Recovering in Porto

An old Holiday Inn commercial said when travelling we need to “expect the unexpected.”

And so it is that inevitability meets opportunity. Here we are, both sick with bronchitis, in the midst of our long awaited vacation in Porto, Portugal. Nikolas our dear grandson being a small child passed it on to us while we visited him in Germany.

Garry contracted symptoms a few days ahead of me, and he is close to being on the other side of it. I, on the other hand, am in the thick of it, sore throat and cough cough cough.

When I first realized a few days ago that I had not fended it off, I was angry given the challenge of getting here. It became clear to me that we would not cover the ground we had hoped, including a half day trip to the beach, a road trip into the Douro Valley, and a day trip to Lisbon. C’est la vie, or as Sean’s company [] translation into Portuguese says: isso é vida.
The good news is we are well located to see many sights within walking distance of where we are staying.

Our current pattern is to take it easy in the morning, and then head out for a few sights and be home in time for an afternoon nap, and stay in for the rest of the day to preserve our health.

Today we managed a delicious lunch out at a Porto icon called The Majestic Cafe. Garry will have more on that later, including some photos.

My big purchase of the day was cough syrup, the strongest the pharmacist could recommend without a prescription.Our accommodation is clean, cozy and centrally located. We have been able to rest and recuperate well here.We love Porto and look forward to coming back after our next visit to Germany.

And now, nap time!

Fado Music In Porto

Here we are in Porto, both of us fighting the non-covid virus.

Last night we attended a Fado music concert presented by a society for the preservation of Fado. Fado music is unique to Portugal. It expressed the dark sense of loss, something in life the can never be recovered and mourning its loss. Not that that would meaning anything to us!

For the concert we were ushered into the small venue and had seats about five feet from the player of the Portuguese guitar. At that point Heather began coughing and had to quickly exit only to spend the rest of the one hour concert outside. It is consistent with the Portuguese character that while Heather was outside a staff member asked why she was not at the concert. She explained the situation to him. He then chatted with me, and took her glass of Port outside to her. So often we have encountered a genuineness in attentiveness to others. Also unlike our culture, touching is a given. For example our waitress this morning when starting a conversation with her male colleague would gently touch him on the arm. It is refreshing.

The concert was beautiful with one person on the 12 string guitar, one on the Portuguese guitar, and a male singer.

The singer explained that when the pandemic began he had just released his new album. With the pandemic a series of his concerts were then cancelled.

This can give you a small sense of Fado music

Once the concert was over Heather and I sought out an outdoor restaurant, which coincidentally was directly below our residence in Porto.

Heather with her Sangria in Porto

Porto, Portugal – a breath of fresh air

Visiting family and catching up with the viruses we missed during the pandemic has left little time for writing. At last we are in Porto, have closed the door and have time to write.

A year ago almost to the day I had flown to England and Germany. At that time we were seven months into the pandemic. Comparing travel then and now, let’s just say that then we clearly were in the grips of pandemic whereas today, judging by much what we saw, many have decided it is over.

Our flight from Calgary to Amsterdam was at 90 to 95 percent capacity. We had diligently completed the ‘required’ forms ‘required’ by the Netherlands government but were not asked for them. We carried with us proof of our Canadian vaccination, but were not asked.

In Amsterdam, wearing of masks for Covid was required on public transportation and nowhere else. Everywhere else it was open season, no masks, no social distancing. The pandemic was over. Restaurants were busy and masks were absent – staff and patrons.

This did not prevent a very large demonstration opposing lock downs, masks, taking away our freedom, vaccinations and other assorted things. We stumbled on the end of the demonstration at the largest square in Amsterdam. Several thousand attended and there was a significant police presence. Ahh freedom.

If only they would have had this group in the 1950s. At the age of four, I remember the great fear I had of polio, and ending up in an iron lung for my entire life. I am sure polio was a hoax too. As a young youth worker just out of university I remember one of my bitterest aboriginal clients, who had been crippled by polio.

Current stats, deaths per million in the

Netherlands 1,026 per million,

Canada 754 per million,

Germany 1135 per million,

Portugal 1758 per million,

USA 2172 per million.

I will write more on Portugal’s success with immunization as they lead the world.

There is far too little credit given in Canada for the government’s management of Covid. Yes I would have instituted far tougher measures earlier, but on the world stage, Canada’s numbers tell a story of relative success. People seem to have trouble translating numbers of dead into friends, relatives, grandparents, acquaintances. How many grandparents do you know are alive because of what the government did?

There seems an almost complete absence of recognition. Apparently we have just moved on. Partcularly in North America we are taught there is no history for us. We wake up every day ready to buy the latest sparkly things to buy and forget what happened yesterday. That doesn’t bode well.

We took the train to Germany, and mask wearing was more obvious. On public transportation and any interior public space. Germans are clearly more diligent.

More tomorrow. Fewer statistics, and more photos of Porto which two days in, is simply a wonderful place to visit. We’ve so far encountered many helpful, friendly thoughtful people.

Our Latest Adventure Begins!

October 3, 2021

We were surprised to find our Westjet flight to Amsterdam was over 90 percent full. 

Everyone was fully masked and the cabin crew advised we were only allowed to lower our masks when taking quick bites and sips.

