Revisiting: Portugal

map credit:

Where: Portugal (Lagos)

When: late October – early November, 2011

How (transport): One eternally long and nauseating bus ride to and from Seville, Spain to Lagos (5 hours) via Damas bus company.

Duration: Long weekend

Accommodations:– an inexpensive, basic hotel.

Language: Portuguese, although in the city of Lagos – English is the most common language.

Currency: Euro

Lagos Portugal

Sunday morning in Lagos

Tourist facts Not sure how we passed up the chance to stay at The Rising Cock hostel with it’s reputation as “best party hostel in the world,” but you live and learn. This beach town has a significant draw for backpackers and tourists, so it can be a mixed bag when you’re out at night. For the history buffs, the city walls surrounding the old quarter date back to the 16th century. In addition to several churches in town, most guidebooks point to the ‘Slave Market’ from the 15th century, where slaves brought back from the discovery voyages were sold.

Links I recommend during trip planning for their helpful hints on eating in Lagos for 5 euros or less.

My absolutes Eat a cataplana. Try Sagres beer. Find a native Portugese man/woman (just to prove they’re there). Befriend a surfing Kiwi. Walk around the old quarter for a good view of the city walls. Swim in the ocean, which frames the city to the south. People watch at the 400+ berth marina, where the fisherman are showing off.

Lagos Portugal marina

View to the Atlantic

What I saw Lagos is a much smaller town than I expected, and as a result, is very walkable. Truly beautiful architecture circles the old quarter with many whitewashed homes and windowsills full of flowers. As a destination, it is very tourist-based with a heavy influence of Kiwis, Aussies and Brits. If you’re there for the surf, you probably won’t mind so much. I suspect that during the high season, you may find prices rising to match. At the time we visited, we were 2 of maybe 6 people in our whole hotel.

What I did – In truth, I didn’t do this. Matt did this. But he loved it! Given the weather and the waves, we set up shop at Praia do Zavial.

surfing Lagos

Matt post surf

What I ate arguably the best meal of my life at Casinha do Petisco in Lagos. Chowing down with our new Kiwi friends we ordered four entrees and the table could barely hold the bounty. Fish, pork, the famous cataplana. With good wine and good company, I am hard pressed to beat this meal. This may also be due in part to the jolly chef who set things on fire for us, repeatedly.

A thumbs up to Don Toro, a steak house where we were surprised by a filling autumn meal (pumpkin soup, steak, potatoes). Although it ran up against my desire to eat local cuisine, it was exactly what we needed on a rainy night. Coincidentally, this was also one location where we were not harassed when reviewing the menu (one of my pet peeves).

portugese chef

Our fiery chef

If (when) I return I will return when the weather is a bit warmer, and THEN (and only then) will I attempt to surf.

Sorry I missed the sunshine! Not sorry I missed the crowds. 

Thanks to Annalise and Mark for brilliant company, lessons on cricket and lots of accented English comparisons. We can’t wait to visit you in Auckland! Toby and David for giving us (ok, just Matt) a hell of a surf experience. Additional kudos to David for sending us into a back alley for an epic meal we would never have found otherwise.

friends in Lagos

New friends

If you want to read the original post:

How to Travel Without Traveling

Good books in small doses. Spectacular foods in small plates.

Places have tastes.

Whether you’ve already been, you’re planning to go, or may never make it: it’s more than possible to travel, or revisit a place, without moving your feet. My former boss (a Spaniard) once confessed she’d been carrying a packet of cinnamon gum for more than a year. If she closed her eyes she could picture herself back in a high school in California where she first discovered it.

Quelle surprise! The education abroad professional is telling you NOT to travel? Ah non. I’m offering an alternative. For frequent travelers, it’s a way to sustain your most favorite experiences. For the homebody, it’s an affordable way to explore. Let’s be honest, it may increase your odds of traveling,  or at the very least, add to your knowledge.

Case in point: A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle. As a book nerd, I typically sprint through a book. Those Harry Potter tomes and Game of Thrones stories are a thousand pages, and (if it’s interesting) all I need is a weekend. I’ve always been a quick reader, and with hundreds of new books to devour, why slow down? Well Monsieur Mayle has succeeded in making me put on the brakes. So, too, has my wicked work schedule, but we’ll give 75% of the credit to M. Mayle.

Through Bookmooch, I received a dogeared and coffee stained copy of the 1989 travel book about France. You’re thinking: Que pasa? She loves Spain, not France. Pas de problem, mes amisI love travel.

This book hunkered down on my shelves between Hemingway and Chris Stewart, lingering there in it’s vintage cover waiting to capture my attention. Say what you want about the fanciful minds of the literati, but every book has it’s time. So here in harvest season, I’ve landed on a book that is more than ten years old and a mere 200 pages.

