Friday, September 21, 2012

Lisbon, Portugal

The delay in writing about Portugal is probably a result of being intimidated by what I know will be a challenging act of finding words to describe a moment that took 33 years to happen. Although I clearly should have visited Portugal already, and I once sat with my Dad at an airport gate unable to get on a standby flight to Lisbon, those regrets quickly faded away when I saw my Dad and Mom standing behind the security gate at the port in Lisbon. I was finally in the country where my Dad was born. I grew up with my Dad only speaking Portuguese to my grandparents, living in a Portuguese town in Massachusetts, with their home perpetually smelling like Portuguese food, with stories and pictures from Alcobaca, with Benfica soccer games on in the background, and a strong sense of Portuguese culture. My 3 days in Lisbon were in a way, very much like going home, but for the first time. Although I already had a strong sense of what Portugal was like, to finally be there, to see the blue and white tiles, to smell the cooked fish, to see people on the streets that looked like everyone on my Dad’s side of the family, to hear the Portuguese language everywhere I went, to see the coastline, narrow alleys, red roof tiles, red wine, fishing villages, ceramic roosters, fado, and pasteis de nata, truly connected me to the Portuguese family I grew up in. We explored Lisbon on the first day, first stopping at St. George’s Castle, which provided an amazing view of the city. After overlooking the tiled roofs of the city we walked down through the charming old streets of Alfama. Before having bacalhau for lunch in the center of Lisbon, we went into a church which was burned and never fully restored, creating an eerie and magical interior. We continued to walk around the city and then went to Belem, where we viewed the Jeronimos Monastery and the Monument to the Discoveries. We also had quite possibly the best pasteis de nata I’ve ever had at the famous Pasteis de BelĂ©m. The next stop was our Cascais hotel, a converted house where an inviting and friendly owner showed us around. All of the hotels my Dad found were charming and unique. Afterwards, we went along the Boca do Inferno to view the sunset, which was stunning. We watched the waves crash up against the cliffs, bathed in the setting sun. For dinner, we went to a delicious Indian restaurant in Cascais, followed by a walk around the main streets of the city. The next day we went to Fatima, walked around the extensive grounds, went to a reconciliation center, saw where the three children were buried in the church, lit a few candles, and offered up some prayers. We then stopped at the Monasterio de Batalha, a stunning monastery with an interior as grand as the exterior. Before arriving in Alcobaca to visit family we checked into another beautiful hotel overlooking Nazare. We drove through the narrow streets never designed for cars and drove along the beach, where women were selling fish that decorated the beach with endless rows of fish drying out in the sun. In Alcobaca we went into the Monasterio de Alcobaca before meeting up with my cousins who have an amazing apartment overlooking the main square of Alcobaca in front of the monastery. We had coffee and pastries before walking around, where I saw the apartment my grandparents had for many years that is still in the family. Being in Portugal with my Dad completely transformed the experience and I can’t imagine visiting without him there. He showed me the streets my grandparents walked, their daily routines, where they walked for bread, and the life they lived. We drove to where my grandfather grew up, the open land now a hill overlooking Alcobaca, and the nearby houses of other Paulo family members, where they all lived before moving to the United States. A little further down the street we visited more cousins and ate grapes and figs from their garden as the sun set, in what felt like a true Portuguese moment. From their house I was also able to see exactly where my Dad was born, a little further down the hill in a nearby house. Although I had already met most of these cousins I was able to meet a family member for the first time when we visited my great aunt on my grandmother’s side. She quickly recalled her phone conversations with my grandmother and how I was often talked about. The day was without a doubt bittersweet, knowing my grandparents are no longer alive. I wish I could have been with them in Portugal, but I felt their presence and I felt even more deeply connected to them by traveling to their homeland and seeing the life they lived both before I was born and after I was born when they would come back to visit. We ended the night with an authentic Portuguese meal in Alcobaca. Before leaving Nazare the next morning we overlooked the town from the top of the cliffs in the area called Sitio, which offered an amazing view of the ocean and Nazare. My Dad was also able to point out the land and windmill he once owned on the hills on the other side of Nazare. On our way back to Lisbon we stopped in Obidos, a medieval fortified city that offered narrow streets, castle walls, pousadas, and lots of ginja. We ended the day back in Lisbon, exploring some of the streets we didn't wander through on the first day, through Barrio Alto, Chiado, and another part of Alfama, where we had delicious Portuguese food and wine to end the trip. Waving goodbye to my Mom and Dad back at the ship was not easy. Our brief time in Portugal was filled not just with beautiful sights, but more importantly, with family history and lasting memories. I will always remember my first time in Portugal, and although I clearly would have liked to have had two open seats on that flight to Portugal many years ago, visiting Portugal during a Semester at Sea voyage around the world was incredibly unique, and allowed the stop in Lisbon to be yet another new experience for me among endless new experiences. Lastly, having my parents meet me in Lisbon provided an even more meaningful layer to one of the best ports of this voyage. My Dad waited a long time to show me around the country where he was born, and I waited a long time to finally connect to a huge part of who I am, but what a blessing it was to finally be together in Portugal. I’m ready to move to Lisbon!


  1. You're not gods 'cause for one thing... God ain't got no big head like Elmer Fudd.

  2. Sounds like a great--and sight-filled--stop in Lisbon!