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Piri-Piri, Pastel de Nata and Port…Perfectly Portugal

Piri-Piri, Pastel de Nata and Port…Perfectly Portugal

Jul 21st, 2013, 03:32 PM
  #21  
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lin....we absolutely did, but that taxi driver really was a hoot!
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Jul 21st, 2013, 04:17 PM
  #22  
 
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Super slow on Fodors these days....sound like fun. We're gearing up for Mexico in October and Paris at Christmas.
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Jul 21st, 2013, 06:12 PM
  #23  
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Hi Denise! Great to "see" you here. Mexico sounds great and of course, I know Paris is a huge favorite for you.

If you're around "my neck of the woods" soon, let me know I'd love to see you again.
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Jul 21st, 2013, 07:26 PM
  #24  
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Monday, May 13th

There was no big plans for today except beginning the group tour and meeting our guide and fellow travelers at 5pm.

Mom and I had a leisurely morning and decided a great way to see a little more of Lisbon would be from the window of a trolley. We decided to start with the #28E trolley line. We walked to the Martim Moniz stop, which is the beginning (or end, depending which direction you are going in) of this trolley line and got on the increasingly long line to wait for the next trolley.

When we got on the trolley car we were able to get one of the last seats at the back of the car. We settled in for the ride. We wound our way through the Alfama, Baixa, and Chiado neighborhoods all the way to the last stop called Prazeres. The car was full, very, very, full and when we disembarked there was another trolley car in front of the one we had just exited. As you can imagine, most everyone jumped on that car to ride back to wherever they were going. Instead of fighting this crowd, mom and I walked across the street to the big Prazeres cemetery and sat down on a bench under a shady tree for a little while. When we decided to head back we walked over to the trolley stop and I then realized there was a second trolley line, the #25E that we could take and see a different area and still get us near where we wanted to be, and it was a lot less crowded, in fact, we were the only ones on for a while.

When 5pm rolled around we gathered in a meeting room at the hotel to meet our guide, Maria and the other 22 people on the tour. We all introduced ourselves, and Maria gave us an overview of what the next 12 days would hold in store for us.

Before long, we were ready to explore the neighborhood with Maria’s guidance and walk to our first of several group meals. I didn’t write down the name of the restaurant we went to, but I was very pleasantly surprised at how good it was. It was about a 15 minute walk from the hotel. We started with salad and then there were mixed grilled meat platters with a nice selection of chicken, sausage, and pork. There was both white and red wines to choose from and empty bottles were replaced quickly. The conversation at our table was good, there was definitely a common thread with many on this tour and that was wine. Mom and I would feel right at home!
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Jul 22nd, 2013, 05:50 PM
  #25  
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Tuesday, May 14th

After a fortifying breakfast we met the group for a morning walking tour through several neighborhoods of Lisbon. We walked, used the elevador de Santa Justa, metro, buses and trolleys to make our way across town. Maria shared much of the history of Lisbon through the Bairro Alto, Alfama, and Baixa neighborhoods. We even experienced the stunning view of Lisbon from the Sao Jorge Castle. We ended the tour in front of Lisbon’s cathedral.

When Maria finished orientating people to the directions they needed, mom and I stepped into the cathedral for a look around. And, to take a little break, because walking down through the Alfama neighborhood is not for the faint of heart. There were lots and lots of steps to maneuver in this area, but we made it no worse for the wear!

Mom and I took the afternoon at an easy pace since we had the luxury of having already been in Lisbon for several days, we didn’t feel like we had to pack every minute with activities. After leaving the cathedral we waited for a trolley to take us down the rest of the hill and got off near Rossio Square, where we promptly found a café with outside seating to sit and have an iced cappuccino. Well, at least it was the Lisbon version of iced cappuccino. We weren’t expecting it to be served warm in a coffee cup, but it did come with whipped cream, so that was a plus!

Tonight we had dinner on our own. So, at our own self-designated aperitivo time, we headed back over to the terrace at the Bairro Alto Hotel for pre-dinner wine and since we hadn’t had anything but breakfast and then coffee at lunchtime, we opted to try the Portuguese sausage and cheese plate and we are sure glad we did, it was delicious, some of the best sausage and cheese we’ve had on a lounge/bar plate.

We chose to go to the Bairro Alto Hotel again because, well, we really liked it and we were doing a repeat for dinner also. We went back to As Salgadeiras for dinner, and the second time was as good as the first.

