Wednesday, August 8, 2007

My Trip to Portugal

Bom Dia,

I am finally recovering from jet lag from our return from Portugal on July 27. I know it is a long time time to take to recover, and maybe it is more that I am still lingering in the memories of one of the most amazing vacations of my life.

Carlos invited me to visit with him in his country, and though it was high season and I only had one week to spare, I jumped on the invitation ( and him ).

We left from Newark after a mad rush to see Ian and family at his opening in Chelsea. every moment was an adventure. I am working on recalling and recreating the exact itinerary.

As Carlos planned this from start to finish, I got to go along and just ENJOY! What a treat, and so special from the first day on. We briefly stopped in Lisbon to see his street of origin after driving under the amazing aqueduct, dropped off stuff in his parent's apt, and then headed up past Peniche to Baleal,a fishing village on the ocean. There were flowers waiting for me in the room in the quaint bed and breakfast he had booked with views of rocks, ocean, a Spanish style- well actually - an old Portuguese church, boats and beach.

Very romantic. We glowed probably as much as the sand, rocks, and homes in the bright coastal light of late afternoon.

From there we visited Peniche for seafood dinner and Obidos for a night of medieval festivities in a medieval walled town. Carlos had chosen my clothes to match his for this surprise trip. ( I knew nothing until we arrived). We had Ginjinha, a cherry liquor, in chocolate cups, and other treats with cappucinos for desert. Having had dinner we had to pass on the roasted grilled boar and rabbits that were prepared old style. Celtic music was played by period actors and musicians. Ghosts and ghouls jumped out to surprise us as we walked among the castle walls. We returned the next day to enjoy more streets, crafts, and colors of Obidos.

Then we headed to visit and stay with Carlos' parents in their beautiful well appointed home overlooking the ocean, in Praia Azul, closer to Lisbon. Carlos was so excited he jumped out of the car to run to the back patio and entrance to greet his folks. We had rushed to make it for 7 PM and dinner. I tried to stop him, to bring our bags and gifts in, but then followed and was immediately hugged and led by his mother, Carmina, to tour the home. From the upstairs bedroom I looked onto the street only to see Moises, Carlos' dad, gesturing and pointing. Where was the car? Carlos had forgotten to put the brake on! The standard cars had an unusual brake and not something Carlos was used to. I guess the excitement also played a part, and maybe I was a bit of a distraction....

The car had rolled into a neighbor's entrance wall and door with some damage to both the bumper and the wall. We cringed as we had not taken insurance, hoping the credit card would cover any accidents (which we hoped not to have). I was worried that this would become very costly for Carlos who was being so generous. Carlos' aunt and uncle were also over for dinner and all agreed that we should not let it interfere with what started out to be so beautiful. And so, after a shower in the beautiful tiled bathroom, we quickly put it aside over an amazing meal of grilled grouper and vegetables with special homemade deserts. We then enjoyed the sunset and a good sleep (or some sleep and lots of good). Breakfast the next day included Carlos' other aunt (both Moises' sisters) and his cousin, who had brought pastais de natas (little custard tarts)- so incredibly delicious. Here is a family portrait.

As the week unfolded we went to Tomar - another medieval town (History includes many more centuries than the four or so we focus on in the US. Here there are remnants from centuries of Moorish rule, the Jewish presence in the 1400s, the takeover by the Templars, and then the numerous Portuguese kings and Christian influences. The architecture reveals layers, Moorish, Manueline style (16th century), and including Roman influence as well.

We visited the towns and beach , Santa Rita, where Carlos spent time with his grandfather, we went to Sintra - another amazing medieval town with wonderful winding cobblestone streets and homes and with numerous palaces -both of the Moors and Medieval fantasy, quintas, and gardens.

To top that day off Carlos took me to a seaside restaurant in Azenhas, nestled in the cliffs and overlooking a wild and brilliant sea. 10 foot waves crashed against rocky cliffs. We dined with the finest smooth white wine of the Colares region perfectly accompanying our seafood and sunset. Need I say more?

Back in Lisbon on Thursday we then tried to find a tango dance in a building by the seaport. It seemed the place was closed and so we resorted to some food in a hip bar restaurant with a Brazilian waitress. The place was lively, one amongst the strip of clubs and hangs by the port. The lights of the bridges and boats (and even the Electric statue of Christ) added to the romance and picturesque evening, though we would have loved to dance too.

Finally we then headed South towards the Algarve, where the Atlantic meets the Mediteranean. We passed by typcial homes of the Alentejo region, ranches, Eucalyptus and cork, and windmills, and stopped in another fishing village for lunch with Octopus salad and steak - I think in Vila Nova De Milfontes. Then we went on past Aljezur and safari sites,to the town, Arrifana, where Carlos has land.

