The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Obligatory Parque Eduardo VII photo

Parque Eduardo VII, Lisbon's equivalent of Central Park, sits on a slope with a clear view down Avenida da Liberdade to the Tejo. Visitors to Lisbon are required to take at least one photo from the top of the park looking down, like this:

(Notice the fog and overcast, which hasn't changed except in density since I arrived. When I get back to Chicago I'll post a photo from 2000 that shows what this view looks like on a good day.)

As I stood there taking photos, I began to notice roosters crowing. One doesn't often hear roosters crowing in Chicago unless one visits the Lincoln Park Zoo, so one got curious and wandered over to the noise. Here's one of the principal offenders:

At the northwest corner of the park there is an enclosure with chickens, roosters, turkeys, ducks, geese, and peacocks. I have no explanation for this. It's not a zoo, and there seems to be some kind of construction work covering the north end of the area. Any ideas?

Still foggy; still walking

Yesterday I walked around east of Avenida da Liberdade; today I went west of it, into Bairro Alto. Lisbon has a mix of old and new that I think comes from lack of investment rather than any particular plan (as in the UK). The Bairro Alto neighborhood has an especially rough time of it:

It looks really cool, though. Same area, reverse shot:

By "Alto" they do mean "Upper." Parts of the neighborhood are linked by funiculars, like the Acensor da Bica:

The neighborhood also has Lisbon's best little restaurants. I ate here last night, Baralto, a tiny place with 26 chairs and one server that had delicious fresh bread and a tasty Madeira beef dish:

Finally, one that didn't make it onto the blog yesterday. The Castelo de São Jorge overlooks the city, and if the fog had lifted I'd have much better photos. (When I get back to Chicago I'll post one from 2001.) Still, I think this shot worked fine:

The civil weather forecast calls for sunny skies tomorrow, but the aviation forecast says more fog until about 16:00. As I'll be en route to London then I may not get some of the photos I had hoped to get here. Ah well. Maybe I'll come back in another 10 years.

Elementary travel arithmetic

Here's a brain-teaser: take one part Heathrow, one part Iberia Airlines, and a sixty-five minute connection at Madrid Barajas. I'll give you a moment to work your sums.

If you got "no, really, a 2-hour connection," you're correct!

Instead of walking at a normal pace between two gates (that, it turns out, are 600 m apart) inside one terminal to make a fairly routine domestic connection, I walked at a normal pace off my flight from Heathrow right to the nearest Iberia service desk. We all shrugged. "Es Londres, es normal" we had to agree. Up to the lounge[1] I go, to check my email and write a blog entry.

Ah, but, this is no ordinary Western European capital airport. This is Madríd. The lounge has delicious Spanish wines, fresh olives, tasty sausages and cheeses, and no freaking WiFi. The conversation at check-in went something like this:

— ¿Como se puede conectar por el WiFi?

— Ah, desculpe, no tenemos el WiFi; es de pago.

— ¿Verdad? ¿De pago? No free WiFi?

— Sí, ¿es curioso, no?

— Sí, es curioso. Gracias.

So, here I sit, snacking on olives, brie, toast, sausages, a fruity Ribera del Duero number ("Condado de Haza Crianza, 2007: La Recomendación del Sumiller"), and probably in a moment those dates I see over there, composing a blog entry in flipping Notepad.

But let me review, just to keep things in perspective. Yesterday morning I woke up to a healthy snowfall in Chicago and tonight I'm going to bed in Lisbon, having spent the better part of the day in London. The total cost of this trip will come in somewhere around one month of housing (just housing, not groceries or electricity or anything else). And unlike the situation that existed even in my lifetime, getting a visa to anywhere in Western Europe requires presenting my passport to the bored guy at the arrival gate and getting a stamp.

Late update, in Lisbon: It seems the free Internet we take for granted in the U.S. and Northern Europe does not extend to Southern Europe. My hotel has free WiFi—in the bar and lobby. In the room it costs €22 per day.

