Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hey There Stranger! Highlights From The Last 4 Months!

The American in Portugal has been busy and tied up with things in the past 4 months, but now that things are starting to smooth out again, she has ventured back to try again!

It's not that I haven't had anything to talk about, life goes on here as usual and thankfully every day gets better as my surroundings become more familiar and more at home for me. And that's what it's got to be for me since I am still "stuck" here for almost 2 years now and continue to wait for the residency approval that will allow me to leave the country without penalty to go back HOME to visit family and friends and FINALLY allow me to go tour some of these other lovely European countries around me!

Since it's been so long then, I thought I would give some little snippets of the most interesting things that have been going on for me here:

Evora and Some Interesting College Traditions:
I took my first visit to the town of Evora back in June for a graduation dinner of a friend of my boyfriend's. Evora is right smack in the middle of the country-like Alentejo and in June of course it's already SWELTERING HOTTTTT. I didn't stop sweating from the time I got out of the car there until nightfall. Fortunately though this beautiful old town's sights and monuments made it more bearable to walk around and explore and then dinner was thankfully in a well-air conditioned restaurant. The dinner was definitely the highlight of my visit, it was a full, 4 course traditional Alentejo meal complete with tons of appetizer plates to start off with which included pickled pigs ears mmmmm hahaha :p And of course there was plenty of good, STRONG Alentejo wine to go around, which can put you to bed quite quickly if you know what I mean ;) We were entertained during the meal by the college graduates themselves, who also happened to be in the school's tuna so there was lots of music and singing and chanting, with the most amazing musician and singer being a blind graduate! All college students have a traditional student's uniform (same as the Tuna uniform, see past article) that they dress in for important ceremonies like graduation and this particular Evora college went even further with some interesting looking "staffs" that students carry around that are hung with tons of little "congrats" ribbons given by friends and family. But the oddest tradition that this college has is the late-night ceremony after everyone has dined where they gather in the school's plaza where there is a wading pool set up in the middle and each graduate is ceremonially carried by his family and friends up to the pool and thrown in! Once all the graduates from each major had been dunked, they huddle together in a circle and do this primitive-like chanting and dance. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before! Glad that wasn't my school's tradition haha :D

Caramulo Vacation:

In July, my boyfriend and I took a 3 day trip up to the Caramulo mountains, about a 3hr drive north of Lisbon and an hour off the coast. We stayed at the only real hotel up on the mountain in the actual town of Caramulo, called Hotel do Caramulo which is a 4 star hotel and spa with the most SPECTACULAR VIEWS of from the mountain overlooking the valley. Knowing this, we reserved a suite which had a balcony overlooking the valley and I must say, I could have spent my whole time out there just enjoying the view :) There's not much in the town or surrounding towns but it's a great area just to drive around and admire the beautiful views and tiny picturesque villages. But if you drive a little further, you can check out the city if Viseu, which was nice. The crisp mountain air is also the best, the place actually used to be the center for pulmonary lung disease treatment so you know that's some good air. By far, it was the most relaxing vacation I've had :)

Clams in Alcochete:

We frequented the little town of Alcochete this past summer as it is right across the river from Lisbon (on the side where the Vasco Da Gama bridge is) and is known to most people as where the huge outlet mall is located. We decided to explore the actual town one day and liked the cuteness of its old part and nice views of the river which has made us return a couple more times.
But the best discovery in this town was a cafe we went to in one of their squares that had THE BEST clams you could get for your money. Yes, 12 euros is a bit expensive for a plate of clams but these were completely worth it at they were drenched in fresh garlic, butter, lemon and parsely, with fresh bread to mop it all up after! They were so good, we had to order another plate of them :p And now, we'll definitely have a reason to come back to Alcochete!

Day Trips to Nazaré and Tomar:
Sundays are usually our only complete FREE days here right now, so to quench our adventurous spirits, we've been picking a new place on the map to drive to for the day where we have lunch, walk around exploring the area and see what interesting things we can find! So far, we've been to the beautiful coastal town of Nazaré, about a 1.5hr drive north up the coast where they have the COOLEST funicular I have found that goes straight up the mountain there! And of course the view at the top is incredible :) We also went to Tomar, a 1.5hr drive northeast; it's a World Heritage site as it was the home of the Templar Knights.
The old part of the town is a bit small but just got up the hill to visit the Convento do Cristo and we easily spent 2 hours in there exploring this huge Templar monastery with some fascinating tilework and art.

We finally decided now was the time to organize a BBQ that we had all been saying we wanted to do. So last weekend, 10 of us gathered at Parque de Campismo Fort do Cavalo, just up the hill from the town of Sesimbra where we found a grill with built-in picnic tables to party on :) We grilled homemade burgers by me, some chicken, small, Portuguese sausage called linguiça, the fatty pork parts called entremeadas and febras as well as some fresh sardinhas brought from the docks down below mmmmmmmmm :)
At the end, I introduced all our Portuguese friends to the American campfire treat of s'mores! Yea, can you believe that most Portuguese have never tried or even heard of marshmallows, let alone s'mores?? So I demonstrated how to roast the marshmallows perfectly then put the s'more together and they loved it! I think everyone had at least 4-5 s'mores on their own :D It was a "once in a lifetime" opportunity for them, as you can't find marshmallows or graham crackers in any supermarket here! Thanks to my mother, I had had them shipped to me ahead of time :)

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