October 02, 2002

Hola once again and for the last time probably from my foreign travels. I go to Barcelona tomorrow and the day after, very early in the morning, I fly home. Part of me thinks I´ll be happy to be home, where everyone speaks my language, where I know how everything works, where the money makes sense, and where I don´t have to carry my life on my back. But a larger part of me knows I´ll be sad to go. I feel like this is what I do now, travel around and see new cool places and gawk at beautiful churches and castles and beaches. It will be hard to convince my happy little brain that in fact what I do is not travel around, it´s work in an office and live in an apartment. If only I had more money... One day, I will be allowed to do this all the time. One day, when my ship comes in. One day, my prince, strike that, independent wealth will come...

So we left off in Coimbra. I may be here all night... From Coimbra, I went to Figuera da Foz on a whim, really. I read in my guidebook that it was an all-night kind of a town, with a casino, and it just sounded kind of Monaco kitschy fun. So I decided to give it a shot. It was also supposed to have a really nice beach.

I arrived and trekked a long way into the city toward the TI. I´d called the one place my guidebook recommended and she wanted 36 euros for a room. I said no. So I was going to the TI to see if they could recommend other places to go. The train station was a looong way from the TI with a huge weight on your back. And ultimately I couldn´t find it. I walked up to the first Residenciál I could find and asked them how much. It was 30 euros and I took it. Sadly, it was on the top floor. More trekking. But it was very nice, with a bathroom/shower and a TV, a large bed and a window. Through the window I heard a clocktower that played a little tune before it struck the hour. I thought it was charming.

The beach was really beautiful. There were several long walkways made of wood out to the water, as it was quite a wide beach and a long way from the sidewalk. The beach next to the walkways was absolutely covered with seagulls. They were everywhere. They weren´t bothersome, just everywhere.

The water was very cold so no swimming occurred, but I sat on the beach for quite awhile, feeling the sun. Walked down the beach and waded in the Atlantic.

That night I had more traditional Portuguese food--grilled squid. It was just fabulous. These large whole squids, tentacles and all, nicely crisped from the grill. With potatoes and salad. Very tasty. Then I went to the casino.

I´d really been looking forward to a huge Las Vegas style casino, but it was pretty small and subdued. It was a big square building in the middle of town, it didn´t even take up a whole block. I walked in and felt like I was in the 30´s or 40´s. Plush red carpeting and bright lights and gold fixtures. I walked up to some double doors and peered in through. There was a band in the corner, with a singer singing in Portuguese, levels of people eating dinner, and a dancefloor willed with people dancing. Green lights flooding the dancefloor. It was an old fashioned dancehall.

My next stop was the piano bar. Again, big double doors which I gingerly slipped through. Inside was a very old fashioned lounge bar with little low round tables. There was a woman singer accompanied by a man on piano and a man on bass, singing ¨Skylark¨an old jazz tune. I was immediately enchanted. She wore a sparkly silver jacket. There were people below the bar in front of her eating dinner. I sat down at a little table overlooking the diners and the band and watched. She continued singing old vocal jazz tunes, in English, quite well and well-chosen songs. Even did a Sarah Vaughn standard, silly though it may be, ¨I Feel So Smoochie¨. I ordered a very silly chocolate liqueur drink with fruit and a pineapple straw.

Next I wandered downstairs to the slot machines. My guidebook had incorrectly claimed that the slot machines were free. I didn´t really buy it anyway, but it was a little disappointing. Everything was electronic--poker, roulette, the slots machines, everything. Oddly, the machines didn´t even seem to take coins, they wanted exclusively bills, starting at 10 euros. After much debate and trying and failing to put coins in many machines, I gave in and put in a 10 euro bill into an electronic poker game, saying good-bye to it out loud as I put it in the slot. I actually won for awhile, then lost it all fairly quickly. I immediately removed myself from the room and further temptation.

I went back upstairs and realized I´d seen it all. There was a cinema upstairs, but I´d seen a movie recently and decided against it. There was what seemed like a secret room in the back which you had to pay to get into. I suspect it was where the real gambling happened, but I couldn´t understand enough Spanish to figure it out from the signs. The ballroom was closed for a ticketed show at that point. And there was no more singing in the piano bar, just overpriced frou-frou drinks. So I left. I went across the street and had a cerveza. I wandered around looking for signs of nightlife but found none. So I went back home around midnight and that was that for my all-night city.

From the Foz, I went to Nazaré, which is also on the coast, but has a very different feel. I made the mistake of coming in by train, which it turned out was quite a long way from the town. I wouldn´t have known it and in fact got sort of lucky. At the train station was a little old lady who wanted to rent me a room. I hemmed and hawwed so much she finally said come see it and if you don´t like it, it´s fine. I gave in. We got in a car, which I thought was her husband´s, but was a taxi.

We drove for about 10 minutes or so along winding roads and finally arrived in beautiful Nazaré. It´s on a hill and the views are stunning. Gorgeous blue water with a sort of suburb city on the top of a cliff looking down on Nazaré.

