Here in Portugal, the cuisine is very different from at home. They like their food very salty for instance. They love their meat, which makes it hard for my parents to eat in typical Portuguese restaurants (they're EVERYWHERE). As I said before, their food is so salty. Everything is. Their fish, meat, potatoes, and seafood are all quite salty.
So to do this blog post, I needed some information on the foods. We went to the nearest supermarket called Pingo Doce. Most of the pictures on this blogpost are from there.
Unlike America, the Portuguese have amazing cheeses! They have every kind that you can think of; hard, cured cheeses and fresh, creamy cheeses. Whereas in America, the most common cheese they have is that gross, almost artificial, processed cheese that you put on hamburgers. Personally, I don't like that cheese but, you do what you have to do.
A traditional thing that the I've seen the Portuguese do, is that they cure meat and just leave it hanging out in the open. In the old days, this was great for the winters when they could just take a slice off at any time, rather than eating it all a once. This was good so they did not have to go out and slaughter another animal.
One thing that I've noticed in Portugal is that they totally prefer pork and chicken over beef. The beef, if there is any, is very expensive. They have great chorizo sausages, but some are bad. I've tried 3 different kinds. The first was all black and purple - it was amazing. The second wasn't too good - it had weird chunks of salt in it. The third just was too chewy. The sausages that were the best for me were the ones in restaurants. The first three I cooked at home, so maybe I just cooked them wrong, but anyway, overall I think the Portuguese make great choriço (Portuguese).
The Portuguese adore their fish and seafood EVEN more, I think, than at home. Every restaurant that I've been to so far has at least one item of seafood on their menu. You don't normally see huge slabs of fish just laying around in the open. It's crazy and I'm starting to get sick of it, but I guess we can't change anything because Portugal is Portugal.
Fruits and Juices
The fruits here are your stereotypical tropical fruits. All supermarkets here have an orange juice press, which makes orange juice in front of your eyes in a small amount of time. The juices here are awesome. My favourite here is maracuja, which is passionfruit. The major juice company is Compal. They have a big selection. In every yard that we've stayed in so far, there is an orange tree, mostly for decoration, but Sol and I always pick and eat them.
Another thing that the Portuguese favor is wine and port over beer. 90% of their alcohol in stores is wine and port. When we go on our long bike rides and we're riding through fields, the fields are all vineyards. Port is the national specialty for alcohol. My dad always says, "I can't find any wine that comes from outside of Portugal", so he's okay with the Portuguese wines, but wants some more variety.
Bread and Pastries
This, I think is the biggest thing that I need to cover. Firstly, their average bread is way better than at home, with few exceptions (Matt and Doug). Over here, we have way more of a selection of bread than at an average supermarket in Canada or America.
Secondly, we have the pastries. By far, everyone who has ever been to Portugal will agree that Pastel de Natas (custard filled tarts) are the best food that Portugal produces. The Pastel de Natas are the national specialty. We've noticed that no matter how remote you are or how small the town is, they always have Pastel de Natas. The Portuguese have many unique pastries, but they also have the usual, like pain au chocolat and croissants.
Addendum: [this part written by guest writer, Tracy]. It must be mentioned something about coffee. Coffee here is of one variety only - a single shot of espresso, and always by an espresso machine of one sort or another. It is strong and about a swallow's worth. Brewed coffee is not available. Anywhere. The "Nespresso" (Nestle + espresso = Nespresso) has taken over the home option for making coffee - a small machine one puts in "pods", and with the push of a button, presto! A shot of espresso. Kiki and I, being admitted coffee snobs, are really really missing our coffee back home - good beans, freshly ground made on good machines. And drip coffee - I miss that. Or a French press. Canada's coffee options are awesome.
[Back to Lief] In conclusion, this is not some professional comparison of American and Portuguese, it's just how I, a 13 year old boy who just got to Portugal, perceives it. I think that I've covered the most basic Portuguese diet, and we talked a little bit about how this diet compares to the North American diet. I hope that you have enjoyed this. Tchau!
