Portugal: An alphabetical roundup.

A while ago I wrote a post entitled A is for Apple. I liked the title immensely, and had grand plans for a whole thread of observations and hilarious anecdotes based on the alphabet (seriously, there would be nothing more satisfying than finishing with Z is for Zelenka). Imagine my shock when my life didn’t progress according to the alphabetical sequence! After contemplating inane and mediocre posts like C is for cold and M is for music, I reluctantly abandoned the idea of an alphabet thread.

Until now.

Ok, I know one post is just that, a post not a thread, but whatever. Don’t shoot me down here people!

I just came back from three weeks in Portugal (yes, life is hard) and my time there was so full of beautiful, fun and interesting things that I was quite perplexed as to how to go about chronicling my adventures. There is no chance in hell I would have the patience to write a day by day journal, and even less of a chance in hell that anyone would find 21 days of my holidays interesting. There are only so many times you can read “And then I ate cake” without getting bored.

I was making a list of all the most important aspects of my holiday when a magical, rainbow coloured, unicorn riding coincidence became apparent to me. I had things corresponding to every letter of the alphabet! Now, considering that this blog is Double Dutch Courage, not Double Portuguese Courage (whatever that would be), I’m condensing this into one post, rather than 26 separate ones about Portugal. Because that might be a bit of an overkill.

So without further ado, I hereby present:

B’s Helpful Guide to Portugal: from A to Z

A is for Agapanthus.

These were absolutely everywhere throughout Portugal. Just like Australians. In Lisbon, 95% of people I heard speaking English were Australian. The population must be fleeing Tony Abbott.

B is for Bacalhau

Or codfish, to the rest of us. Pretty much a national staple, and can be prepared in a staggering number of variations. But each one leaves me humming “Hook is a codfish, a codfish, a codfish” under my breath. Thank you Disney.

C is for Cake

Obviously. But in particularly, chocolate mousse cake known as “cake that bites you”. Having looked through my holiday photos, I’d say it bit me in the bum, thighs and stomach. C is also for castles, churches, Catholicism and chess, which I taught Tiger to play.

D is for Dotty cookies

Speaking of Tiger, the boy had a birthday while I was there, and knowing how much he loved the dotty cookie I brought back from Australia in May, I had my mother send over a whole bunch of them. Because dotty cookies = happiness.

E is for Eating

Which was largely my main activity for the last three weeks. The best thing about Portugal is that nobody judges you.

F is for Food

Apparently the Portuguese have three Fs: fado, football and Fátima. I didn’t get to see any live fado, I prefer to pretend football doesn’t exist, and I found Fátima disturbing and exploitative, so I’ll focus on another F. Food, food, glorious food. It was fantastic. From home-cooked meals (thank you!) and corner restaurants, to tiny bars and crazy cafés run by old grandmas and their drug addict dishwashers, every meal was brilliant.

G is for Ginjinha

Sour cherry liqueur that is strong and delicious. My first taste was in Mouraria in Lisbon, from a bar where Severa used to sing fado. My second was in Óbidos, where it is served in chocolate cups. My third was in Maderia, part of the home-made section of the extremely well-stocked bar kept by the Slashie.

H is for Hospitality

I was taken in by wonderful families of my friends, who showed me every kindness, and so often cooked exceptional meals to show me particular dishes or ingredients. They didn’t begrudge me monopolising weeks of their precious time with their children who now live abroad. My friends went out of their way to show me around, spending a lot of time driving and a lot of money eating out and being touristy in their home country. Obrigadissima!

I is for Illegal Chinese

No, not immigrants. Rather a restaurant in Mouraria that is just run out of a family’s house, has a menu that incomprehensible, food that is delicious, and prices that put even the most poverty-stricken university student at ease.

J is for Jardim da Paz

Otherwise known as Buddha’s Eden, the largest oriental garden in Europe. Many statues of Buddha, many clay soldiers, many cute fish in the lakes.

K is for Kissing

Two pecks on the cheek is the standard way to greet someone, whether you’re seeing them for the first time that day or whether you’ve just been introduced. I should be used to this now, but meeting lots of new people at once in a foreign country kind of put me into panic mode, and I awkwardly bumbled around for at least the first week. Deep down, it’s still ingrained that kissing people in greeting is for pretentious twats and frenemies.

