R&R in Portugal

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

It was a perfectly excellent few days. I arrived in Lisbon on the overnight train from Madrid, and was met at the station by my old teacher/mentor now colleague and friend, Freddie. (Never mind that poor Freddie was making his second early morning trip in to Lisbon in as many days since I’d mistakenly told him I was arriving Thursday morning, when of course I was leaving on Thursday and arriving on Friday… but then again I can barely remember what month it is these days. It’s still August, right?*). Despite the confusion of the previous morning, Freddie was in his usual good spirits and whisked me off to his spare room in the small town of Sesimbra. And then, because there was exceedingly noisy work being done on his back patio (involving a jackhammer), we immediately buggered off for the day.

We drove south to Setúbal and wandered through a great market there where I picked up some fruit, and was scolded by a lady for squeezing the pears, and Freddie educated me in the 87,392,493 different types of fish and seafood for sale. They do like their fish here.

Swordfish at Setúbal Market.

And picturesque neglected buildings in Setúbal.

After killing some time in Setúbal, we got the ferry to Troia and had a nice long drive, aiming at a small roadside restaurant that Freddie knew (one of countless restaurants Freddie knows). Tragically, the place was closed down, taking with it what was apparently the best Porco Alentejo with it (pork with clams). Instead we opted for a place just up the road and had a lovely long lunch, accompanied by lashings of tinto de casa (made on the premises). I had chocos fritos – fried cuttlefish, which were tasty but I think should easily qualify as Steve’s Weird Food for Portugal. Well, just look at them:

Chocos Fritos, somewhat out of focus. But yes, they did look like baby aliens. (Also, I have to add that it is just downright WRONG that these are called “chocos fritos” which should clearly be something involving chocolate and heat combined in a delicious and satisfying way, and not anything with freakin’ TENTACLES, however tasty those tentacles might be. I mean, REALLY.)

And my host. Lookin’ good, Freddie!

After lunch, we went to a beautiful stretch of white sand beach for a bit of a break. I had a book with me but after laying down a towel and stretching out on the sand, I was unconscious in moments. Naturally Freddie had planned the whole business, reasoning that after a night on the overnight train and a big lunch I’d need a siesta, but that jackhammering would not be as appropriate an accompaniment to that as crashing waves. He was right of course, an attentive host indeed.

The beach.

And then there was the leisurely drive back to Sesimbra, and the relaxed pre-dinner conversation, and the aperitif before heading for another little place in the next town for a dinner of more beautiful seafood. This time it was gigantic shrimp, split in half and lightly grilled, ordered by the half-kilo. And a bottle of tinto de casa, naturally

On Saturday I spent 3 hours making my way to the start of a run with the Lisbon Hash House Harriers. I left the house just before 11:00am, and travelled by bus, ferry, train and car. (It was easily the longest I’ve ever traveled for a hash, but definitely worth it, despite the fact the the return trip was even longer - 3-1/2 hours - due to the unfortunate timing of ferry arrival and bus departure.) The run started at about 2:30 and was 12.8km of exhausting, hilly, hot, dusty running through trails and scrub and infrequent shady glades, and it was just great. The Lisbon Hash is a big group – well-organized and very family-friendly. I’ve never seen that many kids at a hash before. And we had two namings and a re-naming. And I met some good people, including a woman recently posted to the Canadian embassy, who may be able to help me with a bit of a puzzle to do with visas.

On the run with the LH3.

Sunday was a lazy day – Freddie’s spare room is equipped with light blocking shutters and the town is small and quiet, so I slept until almost 10am and lounged about all morning, with only a brief foray to the market. Lunch was at home on the balcony, where we sat in the sun and watched the sea mist roll in and obscure the entire town.

Mist appearing on the right.

About five minutes later.

And of course we discussed the plans for dinner. In fact, the whole visit felt a bit like a Food Network special, which is positively brilliant. I’ve now had cuttlefish, shrimp, monkfish, octopus, baby squid, clams and swordfish. And I’ve sampled a great variety of local wine, and learned a lot about it, and I’ve even had some instruction in port (which I requested since it is, after all, Portugal). It turns out I like port very much, which is a good thing to know. I love that an appropriately significant amount of our time was spent in contemplating where and what we might next eat and drink. And I love that one of the things I heard most was, “Red, white or rosé?”. Either that, or, “How’s your glass?” (As if to imply that the glass itself might suffer some damage if the liquid level were to get dangerously low.)

Monday was Republic Day in Portugal, a national holiday. I got up and headed out for a run in the NEW SHOES that arrived, along with a bunch of other good stuff, in the care package that was waiting for me in Sesimbra (Thanks Karen, and Steve, and Lisa!). I hoped the run would be about 10km long, but I ran smack into the preparations for a 10km road race to be held along precisely the route I was planning. I thought briefly about trying to enter the race on the spot, but my enthusiasm was as limited as my Portuguese (I can say Yes, No, Thank You, Good Morning, Good Evening, One way, Return, and Dessert. Oh, and Tinto de Casa…), so I contented myself with trying a run up a gravel road at the end of the town. That ended up being about as hilly as the run up to Arthur’s Seat, so I tried my luck back down at sea level but got hemmed in my the race and had a long and humid (and yes, partially lost) walk up the hill back to Freddie’s.

The race.

