentionally ‘go over the edge’. After one night, we decided to move the mattress downstairs and we all slept on the main floor for the duration of our stay to avoid any mishaps.

DEC26C85-9276-4F83-9609-EB65F927A501We had a couple of days of very heavy thunderstorms and pounding rain and discovered that the roof had sprung a leak (actually several leaks). We got out the pots and pans to catch the drips. One locked room on the upper floor (off limits to Airbnb renters) appeared to have the most severe roof leak. The only way into the room was thru a narrow opening in the wall above the stair landing. We contacted the owner and informed him of the leak situation. He told us that he had repaired the leaks but obviously not well enough. He allowed us permission to enter the locked room thru the narrow opening in the wall. Scarlet volunteered  to squeeze thru the opening (from my shoulders). We managed to get a bucket into the room and she mopped up the rainwater and placed the bucket to catch the drips. Within the next 24 hours the large bucket had filled up with water from the rain leaks and Scarlet had to empty it and mop up the floor once gain since we were concerned about damage to the floor and ceiling.


Mahalo to Neil Vonhof, Tracy Mills and everyone else (you know who you are) for all your great comments to our travel blog.

Next post from Deutschland!






Park Güell

We have now made our way to the other side of Spain to the coastal city of Barcelona. This very large urban area is home to almost 5 million people. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and has been in the world news recently due to the populist ‘separatist’ movement that is seeking to declare independence for this region from Spain. Our Airbnb host (who is from this region) patiently explained the history of Catalonia and the uneasy ‘marriage’ of this region to Spain starting in the 1400’s thru the present day. The region of Catalonia has it’s own language (Catalan) which is similar to Spanish but no more so than French and Portuguese which are all ‘romance’ languages. In my brief conversations with two taxi drivers in Madrid and Barcelona respectively, who are on opposing sides of the issue; I have learned that this issue is a big deal, primarily because of the economic implications. In a nutshell, Spain (ie., Madrid) has borrowed a lot of money from Germany . Barcelona (representing Catalonia) objected to the financial bailout of Spain. Germany wants their money back with interest (of course) and is very concerned that the breakup of Spain and Catalonia will have a de-stabilizing impact on the country (and it certainly will!) and their ability to pay their debts. If the independence for Catalonia succeeds, it will also shake up the entire EU which has other member countries with similar internal problems.

Girls enjoying a panoramic view of Barcelona from Güell Monumental Plaza (La Sagrada Familia can be seen in the background to the left of center)

Our Airbnb is located in a small hilltop village (Vallirana), which is located about 30km or so from Barcelona. We were advised to avoid Barcelona last Sunday due to the demonstrations that were expected in the city but we did manage to make our way into the city’s main commercial district on Tuesday (October 10, 2017) mostly for shopping. After my horrible driving experience in Madrid, there was no way that I was going to drive in Barcelona so we left the car parked and took a city bus instead. The next day was a homeschool day for the girls and we decided to return to Barcelona to do a bit of sightseeing. The famous basilica La Sagrada Familia (sacred family) and Park Güell were on our agenda. Unbeknownst to us, the day we picked to go back to Barcelona was a national holiday ‘Fiesta Nacional de España’ which has a historic connection to Columbus Day (now celebrated in the US as Discoverer’s Day).

Waiting for the Bus 

We waited and waited at the bus stop for the ‘express bus’ that we had taken into the city a couple of days earlier but because of the ‘holiday’, there was no express bus and only a few other buses on routes that we were not familiar with. After an hour and half wait, we decided to take the next bus that stopped. We knew that all the buses were headed to Barcelona from our location. After all, how far could it be from the city centre? Well, this particular bus dropped us quite far from La Sagrada Familia. Tiffany managed to get directions and we soon found ourselves riding on a subway below the city which literally dropped us across the street from our destination, the very imposing basilica designed by the famous Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudi (God’s architect). Gaudí died in 1926 after having spent 43 years working on the basilica. The structure has several tower cranes amidst the churches very tall towers which are being used to hasten the completion now scheduled for 2026 on the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. Short Video clip below:

From the basilica, we walked approximately 2 miles (uphill) to Park Güell. This park was originally a residential development also designed by Gaudí that failed as a business venture since the homes were located too far away from the much smaller Barcelona city center. The park offers stunning views of Barcelona and the Balearic Sea. We took a bus back to the commercial shopping district that we were already somewhat familiar with hoping that we could then catch a bus back to our Airbnb in Vallirana. Because of the national holiday, there were no buses heading in our direction. By now it was getting dark and not only where there no buses, there were very few taxis. The girls were tired from being on their feet literally all day. I estimate that we probably walked roughly 4 miles that day. We gave up trying to get back to Vallirana and spent the night in a Marriot Hotel in the area. They required us to book two rooms since there were five of us. The clerk insisted that it was hotel policy and we relented rather than argue. We got a good nights sleep and finally made our way back to our Airbnb on Friday (by bus of course).

