On to Porto

TDL and I woke in the middle of the night, in serious intestinal distress. It was most likely food poisoning from eating hotel buffet eggs. We know better; TDL even had a microbiology professor tell his class to never eat eggs in a buffet. We did it anyway, at 11 am- the very end of breakfast, when they had been sitting out for hours. Ugh. Lesson learned. The good news: we didn’t have to check out until 15:00. The bad news: TDL had to cancel surfing, and we had a flight to Porto at 21:00. We laid in bed, moaning, until checkout time, then we got in the car and drove to Monchique.

Monchique is a spa town in the mountains and it is shockingly beautiful. There were little stands, selling fruit and other food, on the side of the winding road up to the town of Monchique and water cascading down the verdant mountainside. But it was raining really hard and we had no energy or remaining gut content, so I have no pictures. We barely got out of the car. Next time we will at least make a day trip out of it, but I think staying the night would be nice.

After leaving Monchique, the day got more difficult. Our struggles included: getting lost in the outskirts of Faro while trying to find the rental car drop-off, leaving our passports, credit cards, and currency in the rental car after we dropped it off, and a very bumpy flight and landing.

Somehow, eventually, we made it to Porto! We arrived sometime after 22:00, so Catarina, 4Rooms‘ innkeeper, had arranged for “her driver” to pick us up at the airport. We tried to play it cool when “her driver” turned out to be a badass-looking guy in an expensive suit who drove a gorgeous new Mercedes with two sunroofs. It was the most luxurious ride from an airport I have ever had!

Even better was the luxury that is 4Rooms. As the name indicates, it is a very small bed and breakfast, on a narrow street in the lovely Porto neighborhood of Foz do Douro. My TripAdvisor review is here. The house and apartment (called the Sky Loft) where we were lucky enough to stay (off-season upgrade!!!) were designed by a famous architect and I could just gush on and on about how wonderful it was to stay there. Everything was perfect and it has spoiled me on hotels forever. After freaking out about the Sky Loft apartment, we went down the street to Casa da Foz, a cute yummy restaurant with a good-natured smart-ass of an owner. Here are a few pics of the Sky Loft:

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View from the bed in the Sky Loft

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Eats in Vila do Bispo

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While staying in Sagres, TDL and I spent the majority of our car-time pronouncing the name of the nearby town of Vila do Bispo in a Portuguese accent. Yes, we are strange. But it is really fun to say and saying it over and over helped us with other Portuguese pronunciations. Vila do Bispo is also where we had dinner our last night in the Algarve, at a restaurant called Ribeira do Poço. Ribeira do Poço had been highly recommended by Sofia at Vilacampina and it was in the “Living Sagres” pamphlet, meaning we got a free treat. The treat in this case was lapas na chapa. We had no idea what that was, and I was fully expecting something like eel that I wouldn’t touch. I was pleasantly surprised when they brought out this:

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Yay for… limpets! The owner saw we were excited about the dish and came out to tell us a little more about it. Lapas na chapa are not commonly eaten in mainland Portugal, despite being abundant on the coasts. When the owner visited the Portuguese islands, he noticed how popular and delicious lapas na chapa were there, so he decided to start harvesting them himself and serving them at his restaurant. They have a fun chewy texture and are quite tasty; I highly recommend trying such a unique treat.

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The fresh fish at Ribeira do Poço is an obvious choice, especially since you get to pick it out yourself! The owner can tell you where each fish in the case is from and when it was caught. Sofia recommended getting a giant fish-head dish that is meant to be shared, but I chickened out and ordered meat. TDL enjoyed his freshly caught sole. For dessert, we had another traditional fig cake. Now that we’re back in the states, I really miss those fig cakes (and the entire rest of Portugal). To summarize, Vila do Bispo is not just a fun name to pronounce, it’s an adorable little town with a delicious seafood restaurant, Ribeira do Poço.

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North to Odeceixe: Western Algarve in Pictures

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We were eager to see as much of the western Algarve as we could in our short time there, so the next day we drove north on the N268 until we reached Odeceixe, a small town in the hills. By this time, we were almost in the Alentejo region, so we decided to find lunch in Odeceixe and then make our way back south, stopping at beaches along the way. Lunch was a delicious Portuguese meal (unfortunately I didn’t write down the name of the restaurant): I had black pork cheeks and TDL had octopus with sweet potatoes.

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The first beach we explored was Arrifana. The beach was lovely, and totally empty, except for us and a ridiculous Portuguese water dog (who almost came home with us).

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Água na Boca

After exploring the cliffs and beaches of Sagres, we took Memmo’s recommendation and headed to the adorable oceanfront town of Salema for dinner at Água na Boca. A fun part of staying at Memmo Baleeira is the little “Living Sagres” pamphlet they give you when you check in. It has a ton of recommendations about where to go, what to see, and, most importantly, where to eat. All the recommendations we checked out were incredible and, the best part: you get a free little treat at the restaurant if you show them your Memmo pamphlet. During our lunch at A Tasca, we got a free local dessert. The traditional desserts in the areas around Sagres are usually fig-based bits of deliciousness- be sure to try some if you visit the area.

