Monthly Archives: April 2016

Portugese Street Art

I first blogged about graffiti and street art when we were in Athens and you couldn’t help but notice the sheer volumes of paint adorning the walls of the city. It ranged from commissioned art to guerilla avant-garde, and from political graffiti to the lowest form of vandalism – the tag.

As soon as we started our walk about Amsterdam we started to see street art that ran this entire gamut.


Mural on building under renovation in Amsterdam


Political stencil statements in Amsterdam


Political stencils in Amsterdam

Our initial walk around Lisbon was no different. The graffiti and street art was everywhere. In particular, when we walked the crooked alleyways and cobbles up to São Jorge Castle the many ruins nearby had been overtaken by artists and tag-thugs alike. 

Similarly, the many stairways throughout the neighborhoods of Alfama, Baxia, Bairro Alto, and Chiado were adorned with free expression.

The Glória Funicular of Lisbon connects the Pombaline downtown area with the Bairro Alto and (perhaps in response to the graffiti lining the route and the street car itself) the city appears to have left large boards for artists to paint with some notable works. 


In the Algarve and specifically on our walks in Tavira, the graffiti was more wimsical and playful in nature, reflecting the more relaxed and easy going pace of life in the south of Portugal.

Even in Evora (where we went to visit the Chapel of Bones) is not immune to graffiti on the walls and streets of the walled inner city. And as expected we saw a lot of graffiti and street art in the crumbling alleys of Coimbra, Portugal’s main university town.

But by far the most impressive street art was on the streets Porto. Around every cobbled corner waited another masterpiece to invoke emotions and inspire reflection.


Along the Rua das Flores which we discovered on our first day of walking Porto, there are utility boxes outside many of the businesses that line the street. The city, or perhaps a the local merchants, have commissed artists to decorate them all along the avenue in hopes that will cut down on them decorating the walls of their business.

The art in Porto was more humorous and light in nature than elsewhere in Portugal. It reflects well the personalities of those we met in Porto and the atmosphere of art, international toursim we felt there (not to metion perhaps the port we drank there).

But there was one artist that really struck us – the work of Hazul Luzah. We noticed his stylistic works across the city, often with one after another of a themed piece around each corner, coaxing you along. I found his work striking with strong repeating semi-religious organic forms, often of a faceless mother in shroud inviting you to perhaps see your own reflection in that blank space.


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Perfect Day in Porto

Our last day in Porto was as close to a perfect day as I can remember. Great city, great weather, great views, great food, and of course great port!

We started our day with a walk to Livraria Lello & Irmão, a bookstore in central Porto near our Airbnb. This is no ordinary bookstore, as it is rumoured to have been the inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s world of Harry Potter. She apparently lived in Porto for a few years while writing the book. Seeing pictures of Livraria it’s easy to imagine this to be true, unfortunately for us the book store known as “the most beautiful bookstore in the world” was closed for renovations.

So our perfect day was off to a rocky start. But we made the best of it and explore the local neighborhood before winding our way back down the hill towards Rio Douro.

We made our way across the Rio Douro to the port district for a taste of the wineries set amoungst spectacular views of Porto’s Ribeira (riverside) neighborhood across the river.

Our first stop was at Sandeman who were celebrating their 225th anniversary. It was here – still a little early in the day – we had our first sips of Port…and also where our daughter Clara had her first sips as well. When in Porto – and when outside the jurisdiction of the US – …why not? Clara found it a little too sweet to her liking, but all of us found the history of port and the process for making it very educational and interesting.

After leaving Sandeman slightly tipsy (the 6 pours were bigger than we expected) we decided on an early lunch to soak up our tasting and steady us for the next one. We found ourselves at Ar De Rio, an all glass restaurant directly on the Douro with a stunning view of Ribeira. It was here I had my first Portugese Francesinhas, (similar to, but more decedent than, a gravy-laden poutine). While it looks less-than-appetizing, its kind of an amazing flavor (and calorie) explosion! It’s a sandwich made with bread, ham, sausage (often chorizo), and steak, covered in melted cheese and a tomato/beer sauce smothered across it and the french fries it’s served with, often with a sunny-side-up egg on top.