I am enamored. In the hands of a good author, anything is possible. You’re happy, you’re sad, you’re invested in the characters. The timing is perfect, as I had just returned to the cornfields from a brief jaunt to my hometown and was mildly crushed by the experience. Flipping through the first few pages of A Year in Provence, I was reminded of my other home in Seville, Spain. As always, memory neglects the unsavory and unhappy  and assaults the traveler with everything beautiful. Remember the guy at the market where you bought your produce? The cafe where you drenched your tostada in oil. The pasteleria with the unmistakable chocolate con churros. And so on, and so forth.

Books do that. I’m rationing this book, and all of its reminders of life in Europe, like a really good bar of chocolate. The author mentions young white wine and I’m in the cellar of a bodega listening to Sr. Andrade explain the life of a grape. Then I buy white wine and have a glass with the next chapter. Mayle and his wife discover a small town restaurant – a well kept secret and a culinary explosion. I am in a back alley in Athens with the taste of feta on my tongue and my eyes closed in delight. The next day I find myself at the market with a basket full of kalamata olives and feta cheese. Anything to recreate the moment.

greek salad

Currently, I’m hibernating in the book’s November chapter; pages awash in the story of olive oil – shiny, unmarked liters of cold press traveling home in the couple’s car. “Before dinner that night, we tested it, dripping it onto slices of bread that had been rubbed with the flesh of tomatoes. It was like eating sunshine.”

I’m off to buy some olive oil.

Viva Los Novios [The Story of a Spanish Wedding]

I have to laugh when my iTouch auto-corrects “boda” (Spanish for “wedding”) to “bodacious” (80’s American for “awesome”) .. my various bits of technology cannot keep up with my code-switching.

This wedding was an adventure from the get go. Three important facts to start: 1) not my wedding; 2) not in the country in which I currently reside; 3) invitation received via Facebook on April 26 for wedding June 16 (yes, same year).

So what do you do when your host sister says “I really want you here to share my day.. in 6 weeks?” You buy a plane ticket, of course. Forget the fact that it’s summer, high-season, hot, wildly expensive and on very short notice. Buy the plane ticket! And that’s what I did.

It was to be my first Spanish wedding, and after all the hype I’d seen surrounding other events like this one en la patria (see: Fatima’s First Communion), I started asking questions. Luckily, I have several friends who a) are dating Spaniards, b) are married to Spaniards, c) have attended Spanish weddings. Everything from some of the most basic advice on what to wear (evening wedding long dress no hairpiece); on what to give (pay for your plate); on what to expect (at least 8 hours of your time).

In what can only be defined as Typical Spanish – I did not actually have confirmation of wedding details until the night before. You know, when I met up with the bride for a beer and some tapas. The night before. Before her wedding. It is a true testament to the Spanish that they can maintain the “no pasa nada” attitude in all things, at all times. This must have brushed off on me over the years because I booked a ticket and boarded a plane without these precious details. Americana / Andaluza, ya sabes.

During my whirlwind weekend, here are some of the differences I noticed between American & Spanish weddings:

* no rehearsal dinner – as evidenced by the bride’s availability within 24 hours of her walking down the aisle.
* old, new, borrowed & blue – also holds true in Spain. This discovery after a panicked conversation with the bride the night before.
* Catholic mass, yes. Wrote their own vows. Dad walked her down the aisle (looking super guapo in his tux, I think).

walking down the aisle

walking down the aisle

* conspicuously absent: “you may now kiss the bride” – in fact he kissed her on the cheek when she arrived.
* also missing: “I now pronounce you man & wife” – family photos commenced almost immediately afterward, leaving the Americans in the audience waiting for the return walk down the aisle that never happened.


family photo

* no bridal party – bride’s choice. As Kaley recently lamented, this also eliminates the need for choosing a color and coordinating all of your decorations.
* exchange of coins, and rings – coins are a nice touch; “I will love you even if we go broke in this economy.” It should also be noted that the ring goes on the right hand in Spain – a point of contention for many Americanas.


with this ring

* no father / daughter dance – which is a shame because Juan would have been a hit on the dance floor.
* no tapping of the glasses to get the couple to smooch – instead some yells: viva los novios! and the response is: viva! Yes, this is a mixture of “long live the Queen” and “go team” which is pretty appropriate for matrimony.
* gifts to guests – handed out, instead of favors on the tables (olive oil for the men, fans for the women).


ideal favor in 100 degree heat

* four hour meal, several courses – LONG dinner.
* cut the cake with a sword (!) – I’m told this is seriously old school, but it happened.