Post by Lief
Porto is a major stop on the Camino. Most people contemplating the Camino Portuguese actually complete this section, from Porto to Santiago - about 250kms. We felt we needed a big break, to wash our clothes and chill for a while. We are here for 11 nights. We had a huge day on the bike - 50km with some muddy fields we had to push through and even some time on the side of the train tracks. We've been deviating from the Camino lately to avoid singletrack, and route planning through RidewithGPS.com, generally nice, but sometimes, creates a route through creeks and rivers. In this case, we had about 400m on a train track. Clearly not cool. One train passed us. We were well off to the side, but still, he honked the horn madly for our being near the track. We found a trail eventually that paralleled the track for several kilometres. Happy happy. Compounding matters was Kiki's ear - Meniere's attack looming, so we had to make it to Porto, and pronto.
Getting into Porto from the south means crossing the Duoro River. The famous Ponte Luis bridge is the ticket, which got us downtown and tired. Kiki was cooked. When you're on the Camino, you need to get "carimbos" or stamps, of the places you have been. This is what you present in Santiago as proof that you've done the Camino. For Porto, the place to get that is the Sé do Porto (Porto Cathedral). So once we made it across the river, the next step was up the hill to the Sé. Lief and I made the trek, making it just as they were closing. Jubilation! (at least for one of us). "Robust" family discussions occurred.
Next up was the 8km journey *through* the city to get to our house rental (another booking.com find, awesome site). It was nearly dark, Kiki was cooked (might have mentioned that), the boys were toast. It was late rush hour. We didn't know the way... On to the Metro. More "robust" discussions. This required:
1. figuring out the Metro
2. getting tickets
3. getting through the station to the right platform
4. battling our loaded bikes onto nearly packed metro
5. biking the last 1.2km in the dark to the house, where Fernanda was waiting. Patiently.
We are fortunate to be on Parque do Cidade, a largish park in the western part of the city. Near the beach. Like every house, it is cold in the winter, with condensation on the stone walls and single paned windows. The sun is mostly shining. Life is relaxed. Kiki is nursing her ear, writing and meditating. I'm getting out for a few rides. Boys play soccer. The world turns.
February 13 - 16, 2020
We took a 3-night break from biking in Coimbra and were all needing it, finding great comfort in Pedro Ramos' very cool house in Santa Clara, across the water from downtown Coimbra. We were not only welcomed by Pedro himself, but also by the Holy Queen Isabel who stands right above the garden of Pedro's house, blessing us all.
The Holy Queen, together with the Holy Grail, is also featured on the Municipal Coat of Arms. Portugal is also down as the Land of the Grail (Port-u-Gal - Port Au Grail). In Tomar the Grail is thought to be connected to the Templars and some think it was hidden in one of the castle/churches of Portugal. In Coimbra, the Holy Grail of the Quest and the Serpent, symbol of wisdom, refer to the famous University.
This medieval city centered around, of all things, a university - the University of Coimbra, which sits atop the city like a crown.
One of the oldest universities in the world, it was inaugurated in 1290.
Prior to that, Coimbra was the seat of government for the first kings of Portugal, who fought and conquered the Moors in the early 1100s. Though such a long time ago, those battles are alive in the minds of every Portuguese. King Afonso Henriques is considered the first king of Portugal and ruled from the top of Coimbra along with those ruling after him. He's a national hero, a mix of George Washington and Obama...
Of little interest to the boys, Tracy booked a tour for the University, soaking in the ambience of 800 years of learning and yearning, fighting back ignorance of the dark ages. I think it's easy to take for granted what our universities have done for the quality of our lives. Coimbra, in its early days, had its own police force, as it was routinely attacked by zealots and those accusing it of consorting with devils and mingling in the dark arts. Kind of how universities are now under attack... A highlight is the Biblioteca Joanina, an ancient library with 60,000 books from 1400-1800 collected from all over Europe. The top floor is called the Noble Floor, off limits for photos and a jaw-dropping palace of books.
The Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra was created in the 18th century to complement the Natural History and Medicinal Studies. It didn't seem to be looked after as actively as likely once envisioned. We enjoyed our stroll around and practiced life drawing.
Sol appreciates the humongous 'Ficus Macrophylla', 'Meraceae' originally from Australia. The tree dropped a seed in front of our feet. We took it as a token of gratitude and encouragement to continue to look at what miracles can grow out of a single small seed!
