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.  

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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┬á

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.  ­čÖé

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 12 – Girona

Day 12 (6-19-17) was our last in Spain.  We took it pretty easy – after breakfast at the hotel, we drove into Girona’s center and walked around for a bit.  We saw the cathedral, a nicely preserved set of Arab baths (which are basically just the next era’s version of Roman baths), and went to the Jewish History Museum.  The museum was nice, though it was more of a read-all-about-this-topic kind of museum rather than a look-at-these-artifacts kind of museum.  It was cool to learn about this history of the Jewish neighborhood in Girona, as well as more about the Inquistion.  

After our morning, we had a lovely lunch at Probcador, near the Jewish History Museum.  We each got the set menu (salmorejo, grilled tuna, and chocolate truffles for Chris; salad, steak, and a strawberry mousse cake for me) and enjoyed our food with a nice glass of ros├ę.  It was so pleasant to just sit and enjoy – it was our last meal in Spain!  (Our last real meal, I should say – we did buy sandwiches in the airport for dinner) 

Once we had finished lunch, we hit to road and drove back to Barcelona, where we dropped off the car and then headed to the airport for our flight to Lisbon.  The drive was really nice – we could see lots of little towns and hilltop castles from the highway.  

If you’ve never rented a car while traveling before, I highly recommend it.  Depending on your itinerary, it can actually be cheaper than trains, and it allows for a lot more flexibility. Driving also makes it easier to get to some less-visited places, exactly the type of places you might want to go.  ­čśë

I was definitely scared the first time we rented a car in Europe – during our honeymoon in France – but it’s really not that much different from driving in the US; in some places, like Spain, it’s actually more pleasant!  Morocco last year was truly horrible, but only in the cities, and luckily, Chris is an amazing copilot.  It is important to make sure that you have either a paper road map or a digital one downloaded onto your phone – that’s what we do: Chris uses google maps and sometimes maps.me, both of which allow you to download customized areas, though maps.me allows you to mark points of interest while offline as well, while google maps required internet to see anything that you’ve saved.  Parking is another thing that you also have to consider, though again, Chris is amazing at figuring out where parking is before we arrive, so that’s usually not a problem for us.  

I don’t think I’ll be driving in a place like England or Thailand anytime soon (wrong side of the road!), but for now, renting a car has allowed us to really get the feel for a place and explore it a little more in depth.  

But, at the end of the day, we traded our car (a Mercedes, I should add) for a plane and flew to Lisbon!

Day 11 – Tarragona to Girona

Day 11 was another lovely day.  It wasn’t quite as jam packed as Day 10, but it was still pretty long due to our move from Tarragona to Girona.  

We left Tarragona early and arrived at Roses about half an hour later.  It’s a beach town, with a shoreline crowded with bodies bronzed from too much sun and too little sunscreen.  The main street along the beach is lined with tourist shops full of junk and cafes with bad, exorbitantly priced food.  

In other words, it’s the kind of place we, but Chris in particular, hate. 

Then we entered the site.  Roses was an important port town from Roman times through the 18th century.  In the 16th century, a citadel was built near the beach as a defense against pirates and the French. Excavations within the citadel revealed Roman fish salting vats (duh) and several houses from the medieval town, while the remains of a church and monastery from the 10th century which had been expanded and reinforced over the centuries were still visible.  There is a small museum with material found during excavations (including some really cool looking swords from the 16th century) and then you may wander the grounds inside the citadel at leisure.  

It was a gorgeous day and the walls of the citadel rose up around us, the ruins, and several rows of olive trees.  Chris got to work while I caught up on postcards and blog posts, then we wandered the walls and the 10th century church.  It was so pleasant we almost didn’t want to leave!  But time was pressing and we had another site to get to.  

After a rather lengthy lunch, we drove to the site of Emporion, near modern Sant Marti d’Empuries.  It was originally a Greek trading colony, then Roman soldiers were stationed there during the Hellenistic era, which meant that it eventually became a Roman city.  The site is huge and gorgeously situated – from almost everywhere in the site you can see the ocean, a most beautiful sparkling blue.  

We wandered around the site and found some fish salting vats which Chris didn’t know about (I call these “surprise vats” and at least it means I get to sit down for a few minutes), so he took some time to photograph them.  The best part about Emporion in my opinion is the audio guide. Audio guides have been available at a lot of the places we’ve visited, with varying degree of informational value and organization.  The audio guide for Emporion was outstanding.  It was informative as well as engaging, and gave clear directions for where the next number marker would be.  I definitely felt that someone listening to it might actually get a sense of what the Greek and Roman iterations of the town were like.  

At the end of the tour, we stood outside the pomerium, or city limits, gazing at the ruins of the amphitheater with the city wall behind us.  The whole site seemed totally empty, not another person in sight – it was almost closing time – and the only sound came from the wind whistling through the tall grass.  As I stood there, all I could think about were the people who would have made this city a bustling hub of trade and industry, and how now all that is left is a few piles of stone.  It was so poignant I felt myself getting a bit emotional, as corny as that is.  But that’s why I love what I do – getting swept up in imaging what life was like, but at the same time recognizing the fragility of it all.  Ashes to ashes, and all that.  

