Excited to be exploring Portugal for a few months. My interest stems from three Portuguese travelers I met a few years ago. I met a couple in Turkey and a guy in Cambodia. They were such neat people I knew their country had to be cool, also. I’ll arrive in Lisbon on January 19th and the posts will start shortly after that!
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After my Croatia trip, I decided to expand this blog to include future extended trips (San Juan, Puerto Rico was a recent addition) and highlights of Oaxaca, Mexico, the city where I live. It’s basically my blog about everything travel related.
I’m also a playwright and author. This blog contains many of my short plays; Spanish and English versions are included for most of the plays.
Hi all! I don’t leave for a couple of months, but I wanted to let you know that I’ll be visiting Croatia (and maybe one or two other countries) in September. Here is the link to the blog: https://exploringcroatia.blog/
I’m excited to be going there and I’m hoping to explore a few cities in the eastern part of Croatia, places that tourists don’t usually visit because everybody heads to the islands.
Hope you join me on my 6-week journey!
As much as I complained about the weather the past three months, it was a major reason for visiting Portugal during winter. I wanted to check its livability and even though this winter was abnormally cold, even the usual climate wouldn’t be the year round 23-32C temps I like.
While I’m on the topic of livability there’s another important reason that Portugal doesn’t work for me. While I could afford to live there on my income, I couldn’t save enough to afford to travel. In Mexico, I can. So, I’ll settle for visiting this prize of a country again. And I must because there was so much I didn’t see.
Here are a few final thoughts before I close the blog.
- I still can’t believe how many Portuguese people smoke.
- Portugal is a June-September country for me.
- You have to carry cash; a number of places didn’t accept credit cards, at least, not mine. I saw Portuguese customers use theirs in restaurants where I was told I couldn’t. Probably because my card wasn’t issued by a national bank.
- I read more than once that when you need to use an ATM always decline the exchange rate the machine offers. It’s always higher than your bank will charge. I believe this applies everywhere, not just Portugal. I decline it in Mexico, now.
- Also, use Multibanco (MB) ATMs, not Euronet. When you withdraw 100 Euros from the former you get 4-20 and 2-10; with the latter you get 2-50. Of course, this is just my personal preference.
- The delicious food and wine, the welcoming people, the picturesque scenery and so much more make Portugal a special place.
- Lisbon grabbed me immediately. Sort of reminds me of Chicago in that it’s surprisingly livable for a large metropolitan city. I know it’s not as large as Chicago, but still…
- I had the good fortune to meet four totally different, but equally special people on this trip. Pedro, the snack shop owner, who introduced me to traditional Portuguese food; Guta, the photographer, who took me on a day trip filled with fabulous food, photos and philosophy; Michele, a retired teacher and still somewhat active actress from Belgium, who made my month in Morocco more enjoyable than it already was; and Jamila, a super special young Moroccan woman, who 20 years ago would have stolen my heart and changed my life. I truly believe I’ll see all of them again some day.
I’ll close with a couple of opinions (not mine) which made me chuckle. I’ll leave it up to you to agree or not. As a rule I read the reviews other travelers write for restaurants, stores, etc. and I came across these. From a review of an Algarve establishment, “They’re (the proprietors) friendlier and more helpful once they learn that you’re not a Brit.” And in an effort to be fair, “Americans look a lot, but don’t buy, They’re cheap.”
Many thanks to all who took the time to read “Exploring Portugal.” I hope you were educated and entertained. If so, I accomplished my goal. See you next trip.
Climate change, global warming, my presence in Portugal; something has caused this unusually cold weather this winter and spring here. But, it’s not only here. It snowed in the Sahara and the northeast US has been hit with some brutal storms. While I didn’t experience anything like NYC did I couldn’t get out of bed for six days in Porto, and the other morning I awoke to this…
Thankfully, I didn’t come here to sunbathe as I normally would, but to work on my book (shameless plugs alert), “Mail From China: My Five Years in the Far East,” which I can do inside; it’s a follow-up to my first book, “Mail From Kyrgyzstan: My Life As An Over-50 Peace Corps Volunteer” (available on Amazon). Still, it would be better if I could sit on my balcony while I write. Granted, it hasn’t rained every day, but the temperatures have been about 10 degrees Fahrenheit lower than normal.
I’ve never rented an apartment on vacation before, but I might do it again. I have a 1BR 50 meters from the beach. It comes equipped with everything I could ask for, including a washing machine. The hostess/owner is really nice and what a pleasant surprise to see my welcome gifts when I arrived. I was hungry!
I haven’t done a second of sightseeing, so the only photos I have to post consist of the foods I’ve eaten. Portugal is known for their pastries. Pastelerias are like bars in Milwaukee, one on every corner. Here’s one of my favorites, made with 100% sugar. LOL
I found another good Indian restaurant called Shalimar. I ate there twice; ordered veggie dishes both times, mixed veggies and then lentils. Very tasty.
