Portugal

October 6, 2021

City of Porto on the Douro river

A wonderful thing sometimes happens to me while traveling. Friends and family come to visit while I am on the road. This is a special treat for me. The month I spent in Portugal was one such occasion.

The plan was to meet my brother Rick, and his son Toshi in Porto, Portugal. They would fly into Lisbon, rent a car and drive up the coast to Porto. In the planning, Rick invited our nephew Danny, who works in Spain to join us. He brought his friend Char along for a long weekend in Porto. After this weekend, Danny and Char would return to Spain, while Rick, Toshi and I took a leisurely drive south along the coast, finding interesting places along the way.

Once in Lisbon, I would meet up with Jim Kern and his woman, Cynthia for some further exploration there. This was easy for me. I put my bike in storage in Barcelona and took a plane to Porto. It was easier to travel light for a the month of October, then return to California, Oregon, and Nevada for the holidays with family and friends. My bike would stay in Barcelona waiting for my return in December.

Well so, that was the plan. The thing is, traveling during a pandemic is more complicated. Just flying from Spain to Portugal, I needed to accumulate a fist full of documents showing that I was vaccinated, tested, had an address and phone, etc… Rick and Toshi were coming all the way from Boston and suffered a delay of two days getting to Porto. They did not get to meet up with Danny and Char. None-the-less, the three of us had a great time exploring Porto.

I learned later that this was Danny’s first visit to Portugal, which surprised me. He understood quite a bit of the culture and some of the language. He passed on some useful wisdom. For instance, when in Portugal do not try to speak Spanish. Though it does sound a lot like Portuguese, the Portugese are proud of their culture, and education. Most of them speak English quite well and would prefer to hear us using our native language over using Spanish (clumsily in my case).

Danny also introduced me to the Francesinha. A classic Portuguese dish which I describe as an inside out grilled cheese sandwich covered in mildly spicy sauce. If done correctly, the cheese seals the toast and prevents it from getting soggy with the sauce. Also, there is a small custard pie called pateis de nata. Danny and Char surprised me with a couple of these for breakfast one morning.

Rick and Toshi arrived in Porto finally. They had somehow conquered the jet lag quickly and were eager to explore Portugal with me. There is a lot to explore there. We visited the Museu de Arte Contemporanea de Serralves (Museum of Modern Art). Though I was there with Danny and Char, I was more than willing for a repeat visit.

We also lined up an exceptional meal at the Boa Nova Tea House, which is famous not only for the exceptional cuisine, but for the building designed by Alvaro Siza Vieira, a celebrated Portuguese architect. We ate a very fine 7 course meal there, on the Atlantic coast.

We explored Porto by rental bike. Sometimes this was much faster than a taxi in the crowded streets. There was much to see.

After two or three days of exploring we were eager to see more of Portugal. The three of us set off in the rental car, headed south along the Atlantic coast.

Aveiro is said to be much like Venice. It is a fishing village on the coast. There are many gondolas in the canals, like Venice. The gondolas were powered by outboard motors though. We spent our two days there touring the area by rental bike.

Near Coimbra, there is Bussaco Palace in the middle of the Bussaco National Park. We spent a few hours walking the extensive trails, and interesting lookouts, and other out buildings. In the palace itself there is an inn with a fine restaurant. We were temped, but decided to move on instead.

Elsewhere along the way, we stopped at a Buddhist temple, though I have forgotten where it was exactly. We wandered in to the place, Rick was at home with the place and how it operated. Even though he had never been to this temple, he has put in much time at similar places in the world.

As for me I was mostly interested in finding a men’s room without causing much disturbance. Not an easy thing to do, as it was so quiet. Just opening and closing the well made doors made the loudest sounds in the place.

Before long we were greeted by the head guy at the temple. I sheepishly told him I was looking for the men’s room. After addressing my needs, he took the time to show the three of us around the place. I was expecting this person to be eager to return to more important matters. I was pleasantly surprised to find we had his complete attention for nearly an hour as we walked the grounds and he explained the improvements and future plans for this many acre place.

Nazare is reported to have the largest waves in the world. Here the records are set for surfers that brave waves nearly 25m tall. The place was unknown to the surfing world until 2010. While we were there the ocean was quite calm, not surfing season.

Yet the town of 10,000 residents was jammed tight with traffic. We had to park far from the beach and walk down in to find the seafood restaurant Toshi was looking for.

Photo of a surfing competition in Nazare taken from the internet.

Lisbon

Lisbon, the capitol of Portugal is a large town full of culture, cuisine, nightlife. I was here for about two weeks and feel as though I only scratched the surface. With Rick and Toshi we toured the river by boat and the streets by rental bikes and occasionally on electric Lime scooters. Though the scooters are a bit dicey on steep cobblestone streets. At night we would find networks of alleyways with exciting sidewalk cafes, much like the Latin Quarter in Paris, but more extensive.

Jim and Cynthia had settled in Costa da Caparica, a small beach town across the river from Lisbon. Rick drove me over to their place in the rental car. The four of us shared some tawny port and melon that seemed to pair well with it.

I stayed with Jim and Cyn for a few days there. We explored the beach and neighboring forests and towns on rental bikes. One morning, Jim decided he was going to try surfing. He’d never done this before.

So typical of Jim to come up with wild adventures on the fly. I couldn’t resist. We walked to the beach and rented some wetsuits and surfboards and clowned around in the waves for the rest of the morning.

It was a lot more fun than I expected. It is relatively easy to get the board moving in the wave for long stretches. The tricky part is standing up. Jim and I gave it our best. He was more successful than I was.

Before our Airbnb ran out, we took a train back into Lisbon and spent the day touring the town. We met up with Rick and Toshi in a classic Portuguese restaurant. The five of us sat down for a very large meal we could not finish.

Sunset at Costa de Caparica (photo by Cynthia)

Jim and Cyn headed off looking for the farms and rural towns of Portugal. Rick and Toshi flew back home to New England. After a two days on my own in Lisbon. I headed off to spend the holidays with my friends and family in California and Oregon.

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