A month in Portugal – the people, the food and the language

We weren’t sure we’d be able to include Portugal on this trip but we are so glad we did.  We loved our fortnight in The Algarve and have really enjoyed the contrast of looking around the big city of Lisbon and staying out here ‘in the sticks’ watching ordinary life.

The Portuguese people we have encountered have been really welcoming, smiley and helpful – everyone from the ticket man at the station, to people serving in cafes and shops or working in museums and attractions.  The lovely lady at the post office offered us a choice of 3 beautiful stamps, carefully stuck on an airmail sticker with her glue stick and checked with us that it looked ok – all for a 70c transaction.

They are always happy to explain things in English – kids learn it at school and we were told that tv shows from the UK and US are always shown with subtitles and not dubbed so they get used to hearing English all the time.  It makes for a very happy experience for the visitor.

Portuguese itself is a really impenetrable language – not like French or Spanish where you can usually get the gist.  We were used to hearing Portuguese in Bermuda where there were lots of incomers from The Azores but it didn’t help at all.  We will miss the train announcements which always sounded so seductive – she made ‘Lisboa Santa Apolonia’ sound like you’d arrived in heaven.

The food – ah, now here they don’t do so well with the notable exception of the coffee and pastel de nata for elevenses which was always perfect.  The main problem is bacalhau – the dried, salted codfish which is their national dish.  Again we’d come across this in Bermuda with disastrous results – it’s bony and without texture, taste or charm.  It makes a horrible stink in the supermarkets too.  We’ve tried it a few times since we’ve been here and it ranges from just about ok to awful.  Other fish tends to be sold and eaten whole – more bones – and the alternative is bony chicken with tasteless rice.  Finally, chorizo which we use a lot and love at home.  We’ve tried several here (of the hundreds of varieties they sell) and they have been unspeakably bad – in the bin bad – fatty, gristly, coarse and crude.

To end on a positive note, the Portuguese are really good at sweet stuff.  There are pastelarias everywhere selling all sorts of cakes, pastries, florentines and chocolates – the ones using almonds or peanuts are really yummy.

Tomorrow we’re catching up with ourselves after two full on days in the city and then on Friday we must pack our bags, put the roof box on the Volvo, get the bikes onto the rack and be ready for an early departure on Saturday morning.  We’ve got a four hour drive to Seville.