Portugal SouthPosted: November 10, 2011
Whilst not a classic beauty visually, there is definitely something to fall in love with about Portugal. Thats why, when Jo headed to Barcelona, Tony and I regrouped and decided to head back to Portugal.
Once upon a time, in the middle centuries of the last millennium, Portugal was one of the richest empires in the known world. The “Age of Discovery” sent Portuguese explorers around the world in search of new lands and treasures. Vasco da Gama led one of the first ships to sail directly from Europe to India and opened up the “Spice Trade” that bought wealth to Portugal for over 100 years. Unfortunately a catastrophic earthquake in 1755, changed the history of Portugal and its economic glory slid into obscurity. Many “Golden Age” buildings survived the earthquake and it is this mixture of old, middle aged and new that entwines the fabric of Portuguese cities with the agricultural endeavours of the surrounding rural lands. An endearing simplicity, almost old fashioned, set of values, ways of doing things and politeness prevails, butting up against new highways and modern technologies.
Whilst tourism is a growing industry in Portugal, agriculture is still the main stay. Its not unusual to see shepherds and dogs guiding sheep or goats to greener pastures. In the south, the climate is more mediterranean. Orange, olive and cork groves (Portugal actually produces 50 % of the worlds wine corks!) become plentiful, each able to survive and produce is a harsh climate with poor soil and minimal rain fall.
Its the personal experiences that have touched us most in Portugal and the warmhearted openness of its people.
Heading south towards Lisbon we blindly picked a campsite on the map in Melo and found a brilliantly run site with helpful Dutch, English speaking owners. Sunday (my birthday) we marked for a 6 km walk uphill to an historic, yet remote village, Folgosinho. Arriving at lunch time, we hoped to find a cafe or something to eat. Arriving in town we could not believe the amount of people milling around. We entered the only restaurant as the owner was cheerfully ushering a mini bus load of smiling Portuguese out the door, we later learnt, to another traditional home converted to restaurant.
At the owners command, we waited patiently, for a table and started to chat to a young smiling Portuguese couple, Ricardo and Sofia. Ricardo explained, that for him, and clearly many other Portuguese, we had stumbled on a “Gastronomical Mecca!”
Sitting down with Ricardo and Sofia we had made new friends! The meal was traditional fare, about 7 courses of meat, veal, lamb, suckling pork. etc. I tried, but honestly, did not relish everything. Sausages prepared with dried blood and the Rabbit (as Ricardo so carefully translated for me) was cooked in boiled blood!! Still we enjoyed their company immensely. A wave goodbye, an arrangement to meet again in their home town, Lisbon, and a picturesque walk back down the hill to Melo, completed for me, a special and memorable birthday.
Our first night in Lisbon was shared with Ricardo and Sofia. We felt adopted by these professional, young, Lisbonites, (Ricardo and Pharmaceutical Account Manager, Sofia a Dentist!) and were ushered around some brilliant local sightseeing destinations, even though it was dark. The evening began with dessert and a recently recognised national food! (Read pleasure!) The Pasteis de Belem are served warm. A custard tart, more delicious than you can imagine. The pastry, crispy and flakey; the filling; custardy, brulee, divine, sprinkled with cinnamon and icing sugar! After this treat, we drove along the coast and were shouted dinner at the very civilised Portuguese dining hour of about 9.30 pm, at one of their favourite restaurants, for traditional seafood and rice.
To top off the evening we were taken to meet Ricardo’s parents, who welcomed us onto their home even at about 11 pm!
Among many things, Ricardos father, Joachim, has been a keen amateur radio operator for almost 40 years and his basement is testament to his love of this form of communication. The room is strewn by radios of all eras, cards and momentous from contacts all over the world. We look around and note the address. A very safe place to be in a natural disaster as radio contact may be the only form of communication available. For me, its all new and fascinating. I am particularly drawn to a compilation of unique and varied “calling” cards each radio operator has and sends to new contacts all over the world. Below is Joachims, a portrait sketch done and given to Joachim by a cousin, about 40 years ago.
For a short time we felt like we are with family and it was truly heartwarming and appreciated.
The following day was torrential rain! We cannot complain and are just so thankful we had superb weather every day of our Portuguese Camino. We snuggled into Cubby and watched movies on the computer. As the rain settled we headed into Lisbon to look around. A large and busy city, rebuilt after the earthquake of 1755. A city we would need more time and better weather to truly appreciate and discover the hidden gems and personality that lives there.
We end our Lisbon evening at “Clubbe Fado”. Another national treasure of Portugal – Fado. This musical genre dates back to 1840 Lisbon and was apparently then sung only by sailors. A melancholy tone, not Blues, not Folk, but definitely forlorn and longing, performed simply with a singer and guitar, or in our case, two guitarists and a base guitar. The music is mesmerising and romantic and prepares us to say goodbye to Portugal tomorrow. A final whisk through more cork and olive groves, along the Algarve and back into Spain.