[1] As a happy consequence of (or sorry consolation prize for) flying all those miles last year, I get access to all oneworld business-class lounges worldwide. I would like to note again, just because it really annoys me at the moment, that a principal benefit of every other business-class lounge that I've ever visited is free bloody WiFi. Dear Spain: ¿WTF?

Things I have learned in the last day

I got a couple of things right and a couple of things wrong since I left home Tuesday morning, and I finally got a hint of what my friends who've lived in London moan about it.

  • Taking the 9am flight to London did, in fact, prevent jet lag, as I felt fine when I arrived at Heathrow in what my body thought was early evening. Usually I have two hours of fitful sleep and arrive at what my body thinks is the middle of sleep-deprived hell. Yesterday, however, I felt perfectly wide awake when I got to my hotel.
  • On the other hand, the two inches of snow that fell on O'Hare between the time I checked in and the time we finally left the gate caused a 75-minute delay. This in turn led to arriving, not at 22:45 as scheduled, but at midnight. It's important to note at this point that the last tube is at 23:30, and the last Heathrow Express is at 23:45.
  • On the other hand, I got on the N9 night less than 30 minutes after we landed (!) and, for only £1.30 on my Oyster card, whisked me to Hyde Park Gate in less than an hour.
  • On the other hand, I had to get near Paddington, about two miles from Hyde Park Gate, which I considered while standing on a streetcorner at 1:30 in the morning.
  • On the other hand, this is London, a major international capital, so a black cab stopped to pick me up in less than a minute.
  • On the other hand, this is London, so the black cab cost £10 for the ten-minute ride.
  • On the other hand, the hotel took no time at all to check me in and send me to my reasonably-comfortable and inexpensive (£69) room.
  • On the other hand, they put me in the room directly across from the lift next to the security door that people started banging through around 6am—which, you may realize, my body thought was midnight.
  • On the other hand, I managed some sleep, checked out with plenty of time to find coffee, and happily walked around my second-favorite city in the world for two hours.
  • On the other hand, my first attempt at getting coffee failed miserably when the table collapsed, spilling hot latte all over the floor and my jeans.
  • On the other hand, there's plenty of latte in this big, bad city, so I got caffeinated just fine.

Aren't you glad I'm not an economist? What would Harry Truman say...

I'm now back at Heathrow for the second leg of my trip, going to a country I haven't seen in ten years. More later.

Mustn't grumble, I suppose

For no reason I can describe, on Monday night I absently browsed through thinking about being somewhere else. I didn't really have any specific destination in mind, other than one that didn't require changing planes (which, living in Chicago, and flying American Airlines, encompasses a lot of them). It turned out, there were frequent-flier miles seats available for this weekend to my second-favorite city in the world. Amazing. So, I have now arrived, a little fuzzy on the date and time, but quite pleased that for only a few frequent-flier miles and a bit of tax, I managed to get to another continent. And my new passport has lost its virginity.

The city welcomed me with a low, gray overcast, drizzle, and fog, which is very comforting. Of course, this is why there were last-minute seats available for award tickets: no one really wants to go come here in November except for us die-hards. (Today is, however, the fifth of November, a fun day to be here.)

This part of living in the 21st century amazes me.

However, one part doesn't. For $125 per night (cf. $300 for the local equivalent of a Marriott—or the Marriott, for that matter), I have found a hotel room that would fit neatly in my kitchen, containing a bed older than my grandmother and a chair appropriate for a midget. It has Wi-Fi, as just about every hotel in the modern (read: outside the U.S.) world does, but I expect I'll have to go to a café tomorrow to attend classes as our learning platform puts a bit of a strain on the Internet connection. Quoting Henny Youngman, "the room is so small even the mice are hunchbacked."

Meanwhile, I'm going to stay on Chicago time (even though it changes Sunday morning), which means it's time for a shower and some coffee. Then I'll head to the nearest grocery to buy a can of Raid....

