Thanksgiving in Portugal (November 22-23, 2019)

Matt, Emily, Murphy, and Josie planned to be with us Thanksgiving week. On a whim Murphy proposed we take the holiday on the road! Why not Portugal since none of us had explored it? Decision made. Murphy worked tirelessly with Jim at CultureXplorers to map out our holiday week. Itineraries in hand, we were all anxious to get going.

Murphy and Josie arrived in Lisbon Friday morning and Matt and Emily Friday evening. They had met at the hotel and were busy organizing their first night in country before we even left home.

In spite of a two hour delay getting out of Reagan National, we made it to Newark in time for our connection. We even managed a quick dinner at Classified, United’s new by-invitation-only restaurant at the airport. To get there we entered a specified restaurant and asked to be shown to Classified. We were escorted through a special door in the back, down a hallway painted black with perpendicular tube lights, took a turn, and then entered the special restaurant with huge windows overlooking the flight line. I felt like I was being shown to a speakeasy back in the day. Our meal was delicious. 

With dinner taken care of I reclined in my seat as soon as the plane was off the ground and slept until an hour before landing. A beautiful red sunrise welcomed us to Portugal. That and a sea of red roofs and white and pastel buildings. At 3:00 AM Virginia time we landed in Lisbon and set our watches ahead five hours. We beat the crowd to immigration, breezed through customs, and met our driver for the ride to the hotel. Murphy and Jim chose the 42-room Memmo Alfama for our three nights in Lisbon. It’s the first boutique hotel in it’s historic area and a real charmer!

No sooner had we arrived at the hotel than we met our four charming travel companions and our guide, Mariana, for a walking tour of two of Lisbon’s most iconic neighborhoods. First up was Alfama. Historically Alfama was situated outside of the city walls and was associated with poverty and squalor. Even as Lisbon grew into a major seafaring city, the district retained its lowly status where sailors and dock workers lived. Today, Alfama has shrugged off this grim reputation and been transformed into a fashionable and artistic district. The labyrinth of narrow alleys and side streets, tile fronted buildings, small plazas, cobbled streets, old churches, street art, tile mosaics, charming streetcars, and panoramic views combine to make it a popular place to live, work, and play. Mariana explained the history and guided us up, down, and around.

The other district we explored was a true contrast: Baixa. An earthquake in 1755 completely destroyed it. City planners decided not to replicated what was there before but to layout its replacement in a modern grid plan. Quite revolutionary at the time. A complete contrast to Alfama, it has five main plazas, wide streets, large buildings, and busy pedestrian-only shopping streets. 

Food a plenty was offered throughout the tour. We enjoyed sparkling green white wine. Green references the grapes being harvested early, by the way, not the color of the wine. Served with that was Portuguese chorizo cooked by the heat of flaming grappa. This required a special ceramic dish that cradled the meat over the flaming liquor. Next stop offered generous charcuterie boards of meats, cheeses, marmalade, bread, olives, and jam all washed down with red wine. Takeaway pork sandwich were delicious like everything else. We ladies opted out because we were saving ourselves for the treat of the day: Portugal’s iconic pastel de nata (and coffee) which we savored to the last morsel. Last but not least was a quick stop for a generous shot of ginja—a delicious, potent, sweet cherry liqueur—at a tiny takeaway shop. It was fun to try all the food and drinks and really interesting to visit the shops and meet the shop owners. Some were real characters who seemed to enjoy us as much as we enjoyed them.

Our day ended with a private river cruise on a traditional Portuguese boat that used to be used for transporting people and produce back and forth across the river. The owner of the boat obviously takes great pride in keeping his boat meticulously maintained and painted with traditional floral designs. He is an artist as well as a sailor, so he does all the decorative painting himself. Rain threatened all day, but by evening the skies were clear and the sunset and views of the 25th of April Bridge, Christ the Redeemer statue, and city lights beautiful. We enjoyed more cheese and cured meats but this time accompanied by cashews, fresh currents, crackers, breadsticks, chocolate, and gooseberries. All washed down with wine.

Dan, Emily, and I decided to call it a day after the cruise and settled in for a quiet night. Murphy, Josie, and Matt went off on foot to find a light dinner. We all agreed we’d had a fabulous day one. Thank you Murphy (and Jim)!

… Inquiring Minds Want to Know …

The currency here is the Euro.
1 Euro = $1.11 / $1.00 = .90 Euro

Lisbon is home to the oldest bookstore still in operation in the world as well as the smallest bookshop in the world.
At four square meters, the mini-shop can accommodate one shopper at a time.

The central tank of the Lisbon Oceanarium is the largest indoor aquarium in Europe.

Lisbon is the oldest city in Western Europe.
It existed long before Paris, London and even Rome.

Lisbon is the second oldest European capital after Athens.


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