So to kick off our 1-week trip, Patricia and I decided to head to Portugal for a couple days. I had been to Lisbon a few years ago with my family but nevertheless I was very eager to return to this coastal city which I had instantly fallen in love with.
This experience was quite different, having a basic understanding of the city already allowed me and Patricia-who had been there in the past as well-to move around with relative ease and confidence, only to find ourselves getting turned around a couple times. Also, with a Brazilian family background, Patricia knows Portuguese fairly well which made the experience even better and more authentic. The first day we spent in the Belem neighborhood, situated on the coast. We had 'pasteis de nata'-a popular pastry dish-at a restaurant called Pasteis de Belem; basically the Lisbon version of Cafe du Monde. After that we had a fish and rice soup and a thick, mushy/stu-like shrimp dish, both typical in the region. I washed it down with Super Bock, the pride of Portuguese beer and probably the best unknown secret of European brews (it has several European records-look it up). The second day, we decided to leave the city altogether...
When Patricia was in Lisbon a few months back, she met a Portuguese dude named Thelmo at the hostel she was staying at. Being that he seemed like a cool cat they decided to exchange info in case she were to return to Portugal or he were to make it over to Spain. Luckily for us, he was off work for a couple days and was more than willing to take two Americans to a little town about 30 minutes away which he thought we would like. The town was called Sintra, and I am pretty sure that Alice would liken it to Wonderland.
We started by hiking our way up to an old Moorish Palace (which Thelmo was proud to say that Portugal was able to conquer, despite its excellent strategic location) and then we walked around the 'park' which surrounds it. This beautiful property was literally fit for the king and royalty, and consists of a huge, beautiful and fairytale-like forest, lakes, watchtowers, swans and very confusing paths. We only had time for a few hours here, which unfortunately is not sufficient to see everything, so I look forward to returning in the future to explore that which we were unable to this time.
Returning to Lisbon we had worked up a well-deserved appetite, so we opted to eat in an old neighborhood called Bairro Alto (high neighborhood) which is located on one of Lisbon's hills. It is known for its outdoor dining, Fado clubs, beautiful views of the city, and also its poverty and crime. After weaving our way through the touristy restaurants at the bottom, for those unwilling to climb the hill, and the invitations of owners in the streets to dine at their "very authentic" spots, we found a nice little place that was grilling sardines in the street (they are in season) and couldn't resist. They were hands down the best sardines I have ever had (note: never liked sardines before coming to Europe) and their tastiness was equalled only by Patricia's freshly grilled salmon. We ended the night drinking daqueries at a hoppin Mexican side bar which was surprisingly packed.
Our last day we pretty much spent walking around the main part of town which consists of giant plazas-including the Plaza Comercio, the entrance to the city which boasts one of my favorite European statues-outdoor cafes, bakeries and dozens of people trying to sell you hash and tour bus passes. We ate cod-fish balls, which is a fancy name for fried cod fish, and walked around the old neighborhood where the castle is situated overlooking the city. However, being that we had both visited the castle before, we decided to go to a little wine and cheese cafe that Patricia had visited earlier this year with her friend. Good call, trisha. It was here that we enjoyed a plate of odd cheese assortments, ham, potruguese olives (hands-down the best olives in the world), jam, and Portuguese green wine. That's right, green wine (it's just kinda like a darker white wine, only you feel much cooler when drinking it). Being the generous host that that barman Nuno was, he then offered us a dessert and some 40-year-old Portuguese liquor to wash it down with. It was quite the appropriate end to our 2-day adventure in what is quite possibly my favorite European country. Overlooked by most, Portugal is the only country I have revisited in Europe, and is among the handful of places that I plan to return to throughout my life...everytime I go it just gets better.
Unfortunately, pics will not be able to be posted until I get back to the states. However, I made it back from Morocco alive and well and my Listening Wind entry about that will be coming soon so stay posted.