The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze.--Richard Bode

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Fatima, Portugal

It was very difficult getting out of Llisbon. For some reason the police had a lot of the streets I needed to use blocked off. I never knew why. Maybe they were getting ready for a parade. At any rate, I finally made my way out into the Portugal countryside. All over southern Portugal there are cork trees and I wanted to see them.

Cork is the dead outer bark of all trees, but the "Cork" we use for stoppers and bulletin boards comes from a special tree that grows mostly in Portugal. It is called the Cork Oak, and it happens to have a cork layer that is much thicker than that of any other tree in the world.

They strip the cork off a tree every nine years, revealing the reddish cork cambium underneath. Since cork is dead, it does not hurt the tree any more than you having your fingernails or hair cut hurts you.

My route eventually took me up the west coast of Portugal to a medieval city named Obidos. They dress up in costume and have a medieval fair each June, but I was several weeks to early to see it.

From that city it was only a hop and a skip up to Fatima. This was one of my main goals here in Portugal.

Back in 1917, three young children saw an angel. He taught them to pray, and he prepared them for a visit from Mary, the Mother of God.

They saw Mary on the 13th day of each month for several months. During these visits she revealed three secrets to the children. The first was a vision of Hell. The second was that there would be another war after the First World War and that it would be a greater war. The third secret was one that the Church refused to reveal to the world.

Word soon got out, and people started following the children hoping to see Mary themselves. Finally, Mary promised there would be a miracle on the 13th day of the final month (I think is was the month of October). That day there were 26,000 people there to see the miracle. It was a terrifically rainy day, but at the promised hour the sun broke through the clouds, turning colors and appearing to fall toward the Earth. Petals fell from the sky but never touched the ground. Many of the people there that day were skeptics, and some were journalists. They all saw the miracle, and the journalists reported it. Did it happen? I don't know. I look for scientific reasons for all miracles, but who am I to say it did not occur as reported.

Mary also told the children that the two youngest, a boy and a girl, would die soon. That indeed happened a year or so later. As to the third secret -- the church finally revealed it in the year 2000, almost a century later, and said that it had predicted the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II which took place on 13 May at 17.17 (They use the 24 hour clock in Europe). Compare the dates with those of Mary's appearances to the children in Fatima (13th of each month in the year 2017). Coincidence? Hmmmm.

The children are buried in the Basilica at Fatima.

They lived in humble homes outside the city. Here is Lucy's home. She was the eldest.

And here is a well near her house where the angel appeared to the children on his second visit.

Now their hometown, a short distance from Fatima, is a sleepy little Portuguese village.

This is a bedroom inside Lucy's childhood home. I am not sure, but I think she shared this room with her much younger sister.

I spotted this sheep in the barn and wondered if Jesus slept in a manger like this one.

Thousands of faithful come to visit Fatima each year. Often they light candles in memory of departed loved ones. I lit a couple myself in memory of my father and mother.

I have enjoyed my stay at Fatima. I have been in a very Catholic hotel. There is a crucifix over my bed, and there is a Mass each day down in the hotel's prayer room, and there are religious icons on each floor. There are also many gift shops selling religious items all through the town. There is certainly a lot here for the faithful to see and do.

Tomorrow, I am going toward the north. I wonder what this fascinating country will hold for me up there.


Saturday, May 28, 2016


Hi from beautiful Lisbon, Portugal.

I got here three nights ago, having traveled by motorcycle from Granada, Spain. Coming into Lisbon, I crossed over a huge bridge modeled, I am told, after the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.\

I needed a place to stay for the next several days, so I asked my GPS to find lodging. I picked out a likely looking candidate from the list, but when I followed my GPS directions, the hotel was not there. This is kind of a common thing with a GPS unit I think.

While I was wandering around looking, two Lisbon people saw the license plate on my motorcycle and stopped to talk. Their names are Margarida Eloi and Nuno Antonio.

It turns out that they have been to the United States several times and they were very interested in talking about Illinois, wondering just where it is and what it is like there. They invited me up to their apartment which was just next door to where I had happened to park. Nuno took me up onto the roof to show me the view of Lisbon from up there.

He wanted to take my picture, so here I am up on his roof with Lisbon spread out behind me.

Antonio gave me a lot of suggestions on things to go and see in Portugal, and Margarida gave me a map of the country. Then they helped me call another Pensada to make reservations for the next few nights. Here is a picture Margarida took of Nuno and me as I was getting ready to get back on Odysseus and head off to the Pensada. Nuno sent me this picture a day or two later by email. Thanks Nuno. I know that you are following my blog, so here is a picture of us. I like it.

I wandered around Lisbon the next day, first by a tour bus, and later by walking. Lisbon is certainly a big city, and everything is very spread out.

I walked up onto a hill overlooking a pretty park. From there I could look down and see the Rio Tejo. It is a river, but to me it is more of a bay of the Atlantic Ocean.

I walked down through the park, going to the river, and as I walked through the park I came to a section that had hundreds of stalls selling books.

Too bad I can't read Portuguese, because I could have bought about any kind of book I wanted here.

Pretty much all my reading these days in on my Kindle, reading books that I download from my library. My wife, though, loves real books and would be in heaven if we had these book shops in our own home town.

People must like books in Portugal too, because there were a lot of them there. Often, they would buy their books there in the park and then I would see them sitting at an outdoor cafe there in the park reading books to their children.

