A City, A Sailboat, Mountain Tops, and Battlements! Portugal!

Welcome Back!

In Portugal Odyssey Part 1, we experienced the magical tropical island goodness of Madeira. We really hated to get on the plane to Lisbon. We actually hoped gloomy airline mechanic Kenneth Ferguson* would help extend our stay on the island. He did not. I guess Ken only works stateside.

While all good things must come to an end, it's better when more good things immediately follow!

Here, in Portugal Odyssey Part 2, we zig-zag across the country's mainland and take in a city, go sailing on a real sailboat, visit rocky mountaintop villages, and skip along castle battlements!

Brought to you in comforting picture-n-caption format, come along as we visit the REST of Portugal!

Hop into our rental car, squeeze a can of your favorite beverage in a koosie cup (to maintain its cool refreshment), buckle up ... and hold on tight!

Let's go! Shall we?

* If you're not familiar with airline mechanic Ken, see my Iceland post and the first Portugal installment.

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No Running on the Battlements!

Any Portuguese town worth its salt has a castle, preferably one with a wall around it and a still-inhabited village inside—like Obidos! The Internet says, "Obidos is just about an hour's drive north of Lisbon." We soon learned that the Internet forgot to add, " ... but only if you don't take a scenic road."

Little did we realize that our car's GPS was set to avoid the toll stations on the Autoestrada and keep to the back roads. Thus, THREE hours later ... we arrived at the Obidos Castle, ready to take in this very cool—first Roman, then Moorish—medieval fortress.

We were immediately attracted to the chance to walk the fortress wall's battlements encircling the village, which we did.

Do you notice anything a bit odd in the photo above?

Well ... The battlements are maybe three feet wide, 20-30 feet above the ground and entirely exposed to unfortunate missteps. This sidewalk in the sky kept us on our toes! This would not be our last encounter with adrenaline-pumping castle walls—Portugal's homegrown version of an amusement park thrill ride!

Travel tip! When walking battlements, it's highly recommended to come to a complete stop before taking photos.




You'll Never Guess the Image I Witnessed Burned Into My Toast!

We like traveling with a fairly open itinerary, and this trip was no exception. Imagine our delight when, while at Obidos, we ran into a couple from Chicago who waxed on about how much they enjoyed the city of Fatima. Done deal: Fatima would be the final destination for our first night on the mainland.

The downside of traveling with an open itinerary is that we don't always know what we're getting into. We should have guessed something was up when we checked into our hotel and the concierge mentioned pilgrims and mass times.

Not being Catholic, my knowledge of the religion's pilgrimage sites is, let's say, limited. I've now learned that ...

 "The story of the Our Lady of Fátima miracle begins on May 13, 1917. Three peasant children, Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucia, were tending to their family’s sheep. The children under 10 years old were blessed with the presence of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus. In Portugal, she is also known as Fátima. The children saw this beautiful woman, dressed in white and standing above a bush. The Virgin Mary told the children that world peace would occur if they spread the godly message of prayer."

Hmmm ... I'm not sure the kids were good listeners.

It turns out that up to 5 million Catholics visit Fatima annually and mass takes place several times every day ... and 11 times on Sundays! Fun! Plus, if you're looking for a statue of the Virgin Mary as a keepsake, Fatima's your one-stop shop! There's a daunting variety of options available for purchase.




And Into the Fray We Go!

Porto, Portugal's second largest city after Lisbon and located along the country's northern coast, hosts a metro area population of 1.7 million, along with 2.5 billion tourists. It seems we weren't the only ones who had postponed a vacation to Portugal due to the virus that shall not be named! It was a relief to make it to our downtown hotel and park the car in a garage, not to be driven for three days.




Don't Hop On!

Question: What do all of these people have in common?

Answer: They're all tourists who thought the Hop-on Hop-off Blue Bus seemed like a deal! You know, the super-duper easy and fun way to see a city's sites? We thought so too!

If waiting interminably for a bus service that operates on a seemingly unpredictable schedule and then takes you on a bizarre route around the city is your idea of a good time, a splendid Hop-on Hop-off experience awaits you in Porto!

Enjoy!




Chillaxing With Our 800 Best Porto Friends

On the other hand, there are spectacularly authentic Porto experiences, like the nightly gathering at Jardim do Morro, where hundreds of people calmly gather to commune and watch the sun set.  