On the first floor of my building you can find the Fantasia Restaurant & Bar. No, not a Walt Disney themed joint, but a place where a lot of Brits eat. Could be why the board out front advertises bangers and mash. I tried the restaurant because it’s reasonably priced with large portions. I should have spent a couple more quid and eaten elsewhere. It wasn’t terrible, but my pork chops were overcooked, dry and touch to chew. Maybe that’s why they came with a bowl of gravy.
I had to add photos of the best chicken and second best cheesecake I ate on this trip. Restaurant: Girassol’s.
I’m at the beach, so where’s the seafood photo? Right here. I ate octopus with garlic, onions and olive oil. So good. The restaurant is called Casa de Vila Madeira. Madeira is an island pretty far off the coast of Portugal, but is part of the country.
One final food photo features another new potato chip flavor for me.
Overall, Portugal is a very clean, litter free country. Could be because these guys are everywhere and everybody uses them.
Quarteira’s beach is clean, but maybe that’s because there are no people on it. Too cold. It’s not as beautiful as Thailand’s or the Philippines’ beaches, but better than many that I’ve visited. And everything you need is within walking distance. Overall, I’d give it a B+. There could certainly be more picturesque beaches in the Algarve, I don’t know. This is only one I’ve seen.
One more post after this. I’ll summarize my trip when I get back to Mexico in a couple of days.
I spent a couple of days in this loveliest of cities. Évora’s “el centro” is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets and the architecture features arches. Lots of arches.
Of course, it has a few big churches, but it also has a few Roman ruins. That was a bit of a surprise.
I should mention another popular tourist attraction, The Chapel of Bones. The inside walls are made up of thousands of human bones. I passed on seeing it because after visiting the Mummy Museum in Guanajuato I’d seen my fill of decomposed body parts. 😀
I ate some good food. Évora has many wine and tapas shops. One of the best was less than a minute from my hotel. Sara, the resident wine expert and tapas maker (chef?), is the most delightful person. The tapas I ate included tomatoes stuffed with black pork, mackerel pate (the only spicy dish on the menu) and smoked ham with fresh goat cheese. Three glasses of wine accompanied the food. The place is called Vinarium.
One local specialty I tried and enjoyed very much was dogfish soup. A tasty broth and a succulent whitefish made for a satisfying lunch. Most people eat bread with it, but I was bread-ed out by this time.
People who received my emails from my China years know that I love to discover new snacks. Well, I have another one to add: black olive flavored potato chips. My new favorite, but I’m sure I won’t be able to find them in Oaxaca.
I’m now in Quarteira (The Algarve) for 12 days where I will continue to write my book and hit the beach once in a while. Then it’s back to Mexico.
FINAL MOROCCO THOUGHTS
It’s nice to be wanted. It’s even better to be loved. The seeds of the latter had been planted in Jamila’s heart during my month in Aourir. I knew we enjoyed talking to and messaging each other, but several reasons stopped me from pursuing any kind of relationship beyond friend. These included age (she’s 27), location (I don’t want to live in Morocco) and children (I don’t want one or two or…). I found out that Jamila didn’t have any reasons, barriers or anything stopping her from asking me if I would get married again, still wanted children, would like to teach English in Agadir and various other questions pertaining to a life together.
I liked the feel of the village of Tamraght. No big stores; everything locally owned; that’s going to change soon. Fairmont and Marriott are building big hotels on the beach and I was told that other companies will follow suit. In a few years it won’t be the same, sadly.
Lisbon. Within 24 hours of my return I viewed it in a new light. Spring had arrived and although the temperatures didn’t reach my maximum comfort level, I could at least walk around without fear of catching pneumonia like I did in Porto in February.
It also helped that I stayed in one of the city’s upscale neighborhoods, Belém. The streets are lined with big houses and Porsches and Beemers can be seen on every block. It’s also home to Lisbon’s embassy row.
Several museums could be found about a 20-minute walk from my house. On the way to them, I snapped a photo of the Tower of Belém, which has pretty much become the identifying landmark of Lisbon, as the Eiffel Tower and Sydney Opera House have become for their cities. Other things and places I saw were a 15th Century monastery and an Escher exhibit at the Museum of Popular Art.
I ate the best cheeseburger. Just meat and cheese, nothing else. And great fresh bread to hold it together. Mouth watering. Then I ate something many people rave about around here, duck rice. Yup, duck meat mixed with rice and it’s as bland and dry as eating paste. And I know about eating paste. It needed a heavy dose of salsa.
Lisbon appeals to me except for the weather and the fact that even though I could afford to live here, I probably couldn’t save enough to travel like I want. Those are two pretty big reasons for me. I would like to visit it again, though because I didn’t see all that I had hoped.
I’m sad to leave Morocco because in my month in Aourir I made three good friends, workers at the hotel. They are Jamila, Abdel and Rachid. Not just them, but everybody I encountered was so welcoming. Because I treated this trip as a writing retreat, I want to return one day to see the rest of the country.
