Portugal is full of character and culture. It reminded me of what would happen if you left people alone to live a peaceful life without media, brands and celebrity chefs. There were hints of Barcelona with the long alleyways and large cement buildings with balconies.
Transportation in Lisbon is by tuk tuk, trolley, bus or train. Lisbon is full of steep hills and there are trolley cars dedicated to hauling folks up and down the hills (for a small price).
What really stood out was the roads and sidewalks. They are made of stone and some are in a mosaic pattern. The stone is meticulously placed into patterns.
We stayed in the Chiada area and lived like a local thanks to Air B&B. We were told that locals don’t call each other on the phone, instead they shout from window to window, or from window to street. This proved to be true the entire stay.
On a side note, the push/pull system in Portugal is different from America. Americans are used to pulling a door outward open, in Portugal the door is pushed inward open. This didn’t sound like much but each time we entered a building, restaurant or apartment we pulled on the door only to realize it had to be pushed inward.
Lisbon is full of stone and concrete. The chances of surviving a fall and not slipping when it rains are very slim. Even the roads are made of concrete stones.
So much care and thought was put into the designs on some of the sidewalks. Some of the new construction keep the street pavement with stone and still use detailed patterns. The process is time-consuming even on todays’ standards. A person places individual pieces of rock in a mosaic type pattern by hammering each stone in the pavement, then dusting it with dry concrete and pouring water over them (real old-school).
During the trip my iPhone dropped a few times (not many). Apple iPhone was no match in Portugal. I dropped it once about 3 feet from my body and the stone in Lisbon cracked it on impact. This would be a perfect place for companies like Life proof or Outterbox to test their cases.
First lesson learned in Lisbon – don’t eat anything on the table that you did not order. The waiter brought over bread, butter spread, cheese and a sardine pate. We dug right in only to find out we were charged for each piece of bread and each spread that we opened. It doesn’t sound like much but this added another five dollars to our total bill. It brought back memories of Singapore, when they would charge for napkins that they brought to the table.
The food in Lisbon was some of the best I have had during this leg of the trip so far. Two of my favorite native dishes are Caldo Verde soup and polvo grelhado (grilled octopus), Egg tarts, sardines, cod-fish and sangria can be found on every menu in Lisbon. Live lobsters are available in nice restaurants for almost $90.00 a pound. No wonder the tanks are so clean and the lobsters look like pets in a fish tank. I’ve never seen more active lobsters than the ones in Portugal. In America, the lobsters usually gather together in a corner of the tank not moving, like they know their fate is doomed.
Cork is big in Portugal. In fact, 34% of cork forest worldwide are in Portugal. Gift shops were selling cork postcards, shoes, handbags, wallets and even cork hats. Cork everything!
Lisbon is also the home of Ginja liquor. It is a Portuguese liqueur made by infusing ginja berries (sour cherries). Ginja is served as a shot. I gave up drinking so I didn’t try it personally, but Doug tried it and said it tasted like cherry cough medicine. It’s sold everywhere and ranges in price (depending on the quality) from $1.00 to $3.00 a shot.
The egg tarts and Belem are known around the world as the source of where these were made or originated from. After waiting in line at the famous Paseis de Belém (a 400 seat restaurant known especially for these) It was the perfect place to try one. The first bite I realized this was not something I was going to really enjoy. It was light warm creamy and flaky, all of the things I don’t like in a desert.
The Feira da Ladra, or “thieves’ market” is the flea market in Lisbon. It was a lot of fun. It’s held every Tuesday and Saturday, from dawn to dusk. We happened to be here on one of the days. It’s just like the American flea markets, people selling lots of stuff that no one wants. There were books, records, candle holders, pens, old clothing, ceramic plates and cups, old family photos of strangers and various other trinkets. The prices were great for the things they were offering.
Visiting the Circuito da Pena castle seemed to be on every tourist’s mind the day we went. Long lines to buy the train tickets, long lines to get bus tickets to the castle, packed tour buses lining the narrow streets and long lines to get into the castle. Tour groups of 20-80 people following their tour guide’s flag on a stick. It was a tourist’s nightmare.
The castle is in the town of Sintra, and can be seen from as far away as Portugal’s capital, Lisbon. The palace has been recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The king’s castle was beautiful inside. The furniture was handcrafted in such detail that it would still be in style today.
After living like a local it was a shock and wake up call that we too were tourists. Once we got through all the tourists and made it to the Moorish Castle I realized that it wasn’t really a castle like I imagined. It’s a strategic military landmark. This was where the King had his people lookout for any trouble in the city. His castle was a few meters further up the hill. After walking uphill for about 20 minutes in stifling humidity and heat, I realized there was no entry point into a palace as I imagined. Sadly it was heavily damaged by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and through many attempts (starting from the early 1800’s) the structure was unable to be preserved. The viewpoint into the city was amazing though.