For the starter we shared the mussel dish, it was ok, but the shrimp dish the first time we went was better. Mom had the shrimp stroganoff main dish, which may sound odd, but it tasted great and I had the Dover sole in puff pastry, which was also very good. But the portions here are very generous, and we were getting very full and couldn’t finish either main dish. We also repeated the white wine from the Douro Valley, because we really enjoyed it. With 2 espresso to end the meal the total cost was € 83.
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Jul 23rd, 2013, 07:19 PM
  #26  
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Wednesday, May 15th

This morning we boarded a private tour bus which took us on a tour of the city, with several interesting stops. The first stop was to take in the view from the Edward VII Park. This park sits above the Avenida da Liberdade and you can get a “straight shot” view from the top of the park down the avenue to the Tagus River.

Next we drove to the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, which is located outside the center of the city, in the Parque Santa Gertrudes. Here is the museum website: http://www.museu.gulbenkian.pt/main.asp?lang=en .

The best way I can sum up this collection is WOW! The museum houses the collection of Calouste Gulbenkian who was an Armenian oil tycoon who left his art collection to Portugal as a gift of gratitude for granting him asylum during World War II. The collection spans 5,000 years and includes classical, Oriental, and European art. I particularly liked the decorative arts collection, give me furnishings to look at and I’m happy. The building the museum is housed in is also terrific, it was built specifically to for Mr. Gulbenkian’s collection and flows very well. We had a local guide give us a 90 minute tour, highlighting the major pieces of the collection.

After the museum we got on the bus for the drive to the Belem district where we visited the Belem Tower and the Monument to the Discoveries. Our guide, Maria did a terrific job educating us on the history of Portugal during the hey-day of exploration and it really brought into my perspective the ocean-going “might” of Portugal in those days.

We stopped for a brief lunch on our own and then met up with the rest of the group for an afternoon tour of the Monastery of Jeronimos, which you can read more about here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jer%C3%B3nimos_Monastery

Before going into the monastery Maria had a treat for us, she purchased the famous Pastel de Belem for the whole group to try. These custard treats were from the Casa Pasteis de Belem and they were the best we had during the whole trip.

Once we were satisfied with our sweet indulgence, it was time to tour the monastery, and this was another Wow! It’s a huge white limestone church and monastery that stretches along the Lisbon waterfront. The interior is really something to behold, it was just stunning with its beautiful columns and sea-faring motifs. The adjacent cloisters are as beautiful as the interior of the church.

When we were done with touring this religious complex we had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves. Mom and I decided to walk down the street to the National Coach Museum. The building is the former palace’s riding school and although the building is not massive, the collection is impressive, with lots of ornate horse drawn carriages on display. It was a nice place to wander about for an hour or so.

There was a group dinner planned for this night, so mom and I had our usual pre-dinner glass of wine at the hotel lounge and then met the group to walk to dinner. My expectations were not high since this was going to be a Fado performance and dinner “event”, but I’m happy to say, my expectations were exceeded.

The restaurant was Faia in the Bairro Alto neighborhood and I really liked the atmosphere when we walked in. The food was very good, especially the pea soup starter. The hake main dish was good and the wine served with the meal was also very nice. But the highlight were the 3 Fado performances. We heard 2 men and one woman sign and mom and I loved it. We may have to run out and buy some Fado albums now.

At the end of the evening mom and I “peeled off” from the group and took a taxi back to the hotel and enjoyed an after dinner drink at the hotel lounge. It was the perfect way to end our night and prepare for leaving Lisbon to go to Evora the next day.
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Jul 24th, 2013, 07:00 PM
  #27  
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Thursday, May 16th

Today we said good-bye (for now) to Lisbon and climbed on our private bus and took off for the Alentejo region, specifically the town of Evora.

This town was not new to me, I had been there 25 years ago when I was a student in a study abroad program in Switzerland. Back then I also did my travel research and which guidebook did I have? A very early edition of Rick Steves Europe Through the Back Door (I wish I still had that copy, but sadly I don’t). Back then I read about Evora with interest because according to good ol’ “Uncle Rick”, there was a chapel there made entirely of human bones, I don’t know why that held such interest for me, but it did, and I felt I needed to go see this town, so that’s what brought me there 25 years ago. Oh, and it helped that as a student I had a 2 week spring break and my goal was to see as much of Spain and Portugal as I could.

