14.04.2017 - 15.04.2017
We took a 3 hour train back to Lisbon on Friday. We arrived in the afternoon and hit up one of the many Easter markets for a meat and cheese plate to hold us over until dinner. Usually, people are amazed at how large the portions are in America. Portugal's portions are huge. This meat and cheese plate was advertised to feed two people. We could have served it as an appetizer at a party with ten other people. We ended our day in Lisbon with wandering around the historic Alfama neighborhood and dinner at Sacramento for a second time. Below are a few things we learned while in Portugal that we thought were noteworthy albeit random:
1. Signature required credit cards- I feel a little dumb that I am just now realizing why my credit card rarely has worked at automatic ticketing machines in Europe. Most Americans have credit cards that require a signature, whereas in Europe, they have pins similar to a debit card. At an automatic ticketing machine in a subway station, for instance, you most likely won't be able to use your credit card because there is no way to sign the receipt and return it to the station for their records. You must have a pin authorized debit or credit card or cash. We saw a lot of Americans struggling with this at the automatic ticket machines at Pena Palace, and that is when I had the "ah ha" moment and figured it out.
2. Couvert- At Portuguese restaurants, they will set down bread, olives, cheese, etc. at the beginning of the meal. This food is not complimentary. It is called the couvert and is usually around €3 a person. If you don't want it, don't touch it and tell the waiter to take it back.
3. Ginjinha- Portugal loves this local cherry liquor. They serve shots of it every where for a euro or two. Sometimes, you can order it in a chocolate shot glass. I personally didn't like it and thought it tasted like cherry and cinnamon.
4. Cork- Portugal is the largest producer of cork in the world. It produces about 50% of the world's cork. Cork can be expensive. For instance, nice wine corks for fancy bottles of port can cost a euro or more a piece.
5. Other foods- Portugal has amazing fresh fruit. Every morning, we had the best kiwis and melons for breakfast. They had orange and lemon trees everywhere. Also, Portugal had delicious fresh seafood. Their bachalau (cod) and octopus were my favorite. If you aren't a seafood fan, traditional Portuguese food always includes meats (veal was popular in Porto). They especially love their cured meats. Overall, their cuisine is delicious but simple. Meat or fish cooked with some olive oil served with rice or boiled or fried potatoes and a handful of other vegetables (cabbage, peppers, onions, etc.). A popular soup is calde verde which is cabbage and potato soup. I thought it was a little plain and needed some seasoning, but they aren't big into seasoning.
6. Porto- We preferred Porto to Lisbon. Both are relatively small and can be conquered in a day or two. Lisbon had more history related to the various invaders in the country over time, while in Porto, we learned more about the native Portuguese culture. We thought Porto seemed more vibrant. It was smaller and more colorful than Lisbon. I loved the river view, and while I didn't like port wine before this trip, I enjoyed learning about its rich history. It eventually grew on me.
7. Fado- Fado is their traditional music. It is a sad lullaby played on guitar and sometimes accompanied by a singer. In Lisbon, many restaurants and bars in the Alfama district have nightly performances. We tried to attend a show in Porto, but they were running behind schedule and were 45 minutes late to start. Luckily, we caught some music in the Alfama on our last day. Lisbon and Porto both have a ton of musicians performing on the streets, and we were impressed by all of them.
8. Drinking straws- They love straws. They usually put two straws in every drink. They also keep the top part of the straw covered, so you know no one has put their hands all over your straw.
9. Carhartt- In the USA, we think Carhartt is a great outdoor/industrial clothing brand. In Portugal, it is a trendy fashionable brand. The Carhartt stores did not feature the sturdy work clothing the brand sells in America. Instead it had men's fitted tee shirts with their logo on them and tight jeans.
10. Tourist season- Their high seasons for tourism starts in April when they experience the "Spanish invasion." The Spanish enjoy vacationing in Portugal for Easter. Now, we know why it was so crowded! However, April was a great time to visit. It was sunny, but in the shade, it was very comfortable and cool.
11. The people- Portuguese people are so nice and happy to help tourists! For the most part, they spoke English very well, so we never encountered any true language barriers.
Overall, we enjoyed Portugal. If the wine isn't enough to convince you to visit, maybe the food, people, relatively lower prices than the rest of Western Europe, and culture can entice you.