Monday, February 25, 2019

A Visit to Lisbon, Portugal

Great Group Travel 

Earlier this month, Tacey and I were part of a group of 40 travelers from the Philadelphia area visiting Portugal. The trip was planned for us by Gate 1 Travel and they really did a great job. We left on a Thursday evening, arriving in Portugal on Friday morning and then spent Friday through Monday seeing the sights of Lisbon and neighboring areas with the help of an expert guide before leaving early on Tuesday to return to the US. It was an amazing trip, allowing us to experience so much in just a short time.

We had traveled in 2017 with about half the group on a trip to Iceland, and enjoyed reuniting with old friends. We were just as glad to meet a group of new friends with whom we could share the Lisbon experience. Together, our group of 40 traveling companions spent the first day getting to know Lisbon with Pedro, one of the amazing local guides who work with Gate1 Travel, the tour operator who arranged the trip. Over the next few days we visited Sintra, Cascais, Nazaré, Cabo da Roca, Óbidos, Nazare, and Fátima. We saw sights. We took photos. We ate seafood. We drank wine. We smiled a lot.

What follows are a few photos from our trip that I’m happy to share. 

Some views around Lisbon
Some views around Lisbon
Lisbon's ancient aqueducts
Walkways everywhere are limestone mosaics. This is flat ground!
Limestone mosaic walkways as art
A beautiful walkway in hilly Lisbon
A beautiful city park, with a monument in the distance
The monument mentioned above
A monument to Portugal's seagoing history
The famous Belém Tower at the waterfront
In Sintra, the town and the fortress walls above
The castle in Sintra
Tacey shops in Sintra
Cabo da Roca, the western-most point of Europe
The seaside town of Cascais
Tacey and Deke in the seaside town of Cascais
Seafood lunch in Cascais
The seaside town of Nazaré
Seafood lunch of squid and grouper in Nazaré
Fortress walls of Obidos
Fortress walls of Obidos
Walking the fortress walls of Obidos
Some of our group in Obidos
Great seafood everywhere
Great seafood everywhere
Octopus for dinner
At Ramiro, showing us the lobster for dinner
We began with clams and shrimp
Portugal is known for these very large tiger prawns, 10" long
Our full group, in front of the famous Belém Tower


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Sunday, January 27, 2019

What is a National Emergency?

Blogging a question, not an answer

When should a president declare an emergency?
I generally avoid blogging on political matters and will continue to avoid them here in the future. The closest I usually come in RapidGroove is sharing thoughts on making elections work well for our citizens. But with a long federal shutdown just ended in the last few days, and the threat of another shutdown just a few weeks away, talk of the use of a presidential declaration of a national emergency has resurfaced.

Count me among the many people who had no idea until very recently that there are many National Emergencies currently in effect. ABC News reports 31 of them. These emergencies have been declared by presidents going back to Jimmy Carter, and include emergencies declared by President Trump.

My question at the moment is whether there is a situation on the US border with Mexico that rises to the level of a national emergency. If we start with an agreement that we don't want illegal drug trafficking and human trafficking and we want people to enter the US through legal processes, is the declaration of an emergency to build a border wall the response to the current problems that experts recommend, or are there other measures that would address the most pressing needs identified by the experts? If a physical barrier (wall, fence, etc.) is a part of the solution, how much and exactly where? And what are the other parts of the solutions?

Backing up a little farther, is the situation on the southern border more of an emergency than other things at the moment? Is it more of an emergency than deaths due to gun violence, or opioid abuse? Is it more of an emergency than the terrifying effects of climate chaos brought on by greenhouse gasses?

Is a shutdown ever helpful?
I'm not looking for a fight on any of these issues. I'm asking a basic set of questions and hoping for a discussion. What constitute an emergency, is there an emergency on the south border and if so what does it involve, does a wall somehow address that emergency better and more cost effectively than other approaches? Are there other emergencies that surpass this one in importance, and if so why are we not talking about those emergencies when we talk about continued funding of the government?

Should the President seriously consider the use of a Presidentially-declared National Emergency to fund a border wall in the coming weeks? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.


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Monday, December 31, 2018

A Visit to Panama at Christmas

Feliz Navidad

For the final week of 2018, my family and I visited Boquete, a small town at the foot of a large volcano and a mountain range in the western part of Panama. 

We flew down to Panama City by way of Miami, landing a little late. Given an already tight connection to our local flight to western Panama, it was not really a surprise that we ended up missing our third flight. So, we got booked onto a flight for the following evening and stayed overnight at a nice hotel in Panama City. This gave us an unplanned chance to stop in at the Panama Canal museum and to get a quick look at the Panama Canal itself. Not a bad delay! 

We eventually got onto our final flight a day late and made it to David, Panama in the western part of the country. We were picked up there by John, who works as a guide for one of the local outdoor adventure companies. He took us on the last leg of the trip, a 45-minute drive from David to Boquete. John was friendly and full of local knowledge. He told us about the area and also about the outdoor activities he guides. We made a note and planned to ask for John for at least some of our planned adventures. We finally arrived by 7pm on the second day of the trip, in time to have a nice dinner at the resort.

Our boutique hotel was called Los Establos, and is located about a mile up some steep roads into the mountains. Los Establos means “the stables,” and the property has a history of serving as stables but today it is a small hotel of about 25-30 rooms on beautifully landscaped grounds that include a working coffee plantation. There are spectacular views of the nearby volcano and mountains.

After a great dinner and some wine, we looked into the available day-trips and half-day trips. There were about a dozen adventures available, some a few hours, some half day, and a few all day. We decided on and booked a group of adventures, some as a full family, others just involving those most interested. We booked ziplining, canyon river swimming, white water rafting, a hot spring visit, a coffee plantation and processing tour, a visit to an apiary (bees), and a 4 hour hike with birdwatching and a chance to see monkeys and sloths. Great stuff! We then turned in early, enjoying our beautiful rooms.

The location was incredible, and we had great meals at the hotel and in town. We enjoyed spectacular views of the mountains and the beautiful landscaped grounds. On the walk to breakfast every morning, there was a huge rainbow visible. Each day after our adventures, we played pool and enjoyed drinks at the hotel happy hour. On Christmas Eve, there was a special meal and at midnight the whole town of Boquete shoots fireworks to welcome Christmas day. Later on Christmas day, there was a parade in the town which some of us attended. Our week was absolutely amazing.

The rest of this post is a small collection of our many pictures.
Sign at the foot of the town

Sculpture in the town square

Los Establos, where we stayed

Los Establos

Los Establos

Los Establos, beautifully landscaped

Rainbow every morning on the walk to breakfast

Visiting a Coffee Plantation

Yellow coffee fruit is ready

Green coffee fruit is not ready

Red coffee fruit is ready

Natural drying, one of several processes

On the "Pipeline Hike", we saw the oldest tree in Panama

The sign says 1000 years, but we were told it is much older

Flowers on the hike

Flowers on the hike

Flowers on the hike

We saw lots of birds on the hike, but the highlight was seeing 15-20 howler monkeys

This mature male was protective of his group

At the canyon river swim

Good place for a jump, about 12-15 feet up

Mike takes the plunge

Richie jumped in, too. Later, Tacey and I jumped as well.

Ziplining! Way up in the mountains

Our family, ready to zipline





We got "certificates" at the end after zip lining 13 platforms up in the mountains

Another river swim in a great location

Tacey, Deke, Mike at Los Establos

Steve and Mike at the Christmas Parade

Steve and Deke get a beer in town

Our family with John, our guide