21/07/2010 by etiennefish
The third and final chapter of my trip to Portugal:
DAY 6 (continued):
So we finally made it to Tavira. It was a long ride, and there was no good music on the radio to listen to. It was sad. Upon arrival we headed straight for food. It was already late for lunch so we figured we’d just have something light so we’d still be prepared for supper (very important to plan these things out, it’s true). Well, the place we decided to finally stop at left a lot to be desired, shall we say. All I ended up with was a not very good piece of bread, with a less than satisfying piece of cheese on it. I had been building the idea of food up in my head for a few hours at this point, so it was pretty much a huge blow in my day. Luckily, however, I survived. We then decided to get back on the road and head over to the place where we would be staying. This was near a small village called Santa Rita (it’s all near the border with Spain), and was actually the country house of my boss and his wife. They are super nice and said we could stay there. So I had received directions to said house from my boss’ wife, but she had assumed we were going straight there from Coimbra, and not making a side trip into Tavira before heading to the house, therefore her directions (which of course didn’t include street names or addresses because we were in the middle of nowhere where there aren’t any), weren’t as pertinent as they might have been. We gamely set off anyhow, and let me just say, thank you to all that is holy that my father was driving, because maybe 10 minutes into us getting lost (which happened immediately upon exiting Tavira, of course), I was wailing that we would never ever find it, and we should just give up and sleep on the side of the road, or some other dramatic such nonsense. By some amazing strike of luck, however, we actually randomly managed to find the place. You know, eventually, and despite my loudly expressed misgivings. The woman who takes care of the place was waiting outside the gate for us (because of course I had called her when we were leaving Tavira, and she told me it would take 5 minutes to get there… Sigh…), and I felt bad, but she was really nice about it all. Bless. Anyway, she showed us around the place and um yes. Amazing. I’m sad I don’t have more photos from there. The architecture was all in traditional old Spanish style, with uber thick white plaster walls, exposed beams, and neat little windows that had shutters built into them. It was also huge, and surrounded by a lovely garden. There were a lot of bedrooms there, and it was almost a shame we didn’t have more people to fill them. The place also came with a little black and white cat. Apparently, according to the caretaker, my boss collects cats much like I do, and at any given point in time he has a herd that calls the place home. At the moment, there was strangely only one, but as she was loud enough for an entire herd, maybe she was holding the other ones’ spots while they were out on adventures roaming the countryside (this is what I imagined she was doing anyhow). Anyway, she was very sweet, and I enjoyed her companionship.
After getting checking out the place and getting settled in, we were off again, back to Tavira, for some roaming and yes, you guessed it, food, but not before making sure to save the location with Martha so that we could actually find our way home again. We managed to find the other side of Tavira this time (meaning the part across the river from where we were), and wandered through a semi-open air market being set up, into a cafe for a quick caffeine fix, through some gardens and castle ruins, and up a hill to a church overlooking the city.
Then we wandered around some more looking for these restaurants mentioned in our guidebook while I tried not to get too impatient with life. We ended up at a restaurant next to the restaurants that were talked about in aforementioned guidebooks. It was perfect. We sat outside next to the river, watching the tide go out and the sun sink below the horizon, while being serenaded by some reasonably talented accordion players. When the food came, it. was. delicious. Now this is a huge complement. I was eating fish. Yes. Fish. Anyone who knows me, also knows my stance on ocean creatures entering my mouth and/or stomach. As in- they don’t. E-VER. Well, unfortunately in Portugal, the choices for meals are basically pork or fish, with some other meats thrown in on top for good measure. Now if you know my stance on fish, you will also know that it generally goes double-y/triple-y for pork. So I went with the lesser evil, and asked my father which fish tasted the least like fish. After looking at the plates of other diners in our general vicinity, I further stipulated that I could also not manage anything that looked like a fish (i.e. I can’t manage heads, eyes, fins, tails, vertebrae, etc. You see why I should never eat meat?!?) I got salmon, and I am not ashamed (well mostly not ashamed) to admit that I actually not only liked it, but thoroughly enjoyed it. I may not recognise myself anymore. My world came shattering down around me, but I picked up the pieces and I believe that now I may be a stronger person because of it. Anyway, our good dinner turned into a nice evening, after we strolled leisurely back to the car, drove back to the house (thank you Martha for getting us there), and we watched an episode of Treme together before heading to our rooms and falling into bed.
Today was beach day (YAY!). We woke up reasonably early after a wonderfully restful night, had some muesli, headed into Tavira for a caffeine fix (and yummy yummy pastries), and strolled towards the boat that would take us to the beach. Basically in Tavira, you can’t just walk to the beach. The beach is actually on Tavira Island, because the town itself is situated on a lagoon or something of that nature. The boat comes frequently though, and costs less than 2 euros for a return trip, so it was easily enough accomplished. While waiting for our ride, Mom discovered that the painted bowl/plate shop that she’d been salivating over the previous night was now open. We spent the entire wait there, while she contemplated which dishes she’d like to bring back with her, so I didn’t get as antsy as I might have.