It was so chill ... well, except for the cheers that suddenly broke out when a marriage proposal was made and accepted.

This was my favorite experience in Porto.




Porto at Dusk

The view from the Dom Luís Bridge at dusk looking down at the many restaurants along Porto's Ribeira, offering some of the city's best dining experiences. For us, it was a great lunch the following day for about $25 ... with tip.




I'd Like the Fun Sandwich, Please!

Fine dining? Well maybe not, but this is FUN dining!

Behold! The uniquely Porto sandwich creation: The Francesinha!

This cavalcade of bread, meats, cheese—along with a wickedly good secret sauce, always with fries and sometimes an egg on top!—is now the rival of my other favorite sandwich, the Monte Cristo.

One day there will be the ultimate contest—The TourAlong Super Sandwich Slam Down—and only one will be crowned as winner! ... but both will be eaten. 

We sought out the O Afonso restaurant to have our first taste of this savory delight because legendary foodie Anthony Bourdain also lost his Francesinha virginity at O Alonso's, as shown here!




Kilroy ... or Banksy ... Was Here!

Cool things come to big cities, like this exhibit of the well-known (but unknown) underground street artist, Banksy. If you're not familiar with him, see these examples as a primer!

One of his latest capers was when, in 2018, his piece "Girl With Balloon" sold for $1.4 million in auction at Sotheby's and then magically shredded itself while still on the auction room wall. You can watch it happen here.

The irony is that one of his works from 2007 pointedly poked fun at fine art: Entitled "I Can't Believe You Morons Actually Buy This Shit," sold for $10,000 in 2014. The double irony is that today, the mystery man's works regularly sell for more than $1,000,000.

And as for the shredded work? It recently resold for over $25 million.

NEWS FLASH! There's a surplus of morons!




Don't Eat the Yellow Ones!

Nope! Definitely not a Banksy work! But we thought this Porto street art  was kind of cool. This guy is clearly reaching for the yellow one. I hope the yellow one cheers him up. He looks like he needs an attitude adjustment, don't you think?




Let's Rock This House!

Nope! Definitely not Porto! Welcome to the mountaintop village of Monsanto! Situated near the Spanish border, Monsanto—"the most Portuguese village of Portugal"—is home to 850 inhabitants who undeniably have rooms with views! They also have homes built in, around, on top of, and underneath the mountain's granite!

Driving into the village was its own adventure—some streets were so narrow that I gauged how well I was doing by how far the side mirrors were from the stone walls. I was relieved when we arrived, so much so that I barely blinked when the owner of the tiny hotel quickly upsold me with a bottle of local wine and a block of cheese! Oh, and then there's also the cafe they own.




Is That an Asteroid on Your Roof?

Don't believe that they build homes in and among the rock? Take a look at the giant boulder that seems to sit atop a home—located at about 8:00 on this image.




Wonder Woman!

And of course ... Monsanto has a castle! And of course ... you can walk the guardrail-less battlements! Unlike Porto, Monsanto was pleasantly lacking tourists; we nearly had the castle to ourselves.

Above, Natalie challenges Spain (in the distance) to a duel! Or a cook-off! Or a knit off! Or a karaoke sing-off! Knowing they would not fare well, regardless of selection made, Spain did not accept her challenge.

Take THAT, Spain!




And Then There's This

We relaxed at Monsanto's Traverna Lusitana's bouldertop patio and took in one of the most beautiful sunsets we've ever seen. No kidding ... just the right amount of dust in the air meant we could stare directly at the flaming ball of fire without interruption. It was amazing!

Monsanto is a keeper! (But don't tell anyone!)




There Are Storks EVERYWHERE!

But not just any storks ... the Cegonha Branca are EVERYWHERE! On top of smokestacks, power poles, church steeples, and even two nests on a single construction crane! 
 



Put a Cork in It!

Cork is a big deal in Portugal. The country produces 50% of the world's supply, and of that, 75% is used as wine bottle stoppers. The remaining wonder bark is applied in a surprisingly wide variety of ways
—like shoes and furniture made from a supple yet durable cork fabric material!

Cork tree management is tightly controlled: Harvest takes place every nine years, and at the end of a tree's 270-year life, a permit has to be issued before it can be cut down. Paul Bunyan would be so frustrated!




