Porto, Belgium, Passports, and Scotland

Well, I’m again overdue for an update. It’s been hard to get around to it while constantly moving from one hotel to the next, each of which charges a ton for wifi. (Seriously, how is it that I pay 5 euros at a hostel and get free wifi, but then I pay a boatload for a real hotel and it’s 15 euros more to connect to the internet?). Oh yeah, and then there are those little issues like the fire drills associated with your wife losing her passport somewhere in Belgium a couple days before you’re required to leave continental Europe or risk incurring potential fines and travel bans. But I’ll get to all that. Just to warn you, in order to make up some time, this single post will cover all of the following, each section labelled so you can skip to whatever interests you most:

– 2 weeks in Portugal
– 6 days in Belgium and its Beers
– The Cristiane Passport Experience
– 3 Days in Scotland (so far)

2 Weeks in Portugal
Since I lasted posted an update, Cris and I have spent two weeks in Porto, Portugal, where I took Portuguese classes and she prepared for the conference she’s organizing/leading in Brazil in mid-July. We got very comfortable in Porto and enjoyed the general lifestyle and the low prices for good stuff. Our days were on more of a regular routine than we’ve had in a while, and it was nice to settle somewhere for a change.

Meanwhile, my Portuguese has improved notably, which is great because I’m the kind of person who always wants to look back at things as somehow productive (hence, the “sab” in “sabwavique”). This was particularly clear when my final assignment was to give a 10-minute talk about my life as a lawyer and my reasons for taking a year off. I found that I was able to communicate more or less what I wanted without much struggle, which was not the case two weeks prior. So I’ve made great strides with respect to that goal, which feels good. That progress has continued since Cris’s mom joined us in Belgium. Say hi to Fatima the Fabulous:


6 Days in Belgium and Its Beers
So we met up with Fatima (pictured above) in Brussels and tracked down as many types of Belgian ale as we could handle in 6 days. The beer was delicious, the cities and country villages were charming, and the people were more than delightful. We rented a car (reasonably sized, for a change) and hit Tournai, Leuze-en-Hainaut, Westvleteren, Brugge, headed back to Brussels to visit the Brazilian Consulate, and Antwerp for the afternoon before leaving. I love small countries, and I highly recommend Belgium.

For those of you who care (i.e., Greg Richardson at www.strategicmonk.com), below are some of the amazing beers we tasted:

We started with the last remaining brew that is truly a lambic beer. They make it by leaving it out and letting the wild yeast float in and ferment. And they pray a lot. This is how beer was made for about 6000 years leading up to Pastuer’s discovery that yeast was a living organism. It’s very very sour. We have it a lot better than they did for those 6000 years. The pink ones in the second picture are made with sour cherry or raspberry.



Then we headed out into the countryside and found the last remaining steam-powered brewery in Belgium where Jean-Louis, a history teacher, spends most of his time keeping the Brasserie a Vapeur alive and pumping out Saison de Pipaix (in the style of the farmhouse Belgian ale) and the more modern and spicier Vapeur Cochonne (whose label had to be censored before shipping to the US due to the depictions of a lascivious swine).



While at Vapeur, we actually met the author of the Lonely Planet travel guide for Belgium, who was extremely helpful in providing pointers for the rest of our time in Belgium.


Then we ventured into the monastic tradition to explore trappist ale. We headed to Westvleteren where the monks of the St. Sixtus Abbey make just enough beer to support their lifestyle. The only place you can buy the Westvleteren trappist ale is at the cafe across the street from the abbey, which is in the middle of nowhere. It was absolutely one of our favorites and we enjoyed it on the patio on a beautiful afternoon.




We all agreed that an exceptional example of a trappist was the Rochefort, which we discovered at Gasthoff Siphon, a restaurant that is famous among locals for its river eel (which reminds of an oily version of trout, no joke). As a result of that great beer with that food, we decided we needed a few more.




They also have cool towns in Belgium:


The Cristiane Passport Experience
On Tuesday, while in Brugge, Belgium, we were considering driving to Gent when Cris suddenly couldn’t locate her passport. After searching every nook and calling our former hotels in Brussels and Tournai, it was not to be found. Unfortunately, this was not the usual lost passport dilemma, as further descrbied herein:

As non-EU residents, we have to get out of the “Schengen Area” after 90 days. The Schengen Area includes most of continental Europe but does not include the UK, and that’s the main reason the UK ended up on our itinerary. As of Tuesday, we had been in Schengen for 86 days, with one day to go before heading to Edinburgh. Cris needed the final three days in order to get back to Lisbon for her flight to Brazil. Our options were as follows: (1) Cris obtains a document from the Brazilian Consulate that allows a Brazilian who has lost her passport to leave Schengen within the next 48 hours; Cris purchases a last minute flight to Brazil that costs a fortune; John and Fatima head to Scotland without Cris, or (2) Cris – and potentially John and Fatima – stay in Belgium/Schengen and wait for the Brazilian Consulate to issue a new passport; Cris and John risk a fine of 1000 euros and a 3 year ban from travel in Europe. Obviously, neither option was acceptable.