The boat trip was short and sweet, and we soon found ourselves on the island where we immediately rented a shade thing and some beach chairs. Then we got to reading. We did this mostly all day, with a short break for lunch (which, I should mention, was delicious, even if I was quite frustrated by the route of arrival there. I was plied with Tequila Sunrises, however, so it was all soon forgotten). The day was pretty much perfect. The sun was shining and it was pleasantly warm, but never got hot because of the strong breeze. The water was actually slightly too cold with the breeze blowing, so I sadly never properly swam (and I didn’t have a boat to play in), but I had a great day nonetheless.
In the evening, we trooped back to the boat, took another trip back, and then wandered the city again for a few hours before we treated ourselves to another gorgeous meal and delicious wine. It was a pretty perfect and restful day, which we needed after all the moving around, and I think we were all sad to be off again so soon.
Today we packed up, said goodbye to the cat and the caretaker, stopped off in town for (yes, you guessed it) caffination, and we were on our way to Lisbon, our final stop. This trip was quickly heading towards a close, a fact that nobody was too pleased about. The road was mostly uneventful, and after some tense moments arguing with Martha, we found our way to our hotel, and subsequently to a place to park. It took some time sorting out returning the car (bye Martha!), but with that accomplished, we headed back out for a small bite to eat (Cafe Gelado= amazing), and a wander around town. Basically, we only had today and the next day to really try and experience Lisbon, and as it’s a big town, there was a lot to see so we needed to be good with time. We were told (by Rick Steves via his Portugal guidebook), that we should probably just stick to three main sections of town for the short tourist adventure. Since we were already in the area, we decided to master the Baixa bairro during the first day. We followed Rick’s walk, and managed to weave ourselves in and around many squares, churches, statues, fountains, sculptures, and shopping areas, while simultaneously also learning a bit of history about the city. I also made friends with a man singing with an according who (more importantly) had 2 tiny tiny (OMG tiny) puppies he let me hold. I might have melted a bit. We also saw a man on stilts throwing knives and shouting at people, lots of old trams, another pretty waterfront area absolutely full of fishies. Lisbon was immediately different than the places we’d been so far. It was just much more like a generic city. I mean, we hadn’t hit some of the super ruinous and old areas yet, so maybe that was part of it, but it was still a city. I don’t know. I think one of my first thoughts was that I’d definitely live there, but that it wasn’t as good for tourism when you weren’t going to get the chance to learn about all the cool insider ‘happenings’ going on. Some of the other things I noticed though, was that it was incredibly more culturally diverse than anywhere else we’d been in the country. The former Portuguese African colonies were much more present in many of the people we passed on the street and in the shops we walked by. Some places we visited in Baixa that are definitely worth a look include (excuse the fact that I can’t ever remember the names of anything):
- the train station. It’s gorgeous, especially at night. The inside is a pretty boring, but the front is amazing, especially when all lit up.
- Ginja shops. I can’t say that the syrupy liquor is particularly good, but it’s worth a visit, if only for the shops that look a couple hundred years out of date, and all the people watching that can happen around them.
- The oldest hotel in Lisbon. I’ve forgotten the name, but it’s literally right next to the train station. We only peeked in (we were not dressed for such finery), but it’s beautiful and would be fun to splurge and get a drink there.
- The Elevador de Santa Justa. It’s just a very old viewing point, but even if you don’t go up it, it’s an impressive sight.
- The National Wine Institute. It’s next to a nice spot on the waterfront and a huge square that’s also worth a look. We didn’t actually go in during our Baixa explorations do to arriving after closing time (we went on day 9), but it’s a good learning experience. Be prepared to fill out forms with your 4 free tastings, but because its free, and because you can learn about Portuguese wines at the same time, I’d say it’s worth it.
- I’m sure there’s more. But I can’t think of it at the moment…
After our wanderings we were thirsty, so we headed off to a bar near the hotel for a cocktail, during which time we decided we wanted a pizza and film night. After a fruitless search for other pizza places, we went back to Cafe Gelado (seriously an amazing place) and convinced them to let us order pizza for take away. This was an incident of much hilarity, but our pizzas were finally delivered in ice cream cake boxes, and we brought them back to our room, turned on a new episode of Treme, and had a nice night in.
Our last real day. It was sad, it’s true. I’d have to say it was a good day though. We started off on our final adventure (after a nice pastry and cappuccino at a small out of the way cafe) in the Alfama district. We went to the Castelo de Sao Jorge first. The castle itself is mostly in ruins, but it offers a spectacular view of the city from a number of angles. The museum was also totally worth it. Well, that is if you are nerdy like me and enjoy looking at pot shards and reading about history. I found it pretty amazing. Further on through the castle ruins (which are pretty vast) we found loads of ‘castle cats.’ They were adorable, and yes, I made more fuzzy friends. I have somewhat of a knack for this, I think. They were cared after, from what I could see, by the pied piper of kitties who played tunes for them and gave them food.