The arts district in Lisbon is known as the LX Factory. Here we found a very eclectic side of Lisbon. There are many galleries, unique shops, talent agencies and eclectic bistros. After walking around admiring the art and looking at expensive vintage shops we left feeling like we saw all we could see there. One of the highlights was walking into what we thought was a gallery, but instead was a talent agency full of beautiful people waiting to be auditioned. Besides pretty faces, they all had cell phones glued to their hands reading them while waiting.
One of the stores that stood out in the LX Factory was an old paper mill that has since been turned into a large bookstore.
We were told by a local that Cascais is the Beverly Hills of Portugal. The roads were manicured, the landscaping is beautiful, and there are no high-rises in sight. Our apartment rental was in a local resident area walking distance from all the shops and action. A lot of travelers use Cascais as a day trip stop. We decided to stay four days.
Even though beaches are everywhere the water is too cold to swim in. The ocean in Cascais is for surfing. Everyone in the water had full body wetsuits which is a big red flag for anyone thinking they could just wade and when they’re hot. The people who did dare to get in didn’t get further than their ankles. I didn’t see a single person swimming but it was nice to sit on the beach and enjoy being by the ocean.
We went to Praia da Guincho beach were most of the international surfing competitions are held. Billabong was hosting a surfing championship that weekend.
The thing I really enjoyed most about this town was the open market. Also in the middle of town, vendors set up in the park early in the afternoon selling jewelry, books, clothes and crafts. I bought a ring for 5 euros and felt great about supporting a local artist. Later that day I saw the same ring in the mall for the same price. So much for handmade.
Cascais is where I found my favorite fruit in the world — gooseberries. I’ve only been able to find them in Hawaii at one farmer’s market in Kauai by a lady who grew them in her yard (she called them poha berries) and at a Singapore grocery store (under the name goose berry). We went to Jumbo (local supermarket) and there they were, only $1.65 each pint. Labeled Physalis (peruvian ground cherry) I bought all six pints they had displayed and ate them in two days.
Just like in Lisbon, the streets are handcrafted with detailed beautiful designs and were mind-blowing. People took the time to hammer in each stone throughout an entire city. The same holds true for Cascias.
Enjoying the beach town we rented electric bikes (yes electric, because of the steep hills and my laziness) rode them along the coast to the Billabong surf championships.
Along the way were beautiful houses condos restaurants and oddly enough sand dunes in desert landscaping. The area here is very dry with sand hills even though it’s across from the ocean; most of the plant life is cactus and succulent plants.
I carried on my grilled octopus tradition here too. I was thinking since I’ve been in Portugal I honestly must have eaten at least 10 whole octopuses in less than two weeks. That is my favorite seafood on the planet and I only like it grilled and it just so happens to be one of the native dishes of Portugal – lucky me!
Ericiera is known for some of the best surfing and kite surfing in Portugal. The difference between Cascias and here is the town itself. Ericiera has a relaxed vibe and a younger crowd unlike the Beverly Hills atmosphere in Cascias. Surf shops and budget hostels are along the shoreline and in town. The ocean is very cold here. All of the surfers, boogie boarders and kite surfers had full body wetsuits on. I did see people getting their ankles wet only to turn around and go sit back down on the beach. Visiting in October, the weather was changing from warm to chilly at night.
I thought the prices of liquor was cheap in Spain but Ericiera has them beat by a long-shot. A twenty ounce beer is .90 in some places and a glass of wine is only $1.50 in most places. Here one glass of wine would equal three in America. Wine comes in a small pitcher and you are given a wine glass to pour your own. If I was still drinking today, $10 could get me pickled for at least two days.
By the end of the trip I ate fifteen grilled octopuses, one octopus salad and one octopus fricassee entrée.
Last but not least, Boris the bulldog left a lasting impression on my heart. Boris’s father owns a clothing shop called the Bulldog. He built a house inside the store for Boris personalized with his name on the front door. Outside is a mechanical bulldog for kids to ride in honor of Boris.
Boris sits outside of the store everyday and patrols the entire area. He is so big and meaty it’s hard for him to move fast so he just lays there and watches. Lots of passerby’s stop over and pet him, hug him or talk to him. Kids are instantly attracted to him and give him lots of love throughout the day.
Sometimes he lays down leaving his arms upright on the bottom stair and legs stretched out on the step above. Too lazy to stand, he barks when other dogs pass by. After seeing him everyday I started asking around and found out some interesting history. He is the mascot of Ericiera. He even has his own Facebook page. This is actually the second Boris, the first one died. From what I’m told the “new” Boris is much more territorial than the previous Boris. Anyway, this Boris was stolen recently. The entire town was up in arms and asking “Where’s Boris? Where’s Boris?” Two days later Boris was found in an open field. The thieves realized they had stolen the town’s mascot and returned him in a place where people would find him right away. Since then he’s been safe and still roams free in front of the store patrolling the area just like old times.