Portugal, Tavira

Tavira, Friday, May 20

As I drank my coffee on the roof terrace, I could see that it was going to be difficult to pry myself away from this space above the town. I needed downtime badly.

One of the best moments of my trip happened this morning when I stepped out on the terrace. A small murmuration of swallows swooped so close to me that I heard and felt the whoosh of their collective wings beating. Then I watched them for about 15 minutes as they spun and swooped and lifted as a tight group above our neighborhood. There seemed to be no purpose but the joy of it.

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So, we had a low-key day. We wandered around our neighborhood and the riverside. We ate lunch at a great Indian restaurant in our building below. We talked with a young digital nomad from Poland who was seated nearby, and an old woman very aggressively tried to sell me a plastic carton with about eight strawberries in it for five euros. She eventually went down to three euros, but I wasn’t interested in buying and I was mainly amused at how hard she tried to sell them to me. Later that evening we had an unimpressive meal across the river, and I don’t remember anything about it other than I enjoyed the night views over the river.

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Since this will be a short post, here’s something about dining out in Portugal.

Portuguese restaurants will not bring you glasses of water. Water comes in bottles, either with or without “gas” and you pay for them. Draft beer was incredibly cheap, but you usually only had the choices of Super Bock and/or Sagres. They were pretty good, and both breweries had good dark beers and stouts if you could find them.

Bread and olives and sometimes pate or cheese or butter are put on your table, but they are not free. If you don’t want them, just let the waiter know and don’t touch them. We usually accepted the bread because it was so good, and often took the cheese and olives.

Tips are not expected, but we tipped whenever the waiters gave good service and/or were friendly, which was most of the time. Tax is included in the prices, so the price you see on the menu is the price you will pay.

And the waiters will not bring you a check until you ask for it. “A conta” (the check) is one of the Portuguese phrases we used most often. When you sit down, they expect you to linger over your meal and drinks and dessert and coffee. There is no push to get you to free up a table.

Évora, Portugal, Tavira

Évora to Tavira, Thursday, May 19

20220519_08145320220519_08483220220519_084914Back on the train in the morning, this time a long trip that changed at the station in Pinhal Nova and again at Faro. On this trip we learned that these kinds of trains, with first class and second class cars, had assigned seats. I chose second class tickets and it was pretty comfortable. You could walk to the bar car and buy drinks and snacks and sandwiches, although I don’t recommend the sandwiches – my chicken salad was a faint smear and a small lettuce leaf between three slices of bread. Sandy’s ham and cheese was slightly better. One snack that I noticed in concessions throughout Portugal was Pringles, which is my guilty travel pleasure. I only allow myself to have them when I travel! From what I’ve read, first class is not much different. There are fewer seats in first class, so I guess you have a bit more room.20220519_092532

The train traveled through beautiful groves of cork oaks, orange, and olive trees. Acres and acres of them.  The photo above is not great because the train window was dirty, but you can see where the bark has been stripped from the tree in front.  I found the cork production fascinating and want to learn more about it. We also traveled through mountains on our way to the coast. At Faro, we changed to the regional train to Tavira.

At the train station, I considered whether we could make the walk downhill to our AirBNB, and decided to hail a taxi driver who was letting off her passengers. This was a major communication fail. After telling her the address, showing her the address, and then showing her a map with the address, she refused to take us, throwing up her hands and the only Portuguese I could understand her saying was that I didn’t understand her. And she pointed at the other woman waiting at the taxi stand and said, “I take you.” I never did figure out why she would not take us. But it was okay. We walked down to the river and took lots of breaks, finally sitting at an outdoor cafe and having drinks and some bread and cheese until it was time to call our host.

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The three bedroom apartment we stayed in was as big as our small house. It was an old family place, built in the 19th century, with lots of antiques and family mementos. Two floors up, and then another stairway took us to the roof, where the terrace was for our use alone, with amazing views over Tavira. It also was very hot, but once I opened the windows and the door to the roof, the heat was swept up out of the apartment. After that it was comfortable, and the roof terrace caught the breeze off the river below.

We ended up having to climb lots of stairs at every place we stayed, and that was rough on Sandy. By this time, we both had developed more leg muscle strength and it was tolerable. I hardly felt it any more. In the end, I think this was very good for us.