sword cutting the cake

* no garter toss – bouquet did go, to a particularly aggressive friend in the front.
* pictures of tables – similar to theme park photos, smile pretty and buy this from us later! Which is why we’re taking a photo of the photo.

photo of photo

photo of photo

* videographer – and I don’t mean, let’s get this documented for future generations. I mean, let’s get this on the 5 o’clock news. For reference, see the cake-cutting photo.
* package deal – most weddings I’ve been to involve the church bit and the reception bit, it’s not so much a pick and choose. Well at the church there were approximately 50 people. At the reception there were 200, and that’s what we call priorities.
* rose petals & rice – the tradition of throwing things at the happy couple continues.

Total time clocked at the wedding? About 12 hours. I walked home (in flats) at the end of the night, or the beginning of the following day, at 5 a.m. Anything in the name of love, right?


Americanas & family

Volver: To Return, to Go Back

[Friday, June 15]: Catching up on posts from last week!

Tienes hermanos, Kelly? Yo no. Soy la unica. Eres hija unica?!
Do you have brothers or sisters? Nope, I’m an only child. The only child??

Regardless of the language being spoken, after my admission of a solo childhood, there usually follows an expression of surprise. Some people ask if I enjoyed my only childhood, did I wish I had siblings. I usually tell the story that my parents told me: when I was 2 and people starting pestering me about my sibling status (“are you ready for a baby brother?”), I shook my head definitively and declared, “No, I’m quite enough.” Sometimes I crack a joke about not being able to blame the dog for any household wrongdoing, or refer to my common practice of borrowing other people’s siblings.

For those that know me, my parents and I are quite close. My friends also think of my parents as an extension of me; likewise, my parents adopt my friends. There are emails, letters, gifts, hospitality. What a compliment to have these two people that accept everyone I love, and automatically love them, too.

When I went abroad for the first time – age 20, hija unica – it was terrifying for my parents. They were pretty good about hiding it under a veil of excitement, only confessing to me upon my return that it was deeply and profoundly scary. Their only daughter spending six months overseas in a place they didn’t know, a language I kind of knew… I can understand the anxiety. But one small comfort, a silver lining – there would be a family.

Six months later, I would be sobbing hysterically in my Spanish apartment, clinging to my señora, torn between going home and leaving a place that had also become home. The cab driver telling me I would come back, “they always come back.”

Family 2010

Juan, Josefina, Kelly, Esther, Juani: 2010

Six years later, I prove him right, returning to the same apartment, visiting during my year teaching English abroad. As if no time had passed at all, the family sits down for lunch together and the sound of Castellano bounces around the room, bouyant, full of the joy of return. With every mouthful of paella, I am grinning, telling stories and recounting the last few years.

Eight years later, I will direct my taxi driver to the same apartment. I recall a train ride in from Sevilla two years earlier. Americans, gathering like they do, exchanging plans and stories. A girl several years younger than I, referring to her semester in Granada a few years back. I ask immediately about her living situation, and she mentions that she stayed with a host family. I ask where she lived, and she shakes her head – she can’t remember – and she returns the question. Startled, I repeat my host family’s address and explain the general direction. She shrugs and nods. This is my first true recognition that not all host family experiences are created equal.

Josefina Esther

Josefina & Esther: 2004

For me, a señora who loved to cook. Who always had “her face” on, who made me special meals when I was sick. She let me cook in her kitchen, and she comforted me when my grandmother died. Host to more than two decades of American girls, a most generous soul. A father, who worked hard on the family property and loved jokes and sweets. Extraordinarily shorter than his American daughter, and equally proud to escort me to the plaza on my first day in town. Two siblings already moving on with their lives: a handsome older son working in Madrid, a kind woman with a five year old princess who let me plan an Easter egg hunt for her.

Most notably, a sister. Gorgeous, model thin, incredibly Spanish. She quizzed me about my days at university, shuffled around in silly slippers, taught me Sevillanas (kind of) in the marble hallway. Inquired about boys, America and my future plans. Entertained my friends, praised the cultivation of an Andaluza accent and baked a birthday cake for my roommate. Quick to laugh, an expert at an American-Spanish accent and so animated, so Granadina.

And so tomorrow, a wedding. Her wedding. Tradition, fun, finery and .. family. A triumphant return to a beautiful city that I think about all the time. A seat at the table with a family not my own, a series of American sisters celebrating a sister not mine, or theirs. Olé.

The thing about Places

“Places all have their own characters,
and returning to a city where you have lived before
is like coming home to an old friend.

Chocolat, Joanne Harris –

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Granada & Sevilla, Spain / June 2012