The flight to Paris was magical sitting next to a delightful young couple from NYC happily married for several years and newly pregnant. It made the trip go and I got her extra bottle of wine. What more can you ask for!
But then I got off the plane. Charles de Gaulle is one busy place. They have one level for gates and a lower level in the middle of the floor for food courts, restrooms, and other services.
Grateful the layover was brief I quickly boarded for my next flight. Since my Delta flight was late I was placed on another airline which shall remain nameless. What wonderful flight attendants they have but check out the leg room.
Sitting in the back row proved claustrophobic and when a large man sat next to me I closed my eyes pretending I wasn’t there appreciative it was a short flight.
Lisbon Airport, (or Lisboa), was friendly and easy to maneuver. This was an indication of what was to come. Items of necessity were well defined with congestion limited.
In the Airport I switched out my Sim Card at an airport store for 20 Euros and was connected to WIFI for navigation, (or so I thought). Talked into taking a hybrid car by the charming rental car salesperson, (another mistake), I was on my way.
First Stop.. Fatima
The travel company who developed this Fly/Drive Package gave succinct directions on what to see in the 6 days at Porto and Lisbon, Portugal. While Fatima was not on the itinerary, and I had been before, I revisited.
For those unaware this is a place where the Blessed Mother appeared. Peaceful and reverent here are some pictures which depict that.
Leaving Fatima Waze told me she had no wifi so following signs to Porto I stopped at an Aldi’s once in Porto. Finding my way to the hotel the manager explained WAZE works on phone numbers and Google Maps uses the internet. Henceforth I was to become a Google Maps Girl. Lessons learned.
Rest Area in Portugal: Restaurant with gift items, picnic tables, and gas station on the other side.
Hadn’t rented a car in Europe in awhile and my how things have changed. This old lady sure had some challenges but met some wonderful people in the process. Here are a few things to consider:
Gas is expensive. Bring euros as in Portugal they don’t always take international credit cards and gas fill up on even a small car runs at least 50 euros, (about $60. with $1.2 conversion)
Waze didn’t work for directions as it is phone number based, and you must have GPS. Google maps is internet based and works with a European Sim Card. Get the Sim Card installed in your phone at the airport kiosk or do it yourself through vending machine purchase.
Portugal roads were great, drivers speed so move over when they come upon you. They let you know to move.
Vehicle speeds in Portugal had minimums and maximums. The signs are circular with red and black lines surrounding the value. Each lane can also designate minimum and maximum speed limits.
If you don’t love roundabouts, learn to love them as in Europe they are king. With roundabouts one is often on top of another so it’s a challenge seeing where to turn with the wide arrows on the GPS screen. Take another turn around the circle if this is the case because if you make a wrong turn it often is a long trip to get back on course.
If you do get off the wrong highway exit the next exit does not always have a way to get back on. Lost much time on this.
Get a highway transponder device for tolls. Rental companies install these automatically in vehicles and charge your card 75 euros. Toll roads in Portugal are pricey. Between Lisbon and Porto I paid close to 100 Euro for tolls and 175 for gas.
Use the appropriate lane to go through when using a transponder. If you get side swiped like I was and forced to go to a non-transponder lane you have to pay in euros as international credit cards don’t work. Even though you have a transponder you have to pay cash in these lanes as there is no dual system recognizing the transponder in these lanes.
Europeans drive standard cars. If you haven’t driven one in awhile, pay for the automatic. It’s worth it.
Have the rental staff put all the car announcements in your language. When I had problems with the hybrid everything was in Portugese. I learned the hard way.
GPS in rentals is possible but not always easy to calibrate. Rather than the site an address is needed however road diagrams were superior to phone GPS. I thought the Brit lady who gave the directions was a bit snooty, but that might be me. 🙂
As I drove I heard a ping on occasion. Terrified of further car problems I asked at the nearest gas station. European rentals have a noise every time the car exceeds the speed limit.
