Sunday, June 30, 2013

About that Fortified Wine... a minute. I just finished tasting a 60-year-old (the port, not Lorenço, who's lovely).


Shit. Lorenço just poured a single vintage '68 called a Colheita. I've had old US ports--the difference here is this didn't come out of the barrel until last year. Unreal.

Where was I? Don't know...Porto, former capital of the country named after something sensible like a dessert wine. Or an aperitif--there's dry, white port, too. We had that before dinner. Then I ate half a roasted lamb and some amazing potatoes. And saltcod and potato fritters. I think carrots and collards were involved. I vaguely recall Karen eating some cheese and maybe a fish while VH1 played videos from the '80s and the...oh, it doesn't matter.

Where is Lorenço?

Porto at night

So What's Your Country Named For?

"Uh, a federated amalgam of semi-sovereign states united by a single constitution on the continent of America, which was named for an Italian who never came here. Yours?"

"Fortified wine."


So we decided to take a side trip east from the freeway to experience some nature. Thankfully, the national Buçaco forest comes with a four star hotel. But don't even think about it, because if you aren't staying here, you can't even think about doing anything here--even contemplating an overpriced lunch. But it is a lovely building when appreciated from the outside. And there were lots of Carmelites here, so there is plenty of spiritual stuff (like a convent) if you are into that kind of thing.

Find the Minotaur


Okay, it is the largest Roman site in Portugal, but it is not all that, especially after visiting southern Italy. But it does feature some pretty bad-ass floor mosaics.

Taxi Ride or Laxative?

Both, actually, which totally justifies the fare. Either way I was walking like this afterward.

Truth is, though, Portugal is friendly, beautiful, helpful, clean, traditional, hip and delicious. One of those countries that got the Boy Scout oath really right.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

And Then After That

We followed the sound to the John Lewis rockabilly explosion which, predictably, rocked. All the Coimbra hipsters wore their finest soda fountain dresses and gas station uniforms. I lost my wedding ring I clapped so hard after the Hank Williams cover that I had to interrupt the band to petition the audience to look for it. They did. I found it ten minutes later in Karen's bag and did a little guitar solo dance, just so the audience knew everything was okay.

John Lewis, btw, is Irish, and after two decades of playing I finally understand why it's not the blues and why it's not country, yet I know every chord.

Oh That Sacramental Wine

In a cafe abutting a church is the most delightful little bar, now occupying no doubt what once housed the preserved remains of some saint or another. Good port. Great crowd. We wandered in after dinner, and never wandered out. The lights dimmed, groups of locals started gathering at the marble-topped tables, more port arrived, and a troupe of Fado players rallied the crowd in a scene that brought together summer camp and a wake.

Oh, the women's restroom is located in the former confessional. Karen wanted me to snap the picture. Personally, I've always had more use for the former than the latter, but at the end of the day they are philosophically identical.

Portugal's port and wine

We'll talk about this more soon, but for now, let us inform you that we are very impressed.

Pensive in Coimbra

Your baby

Your baby may be a pimp.

They have yarn bombing here

They just all it "social crochet."

Academic prison

Try not to end up there.

A real university library

Mine, unfortunately, can't compare with this one.

This school is old

Founded in 1290, the University here is both old and impressive.


It's Portugal's Oxford, and offers a delightful mix of narrow, cobblestone streets, plentiful outdoor cafes and a historic university.

Friday, June 28, 2013

An oven for oxen

The kitchen at the Alcobaca is a tour de force of tile! This is the massive oven, which they needed to cook ox for the 900 hungry monks. They even diverted a spring into the kitchen to provide an ongoing source of fresh water.

Old school graffiti


It's the largest church in all of Portugal, a world heritage site, and it once housed more than 900 monks.

We are not beach people

In fact, some people have told us that we are the whitest people they know. One if our Lisbon cab drivers encouraged us to visit the beach, following that recommendation immediately with a warning, "you should be careful, you are very pale." But en route to Coimbra, we did stop off at the beach town Nazare for some seafood and people watching (mostly British tourists wearing inappropriate beach and loungewear). I had the sardines...

More Sintra

Put some animal heads on it


Just 30 minutes outside of Lisbon, Sintra awaits! One of our Lisbon cab drivers instructed Michael that, "you must take your wife to Sintra--it is very romantic." Indeed, the Pena Palace is a fantastical Disneyland-style residence, with turrets galore painted in sorbet-like colors. Perched on a steep hill, it also offers extraordinary views.

It's always a party in the Alto Barrio

Every night until the wee hours of the morning..

No, We Won't be Out Late

We'll just have a nice dinner near the plaza and go to the port institute.

