Friday, May 30, 2008

Blogging Portugal

Let me rub my jet laggy eyes a moment and get ready to post. We are home from the beautiful and fantastic Portugal! Quick version = great holiday. Long version = read on!
The last few hours before we left for the airport on Thursday the 16th were an absolute whirlwind. I’m not kidding you when I tell you I was sprinting from room to room to collect all the last minute things to cram in our suitcases. There is an image from the Little House on the Prairie books that has stayed with me for years – girls, you may remember this! The Ingalls family went to the home of extended family members to tap the sugar maples and make syrup. The ladies were in the kitchen cooking up a storm (as all us stereotypical ladies do) and Laura was watching, fascinated by the fact that they were turning from counter to counter so fast their hoopskirts were still spinning the one way when they were already turning back the other. Although I don’t wear hoopskirts, that blur of activity was definitely me.
Barry dropped us off at YVR at 6 pm and we checked in, went through security and had some dinner. We got to our gate with an hour to kill, so we read some books and the boys found Waldo a few more times. We got called up to board first as we were “Travelling with Small Children” and then the nightmare began. We were almost walking on the plane when they stopped us to tell us the kids’ passports were expired. No kidding. I thought I was going to faint. We had all gotten our passports 4 years ago, when Jack was an infant. I had checked Mike’s and mine prior to Belize and saw that we had until May 2009 on them. I ASSUMED that all our passports expired together... not so. When kids under 3 are issued passports, they are only valid for 3 years, not 5. Good to know. We were shocked that they had been expired for a year – we’ve taken the kids across the border at least 20 times in the past year, and NOBODY has noticed they were expired. Also, that night we had already shown our passports on three different occasions to get to the gate, and had “slipped through” every time. We were upset at not noticing earlier (like, how about months earlier?) since the kids are dual citizens and we would have had time to whip home and get Jack’s UK passport. British Airways was fantastic. They were very apologetic that they had made the mistake of letting us this far, and although it was obviously our fault, they said that if we got back there the next night with valid passports for the kids, they would get us on the plane and not only that, bump us up to World Traveller Plus class. I was bawling – no, not just crying – bawling, and Jack was crying too and saying things like “Mummy why didn’t you check our passports? It’s your fault Mummy” and other helpful comments that made me feel even worse. Ethan was rubbing my back, obviously upset, but also a bit bewildered at seeing me fall apart like that. They drove us back through the terminal on a golf cart – nothing like being on display while you’re sobbing – where we had to check back through customs and then pick up our bags. Then we had to get through the arrivals section where crowds of people are waiting to greet their loved ones, and they all had to move aside to let this sobbing woman and sad children get escorted through by the British Airways lady. Mike was pretty stoic – he had called his dad, who turned around and came back to get us. One of us had to hold it together and apparently it was not me.
I ran out of tears about 12 hours later. I cried the whole night through – we put the kids to bed, and then tried to figure out what we were going to do. Jack was ok since his UK passport was still valid, but Ethan’s US and Canadian were both expired. We decided to go to the Canadian Passport office first, but have all the US stuff with us too and try the US embassy if it didn’t work out. After a sleepless night, we got the kids up early and were first to the passport office when it opened. First good news of the day – a same day passport IS possible if you have an itinerary to prove your urgency, and an extra $70 for the rush. Armed with that news and slightly emboldened, we caffeinated ourselves and got photos of Ethan as soon as they opened at 9 am. Back to the passport office where we went through the application process (and beat the huge lines because of our Urgent status) and we were told to come back to pick it up at 2 pm. My stress level decreased but it only came down in levels throughout the day. 6 am = level 10; 10 am = level 8; 2 pm (passport in hand) = level 6. We had to rearrange hotel rooms and car rentals and somehow contact my parents in Portugal to let them know we wouldn’t be at the villa for 3 pm Saturday as planned. I left a message with the kindly Portuguese man at their hotel to say we would arrive Sunday but he didn’t give them any more details than that. The next phone call was to Ben and Renee, to let them know what happened and to tell them we would be on their flight (we hoped) that night. I didn’t fully relax until we got onto the plane. At check-in, everybody knew our story and they were so helpful and wonderful. They did indeed squeeze us onto the oversold flight, got us a bank of four seats together in the bulkhead row and gave us the upgrade too. Stress @ 8 pm = level 2. The boys each watched a movie on their screens, and then slept until London. We had 4 hours in London, then a 3 hour flight to Lisbon. Mike, Ethan and Jack were all asleep before takeoff and I had to wake them up as we landed. Ethan fell asleep on the guy next to him and Jack told the guy next to him to put on his seatbelt, then turned to me and said in a loud voice, “I told that stranger to put on his seat belt, Mummy! And he did!”
