Since I didn’t have wifi for the majority of the trip, I took to writing notes on my iPhone (starting to understand the beauty of these devices). So here are The Portugal diaries:
Day 1: Getting There (Grenoble-Munich-Lisbon-Faro)
Is this a day? It feels like 5 rolled into one. We’ve been traveling since 3am this morning. Bike to bus to airport, to another airport, to another bus, to a train we missed because our flight was delayed, to finally waiting in the dark streets for our airbnb host to let us in. We’ve feasted like hobbits having a meal or snack every few hours because our internal clocks are askew and as a hobbit might think, eating helps pass the time. 18 hours of travel. Antoine and I have been through something like the seven stages of grieving- denial of how long this day would actually feel, anger, and then guilt, from being grumpy with each other, and ultimately acceptance and hope that in spite of missing our train we might actually make it to our destination. Reminder- if possible avoid insanity-inducing long travel days like these.
Although I must admit- seeing the sun rise over the Swiss alps is pretty stunning.
Day 2: Exploring Faro
Good news- we didn’t sleep on the streets! Even better, we met our German host who let us in to our cute little Faro apartment, and informed us that there’s a fall fair starting tonight in our honor! Well…there’s a fall fair on the day of our arrival. Coincidence? I think not. But it’s a gorgeous day- there’s a semblance of summer lingering just outside of my window! How can this much sun and warmth exist in October? I won’t waste my time asking questions- time to explore the old town, take a boat ride around the lagoon and go enjoy the beach. Finally a real vacation with Frenchie!!
Later: I swam in the Atlantic! In October! Portugal is amazing!! Granted, Antoine and I were the only ones swimming on that beach, and it rained a little shortly thereafter, but it was an amazing little trip.
Day 3: The Fish Market
Faro is cute with its windy cobblestone streets and pelicans perched on church tops (or maybe they’re herrings but I like alliteration). It’s surrounded by a beautiful lagoon and connected to wonderful little beach spots. There are tons of Germans roaming around in October with cameras in hand and tour guides at the helm. Sometimes I forget I’m in Portugal. I think I’ll be reminded soon enough- time to explore the famous fish market in the neighboring town of Olhão.
Later: Fish market failed. …well not entirely. True, it was pouring rain and the market was more of indoor clusterfuck of smelly chaos than a display of interesting fish arrays, but we succeeded in sampling delicious market fresh coscorões– deep-fried Portuguese pastries rolled in cinnamon sugar. Mmmmm. We also got to taste the local life at a sweet little cafe where we warmed up, and surveyed the streets of a rainy Saturday. Listening to Portuguese is fascinating. With the French and little Spanish I know, I can decipher it in written form, but listening is whole different game. The language is fast and lyrical and almost Slavic sounding. Antoine and I have been playing ‘Portuguese or Russian?’ It’s always Portuguese.
Time to return to Faro and check out this famous fall fair.
Day 4: “I feel like a kid”
Another beautiful day! And what a day it was! We packed up our swim gear, a picnic and (fortunately) a big sun umbrella, and headed for the beach. The endless stretches of golden sand, the uncovered sun, and the roaring of the large emerald waves crashing into the beach were perfection. Families, friends and German tourists spread out across the open sands in an effort to soak up these remnants of summery sun. October is definitely the time to visit Portugal. Antoine and I swam again, battling the strong pull of the tides, and sucking up the initial icy plunge. My toes happily dug into the warm sand and I couldn’t help but smile all day.
Later: We really got to explore the fair tonight. Yesterday’s fairswheel ride was only the precursor to my fear level. We wandered through a maze of teens, families, lovers, colorful lights, and loud music, with the scents of fried goods and sounds of screams and laughter filling the night air. Antoine wanted to do a ride. Correction- the scariest ride. SO, after surveying my ride options, and ignoring my irrational fear of heights, I bit the bullet and went on the pendulum swing of death. As we strapped into our ill-fitting chairs, the panic settled in. Either I’m going to throw up or cry. This is what’s happening. Antoine, however looked over at me, feet dangling off his multi-colored chair, and with a huge smile said, “I feel like a kid.” And with that my life was over.
Actually I survived the ride, but got out of that chair with shaky legs and a raspy voice from too much screaming. I’ll stick with my roller coasters.
Day 5: Getting There Part 2 (Faro-Lisbon)
I want to kill Antoine. He won’t slow down, he’s too stubborn to ask for directions, or take the time to make a game plan. I’m tired of wandering up and down these damn steep streets. Who knew you needed to be a marathon runner just to walk around Lisbon?! There he goes again in a direction that’s probably wrong. We should’ve just done a hostel. I don’t think well come out of this as a couple.