L is for Language

As an honorary member of the Portuguese Mafia, I hear a lot of Portuguese on a daily basis, probably as much as Dutch, and on some days more. When I’m paying a lot of attention and the conversation is simple and slow, I can get the gist of what’s going on. I have an excellent accent strangely enough, and my vocabulary has gone beyond swear words to include the words for pumpkin, cake, sausage, beer and the sentences “Don’t speak with your mouth full” and “I ate ice cream at the beach”.  All of which is apparently very amusing.

M is for Madeira

The island, not the wine. Though the wine does come from the island, yes. A beautiful place with every kind of climate and landscape known to man crammed in somewhere. Tradition is very much alive on the island, in some places in a more touristy form than others, but the distinct aspects of Madeiran culture are often proudly on display. I went swimming in the ocean here, first the first time ever outside of Australia, as I was told the water was warm. It was not warm, and the rocky beaches made escape humiliating and difficult. Clearly these people drink too much poncha.

N is for Nazaré

One of the most beautiful beaches I have seen. The golden sand, turquoise sea and lush hills behind make for a stunning view from the cliff. If only the water was warm enough for an Australian to go swimming.

O is for Óbidos.

This is an incredibly quaint town, with a large portion of buildings within the walls of the medieval castle. The castle itself is a hotel now, but you can still walk along the tops of the walls, and pretend you are queen of all you survey. The shops all seem to be dedicated to either selling the local speciality ginjinha, standard Portuguese souvenirs or medieval memorabilia. There is something about Óbidos that simply sparkles with charm. The town holds annual Christmas and medieval festivals plus – wait for it – a three week long chocolate festival!

P is for Pasteis de Nata

You might know these as Portuguese tarts. But believe me, until you have tried a pastel de Belém, you have no idea of the potential of the humble custard tart. I took a bunch of these as a household offering to meet Tiger’s parents, both as a peace-offering and to ensure I had supplies for emotional eating in case they hated me. P could also stand for Porto, a city that seems to be a strange juxtaposition of fairy tale and underworld. It is here that they create the magical elixir known as port wine.

Q is for Quiosque

Which is about the cutest spelling of kiosk that I have ever seen. This seems to happen a lot in Portuguese, they adopt a foreign word but naturalise the spelling. For instance “tchau’ instead of “ciao”. Mamma mia!

R is for Road Trippin’

Road trips on the mainland: Leiria; Óbidos; Peniche; Coimbra; Fátima; Batalha; Nazaré; Tomar; Aveiro and Porto. Road trips in Madeira: basically over the entire island. I enjoyed very much having friends with cars and the ability to drive on the wrong side of the road. Incidentally, Road Trippin’ is one of my favourite songs by the Chilli Peppers.

S is for Sunburn

Oh how I wish S could stand for something else! But on a mild cloudy day in Porto I forgot my sunscreen and ended up with one of the worst sunburns I have had in years. For I am pale. I am paler than pale. On the beach I reflect light like a mirror ball. And I so I spent five days walking around looking like a pomegranate. Tiger’s comment? “At least you have a colour now.”

T is for Tour Guides

La Chatte, Wren, Tiger, the Trailblazer and the Slashie. Better than any Contiki guide could ever be, as they accommodated my dislike for mornings and need for regular café breaks. Plus, they’re awesome.

U is for UHT Milk

It turns out this is the normal form of milk in Portugal. There are crates of the stuff all over the supermarket, yet the fresh milk section has about three options in total. Weird…

V is for Vinho

I have to admit, I didn’t drink a huge amount of wine while I was on holiday. But I saw a huge amount of wine. In Porto we went on a tour of a wine cellar and functioning lodge where there were vats of ruby port so big you could swim in them and hundreds upon hundreds of barrels of tawny port. The wine tasting made me very sad that the barrels were too big to be stolen inconspicuously.

W is for Weight Gain

See letters E and F.

X is for Xenon

The Wasp pulled this on me in a game of Words with Friends, and I insisted it wasn’t a thing. She kindly filled in the gap in my periodic table, with Tiger proceeding to point out every xenon light we crossed, just to further my education.

Y is for Yoghurt

So much yoghurt. There were entire chilled supermarket aisles dedicated to every type and flavour of yoghurt imaginable. Y is also for You-could-probably-party-really-hard-in-Portugal, but my nights never seemed to go beyond lazy drinks and mild bar-hopping, so I can’t really provide any insight to the hardcore nightlife.

Z is for Zangada

Which means angry or upset. Which is exactly what I’m going to be if I don’t figure out how to make Camel Drool at home in the next few days.

 

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