Tag Archives: Portugal

Threatened Childhood…not here.

Recently,  I read an article that rated Portugal as one of the top countries in the world to raise children.  Initially, this article struck me as odd. My daughters would tell you that the children of Portugal, in general, can be pretty physical.   Both of my girls have been involved in minor altercations this school year, with my younger daughter getting into a serious beat down.

Of course, addressing aggressive children isn’t one of the main criteria in determining the value of a country for families.  I am sure they used some scientific way to determine that Portugal is an awesome place for kids.  Today, I witnessed a pretty solid reason.  It was the Day of Children in Portugal.  In towns and cities across the country, free festivals celebrated kids.

When I decided to take the girls to the festival, and some of their friends, I had loaded my wallet with small change to pay for rides, bouncy castles, the standard ‘fair attractions.’  When we arrived in the main square of Cascais, we were greeted by a serious party.  Balloons everywhere, music, bouncy houses, bikes, trains, skateboards, wooden stilts, homemade wooden board games…the list continues.  My children’s eyes were like enormous pancakes scanning the scene and preparing to conquer.  I braced myself for crazy.

They first saw a skateboard/scooter/rollerblade course and headed over.  Maggie has never rollerbladed before, but she waited in line and got suited up.  This included a hairnet so that there was no chance of getting lice from the helmet sharing.  This brought tears to my eyes.  I fear nothing more than lice (sadly, this statement is pretty much true).  The young girl who assisted Maggie was awesome.  She looked genuinely pleased to have my gigantic daughter lean on her and she was truly excited when she finally seemed to skate alone.

The girls won prizes at another booth and even planted pots of vegetables to take home and grow in their own gardens.  All of this cost me nothing.  NOTHING.  There wasn’t even vendors selling crap.  No food trucks.  Just tent after tent of free activities and games.

I was starting to wear down because normally I tell the kids that I will only spend so much money and then we leave. I didn’t have a good barometer as to when I should escape this festival because it was costing me nothing.  They ran from one cool thing to the next.   Maggie was even interviewed by a Portuguese radio station that allowed her to answer in English and praised her when she spoke the little Portuguese she knows well.

If today is any indication, children are celebrated in Portugal.  I didn’t witness one parent yelling at their child, nor did I see any kid acting bratty.  I am sure it happened, but thankfully I avoided anything that might mar my glorious afternoon.  People were happy.  They were enjoying a sunny day with their offspring.

The only downside was that I never found food to feed my kids because there were no commercial elements at all.  At first, I was thrilled to not spend money, but we did get hungry.   If my priest had been with us, he would have gone insane seeking out food….the man gets hungry.  We satisfied ourselves with some churros (Portuguese invention) and ate lunch like Euro trash at 3 pm.


According to Save the Children:

Top 10 Places Where childhood is least threatened

1 Norway
1 Slovenia
3 Finland
4 Netherlands
4 Sweden
6 Portugal
7 Ireland
8 Iceland
8 Italy
10 Belgium, Cyprus, Germany, South Korea

Half marathon…Portuguese style

I have run many marathons and half marathons.  It was my thing for awhile.  After kids, a full marathon seemed like too much work.  Lots of training, lots of recovery.  I shifted my sites to half marathons.  Less distance equals less recovery time and much less training time.

There is a boy at church who needed some motivation.  He was told he had to slim down some because of a medical condition he has.  I told him we would do a half marathon together to help him get in shape.  We signed up for the Cascais half.  At home when I signed up for a race, I did so online.  I paid my money and I got an email confirmation.  It was fast and easy and usually costs anywhere from $50-$100, depending on the course and location.

In Portugal, you sign up on line, then you have to go to the bank and transfer money from your account to the account of the race.  Bizarre.  The ATM machines can handle the task, but since my bank card is Portuguese, it won’t operate in English, so I had to get help.  The whopping cost of the run €14 or about $17 USD.  Pretty sweet price.

