Y’all Ready for This?!

Random is the keyword for how things work here in Portugal.  I have been told by locals that how things go in the government offices largely depends upon the mood of the employee with which you’re dealing.  On an international level, it seems that the “rules” can change from minute to minute.  Or maybe, it’s just our interpretation of said rules. 

So, after freaking out about having to get a certificado do bagagem from the consulate in San Francisco, translate the inventory of our things into Portuguese (which I did) and all the other attendant forms, here’s what happened…

We were at the Arrábida shopping mall here in the Canidelo hood, about to buy a printer/copier so that we could print out and copy everything when, my phone rang.  It was Bongers calling to say that our shipment would be delivered next week on Tuesday or Wednesday.  I replied that I was working on getting the requisite forms but that it probably wouldn’t happen that fast.  (San Francisco Portuguese consulate, enough said!)  He said, that’s ok, never mind the forms, we can get it through customs for you for 124 Euros without any forms.  At first, I didn’t believe him.  It was a good thing that there was a place to sit down, so I did.  Really?!  …says I.  And then I thought, why ever didn’t you tell me that this was an option in the first place?!  I said, done. Where do I wire the money? 

It would have cost $200 to Fedex the forms to and from the consulate plus their fee so, 124 euros sounded like a screaming deal at this point.  Our man at Bongers said that he would let me know what day delivery would be by the end of the week.  I said, you are awesome and rang off.  Hal-le-freakin-lu-jah!  One bureaucratic bullet dodged.

I didn’t hear from Bongers and thought, well, they will let me know when our shipment is ready for delivery.  On Monday evening I was giving an English lesson online when the doorbell rang.  It was the movers.  They were outside with a truck load that contained our worldly goods!  It was a good thing that we were home!  I finished the lesson while Joe received the box parade.

Whoo hoo!  After nearly three months, I had forgotten what all we shipped.  I was glad to have summer clothes because it is supposed to be in the eighties here on Sunday.  Sadly, the only thing that was broken was Joe’s $400 office chair, the one thing he really needs, of course.  And naturally, the deductible on the moving insurance for breakage is $500.  Figures, ‘eh?

Our favorite Portuguese bubbly to celebrate having fully arrived in Portugal!

But, all in all we are happy to have our things and now feel like we have finally arrived.  I still say that if you are moving to another country, don’t ship anything.  It is not worth the brain damage nor the cost.  Thank you very little not so Transparent International and, thank you very much Bongers International!

Love Me Some Porto!

Admittedly, with a two week visit to Portugal we have barely scratched the surface of places in the country where we would like to be.  But between Lisbon and Porto we really liked Porto the best.  They even have a few craft breweries.  They remind me of where Denver was with microbreweries 20 years ago.  Cool spots, good beer and so much potential!  Nortada was our favorite.  It reminded me of The Rock Bottom Brewery when it was new.  Nortada is brand new and if you like craft beer you should check it out if you are ever in Porto.  It is located right in the center of the city and not only are the brews good, the staff is very friendly and knowledgeable.  Portuenese Beer Factory is its formal name and it is located at: 210 Rua de Sa da Bandeira, 4000-427, Porto Portugal.  Their website is:  https:// loja.fcpornuenese.pt.

Nor.beer.1
Nortada Portunese beer

Did I mention our criteria for a place to relocate?  Great food, wine and weather are foremost.  So, we add beer and we are there in Porto.  But what about the city’s namesake drink?  Port:  it’s not just for after dinner anymore!  Port is a fortified wine that is amazing in its versatility.  Not just a sweet after dinner drink, it comes in many forms and white port is one of them.

We visited Barros port house and got to sample a 30-year-old white port.  Dangerously delicious is a phrase that comes to mind.  A little sweet with a plethora of flavors that go on for days.  Floral peach nose with flavors of caramel and lightly nutty flavors.  Wow, it was so good that even though we were tasting many ports vintage and otherwise we had to drink this one.

Tasting Cellar at Barros Port Winery.

As beverage pros when one tastes a lot of alcohol one spits so as not to get deliriously drunk!  And Port is no slouch in the ABV (alcohol by volume) department coming in at 16-20% alcohol.  It is fortified with brandy which came about to preserve it on the long trips overseas to Britain where it became popular in the 1700s.  It is the third oldest protected wine region in the world after Tokai in Hungary (1730) and Chianti in Italy (1716).  In 1756 the General Company of Viticulture of the Upper Douro or Douro Wine Company was founded to guarantee the quality of the product and fair pricing for consumers.  The making of and history of Port is a study unto itself.  Check it out on that Google thing.  I hear it is catching on!