After lunch we noticed that Porto Vasconcellos was across the street. Vasconcellos is Tawny’s family name on her father’s side. Her grandmother was Maria Sabina Vasconcellos from the Azores. Unfortunately it was closed! We were very disappointed and about to leave when a nice gentleman named Jorge happened along, saw our concern, and asked us if we were interested in a tour. They are a very small producer, producing in a year what Sandeman might product in a week. We bought ourselves a private tour of the winery (which didn’t take long) but it had an interesting history dating back to 1879. We then went for tastings of a few of their ports: a 10 year white, a 10 year tawny, a 20 year tawny, and a special tasting of their 30 year tawny. Their ports are rather expensive as they don’t export and only make them available at the winery or at local restaurants. We ended up with a 20 year bottle to save for a special occasion. The packing logistics to get this bottle home became a primary concern for me, but somehow we managed to get it home safely and keep our suitcases underweight. It was great to share a little bit of Tawny’s family history with the winery and for us to learn and even taste a bit of our family history with them.

After our last tasting we headed back to the Ribera for a siesta at our apartment. But as the shadows grew long across Porto we wrestled ourselves up and went out for a late afternoon walk of Porto and to find a place for dinner.

We found a gem. Our last meal in Portugal turned out to be our best. We found a little literal hole in the wall next to the train station called Tapasbento, a small tapas bar. It was surprisingly packed when we walked in. It had amazing reviews on Yelp which were well founded so the word was out. The food was extraordinary, each tapas being better than the last. A few items that stood out for us were the tuna and avocado on toast, cream of veg soup, goat cheese and arugula salad, and the potato pie. They served us simple dishes expertly prepared, finishing us off with a peanut mousse that was mind-numbingly good.

As we came out from the restaurant rubbing our bellies, the sun was just beginning to set over Porto. We decided to walk off the dinner and wandered across Porto towards the high train bridge over the Rio Douro to watch the sun set and the full moon rise over the ancient city. It was a magical moment to end a near perfect day; the sort of day that makes you long to return to Portugal time and again to recapture that moment.

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Portugese Doors and Hand Knockers

As we explored the back streets and narrow alleyways of Portugal we became facinated with the weathered doors and the old-world hand knockers that adorn them. They almost wave to you, inviting you to knock them against the heavy and decaying doors where they hang.  You feel temped, wondering what may lay beyond them. 

When we arrived in Porto we asked our Airbnb host if he had any suggestions on where we can find some to purchase. He suggested the Ruo do Almada – the hardware district. We set out on a mission and wandered our way up the Rua das Flores, a narrow pedestrian street lined with many shops and cafes, to find ourselves our own hand knockers. 

Porto is a town of winding streets that crisscross like a labyrinth up from the Rio Douro across the steep hills and valleys that make up the town. Working up a sweat and with a huff under our breath we found our way to Ruo do Almada only to find the hardware stores on afternoon siesta. We could see knockers through the window but the stores wouldn’t be open again until 2:30 or 3pm.

We headed back into Rua das Flores to grab ourselves some lunch at a little lunch counter and store that sells sardines, olive oils, and cured meats called Mercearia Das Flores. They made these incredible toasted almonds in Portugese flor du sal and these delectable toasted open-faced sandwiches. 

After lunch we had some more time to kill before the hardware stores opened and we found a few nearby record stores to shop. In particular, we liked Porto Calling where we picked up a Portuguese Punk Rock band called The Parkinsons

As siesta ended it started to rain. We dashed between rain drops, in and out of varied hardware stores and found that hand knockers – even new ones – are few in selection and surprisingly expensive. Finally we found a nice gentleman in a narrow hardware store willing to help us and we bought a few knockers for home (one for our house and one for Clara’s bedroom door ;). If you are ever in Seattle swing by and give them a knock. 