Now, I would not say I properly trained for this run.  I ran, but never for that long.  I did run loads of hills, but I never got a chance to cover any serious distance.  It has been a busy few months.  I was anxious, but I knew the run wasn’t about me, it was about helping out a friend.  This made it all more manageable.

We went to the expo to pick up our race numbers.  I expected what I would expect at home.  Vendors selling everything to do with running.  What I got was nothing.  You just line up and show them your receipt and get your number, your time chip and the race shirt.  Alright then.  Easy and not at all commercial.

The run was on Sunday morning.  It started at a very civil 10 am.  My priest was at church during that time, presumably praying for his wife.

There were a few porta potties near the starting line of the race.  We lined up to use them.  When it was my turn, I entered and the entire thing started to move.  I thought I was going to fall over or worse have the toilet fall over and cover me in its lovely contents.  I exited alive, but it was touch and go.  I made a bold announcement for everyone to avoid that toilet because I nearly died….the runners started laughing.  Apparently, all the toilets are like that because of the uneven tile.  Not embarrassing…at all.  Ugh.

The race began like any other except we had a moment of silence before the gun went off in memory of a woman who died.  It was literally completely silent.  No one was chatting with their friend, no one was adjusting their shoes…they just stood there.  When it was over the race began.  So quietly.  It was impressive.

The course had some major hills.  It was tricky, but it was also stunning.  We ran beside the ocean for over 10 miles.

There were very few water stations, but when they had one they gave out full water bottles.  It was bizarre.  I didn’t want to waste, but I couldn’t drink a full bottle and I didn’t want to carry it with me while I ran.  There ended up being miles littered with water bottles (I went back the next day to show the kids where I ran and I couldn’t see evidence of even one water bottle.  Excellent clean up crew.).

There were also very few women running.  It was largely just men and unlike the other races I have done where you see all types of fitness levels and all types of people, here it was a pretty fit looking group.  The course had a 3 hour time limit.

We finished with 15 minutes to spare.  My friend had never run farther than 8 kilometers before, so he pushed himself and he triumphed. I admit he did want to stop a few times, but I held his hand and I ran with him.  It was a great feeling to forget about myself and my exhaustion and to focus on him.  I wanted him to accomplish his goal and in doing so, I got to experience a different kind of joy.  I was happy to finish, but I was much happier to finish hand in hand with a friend who needed some encouragement.

Hospital parking lot…choose your own adventure.

Had to visit a doctor this morning.  Had an appointment at the private hospital…this is the rogue parking lot.   There is a paid parking lot, but that seems to be empty.  Everyone parks along the road.  People invented a crazy random lot.  Triple parked, blocking houses…when in Rome.

There is no  direction that one cannot drive…people drive on whatever side they choose.  Good thing it is right beside the hospital.  Witnessed two accidents while parking.  If you have a car in Portugal it most definitely has a few kisses on it from various automotive adventures.

Things I don’t understand about Portugal

These things are in no particular order and some I won’t even bother to explain.  This list may continue to grow….

1. In the grocery store, milk is found in the aisles. It is not refrigerated.

2. Same thing for eggs.

3. There are rows and rows of jarred hot dogs in every supermarket. Some big, some little all preserved in glass jars with some liquid in it.

4. There is no real word for your welcome…just “de nada.” Which means literally “nothing.”

5. People with big dogs never pick up their dog’s poo. Never. This tends to happen everywhere in the world.

6. I tend to always step in said dog poo. Always. Must learn to stare at sidewalk.

7. They have beautiful wide sidewalks that are spectacularly tiled and they park all over them. They seem to prefer sidewalks to actual parking spaces.

8.  They love salted codfish.  I mean, really love it.  It was the main dish at Christmas.

9.  They place smelly codfish, ballachau, next to nice smelling bakery section.  Nice smelling bakery section is overwhelmed with smelly codfish.  I try not to inhale while purchasing bread.  I get light headed quickly.

10.  It isn’t the dark ages.  They could actually sell fresh cod and not have to sell salted codfish.    They have to soak the fish for days to be able to eat it.  They have to change the water frequently.  Again, fresh codfish is an option people.