I also met a woman from Belgium who has been coming to Morocco for three months every winter for several years. Her name is Michele. She stayed at my hotel, Hôtel Auberge Littoral, and we realized we had a few things in common. She’s a retired teacher and an actress. She has a small group of friends back home that like to perform, so I gave her some of my short plays. Aside from being a wealth of knowledge about Morocco, she also served as a tour guide for me. She took me to the big market in Agadir, the wine shop and a superb restaurant in Taghazout.
The photos for my final week center mainly on food. I ate a plate of assorted fried fish that I really liked although I think I ate too much as my stomach was a little upset that evening. 🙂 I found a decent cheeseburger although the bun fell apart midway though eating. I tried the grilled steak which was tasty but somewhat tougher than I’m accustomed to. Still, it beat the steaks I’ve eaten in China and Mexico.
Finally, I want to talk about the best dish I’ve eaten on this trip. It’s official name is pastilla maison du poulet. I called it chicken pie. Michele took me to a restaurant called Josephine’s in Taghazout owned by two French women who moved here maybe 30 years ago. They are now in their 70’s but are still somewhat involved with the three places they own. We had hoped to see them that day, but no. I can’t tell you what goes into this dish except to say it was savory. All I know is it’s topped with sugar and cinnamon.
Having tasted Moroccan wine about 15 years ago and liking it, I wanted to try it again. The bottle I bought was just as good as I remembered the other to be. It’s a little strong at 13% ABV. I guess with the French influence here, it shouldn’t be surprising that they can make good wine.
Tomorrow I head back to Portugal for three weeks before going home to Mexico.
This week I tore myself away from writing to visit a couple of places. One was the local big market (souk in Arabic), an every Wednesday event. I bought some fresh dates and strawberries and took a photo of one the colorful spice tables. I also went to CrocoPark. It’s a place that is trying to protect the Nile species of crocodile. The park also has trees and plants from all over the world. It was a picturesque day.
Now I have some photos of food I ate this week which included camel. It’s like beef. You have to season it to give it flavor. It is not expensive, but not so popular, so I’ve been told. Other dishes included a decent pizza, tagine kefta and my new favorite fast food, the sardine sandwich. Did you know that Morocco is the world leader in exporting sardines? No? Well, now you do. 🙂 The soup photo is harira, semi-spicy and made with fava beans; shebakia is the sesame pastry covered in honey that’s available year round but is especially popular at Ramadan.
There are meat markets on a street near my hotel and a creek that runs behind them out to the ocean. The meat you buy at them is as fresh as you’ll find. That brownish streak in the water is the blood from recently killed sheep. I call it Blood Creek.
Finally, a feel good photo. The hotel cat just gave birth and I caught one of her kittens feeding the other day.
One more week in Morocco and then back to Portugal for three.
I’ve learned from Jamila that the best Moroccan food is made at home; the restaurants seem to have similar menus wherever I’ve eaten. Still, I’ve done my best to seek out something other than tagine. Couscous is popular here. I’ve included photos of chicken couscous and couscous with vegetables.
I ventured down the road from my hotel to a restaurant called Tcham. There I ate what at first glance looked like a grilled pork chop, but I’m in Morocco so that wasn’t going to be the case. It’s grilled chicken and not so easy to eat because the bones and gristle are in there, too. The flavor was awesome.
I returned to the fast food joint to try a taco Moroccan style. Quite different from what most people are used to. First, it’s a wrap. With a real tortilla, but that’s it for similarity. The bottom is a layer of french fries. The other ingredients include sausage, cheese, mayonnaise and some lettuce. Anything else he included is anyone’s guess. I really enjoyed it and will have another.
Years ago I happened into a wine shop on 14th Street in Manhattan where I came across a couple of bottles of Moroccan wine. It was much better than I expected and the price was right, less than $10 a bottle. I’ve yet to try any wine here, but I did have a bottle of Flag beer. It’s about 8 ounces and costs $2.75 at my hotel. Surprisingly good even though I’m a dark beer drinker.
Anybody who knows me knows I’ll buy just about any street food I can find. I haven’t had much luck in that department except for baby bananas and roasted peanuts.
My writing is going well. The daily temperature hits 21c but feels more like 24c. I’m learning more about Moroccan life and culture courtesy of Jamila and I’ll include that in my next post.
My writing retreat has exceeded expectations so far. My hotel is about 30 minutes from the city of Agadir which means I’m in a suburb/village where activities are scarce. In my first week I’ve written a 10-minute play and I will start my “Mail From China” book this afternoon.
I’ve made a new friend and found a new student. Her name is Jamila. She studied law at university but works at the hotel. In spite of my doubts that I’d find anyone to accept my offer, I told her I taught English and would teach any employee for free; she immediately wanted classes. We hold class between 3-4 daily with a few interruptions because she’s still working. Jamila is an eager student during our class— she told me her dream is to speak English with no mistakes—but studying at home in the evenings is another story. It seems the TV and her computer distract her. Anyway, she’s a pleasure to teach and it also fills my day with something besides reading and writing.
