Lisbon and the Virtues of Portuguese People

From the quite town of Nazaré to big city Lisbon is quite a shift. In a little over an hour we drove though small farm towns and picturesque villages to the bustling metropolis of Portugal’s largest city. Lisbon is a fine city packed with history, fine food and interesting cultural sights that require more than a two day visit (as we learned).

Lisbon (Click for more images)

Lisbon (Click for more images)

As DUS will tell you, I like trolley rides and Lisbon rivals San Francisco for its unique and fun modes of public transportation. Unfortunately, like in SF, Lisbon trolleys are very popular and unless you want to do your best Garfield in the car window impression, avoid Tram 40 and take the less travelled and shorter Tram 28 that takes around the Alfama district.

Alfama in Lisbon’s historic old town

Alfama (Click to take a Trolley ride)

The Alfama is Lisbon’s historic old town and is a confusing maze of small streets, odd shaped building and home of the “famous” Fado music. We attended a Fado show and found the music to be quite soulful and genuine. Many of the songs are about resignation/longing and the singers use a lot of emotion in their performance. I thought the show was quite good but DUS had a giggle attack during one of the singers and almost had to be excused 🙂

Fado (Click to hear the music)

Fado (Click to hear the music)

The Bairro Alto which opposite the old town (in both geography and feel) is a fun, well-structured neighborhood filled with hip restaurants, trendy bars and the pretentious Port and Douro Wines Institute. If I were a young backpacker or college student, the Bairro Alto would be a top destination to visit or live. We found the vibe to be fun and welcoming motivating us to think about planning our next trip to Lisbon.

Barrio Alto (Click for more Lisbon images)

Barrio Alto (Click for more Lisbon images)

The city of Lisbon and country of Portugal was one of our best vacation destinations in Europe. We found the people of Portugal to be extremely hospitable (probably the best in Europe) and for that reason alone we would travel back. It’s funny how much the “feeling” from people affect your travels in Europe. The Scandinavians are often a bit cold and calculated; Germans hard and to the point; Brits are clever and witty; French are either ostentatious or aloof; Greeks are passionate and insightful; Italians have perfected “vivere la vita.” And the Portuguese…? Well, they are welcoming, down to earth and friendly. We found that to be a refreshing and slightly unexpected element of our two week trip in Portugal.

People of Portugal

People of Portugal

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Petticoats, Great Seafood and Fun in the Sun – Welcome to Nazaré

From the arid rolling hills of Évora we headed west passing endless miles of cork plantations to the sea-side village of Nazaré. This charming little town has a perfect mix of local culture, great food and a bit of grit that I look for in my travels. We arrived in town with no reservations. Our hope was to score a cheap hotel room or quarto based on the city’s reputation for having a never-ending supply of rooms (maybe not in August). As we drove down the main boulevard towards the beach we stopped at a street corner and were scared to death by a lady who walked up and knocked loudly on our window and yelled “Quarto! You need a room!” Apparently the rumor was true. We ended up settling in the salty beach front Ribmar Hotel. Our authentic 1950’s room with four post wooden bed and balcony overlooking the sea was a whopping $30 per night. Very cool!

Hotel Ribmar (click for more images from Nazaré)

The food in Nazaré was nothing short of amazing; this place is a sea food lover’s paradise. We ate like kings and tried many new dishes and old favorites: Fresh sardines, sting ray, escargot, calamari, shellfish stew were just a few. We had pre-dinner port, house wine and after dinner port. Our version on the “Michelin experience” never cost more than $40 per meal – Now that’s what I call a good vacation.

Food in Nazaré (Click for funny video)

On our second day we awoke to what sounded like gun shots at 8 am. These loud bursts continued for about a half an hour which was just enough to pull us out of bed. As we got ready for the day, I swore I could hear a band playing in the distance. The sound grew louder and louder and I ran down stairs to catch a small parade. What was the celebration you ask? Good question – everyone we spoke with had no clue…

Morning Parade (Click for short video)

Women in Nazaré hold on to a fashion tradition known as the seven petticoats and skirts. I can honestly say that all local women in Nazaré dressed this way. Women wearing black are upholding the long tradition of Portuguese wives who have lost their husbands.