Back to the drinking part…Dry white port makes an excellent aperitif.  On the rocks with a twist it is super refreshing in the summer.  There are plenty of great port cocktails to try as well.  See any good bar book for recipes.

Our VIP tour of Barros was fabulous, fun and informative!  In addition to the white port we got to try several vintage and single vineyard ports, all of which were outstanding.  Because they are fortified, good port will age well for decades.

White Port at Porto Cruz

By the time we finished our tour it was lunch time and our uber driver had recommended Porto Cruz as a good place to eat.  They have a beautiful 4th floor dining room with a view of the city of Vila Nova de Gaia which is across the river from Porto and is where all the port houses age their wines.  Once we were seated a server came over with a bottle and asked if we were driving?  We answered no, and he poured us a glass of chilled white port.  Again, off dry and a perfect aperitif.  Is there no end to the magic deliciousness?!  I hope not!

Quinta da Foz Port house boat with view of the bridge to Porto.

Aveleda Winery

Being in the wine biz has its perks, however small.  Thanks to Frank Mc Donald, my new BFF who imports Portuguese wines into Denver, we got to tour the Aveleda Winery in northern Portugal.  It is about an hour train ride outside of Porto and has some of the most beautiful grounds to be seen at a winery.   Founded in 1870, Aveleda has been around for a while and is still family owned.  They are famous for their Vinho Verde which means green wine for it’s freshness and light lively flavors.  Sadly, the white and some rose Vinho Verde’s are the only ones that make it to Denver.  The red wines they make are outstanding as are the spirits or Aguardente as they call them.  (Brandy or literally fire water to us!)

Aveleda is one of the biggest wine producers in Portugal and as a leader in the Vinho Verde region it exports more than half of its production to 70 different countries worldwide.  They also make Casal Garcia Vinho Verde which is the most sold Vinho Verde in the world.  The Casal Garcia arm of the company was established in 1939 when a French oenologist happened to stop by to see the vineyards at Aveleda on his way from the Douro wine region to Porto.  Aveleda’s owner Robert Guedes was very forward thinking and planted his vines by varietal in the French style which caused Mr. Eugenie Helisse to stop and demand to meet the owner of the vineyard.  Long story short, Mr. Guedes hired Mr. Helisse as his new oenologist.  (For more on this story see:  http://www.casalgarcia.com.)

The gardens at Aveleda.

The gardens at Aveleda

When we arrived at the train station in Penefiel we were met by the lovely and talented Marling Espejo who chauffeured us to the winery.  What a beautiful and bucolic place!  We toured the grounds for about an hour and were wowed by the natural beauty of it.  Verde was the operative word with hobbit houses strewn about throughout.  There were chickens, dogs, peacocks (and peahens, of course) and little black goats that had their own three-story hobbit house!  I felt that we might fall down a rabbit hole ala Alice in Wonderland at any moment!  Or maybe see actual hobbits!

Hobbit house for goats!

Resident wildlife!

Spirits barrel room

After seeing the barrel room where the spirits are aged we went to the main house for lunch.  OMG, this was a luncheon fit for a king or queen.  The three of us sat down to a formally clothed table and were served by a woman who was sure that we should be eating a lot more than we did!  (Which reminded me of my time in Italy.)  The food was outstanding (you seeing a theme here)?!  We started with a vegetable and cheese quiche followed by a fresh cod casserole dish in a mouthwatering sauce served with potatoes, carrots and green beans.  Yes, there were seconds all around.

Copper pot spirit still.

First run spirit fountain!

Each course was paired with a different wine and we finished with a glass of 12 year old barrel aged aguardente paired with port filled chocolates (More about those later.)  Gastronomic bliss, I tell you!  Can you say, stuffed like a Christmas goose?!  Splendiferous is a word that comes to mind.   After lunch we got to see the distilling room and were able to taste the first run spirit.  It was dangerously delicious.  One small sip per customer, please!  From the spirits room we made our way back to the parking lot and Marling returned us to the train station.  Everyone was so gracious that we can’t wait to return!  And, of course, the wines and spirits are outstanding.  If you are ever in Porto a trip to the Aveleda winery is a must!

Escher Exhibit/O Prado Take 2

The next day we wandered back down to the water.  We had noticed on our first day out that the Museum of Popular Art had an exhibit of M.C. Escher’s work.  Along with the Tower of Belem, the Museum of Pop Art is on the banks of the Tagus River.  It is a fun dichotomy that the two are almost literally down the street from each other. 16th and 20th centuries pretty much next door to each other in the enchanting city of Lisbon!

