Day 17 – Lisbon

(6-24-17)

Day 17 was another R&R day, which was good for me because I really needed a day to relax.  We spent our morning organizing and packing, getting ready for our flight to Rome the next day.  For lunch, we walked down to the Mercado da Ribeira, at which we had eaten twice last year.  This year, we ordered a plate with two types of cheeses and a large portion of pata negra, a high quality Iberian cured ham.  It was outstanding – so rich and delicate, it almost melted in my mouth.  The cheeses were alsmot both delicious, the perfect combination of tangy and salty.  After that, we ordered a fancy hamburger from an “artisanal hamburger” stall.  It was pretty delicious as well!  I feel like anything with caramelized onions on it has to be wonderful.  For dessert, we had a pastel de nata each – delicious custard pastries unique to Portugal.  

After lunch, we walked around the waterfront a bit.  There weren’t many people out, so it was fairly calm and pleasant.  We ended up going to check out a “bonus vat” that was nearby, conveniently located in a wine shop that had free port tastings!  Chris’ job is so hard.  

We spent the balance of the afternoon at a wine bar, Lisbon Winery, each ordering different types of wine so we could try more.  There was only one other table occupied – a tour group of some sort made up of an Australian woman, an English couple, and an American couple.  I will freely admit that I immensely enjoyed sitting there with my wine eavesdropping on their conversation!

 For dinner, we went to Clube de Jornalistas, a highly rated place almost around the corner from our hotel.  It was another fabulous experience – we sat on the balcony overlooking their garden space, and had roasted eggplant with miso caramel, asparagus risotto with pata negra, and sort of a duck egg roll – duck meat wrapped in a bit of pastry, served with barely and figs (and a delicious glass of wine, of course!).  For dessert, we enjoyed a chocolate cake with hazelnuts and a glass of port, and I don’t think there could have been a nicer way to end our time in Lisbon.  

We definitely ate much better both in Spain but also in Portugal during this trip.  I remember last year not being very impressed by a lot of what we ate, but I think most of that had to do with the location of our hotel.  Last year in Lisbon, our hotel was more toward the city center, so most restaurants were catering towards tourists, which usually means they don’t take their food very seriously (which we definitely experienced in Granada).  This year, our lovely guesthouse was a bit more off the beaten path, and was surrounded by really good food options.  We also used TripAdvisor a lot this year, which really helped, though I can’t remember if we did that last year also.  

Obviously for these trips, we travel to experience the Roman world as much as possible, but for us, food is another (THE other) huge reason for exploring new places.  We definitely identify as foodies, but not in a snobby way (I hope), just in a we-really-love-food way.  We cook a lot together at home and getting to experience a culture’s food traditions is so exciting and fun.  And just the act of eating together is important – it allows us time to unwind and talk, and ultimately brings us closer together.  Food and trying new foods are a really important part of our relationship.  

A few more anecdotes…

Here are a few more details from our journey with the fisherman at Porto Covo:

At the dock, as we waited for the fisherman to bring his boat up, I couldn’t help but noticed how weathered all the men looked. Don’t they know about sunscreen?  Is there something magical in the DNA of a fisherman, something that keeps them from getting skin cancer after all those years in the sun?

When we arrived on the island, we saw the corpses of crows everywhere.  The fisherman told us (at least, what we think he told us…) that the seagulls attack them because the crows try to eat their eggs/young (uncertain here.  Something about the crows posing some kind of threat to the gulls).  

Speaking of baby seagulls – they are surprisingly adorable!  So fluffy and awkward, they were various ages but all still not able to fly yet.  They waddled away furiously as we approached then tried to bury themselves in the low bushes that grew all over.  We even saw some nests with eggs still in them!

As our fisherman led us around the island, he did a bit of brush clearing, occasionally pausing to pull up various plants that had grown over what little path there was.  As I mentioned before, there were bird corpses everywhere, mostly crows but occasionally a seagull chick as well (#nature).  When a bird corpse lay in the “path,” the fisherman simply kicked it aside, as casually as if it were a soccer ball.  Once or twice he even picked one up by the beak or leg and just flung it away.  I felt a very strong urge to take a shower.  

When we returned to the dock at Porto Covo, I saw a group of five or six – presumably a family – leaning over buckets of fish.  As we got closer, we saw that they were cleaning and gutting their catch – right there on the dock.  It was fascinating to watch them do it, almost like an assembly line.  It amazes me that this family still participates in this process of their ancient occupation almost the same way all those previous generations have – with a sharp knife and endless patience.  