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Enjoying some wine at Memmo before we leave for dinner

At Água na Boca, thanks to Memmo, we started our dinner off with a nice glass of sparkling rosé. It was a good start to a great meal. The owner of Água na Boca is a really interesting person to chat with and we were lucky enough to talk to him for quite a long time. He knows his wine and knows good food. A good restaurant is reason enough for him to travel to a city, and he has eaten all over the world. He recommended an excellent Portuguese wine for our evening. I think it was 13 euro; he said to buy it now because the price is due to skyrocket in the upcoming years. The focus at Água na Boca is on the quality of the ingredients; everything was simple and clean, so the freshness really shone through. It was our type of food, for sure. We ordered everything off the specials menu. We started with some savory mushrooms with local cheese. For the entree, I got the BBQ Iberian pork ribs. You may roll your eyes at my selection (BBQ in Portugal!), but I stand by it and I thoroughly enjoyed it. TDL went a bit more local, getting the rock bass. It was scrumptious! I am not a fish person; this trip taught me to adore shellfish, and I will try anything, but I just don’t like the texture or taste of fish (mostly it’s the texture). This dish, though, I could have eaten all myself, if TDL didn’t devour it. For dessert, we had some port and a fig flambé dish with homemade ice cream. It tasted like the best fig newtons you have ever had, drenched in local aguardente (fire water, baby!), with a creamy ice cream. Yes please!

Can I do an aside here about how much TDL loves local fire water? I think it all started in Guatemala a couple years ago. We were staying on Lake Atitlán, in an amazing hotel, Vulcano Lodge, in the lovely, tiny, Mayan town of Jaibalito. We decided a nice day trip would be to walk on the lovely mountainside trail overlooking the lake to San Marcos for lunch. Along the way, we were robbed by machete. The guy left me alone, but had the machete at TDL’s throat and wrist. We only lost a watch and about the equivalent of $20 USD (which was a decoy in case of robbery, the rest of our money was in my bra), but needless to say, TDL was really shaken up. The entire town and the owner of the hotel felt horrible, so they took TDL to a local bar (someone’s house, actually) to share the aguardiente. He was incredibly drunk, but I think it eased the PTSD and since then, aguardiente (or however you say it in the language of the country we’re in) has been a comforting way to share some drinks with the locals.

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At Vulcano Lodge, Guatemala, before the incident

Back to Portugal! Here are our iphone pics from Água na Boca:

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Just a fraction of the wine at Água na Boca

Just a fraction of the wine at Água na Boca

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Rock bass with a giant prawn

The lovely Água na Boca

The lovely Água na Boca

If you can’t tell from the photos, Água na Boca has a really nice atmosphere. Most of the tables were tourists, but it felt local and cozy. The kindness and enthusiasm of the owner really shines through and the food really is mouth-watering. I would go back there in an instant!

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Skincare while traveling

Last time TDL took a big trip together, it was nearly 3 months of chicken-bussing around Central America. We packed very light and didn’t really worry about looking nice. My main beauty product was coconut oil (actually an excellent item to bring while traveling- you can eat it, moisturize with it, shave with it, use it as chapstick… the uses are infinite really). This time, we were still packing light (too light, actually- we had to buy winter clothes so we didn’t freeze while we were there), but we were going to be staying in pretty nice hotels and wanted to look pretty good. I am not a big skincare person- I can’t get started down that road, or we wouldn’t have any money to travel with- but I wanted to make sure we were comfortable, fresh, and clean. I actually found a couple nice items to bring that really helped, especially on the looooong flights, so I wanted to share them with y’all.

Dry Shampoo: Oh my god, where has dry shampoo been all my greasy-haired life? Back in the days when I used to do fieldwork and be without showers for weeks at a time, I would have killed for this stuff. I got the Oscar Blandi Pronto from Sephora and loved it. It smells fresh, really makes me feel cleaner, and my hair looks like I put forth effort (ha!). It doesn’t last forever though; my greasy hair stayed clean for about 5-6 hours after an application.

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Wipes: Obviously. Face wipes, other wipes, and hand sanitizer are all absolute musts for germaphobes like me. I enjoyed these Ole Henriksen face wipes from Sephora, and the EO lavender wipes and lemon hand sanitizer from Whole Foods. I should say, I have sensitive, acne prone skin, and the Ole Henriksen wipes did not cause any irritation or breakouts.

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Argan Oil: I’ve been loving Tarte’s Maracuja Oil at night. The bottle is too big to take on a trip, so I decided to try some Argan Oil (not sure why I am capitalizing that, but it looks weird not capitalized and I am just grateful I don’t write a grammar blog). I was surprised how much we used it and loved it! On the trip, we used it as: a face moisturizer, hand moisturizer, cuticle-healer, hair tamer (a drop rubbed in before blow-drying helped my hair not be frizzy in the humidity), beard treatment to make TDL’s luscious face-hair soft and smooth, and as a leather treatment for TDL’s boots (!!!).

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Other tips I have: be sure your deodorant, toothbrush, and toothpaste are in your carry-on for long flights, bring something that smells good to combat the stank of a plane, and if you are like me, Xanax + plane = happy, but no Xanax on a plane = freakout. I didn’t have any Xanax. It’s not the fear of crashing; it’s the people, the smelly, sick people, and being trapped next to them for too many hours.