Let's Go Sailing, Shall We?

Living a lifelong dream, friends Troy and Rika Torres recently moved to Portugal. There's more to the story, but as you can see, a sailboat is involved. Their new home is the marina at Vilamoura—along Portugal's southern Algarve coast. We were honored to be the first guests aboard "Imagine" and spent two nights on her 57 feet of ocean-going goodness, exploring the Algarve.

Thank you, Troy and Rika! What a trip highlight!

During our time on board, Troy had me help with the sailing operations. Soon I was jibbing and tacking, taking the starboard leeward, and I learned that keeping an eye on the telltales was important or we'd reach the vanishing angle and get turtled in the aft! Troy even let me take the helm so I could spin donuts in the deep blue sea! Ahoy! I was pooped!

For more sailing terms to make up your own nonsense sailing paragraph, see 59 Sailing Terms [Basic and Funny Terms].

You're welcome.




Ummm ... Does My Armpit Smell?

The village of Almodôvar inaugurated this monument in honor of its miners in 2018. Located just outside the town in the center of a traffic circle—now named Rotunda do Mineiro—it's an amazing work composed of metal artifacts used in nearby zinc and copper mines.




It's Gone to the Birds! 

Something fun about taking photos are the surprises that come along after the fact. In this case, I didn't know about the presence of a bird perched on the rock in the miner's hand until I cropped the image at home weeks later!




A Rainbow of Light

And on to Evora!

Evora (pop. 57,000) has a very old church ... the Church of St. Francis! ... and inside it, when the sun's aligned just right, colored light filters through its stain-glass windows onto this altar!




The Leg Bone's Connected to the Head Bone

On the other hand, the church also has a Chapel of Bones! See anyone you know? Such fun!




Strutting His Stuff!

Evora also has PEACOCKS! This guy was on a ledge proudly on display for the four gals in a tree ... all vying for his companionship. We didn't stick around to see who he picked. We didn't want to be voyeurs. 




Big Rigs Need Not Apply

It's always remarkable that big rigs, so ubiquitous in the States, are largely absent in Europe, and yet everything a modern society needs seems to get done. It's also remarkable that big rigs simply couldn't get around in many villages. Here, in the amazing mountaintop town of Marvão, a road circles just inside the ancient walls. Technically, this is a two-lane road, though wisely, the idea of painting a line in the middle was dropped!




Battlements With Attitude ... and Altitude!

The battlements of Marvão keep the Portuguese tradition of "don't blame us if you fall off" alive! Above, Natalie negotiates a steep portion of the wall encircling the village and castle during an evening stroll. This was one of the wider sections on the wall.



Shhhh!

When night falls and Marvão's few restaurants close, it gets quiet.




Foggy Top!

It's morning, foggy, and time to leave our mountaintop paradise hotel, Dom Dinis! Our room was just above the front door.




Another Mountaintop Fairy Tale Castle!??

Indeed, the El Palacio Nacional da Pena—or the National Palace of Feathers—is, at first glance, a fairy tale castle! Designed by King Ferdinand and built in Sintra in 1840, the palace rivals Bavaria's Neuschwanstein Castle. We were excited to get to this "must see" Portuguese icon.

After negotiating narrow roads, parking, and then buying bus tickets, we were soon packed with the other sardines on Bus #434. That it was a Monday morning didn't matter; we arrived just in time to join the enlarging throng of other palace goers.

Here's how it worked ... for us:

  • Tickets are sold for specific palace entry times and warnings are made that times are strictly enforced.
  • We arrived on time and eagerly awaited admission into the palace.
  • While waiting, I noticed a snail passing by.
  • 1.5 hours later, we entered the palace only to realize that going slower than a snail's pace would persist throughout the palace tour.
  • After 30 minutes of shuffling along with our tourist brethren, we decided that dying of old age in this palace wasn't for us and we turned around.




Who's Having Fun Here!??

I'm pretty sure it's the guy who has mentally checked out the palace and doesn't care that he's feverishly playing a game on his phone. It's not exactly all smiles for everyone else either!




Insta Rocks! Oh SNAP!

Instagram has spawned a new subspecies of human: The Insta Poser! Just Google "Posing for Instagram" and many links are offered with advice about how to dress and position yourself in snapshots for the optimum number of likes on the social media photo platform.