The taxi let us out at the woman´s house and she expected me to pay half the fare. That was the first part of my decision not to stay there. The second was when I got upstairs and it was basically a large apartment with beds crammed in every possible space, two spare rooms, the living room, and an alcove. And it had that perfume powdery old woman smell. Which is not to say that old women smell, mind you, but that this is a smell one associates with them when they do. I don´t recommend taking up offers of cuartos from little old ladies at train stations unless you have lots of warm memories of staying in your grandmother´s house, your grandmother you never met. I fast tracked out of there and she definitely didn´t look too thrilled about it.

I breathed deeply the air of freedom and wandered down the hill toward hostals and the TI. I got a map and found a very nice hostal up the hill from the beach, but not too far. It was a very Mediterranean hostal with white walls and blue trim and plants. The rooms were up stairs and around balconies sort of like a Southern California apartment complex. Like Melrose Place without the pool! Anyway, it was very cool and I had a small view of the beach from the balcony in front of my room.

I immediately wandered down to the beach, buying some gelato on the way. Portugal seems to mostly have gelato rather than their version of helado. I wasn´t complaining. Mmm, gelato...

Nazaré is a fishing village and, partly for tourists, they residents still dress in a very traditional way. Mostly the women, but some of the men as well. The tradition was that women would wear 7 petticoats because in the winter it would get very cold and they would wander the beaches waiting and watching for their husbands to come home from fishing. They could use some of the petticoats to wrap around their shoulders or over their heads as scarfs. Also, traditionally if you were a widow you wore black for life. So while walking around town or sitting on the beach, these women in full but only knee-length during the summer skirts and very traditional looking scarves and shoes and such will walk by. Or you could be sitting on the wall by the beach and a woman in full-length black from head to ankle will walk by, shoes in hand, onto the sand.

So, I waded in the water, which again was very cold, the Atlantic again. Sat on the beach for a long time in the sun. Lovely. Finally as the sun was starting to go down, I decided to take the Funicular (called Ascensor) up to Sítio, the suburb on the cliff. I love the Funiculars, they´re so fun. This one was quite fast.

I got up to Sítio and looked at the views down of Nazaré and the beach. Took lots of pictures. Then wandered toward the little plaza on the cliff. There were lots of little tourist stores and street vendors. They were selling everything from mantillas and postcards to cashews and dried fish. I wandered around and saw something I´d been meaning to try.

I´d seen them in Santiago, these strange black claw-like looking things. I´d discovered they were a kind of barnacle and that sometimes bars served them as barfood. And of course they were available from these little old ladies who sold nuts and fruits and such from carts and tables on the streets.

I walked up to one of the ladies, in her traditional garb, and said, ¨¿Como comer?¨which I hoped would work in Portuguese, though it was Spanish. I was asking ¨How to eat?¨ She picked one up and expertly cracked it open in the middle and handed it to me to try. I tried it. It had a similar consistency to calamari but was sort of salty. I asked for a small box worth. She used a little wooden box to measure out portions. One box was about 1.50 euros and maybe 20 or so of the barnacles--called perceves.

They weren´t hard and I´d mistakenly thought she´d cracked one, but it was more of bending until the outer soft shell broke open. I ate a few then put them away in my purse for a later time when I could concentrate. They weren´t the easiest thing to eat while walking.

I looked at the little shops. I wandered and looked at the views from different places. I watched the sunset and took lots of pics. Then I made sure the Ascensor would run for a few more hours then found a restaurant.

All the Portuguese restaurants seem to have these average household sized or even very small camping sized grills out behind them which they use to grill the seafood for their restaurants. I think it´s funny, the idea that all the cooking for the restaurant is being done on these puny little things. But I don´t argue, the results are good. As I´d been wandering looking at views I´d noticed one of these grills out behind a restaurant. That´s where I went for dinner.

I was one of the few people inside, it was maybe a little early still, but I sat down determinedly. I had grilled squid again--these were a little smaller but there were more of them. Again they came with potatoes and salad and were extremely tasty. I also had a half-bottle of vinho verde. Vinho verde is big in that area; it´s a wine that´s picked, bottled, and served all within the same year. Young wine, or literally green wine. It´s usually white and has an almost carbonated bite to it. It was very tasty and went nicely with my squid. I´ll miss cheap, good half-bottles of wine with dinner...

After dinner, I got back down on the Ascensor, walked along the esplanade by the beach a bit, then wandered back home. I was doing a day trip to Obidos the next day and needed my rest.

The next day I got on the bus and went to Obidos as planned. It was sprinkling rain slightly in Nazaré but was hot and sunny by the time I got to Obidos, about 1 1/4 hours away by bus. Obidos is an old walled city, completely surrounded by medieval castle walls. You can´t go into the castle as it´s an overpriced pousada (like a fancy hotel that´s in a historical site) but you can walk the walls.

I wandered in through the gate and down stone streets. It continues to have a very medieval feel to it, the way the houses and such are arranged. The streets are largely unmarked, I don´t think I saw a street sign the whole time (though that´s not particularly unusual for Portugal, one of my major peeves), and it´s easy to get lost on all the narrow streets. Luckily it´s not a large town, so you´re not lost for long. I happened upon a couple of nice churches on my way to trying to find the castle, then just happened upon the castle.

