I missed you! Attentive readers may have noticed my absence from social media and blog posting for the last month. A thought that may have crossed the minds of really attentive readers is, “That’s crazy! Her book is coming out soon, and this is exactly when she should be posting like a madwoman!”
A Great Tour
You’re so right. Let me explain. My husband and I booked a 10-day trip to Portugal for fall 2021. Alas, cancelled by covid. We rebooked for May 2022. My book, Architect of Courage, was scheduled for publication June 4, and though the timing wouldn’t be great, the initial flurry of activity would be after our return home.
We flew to Lisbon a few days early in order to adjust to the five-hour time difference and see more of the city, as our tour wasn’t planning to spend much time there. We’d booked at the Avenida Palace Hotel (anything with “Palace” in the name is worth checking out. Picture above is of the lobby). It turned out to be the tour hotel too. Perfect.
Eight congenial Americans were on this Food & Wine tour, which was mostly in the countryside. We visited wineries, a cork factory, the cherry-growing region, a sheep farm where cheese was made, had a cooking lesson and—overall—a wonderful time. Our guide Matthew was brilliant. P.S. Everything in Portugal is uphill.
A Thrilling History
If you’re a World War II thriller reader, like me, you’ll recall that because Portugal was neutral, it was a crossroads for espionage, not to mention the wartime base of Ian Fleming. It was the place European Jews and other refugees were desperate to get to. There, they had a chance of escaping Europe while other departure points were closed to them. In the movie Casablanca, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband are desperate to reach Lisbon. In real life, the Avenida Palace was a Nazi hangout and, supposedly, the place where plans for a plot to assassinate Hitler were hatched.
Now the Low-Points
I developed a little cold on the tour, but it hardly slowed me down. I generously shared it with my husband. The night before our departure we checked into the Avenida Palace again and had the covid test required within 24 hours of our departure. Both positive. So much for “a little cold.” By then I was well, and definitely not contagious, but I quarantined with my sick partner in our hotel room for the next week.
Knowing that some people test positive weeks and even months after recovery, CDC authorized an alternative: a letter from a “licensed medical professional” stating we were recovered and cleared to travel. This proved impossible to get. Every interaction with the Portuguese public health system produced conflicting advice, culminating in the candid assessment from one worker, “We can’t help you.”
Finally, I tested negative and flew home the day before my book launch, but my husband was still positive. He stayed another three days until, on Monday, I asked our primary care physician to intervene: “My husband is stranded in Portugal, and I think you can help.” He did. But would United Airlines accept a letter from a doctor who was thousands of miles away? They did, and he flew home the next day, in time for my launch party! Just a few days later, these documentation requirements were rescinded.
Topped Out? Tapped Out?
So, not only was I out of the office for an unexpectedly long time, when I returned I was under a wee bit of stress and had a long list of to-dos for the book launch (friends to the rescue!). A few projects, including blog posts, had to be set aside. Now you know.
The High Mountains of Portugal – by Jann Martel author of (The Life of Pi). No question, this is a strange book, the middle part a little too theological for me, despite the extended comparison between religion and Agatha Christie.
Dark Voyage – by Alan Furst. The port of Lisbon features in this WWII spy thriller. Furst is a long-time favorite!
The Lisbon Route – by Ronald Weber. Real-life tales from “the great escape hatch of Nazi Europe.” (The cover photo is of the funicular car that still operates near our hotel.) Haven’t read this one, but it sounds fascinating.