On my TAP Air Portugal flight to Lisbon, I pop a sleeping pill before settling down in my seat, then I tune into a free fado album that is built into my seat. While I am out I get the nursing home treatment, which is to say that I fall asleep in the middle of a meal and, when I awake, there is another meal in front of me despite the fact that I both have no interest and even less awareness of the passage of time. Landing is smooth and I am quickly of the plane and stamped into Portugal.
That night, I am to reunite with my parents who are to see Portugal, Spain, and Andorra with me before returning home. They are on a much later flight, however, so I easily catch the metro downtown and slip into our private, clean (and by my standards luxurious) Airbnb near the Alameda where I wash my clothes and set them out to dry on the balcony attached to our room. When my parents finally arrive, I am excited to tell them about the general goings-on about South America, collect the various snacks and toiletries they have brought me from home, and dive into some authentic Portuguese food.
The restaurant we choose is less in the Lisbon seafood tradition, and is more well known for their two- and four-legged fare. I order a steak in a dijon glaze, which easily beats out the simple slabs of beef I mostly had in Argentina. After a terrific night of uninterrupted unconsciousness, the three of us set out to see Lisbon properly with a cafe breakfast and a free walking tour. The Uber driver who takes us downtown is a Venezuelan-Portuguese man who fled the nation where his father was born to come to Europe a few years ago, in search of safety and stability. I happily talk with him in what he calls “Portuñol,” a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese, and he understands me well. I tell him that I have been having trouble understanding European Portuguese, and he agrees that Brazilian Portuguese is incredibly different, often sounding closer to Spanish. He recommends a popular cafe (at least for tourists), at which we happily sit for over an hour, ordering coffee and pastries and basking at the veritable European-ness of it all among Americans, Canadians, and perhaps soon-to-be-fellow-non- European Brits. I had my Portuguese steak the night before, and my parents are paying for breakfast, so I do not complain about the lack of authenticity, the pursuit of which seems to be shaping my life more and more these days. If you pardon any melodrama, it seems the more I find my authentic self, the more it seems I ask to world to be authentic with me, whatever form that takes. As long as it doesn’t take the form of suburban American couples arguing about nothing while I am trying to eat a croissant, I guess.
Our walking tour meets at the historic commercial plaza of Lisbon, and it is one of those tours where the tour itself is not nearly as interesting as the tourists. I have my eye on one in particular, a small older woman from Arizona wearing a Green Day t-shirt, who I know based on instinct will be worth getting to know if only to find out what her favorite Green Day album is. As we walk through the streets of Lisbon’s Alfama neighborhood, decked out in colored tinsel and streamers in anticipation of that night’s St. Anthony’s day celebrations, she introduces herself and explains that the shirt is just something she inherited from her kids. However, she is, much like I am, a travel fiend, who has ventured to over a dozen countries in central Africa as a practicing Doctor Without Borders. She gives me endless health tips, and gives me a link to an affordable travel insurance website that provides evacuation coverage, should I get sick or injured while abroad. More than giving me these tips, she approaches my mom and convinces her to pay for it. Needless to say, the first hours reunited with my magnanimous parents are always the sweetest.
However, the tour is sweet for another reason too. We make a stop at a bakery for pasteis de nata, a popular Portuguese egg custard pastry which proves to be otherworldly when eaten fresh from the oven. The entire family is so enamored with the pastry, in fact, that when the tour ends we take an Uber to the most famous “Pasteis de Belem,” to score some of the pastries for breakfast the following morning at the shop where they were first created. While there, we stroll the seaside and for free we visit the stunning Parish of Santa Maria de Belem, where national heroes Vasco da Gama and Luís de Camões are interred.
In the evening we relax and swap tales with a bottle of Portuguese vinho verde, a slightly effervescent local wine made soon after the grapes are picked (thus “verde” translates not as literally “green,” but as “young”). We go to bed early as we are to trek to neighboring Spain the following morning. Like the wine, our adventure is still young, sweet, and we are bubbly with the anticipation of the Iberian adventure ahead of us.
Learn a Language with Vìtor: Answers
Eu sou um policial, coloque seu bloco de notas onde eu possa ver!
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.