April 13, 2023
Today we went on our last day tour in Portugal, to Cascais, Cabo de Roca, and Sintra. Cascais is a seaside town that has become quite popular, but there isn't much there to really see. Cabo de Roca is the westernmost point on continental Europe. It's basically worth a selfie like we did at the prime meridian or at the equator, or as you would do at mile marker zero in Key West. There were some nice vistas of the seashore there as well.
The piece de resistance was Pena Palace in Sintra. Sintra is like the Loire Valley of Portugal where many aristocrats has their summer homes/palaces. There are actually a bunch of other palaces you can visit besides Pena, but they weren't included on our tour. We would suggest skipping Cascais and Cabo de Roca to spend more time in Sintra (make sure to get your ticket for Pena palace in advance, as there are limited time slots). Pena was originally a 12th century monastery, built on a huge hill with views all the way back to Lisbon, that had been abandoned. It was then bought by a German prince for his new Portuguese queen and remodeled in the 19th century in a romantic style. Eli and Stephen thought it reminded them of Strawberry Hill House (but much grander), which was built around the same time and in a similar style. There were lots of ornate rooms and lots of great vistas of the building and the countryside.
April 12, 2023
Today we started with a traditional cooking experience. It was hosted at a pop-up space that had a full Bosch kitchen, so it was definitely a good place to do the experience. It was the 6 of us, plus a couple from Halifax. We had great conversation, and it turns out the couple from Halifax have a place in Port St. Lucie, so Ed and Judy may try to see them the next time they're down in Florida. We made 3 dishes. The first was an appetizer with traditional Portuguese sausage, alheira, that is actually Jewish in origin. During the inquisition, having sausage hanging up and drying was a sure sign that you weren't Jewish, since Portuguese sausage is generally made with pork. However, this sausage is made from breadcrumbs and rabbit or other game meats that would be considered kosher. When the inquisitors passed by the house and saw the sausage hanging, they just continued on by... Ingenious. It was served with turnip greens and a fried quail egg on top. Main course was one of the dishes from the book 1001 things to do with bacalao (just kidding, but not really). We have not yet let a single day go by without having some dish of salted cod. Today's was with cabbage, onion, garlic, sweet potatoes, and corn bread in a casserole style. It was almost like something you would make in the Midwest, so Judy and Ginger were happy (even if we may be getting slightly tired of the bacalao).
Dinner tonight is another experience, this time with Fado, a traditional Portuguese music style. The guitarists were really great, the singers less so (but it may have just been the style). It was quite melodramatic.
April 11, 2023
We had our day tour of Lisbon today. Again, lots of cool vistas, and some interesting churches, with our guide providing broad outlines of history as we drove through different neighborhoods of the city. We actually stopped by a tunnel that had a comics style rendition of Portuguese history that was surprisingly helpful. We stopped by the Azulejo museum; we were hoping it would be more like a working factory where you would get to see tiles being made, however, it was more of an actual "museum" museum. It did, though, have an incredible chapel designed with azulejo tiles. We stopped in Belem to check out the church (the line for the attached monastery was outrageous), monument to navigation, and to get pasteis de nata at the most famous location. We asked our guide if these really were the best or it was more of a case of hype, and he confirmed they were the real deal. He said particularly because of the flakiness of the dough, which he said was almost akin to phylo, and the generally less sweet custard. We can confirm after having eaten about 24 between the 6 of us that, yes, they really are that good (and the next day at our cooking experience, the chef also chimed in that they truly were the best). It was also interesting to reflect on this particular Portuguese export, showing up in cuisine in Brazil (more obvious) and in Hong Kong for dim sum.
From Belem, we headed over the bridge to the Christ the King statue, which also had a virgin Mary statue (to cover all bases, maybe?), and which was reminiscent of the Cristo Redentor in Rio. We then went back over to the Lisbon side to check out the medieval aqueduct and then to another couple views of the city from different places.
For dinner, we headed to Time Out Market (aka Mercado de Ribeira), which was one of the better food halls we've been to across our travels. Each one of the dishes we chose was excellent and the food was clearly overall of very good quality at most of the stalls. We sat next to a couple from New York who ended up having been on Heather's flight into Lisbon from NYC. We talked travel and stuff. They're heading on to Spain to do a bike tour and to spend some time in Barcelona.
