…and Oh Yes, the Food!

Do you like fish? You’d love the food in Lisbon. It’s sardine season now, and people have told us that the catch has been especially good this year: the sardines are plentiful and fat. These aren’t the little guys you buy stuffed into a can like – well, you know. They’re more like small trout: four grilled sardines (sardinhas assadas) make a meal, along with the ubiquitous pair of boiled potatoes and two tomato slices. Aficionados eat them whole, from head to tail, but we haven’t quite graduated to that level. I cut out the guts, chop off the head and scrape the meat off the bones with my knife. To each his own.

The one thing you can get any time, any where is salt cod (bacalhau). The cod is dried and salted for shipping and storage, and that’s the way it’s sold in the stores. It has to be reconstituted before you can eat it – meaning getting the salt out and the water back in. Supposedly, there’s a real trick to getting all of the salt out, but we haven’t had a bad one yet.

Beyond that, there’s an incredible variety of fresh and salt water seafood. We’ve eaten sea bass (the European variety, not the South American fish that’s sold in the U.S.), fresh water bass, salmon, dorado (what we’d call mahi-mahi), fish soup, shrimp, squid, and octopus. There’s a lot more than that on the menus, which we’re working through, one by one. It’s a tough job, but we’re up for it!

Pork is everywhere, too, in all its varieties. If you walk into a deli, there will be a pig’s leg proudly displayed on the counter, so you can see that you’re getting the prized black-footed variety, and not some cheaper imitation.

When you need a break from fish and pork, there’s pizza, maybe a hamburguer or a sanduíche with French fries that are always perfect, soup (Portuguese gazpacho is chunky, not creamy like the Spanish kind, but we’ve grown to prefer the Portuguese recipe). No matter what you get, it’s all inexpensive. The two of us can go out for a meal and spend less than we’d spend per person at home, for the same or better quality.  You can wash it down with a beer or glass of wine and not add a lot to your tab – but I’ll have to write about that  some other day. I can smell sardines on the grill from the restaurant below us, which says it’s suppertime!

…and Oh Yes, the Food!

People to People

One of the many things we like about longer stays in foreign cities, it gives us a chance to bond with some of the locals.   Only here a couple of weeks and it is already happening.  Even in Porto, where we only spent a weekend, it happened as well.  On our very first late evening here, we ran into these 2 lovely women (sisters as we learned) selling Sangria at the top of the hill overlooking the Douro River in Porto.  Clay started a conversation while buying 2 sangrias, and first thing you know, they are begging us to move to Porto. Maybe it was Clay’s charm, but more likely it was the Texas mystique, because they seemed fascinated with the fact we lived in Texas.  BTW – The best sangria I have ever tasted.  It might just be worth moving for that reason alone. (wink, wink)


Goofy clay with Sangria


In Lisbon we have our favorite little coffee shop, and know many of the servers there who call out to us when we arrive,  “Bom dia Clay & Maggie”.  The gal in the photo below was one of our favorite servers.  The first time we met she told me she was from Jersey, and I told her we were in NYC recently.  She figured out the confusion, and said that she was from the Island of Jersey in the English Chanel – not New Jersey.  We all three got a good laugh!


Another example is we have two local guys that are always in the front of their souvenir store at the bottom of the steps where our apartment is located. It is such a narrow little street that we can’t help but be just a few feet from where they hang out to invite tourists into their shop. Early on we bought a couple of small things at their shop, and began talking.  Now, every time we leave our apartment they say good day to us. If they are not busy, they strike up a conversation with us.  We are learning so much in casual ways like this.


Clay on our narrow street and “Eddie the Eagle” ready to ski town our steep stairs from our apartment.

After a couple of weeks here, we finally are being recognized as not your usual 3-5 day tourists so many more conversations are spontaneously happening.  Lisbon people, in general, are very friendly, and fun loving people.  The longer we are here the better we like it.  Clay says that we’re not like a lot of other tourists, who “arrive by cruise boat, storm ashore in waves, invade the souvenir shops, then retreat at the end of the day, hauling their booty of plastic bric-a-brac and I ♥ LISBOA t-shirts”.

I think that one of the joys of traveling is it makes you more comfortable striking up conversations with total strangers.  Clay would argue that I am already that way, but it just seems easier here.  All of us travelers here are on the move, and in the travel zone of confusion, jet lag, excitement, happiness, and eagerness for learning more from our adventuresome other travelers.  Isn’t that what makes travel so fun?  I think so.







People to People

Getting Around in Lisbon

In Lisbon, you’re spoiled for choice on modes of transportation: you can get around by car, taxi, tram, bus, subway, rental bike or scooter, hop on / hop off bus, walking, or tuk tuk.

