Portugal here we come!

An extended visit to Portugal has been in our plans for some time, and finally the time is now. We had been in Europe for three months just three months earlier and were lucky enough to make a return trip to spend another three months here (three months is significant as this is our current limit under Schengen Visa rules). We began with another visit to The Netherlands to spend two weeks with family. Partway through our time in Portugal we will make a quick detour to Seville, Spain, for more family time during the New Year and epiphany celebrations. Other than those three weeks, our focus for this trip is Portugal.

Netherlands: The Hague (Den Haag)

This was our third trip to The Hague this year–how lucky we are to be able to see our overseas family that often! This time was especially fun because we spent a few days with the whole family and then the parents (our son and daughter-in-law) headed away on their own holiday leaving the grandparents and grandson to take care of each other. We were able to watch Alex at a lacrosse game and practice (a new sport for him) and swimming lessons, and then join in on the fun at the miniature world of Madurodam and at the Sinterklass parade. It was really cold riding to and walking around the Madurodam park, but there was plenty to keep us all interested and occupied. A hot chocolate mid-way through the day helped to warm us up, too.

Sinterklass arrived by boat to this area several hours before we caught up with him. The entourage had been traveling by bus, tram, and car throughout the city. We had no idea about how to participate, but rode to where we thought he might show up based on what we could find on the internet. We were alone, at first, but gradually more people began to arrive, including police and others directing traffic. It was a bit chaotic and we didn’t seem to be the only ones trying to figure out where to stand. One decorated tram arrived and the crowd surged in that direction, only to find that it was loaded with onlookers, too. Finally, a tram coming in the other direction appeared to be driven by Sinterklass himself. Everyone disembarked and the foot parade began, followed by vehicles bringing costumed musicians and entertainers to the party.

Knowing nothing about the Netherland traditions, I was surprised (shocked, actually) to see many people dressed in what I had learned were Piet costumes wearing what appeared to be very messy blackface. I’ve since done a little research and found that the character is known traditionally as Black Piet, and that there has been quite a controversy over the last few years between those trying to eliminate the black connection and those determined to keep it. What I took to be messy blackface was an attempt at change to the recently renamed Chimney Piet who bears soot smears on his face from entering chimneys.

The Portugal plan

This map shows our plan (so far) for the Portugal part of this trip. As we post about each area, we’ll include transport and other details. Since we are traveling in winter, we decided on a north-to-south general direction to try to stay as warm as possible.

Overall, we’ll be spending just over two months in Portugal. We are trying to strike the right balance between traveling slowly so we can spend a while in some places and covering a lot of the country. It’s not an easy balance to maintain in just two months, when there are so many places we want to see.


  • Madurodam: The entry fee is €17 per person over 2 years old. There are a few discount sites where you can purchase tickets for a little cheaper.

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