Much thanks to my friend Cinzia who kept talking about the beauty of Portugal, and was the inspiration for this trip. Last year we didn’t leave the country but rather relocated ourselves back to Boston. Of course, traveling to Portugal from the East Coast is much easier than had we still been living in Austin TX. Here is our story, with some tips interspersed throughout in case you’re here because you’re traveling to Portugal.
It’s a long story, so feel free to jump around!
Day 1: Getting Oriented in Lisboa
Fortunately the snow scare we experienced in Boston ended the night before we left, but at the airport we were delayed leaving due to de-icing of the plane. This was fine for several reasons: we weren’t connecting anywhere, we knew when we arrived in Lisbon (called Lisboa) we wouldn’t be able to check-into the hotel for hours, and you know: safety!
A few things about flying TAP Portugal:
- If you buy certain tickets (I believe it’s the “discount” ones), you’ll be charged about $200 PER BAG to CHECK a bag. They also have carry on weight requirements to beware of.
- If you’re traveling with someone, verify that your seats are in fact next to each other–fortunately a young woman switched seats with us; when the folks in the next row boarded they had the same problem and of course she was not going to switch again.
- They’ll give you headphones because the jacks are different; they may allow both but we didn’t figure it out.
- Bring something to do: movies are limited and not very good!
- Request of a GF meal (or any other special meal) is great because it also comes to you first. Expect the food to be really good–as my experience has been on many international flights including TAP, Air France, and British Air. Also expect nice (free) wine.
We landed on time, 6:00 WET (Portugal time). The customs line initially reminded me of my experience in Charles de Gaulle airport (Greece trip) years ago, where people almost came to blows because the lines weren’t defined. Soon people directed us into a line that was miles and miles long. We were somewhat entertained by the poor little kitty being carried by a woman ahead of us. It took a little over 2 hours to get through; fortunately our ride was still there waiting for us. On the way to the Ribeira Tejo Boutique Guesthouse, we noticed the rotaries had stoplights and there was lots of laundry hanging out windows. There was also tons of graffiti around town and especially where our hotel was located.
The nice people at Ribeira Tejo had us come to breakfast, where we got to see our first view of the Tagus river and had our first taste of chocolate salami. We also got our first glimpse of Santuário de Cristo Rei, which we would frequently use to orient ourselves. I went to use the communal restroom and someone turned the light out on me! (I mention this because it was the first of many funny water closet experiences.) We got some information from our hostess about where we could go prior to check in, but since neither of us slept on the plane, we were so very tired.
It was pretty cold (mid-40s), but for a time we curled up on these wonderful wooden lounge chairs at Ribeira das Naus, the newly constructed beach front near the water. When we were too cold to rest any longer, we went to Ibo Cafe for tea and burgers. While I prefer to eat gluten-free in the United States because the food bothers me, when I am in Europe I do readily eat bread, cheese, and the like. The Europeans ban many poisons we allow in food here in the States, and OMG is their food so deliciously different. Anyway, it’s here that I had my second funny restroom experience: I got stuck in between the main entry door and the actual ladies room (to be fair, they had a code, and the guy had been fixing the door).
Across the street from Ribeira Tejo we discovered the Time Out Market and Mercado de Lisboa in a building called Mercado da Ribeira, an Arabic inspired covered market dating from the 1890s. Next door was Jardim Dom Luis, where several farmers-market-like tents were set up with folks selling goods. We also learned that down by the water was a pretty big train / bus station, and that the area / district was called Cais do Sodre. Cafe Tati (which has good reviews), was almost beneath our hotel. Sadly, we never made it there when they were open!
For dinner, I found good reviews of a place called Sea Me. We had a great dinner of sushi and the wine I had–called Vinha Grande Douro Tinto–felt like the best wine I ever tasted. I also had an oyster sushi, which was amazingly good. Because we didn’t leave room for their signature dessert, we decided we’d come back before we left Lisboa.
The rest of our excursions this first day included finding a gourmet grocery store, seeing our first glimpse of Pink Street, purchasing large waters for the room, showering, and resting.
Important note about footwear in Lisboa: the sidewalks are made up of little stones. The problem here is not that they’re irregular (though I suppose that could cause issues for women wearing heels). It rained a LOT while we were there, and when it rains these stones get extremely slick. What’s more, there are quite a few large hills to hike up and down; while I brought practical shoes, I still had to hang on to Danil for dear life coming down some of the hills in the rain. Make sure you have shoes with good solid treads!
Day 2: Practicing the Language & Initial Explorations in Belém
One of the downsides of staying at Ribeira Tejo was the bar across the street. Fortunately we were so tired we were able to fall asleep easily. I was terrible that first morning at breakfast, trying to ask for the “style” of my egg in Portuguese. The words are “ovo mexido”, pronounced as “ovo meshido”. While you’ll find many “learn Portuguese” sites telling you to say “por favor” for please, I learned “se faz favor”, pronounced as “svash favor.”
Here are some Portuguese words & phrases we used a LOT:
- Thank you: for me as female, “obrigada”. the last “a” is often very quiet so it can sound more like “obrigad”, for a male, “obrigado”
- Excuse me: “Desculpe(a)”, often heard on the street or in tight quarters when people might be bumping into one another, like climbing up towers! Again, the final vowel is very soft so in practice it usually sounds more like “deeshculp”.
- Yes: “sim” (pronounced like “seem”); No: “Não”, pronounced with a nasal-y sound like “now”.
- Do you speak English?: Fala inglês?, pronounced FAH-lah een-GLEHSH?
- Table for two: Mesa para dois, pronounced “mesa para doish” — I’m convinced my great pronunciation of this is why I didn’t get a menu at the Pastel de Nata place later in this story. 😉
- Where is the restroom?: Onde é a casa de banho?, pronounced OHN-deh eh ah KAH-zah deh BAH-nyoo? OF COURSE I used this ALL THE TIME!
While I’m still a fan of Pimsler CDs (which is how I learned what I said, the Phrase List here has a lot of good info. If there are multiple options though, make sure you’re looking at the ones marked (PT) and not (BR), as there are minor differences between Brazilian Portugese and European.
Our hostess was rubbing her wrists and of course given I work with pain, I asked her about it. She then told me that her elbow hurt, and that in Portugal that meant you had a crush on someone who didn’t love you back. (Of course it went through my head that as a tourist, people can tell you anything about their country and you might believe them, and it could be quite fun in a cruel kind of way. If anyone knows, please comment!)