Anyway! Now that I have shared my neuroses and my love of Sephora with you, tell me what you like to bring on trips. And, as always, no one gives me anything to write this blog, so this is stuff I paid for and genuinely love.

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The Wild Beauty that is Sagres

Sometimes you have to drive through this:

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After hydroplaning our way across the Algarve, we arrived in Sagres, at the southwestern tip of Portugal, and checked into our room at Memmo Baleeira, a larger hotel than where we had been staying, but wonderful all the same (my TripAdvisor review). The front desk always went out of their way for us and the rooms were clean and very comfortable. We were upgraded to a bay view (see picture above) and were extra pleased to see little peeps of blue sky (again, see picture above).

While we waited for more of that lovely blue sky to come out, we walked down to the bay to A Tasca for some lunch. The restaurant is super cute, if a little touristy. We ordered some pickled carrots as a couvert- yum- and were super excited to order some oysters. They were shucked table-side, which was so cool, and they tasted fantastic (once I got over the ‘ick’ factor of how large they were). TDL ordered a traditional squid dish of squid stuffed with rice and more squid, served in a clay pot with a tasty red sauce. I ordered some vegetable soup. (“Legumes” in Portuguese means “vegetables.” You’ll often see “sopa legumes” on the menus- it’s vegetable soup, not bean soup.) Everything was tasty and we really enjoyed our meal, even if our server wouldn’t let me take a picture of her shucking the oysters.

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After we finished eating, Portugal hooked us up with some (relatively) amazing weather. We jumped in the car and went exploring. Photos below include Cabo de San Vicente, Ponta Ruiva, Cordoama, Castelejo, and just about everything in between.

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Two more restaurants in Tavira, and some notes on eating in Portugal

The next day, the weather was bad and I was pretty sick, so we took advantage of our luxurious surroundings and lounged around Vilacampina. I can’t imagine a better place to be stuck inside. We did manage to check out two other restaurants while we were in the eastern Algarve, both for dinner: Casa do Abade in Santa Luzia and Abstracto, in Tavira.

I wrote a TripAdvisor review of Casa do Abade and I forgot to take any pictures while I was there, so I won’t go into too much detail. I will say: EAT THERE! We would have returned the following night, but they are closed on Tuesdays. Tito, the owner and server, runs around, making sure everyone is happy, while his wife prepares amazing food in the kitchen (a typical Portuguese arrangement). They really care about the food and the quality of the ingredients (something so standard in Portugal, but so rare in the states). Tito drives to Spain each week to get Iberian pork from a butcher he trusts and has a long history with. He used to raise and butcher the pigs himself, but he got too busy. The pork is then prepared using traditional methods by his MIL. Serious love goes into that restaurant and you can feel it when you are there.

We went to Abstracto on our last night in Tavira. It is located in the same alley as Aquasul. The decor is really fun and funky- felt almost like Alice in Wonderland. It is kind of a French take on Portuguese food. The service and food were good, but my overall impression was it was a little pricey (for Portugal). If I were to return to Tavira, I think I would rather go to Casa do Abade or Aquasul, although there certainly was nothing wrong with our experience at Abstracto. It just wasn’t very memorable for the price.

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Nice stemware at Abstracto

Next up, we head to the wild and scenic country that is the western Algarve.

As an aside, I thought it may be useful to include a couple notes on eating in Portugal (if I think of more to add, I will do so):

First: things you will be charged for that are noteworthy. 1. Water. I saw people upset about being charged for water on a couple restaurant reviews, so I wanted to mention it here. To me, it’s not such a big deal, or very surprising, since bottled mineral water is what is being served. The options are sparkling or still. “Natural” means it is room temperature. 2. The couvert. I admit, we were 2/3 of the way through our trip before I knew what this word meant. Couvert = the bread/olives/cheese/other stuff that is brought out first. Sometimes they ask you if you want it, most of the time it is just there. In smaller towns, if they charge you for it, it is minimal (1-2 euro). Lisboa and Oporto were the only places that I remember being charged a noticeable amount for the couvert. If you don’t want the couvert, just tell them. For the most part, you are really taken care of when you eat out in Portugal. We really only had one experience, in Lisboa, (I’ll write about it in more detail later) where we felt taken advantage of. No big deal, learning is part of traveling.

Tipping: we asked many people about this, including restaurant owners. Everyone said it is not expected; up to 10% is great, but they do not expect it or make a big deal about it. This is such a hard concept for my American brain to grasp but I love it. I have spent most of my life dependent on people’s tips, and I hate all the feelings and guilt that come along with a tip culture. Honestly, after eating out in Portugal, with such reasonable prices, excellent, quality food, and genuinely good service, I really have lost my desire to eat out in the US. (And my wallet thanks me.)

Don’t want to eat out every meal? Grocery stores in Portugal are great. Markets are better. One amazing item we found at the grocery store was a precooked, packaged Spanish tortilla. It tasted great cold, right out of the package and the ingredients were really good- onions, potatoes, eggs, milk, spices.

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