Anyway, emotion aside, we trekked back to the car and drove on to Girona, a little medieval town near the border with France where we would be staying the night.  After a hasty dinner at a sort of tapas buffet, we fell into bed, exhausted.  

Day 10 – Tarragona┬á

Day 10 was absolutely wonderful.  After Barcelona, Tarragona was a breath of fresh air, and I have to say: we are smitten.  

While I’m not sure how large Tarragona actually is compared to Barcelona, it is definitely less touristy and the city center is smaller and a bit more manageable.  The medieval wall actually still surrounds much of the old town, and wandering through the winding streets was a delight.  It was calm, quiet, and the buildings were beautiful.  Pair that atmosphere with a shit-ton of Roman ruins and you have our perfect location!

So yes, the main reason we loved Tarragona so much may have been the wealth of visible ruins throughout the city center.  We saw the original forum, the colonial forum (TWO fora!!), the amphitheater, the circus, the theater (ish – it’s being reconstructed so there want much to see), and we walked along the medieval walls which were built on the Roman ones and incorporated the Roman defensive towers.  

Ancient Tarraco was the first settlement of the Romans on the Iberian peninsula – it started as a military camp during the Second Punic War, and then became a Roman colony at the end of the Republic. Augustus even chilled there for a bit!  (Imagine how excited I was when I found that out!)   Thus, the crazy amount of visible remains.  We even saw Roman stonework (altars, funerary inscriptions, etc…) used in the walls of the cathedral, which was super cool.  

In addition to the ruins, we went to the archaeological museum (of course), which has a lot of interesting stuff but no English descriptions and no real organization – things are just sort of dumped into various rooms.  We also went into the cathedral, as I mentioned, which apparently witnessed a battled with Napoleon on its steps, so that’s cool.  We also saw painted walls and statues inside – I had no idea that some Gothic cathedrals had painted walls!  It was really neat to walk around and pick out all the little details of construction, such as masons’ marks on the stones or reused Roman stuff.  (Chris is very indulgent when it comes to my art history streak)

Our lunch was also really great – a little spot serving mostly Andalusian food – and instead of dinner, we opted to check out the local wine festival that just happened to be going on.  ÔéČ10 euros got us six tastings tickets each and a souvenir glass.  In addition to all the wine, there were also stalls selling cheese and sausages, as well as pastries.  It was fantastic!  We tried about 8 different wines (some “cost” two tickets) and some were truly phenomenal.  And don’t worry, we were very responsible and made sure to eat some cheese as well as a tuna and olive empanada.  

Those kinds of experience are what make travel truly special, especially since our interests are so narrow and focused.  Sometimes we forget that we are visiting modern cities, with living, breathing people who have all the same joys and worries that we do.  It’s nice to be reminded of that, to have an experience that pulls us back into the present.  It was the best way to end the day.  

Days 8 & 9 – Barcelona

I’m a bit behind in posting, due to general exhaustion but also shitty hotel internet. I’m combining our second and third day in Barcelona mostly because we weren’t huge fans of the city.  

The thing is, neither Chris nor I is a fan of huge crowded touristy cities. Or rather, I should say that it takes us more than two and a half days to start to enjoy a really touristy city. We love Rome, though of course there are very obvious reasons why we would love it despite the huge number of tourists, and we’ve been there so many times that we are now comfortable navigating our way around the city. While walking the streets of Barcelona, I was constantly on guard – even our hotel person told us to be aware of pick-pockets. So walking around became a stressful event where every person was a potential thief. 

Anyway, Barcelona was ok. We went to the city history museum at the Pla├ža del Rei, which had a nice tour of Roman remains found under a count’s palace, as well as the city’s archaeological museum, which had some really nicely displayed exhibits of the city’s prehistoric inhabitants as well as the Iberian (the culture native to the Iberian peninsula that was prominent before the Romans). Interestingly enough, there was a larger emphasis on the Iberian material than on the Roman, though there is probably a whole warehouse somewhere chock full of Roman stuff. Perhaps a statement about the desire for Catalonian independence?  

We also visited the cathedral, which was lovely – I have a particular soft spot for Gothic cathedrals, and I wasn’t really aware that Spain had any (France gets all the glory on that score). It was also nice to just get out of the sun for a moment as well.  

The most disappointing aspect of our visit was our search for visible Roman remains. Chris knew that there were a few things around that were still visible, so we walked around the city center to each one. All of them turned out to be rather lackluster – nothing too special or in great condition. At least we got our steps in…?!
Without doubt, the best part of Barcelona was the food. We ate many wonderful things but I won’t list them all here cuz that would be boring for you, I suppose. I will, however, list the places we tried:

La Boqueria – a large market similar to Findlay market but with ready made food vendors as well. 

La Cholita – near our hotel and absolutely excellent

Viana – a trendier place right off La Rambla 

After lunch at Viana, we walked to pick up our rental car, drove back to our hotel to pick up our stuff (a five mile drive that took an hour and a half, thanks to rush hour), then headed out to Tarragona. We got in pretty late, so our dinner consisted of kebabs from a local Indian/Middle Eastern place. Never underestimate the power of a good kebab! Cheap, quick, and delicious, they are the perfect ending to a long and somewhat frustrating day.