Mint tea seems to be the most popular beverage here, although many people drink coffee. I drink a small pot every morning even though it’s caffeinated. I noticed a set of traditional, antique, metal tea containers in the tea room the other day. In the photo the container at seven o’clock holds the sugar; eleven o’clock the tea and two o’clock the mint.
The hotel chef has exhibited his competence in a variety of dishes, from traditional Moroccan to pasta and pizza. It’s kept me from exploring other area restaurants so far. I’ll try to change that.
I did make it over to a nearby fast food restaurant for a sausage sandwich with fries. Cost: $1 (10 dirhams). I’m going back because I have to taste Moroccan tacos.
My favorite food to this point has been the olives. Fresh bread with herb butter and a small plate of seasoned olives accompany every meal just like Portugal. There you pay extra if you eat them; here, they are free.
Moving away from food I found an interesting aspect of Moroccan money. They have a coin that would be the equivalent to an American half dollar. Many countries have a coin like this and I’ve always seen the number 50 on it. Here it is inscribed with ½. Pretty cool.
My first full day in Agadir resurrected a fond memory for me while at the same time it made me feel like the ultimate outsider. I say outsider because the two most prominently spoken languages here are Arabic and French; what I know about both combined wouldn’t fill a post-it note. The hotel staff speaks English to varying levels of proficiency. For breakfast this morning I ordered a crepe. I was served a piece of cake. I’ve thought of offering to teach the staff English for free, but they work so many hours, time would be an issue. I just need to stick to my writing projects to keep me busy. I’ll worry about French and Arabic another time.
The fond memory. Yesterday morning I walked around the corner and saw the street merchants. Many were selling fresh bread. I bought some, took it back to the hotel and ate it with some mint tea, which my server called “Moroccan whiskey.” The bread and tea made me think of Kyrgyzstan and the Peace Corps as that was my breakfast many mornings. I just need to find some jam.
Later in the day I bought some local cookies. When a staff member saw them he smiled and said, “You will make a good Moroccan.” It made me feel welcome to hear him say that. I think these cookies are meant for eating with tea.
For dinner I ate Tagine Chicken. Many of you are probably aware of tagine, a stew made in a container called a tagine as well. I look forward to eating all the Moroccan food I can.
Getting to Agadir found me on a plane I hadn’t flown in for many, many years. A jet with propellers. Very smooth ride after some initial turbulence. Held abot 80 passengers, 2 on each side.
I don’t plan on doing much sightseeing. It looks like my posts will almost all be food related.
This is a longer than normal article; I wrote it in stages, but included them all in one post.
I’m experiencing what I call ‘repetition syndrome.’ It happened when I visited Poland and Cambodia. I spent 4-5 weeks in each and traveled to many cities. After a time they all began to be indistinguishable from each other. In Poland each city had a town square ringed with restaurants, bars and shops, a major cathedral and an art and natural history museum. In my opinion, if you’ve seen one 400 year old piece of chipped pottery you’ve pretty much seen them all. A bowl is a bowl is a bowl. Each area had a specialty food or dessert, but most menus didn’t differ greatly. The places I’ve been and traveled through in the Algarve are cookie-cutter replicas in many ways; Beaches, over-priced restaurants and castles/forts several hundred years old. I’m simplifying but you get the idea. Unless you’re coming to places like Lagos, Albufeira or another coastal town to hang on the beach for a week (weeks), you could see these places in a day.
So far I’ve found my satisfaction in Lagos in the food. I’m sitting at a café drinking a nice stout while I write this. Last night I found an excellent Indian restaurant near my hotel. I wanted something spicy and I got it with methi chicken. The waitress immigrated here with her family six years ago from Ukraine. We had a lengthy chat as I happened to be the only customer at the time. These conversations have been so enjoyable.
Today I made my way back to the center. One of the coolest aspects of this center is the street musicians. I saw several this afternoon and one was performing while I ate my chorizo stuffed sandwich and sangria. She sang a Fleetwood Mac song that I recognized.
Tonight I ate one of my favorite dishes, amatriciani, at an Italian restaurant. The ethnic food in Lagos is pretty decent. Tomorrow I’m going to a highly rated Chinese restaurant.
My third day found me walking above the beaches and rocks just outside of the downtown area. So beautiful. I also found satisfaction during this excursion. You really need to see this area in person. My photos won’t do it justice, but I’ll post them anyway (including a terrible selfie). By the way, I walked past a real estate office earlier. You can have a one-bedroom apartment two steps from one of the beaches for $200,000. I didn’t think that was a bad price.
Taking a break.
