Post #7: Tal qual o velho Tejo

Okay, hi readers. To start off: this post is not about Spain. However, as part of our Iberian Experience program here in the IBERIAN PENINSULA, I felt like I had to share my experience in Portugal. To be honest, this was probably my favorite trip of my entire time abroad. I had been wanting to go to Portugal for a long time ever since I first discovered Fado music. Carminho is one of my favorite Fado singers today and you can listen to some of her songs here, here and here (Fado/Spanish Pop mix). I cannot fit all of them because I have to write about other stuff too!

When we got to Barajas at six in the morning, I had never felt more awake. I was so excited to begin my journey with my friends in my program and we got off to a pretty quick start considering the flight only took one hour from Madrid. We flew TAP which is the national airline of Portugal and, according to my aviation-enthusiast friend in the program, John, he told me that they only fly into Newark.

Right after we landed, we were whisked off for a tour of Lisbon from our departure point at the Vasco de Gama bridge. It was truly weird to be driving on a bridge and only see ocean on all sides of you. Although it was chilly, it is truly a beautiful place and you can really feel the “saudade” in the streets as the curtains of the local shops blow in the breeze from the wide open doors and the melancholic, low-hanging wires of the school bus yellow trams. After walking around for a little bit and stopping to get a bite to eat, we saw the Belem Tower, Jeronimos Monestary and the Discoveries Monument. Afterwards, we did some more walking around the Belem neighborhood and Elena and Paco bought us some Pasteis de Nata from the Lisbon-ubiquitous bakery, Pasteis de Belem. No one could confirm whether or not they contained nuts, since no one in our group speaks Portuguese, so I could not eat one which made me sad.

On a more positive note, we saw a Fado show at the Fado in Chiado – an institution of Fado in the city. We sat second to front row and I was giddy with excitement the whole time. The instrumentalists were fabulous and the male singer was okay (kind of flat at times) but the female singer was brilliant. She truly evoked the nostalgia, longing and love of Portugal by singing of winding streets and Atlantic coastlines. Then, we had free time for dinner and I went on a very belated “Galentine’s Day” dinner “date” with my good friend, Alex. We both indulged in some tasty Portuguese dishes – I had the massive Francesinha with some Vinho Verde. Needless to say, I could barely walk back to the hotel (the Hotel Embaixador) because I was so full.  This was a lovely hotel and our room, and the dining room, had a great view of the city skyline.

After a delicious hotel breakfast (something that is always looked forward to on the trips since eating breakfast at our home stays is very uncommon), we departed to Cascais. While I wish we had spent more time in Lisbon, I am sure that I will come back someday to explore based on how much I loved it from the start. Cascias was lovely and it was great to see some beach action after being all bundled up in Madrid for so long. Not to say it was not cold, but feeling some warm sun was nice. The streets are very cute and the people here, and all over Portugal, are so lovely and friendly. Most people speak Portunhol, which is the bizarre love child of Spanish and Portuguese. This is why Portunhol works: for example, the word “pessoa” means “person” in Portuguese. “Persona” means “person” in Spanish. It is much easier for Portuguese speakers to understand “persona” than for Spanish speakers to understand “pessoa” because you are adding letters instead of taking them away. Therefore, we could get away with speaking Spanish in Portugal and have people respond to us in Portunhol. Interesting!

Okay, back to the beach…Little did we know the preciosidad we were about to witness upon our departure from Cascais. The most beautiful place in the world I have ever seen (speaking in terms of landscape) is Nazare!!! My jaw was on the ground once we got off  the bus. Nazare literally is just a strip of buildings and then the most beautiful cliffs and Atlantic coastline I have ever seen. Literally, there is nothing after the ocean until you hit Cape Cod, Massachussets! I am so glad we just got to eat lunch there, walking along the beach for hours and sip some wine as the sun was setting. At that point, we knew it was time to leave so we gathered ourselves and headed, by bus, to Porto – although some of us almost didn’t make it because we all needed to go to the bathroom and there was no toilet on the bus. But we got there in one piece and had a tasty dinner in the city center, went to a hookah bar with the worst cocktail I have EVER had in my life and headed back to our hotel at the Tuela Porto.

We got to sleep in a little the next day and then had a walking tour of Porto to see the Clerigos Church & Tower and Cruceiro Dos Pontes. I am now not surprised when people say that they like Porto better than Lisbon. Trust me, if and when I do go back, I will be sure to spend more time in Lisbon to get the full effect. This trip was wonderful because we got to spend the entire day just ambling about the town, we saw the library where JK Rowling got her inspiration to write Harry Potter and we got to enjoy a lovely river cruise. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip because it was so fun to laugh and joke with everyone together and also because we saw the filming of PORTUGUESE IDOL on dry land from our boat. I almost jumped in to go sing my best rendition of some Fado tunes. Then, after lazing about on the Rio Tajo riverbank (the Ribeira) and having some wine and munching on some snacks, I picked up a guitar with some buskers and sang “House of the Rising Sun” with a kid my age to which I received many euros deposited into his guitar case. Unfortunately, I did not get to keep my earnings. Later that evening, after being out literally all day, we found some more bars in the center of the city and danced the night away at the lights show projected on one of the old university buildings in that city.

The following day, still relishing in the glory of a PERFECT day yesterday, we had another great breakfast and got to see La Bolsa – the old stock exchange which is now used as a space for concerts, private events and weddings. Then after some more free time, and purchasing more of these bespoke leather bracelets that everyone bought the day prior, we set off to the airport and flew back to Madrid.

No “Tips and Tricks” for this post (since everything is pretty much listed here) but check out other ones by clicking on the link!

Vocab word of the day: Saudade (Portuguese) / there is a version in Spanish which I will post once I ask my host mom. While this word is untranslatable into English, the general feeling of the word represents nostalgia and longing (for times gone past, for love, for homeland, etc.) This is what makes Fado so beautiful because it truly is a song directly from the soul.

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