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Evora’s Chapel of Bones

Twenty-seven years ago Tawny visited the city of Evora to see the Capela dos Ossos – or Chapel of Bones. It was built in the early 1600’s as “an invititation to reflect on the transitory nature of the human condition” underscored by the inscription above the door which (in Portugese) reads “We bones that are here, we are waiting for your’s.”

We left Tavira for a long and scenic drive north through Mertola, Beja, and eventually to Evora, arriving around 1pm. We parked outside the ancient walled town and walked inside, navigating our way through the many sites of Evora to the Church of Saint Francis where the Chapel of Bones within is contained. And it was closed. Hugely disappointed we thumbed through our guidebook to see if it mentioned the hours. It did! It was closed for lunch and would open again at 2:30. We had 90 minutes to kill. 
Upon our friend Luís’s recommendation we found Café Alentajo near the main square where we could take in lunch while we awaited the chapel to reopen. We had a quick regional meal of black pork cheeks, steak with cream sauce, a local melted cheese, and the most amazing sautéed asparagus in the most flavorful olive oil. 

After lunch we headed back to the chapel and found it to be open. But it wasn’t the same as Tawny had remembered. When she had been here before this was a sleepy little town and the she found the chapel to be empty. She had to pay a small fee to enter and something like an extra dollar to take pictures. Once in the chapel she found herself alone with skeletal remains of hundreds of souls and a few mummies hanging from the rafters. This time was a bit different. There had been a lot of restoration of the Church of Saint Francis and a new entryway to the Chapel. There was now a small museum nearby, new clean bathrooms, and you no longer needed to pay extra to take pictures of the bones – that fee was now included in the price of admission. Once in the chapel you found yourself surrounded by more skeletons still covered with fat and flesh shuffling with their families and contouring themselves over and around glass barriers with their iPhones and SLRs to try and snap a few morbid pictures of these unfortunate souls. And to our disappointment the mummies had been temporarily removed for restoration.

Even so, the experience is solemn and macabre.


To add to the atmosphere there are inscriptions (and conveniently for us also translations) for those waxing existential; like this cheerful sonnet:  

  • The scraggy skulls are my company. I have them night and day. In my memory; Many were honoured in the world by their talents, and other vain ornaments which served vanity. Maybe in Eternity the reason of their torments!



And this sonnet which will give you pause: 

  • Look, you hasty walker? Stop, don’t go further more; No business is more important than this one at your display
  • Bear in mind how many were here. Think you’ll have a similar end! Then to reflect, this is reason enough as we all did think it over. 
  • Think, that you fortunately among all the world affairs you do think so little about death.
  • Though if you raise your eyes here stop…as in such a business the sorter you go further, the more get ahead. 



After we had picked these bones clean we returned to our car and continued our drive to Coimbra, another 2.5 hours onboards where we spent the night. Coimbra, known as a college town for the past 725 or so year, is a steep and decaying town that still has its charms. But those charms are for another blog entry on another day.

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Tavira Reunion

Twenty-seven years ago Tawny visited Tavira with a friend when traveling in her early 20s across Spain and Portugal. They met a couple of nice Portugese boys who showed them the sites in Tavira and one even took them home to meet his mother. Tawny loved Tavira so much she abandoned her plans to return the car in Spain to catch a ferry to Morroco, instead deciding to spend another week in Tavira with her new friends. She hoped she’d be able reconnect with Luís who still lives in Tavira after they recently reconnected on Facebook.

We spent our morning wandering through the clean and quiet whitewashed alleyways and tiled façades of the sleepy fishing village. Today’s Tavira is nearly the same as Tawny remembered it to be a quarter century before. Undiscovered, like a well kept secret amoungst friends, Tavira winked knowing glances at her around each corner as another memory returned and was shared and entrusted with us.                           

