Monday, April 28, 2014

Queijada and travesseiro, pão com chouriço, and pastel de nata

There is, believe it or not, a tour company in Lisbon (Lisboa in Portuguese) called the We Hate Tourism Tours (we learned about them from They came very highly recommended so our expectations were equally high! Rodrigo, our guide, met those expectations and went well above and beyond.

He told us that he normally did the food-oriented tours so that our tour would combine the Lisbon that the locals see with the food that the locals eat. And wow! Did we eat well (at no extra charge, I must add). He drove us about Lisbon first to see the views—it was yet again a spectacular day with visibility measured in the dozens of miles—and then to Sintra, the bedroom community for Lisbon. Lisbon’s population has shrunk by about 20-25% in the past 10 years while Sintra’s has grown to double what it was 10 years ago. Sintra has the colorful alleyways and shops that perhaps Lisbon had a hundred years ago. It also has the Quinta da Regaleira, a place that has to be experienced, not just described. As one site attempts to describe it: “This is a fabulous assemblage of styles and constructions (gardens, wells, towers, statues, mysterious grottoes, etc.), which Manini [a Portuguese architect] succeeded in imbuing with exceptional characteristics. Albeit having a semblance of a scene from opera, the Quinta da Regaleira has alchemical and sacred connotations.” We had too little time here, but Rodrigo had some gastronomic wonders for us to experience.

Upon arrival in Sintra he took us to a little wine shop that specializes in Port. There we got to taste ginjinha (Lisbon cherry liqueur) in a chocolate cup. Mmm, mmm, GOOD! And Randy and I bought a sampler of Ports (not including the Port that cost 7000€ nor the several that cost 3000€) to bring home.

To fortify us even more for the Quinta da Regaleira, he introduced us to the queijada (a fabulous little delicacy about the size and shape of a hockey puck but bearing much more resemblance to a little piece of almond flavored heaven) and travesseiro (a sugar coated pastry that is a flakey, tender, sweet, delicious ‘pillow’). Rodrigo was a tiny bit hung over from the previous days wedding he attended (not his wedding!) so all he had was a tiny cup of green tea.

Thus suitably sustained, we tried valiantly to see at least some of the Quinta and he arranged to pick us up armed with a Portuguese ‘picnic lunch.’ The picnic, consumed in the car because of time constraints, was pão com chouriço (bread with chorizo). Rodrigo demonstrated how the tourists eat this French-style roll stuffed with chorizo and how we were to eat it: The roll was hot from the oven, sort of torn open, and goat and sheep mixture cheese from Alentejo was placed inside with some small tomatoes and allowed to sit for a few moments while the cheese melted. Then, and only then, were we allowed to chow down on the “gastronomic piece of heaven” (his words).

By now we were back in Lisbon but Rodrigo had more sights to show us even though we were all starting to get nervous because we had to be back on board no later than 5:30 and it was rapidly approaching 5:00. Nonetheless, he had one more piece of gastronomic heaven, a pastel de nata (Lisbon custard tart) for us to sample. He proceeded to park illegally, sprint across four lanes of traffic, and use his “connections” to go to the front of the long line waiting to buy the tarts. Bringing them back he also fished out some plastic cups for us to have a taste of some unnamed liquor that we HAD to have with the luscious tarts.

With all of us biting our fingernails and Rodrigo saying again and again, “Don’t worry! Don’t worry!” he worked his way back to the ship, depositing our little band in front of the ship with about 10 minutes to spare.

One of the most interesting, different, and wonderful tours Randy and I have had. Ever! The company has about five or six different tours in Lisbon and a few in other Portuguese cities as well. They may not have the newest vehicles and truly, the Portuguese drivers are unbelievable, but we laughed all day, had the best food and the most interesting time, and Rodrigo kept us entertained from 11:00 (we were on the dock 30 minutes early but he was there to greet us!) to 5:20. Quite an accomplishment!

I am SO ready for a day at sea!

Cable car route 28, "like a roller coaster" says Rodrigo

Last time we were in Lisbon we drove around in these. Never again!

The police are trying to project a friendlier image!

Sintra's old alleyways

Can't resist a flower picture!

Quinta da Regaleira

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sevilla and a coach and four...

My attempt at arts-fartsy photography

There are horse and carriages everywhere!

Part of the Plaza de Espana

Blue and yellow ceramic at Plaza de Espana

Plaza de Espana

Our guide, Francisco

First Communion

If you have a beautiful courtyard, you leave your door open for everyone to admire your garden!

Small street in Sevilla

Street performer

50 euro for 45 minutes

These are column that the Moors built. They added lead between the column and the stuff above so that when an earthquake hit, the column would move but the building would not fall down. Pretty great!

Part of our 100 euro lunch

Coach and four

The bride

Our coach and 53

We are getting jaded or worn out or tired or something. Seville was gorgeous. And Mallorca. So was the Alhambra (I learned that the ‘h’ is silent if you are Spanish). So was Valencia. And Gibraltar. But we are exhausted from all the tours! And we have another today in Lisbon. At least we don’t arrive in Lisbon until 11am and leave at 6 so an all day tour can’t be THAT long!