Anyway, because it was raining, our plan was to take bus 728 or tram 15 to Belém where there was a cluster of museums to visit. Going back to the Cais do Sodre station, we purchased two round trip tickets for the train at track 2 or 3. We hopped on in perfect time, but realized that this wasn’t either the bus nor the tram our hostess pointed out. It reminded me of the Commuter Rail in Boston, and in 3 short stops we were in Belém, at the Coaches Museum. Something I noticed every time we rode public transportation was how incredibly smooth it was. We always stood, even while there were seats and most people sat, but you didn’t need to hold on at all. Contrasting this to the T and the MBTA buses I take, where you can go flying out of your seat or across a whole car if you let go at the wrong time and/or don’t brace yourself properly!
We weren’t particularly keen on the Coaches Museum, and the rain had temporarily subsided so we walked through Afonso de Albuquerque Square and went down a little ways until we arrived at Jerónimos Monastery, which we were attracted to because of the line for the cloisters (which we never ended up seeing). We instead decided to go into the National Archeological Museum (which seemed attached to the monastery). As someone who was really interested in archeology as a teen, I noticed now that I gravitated toward certain artifacts and ignored others. I gravitated to tombs/graves and writing; I couldn’t care less about pottery! When we went into the jewel room, a man collected our keys and phones in a little plastic baggie as we walked through a metal detector. He gave these to us on the other side, but people inside were walking around with their items still in baggies, so we did too. On the way out, we handed the guard our baggie as we once again passed through the metal detector. Danil amused himself by puffing himself up to pose in front of a bull drawing. We spent about 90 minutes there, arriving at about 10:30 am. As we left, we noted the tour buses had arrived and the lines to get in were now out the door and around the block. Yay us beating the crowds! We walked around Imperial Square, with its lavish gardens and fountain. Since it was about lunchtime, we started looking for something to eat.
Walking along we were approached by several waiters holding picture-book menus (we later referred to these people as “mosquitoes”). After looking at a few, I said something like, “I really can’t tell why I would eat at one place vs. the other; they all look the same.” Of course immediately after that, a man held out a menu, speaking fine English, and tempted me with a beautiful picture of salmon and veggies. We went into Bem Belem and had a really nice lunch. In fact, I think this could be the best lunch I had in Lisbon. As ate the bread I noted just how amazing the olive oil was. Danil described it as “bright”.
After lunch, we decided to try and walk back toward our room. It didn’t seem very far (only 3 stops on the train remember). Along the way we saw many differently tiled houses, picking out our favorites and occasionally feeling sad at just how many formerly beautiful houses–and mansions–were left empty and desolate. In addition to the less-than-appealing graffiti, there were many beautiful murals too. The fox (shown below), was my favorite: it was actually 3D, though sadly the building it was on had been ravaged by fire and was hollowed out and run down everywhere else. Some areas of our journey smelled a bit like a toilet, and at one point we were approached by a homeless man. We studied the 25 de Abril Bridge up close, and from underneath. This bridge was almost always in our view while we were in Lisbon, although I’m almost certain there was a time we were able to see the Vasco da Gama (from a plane, perhaps). There were a few times we thought of giving up our walk and hopping on the train (it kept raining on and off, was more tiring than we expected, and some parts weren’t very picturesque) but once we’d “made it this far” we couldn’t give up! Once back near the markets I had a hankering for some wine in the room, and thought to stop for a little bottle of something instead of cracking the little bottle left for us that probably cost twice its value. I saw a little tent with some port, but ended up getting samples of Pastel de Nata liquor–before I even knew what that was as a food. I loved it so purchased a little bottle to share with friends back home, and promptly forgot about having wine. While it originally seemed pretty quiet, the Time Out Market was very busy now.
Tired from all the walking, I discovered a well-rated restaurant right outside our door. It was called Lisboa é Linda. As I’m found of the version at Solea, I ordered the garlic shrimp appetizer but then wished I hadn’t, after I saw how much seafood was in my seafood dish, which came with rice inside a very hot, copper “turtle” pot. By the way, there is NO COMPARISON: these garlic shrimp were incredible! After having not had rice in about a month at home, I could taste the starch! Danil was temporarily distracted by a young girl on the street who turned around and walked directly into a pole. The restaurant was also decorated with these wonderful “3D housing complexes”, complete with little laundry on a line out the windows.
Once back in the room, I discovered the TV show “Prato Do Dia” and started binge watching because while I couldn’t understand much of what she said, she made some interesting (and healthy!) dishes. In one of the episodes that I wish I’d noted, she poured a mixture of 5 eggs, a can of black beans, cocoa, sugar, butter, coconut?, and vanilla? into a cheesecake pan. How I searched for that recipe!! Black beans??? Inquiring minds want to know.
Day 3: Ascension to the Castle & “Death by Denny’s”
We got a later start today, but repeated our morning of breakfast with eggs. Our big plan for the day was Castelo de São Jorge. Our hostess once again advised a bus/tram comb because the “walking would be straight up”, but of course we decided to walk. Danil navigated us the approximately 2KM of up and down (with no wrong turns), allowing us to pass by more wonderful murals, and the fantastic Elevador de Santa Justa, which is actually part of Lisboa’s public transportation system and was “designed by Raul Mesnier de Ponsard, a student of the great iron craftsman Gustave Eiffel” . We entered after dealing with a very short queue. From the brochure:
The Castelo de São Jorge — National Monument occupies the most privileged area of the old medieval alcáçova (citadel) and consists of the castle, the ruins of the former royal palace as well as part of a residential neighborhood which was home to the elite. The fortification, built by the Moors in the mid-11th century, was the last defensive stronghold of the lite who resided within the citadel: the Moorish governor (whose palace was nearby) and the elite city administrators whose home are visible today in the Archaeological Site.
The castle served as a royal residence, and later as military barracks / a garrison, even after the earthquake of 1755. Major restoration work was carried out between 1938-40, when it officially became a national moment.
The first bit of our castle experience consisted of walking around the perimeter and taking in the wonderful views of the Baixa district and the Rio Tejo (River Tagus). Danil was stopped on numerous occasions to take photos for other tourists. (Somewhat better than being asked about hashish, which happened later!) For the parts of the castle that were still standing, we were able to climb the very steep stairways to get even higher views. Everything “seemed outside”, so like true “House Hunters International” viewers, we stood in places trying to figure out where walls and ceilings might have been, back in the day, to provide, for example, sleeping quarters.
On the way to the on-site cafe to get water, we were distracted by a large peacock sunning himself a top a high post. I’d never seen such a big bird up that high. Many people were taking photos. Two kitties greeted me on my way inside, making me miss our furry companions back home. The cafe, for being at a major tourist site, was incredibly clean and served what looked like amazing food (seriously). Here I saw the Pastel de Natas of my liqueur, and seriously contemplated getting one, but figured they had to be better at a pastelaria. When I emerged, I discovered one of the cats was snacking on a whole pastry, which I think was filled with cheese. No a moment later, the peacock drove him off, stealing the goodie for himself. It was then that we discovered why people were looking up–in the tall tree directly in front of the cafe, there were 4 or 5 peacocks! We then indirectly navigated our way to the map room (my fault!) and concluded our tour. On the way out, we stopped into our first sardine shop–yes, that’s what I said (more on that soon) and got tempted by a window filled with Pastel de Natas.