So, now I was heading back to Evora, but it was definitely in a lot more comfort! 25 years ago, my friend and I rented a spare room in a local’s home, this time we stayed at the M’AR de AR Aqueduto Hotel, which is a luxury boutique hotel right inside the historic center of town. Here is the hotel website: http://www.mardearhotels.com/en/hote...uto/the-hotel/ . This was my favorite hotel of the trip, in fact, I’d rate it as one of the top 5 hotels I’ve ever stayed in. The room and bathroom were immaculately clean, there were wood floors in the room and the furnishings were sleek and modern. This was not the typical type of Rick Steves hotel I was accustomed to on other tours, but I loved it. The only down-side was that we were only staying one night.

Before checking into the hotel we met our local guide, also named Maria and she was a hoot, a very funny lady. She spent several hours with us pointing out the sites in the historic center of Evora. This is a fairly compact town and easily walkable.

The cathedral of Santa Maria de Evora was an interesting church which houses a statue of a visibly pregnant Mary. It’s said the statue was used by the first priests in hopes of converting Celtic pagans who worshipped mother goddesses.

After touring the town for a couple hours, and yes, I got back to the chapel made entirely of human bones, but now it just freaked me out to be inside of it, we checked into our hotel. We freshened up a bit and then hit the shopping streets in search of a cork purse. Our guide Maria told us, if we were interested in buying cork products, Evora was a good place to do it, because prices were slightly less expensive than elsewhere in the country. I did find a beautiful blue cork purse that I couldn’t resist buying. I’m now loving using it here at home!

On our way back to the hotel to drop off my purchase we found a non-description cafeteria and stopped in for the Evora version of pastel de nata and a couple cups of coffee for a mid-day break. The pastries were good, but the ones in Belem were still the best.

As we made our way back to the hotel a light rain started to fall and we were passing a restaurant that I had flagged in my pre-trip research as being noteworthy. We stopped to take a look at the menu and liked what we saw. They were open for lunch so, we poked our heads in to inquire about a dinner reservation that night. What a cute, but tiny place, only 6 tables. At first the owner wasn’t happy with my request for an 8:30pm dinner reservation, but he accommodated me and we were on our way out the door.

We got back to the hotel and relaxed for a bit, if the weather had been better the pool on the hotel grounds looked very inviting, but with big grey clouds looming overhead, a swim was the last thing I wanted to do.

At 6:30pm our guide, Maria had arranged for a group cocktail/wine party in the hotel’s bar and it was a nice way to get to know our fellow tour members a little better.

Just before 8:30 we left the hotel and walked 5 minutes to Tasquinha do Oliveira located at Rua Candido dos Reis, 45. The husband, Manuel runs the front of the house, while his wife, Carolina does the cooking and oh boy! What cooking she does!

Immediately upon sitting down small plates of appetizers are placed on the table, if there is one you don’t want, just tell him, “no thanks”. We told him no to the crab dish because we had “heads-up” that it was fairly expensive but we happily indulged in the chickpeas & cod dish, pickled quail eggs, and asparagus frittata. For our main dishes mom and I selected the same item, local pork which was tender and exploded with flavor. A small salad was served on the side. We ordered rice pudding with cinnamon to share for dessert and it was a rare event that mom licked her dessert spoon clean. We had Manuel suggest a local red wine to go with our meal and it was an excellent accompaniment. We ended the meal with a delightful local digestive that had a minty/herby flavor. The total cost of the meal was € 83.

This was one of our favorite meals of the trip, the interior of the restaurant was very homey and comfortable, the food and service was excellent.
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Jul 24th, 2013, 07:43 PM
  #28  
 
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Really liking your trip report. I love seeing what is happening in Portugal and your tour is looking like a good value. Will keep following!
taconictraveler is offline  
Jul 24th, 2013, 08:46 PM
  #29  
 
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Not managing a territory of my own now but should get to the low country at some point with my rep who now covers it. Gotta give you credit or branching out to more places...it will have been over two years since the last Paris trip when we ge back there. Couldn't stand it!
denisea is offline  
Jul 25th, 2013, 06:25 AM
  #30  
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taconictraveler...thanks for continuing to follow along!

denisea...WOW! I hardly believe your last visit to Paris was 2 years ago, it seems like yesterday (to me, probably not to you!). But you branched out too last year and went to Rome!

