Friday, April 9, 2010

Portugal - I love it when a no-plan comes together!

I like fortunate accidents. Most of the time for me, accidents are not so fortunate (and often include me hitting a stationary object with my car). I did not plan to come to Portugal this week; nor did I plan to visit medieval castles, sip on port or take a morning stroll around 11th century fortified walls that encircle a charming tiny town. Being in Portugal has been delightfully accidental.

Lisbon is situated right on the Tagus river and is built of hilly cobblestone streets that wind around colorful facades. Its principle sites are standard European fare: castle, cathedral, monastery, piazzas and sidewalk cafes. Not far from Lisbon lies Sintra which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site on account of its 19th century Romantic architecture.

I didn't buy a proper Portugal travel book but saw one on display in a bookstore. I went in and had a quick glance at Frommer's recommended excursions and decided Obidos sounded like a nice place to visit. The next day I left my big bag at my pension in Lisbon and headed to the train station to buy a ticket. I was informed that the bus was easier, so I took the metro to the north part of the city then walked to the bus station. This sort of traveler confusion doesn't bother me. I'm not in a rush and since I have no rhythm on the dance floor, I'm used to moving off-tempo!

I got off the bus in Obidos and thought wow - these towns are the reason I love western Europe. I ambled down the narrow streets going in the local art shops and sampling port and local cherry liqueur out of edible chocolate cups.

The town reminded me of places in Italy I visited with my mom and our friend Lea. Having gone to Europe with my mom three times, it seemed unnatural she wasnt there with me. My mom collected nativity scenes from our travels and in one of the shops I saw a unique handmade ceramic nativity set and had a fleeting thought that I should get it for my mom. And then I started to cry. The poor shopkeeper wasn't sure what was going on, perhaps he thought I was really moved by his merchandise! I ache for my mom most all the time. Sometimes I go a few hours forgeting she died, and those are a welcomed reprieve. But it's in these unexpected insignificant moments that only she would understand that I miss her the most. I can prepare myself to miss her on holidays or birthdays; I cannot prepare myself for the moments like I had looking at a nativity set in Portugal on a Wednesday afternoon. I've said this is my year of healing after last being a year blanketed with loss. And since I do a terrible job talking about icky things like feelings, I decided I would go off-topic and write about it.

Back to Portugal. I only offer up two criticisms of the country. One: the "smoking kills" message has not made it through Portuguese customs. I would like to expedite the message's visa because smoky cafes are gross. Two: takeaway coffee is hard to find. The to-go concept abounds in the rest of Europe these days but not yet here. And since there are many non-English speaking baristas I learned that my charades impression of getting a cup and then taking it with me needs some work!

I don't hear much about Portugal as a place to visit when I'm in the US....perhaps part of its charm is that it isn't overloaded with American tourists (as an American tourist I can say that!). I could have easily filled up several more days in Portugal so I'll definitely be back.


  1. Hey Stef! I just read parts of your blog and I love it! What an exciting life you live. I cant wait to read more.

  2. Sounds like a great place, and as usual I love your great pictures, and comments. I know what you mean about the sudden outbursts of crying. I had one Sunday after I got back from Austin. Well world traveler, love and miss you. The big B is here for a few days, he sends his love too!