Thursday, July 26, 2018

A Peek at Portugal

June 2018 - San Jose California to Lisbon Portugal

Stone Circle in Evora, Portugal

Chapel of Bones in Evora, Portugal
Friday, June 21st 
I am less stressed  than usual preparing to leave for this trip. Our alarm sounds at 4:30 and I shower quickly and zip the last of my toiletries into my small suitcase. Last night I made coffee and I microwave a cup and check my e-mail one last time. Our Uber driver is 10 minutes early and as he loads Art’s and my minimal baggage into his mini-van, he suggests that we teach his wife to travel as lightly. We leave precisely at 6:00 A.M. arriving at the San Jose airport much earlier than necessary. I’ve checked in online and we scan our passports and print our luggage tags and drop off our two bags. Security is a breeze even before we notice that we are TSA pre-check approved we have waited  through the longer line. We eat a leisurely but uninspired and overpriced breakfast at Gordon Biersch and wait for our plane to board. We are routed through Phoenix to Philadelphia with an overnight flight to Lisbon. We have a tight connection in Phoenix with no time to buy food but luckily there are still pesto chicken wraps available for our seat row before American Airlines runs out of food for purchase. The remainder of the passengers must settle for Pringle potato chips and snack packs. Art and I share head phones and watch I Tonya on his I phone and land in Philadelphia with an hour to spare before our international flight to Lisbon. Unfortunately there are no gates available for our plane and we wait anxiously on the runway as minutes tick by. Our slightly over an hour layover shrinks to less than 30 minutes as we are held captive on the plane. The stewardess announces that some passengers have tight connections and when our plane finally reaches the gate, those of us with connecting flights push through the aisle and into the terminal.

Our plane to Lisbon is already boarding and we have just 25 minutes to get to our next gate in an entirely different wing of the terminal . We fast walk and jog past other travelers and along the moving walkways. I am winded and Art takes the lead when I see a motorized passenger cart going the opposite way. I call out to the driver and he spins around in the near empty wing of the terminal. I climb aboard and we speed along the corridor slowing down to pull Art onboard.  We are the last passengers to board our plane before the doors close and we will discover when we land in Lisbon that our bags did not run as fast as we did and will have adventures of their own without us.

Minutes before the doors to the plane close, we squeeze into two cramped airline seats and I am grateful that we are both of moderately small stance. We are torn between taking our Ambien immediately or waiting for dinner and doing without the extra 2 hours of sleep. We opt for eating dinner and I give American Airlines credit for serving the hot mini TV style dinners quickly with ample glasses of wine. I comment to Art that the crew is trying to sedate their passengers for the 7 hour flight. I pretzel up and sleep several continuous hours waking just before weak and tepid coffee and breakfast is served.

The Case of the Wayward Luggage.  Friday, June 22nd - Lisbon

Entering Portugal is a breeze and we are quickly through customs and watch in vain as the luggage carousel circles endlessly without depositing either Art’s or my luggage. Apparently, our luggage could not run as fast as we did between our Philadelphia to Lisbon leg of our trip. Although disappointed, I am not overly stressed and we file a lost luggage claim.  I am optimistic that our bags will arrive on tomorrow’s 9:15 A.M. flight from Philadelphia and that I will be wearing clean clothes by noon tomorrow. 

We take the inexpensive ($4 each) Aerobus from the airport to the Rossio Train Station which is just downhill from our Zuzabed Bed and Breakfast hotel. The steep and cobblestone streets between the plaza and our Zuzubed Guest House are picturesque and we only get moderately lost. I am hot and sticky by the time we arrive at our hotel and our host Luis is more that helpful in taking down claim and phone numbers for our wayward luggage. We are grateful for the assistance and the ice water but anxious to make our escape to our room and ultimately to begin exploring Lisbon on our own. Unfortunately it is still late morning and our room isn’t ready yet and Luis suggests a restaurant. The meal is mediocre at best, helped along only by a carafe of Sangria. We enjoy the ambience of a working class clientele but my two fried mackerel stare up at me with dead eyes and I struggle with the crispy skin and the countless bones. The appetizer dish of black olives with pits has more meat than my fish and I pick my way through pits and bones. Despite delayed luggage and a disappointing lunch, I am in good spirits, not too jet lagged and looking forward to getting my bearings in this picturesque old city. 