Days 14 & 15 – Porto Covo and Troia, rounds one and two

(6-21-17 and 6-22-17)

Sorry readers!  I’m a bit behind again because the past few days have been full of driving around and not getting back to Lisbon until late.  Luckily we don’t have anything planned for today, so I’m using this time to catch up.  

Days 14 & 15 were basically the same day twice in a row.  We drove to Porto Covo, had lunch there, then drove to Troia and Chris got to do some work there.  The reason for the duplication has to do with The Old Portuguese Fisherman. 

Last year, as Chris was planning our epic summer adventure in April and May, he told me about a site with fish salting vats on a tiny island off the coast of Porto Covo, near Lisbon.  The crazy thing was that you could only get there with this one old Portuguese fisherman, who bought the rights for sole access to the island.  He was the only one who could take you out there. 

We weren’t able to arrange a visit last year, but this year things seemed more promising.  This last May, Chris had been in touch with a hostel in Porto Covo, who gave Chris a cell number for this fisherman.  The fisherman, however, did not speak any English, so we enlisted the help of a friend of mine who is from Brazil and just happens to speak Portuguese.  She called the fisherman and spoke to him for a few minutes before hanging up.  “He says that he’ll be available on those dates you’re in Lisbon, and to just call him when you get to Porto Covo.  He has an archaeologist friend who speaks English and will be able to help you out.”  All we had to do was call when we got there?!  Perfect!  So simple!  We should have known then it would be too good to be true…

Day 14 dawned a bit cloudy but the rain held off.  We left Lisbon around 9:00 and arrived in Porto Covo around 11:15.  We called the fisherman.  No answer.  Ok, so we’ll walk around a bit, take some pictures of the beaches, then call back.  No answer.  Ok, a bit of anxiety now, but we can just sit on this bench and look out over the ocean for a bit, then call back.  Third time is a charm, though only when it came to him picking up.  As I mentioned before, the fisherman does not speak English.  We do not speak Portuguese.  So Chris sort of limped his way through a brief conversation using the google translate app.  When he hung up, I could tell it wasn’t good.  

“He says he can’t take us today.  We have to come back tomorrow.”

Are you shitting me?!  We drove two hours down here and now we have to come back tomorrow?!  We were understandably very pissed off, but there was nothing we could do.  Luckily, the site we had planned on visiting the next day was sort of close by – about an hour and a half drive – and ok the way back to Lisbon.  So after a mediocre lunch at a generic seaside cafe, we drove to Troia and spent the afternoon there.  

(I should also mention that the girl working the ticket booth at Troia was a major godsend.  Chris asked her if she would call the fisherman and 1,000% confirm our appointment for the next day, which she graciously did.)

The next day, Day 15, we again drove the two hours to Porto Covo.  This time was successful, however!  Thank goodness!  We met our fisherman at a small dock area and scrambled into his boat.  He took us to the island, which is a bit terrifying as it is totally covered in seagulls swooping very low all around you, and Chris did his thing. The fisherman kept trying to talk to me and all I could do was smile and nod noncommittally.  Then he took us back to shore.

It was certainly an odd experience, but a good one.  It pushed us out of our comfort zone A LOT – talk about a language barrier! – but in the end, Chris got what he needed and now we have a fun story!

Day 13 – Lisbon 

Our first day in Lisbon (6-20-17) was wonderfully lacking in things to do.  We had been going pretty hard for 12 days straight, so we figured that since we had seen most of the major sights in Lisbon last year, we didn’t feel guilty about taking the day for a little R&R.  

It is so important on long trips like this to build in time to rest and relax.  It is really easy to feel like you have to run around nonstop and see every monument and visit every museum, or else you’re not maximizing that time (and money) you’re spending.  But, if you do go non-stop the whole time, you’ll burn out and the trip becomes less enjoyable for everyone, especially you!   So set some time aside to lounge around your hotel or a cafe, binge on your internet connection, or just catch up on other tasks like email or blogging.  We also spent some time planning the next stage of our trip here in Portugal in more detail.  And I definitely didn’t feel guilty about lounging around all day.  🙂

We did find some nice restaurants around our guesthouse (which is AMAZING, by the way, even if we do have to share a bathroom – House of Sao Bento):

for breakfasts we went to Tease, a cute little cafe with sandwiches and some amazing looking cupcakes. I might have to go back and try one!

for lunch we found Chirrasqueira da Paz, a really fun local place specializing in grilled chicken and fish.  Really delicious and no one spoke any English, which was really surprising given our experience last year. But the food was great and cheap!