11.  They still hate running shorts in the winter.  I still wear them because I still run.

12.  It blows their mind when my priest, when in his collar, holds my hand in public.  I think they think he is a scandalous Roman Catholic priest.  This is fun.

13.  I do not like egg custard tarts.  They eat egg custard tarts like I drink water.  They are at every party, every coffee shop, every house I visit.  I try them occasionally, just in case I am wrong…I am not.

More lists to follow soon….

Maggie’s perspective

Maggie loves to take pictures. She tries to call them Tumblr. She spends too much time looking for unique shots, but I must say I think she does do a pretty cool job.

You can see more of her cool pictures on Instagram: @magnificent_maggie32

Maggie’s new penny board on a cool Lisbon sidewalk.

Flowers for sale

Carousel ticket in Cascais

Stairs leading into the only vegetarian restaurant in our neighborhood.

Ferris wheel in Lisbon

High Ropes course…no supervision necessary


We heard about this cool high ropes and zip lining course not far from our house. I called to make an appointment to go…there really was no need because we were the only people there.

Just outside of Belem is Adventure Park. It is set in a forest that has loads of walking trails running through it. We pulled up and there was a wooden building where we went into pay.
You can buy a pack of passes that allow you multiple entries, but I wanted to make sure the kids liked it first. We have a place like this near our cottage in Ontario, Canada but it is crazy expensive and I never let the kids go. Every summer they ask and every summer I say no. When I told them they were going to the high ropes course here, they were shocked.
At our cottage, it costs about $150 for an hour of zip lining and treetop adventures . What do you think it cost in Portugal? How about €12.50 or $15. What? Really? Yes, really.

The kids are put in a harness but are given no helmets. That made me a little anxious, especially since they were so high off the ground.  They had to pull the rope that kept them safe with them.  There were a few cases where they got tangled up and I was sweating from 30 feet below.  However, they figured it out.  Alone.  They had a guide who was up in the trees with them, but he was just there to keep an eye on them.  Better than nothing.

The course included loads of different obstacles   and ended in a zip line from the trees to the ground.  Absolutely impressive.

The kids were champs.  Pippa did look extremely nervous at the beginning.  She constantly brags about being a junior Nik Wallenda…world famous tightrope walker.  Instead, unlike Nik, she grabbed hold of the ropes and never let go.  She didn’t trust the harness.  The cool part was that they got to do two loops of the course and by the end she was a rock star…no Nik Wallenda though.  Maggie was in heaven, even zip lining upside down.

I continue to be amazed at all of the awesome things to do Portugal.  Awesome and cheap…what could be better.

View of the monkeys above our heads….

Cross Country Meet From Hell

Maggie trained all fall for a cross country meet.  For one meet and one meet only.  We received no details about what was happening, just a date.  We had no idea how long the race was, what age group she was running against, what terrain she would be running on…just when.  As the date finally approached, I called the school.  I wanted to watch the meet.  I had run cross country as a kid and I was thrilled to see Maggie doing the same thing.

I called the school the day before the meet in December and I was told that the race was cancelled because it was supposed to rain.  They were going to postpone it.  They would let us know until when.  Maggie came home and told us the meet is now in January.  She knows nothing else.  She tells me to chill out.  Apparently, she hasn’t met me.  Hello, I am your mother, I do not chill out.  I need details.

Eventually, we are told the meet is on January 11th.  I decide to get my priest to call the school.  He seems to get somewhere.  They tell him where we need to be to see the race.  They tell him the time.  All good progress.  He asks how the kids are getting to the meet and he is told on the school bus.  In the USA, when my kids went away from school property, I signed and returned a permission slip with details.  It outlined everything I needed to know.  Here in Portugal, it is a crazy guessing game.  My priest got just enough information.  We at least could go watch her.