I’m leaving for Lisbon tomorrow and I fly to Morocco the day after. I’ll be there for a month. Hopefully, when I return Portugal will have warmed up a little as I will still have three weeks before going back to Mexico.
I’m treating Morocco as a writing retreat where I’ll begin my second book, “Mail From China.” I also have a play to finish and another one to revise. What I’m trying to say is that I may not post again for a while except for interesting food I’ll eat. I read that I can eat camel in there. Anybody who knows me well knows I’ll try it if I find it. I don’t plan on doing much sight-seeing but that could change. Let’s just see what happens. Maybe I’ll post more than I plan to.
One of the inspirations for my trip entered the world in Loulé, a small city 40 minutes by bus from Faro. Loulé is further inland; the closest beach is about 30 minutes away. It’s a charming town that combines old structures with modern buildings.
My friend told me to find Bicas Velhas, originally a water pump for the city. He grew up on the street where it’s located.
The pump sits behind the castle. Portugal must have more castles for a country its size than any other. Not sure why that is but there are a lot of them.
My friend, Mena, suggested a restaurant, O Pescador. The Fisherman. I wanted sardines but was told they are a summer fish, so I chose the mackerels. A little bony, but tasty.
I told my waiter about Mena’s recommendation for his restaurant. It came as no surprise that he knows the family because they also own a restaurant. Mena never told me this. I would have eaten there but the sign on the door said they open at 6:30 and I wouldn’t be there at that time.
Loulé is a great town to visit for a few hours, eat some lunch and maybe head to that beach that’s 30 minutes away.
Blue sky. No clouds. People wearing shorts. Now, this is my kind of weather. At least, for a day. In a couple days it’ll be 8 degrees colder (F), but by then I’m only a couple of days from Morocco.
I walked through Old Town Faro on my way down to the marina. It had a nice feel to it. Mostly, because it’s Feb and there aren’t many tourists. By April it’ll sound like a London suburb and no place I want to be near. Faro is part of the southern coast of Portugal, an area called The Algarve. I’m sure it’s also known as the Portuguese Riviera.
For dinner I ate razor clams in a garlic butter sauce, rice and beans with chorizo and goat cheese with tomato jam at a tapas restaurant. Sooo good. One benefit of traveling during the low season is the opportunity to chat with the business owners. Great way to learn about the area.
The wine is called green wine. Kind of a sparkling wine.
As I bid farewell to a city I thought I’d like more than I did, I want to relate some bit & pieces that have crossed my path and mind since arriving in Portugal. In no particular order then…
- While on the train just outside of Lisbon I saw ANTIFA spray painted on the side of a building. I didn’t have time to take a photo. The Alt-right lives in Portugal.
- Zebra crossings (cross walks) mean something in this country. All cars stop for them unless it’s an intersection with stoplights. Then you have to wait for the light to change. Most people use them; I’ve seen very few jaywalkers. And why not?
- Aside from terrible weather, according to three locals who spoke with me, Porto also has the worst Carnival in the country. It’s one day and there’s really nothing to it. I didn’t hear any music that day.
- Taxis are universally expensive, but I saw something here I never had before. Passengers are charged 1.60€ for a suitcase; maybe each suitcase, I don’t know since I have only one. That means with a 3.25€ starting fare, I was at almost 5 euros (over $6) before we moved a millimeter. I paid 6.25€ for a 4-minute ride back in Lisbon. I could have and should have taken the subway. Or walked.
- Just to show that the sun does shine occasionally in Porto, I took this today. First appearance since last Saturday.
- I ate perhaps the worst pizza ever for lunch today. Thin, soggy and tasteless were the words I used to describe it. It proved the adage that looks can be deceiving because it looked good on the plate.
- I still can’t get over the lack of central heating in most buildings here. I understand why—cost; usually short cold spells during winter—but, still…
- Aside from eating pizza everywhere I travel some of you know I like to look for unique flavors of potato chips. Today’s selection is ham.
I’ll have a new post around Wednesday after I arrive in Faro in the south of the country. I’d also like to report that I’m almost 100% again. Still a little lung congestion, but that’s it. It was a loooong week. 😦
There are people reading and following this blog who are unaware of my book about my time in the Peace Corps, which in its own way, was a travel blog, even though its more of a memoir.
The title of the book is “Mail From Kyrgyzstan: My Life As An Over-50 Peace Corps Volunteer” and it’s on promotion for $.99 until February 19th.
By the evening of Day 3 I knew I had come down with a bad cold. I hoped it was nothing more than that. The thought of living with a strain of flu that could last who knows how long and bring on who knows what symptoms—well, let’s just say I didn’t want to spend my travel budget on tests, medicine, etc. And while it turned out to be only a chest cold, it has lingered for five days and counting.
In that time I’ve left my room only to get food and go to the bathroom. The first couple of days I lived on cheese sandwiches. Tiring of those I branched out to soup, suckling pig and more soup with vegetables. I also bought the European version of Coco Puffs and some ice cream.