Fish and sangria lunch
The stairs up to our Zuzabed hotel

The plaza at the bottom of the stairs

We stroll the shopping streets in our district and Art, needing a change of clothes, buys a shirt at the El Ganso store. I also look for something clean to wear but to no avail. We know that the best case scenario for being reunited with our baggage will be noon tomorrow and we head back to our hotel to shower and rest.  Our hotel is in perfectly situated in the Chiado district sandwiched between the Baixa and the Bairro Alto. We are in the heart of the old city and once again the Rick Steves guide book has served us well. Our accommodations are street level, on a narrow cobblestone street and although not luxurious, we have a sitting area and tiny kitchen. We shower and take a short rest and partially recharged, walk down towards the waterfront to watch Brazil versus Costa Rica compete in the World Cup. Unfortunately, Art has misread the time and the game is over when we arrive. Although another game is onscreen, the sun blazes down and there is no shade.

World Cup Soccer Game showing at the Lisbon waterfront plaza

We wander back up the long shopping promenade looking for the perfect café where we might sit for a cooling drink on this hot afternoon. For those of you who don’t know our bad habits, Art can seldom find the perfect café or restaurant and after an hour, I am tired and exasperated. Eventually we come to a picturesque cobblestone park just above our guest house and sit and sip drinks in the shade of flowering Jacaranda trees. Art sips port and I sip crisp white wine at 2.5 Euros each. A wonderful group of musicians perform in the plaza and we are blissfully happy.

Art in a clean shirt outside of our hotel

The outdoor cafe in the Jacaranda Plaza

We follow Rick’s advice and choose Cafe Lisbona, one of his recommended restaurants for dinner.  We share a mussel appetizer and duck and salmon entrees and a glass of wine each.  Although the ambience is lovely the entrees are slow in arriving and jet lag is catching up with us. Art and I are close to falling asleep at the table when our delicious entrees arrive. Unfortunately, we are too tired to appreciate the meal fully and take much of the salmon back to our room, falling into bed and asleep immediately.

Lisbon cafe at twilight
Lisbon street scene

Saturday  – June, 23.  Sao Jorge Castle and Fabulous Fado!

Breakfast is included in our room and served in an upstairs dining room. We help ourselves to coffee from a thermos with accompanying hot milk. Breakfast is hearty but uninspired. The rolls and bread are industrially fluffy but the accommodating cook fries our eggs to order and there is sliced cheese and ham and fresh squeezed orange juice. Although the bacon looks delicious, we pass for the sake of our cholesterol and the pigs. 

Lisbon City View from Sao Jorge Castle
The morning is hot but not unbearable. We take a 6 euro taxi ride to Sao Jorge Castle, winding uphill along narrow cobblestone streets to the castle entrance. The line of about 50 people moves quickly and we are finding that being ‘seniors’ is a definite financial advantage at 50% off the ticket price.  We enter the castle gardens surrounding the fortress where venerable olive trees offer shade and there are expansive views of the city and harbor beyond.  We take our time exploring the castle and circumnavigate the castle walls for ever changing vistas of the surrounding city. 

Marty at Sao Jorge Castle
Sao Jorge Castle grounds

Art on Sao Jorge Castle wall

Castled out, we meander back down the cobblestone streets by way of the Saturday flea market. Neither of us are inspired by the stalls of cheap clothing, junk and antiques although in need of fresh clothing, I do check out the cheap underwear and socks.  We walk the steep graffitied streets down towards the waterfront.

Lisbon Antique Shops

Lisbon Antique and Flea Market

Lisbon Graffati
We meet a Mexican couple who are walking in our direction and are in Lisbon to watch the Mexico Portugal World Cup game. Art strikes up a conversation and we learn that he is from L.A. and she is from Mexico and their hope was to go to Russia to see the game but she was denied a visa. They are headed to the waterfront plaza to watch Mexico compete in the World Cup. Having gotten the times wrong on yesterdays Brazil vs. Portugal game, Art hopes to watch some of the Mexico - Portugal game on the big screen. When we reach the central waterfront plaza the anticipated big screen is dark. At first Art believes it is an electrical problem but the other half of the plaza is pulsing with music and dancers and an elaborate arch of rainbow colored balloons floats above the plaza. The Lisbon gay pride festival is in full swing and the World Cup is on hold for the afternoon.

Lisbon Gay Pride Festival
Not realizing how important this World Cup soccer game is to Art, I make a few sightseeing suggestions that seem to irritate him and we meander back to the Jacaranda shaded plaza near our hotel in awkward silence. All the tables are taken at “our” outdoor café but I lean an vacant bar stool against a tree, well positioned to view the game and borrow a chair from a nearby table to add to our real estate. Fortunately, two Mexican women with a coveted table next to us are enthusiastically watching the game and Art soon makes friends with them and orders drinks. A smile soon replaces his scowl and the afternoon is saved. Mexico Wins!

