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Despues de Todo Muendo Es Pequeno

It's a small, small world... 

Really, we'll need to come back to Portugal when the weather is better... Kidding, kidding ─ we couldn't script lovelier days! It's a whopping 20 degrees in Lisbon today ─ that's Celsius ─ so some of us are happily sunburned.

Our last day of the trip began with a walking tour of the Alfama district of Lisbon. This is the city's oldest district, yet one that still affords a visitor the best views and truest sense of how the people of Lisbon live day-to-day. The Alfama is truly a maze of paths and narrow alleyways ("narrow" as in "NARROW" ─ as in 'turn sideways or your shoulder blades with touch the building walls narrow'). Look around the Alfama, and you'll see the image of St. Anthony, patron saint of fishermen, all around. This is where we also began to marvel at the intricate handiwork of Portuguese painted tiles, called azulejos.

Portugal is known for its fine tile work, and the azulejos adorn the facades of countless buildings in Lisbon ─ hotels, shops, cafés, churches... The city nearly blinds you when the sun hits the tiles. In 1755, a terrible earthquake struck Lisbon on All Saints Day. That disaster was followed by a tsunami; much of the city was destroyed. How could the city rebuild quickly, economically and beautifully? By covering the fronts and sides of buildings with tiles. 

After the Alfama, we took a rather twisted-and-turned bus ride up to the Pena Palace in Sintra. It's a masterpiece of tile work and 19th century design that combines the Gothic, Islamic and Renaissance styles. The Pena was the summer home of the royal family and also served as a favorite site and source of inspiration for Walt Disney. Disney based his designs for Cinderella's castle and several other Disney park locations on the Pena. 

We ended our afternoon in Cascais, a charming coastal town in Lisbon, once visited by Pope John Paul II. We strolled the streets, ate an outdoor lunch, topped off our lunch with a signature "pillow" pastry (If you're ever looking for good Portuguese pastry, our local guide, Teresa, will hook you up!) and even romped on the beach for a moment or two. Many in the group stopped to buy a rooster souvenir ─ it's the symbol of Portugal, signifying innocence, and is found on nearly everything. 

It's a world of laughter, a world of tears... Our farewell dinner in a swanky restaurant and club saw us donning our "posh frocks," at the request of our incredibly ACIS tour manager, Deborah. We ate, we drank, we toasted Deborah's cumbersome toast, we passed out awards to the group and we lovingly parodied Deborah in song. It was a tearful, bittersweet bus ride back to the hotel for packing. 

Each leg of our journey was blessed with timely, safe travel and great in-flight movies ─ but dreadful coffee (All this technology and still the airline can't manage a proper cup of coffee?!). Our Newark to Cleveland flight included a throwback live-action safety demonstration. In what seemed like no time at all, we were back to 20 degree weather ─ now Fahrenheit. 

Though our journey has ended in the physical sense, we have memories and photos aplenty to keep Spain and Portugal near to our hearts. Until next spring break, we are truly "back at the ranch."

It's a small world, after all.