On Portugal’s roads they have human assistance. As I stopped on the side of the road to check the ping one of these friendly folk appeared. Don’t be scared.
Windshield wipers, directionals, and horns are in the same place with foreign rentals but all else was varied/complicated. Since rentals lack a car manual ask questions before leaving the rental garage or lot.
Purchase an international driving permit before departure. If stopped by police this can be a problem without one. Google for the information – it’s $100 and immediately after purchase print out the info.
Get the smallest car available for gas as well as parking concerns.
If a parking garage is available, take it regardless of price.
The hybrid car I rented was challenging. With the problems I lost a day in tourism. If you have a problem with a rental car return it immediately.
Having the freedom of a car is amazing traveling in Europe and it can work. While the stars were not in alignment with the hybrid I rented the Portuguese people were kind, courteous, and helpful, to me. Give it a try and let me know your experience.
I am a Europhile. Unsure of the spelling, but you get the jest. I love the place and while they aren’t feeling the same with our current government, they are cordial, well most of them. And be ready for their opinions..
Here’s a few things to know when you visit:
The first floor in Europe is “0,” the second floor is 1.
When you enter a hotel room put the room card in the plastic holder next to the door. It turns on the lights.
Ask a millennial. They know English. Recently got scammed by a senior in a train station so watch out for those old ladies and men. I can say this I am one, a senior that is..
Take pictures of street signs rather than writing them on a piece of paper.
Bring an umbrella.
Wear your clothes to the airport, it lessens the luggage weight.
Have coins available for the bathroom.
Get GPS on your phone. European Sim cards are cheap, usually about $20 and are available in airport kiosks, and vending machines. I like going to the kiosk and having service but you can do it yourself. Remember to store your American Sim card safely.
Know the exchange rate.
Use ATMs for currency exchange and do this transaction in daylight.
Bring an empty water bottle with you through airport security, refill.
Wear comfortable shoes. Those stone streets are killers.
Bring a listing of phrases in the native tongue. Learn hello, thank you, and I’m sorry. Even if they throw the book at you as was done to me in a Spanish train station let it go. We all have bad days. 🙂
Make eye contact. It helps.
Layer clothing. In Brugge this year I brought what I thought was appropriate clothing. It was May and frigid. Finding a clothing store was not easy and luckily the train station had one. Tights and a hoodie embroidered, “New York City Original,” was purchased. Not the souvenir sweat shirt I expected but it was the warmest.
Go with the flow.
And let me close with that.. traveling is a learning experience and fascinating to meet folks of different lands and tongues.
Sculpture Outside a Portugal Rest Area. Isn’t it great.
Got in to LaGuardia at 8 a.m. and quickly made arrangements for my day. New York is one of those places where you can always find something to do. My main concern was my suitcase which was light, however, I had forgotten LaGuardia Airport has no luggage storage, however JFK does and here is the JFK info:
API Terminal 1 & 4 JFK International Airport 718-751-4001. Call for rates and I get no kick-backs.
Let’s get movin’ as the City awaits. Started with a cruise on the Hudson River at the World Financial Terminal, Battery Park City, Vessey Street.
This was pricey and if you are short on cash and only want to see the Statute of Liberty, take the Staten Island Ferry. The Ferry is free, (yes, there are free things to do in New York City, google it), and this offers great views.
However, since I wanted to see more and thought I could get to Ellis Island,
I took this venue. The guide was amazing but didn’t make it to Ellis Island. However, here are some interesting tidbits from the guide:
More than 100 million people came through Ellis Island
40% of all Americans can trace immigration from Ellis Island
10,000 people came through Ellis Island per day
Ellis Island was built on landfill from digging out the subway system.
Only 1% of the people were sent back and this was for criminal records, health, or psych problems
Ellis Island had the most advanced hospital of its day
On to the Statute of Liberty
French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi created this lady from 1875-1885
While she was a gift from France she came over in pieces
There was no pedestal and the U.S. had to pay for her assembly
It took 6 years to raise funds to pay for these items
The idea for fundraising to pay for assembly and pedestal came from Joseph Pulitzer. He accepted any donation and gave advertising in his newspaper in return
80% of the donations were less than $1 and from immigrants.
