Eurotrip 2011: Lisbon and Porto

The riverfront in Porto.

I had a feeling that I would like Portugal. Like Istanbul and Athens, my two favorite cities from the first half of my trip, Portugal seemed like it would be “on the edge” of Europe, so it would have a less touristy, more intimate vibe, inside and outside the hostels. My intuition proved to be correct; Portugal was one of the best parts of my trip so far.

I spent six days in Portugal – three in Lisbon, three in Porto. Both cities were beautiful, thanks to plenty of hilly views, non-stop sunshine, and to the Portuguese custom of covering the outsides of buildings with colorful tiles. Unfortunately, the Portuguese also have a less pleasant custom of making their sidewalks out of bits of slippery tiles.

The Portuguese tile style.

More tiled buildings.

Lisbon was great, but gritty. Its oceanfront is taken up by a busy road and some decrepit buildings. It’s impossible – for a young man, at least – to take a walk without a few guys coming up to you and whispering “hashish, marijuana, coke.”

The main thoroughfare in Lisbon.

Another view of Lisbon.

Porto was my favorite of the two cities. In fact, it would rank near the top of my list of my favorite destinations on my trip. It has a beautiful riverfront with steep banks occupied here and there by layers of buildings, many of them abandoned and falling apart, but in a charming way (for some reason, deteriorating buildings look good in Europe but not in America). There are many tall bridges spanning the river, including one designed by Gustav Eiffel. Porto’s riverfront is one of the places that gave me a specific sensation that I’ll always remember.

Porto's riverfront.

The view of the riverfront from the top of Eiffel's bridge.

An abandoned building by the river.

Porto also has many lovely churches which use the tiled-exterior style.

I turned 25 the day I arrived in Porto, so I got a nice seafood dinner, compliments of my mom and dad. A pair of American couples at the table next to mine struck up a conversation with me, and when they learned it was my birthday they bought me a slice of cake.

Strangely, one of my favorite things about Portugal was that there weren’t many famous museums and historical sights that I felt obligated to go to. The only item on my agenda was to enjoy the beauty and the culture. This came at a welcome time; after traveling more than two and a half months, I was starting to feel a little burnt out. I took lots of naps, especially in the hammock they had in the backyard of my hostel in Lisbon.

I did some sightseeing, however. I took a daytrip from Lisbon to Sintra, where I hiked up to a 9th-century Moorish castle with a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside.

The Moorish castle.

Both of the hostels I stayed in were big hits. In Lisbon I stayed at the Lisbon Chillout Hostel. You already know that it was awesome because I mentioned that it had a backyard with a hammock. My hostel in Porto was the the Yellow House hostel. The hostels reminded me of my hostels in Istanbul and Athens in that they were small, they had great hang-out areas, and the staff socialized with the guests a lot. They both had breakfasts that were beyond anything I expected from a hostel at this point – an unlimited supply of cereal, toast, coffee and orange juice. Having gone more than two months without cereal, which is a major part of my diet in the United States, I ate about two bowls a day.

The chillout area of the Lisbon Chillout hostel, with hammock.

One of the employees at my hostel in Porto told me that there weren’t any hostels in Portugal until a few years ago, so all the hostels there are new. Maybe that’s why both my hostels were so good – they haven’t realized that hostel guests don’t expect to get an unlimited supply of cereal with their breakfast.

On the 28th I finally said goodbye to Latin Europe. I took a flight to Paris, and from there I took a train to Bruges, my current location.

Eurotrip 2011: Madrid

Eurotrip 2011: Barcelona

Eurotrip 2011: Rouen, Le Havre and Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Nice and Marseille

Eurotrip 2011: Venice and Milan

Eurotrip 2011: Interlaken

Eurotrip 2011: Florence and Pisa

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 2

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 1

Eurotrip 2011: Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: The Journey To Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: Santorini and Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Istanbul

Playing the Penny Slots

Back in March Bob and Kish went to the Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia for a brief getaway. I remember seeing a post card from Kish on mom’s kitchen table saying how she thought mom would love the place so thanks to the suggestive post card and the mention of somewhere for mom to spend some of her vast fortune it got the wheels turning. This past Sunday several family members and I headed down to West Virginia to check the place out.