For lunch Luís (via FB) had recommended a friend’s restaurant called 4 Aguas out where you catch the boats to the beaches. We started walking out of town towards the marina and the salt flats on the horizon (they produce an excellent flor de sal in Tavira and all along the Algarve), and passed the fishing boat returning from an early morning sailing. 



The road was much longer (and it was much warmer) than we expected, so we returned to our apartment over a nearby bridge to fetch our car and drive out to the restaurant 4 Aguas Marisqueira at the end of the long road.

We introduced ourselves to the owner, mentioning Luís, and he showed us a seat in the semi-open section of his restaurant. From here we could see what we assumed to be the Tavira junior sailing club practicing their sailing skills rounding the bouy just in front of the restaurant.  



 The seafood looked fresh caught and made to order. 


We ordered a plate of prawns in a spicy sauce, a dangling skewer of mixed grill of prawns and monkfish, as well as steak and homemade fries. By far this was the best meal in Portugal to date.


After lunch we returned to Tavira to continue exploring the backstreets and popping into small artisan shops looking for gifts. Towards 6pm we settled into an outdoor cafe called The Black Anchor. It was an Irish Bar along side the tidal river  with a view of the Roman Bridge. We weren’t looking to be at an Irish bar in Portugal, but 27 years ago it was a Portugese bar and where Tawny first met Luís. We hoped he’d be able to join us later that evening for some drinks. In the meantime we watched a clam digger work the river at low tide, and the crabs come out to sun themselves, waving their one giant claw defiantly at each other or in salutations we weren’t sure. 


About 6:30 pm Luís arrived with his lovely 7-year old son (who was as patient with this father as he could be, riding this bike around the block for an hour or more while Tawny and Luís caught up). We relaxed like old and instant friends drinking beers and eating cheese as the shadows of the Roman Bridge grew long and the cool marine air settled upon us like an evening dew. 

It was wonderful to see Tawny in Tavira reliving a memory of a pivotal time in her life. It made me see, understand, and love her from another perspective. It was also wonderful to meet Luís, the sort of person you feel instantly connected with. Later I told Tawny, “You’re right. Luís is a nice guy.” “I know people. And he’s good people”, she said. Hopefully one day soon (certainly before another 27 years goes by) we can return to Tavira see him and his family again. Similarly we hope that one day soon Luís will come to Seattle so we can host him and his family in the Pacific Northwest. 

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A Challenging Day of Travel

Paul Theroux said, “Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.” That’s certainly true of the travel blog, but perhaps not this blog entry. Today presented us with a cascade of obstacles that challenged our resolve as travelers, as parents, and in my case as a driver and perhaps as an overseas emissary for America.

A taxi had delivered us to Lisbon airport by noon where we were to rent a car and start our drive across Portugal. We picked up a nice diesel Fiat 500L. It was nearly new, shiny, and black with plenty of room for our cargo luggage. The problem? It was a 6-speed manual transmission. I knew this going in, but it has been some 15 years since I drove a manual when I had a Honda Civic Si. I loved driving a stick and lamented (after Clara was born) giving up the sporty little car and getting a practical parent car in the form of a 4-door sedan with automatic transmission.

Perhaps it was me. Perhaps I failed as a driver, or fulfilled a European stereotype about American’s driving manual transmissions. But try as I might I couldn’t get this 6-speed Fiat 500L into gear. I’d ease the clutch slow, pop the clutch fast, shift slow, fast, up/down, start in 2nd gear…. No matter what I tried the car would stall and not go into or stay something in gear. However, I was able to make it out of the parking garage, out of the airport, around the first roundabout stalling in the middle of the road to the sounds of Portugese horns blowing imagined obscenities at me. I was able to make it around the roundabout to our exit and started up the freeway on-ramp when the car just died, smoke pouring from the hood. I pulled to the side of the road, put on the hazards, and called roadside assistance. We had made it 1 kilometer, or 3280 feet. Not far. Later research would reveal (through a quick Google search on “Fiat 500 clutch problems” a bevy (162,000) entries on the notorious and persistent problems with the Fiat 500 clutch and transmission resulting in numerous and recent recalls. It restored my faith in myself as a skilled driver, but certainly not my faith in Fiat.