Maggie and I had already decided that we didn’t want to rent a car, partly for the expense, and partly because it’s a pain to find a parking place in any city. It turns out Lisbon has a unique solution for that. In the central city, every neighborhood seems to have its own Neighborhood Parking Guy. (All the ones we’ve seen are men.) He might look like a hobo working for tips (the Alfama NPG is a dead ringer for Lyle Lovett), but he’s a vital part of the community. Every driver knows him, everybody is his friend. You’ll see him standing in an open parking place, waving down a slowly passing car, then directing the driver into a narrow spot like he’s directing an airplane into a terminal gate. It’s a real skill, and a necessary one: he saves drivers endless hours of driving around, and countless Euros in parking tickets. Looking at all the different ways cars are parked, NPG’s can get very creative in their definitions of parking places and how the cars should be arranged within them. They are modern art sculptors, working in automobiles and pavement. They should have a display of their works in a museum.

There’s a system of trams that’s part of the transportation system, but like San Francisco’s trolley cars, it seems like tourists get more use out of it than locals. That’s mostly because they’re so jammed with tourists that the locals would have a hard time finding a seat. For the most popular line, the #28E, we’ve heard that there can be a long wait at mid-day during the summer, but if you ride first thing in the morning or after dinner, that won’t be a problem. The tour guides issue dire warnings about gangs of pickpockets lurking at the entrance and exit doors of the trams, ready to strip the valuables off unsuspecting tourists in seconds, but we didn’t see any of that.

Within the neighborhood of Alfama, cars are a rare sight. The cobblestone streets are just too narrow and convoluted. The cars  mostly stick to the main roads, which makes walking in old town great for pedestrians. You still have to watch out for trolleys and tuk tuks rushing by, but that becomes second nature after not too long.

Our main worry walking in Alfama is getting lost. Actually, we don’t worry about it, we just do it. We have a couple of routes that we know, but finding a new place can be a real puzzle. Yesterday, following GPS, Maggie and I tried to find our closest stop on the #28E tram. We wandered around for twenty minutes, occasionally seeing some familiar landmark, but mostly having no idea of where we were. We finally gave up and decided to head downhill, find the river and figure out how many miles we had to walk to get home. The first corner we turned, we were face to face with somebody we knew! We don’t know anybody – who is this? It’s…the host of the restaurant across the street from our apartment! What’s he doing here? He’s…standing in front of his restaurant. We’re back where we started. We gave him a sheepish bom tarde and continued on our way, as if we’d planned it that way all along.

I think what we need to do is cut down on our choices. We haven’t had a problem with the bus or subway yet. The subway is a great way to zip across town and get to the general vicinity of where you want to be. Buses are air conditioned, clean, they run seemingly everywhere and they’re on time. There are so many bus routes, the city doesn’t make paper maps, so just like at home, there’s a web site / app: https://citymapper.com/lisboa. Whew! I think we’ve found our answer.




Getting Around in Lisbon

Lisbon via NYC

Well, I guess the Olmsteads took too long a break from Europe. We decided in the winter of 2018 that with a hot Austin summer rearing its head in the not too distant future, we would treat ourselves to a month’s long stay in one European country.  We have traveled to many European countries, but never to Portugal, so we didn’t waste too much time making the decision.  It did not hurt in our decision making process to know that Portugal is about 15 degrees cooler in the summer than Austin.

With my birthday coming up on July 13th, Clay informed me that for my birthday we would travel to Lisbon via NYC.  Listening to NPR, I had heard about a new Broadway musical called Hadestown that really appealed to me.  He bought us 2 tickets for Saturday night for my birthday.  We flew to NYC Saturday morning and planned to go see the musical Saturday night before flying on to Lisbon late the next evening.  As luck would have it, NYC experienced a major blackout from about 7:00pm to 11:00pm, and our plans were turned upside down.  Standing in line at 7:30 for the musical, parts of Manhattan went dark, including the venue for our show as well as our hotel, we later learned.

NYC Residents Staying Cool

Extremely disappointed when they told us at 8:30pm that the show was canceled, we left for a bar and drank a few beers.  We reminded ourselves that this was not a major problem.  We are retired and in good health, so we should not let a minor setback ruin our only night in NYC.  We toasted to that, and by the time we left the bar, it was a little after 11:00pm and our hotel’s power was back on.

The very next day (July 14th) we left for Portugal with a transfer in Paris, and arrived in Lisbon jet lagged, but excited.   We were met by our soon to be discovered  perfect Abnb host.  Since we booked his apartment in Lisbon for a month, he had volunteered to pick us up at the airport.  Walking out of the airport there awaited our handsome middle aged host with a big smile on his face. I then received the first of which would be many – European style kisses from both men and women – one on each cheek.  I am liking Portugal already.

Wondering if the apartment would meet our expectations, we arrived and opened our front door to walk up a staircase to our 2nd floor apartment.  Photos below show our small, but functional apartment.  We have been here almost a week now and love the location (except for a noisy restaurant across the street).  It is in a great location in the Alfama district of Lisbon, which is the oldest district in the city.








Lisbon via NYC