Saturday, November 3, 2007


Our adventure began on October 12, 2007 flying first class (on frequent flyer miles) from Chicago O'Hare to Dublin, Ireland on Aer Lingus, the Irish airline. It was a comfortable ride and the food was excellent.

In the Dublin airport, we met an elderly, nearly blind octagenarian lady named Margaret, traveling by herself. She was on our flight from Chicago, and was getting assistance from airline personnel. We struck up a conversation and helped her get situated. She is apparently wealthy enough to be able to take many so-called adventure trips. For example, she has taken 2 trips to the North Pole (on a Russian icebreaker out of Murmansk). This is a "cruise", available to the public for a price, which I know, as I previously looked into it. She especially enjoyed Spitzbergen, a large barren island in the Arctic, 1000 miles north of Norway.

She had also taken 2 trips to the Antarctic, also on a Russian icebreaker, and is planning another trip to the Antarctic Peninsula. I asked her about the food and service on those ships. She said that as long as the food is edible, she didn't care. She is a traveler, not a tourist. Crossing the Drake Passage can be a hair raising experience, with the ship rocking at 45 degree angles.

She told me she doesn't like the modern cruise ships because of the nightclubs and gamblihg. I guess I won't be taking her on any of my future trips.

Margaret has also traveled to Tristan de Cunha (in the Atlantic) and Pitcairn Island (in the Pacific)--two remote islands known mainly to philatelists. Their main revenue source is the sale of postage stamps. Pitcairn Island is best known for the Mutiny on the Bounty story. I remarked that there are only about 90 inhabitants and ships can't land there. She told me there are only 45 now, and they come out on longboats to meet the ship. She almost fell off the longboat.

Margaret was traveling to Portugal to catch a cruise ship sailing to Brazil. She was certainly inspiring, and I recalled the wisdom of Yogi Berra who said, "It ain't over till it's over."


We caught the connecting flight to Lisbon where Tauck World Discovery Tours had arranged a ride and a hotel room. Tauck is a world renowned tour company known for first class travel. It's not cheap, but Tauck takes care of everything--rides, hotels, meals, luggage. The bags get picked up in your room. All you have to do is pack. You don't have to schlep your suitcases.

We arrived on Saturday afternoon, but the tour would not begin until Sunday. We stayed in the Tivoli Hotel, a 5 star hotel in a trendy neighborhood on Avenida Liberdad, a wide boulevard with prominades on both sides.

No sooner did I arrive than I discovered that my cellphone didn't work although Verizon had inserted the international chip that was supposed to make the phone (and eMail) work in Europe. There is no Verizon store in Lisbon, and I didn't have the phone number. I went to a phone store (different phone company), but nobody was able to help. So I resigned myself to cut my ties with the cell phone. Fortunately the hotels where we stayed had internet service, so I was able to keep up with business.

Portugal has a mild climate (hot in Summer) with many palm trees and outdoor restaurants, most specializing in seafood. The country has been a democracy since 1974, when the dictatorship was deposed. The city of Lisbon is very clean, and we felt safe there. There is Sagres Beer wherever you go, and the food is good.

Lisbon had been destroyed by an earthquake, tsunami and fire on All Saints Day, 1755, a disaster which killed about 100,000 people in Portugal and Morocco, and was felt all over Europe. Many priceless paintings by artists like Titian and Rubens were destroyed. The oldest buildings in town date back to that time, and the architecture of Lisbon is almost uniformly mid 18th century.

We had some free time prior to the tour, so on the recommendation of our friends, the Rosens, we visited the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon. Gulbenkian, not well known to Americans, was an interesting guy. He was known as Mr. Five Percenter, which I'll explain in a moment. An Armenian, born in Turkey, he studied petroleum engineering in London around the turn of the 20th century, and became a British citizen. He went to Baku, by the Caspian sea and started setting up oil companies. Upon doing wo, he would retain 5% of the stock and let the others do the work. Around, 1900, that wasn't a big deal, but when the oil industry expanded exponentially, his small interests made him a billionaire. His motto was "Better a small piece of a big pie than a big piece of a small one." He helped arrange the 1907 Royal Dutch/Shell merger and became a major stockholder. Over the years he became involved in the affairs of Iraq and Iran, developing oil fields in both countries and later representing the Iraqis in Vichy France during World War II. The British decided he was a spy and imprisoned him, but a year later, they rehabilitated him. Any love he had for the British had faded by then, and in 1942, the Salazar regime in Portugal welcomed him.

In return, he willed his extensive art collection to the City of Lisbon. Gulbenkian and his museum are not well known, but for us, it was a delightful find. It is a huge museum, with ancient art from Egypt, the Middle East and China. It contains a large number of Renaissance paintings, from France and Italy, as well as sculptures, gold and silver objects and furniture from the 15th through the 18th centuries.

Another interesting find, not on the organized tour, was San Jorge Castle in Lisbon. Situated on the highest point in town, this is a medieval fort where you can climb the walls and walk around the parapets. It contains a periscope (invented by Leonardo DaVinci) which they demonstrate to the public. You look down into a large, shallow bowl which they rotate 360 degrees so you can see the whole city.

We walked back to the hotel through the narrow streets of the old quarter, observing the daily lives of the working people of Lisbon.


We signed up for the Tauck Tour along with our friends, Richard and Tessa Rosen from Chicago. The tour had 36 tourists--the motor coach capacity was about 40, but 4 people didn't show up. In addition, Tauck provided our tour director, Jose (Joe) Periera, and a driver, Antonio, a short, congenial man who speaks several languages, but unfortunately, none of them are English. We had one of the most wonderful experiences of our lives with those 36 people. There was a camraderie, not unlike that of a winning team--we were all headed the same direction. The cast of characters was quite interesting. All were middle aged or older; many were retired. Several were unmarried couples traveling or living together. All had stories to tell.

Joe, our tour director, was born and raised in Portugal, but moved to the U.S. as a teen and spoke English with a Massachusetts accent. He spoke Spanish and Portuguese fluently. Joe could do standup comedy, and has done some in the past, and he filled us in on historical and practical information on each stop of the tour. He kept our rapt attention with his monologues during our long rides from place to place.


My good buddy, Richard Rosen, a Chicago lawyer, is a walking encyclopedia on movie and drama trivia. In my mind, the renowned movie critic Roger Ebert can be compared to Rosen, not the other way around. Every place we saw, every art museum could be related to an obscure movie. Richard's wife, Tessa, is a doctor and also an expert on botany, which was helpful in the several gardens we toured.

Marcy, from Pennsylvania, was the most conspicuous lady on the tour. An attractive blonde, who speaks Queens English, as opposed to the Queens English; she kept the group laughing. With her Joan Rivers voice, she kept Joe hopping. "I'm Mawcey, from Cawnshahawken." Recently widowed, Marcy had spent several months in China with her ailing husband, unsuccessfully seeking a cure. I can picture the Chinese wondering what to make of her--like that Fran Drescher movie, The Nanny where she teaches the King's children to speak English with a Brooklyn accent.
She was the consummate shopper at every stop, which often made her late for the bus. But there was no more generous and sincerely friendly lady than Marcy.

15 more days including more personalities, several UNESCO Heritage Sites, Don Quixote windmills and friendly apes. Stay tuned.



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