After several phone calls, communication challenges, and over 2 hours of waiting a tow truck final arrived. Unfortunately it was with a driver that didn’t speak English or Spanish and so we couldn’t easily explain the problem. After more phone calls and a car rental operator translating he determined that the car had a bad clutch, and would need to be towed. We unloaded our luggage and waited on the side of the road. We’d be picked up in a taxi and delivered back to the car rental company for a new car.

At the car rental company we insisted on an automatic transmission, which is apparently hard to come by in Europe. They had one available but it would cost us extra, of course. They were nice enough to give us a discount while still charging us more and we went to load up the new car. Or tried too. The car was smaller and we couldn’t fit our bags in the trunk, or even in the back seat. We had to go back and ask for yet another car. “We don’t have anymore automatic transmissions unless you get into the “Prestige” class. I didn’t know what that was, but it sounded expensive. In the interest of safety and getting back on the road (we were 3 hours delayed by now) we negotiated a price I could live with and then we found ourselves in a high-end Mercedes C-class 220d that had me terrified to drive it on the narrow and cobbled streets amoungs Portugese traffic which apparently has the highest accident rate in all of Europe.

Behind the wheel of a fancy car that nearly drove itself we headed out of Lisbon just as the sky opened to dump rain upon us one more time. It was as if Lisbon was flushing us out with a wet wave goodbye.

We drove about two and a half hours down the A2 towards the Algarve and Tavira past cork oak trees stripped of their bark to cork our well deserved bottle of wine for tonight. Tawny had been in Tavira some 27 years earlier and had often talked about her time there. While visiting Spain and Portugal in her early twenties she had come through here and met a few new friends who had shown her and her travel companion around Tavira and the local beaches.

We arrived in Tavira about 6:30 pm and met our AirBnB rep José to get into our spacious apartment on Travessa da Junta dos Portos only steps away from the Roman bridge. Hungry (we hadn’t eaten all day) José suggested a few restaurants a short walk away. We set out for a short walk through Tavira.

Two were closed, but one was open and packed with people. We went in for a dinner of Swordfish (Clara), Pork and Clams (Marc), and Peppersteak w/rice (Tawny) with appetizers of local goat cheese, olives, and marinated carrots and fresh bread. It was delicious.  

We also ordered a local wine. Clara picked it out, given it had her name on it we were obliged to try it. There aren’t a lot of wineries on the Algarve and this one was quite good. 

It was served in large long stem glasses that could hold 1/3 of a bottle. Which was a wonderful thing after a stressful day. But what wasn’t wonderful was me knocking my glass over, breaking it, and spattering wine across myself, my phone, the floor, and my neighbors. We tried to assess the damage. “I think it missed everybody” I said, but then noticed the gentlemen next to me had spatters of red wine across his light colored sport coat. I was horrified. “I think I hit you?” I said sheepishly. Scrambling to give our napkins and water to the couple who furiously tried to daub it out of the jacket. “Can I pay for your cleaning or buy you a new jacket?” I said. Their reply, “We live where wine is more precious than clothes. You can buy us a glass of wine”. I bought another bottle Joao Clara for them to take home.

They were an interesting couple who pulled their table next to ours, introduced themselves as Julie and Keith – expats from England living in Tavira for the past 12 years. We chatted with them for an hour or more, sharing tastes of the house wine, glasses or port, and trading stories ranging from politics to personal stories of how each couple met and married. What had been a rather miserable day of trials, tribulations, and tailored tragedy, turned into a great meal and great conversation with an interesting couple with many stories to share.

