Friday, May 29, 2015

Lisbon and Penacova, Portugal

During the autumn, Laure and I visited Lisbon for some sightseeing and good food before meeting up with some of my family in Coimbra and Penacova. Here's a recap.
Outdoor dining in the old streets of Lisbon.

Laure found us a nice hostel named Travelers House in the old part of town. It was a stone throw's away from many of the historical places we checked out. The place had traditional hostel dorms a few private rooms. We booked a private room on the top floor with a bathroom and balcony.
View from our room at Travelers House.

In Lisbon we went on a self-guided tour through some of the main sights, thanks to the Rick Steves guide book. I had previously visited Lisbon with my family many years ago. Back then I was overwhelmed with all the history and the stress of traveling. This time around I was able to enjoy it more; partly because we toured at a leisurely pace and partly because I have grown to appreciate history.
Lisbon has charming street cars.
The street cars reminded us of San Francisco.
In Lisbon, we drank some ginjinha, which is a shot of fortified wine infused with cherries and combined with sugar. When you go to a shop that sells ginjinha, the owner asks "com ou sem?" ("with or without?"), which refers to whether you want cherries poured with the drink.
"A Ginjinha" is the most popular shop to buy the drink with the same name, ginjinha.
Ginjinha "com".

I was impressed by the beautiful white and black stone patterns on the pavement of sidewalks and parks in Lisbon. I naively assumed such patterns were unique to Brazil until I realized they were largely inspired by the ones in Portugal.
I was surprised to learn the famous pavement pattern from Copacabana in Rio was inspired by the one in Lisbon.
This dizzying pattern represents waves of the sea during the time that Portugal was a superpower in naval exploration and military.
The work of laying these articulate pavement patterns is painstakingly laborious.

Laure found an excellent restaurant named "O Ramiro", which served some of the best shellfish I have ever had. The restaurant was featured in one of Anthony Bourdain's shows, so you can imagine that it is a little trendy. But the deliciousness of the food is definitely worth the wait in line.

Here is how it works: on a busy night you start by waiting in line while sipping a drink; usually a light beer or white wine. Once you grab a table, you can take look at what fresh items they have to offer. You can ask the waiter about the different items, especially ones you have never seen before. The waiter will help you decide on a good combination of items, including how the food should be prepared, the quantity, and the order to be served.
The grilled jumbo shrimps with olive oil were amazing.
We also had these snail-looking sea creatures.
We made friends with a Brazilian couple seating next to us.
They offered us this delicious funny looking creature to eat.
The crab comes in two parts:
1. the legs, which we crack with a small plastic mallet and eat, and
2. the inside of the crab, which is made into a soup.
The carcass of our dinner.
Laure is still polishing off the crab - her absolute favorite plate.

My favorite part of our visit to Lisbon was actually the same as the highlight during my previous visit many years ago: a dinner with Fado.

Fado is a type of music historically performed by the working class in Portugal's modest restaurants and social gatherings. The origins are unclear, but one story is that Fado became popular during the time when women longingly sang about their husbands that left on long sailing journeys. Therefore the music traditionally conveys sad but beautiful sentiments.
A Fado performance at an outdoor restaurant in a square of the Alfama neighborhood.
Today, you can listen to Fado in different restaurants in the old neighborhoods of Lisbon. Some venues are relatively luxurious and host national Fado celebrities, but the majority of places are still small restaurants with local singers and an open mic for anyone that wishes to participate.

After some research, we chose a cozy and down-to-earth restaurant named "A Baiuca". The food was simple and tasty. The ambiance of a small room filled with emotional music is unbeatable. Anyone is invited to sing. An unexpected highlight was when the chef came out to sing.
Fado at A Baiuca.
The chef came out to sing a beautiful song in the middle of preparing dishes.
Community locals sang during the open mic at the end.

During the Fado, we sat next to an Italian couple with a baby. In the middle of dinner, the baby started crying, so the couple took turns at holding the baby outside the restaurant. When the restaurant owner noticed, she went out to hold the baby while the couple finished their meals and enjoyed the performance.
The three ladies giving the grand finale performance of the night.
I can't wait to come back.

Laure and I checked out a local swing dancing event organized by a school named Swing Station in Lisbon. I really enjoy connecting to the local community sharing similar hobbies when we travel. The swing dancing community seemed very vibrant. I think Laure enjoyed that guys are less shy about asking for dances in Portugal compared to in Switzerland.
It don't mean a thing...
... if it ain't got that swing.

We also visited a beautiful garden named Quinta da Regaleira, which is reachable by train from Lisbon. This garden is special for having a network of tunnels and ceremonial wells connecting different areas of the park.
Laure, Mochi and Rug descending one of the garden's ceremonial wells.
Looking up from the bottom of the well.
From the many grottoes, you can see the outside garden through naturally formed windows on the rocks.

When I had visited Portugal many years ago, my father had told us that he had made the initial connection with our extended family on that first trip; and from then on it would be up to us to individually visit them again in the future. And so we visited some extended family around Coimbra and in Penacova, which is the birthplace of my paternal grandfather.

In Coimbra, we met up with Mateus and Alda, who took us under their wings for the day. Our first stop was the Coimbra University, which is the oldest university in Portugal and is a strong school of higher education and research.
We met some musicians at Coimbra University.
Some of the painted tiles on the walls show the ships used for transporting raw goods in the area.

Our next stop was at a farm owned by some of our extended family. Even though Laure and I had never met them before, they treated us very courteously and warmly. They showed us their beautiful farm and asked us to stay overnight; an offer that we had to decline because of our lack of time.

José and Maria treated us very warmly. I would love to visit again.
We also met their son Joel, and his daughter Laura.
The farm had several animals including this cute pig.
Mateus roasting chestnuts.
We stayed for an afternoon snack of cold cuts and cheeses.

Next, we visited Penacova, which is my paternal grandfather's birthplace. It is a quiet little village with one small church, where many of the older generations of my paternal family were baptized and wedded.
The church in Penacova.
I think my grandfather was married here.

Mateus also explained that my grandfather was in the business of producing and transporting quicklime, which is a compound used for various purposes such as production of cement or plaster.
Mateus showed us where my grandfather had a furnace for the production of quicklime.

Our last stop was at a nearby village where other family members still live. One of them is my grandfather's cousin and goddaughter, Maria. When we met her, she was climbing up and down the stairs to take care of her sick goat, which she absolutely forbid to let die. In her 80's, Maria is a no-nonsense strong willed independent woman. In hindsight, she reminded me a lot of my father.
We met Maria at her home near Penacova.
Maria explained some family history with old photographs.

Visiting the humble region where my grandfather was born, I can't help but think about how much (almost crazy) courage and risk it must have taken him to pack his bags and sail 7,500 kilometers away to Brazil about half a century before the internet was invented. In a way, it makes sense because my grandfather was a businessman with a constant eye out for new opportunities. This was really the same reason that my father told us to pack our bags before moving to the States.

On our way out of the village after visiting my grandfather's cousin, we passed by a house with a familiar name.

No comments:

Post a Comment