Don't be fooled by my adventure to Portgual, although I really loved it, I'll be back in Italy in October for 2 weeks, one of which will be in Rome (no big surprise there!) ;-)
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Jul 25th, 2013, 06:54 PM
  #31  
 
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No not a surprise...maybe you can look up Emilio, the cute driver we had on our day with Daniella Hunt, when you are back in Rome.
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Jul 26th, 2013, 03:21 PM
  #32  
 
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For those who are not familiar with pastel de nata......it is a custard of such light, rich creaminess when prepared correctly, nestled in a small shell of multiple layers of filo dough (think baklava).). They are slightly "burned" no the top which may put off one at first.

My first experience with pastel de nata many years ago in Portugal occurred in a small bakery outside the town we live near. Two British ladies were ordering them and as I had seen them before with their
"burned" tops, I never thought they looked appealing. As these ladies and I shared a common language, I asked them how they tasted Well these women went on in raptures which led to my purchasing some. They were indeed creamy, sweet and delicious but it was not until I experienced those made in Lisbon at
the pasteleria de Belem that I found out how incredible they could be.

When made properly they are not thickened with cornstarch and gelatinous but creamy with the richest heavy cream and thickened by the large amounts of egg yolks used and the crust is so flaky that it starts to break apart as you bite into it. They do not hold well and should be eaten within the day they are made.....worth a trip to Portugal for the experience.....wine and prices in Portugal not bad either.

Sorry LCI if I got carried away with this. Must be missing my second home.
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Jul 26th, 2013, 05:50 PM
  #33  
 
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Wow, need to get Portugal it seems. That sounds too good to miss out on. Pastel de Nata for everyone!
denisea is offline  
Jul 26th, 2013, 07:05 PM
  #34  
 
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And interestingly I recently read about a young man in London who is doing his version of a food truck, more of a food cart, and what is his speciality......?.......Pasteis (plural form) de Nata.
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Jul 26th, 2013, 08:17 PM
  #35  
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LowCountryCarol...I am happy to have you chime in here. You did much better justice to the pastel de nata description than I did! Also, not sure which part of the LowCountry you are in, but it might be fun for us to get together. Let me know if you are interested and I'll post an email address where we can connect.

Denisea...you may want to consider Portugal, we had a great time and it's a beautiful country and as Carol mentioned prices are much "friendlier" than in Paris. Oh...speaking of Paris, I read on David Lebovitz's blog a while back (maybe a year or so ago) there is a shop in Paris that sells Portuguese food items and the shop owner makes his own pasteis de nata. You may want to check it out when in Paris. ;-)

And now for....

Friday, May 17th

This was one of the best days of the entire trip, in spite of the rainy weather. We left the M’AR De AR Aqueduto Hotel in Evora with a heavy heart, but with hopes of one day returning to this terrific hotel.

We rode through the countryside en route to a working farm and estate. Today we met a family that owned and worked a cork farm/olive grove and vineyard and get to spend time with them touring the cork forest and tasting their olive oil and wine over lunch.

Our bus pulled up on a one lane country road and we all filed off the bus and were greeted by the grandson and granddaughter of the matriarch of the family (they were very warm & welcoming!). Then we climbed into a covered, open-sided “cart” large enough to seat about 30 people that was pulled by a farm tractor. Yes, we were about to “rough-it” being pulled through a cork forest. This sounds great in theory, but when it’s pouring rain, it’s not much fun. Yes, we got soaking wet, but looking back, it was worth it to see up close the cork trees and the process of pealing the bark from the trees.

Cork trees can live for hundreds of years, and from when they are first planted can take about 20 years before the first cork can be peeled off. Once the bark is peeled the tree cannot be peeled again for 9 years. It was really interesting to hear how this all works. And, don’t think cork is only used for wine bottles, in Portugal you can buy just about anything made from cork. Beside a purse, I also bought a pair of cork shoes! But back to the farm.

Once the ride through the farm was finished, it took just over one hour, it was time for lunch. Our group climbed down from the tractor/cart contraption and we were ushered into an outbuilding on the estate. Don’t think this was a dilapidated old structure, it was more like a lodge with a large room for dining. There were 3 large tables set up for us to sit at and with our very good luck, mom and I were seated at the table with the family matriarch and her grandson and granddaughter. What a great lady the grandmother/matriarch is! She is in her early 90’s and speaks excellent English (she had a British nanny as a child) and she loves to travel. We got to hear about her recent adventure in Chile with her 87 year old friend, her husband doesn’t like to travel, so she travels with girlfriends, I loved her for that alone!