After leaving the castle area, we wandered through labyrinth-like alleyways which opened onto more labyrinth-like alleyways. Apparently, it was built like this on purpose, so as to make it difficult for invaders to gain access to the castle way back when. I believe it would have worked. We started headed in the general direction of ‘down.’ On our way, we found many painted dish stores for mom to explore, and hidden restaurants tucked away behind vines in unexpected corners.
Eventually we made it down to Baixa. The plan was to head over from Baixa to Chiado and Bairro Alto. We stopped for lunch along the way. We found this restaurant in a quiet and industrial section of Baixa, near the riverfront, but not on it. We could sit outside and the menu looked decent, which fit most of our requirements, so we gave it a go. The waiter was mostly ridiculous. There was very little vegetarian fare on the menu, and as Mom had had a number of salads over the past few days, she wanted something different, so she ordered a cheese sandwich. A cheese sandwich in Portugal is exactly that. Bread with a bit of cheese in it. Nothing else. She asked me to ask, like I had in a number of other like establishments with similar menus, if he could add some tomato or lettuce or whatever to the sandwich to make it a bit more exciting. He said no, that’s not what was on the menu. I asked if they carried those ingredients, as they had salads and such on the menu. He said they did. So I asked again if he could add it to the sandwich, which we’d of course be willing to pay a slight bit more for. Just as firmly and abruptly he again said no, that wasn’t what’s on the menu. Sigh. I said fine, and Mom got the sandwich plain, and vaguely tasteless. I ordered a salad (which of course had both tomato and lettuce in it), and my father got some sort of scary squid looking thing (terrifying!), which also came with tomato and lettuce on the side. It wasn’t until she was halfway done eating that Dad realised he could just give her his tomato and such for her sandwich. What a ridiculous waiter. Next we headed back towards the big square on the waterfront to make another attempt at the Wine Institute as we were quite close. It was happily open, and we just as happily settled into our tastings. We had 2 whites and 2 reds each, but we could have chosen anything they had. I found the whites decent, but wasn’t really impressed with my reds (which I may have chosen based upon year and how pretty the label was, and which may have led to my poor decision-making). Both my parents had nicer reds than I did.
After the wine, we walked back past our hotel to the funicular to head up to Bairro Alto. It was nearly as high up as I expected, but funiculars are always fun, so oh well.
After going to the park viewpoints overlooking the city from the opposite side of the castle, we went in search of the Lisbon port tasting shop (not it’s real name, but it’s quite official and quite well known if anyone goes to visit Lisbon). It was going to be an alcoholic type day if you couldn’t tell already. The place itself was really nice, covered in dark woods, old stained glass, and the feeling of eras past. It was cosy and comfortable, and I well enjoyed the reprieve from the heat and sun that air-conditioned rooms provided. The port was also fabulous. We started with a tawny and a ruby, eventually getting a supplement of another ruby in the end. I really like port, which might be sort of a problem back in Geneva where it’s a million times more expensive. Sigh… Sacrifices may have to be made…
After the port adventure we wandered further on, finding ourselves in a nice little square with some crazy monster-like sculptures on display (<3). They were hanging out in a crescent shape in front of an unassuming and plain-looking church (Igreja de Sao Roque) that the guidebook told us was the oldest Jesuit church in the Portuguese world. The guidebook said to go inside, so we followed directions and did just that. It was UN.BE.LIEVE.A.BLE. I mean, I guess because of the exterior I didn’t expect much on the inside, but it was gorgeous. Just really really beautiful. I took a number of photos.
After the church, we eventually made our way to Chiado, which is mostly a huge shopping district. There we went to Cafe Brasileira for pick-me-ups and sweets (it was the day of beverages apparently), and watched people pose all silly-like in front of statues. We finished our afternoon with some (mostly fruitless) shopping, and headed back down to Baixa.
When it was time to eat again (I loved how travelling somehow makes your days revolve around food), we went to look for a quiet place to eat off the main drag (we went to the ‘restaurant area’ of Baixa the night before and were scared off by all the pushy waiters trying to force you to sit at their place, not even allowing you to look at the menu first). We found what appeared to be the perfect restaurant and sat down at a table outside. What we didn’t realise was that we were sitting next to a huge table full of English guys who looked like they’d be most comfortable holding a rugby ball, and who had had far more to drink than we had. Our ‘quiet’ meal ended up being anything but. They were fairly hilarious though, so you couldn’t hate them in the end, especially when they brought both Mom and a little girl sitting nearby roses. It was sort of sweet, even if they probably won’t remember the gesture in the morning. After dinner, we spent a subdued rest of our night packing, reading, and wishing it wasn’t time to go back to our respective homes.
Time to say goodbye. We left for the airport early, getting there even quicker than expected due to the massive speeding that our taxi driver felt inclined to partake in. We were all sad to say goodbye to Portugal and each other. After a hectic hour getting checked in and through security at the airport, we had time for a last breakfast of cappuccinos and pastries (which Mom declared delicious on account of them passing her flakiness test). There was a hiding of tears goodbye and then we went our separate ways. My flight was delayed. Of course. But eventually I made it home in enough time to enjoy the lazy late afternoon Sunday sun. What a great trip.