Marvelous meals, Portugal, Slow Food, Tomar

Tomar, Sunday, May 15

20220515_122959

We cleaned up our AirBnB a bit, left behind the few groceries we bought but never ate, and headed to the train station.

20220514_182502

There was a larger chain grocery in the train station, and I went in to get us a bite to eat for lunch. This was the first grocery with a meat and fish counter and deli that I’d seen. I walked around it as if I was in a tourist attraction, and suppressed my desire to take lots of photos. You could squeeze fresh oranges for juice yourself or get it already squeezed in bottles on ice. There were all kinds and cuts of meats, poultry and seafood that you never see in the states, including stacks of bacalhau, the dried slabs of codfish that is a staple of Portuguese cuisine. This is truly a Slow Food nation that eats most of the animal, leaving very little to waste. I often saw pig’s ears on menus. There was one menu of tapas where we decided not to eat – one of the offerings was “grilled guts” – the true mystery meat.

I learned my first train lesson…don’t choose the first class option without checking the type of train. It was only a few euros more so we thought we’d try it. But the train was a regional train and there was no first and second class. Seating was not assigned. Masks were always required and enforced, although you always had the one or two blockheads who wore their masks below their noses.

20220515_14432620220515_144542

Our hotel was only a short, flat walk from the station in Tomar, and what an experience it was! Central Family Palace was a huge mansion built in 1763. The common areas and stairways were dimly lit and full of antiques. It was inexpensive so I picked a room that opened onto a beautiful old terrace overlooking a large garden with flowers and citrus trees. The room itself was renovated and had a private bathroom, and had the only soft mattress we enjoyed in Portugal. If we move here, mattress padding will be essential.

20220515_17513120220515_17514320220515_17554320220515_17561920220515_151559

It was not an easy place to figure out, though. We had been told to call thirty minutes before check-in, but I forgot and we got there at check-in time anyway. We followed another couple in and there was no reception area marked and no one around. I called the number and a very friendly fellow came out of a back room who I wonder if he was the manager or one of the owners. Then a bunch of other people came in, and a very disgruntled lady, and he got kind of stressed out, but he showed us through a maze of stairways and halls to our room with great humor and let us know where to go for additional help.  I was floored by the terrace and the view. The oranges were tantalizingly out of reach in the garden just below.

20220515_15113220220515_15135020220515_15122220220515_151705 Our bathroom had not been stocked so I walked down to the office and let the employee there know, then we went wandering through the town in search of food. We identified a few shops that we wanted to check out if they were open on Monday, and simply enjoyed the walk through narrow streets and the riverside.

20220515_16425320220515_17281320220515_17243020220515_17510420220515_173908

It was early yet and in Portugal most restaurants begin serving at 7 p.m. at the earliest, and Tomar is not a big tourist town (yet), so it was quite empty on a Sunday afternoon. However, we found a small cafe, Mesa de Frades, open. She did not speak English but whipped out her phone with Google Translate and I did the same.  We both had a slice of what she called “homemade pudding,” but it was what we know as flan but sliced like cake, and it was delicious. I bought a cold bottle of vinho verde to go to drink on the terrace in the evenings.

20220515_16531020220515_181100

Then we went back for a nap and a rest on the terrace, and I had one of my few unpleasant experiences when I saw that our bathroom had still not been stocked and I assumed that he had forgotten. I walked down to the office and the guy was on the phone and frazzled. He barked, “Toilet paper, soap, and shampoo, YES! I am busy on the phone!” I walked away a bit stunned because I had been completely nice, but he did get up to our room in the next 15 minutes.

Other than that, the place was great and I would totally stay there again!

20220515_21002120220515_21164220220515_211647

We headed back out in search of dinner, and found a small cafe on a narrow side street with a handful of tables inside and out called Clandestino. This was one of the few places that we ate inside during our trip (pandemic, remember?). Again, there was a bit of a language problem and we didn’t get exactly what we ordered, but I still enjoyed it. I was starting to crave vegetarian food again so I ordered a mushroom dish. Instead, I received a plate full of long necked clams, which were absolutely wonderful. Full of garlic. I can’t have enough garlic!

20220515_22093020220515_220517

It was a full moon that night and the castle on the hill was lit up. The Convento de Cristo would be our destination the next day.