Fado de Coimbra
Since it was Valentines Day, we negotiated a date with the boys and had a night of Fado at Fado ao Centro. Fado is a uniquely Portuguese music, sad and longing. Described as "saudade" in Portuguese. When sung in Coimbra, it can only be performed by current or former students of the University, wearing the traditional black robes of students. When walking the campus even today, you'll see students dressed in black robes.
Yesterday, we went up a hill to a garden. In the garden we drew a fountain. After that we went to a university but we didn't go inside. After that we went to a pizza restaurant and ate home made pasta. Then we went back to the university. After that we went to a church. After that we went down the hill and ate crepes. After that we did some screen time. The End.
Parent addendum: so, as the title implies, Mr Sol is not a fan of blogging. Yesterday's class involved art at this fantastic botanical garden on the way up the hill to the University of Coimbra. A whole other post will be coming on it. We all took a crack at drawing en plein aire, the central fountain in the park, and we all enjoyed it more than we expected.
At the time of posting, we've done 7 days on the bikes, and we're getting the groove. That might be a bit much to say. Maybe it's better to say the days are not as difficult as the first few. The Camino is primarily meant for walking pilgrims. Not bikers. We're learning that roughly half the Camino is not on asphalt. Gravel roads and often, tractor tracks, farmer's fields, and singletrack are common. And a lot of that is wet. And hilly. Pushing loaded bikes with slick tires is enough to frustrate the boys to the point of giving up. So dad helps. And mom helps. A lot. We reach over and ride with our hands on our boys' backs and make it up the hill. Together. It's beautiful. And exhausting.
Most of our days have been overcast, with only one with rain. And really, perfect temperatures. Around 13-15˚C. The first days, we had WAY too many breaks for pannier adjustments. On Tracy's bike, the 30l Ortlieb pannier (containing clothes) wobbled so much, that it often hit the spokes on the rear wheel. On day 2, a spoke broke. We limped into a bike shop to get it fixed. People are kind to peregrinos (pilgrims), so we waited while they dropped everything and fixed it on site. More pannier adjustments - a series of bungie straps, field tested, and we're all good to go.
Mostly, however, we are not adjusting our packing systems and pushing through mud. Sometimes, we are pushing, but it's usually up the steep hills. Some of our days have been big climb days. Our day from Tomar to Ansiao was a big one.
Most days have been stellar, with moments of pain and suffering, and joy and freedom. Sometimes within 5 mins of each other. Like life itself. We try to be philosophical with the boys, how biking can be a teacher, an allegory. Usually doesn't work. The good times are awesome, and the bad times suck.
This is why we ride.
We left Fátima with some sadness, such a majestic and rich city. We did quite a lot of school and I got out for a long ride [Strava linked], exploring the surrounding hills. Our plan was to head back to Tomar, to rejoin the Camino Santiago. We've heard a lot about Tomar and it's famous Convento de Cristo (Convent of Christ), the home of the Knights Templar in Portugal. We met a guide in Sintra who gave us a short history of the Templars, and told us a Tomar visit is a must.
History lesson time (courtesy of wikipedia and Dan Brown stories):
The Knights Templar were established in the 1100s to assist with the Crusades, to recapture the holy city of Jerusalem from rule of Muslim leaders. It was a thorn in the side of the Catholic church and really, all of Europe, to have the birthplace of Christianity under "heathen" rule. Beginning in the 1000s, there began a series of Crusades, led by the Church and various European kings. In 1099, the city was recaptured, but not securely. Pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem were robbed or killed, as the surrounding territories were still under Muslim rule. The Knight Templars were established to consolidate Christian holdings and safety in the holy lands of modern day Israel. The elite of the elite joined this religious order of warrior monks, and once Jerusalem was recaptured, they set up a headquarters in Jerusalem on the site of the destroyed Temple of Solomon (hence the name). Their prestige and organization grew quickly as they had mystique, power, the might of God on their side. Lots of people donated, and they were supported by kingdoms from all over Europe. They became rich setting up a kind of proto-banking system, buying land and establishing centres everywhere, including Portugal. Owing them too much money, the king of France, Philip IV, in the early 1300s took it upon himself to have the Pope declare them illegal (thus, erasing all debts, the nefarious king), accusing them of being devil worshippers, their leaders tortured and many killed. The Pope confiscated all their lands and holdings, and ordered all European kings to disband their Templars. All did so, except Portugal's king, brave Denis I. He simply had the Templars rename themselves the Order of Christ, and they continued on as Templars under the new name from their base in Tomar.
