Loving Lisbon

Old Jan 1st, 2009, 02:47 PM
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Loving Lisbon

This trip was just over five weeks total, including seven nights in Lisbon. Before arriving in Lisbon I spent a couple of nights in England (recovering from jet-lag and visiting family), and after Lisbon I spent three weeks in Morocco (I’ll post that report on the Africa board) and a few nights in Paris and London (plenty of reports on them already).

Flying and sleeping

The more I fly, the less I enjoy it, and the more time seems to get eaten by early arrival and security checks. For my Easyjet fight to Lisbon I found myself relegated to boarding group B despite an early arrival at Gatwick (I couldn't check in online because I had luggage). But I got lucky - an empty middle seat separated me from the Portuguese lady by the window - a long term resident of London, she was flying back to care for her 90+ year-old mother.

An uneventful flight was followed by a surprisingly slow line at passport control, but my bag duly showed up, and I had no trouble locating the airport bus, which delivered me downtown very close to my hotel.

The Residential Florescente, cheap but central, had good reports on tripadvisor and fodors. In fact, I thought it so cheap I had reserved a double. While the room came with a beautifully renovated bathroom, not only was it completely full of bed (acceptable), the noise from a bank of AC units came clearly through the window (NOT acceptable). I complained, but the hotel claimed to have no empty rooms. I could (and did) move to a single the next day. This was also full of bed (a smaller bed), and had a less-recently renovated bathroom, but not only was it quieter, its windows did not overlook the breakfast room.

I stayed at the Florescente in reasonable comfort until Nov. 4th, U.S. election day, when I moved to a studio apartment at the VIP Eden. Unquestionably bigger. Unquestionably more expensive (although I found a good deal on the Internet). Unquestionably equipped with CNN. But - the program +/- on the remote didn't work, the TV was small, the furniture scant and the floors in need of renovation. I did get my election fix, but I wouldn’t recommend the Eden, especially if you have to pay the rack rate.

I had compiled quite a list of places to visit - in Lisbon, in the suburb of Belem, in nearby Sintra, and even in Evora, a two hour bus ride to the east. While I made it to both Belem and Sintra, I found enough to do in Lisbon that I gave up on the trip to Evora. I have so much still to see in Lisbon, and enjoyed the city so much, it's high on my must-revisit list.

Oct 31st - History yes, Halloween, no

How can you not like a city that makes you smile? And why did Lisbon make me smile, while Madrid was a place I was eager to leave? I'm not sure, but I found plenty of buildings to admire, museums to browse, and food to savor. Public transport helped - metro, bus, tram, funicular, even an elevator! I took an occasional cheap taxi when a museum seemed hard to reach - for instance, part-way to the Palácio dos Marqueses de Fronteira the first morning to make sure I got there in time for the mandatory tour.

Although the Palacio's formal gardens were partly covered by staging for an upcoming wedding (great venue!) and off limits, the lavishly tiled interiors were well worth the trip. The guide ran through her descriptions in both French and English, although I think I was the sole Anglophone - in general I found Lisbon's tourists overwhelmingly French, leavened with a few Germans.

Originally a hunting lodge, the house became the wealthy family's main home after the devastating 1775 earthquake leveled much of central Lisbon. The walls of one big room were covered with tiles depicting the battles in the war against Spanish rule in the mid 1600s. In another room I admired some beautiful Indian embroidery, and I loved the library, converted from a former balcony.

By the time I made it back to central Lisbon - by bus the whole way, as the metro from Sete Rios wasn't working - starvation was setting in. I picked the first reasonable looking place with a reasonably large crowd, and although the shrimp bisque turned out to be a non-descript brown liquid containing a few bits of shrimp, I lucked into some excellent grilled sardines. These were much, much bigger than the canned variety, with crisp skin and succulent flesh.

I devoted the afternoon to the Gulbenkian Museum (www.museu.gulbenkian.pt/museu.asp?lang=en), very quiet and very well laid out. My favorite pieces included a large relief from Assyria, and Art Nouveau jewelry by Lalique. I spent some time admiring the ceramics and carpets, but skipped the paintings. More and more, I realize that I really enjoy arts and crafts, rather than fine arts.

My first night in Lisbon I ate to-die-for chicken at the no-frills Bonjardim, just round the corner from the Florescente, but this night I rode the funicular up to the Bairro Alto in time to claim the last unreserved table at the Fidalgo (recommended by several guidebooks). Here decidedly tender wild boar cutlets went well with a half-bottle of Dinas Quintas 2006.