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Saturday, May 14

20220514_10152420220514_101426

This was the morning I was really excited about…meeting artist Alex Castro Ferreira at the Feira da Ladra! I had not gotten to look as much as I wanted at the Tuesday market, and there were a few more vendors there. At once I was mesmerized by tables of old books, zeroing in on the ones that were oldest and small enough to fit in my luggage and would be great for collage or upcycling. Well, I don’t know if I will be able to tear these up. One was fallen apart already, and it had handwriting and pieces of ephemera inside. It was about 160 years old and another was around 180 years old. I was quoted 10 euros for four books which I thought was good, then Alex got there and when she tried to bargain down the price, he would not go lower, but he said we could get a fifth book. I had already gotten more books than I should have, so I picked up a 1948 book on decorating that I liked and gave it to Alex.

Then we went to her favorite vendor who specialized in old photos and documents and lots of cool brass thingies. I picked up a few more and several metal compacts and a small pill box. At the next table where I had bought the packet of letters on Tuesday, a different woman was there. A round paper box with dried rose petals in it was firmly priced at 5 euros on Tuesday. I got it for 2 euros this morning.

Then I went looking for keys and spent the rest of my cash on a variety of knick knacks, and only one key. But I was very happy with what I bought. Alex bargained hard for everything I bought, and got prices down for me. Interestingly, she was not so successful at bargaining for her own stuff. Before we walked up to this table, she said, “This man cries all the time, waa waa waa.” I saw that she meant the bargaining process…he wasn’t so willing to negotiate as others were.

(More photos later – most of my stuff is in my lost luggage, which has been located and I hope to get in a couple of days.)

20220514_113743

We went to a nearby cafe and ordered vegetarian crepes, which were terrific. I was embarrassed to discover that I had left my credit card in the apartment and had spent all my cash! I could have easily paid her back because she was parked almost in front of the apartment, but she wouldn’t have that. I gave her the gift I brought for her. I knew that she loves natural tones and threads, so I gave her a small driftwood stick with several colors of my natural dyed silk threads wound around it, all very subdued colors.

20220514_17350620220514_18145320220514_174523

It was very hot and humid in Lisbon. We didn’t do much else that afternoon, other than walk down to the river and eat Italian food on the riverfront terrace at Casanova. The lasagne was really good! The breeze had finally come in and I was almost chilly for the first time. We cleaned up and packed that night, and turned in early. I was quite sleep deprived.

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Friday, May 13

20220513_12573320220513_125812Today we decided to take the train to Cascais. This was a cute, very touristy little beach town where the real estate prices are high. I had such a completely different mental picture of it! We had cheeseburgers for lunch, and I think this is when I realized that if you ordered a beef dish, it was probably gonna have a fried egg on it. Also, everyone we met had a different way of pronouncing Cascais. We wandered in and out of shops until I insisted on putting my toes in the Atlantic.

20220513_12592820220513_13012120220513_13041820220513_13072420220513_13403320220513_134426

In my original plan, we were also going to nearby “don’t miss” Sintra. Well, we will have to see it next time we’re here.

Back to the apartment for a rest and a shower, then we headed back to the center of Lisbon to meet a friend’s sister and her husband. Now they are our friends too! We really hit it off with Emily and Van, who live in Braga, near Porto, and encouraged us to come back and visit that part of the country. They moved there five years ago and, as pretty much every American expat has told us so far, never regretted it. We wandered to the big square at the arch and then around to different restaurants until we finally settled on one. Emily and I had different kinds of paella. I went for the regional flavor and chose the seafood colored with cuttlefish ink. We had sangria and a bottle of Casal Garcia vinho verde, which I was happy to find in groceries later for 3,99 euros. (Note from home: Deep Roots carries it for $9.99! Yay!)

20220513_19124120220513_19131420220513_19145620220513_19563520220513_205156

Before we met them, I insisted on going to the world’s oldest bookstore, established in 1739. I was disappointed because I had it confused with one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores. The building and business itself may have been old, but the interior was unimpressive and it was owned by a chain named Bertrand. Which reminds me…most of Lisbon and many other coastal towns was destroyed in the earthquake, tsunami, and fires of 1755. The oldest looking part of the bookstore was the ceiling. I noted that it had an art book about the Portland Japanese Gardens, one of my favorite places thousands of miles away that I hope to visit again.

20220513_18403320220513_184141

Pastries in the window of a shop:

20220513_183228

Busker with accordion at the arch. Some people were dancing:

20220513_222216

We had another bad Uber experience, mainly because they have certain pick up places in Lisbon and I can’t identify them on a map by the addresses quickly enough. They canceled on me again. I suppose I will get better at that. The metro stop was right there so we took it back to the apartment.