I had done a little research on the internet before going and saw the Greenbrier had just recently added a casino with Blackjack tables, a craps table and multiple slot machines. Typically in the past when visiting casinos in Vegas I would only play the table games, but any more playing the table games has become much more expensive. I had a friend who played only penny slots, so I joined her in doing so and I really enjoyed myself. Earlier this year when I was down in St Marteen, I made up my mind to only play penny slots.

Below is an interesting video about penny slots and their new found attraction with the downturn in the economy so it looks as though my friend and I are not alone. People find it hard to believe when I tell them I won close to one thousand dollars playing the penny slots at the Greenbrier, but it can pay off.

In the old days you dropped a penny in the slot, pulled the arm and waited to find out if you were a winner, but not any more. With the resurgence of the penny slot, there has also come a reinvention of the penny slot by the gaming industry. You now have many choices as to how many lines you want to play and whether or not you want to multiple your bet. On some penny slots you can spend as much as ten dollars a spin or more. So it’s not really a penny slot any more, in fact most penny slots you can no longer bet a penny.

So next time you visit the casino have some cheap fun and check out the penny slots. It’s a good time and your money will hopefully last a little longer.

The Right Way To Eat Skyline Chili

Today I had a tremendous hankering for Skyline Chili.  I drove over to the nearest Skyline and got a regular three-way, two cheese coneys with everything, a large water, and extra crackers.  As I prepared to dig in I realized that not everyone may understand that there is one, and only one, correct way to eat Skyline Chili.  As a public service, I offer a how-to manual on this essential life lesson.

For those who don’t live in the footprint of Skyline Chili, I pity you.  In any event, please understand that a “three-way” is a plate with three ingredients — spaghetti, a sweet, dark sauce, and a heaping mound of thinly grated, brightly colored cheddar cheese.  (A four-way would add either onions or beans, and a five-way would add both.)

The first step in the consumption process is proper preparation of the chili plate.  Begin by adding a liberal amount of the hot sauce that is kept in a squeeze bottle on every table in every Skyline restaurants.  You should apply strips of the hot sauce, both vertically and horizontally, on top of the grated cheese, so that you end up with a kind of checkerboard pattern that will result in uniform hot sauce distribution.

Then, take the the oyster crackers and carefully place them on the top of the grated cheese, creating an oyster cracker blanket.  This timeless technique ensures that the lightly salted oyster crackers are properly spread across the chili.

Now you are ready to dig in — and this is where many novices fail miserably.  Recalling their days eating Chef Boyardee, they try to twirl the spaghetti, chili, and cheese on their fork.  This is a pathetic blunder that is deeply embarrassing to every experienced Skyline patron in the restaurant.  They realize that the only correct way to eat Skyline chili is by using the edge of the fork to cut down vertically through the cracker-cheese-chili-spaghetti mass, so that every bite is a small yet perfectly proportioned combination of spaghetti, sauce, cheese, and a cracker or two.  This is why proper pre-consumption cracker placement is crucial.

I prefer to eat my Skyline chili right to left, perhaps because I am right-handed.  I suppose you also could eat a plate moving left to right.  However, the key point is that you start at one end of the oval-shaped plate and move from side to side.  This approach maintains the structural integrity of the food mass.  If you begin in the middle of the plate, the risk is far greater that you will experience the dreaded cheese-cracker cave-in, and once that occurs you can never fully recover the initial flawless proportioning.

As you consume this tasty concoction, be alert to the need for cracker conservation, and also to the hazards of cheese hogging.  At some point, the cheese and sauce will have melded into a kind of melted cheesy shield that will skid over the top of the pasta.  If you facilitate the skidding process, you may end up at the edge of the plate with no cheese — which is another appalling faux pas.  Similarly, you want to have a cracker or two at the end of the plate to soak up those last few drops of cheesy/saucy goodness.  Don’t be caught shorthanded!