As it was once again lunchtime, we discovered the restaurant at Solar Dos Mouros. I had my first port wine (oddly white, as it was lunchtime) while Danil mused over the idea that the Muslim occupation seems to get glossed over in the rendition of Portuguese history. I noticed the young ladies smoking at the table next to us. (This wasn’t the first time I noticed more smoking than I’m normally accustomed to, and it was especially notable while eating.) The sun made an appearance so it was quite a pleasurable, leisurely time.
Of course I noted all the shops and the beautiful gate we had wandered through in our attempts to navigate to our morning destination, and was eager to return to the Baixa District after we’d had a rest back at the hotel room. It was during these afternoon respites back at the hotel that I usually would research some option for dinner. I decided it would be nice for Danil to choose this time around. Missing some greens himself, he’d apparently seen a few vegetarian restaurants but unfortunately they were all closed. We decided it might be a good night to go back to Sea Me so we could hit the vegetarian place when it was open the next evening. Doing our now familiar hike up the hill, we discovered that Sea Me was also closed! I suggested we go back toward where we’d been in the afternoon because there seemed to be many options in that pedestrian shopping area.
We saw many “human statues” like we’d seen in Barcelona. One was dressed as St. Anthony, and interestingly there was a Native American chief sporting a loincloth in the 40 degree weather. We strolled down Rua da Augusta, through triumphal arch to Terreiro do Paço (the palace’s square), where a large Christmas tree stood toward one side of the statue of King José. We walked to the waterfront and saw another street food vendor selling roasted castanhas (chestnuts). We took in some of the fantastic cairns and crossed the street to walk back toward food!
It was at this point that Danil labeled the people swarming around us with menus as “mosquitoes”. Again, we didn’t see much that seemed interesting but it was getting late, so we chose NAME, simply based on the decor inside. (We could have eaten outside; while it was on the cooler side, it was dry, and the outside heaters were on.) As soon as we sat down we were somewhat regretful; there were pre-wrapped breadsticks in the table. We looked at the menu and I chose what was marketed as a traditional Portuguese dish: bacalhau. Danil was really dying for vegetables so ordered a salad, which I’d contemplated and should have duplicated. What I received was closest to #4 in the previous link, but it was…gasp…fried beyond all recognition of ever having been cod. I plowed through eating what white bits I could, and honestly I would have eaten the fried bit if it was, well…decent. Danil joked that he’d landed us at Denny’s. He was so funny about it that I couldn’t possibly be upset.
While he paid and we fantasized about our escape, I went to the ladies room. As soon as I sat down, the lights went out. Having learned that most lights were on timers, I waved my arms around. One second later: lights out. Repeat wave. Repeat whole sequence about 10 times. This struck me as even funnier than the fact that we were eating at a place of Denny’s quality while in Portugal, so I emerged laughing pretty hard. Back out on the street, Danil was asked whether he wanted marijuana or hashish, and nearly charged at two guys who appeared to be bullying a beggar. I held onto him firmly, until he realized it was a scene being filmed. Regardless, we walked down a dark street where the police station lived, and I very obviously took photos of the bank. Danil decided he had a new rule: restaurants must have actual tablecloths to be considered.
Wanting some dessert, we ended up back at the Time Out Market to try our first Pastel de Natas. (The Time Out Market has smaller versions of several restaurants that are throughout Lisbon, including Sea Me.) We watched in amusement as two were placed with their tops together into a cardboard cylinder seemingly designed specifically for PDN transport. We headed back to the room to make some tea and enjoy our dessert. One of the decisions we frequently had to make, being that our room was on the 4th floor, was whether to get the exercise of the stairs or take the little elevator, which always seemed to drop a couple inches a few seconds after we both climbed in. Since we were having dessert this time we talked, and I counted exactly 99 stairs to our room.
Day 4: The End of an Era
We were woken early by some yelling in the next room, which was fine, because then we got back on our earlier schedule. After breakfast we planned to go back to Belém. In hindsight, we probably should have done Belém as a “single day” in Lisbon, but because we were tired that first day, I’m not sure it would have worked for us. Now experts at taking the train, we hopped it and got off at the same place, passing the guards at Belém Palace (they have changing ceremonies, but we didn’t end up seeing it). However, I did note their hats had little blond pony tails!
Our first destination was Pastéis de Belém, which is reportedly the “mothership” of the pastel de nata, having had made them since 1837. The advice we got was to do “table service”, as there was always a place to sit and the takeout line is ridiculous. In my best Portuguese I asked for a table for two and we were directed to a small table in the corner near a non-working fountain. A couple at the table next to us received menus, but we did not. This was okay with me, as I knew what I wanted: 3 pastel de natas (2 for me 1 for Danil), a cafe Americano and 2 aqua sin gas. It came quickly and all I could say is “wow”. Yes, this was in a whole different class than the (very good) ones we’d had the night before. The outside was hard and flaky; the inside was so moist it almost wanted to fold itself in half. In hindsight, I would not have eaten these anywhere else. We lingered for awhile, noticing different things about the tiles that surrounded us, and exploring the rest of the place to/from the restrooms. (The inside consisted of several an almost endless maze of small rooms, all decorated in blue and white tiles but with different themes.)
Fortified for the rest of the morning, we headed to Padrão dos Descobrimento (Monument to the Discoveries). I tried to get a good photo of the compass rose but it was really impossible being at ground level with lots of other people standing on it, looking at the map. (Here’s a nice one.) We decided not to go into this one, though at the time it didn’t seem particularly busy. Instead we headed a short way to Torre de Belém and got in line.
- To get back and forth across the street (i.e. from the monument / tower on the waterfront back to the museums-side, e.g. Jerónimos Monastery) you must use an underground passageway. The stairs down are fairly obvious.
- This time, it was not me who needed a bio break. Fortunately, before reaching the Belem tower we found a public toilet. It cost a 50 cent piece, which automatically opened the door. There was toilet paper, water, and an air dryer for your hands. Once you left, the door would automatically close behind you, and the whole unit would disinfect itself. I think the world needs more of these.
Torre de Belém was a lot of fun. Since the weather was cold and rainy, little whirlpool waves danced around the corners of the tower as we waited.
There was a place on the deck walkway as one approached the tower that was particularly wet, appearing as though the waves had come up and soaked unsuspecting tourists at some point, so we waited with a big gap. I really liked the drawbridge entrance, and wondered aloud if it was used anytime in recent memory. We paid our entrance fee and then headed up, mindful of the traffic signals.