Garry had completed some COVID related paperwork required by the Netherland’s government which we were not asked for upon entry.  A COVID test is not required upon entry in Holland.  We did have to present our vaccine passports when boarding in Penticton. 

Upon arrival in Amsterdam we learned that the mask mandate had been lifted on September 21st with the exception of public transit.  Though in the vast minority, we elected to keep our masks on anytime we were indoors.

Today we took a canal cruise.  Stunning architecture and some interesting facts about this unique city, including:
1.  Amsterdam is comprised of 95 small islands, joined by bridges.
2.  There are hundreds of houseboats along the canals where people reside permanently, and sometimes they cannot be renovated if they have been declared a historical site.  The parking spots for the houseboats cost up to half a million dollars!
3.  The City of Amsterdam employs two people full time to retrieve bikes from the eight foot deep canals. Many cyclists use the canals to dispose of their bikes, and last year 15,000 were recovered!

Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer accurately captured the facial features of young Dutch women.  I spotted a few today who could have been a model for “The Girl With A Pearl Earring”.  They were blue eyed, fair, somber and beautiful.

I have never seen so many bicycles ridden by people of all ages, some while snacking and talking on their cell phones.  And they are often transporting babies and up to three small children, most without helmets, in specially designed trailers.

We have enjoyed some decent restaurant meals since we left home.  Tonight we’re craving some fresher and lighter fare so we visited a grocery store. 

Dinner in our comfortable room will be comprised of salad, hummus, cheese, peppers, yoghurt and fresh fruit.  In for the night!

One Year Ago – October 2020 – On the way to Cologne

These are some thoughts and photos of a trip I took one year ago to Cologne. Sensing a winter wave of covid, I wanted to travel in advance of it to visit family. Below are some airport photos that show the world had changed.

A Quiet Beginning
Calgary Airport – All Concessions Closed. One restaurant open.
Peak Times – The Shuttle was not available – Shut Down
Just Plain [Plane] Quiet – Calgary
In Canada when Tim Hortons is closed you know there is trouble.
Gatwick – The gates are occupied – but planes are empty
Ready to deplane in London – not much pushing and shoving.
Gatwick on a very quiet day
The Gatwick Express – On my way to Heathrow
Heathrow Departure – More people but not many

We are on our way – almost

The pandemic continues.  When we started into this worldwide epidemic in March 2020 we thought by October 2021 the world would have some semblance of normality. Clearly it is not the case. Today we fly through Calgary. Alberta, a hot spot for the pandemic.

Planning for this trip to visit family in Cologne began as a more extensive trip – Italy, Tunisia, the UK. But that was not to be.

First the UK maintained strict entry requirements so we could not effectively plan to arrive there. So we changed it to Amsterdam.

Tunisia had the double whammy of civil unrest coupled with the pandemic. Although the peak may have passed, they have recorded 24,842 deaths.

One alternative for us was Portugal. Portugal regularly has the highest vaccination rate in the world. Currently 83% of the population is fully vaccinated. In addition there is a directly flight to Porto, sparing us time in big airports among crowds.

Before we begin today’s journey, I will recap a quick trip I took to Cologne in October 2020, one year ago. Sensing a tough winter with the pandemic, I wanted to take advantage of the calm before the storm.  My travel through empty airports in Calgary and London was eerie.

Today we take off for Amsterdam.  Our next update will be from that beautiful city.

It has been a while! I visited Amsterdam as fresh young university student in 1968.  Paris had seen rioting in the Left Bank and beyond by leftists that nearly toppled the government.  The Soviet Union was about to invade Czechoslovakia.

Each age has its tumult. And we have our share today.

The Pandemic Continues

We are limited in our ability to travel by the Covid19 pandemic. A minor inconvenience given the seriousness of what many face with unemployment and sickness. We have difficulty understanding why some individuals will not take precautions such as wearing masks and avoiding crowds. In the World Wars individuals spent years overseas, apart from family members facing uncertainty and death. In that context it does not seem onerous to limit social gatherings, wear a mask and otherwise pay attention to what health officials are saying.

Our travels are limited, but we nevertheless have an opportunity to experience some of the beauty of Canada, in this case it is Banff National Park and Lake Louise.

Bears in Banff and Jasper are common. Living around homo sapiens can be challenging for bears because we often leave food at sites, and once the bears are habituated to human food, they often end up destroyed. 

To deal with this Parks Canada installed an electric wire fence around the Lake Louise campsite. It provides a degree of safety for both bears and people.

Camping at Lake Louise

Bears are not uncommon. In this short trip we saw one brown bear, one black bear and for the second time in my life, grizzly bears. The previous grizzly I saw was travelling in the Yukon.

The blonde grizzly bear and her cub were busy feeding on berries stocking up for the winter ahead. Somewhat safely located on the other side of a fenced area she and her cub worked steadily stripping berries from bushes. Present were two Parks Canada employees watching, and warning us that although unlikely if the bear decided to get aggressive coming through the fence would not be a problem.

Near dusk the pictures are not the best but grizzlies are uncommon enough that we decided to post it.

Grizzly Bear, Banff National Park

Watching the bear was a Parks Canada employee, with a bear spray gun in hand. Her face is blurred for privacy.


August on the way to the Six Glaciers Teahouse
Six Glaciers Trail
Horse Trail – Six Glaciers