Women of Nazaré

Women of Nazaré (click for more images)

In total we spent three days in Nazaré exploring the village, soaking up the sun and try to get a glimpse of what it’s like to live in one of the most unique seaside villages I have ever visited.

Nazaré Portugal

Nazaré Portugal (click for more images)

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Évora: Romans Ruins and Famous Portuguese Cuisine

Évora is a hidden gem nestled in the foothills of the Alentejo region in eastern Portugal. The arid climate, endless miles of cork trees and robust red wine (like California Zinfandel) was a worthwhile detour on our way to Nazaré and Lisbon. For a little city, Evora seems to have it all: Roman history, great food and a fun culture of old and new.

Evora Roman Temple

Evora Roman Temple (click for more images)

Évora is a town of about 44,000 people with a big majority being college students. DUS and I both said it reminded us of San Luis Obispo in California or Lund in Sweden. Like these sister college towns, there is a large amount of young and old people with little residents in the 30 & 40ish range due to lack of industry. The ancient streets are lined with new age, H&M-esique clothing shops, coffee houses with studying students and retired farmers enjoying social time with friends and munching on the delicious Pão de rala.

Evora Street

Evora Street (click for more images)

During our visit, we took a great two hour walking tour that explained the Roman presence including the aqueduct and forum and the “Church of the Bones.” We stayed in a recently restored Baroness’s house called PENSÃO Residencial POLICARPO located with the ancient city wall of historic Evora. This cool old building has 20 different rooms decorated using local style giving it a very pleasant feel. We had a great view of the surrounding country side that awarded us with a beautiful sunrise. This region of Portugal is also famous for its fantastic regional dish, Carne de Porco Alentejana. The dish basically consists of pork with clams cooked in a stew served with fried potatoes. Portugal is mostly known for its fish, but I have to say that this was my favorite dish of our whole trip (and we ate amazing food the whole time). If you are ever in this part of the country, make sure to order Pork with Clams Alentejo Style and the house red – you will not be disappointed.

Pork and Clams Alentejo Style

Pork and Clams Alentejo Style (click for more images)

From Évora we headed further North, passed Lisbon to the village of Nazaré known as the Portuguese Coney Island.

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Albufeira: The Portuguese Costa del Sol

My company held their annual retreat at the wonderful Sheraton Algarve Hotel in Albufeira, Portugal. This area is considered the most “touristy” part of the country and for good reason. The beautiful beach is lined with higher end resorts catering to mostly European tourists heading south to enjoy the sun. DUS joined me in Albufeira and we enjoyed four days of great dinners, spending time with work colleagues and enjoying the spring sun that eluded us in Scandinavia.

I’m proud to say that I won a company award called the “Leading Edge Award” for pioneering a new business offer around leadership development training based on business performance coaching.

Leading Edge Award

Leading Edge Award (click for more images)

We had a great time in Albufeira but I think I finally cemented my long believe that I am not a “resort” guy. I love spending time relaxing and doing nothing. I like the beach, reading books and general act of being somewhere to just chill. However, I need a little more in my travel. I need authenticity and to interact with the soul of a place.

Chillin' on the beach in Portugal

Chillin’ on the beach in Portugal (click for more images)

Having been to both the major “sun holiday” tourist areas in Europe, the Costa del Sol in Spain and Albufeira in Portugal, I can see why most adventure tourists steer clear from these areas. Their infrastructure and higher class of living is great, but they are sucked dry of all authenticity by catering to people who are looking to vacation in another without any of the natural things that come with being in another country: Authentic food, native language, local culture and the genuine “feeling” of another place. I struggle to understand why other European countries seem to colonize these areas in an attempt to make them a mirror image of their home countries. When we visited similar areas in Turkey, Spain, and Greece it makes me upset to see restaurants on every street corner flying the Union Jack and advertising “full English Breakfast” while blaring Phil Collins. Or going to “local” pubs where advertising English only menus and cricket on TV. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m all for capitalism. But from now on when we leave cold and dark Scandinavia, we will continue to seek out more authentic places like the other areas we visited in Portugal.