From the park, I continued walking on down through the shopping district, passing street performers and men doing caricatures and lots of boutiques. It is quite impressive down there on the river front.

There are hundreds of seafood restaurants down on the riverside. There are also many marinas. I love looking a sailboats and picking out the one I would buy if I had my choice. Once upon a time, back when I was 30 years old, I thought I wanted a sailboat. Then, I went sailing with a man once and found out that it is not for me; it is very boring. However, there is a certain romanticism about sailing. Here is a sloop that I found very appealing, although it would not be one I would choose to own.

Columbus and many other adventurers sailed off into the wild ocean from Lisbon. There is quite the sailing tradition here. There is a marvelous monument down on the river to those early sailors.

I guess all those guys on the monument are famous, but I am not too sure who they are. I do know that the one in the lead is Henry the Navigator. Do you remember him from your high school history?  Third in line is Vasco de Gama I think. And somewhere in there is Magellan.

Just in case you can't see him in the previous picture, here he is again: Henry the Navigator.

One of those guys on the monument is Cabral who discovered Brazil. I am not sure which one he is, but I can tell you that the Portuguese are very proud of Brazil, even though Brazil is independent these days. Here is a replica of the first plane to fly from Portugal to Brazil. Those two guys who flew it must have been brave.

Just down the river from the Sailor's Monument is the Torre (which means "Tower" of Belem (which I am told means Bethlehem). Once upon a time it was a fort that guarded the entrance to Lisbon. Now it is just a good looking thing to walk around in for an hour or two.

Do you like this picture I took of one of the corner stations?

Maybe this picture from up above is better.

One final one.  I hope it doesn't scare you

Just down from my hotel is a huge monastery. It seems to be the place to see because it is always packed with tourists.

They were getting ready to have a wedding down in the church. People were sure dressed up. I wasn't, so I could not go to the wedding myself.

There are oodles and gobs of things to see in Lisbon, but they sure are spread out. Walking is okay, but it is better to find motorized transport. One thing that a lot of people seemed to like was riding in a tuk tuk.

Or on the cute little trolley cars

Or on the larger trams.

You have probably heard me say before that I am not a huge fan of large cities, but I do like Lisbon. Now, it is time for me to do a little more walking; this time down the street to a restaurant. It is almost 9:00 p.m., and that is supper time here. So I had best be on my way.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Alhambra

I got to Granada at 5:00 p.m. and found the apartment we had rented without a great deal of difficulty. The apartment owner's mother was there patiently waiting for me, and she gave me a couple of keys so that we can get back in. Now, it was just a matter of time until Renaud and Jessica got here from Madrid.

As it turned out, there were no trains or buses running from Madrid to Granada. They finally had to rent a car, And they didn't get to town until about 10:00 at night. It was far later than they had anticipated. They called me on the cell phone, and we eventually got them sorted out so that they finally arrived. All was well.

The next day we had hoped to visit the Alhambra, up on the hill and across the valley from our apartment.

Unfortunately, we got a late start and, once again, their GPS led us astray. Not knowing the lay of the land here in Granada, we missed out on going to the Alhambra. that day. Instead we explored Granada, getting to understand this beautiful city a little better.

King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, those two who financed Columbus' trip to the New World, lived here. There is a statue of Queen Isabella and Columbus right next to the huge, impressive cathedral. They are both buried (entombed) in a church next to the cathedral.

Grenada is a beautiful city to explore. The cathedral is huge, but unfortunately we were not able to go it it. We did explore the shops and alleyways of Granada, finally going up on the hill overlooking the city where I snapped this picture.

The next day we discovered the short walk from our apartment to the Alhambra, a matter of walking down into the valley, following the river to the Plaza Nueva, and then a footpath up to the citadel. The entrances to the Alhambra are filled with all manner of flowers.

And not only flowers, but fountains as well.

Water was very important to the Moors who built this complex.

We took an excellent tour, led by a young lady who knew all about the palaces and the plants. One important thing about the Alhambra, is that the Moors did not believe in painting images. Instead, they decorated with geometric designs.

The Moors built some amazing things there. Here is the courtyard of the Fountain of the Lions.

We had a good time exploring the Alhambra complex with our pretty guide.

The place is certainly a feast for the eyes. I liked the palace of the sultan.

We were there about 4 hours, and we were pretty hungry by the time we got done. We walked down the footpath into the modern city and hunted around among the many tiny pubs and eating establishments until we found just the perfect one for a light meal: beer and a sandwich for 1.50 Euros. I could not believe it.

Later, we walked up the hill to our apartment and had a rest and a bit of a nap, waiting for the sunset. Watching the sunset over the hills beyond Granada is apparently a popular thing to do here.

As the sun went down over Granada, the Alhambra was even more impressive, especially after they turned they turned on the illumination.

By that time Jessica, who likes to eat, was saying it was time to go find supper.

By that time it was 10:00, the perfect hour for eating in Spain. How about an octopus tentacle. Umm! I joke, but it was actually pretty good.

The next day Jessica and Renaud headed on south in their rental car. They have a hotel booked at the Mediterranean Sea and will fly back to Holland from there in a few days. As for me, I sat around the apartment all day reading and snacking. Tomorrow I head off to Cordoba. Life is good.