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The Benevolent Wong Society's European Vacation

It was hard to leave South Africa after having such a wonderful time there. The kids still continue to talk about the African wildlife and all the great times they had in Africa. However, we were excited to head to Portugal as it is a country we have wanted to visit for a while (and hopefully my Portuguese would come in handy). After South Africa, Mary's parents continued on with us to Portugal, where we met up with her whole family. Her two brothers, their families, and even our sister-in-law's parents came to Portugal. In all there was seventeen of us........quite the contingent. It was great to see Mary's family again, and in particular the cousins were very excited to see each other.

Our first stop was Lisbon, and it is hard not to enjoy this city. It has an incredibly beautiful old downtown area which is very walk able. We spent four days here admiring the architecture, enjoying the food and the World Cup atmosphere......sadly Portugal was eliminated from the World Cup that weekend (the same day all the kids bought Portugal jerseys...rotten luck!). We caught Lisbon at the end of June, which is their month for parties. Every night in June, restaurants set up extra tables in the street. This happened right outside our apartment, and it was a fun place to sit and enjoy the barbecued food. Lisbon was also our introduction to Portuguese food. The kids were happy to enjoy the pastel de nata (custard tarts), and the adults were happy to have grilled sardines.

After Lisbon, we all headed to the Algarve, in the south of Portugal. We rented a beautiful villa that had room for almost all of us. It was a spectacular place just outside of Portimão that had a wonderful pool, BBQ area, and tennis court. The kids were more than tickled to spend the days swimming, running around, collecting fruit off the trees, and playing soccer on the tennis court. We did explore a few of the stunning beaches in the area, but the ocean was colder than we thought, and the kids were always happy to return to the pool.

The next stop was Seville, Spain. We decided to pop over to Spain just because it was so close. It is a beautiful city with some impressive landmarks, but it is so busy and touristy in the summer. We enjoyed the Plaza de Espana, cathedral, bull-fighting ring, and Alcazar. However, the tapas may just have been the highlight for some of us.

Then it was back to Portugal, to the city of Evora. This small city to the east of Lisbon was a nice break from crowded Seville. There are a number of things to see in Evora, including the old city walls, an aqueduct, and some nearby ancient monoliths. However, one highlight was the "Capela dos Ossos" (Chapel of Bones), which was built in the 1600's by a monk. He decided to build the chapel to remind everyone that life is temporary and is transitional. As such, he used human bones to decorate the inside as a way to remind us all that we are mortal. The inscription leading to the chapel reads "Nos ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esparamos - We, the bones that are here, await yours."

Next stop for the Travelin' Wongs was Porto. This city used to be overshadowed by Lisbon, but it has really taken off as a tourist destination in its own right. It has a beautiful old downtown area that covers the steep hills down to the waterfront on the Douro River. Porto has wonderful old buildings and some beautiful bridges spanning the river valley. It is easy to simply wander around the old town and enjoy yourself. Mary's family spent about 4 days in Porto before making their way back to Canada. It was a great visit, and the cousins were already trying to figure out when they could meet up again.

We had some time to ourselves in Porto after Mary's family left. We stayed just south of Porto's city centre, in the city of Gaia. We had a great apartment right on the beach, and we thoroughly enjoyed walking along the boardwalk and soaking in the sea air. It was very relaxing and was a great place to get back into a bit of a routine again (homework, cooking at home, exercise). In all we spent two weeks in Porto, but we easily could have spent a lot more. The next destination for us was the interior of Portugal.

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