last summer each afternoon i kept hearing the same few pan flute notes out the window. it sounded like someone was walking around slowly playing the same notes over and over while rambling back and forth through the old streets of our neighborhood (i thought maybe it was zamfir, master of the pan flute).
just a month ago i learned that the person playing the pan flute was an “amolador” or knife sharpener. these skilled knife sharpeners push their bikes through the streets, playing a distinctive tune on pan flutes to signal their presence.
their bikes serve as a mobile workshop, with a sharpening stone mounted on the top tube, a tool box strapped to the back, and umbrellas draped over the handlebars. last week when i heard the amolador out the window i grabbed my camera and my knife and went out to find him.
apparently there used to be many amoladors in portugal, but with the advent of cheap knives and scissors it’s a dying profession which is too bad because it’s pretty cool. I found a popular portuguese saying, “quando há amolador, há chuva”: when the knife sharpener is around, it’s going to rain.
this amolador made my knife super sharp despite his less-than-cirucular grinding stone, and it only cost €2.50.
when we were walking around zurich i kept seeing these neatly stacked and wrapped piles of paper outside people’s doors. i couldn’t believe how perfectly some of them were assembled. i’ve been recycling paper for a long time and it never looks this organized, and let’s just say that lisbon’s style of recycling is haphazard… at best (things are supposed to be separated into 3 different bags w/ colored ribbons to identify plastic, glass, and paper, but in practice, people just take stuff outside and make piles in certain corners that get cleaned up daily).
so i did a little research and zurich has a pretty strict trash/recycling program where once every 2 weeks paper is picked up for a 3 hour time period in the morning and for trash they have to buy government bags for $5 each and they’re picked up once a week. Apparently they enforce the rules too.
The Zurich trash program employs teams of inspectors who sift through sacks of illegal household garbage, looking for clues as to the culprit. Fines are as much as 260 Swiss francs – and that for a first offense.
since i can’t race bikes here, or more accurately, since i don’t even have a bike here, i’ve started to run. i only run 3 times a week maximum and on average 4-5 miles…7 miles had been my longest run. I didn’t know about the half marathon until a week before the race. i saw an ad for it in the metro, checked the weather to make sure rain wasn’t forecasted, and signed up.
the run itself got a little boring at times so i took some photos, the photo below is about halfway through. but the big highlight (other than not having to run anymore once i crossed the finish line) was running over the april 25th bridge. it was completely closed to traffic and there were at least 10,000 people running across it (there was a 7k run that started with us).
the funny parts of the experience were the pre- and post- portions of the race. to get to the race everyone takes a train and then they have to walk 10 min to the start on the freeway, which sounds easy. the train ride was 100% tokyo-style shove everyone into the train like sardines. good thing it was only an 8 min ride. then on the walk to the start, everyone, and i mean thousands of people, have to funnel onto these 2 sidewalks that access the freeway. and it’s not all runners, there are families with strollers doing the 7k run/walk over the bridge. so there is a giant bottleneck with a massive pile of people all trying to get to the sidewalk. and after the sidewalk herding, there is another huge swarm of people by the toll booths and it turns out that the 21k people get to go through the toll booths to the left and the 7k people have to go through on the right. but there is no sign or any information, so there is just another huge mass of people inching forward trying to get somewhere. and when you get to the front, a police officer looks at your number and lets you go through the toll to the half marathon side. it was all awesome portuguese style, because it all works out, but with massive confusion up until the end.
the other weird aspect was the finish. you cross the line, they give you a radical medal that you obviously wear around your neck for the rest of the day, and then you find out that you are fenced in and to leave you have to sardine yourself with people again because they have set up a 7 foot wide corridor for everyone to funnel through. and guess what was right before the exit… ice cream. everyone wanted ice cream, and i mean everyone, all of the people that did the run/walk, the grandmas, the kids, and the runners… finally i made it out, and ate my ice cream.
2 weeks ago we went to zurich switzerland. zurich is the opposite of lisbon. it’s extremely clean, people park only in giant designated parking spaces, there are these decorative fountains everywhere that have drinking water coming out of them, and you get the idea that things generally work as published. zurich is also the most expensive place i’ve ever been to. i guess it’s all of the secret bank accounts leaking into everyone’s pockets. i had a glass of tap water that cost $4.50.
Anyway, zurich is a really cool place, with a lake right in the middle of the city, huge parks that border the city that are accessible by train and tram, and in the parks they have mtn bike trails, hiking trails, hot chocolate huts, and we even found ourselves walking up a sledding run (it had just snowed). when we got to the top we saw the sign, and it said that it was a 3.1km sledding run! 3kms of sledding? that’s pro sledding, and to get to the top you just take a train.
switzerland also has chocolate. really good chocolate. really good hot chocolate, chocolate truffles, chocolate bars, chocolate wedges, and chocolate easter bunnies.
we were there for the last weekend of ice skating in one of their parks, so we went to 80′s night at the ice rink and skated around w/ the swiss.
the whole reason we were in switzerland was because e had a brief pause in her crazy baltic tour. she had been to rome, montenegro, albania, and was getting ready to go to athens. needless to say, it was quite a trip for her. albania? montenegro???
i have a lot of zurich photos that i’ll post later.
it’s been pretty rainy here in portugal for a while, so i’ve been catching up on some summer photos that i never posted. this is a set taken at the end of august around peniche which is about an hour north of lisbon. the town itself isn’t as nice as some of the other beach towns on the coast, but the beaches around peniche (and the surfing) are really good.
last week my mom and sister came to visit the land of tiles and cobblestones which gave us an excuse to travel down to the algarve for a few days. we stayed in sagres which is the very southwestern tip of portugal and it’s about a 3.5 hour drive from lisbon. on our way home we stopped in albufeira for lunch and i saw this salute to the famous 7-11.
great. we finally have a car. it’s a rental… but for a long time. so, on saturday we leave our house ready for a hike and guess what… it’s not where i parked it. ok, probably towed, maybe stolen. so i make a few confusing portuguese phone calls, and they have it. after another confusing phone call in portuguese we find the lot where they tow the cars and after an hour of paperwork, and some euros, the car is ours again.
great. but i don’t want that to happen again so on monday i head to the parking office to try and get a residential permit for our rented car and magically they give me one. but!, it’s not just a regular permit, it’s one that allows us access to the historic traffic controlled zone of our neighborhood where apparently there is more parking (earlier i was told that we couldn’t get this).
great. i use the card to access the neighborhood and, ummmm… it doesn’t work. so i have to go back to the office and get a new access card, and today for the first time the card worked. a portuguese christmas miracle.
ps, the car is a hyundai. so much for experiencing a small european diesel hatchback. but for a hyundai it’s not that bad.
last weekend we finally went to visit “the mountains” in portugal. the region is called serra da estrela and it’s a 3.5 hour drive from lisbon. at the highest point there is a ski area (300 vertical feet) which we opted out of since it’s about the same size as the ski hill i grew up on in wisconsin.
the region is known for its cheese (which is good), its wool (the shepherds look ancient w/ wool capes and staffs), its hills (which have trails that are hardly marked, and no portuguese explore), and its villages (which are really nice and still have the flavor of how things used to be here). they also have these face eater dogs that are from the region, and when you come upon one while hiking they go nuts and sound like they want to eat my entire face off. luckily they were all behind fences.
last weekend we went to serra da estrela. it’s the highest mountain range in the country with the tallest peak standing at 6,539 feet. i’ll post more later, but here is a video showing the drive from our hotel through some really narrow village streets. this was the only way to get to the hotel. good thing our car was small.