In the scene above—and from left to right—the young woman in the blue dress is the poser, the woman in the white dress is her photographer who, in turn, is encouraging the group of Sintra tourists to pass by them so they can resume the iPhone photo session.

I hope they got the image they were hoping for because soon after the wind increased even more and the mountain fog (a.k.a., a cloud) rolled in. That blue dress may look good through an Instagram filter, but I sense it wasn't designed for warmth! 

Instagram! The OTHER time-suck!
Brought to you by your friends at Facebook!




On the Other Hand

The silver lining from the palace visit was the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle) just a short walk away. Dating from the 9th century and today composed of the castle wall and five turrets, this nearby attraction had far fewer visitors and was actually authentic!

Oddly enough, there WERE railings and other protections in place to cut down on the number of people falling off. I guess the Castelo dos Mouros people didn't get the memo about the Portuguese Tourism Authority's ad campaign "Portugal 2022Keeping Battlements Real!"




And That's a Wrap!

25 days away was just right for this trip, but there is so much more to explore and see on Madeira and in Portugal.

Where to next? The discussion is underway ... and there's already a short list!

The TourAlong Continues! ...


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Wait! What about photos?

Yes, there are! ... and they're coming soon!

Stay tuned!

Until then ... Ciao!

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Clouds at Sintra at Sunset


Like the TourAlongWithTodd blog and want to keep up to date? Email me at todd@toddchavez.com and I’ll add you to the list!

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Ferguson Strikes Again! (And Our Week On Madeira!)

Loyal readers may recall the start of our 2021 Iceland trip in which disgruntled airline mechanic Kenneth Ferguson threw a wrench in precisely the wrong place, instantly transforming our ten-day trip to nine.

So what's Ken been up to lately?

Funny you should ask!

It turns out that on May 1, 2022, Ken took care of a latch in the forward bathroom of United Airlines flight 4660 from Boise to Chicago—the first leg of our journey to Madeira and Portugal.

What can a broken bathroom latch do to a travel schedule? The answer is ... a lot!

Let me count the ways ...

  1. A three-hour delay in Boise led to ... 

  2. An unplanned night at Chicago's Best Western Franklin Park Hotel—two thumbs down!—and six hours of fitful sleep led to ...

  3. A rescheduled trans-Atlantic flight to Frankfurt ending with us stumbling through customs at 7:00 a.m. on May 3rd to begin a NEW seven-hour layover for the flight to Madeira. We could barely contain our excitement ... which led to ...

  4. A bonus prize? Yes please! A one hour wait on the tarmac before departing for Madeira which then led to ...

  5. Arriving on Madeira only to learn that the grace period for the super-discounted Alamo car rental had expired by ... wait for it ... one hour!
And THAT'S what a broken latch in a jet's bathroom in Boise can do to a travel schedule.

Surrendering to fatigue, we took the bus into Funchal—Madeira's capital—and to our hotel.

FERGUSON!!!

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Planned for 2020, then 2021, and finally 2022 ... without further COVID ado or delays courtesy of certified bathroom-breaker Ken Ferguson ...

Grab a cup of whatever makes you happy and come along for the first installment of our Portuguese odyssey presented in the always comforting picture-n-caption format!

Let's start with Madeira—Portugal's tropical diamond of the Atlantic! Shall We?



All Madeirans wear these hats everyday!

OR ... it's the opening eve of the 2022 Madeira Flower Festival!


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After 50 hours of travel, nothing says "Welcome to Madeira" more than a glass of the island's traditional drink, Poncha! Add 1/2 cup honey, 1 cup sugar cane brandy, 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, and a giant double scoop of We don't care anymore! Poncha's the perfect way to soothe frazzled nerves, as demonstrated here by Natalie at the oceanside rooftop bar of hotel Allegro Madeira!


Funchal, the capital of Madeira (an autonomous region of Portugal), bustles with 111,000 of the island's 250,000 total inhabitants and is a thoroughly modern city. More importantly, it's built on continuous mountain slopes!

Fun fact: Funchal is frequently used as a stop-over by transatlantic ships, en route from Europe to the Caribbean, as it is the northernmost Atlantic island that lies in the path of the Westerlies! And now you know! You're welcome!