With only a couple of days left in Vallirana, we spent Friday and Saturday exploring the village and the neighboring town of Cervelló. There is a castle in ruins (which appears to be undergoing a very slow restoration) Castello de Cervelló high in the hills above Cervelló that the girls & I had a lot of fun exploring.

Tomorrow (Sunday) we head back down the hill to the village of Vilanova I La Geltru which is located on the beaches of the Balearic south about 45km south of Barcelona. More fun in the sun!













Prado y Pandas

While attempting to purchase online tickets for el Museo del Prado, I discovered that you can visit this famous art museum (one of the five most visited sites in the world) for free  during the last two hours of each day.  As we had already purchased a two day city tour hop on and off bus ticket, I carefully planned that for the 2nd day, Sunday we could enjoy a tour of modern Madrid, have something to eat and arrive at the Museo at exactly 17:00.  Much to my delight this part of the plan was fulfilled exceedingly well.  As we hopped off the bus and proceeded to the entrance of the Prado, we became aware of a line to get in.  This line snaked back and forth around the side of the building and probably consisted of somewhere between 500 – 750 people.  The wait was just 30 minutes as the line moved very quickly.  I was a bit naive to think we would show up and waltz right in; nevertheless, we  had the incredible opportunity to be among the work of the Masters.  Most of what we saw was heavily religious themed and the children asked questions and made comments like “Mommy why is his head on a plate to a massive wall sized depiction of John the Baptist?”  or “Now I am scared I will/ we will be nailed to a cross”.

We spent one hour at the Prado and a half hour buying postcards and other souvenirs, including a cross stitch kit by Goya. Always trying to think up ways to keep with the curriculum.  I managed to sneak a couple of photos, the first one I was unaware that it was forbidden and the second, well I just couldn’t help myself.

The Garden of Earthly Delights, Bosch

The very next day we went to the Madrid Zoo Aquarium, located a few kilometers from the city.  I persuaded Bernie to drive, again a mistake! We looped around Bernie’s roundabout and ended up parking in a swanky garage on Calle de Serrano, this is the high end shopping district comparable to Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. After parking the car accepting defeat we hailed a taxi and  implored the driver to admit our 5 passengers, 1 rider above the legal limit and held my breath the whole way… that no-one would get carsick.  We arrived at the zoo, and after a not so easy entry with our smartphone ticket-less tickets, entered the expansive zoo aquarium.  We dashed to the Pandas, the stars of the zoo.  Scarlet’s only wish for this trip was to see Pandas in China.  When I discovered that they have Pandas at the Madrid zoo it was a must see!  We still plan to go to Hong Kong for Christmas, but just in case, we got to see the Pandas of Madrid.   There were throngs of elementary school-age children crowding the Pandas exhibit, but we were able to watch Bing Xing delicately eat a green apple followed by many stalks of bamboo. See the video bellow:

Next we walked around the corner and too are delight saw baby elephants cuddling affectionately with their mothers.

Later we saw many delightful animals, 2 bird shows and very spectacular dolphin show.  We again were limited with the time as I thought the park stayed open until 20:00 only to find out that it closed at 17:30.  I gave Scarlet the choice to go to the gift shop with her younger sisters or run back for another quick peak at the Pandas.  Much to our delight she chose the later and we were rewarding with a viewing of a young female panda,  Chulina (Cutie) was born in January making her an 8 month old cub.  I recently learned that there are over 2000 Pandas in the wild in China and more in zoos. Madrid has had very good success with breeding these magnificent animals.  See the below video:

All was well in the end as we found the right city bus to get us in the neighborhood of our Airbnb, found a mall which contained a  Starbucks and managed to walk several blocks in the right direction,  play at a park, and find our way home.