One final fun fact: In NYC over 800 languages are spoken…
Next the Smithsonian Indian Museum
This is another of New York City’s best kept secrets. It is free and an enriching experience for all ages. I even saw Governor Cuomo and his 3 lovely daughters here as well as sailors from France, and all nationalities speaking one of those 800 foreign languages.
The beauty of the building continues to the gift shop where the restoration gleems with brass gates, intricate flooring and ceilings. They also have reasonable prices on gifts, turquoise jewelry, and no sales tax as it is a federal operation.
The official name of the building is the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs House and rightfully named as Hamilton did much to establish the U.S. financially. It was built to be the residence of the President but never occupied. New York City was the first U.S. capitol and Washington took his oath of office on the balcony of the old New York City Hall.
A special exhibit in the Rotunda describes the American Indian role as servicemen and women. The Indian language was used in code transmission during World War I and II and never broken by the enemy.
Past this exhibit are galleries of paintings done by Indians of varied tribes.
There are also traditional Indian exhibits at the Museum. Take in those as well.
Make sure to stop on the first and third floor to enjoy more of the buildings architecture as well as exhibits described earlier. Volunteer staffers are eager to help all explore and discover their genealogy. They offer workshops and free access to web sites.
And The Imagination Center is not just for kids. Information on Inca bridge building, herbal remedies, musical instruments, and a myriad of other topics are available to explore.
One last lap around the financial district…
Locating the subway I began the journey to JFK. On route an email relayed a delayed plane so I stopped at the Resorts World Casino, (which is on the subway line on the way to Howard Beach). Spent an hour, enjoyed the Christmas decorations, got some grub, won $2., and continued on to JFK.
Whew! Ready to sleep for the overnight flight to Lisbon…
For the last several years from mid-November to early January the Stetson House in Deland, Florida, is recreated into a Christmas wonderland. Tickets for the visit go quickly however you can try to obtain them at http://www.stetsonmansion.com. Rated by Trip Advisor as one of the Top 10 Things To Do In Florida the mansion is open year round. I have visited with and without decorations and found both tours fascinating.
Stetson was one of the original snowbirds who for 20 years brought his family from Pennsylvania to Florida for the winter. A millionaire in the hat industry he also was involved in citrus and sugar cane growing in Florida. A close friend of Thomas Edison his home was the first in Florida to be electrified with DC current.
History relayed let’s talk of the tour… While pictures are not allowed on the tour here are some of the sights which will enchant the eye. Opening the door to the gilded era home there was a peacock theme to the first room. Since this years theme is, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” this song plays upon entering the room. Here is a vision of peacocks, (not live ones), and lights abound. In the following room silver accents are found with a bear and forest theme. The following red room is laced with singing cardinals. This description is only a sampling of J.T.’s creations and hopefully if you can snag a ticket you’ll capture it all. And if unable to get a ticket a book is available.
J.T. and Michael are the owners of Stetson with J.T., a New Jersey native, being the creator of the masterpiece, and Michael the business manager. On a former visit J.T. stopped by the tour and discussed how he creates the home. Always fascinating to meet the artist and learn of how they receive inspiration.
The Stetson House is also available for weddings and Michael has a mailing list for events and updates. It is a wonderful visit and good to see a valuable historic landmark in the hands of caring custodians.
Started the day at the Old St. Patrick’s Church in lower Manhattan. This church’s history starts with Irish immigrants, then Italian, and Chinese. Built over 200 years ago this church was the precursor to the massive St. Patrick’s of 5th Avenue.
The church cemetery was once the burial site of the venerated Pierre Toussant, a candidate for sainthood. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s former orphanage is adjacent to the church. Other highlights include Martin Scorsese as a former altar boy, the Godfather being filmed at the church, and Alec Baldwin’s wedding in 2012. But, the main reason for the tour was to view the church catacombs.
