We left Lisbon about 10am on Wednesday morning and walked up the hill to Praça da Figueira to catch the tram to Cais do Sodre. From there we took a train to Cascais station, then a cab to our cottage. The cottage was on a very nice private property along with a main house inhabited by a woman and her teenage son, and with two dogs who are extremely friendly and inquisitive. They look like grey/black cocker-spaniels. After arriving we ate lunch, then Melissa and Everett took a nap while Chris walked to his conference to pickup registration materials. Later in the afternoon he took the bus back to Birre, which we learned was the name of the little village where our cottage was located. Then we walked to Sabores da Carne Steakhouse and had a delightful dinner in a small restaurant that appeared to be run by a middle-aged couple who didn’t mind that Everett brought his own food from McDonalds (which is also in Birre). Everett ate most of his dinner, which is a rare occurrence under any circumstances, and probably reflects the appetite he is working up by walking around so much. He then proceeded to stay up talking until about 10:30pm singing and talking.

The next morning Chris got up before 7 and was out the door before 7:30 to catch the bus to Cascais for his conference. At 10:30am he gave his talk: 7 minutes plus two minutes for questions. Upon reading this, some of our readers might ask why it was necessary to travel overseas to give a 7 minute talk. Here is a two part answer: 1) ESSFN is a surgical conference, so you need to scale back your expectations accordingly; 2) 7 minutes was one of the long talks; the short talks were only 3 minutes long.

Overall, our time in Cascais was somewhat of a disappointment. The cottage wasn’t a two minute walk from town as advertised.  It was more like a two hour walk. The Internet didn’t work, nor did the hot water.  We only had one set of keys the first day, so it was tricky to coordinate getting back into the house. We found that the house was completely bare, lacking even basic things like a bar of soap or a sponge for dishes. Most of all it lacked any instructions about anything at all that might be helpful to guests.

On Friday morning we arranged for a driver to take us to the airport in Lisbon. He insisted that he pick us up at 7:30am for Chris’ 11:15am flight, followed by Melissa and Everett’s 12:10pm flight. Traffic was pretty bad but we still made it in plenty of time and had an airport picnic before going through security and heading to our gates. From here Chris left for central France while Melissa and Everett went to Salzburg.

On the way to Clermont-Ferrand, I (Chris speaking) managed to make a 40 minute connection in Charles de Gaulle airport, which was an accomplishment because we arrived in terminal 2D and then I had to leave security, find the bus to terminal 2G, ride there (about a mile away), go through security and get to the gate. At the gate I was instructed to walk onto the tarmac and board the plane. However, there were three planes with doors open and steps down that were available. Fortunately I chose the correct one.

My luggage did not make the connection in Paris. As a result I attended the gala dinner at the Hotel de Ville with the mayor of Clermont-Ferrand and other dignitaries while wearing shorts, sandals and a short sleeve shirt (at least it was a button-down shirt). Dinner was a fantastic multi-course meal of local specialties. After dinner we walked back to the hotel and I found that my luggage still had not arrived. Same response the next morning as well. So I gave my talk wearing the same clothing. Fortunately it arrived by midday on Saturday and I changed into something more respectable.

The conference was very good. The food was exceptional. I have never eaten to much foie gras in my life. They were giving out tick slabs of it during lunch. Also, there is a local variety of mushrooms called cepes that are currently in season, and these were served at the gala dinner as a garnish, at lunch in the form of a drink with a straw, and at Saturday dinner with a generous pile of them on steak. The conference organizer Jean-Jacques told us excitedly that he would soon be picking these mushrooms during a weeklong family vacation.

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