driving MAD…rid!

dscn0468.jpgI wish the pop-up ad on the internet would have said ‘Free rental cars in Madrid’. At least then, I would have been skeptical. Instead the ad offered a rental car for 5 EUR a day (about $6). We thought that this was a deal that we could not pass up and rented a car for pickup at the Madrid airport after our arrival  at 10:00 PM. After the paperwork transaction, I naively asked the agent for a map and he explained that all the cars had GPS navigation so I would not need a map. So we locate the car, turn on the navigation (in Spanish, of course since Tiffany speaks fluent Spanish) and start out to find the hotel. Little did we know that the hotel that we had booked for one night a mere 5 km from the airport would take us almost 2 hours to locate! After taking the wrong exits from the  roundabouts on our route and heading off in the wrong direction (of course), the navigation had to continuously ‘recalculate’ our route since I apparently was not following the very polite female voice commands. We traversed five different highways and numerous U-turns to get back on track. I sensed that there were times when the GPS was intentionally ignoring me which only added to my frustration. I thought (out loud) about parking the car and calling a Taxi several times. When we finally thought that we had to be in vicinity of our hotel,  we ended up driving on a narrow road in a very industrial area and thought we had made another wrong turn somewhere. As it turned out, the hotel was just around the block. We had finally made it to our hotel! Eleanore and Grace had fallen asleep (it was almost midnight). We all slept quite well that night and had breakfast at the hotel before heading off to our Airbnb, located somewhere in the ‘center’ of Madrid.

We figured out how to switch the navigation to English and I thought that after last night’s driving fiasco thought ‘how hard can it be’. Well, I was wrong! Madrid is a lot more intimidating in the daytime when you can actually see the throngs of very fast drivers and very large, multi-lane roundabouts. Once again, the navigation system befuddled me when the disembodied pleasant voice told me to stay to the left, enter a roundabout and then proceed to the next right. Sounds easy enough except for the fact the fact that the next right is across 4 very full traffic lanes. Did I mention all the motorcyclists and scooter drivers who seemingly ignore any traffic rules whatsoever and weave in and out of traffic between the endless cars, buses and taxis? I was shouted at by a frustrated motorcyclist “LOCO” translated Crazy.  My family now affectionately refers to this roundabout as Bernie’s roundabout. After over 2 hours of very frustrating driving including circumnavigating one of the largest and most complicated roundabouts in Madrid at least three times, a GPS system that gave me erroneous directions and put me into continuous loops a few times, and one of our children vomiting, we made it within a block of our Airbnb. Or so we thought. The pleasant GPS voice then said that the destination could not be reached for some reason? In a final act of desperation, Tiffany called the Airbnb host and after trying to pinpoint our location by giving him street addresses and intersections, he told us that he would come to us. I looked for a place to pull over somewhere (easier said than done in Madrid’s very narrow one-way streets). I found an illegal parking spot and two minutes later Diego (our Airbnb host) pulls up driving the wrong way on a one way street, in the style of a Spanish caballero (in a fine-cut suit, of course) says “Hello Tiffany”. The belligerent GPS had put us in a continuous loop on the block before the Airbnb. We brought our bags upstairs (2nd level). I had to move the car to a public parking garage a block away since there is no street parking in the center of Madrid for more than about an hour. I have never been a parking garage quite like this one. Sardines in a can have more room to maneuver than the cars in this garage! The cost of parking the car continuously in this garage quadruples the total cost of the car rental.  Lesson learned don’t answer the siren call of a cheap car rental, there is a reason they are giving them away.

Bernie….a little bit from Tiffany


Porto. Our farewell to Portugal.


We have spent 27 days in this intriguing and welcoming country. Much more than parks, palaces and museums,  what has made this visit memorable for me was meeting and talking to the people of Portugal. The countless cafes and pastelarias (pastry and snack shops) that we visited in Ponta Delgada on the Island of São Miguel, Sintra, Lisbon and Porto were for the most part far from the popular tourist areas but instead were ‘around the corner’ and always frequented by locals. Very little English was heard or spoken by the staff (not at all sometimes) in many of these simple but stable establishments in their respective communities. We shopped in tiny mercearia (mercado) neighborhood grocery and fruit stores to stock our Airbnb dwellings. We were always treated very well even though I know we made a few shopkeepers in several small boutique children’s stores nervous with our three girls scattering off in all directions and of course ‘touching everything’.

