Easter Holidays in Portugal

Since we were getting Good Friday and Easter Monday off, Paul and I (well mostly I) thought it would be a good idea to take a few extra days and visit Portugal around Easter. Paul really wanted to go to Estoril for the Estoril Open (an ATP and WTA tennis tournament) and I wanted to go because the surfing in Portugal is nice.

On April 20, we flew into Lisbon where we rented a car (they gave us a big station wagon which was handy because I had brought my surfboard) and we drove off to Cascais for our first three nights. Cascais is a really lovely little town just south of Lisbon.

 The beach was absolutely beautiful and the first night we just strolled around and found an Italian place with a nice view of the ocean. The next day we set out to visit Sintra, a town just an hour’s drive away where the old kings of Lisbon built loads of palaces to retreat to during the summer months. It’s located in a national park,  on top of a mountain. Parking is a pain, but once we did manage to put our car away we walked through a park to the main square. It started to rain a bit so we had some lunch in one of the cafes, and when it got dry again we walked over to Pena National Palace which has beautiful tiles, fabulous wooden floors as well as great views of the countryside and the ocean (in the far distance). When we finished our tour, it started raining rather hard, so we got back to the car and decided to go back to Cascais. There we had a little nap at the hotel (cute little place by the way), and when the sun came out again we strolled around Cascais some more.

On Friday, we first stopped by the Boca de Inferno (mouth of hell), a big cliff with a hole in it where the waves pound in very loudly. After that, I wanted to go surfing, but unfortunately the closest beach to Cascais (Guincho) was devoid of waves and otherwise also pretty deserted except for a few kite surfers. The guy at the surf shop told us we could try Carcavelos, which is a little bit more sheltered from the wind that blows the waves flat. Indeed Carcavelos looked a lot better so I put in a little surf session while Paul had some coffee at one of the beach bars. When we got back to Cascais, I had a shower and then we hit town again. We first killed some time in a rock cafe, where we had a nice chat with the bartender, after we made our way to a tiny little place that was only open on Fridays and that did fado. It was truly one of the greatest holiday experiences. The place had about 5 tables in there, as it had opened at 20:00 and we got there at 20:30 we were quite early and only one of the other tables was occupied. The menu was chalked on a blackboard and had three options. The waiter/owner did not speak any English, but whenever he brought a dish to the other table, he would show the dish to us and point out on the blackboard what this dish was, upon which we could say that we wanted that. Paul got some really nice veal chops, and I had some excellent fried cod with very long grain rice (this was probably the best meal of the entire holiday). Then the musicians came in, one of them nearly resting his elbow on my table. The lights would be dimmed and they would play a few songs during which everyone in the restaurant was completely quiet and stopped eating. The lights would come on again and people would resume their conversations. Then someone from one of the tables would get up and join the musicians, the lights would get dimmed again, and he/she would sing a few songs. My description doesn’t do it any justice, but it was just a fantastic experience. At around 11pm, Paul and I were pretty tired, so we unfortunately had to leave otherwise we would have probably fallen asleep at the table, but I’m sure the party went on for another while.

On Saturday, we went to Carcavelos again, where I had booked a surf lesson, just because I’m a chicken and like surfing with someone else in the water. It started out quite windy, but while we were in the water the wind went down. After two hours I was completely knackered, so I got out of the water and hopped into the car to drive to the next destination on our trip: Ericeira. Ericeira is a nice little town a little bit north from Cascais and Sintra and it has one of the four World Surfing Reserves in the world.

Because the swells were coming in just straight from the ocean as well as the wind, the conditions were not for me, too much pounding, but it was very interesting to watch other surfers get taken away rather rapidly by the strong currents, and great to see them having battled through the surf and catch some waves. So we sat around the various little terraces the Ericeira has to offer, overlooking the waves, drinking sangria and eating tostas mixtas. We also played some tennis at the tennis courts right by our hostel and lazed about on the sunbeds. On Easter Monday, we drove down towards Cascais again, this time not for the surf, but for the Estoril Open. It was a bit of a pain to find the stadium and even more so to find out where to park, but once we got the car parked and the shuttle bus had taken us to the entry, we were fine. First of all, it’s a beautiful tennis park, with the cute little tiles you see everywhere in Portugal, and lined with palm trees. The matches we saw were quite interesting too (amongst others Thiemo de Bakker getting his arse kicked by Kevin Anderson). We also saw Verdasco and Söderling practice, and we even almost bumped into Tsonga on one of the narrow little paths. After a long day of loads of nice tennis we were getting a bit peckish, but the food at the tennis park wasn’t so amazing, so we drove back to Ericeira, where we watched the sunset and had a nice meal at a fish restaurant. The next day we briefly dipped our feet into the water and then we made our way back to the airport. With a tan and a big smile 🙂