This isn’t the way I had planned to spend my days in Porto. There were three day trips on my calendar, but actually, it’s been an okay week to be sick because I haven’t seen the sun since the afternoon of Day 3 and it’s either misted or rained every day as well along with 25-40km/hr winds. Even healthy this wouldn’t have been the best weather to be outside. I’m not alone in my plight. In my short jaunts to get food I hear people of all ages coughing and sneezing.
I have to relate another good Samaritan story. Yesterday I met a young guy from Austria—a fellow guest at this house—who was leaving for home after a year of travel. He was running low on money and needed to go back and find a job to finance his next trip. Gotta love that attitude. Anyway, he visited Mexico on this trip and stopped in Oaxaca for a couple of weeks. That was cool. At the end of our conversation he went to his room and gave me a few day’s supply of zinc and vitamin C tablets. An hour later he handed me a small hot water bottle. I asked, “Don’t you need it?” He replied, “No. I want to see you get better.” This morning when I opened my bedroom door he had left half a 5-liter bottle of water and two more day’s worth of tablets. Seeing those items by my door was very emotional for me. I think the continued generosity of strangers finally overwhelmed me.
Getting old has its perks. People help you. Maybe they don’t want to feel they played a role in your demise by not doing what they can.
My travel trip for Portugal: Visit this wonderful country between June and September. I say this because Porto is a must-visit stop and I wouldn’t trust the weather here until summer.
In a few days I’m flying south to Faro. It’s part of the Algarve, which I said I wasn’t going to visit, but then I didn’t know Porto was going to be so miserable. Faro’s not as hot as I’d like but it’s better than here. With no rain. After a few days there I’m going to give Portugal a chance to warm up as I journey to the southern Moroccan city of Agadir for a month. I’ve booked myself into a small hotel away from the tourist crowd so I can begin writing “Mail From China: My Five-Year Plan in the Middle Kingdom.”
This trip has cemented my belief about the role climate plays in my life. I always said I needed the beach, but that was only part of it. I need heat. Puerto Escondido has the ocean but Oaxaca sits at over 6000 feet. What they have in common is a climate that very rarely dips below 70 for a daytime high. This is my comfort zone. Even if I hadn’t gotten sick I would still be going to Morocco. There’s no reason I need to stay where I’m not comfortable. I honestly hope never to see snow again, not in person.
I might have one more post before Faro where I’ll definitely have a few.
It rains often in Porto in the winter and today was sunny so I took advantage and spent the day writing and people watching. Find a café, order a beverage and commence watching. One observation: There are a lot of Chinese people here.
Before that I needed to try a franceshina. I chose a small restaurant near my house that was rated one of the 5 best places to eat one. The sandwich is made with ham, Portuguese sausages, steak or roast beef, and cheese. Then it’s topped with more cheese and a tomato/beer sauce. Many people order it with an egg on top but that sounded too healthy, so I passed. Anyway, this belly-buster lived up to its billing.
All in all a very good day. By that evening my trip would take a very unexpected and unwanted turn.
I set out looking for a 12€ walking tour of the center and when I found a tourist info kiosk, was directed to a free one that was going to start in five minutes. The tour guide, Ana, is a grad student at the University of Porto. For a minute I thought I’d be the only tourist until two American girls studying in Madrid and in Porto for the weekend joined us. For the next three hours we traversed the center and I walked away knowing so much more about the history of Porto and Portugal. Our tour guide is on the far right.
Ana was a complete delight and when I told her I was an English teacher she encouraged me to correct her grammar. During the tour if I heard her repeat a mistake I’d make a note on my phone. Afterwards I showed her what I noticed. She was a trifle embarrassed, but happy that she learned something.
One of the students was originally from El Salvador and I’ve been kicking myself for forgetting to ask if she’s a Dreamer. My guess is that she is as she came to the states as a child.
I’ve included some photos from the tour. The first one is a photo of two churches. They couldn’t be built directly next to each other, so the 6-8 foot space between them is a house. You can see the two windows. It’s the smallest house in Porto. Another photo shows tile art at the train station. The “view” photos aren’t so good as it was a cloudy day.
NOTE: I’m going to be in and around Porto for a week. Rather than one looong post at the end, I’m going to do segments.
The likelihood that I will embrace a city increases if it has a subway. And I don’t mean the sandwich shop. The train to the subway to my Airbnb. Smooth as silk. Then, the silk transformed into a bed of nails; only temporarily, though, until Portuguese hospitality made another welcome appearance.
An employee of the homeowner should have been there to greet me. He had a personal problem and couldn’t. Plan B. I called Cristiana, the owner, and she agreed to meet me in five minutes. The space was cramped. Six guests in four small bedrooms would be sharing a bath and a half and a living room the size of a very small closet. In addition, I was dreading an entire week of walking up to the 3rd floor (4th for any Americans reading this). That’s when the universe sensed my distress.