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That evening we decided to eat at an Italian place on the small square up the street from our apartment. Sandy had pasta carbonara and I had bruschetta with prosciutto and cheese and fig jam. We had learned to ask the restaurant staff first thing if they took Visa, because a lot of places took only cash or Portuguese bank cards. A man seated nearby gave the waitress a very hard time about the signage about them not taking Visa, although we found it without asking. Dealing with all these tourists must require the patience of Jesus. And man, were we in the middle of high volume tourism!

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On the ground floor beneath our apartment, there was a craft beer bar. It played classic rock/yacht rock mostly from the 70s from around 3 pm until midnight, so there was our musical entertainment. At least it was all music that I could sing along to! The sounds also mingled with the violinist busker at the end of the Roman bridge, the accordion player, the singer who made the rounds of the outdoor restaurants with microphone in hand and hat out, and the church bells that sounded on the hour, along with the voices of many tourists and revelers on the streets.

The view from the roof made it all worth it.

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Évora, Portugal, UNESCO World Heritage sites

Évora, Wednesday, May 18

The morning began with an incredible breakfast buffet in the Pousada Convento de Évora hotel restaurant. This photo doesn’t even show it all. We roamed around the hotel’s halls and courtyards and patios and took photos of the views from the hotel and the park on the hilltop.

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We wandered down the hill and stopped in some shops, but I put off buying any souvenirs here. Later I regretted it because I didn’t get a magnet for Évora. Sandy bought me a bright blue linen dress. I will do a post later with photos of doors, windows, and graffiti but here are two windows from our walk that morning. The second is paper.

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Our goal was to go to the Chapel of Bones (Capela dos Ossos) inside the Royal Church of St. Francis (Igreja e Mosteiro de São Francisco). Now, I was fully prepared to be creeped out by a chapel decorated in a mosaic of real human bones, but after seeing it, I thought, I wouldn’t mind knowing that my bones would be used to create a work of art.

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We went into a small museum and into the church, which is active. I would have loved to have gone during a mass. Come to think of it, I have never been to mass. I love the last photo because Jesus and his disciple (I guess) is standing on a base of real cork oak.

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We wandered a bit more, had great salads on the square, and then spent the rest of the afternoon napping and reading by the pools at the hotel. The swallows built nests under the balconies on the buildings on the square and we enjoyed watching them pop in and out of their nests. Later I enjoyed watching them play over the pools. That’s our window on the right of the video. 

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I think that this one ^^^ might be a nice tapestry design.

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We got a bit too relaxed and went back out too late to shop anywhere. We found dinner at Piparoza and gelato. I had duck breast with a raspberry sauce and it was one of the best meals I ate in Portugal. Apparently I was so into it, I didn’t take a photo. Oh well!

My intent for this visit to Évora was mainly to visit the stone circle nearby. Plans change. Maybe another time. There was so much to see.

Évora, Portugal, UNESCO World Heritage sites

Tomar to Évora, Tuesday, May 17

20220517_094851When we left Tomar to travel to Évora after breakfast on the train, we had to go back to Lisbon to connect. (Yes, I put my mask on after this photo!) The station at Lisboa-Oriente was huge and modern. There were lots of levels and shops and cafes and even a farmacia and medical clinic.

Since we had a bit of a wait, I went to the farmacia to buy the equivalent of acetaminophen for my headache. This was a lot different from our pharmacies and drugstores. They are much smaller and what are non-prescription medications in the United States are not on the shelves here. You have to take a number from a machine at the door, and wait for the next pharmacist. There were four of them at this busy farmacia, behind a counter with plexiglass partitions. Another staff member provided customer service in the main part of the store. When I stepped up, I already knew that the name for the same type of medication in Europe was different, so I asked the pharmacist for the equivalent of Tylenol. She knew what I meant and got it for me. Yes, it was less expensive. I also asked about Covid-19 tests, since I had been told that I could get a supervised test at any farmacia for our travel needs. This turned out to be no longer true, and I was referred to the clinic, who told me that I just needed to make an appointment for the day we needed them.

