Saturday, May 18, 2013

USA: Washington, DC

No sooner did I come home from Portugal on Tuesday night and I was off last night to Washington, DC with Sunita. She is doing her Six Sigma Black Belt certification. She invited me to go to Boston with her last Fall but I was already going to Peru and Galapagos Islands so I couldn't go. Then she invited me to go to New Jersey with her last month but I had just returned from Edmonton and was getting ready to go to Portugal so I declined. I said okay to DC but by yesterday I was wishing that I didn't agree to go because this cold is getting worse rather than better.

We are staying at the Hotel Monaco in Old Town Alexandria Virginia. This morning we got up early and had breakfast and went across the street to a farmer’s market. It was cold and drizzly (I thought I left that in the Azores but it looks like I didn’t). We wore our raincoats and took our umbrellas and decided that we weren’t going to let a bit of rain spoil our day. We walked down to the waterfront and it is quite pretty. We thought about taking a boat cruise from the Alexandria docks to Georgetown but it would take more than two hours and we didn't have that amount of time.


After some window shopping, real shopping and browsing for the perfect restaurant to eat, we found one that served Louisiana style gumbo and poboys and they were very yummy. We debated about the beignets and ordered them but they were a huge disappointment. Nothing can compare to those she and I had in New Orleans many years ago. That was a trip that still makes me smile to think about it. It was October and she and I were staying in at a Bed and Breakfast in the Garden District. We had an apartment at the back of the home and were we ever glad we did. It was so cold at nights and the room had no heat so we turned on the oven in the apartment to heat the room. It was nice and toasty in the mornings. Then we had these black women who were cooks at the home and they served us the hugest bowls of grits of which we could eat a few spoons before we had enough. Each time they would look at us and say “Honey chile, you need to eat some moe to put some flesh on dat bady.” We went down to the Café Du Monde each day and had our usual beignets and café au lait and listened to the street musicians. Yes, those are fond memories not to be re-created at a Virginia restaurant serving Louisiana “style” food.

Later that afternoon, I took the very efficient metro and was picked up by Simmone and Ramona who gave me a nice little bunch of roses. What lovely girls. We went off to Georgie’s and Janice’s home for our mini Cummings Lodge reunion. It was such a wonderful feeling to see friends, some of whom I have not seen in more than 40 years. I did not recognize Forbes but did with the others because over the last decade, I met most of them. Beatrice and Chead celebrated their 40th anniversary and since I was not at the wedding in 1972, I was honoured to be at the 40th anniversary celebrations. I am really glad that so many people made the effort to travel to get here for this reunion. It shows the depth of love and friendship that we have for each other. Janet and Dolly quickly went out to the store and got a cake so they could celebrate in style. Of course we took more than our share of pictures.



Pandit was either bored with our company or had something rather interesting on his phone that required his attention so much so that I was talking to him without an acknowledgement that he heard a word I said! 

My cousin Bayney and his wife Donna came a bit later – well quite late – just about the time everyone else was leaving. Georgie offered the use of his car to get around but I declined and was well prepared to use the metro to get back to the hotel in Alexandria but George and Janice’s friend Gabe (CL alumni) and his wife Malini graciously offered me a ride back to the hotel. It was a great evening all around. We promised each other that we would not wait for that much time to pass till we meet again.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Summing up my Portugal trip

How best sum up this trip? Last December my friend Rosa invited me to go with her on the trip and I have to say I looked forward to the trip for several months.
I did my usual research about the places I was going to visit including the Azores and all the cities and towns in Portugal and Spain. Lisbon and Cintra were an unexpected pleasure because of the strike by SATA airlines.  SATA was great with covering the all the cost of accommodations and meals for the days we were in Lisbon.  
The Azores was disappointing - first because we did not go when we were supposed to but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise (no pun intended) for me. Then it was cold, rainy, foggy and cloudy for almost the entire time we were there. The tour guide did not answer some key questions that I asked especially about indigenous vegetation on the island (most of the vegetation seemed to be settler crops imported from countries that Portugal colonized over the last few centuries). Some of the crops that are grown there did not seem very sustainable for the average farmer (pineapple in particular) and some of the activities we did seemed more focused on helping us tourists part with our money than because they were interesting.  