April 10, 2023
Today we headed 3 hours north to Porto for a half-day (full day with the 3 hours up and 3 hours back) tour of the city, and to do some port wine tasting. Our plans were slightly hampered by a rail strike, though. Our train home was canceled, so we had to have our tour guide drive us back to Lisbon. It also caused a slight hiccup on the way to Porto, when Stephen thought our train there had been canceled as well due to the strike, and had us all jump on the train that was leaving just then. It turned out it was just that the actual train just had another final destination, so the train conductor had us get off at the next station and wait for the right one.
Porto is a beautiful (and hilly) city. We had lots of nice vistas and saw many cool buildings. We stopped in at St. Francis Church to admire the incredible carved and gilded interior, then walked along the riverside, then took the car up to the top of the hill, and then walked down admiring lots of great buildings along the way. Our last stop in town was at the Sao Bento train station to admire the incredible tile murals on the walls. Our guide gave us broad outlines of how Porto and Portugal more generally developed over time, and took us to a great seafood restaurant where we had lots of great grilled seafood (and some fried codfish as well). Our final stop was to do some port wine tasting. We got to taste four different kinds of port wines, a white wine that is oak aged and had an incredible orange color, a ruby port that is aged in large casks and is fruity, a tawny port that has to be aged in small oak barrels for at least 20 years (and an average of 15) and was our favorite of the ones we tried, and a vintage ruby port that had a bit more complexity than the generic one we first sampled. Stephen's dad picked up a sample of three of the wines, so we'll have to have them with some cheese and desserts while we're here.
April 9, 2023
Stephen's family arrived today and after switching AirBnBs so that we could accommodate the new people, and giving everyone time to rest after a long travel day, we headed out to dinner at O Frade, a Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant. All the food there is meant to be shared family style. The restaurant lived up to its Bib Gourmand label; it was good, flavorful, fresh, quality food (very traditional) at a very reasonable price. We were so enjoying our food, we forgot to get photos of a couple of the dishes.
April 7, 2023
We're excited to start this phase of our travels, which will be doing alongside Eli's mom and Stephen's mom, dad, and sister. Ginger and we arrived a little earlier than everyone else, so we had a few days to hang out and sightsee before everyone else arrived. We rented a car and drove about an hour north to see some sites we wouldn't be seeing with everyone else. We first headed to Obidos, a cute medieval walled town that was recommended by Joao, who was on our tours in Rapa Nui. We walked along the wall for a while, checked out a few of the churches in town (one had beautiful blue tiled walls), and walked the shops along the main street. Ginger picked up a tin of sardines from the year Bobby Joe was born, and Eli got a bacalaito, which is a codfish fritter. It tasted like a fishier crabcake or salmon patty.
From there we headed to Nazare, which is supposed to have the largest waves in the Atlantic. It was out of season, but we weren't that impressed. We were expecting tidal wave sized waves, and they just looked like regular old Pacific waves on the west coast of North America. If you go, the bigger waves are to the north of the castle.
From Nazare, we headed to Batalha, which has an incredibly beautiful gothic church and monastery. One of the hallmarks of this monastery is the unfinished chapel. You can see the gothic columns rising up above the roofline of the building and then just stopping. It creates an interesting effect from a variety of angles. This was well worth the visit.
From Batalha, we headed to Fatima, which is a pilgrimage site where supposedly 3 young women saw the virgin Mary appear in 1917. The location is now a complex of all kinds of shrines and chapels (many modern in design). Even on Good Friday, it was not jam packed, but it might be on Sunday for Easter. Many people were just sort of wandering around and taking photos and posing very unreligiously. There were clearly many faithful around, though, too... especially at the one open chapel to the west.. and there was an occasional individual walking to the shrine on their knees. We saw a whole bunch of catholic boy high school groups on the site as well... with many of the boys smoking while they traipsed through the courtyard. We would probably recommend skipping this, unless you are one of the faithful (or appreciate the kind of ironic scene).