We started the meal off by tasting the two different types of olive oils the farm produces and they were great. Then it was time to taste their wines. There are three types they produce, red, white and rose. All were good, but mom and I loved the rose.

Then the food started arriving. We started with a luscious tomato soup. For the main dish we had the most delicious chicken pie I have ever had, it was comfort on a plate, and was creamy, tender and the crust was perfectly flaky. There was a side dish of rice and octopus, which was excellent, a green salad and for dessert there was fresh homemade strawberry ice cream.

As delicious as lunch was, our table companions were even more delightful. It was wonderful to sit with the family members and talk to them about their farm/estate, the cork, wine and olive oil they produce, and just their life in general. If you’d like to read more about them, here is the estate’s website: http://www.rgroviscogarcia.pt/

The time at the farm/estate went by much too quickly and before we knew it, it was time to leave, but not without buying some of their wonderful rose wine, and at € 5 per bottle, I wish we had purchased more than just 2 bottles. But we were trying to be conservative and we knew we’d be visiting another winery in the Douro Valley in a few days and wanted to say space I our suitcases!

We made our way from the Alentejo region to the beach-side town of Nazare this afternoon and checked into the Albergeria Mar Bravo Hotel, located at Praca Sousa Oliveira, 71. The staff at the hotel were extremely nice, the location could not have been better, right across from the beach and on the town’s main square.

Mom and I got really lucky with our room assignment and had a corner room with 2 balconies, one facing the beach and the other facing the main square. The room was clean, but there was just something about this hotel that I can’t give it a super recommendation. Maybe it was because, this town, even in mid-May felt like a ghost town to me. It is definitely a summer beach holiday place and you could tell that immediately. Maybe it was because the bad weather was following us and it was rainy for both nights we stayed at this hotel. Or maybe it was because we had just been a fantastic boutique hotel in Evora, I just wasn’t thrilled with the place.

Once we got situated in our room, we took a little wander around town checking out possible places for a glass of wine or dinner. We found a little café not far from the hotel and sat down for a glass of vinho verde. At € 1.50 per glass, we couldn’t complain, but we were the only people there. Not just at that café, but at any of the cafes on the square.

During our pre-glass of wine wander about, we saw a tapas restaurant that looked interesting and with the big “family” lunch we had earlier in the day, both mom and I were not looking for a lot to eat. So, after our pre-dinner drink, we walked about 100 yards to Tosca, a gastro-bar located at Rua Mouzinho de Albuquerque, #4.

We are very glad we found this place, the food and service were just great. There was no English translation menu, but the waitress spoke excellent English and since the restaurant was not very full yet, she translated the menu for us. Since we knew we only wanted tapas, we told her she didn’t have to translate the entrée portion of the menu, I think she was grateful to us for that! She did recommend an excellent vinho verde, which we enjoyed with the 4 tapas dishes we ordered.

The first tapa we had was goat cheese coated with pistachios on toast with pumpkin jam, it may sound strange to some, but the flavors worked incredibly well together. Then we had a local sausage with chimichuri sauce, which was great, and a blood sausage & local apple filled savory pastry that was out of this world good. The last tapa we had was the best of all, (but really each was absolutely delicious) and it was scallops with green strawberries on a bed of pureed celery root. This may sound like a lot of food, but the portions were perfectly sized for sharing and it was all just the right amount. We had 2 espresso and 2 glasses of port wine to end the meal, which cost a total of € 41.
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Jul 27th, 2013, 07:42 AM
  #36  
 
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By your screen name I wonder if you live on HH Island? .I am out in Bluffton just off 278. Yes it would be great to get together but I am in the NC mountains for the summer. How about mid October when I will be in town before leaving for Portugal?
lowcountrycarol is offline  
Jul 27th, 2013, 08:03 AM
  #37  
 
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I really am enjoying revisiting these wonderful locations in Portugal. Nazare was bustling, not crowded, when we visited a few years ago in early June. We loved Portugal, especially the warm and friendly and friendly people.
HappyTrvlr is online now  
Jul 27th, 2013, 08:29 PM
  #38  
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lowcountrycarol...I'm in Bluffton too. Years ago when I first registered on Fodors I was living on the island (still work there). Mid-October I'll be going to Italy for 2 weeks. But lets to try and connect when our schedules allow. My email address is fitms (at) hargray (dot) com

HappyTrvlr...thanks for continuing to read.

