Monday, June 13, 2011

On Our Own

I mentioned in my last post that we have a car now. It's just a loaner from some friends who are on furlough for a few months, although we are looking to purchase another car around the time they return. Having a car has been a great blessing to us, first of all because it drastically cuts down on the amount of time that we spend getting from point A to point B. For example, it used to take Rusty or me the better part of an hour to go pick Alex up from school and bring him home each day -- 15-minute bus ride, followed by a 10-minute walk to the school, a 10-minute walk back to the bus stop, and then another 15-minute bus ride home. We could almost walk there and back in that same amount of time, except that we would be walking up a giant hill. Now that we have a car, we can literally get there and back in under 20 minutes.

A couple more examples: getting to church from our apartment used to take at least 45 minutes via bus, metro, and walking, and that was if we timed all of our connections just right and didn't spend too long waiting for a bus. Now, we can get there on a Sunday morning in about 20 minutes. And we can get to the closest beaches in about 30 minutes, whereas the same journey would take about 90 minutes via bus, metro, and train. Obviously, when traffic is heavy, things take longer. Still, though, I am amazed at how much closer everything seems now that we can get to it by car. Riding public transportation can really skew your perspective when it comes to distances between locations -- at least it did for me. Of course, there are some definite advantages to public transportation, and I am certainly thankful that Europe has such an efficient and reasonably-priced public transportation infrastructure. It is entirely possible to live without your own vehicle here -- maybe not as convenient, but certainly possible. As I get bigger and more uncomfortable with this pregnancy, though, I am also thankful that I am not having to deal with maneuvering my way on and off of crowded buses or metros, or running to catch them!

Another thing that having our own car has done is really opened up our possibilities for exploration further afield. We noticed this feeling in Japan as well, once we purchased our van after living there for 6 months with nothing but bikes for transportation. There is a definite sense of freedom that having your own set of wheels brings. You feel like you can go anywhere! In the last couple of months, we have taken advantage of several opportunities to get out and see some things outside of Lisbon that are more difficult to access via public transportation:

At the beginning of April we visited the little town of Óbidos. We went for the Chocolate Festival, which, although it sounds really cool, was actually pretty lame and certainly not worth the 7 euro per person entrance fee we paid. But the town itself is very quaint and cute, and I would love to go back and spend more time there when it isn't packed with festival-goers.

Alex posing in front of one of the festival decorations

Towards the end of April, we visited Mafra and toured the Palácio de Mafra (Mafra Palace), which is actually a massive combination palace-monastery, so big it would be very easy to get lost in, without all the signs marking your route! Here are a few of the more impressive highlights:

 The main facade and entrance into the church

 This little guy was our guide for the day! He had so much fun running up and down the long corridors.

 Inside the church

The hospital, where the monks cared for the sick. On either side of the corridor, you can see the little curtained cells for the patients.

 The trophy room... in addition to all the trophies on the walls, the furniture and the candelabra are all made from antlers!

Saved the best for last... this was definitely the highlight of the whole tour, the library. It is home to some 40,000 15th to 18th century leather-bound books. Stunning! It reminded me of the library in "Beauty and the Beast."

After our tour, we ate our picnic lunch and let Stephen play for a bit at the nearby craft village in the town of Sobreiro. It was a combination of museum and playground. There were displays of traditional Portuguese shops, miniature villages with windmills, waterwheels, and trains, and of course, lots of places to climb, explore, and play. Stephen really enjoyed himself, and we decided we'd like to come back when we can bring Alex (he was in school on the day we went).

One of the miniature villages... it even had a river with real water that flowed through the village and turned a waterwheel.

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