Portugal at Random

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

You know how this works by now: stuff about Portugal, lack of interest in or time for composing something coherent, read it anyway.

- Now you know the secret of the Solar do Vihno do Porto, so I’ll let you in on another cheapie alcohol experience in Lisbon – the VinoPortugal. This is a free wine-tasting bar at Pla├ža Commercial in Lisbon. It’s in a lot of guidebooks so it’s not exactly a secret, which is why I was surprised that it was completely empty when I went in. Here’s the deal: they feature 20 wines from each of three different regions of Portugal, rotating through the regions periodically, because there are a lot of distinct wine-producing areas in Portugal. You go in, tell them you want to do a tasting, and they let you pick two wines and give you a form to fill out about your opinions on everything from the design of the label to the taste to how much you’d pay for the bottle. Then they pour you a tasting size sample of your two wines, and you go off to sit and taste and make notes. (“Woody undertones with distinct notes of red fruit, pig ears and wet umbrella”… that kind of thing.). And then you hand in your notes and you get to pick two more wines for the same treatment. No catch, other than you’re limited to four tastes (Per day? Per week? I don’t know, but it would be fun to find out.)

Part of the selection at VinoPortugal

- Tricky restaurants! When you sit down at the table the waiter brings over a tasty assortment of things for you to munch on while you contemplate the menu and wait for your order. Sometimes it’s just a basket of bread and butter, but at one place Freddie and I went to it was bread, butter, tuna paste, sardine paste, olives, and a lovely round of soft local sheep’s cheese. Everything you touch goes on the bill, even if you only have a nibble. It’s not hugely expensive – bread or olives is usually under a euro, but the cheese is often €3-4. (And it’s not just Portugal. I’m writing this from Italy, and can report that a restaurant in Padua had the audacity to charge €1.50 for a package of six dry, factory-made breadsticks that were only slightly thicker than uncooked linguini and about as tasty.)

- The LP promised, and Portugal delivered. Those folks really like their pastries, as evidenced by the presence of a pastelaria approximately every 50 feet on every street in Portugal. As I mentioned earlier, the specialty of the place is the pastel de nata, a flaky pastry tart filled with custard. But these pastelaria have loads of other stuff. It was all I could do not to walk into every one I passed and try something new. Thankfully, I was uncharacteristically abstemious.

Pastel de nata and coffee. I should have had two... they’re small.

- When I was riding around with Freddie I found out about a clever system they have in Portugal for getting people to keep their speed down when driving. There are speed detectors in places that are connected to traffic lights. As long as your speed is below the limit, the light stays green. If you’re over the limit, the light turns red, forcing you not just to slow down, but stop completely. Freakin’ brilliant.

- The Hostel Report: I stayed at Rossio Hostel in Lisbon (recommended by my new best friend in Madrid, Christine) and turned out to be, by a significant margin, the best hostel I’ve stayed in so far. In fact, it was voted best small hostel in the world (2008) by the people who frequent Hostelworld.com, and I can see why. Here’s just a sampling of its charms, available for just €18 per night:

  • Perfect location, just off Rossio Square
  • Clean rooms with only 4 beds each
  • Large, free lockers in the room, with locks provided
  • Free towel and bed linen
  • Clean, bright, cheery, well-designed bathrooms
  • Sunny, pleasant common room
  • Separate tv room with wide screen tv, and library of DVDs
  • Lovely kitchen
  • No lock-out
  • Free wifi and free computer terminals
  • Free hot breakfast – scrambled eggs and toast, or crepes, with coffee and tea, juice, and cereal. I’m not kidding, you came down in the morning and a happy woman asked what you wanted for breakfast, cooked it to order, and brought it to you at the dining table. It was like a dream.
  • Laundry service: For €5 they would do a load of laundry for you – washed, dried and folded - and return it to you in a tidy little tote which would be waiting on your bunk by late afternoon.
  • A cooler of water, soft drinks and beer, all available for €1 per can
  • Really friendly and helpful reception staff. They could tell you how to get to any of the tourist spots, which bus to get to the airport, and what was playing for movie night.
  • A handful of umbrellas by the door, just in case

Rossi Common Room, set up for serving breakfast

And just because you haven't seen me in a while, and because I got my first non-English haircut in Lisbon, here's me at the castle:


Mitch said...

Hi Pam,

Looking at the map again, what happened to Morroco? What are you up to for the next couple of months...

Unknown said...

Pam called me this morning - no, not a Devine Voice From On High - on the phone!

She wants all those who follow her GSRED Blog to leave some kind of short comment so she knows who is following her travels.

Leave a short comment for Pam to feel the Love from back home.

Do it now - Do it Every time. (says Pam)


Unknown said...

That actually looks like a hostel I could handle.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Pam, I have been following faithfully. Usually as I make a mad dash for the door for work. Love it wish I was there. You absolutely rock.

Kim said...

yum wine!

Unknown said...

Still following you religiously and enjoying every report!

Mitch said...

I know for a fact that there are way more people following your blog than are posting right now. You are being closely followed and watched...

Viviane said...

Cool Shades Pam.

Lisa said...

What they said!!! I subscribe to the RSS feeds so don't always go to the site to read your updates...

I will now...I just wish I was as witty as you!

Anonymous said...

Hey Pam -

When are you in Prague? I have a challenge for you...

-Craig (Woody)

Pam said...

@Craig - Unfortunately, Prague is not on the itinerary for this trip. It's part of the 99% of the world I will NOT be visiting. Too bad, I like a good challenge...

Anonymous said...

Bummer. Your map gave me the impression Prague was a destination. Ah well, the wonders of Zlateho Tygra will remain hidden.


Anonymous said...

See that's why I don't drink wine...pig ears and wet umbrellas..BLECH! I'm here and loving every minute of it. I catch up once a week. You're my hero.
Hugs Lin

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