Portugal: Dreaming of Vacation
Because I’d visited Barcelona before, I decided to leave the city as soon as my official visit with Massó was over and move on to my next destination and spend the weekend there: Porto. I’d never been in Porto before, but I visited Lisbon about two years back and fell in love with the city. So I figured that Porto must have some of that Portuguese magic as well. My conclusion after two days in Porto, a brief stop in Coimbra, and three days in Lisbon: Portugal is way too nice a country to be traveling here for work—if you ever come here (and you should), try to come for a vacation.
Porto: Keeping it Real
Porto’s limelight is often stolen by Portugal’s capital Lisbon, which has become a very popular destination for vacations and weekend getaways alike. However, Porto has been named Best European Destination in 2012, 2014, and 2017 and is attracting more and more tourists. While I was there, I probably heard more German than Portuguese, which I found a little irritating … after all, I don’t go abroad to be surrounded by my fellow countrymen and women. I suspect, though, that all of Europe was flooded that weekend with Germans who combined Ascension Day with the weekend to spend four days away from home.
Still, Porto feels like it still very much belongs the locals—unpolished, real. Old streets, houses, and streetcars, for example, look like they’re genuinely old rather than Disneyland reconstructions of old. You’ll find tourists gathered at the main attractions, but if you go just one block further, most of the time you’ll only find locals. You can walk for hours through little streets where the locals go about their daily lives.
Coimbra: Treasures from the Past
For a seminar that our Portuguese distributor MT Brandão was to hold in Lisbon on Tuesday, Susana Pereira, a technical sales rep at MT Brandão, and I left Porto in the late morning of Monday. It’s a three-hour drive south from Porto to Lisbon. We took a break in the middle, in the town of Coimbra. Coimbra is home to one of the oldest universities in the world in continuous operation. The university was founded in Lisbon in the 13th century and was later relocated to Coimbra, where the oldest campus is situated on a hill overlooking the city. To this day, students are taught in the 16th century classrooms on antique wooden benches, while tourists are wandering the hallways and visiting the richly decorated university chapel, grand examination room, and the old library.
Lisbon: Bacalhau Comes in All Shapes and Sizes
We arrived in Lisbon in the early evening. Lisbon is located at the Tagus River, which forms a large estuary at the site where Lisbon was built. The river is so wide here that you could almost forget it’s a river—it feels like you’re looking at the sea. In fact, the Tagus meets the sea just a few kilometers away. I found it very surprising thus that one of the most typical dishes of Lisbon and Portugal in general is a fish imported from Norway: bacalhau.
Bacalhau is codfish, which isn’t found at the Portuguese coast. Portugal started importing the fish about 500 years ago. At the time, it was not possible to cool the fish during its transfer, so it was conserved by drying and salting instead. Before using it in any foods, the cook has to rehydrate the bacalhau in water for several days, which also washes out the salt. Bacalhau is hugely popular in Portugal. According to Susana, there are more than a thousand recipes based on the dried and salted cod.
We went to a restaurant in Lisbon that almost exclusively serves bacalhau dishes-grilled, fried, shredded, gratinated, … you name it. The restaurant, D’Bacalhau, which is located in the 1998 World Exposition Area, proves that bacalhau is surprisingly versatile. One thing’s for sure, though: if you don’t like bacalhau, this restaurant is not going to be your cup of tea.
Pasteís de Belém: The Sweet Heart of Lisbon
Susana wanted to show me some of the places in and around Lisbon that I hadn’t seen on my last visit. So she took me up the Cristo Rei, a Jesus statue that was inspired by the Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro and built in the 1950s, and is a great lookout point to see Lisbon and its surroundings all the way to the Atlantic. She also took me to the nearby town of Cascais where tourists and Lisboans swim, surf, and tan on the beach—surprisingly already now, in May. Too bad I hadn’t brought my swimsuit!
There was one place, though, which I visited last time and had to visit again: the Pasteís de Belém factory. This is the most famous (and possibly best?) bakery in Lisbon for Pasteís de Nata, crunchy puff pastry pies filled with custard. These pastries are typical in Lisbon and popular all over Portugal. People stand in line at the Pasteís de Belém factory to get them, and I totally get it.