Categories: Europe Travel, Personal, Portugal | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Salema, Portugal: Contemplating Time & Money

“Take the E4 to the A22 and then the N125 to the EN537 and follow it all the way to the beach,” said the rental car clerk at the Faro international Airport. “It’s a nice drive. Why are you going there again?”

The route to Salema Portugal is like an hourglass. Slowly but surely the path dwindles down from a major freeway to a side road to a country road to a dirt road, transporting you to a place where time seems to follow different rules. Nestled among the beautiful cliffs on the Algarve coast in southern Portugal, Salema is a true hidden gem. It feels like a small taste of the way Portugal once was (I think, but then again how I would know :-).

Salema, Portugal (Click for more images)

Salema, Portugal (Click for more images)

Free from tourists, English breakfasts, hotel chains, and tacky beach resorts, Salema just is. One small market, two dive bars, three fish restaurants, twenty sun chairs and the feeling of absolutely no connection to the outside world.

I arrived in Salema midway through a marathon working session. After three weeks offshore, 10 days in a work conference, a flight from Salt Lake, to Denver, to Frankfurt, to Faro, followed by a 3 hour drive to Salema I was tired and a little stressed. My mind was on the perpetual “high” of modern day work: emails, phone messages, responsibilities and the general notion of being “productive.” I was wound up like a spring asking myself, What am I going to do here for five days? I’m in Portugal, there’s a lot to see. I can walk though this town in five minutes. What am I missing?

Then, as Europe has always done for me, I was fortunate enough to have my mental model tested as I was afforded a glimpse into another way.

It was 9:30 on a Tuesday and I decide to take a leisurely walk down to the beach. As I strolled down the main (and only) street, I passed a small home no larger than a one car garage. Faint sounds of Portuguese music and voices from a family inside drifted out though the soft white curtains of an open window. It sounded like a mother, father and a couple of kids chatting and laughing. It made me happy. As I continued to walk, however, my mind drifted off and I started to think about their situation. Why aren’t they working? Is their a preschool near by? It’s Tuesday at 9:30 after all… Maybe if they were working they could get a bigger place, move to the city and buy a car…I made the assumption that they needed to be working, progressing forward, getting more done to live a “better” life.

Main Street Salema

Main Street Salema (Click for more images)

It could be that the family valued time over money, a very simple and real prioritization that many people have come to realize and enjoy.

This outlook on life is still foreign to me, but not because I am in Portugal. Europe in general seems to value time over money. In Scandinavia, Swede’s have a government mandated four weeks of vacation per year, which does not include sick days, or national holidays or “squeeze days.” People as a whole seem to value time with family, friends or even just a quiet walk more than the monetary rewards from working. Swedes often work an extra hour per week in the winter to have more days off in the summer. Notice that they work more for time off and not for extra pay. The concept of less is more, quality over quantity and the appreciation for the little things makes Europe a great place to live.

After my time on the beach, I walked back down the main street as the family of four emerged from their small home. Mom and dad were taking the kids for a walk. They were not well dressed, but not poor either. I started day dreaming about the father working as a fisherman that decided to take a day or three off to spend with the family. His tucked in shirt, cap and leather shoes remind me of a 1950’s Italian man from New York. Mom was wearing a homemade dress and the boys wore plaid shirts, pants with belt and shined shoes look just liked Dad. I wondered to myself whether they made this decision to prioritize each other over money or whether it is their culture that has ingrained them with these values. Perhaps it is as normal to them as breathing, something that is not thought about, but just done. Either way it makes me feel warm and sentimental. Not everyone wants to live a capitalist lifestyle. Not everyone strives for more in the land of plenty.

Clay pots used to catch octopus

Clay pots used to catch octopus (Click for more images)

Needless to say, I enjoyed my time in Salema. I sat with a book and read during the day, ate fish with the locals in the evening and spent one night drinking one to many beers with an Australian backpacker who was passing though. Salema is a small vestige, reminding us that the way we choose to live our lives is not universal and that preserving what is old can sometimes be quite progressive.

Fish stew at the "local" restaurant

Fish stew at the “local” restaurant (Click for more images)

Categories: Europe Travel, Personal, Portugal, Swedish Living | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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