The absent employee had the keys to my room and Cristiana couldn’t find the spare set. Almost immediately she told me I’d be staying at one of her other houses. I would soon learn that she owned 5 houses in Porto, a hotel somewhere in Morocco and was upset with her boyfriend; she also touched on her philosophy about love and other assorted topics. I digress. My new room would be in the city center instead of a twenty-minute walk to get there. It would also have two beds and a desk. Best, it would be on the 1st floor. On the drive over Cristiana gave me a tour of the center telling where to go, to eat, etc., all the while hearing about her life. She’s interesting and a little wacky in a good way with a good heart.
Here’s a view from my balcony. Oh, did I fail to mention my room has one? Ok, so it’s not so large, but a balcony just the same. jajaja
I ate my first dinner at a café up the street known for its large portions and low prices. It’s popular with students. This could be said about numerous restaurants in Porto. I chose the pork chop with sausage sauce. You can see in the photo that that meant slices of sausage were included. Rice and sides are common sides in Portugal. Starch overkill. The tasty pork chop cost 3.50€.
What at first seemed like a mistake turned into my best Airbnb stay so far. The house that I booked was located about 5km from the city center in an area with no food stores or restaurants nearby. And a host whose second language was French, not English. No problem. Turned out that she understood a little English and Spanish and she typed her questions and comments into Google Translate on her laptop. That, along with me figuring out some of her Portuguese and we had a grand time talking.
I’ve mentioned Portuguese hospitality in previous posts. Well, Paula took it to another level. The first night she drove me to a take away joint so I could have dinner. She also stopped at a grocery so I could buy fruit and yogurt for breakfast. In addition, she brought a portable heater to my room. That evening we agreed that I would take the bus or train into the city the next day and she would pick me up at 6 and drive me back to her house. A minute after I had taken off my coat she handed me a bag. Inside was a sweater she had purchased because she didn’t think I was warm enough. I offered to pay knowing she wouldn’t accept anything. Then she proceeded to make me a beef short rib dinner.
Aveiro is called the Venice of Portugal. That may be stretching things a little, but it’s a beautiful city and the canals add to its charm. I took the boat tour and captured a few interesting shots. Many houses use ceramic tiles because they protect best against the salt in the air. The photo I took of such a house belongs to a doctor. There is also a phot of some art nouveau buildings.
Portugal’s cities have some picturesque parks and Aveiro is no exception.
I opted to spend a night in the city center at a B&B, The Aveiro Inn. The staff was great, the room modern by any country’s definition and I highly recommend it if you ever visit Aveiro.
My Airbnb host, Paula, has just purchased a house in Costa Nova, a seaside community just to the south of Aveiro. It sits about 100 meters from the beach. I told her I plan to return in June 2019 for a couple of weeks. I won’t have to worry about not having a car on that trip. 🙂
I wrote a comprehensive post stating all the reasons why I had problems with my Airbnb host in Coimbra. (The first one ever.) Then the realization struck me while on the train to Aveiro that it didn’t matter. When strangers meet differences expose themselves. Most times they’re not a problem; not always. This was a “not always” situation. I tore it up. Time to move on.
Coimbra is a nice looking city. (photo)
The oldest university in Europe calls Coimbra home. I didn’t visit it. I toured an old convent (or what was left of it after they built a concert hall around it). One highlight was attending a Camane´ concert. I was told he’s the top fado singer in Portugal. You can check out his voice on You Tube. I enjoyed his performance but fado will never make my top 5 favorite music styles.
Another highlight was the food. I inserted photos of a traditional Portuguese dinner of soup with pork and potatoes as the main plate; a cod casserole baked in a corn muffin bowl, after which I ate some of most delicious cheesecake ever; and a grilled sea bass that was to die for.
Coimbra Street Art
At the train station, actually.
One other note. I washed my clothes in Coimbra at a very modern laundromat. I can’t remember the last time I was in one. Now, the detergent and fabric softener is included in the process. I didn’t have to buy a small box of Tide. Amazing.
After leaving the village of Óbidos for the small city of Caldes da Rainha (Caldes = Caldesh), I wondered why I felt that I must visit them. I stayed (am staying) for three nights in each when they are really day-trip stops.
Perhaps I’m hoping for a serendipitous experience, but in my mind, not expecting one. Beyond knowing that Óbidos was a walled city, nothing there counted as an “Oh, wow” moment. I’m likely in for more of the same in Caldes. Another reason is that since Portugal isn’t a large country, I need to visit all the hamlets along the way to fill three months. After Caldes da Rainha that is no longer part of the plan. I will only go to places that interest me and if I run out with time to spare, I’ll decide what to do then.
Caldes da Rainha looks like NYC compared to Obidos. I stayed in a modern, upscale house that deceives from the outside because it’s a block of six apartments. Although my room on the lower level had no windows, it was spacious, including the most comfortable bed I’ve slept on in years. Because the windowless room was pitch black with the lights off I found myself sleeping until 9:30 each morning. Big deal. It wasn’t like I had to get up for work.