Traveler’s tip: As best I can recall, the plot was this: each “floor” you could visit (see more here) a green light meant you were free to use the narrow, winding staircase. After a time, the light would turn red and that meant you were to “get off” somewhere. When the light was blinking red and a siren sounded, you were to clear the staircase, because people were about to come from a different direction and swash you if you didn’t! Danil noted 93 stairs–which isn’t much as towers go (the most memorable one I’ve climbed is still the one in Bruge). He also noted that there was always at least one American who “lost the plot”. If you go, well…don’t be that person! 🙂
We both loved the tile floor in the Audience Room, and Danil investigated the fireplace close up. It really was a beautiful tower. After enjoying all the upper floors, we descended to see the lower levels with all the cannons. As with the archeological museum, our departure from the tower left us in a different kind of awe: the line outside had grown to at least 5 times the size it was when we’d been in it! (Go us!)
For lunch we discovered tablecloths at Descobre Restaurante. Danil had tasty slices of duck, while I had a vegetarian dish of a stew with a poached egg on top. Craving vegetables again, we split a side of broccoli, which came out sitting in a bowl with the fantastic olive oil in the bottom (which I have done since coming home)! The bread came with butter topped with red salt. I don’t recall whether I had a glass of wine with lunch, but what I did observe was that people did seem to drink during lunch. A couple who came in a little later than us had 2 beers each by the time we left. People do linger over their meals too.
As we left the restaurant, it was now pouring again. I hadn’t brought my umbrella this day, as I thought it wasn’t going to rain. Fortunately there was yet another Pakistani souvenir shop a few doors down. I purchased some postcards, an “automatic” purple umbrella I had to be trained to use, a “he-didn’t-see-it-Christmas-present” sardine shirt for Danil that I really liked, and we picked up our signature mug. (Somewhere along the way of our international travels, we decided that decorative mugs were the thing to keepsake, though I’m not sure why. They turn our souvenir shopping into a bit of a quest, and sit together displayed in our living-room’s built in).
- If you’re going to Portugal in late November, as we did, don’t ever ever ever leave your place without an umbrella! Even when it looks like a perfect, blue-sky kind of day, it can change in an instant, as evidenced by the fact that during these intermittent downpours, people would have to duck into storefronts and wait it out.
- If you’re into sending postcards, it’s cheaper to buy stamps from the same shop as you buy the postcards at. They’ll almost always offer, but a later experience taught me that just running into a shop for a stamp will increase your cost. The post boxes you’ll see are few and far between. Some are red, some are blue, with one possibly being for international. Every time I looked up which one to use, the advice seemed inconclusive. When I later asked our host in Porto, he said it didn’t matter; they’d separate it out for us. (How nice! We’ll see when someone finally gets a postcard.)
If it was predictable that it’d be downpouring when we left the restaurant, it was also somewhat predictable that by the time we made our purchases, the rain would have stopped again. Our next quest was to find something we passed the first time we were in Belém–LX Factory.
Firstly, LX Factory is pronounced “la-sheesh” factory. It first caught our eye as we were doing that 3+ mile walk back home, because of a colorful, spread-armed statue on the balcony of a building. We hadn’t exactly tried to find the entrance that day, but it was pretty clear we’d walked along the back. You won’t get much information on the web site, but we managed to retrace our steps and after visiting a now open “Tin Tin” store and an organic health food shop, I spotted a little tunnel that seemed to be lit with holiday lights, which led us to the place. Think of LX Factory as an industrial-vibed, artsy shopping strip. Our first stop, right at the entrance was at Cafe Na Fabrica. Danil got a hot chocolate and I got another cafe Americano, just to warm up a little. As we sat outside at the picnic tables with the lights strung above our heads, I felt like I was in Austin again (except for the lack of sun).
Our next stop at LX Factory was a incredible bookstore called Ler Devagar. I was thrilled to get free wi-fi and sit in the little cafe with a space heater nearby while Danil started to explore. After a short time he retrieved me to see a little animatronics show, put on by an old “mad scientist” upstairs. We learned that the platform on which we stood was formerly a large printing press (kinda cool they built the bookstore around it), and were joined by a few other people as we walked around looking at gadgets and hearing the old man spin stories in broken English for us. When we arrived back at the beginning Danil apologized for suggesting “a Denny’s tour.” (Poor Denny’s!) After the bookstore we looked in on an elegant (and expensive) furniture store, and to keep our immune system working well, we got an easy version of turmeric shots from a woman with a cart. (She mixed turmeric powder with some alternative milk, vs. what we’ve had before which was literally juiced turmeric root, a completely different experience!)
We left LX Factory via the main entrance this time, finding our way to the unlabeled stairway down to the Alcantara-Mar train stop the direction we needed, which we’d noted looked “rough” the last time. We took the stairs to the other side with some confidence, admiring the nicer graffiti inside but moving quickly due to the familiar “toilet smell”. We arrived just in time to board the much more crowded train–it was a Tuesday, likely around commuting time, returning to our room for our regular afternoon “regroup”.
It was our last night in Lisboa, so we were excited to return to Sea Me. We dressed for dinner and headed out, arriving at the restaurant to see the “fechadas” (closed) sign still on the door. This time, however, we knew they didn’t open until 7 (most places didn’t open for dinner until then or even later), so we waited. Once inside, we were excited to order from the fresh seafood counter in the back this time. Our waiter helped us select a Cherne fish for one (Danil’s dinner), and I elected to try 2 different kinds of Portuguese oysters as appetizers, 6 scallops as my dinner, and get another glass of my fabulous wine. We were having a lovely time when my 6 oysters arrived: apparently there were 3 different kinds, and I was given 2 each. Oh well, that’s fine right? I tried one of each, then ate the other set in the order of least favorite to most. When our dinners came out, however, we were disappointed. First, while the restaurant was one we really liked, our meals came with the same tired potatoes (this time with skins on) and sad pile of olive-oiled cabbage as Denny’s had. Second, my scallops were bland and overcooked. I literally can make more exciting ones at home, myself! We also returned to have their reputedly amazing version of creme brulee. We got distracted and greedy, and also ordered the chocolate mousse, deciding to share both. The mousse came with two clear (alcoholic) shots–of what, I know not, although I took it to be a digestif.
