Saturday, March 30, 2013

Obrigada, Lisboa!

OOOOOOOOH Lisbon… I truly fell in love. I don’t know why not one person has ever said anything to the degree of, ‘Steph, go to Lisbon ASAP because you will be the biggest idiot ever if you don’t’. LISBON IS AMAZING. I also don’t know why it’s not talked about with major big cities in Europe…. Paris, London, Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, Florence… COME ON! ADD LISBON. It truly deserves it. Three of us spent the weekend in Lisbon. Emma and Julia arrived later than I did, so I had time to explore. When I arrived, it was so sunny and quite hot! I was able to get a little sunburn while eating lunch! I decided to join in on the hostel’s activity for the first evening. It was a chorizo, cheese and wine (all Portuguese) dinner. So that’s right up my alley obviously. I went and met people from all over the world. I talked to a few Germans, a couple from Barcelona, another American, and some Portuguese. And despite being on my own for the first 8 hours, I had the best time!! The food and wine were amazing, although I’m still biased to La Rioja’s wine.

The next day, when Julia and I got up, it was raining. UGH. So, we got some coffee and decided to take the yellow tour bus around while we waited for Emma to get there. Julia and I decided that Lisbon is the San Francisco of Portugal. It has the Golden Gate Bridge…. (More or less) it was designed by the same architect 30 years or so after the Golden Gate Bridge was finished and it also has cable cars! The way I am about to describe Lisbon is going to make NO sense, but here goes…. It’s historically modern. I say this because there are parts of Lisbon that look so old and medieval: The Castle of Saint George, the Bairro Alto etc. and then there are Victorian style buildings, marble statues and fountains, and a very modern tram system. I don’t know the correct way to describe Lisbon, but it had so much to offer. Including, an elevator in the center of the city just so you could see a view around Lisbon! Once Emma arrived, we walked around the city and explored a bit. We saw some fun shops and tried to find some Fado, traditional Portuguese music. Our search was in vain because the Fado bar was closed. We vowed to return to that bar to see the Fado show.

That evening we broke down and went to the Hard Rock Café. It was delicious of course and while waiting for a table we saw some pretty interesting things. First: the bar tender’s name was “Fabio-lous”, second: either there was a bachelor party going on or one man was being hazed all night…there was a group of English guys and one of those guys was dressed up as a big dog, had a leash AND a dog bowl. One of the guys explained to us that the dog bowl is where people pour their drinks if they don’t want them anymore and the poor dog man has to drink them.  Soooo my guess is he was being hazed.

When we got back to the hostel it started down pouring. Thank goodness we were already inside. At one point it was raining so hard that the rain itself actually woke me up. I prayed this wouldn’t be the weather for our next day and I’ve learned that while traveling with Emma, if you make a conscious effort to pray to the sky to clear up…it will! It worked in Palma when we went in January and it worked in Lisbon too!! The next day was lovely, and VERY warm.  We decided that after eating the sinful food at the Hard Rock we should walk to the castle.  The castle is perched high upon a hill overlooking the entire city. Most people take the cable car, which would have been nice but we were determined to walk. After AWHILE, we found our way to the top. We got a killer discount for being ‘students’. That is what our visa says after all. It knocked off more than 50% of the cost to enter. Yesss! The view was BREATHTAKING. You could see everything!! For this reason we didn’t go on the elevator in the city. You could see way more from the castle. While we were walking around the castle, I heard a group of Spanish people comparing the castle in Lisbon to the castle in AGONCILLO. My jaw dropped and I literally grabbed Emma and kept saying OH MY GOD I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT. For all of you who may not know, Agoncillo is one of the SMALL pueblos I work at here in La Rioja and it does have a small castle. I just couldn’t believe that people were talking about Agoncillo while we were in Lisbon…I still can’t believe it.

After the castle, we had to book it to the Belem, a beautiful monument. However, Lisbon is a big city and Julia had to catch her flight back to London later that afternoon so we took a cab to the Belem. We walked around a charming market, took photos of the Belem and then decided it was lunchtime. We had a traditional Portuguese cod dish. It was really good! Following our lunch, we went to try the famous Belem pastry. Everyone had told us we must go to this particular pastry shop. We went and the line for take-out was really long so we just went inside and tried to find a table. This place was huge…room after room after room!! And although it was crowded you could always find a table because this café seemed to go on forever. When we finally ordered our famous ‘pastelitos’ I couldn’t believe my taste buds. It was incredible. The terrible thing is I have absolutely nothing to compare it to. It had a sweet custardy filling, and a flaky exterior…it was covered in cinnamon and brown sugar. It makes me so sad that in order to have another one I have to go all the way back to Lisbon. Emma and I bought two extra pastries to-go so we could eat them in the airport early the next morning. Word to the wise, if you go to Lisbon, GO TO PASTEIS DE BELEM! It is totally worth it.

Our final stop with Julia was an Irish pub because we had to pay a little tribute to the fact that it was Saint Patrick’s Day. Emma and Julia got a Jameson with Sprite…whisky and I don’t mix so I stuck with my once-a-year Guinness. This caught the attention of an Irish man. He was shocked I liked Guinness. I know it sounds crazy, but the three of us had created a to-do list that day. One of the things on that to-do list was to meet an Irish person on Saint Patrick’s Day. Shout out to John our new Irish friend who lives in Lisbon. We asked the bartender if they had any fun items for Saint Paddy’s Day like beads or hats…. and to our luck they had crazy leprechaun hats. So we donned those for the walk back to our hostel. Of course people were giving us crazy looks... it was 4pm!