For dinner I was craving Italian (aka, pasta), so we went to a little place we had seen on our walk to lunch, il Matriciano.  The wait staff were all Italian, so we were not disappointed in our meal.   

All in all, a good day spent recharging our batteries.  On Day 14 we’ll get back to our non-stop pace!

Day 10 & 11 – Thoughts on Portugal (6/10-6/11)

Phew! The past few days have been quiet a whirlwind! We finished the first stage of our trip and are currently on our way to catch the ferry to Morocco. Crazy! I have always wanted to go to Morocco, but never really though it would happen anytime soon, but here I am, on my way!

Anyway, our last two days in Portugal were fairly uneventful. We drove around and visited various sites with fish salting vats (or that were supposed to have vats but then didn’t). So instead of detailing where we drove and what we did, which isn’t really that interesting, here are a few things about Portugal, facts and thoughts, in no particular order:

I really loved Portugal. Everyone we encountered was extremely friendly and there was a really nice atmosphere generally.

Salted cod, which is basically the base of the Portuguese diet, comes from Scandinavia or Iceland. Cod are not found in the Atlantic off the coast of Portugal. Portuguese sailors discovered in the 1600s that it was cheaper to sail north, fish for cod and salt it there, then bring it home rather than fish the waters right off their own coast. The cod, once salted, is rehydrated before cooking, which makes it really economical for the consumers as well; one filet (?) of salted cod can feed A LOT of people. (This whole thing about the salted cod totally blew my mind when our walking tour guide, Elsa, told us about it).

Apparently, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to have contact with Japan. They founded Nagasaki (apparently) and the Japanese for “thank- you,” arrigato (I’m sure I spelled that wrong), is derived from the Portuguese obrigado (apparently). I haven’t had time or the internet connection to check this, but it seems plausible. Anyone else want to look into that for me?

While Portuguese is definitely not my favorite cuisine, the food was pretty solid, as I have mentioned before. I wouldn’t choose it, but I also didn’t have a bad meal while we were there. I also really like sardines and could absolutely eat fish every day, so that helped (Chris was not in the same boat as me on either of those points).

I definitely think that Italy and France have more beautiful architecture, but I found the history of Portugal’s architecture fascinating – basically everything was destroyed in the earthquake in 1755 and had to be rebuilt from the ground up. So everything looks pretty uniform and almost cookie-cutter. It’s really too bad because you don’t get to see the layers of Portugal’s rich history – there aren’t any buildings that use Roman columns in the walls, or any mosques that have been converted to churches. But there are a few things that survived the earthquake and allow a tiny glimpse at that long history.

Driving in Portugal was a lot less scary than I anticipated (apparently Portugal has one of the worst driving records in Europe). People drive scary fast on the highway, but as long as you’re cautious, driving is really manageable. I will say that I am terrified of driving in Morocco, so wish me luck on that!

I definitely want to go back to Portugal and explore more of the country, spend more time just getting to know the place. And I would definitely recommend it to anyone who hadn’t been there!

Day Nine – Burgau/Luz (6/9/16)

Today was a much-needed R&R day – we hardly did anything! We got up late, had an amazing breakfast at our B&B (bread and fruit and cheese and cured meat and little pastries…), then drove over to Luz to check out a site that possibly contained some fish salting vats. Unfortunately, when we got there, Chris realized that beach condos had in fact been built over the vats in the 1980s, though the baths were still visible. He wandered around for a bit and took some photos while I read Me Before You (have any of you guys read it?? It’s AMAZING and so sad I cried almost all the way through it but it was so good I almost want to read it again right away. And yes, that’s two books about quadriplegics in a row. What can I say, I love sad shit). Anyway, after confirming that the site was a bust, we wandered down to the beach for a bit (after I bought a nicely floppy hat), realized the water was much to cold to justify actually changing into bathing suits, then went to a touristy little pizzeria for lunch.