We landed in Lisbon at 9:15 pm, got our bags and our Volvo, and went to the hotel we were supposed to be in the previous night. Luckily they had an opening although we still had to pay for the Friday night too. Ben and Renee had flown straight to Faro, so although we couldn’t reach my parents by phone when we landed in Lisbon, I felt a little better that at least Ben and Renee could give them the whole story. We slept in a little and then had the breakfast buffet before setting out. The drive south was fast and easy, taking a little under 2-½ hours. We got to the villa in Carvoeiro (in the Algarve region) at lunchtime – the sandwiches were ready and we sank down and relaxed poolside immediately. Briana, Rob, Liam and Kieran had all got there the previous night shortly before Ben and Renee. Uncle Terry and Aunty Cathy had arrived in the afternoon after Mummy and Daddy had checked in at 2 pm. It was great to see everybody and the kids were thrilled to see each other.
Briana and Rob barbecued kebabs for dinner, and we sat in our outdoor dining room and enjoyed the view. The villa was glorious – even better than the website had described. There were seven rooms, so each couple had their own room and the kids slept two to a room too. (I just used all three “to two too” homonyms in one sentence – hee hee!) The tile floor was cool beneath our feet, the doors opened wide to let in the ocean breeze, and the trees outside were covered in almonds, lemons and olives. It was decorated in Moorish style and had a huge kitchen and plenty of relaxing space for all. 14 lounge chairs poolside!
Over the next week, we explored Moorish and medieval castles and cathedrals, dug our toes into the sand at various beaches (each more beautiful than the next), swam endlessly in our pool, walked along the cliffs, ate good Portuguese food, discovered beautiful sights around every cobblestone corner, enjoyed driving down tiny streets (having to fold the mirrors in just to fit) and around roundabouts, and had ice cream at least once a day. We saw Sagres, Silves, Portimao, Ferraguda, and Lagos, and many other little villages along the way.
We would start every day with a dip in the pool, then go exploring – sometimes together, sometimes all separately. We would always regroup for dinner, prepared by each of us in turn. We did a Mediterranean pasta with piri-piri pork and salad, Ben and Renee did a rabbit stew with rice (oh my God, ew – thankfully they did one with chicken, and it tasted really good, but I was still grossed out), Aunty Cathy did a roast chicken meal, M&D babysat the four boys while the rest of us went out for piri-piri and seafood, and all fourteen of us went out to an Italian restaurant one night. The most special night was the catered dinner M&D had arranged to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary – the reason for the trip. It was a wonderful dinner and everything about every course was delicious. The waiter was fantastic and the chef was an expert.
I was on the quest to try every Portuguese pastry speciality, and I think I did quite well. I made quite a dent in the custard tart population of Portugal, and many other treats besides. Avoiding nuts for Ethan wasn’t as hard as I’d feared; we just didn’t let him near anything baked (they use a lot of almond in baking). The kids ate a lot of French fries (batatas fritas) which seem to be served with every meal.
Jack was sick one morning – he threw up four times in about 2 hours, and slept a ton. He woke up in the early afternoon feeling fine and was totally ok the whole rest of the vacation. Thankfully none of the other boys got sick, although Liam has been suffering since he got home from some bug that he picked up in Portugal somehow.
On Saturday morning we had to say goodbye to everyone and we all went our separate ways. Briana, Rob and the boys flew back to Victoria, Uncle Terry and Aunty Cathy flew home to Liverpool, Mummy and Daddy drove off to Spain, Ben and Renee drove up to northern Portugal, and we drove to Evora on our way back to Lisbon. We couldn’t find anywhere to stay in Evora, so we explored the walled city and some of its sights, then drove on to Lisbon. We stopped to see the monoliths (similar to Stonehenge and about 5,000 years old) and went back to the same hotel we had stayed in the first night in Lisbon. The next day we went to Sintra; so unbelievably scenic I can’t even describe it. On Monday we went to Cascais and the most western point in all of continental Europe. Tuesday was Belem, Lisbon’s castle and more. We rode on planes, trains, buses, cars, and trams.
The Portuguese love children and the boys were spoiled with adoring waiters and pats on their heads wherever we went. People would pick the kids up and rub their cheeks (which I admit freaked me out a little until I realized that they just loved children). The boys were also mostly very well behaved, and were angels on the plane. We had many compliments on their behaviour. Nobody slept the entire way home (13 hours on planes) until Jack fell asleep about 40 minutes before landing in Vancouver. He was so comatose that I carried him asleep off the plane, walked all the way through customs and laid him on the floor next to the luggage carousel where he slept peacefully for a further 45 minutes until we got our bags. He didn’t wake up until we got on the bus for long-term parking. Ethan was basically sleepwalking at this point, and both kids slept in the car and went right to bed when we got home around 8:30 pm. Jack was up at 3:30 am with Mike, and Ethan woke up at 6 am with me.
They went to bed great last night (first time in a long while that we haven’t fought them to sleep) and slept through until almost 6 am again today. Ethan went to school today and he was very excited to tell his whole class all about Portugal. I did 8 loads of laundry, a grocery shop and a Costco shop, and I think we are back on track again. I’ll probably remember more stories and specifics in the weeks to come, but that’s it for now. It’s nice to be home!


Cathy said...

Oh my. Your vacation sounds so wonderful. The pictures are breathtaking. I love the idea of an extended family vacation. It looks great that you guys did some playing with famiy and separately. Sounds like the boys were cherubic! I don't know how Chris would do on a plane. Amazing. So...when do you want to take a Family Vacation to Indianapolis, IN? You are always welcome!

Ryan said...

The passport story was unbelievable. I can only imagine what you went through there. I am glad it worked out, the vacation sounds marvelous all in all.