The Rotunda: a lot has been written about the Rotunda, the centre of the complex, with massive Roman columns. The structure was built over about 500 years, some of it recycled from earlier structures on site (like a Roman building) and elsewhere. The Rotunda is the central place of Templar ceremony, with paintings, carvings and strange patterns. Initiation rituals occurred here. Plans hatched of world domination.
When we first started planning this trip, a few years back, Lief and Sol were clear on what they wanted from the trip: watch European soccer stars and teams in European stadiums. Barcelona and Turin are musts on our itinerary. Tracy and I became excited when we explored the possibility of going on a 'pilgrimage'. Fatima was added to our list of places to visit.
Fatima is slightly off the main Camino trail that we are following from Lisbon to Santiago. Well, "slightly" is to be debated... The boys were not impressed with the 'slight' detour, which included a steep 630m climb on a rainy day to get to the heights of Fatima. It was our biggest climb yet, and don't forget everyone is loaded down with quite a bit of weight... But surprisingly the complaints were not too bad. These boys are tough bikers!
I enjoyed watching the vegetation change along the way; we cycled through many ancient olive groves and fragrant shrubs of rosemary.
We arrived in Fatima wet and tired, but Tracy and I went out for a wet walk in the dark and quickly discovered the Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima:
Mass was in procession, but Tracy boldly led both of us inside. We were welcomed by a bright but serene interior, filled with a charismatic Portuguese priest and a devout and hugging Catholic community singing, chanting and praying.
The ceremony was concluded with startling loud organ music that sounded more like house music than what one would expect in a church, but it definitely elevated our spirits.
The two days in Fatima, I spent exploring, learning, offering prayers and soaking up the bright light that is here. I do not have a Catholic background and am not familiar with the rituals but I am amazed that in a place that is so devoted to Mary - a place where Mary literally was crowned - that there are no priestesses leading the ceremonies.
The buildings and the stories of this place are definitely magical and hold a bright light. Fatima exists because of these stories. In 1917 three young children were herding sheep when they saw a bright light, which at first they thought was lightning. But then they saw next to a small oak tree "a lady that shone more than the sun". This Lady brought them many messages over the course of 7 visits, including the notion to pray the Rosary and to build a church in her honour.
The 2 kilometer path from Fatima to the old village where the children lived, takes one through the landscape where they herded their sheep. I must admit that I enjoyed this walk much better than the large cement field and most of the buildings and shrines that have been erected in front of the Basilica.
Walking through this landscape, I can imagine how deeply connected the children were to nature and how one can see the Divine Feminine in these beautiful trees and flowers.
As I quietly walk through this landscape, I well up with deep gratitude for this special time here. Our Lady of the Rose reveals her secrets through nature. No Cathedral or Shrine can capture the awe and respect I feel for the power and beauty of nature. That is my path to walk, that is where my devotion lies. Amen.
Post by Kiki
Camino de Santiago, you say? What the heck is that?
OK, for those readers who don't happen to be Catholic Pilgrims (that includes us, by the way), the Camino de Santiago is one of the most well known long walks to a holy city. Santiago de Compostelo is a city in northwest Spain that is reputed to hold the relics of Saint James, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus. There is an entire cathedral built the remains which were discovered about 800 years after James was thought to have ministered there... Then there arose a "cult" to honour and worship James, then the cathedral got built. Long story short, it has been, for more than 1000 years, an important journey to go pay one's respects to Saint James by walking to Santiago along one of the Caminos. There are 5... but maybe more. They have different names. It's not clear how many routes there are.