Perhaps Theroux is right, that “Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.” Or perhaps it is only glamorous when you allow it to be so by going easy. Easy to deal with and roll with the punches of the best laid plans being out of your control, handling it with humor and grace, and engaging honestly and positively with those around you. Keith and Julie, thank you for graciously taking your wine (the bottle I bought you and the 1/3 bottle I poured upon Keith’s jacket). And thanks again for the glass of port and conversation. Cheers!

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A Soggy Sintra

Our waking weather made us debate if we should bother heading to Sintra for a day at all, but the promise of fantasy palaces balanced atop rocky peaks like castles in the sky was too strong to resist. We headed to Rossio Train Station and bought our tickets for the 45 minute journey to the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Sintra.

The weather worsened on the train. So much rain and wind we could hardly enjoy the landscape of ancient aqueducts entangled with the Lisbon apartment housing project sprawl.

Before we knew it we were let off in the quaint town of Sintra’s Old Town in pouring (I mean buckets) of rain and wind trying to find the right bus (BTW it’s #434), buy tickets and wait in the rain for the bus to Pena Palace. By the time it arrived and we boarded we were soaked to the bone, even with our umbrellas and rain jackets. 

We got off at the Pena Palace stop and bought tickets for the entrance to the Palace and Park, and then more tickets for a shuttle to take us to the palace so we didn’t have to hike the hill to the castle at in the rain. 

Upon arrival we asked about tours, they had one in English in about an hour. We decided to get some lunch in the cafeteria while we waited. It was undoubtedly our worst meal of the trip. But it was worth the wait. The tour started just as the rain ended. And while we’re were still in the fog and clouds and wind much of the tour was inside. The guide was informative and engaging and we were riveted to hear the tale of how Prince Ferdinand (cousin to Bavaria’s “Mad” King Ludwig) and of Prince Albert became enthralled with the Moorish castle and monastery located there. As luck would have it the monastery was for sale and he bought the lands and spent much of his life (becoming King after marrying Queen Maria II of Portugal). He didn’t bother much with politics and spent most of his life as a patron of the arts building this palace for his love Queen Maria). Unfortunately she died bearing perhaps the 11th child and years later he scandalously married Elisa Hensler (a highly educated and artistic (ceramics and opera) Swiss schooled in America – who was also secretly a single mom raising her “niece”. Fascinating people! 

By the time the tour had ended the rain had stopped, the fog was lifting, and some sun broke through. It was now you could really appreciate the views of the Moorish castle, the villages in the valley below, and the bright bold colors and designs of Ferdinand, with many touches by his second wife Elisa. The change in weather had changed our minds and a soggy trip to Sintra suddenly become worth the effort.



We headed back to catch a train (by seconds) to Lisbon where we rested up at our hotel before discovering there was another record store – Carbono – just around the corner from our hotel. Apparently it’s the first, oldest, and largest records store in Portugal. I wish we had hit it first. But we purchased a few album from our bucket list and got a rare pressing as well. Afterwards we took in dinner at Champanheria do Largo – possibly our best meal in Portugal to date.






After dinner we went for a Friday night stroll through what appeared to be the theater district with patrons spilling onto the street and into sidewalk cafés for late night dinners and drinks. The city was abuzz and alive with activity.

We got our own late night snack in the form of a cream custard called Pastéis De Nata. Which was divine!



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Música de Lisboa

A late start to the morning (we are on vacation) had us head out just as the rain began. Donning umbrellas we made our way to the Elevador Da Gloria (a funicular) for a ride up the steep and slick cobbles to the Bairro Alto – Lisbon’s “High Town”. 

It was a very short (and overpriced) ride to the top of the hill. Stepping out of the trolley we were met with wild winds and driving drizzle our umbrellas were useless against. We stepped to the nearby viewpoint Sao Pedro de Alcantara Park for a quick view across the city. We could see the Castelo De Sao Jorge and the Alfama neighborhood we had explored yesterday.    