I was somewhat disappointed by the support some group members received from the travel agent. There were several people who were older and needed a somewhat slower pace, as well as some who appeared not to be too experienced at travelling. I felt that they could have been provided assistance along the way (e.g. lost luggage, illness, needing directions) to make their trip enjoyable or at the very least, rewarding. There were several of us who were only English speaking and much of the time, there was no translation for us and when there was, it was minimal at best ,unless we asked. This was frustratingly difficult for us when we were not kept informed of changes in schedules.   
In retrospect, with all the traveling I have done, I should have realized that the itinerary was ambitiously overscheduled. That made the activities too rushed to enjoy. It was only about half way through the itinerary that I decided that if I was going to enjoy the rest of the trip, I didn’t have to do everything with the group. So that’s the big lesson for me. I am not bound by a pre-determined schedule. It’s not too late to make small but necessary adjustments so that I could do/see that I liked. Would I recommend this trip to someone else? Probably not.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Portugal: Fatima, Lisbon

I mentioned in my previous post that I left the square last night about 10:30pm. Rosa and Augusta came back about 12:30am but apparently the candlelight vigil went on till 7am today.
We had breakfast and soon after that, we went back to the square for mass that started at 10am. People kept streaming into the square in small numbers but by the time I left, it was as it was last night - jam packed with people.
I was not feeling well so after about 30 minutes, I left and went back to the hostel. I sat in the lobby trying to get comfortable in one of the chairs because I did not sleep well last night. Cecelia (the owner of the hostel) must have seen that I was not feeling well so she offered me the key to the room we left earlier in the day and told me I could stay there until the group returned. She gave me the remote control for the tv so I could watch the service in the square which was being televised. I watched for about 15 minutes and must have fallen asleep for an hour and a half. I got up, brushed my teeth - again - tidied up myself and walked back downstairs to the lobby (I really did not use the elevator for the entire time there).  

We left Fatima at about 2pm and arrived in Lisbon about 5:30pm. Rosa stayed in Fatima and will be going to her hometown for another 2 weeks. Augusta's cousin was picking her up at 4pm at the hostel and she'll be staying in a small town about 30 minutes from Fatima where she will spend 2 weeks with her mom who is living in a nursing home there. I have the room all to myself tonight. I had a shower and dinner at 8. It will be an early night for me since I have to be up at 3:45am tomorrow to be at the airport for 5am. I've already checked in online since this morning in Fatima.
I am ready to go home. I am looking forward to sleeping in my own bed.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Portugal: Fatima

The day started with a very ordinary breakfast and then a walk to a park where there were 15 stations depicting the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. I blogged about a similar site in La Riviere, Manitoba in July 2011. It took us about 90 minutes to see all of them because there were literally hundreds if not thousands of pilgrims from every walk of life visiting.

So what's the story of Fatima that has tens of thousands of people each month making the pilgrimage? In a small nutshell, there were three young children, 10-year old Lucia, and her cousins 9-year old Francisco and 7-year old Jacinta shepherding their sheep when they saw an apparition of The Lady of the Rosary (another name for The Virgin Mary). She appeared on 13-May-1917 and told them to say their rosary and pray for the sins of the world. She promised to return every month for the next 5 months on the same day each month.

At first the children were considered liars and eventually, when over 70,000 people witnessed the "Brilliance of the Sun" in October 1917, people came to believe that the children had indeed witnessed what they said they did. Since that time, the town of Fatima has been a pilgrimage site during those times of those months.

After the walk to see the 15 stations, we went to see the homes of the children which are now museums. At the back of their home is a small park with some statues representing the children seeing the Virgin Mary.


I walked back to the hostel while everyone else went off to the shopping centre to buy candles for the candlelight procession later that evening. I was starting to feel unwell because I have started getting the cold that almost everyone in the group seems to have now.

After a plain and somewhat tasteless dinner, we went off to the square where the candle light service started at 9:30pm and I have never seen anything like this. People kept arriving in seemingly small numbers from about 8:45pm and little by little, the square started filling up so that by the time the service started at 9:30pm, there were thousands of people, some wrapped in sleeping bags and blankets to stay warm because it was a chilly night. Everyone with a candle started lighting it and pretty soon, the darkness of night was lit by the thousands of candles. It was not exactly a candlelight procession - more of a candlelight vigil. Bed for me now. I would like a warm cup of tea. There is a kettle with water and tea bags just outside my door but I am too tired to make it.