We loved Portugal so much that I want to write down every last detail that I can remember. But it is time to move on. So I’ll end with two of the best things about Portugal.
One comes with pictures. The memory of the lovely cakes that we had with coffee or tea will stay with us for a long time. Right from my first experience with queque while waiting for The Family to arrive at the Lisbon airport, on to the ubiquitous custard filled Pasteis da Nata, toasted almond cruezeiro in Coimbra, coconut in the Pao Deus or the Bolo-Rei in Porto, the Travesseiro with its egg and almond filling in A Piriquita in Sintra (photo alongside), to the interesting looking Coelhino back in Lisbon (featured image), the cakes and breads were amazing. This was a discovery, because nothing we read prepared us for this.
Nor were we prepared for the amazingly open Portuguese society. We travel because we enjoy the company of strangers, and like to learn how they live their lives. In every country we come across unexpected warmth and openness from strangers, but sadly, occasional suspicion or even hostility. Portugal is different. There was not a single interaction where we felt unwelcome. The warmth was not only towards tourists. We were also pleasantly surprised by the acceptance of new immigrants. In a world that seems to be slowly turning xenophobic, contemporary Portugal reaffirmed for us what humanity can be.
Every day at tea time we learn a little more about Portugal. It started with queque, little muffins which are lovely to have with tea. I’m sure Proust would have approved. Then we discovered the Pasteis de Nata. These little custard tarts were so good that it took us a couple of days to move on. Even after that, we got a little hung up on various queijadas, which are filled tarts. The Pasteis de Nata are just one example. We had one filled with passion fruit, another with apricots and topped with roasted almonds.
But yesterday at tea time we discovered a wonderful bread with a sweet coconut topping which is called, very poetically, Pao Deus. The web is full of recipe after recipe for this wonderful tea-time delicacy.
It seems to me that if I were to be in Portugal for another two weeks I would be able to walk into a pastelaria and order a snack without having to point at things.
Arriving in Lisbon airport I was immediately struck by the laid-back atmosphere. I’d passed through Mumbai and Munich in the sixteen hours before arriving. Although Lisbon was much smaller than either, there was a cafe near the belt where you could wait until your baggage arrived. Mine came very soon.
The Family was to catapult in within an hour. Why we’d taken different flights is a tale full of sound and fury which I might post about later. I wheeled my bag over to the airport station and got two Viva Viagem cards out of a machine. These rechargeable cards cost you a non-refundable 50 cents, and you can use it on all transport in the city, including the train to Sintra.
It was still forty minutes till The Family’s flight touched down. There was a cafe right outside the customs exit. Lisbon in full of these convenient laid-back options. I got myself an espresso and a queque, billed as a Portuguese muffin, found a comfortable chair, and settled in for a wait. The photo of the cafe in the foreground, and the exit gate in the back ground, which you see above, was the view from my table.
My host had warned me to take a taxi from the departure level since there’s a good chance that the arrival level taxis will try to cheat you. When the family arrived we asked the tourism office about taxis. They said that it might take about 12 Euros to our hotel and a prepaid taxi costs about 24 Euros! we took the bags up to the departure level and got into the first taxi which we saw. It is a short ride to town: about 15 minutes on Sunday afternoon. It cost us less than 10 Euros.