These are the only New York City catacombs open to the public. There are also catacombs in Greenwood Cemetery, however closed to the public.
While a bit eerie this was interesting to see. During this time the crypts were sealed as embalming was not done. And, if one can prove title to the church crypts they could potentially be entombed here. Any takers??
On to the show…
Walking back to the hotel Lincoln Center loomed large. While a Monday night in New York tends to be quiet Lincoln Center was alive with the Paul Taylor dancers performing. Securing a ticket I quickly took my seat.
Paul Taylor was one of the great progressive, modern dance choreographers of the 20th century. He founded his dance company in 1954 and created over 150 works. He left us in 2018, however his legacy and vision lives on.
The four dances conducted on this evening were an innovative and interesting frolic in the modern dance style. Pictures are not allowed but the memory of the evening lingers on.
And with that closure to my New York City adventure. See you tomorrow and keep dancing.
On the way back from the Danube stopped in NYC for 2 days. Yes, I can never get enough of the Big Apple. Here’s some of the highlights from this jaunt starting with The Radio City Christmas Show.
Got a ticket for $46.00 via Headout.com. Put that on your list when looking for events. It’s a great venue and I’ve used it numerous times. I get no kickback only readers who will reap the same good prices.
On to the Rockettes! They were amazing in their candy cane outfits, dressed as elves, and as wooden soldiers. While the theater was filled with children one would never know as they were mesmerized by the activities on stage and therefore quiet.
Santa was the emcee of the show and there were many special effects with 3D glasses, trips to the North Pole, and the like. An especially cute spot was the Nutcracker portrayed in stuffed animals. For us older folk there were a few treasured Christmas carols sung and an ice skating venue.
Lastly, the show stopping living manger scene, always glorious and reverent. What an amazing way to start the holiday season.
Radio City Lobby… Swarovski Tree
Next… Gulliver’s Gate
This is a great place to bring kids as they will be thoroughly amused. Here the world is displayed in miniature. Nations are depicted as well as airports and mostly everything that moves. Volcanoes puff, helicopters fly, people dance, trucks drive, bridges raise, and ships sail all in these displays. Also, the displays can be viewed as a night or day.
Seeing is believing..
ASIA Taj in India, Cambodia, and Singapore.
EUROPE Italy, England, Paris, and Germany
Other Countries Brazil, Russia, and England’s famous bridge being raised.
Here’s one of the workshop think tanks.. And you can even have a miniature of yourself created at the venue.
Budapest is the capital of Hungary with its two cities on the Danube River, Buda on the western bank, and Pest on the eastern bank. As our ship sailed the Danube into Budapest it was a magnificent vision. The Parliament Building greets all with its 691 rooms. It is their crown jewel and tours are available.
Below are pictures of other structures along the Danube. The Palace is now an exceptional art museum and having toured it I can attest to the quality it possesses. Worth the visit.
And we caught a bride and groom as we sailed past..
Graceful bridges, statutes, and architecture also adorned the Danube cruise as approach to Budapest docking neared.
Once docked our tour began in Hero Square. Built in 1896 as a military memorial Angel Gabriel is the key figure holding the Hungarian crown and cross atop the tower. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After World War II one third of Hungary was in ruins. A moving tribute to the Jews lost in World War II was found next to the Danube. Here Jews were told to remove their shoes then gunned down by Nazi soldiers.
Then in 1956 the Russians invaded with 22,000 disappearing during this time. Now Hungary is free of Russian rule and is a parliamentary democratic republic with a social security system, universal health care, and universal free secondary education. It holds the world’s 58th largest economy and 10% of its GDP is based on tourism. (Info: Auntie Google).
From here it was time to explore Budapest’s pastries, museums, a historic Catholic Church and pass palace guards.