That’s when Fatima the Fabulous (pictured above), suggested we call that one dear cousin who happens to be a Brazilian diplomat of substantial distinction (and who will remain nameless here, but to whom we are eternally grateful). Within 15 minutes, while we stayed on Skype with him, he managed to influence the local consulate in Brussels to provide Cris with a new passport on a same-day basis provided she appear in Brussels the following day with a variety of dubiously relevant documents. Luckily, all of the documents we needed but didn’t have on hand had been emailed between the two of us at some point in the past year. Wow.

Cris spent the rest of the day finding a printer and getting things in order. We then celebrated by toasting to the Cousin over several Rochefort trappist beers (our collective favorite). The following morning we headed to Brussels at the crack of dawn. Of course, we couldn’t find the consulate in Brussels and that was yet another fire drill, but it all came off in the end. Thus, within 28 hours of the moment Cris realized she was in deep trouble, she was out again, unscathed. This is the kind of stuff that makes my wife the legend she is.

Oh, by the way, Cris was required to get the passport in the name of Cristiane Girao Shenk because our marriage is now registered in Brazil, and that’s the name she chose when we registered. Coincidentally, however, several months ago she accidentally reserved her plane ticket to Edinburgh in that name despite the fact that she booked every other ticket on this trip under her maiden name. What? How? (Renata, if you’re reading, is what you were talking about?).

Enough of this! I’ll tell you about Scotland next time.

Okay, one teaser:



An Overdue Update from Portugal

Well, it’s been a while since my last post, so here is the quick blow-by-blow since last time, followed by pictures:

– Returned to Lisbon and met up with my parents and godparents, debriefed two months of Camino, Greece, etc;

– Toured Lisbon for a few days guided by tour-guide Cris, crashed party for donors of Royal Palace Museum @ Royal Palace, which is now a museum (um, the people who donate to a royal palace/museum are the people who still have their grandaddy/king’s old miter….), regretted choice of jeans for evening wear, thanked god for choosing not to wear flip flops this one single time in your life

– Rented 9-person van for 6 people, suffered near heart attack driving unnecessarily large vehicle around tiny ancient European streets

– Headed to town of Sintra, read the brochure for a former residence turned amusement park, Quinta da Regaleira, which is described verbatim as “a magical symphonic poem in stone revealing the cosmic dimension of a phantasmogoric mansion”, enjoyed cafe beer, took nap, returned to appreciate phantasmogoric-ness of the entire town the following day, felt satisfied with level of magically symphonic stone poetry, etc

– On to town of Evora and it surrounds, checked out ancient Roman ruins and ancient-er Druid ruins, marvel at how they were able to move those stones around without the use of an opposable thumb, or whatever, drove 9-person van through smallest corridor in 9-person van history

– Arrived in Porto, ate good food, tasted Port wine, purchased Port wine, drank Gin & Tonics, appreciated parents and godparents for indubitable sense of self

– Said goodbye and thanks to parents and godparents for a ton of fun, reflection, and new memories

– Settled into new home for two weeks in Porto, realized that it’s on the actual route of the “Portuguese Camino”, assumed it was a sign from God

– Started Portuguese classes, explained to Portuguese teacher that the Brazilian accent is actually the proper accent….

Check out the photographs below.

Visiting various important locations in Lisbon:

The one and only photo we were brave enough to take of the Royal Palace/Museum party crashing:

Phantasmogoric / cosmic / metaphorical town of Sintra:

Ancient ruins in and around Evora:

Special thanks to our tour-guide:

More special thanks to Godparents:

Final special thanks to Parents:

Now, off to Portuguese school.  Follow that arrow:

Seeking: Private Greek Beach

As I mentioned in my last post, we spent about 10 days roaming around the Greek islands. After a few bumpy rides (see last post), we had several peaceful days taking in stunning views, hiking the beautiful Cretan coastline, sunbathing on remote beaches, and enjoying the hospitality of the Greeks. The following pictures tell the story the best.

First, a couple of unplanned days on Santorini.




Then we took the horrible boat to Crete (see last post for details).


This was our route around Crete.




The hike to Sougia was full of stunning views.


While we were in Sougia, we heard a rumor about Sweetwater Beach, reachable only by foot or kayak. But the car was in Paleohora, and the way to get to Sweetwater was by hiking from Loutro or Sfakia.




As you can see, we reached Sweetwater. It was amazing. So, since we had sleeping bags and the weather was perfect, we just decided to spend the night under the stars. Applause for Cris, who had never done that before. Here are some pictures of the last few stages in the journey around Crete.

Goats on the road to Sfakia, a typical sight.


A 30 euro hotel with ocean view in Loutro. Not bad at all….


Sweetwater Beach from above.



Some wine and simple Greek food for lunch and dinner at the shack on the beach. Iorgos, the shack owner, left the wine and food behind so we would have a romantic evening on our private beach.




The goat that woke us up to see if we had his breakfast.


The amazing hike out of Sweetwater to Sfakia.



Then we took an overnight boat (with beds) back to Athens and had a day to explore the ancient sites and modern cafe/bar scene.



After all that, we returned to Lisbon to meet up with my parents and godparents. It was a wonderful wander around the islands, and something I would recommend to anyone. Now we’re off to walk around Lisbon and hear stories about my awesome little nephews, Cole, Dean, and Emmett. (For more on them, see: Diving Into the Waves).