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.  

Advertisements

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 Seven – Lisbon (6/7/16)

Well, I got sun burned today. It happens, occasionally. Especially when we spend all day walking around outside and I forget to put sunscreen on until after the first four hours. Oh well – tomorrow, the next day at the latest, it will turn a lovely tan color and I won’t have to worry about it. Don’t worry, parents and other well-meaning adults, I will be slathering myself in SPF 45 every day from now.

What were we doing out in the sun all day, you might ask? Traipsing around various site with fish salting vats. Today was the first full day dedicated to Chris’ research. In the morning, we visited the site of Troia, which is really beautiful and open to tourists. The site director herself led us around, which was neat, and also showed us stuff that wasn’t part of the tourist site. It was really amazing to see all those vats – 50 at least, comprising at least 26 different workshops – and definitely put Roman mass production and the scale of the Empire into perspective. After a quick lunch (Doner Kebabs FTW!) and a short ferry ride, we then visited two other sites – one that was pretty clearly marked and one that was basically crumbling into the estuary. It was pretty cool to see such a spectrum of ruins, from the carefully curated and designed for tourists to the random ruins hastily roped off to the stones falling apart on the beach next to a river. Chris has a whole routine figured out – a database created on his iPad and everything, while I just sat around and finished reading The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Great book, btw. And got a lot of sun, obviously.

I have to say, while I am definitely loving traveling and experiencing all these new places and learning about all the culture and history, it has been seven days already, and it was kind of nice to have a bit of a break. Sitting around, wading into the water a bit, reading on the beach – it’s important to have some time to recharge, especially on these longer trips. So when Chris said that there wasn’t much to do in southern Portugal, I was not disappointed in the slightest.

For dinner, we went back to the Mercado da Ribeira, where I got the local specialty, grilled sardines on toast, and Chris got chorizo on toast, then we spilt a salad with figs and the Portuguese version of prosciutto. It was delicious, fast, and inexpensive; the perfect combination, especially for a meal after a long day out in the sun. (We washed it all down with a white Portuguese wine, of course!) Tomorrow we leave Lisbon and head to the Algarve region, known mostly for it’s beaches. And I am definitely ready for a good beach. 😀

~ciao~

Day Six – Lisbon (6/6/16)

Another awesome, jam-packed day! Thanks to the planning we did yesterday, we knew that we needed to get up early if we wanted to see everything we wanted to today. So, up early we got!  We actually went to see the church right outside out guest house, the Igreja de São Domingos, before breakfast was available! It was pretty neat to be there almost right after it opened, though there were a lot of locals there praying, so we didn’t linger.
After breakfast, we walked over to Lisbon’s sé which is fairly unremarkable except for the cloister, for which you have to buy a ticket (the rest of the church is free). It was six euros well spent – the courtyard of the cloisters has been excavated to reveal the Roman street and shops that existed there first, as well as the Moorish building on top of it (the sé was built on the site of a mosque, so the Moorish building probably had some connection to that). It was pretty neat to see all that history all in one place, and to be reminded of southern Portugal’s Moorish/Muslim history.

After the sé, we visited two fish salting vat sites for Chris’ dissertation – one on the first floor of the Casa dos Bicos (the guard called Chris “very unusual” for wanting to take so many pictures of the vats) and then the second under a bank near the main road, Rua Augusta. The second site had a mandatory guided tour, which was pretty interesting for me (Chris was very busy with his iPad taking notes, etc.) – in addition to the Roman stuff, we saw some of the foundations of buildings built after the devastating earthquake in 1755, including wooden posts that have been resistant to the water even after all this time (the buildings sit over a small river that runs from the Tejo). Pretty neat!

For lunch, we went to a small spot in a lovely little square called Largo do Carmo (the name of the place literally translates to “Knife and Fork”). We had a nice steak with a cream and port sauce, in addition to our usual assumed-but-not-free appetizers of bread and cheese. Then we went into the Convento do Carmo which also housed a small archaeological museum (so much archaeology…). The museum is pretty underwhelming, but the convent is stunning. It was almost completely destroyed in the earthquake and never rebuilt, so the ruins are completely exposed to the elements. Arches stretch up into the sky like the skeletons of trees in autumn though the sun pouring in prohibits any eerie feelings. Fragments of medieval sarcophagi and other religious paraphernalia litter the space as well, contributing to the graveyard aura.