Exploring Philadelphia

After I treated myself to a really really long lie in on Wednesday morning I set out to explore Philadelphia a bit in the afternoon. The weather was splendid, a bit funky at times (jacket on, jacket off, jacket on, jacket off) but hey at least it wasn’t raining or super cold. I first went to JFK Plaza, or Love park, where I sat by the fountain and had some lunch that I got from one of the food trucks. The day I was there the fountain was pink 🙂

Then I just wandered around roughly eastwards along Market Street with sometimes going into some of the little side streets. The interesting thing is that there seem to be some less touristy pockets in the city centre, which you don’t see very often in such touristy places. But overall it was quite nice. Of course I went to see the liberty bell in the Independence National Historical Park (I think I was probably one of the few non-natives there, at least at that time) and then I wandered on a little bit more towards the Delaware river. Penn’s landing, by the riverside was a bit of a disappointment to be honest, as there was absolutely nothing there, just a big parking lot, but perhaps it was because I was there out of season or something. When I walked back towards the town hall and my hotel I did pop into Christ Church, which is where apparently lots of famous people from American history went to church. I just found it quite an elegant building, and I also liked the street it was close to (Strawberry Street, how cool would it be to live on a street called Strawberry Street!).

I managed to get back to the hotel just in time to pick up my laptop to go to the first reception of the Museums and the Web conference, after which Johan and I would finalise our slides for the presentation the next day. The reception was held at the Franklin Institute Museum. It wasn’t just drinks, but also lots of nice mediterranean food. It was also cool to run into lots of people from Dutch museums (after the US, Dutch heritage institutions seemed to have sent in the biggest delegation). After we got kicked out Johan and I tried to find a bar or coffee shop where we could do some work but failed, as most places were closed or too noisy. So in the end we got some ice-cream at Scoop de Ville and then we sat in my hotel’s lounge to work on the slides.

On Thursday we presented our paper during the Linked Data session where we got some good feedback (and probably the biggest audience I’ve addressed at a conference), after which we attended various other sessions to soak in new ideas for our research. In the evening, there was yet another reception, this time in the exhibitor’s hall, with again enough food so I didn’t have to go out to dinner anymore afterwards. I did mean to go out partying, but unfortunately I passed out in my hotel room when I went to drop off my laptop, but at least I was well rested the next day (when I had to present our demo). The Friday was quite interesting too, and followed by yet another reception, this time at the University of the Arts. However, between the conference sessions and the reception I quickly nipped over to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has the rocky statue in front of it, as the steps leading up to the museu were the same ones that Rocky climbed in the film. It had also started raining, which gave the city quite a different feel. The museum has a really great collection, and I was told that they even have imported an entire Japanese tea house and set it up in the museum, but unfortunately that floor was closed (which is OK but I would have appreciated it if they had told me about that when I bought the ticket at the counter, anyway). There was also a demo show of all the new ballet performances and things that would take place in Philadelphia over the coming season so a stage had been set up in the museum and people were just sitting on the steps with drinks having a good time, which I thought was very neat.

 This was by far the most elaborate reception with a jazz trio, salads, loads of sparkly wine and also chocolates for desserts. They definitely know how to put together a social programme at Museums and the Web! Anyway, after the reception winded down, a group had gathered that was interested in going for some karaoke. After trying out one place that was full, we ended up with about 40 people in a 12 person karaoke Cabin at Ken’s Seafood Restaurant on Race Street.

They had a large selection of 80s and 90s songs, as well as some really tacky love songs, and of course all the classics such as the Beatles and Elton John and Kiki Dee. Their beverage selection wasn’t so great (Chinese Beer) but who cares, it was awesome!! Needless to say I didn’t make it to the conference last social event (the breakfast on Saturday), but the conference sessions on Saturday were very inspiring.  After the regular sessions a large group of Dutch delegates gathered in the hotel bar where we merged with other groups to scout out some of Philadelphia’s restaurants on our own, so we first had dinner at a place called the National Mechanic, which was in a really cool building, but the drinks were quite expensive. After which we ended up with a smaller group in a bar called Rotten Ralph’s (no idea who came up with that name) but it was a fairly decent place.

On Sunday morning it was time to go home again, but I’ll definitely be back on the East Coast sometime to see more sites in New York and visit more of Philadelphia’s museums.