Tuesday, April 10, 2018


Flying from Lisbon to Madrid to Granada took all day. They are two one-hour flights, but getting to the airports, navigating them, all the security and preparation, it was exhausting. We made it, and were met by Carmen, who will be our tour manager for the next two weeks. Also on the plane were several other members of our group, including Peter and Martin who live about 500 metres from us, in Georgina Street, and Margaret, who lives in Annandale. The inner west is well represented.

 Since our arrival we have done a lot of walking around this lovely city. We spent yesterday wandering around the Albaicin area with its narrow streets, hilly terrain, lovely open spaces, and fabulous views. I can’t be the only tourist who comes home at night and checks available properties, both for sale and rent. I don’t think I would live in Granada, but it is fun to dream.

One of the most noticeable aspects of the city is the number of pedestrians. The streets, the plazas, the restaurants, everywhere is filled with people shopping, walking, eating and drinking. It is lively, and contrasts markedly with the empty streets in US cities and towns. When we were in Houston in January there was nary a pedestrian to be seen, but the freeways were jammed with cars.

Today was a highlight. I have always wanted to see the Alhambra, and today was the day. It did not disappoint. The Islamic decorations are beautiful, the tile patterns, the stucco, the arches, the water, it is all paradise. Despite being spring in Spain, it was really cold. Up high in the wind the temperature was about 6 or 9 degrees C. We had been warned, so had dressed very warmly. I had on three layers including a cashmere jumper and a possum cardigan, and over that my Dublin hooded raincoat, plus a Turkish pashmina shawl. Plus a warm headband, stockings under my pants, woolly socks and boots. We were both very glad of our Lisbon leather gloves, mine are lined with cashmere.

We had an excellent tour guide named Martin, who looked very like Julie’s Martin. Very tall, probably originally Dutch, judging from his accent, he was very engaging. He wove the narrative well, it was not a collection of dry historical facts, but a series of enchanting stories told with flair. And what a place it is. We did the Alhambra itself, the Palacios Nazaries, the Alcazaba, and Generalife. Today (Tuesday 10th) my phone informs me that so far I have done 10,803 steps and 6 floors. Yesterday’s tally was 12,188 steps or 8 kilometres,  and 10 floors. My Fitflop boots have been wonderful.

We have eaten well, but as yet have not made it into a Croissanteria. Yes, there are such establishments. Yesterday’s lunch was little tapas plates of croquettes, albondigas meatballs, and battered prawns. Today’s was Iberian broadbeans (tiny broadbeans with jamon and fried eggs on top), and mixed croquettes. And now for some pictures.

Firstly, some of the Albaicin area, including some looking across the valley at the Alhambra:

And a few more of the Alhambra. What a beautiful place.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Food tour of Lisbon.

Despite admonitions to start the tour on an empty stomach, we couldn’t help ourselves at breakfast. The pastries are just too delicious to leave. Our food tour started at 10.30 under the great arch, so we had plenty of time to amble up the shopping street and check out which shops we might visit after the tour. I saw a fabulous hat, Michael saw a leather briefcase, and I saw several shoe shops. But first, we joined the tour, operated by Secret Food Tours of Lisbon. We met Claudia, our tour leader, underneath the arch. She was holding an orange umbrella so we recognised her easily. Joining us on the tour were Sonja and Stephan from Germany, Hilary and George from Winchester. We began by walking through some of the back streets to a wine shop, where the others all sampled the port. A little early in the morning for me, even if I did drink alcohol! It was a little early for them too, I think, but they were brave. Onwards and upwards, lots of steps and cobblestones, it was great to see some of the places away from the tourist spots. Time for morning tea, at one of the little shops selling snacks. Mostly they are tiny little shops, and people eat standing up. There is usually a window from which to buy the food, but it was cool and pretty windy, threatening rain, so we went inside. The specialty is a pork sandwich. The sliced pork is marinated in wine and garlic (the origin of the term vindaloo comes from this marinade) and it is slapped into a bread roll. Mustard is mandatory, spicy sauce is optional. It was delicious. Some of our party had beer, we had orange juice.

We walked through the streets, enjoying the ambience, looking at the little houses, more tiles, more street art.

Our next food stop was a small restaurant, where we were to have lunch. The appetiser was a kind of salt cod cake, and some bread. The main course was a salad with more cod, salt cod again which has been soaked for some days, then charcoal grilled. It was delicious. Onwards through more back streets. We are pleased about the weather, which has threatened rain but isn’t. The pattern has been that it is quite cool in the morning, warming up through the day. Today I wore my Gorman raincoat which is very light, and it was a good choice.

More food coming up. After all, this is a food tour. The next stop was the grocer shop where we bought apples and oranges on our first day. Claudia bought cheeses and blueberry paste, and some ham made from pigs which only eat acorns. We went into the independence building up some stairs to yet another restaurant, where the proprietor plated up more bread, the ham, the cheeses, and more wine. I am glad not to be drinking, it would be too much! I think I am over salt cod. There has been a lot of it, and I am rather full!

We ambled back down to near the grocer shop, and into a beautiful fruit shop. The colours are so bright! The asparagus is wild asparagus, the odd green fruit is a cherimoya, a relation or variety of custard apple. The group had some sour cherry liqueur. I had a sniff, and a very tiny sip which I did not enjoy.

Finally we walked up to a place that is said to have the best custard tarts In Lisbon, even better than those at Belém. Man, they were good. Just out of the oven, warm and soft and delicious. They are eaten sprinkled liberally with cinnamon, and that is just fine by me.

After the food tour was over and we bade farewell to our fellow tourists (who all seemed sleepy after all that booze and were probably going home to have a nap), we returned to suss out the goodies we had seen in the shops on the way to the tour. The hat was way to big, the briefcase didn’t have a shoulder strap. No sale. Michael went home, I hit a couple of shoe shops, and got what I wanted. A pair of blue suede and elastic walking shoes, and a pair of gold-trimmed beige suede ankle boots. Well done me! I am supporting the Portuguese economy.