Later that afternoon, after another leisurely lunch and some quality relaxation time, we went out to explore the Moorish castle at Sesimbra, which turned out to be perfectly excellent. It’s almost like a cartoon of a castle, it’s so perfect. It actually reminded me of the Fisher-Price castle that I always coveted as a kid, and it actually looked at lot like the castle my Dad made me out of cardboard, since I didn’t have the Fisher-Price Castle. (Mine was called “Happy Castle”.) I mean, just look:

The castle.

It had great crenellations (which sounds a bit like a lame medieval pick-up line, “Hey baby, those are some great crenellations. Wanna come back and check out my keep? It’s got an en suite garderobe and you can see the severed heads on the tower from my arrow-slit.”), and great ramparts, and unlike every other castle I’ve been to, it was completely deserted. There were no ticket booths or barriers or turnstiles or audioguides or hordes of cruise-ship based tour groups. It was a great treat.

A view of the walls.

After that, we visited an abandoned convent on a very windy bit of clifftop, that afforded this reasonably acceptable view:

And then it was really time to think seriously about dinner, which ended up being the aforementioned swordfish, which was excellent. (Lesson from Freddie: Do not even bother ordering the swordfish if the raw meat is not slightly tinged with pink - as in the photo above. The stuff that’s all white will dry up and be horrible and disappointing.) And then there was the after-dinner port, and the last bits of sitting on the balcony chatting, and not chatting, and attempting to phone Canada, and not getting to talk to who we wanted to (Norberts, I’m talking to you.), and a general sense of well-being that I hope Freddie shared.

The next day I packed up and Freddie drove me in to Lisbon to the brilliant hostel I’m now at, and I’ve been enjoying the city. But that’s another story. This part of the story ended when I said goodbye to Freddie and turned my face to Lisbon, and you’ll have to stay tuned to see what happened next.

* At the request of ROB HAMILTON, I am attempting to cut out the ***s at the end of posts, so let me know what you think about having these slight diversions buried parenthetically in the text instead of piled up at the end. Rob’s argument is that he’s forgotten what the associated subject was by the time he gets to the end. My intention was always that the reader would scroll down to read the *** right after the text, and then scroll back up to continue, but maybe that’s asking too much. Or maybe Rob doesn’t know how to use the scroll-wheel on his mouse. Or perhaps we need to take up a collection to buy Rob a mouse with a scroll wheel. Thoughts?


Viviane said...

I would be happy to donate 1 Euro to Robert so that he may purchase a scroll mouse! Anyone else?
I actually enjoy waiting until the end of your posts to read the *** at the end. I know that there will be a tidbit that is oh so Pam that will make me chuckle. Keep the ***'s coming.
Somehow I am not surprised the Norberts was elusive, cloaked in mist is he.
Thanks for making me laugh out loud in this post Pam. I may have a Ugandan hook-up for you. Will e-mail with more details later.

Ian Timshel said...

That's my kind of heaven Pam.

Rob, there is medication for attention deficit issues. They work, really. ;^)

Heather Moore said...

I don't really like the ***'s at the end either. I too forget what they are supposed to be about in relation to the post. Just say I have a short memory. Sorry.

But if you keep them I'll still keep reading. ;)

Unknown said...

By my count that makes it a tie 2 all.

My laptop at home does not have a mouse, just a feely-pad and buttons, so scrolling down is not as easy as it is at work, where I have a mouse with a scroll down wheel. But I read your tales at home...

Don't bother sending a mouse, I prefer to use a different pointing device at home than at work, to avoid carpal tunnel of the wrist etc. Besides, where the computer lives at home, there is no room for a mouse.

Mouse or not, scrolling up and down to continue the story is a very lame way to tell a tale.

I prefer the integral asides as done in the most recent post.

I resent the fact you have tried to insight the crowd against me when all I was trying to do was suggest small improvements to your writing style. ;-)

I especially liked the fact that your whole time with Freddie was consumed with talk, planning, and enjoyment of food and wine. I don't think I have ever met him, but he sounds like a nice guy with his priorities straight.

Keep on truckin'


Lisa said...

I'm not sure which amused me more...the actual blog post or the comments...It was all entertaining to say the least...

p.s. I like waiting until afterwards to read because I make up stuff when I see the ***'s and then see if I'm anywhere close (nope) when I finish reading...

Don Best said...

I have to agree with Rob on this one. I have never met Rob but he seems utterly sensible to me. I also have found it a pain to scroll down (yes, with my scroll wheel) to the bottom of post and then having to find my place again in the narrative. I wondered if you can hyperlink the end of the page from the *s and then hyperlink back up. I was too shy to complain before but Rob has given my the courage to finally speak up for what I believe in. God, it feels good!

Unknown said...

This is funny. LOL

I think this makes it still tied - 3 all.

Oh, Pam. You'd better post some interesting stuff, and quick.

Imagine the shame if the commentary about ***'s and scroller wheels was more interesting than your travels!

Tell us about more of the great food, wine, people and sights you are seeing - while we all waste our lives at work.

I cannot wait for your next post.


Kim said...

Pam, you're the author you have to do what inpiration tells you to do in that moment and to hell with the peanut gallery. We are not paying you to do this, nor are we your editors.

I do have an opinion on this but out of respect for creativity I keep it to myself. I think you should be your own tie breaker.

Still reading. Keep on writing. It's awesome.

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