Portuguese vineyards seen from the train.
1 mars 2012
Guimarães is a strange town indeed…medieval and very cute if you find the city center, but there aren’t many resources for tourists, despite it being one of the 41 places to visit in 2011 (according to the NY Times) and its status as a UNESCO WH site. They should work on getting a couple of brochures at the train station, or at least a little mapski. The people were very friendly, though. We stopped in a little shop and chatted a bit with the woman working. She spoke a little English and was very enthusiastic, so we asked her what there was to see in the town. “Ohh, the palace of course, and you can heat very well!” “Oh, thanks! Could you recommend a restaurant? Where do you like to eat?” She looked shocked and then a bit dark, and shook her head and said, “oh no, not me…I live in a town next to and eat at home!”
This alone is a bit perplexing, but the most interesting thing about it is that the town is completely littered with tiny little Portuguese pâtisseries and the only thing you can find to eat is the same few yellow spongy pastries everywhere you go. We literally were not able to find a single restaurant other than some little Autogrill-type joint where I got a suspicious serving of Russian salad (that I ate anyway) and Christa ordered a small mountain of profiteroles for 1 Euro. (Success!)
welcome to Porto.
29 février 2012
February vacation included a fair amount of babysitting, a touch of illness (pas grave), some much-needed spring cleaning, and a 3-day séjour in Porto. When I think about it, it really had everything we needed…friendly people, beach (même s’il fallait trop froid pour nager), and Port wine, vinho do Porto (même s’il est surtout un apéritif).
Despite our detailed (ha) tourist map, which essentially told us nothing other than that the winery we were looking for was on the other side of the river, it took us ages to reach our destination. We were starving by the time we got there, having climbed and descended many hills that are probably steep anyway but seem much steeper when you’re that hungry, and having climbed and descended them a couple of times since we got lost(ish), and were welcomed by some hearty free samples of Port wine. We ordered the wine/cheese package afterward in a desperate attempt to get some food out of it (by the way, Portugal has delicious cheese), but nevertheless were just slightly giggly as we dutifully followed the English language tour group through many barrels of very old wine.
After the tour, which included very detailed explanations regarding the age of all the barrels and how the wine is stored and kept cool and mixed to make specialty blends, Christa asked a fellow tourist to take our photo. “Ahhh….!!!!” The woman looked startled for a moment, then looked delighted and took the camera and pointed to the button to indicate, ‘I press here, yeah?’ Christa murmured to me, “what were they doing on the English tour?”
lemon trees outside of the winery, Taylor’s (very Portuguese-sounding, I know).
Vila Nova de Gaia, 29 février 2012
I don’t know if it’s widely known that smoking is permitted in bars and restaurants in Portugal, but it is. When we first noticed it at dinner, it was just one woman, and we just found it a bit surprising at 8:30 pm in a near-empty restaurant, as we had been under the impression that it was an EU thing, banning smoking in restos. As the night wore on, around 10 pm we suddenly realized the place had become packed, and every table around us had crowds of diners, all smoking. There was a very large table of women next to us, most of whom were blond, and all were smoking, their cigarettes raised high, heads thrown back in fits of laughter. We stared down at our food and then up at all the smoke in the air, and I peered behind me at the woman with a cigarette who was poking at her chocolate cake, and Christa said, “where are we?!?” No idea. Weird, wild stuff.