We have spent 27 days in this intriguing and welcoming country. Much more than parks, palaces and museums, what has made this visit memorable for me was meeting and talking to the people of Portugal. The countless cafes and pastelarias (pastry and snack shops) that we visited in Ponta Delgada on the Island of São Miguel, Sintra, Lisbon and Porto were for the most part far from the popular tourist areas but instead were ‘around the corner’ and always frequented by locals. Very little English was heard or spoken by the staff (not at all sometimes) in many of these simple but stable establishments in their respective communities. We shopped in tiny mercearia (mercado) neighborhood grocery and fruit stores to stock our Airbnb dwellings. We were always treated very well even though I know we made a few shopkeepers in several small boutique children’s stores nervous with our three girls scattering off in all directions and of course ‘touching everything’.
We made the acquaintance of a very congenial taxi driver named Carlos, who picked us up at the airport when we first arrived in Lisbon. He greeted us very warmly but as soon as Tiffany showed him the address where our first Airbnb house was located, he proclaimed in no uncertain terms that the address was definitely ‘not Lisbon’. He explained very carefully that the location was actually some distance from Lisbon in a ‘satellite neighborhood’. He dutifully found his way to the address after consulting his Google map a few times. His English is very good and we had an engaging conversation with him on the ride. Carlos is a proud native of Portugal. He shared about his two children (ages 5 & 20). We enjoyed his company and conversation so much that we emailed him several times when we needed his taxi services. He has traveled Europe extensively but has never been to the United States. (He is also following our travel blog.)
Carlos transported us to our ‘downtown’ location in heart of Lisbon. From my perspective, the city has some incredible architecture, both very new and very old. Our Airbnb dwelling was on the upper level of a two story building. The house was compact but modern and well designed. The owner of the Airbnb explained that his family had bought the building recently and completely renovated it from top to bottom. There was a small outdoor patio. The ‘pool’ that was listed in the description turned out to be about 18″ wide by 24″ long and about 12″ deep. Not exactly what my girls had in mind when we told them the house had a pool. From our location, we did a lot of walking to explore the city center of Lisbon. We did not have a specific agenda or destination but simply set out to walk in every direction until we got tired. Some days we took a small Tuk Tuk Taxi back home (these vehicles are more like oversized golf carts than actual cars) and seem to be everywhere. On one of our outings we came across a street musician who impressed us with his talented guitar and vocals. (Tiffany attached a short video clip.) http://vimeo.com/236283681
For our last destination in Portugal, we decided on Porto based on the recommendation of some shopkeepers that Tiffany met. I decided that we should take the train from Lisbon to Porto instead of flying. Tiffany was admittedly nervous about the idea. The thought of dragging five individual suitcases plus our slightly larger suitcase (which has all the homeschooling supplies) thru a train terminal seemed very daunting. As it turned out, it could not have been easier. The train terminal was spacious with marble floors (of course) and very easy to navigate. The train was called the Alpha Pendular and had free WiFi (so I could work, if I chose to). There is no screening or checking of baggage at all. The passengers are responsible for placing and storing their luggage on board. There was ample room for luggage and the seats were very comfortable. Based on our initial experience, we will likely be taking more trains to other destinations as we continue our journey.
Porto is located on the northwest corner of Portugal. The large metropolitan area is home to 2.4 millions people and the ‘namesake’ of the ‘famous port wine’ that this region produces. The Airbnb dwelling that we booked was less than 2 blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. The water was too chilly for swimming not too mention the very intimidating waves, but our girls enjoyed exploring the beach and looking for ‘treasures’ (ie., sea glass, pebbles and shells). Our Airbnb host really was quite thorough in explaining where ‘everything’ worth seeing was located in Porto. We took an ‘electric tram’ since there was a station several blocks from our house into the Porto Centro. We walked and walked. Impressive architecture everywhere. Marble and granite cobblestone sidewalks (very narrow). We visited a famous ‘bookshop’ – Livraria Lello (the bookshop has an unusual carved staircase that allegedly inspired J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books). J.K. Rowling formerly taught English in Portugal before her rise to fame with her popular books.
A very tall church tower caught my eye (Irmandade dos Clerigos – built in the mid 1700’s) that appeared to be accessible to the public since there were people near the top on an observation level. I asked for volunteers if anyone wanted to join me in climbing to the top. To my surprise, my three girls were eager to climb the tower (Tiffany opted out since she has a bit of vertigo when it comes to heights). The girls and I managed to climb the tower stairs (Scarlet counted all 184 steps on the way down). Our last ‘big’ experience for the day was riding the cable cars suspended high above the city on the other bank of the river that runs between Porto and Gaia (the city on the other side of the river). The experience reminded me of a scene in an old James Bond movie except he was on top of the cable car with his nemesis instead of inside. Taxi cab ride home and a good way to end the day. Tiffany discovered a couple of small children’s boutiques PiuPiuChick and Babyboom. The businesses were family owned. The experience was lovely as they shop-owner’s sister dressed and redressed the girls helping them find the perfect European look.