Since Joe and I are both big Escher fans we decided to check it out.  It was amazing to see the man’s work up close and personal, so to speak!  The amount of detail in his drawings is mind blowing.  There was also a fun interactive piece that let one enter the orb in the Hand with Reflecting Sphere pen and ink drawing.  It was an illusion, of course but most of this master’s work is illusion based, so totally appropriate! The entire exhibit was entertaining, informative and awe inspiring.

After the museum we had some sangria at a hotel that had a patio on the water.  The weather was beautiful and the scenery equally so.  It was interesting to note that folks were sporting winter, even fur coats in the 60ish degree weather.  Sort of the opposite of what we have in Colorado where it is common to see people in shorts and flip-flops when it is 30 degrees or colder and snowing!  I have never understood this having been taught to dress for the weather.  Kind of crazy either way, I guess!

We had dinner at one of the seafood restaurants on the way back from our sunset patio excursion.  There was a gentleman standing outside extolling the virtues of the food inside and after a couple of suggestions about the menu I said, “I’m in, let’s do it”!  Holy mother of amazing seafood!  I had horse mackerel with a Spanish sauce and Joe had a squid and shrimp skewer.  Both were outstanding, as was the white wine we had with it.  All for about 30 Euros.  A meal like that would’ve cost $100-150 stateside.

After dinner we strolled back toward our Airbnb and decided to stop back in at O Prado for a night cap.  A night cap, right.  Clearly, I had no idea who I was dealing with!  We sat at the bar again and were warmly greeted by our new BFFs, Christina and Johnny.  Boy, did we get more than we bargained for!  After a bottle of Cartuxa, an excellent Portuguese red wine, if you ever run across it, I was ready for that night cap!  So, Johnny pulled out some of their home-made hooch.  Portuguese grappa, if you will.  Now, I happen to love grappa, and this was wickedly smooth and delicious.  But wait, there was more!  Next, he pulled out a barrel aged version of the same fire water which was even more delicious than the first!  Then, of course, I had to try some of the Portuguese aguardente which literally means fire water.  Really, it was Portuguese brandy.  Thankfully, Joe is not a big grappa/brandy fan, so he only had little sips of each.  I, on the other hand, partook fully.  Being the world class enablers that our hosts were, they sent us home with little samples of the two home made liquors, cleverly disguised in recycled apple juice bottles!  Love them, mean it, they came in handy later in our trip.

I vaguely remember staggering back to our place.  Joe says it was a small miracle that we made it back in the dark after all that drink!  Yes, I was in for a world class hang over, to be sure.

Coach Museum/O Prado, Take 1.

Being older helped us out with the timing of everything we did on this trip.  While the rest of the Portuguese world has lunch around 1pm or later, we were usually hungry by noon.  The same went for dinner.  We usually wanted to eat around 6pm and were the only ones in the dining room at that time.  Restaurants got busy after 7pm, which suited us just fine.

We re-visited the Pasteis de Belem at about 11am in the morning and, guess what?  There was no line!  The place is also much bigger than it looks from the outside and seats around 400.  We ordered coffee and two pasteis de nata, as they are known.  This is the Café du Monde of Lisbon.  Little custard tarts served in a parchment like pastry shell.  Not as good as beignets, but still, quite tasty.

After our “breakfast” of custard tarts and coffee, we decided to check out the Coach Museum.  Now, Joe thought, really?  A coach museum, how interesting could it be?  Boy, was he surprised!  As was I.  These were historic coaches built for royalty and they were impressive and amazing to say the least.  Having been a carriage driver in Denver for many years, I could really appreciate these mobile works of art.  They made our carriages look mighty pedestrian, I’ll say!  Well, look!

Coach.2

After being wowed by the antique coaches for royalty we found O Prado for lunch.  This little gem of a restaurant is on Rua da Junqueira, 474, 1300-341, Lisboa, and if you are ever in Lisboa (Lisbon, to us foreigners!)  you need to dine there.  We sat at the bar and were entertained by the Johnny and Christina show!  These two run the place and they are awesome, as is the food.  I had a salmon steak that was crazy good, super fresh and cooked to perfection, that is not overdone, and Joe had a pork dish which melted in the mouth.  We shared a bottle of the house red wine which was a red Vinho Verde.  Why, oh why do we not get this wine over here?!  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not against the white Vinho Verdes, but the red is so perfect with everything!  Beautiful dark red color, a hint of effervescence, light bodied with dark fruit flavors and nice and dry on the finish.  Yumilicious, it was.  It reminded me of the dry Lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna in Italy.  I Wish I could have brought some home.  One of the many reasons we’ll just have to move there!  Seriously, I have travelled a lot, but never have I visited a country where all the food and drink is so consistently good if not great. 

Given the great fun, food and drink, we became instant friends with Christina and Johnny and said we’d be back before we left Lisbon.

O Prado house red Vinho Verde.