We arrived at the meet with Pippa and my parents in tow.  The place was huge with thousands of kids roaming about.  There was a clear finish line with a blow-up arch way.  We headed in that direction and tried to find Maggie in a sea of kids in various private school uniforms.  She spotted us.  I went over to talk with her.  She was anxious.  She finally knew that the race was 1.5 kilometers long.  Not the best distance for her, she has stamina, not quick speed.  It was also on a mix of dirt and sand.  I told her if she won I would give her €10.  Greatest mother ever.  My mother was horrified.  She berated me for putting too much pressure on Maggie.  Whatever.  I call it incentive.  Maggie is very motivated by money and loves when I challenge her with cash.

While she was hanging with her classmates, I watched the other races.  Maggie was screwed. They didn’t line the kids up in any order.  It was a mosh pit.  Kids fighting to get near the front.  Pushing.  Shoving.  Scary.  We stood by and watched the girls ages 9 and under race.  As they approached the finish line, two girls were neck in neck for second and third place.  We watched them elbow and then shove each other to beat each other out.  I was stunned.  I have never witnessed children attacking each other in cross country.  It is usually a solitary sport.  I knew Maggie was even more screwed. She is not aggressive and would never shove someone in a race.

In the distance, we see hundreds of girls (no exaggeration) assemble for Maggie’s race start.  It looks like chaos.  We hear the gun go off and we wait near the finishing line.  We can see nothing.  After a few minutes, we see a girl clearly in a commanding lead.  It is not Maggie, don’t get excited.  We watch the top finishers run in.  We wait.  We see Maggie solidly in the middle of the group.  She is running hard, but looks disappointed.  As the girls finish, they walk in a single file line in order to rank them.  They are given a bottle of water and a cereal bar as they cross the line.

I greet my baby and ask her if she tried her best; the only thing I ever really care about.  She says no, she didn’t.  When the race started, kids began to push and shove each other.  She was pushed into the sand.  She never really recovered her stride.  Her coach joined us at the finish line and said he was proud of her.  I told him she was a little disappointed in herself.  He then asked her if she used her elbows.  Elbows?  She said no.  The coach had told her to be aggressive, but she doesn’t have it in her.  I could say she will be ready next time,  but the truth is, she won’t be ready.  I either need to toughen her up for Portugal, or sign her up for sports that come with intense protective gear.


My parents navigating a sea of crazy and my runner.

Where do kids ride their skateboards? Scooters?

My daughters were both dreaming of scooters and skateboards for Christmas.  It was on the top of their Santa lists.  I understand wanting them, I was just not sure where they could use them.

The sidewalks here in our part of Portugal are all made of stone mosaics.  Not a flat surface at all.  They are insanely beautiful with intricate patterns.  Great to look at, not practical for anything else.  Hard to walk, harder to run on and impossible to ride on.  Also, sidewalks are basically just parking spaces here.  People use the nice wide sidewalks to pull up on to and leave their cars.  Oh yeah, and dog poop is everywhere.  Truly a mine field.   At Maggie’s school, the only way to pick her up is to drive on the sidewalk where kids are exiting school at the same time.  Extremely dangerous, but normal.

Alas, Santa granted their wishes.  Maggie got her skateboard and Pippa her scooter.  They started out riding on the ceramic tile in our backyard.  They didn’t get too far.  They needed more space.  We decided to take them to the Estrella park in Lisbon.  The park is gorgeous.  Lots of room to move around.  Cement pathways.  Mature magnolia trees, a play structure and a coffee place…what else do you need?

Apparently, every kid in the greater Lisbon area who received some sort of toy with wheels decided to practice their skills at the park.  It was a complete and total traffic jam.  Kids with new toys and no skills were everywhere.  Some had helmets and protective gear. Other kids were wild, weaving in between people and speeding like complete nut jobs.  Maggie was cautious.  Pippa was fearless.

After about an hour, my nerves were shot.  The kids wanted to forge ahead.  I gave in and let them practice for a few more minutes with promises of returning to the park soon…after the holiday crush.  A week later, I brought them back.  Less traffic jams, thankfully, but they are never going to become masters because they really can only practice at this park.  This is reality for my newly minted European kids.  Cool sidewalks that you can’t use.