By the end of the meal, I was feeling overly full, and a little unwell. I decided to take the digestif, thinking maybe it would help. As we left the restaurant, the sky opened the widest it ever had since we’d been there, and we found ourselves huddled with a family (with our umbrellas) under some scaffolding to wait for some break. We walked on the street for quite awhile (slippery stones, remember?) until we arrived back at our room. What happened next, I will not share in detail. It was an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy: I suppose however, that explosive vomit is a good way to end a 15-year no vomit streak. (That was memorable because my friend had taken me to the ER at 2:30am, as I had gastroenteritis and couldn’t hold down water, and a hot male nurse had a helluva time finding my vein for an IV. 😉 ) Yup, you got it folks, food poisoning. A subsequent look at the “one-star” reviews later had at least 6 incidents at this place. Danil also felt unwell, although he avoided an experience as traumatic as mine (tiny, all-white, European water closets are no place to get sick folks!).
Day 5: All Aboard the Train to Porto
Our train to Porto wasn’t leaving until 2 pm, and we were slated to check out of the Lisboa hotel at 11 am. Prior to dinner the night before, we’d planned some final things to do in Lisbon. What we ended up doing was slogging through the morning after poor sleep. Danil kindly went up to the breakfast area and prepared me a nice bowl of Muesli, which I ate over the course of several hours while watching TV. As we went to check out, we noted that it was once again really pouring, and neither of us felt good. I must give Ribeira Tejo BIG props here: they arranged it so we could stay in our room until our ride to the train arrived, which was about 1:30 pm. Obrigada, obrigada, obrigado! I honestly don’t know what we would have done otherwise! By the time we were to leave, I felt much better.
Our taxi to the Santa Apolónia railway station was exciting only because someone–not sure which driver–ran a stop sign at a pretty high speed. Fortunately our driver had excellent reflexes (and brakes)! Since we had pre-purchased our tickets online, all we had to do was figure out where to go. We couldn’t decipher the big boards, and there wasn’t a line, so there a rather disgruntled man told us which track. The confusing bit was that we’d splurged for “comfort class”, and didn’t know how to find it–a Google search revealed that some trains have it as the first car, which may be the last car if the train is facing the opposite way! We had time, and I had some energy, so I went back to grumpy and tried to ask, but I got brushed away with another reference to where the track was. (This was the only person I remember in Portugal being less than helpful.) As the time grew near the display on the train itself showed the right information, and we boarded. We passed the roughly 3 hours on the train watching Portugal pass outside, as well as with reading materials and the Wi-fi.
Traveler’s Tip: If you purchase tickets on this train, double check the seat numbers. A Japanese family near us had to sit somewhat separated, because consecutive numbers doesn’t necessarily mean the seats are together.
While we’d planned to transfer from Porto’s Campanhã station to São Bento, our instructions from our Porto host were to take a taxi. Since it was starting to get late and we weren’t sure whether our pre-purchased ticket would let us board the second train (the first was a little late), we decided to comply. We were soon at the top of Rua Arnaldo Gama, where we were seeking Casa dos Guindias. The taxi driver seemed a bit put off, leaving us at the top of a hill rather than dropping us at any specific point, but our wonderful host Álvaro was waiting and calling out to us. (We’d later discover that part of the reason the taxis didn’t go down the road is because, shortly after the house, the road dead-ends into a pedestrian-only descent all the way down to Cais da Ribeira!)
Álvaro gave us a complete tour of his family’s house, including how to lock the doors properly and what to do if the smoke detectors accidentally went off from cooking. The house consisted of 5 different studio apartments, complete with their own kitchens and hot water tanks. For at least 3 of the 4 nights we’d be staying there, we’d be the only people in the whole house. He also very kindly warmed up the room with a space heater, which we used every day we were in Porto. While Danil preferred our lodging in Lisboa, I preferred this place. First, we had a kitchen, so I didn’t have to worry about finding a breakfast that wasn’t all carbs and sugar. Second, it was just cool. Rather than the normal king we had in Lisboa, we had the more European bedding here–two smaller beds each set up with their own covers. Heavenly! In addition to all the fabulous stone walls and the wooden-beamed ceiling, the bathroom situation (at least in the Douro room, which was the one we booked), was really interesting. On one side of the bed there was essentially a powder room. One the other, which is the side the cute little patio was on, was the shower. To get to the shower, you pulled back a heavy black curtain, went into a little dungeon hallway, and then into the “outdoor” shower box. A little window was open to the elements, and while it was somewhat cold while we were there (40-50s), showering felt a little like being in an outside hot tub on a winter’s day. A big plus was the in-studio hot water tank, which meant the water was instantly hot! So very cool. I also loved the red port wine that was left in the room, as well as the top-notch sparkling and still waters.
Traveler’s Tip: Some things I always miss (and sometimes remember to bring) when staying in European guest houses: kleenex, conditioner, a wash/face cloth.
Because he didn’t release the demon from Sea Me as I had, Danil wasn’t at all interested in dinner. I was cautiously hungry, so we decided to venture up the hill and down the street to a little grocery Álvaro told us about. We looked briefly at the cheese and meat displayed in the window before going in. Inside was a little old woman who didn’t seem to speak any English, but she was grandmotherly sweet. I decided to grab a zucchini, as it’s a veggie Danil would eventually like. When I picked it up, the woman appeared behind me with an opened plastic baggie, instructing me to use it. We mimed a purchase of a half-dozen eggs, a small circle of chorizo, and then I–yes I–wanted cheese. I didn’t know the word for cheese in Portuguese, so I tried in Spanish. The woman asked me a question I didn’t understand, and when I poorly muttered “I don’t understand” she pulled out a stuffed animal that had been in the display case. We quickly got that she was asking “queijo de ovelha ou queijo de vaca?” (sheep or cow cheese?)! With everyone smiling I nodded at the little stuffed sheep. She took it out of the case, and placed her knife, looking up at me as if to ask, “this much?” I made a motion to make it smaller, and she did. We also bought bananas and more water for the room. She then tallied up our purchase on a little piece of paper with a blue pen, and we paid her. I was determined to go back with better Portuguese words for what I wanted, and I couldn’t help smiling the whole way home because she was so wonderful to us.
Near the status of Arnaldo de Gama–a Portuguese writer who we used as a landmark for almost being back at Casa dos Guindias–we observed several feral cats feasting on a plate someone had left out for them. This was next to what seemed to be a building with a green-blue door, that we wouldn’t figure out, until later (stay tuned!).
Back at the room, I had fun trying to figure out the instructions for the induction hot plate, and suddenly realized why Álvaro prepped us for false fire alarms. Every House Hunters International show I’ve seen, where people complain about the one-burner small kitchen–I tell you, this thing was awesomely powerful. As someone who refuses to cook on anything but gas, I’d most certainly trade the gas for this! I made myself a little plate and thoroughly enjoyed everything, especially the cheese. However, given my experiences of the past day, I was very careful to fully chew everything and eat little by little. I also waited on the port wine that was calling me from the side of the table. As we settled in for a night of recovery, we had to get used to some noise from the train, and from the birds.
Day 6: Apparently It’s Thanksgiving!