If I hadn’t looked at a calendar I wouldn’t have known it was Halloween. Not a trick-or-treater nor a costume in sight. In Portugal the next day, All Saints Day, is the important one - and a holiday.
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Old Jan 1st, 2009, 03:55 PM
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We love Lisbon too.
And two visits of four nights each didn't begin to satisfy us.
I really feel that this city is under-appreciated and over looked too often.
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Old Jan 1st, 2009, 04:46 PM
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All day long I've been reminiscing about spending New Year's Eve 2003 in Lisbon. What a great party that was!! I love Lisbon too.
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Old Jan 1st, 2009, 04:59 PM
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New Year's Eve in Lisbon - interesting idea! How was the weather?

And Sher, maybe we don't want to Lisbon to become TOO popular!
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Old Jan 1st, 2009, 05:00 PM
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I really enjoyed Lisbon as well. Portugal is too often overlooked by Americans. I know few people personally who have visited there.
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Old Jan 1st, 2009, 05:03 PM
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Lisbon was my first overseas trip, so it holds a special place in my heart I agree, it deserves a lot more visibility in travel circles, but then again like you say, keeping good secrets works too.

We had a nice meal at Bonjardim as well.
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Old Jan 1st, 2009, 05:03 PM
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Nov. 1st - Sintra

The Florescente’s breakfast offered little incentive to linger, and I headed out early on my second full day in Lisbon for the beautifully restored Rossio station and a train to Sintra. The ride, past boring apartment blocks, gave no hint of what awaited me. After a quick chat with the helpful T.I. guy at Sintra station, I boarded an almost empty bus that climbed slowly up - and up - steep, wooded slopes and delivered me to the gates of a fantasy.

The Palacio da Pena looks more Disney than Disney (the castle at Disney World was based on King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein extravaganza), and was built in the 19th century as a summer palace, despite its stout walls and battlements. Although I forgot to check for an audio guide, the bi-lingual signs and the docents provided enough information about the palace’s royal past to go with the lavish interiors. Lots of tiles, of course, and more reminders of Portugal’s long links with Asia, but I especially admired the elaborate ceilings, some painted to look like wood.

I had thought to wander through the palace’s extensive grounds, but some on-again, off-again rain suggested lunch was a better prospect. I picked a place from Fodors back in Sintra (Alcobaca, I believe) and tried their black pork - narrow strips of lean and fat that proved crisp and delicious.

After Pena and pork Sintra’s Palacio Nacional disappointed: big but rather barren, although again the ceilings held my interest, along with some remarkable woodwork. I wanted to take a bus to the seaside town of Cascais via Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of mainland Europe, but found I’d need to wait over an hour. Instead I took a bus to Estoril, which dropped me right across from the casino in front of the train station, where I caught one of the frequent trains on to Cascais. (I had bought a transport pass good for all the trains and buses in the region.)

Having failed to get a look at Cabo da Roca I settled for Cascais’ Boca do Inferno, a cliff reputed to have impressive wave action. Maybe the tide was out - it didn’t seem very infernal to me, and my feet were beginning to complain. After a quick coffee I took the train back to Lisbon and an Indian meal at Sitar, right next door to the Florescente. This had been recommended by “indiancouple”, posting here, but maybe Sitar does better vegetarian food than meat - I found the lamb Madras a bit one-dimensional.
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Old Jan 1st, 2009, 05:16 PM
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The weather on NYE was cold but quite bearable and much warmer than most parts of the US.

Thanks for this great report, I love hearing about Lisbon almost as much as I love Lisbon.
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Old Jan 2nd, 2009, 02:26 AM
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I am enjoying this trip report, thursdaysd, I too love Lisbon. I have thought a lot about what it is that makes it so special to me, and without wanting to romanticize or trivialize, I think it has to do with the fact that the city is not too "prettified" or gentrified. It's still a real city where lots of real people live. I walk around a lot when I'm in Lisbon and there's one image in my mind that really represents what I'm talking about. It was on the Rua Benfica, a middle class neighborhood, nothing particularly special about it. I went past a very tiny butcher shop. Sitting on the window ledge outside was the grandfather, resting on his cane. In the doorway was the butcher/son, with his bloody apron. He was kicking an empty juice box back and forth in a makeshift soccer game on the sidewalk with his 4-5 year old son (of course I'm imagining these relationships, but that was what it looked like to me). There was just something about that scene that really stuck with me.