I spent much of the day cooking in my kitchen, so no trip report writing today. I should have more for tomorrow.
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Jul 28th, 2013, 02:08 PM
  #39  
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Saturday, May 18th

The rainy weather persisted today as we made our way to the town of Alcobaca to tour the Baroque-Gothic Cistercian Monastery of Santa Maria. Both mom and I thought this church was lovely inside and out. It is the country’s largest church and the interior is very bright. This church is also were Portugal’s most romantic couple, King Pedro and Ines are buried. The carvings on their tombs are incredibly intricate and absolutely beautiful.

From the church we walked to the Mercado Municipal, which is the town’s covered market. Frankly, it did not contain anything we had not seen before in other European towns or cities, and what was on offered, didn’t look great. But it was a place to stop to get a small flavor of the town.

The next stop for the day was the town of Obidos, an adorable walled town with lots of narrow lanes and whitewashed houses. Before we had time to wander about and have lunch, Maria, our guide, had us stop at a small stand on the street going into town. Here we tasted the ginjinha of Obidos, served in a tiny, edible chocolate cup. By this time of day, it was warming up and the sun was shining and the last thing mom or I wanted was a melting chocolate cup, but, the ginjinha was actually much better than the version we tasted in Lisbon and the chocolate cup was so small we could pop it into our mouths without much melting onto our fingers.

There really isn’t any way one could get lost in Obidos, with just two main arterial streets running parallel to each other. After walking through the main gate of the town, mom and I walked up the “high” street towards the castle, checking out the shops and restaurants along the way. At the castle we turned around and walked back the way we came, bought a few things (yes, another cork purchase, this time a wallet for me and necklace for mom) and at the main gate to the town, we turned onto the “lower” street and sat down at the first café/restaurant we saw. I’m happy to say, the place made a pretty good omelet and we had a couple nice glasses of wine.

We met back up with the group and took the bus back to Nazare to relax a bit in the late afternoon. The weather was getting worse the closer we got to Nazare, so mom and I spent time in the hotel room, caching up with emails (me) and reading. That is one thing good about this hotel, the wifi in the room was excellent.

This evening we had a group meal at a restaurant in the Sitio neighborhood of Nazare. We took the funicular from the beach-side area up the mountain to this neighborhood for a beautiful view of the crescent shaped beach, at which time the skies opened and it began to pour rain. So, we all walked as quickly as possible with umbrellas, navigating the wet/slick/slippery streets several blocks to the restaurant called O Luis located at Rua Dos Tanques, #7.

Again, maybe it was the weather, or that our group was crammed into one very long table in the middle of restaurant ( I really don’t like to eat that way, not comfortable for me all, I prefer tables of 4-6), but this restaurant just did not “blow my socks off”, even though it’s supposed to have excellent seafood.

Mom and I both had the fish stew and found it to have very little flavor, my one word description of the dish would be “meh”. They did provide plates of barnacles for us to eat, but after Maria, our guide, showed us the proper way to eat them, I felt like I’d have to work too hard for my food, if you know what I mean. Others in the group who did try them told us they thought the barnacles didn’t taste like anything to them. Maybe it was a good call on our part not to try them. This was one of our least favorite meals during the whole 2.5 week trip.
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Jul 28th, 2013, 03:22 PM
  #40  
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Sunday, May 19th

Today was a jam-packed day and in the morning we said good-bye to Nazare and headed to Batalha, where we visited the Monastery of Santa Maria, which is a symbol of Portugal’s pride. After winning the Battle of Aljubarrota against the Spanish Castilian king the Portuguese King John I claimed the crown of Portugal and built the Monastery of Santa Maria in thanks.

The exterior of the church is a late Gothic design, with stained glass windows, and gargoyles. Inside there is even more elaborate Manueline-style ornamentation. The cloister is a combination of the two styles and is beautiful. The chapter room has a soaring ceiling and is where Portugal’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located. We were fortunate enough to be there when there was a changing of the guard, which was nice to see.