After waking and getting used to the outdoor shower, I made breakfast of eggs and zucchini, with a side of cheese. I couldn’t actually bring myself to stir the cheese into the eggs; it felt like it would be a disservice to the fabulous cheese! Our first destination today was Avenida dos Aliados. As it was on the way, we first stopped inside the infamous São Bento Railway Station (the one we could have connected to) and gawked at all the amazing tile work in the vestibule. Then was our first view of Igreja de Santo Antonio dos Congregados (Church of St Anthony’s Congregation), which we didn’t go in but we would see over and over again while in Porto.
It was quick and easy to get to Avenida dos Aliados from our studio apartment, and 4 postcards were mailed from the bottom of this street because the post box was cool (and obvious). One of the first things we noticed was the McDonald’s in the old Café Imperial, so I carefully balanced my umbrella to take a photo. We walked up toward Paços do Concelho (the city hall), taking in Praça do General Humberto Delgado (the square). Unfortunately during the time we were there, the water feature didn’t appear to be very well maintained, but hey, it’s November, and it’s (relatively speaking) cold. We walked to Praça da Liberdade and saw the Palácio das Cardosas, home to the swanky Intercontinental Hotel.
Next up was our search for Lello, known as the “Hogwarts” bookstore. Personally I’ve never read a Harry Potter book, but seeing a cool bookstore is always on my list, and I was kind of wondering if it would top Ler Devagar in Lisbon. Everything was a lot closer than we expected, so first we walked too far up the hill and ended up seeing Igreja de Trindade. Danil then led us around to Lello, where we also planned to visit Igreja Torre dos Clérigos, located just around the corner.
All the walking uphill left me ravenous, so we ducked into Bela Torre cafe. I wanted something with protein and ended up getting a pastry with something that looked like meat in it. We called it the “hot dog pastry” because that’s what it turned out to be. We sat at the counter to split our snack and have some water. It was here I had another odd water closet experience. An older woman was standing outside the door, so I thought she was in line. She said something to me but I didn’t understand her, so I smiled and waited. A woman came out, and then she motioned for me to go in, repeating herself. I took it to mean she was just standing there (not in line), so I went. When I came out, she ended up going in!
OK, so back to Lello:
Traveler’s Tip:You need a tickets to enter the bookstore–enough tourists have been through without making purchases that they got wise to it. If you do buy something though, your 3 euro fee (at the time of this writing) applies to your purchase. You purchase the ticket at a store just up the hill, on the corner, which I discovered by asking the man at the front of Lello whether he spoke English and then getting directions, go me! (Danil somehow decided this “was a math problem”.) The signage for the store / tickets is pretty good, but the actual purchasing is in the basement of the store–which of course sells all manner of Harry Potter trinkets.
With tickets in hand we entered easily, and it was a madhouse. I couldn’t imagine actually shopping for a book in this store. Everyone was standing around talking, many people were taking photos of themselves in different areas of the staircase. It was almost impossible not to get someone else in your photo, although I was getting pretty good at timing those things. The actual stairs were red, wide, and oddly shaped, so as I was climbing and stopping for those posing for photos it was easy to get vertigo. We went our separate ways to explore, and there were two books I considered purchasing: Becoming (Michelle Obama) and a cookbook by my favorite Portuguese TV cook who I mentioned earlier. Unfortunately both were in Portuguese and while I love a challenge I certainly didn’t think I would have the energy back home to decipher them. We left empty handed. Still sustained from our hot dog pastry, we headed to the tower.
On the way to the tower there were several places to stop and look at the church, which quite frankly looked as lavish as a lot of other churches I’ve seen. We ended up in the former infirmary of the Brotherhood of the Clerics, which houses the Christus collection: paintings, sculptures, etc. of the crucified Christ. I did a quick pass through, and then waited for Danil at the sign that said “tower”. (Some of you are aware I did 12 years of Catholic school, I do not currently consider myself a Catholic nor a Christian, and as I said there and then, “I’ve hit my max threshold for Jesus a long time ago.” Some of the oil paintings I could appreciate for the artistry, but yeah, it was enough.
The climbing of this tower was relatively simple compared to the tower in Belém (although Belém Tower claims to be 200+ stairs compared to 240 here at Torre dos Clérigos); the staircase was wide, and there was a little landing every 5 steps or so. What was not fun was the wind and rain hitting you in the face every time you came to a landing, where it was open to the elements. However, our getting hit with wind and rain was worth it in the end, because minutes later at the top, the sun had started to re-emerge and we got to see a fantastic double rainbow! After walking all around the outside, we went back down and out (as expected) through the gift shop, which I would later revisit to get my friend the prettiest (and only) postcard I’d seen of the Lello staircase.
We took a circuitous route toward Abadia, a restaurant on our host Álvaro’s list. On the way we saw Igreja de Santo Ildefonso as thunderstorms blew in. I don’t know how the Portuguese do it, but we entered the restaurant fully dripping wet and windblown, only to see very finely dressed people looking very high-class and put together (even those coming in after us, but the weather changed by the minute, so…). An older waiter sat us in the back where we started in on the fabulous bread and bright olive oil. He seemed a little frustrated with us although I tried speaking some Portuguese; next thing you know a younger waiter came by and chatted with us in English. Oh well! I ordered sea bass with veggies and boiled potatoes (what else?), partially because the daily special of pork cheeks with chestnuts was sold out. “Bob” (our name for every fish we eat that looks like a real fish) got expertly de-boned in front of me, by the older waiter. I forget what time it was, but it was clearly “lunchtime”, and once again I was enthralled by how long people stayed at their tables and just how many people had full bottles of wine on the table. A couple I’d been watching clinked glasses at least 7 times while we were there; they’d ordered 2 beers each and he had 2 more (hard) alcoholic beverages. Danil had an omelet and ate very slowly as he was still recovering. I had my first Americano that actually required some sugar. We left around 3:30 pm WET (that’s Portuguese time).
Since we were cold and still wet, we headed back toward the room, getting our first view of São João Theatre on the way. I started fantasizing about getting cute (short) rain boots like many women seemed to have; they would be useful at home as well. I went into a few stores to look, but didn’t see anything like what I wanted. Plus I figured I could get them back home (or online) and save myself the weight in my bag. Back at the room I had my first glass of the red porto to warm up from inside. This was the only day in Portugal where I exercised a little in the room (walking and climbing towers was usually enough!). As I posted more photos to my Portugal highlights on Instagram, I noticed that it was actually Thanksgiving. We’d all but forgotten! To make the end to Thanksgiving day more fitting, we don’t have any recollection of dinner. Perhaps we simply ate more chorizo, cheese, and zucchini in the room, given our late lunch and the rainy weather.