The hosts, a mother and college-aged daughter, offered to feed me one night and when I asked how to get a taxi to take me to the train station, they volunteered to drive me. I must be careful not to take this Portuguese hospitality for granted.
The highlight of the city, after finding a store that sold electric outlet adapters, was Parque Don Ramos. I spent an afternoon there writing a new play and reading. It’s popular with dog walkers. The park has clay tennis courts, two cafes and a couple of museums as well. I saw a couple of interesting looking trees and took photos. A few of the trees had paintings nailed to them.
I thought about taking a short ride to the coast, but it’s too cold for that; for me, at least. More about the weather in an upcoming post.
I disembarked from the train at a stop with nothing more than a platform and a small empty building. A young couple from Brazil and I scanned the area for a taxi. Not a one to be found. We gazed up to the walled village on the hill, Óbidos. None of us wanted to make that walk, especially pulling suitcases. We strode to the main road; after waiting ten minutes without a taxi sighting and figuring Uber hadn’t found its way out here, we began our trek. After one stop to rest we arrived at the Portal do Óbidos. (Note to travelers: Have a car or take the bus. The latter drops you close to the portal.)
One quick look around told me that my 2 ½ days here were 2 days and 9 hours too many. Following a cobblestone lane lined with shops, cafes and a few hotels, I found mine. The friendly owner greeted me and told me about the free breakfast. He failed to mention that the Wifi only worked in the common room. Why did this disappoint me so? Why was I a little aggravated that I had to walk down a flight of stairs to connect to the Internet? Oh, and I had left my wall outlet adapter in Lisbon so charging my phone and computer were not possible until I bought one. A product not available in Óbidos, only in the next town where I’d be in three days. I decided then and there that I needed to reassess my dependency on technology. I didn’t think I was dependent to such a degree. It crept into my being without my conscious knowledge.
My room accommodated my needs: a bed and a bath. A heavy blanket more than compensated for the chill in the air at night. The aforementioned breakfast featured breads and cold cuts.
I spent some time on my first day walking around the village, both in the afternoon and a little at night. It didn’t take long. I did take a couple of photos of the view from the village. And of the wall. The Óbidos wall is cool, but not as cool as the one that surrounds Xian in China.
January is a slow month for tourism in Portugal. I thought I might be the only guest in the hotel until I saw two groups at breakfast. On my search for a restaurant on my first night I discovered only three were open. Many restaurants in small towns in Portugal seem to close after lunch and reopen at 7 or 7:30 for dinner. The shops close at 7. I imagine that the number of businesses and hours open expand in the summer.
I chose the restaurant Tasca Torta. I ate there every night. The first evening I ordered a chicken and sausage kebab. It was delicious. The next night I ordered “bitoque,” thinly sliced steak with an egg on top. It was good, but the meat was a little tough. This is why I rarely order beef outside of the US.
I must mention Ginja, a cherry liqueur that is served in a chocolate cup which you eat after wards. It’s very popular with the tourists.
So, like I mentioned I needed an adapter to charge my phone. With nothing to do but read, I needed a charged phone to access my books. When I told the owner about this he began rummaging through drawers until he found one that fit me phone. It was the fourth one. Who keeps that many? Hotel owner with forgetful guests is my guess. I’ve experienced this act of going above and beyond what’s expected time and again in my travels.
Guta is a friend of a friend and now a friend of mine, too. Last Wednesday, on a day colder than normal for this time of year, we took off for Arrábida, a famous nature area south of Lisbon. Before arriving there we made a couple of stops.
The first was in a village where we warmed and lightly nourished ourselves with some muscatel and pastries. Guta knows the owner of the shop.
Next, we drove to a boat graveyard. Here neglected boats are refurbished (rebuilt?). It was cool to see how this was done. A couple of boats were halfway back to their original state. Guta, a professional photographer, snapped many photos for a project he’s been contracted for regarding these once forgotten vessels.
Arrábida lies on the coast. It’s quite a place and my photos won’t do it justice. You really need to Google it. Guta has been coming here for years and saw something on our visit that he’d never seen before. The cloud cover hovered below us. First time I’ve been above the clouds and not in an airplane.
About 3pm we decided ot was time for lunch. We ate in the coastal town of Sesimbra. I chose Skatefish. I’d heard of it, but not had the pleasure of tasting it. So fresh. So delicious.
Guta took many photos that day. His passion for and philosophy of photography kept me enthralled for most of the day. It was fun and educational to listen to someone who has also taken the road less traveled. He published his first book of photos at the age of 22. You can see why I’m not a photographer, taking a photo of a white book against a white background.
The day passed by too quickly. We made a promise that we’d meet again on my way through Lisbon at the end of my trip. I’ll get to meet his wife and children at that time. An unforgettable day away from Lisbon.