An advantage in cities with steep hills are equally steep streets—if you're going downhill! Madeirans have long made the best of this by offering rides in carros de cesto (basket cars) to many willing tourists! Originating in 1850, this two-kilometer 10-minute ride is absolutely worth the 15 Euros per person, as can be seen by this family!  



The tobogganers—or Carreiros do Montes—work hard to keep the baskets on track along pavement worn glassy smooth from decades of toboggan traffic. Are there streets that intersect the route? Yes there are! And other Carreiros are staked out to stop traffic as needed. That's a nice touch! At the end of the ride, there's a smell of superheated eucalyptus wood in the air.

Fun fact: Through the use of digital photography and the magic of Wi-Fi, the Carreiros do Montes are ready to sell each toboggan load of tourists a printed photo of their ride taken just moments earlier! Only sucker tourists fall for that scam! 




Yep! We're the suckers!


Madeira is a mountain island—35 miles at its longest and 14 miles at its tallest—dominated by lush green slopes with unbelievable terracing created to cultivate crops on rugged terrain. Today, strategically built highways help getting around, but patience is still a virtue when driving. Oh! Did I mention that there are some SUPER narrow roads? There are! 


Helping the island's cultivation is a system of narrow water ways, or levadas, guiding water from high, wet regions to low, dry regions. Many of the nearly 1,900 miles of levadas are walkable, creating a hiker's paradise.



Paths along levadas are generally good, though they can get a bit narrow and have severe drop-offs that the vertigo-prone may find distressing. Here, on the Levada das 25 Fontes hike, making room for folks coming from the opposite direction was sometimes a challenge. It would have been WAY easier just to give passerbys a gentle nudge, but that seemed unsportsmanlike, so I refrained. 


The culmination of the Levada das 25 Fontes hike are pristine falls and serene crystalline pools ... like something out of Jurassic Park!


The reality is something more like Jurassic Zoo! Still, everyone is good natured about the communal clamoring to take photos as proof of their conquest!



Oddly enough, the alternate hike to the Risco falls was shorter, more spectacular, but far less traveled. The best part about both hikes was the conveniently located mountain café serving coffee, beer, wine, and snacks ... plus the equally convenient shuttle relieving us of the last very steep mile back up to the parking lot. Shuttles are good!

While the coasts of Madeira typically bask in sunshine, the top of the island can feature pea soup fog ... which we experienced during the drive back down. Lucky for us, another car led the way. Ah, the blissful advantages of tailgating!

Fun fact: Though located 300 miles off the coast of Morrocco, it snows on Madeira every winter ... at least a bit!


The topping on our Madeira island cake was the Pico Areeiro to Pico Ruivo hike. Here in the distance you can see the radar station at the top of Pico Areeiro—where the hike begins—at 5,964 feet above sea level. The hike ends about six miles later at the top of Pico Ruivo—Madeira's tallest peak—just 141 feet higher at 6,105 feet! So what's the big deal?


The big deal is the constant descending and climbing of steep stone steps and steel stairs—1,500 feet down and 1,500 back up—in a short distance. To add a bit of scale, note the group of hikers near the top, just left of center. This image characterizes the entire hike.


One of the more notable exposed sections of the hike! This is a favorite spot for people filming with GoPro cameras because they make it look MUCH MORE steep and narrow than it actually is!

Still, this isn't a good place to stumble.


Oh, and when you can't go up or down ... tunnels provide the path. Who thought creating this hike was a good idea? Sources say it was created 50 years ago by "the island's administration" to connect the two peaks. Sources also say "the island's administration" may have had a few too many cups of Poncha!


Success! After 2.5 billion stairs going up and down, we arrived at the top of Pico Ruivo, pictured here with fellow hiker Dan (from Brazil via England). While we're all smiles for the photo, the two additional miles to the waiting van seemed like a cruel topping to the day.


How do you soothe aching calves and knees after the Pico-to-Pico death march? By glamping at the cliffside Mango Yurt of course! (photo borrowed) BTW, located in the cluster of buildings in the distance is the 90° Bar - Grill - Restaurant where you go when cooking doesn't fit with your idea of glamping. Natalie thoroughly enjoyed an octopus served on a sizzling-hot iron platter. The octopus enjoyed it somewhat less. 