As you eat your three-way, you also should consume your coneys.  Any cheese drop-off from the coney — and there inevitably will be some — should be added to the remaining cheese pile on your three-way plate.  This necessarily means that you will consume the last of your cheese coneys before you finish your last bite of the three-way.

After you have savored your last swallow of three-way and gone up to the cash register to pay for your fare, remember that the meal is not yet over.  A crisp, refreshing mini York Peppermint Patty is as indispensable to the meal — and I do mean indispensable — as the extra bowl of crackers.

Correctly prepared and consumed, a three-way meal at Skyline Chili ranks among the finest fast food options the nation’s heartland has to offer.  But, as with everything else, there is a right way to do it and countless wrong ways.  Let’s get it right, America!

Help Needed In Showcasing Columbus

We’re being visited for the weekend by a friend who is new to Columbus.  They are from an urban, East Coast location and have never been to the Midwest, so they already are enjoying the charms of backyards, green grass, white fences, and rolling countryside.

But what distinguishes Columbus from other Midwestern towns that have those same features?  How do we showcase our fair city?  Having never been to Columbus as a tourist, I don’t have the slightest idea of what tourists do when they visit.  We’ve suggested Easton Town Center, the Wexner Center, the Short North, and German Village.  It’s not football season, so an OSU game is out.  The Ohio State Fair hasn’t started yet.  What else?  The Ohio Statehouse?  The Arena District?  The Park of Roses?  It makes me realize that so much of what I really like about Columbus is not showy landmarks, but instead the people and the pace.

Am I missing anything?  I’d appreciate any suggestions!

In The Days Of Hai Karate

Why do you remember TV commercials from 40 years ago, but not the name of somebody you met five minutes ago?  Who knows?  But for some reason this stupid Hai Karate commercial, featuring the dorky glasses-wearing guy fending off an excited young woman, is engrained on my neural synapses as surely and inexorably as, say, the theme song to The Beverly Hillbillies.

What did Hai Karate smell like?  Why would any guy want to wear after shave?  And why would any guy want to use karate on some girl who was interested in a make out session?  The commercial left these central questions unanswered, to be carefully pondered by the confused, soon-to-be-teenage boy who was trying to figure out what was cool and what wasn’t.

The Penny Chronicles

My name is Penny.

Sometimes, the rest of the pack goes away and I spend a few days with a bunch of other dogs.  This happened just a few days ago.  It’s not that bad, really.  In fact, there is one thing about it that I really like:  they give me a little neckerchief to wear when I’m there.  This last time, I got a pretty pink one with white polka dots.  I really love it!

Don’t get me wrong.  For the most part, I prefer to go natural.  I’m perfectly comfortable in my own skin, and I know I look pretty good already in my normal, copper-colored coat.  And too much clothing would be a pain.  Why would I want to be fumbling with trousers when I need to answer Nature’s call?

Still, I enjoy being fashionable once in a while.  I think a bright splash of color around my neck makes me look even better.  It helps me to stand out from the rest of the pack, and I like that.  When I go for a walk around the neighborhood in my pink neckerchief, I walk with head held high.

2000th Post

The Webner House blog has been around for a little over two years, and this is our 2,000th post.  It’s a milestone that deserves a brief mention.

In those 2,000 posts we’ve talked about travel, politics, TV shows, music, Ohio State sports, food, and whatever else strikes our fancy.  Along the way, our little family blog has received more than 74,000 hits and almost 900 comments from friends near and far.  Those statistics are tiny in comparison to the popular blogs on the internet, of course, but we’re not trying to be popular — we’re just trying to stay in touch and share our thoughts.  The comments have reminded me, time and again, how the internet is changing the world and bringing even people who live far away from each other in contact with only a few keystrokes.  In any case, we appreciate everyone who reads our stuff and takes the time to leave a message!

I also want to thank Richard again for creating the blog as a Christmas present, because it has been one of the best Christmas presents ever.  I’ve enjoyed writing my submissions, and I’ve enjoyed reading about Richard’s European travels, Jim’s political perspectives, Penny’s incessant hunger, and the other topics we’ve addressed.  This blog has been a lot of fun.