New Years Eve in Lisbon is fun -- there is music down in the Praca do Comercio, with lots of fireworks out over the river. Good family fun. Things get a little wild up in the Bairro Alto after that (my kids were there a few years ago and witnessed two different big bar brawls, but maybe they were just unlucky).

I'm looking forward to future installments! Laurie
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Old Jan 2nd, 2009, 02:44 AM
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Oooooh I loved Lisbon too! And the Gulbenkian is one of my favorite museums ever. I loved the tiles reliefed into the walls and all the rugs in the glass cases, it's a beautiful space. Also all the Deco by Erte, I agree with you Thursday as I much prefer the Decorative Arts and Craft to paintings. Looking forward to reading more and am hopping over to Africa board to check out your Morocco report. That has been my favorite trip to date!
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Old Jan 2nd, 2009, 05:20 AM
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Hi thursdaysd, we've enjoyed your trip notes and website for a long time.

Looking forward to these reports especially as we were just in Portugal (an old flame) and Morocco (a new love) in October.

Happy New Year,

maytraveller

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Old Jan 2nd, 2009, 06:45 AM
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Oooh - what fun to "meet" all these fellow Lisbon-lovers! London is still my very favorite big European city, but Lisbon is well up there.

maytraveller - thanks for the kind words! Maybe when I finish writing these trip reports I'll finally get around to reorganizing the website and putting the European trips up....

laartista - maybe it was a childhood spent visiting English "stately homes" that formed my preference for decorative (or even practical) arts. I've learned to read guidebooks with care when it comes to museums. Although any mention of Rembrandt or a few others will get my attention.

lreynold1 - what a lovely vignette! Did you post a trip report?

P_M - thanks for the info. I live in North Carolina, so I haven't seen any of that snow I keep reading about. Yet.

About Morocco: no point in checking the Africa board yet - I have to finish Lisbon first. How about I post a link to the Morocco report here when it goes up? But I'm afraid I didn't fall for Morocco the way I did for Lisbon - although I am glad I went. But I wasn't feeling the love even before the Dar Silsila in Marrakesh held me prisoner....
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Old Jan 2nd, 2009, 06:57 AM
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Nov. 2nd - Beating the Crowds to Belem

I got another early start on Sunday, as the Florescente’s breakfast hadn’t improved, and I was headed to the suburb of Belem, where many sights were free until 2:00 pm. I had done well at avoiding the crowds at Sintra, and hoped to repeat my success. In fact, the tram I boarded was so crowded I got off at the first stop and boarded the next - the guide book writers who claim the tram ride out to Belem is “romantic” have clearly not had to stand. Still, once I arrived I managed to avoid most of the crowds by starting at the far end and lunching early.

By “far end” I mean the Belem Tower, once an important mid-river fortification, built in Manueline style in the mid 1500s. Now overtaken by time and silt, it is still highly photogenic. I chose not to go inside and climb the stairs, as the Discoveries Monument nearby (built to honor Henry the Navigator on the 500th anniversary of his death) provided an elevator, along with a not-very-interesting display of photos and a quite-interesting movie on the history of Lisbon. The views of the Tower and of the huge and elaborate Mosterio dos Jeronimos across the busy road and railway were well worth the admission price.

I would probably have skipped the Coach Museum, if it hadn’t been free, and was surprised to find that that would have been a mistake. I had a nice time imagining how uncomfortable the unsprung coaches must have been, despite their elaborate gilding, and examining the thick straps and big buckles that would have connected them to the horses. The collection included a few litters, pulled by mules, and a sedan chair, along with one more “modern” coach from the U.K., with a higher seat for the coachman and “C” springs.

Looking for a place for lunch I found restaurant row: a back street parallel to the main Rua de Belem and bordering a park. All the restaurants had outside tables and similar menus, and the one I picked, mostly at random, delivered another good meal of grilled sardines.

I finished lunch just in time to make it to the Mosterio before the 2:00 pm cut-off for free entry. Even the impressive façade had not prepared me for the stunning interior - the place just drips elaborate stone work. I spent a long time pacing slowly round the cloister, at both ground and first (U.S. second) floor levels, admiring the columns and gargoyles and symmetry. I also enjoyed a very good permanent exhibition of text and photos illustrating a timeline of world history, Portuguese history, and the monastery’s history.

