Hard to believe it’s been almost two months since I left Dakar for a vacation starting in Lisbon. Life has been moving along from one thing to the next pretty quickly, and I am only now coming up for air after a whirlwind tour of Portugal, Morocco, Liberia… and Adobe Premiere, whose depths I plumbed day in and day out for the past three weeks while working on various video deadlines.
Since those deadlines are not yet completely behind me, I’m still liable to go MIA for days at a time, but I now have a ton of stuff to post here, so I’ll try to keep up with it.
On that note, here are
some many photos from Portugal.
I arrived on a Tuesday afternoon and headed to an AirBnB close to the water. I would recommend this place to anyone, but it was perfect for me especially. I love living history but I don’t love living in disrepair, and this place was the ideal mix of old bones (I felt like it must have been around in the Middle Ages, but I could be totally wrong), and chic-meets-cute modernization.
By luck (I would go so far as to say by fate), the bakery next door to the apartment offered “sem gluten” pastries, and I was delighted to find the ubiquitous pastel de nata in gluten-free form there (as well as that little aniseed-flavored bun). It was heavenly.
I think custard may be my favorite food. I know espresso is my favorite drink. I only wish I had met espresso sooner, but we made up for lost time on this trip. I went to bed each night dreaming about the espresso – not nespresso, but freshly ground, frothy, strong espresso – and pastel de nata waiting for me the next morning. And even though it made me crazy wired, I started drinking an afternoon espresso, too.
After I finally pulled myself away from my tasty treats, I strolled the streets aimlessly until nightfall. At every corner, I emitted an audible gasp at the beauty and wonder of this city. If you had offered me an apartment and a job in Lisbon that day, but told me I had to stay there forever, I would have nodded enthusiastically, “Yes, please!”
Highlights from my wanderings:
That night, I texted my AirBnB host for dinner recommendations and he pointed me to a really cozy traditional-during-the-day/fusion-at-night spot a few blocks away. I had been looking forward to eating lots of classically prepared bacalhau, which is dried, salted cod that’s plumped up again when it’s cooked (or something like that – I’m not entirely clear), but what I found at Taberna da Rua das Flores was even better – ceviche. It’s not actually Portugese but it’s trendy in Lisbon now, and I had it about six delicious times.
Maybe Portugal made me so happy because I was high on Omega-3s?
I was like a kid before Christmas that night, not due to the aforementioned fish but because the next morning one of my best friends was arriving from New York. The first thing Jenny and I did after she got to the apartment was go downstairs for pasteis de nata and espresso. Then we headed off on an itinerary provided by my Portugese friend in New York, who definitely misses Lisbon because she wrote me like 3 pages of detailed instructions. We followed them almost to the letter and they did not fail. (THANK YOU, ANA!!!!!)
First we took a scenic walk through Biaxa and Alfama…
(The same plaza as the one from dusk the night before, looking equally beautiful in daylight.)
…up to the castle at the top of the hill in Sao Jorge. The castle was so-so but the view was amazing.
Then we ate lunch in the neighborhood, after which we were served a very popular Portugese sour cherry liquor, ginjinha, for dessert.
We took the tram up to a nearby hilly neighborhood, Graça, and went into the first of about 70 churches. Then we meandered back to the apartment by way of a route that is now lost to time.
That night, we went to another restaurant recommended by our AirBnB host – Peixola. Here is a rather unappetizing photo of what was actual an incredibly delicious bacalhau dish – cod baked with potato slices and caramelized onions.
The next day we woke up early and took the train to Braga. We ate lunch and walked around. Like Lisbon, there were audible gasp-worthy sights around every corner.
Late afternoon, we took a very affordable taxi an hour away to a tiny village in the hills, where the audible gasps turned to jaws dropping and hands gesticulating wildly.
I wouldn’t say we were at a loss for words because the two of us are never at a loss for words, but the words became just stupid filler statements, like, “Oh my god, can you believe this, look at that, I can’t even…”
I should backtrack and say that when Jenny and I planned this trip over Skype, we agreed that we had enough time (around 5 1/2 days) to see Lisbon, do a day trip from Lisbon, and maybe go to one other place. But we couldn’t agree on the day trip or the other place. Jenny was leaning towards the sea and nature in the Algarve, while I wanted to go to Porto and find some tiny storybook town to stop in along the way. Then Jenny suggested we look at the pousadas – gorgeous historic buildings that have been turned into hotels and were run by the state until recently – to see if we could decide on where to go based on a decision about where to stay. And that’s exactly what we did. None of the pousadas within our budget really called out to us except for this one, which we both fell in love with at first sight. I’m not usually one to want to spend time at a hotel but we both agreed we would be happy just hanging out on the terrace of this place for two days.
So it was decided: Pousada Santa Maria de Bouro in Amares. And the rest of our trip then fell effortlessly into place. The pousada was north of Porto, so we’d definitely stop in Porto, and the train to the town had us going through Braga, a charming little town made to order to my vacation specs, so we’d stop there, too.