An hour-and-a-boring-half-hour drive from Cadiz (pronounced Cad-EETH by the Spaniards) to Seville (pronounced Seh-VEE-yah because, duh!, it’s spelled Sevilla here) to see the Alcazar Palace and the local cathedral. The local cathedral is the third largest Christian church in the world after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London and the largest Gothic church—but don’t ask me what exactly ‘Gothic’ means! But we had to choose between lunch and resting our feet or the cathedral. Our stomachs/feet won!

Sevilla is a beautiful city, lots of Moorish influences and lots of Spanish color, especially blue and yellow. On a sunny day, which yesterday was, those colors are spectacular! We especially loved the Plaza de España, although it may be impossible to describe (but you know I’ll try!). It’s an oval as large as four football fields (but much prettier) with 2/3 of the circumference enclosed by buildings covered with literally tons of mostly blue and yellow tiles. Lots of arches and niches. A stream meanders through and several arched bridges—also covered with blue and yellow tiles—cross the stream. The Plaza itself is paved with stones and has an immense fountain in the center. One of our group happened to be dressed in blue and yellow so the rest of the group all wanted to have photos of them by all the tile work. Because she stood out so well, we also used her to find our guide (who didn’t do a good job of letting us know where he was)! I almost lost the group once by staying back to take a photo and started to panic because we were an hour-and-a-boring-half-hour away from the ship and I hadn’t a clue how I’d get back there if I really lost the group! But I saw her yellow shirt and thus was saved from complete panic.

Lunch was delicious, the scenery gorgeous for our lunch (we were right across from the cathedral), people-watching was great. Then we got the bill. Our ‘appetizer’ that the waiter recommended was 40€!!! The bill for 2 beers and an ‘appetizer’ and a chicken dish that we split was 100€! We should have climbed the cathedral tower!

Then the best sight of all! Waiting for our group to reassemble, up comes a ‘coach and four’: a beautiful coach drawn by four matched white horses, three grooms all in white (including white three-cornered hats), and a bride and groom! EVERYTHING was black or white except for the bride’s scarlet-red bouquet. So striking! Lots of photographers, everybody ooh-ing and ah-ing. Shortly after another bride arrived in a black Mercedes with a groom covered with medals, but we all said to each other, ‘Too little, too late!’ Kind of a, ‘I’ll see your Mercedes and raise you four white horses!’

Back to the ship to rest up for our next adventure in Lisbon.

Minor misadventure: Randy’s watch battery died (he had it replaced in Tucson a week before we left!) so we’ve had to buy a cheap watch ($10) on board and hope it lasts until we can get home!

Friday, April 25, 2014

OMG, we only have seven nights left!...

We’re in Gibraltar today from 0800 to 2300—WHY oh why couldn’t we stay late in a Spanish city so we could have a wonderful Spanish dinner?

Once again, TripAdvisor and CruiseCritic have come through with a wonderful recommendation for a tour guide, Carl from Gibralter Inside Out Rock Tours, rated numero uno tour guide in Gibraltar. I am absolutely exhausted from all the places he took us today. From the stunning views (10 days a year, he says, the visibility is as it was today, thanks to a north wind for two days) to the history-laden walks deep into the rock of Gibraltar it was a wonderful day. It left me, aside from absolutely exhausted, wanting so much to know more about the history of this area. Not just WWII but also the history of the sieges of the 18th century and the men who carved the tunnels using just hand tools and occasionally some gunpowder, to the Moorish invasions, and the Spanish closing the borders because the Gibraltarians voted 98% to 2% to remain British.

We walked the Siege Tunnels—did you know there are 50 kilometers of roads inside the rock and only 32 kilometers of roads OUTSIDE the rock? And that there were not only hospitals and kitchens inside the rock, but tennis courts?—we visited St Michael’s cave with its music and psychedelic music, we interacted with the Barbary Macaques (once known as the Barbary Apes, they are actually monkeys albeit tailless ones) and I had one or two sit on my head! We visited the buildings that housed the many troops who have defended Gibraltar and saw the graffiti they etched on the walls to keep from falling asleep (a death sentence!).

We also got time to shop and eat and drink in the Old Town area of Gibraltar however, our lunch was a bit tainted by all the smokers! We Americans are really spoiled by how few smokers we have and especially how few smokers there are in restaurants. We sat at an outdoor café, The Angry Friar (he was probably upset because the smokers ruined his afternoon meal!), surrounded by smokers. Bah, humbug.

This was day two of a four day stretch of full-day tours. Tomorrow is Seville (from the port of Cadiz), the following day is Lisbon. Then a day at sea followed by a tour all-day of A Coruña and an all-day tour of Bilbao. I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

Then on to driving on the wrong side of the road in 8 days!

We’re also planning a party complete with a bartender (our favorite, Ryan, from the Crow’s Nest); we just have to figure out who to invite!

The road crosses the runway at Gibraltar airport

Randy & the Barbary Macaques