After the convent, we recharged for a moment at our guesthouse before meeting our guide for a private walking tour. Now, this is something we’ve never done before. This trip so far has been full of guided tours, which has really been a first for us. Overall, the experience has been really great – all our tours so far have been quite small, which allows for an intimate experience, and our guides have all been extraordinary. But today’s tour was one step further – this was just me, Chris, and our guide, Elsa. I was a bit nervous about it – would it be really awkward?? But Elsa was awesome – super knowledgeable, very accommodating, and clearly head-over-heels in love with Lisbon. She took us to a few places we would never have found on our own (rich dude’s Moroccan inspired pleasure getaway! free elevator to the castle walls! her favorite grocery with a meat slicer from the 1920’s!) and told us all kinds of cool stories about each of the places we visited. We walked around for three hours but it felt like 3 minutes. The best part was how she was able to adapt the tour based on what we had seen already. At the end, we enjoyed a glass of vihno verde, a white wine made only in Portugal, and a delicious pastel de nata. If you plan on visiting Lisbon, I definitely recommend this tour!

For dinner, we went to the Mercado da Ribeira, which is a bit like Findlay Market – half is dedicated to vendors selling produce/groceries, while the other half is a food court. It’s pretty new looking, and though it all looks pretty fancy, the prices are very reasonable (the food is also awesome, not what we Americans really think of when we hear “food court.”). We had suckling pig that had been roasted for 24 hours and mushroom risotto with quail, as well as two euro glasses of wine. After a busy day, it was great to just sit and people watch over a delicious meal – I want to go back tomorrow and try some other dishes!

~ciao~

P.S. I hope you had a chance to check out the 22 photos I managed to post earlier on my Flickr account. The link is in the post before this. I hope to have time to upload more photos in the next few days, so keep checking that space! ☺

Day Five – Lisbon (6/5/16)

Phew! We decided that after a such a late night last night to take the morning off – we woke up late, lounged around our tiny (and I mean tiny) room, then finally showered and got breakfast around 10:30 (if you know me and Chris, you know that this is practically lunchtime for us…). We then realized that we had no idea what we wanted to do in Lisbon, so we spent the next hour or so flipping through the guidebook, looking at maps, and planning out our itinerary. Since a lot of stuff is closed on Monday, we prioritized a few things and, after breakfast, headed out to the Museu do Teatro Romano, a neat little museum around and above a Roman theater. It had been discovered during rebuilding after the devastating 1755 earthquake, and then further excavated during the 1960’s. The museum was fine, with a very pleasant atmosphere and wonderful views of the river. After that we took the tram out to the neighborhood of Belém, which was frankly excruciating. It’s a pretty touristy spot, so I spent a highly uncomfortable 30 minutes packed like a sardine between a smooching French couple.

Once there, we had lunch at a little spot called Bem Belém, again recommended by Lonely Planet. We had some type of fish that was advertised as swordfish but was definitely not. It was delicious, though, so we ate it all along with the little fried appetizers and cheese plate that are usually brought to the table once you sit down (not free though, as we learned a few days ago). After lunch, we went to the Museu Nacional de Arqueologia, which was, as Chris described it, “a bit sad for being the national archaeological musem.” It wasn’t much, but luckily it was free because today is Sunday (thanks, God!). There were some nice Roman bronze tablets, but everything else (there wasn’t much) was late-antique and not super high-quality or interesting (sorry, I know there are scores of people out there who love late-antique, but we are just not among them. I mean really, all the art work is so derpy looking…).

After the museum, we went to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a beautiful, intricate, interesting monastery built in the 1500’s. Again, it was free (thanks, God!) but this place would have been worth the ticket – visitors can only enter the cloisters and the upper choir, but it is really stunning work, especially given the time period. It’s just way too intricate for anything else I’ve seen built in the early 1500’s (construction began in 1501 – there was a special exhibit made in 2001 to celebrate the 500th anniversary…). Anyway, it was lovely, wandering around the cloister and the garden, then seeing the upper choir. There is a choir stall there that is one of the earliest examples of Portuguese Renaissance woodworking, so that was pretty neat.

After the monastery, we headed to a hotel that was built on top of some fish salting vats, the subject of Chris’ dissertation. Against expectation, a few were visible, having been built into the courtyard of the hotel. We spent about 20 minutes there (Chris taking pictures and notes, me reading through the guidebook and, more importantly, sitting down) before wandering over to the Torre de Belém, built to defend the Rio Tejo and emphasize Portugal’s place as a major participant in the Age of Exploration. It was closed by the time we got there, but we were satisfied with the views from the outside. Then, we hopped back on the tram headed for the center of Lisbon.

Though dinner was a bit of a wash (tried to go to a guidebook-recommend place, found that it had closed six months ago, settled for the place that had replaced it), it was nice to sit outside with a glass (or two…or three) of wine and chat about tomorrow’s plan. We are both pretty OCD about schedules, and are a lot happier if we have a plan for each day. After dinner, we walked back to our guesthouse, which just happens to be in the same square as A Ginjinha, a tiny little stall that sells the delicious cherry brandy of the same name. So of course, we got our little cups of that to enjoy before heading back in for the night. Though we got a bit of a late start today, I have to say that we definitely made the most of it!

~ciao~