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Thursday, May 12

This trip has certainly been a huge reality check so far. Sandy has been miserable with back pain. Lisbon is definitely off the list for places to live, although I never wanted to live in a big city anyway. We made a lot more room in our schedule for less sights and more rest.

Today we slept very late and Sandy really wanted pizza for lunch so we had a light lunch in one of the little cafes in the train station. I had a pastry with bacon and cheese. The bacon was more like chopped cubes of ham at home. Perfect for a snack. 

Then we got on the Metro and went to the Gulbenkian Art Museum, a private art collection from a very rich man who came to Portugal and fell in love with it, so donated his vast collection to the country. We took a quick walk through a refreshing garden to get there.

The collection ranged from ancient Egyptian art to 20th century. We were disappointed that the modern art building was closed for renovation, but the museum with the ancient to 18th century art was fascinating. Of course, I took special interest in the textiles. The fine silk tapestry panels were amazing. The second photo is showing part of a glass collection with a window looking out to a courtyard behind it. Below that, self portraits of Rembrandt and Van Dyke.

wp-1652554016398wp-1652553976394wp-1652554060274wp-1652554103637

I was determined to get to the high spot in Lisbon: the Castilo de Sao Jorge. I called an Uber and actually managed to get it to pick us up! The driver was from Pakistan and we had a great conversation about his move to Lisbon. He dropped us off as close as possible to the pedestrian only street leading to the castle.  Sandy needed to sit so we lucked upon Chapita a Mesa with gorgeous views over Lisbon. It was around 3 pm so it was almost empty.  I drank three glasses of Vinho verde, the young sparkling wine that Portugal is famous for. Sandy had a fresh minty lemonade which I don’t think has been beaten yet for taste, and he drinks lemonade or iced tea everywhere. We had some bread and olives to soak up my wine. I think that this was the first time I relaxed since we left Greensboro.

wp-1652554255322wp-1652554233950wp-1652554216852wp-1652554335870wp-1652554147421

There was also a Theater of the Absurd (?) outside the entrance to the restaurant with a lot of young people practicing. One young woman did a beautiful handstand in front of us, but we were not allowed to take photos because they were minors.

The walk up to the Castle wasn’t destined to happen, but I had had enough wine that I wasn’t too concerned about it any more, ha! An Uber took us back to the apartment. We had a nap before going around the corner to Tapas 129 for one of the best meals I had in Portugal so far…a salad with a sesame seed crusted tuna steak and sliced mangos on top. Sandy had barbecued spare ribs, which were very tender and tasty…rivaled NC sweet barbecue sauce. (He hates this photo – I asked him to look up and he was goofing. I love it because the looks happy.) And hallelujah, they had stout!

wp-1652554413008wp-1652554437833

One very good thing about Portugal during a pandemic was that most of the time we ate outside and it was pleasant.

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Wednesday May 11

Sandy ended up taking the bed and I slept on the sofa bed, which I found more comfortable. With the fan blasting, the heat was not so bad. Everyone in Lisbon was complaining about the heat. The two issues I had was that the curtains were sheer and there was a bright streetlight next to the balcony doors, and the street noise was loud. In Lisbon, the garbage was picked up around 1 a.m., which made sense because of the crowded narrow streets. Our street was tiny but very, very busy.

We went to a pastelaria a few doors down and had ham and cheese omelets, then walked to the nearest museum… Museu Militar de Lisboa. This was an effort to make my miserable husband happier, but it exceeded my expectations. The building itself had seen a lot of its own history by the riverfront, as a arsenal and a palace. The displays ranged from suits of armor and medieval weapons, to the Napoleonic wars, to World War I. There were ridiculously sumptuous displays of gold and statuary. There was a room full of sculpted cartoonish figures from a contemporary artist that depicted dozens of the different kind of military workers, soldiers, and officers throughout time.wp-1652553915930 20220511_11422920220511_12072920220511_12012120220511_115433

It was the sculpture above that captured me. I looked at it a long time and I could have spent more time. It depicted soldiers pulling an artillery cart at Flanders under attack as their commanding officer motioned them forward. The road was muddy and they could barely move. Death and shock is here.

