I have always been fascinated by family history. No matter who you are-whether you know it or not- you have a family history, too. I am one of the lucky ones, who grew up knowing so much about my family and where we are from. Portuguese culture is such a big part of my family.
Fun fact! My father is the first natural-born US citizen in his family. He was born in Connecticut and raised in Belem, Brazil. (Being born in the US automatically made him a US citizen). My grandparents are from a small beachside town in Portugal called Murtosa. I always identify myself as being Portuguese-American, but our family has deep roots in Brazil, too. (Brazil has a few of my favorite travel spots.)
2017 proved to be my most trying year as it held some memorable highs- and lows. So, in August, my parents decided to invite me along on their Portugal trip. Shockingly, I had never been to Portugal before despite making several other Europe trips in the past. (Literally, the only person in my entire extended family who had never been.) I jumped at the opportunity to spend some extra time with my parents.
Before traveling to Portugal, it’s important to note that the Algarve is the popular, beach and tourist destination. While it is beautiful, it gets very crowded in the summer and can be rather expensive. For these reasons, we stayed out of the Algarve during our trip.
My Portuguese skills are bare minimum, so it was very helpful to have my father along to help combat the language barrier. That being said, most people, even in small towns, speak English. Portugal is extremely safe although you should be mindful of pickpockets and gypsies. Portuguese people are friendly and love to share knowledge about their culture. Don’t be afraid to ask! That being said, it is a little known fact that elderly Portuguese women are the original inventors of RBF. (I’m totally kidding, please don’t be offended) I will say, don’t be surprised if elderly women do not return a friendly smile or greeting. It’s cultural. It can hard to get a smile out of my own Vovo at times.
I loved seeing the church where my grandparents got married. My family still has a house in Murtosa. I remember seeing home movies during my childhood where my Vovo was tending to her chicken in the yard. By “tending to”, I mean prepping them for dinner. It was special to be there. The woman in the bakery nearly fell over in excitement when my dad walked through the door. The beaches in Aveiro are beautiful. Although, the under-current makes it impossible to swim.
We took a direct flight from Newark, NJ to Lisbon and arrived early in the morning. We stayed at the Porto Bay Marques. Porto Bay has several popular hotels throughout Portugal and Brazil. The hotel was new, clean, and the staff was so friendly. The hotel is in Marques de Pombal Square and a few blocks from the city’s main strip- Avenia de Liberdade. One night we ate at Ribadouro. They serve authentic Portuguese food, and we really enjoyed our prawns while sipping on Vinho Verde. We spent the next day or so exploring Lisbon. We attempted to a hop-on-hop-off tour, but it ended up being more of a ‘hop-off’ tour. We were never able to get back on the bus, because it was so crowded. I would strongly advise against doing this and suggest exploring on your own. Lisbon is very safe, but you do have to watch out for pick-pockets as they are prevalent around the city. One highlight in Lisbon was seeing Amalia’s house. Amalia was a famous fado singer, and I remember hearing her music as a kid. We also visited Pasteis de Belem, a famous bakery in Lisbon. These custard-like pastries are incredibly amazing, and you can find them in any Portuguese bakery in the US. (But they are nowhere near as yummy as the real ones)
I’m Catholic. Fatima was a place I had heard about since childhood. It has deep spiritual and religious significance to my family. That being said, it is a site to see regardless of your beliefs. The abbreviated story goes like this: in 1917, three young Portuguese children encountered the Virgin Mary while on their way home from tending to their sheep. People visit Fatima today and walk on their knees. This ritual is said to cure ailments. You can also light candles in honor of anyone who is sick. You can wash your hands in the holy water fountain and take holy water home with you. I actually went to confession while in Fatima. This completely shocked my parents, but it was special to receive a sacrament in such a special place. (After I finished giving my confession, the priest asked, “Is there anything else?” My response, “Why, what do you know?” Thankfully he understood my humor and did not mistake it for sacrilege.) While the village of Fatima has about a million Jesus and Virgin Mary candles and figurines, there are also tons of cute bistros and places to eat. I also found one of my favorite pairs of platform sandals in Fatima.
We stayed at Hotel Pestana in Sintra. It was about a 15 minute Uber ride from the old village of Sintra. It was a nice, relaxing place to be. The pool is great and the golf course looked beautiful, too. There are tons of great restaurants to eat at while in Sintra. Our favorite spot was Resturant Cafe Paris. We sat outside, and the food was delicious. After dinner, the waiter even called an Uber for us.
Porto and The Douro Valley
We spent some time up in Porto. I could go on for hours about the amazing places to eat and stay while in Porto. My favorite activity of the entire trip was our Douro Valley Wine Tour. There are tons of companies who offer these tours. We had such a nice day sipping wine and taking in the sites.
Anyone who is traveling to Portugal and would like more specific recommendations, please feel free to send an email to TwentyFivePlusFive@gmail.com or comment below.