It's called "glamping" for a reason! "Roughing it" doesn't match life in the Mango Yurt, complete with full kitchen and an "eco" dry bathroom featuring black (charcoal activated?) toilet paper!


Above, Natalie contemplates about who to complain to about the view.


Along the road to Mango Yurt there's a Madeiran oddity to experience: A waterfall cascading onto the roadway. Can you believe people stop their car, let out a passenger with a camera, backup, and then drive through the waterfall again just to get a photo? Sheesh! Some people!

Above, Natalie captured the moment we got the Madeiran car wash after I drove through the waterfall once, l
et her out with my camera, backed-up, and then drove through the waterfall again to get the photo. And it was super fun!


No TourAlong about Madeira would be complete with homage to its food. Almost anything that lives in the surrounding sea ends up on a plate (sometimes served with banana!). Natalie's favorite was the octopus at the 90° Bar - Grill - Restaurant! And one night, at Porto Moniz, I ordered the plate of limpets as my appetizer. I had never had limpets. You know how when you go the seashore and walk by at low tide? You know ... that, "Wow! It smells like the ocean, but not in a good way!" That's how limpets smell and taste.

On the other hand, meat bits on a skewer never disappoint ... like the espetada shown above! Roasted in a wood-fueled open oven and then served by hanging the skewer from a ceiling hook. The bovine contributing to this juicy Madeiran treat gave their lives for an honorable cause.

The other note about food on Madeira
—and all of Portugal for that matter—is the cost. The espetada beef stack, along with a giant fresh green salad, morsels of fried cornbread, and wine and beer put us back $20. Oh! It also included bolo do caco—traditional bread served with a generous application of melted garlic butter. I could gladly live on bolo do caco ... forever.

These and other Maderian treats are featured on this page. BUT NOTE: The author was clearly suffering a seizure when, describing limpets, she wrote "They are absolutely delicious though." She meant to write "They are absolutely disgusting though and will turn your stomach in a boiling cauldron of sea sludge ... and not the good kind of sea sludge."
 


Our last night on the island was spent at the Vila Galé Santa Cruz Hotel where you can watch passenger jets come in for the sometimes bowel-movement inducing landings. I didn't share this video with Natalie before our trip ... just in case. NOTE: Be sure to catch the first 30 seconds of the video in which the cartoon sailor guy struts around the tiny cartoon world!

Fun fact: Part of the airport runway is essentially a highway overpass, but on this giant overpass, enormous air machines are the cars!


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Like the Iceland trip, our time on Madeira—cut short by travel buzz kill aficionado Ken Ferguson—simply wasn't enough. Will we go back to Madeira? Yes ... but shhhh! ... I'm pretty sure Ken's listening.

Coming up? The Portugal mainland and trip photo albums in which I get to show all of the things that TourAlong posts can't possibly cover!

Take THAT, Ferguson!!!

Until then ... Ciao!

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BONUS QUESTIONS!

1. How many dinner entrée choices were offered on the flight to Frankfurt? 

The answer is ... one! Dinner was stir-fry. United Airlines' haute-cuisine version of stir-fry consists of soggy spaghetti topped by variably-cooked vegetables doused in teriyaki sauce. Umm... Yum?

2. How many breakfast choices were later offered on the same flight?

The answer is ... one! And if yogurt in a plastic cup doesn't suit your fancy, you're out of luck. My fancy was not suited and I was out of luck!

3. How do you bypass presenting COVID test results when entering Europe?

The answer is ... Have Ken Ferguson break a bathroom latch! Ken's diabolical dabbling in our Boise departure resulted in our new route bypassing Lisbonwhich cares about COVID test results—and flying directly into Madeira—which really doesn't care about COVID test results!

Suck it, Lisbon!

4. What is very-fine (150-, 180- and 220-grit) sandpaper used for in Madeira? 

This is an easy one ... The answer is ... it's sold on rolls and used as toilet paper!

5. What does Madeira distinctly lack? 

The answer is ... unlike the rest of Europe, there's almost no graffiti adorning every outdoor surface! Why is this? I don't know for sure, but in my mind they throw offenders off very tall sea cliffs with great fanfare! This may seem harsh, but after the first few take the plummet, the incentive for others to spray paint nonsense on walls quickly fades.