Outside I ran into a young woman doing a survey, and in exchange for answering her questions I asked about a place for coffee. I rejected her initial suggestion, the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, listed in all the guidebooks for its “pasteis” (custard tarts) as I had seen massive queues there, and instead she suggested the Cultural Center. The popular top floor café there had an outside terrace with excellent (if windy) views, although my request for a macchiato drew blank looks and I settled for espresso. I also visited the new, and currently free, Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in the same building. I was, as usual, not impressed with most of the art, but I did enjoy a couple of elaborate videos.

My feet were by now complaining loudly, and I retired to my hotel (via bus and metro) to watch skating on TV and attempt the Herald Tribune crossword. My first pick for dinner, the Nector wine bar, was closed, and the prices at Gambrinus, a well-reviewed fish restaurant, seemed way high, so I revisited Bonjardim for their wonderful (and cheap) chicken and fries. Even the screaming baby at the next table couldn’t spoil my enjoyment of the tender meat, crisp skin and hot piri-piri sauce.
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Old Jan 2nd, 2009, 04:09 PM
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discovering the Bonjardim makes for a tasty meal. That piri-piri hot sauce lights up the place...our hotel (VIP Eden..across the Praca from yours)) was just a short walk from Bonjardim and after having read some reports suggesting it, we meandered over...excellent start for a Lisbon visit.

Awaiting the rest of your report...well done, my dear!

stu t.


>>the city is not too "prettified" or gentrified. It's still a real city where lots of real people live<<<.

lreynold1:
Your assessment makes a lot of sense to me...sharing your feelings.
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Old Jan 2nd, 2009, 09:22 PM
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Thanks stu - nice to "see" you again. The Praca dos Restauradores is a great location, isn't it? Bus, metro, the Rossio station, the funicular and the elevator all right there!
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Old Jan 3rd, 2009, 05:10 AM
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Hi, thursdaysd,

That coffee shop in the Centro Cultural de Belem does have great views, doesn't it? Much more relaxing than the pastelaria, sitting outside on a weekend morning when the weather is nice is great -- you get a very nice view of the river, with tons of sailboats going up and down (and ok, you have to look at what I assume are the nuclear power plants on the other side, but oh well).

I would never go to Belem without buying several (or a box of 6)of the pasteis de Belem. You can find similar pastries all over Lisbon, the pastel de nata is everywhere, but the ones here are really unbeatable, in my opinion. Pastry much flakier, filling much creamier, and they give you little envelopes of cinnamon and sugar to add as wanted. Yum.

To answer your question, I didn't write up a long trip report, I have posted many short reports here about three to five day trips I've taken. I lived in Lisbon in 2004-05, and am here again for this academic year. I've tried to post regularly, but I don't have that flair for writing that you and others have. And I almost always forget what I've eaten, so I'm unable to give good food descriptions either.

One place I've never been is the chicken restaurant you recommend, though I have seen it and read about it. I will definitely give it a try soon. Piri piri is a nice change from the normal unspiced Portuguese cuisine.

Looking forward to more installments. Laurie
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Old Jan 3rd, 2009, 06:08 AM
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lreynolds1 wrote: "I don't have that flair for writing that you and others have." - oh yes, you do! Go back and reread that piece you wrote about the butcher shop!

Lucky you, spending a year in Lisbon. Do give Bonjardim a try - definitely not a place for a romantic night out, but great chicken. (Paper tablecloths, noisy, fast service.)
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Old Jan 3rd, 2009, 06:31 AM
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Nov. 3rd - The Fabled Orient

Having encountered several reminders of Portugal’s links with Asia, I decided to spend a morning at the fairly new Museu do Oriente (www.museudooriente.pt/?lang=en), which was advertising a special exhibition of masks. Unfortunately, I spent a good part of the morning just getting there, as the museum was on the wrong side of the railway tracks on the way to Belem. While there were a few foot-bridges over the tracks, they were hard to spot from a bus, and the T.I. didn’t tell me about bus number 12, the only one that stops at the museum itself.

Still, it was worth the effort. The masks - from India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, Tibet, China, Korea and Japan - had labels with good bilingual explanations, although few dates. I was pleased to recognize several styles from my trips to Asia, and interested to see new ones.