Back to the pousada. It was in a 12th century monastery that had been renovated by a Pritzker award-winning architect. I forgot to take a picture of the room but here is the bathroom.
Wall to wall marble. And here is the view from the window:
I’m not very good at relaxing but it took me about five seconds to go into full bliss mode after I put on the hotel-provided terrycloth robe and slippers, which have never really done much for me but in this setting felt like silk. I spent an hour just being in a robe and slippers.
We hung out on the terrace until dusk and then went back upstairs to watch the sun set from the window. 12th century window, 21st century sunset, pretty crazy concept for an American.
We ate a fancy dinner in a cavernous stone room. And that was all we did – watched the sunset, ate dinner, and wore robes. I loved it.
The next morning we spent a few hours by the pool where my relaxation was sadly cut short by what looked like a harmless black fly that stung me something vicious when I shooed it away. I couldn’t really relax after that because I was a. waiting to see if I’d go into anaphylactic shock, and b. convinced that every other fly that came within five feet of me was also an aggressive stinging one. So, I should rephrase: my relaxation was sadly cut short by my own pathological inability to relax.
Then we took a hike around the mountains.
There were these little shrines with various tableaus inside, all along the way up one big hill.
At the top, there was a spectacular cathedral in the middle of nowhere…
I took this picture in the church shop so that I could crowdsource an answer to why they were selling little wax body parts in the shape of breasts (and legs, and organs…)???
Seems a bit risqué for Catholics, no?
The view from the top of the mountain:
Back at the hotel, we had another delicious dinner with an unlimited dessert bar filled with every variety of custard imaginable and another excellent robe-wearing session and then we went to bed. It was like luxury meets geriatric.
The next morning we headed to Porto by way of Guimarães, thanks to our Lisbon AirBnB host, who had advised us that rather than go back through Braga, we should spend the same time and money to visit this little Medieval town from which we could just as easily get to Porto. So that’s what we did, and we were so glad, because we got two tiny storybook villages for the price of one.
From far away, the blue-tiled churches looked delightfully purple.
We came, we saw, we took the train to Porto.
Which was another drop-dead gorgeous place. I mean look at their train station for god’s sake.
This time we had chosen an AirBnB right in the center of town (the dollar goes really far in Portugal right now) and we were able to walk from there all around town. Although we got a little lost and ended up walking, really, ALL around town.
Art deco beauties:
I stopped in for a port-flavored ice cream scoop.
We overdosed on churches and cathedrals. My favorite:
And one built in the 1300s:
We ran into some Harry Potter-like ritual with graduating university students.
They were taking their shoes off and walking around circles made out of their robes. I couldn’t get a better picture because a girl noticed me inching up for a shot and yelled at me. No documentation of super secret yet fully public ritual allowed!
And we ate and drank port and vinho verde (which is made from immature grapes, though I have no palate and couldn’t taste the difference) on the water at sunset.
I also bought a whole bunch of soap. At some point I noticed that the beautiful Claus soaps I see in fancy pharmacies in New York were being sold in Lisbon, and that they were made near Porto. It turns out that there is one huge old soap factory near Porto and all these different companies mill their soap there, and they all wrap them in beautiful packaging unchanged since the teens or 20s or 30s.
Of all the souvenirs I could have chosen… I ended up buying like 40 Euros worth of soap that I have no intention of using aside from staring joyously at their packaging. (Packaging that I could have just as easily bought in New York but that I now have to schlep back to New York because it feels more authentic that way.)
The next morning we left super early to head back to Lisbon, where we spent the rest of the day wandering around some more, trying rather unsuccessfully to go clothing shopping (Portugal’s fashion vibe right now seems to be hippie chic, and that is decidedly not our vibe), and viewing an amazing sunset from one of the lookout points, or miradors.
Portugal has magical light; I think that – and the water, and the hills, and the buildings – is what makes it so over-the-top beautiful.
Other highlights of the day:
Palacio Chaido, where we had lunch, is in an epic mansion.
There is a famous pastel de nata place called Pastéis de Belém.
I ordered one from which I scooped out the custard and gave Jenny the crusts. It was hard to pick around the pastry but it was well worth the risk.
Then we forced ourselves to go into what looked like the mother of all Portugese cathedrals next door to the pastel place.
And not a highlight, just an observation: Everything is a concept store in Portugal.
I saw “concept store” so often that it left me wondering if I know what exactly it is. What is the concept behind the concept store, if you will.
Jenny left early the next morning to go back to New York, and I spent the few hours I had solo before my flight eating one last pastel de nata and drinking one last espresso, and having brunch overlooking the water.
And then I giggled at these gluten-free concept bars in the airport.
Whether the concept here was gluten-free, food bars, or meta-marketing, I needed to stock up on gluten-free stuff for Liberia so I bought as many as they had.
And then I was off to Casablanca…