There was a nearby kiosk with some cover from the rain were we grabbed a warm up of coffee and cocoa while we tried to figure out what to do with the day (the Bairro Alto walk being shelved due to inclement weather). I decided to search Google for record stores in the neighborhood and found that there were several only a few blocks from us. We headed to them only to find they didn’t open until 2pm. We decided we’d come back later. 

We wandered through the area and found ourselves in a new neighborhood called Chiado – a neighborhood of poets and artists. We found our way to an artisan shop of Portugese handicrafts where we bought a few items. Then we made our way back to an outdoor (but covered) cafe where we had lunch and watch a great street band play various alternative rock songs on the street in the square where the cafe was located. Clara struck up a conversation with the bass player when he came around asking for contributions. After complementing his bass playing and his bass (explaining she was a bass player herself) he invited her to sit in with the band. And to our surprise she did! You can see a video of her playing “Stand By Me” with the band here:


By the time Clara had finished rockin’ Chiado the record stores were open and we headed to one we had checked out earlier. 

 We got several good albums, and a few off our top 100 must find list. And we picked up a list of other Lisbon record stores across the city to check out. The rain had stopped and we decided to walk to a few of them. Unfortunately both were still closed so we headed back to our hotel for an afternoon rest.

After a rest we decided to venture out again to walk to the end of the Baixa neighborhood to Praça do Comécio at edge of the Rio Tejo. 

On the way we got trapped in a horrendous downpour with driving winds and found ourselves a distance from our hotel soaking wet. We dashed into a small wine bar called “Dr. Wine” where we had an afternoon snack of cheese, Iberica ham, and wine.

  The rain let up a bit and we continued down the Rua Augusta to Praça do Comércio to see the broad plaza, bold statues, and former palace. It was cold. It was wet. It was windy. We didn’t stay long, but as the rain let up we walked our way back up into the Bairro Alto visiting a few basilicas and churches along the way to get a break from the weather.

 As the weather let up we wandered back towards and up the hills into the Bairro Alto looking for a Fado bar for dinner. We settled on one called Adega do Ribatejo that looked like (and turned out to be) a family operation filled with locals and tourists alike. Not only did our waiter sing a few songs, but a local (who perhaps had too much to drink) stood and performed a few songs as well before paying his bill and leaving. Even Mom (clearly the Mom in the kitchen) stepped away from the stove to sing a few as well after preparing me a very good (but very salty) carne de porco a Alentejana (diced pork covered w/clams).  


Carne de Porco a Alentejana

Local customer singing a fado


Buy the time we had finished dinner (and a bottle of good Portugese wine) the rains had let up and we walked back to our hotel for a warm and cozy night sleep. 

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Eu amo Portugal!

 An afternoon flight from Amsterdam to Lisbon got us to our overly-hipster 5-star conceptual hotel Fontecruz Lisboa.

Wall clock in our room

But the view from the top floor in Baixa near Rossio was spectacular, with Barrio Alto on one side and the Alfama on the other.  

A view towards Bairro Alto


We unpacked ourselves, gathered our gear, and headed out for our first adventure in Portugal, an exploration of the Alfama. Grabbing a taxi nearby we wound our way up the crooked and cobbled streets of the Alfama towards Castelo De Sao Jorge. As the streets wound tighter and more narrow the taxi driver suggested a place to let us off and walk the rest of the way. It was a stunning viewpoint of Largo Santa Luzia with sweeping views of the Rio Tejo and the Sao Vicente De Fora Monastery. 

We walked over to Sao Vicente only to find that it closed at 6pm and didn’t allow entry after 5pm – it was 5:10. So we turned ourselves around and threaded ourselves up through narrow streets towards the Castelo De Sao Jorge. We didn’t go to the castle because the narrow and winding streets were just the experience we were looking for. From here we had escaped the Football fans partying in the Baixa in support of Portugal playing Germany later that evening in Lisbon.


As we wound our way up, we wound our way down and dropped into a small restaurant called Ao Pé Da Sé for a rest, drink, and snack – a pint of Sagres and an incredible plate of cheese.    