The outdoor cafe at the plaza above our hotel
We return the short distance to our guest house but there is still no news about our wayward suitcases.  I am sill in the same clothes from Thursday morning and am feeling limp and disheartened. When it comes to clothes, I am a terrible shopper in the best of circumstances but I leave Art to rest and set out determinedly to buy a clean outfit and fresh underwear.  I find myself defeated at every shop and two hours later, when on the verge of tears, a stylish young woman in a lingerie shop takes pity on me and guides me through some basic bra and underwear purchases and miraculously has two embroidered lounging tops that fit my desperation and immediate needs.

Several hours later, freshly showered and in clean clothes, Art and I walk towards the Bairro Alto to check out several of Rick Steves recommended Fado shows. The district is festive in the early evening with garlands strung across the narrow streets and diners sitting at outdoor cafes.

The Bairro Alto district
One of recommended Fado shows turns out to be a sterile tourist stage performance and the second doesn’t open until 9:00 P.M. and is definitely not suitable for our minimal wardrobe. We stop in the third for an early ginja (a traditional Portuguese cherry liquor) and listen to a few Fado songs but there is no magic here and Art reminds me that there is a hole in the wall, Fado café/bar just steps down from our hotel and that if we go there we will be able to keep an eye out for our luggage which we have heard will be delivered later tonight.

Fado Nights - Duque Da Rua
Fado Nights - Duque Da Rua

We slip into the tiny Fado Bar on Rue Du Duque and sit at a long wooden table, our backs to the wall.

Fado bar on Rue Du Duque

Fado bar on Rue Du Duque

Fado bar on Rue Du Duque
Three guitarists

Three guitarists sit at one end of the long and narrow bar their backs to the door opening to the street. It feels as if we are at a private party as two male waiters who are delivering our drinks and tapas pause their serving and preform mournful songs. A group of older women sit at a rear table, nursing their drinks and waiting for their chance to sing. Unfortunately, the tapas offered are minimal and I am soon light headed from the wine and minimal food but grateful that Art continues his diligent checking on our missing luggage.  At one of his luggage checks, he is gone longer than expected and when he returns he tells me that a group of young Belgium men are celebrating a bachelor party at the restaurant across the street and he has been drinking with them. I am blissfully happy listening to the sorrowful Fado music and know that I only have a few doors to stumble back to our guest room hotel.  Somewhere around midnight, Art gives me the welcome news that our luggage has just been delivered to the restaurant across the street. We stay until the music ends and the bar closes at 1:00 P.M.

Sunday, June 24th. Sintra - So Many Castles… So Little Time.

Breakfast in our guest house dining room is a repeat of yesterday's but we enjoy conversing with a woman from Manchester, England, visiting Lisbon for a short holiday. She raves about a day she spent in Sintra and we decide to go there and take the 40 minute train that departs from the Rossio train station just below our hotel. Sintra is just 15 miles outside of Lisbon and is where the Portuguese aristocracy would escape from city life to their country fairytale castles. We arrive just before 11:00 A.M. along with hoards of other tourists but we manage to beat the long lines into both the Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle by buying tickets at the tourist office inside the small Sintra train station. 10 Euros buys us an open tut tut ride up the winding mountain road and drops us off just below the entrance to Pena Palace. Unlike Lisbon, it is cool here and the mountain side is lush with trees and blooming flowers.
Pena Palace, Sintra
Pena Palace, Sintra

Chandelier at Pena Palace

Gargoyle Gate to Pena Palace

Castle cafe at Pena Palace

Pena Palace feels very Disneyesque to me. The palace and surrounding park are the 19th century vision of German born Prince Ferdinand, a cousin to “Mad” King Ludwig who built the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. The architecture is a mishmash of Portuguese and German with some Moorish throw in.  We wander throughout the rooms and take in garden views from the many castle terraces but as much as Prince Ferdinand was trying to impress and outdo his cousin King Ludwig, I am not impressed. 

Thousand year old Moorish Castle in Sintra
When we have had our fill of the Pena Palace we hike over to the thousand year old ruins of the Moorish Castle with forts on two hills that are connected by walled walkways. The enchanting forest grounds surrounding the castle are as magical as is the idyllically restored castle.  It’s a pleasant but long walk through manicured gardens to the castle entrance. Although climbing castle stairs seems to get slightly more challenging each year, I still pride myself on walking the walk. I feel rewarded at each step with vistas of snaking castle walls and bucolic vistas of Sintra City below.