Day 7: More of Us Should Be Laughing at Each Other
We woke late, to a bright thing in the sky we recalled was the sun! We’d loosely planned on exploring the areas we hadn’t already covered based on our map, and when we got outside we spontaneously turned left instead of our usual right. If you’ll recall, this is where Rua Arnaldo de Gama became pedestrian only; more specifically it became a series of stairs that led down toward the bottom of the Dom Luís Bridge. As we walked we noticed many apartments, and even saw two cats: one a Siamese who looked like Awesome, the other a black one who looked like Marlow. (Of course, the latter was spraying up against an apartment door, which had been fitted with a plastic piece just high enough to contain said spray.) When we got down to the waterfront known as Cais da Ribeira, I was really taken in. It was absolutely beautiful! Honestly I wish we had explored more, but we kept walking, away now from the water and toward Igreja de São Nicolau.
We saw a statue that Danil commented on, amused: “the guy is pointing one way, the woman is pointing the other way.” “And the angel is busy praying for their relationship,” I laughingly replied. Turns out this statue was the Peninsula War Monument, and isn’t very funny. We moved along past Igreja de São Francisco, and I directed us to a quiet little park that had a nice view. Danil joked about looking down on the houses below and “finding the only chickens”, because we kept seeing the Galo de Barcelos (Rooster of Barcelos) and couldn’t understand what it was about until we looked it up later. Portugal certainly wasn’t like some other places where chickens were running amuck everywhere.
After that we walked along little streets to Palácio da Justiça (the main courthouse), and Santo António Hospital, whose beautiful architecture seemed to stretch for several city blocks. We noted the nearby garden with its large-trunked, bonsai-like trees, then stopped at Primar cafe. I had an amazing apple cinnamon tea and Danil of course had hot chocolate. I had to walk a waitress to the front display case to ask for the pastry I think was labeled “Neapolitan chocolate”, which we shared.
When we emerged from our snack the sun had receded and it was raining again. We checked out Fonte dos Leões (Fountain of the Lions) up close in Praça de Parada Leitão, then headed back to Cordoaria’s Garden to check out the work called “Thirteen Laughing at Each Other“. “The Abduction of Ganymede” statue was also beautiful, even though a part of it appeared to be rubbed from its original green color into white (reminded me of the foot on the status at Castelo de S. Jorge in Lisboa, though this wasn’t a foot…(clears throat).).
On the way back to the Clérigos gift shop for the Lello postcard mentioned earlier, we stopped into Casa Oriental for some sardine samples, and souvenirs for various people (including ourselves). Since we knew we had a big dinner coming up this evening, we wanted to be light for lunch, so the hunt began for another host-recommended restaurant: this time, Cozinha Cabral. After finding the restaurant, we doubled back to Chocolataria Equador to buy some more souvenirs (one of which is a Christmas gift I expect in a few days! ;-)). Our lunch at Conzinha Cabral was good; it was quiet as we were early. I had a sea bass salad and a glass of red wine, while Danil had a lamb stew. Unfortunately, I ate too light and he ate too heavy!
Next we headed to Sé do Porto (Porto Cathedral), where a woman was standing outside in the rain, crying and begging. It was awful. We walked all around the square, from which we got to see awesome views of the city. We almost went in, but a peek showed us they were replacing the floors, so we decided against. (On the way out, I gave the crying woman a 2 euro coin.) We found the entry point for the top portion of the Dom Luís Bridge, so we crossed. There were many abandoned houses you could see at the bottom, and many others seemingly overrun with ivy. From the bridge, we noticed that the mystery building with the blue-door had what looked like a roller-coaster track running through it. Ah! a Funicular! That would have been a clever way to get up and down from our room to the water, had we noticed it earlier. The day was getting pretty windy so when we got to the other side of the bridge and didn’t immediately see a good way down, we crossed again and came back up our little avenue to the room to relax before dinner.
Álvaro had told us to expect the room to be cleaned this day, but when we arrived back (around 4 pm) it was clear it hadn’t been done. Our reservations weren’t until 7:30pm, but as was our custom we liked to relax for a bit and wanted time to get ready. Just as we started to think about heading into a shower, a cleaning woman knocked at the door, wanting to start. I wasn’t sure how long they’d take, but I didn’t want to risk it. What ensued was probably a hilarious attempt of me trying to tell the woman we’d expected her earlier and no, she couldn’t come in now. After some poor attempts using Google Translate, I managed to get Álvaro on the phone and he explained to her. She kept tossing toilet paper and towels at us, and took our garbage. Álvaro explained she would have been there earlier if it wasn’t for the rain. The whole thing was pretty awkward, but since we aren’t particularly dirty it was fine.
The taxi that came to get us for our fancy dinner at the Gastronomic Restaurant in The Yeatman Hotel was a very fancy car that smelled fantastic inside. It felt like a very high-class ride to this very high-class restaurant, which Danil picked as his “must do” because the restaurant had received two Michelin stars (he had to explain this to me). Anyway, the drive was fun; the driver drove like he was from Boston (i.e. crazy skills). We were glad we hadn’t tried to walk as it was pretty far and of course it was raining!
It took a little time to find the restaurant inside the hotel, but we made our reservation easily. In fact, we were the first people seated, although many came in immediately after us. We had a very nice table overlooking the Douro. The waiter initially seemed put off by our lack of desire for alcohol, but Danil doesn’t drink and I hadn’t eaten much all day, so I tried to tell him I’d have some wine once there was something else in my stomach. We got memorized by a building whose corner was lit up white, and was super visible from the other side of the water. We kept pointing out where our house was, where other landmarks were, etc. My best guess was that it was the train station. Danil wasn’t sure but admitted it was a good guess. The waiter then arrived with a coconut mocktail for Danil (very good, and very dessert-like). We figured out I could order the 6-course tasting while he could do the full (a relief!) and we were underway.
The first thing they brought us besides drinks was a kombu soup (or tea). It was very light and simple, and I still need to try and make it. Next was a little dish comprised of jalapeño mash sprinkled with foie gras, with paper-thin granny smith apple circles (kind of like bingo chips). I don’t usually like foie gras but this was all kinds of amazing! The next was originally an oyster dish, but since I couldn’t bring myself to do one again so soon they subbed out a prawn for me. Then we had this foamy mushroom soup that was delicious. Then they brought out a bag of popcorn (seriously!) which helped present a chicken skewer and “chicken sandwich” for each of us. Then they brought a plate of 3 seafood things: salmon sandwiched inside two strips of seaweed, a salmon ceviche bite, and a little green ball that might have been caviar. I’m not sure if you’re counting, but all this was “pre-dinner”. In other words, the 6 course tasting hadn’t begun yet.