Later: We found our host (or rather she found us)! And made it to our quaint little apartment complete with an adorable tiny terrace and welcome wine from our fantastic hostess. Airbnb is the best. You can meet locals who have helpful insight, and get to have a home in the heart of your destination. We’re right next to the Barrio Alto. Lisbon is beautiful! Antoine and I made it (with our sanity and coupledom in tact)! Reminder- you usually remember the good, not the bad. So try not to stress so much when the bad is happening.
Day 6: Olá Lisbon
Antoine: “I have a feeling it’s this way”
Me: “Why do all of your feelings have to involve so many stairs?!”
Walking in Lisbon is exercise. The hills rise and fall at such extreme angles that you wish you’d brought your hiking boots rather than sandals. It’s like doing the StairMaster 5000 times ten. Looks like someone won’t be needing those padded ass shorts. (Yes, while walking, Antoine and I discovered spandex shorts with padding in the ass! Guess having some junk in the trunk is just that essential here in Portugal).
Lisbon smells like spiced chai or cinnamon apples. I can’t tell where it’s coming from, but I love walking through our neighborhood and smiling at this mysteriously pleasant smell. Our apartment is conveniently located next to the famous tram 28, which explains why it’s so old- 200 years, almost as old as my country. Very bizarre to think about. It’s cozy and cute and almost too small for Antoine. He’s too tall for Portugal. I’m almost too tall for Portugal. I’ve never felt like such a giant before.
We explored the intriguing Moorish castle, Castelo de S. Jorge where we got excellent views of the city and unhampered exploration up and down the castle walls. I love that most European sites are not restricted. Exploring on your own (sans glass barriers or ‘do not climb’ signs) makes for a more authentic adventure. Lisbon is beautiful.
Day 7: Into the Fog
Today we explored Sintra, a vast array of palaces, castles and various royal estates from the 8th-9th century. Where to begin? This trip already took one camera, and today Sintra took mine. As soon as we stepped off of the bus, my camera took its last mechanical twist and then ceased to exist. In an effort not to lose it, I pressed on. At least I had my Iphone. I’m getting better about enjoying the moment even when things take a sour turn. Because honestly yelling obscenities at the camera gods isn’t going to change anything.
But Sintra was amazing. Or rather it would’ve been amazing/spectacular if we hadn’t experienced it in such a fog- literally. Portuguese weather took a turn and unleashed light rain and heavy fog just in time for our day trip. However, exploring the Moorish castle through the fog felt like something out of a fairytale. As we climbed up towers and ducked under stone bridges, not knowing (or seeing) if someone was around the corner, I felt like this mystical domain was my own.
Sadly the fog was not so well suited for the Palace of Pena.
Even through the thick haze, it was impressive. But I couldn’t help but silently curse the weather gods for giving us one of the few bad weather days in October. Still, the intricacy of the Islamic influenced decor was stunning to say the least. I’ll definitely return….on a good day.
Day 8: The Great Pastry Pilgrimage
Since it was our last day, and we had an evening flight to catch, we were hesitant to stray too far from our area. However, our Portuguese friend informed us that we had to try these unique and traditional pastries at Pastel de Belém, “the only bakery in the world that bakes them and has a different and secret recipe”. Little did we know that this venture would turn into a quest.
First the weather did not want us to leave our apartment. The rain poured down and the wind battered our umbrellas, but we pressed on. We couldn’t find our tram and considered turning back, but we continued, eventually finding our correct stop.Then our tram broke down, leaving us lost and seriously considering a taxi ride back. However after drying off in a cute little cafe, we ventured back out with spirits rejuvenated. And after about 3 missed buses, we finally made it to Belem.
And oh how worthwhile the trek was. We entered into a labyrinth of blue and white, filled with smells of cinnamon, and sounds of happily clanking porcelain. And when we tasted those delicious pastries, all flaky, and warm, and cinnamony, I understood why were here. And suddenly I realized why the streets of our Lisbon neighborhood smelled of cinnamon. And in that moment the universe aligned and I understood that all those experiences-both good and bad- were leading us here. The scents of cinnamon had been a sign.
Okay, so maybe I’m being a tad dramatic, but those pastries are just that good.
Plus we even got to explore the stunning Jeronimos Monastery. Quest a success.
Later: Merde. I sprained my ankle. Portugal tried it’s hardest to keep me as it took me down on the way to the airport, tweaking my poor ankle on the uneven streets. I pressed on both out of necessity and fear of what stopping would do. Antoine has taken to saying, “That’s prime blog material.” He’s using my blog against me- as an excuse for me to suck up unsavory things, like riding a bike at 1:30 am after a day of travel with a sprained ankle. Welcome back to France.
Portugal I miss you. Some day we will reunite.