Flowers along the pathway

The walk up to the Moorish Castle

Walkway up to the Moorish Castle

The Moorish Castle walls

Moorish Castle view to Sintra

 Moorish Castle view to Sintra
Art walking the Moorish Castle walls
Art after conquering the castle wall

From the Moorish Castle we catch a Tut Tut down the mountain to old Sintra. We’ve had our workout for the day and choose a cafe in the main square for a late lunch. We order pasta, share a carafe of white wine and loose track of time. We race to the train station to catch the 4:50 train back to Lisbon but there is no time to use the toilet before jumping on the train and with a bladder full of wine, I am relieved that the trip is only 35 minutes.

Dreadlock Tut Tut driver down the mountain
Old Sintra 

After resting and showers we wander the short distance uphill to “our” Jacaranda plaza where Art can get his daily World Cup Soccer fix, following which we have dinner at a small and inviting restaurant along our cobble stone street, Rue Du Duque.

Restaurant on Rue Du Duque

Restaurant on Rue Du Duque

Restaurant on Rue Du Duque

Although we wait 15 minutes for a table, the bustling ambience is welcoming and the food is excellent and affordable. We see a steaming bowl of shellfish and rice delivered to an adjoining table and we follow suit and order the “Sea Rice.”  I leave the two large shrimp for art to undress and enjoy the clams and mussels in the rich both of fish and rice. We share a duck leg which is moist and delicious and down it all with ample pours of wine. It has been a near perfect day and our Zuzabed and breakfast hotel is just a few steps away. 

Monday, June 25th, Pastels in Belem (Cream filled pastries)

Most museums are closed on Mondays so we decide to take the tram out of the city to the Belem district to sample the famous Pastels (Cream Pastries.)  Although it's confusing finding the correct tram stop we are soon onboard for the 25 minute ride to Belem. Lisbon city and the suburbs roll past and we disembark at the Belem stop and walk two blocks to the famous bakery cafe, Casa Pastels de Belem.The line spills outside and Art is inclined to abandon our plan but after investigation he returns and tells me that the line is for take away not for tables. The interior décor is all blue and white tile and there must be 6 or 7 expansive dining areas with tables. We go deeper into the café until we come to half vacant room and quickly claim our seats.

Cafe dining room in Casa Pastels de Belen
Casa Pastels de Belem

In our room alone, several harried servers are struggling to keep ahead of the incoming tide of customers. It is soon apparent that we have chosen the wrong seating section but ten minutes of patience brings us menus, followed shortly by a cappuccino, espresso and two warm out of the oven pastels. As Art waits, I explore the charming but cavernous café establishment and take photos of the kitchen through viewing windows. I am nearly run over by a bakery cart piled high with freshly baked treats on its way to replenish the pastry cases in the front. 

Pastels and Cappuccino at Casa de Belen

Kitchen viewing window

Take out window at Casa de Belen

Take out at Casa de Belen

When I return to our table, our dining room is full and there is a long line waiting for seating in the rooms further on. Art calculates that there is seating for 800 people and although the prices by our standards are more than reasonable, at just 3 Euros spent per seat, and a turnover of 10 seatings per day, the café must take in over 24,000 Euros a day and that’s not including the take out section where the line stretches half way down the block, certainly taking in more revenue than the café.

Monastery of Jeronimos
Monastery of Jeronimos
Facade of Monastery of Jeronimos

Unfortunately, the Monastery of Jeronimos is closed on Monday but we are able to view the impressive exterior and peek into a publicly accessed courtyard into the library is open. A sign notes that the maritime museum is open on Monday and we choose to go there. Once again, the senior discount is an advantage and the vast museum is air-conditioned and quite interesting considering the importance of international trade routes and the sea are to Portuguese history.

Belen Maritime Museum
Siren ship carving

Belen Maritime Museum

Ceiling detail

We return by the same trolley stopping at the Time Out Market with intentions of eating lunch at one of the many gourmet eateries. The upscale market is in an enclosed industrial age iron and glass market hall. In the mornings, half of the market is a fish and vegetable market which is closed now but we enter the trendy hall and circumnavigate the many bustling eateries trying to choose. The food looks marvelous and upscale and expansive shared tables and stools fill the center. We have come at the height of lunch and seating is scarce and the choices are daunting. Art makes the welcome suggestion that we return to the restaurant on our street in the Chiado district and eat at Eu Duque again. We make the long uphill trek stopping into a few antique and Azulejo tile shops along the way and enjoy an excellent lunch, sharing a gourmet tuna salad and a duck and rice entrée. We limit ourselves to a glass of crisp white wine each and after lunch, the waitress brings us each an aperitif of and ginja, the local cherry liquor.

Ginja cherry liquor
Ginja cherry liquor 

We make a final foray up to our Jacaranda plaza where Art watches a few minutes of a soccer game and although we wish for an extra day and night in Lisbon we must collect our luggage and head for a distant train station to catch our 5:15 P.M. train to Evora.

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