Bill Carlson

From Seville to Portugal

Bill Carlson
From Seville to Portugal

Portugal

We depart the Algarve and head north to Lisbon, intersecting there with our friends, Anne & Jon, who have joined us for 10+ days to explore the rest of Portugal together.

Unlike Spain which has a like-new and fabulous free highway system traversing the entire country, Portugal has toll roads everywhere and you must constantly be digging into pockets for spare euros to feed them. On the other hand, in Portugal, you hardly ever have to tuck in your side view mirrors to make a left-hand turn as you often do in Spain's old town centers and very often you can even find free parking in Portugal. Much to our surprise, the Portuguese language bears little in common with Spanish (which I was getting pretty adept at) so we are dependent upon English speaking locals. The four of us agree that Portuguese sounds like Russian to our ears although its roots are apparently most similar to Finnish and Korean!

The iconic Lisbon trolleys are actually very useful and very helpful at whisking away weary tourists to the top of its hills. The city looks like a shabby chic version of Paris to us and it is a very lovely city to explore. Outdoor music seems to be played everywhere, especially in the Alfama district which is considered "Fado Central". Walking down from one such hilltop, we passed by many many fado restaurants. It is hard to believe that there are so many depressed women in this city to support such a thriving industry. To give you a flavor, here are some translated fado lyrics from the very popular song"Caravels":

I reached half of my life already tired of walking so much!
I'm already lost!
So much I have learned and nothing I know
And the ivory towers I have built
In tragic madness I have destroyed
By my own ill-fated hands!
I have always been like a dead sea
A sea without tides, without waves or harbor
Where the sails of dreams were torn apart!

...geez...take 2 prozac with a side of lithium and call me in the morning!
 
About an hour away from Lisbon, Sintra provides an incredible escape. Lush and green with ferns and leafy trees and stone walls, and built on a steep hillside with narrow turns (back to tucking in those side-view mirrors), we visit several palaces and one that is known for its extensive gardens, caves, and grottos (see inverted well photo). Being here is like finding yourself in the middle of an Edward Gorey book. Actually, the entire town conjures up imagery of Victorian mysteries.

And then there is our 2 day stop in the central city of Evora...what more can be said about a city where the high point for us was visiting a Chapel meticulously decorated by monks with human skeletons? Can't top that...

It only takes a couple of flamenco performances before you start sounding like an expert on the art. "She was technically very precise, but lacked the passion needed for a great performance." But honestly, every performance we saw was -- moving? exhilarating? engrossing? powerful? It's an odd art form, one suitable to Seville, where beauty that has matured over the centuries is entwined with the everyday lives of the people here. Just as we were adjusting to the city and finding the best churro stands, it was off to Portugal and the windswept beaches of the Algarve. Actually, it took some time to find those windswept beaches, our hotel being located amongst the fish and chips, hamburger, ice cream, disco and casino pits in the blue-collar British tourist trap we found ourselves in. But once on the road, it was great to breathe the fresh air at what was the end of the earth for the early explorers. Octopus stew, jumbo prawns, beer, and sangria while listening to the waves pounding on shore and watching the surfers wipe out will always be a good memory. Our waiter has a droll, deadpan sense of humor, reminding us that in a place where time stands still, people have time to work on their craft.

It only takes a couple of flamenco performances before you start sounding like an expert on the art. "She was technically very precise, but lacked the passion needed for a great performance." But honestly, every performance we saw was -- moving? exhilarating? engrossing? powerful? It's an odd art form, one suitable to Seville, where beauty that has matured over the centuries is entwined with the everyday lives of the people here. Just as we were adjusting to the city and finding the best churro stands, it was off to Portugal and the windswept beaches of the Algarve. Actually, it took some time to find those windswept beaches, our hotel being located amongst the fish and chips, hamburger, ice cream, disco and casino pits in the blue-collar British tourist trap we found ourselves in. But once on the road, it was great to breathe the fresh air at what was the end of the earth for the early explorers. Octopus stew, jumbo prawns, beer, and sangria while listening to the waves pounding on shore and watching the surfers wipe out will always be a good memory. Our waiter has a droll, deadpan sense of humor, reminding us that in a place where time stands still, people have time to work on their craft.

Giralda Tower in Seville, Spain

Giralda Tower in Seville, Spain

The (rare) pristine beach in the Algarve, Portugal

The (rare) pristine beach in the Algarve, Portugal

Octopus Cataplana (rice and seafood stew)

Octopus Cataplana (rice and seafood stew)

Lisbon was a very pleasant surprise. Easy to get around and lovely to tour. Too bad that it flies under most American's radar when planning a trip to Europe.

Lisbon was a very pleasant surprise. Easy to get around and lovely to tour. Too bad that it flies under most American's radar when planning a trip to Europe.

The abandoned castle at Ourem, a picturesque small hilltop town in central Portugal

The abandoned castle at Ourem, a picturesque small hilltop town in central Portugal

Intersecting with a pilgrimage in the walled town of Obidos

Intersecting with a pilgrimage in the walled town of Obidos

Coimbra, Portugal home of the oldest university in Portugal established in 1290

Coimbra, Portugal home of the oldest university in Portugal established in 1290

Our (haunted?) hotel near Coimbra in the Bussaco Forest...this hotel, completed in 1907, was the last royal palace ever built in Portugal for a King. Carlos I, the reigning king at the time was assassinated a year later along with the crown prince.

Our (haunted?) hotel near Coimbra in the Bussaco Forest...this hotel, completed in 1907, was the last royal palace ever built in Portugal for a King. Carlos I, the reigning king at the time was assassinated a year later along with the crown prince.

We parted company with our friends Anne and Jon in the northern Portuguese city of Porto but not before sampling a lot of sweet port wine and taking a boat ride on the Douro River that runs through the town and for centuries was used to transport the grapes for the port wine from the Douro Valley, just a short distance east of here, to the distilleries in Porto. Unlike regular wine, port is a "fortified wine" with 20% alcohol content so even just a small glass gives a pleasant buzz :)

We parted company with our friends Anne and Jon in the northern Portuguese city of Porto but not before sampling a lot of sweet port wine and taking a boat ride on the Douro River that runs through the town and for centuries was used to transport the grapes for the port wine from the Douro Valley, just a short distance east of here, to the distilleries in Porto. Unlike regular wine, port is a "fortified wine" with 20% alcohol content so even just a small glass gives a pleasant buzz :)