We stepped out to explore the Igreja de Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa and then wandered the streets of the Alfama looking for a place for dinner.  After wandering around aimlessly and turning down tourist restaurant after tourist restaurant we ended up at Cruzes Credo Café which had rave reviews on Yelp. It’s 8 tables packed, we waited 30 minutes for a seat on a couch and chair with a tiny table not large enough to hold our plates. It was simple fare and satisfied our craving for an introduction to the flavors of Portugal – which apparently are heavily laden with salt. I ordered my first (and possibly last) bacalhau (salted cod) which was good, but just so salty that my low sodium diet forbids me from ever ordering it again.    

Bacalhau (salted cod)


After dinner we headed towards Baixa and up the Rua Augusta back towards Rossio and our overly-hip hotel. But not before we stopped to buy some inexpensive Portugese shoes, a nightcap of port and second dessert of Portugese marzipan. 

 So far Portugal is doing very well by me. Eu amo Portugal!

Categories: Portugal | 4 Comments

I AMsterdam

Our bio-clocks woke us early, which was a good thing, as we wanted to line up early at the Anne Frank House, having heard the lines and wait times could be long. We arrived by 8:15, 45 minutes before the museum opened. By 9:30 we were inside, a somber journey up steps and across the timeline of Anne’s short and tragic life. Photos were not allowed inside, and it’s just as well, because images can’t capture the intense emotional experience of ascending into the secret annex which held the Frank and Pels families for 2 years before they were betrayed, discovered, and shipped to Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen like so many other European Jews, gypsies, disabled, and homosexuals. The Anne Frank house is a powerful reminder of a horrible chapter in human history. While we want to believe such brutality can’t happen again, I can see how Trump (#RealDonaldTrump) and his buddy Ted Cruz are sowing the seeds and cultivating hatred, bigotry, and using Islam as a scapegoat in the US Presidential Campaign. You don’t have to stretch your imagination far to see how a movement like this becomes one like the Nazis.   

We purchased a few paintings from a local street artist named Baker outside of the Anne Frank house. Then meandered through the Jordaan neighborhood of Amsterdam making our way towards the Van Gogh Museum. On the way we stopped at a small bar/restaurant called Brasserie Blazer where we had a couple of delicious beers and excellent broodjies for lunch.  


We had 3pm reservations for Van Gogh and had some time to kill when we noticed the Moco Museum nearby had an exhibit of Warhol and Banksy. It was a smaller but interesting exhibit demonstrating the strong connection between Warhol’s Pop Art and Banksy’s Street Art and how they both celebrate and criticize popular culture and consumerism.


Andy’s Marilyn


Banksy’s Kate Moss



Then on to Van Gogh, who’s work is truly beautiful to behold. To see his brush strokes up close and the thickness of those strokes play off the intense complementary colors set side-by-side made me appreciate the artist and his vision that much more. Unfortunately the museum was crowded, and our feet sore from walking so we focused our time there on his most important works with an audio tour. 


After the museums we stopped for beers and patat frites (with copious amounts of mayonnaise) to rest our feet and gather our strength for the long walk back to our hotel were we rested and researched restaurants for dinner. One that looked good was Restaurant Max (an Indonesian Rijsttafel (rice table)) restaurant which are common in Amsterdam due to the former Dutch colonies there. As we set out for dinner a sudden storm arrived with thunder, lightning, hail and torrential rain with an angry sky inflamed by the setting sun.


Restaurant Max turned out to be absolutely delicious, with perfectly tempered heat from the spices and intense flavors of lemongrass punctuating every dish. We must search for Indonesian food when we return to Seattle.


After dinner the rain had stopped and we wandered through back streets and over canal bridges past red lit windows with ladies of the night displaying their wares (or wears?). To bed, as the wall of sleep came upon us quickly.  

Categories: Amsterdam | 1 Comment

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