One of the best and worst trips we’ve ever taken was the one over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday of 2000-2001.
It was one of those things where we were sitting around wondering where we could go real cheap at the last minute. I found some flights to Portugal leaving on Christmas Eve, arriving on Christmas Day.
Flying on Christmas sounds awful, but it was great actually. We had the plane to ourselves and stretched out across all the seats and slept all the way there. It was supposed to be a seven hour flight, but since air traffic was so light, we made it there in five hours.
I’d wanted to go there ever since a relative of ours (a travel agent) mentioned, “Portugal is such a beautiful country, I don’t know why no one ever goes there.”
Portugal is also the bargain basement of Western Europe. Everything from hotels to transportation and goods is inexpensive.
The people are friendly, helpful, and it didn’t matter that we didn’t know how to say more than about three words in Portuguese.
And there were so many lovely things to see.
Problem was, it rained almost the entire week we were there. And it was unseasonably cold. I had promised everyone sunshine. They grow lemons there, weather’s gotta be good, right?
Look at those mad kids!
We brought jackets, but they didn’t seem to keep us warm enough. Especially that night we got stuck at that castle.
We’d gone all the way up the mountain by bus to get to there. Mostly what I remember about the ride was looking out the window and seeing the tires right at the edge of the road, and then nothing. As in, steep drop that seemed to have no bottom.
After touring the castle and grounds, we stood out and waited for the bus, the last one of the day. The scary part was there were way too many other people waiting in line.
So we kept waiting for what would certainly be a fight to get on that bus. We waited, and waited, and waited. It got dark, it got cold, and this creepy fog rolled in along with some drizzle.
An hour and a half goes by, and no bus.
All this time, no one in the crowd could (or would) speak a word of English. There were no phones and the castle and grounds were locked up at that point.
When the bus finally did come, people were shoving to get in, but you know what? It was already full when it rolled up. Maybe two people got on, and the bus didn’t even make a complete stop when it did get there. I just remember the driver saying something to the stranded and panicked crowd as he drove off.
What he said, I don’t know.
One girl, a lone backpacker who looked as if she hadn’t bathed in a year stuck her thumb out to hitchhike. It seemed hopeless as there weren’t many cars coming this way. It was the top of the mountain, why would anyone come here?
But someone did drive by and she got out of there.
So we had some choices. Walk five or so miles back down the mountain, stay with these people and hope another bus was coming but risk death from exposure, or hitchhike.
We stuck our thumbs out and the next car that came along (tiny, tiny, tiny) stopped. We piled in there, all five of us, and left the rest of those tourists up there.
The driver was a skinny college-age kid, someone we could take down in a minute if he tried anything crazy.
He turned out to be a really cool guy who spoke great English and was a drummer in a local rock band.
The last day or so there, the weather had cleared up a bit and there was this amazing fireworks competition over the river. Three countries competed with back to back shows and it was all choreographed to classical music. I’d never seen anything like that in my life before or since.
Why was it one of the best trips?
Because of all the rain, we spent a lot of time in the hotel room watching cable news that was in English. Over and over they kept reporting that the American economy was “going down the drain.”
At that time, we had our savings in the stock market. All of it, and I was day trading with it like a gambler spinning a roulette wheel.
Get back home and what was our news reporting?
The exact opposite. We took everything out the market and by the end of that month, the market crashed with the dot com bust.
That trip saved these angry childrens’ college funds.
I just noticed Spanky’s giving me a thumbs down!
I wish I had a photo of the lemon trees. They are everywhere and this time of year, they are full of gigantic lemons.