Matthias Church or Church of Our Lady is in Holy Trinity Square. This Gothic church has spectacular views of the City and during its 700 year history held coronations.
In this area are many gift shops, restaurants, and the oldest pastry shop in the City. It bustles with tourists and citizens. For those seeking good luck locate the statute of Andras Hadik and give his horse’s testicles a rub then watch your fortune change! I gave it my all and will let you know. 🙂
Tour concluded and my journey began…
Walking to the museum one passes palace guards and gardens. The streets of Budapest are cobblestones so wear thick soled shoes and pay attention.
Further down the walk the Museum looms with its building as lovely as its collection. One can spend an afternoon or a couple hours here taking in the masterpieces of international art. Cezanne, Pissarro, and Monet all hold a place here.
Post Museum I located the Great Market Hall of Budapest and what a delightful shopping experience this was. I even managed to bring home pepperoni which I savored daily. They have everything from soup to nuts, and did I mention tourism information??? And for those cooks out there, don’t forget the paprika!
After this I explored the streets of Budapest with preparations being made for Christmas Markets.
Then on to the Basilica of St. Stephen. He was the first king of Hungary and his mummified right hand is housed in the church.
And one last church before my final destination..
Budapest is a city of caves and minerals. There are tours available for those with spelunking in their blood, however with time at a premium, I elected to see a cave at Gellert Hill. Here is St. Ivan’s Cave, believed to be where the hermit lived using thermal water to heal the sick.
It now is a church and place of quiet meditation.
Across the street is the Gellert Thermal Bath, of which I had the pleasure to visit and soak. What a relaxing experience.
This is the lobby where you pay for the experience. Remember to bring a bathing suit and towel. I forgot the towel and had to blow myself dry. Ha! Ha!
The pool area is for swimming and if you wish to partake a bathing cap is required. There are also soaking tubs with various temperatures, saunas, steam rooms, and an outside pool. Cost is approximately 20 USD, but bring euros.
And now a short captivating walk back to the ship. How beautiful the bridge is at twilight.
Final ship entertainment was an on board Hungarian music and dance fest.
Bratislava is another interesting town along the Danube first settled by Celtics. It currently reigns as Slovakia’s capital and it’s culture, charm, and friendly citizens are alluring.
Our tour began in center square enjoying the architecture of this historic old town. Fortunately much of the 15th century architecture remains as Bratislava saw few bombings in the World War.
Dolls in Native Dress
While the town remained intact sadly 70,000 of its Jewish citizens went to concentration camps with 53,000 never returning. A beautiful memorial honors these citizens.
There currently are 4,000 Jews in Bratislava with one synagogue. Believe it or not, their rabbi hails from New Jersey.
Adjacent to the memorial is St. Martin’s Cathedral where 8 Hungarian Kings were coronated. Pictured below is the choir practicing for Christmas mass.
The town with its unique architecture has also been seen in the movie The Peacemaker starring Nicole Kidman and George Clooney.
Shops sell local wines, honey, and Bratislava roll, a poppy seed filled pastry to die for.
Post tour in city square was a festival with music, food, and wine from local vineyards. Here I sampled the local fare of potato pancakes, sauerkraut, and chicken as well as several varieties of red wine. Delicious!
Slovakia wine is quite good and I particularly enjoyed the warmed red wine. Residents were friendly as I sat among them and listened to American music. The Beach Boys still rock in Slovakia as does jazz.
And we are not done..
Bratislava has an amazing castle which looms over the town. While it states closure is 5 they do not allow admission past 4, so arriving at 4:02 I was refused entry. However, the views were worth the hike and if you visit in spring and summer there are amazing gardens.
And this is the view you have…
This asymmetrical suspension bridge is the second of it’s kind in the world. The first is found in Maine, that being the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and I have seen that vision as well. Gee, I feel like I’ve won Double Jeopardy!
And here are some night pics from and of the Bridge.
This concludes the Bratislava tour. And to all the friendly folk living there..