After lunch, we came back to the B&B and just lounged around by the pool. It was blissful. I uploaded a bunch of photos and made a new album with photos from Lisbon (check it out here: https://www.flickr.com/gp/141230083@N04/H96ww4). This one should have brief descriptions – Chris walked me through a better way to upload photos that would take a long time to explain here and is not that important for you to know, so I won’t. Just know that the descriptions for the photos will eventually get better with more detail, but not quite yet. ☺

Anyway, we’re about to head out now for dinner, probably someplace close by that is on the less expensive end. I’ll let you all tomorrow if it would be anything worth checking out the next time you’re in town. 😉

~ciao~

Day Eight – Lisbon → Evora → Burgau/Luz (6/8/16)

Today was extremely long, mostly because it involved a lot of driving. We left Lisbon on the early-ish side, around 10:00 and drove east toward the medieval town of Evora, about an hour and a half away. Chris discovered during the drive that just outside Evora there was a site with prehistoric megaliths, and since it was on the way and seemed like it wouldn’t take too much time, we decided to stop and take a look.

“Wouldn’t take too much time,” eh?? How naïve we were. The road to the site, no more than half a mile, was basically a dirt path that was littered with holes. Not just little holes, but also giant pits which rocked our tiny toy car like a ship on stormy seas. We drove under 10 km an hour, which is almost stopped, for 20 minutes before finally making to the site, at which point we realized, too late, that it probably hadn’t been worth the hassle. I will say, however, that the scenery on the drive was gorgeous. The weather was amazing – bright sun; totally clear, blue sky – and the road was flanked on either side by fields full of beautiful wildflowers and cork trees. It made the horrible drive slight, slightly more enjoyable.

After doing what felt like an obligatory lap around the ring of megaliths (and another 20 mile ride on stormy seas), we headed into Evora for lunch. It was boiling hot – over 100 degrees by the car’s estimation, and the walk to the little restaurant was not very pleasant. After the megalith incident, we were dusty, grumpy, and hungry – a lethal combination. But then we entered the restaurant.

First let me say that this restaurant, Botequim da Mouraria, was mentioned in one of the opening sections of our guidebook as one of the places to have “the meal of a lifetime.” I mean, how could we pass that up?! The place is tiny – only a bar with 8 or so stools at it, and we had to wait for someone to leave before we could sit. But goodness, the wait was worth it. The owner/waiter/bartender spoke little English, but with the help of our fellow diners, we ordered cured sheep cheese as a starter and fried whitefish as an entrée to split. Chris also ordered wine (when the owner looked at me to see if I wanted a glass, I shook my head sadly and made the “I’m driving” motion with my hands. He nodded in commiseration, his eyes sad at what I would be missing out on). The cheese was totally unexpected – we anticipated slices, while the owner brought out a crock full of toasted melted amazingness. It was gooey and soft on the inside, but had a lovely cracking toast outside and to top it all off, a pumpkin jam type thing to go on top (there was an adorable exchange where the owner kept trying to tell us it was “pancake” and had to enlist the help of fellow diners to help him find the work “pumpkin.”). We gobbled it up like we’d never eaten before. The whitefish was also perfect – fried just enough to get a crispy exterior while leaving most of the flesh tender and equally flavorful. It reminded me very strongly of my favorite fried fish dish in Thailand – just the fish, fried perfectly, with a little Thai hot sauce to go over it.

While we were eating, we also chatted with our fellow diners, who were very curious about how two Americans who spoke no Portuguese could have stumbled into their local watering hole. They all nodded knowingly when we said “Lonely Planet,” which made me a little sad. I appreciate the knowledge these guidebooks give travelers like me and Chris, but I also mourn a bit the what must feel like a dissolution of privacy for the locals. Anyway, once they found out that Chris was an archaeologist, there were lots of suggestions on where we had to go and what we had to see, regardless of era. The old man next to me even drew us a map, explaining in heavily accented English what we needed to do at each stop.

We thanked everyone profusely before paying our bill and heading back out into the heat. There wasn’t much else to see in Evora – a rather unimpressive Roman temple, but the meal definitely made the stop worth it.

Fast forward three hours to our next stop, Burgau. A tiny town in the Algarve, it sits next to one of the most touristy places in Portugal, Luz. Even now, with the tourist season just starting up, it is FULL of British people. Apparently this whole area is a heaven for British tourists as well as expats. Even our B&B is owned by a British couple, and they employ at least one other Brit. It is very surreal, to be surrounded by so many English speakers in a place you know isn’t English speaking. Regardless, we found a nice place for our anniversary dinner (3 years!! woot!) and had another lovely meal – a mixed antipasto plate for an appetizer, “sticky” spare ribs with “chips” (aka French fries) for me and duck confit for Chris. We split slices of mango tart and raspberry almond tart for dessert before finally collapsing into bed.

If each day of this trip could be filled with meals like today’s, I will definitely be happy! ☺

~ciao~