Right before starting my Portugal trip my first thoughts were Algarve, beach, ocean. After my trip throughout the country there are so many more thoughts, experiences and emotions crossing my mind: Fado, the thousand ways of Bacalhau, mysterious castles deep within the forests of Sintra, ferris wheel driving sardines, cork forests, uncountable amounts of traditionally painted tiles, a chapel of bones in a small village in eastern Portugal, made of bones and skulls of the habitants’ ancestors, infinite agriculture in the interior of the country, vast expanses at the very western point of Europe…
The Vibe of Lisboa
I exit the tram in Lisboa (port. for “Lisbon”) with big eyes. And no, not the famous yellow one 😉. The yellow one is sweet indeed, but expensive and crowded with tourists. Within the next few days I would embosom Lisboa, a city full of foreign culture gathering together in an artistic cozy atmosphere. No matter if Portuguese, Brazilian or African… Lisbon pulses in its very own dynamic. A positive vibe floats in the streets. Small cafés invite to watch the colorful hustle and bustle, enjoying a Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese puff pastry with vanilla filling) meanwhile. The small bars that create a Berlin kind of flair with their alternative atmosphere play Reggaetón, Kizomba, Latin-American music.. At night, people have a drink in crowded pubs with old paintings hanging from their walls. Nothing is too winding to not place an old leather arm chair here, one pub has stretched about 20 metres in one narrow but cozy corridor.
About Sinto and Fado
I am out for dinner with a friend. We find ourselves in one of the many little restaurants that barely have space for five tables, the Tasca do Chico on Rua dos Remédios. When enjoying our caldo verde (Portuguese green soup), suddenly the light gets dimmed. A delicate young woman in her early 20s appears in front of the guests. An old man is sitting behind her on a chair, letting his fingers slide across a 12-string guitar. The world around us turns quiet. The young woman closes her eyes and starts singing. About love, about grief. About desire. And there it is – the heart of Portugal. Portuguese people seem to love this sentiment – they call it sinto. The feeling of missing someone. They are melancholic people which is expressed in their many emotional songs. After a few songs she gets silent, the light is turned on again, people start talking and enjoying their food again. The young woman moves on to the next restaurant. At this evening I am lucky enough to listen to other emotional chants of an old man and a very old woman. This woman already has trouble with walking and seeing, but her voice was strong and full of passion still. Fado is how this kind of chant is called. It has even been declared a world cultural heritage! It is an emotional experience. Therefore, before every start of a Fado the doors of a restaurant get closed, no guest should enter and disturb this moment. In the old quarter of Lisbon Alfarma where in narrow streets neighbours might shake hands through their windows the tradition provides an even more special ritual: Instead of the applause at the end of a chant the about 20 guests of the restaurant would simply rub their hands into the silence – a cozy atmosphere for the close of the evening. Almost soundlessly to not disturb the neighbour houses in their sleep.
One of the most beautiful Fados I experienced took place in Évora, a little community in eastern Portugal. A young and an old man were alternatingly singing the whole night, sitting down and having another sip of wine every once in a while. And it does not matter whether they were young, old, male or female, there was one thing they all had in common: They all had a really beautiful voice.
Alternative Lisbon: LX Factory and Street Art
If interested in artwork, Lisbon is the right place to go! The Ruda da Madalena shows the popular “Fado Vadio”, the history of Portugal is shown in cartoons in a tunnel and countless other street art decorate the houses and streets of the city.
During my time in Lisbon there was one place in particular that got to me: The LX Factory is an old factory site that has been turned into a collection of alternative artwork and bars. Especially the library appealed to me as it has taken over an old printing plant and contains a little coffee shop. Despite the original products exhibited in the old warehouses, the restaurants and bars invite to stay as well.
However, today I am going to miss out on the Portuguese Chicken Piri Piri as I am interested in the national meal itself: The Bacalhau – stockfish. I meet Giuseppe, a passionate cook that will introduce me to the one thousand ways of Bacalhau. The Portuguese eat it in countless variants. In a soup with vinegar, ao Forno with cheese, classically with potatoes or even with eggs. We cook Caldeirada de Bacalhau – with rice and vegetable. The bizarre part about it is that the bacalhau doesn’t even live in Portuguese seas – it is mainly imported from Norway! But never mind, it is still really tasty!
Oh.. talking about fish: I definitely have to mention the sardines! Portuguese people love those little big-eyed fishes so much, they even sell them in coloured tins on ferris wheels, in shops that only contain sardine tins! As if not enough, you can even buy them as a soft toy! Whoever always felt the need to cuddle a soft fish… there you go 😉
By Bus, Train, Car and by Foot throughout Portugal…
During my travel alone as a woman throughout the country I went by bus, train, bicycle and car. I rented the car in Évora after I got stuck there. Even after brainstorming with local university students there seemed to be no reasonable route from Évora to Odeceixe that could have been found on a bus map. Even the students would go by the touristic Rede Expressos busses. According to them, the problem is that there are too many local bus companies that do not appear in the internet. That is why there is no timetable as well. The decision to rent a car for this part of my trip turned out to be right though. By car I could explore the eastern part of Portugal independently (yes, there is definitely nothing but agriculture and little chapel villages), discover the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina far from bus stops and I didn’t have to watch the clock. I experienced such beautiful sun rises and sunsets from Sagres along the Algarve to Faro. You can see highlights from my route here:
But Portugal means so much more: It is a country full of cork bags and mysterious places. To me the most impressive place was the mystic Sintra that lures with its legendary castles and amazing nature, as well as the little city Évora that is home to one of world wide 8 bone chapels. Click on the links to learn more!