So being in Portugal, we've narrowed our Camino choices to one of the Portuguese routes. Well since, at the time of writing, we are in Santarém, we've chosen to be on the inland Camino Portuguese. It's all rather confusing, even more so, since our Camino Santiago overlaps with Camino Fatima, a walking route from Lisbon to Fatima, another holy city. Confused? Yes, us too.
Bike touring with the boys is quite the trip. Many solo and with-Kiki trips, it's been a dream to have the kids into a trip, and the Camino Santiago is a great trip to start with. Day 1 was 37km to Vila Franca de Xira, a city on the west bank of the Tejo River, upriver from Lisbon. Blue sky day, no wind, minimal complaining. At least until the mud. The Camino is mostly for walkers. It's been 10 days of solid rain, so trail + rain = deep mud in sections. Arrived at dark and had a late dinner in an authentic cafe with Benfica on the tele and the locals giving us sideglances and helping with translation. It was very sweet.
Day 2: more challenging. A rough night of sleep as the farm we stayed at had 9 dogs, 10 horses, two cages full of tropical birds, chickens and rooster(s) and geese. This was all quaint to see and fun for the kids, but after getting bit by one of their companion dogs and awakened by rooster(s) and two or three of their big dogs barking in the night, we were glad to get out of there. Destination was to Santarem, a city upstream on the river Tejo. 44km according to the guidebooks.
Santarém turned out to be 56km. Average speed 9.3kph. With the dirt track, mud, breaks, slower kids, innumerable bike and pannier adjustments, water, photo and scenery breaks, it was 6h on the bike total. We were spent, cranky, hungry, stunned. But Kiki had booked us a sweet 2 nights of recovery in another old house, courtesy of Booking.com. We found food at O Torgal, nearby. Food and drink and we felt human again.
Next day: SCHOOL!
Finally, after failing to see the Lisbon rivals - Benfica and Sporting - play each other earlier this month, we made a real effort to see a soccer game. Lisbon is big enough to have two full sized soccer stadiums: Estadio da Luz (home of Benfica) and Estadio Jose Alvalade (home of Sporting). Earlier this week, Lief and Tracy went into Lisbon to find tickets to Friday's game: Benfica vs Os Belenenses. These teams are part of the Portuguese national league: Liga Nos. The approach into the stadium was... busy.
Game day was miserable. Rainy and windy, with the rain a foggy mist hanging in the air, like being spritzed by a mister at all times. We kitted up with rain gear and off we went. The stadium was ringed with food stands, beer sellers, souvenir vendors and Benfica swag. Festive and electric atmosphere. Fortunately, our seats were covered by the half dome of the stadium, so we were able to stay out of the wet.
Interestingly, their mascot is a bald eagle, and the games begin with the eagle soaring over the stadium. It's quite surreal, since we're so used to eagles flying around their natural environment, which is not in a stadium, not in Lisbon, and not in Europe. We wonder if it's happy. Certainly it is very likely to be well fed and adored by a lot of Portuguese, probably more than any eagle on Haida Gwaii.
Next up was the game. The best part was the energy of the crowd, a sea of red scarfs and excited fans. From the first 5 minutes, there were back to back team songs being sung nearly constantly. Each Euro soccer team has its own pantheon of songs. The game actually began with the Benfica anthem. The song, we learn, is Ser Benfiquista, and a diehard fan is called a benfiquista. You can watch a stadium full of benfiquistas singing their song of devotion here. Our experience wasn't quite so dramatic (stadium was 2/3 full), since we didn't know what the heck was going on and the crowd size was a lot smaller. Thank you to iPhone voice memos.
The game was awesomely skillful. The boys were mesmerized. The final score was 3-2, for Benfica. The boys shot lots of video. Of course, we cheered for the home team, in part because we've never heard of Os Belenenses; in part because it would have been dangerous to cheer for the away team (seriously, we were told this). We found out the next day that it's actually another team from Lisbon! The least favourite of the teams from this city, the underdog. Poor Os Belenenses...
For those true soccer fans interested in seeing the highlights of the game, edited and presented in a far more interesting manner than we can, have a look at youtube's:
And then, there was the ride home. There's next to no parking around the stadium, so people here use the Metro and train. Tracy spent some time explaining the concept of a "pickpocket" to the boys. Innocence lost.