When in Doubt Smile and Say "Obrigada"
This Semana Santa, my family, my roommate’s family, and our other family friends decided to travel to Portugal and back to Madrid together. So this meant 11 people with a million ideas, many suggestions (or should I say ‘complaints’), in unknown territory. But despite the chaos, tension, and constant “Cass, Cle, where are we going next?” type of questions, we had an incredible 10 days with our families, amazing meals, great laughs, and a few scares (you’re welcome Lauren).
Our first stop was Lisbon, Portugal. I never knew much about Portugal, but after being its neighbor for the past 8 months I figured it was time to head over there. We started off Saturday morning with a walking tour of the city. Usually my attention span can’t last more than half an hour, but its nice to (a) see most of the city on foot and (b) learn about its history by way of an expert.
After 2 and a half hours of information-overload, we went on a wild tram ride to Belém, where the famous Pastel de Nata can be found. There is a secret recipe that makes these the best pastries in the city; even the locals will tell you that others just do not compare. It’s a far ride just for a pastry, but
10 out of the 11 of us agreed it was totally worth it. Except for Jimmy who was shouting obnoxiously on the tram, “We’re going all this way just for cookies and coffee!” *Cue the eye-rolls*
We went out for dinner in the Barrio Alto area and enjoyed live Fado music performances. Fado is a Portuguese music genre in which the songs are sung melancholically and mournfully. However, in our restaurant, this somber feeling changed pace when the performers sang ‘Happy Birthday’ in Portuguese to my mom (love you Miggs). Barrio Alto is built on a hill, and its translation literally means Upper District. This neighborhood is known for being the spotlight for Lisbon’s nightlife and holding over 120 bars. People congregate in the streets from the overflow of the bars and walk from one bar to the next with their drinks in hand.
On Sunday, we took a day trip to Sintra and Cascais, and even though this only left us with one full day in Lisbon, it was completely worth it. For just 15€ we bought a tourist day pass that provided us with transportation from Lisbon to Sintra, Sintra to Cascais, and Cascais back to Lisbon. Sintra is a beautiful mountain town located just under 20 miles from Lisbon and is filled with palaces and castles unlike any others I´ve seen before. We took one windy and
nauseating bus ride up to the top and got dropped off right outside the Palacio da Pena. For around 10€ we were able to enter the park and the palace terrace. The palace was painted with bright yellows, blues and reds, giving it a fairytale or even Candyland-like feel. It was designed with a combination of different architectural styles and served as it's history dates as far back as the Middle Ages.
The following evening, we arrived in Porto, which is located three hours north of Lisbon on the Atlantic Coast. Porto is the birth place of Port Wine (hence its name), and all of the wineries can be found directly across the Douro River in Gaia. The grapes for the wine are grown and picked in the Douro Valley, 3 hours east of Porto on the Portuguese-Spanish border, but stored and aged in Gaia cellars where the conditions are nearly perfect for this part of the wine making process.
We took a tour of Taylor’s Port Winery that lasted 30 minutes and was only 5€. Our guide, Marta, had us engaged and laughing the entire time, and we all agreed that she reminded us of a Hogwart’s Professor due to both her dress and her personality. Marta told us everything we need to know about port wine. There are four types; Ruby, Tawny, White, and Vintage. Ruby port wines are considered young wines due to their short aging process, and they have a fruity consistency. Tawny port wines age in the barrel between 10 and 40 years, and their color changes due to the impact that the oak has on the grapes. Whites are, of course, made from white grapes and age in the vats for two to three years. And lastly, vintage ports represent the best batch that a specific year has had. Vintage ports differ from the other three types because they age in the bottle (the longer you keep it, the better it tastes and the more it is worth), while the other ports are only able to age in oak barrels.
Typical Portuguese food consists of cod, cod, all types of cod (bacalhau). Just kidding, it isn’t just cod, but cod is on every menu. Not a fish lover? Don’t fear. Francesinha is a Portuguese sandwich that originated in Porto. Between two pieces of bread you’ll find four types of meat topped with cheese and an egg. What could be better? Not a meat person? Well, now I’m out of options.
What made our time in Portugal even more special, apart from the food and the wine, were the people. It is known that Portuguese people are really nice, but after being there for six days, I can say, “WOW! They are SO nice.” Remember, we were a group of 11 people, causing hold-ups at the metro ticket booths and taking extra long to order at dinner. But whether it was our waiters who went the extra mile to provide exceptional service or the woman who walked us 25 minutes (Sorry Kathy, we really didn’t know it was going to be that long) to the Cascais sunset just because she wanted to, everyone we met on our trip was extremely hospitable and made our stay in Portugal one to remember.