We also visited the unfinished chapels, which have no roof. The chapels are behind the main alter and were intended to be for tombs topped with a rotunda ceiling. But only the walls, support pillars for the ceiling and double tomb were ever completed.

The second stop on today’s agenda was the pilgrimage site of Fatima. I know these types of religious sites aren’t everyone’s “cup of tea”, but for me and mom, this place was high on our visit list. Mostly because my grandmother, my mom’s mother, always talked about Our Lady of Fatima.

First I have to say, that going on a Sunday, probably wasn’t the best day of week to be there, in regards to the crowds, because it was very crowded. We were also there when an outdoor mass was in progress, so you imagine the crowds we were dealing with.

We arrived at the bus drop-off point not far from where all the stands/stalls are set-up selling religious “tat”, and it really was “tat”, or “slock” as mom and I refer to it as. Once off the bus, Maria gave us a brief orientation and then let us off on our own. Mom and I were very interested in seeing the Chapel of the Apparitions, which marks the spot where Mary appeared to the 3 children. The chapel is enclosed in a glass building. As mom and I walked toward the building, I thought the chances of us even getting near enough to see the chapel were pretty slim and it had started to rain again.

We got as close as 3 rows of people from the glass enclosure and we had had enough, the amount of people was just enormous. So, mom and I turned around, “wormed” our way out of the congestion and started walking towards the modern (built in 2005-2007) Church of the Holy Trinity. As we are walking the rain seems to be getting harder and harder. I’m looking down at the ground and then at the sleeve of my fleece jacket and can’t believe my eyes, it was hailing! Yes, in mid-May in Portugal, while at Fatima we experience hail. Could be normal weather circumstances, or maybe it was a sign from my grandmother telling us, “Thanks for the effort girls”…that’s what I like to think it was.

We walked as fast as we could, which wasn’t fast, since hail and cobble stones don’t mix well and finally made it into the Church of the Holy Trinity, where we run into 2 of our tour group members. When we asked if they had experienced the hail, they looked at us like we were crazy and said no. Guess, it was just my and mom’s little secret hail shower.

After about a 2 hours visit to Fatima, we were back on the bus heading for Coimbra, but we had 2 more stops. The first was for a lunch break at a highway rest stop and let me tell you, the lunch here was better than the dinner at O Luis in Nazare. We had a green cabbage soup and a roast suckling pig sandwich. Both were delicious, although the rest stop atmosphere wasn’t the most desirable, but the bathrooms were clean!

The last stop for sightseeing today was the Conimbriga Roman Ruins and this was a complete WOW (!) site. I was not expecting to see such well-preserved remains. Here is the site’s website: www.conimbriga.pt

We first took a short spin through the museum on site. Then Maria guided us through the archeological site with incredibly well-preserved tile floors, and walls. The House of the Fountains is an entire dwelling with many of its rooms and mosaics still intact.

By now it was getting to be late afternoon and we were ready to get to Coimbra and our hotel. We drove into Coimbra with a stop at the Church of Santa Clara on the opposite side of the Mondego River, which gave us a lovely view of the city.

We checked into the very centrally located Hotel Astoria, and that is the best thing I can say about this hotel. When we walked into the lobby we thought we had been transported back to the Art Deco era, and not in a good way. In my opinion, the hotel really needed some “Tender Loving Care”. The public areas seemed very old and very creaky, and the guest room, although spacious felt like I was walking into my grandmother’s house circa 1950. I know some people enjoy that style, I’m just not one of them, and mom didn’t care for the place either. As I said the best thing was the location, we could walk out the door and be in the center of everything, so that was the trade-off.

We had another group dinner tonight at A Portuguesa on the river. I really liked the dining room at this restaurant, and although we were again seated at one long table with all the tour group members, this time the section of the restaurant we were in had no other diners, so I felt less like we were in the middle of everyone else’s meal.

The staff here was very good, well, as good as it can be for a table of 24! The food was pretty good too, I just think I picked the wrong dish which was fish w/pasta. This was supposedly a local specialty, but when I saw the pasta was elbow macaroni, I was a little deflated, but the flavor was good. The others in the group who ordered the veal steak, totally “won” in the food category, it was perfectly cooked and looked out of this world good, yes, and I had “food envy”. There were also lots of fried starters served which included veal “cakes”, cod cakes and other tasty little fried bits and they were all excellent. And, the wine served with dinner was very good. Mom and I stuck with the white variety, but those having red said it was good too.
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