The castle itself is not huge, but the walls just go on and on. Stairs up leading nowhere but to a view. More stairs taking you to the top of the wall where you wander along the narrow path looking over fields and hills. You can walk entirely around the city, I believe, on the walls. Unfortunately, with my fear of falling and the narrow walls, I started getting a bit of vertigo and only managed a section. But I did ok, I walked all around the main courtyard of the castle and got many amazing views of all the countryside.

I went on the hunt for food then. I´ve found on this trip that I have my sister´s occasionally mocked blood sugar problem. If I´m hungry enough and I don´t get something to eat, even a coke, I get extremely irritable. To the point of occasionally feeling tears well up when I can´t find a hostal or restaurant or whatever I´m looking for. I´ve found that travelling is much more difficult when my blood sugar is low, as everything seems 10 times harder than it normally would. Such was the case here.

I went into a little cafe, the only one I could find, and ordered what I thought was a cheese sandwich and a Coke. It turned out to be ham. I took the ham out and ate the bread plain, no butter or mayo or anything, so desperate was I. And I downed the Coke. I pocketed the ham, wrapped in tissue, for the next stray dog or cat I saw. There are always a lot of them in Portugal.

I decided to walk out through the main gate to the tourist office to get a map and see if there was anywhere else to eat. I discovered, on the way, a self-serve restaurant and followed a crowd of people in happily. I had chocos, which I think are cuttlefish. I´d always thought cuttlefish and squid were the same thing, perhaps stupidly, but I´m pretty sure these were cuttlefish. The man in line in front of me, when I asked if they were lulas (squid in Portuguese), told me they were like lulas. So I got them.

They were good but odd. Like squid but round instead of oblong and with a sort of shell on one side. I remember the shell from days when I had parakeets. You were supposed to give them a cuttlebone, I think it was called, which they would rub their beaks on to keep them from growing too long. I´m pretty sure this is what it was.

Anyway, it was lovely and just what I needed. I went then to the tourist office and got my info on buses back and my map. I wandered some more, went into some stores. I was looking for the traditional Obidos wild cherry liquor they make, whose name escapes me and I don´t have my journal. Anyway, I bought a couple of little bottles of it. It´s very tasty. I was afraid it would taste like cough syrup, but it manages to just be very sweet, cherry liquor and mm, mm, good.

After a bit I decided I´d seen all there was to see and tottled off to the bus and Nazaré. I got back in time to sit on the beach for awhile in the sun (yes, I seem to be doing that a lot, don´t I? I deserve it with all the rain. It rained for at least part of every day in Portugal.) I thought about going back up to Sítio, but instead walked along the esplanade for awhile, went in some shops, and generally explored.

I was accosted by a man in a restaurant who all but dragged me into the restaurant to eat. I´m not sure if he was interested just in my tourist money or in the cleavage I was showing (he hardly looked anywhere else while talking to me) but he was determined and I went there for dinner. When he sat me down, he told me it was Fado playing, the music I could hear--not live, sadly. Fado is the traditional music in Portugal, like flamenco in Spain, though not the same kind of music. Fado is a little more melodious and not as passionately powerful as flamenco, though just as beautiful. I was glad to hear it, clearly identified, for at least a taste.

Next he brought a tray to my table with a bass and a flounder, raw, whole fish, on the tray, and plopped them on the table. He was suggesting them to me for my meal. I looked at them skeptically. I´ve never considered seeing your food raw as a great enticement to the tastebuds. Especially fish. I asked if they were fish caught in Nazaré and he said, ¨Yes, very fresh,¨and picked up the flounder, sniffed it, then moved it toward my nose. I backed away quickly. Once again, the last thing I need is raw fish on my nose before dinner. Unless it´s sushi, and then I don´t want it on my nose, I want it in my mouth.

I told him I wanted to see the menu and he left the fish on my table as I decided what to eat. I tried to ignore the raw fish and hide behind my menu. I ordered squid again and he took away the fish. Squid are the cheapest seafood to eat in Portugal, aside from sardines, and you can only eat so many sardines. I could eat squid for days. And did.

I kept trying to leave after eating my meal, which was not as good as the previous night´s. The waiter kept saying ¨slow, slow¨ telling me to listen to the music. I´d even asked for the check from the man who cleared my plates with no success. Finally I firmly said I needed to leave and he brought the check. I thought he looked a little hurt, but I didn´t care. Fado was nice and all, but sometimes you just gotta go.

Got some gelato on my way home, walked along the beach while eating it, and went home. I was off to Faro tomorrow.

Well, that´s as much as I can do for now. It´s 10:30 almost and I need to get some dinner and the early train to Barcelona in the morning. I guess I´ll have to finish this from the US, unless Barcelona vexes me again and I take refuge in the old internet cafe. Thanks for reading and I promise to finish up ASAP. Hasta luego!


Posted by Alyssa at 01:29 PM
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