We made the acquaintance of a very congenial taxi driver named Carlos, who picked us up at the airport when we first arrived in Lisbon. He greeted us very warmly but as soon as Tiffany showed him the address where our first Airbnb house was located, he proclaimed in no uncertain terms that the address was definitely ‘not Lisbon’. He explained very carefully that the location was actually some distance from Lisbon in a ‘satellite neighborhood’. He dutifully found his way to the address after consulting his Google map a few times. His English is very good and we had an engaging conversation with him on the ride. Carlos is a proud native of Portugal. He shared about his two children (ages 5 & 20). We enjoyed his company and conversation so much that we emailed him several times when we needed his taxi services. He has traveled Europe extensively but has never been to the United States. (He is also following our travel blog.)

Carlos transported us to our ‘downtown’ location in heart of Lisbon. From my perspective, the city has some incredible architecture, both very new and very old. Our Airbnb dwelling was on the upper level of a two story building. The house was compact but modern and well designed. The owner of the Airbnb explained that his family had bought the building recently and completely renovated it from top to bottom. There was a small outdoor patio. The ‘pool’ that was listed in the description turned out to be about 18″ wide by 24″ long and about 12″ deep. Not exactly what my girls had in mind when we told them the house had a pool. From our location, we did a lot of walking to explore the city center of Lisbon. We did not have a specific agenda or destination but simply set out to walk in every direction until we got tired. Some days we took a small Tuk Tuk Taxi back home (these vehicles are more like oversized golf carts than actual cars) and seem to be everywhere. On one of our outings we came across a street musician who impressed us with his talented guitar and vocals. (Tiffany attached a short video clip.)

For our last destination in Portugal, we decided on Porto based on the recommendation of some shopkeepers that Tiffany met. I decided that we should take the train from Lisbon to Porto instead of flying. Tiffany was admittedly nervous about the idea. The thought of dragging five individual suitcases plus our slightly larger suitcase (which has all the homeschooling supplies) thru a train terminal seemed very daunting. As it turned out, it could not have been easier. The train terminal was spacious with marble floors (of course) and very easy to navigate. The train was called the Alpha Pendular and had free WiFi (so I could work, if I chose to). There is no screening or checking of baggage at all. The passengers are responsible for placing and storing their luggage on board. There was ample room for luggage and the seats were very comfortable. Based on our initial experience, we will likely be taking more trains to other destinations as we continue our journey.

Porto is located on the northwest corner of Portugal.  The large metropolitan area is home to 2.4 millions people and the ‘namesake’ of the ‘famous port wine’ that this region produces. The Airbnb dwelling that we booked was less than 2 blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. The water was too chilly for swimming not too mention the very intimidating waves, but our girls enjoyed exploring the beach and looking for ‘treasures’ (ie., sea glass, pebbles and shells).  Our Airbnb host really was quite thorough in explaining where ‘everything’ worth seeing was located in Porto. We took an ‘electric tram’ since there was a station several blocks from our house into the Porto Centro. We walked and walked. Impressive architecture everywhere. Marble and granite cobblestone sidewalks (very narrow). We visited a famous ‘bookshop’ – Livraria Lello (the bookshop has an unusual carved staircase that allegedly inspired J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books). J.K. Rowling formerly taught English in Portugal before her rise to fame with her popular books.

A very tall church tower caught my eye (Irmandade dos Clerigos – built in the mid 1700’s) that appeared to be accessible to the public since there were people near the top on an observation level. I asked for volunteers if anyone wanted to join me in climbing to the top. To my surprise, my three girls were eager to climb the tower (Tiffany opted out since she has a bit of vertigo when it comes to heights). The girls and I managed to climb the tower stairs (Scarlet counted all 184 steps on the way down). Our last ‘big’ experience for the day was riding the cable cars suspended high above the city on the other bank of the river that runs between Porto and Gaia (the city on the other side of the river). The experience reminded me of a scene in an old James Bond movie except he was on top of the cable car with his nemesis instead of inside. Taxi cab ride home and a good way to end the day. Tiffany discovered a couple of small children’s boutiques PiuPiuChick and Babyboom. The businesses were family owned. The experience was lovely as they shop-owner’s sister dressed and redressed the girls helping them find the perfect European look.