We got to the hostel and then Julia left. Emma and I asked the kind people at the hostel about recommendations for dinner and for Fado… we were particularly interested to try Portuguese seafood rice. We took his recommendation and wandered towards the Cathedral and tried to find the restaurant…to no avail. We FINALLY found the restaurant and it was….CLOSED. We waited a little while trying to figure out what to do. A waiter came and started opening up the restaurant and he told us they would be open in 45 minutes. AWESOME. So we kept walking and found a wine bar. Only us. So obviously, we stopped in and tried some vinho with cheese. The 45 minutes passed no problem. We then had our seafood rice with traditional Portuguese vinho verde. The rice was great, although a little too salty, but not too salty that it couldn’t be enjoyed. Another thing crossed off our to-do list. We had just the final thing to cross off….FADO.

We made the trek across town back to the place that had been closed the previous day. This time it was open, but there was no fado that night. We were a little discouraged BUT we were still determined to find some. About a block away, we found another place, Café de Luso. We walked in to see it was a very nice restaurant and we asked the hostess if we could just have a cocktail and watch. She told us that was perfectly fine and sat us FRONT row for the show. Emma and I had a ‘when in Portugal’ moment and ordered some really NICE vinho verde from our guapo waiter. Then, the fado began. I had no idea what to expect since I had never heard of it before this trip. I was completely blown away.

There were 5 fado singers, three women and two men. Fado is sung with an accompaniment of guitars. Traditionally, it is a sad song that expresses a feeling of extreme longing. I honestly couldn’t pick my jaw up off the floor. There were 20-minute intervals between each singer. The second singer I fell in love with. Literally, I’m going to find him and marry him hahaha. Or if not him, it’s a new requirement for my future husband: sing like Pedro Mountinho. Check out the video I’ve posted below to hear how awesome he is. After he sang I left the table and when I was walking back I noticed they had the CDs of all the singers out. I was just glancing at them and the first Fado singer came over and started speaking to me in perfect English. She wanted to know how I liked the show and my impression of Fado. I had a five-minute conversation with her where I just gushed to her about how much I loved Fado even though I couldn’t understand most of the words. When you listen to this music, you feel very emotional. I confessed to her I felt sort of silly feeling so emotional when I could barely understand the words. She assured me it was totally normal, that people who have understood less had been moved to tears. All 5 singers had incredible voices, I was very moved by the show. We were there for 2-3 hours. It was an unforgettable experience and I recommend Fado to anyone who has the opportunity to see it. After the show, Emma and I purchased some CDs and got the singers’ autographs. A phenomenal night that I will remember forever!

That was the end of our trip in Lisbon, the next morning, EARLY, we ate our to-go Belems at the airport. Boarded the plane to Madrid and headed back to Logroño to teach private classes. My trip to Lisbon has been one of my favorites hands down!! Obrigada Lisboa!!
View from Castle

Bridge at Dusk


Portuguese Cod Dish

The best pastries on Earth.

Pasteis de Belem Café

Cathedral with Cable Car

Portuguese Seafood Rice Dish

Elevator in the center of the city

First Fado Singer

My future husband, Pedro

Roasting Chorizo

Chorizo dinner in the hostel

My future husband singing beautifully:

Sunday, March 3, 2013

March: In like a lion...

I’m sticking to my word and updating this blog more. Here’s to turning over a new leaf! Last post I signed off with a small piece of news, a trip to Rome. Well, I’ll open with another tidbit of news that is also no big deal; I’m going to Portugal in two weeks. It was a spur of the moment decision. I’m going with two friends and I decided that it would be great to go to Portugal because it borders Spain and this is my third year living here, it would be pathetic to go back to the US never having seen Portugal. So Lisbon here we come! We will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day there, which I’m sure isn’t a big deal, but we’ll do something for it.

Finally, three of my pueblo schools saw Marco Polo, a play in English that we’ve been preparing the students for about two months. It was fantastic; it had us all in stitches, even the teachers! The actors would pick volunteers from the audience and so a few of our students were selected and I loved watching them participate. There was one part of the play where there was a dance teaching us ‘The Art of Kung Fu’. This dance we ALL participated in. Overall, we had a very fun time. The kids loved it. Following the play we went to an art gallery nearby, the kids were actually very well behaved. I was extremely impressed. Of course, it wouldn’t be a normal day without a little ounce of cultural shock. Outside the art gallery this older man told me I shouldn’t be a teacher because I was meant to be a model and he knew someone that could represent me. What? It isn’t April Fool’s Day. A couple of my students overheard that and couldn’t repress the giggles.

Earlier this week, I resurrected games we used to play in freshman Spanish class at Bow High. They are so fun and all credit goes to Señorita Rosenbleeth. I’m considering sending her an email as a thank you for introducing such cool games. One game she called matamoscas, so I obviously flip-flopped the name and introduced ‘Flyswatter’ to the kids. The game consists of writing vocab words all over the blackboard, then you divide the class in half and you draw a picture of one of the vocab words and say go! Each team has a representative and these representatives have to hit the vocab words with their flyswatters. The kids in Arrúbal wanted to play it all day.

Also, a great way to start the weekend is to be locked out of my building. I came back from celebrating a friend’s birthday late and my key to the entrance of my building all of the sudden didn’t fit. I thought I was crazy and at the wrong door but I wasn’t and I kept trying. I was furious that my roommates weren’t in the building on weekends. Fortunately, a guy helped me out and he knew someone that lived in the building and called her to let me in. Thank goodness! Turns out they changed the lock at 9pm that evening. Thanks for the warning guys.

We completed the weekend by continuing to celebrate Caroline’s birthday. We went to a spa during the day, had Indian food for dinner and then went out. So besides almost being homeless for an evening the weekend was great!! I’ll end with showing you a video my coworker made of the students in Arrúbal and Agoncillo in collaboration with another video that was on YouTube for Peace Day which was in January!! They are too cute. I’ll keep you posted soon!