Since the museum housed both a cafeteria and a restaurant, I was able to break my tour of the permanent exhibitions with lunch. One floor, a huge, dimly lighted expanse, dealt with Portuguese interactions with Asia: the Portuguese were the first Europeans in India, Macau, and China, and both traders and missionaries made the long trip.

The missionaries were represented by models of their churches, but I found them pallid ghosts of the massive stone buildings and lavishly gilded interiors I remembered from Old Goa. I spent much longer with the porcelain, the beautiful textiles, the Chinese screens and fans, and other survivors of the traders’ trips. And with displays that held reminders of life in the east, for both locals and incomers.

Getting off the elevator on yet another floor, I was confronted by a dramatic Durga pandal, exactly like the ones I saw in Kolkata during the Durga Puja festival in 2001. But I found this floor, hosting “Gods of Asia”, less interesting. Although the exhibition was comprehensive and informative, almost all the artifacts were modern, and I already knew a fair amount about the religions being described.

My feet were complaining, so I abandoned thoughts of visiting the Oceanarium. Bus number 12 took me through a part of town I hadn’t seen before, and I finished the journey back down town on the metro. My next goal was to investigate the Elevador de Santa Justa. Made of decorated iron, and designed by one of Eiffel’s pupils, the elevator shaft towered above the streets of the low-lying Baixa section. I rode up to the higher Chiado district, but while I enjoyed the view from the top, the café perched on the highest floor was outdoors, and windy.

Instead I found the friendly Café Cha nearby for coffee, and then located a destination high on my list of sights, the Port Wine Institute (tinyurl.com/8dwxed). Only a small plaque outside marked the building - I needed to know the address. Inside, the main room was impressive - beamed ceiling, big fireplace, deep armchairs, solemn hush - the port menu extensive, and the service stately. I chatted with another solo traveler while enjoying the only vintage port available by the glass.

Later I rode another of Lisbon’s off-beat transport options, the Elevador da Gloria (really a funicular) up to the Bairro Alto for dinner. Several places were closed for the day, or full, and I wound up at the noisy but friendly Antigo 1 de Maio. I picked a dish whose name I didn’t recognize: acorda de marisco. The result, prawns with breadcrumbs mixed with olive oil, egg and cilantro, wasn’t bad, but wasn’t a texture I liked either. I filled up on cheese for dessert.
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Old Jan 4th, 2009, 06:54 AM
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Nov. 4th - Election Day

After moving over to the VIP Eden for English-language TV (see first post), I recharged my transport pass and took a tram up through the Alfama district. The Alfama survived the 1755 earthquake, and its narrow, winding streets are home to Lisbon’s oldest houses. I’d already been up to the Bairro Alto for a view over Lisbon from the west, now I visited a couple of viewpoints to take in the view from the east. In general I no longer bother climbing church spires and bell towers for city views - after a while all those roofs start looking the same, but Lisbon, with its hills and valleys and river, is different.

I stopped for lunch at a small café with a Portuguese-only menu, and a lunch-time crowd of locals. This time I found a local specialty, dried cod and potatoes, surprisingly good. Afterwards I visited the Mosteiro de Sao Vicente. Remarkable tiles included a series of illustrations of La Fontaine’s Fables, and the views from the roof of the monastery were exceptional. Then I wandered down - down steps in places - to find the Pois Café. Shabby but comfortable, with deep armchairs and sofas, and shelves of books, this was a good place to relax.

Just as lobo_mau had posted here (http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=35085575), the chestnut vendors were out, so after coffee and some time on the Internet I bought hot roasted chestnuts in a cone of paper on my way back to the Eden. I ate dinner at the almost-empty Nector (which had been closed on Sunday), enjoying a dry red wine with a really good game sausage with salad and fries. The high point of the evening, though, was meeting up with lobo_mau and his lovely wife at the Port Institute for a chat about Lisbon and travel.

The high point of the early morning hours, of course, was realizing that Obama had won the US election. I went to sleep around 3:00 am, before the actual declaration, but the results were clear by then.
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Old Jan 4th, 2009, 01:48 PM
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Ooohh, hot roasted chestnuts!! I first tried those in Lisbon and I instanly fell in love with this tasty treat. Just last month I enjoyed roasted chestnuts in Istanbul. YUM, if only we could get roasted chestnuts on the streets in the US.

You mentioned the election--what did the Portugese think of the outcome?
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