Coming up on on his property, Carlos mentioned that he feared the homes next door had dumped their debris on the land, and sure enough as we approached we saw tons of construction waste spread all over. There was a bulldozer and a man sleepily hanging in it. Carlos harshly approached to question him as to what he was doing on his land. The man called over a builder from the nearby apartment complex that was being put up and which would block some of the view. After some back and forth - this is my land / this is not your land - in Portuguese it became evident that indeed it was NOT Carlos' land! Laughing and relieved, we then scouted a few homes up the road and found his site. The view was unobstructed and the two lovely homes nearby were inspiring me to imagine one that could eventually be built. I fantasized that I might be one to help design and decorate it.

We then relaxed on the beautiful surfing beach below, Carlos diving like a dolphin in the waves. I too went in to be refreshed by the waters which were not quite warm, but wonderful. The views from a lookout up above the beach also were spectacular and the ecology, archeology of the area was explained.

Driving on to Lagos area, we arived at the Romantik Hotel at Porto do Mos. Ths was quite upscale with mostly Swiss German clientele and staff. Carlos, as a true native Portuguese, felt quite proud and privileged to be there and we proceeded to make oursleves at home, much more relaxed than the stiff and stuffy guests who mostly stayed by the pool and restaurant. The foliage was fantastic,as were the bathrooms, and views.

We immediately headed down to the beach to swim and spent a wonderful two days exploring the beaches, rocks,lagoons, at places like Ponte de Piedade. Lagos at night was also lively and Carlos met up with his friend doing tatoos on the cobblestone streets for tourists. He pointed us to a street with good restaurants and we again had an amazing meal- fish stew of some sort and good wine (of course).

In fact most of our meals were fabulous and it was good that we got to work them off during the day time walks, swims, and at night :).

Our final day we spent time doing video on the beach- my beach dance, and enjoying the rocks, sand, and half naked selves. Then we began traveling towards Faro, and took a ferry to the island of Armona for a lazy few hours on a soft and sandy beach with quieter and warmer waters. It would have been nice to stay a few days and just chill here in some small cozy beach cottage. Unfortunately we had to head back to Lisbon.

Finally, about to turn off the road to head north on the highway, Carlos suddenly asked if I could find his envelope with some Euros. After a few tense moments while I looked, we then panicked as Carlos realized he had left it in the safe of the hotel. Beginning to think I maybe had hooked up with a true absent minded professor, or that I was a way too distracting influence, I too had to breathe and then help think out the situation. It was yet another challenge to remain calm and caring. I had to ask Carlos to slow down as we headed back to the hotel, but we made it.

Luck was with us however and the envelope was there! We then had a drink on the veranda, taking in the view at dusk once more and laughed and laughed. Making it through the week with a few upsets and lots of humor, we were still liking and loving each other.

We made it back to Lisbon around 10:30 to quickly shower and then meet Carlos' friend to give him some computer equipment from the states (Apple). Better late than never- and set off to enjoy one more night in town. Climbing the cobblestone streets in a bohemian section, past tables of evening diners spread right across the street, turning down offers of various drugs by various ethnic visitors and residents, and past more young revelers, we made it to a restaurant to hear Fado music, at my request.

The food was not the best but the music was amazing, very soulful, with 2 male singers and one gypsy like female accompanied by acoustic string instruments, a Portuguese guitar, and even a bass. High on the green wine (verde) we shared, we then headed down the hill, past unique elevators that bring people up and down. Passing a group of men with instruments, dressed in black shirts with sashes, we asked where they were from. They said Salamanca, which is in Spain. Carlos then asked them to play for us and they did! . Serenaded with sweet sounds of these wandering minstrels, half high, and very happy, Carlos and I moved into a slow tango and close embrace. One commented- Ah tango, and then another said in Spanish that it was wonderful to celebrate such love.

Indeed it was. Straight out of a movie it all seemed. A perfectly magical way to end our trip.

And the bonus was, in the morning when we returned the car to the rental place, they missed seeing the dents which were all together hidden under the mud and bug splatter!

Blessed with this good fortune and each other we shopped a bit in the airport (with strange ceilings), boarded, and headed home exhausted after long lines passing through various levels of security and a 7 hour flight.

Home at last- and we still like each other, though I snipped at Carlos as we lost our way trying to get over the Hudson on Bear Mt Bridge (I did not want to take a ferry). Making it over, we did cool out and get to enjoy more views

Finally we landed up at Hunn's Lake to visit with Susan, Richard, and family, and avoid traveling through the thunderstorms.


John Elder Robison said...

It sounds like a nice trip, and a memorable vacation. He does sound like the most promising guy in quite a while.

Amonly said...

Thanks John,

Yes, I value good people, and ones that also live up to their promises. So far so good!

Glad to hear from you - reminder- post my piece?

Ron said...

Very nice trip.
After the Algarve tours i did last years i want to open my blog :). Do you know if is better wordpress or blogspot?