I believe I had about 3-4 more dishes, including “cucumber 3 ways” (which was very cool because one way was “linquini-ed”). The last thing I remember taking a tiny bite of before I excused myself to go to the restroom was “inked cod”. Immediately before this, I had asked two of the people attending to us which number of course I was on, as I was getting very full, and I wanted to know how many more. I didn’t get a straight answer the first time. The second time, I learned that there was no way to really know, as the chef kept giving us “surprises”. When the waiter brought out a plate of the “first meat course” (which was an amount of duck I’d normally have as a full dinner serving) and then pressured me that it was “just a taste”, I’d had it. I was having that full feeling from the last night at Sea Me, and I was worried about getting sick again. The hostess showed me the mile long walk to the restroom, where I stayed for awhile, if only to get away from beautiful (and expensive) food from being put down in front of me when I had explicitly asked them to stop.
In the meantime they kept bringing things for Danil, and as soon as I returned the courses for me resumed again. At this point I told the waiter he wasn’t hearing me; I did not want anything until dessert. Danil said this for himself too. What did they do? Bring out another (non-dessert) dish! I ran off to the restroom again, fearing that they wouldn’t hear me until I vomited all over their 2 starred restaurant! Poor Danil was stuck at the table listening to a couple talking: Woman: “you don’t need to mansplain this to me.” Man: “let me tell you why what I’m doing isn’t mansplaining.” Forehead slap!! Needless to say, the experience wasn’t ideal. The hostess probably thought we were fighting or something, because I’m sure I looked miserable and I kept leaving. Oh well. Finally they brought a beautiful dessert–which I had the tiniest bite of and then put my spoon down–only to discover this was “pre-dessert”. They’d then bring us dessert and try to bring us “post-dessert”, which we forcefully declined, along with the dessert cart, from which we could take things with us too. Mr. Mansplain and his date were working on the same timing as us, so we got to listen to how wonderful a concept like “post-dessert” was and how it should be done everywhere. (We assumed he was American.)
The taxi home was a wild ride; this car was old and the driver was very sniffly and seemingly tired. Fortunately my stomach had settled a little, though I’d lost all blood flow to my extremities in an attempt to digest the meal and was bitter cold. I am still kind of sad about this; we didn’t do many dinners in Porto, and Yeatman was supposed to be a special and fun evening, which was ruined really by everyone insisting that more is better. The taxi driver’s GPS gave up on finding our little road, and because I said “here” (thinking we were at Igreja de Santa Clara, which was at the top of our hill) we got out back at Sé do Porto and walked home from there. Fortunately it wasn’t raining and it was kind of good after all that food to move again. We went to bed very late and very full.
Day 8: Squishy Indoor Plans
The room darkening shades kept us tucked in and snoozing until around 9 am. Danil went out to get more eggs from the woman down the street while I started making plans for our departure. As such, we didn’t get out of the room until noon–which in hindsight was a mistake, but oh well. We decided to have lunch at the admittedly-touristy Majestic Cafe. We got a table in the center, right in front of the piano, just as the sky started to open up and it began to pour again. We both got the chicken club sandwich, which was nice and light, though it was certainly not our best (or worst!) meal.
We returned to the only mailbox we knew to send the second batch of postcards, and ducked into another shop to purchase several little bottles of port for folks back home. Next Danil wanted to solve the mystery of the lit up building we’d seen from the Yeatman, so we trotted along until we were satisfied it was Paco Episcopal. From here I successfully located the Yeatman, with its sprawling white pillars. Due to the weather we returned to the room after only 3 hours. The wind had picked up. We started to pack, thinking we’d head out again to dinner somewhere before turning in early. (We’d decided we needed to wake up at 4 am to get the taxi at 5 am!)
Unfortunately, the weather didn’t improve. It was windy, rainy, and cold (although of course being from Boston, that’s relative). Neither of us wanted to venture out, because we’d likely get wet, and there was no time to dry our clothes. I therefore took on the challenge of ordering a pizza and having it delivered to our room! I was actually successful; we went from Michelin 2 stars to pizza in a single day. Ha!
Day 9: The Long Day Home
So yes, we woke up at 4 am and given that it would be a long time until I got another chance, I even showered in the outdoor shower. Our taxi driver on the way to the Porto airport was very nice, and very interested in speaking with us, in English. I must admit though, I was a bit blind-sighted when he asked, “why?” with regard to President Trump. Fortunately we hadn’t had to deal with any of this while we were on vacation. I replied pretty simply, “I don’t know.” Danil was oddly alert at this hour, ans started to explain all kinds of American history to the taxi driver. When I finally interrupted the poor guy admitted he couldn’t follow all of the English. At that point he switched the conversation to American music, and asked Danil to make a selection on his iPod. Danil chose “Don’t Look Back” by Boston, as I cringed in my seat. I had this song in my head for a full week after, and while I could admit that it was a good highway travel song, it’s not at all what I would have chosen. I practiced a little Portuguese with the driver, but truth was his English was way better.
Álvaro was correct, we were way too early for our 7 am back to Lisbon. I got a last Pastel de Nata and a coffee. We landed in Lisbon about 40 minutes after taking off, and thankfully had a long-ish layover. The food options in the Lisbon airport were good, had we been on a “lunch” schedule. Between a grain bowl with a sprinkling of chicken and the sugary breakfast, I was feeling terrible.
Gate 45 at Lisbon was interesting. This has happened to me before; you had to show your passport to get to sit in the gate area. Americans all over were complaining loudly about it, although I suspect the U.S. is the actual reason for all the hoopla. The officers kept asking passengers the same questions, including: “so how was it spending Thanksgiving away from home?” I wondered what kind of answer might be interesting to them since they ask it all day yet not be crazy enough to land one in an extra security check. The flight (as all the others, thank goodness) was uneventful, but longer on the way home (7+ hours).
Traveler’s Tip: As of this writing, Boston Logan has the automated customs machines with officers speeding you through the process. You’ll be directed through the ropes like cattle (as always), to a machine that will scan your passport and take your photo. It was about 2 pm ET, and Danil and I were punchy but it was still hysterical to watch the machine lower, and lower, and lower more to take my picture, which was about 10x worse than any passport picture ever known to humankind. When Danil scanned his passport next, the machine kept going higher, and higher, and higher. We were laughing so hard because it snapped his picture at the worst possible moment.
Getting our passports re-stamped by a guy with an Australian accent was completely disorienting, especially since it felt like 7 pm after we’d been up since 4 am. We got our pre-booked car, and arrived safely back to a lonely but well-cared for Marlow at around 2:30 pm ET. I stayed up until a whopping 7 pm, and it took us a few days to stop waking up at 2:30 in the morning. All in all it was a great trip, although I think our next one won’t be in November. We’ve had too many rain-outs during this time of year (see also Belize!).
p.s.: Some may be pleased to know I’m now reading the first Harry Potter book. 😉