Fenway Park

The 30-park Geas added only one notch this year: Fenway Park, last Saturday. I figure, if I only go to one baseball game this year, I might as well go somewhere I really want to go. Until Saturday I hadn't gone to a baseball game in a while—I've missed it.

The game. Sigh. Both teams, Toronto and Boston, played like Cubs, for 11 innings. The Sox finally won 5-4, which is always good when they get out of the second inning up 4-1.

Great B&B, too: the Newbury Guest House on Newbury Street just a few blocks from the park. It's one of those quirky neighborhood hotels built out of century-old apartment buildings, much like the Majestic Hotel in Chicago.

And it's just across the street from my new favorite Boston coffee shop, The Wired Puppy. Great name, good coffee.

Just gotta get right out of here

For the first time I can recall—going back more than two years, at least, and probably longer—I don't have a flight booked to anywhere. I started realizing this as I got closer to flying to Boston last weekend. Combine that with the brand-spanking-new passport I just got, and I feel oddly confined.

So, possessed of a ton of frequent-flyer miles but with no possibility of making the next level of elite status this year, and also facing a dramatic shift in my work-life balance in just over 110 days, I have started plotting my escape.

Where to go, though?

First criterion: Get out of the U.S. A passport without stamps (or creases, scuff marks, bent edges, etc.) just looks sad. Unused. Unloved. Wherever I go in December, then, must get me a passport stamp.

Second: Use frequent-flyer miles. Even though it's August, the number of available seats for miles in mid-December looks pretty grim to a lot of places. Forget most warm spots; forget popular Christmas destinations. At least, not for less than 100,000 miles, and a four-day trip just isn't worth that amount.

Third: Eight hours or less from O'Hare. I'm not relishing the thought of a longer flight for a four-day trip. That rules out Asia, most of South America, and parts of Europe. I can live with that.

So: Candidates. Initially I thought of going someplace warm and sitting on a beach. There are non-stops on American from Chicago to Cancún, Cabo San Lucas, México, and Acapulco. But I'm not really a resort kind of person, and getting anywhere more interesting in Mexico carries risks right now I'm not completely comfortable taking. A connection in Miami opens up the Carribean and Central America; but the number of available seats makes that expensive.

Of course, I'd go to London for almost any reason anyway. It's my second-favorite city in the world, it's only 7 hours away, and in December business-class miles tickets are only 35,000 miles in some cases. But think: London in December? I don't expect to sit along the Thames and sip beer in the six hours of daylight I get before the sun sets just before 4pm.

I think I've settled on Quito, Ecuador. With a connection in Miami it's 7 hours from Chicago (and no overnight flights!). It's reasonably warm. It has living history, being a UNESCO World Heritage site. And very few people speak English, which will force me to practice my Spanish.

More information as events warrant.

Enough already

The Chicago Tribune's Tim Skilling asks, "Sick of the Heat"? YES, dammit:

A heat advisory continues for most of the Chicagoland area today along with an excessive heat warning for Cook County. This is the second straight day with highs in the 90s and tomorrow should extend that steamy streak to three days. The combination of heat and humidity will make it feel like 98 to 105 degrees today.

This level of heat can be dangerous, so when can you tell if the heat is making you sick?

He goes on to discuss heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. But even absent those problems, the heat is definitely making me sick. Chicago has had 18 days in a row over 32°C; I haven't had my windows open all month; and today we set a new weather record, 43 consecutive days over 27°C.

It's much worse in Europe:

Russia’s record heat wave may already have taken 15,000 lives and cost the economy $15 billion as fires and drought ravage the country.

At least 7,000 people have probably died in Moscow as a result of the heat, and the nationwide death toll is likely to be at least twice that figure, according to Jeff Masters, co- founder of Weather Underground, a 15-year-old Internet weather service that gathers information from around the world.

Good thing this is just a fluke, and has nothing to do with anthropogenic climate change, which is a myth concocted by a conspiracy of liberal kabals.