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Our train finally appeared on the monitor, so we went up the stairs to sit outside and wait for it. It was about ten minutes before the scheduled departure. That ten minutes came and went, the train number disappeared from the monitor, and a few other concerned people left. We waited another fifteen minutes and Sandy went to the ticket counter to see what was happening. Turned out that there was a scheduled strike and that train had been canceled. What’s more – they knew that there would be a strike a week ago, yet we would still be sitting there waiting for all we were told, after buying tickets online a week ago. The next train was much later, and they couldn’t guarantee that it wouldn’t be canceled. However, we were able to go to the bus station and get tickets for the next bus.

I was hustling back and forth because it was not at all clear where the bus station was. There are several bus companies. One sold tickets from a snack kiosk on a laptop. Finally I found the counters for Redi-Express and there was a bus leaving for Évora in thirty minutes. I went back to the train ticket counter, got my refund, and made it back to the bus just in time. I was pretty frazzled. We got on the bus and I was happy when the front seats were empty, but alas, it turned out that they weren’t for us. We had assigned seats, and when a young man on the bus finally interpreted what the annoyed bus driver was saying to us, we found them. The man in front of me had reclined his seat so far back that he was nearly in my lap. At some point I spilled a whole bottle of orange juice all over me and my handbag and my book. I was not happy on this bus, but at least I didn’t get carsick, which has happened to me before on buses. I could see that it would have been a comfortable, nice ride if I hadn’t been squeezed in with sticky juice all over me.

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Finally we arrived in Évora. We took a taxi to our hotel, which was the one place I spent a lot of money on during our trip. It was the Pousada de Évora, a renovated historic convent at the top of the city, right at the square with the Roman temple ruins and the cathedral. Our room was once a monk’s cell. It was a beautiful place, and we set out to see what we could of Évora in the late afternoon and evening. The weather was fabulous.

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^^^Drinks in Praça do Giraldo, the center square beside a 16th century fountain. We came back to this square a lot.

We decided to have dinner at a restaurant named Medieval. We ordered pork and lamb, and shared them. The lamb came with “bread pudding” which was similar to our bread dressing or stuffing. Chips or fries seem to be the main side dish for Portuguese meals. Chocolate mousse and a special dessert that was like creme brulee – so good!

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Portugal, Tomar, UNESCO World Heritage sites

Tomar, Monday, May 16

We woke up on our 35th anniversary refreshed and ready to seize the day. Breakfast was served downstairs and we met a German couple who we ended up seeing most everywhere we went after that. Breakfast was scrambled eggs and thinly sliced bits of ham, fresh baked bread and jam and butter.

We walked a few blocks and then took a taxi up to the Convent of Christ, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This was breathtaking, and I’ll let the photos take over and you can read about it on the link if you choose.

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Inside the rotunda, I talked with a woman from West Virginia who we briefly met on the way in, and she told me a few facts about the artwork surrounding us. Keron Psillas gave me the URL to her website, and it turns out that she is quite a photographer, world traveler, and tour guide.

After having gelato in the cafe, we walked down the hill and through downtown, and I noticed a hair salon with no customers that struck my fancy, so we stopped and both of us got our hair cut and Sandy had his beard trimmed.  They didn’t take credit cards (we found that we needed cash at a lot of places in Portugal) so I walked across the street to an ATM that was inside a small room with a glass door in one arch and a very clean glass window in the other arch. Oh silly me, I tried to walk through the window and banged my head hard enough that it sent me stumbling back. I had a headache and a lump on my forehead for a couple of days, but Sandy watched me for signs of concussion and I was okay. I’m just glad that I had my head down a bit or I might have broken my nose!

As expected, not many restaurants were open on a Monday night, which made us ratchet down our plans for a fancy anniversary dinner. However, we really enjoyed the grilled chicken and hot fresh bread and friendly wait staff at Casa dos Frangos, a place across from our inn. If we end up living here, this is a place that I would return to often. There were three other people there from Georgia, US and we enjoyed talking to them and comparing notes. Whenever we heard someone say “y’all” we engaged!

I can see this town as a place where we could settle.

Marvelous meals, Portugal, Slow Food, Tomar

Tomar, Sunday, May 15

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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Pastries in the window of a shop:

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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