June 1, 2017

Portugal -- Already Planning a Return

Portugal was a surprise visit to a new country for both of us.  We knew very little about it.

But, the few times I'd had Portuguese food it had been delicious, and I'd heard from a few folks that the beaches were nice, so we went ahead and built in 5 days on our road trip.

Views of the Castle from O Arado, Montemor-o-novo.

Our first meal in Portugal was yet another entry in E's ninja restaurant-picking log.  We left Merida, Spain and drove over the border into a tiny town of Montemor-o-novo where E directed me up a mountain to a restaurant with a beautiful view.  We enjoyed bread, mixed goat/cow cheese and açorda de mariscos, which was a delicious stew unlike anything either of us had ever had (turns out: açorda does not mean assortment).  Next door to the restaurant was an open church with classic Portuguese tile decoration., and we were the only visitors, which was absolutely lovely.

Cable cars in Alfama
After driving a couple of hours, we arrived in Lisbon, and it was a bit of a shock.  We were staying in Alfama, and even though we were smart enough to park 1 Km away, the narrow streets and chaos of construction plus hordes of pedestrians were still harrowing.  On our walk to the AirBnb, at one point, the streets were just narrow enough for the cable car to fit between the buildings (as in, if we had been on the "sidewalk" we would have been squished by the cable car).

There's a mini golden gate bridge on the way into Lisbon from Spain.

It was hot while we were in town, and a cruise ship came into port on our first full day, so everywhere we went we were sweaty and the shady bits were flooded with tourists.  After all of our backroads travel in Spain, this was very different.  It's one thing to be in a consistently foreign place -- where the language and the people may not be your own, but they have patterns and consistencies that can, over time, make you feel more comfortable because you start to adapt and begin to know what to expect.  An international horde of tourists is just the opposite -- the only common language is English, but, of course, much like Southeast Asia, the tourist English spoken in Europe is also not anything close to the language that I know as my own.
View over the bay and the roofs of Alfama.
The biggest mistake we made was deciding to walk to the car and then drive to the AirBnB to pick up the bags on our way out.  After multiple Google maps failures due to construction or streets that were one way in the wrong direction, we agreed that I would just park behind a service truck, put on my hazards like them, and E would run to get the bags.  I got honked at.  A LOT.

Very stereotypical Portuguese lunch:
salad, mackerel, potatoes, and some sort of root vegetable.  Delicious.

And then, after about 10 minutes, the police rolled up behind me and flashed their blues.  With no cell service, I reluctantly turned off the hazards and prepared to pull away from the curb and just drive around until I found E, when out of nowhere, the trunk opened.  E threw in our bags, waving an apology to the cops and then jumped into the passenger seat, breathing in gasps from his 500 meter dash uphill with 2 10Kg backpacks.

Gorgeous trail system available for hiking or adventurous trail running on the coast in Lagos.
Lagos, thankfully, was the opposite of Lisbon.  Relaxed.  Easy.  No traffic.  No crowds. Great running.   Gorgeous beaches.  Great local restaurants and easy access to groceries and ATMs with reliable parking and no real traffic or chaos.  We drove out to the end of Western Europe, where the Med meets the Atlantic: Cabo de São Vicente.

Cabo San Vicente
We parked our very dirty and bug-covered 4 door Spanish plated rental car and viewed the lighthouse and cliffs.  And on our return, we were approached by Italian hikers who figured the Spaniards with the dirty car were their best bet for a free ride for slightly smelly hikers and their packs into the local town of Sagres

Their analysis wasn't wrong, just funny in why it was right. We were probably their best bet for a ride, we had a 4 door car and a trunk, we were a couple, and we could bumble along in Italian (which they expected from Spaniards, but were shocked when they learned we were Americans).  We also did them one better and took them all the way to Lagos, saving them at least a day of difficult bus travel from Sagres to Lagos, and in the meantime, we learned all about their hike down the Rota Vicentina.  There are villages along the way, and you can totally just do day pack hikes between prepared meals, lodging and hot water -- It's now very high on our list of travels we'd like to do in the future...

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