Dinner was excellent. Our first choice was booked, so we ended up at a restaurant recommended by the hotel. We had it to ourselves because Thursday was strike day and everyone stayed home. Octopus salad arrived first, and the marinaded peppers and herbs and the buttery cephalopod were sublime. A tomato and eggplant gratin and a spinach crepe gave us something to write home about. But it was the bacalhau-stuffed peppers that made us weep: so simple, so rich--perfectly perfect.

Then they hooked Karen on the white port.

So we headed for the Palacio des Port, and though they were closed (on strike), the back alleys were bustling. It didn't take long to find a wine bar and start sampling. I'm partial to the '76. Meanwhile, the Canadian-Portugese post-production duo struck up a conversation and several drinks later we were making Senegalese spiritual advisor friends over caipirinhas, at which point we realized it was two in the morning and we were the only people going to bed. Fun town.

Lisbon street art

Thursday, June 27, 2013


Karen's taking and posting the majority of Portugal so far as I'm running an experiment and fumbling around with the new equipment: how much can I do with just an iPhone 5, some photo/video apps (not instagram or vine), and an olloclip--a three-lens system that snaps onto the phone? The barnacle-eating shot was obviously a fisheye, which is great for tight spaces, but I'm also into the wide angle as I've always struggled to get as much stuff into the frame as possible. Paired with a filter that offers some nice customization tools, I'm liking the results. More to come...need to see how it handles video.

Ominous warning labels

This one translates to "smoking kills," and was recently changed from the slightly more comforting "smoking can kill."

Bernardo Museum Banhos

Bernardo Museum, old school dashboard

The Bernardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art is housed in a vast and sprawling new building set in a lovely garden in Belem. Inside, an extraordinary collection of art from every important artist from the 20th and 21st centuries. As well as an awesome vinyl introductory wall that lists all their key impact criteria--audiences served, number of loans to other museums, even press quotes. A wonderful on-site infographic for all who visit.

Belem tower, staircases done right

We've visited castles and forts throughout Europe, climbing what must be thousands of precariously narrow, spiral stone staircases. But here at the Belem Tower was the first time I saw technology used to enhance the experience--sensors indicate if others are on the staircase and determine their direction, providing those waiting with a green or red arrow in each direction to avoid awkward on-staircase human collisions. Brilliant.

Victory gardens

The Praca do Comercio by the water is buzzing with activity as crews set up living plant beds (corn, chard, melons and more) and miniature animal stalls. Turns out it is an outdoor supermarket sponsored by a local chain--opening tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Three stooges go drinking in a park

It's 11pm on a balmy Wednesday night and the park is full of couples and families, the park cafe packed with mellow revelers. Vibe here in Lisbon is decidedly relaxed-festive, even so close to midnight.

Steak sandwich and a steak sandwich

Did we mention dessert? It came with a bottled mustard custard (mustard with the appearance and consistency of lemon curd).

The Taste of Barnacles

Ever go on a field trip to the ocean in middle school and get your face real close to a tide pool? Remember how that smelled? That's what barnacles taste like: salty, funky and weirdly eternal. Delicious.

We also wolfed down some garlic shrimp and the "edible crab." No word on the other kind. But this one featured big claws requiring some explosive and comical mallet work and, stuffed into the carapace were all the innards, blended into a chunky, livery pâté. Also delicious.

Steak sandwiches for dessert.

The art slammer

Amazing architecture abounds here--there is a compelling building almost everywhere you look. And, the Lisboans have a great tradition of respecting and repurposing ancient and seasoned buildings. The contemporary art museum is in a former biscuit bakery, complete with remnants of ancient ovens. And the MUDE is in an old bank, stripped down everywhere except the downstairs vault. Here, amongst the hundreds of stainless steel security boxes, stacked floor-to-ceiling, they invite artists to create installations showcasing contemporary design.

Extreme building watersports

Lisbon's design museum (MUDE) is clad with a row of candy-colored racing canoes.

Sardines belong to everyone

They do, and they are beautiful here, especially when suspended from buildings.

The world's sexiest restroom

Pick a color, any color. Renova, the Portuguese toilet paper company, offers them all at what they call the sexiest bathroom in the world.


We arrived! Although after weather related delays at SFO and Newark, we weren't sure that was going to happen. Thankfully, at SFO we experienced the rarest breed of travel professionals--the contentious and customer-service-focused United rep. He complimented me on my passport photo, commented upon my stress level, and listened to our sob story--we just had one day in Lisbon with my brother, a day that was increasingly slipping away with flight delays. "A day is a day" he sagely told us, and worked some super-human magic to get us on the next flight to Newark, ensuring our connection to Lisbon. Bom dia.