You never realize how easy riding your scooter or skateboard is on a paved sidewalk until you don’t have one.


What? Walking Fortress Walls. WRONG.

In the awesome medieval town of Obidos, one can walk the entire walls of the fortress that surrounds the town.  We went to see the Christmas village there less than a month ago, but with family in town, I thought another trip was in order.

There are scary stone staircases with no railings that lead up to the top of the walled city’s protective barrier.  There are signs that warn that it is dangerous and young children are not encouraged to walk the perimeter of the walls.  No, really?  The top of the walls, in some places, measure 43 feet high with nothing stopping you from plummeting to your death.  Of course, after seeing this my brother thought it was a great idea to take my 6 year old daughter up there for a jaunt.

I saw him take Pippa by the hand and march up one of the steep and scary staircases.  I thought they were stopping there, but that would have been too safe.  No, he proceeded to take her to the top of the fortress, where, like the nut job she is, she leaned over the edge and waved at me.  I started to feel intense panic.  Chest constricting  anxiety.  I yelled for her to come down.  Casually, Pippa and my brother returned, but not after a few more waves from on high.  My mom said I needed to relax more.  I said I will relax when I am dead.   I tend to exaggerate.

After multiple requests by my children to climb back up to the top of the walled city, I decided I would check it out for myself.  Maybe it wasn’t so bad.  Holy crap!  It was way worse.  Like big time way worse.  Once I was at the top, I thought I was going to die.  First of all, I have permanent vertigo.  It is pretty nasty and up high like that…let’s just say, death seem imminent.  Secondly, the stones are uneven (hundreds of years old and constantly exposed to the elements).  There were also pot holes and wonky stones.  Thirdly, no railings.  Come on.  Why are people even allowed up there?  Remember…up to 43 feet high!  We would never let people even close to that in North America.  We care about safety and tourists not falling to their death and landing on top of other tourists.  Bad for business.

I clutched the wall for dear life and made my way down the next flight of stairs.  My family was waiting for me and my kids were ready to try the same walk I had just completed.  Maggie,  my 11 year old, saw the look on my face and knew instantly it was not going to happen.  EVER.  Pippa was halfway up the stairs when I got my priest to yank her back.

Maggie looked at me and said, “is this another thing we can do after we turn 18?”  Typically, anything dangerous or remotely romantic (kissing), must be attempted after 18 years of age in my world.  I figure by that time, they will have forgotten about it and I can continue to sleep at night.  I told her that even after 18 it was questionable.  Why do I have the feeling, that Pippa will sneak out in the middle of the night, get someone to drive her the hour to Obidos and start walking the fortress walls.  One kid feels my pain, the other wants to cause me more pain.   Never a dull moment.

I took pictures from up high, documenting my impending demise. Notice my family below looking like ants.

Piranha in Portugal

Piranha… my 15 year old Bichon Frise is mostly blind, completely deaf and missing all but 11 teeth. She is not in love with our town. Dogs viciously bark at her through their gates…she can’t hear them, so it is even more disturbing when they try to nip at her through the bars of their front yard prisons.
Most dogs never go for a walk and when they do, they are free to pee and poop anywhere they want and no one bothers to pick it up. Piranha enjoys all of the nasty smells, but that’s about it.
Now, as a dog raised in California for her formative years, the beach is her dream spot. She feels joy there. You can see her feet start to dance and her nose intensely sniff the air. In her younger years, she could play for hours on the beach. She would bury her ball and then dig it up. It caused her to eat a lot of sand and then hours later after some distress, she would poop out sand castles.
We no longer let her eat sand. She no longer can see a ball to play catch, but she still loves to roll in the sand.
We live a 5 minute drive from the beach. Piranha gets at least one weekly outing to the ocean. Before our eyes, she becomes a puppy again. A crazy, white fluff ball romping in the surf and chasing smells.
I am really happy that she will get to live out her golden years near a place that brings her such happiness. I hope one day, I am so lucky.

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