We had planned to do more, but given the reality of our situation, we went back for a rest and a shower before going to the busy heart of Lisbon to meet some of my Women Over 50 Moving to Portugal Friendship FB group for happy hour and dinner at Granja Velha Restaurante. This time we rode on the Metro to a stop uphill and walked down to the restaurant. We went early so that we might have a little time to shop. I bought a small purse made from cork and some lovely cheap earrings. To my surprise they did not hurt my ears, so I must be allergic to silver. (Later I lost one, of course.) We rested near the famous Santa Justa elevator that was designed by the architect of the Eiffel Tower.

wp-1652553860503

20220511_182023We had a great time meeting and chatting with my Facebook group, women who had come to Portugal from all over the world, but mostly the US. Some of us had made the move and some, like us, were checking the country out for the first time and considering emigration. I didn’t take photos of the event, but we had a great time. I had grilled salmon and Sandy had shrimp with garlic.

wp-1652553888120

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Tuesday, May 10

This morning we could see the edge of the Feira da Ladra from our little balcony. This is the big street flea market in Lisbon. It was next to the little park we sat in the evening before, next to the National Pantheon. It was a great mix of antiques, junk, more junk, new stuff, and your typical street vendors selling imported clothing.

I got lucky and found someone right away who was selling paper ephemera, old letters, and postcards. As I was looking over a pack of handwritten letters, an American woman leaned over me and said, “Please buy those so I don’t!” I offered them to her, and offered to split them with her, but she was serious. I asked her if she was a mixed media artist, but no, she said that she collected paper. Then she advised me on how to bargain. Sandy and I are NOT bargainers, but I showed the seller everything I had that should have totaled up to 20 euros and offered 15. She accepted, then as I walked away she came up behind me and handed me this. “A gift for you.”

It was a napkin with a handwritten note in ink on it, dated 1929.

I want to go back on Sunday and buy some old keys.

We had brunch at a little cafe next to the market, an omelet and scrambled eggs with toast that came with marmalade and a soft cheese that resembled the taste of ricotta. We went back through the market and bought sunglasses and straw fedoras to save our scalps from the sun. Mine was from an artist who was upcycling clothes into other items, especially neckties.

Sandy was struggling. He had to sit down every few minutes and there wasn’t any seating around. At one point he leaned against a tree and an older woman ran over with a folding chair for him to borrow. We walked back to the apartment, and I blogged about the day before, as I’m doing now. 

wp-1652284785720wp-1652553804284wp-1652284844176A few hours later, we decided to take a ride on the iconic tram of Lisbon, #28E. Actually, there were several other trams but this one happened to have the closest stop. Ouch, the stop was back uphill through the flea market and on the other side of a large church. When it got there, it was full so we stood with others in the aisle and nobody offered to give up a seat. Sandy finally snagged a seat about 20 minutes later when someone in front of him got up, and I leaned against his seat. It was a beautiful ride, but he was pretty miserable because he felt sick. Then at the end of the line, the tram stopped, and everybody had to get off. Fortunately there was another tram there that had seats for us both and we got on. I didn’t know where it went and we didn’t care. Then it happened again and again. Finally I spotted a Metro stop, and we took it back to the train station near our apartment.The Metro is underground, modern, and easy.

wp-1653059711344wp-1653059967466

After we departed the Santa Apolonia station, we sat down at the first restaurant we saw. Continuing with my plan to get in the special things of Lisbon, I ordered a ginginja, a sweet cherry liqueur, and grilled sea bass. Whoops, it had a face! But it was simple and delicious. Even Sandy liked it, and he is not a fan of fish. His dish, however, was horrible. He ordered shrimp with spaghetti, which was drowned in a pink sweet sauce that tasted like a combination of Japanese steakhouse white sauce and Velveeta cheese, something neither of us would ever have guessed to put on pasta. Truly one of the nastiest things I have ever put in my mouth, and I will try almost anything. Hopefully we will have better luck tonight.

wp-1652554387978

The walk to the apartment was very short but very steep. The stairs to the apartment are very steep and uneven. When we got there we both collapsed, but I spent the next few hours getting advice and researching a new plan for the next portion of our trip, which was meant to be Porto. I told Sandy that this vacation is not worth killing him. So we resolved to go next to a flatter place, and to use Uber. I cancelled the room in Porto and I found a nice old place in the center of Tomar with a terrace with a view, close to a train station. That’s where we will go after Lisbon. And then, I did not sleep until about 3 a.m. I am worried. This is a huge reality check for both of us.