We just got back from a whirlwind trip to England and Portugal – to celebrate Christmas with le hubs family and to ring in the New Year in a place neither of us have been before.
We had such a great time, both in the seaside town where le hubs grew up in England and in Porto and Lisbon in Portugal. It was a lot of travel for a a short amount of time, but it was so nice to be back overseas where the Nespresso flows like water, and wine is cheaper than it, where the sparkling water comes in glass bottles, and a 2Euro ham baguette tastes better than basically everything.
I’ll tell you what a 2 Euro baguette tastes MUCH better than. The Reduced Fat Turkey Bacon breakfast sandwich at Starbucks. The RFTB has been a mainstay in my diet since I was in college, for no other reason than it’s a 250 calorie breakfast that is always available. Something else about the RFTB?
It’s one of the most disgusting foods in the world. Every time I order one, it’s like Groundhog Day – every time I take that first bite I think it’s going to be delicious and every time I take that first bite, I am reminded how much food can taste like cardboard. But I do it. Over and over and over.
So imagine my surprise this morning when, still very jet lagged, I walked into Starbucks and ordered my standard Americano and RFTB sandwich, and the barista told me that they are re-evaluating the recipe. THE RECIPE. The twenty year old recipe of dry English muffin, oily but not sharp cheddar, rubbery egg and salty yet without flavor turkey bacon recipe. Can you believe it? I couldn’t. I walked out, stunned and sad that there was no advanced notice given.
So darlings, before we get to Portugal – pour one out for the OG Reduced Fat Turkey Bacon Sandwich, the worst breakfast sandwich I have ever eaten and the only breakfast sandwich I ever ate regularly. Never again will I taste your disgusting and comforting salinity, never again will I have to scour the office kitchen for just one drop of hot sauce or one packet of ketchup, never again will I almost set the microwave on fire by warming the sandwich up in it’s non-microwavable package.
So here’s to changes of the reduced fat fake bacon kind in 2019.
So darlings, Portugal! Let’s start in Porto.
Our trip started with a four hour delay on our flight from Manchester to Lisbon. A regional plane with TAP Portugal, Portugal’s budget airline. A four hour delay is never great, especially when the only bar in the terminal shuts down two hours into the delay. Once we got on the plane, we had another 40 minute delay due to more mechanical issues. I was not impressed. As many of you know, I hate to fly, and sitting on a plane watching people go in and out of the cockpit, trying to figure out a communications issue is my idea of a nightmare. But at 3am, we landed in one piece in Lisbon and got into the taxi of someone who could have easily been a murder, but got us to our hotel where we slept for a crisp 4 hours aka about 5 hours less than this princess needs.
The alarm was an unwelcome sound, alerting us that it was time to head to the Santa Apolonia train station to hop on a train to Porto. It’s about a three hour ride – extremely civilized with coffee service. I tried to sleep, but the ride was so beautiful that I couldn’t!
36 hours in Porto
The Pestana Palacio Freixo was a dream come true for an Eloise wannabe like myself. As soon as we pulled up, I knew I made the right decision. A beautiful old castle, with the most incredibly manicured grounds.
We were both starving, so at the recommendation of a friend, we grabbed lunch at All In Porto. The server was friendly and was generous with her time and kindness. We drank a red vinho verde, made from the local grape Vinhão. I LOVED it. I’m a big fan of a more acidic, funky red wine and this was just perfect. I’ll be on the lookout for it back here in the states, but it sounds like only something like 7% of all Vinho Verde is red, and it doesn’t fit that big, juicy flavor profile that Americans tend to like, so I might be searching for a while.
We ordered tinned mackerel (I ate so much tinned fish on this trip I can’t believe I don’t have Mercury poisoning) and a charcuterie plate that was supposed to be for two people, but four people could have easily left 1/4 of it on the plate – it was unbelievable, full of cured meats, cheeses ranging from soft and mild to firm and pungent. As we were ready to order our second glasses of wine, a Vinho Verde from the Duoro region that smelled suspiciously like a German riesling, The Cure came on and I thought I might actually be in heaven.
We ate a manchego drenched in smoked paprika – that was definitely our favourite. The olives that came with were tiny, spicy and sweet, and I’ve never tasted an olive like it in my life – INCREDIBLE. We couldn’t finish the platter and the otherwise charming waitress gave us a dirty look, but hey – I feel like you’d be hard pressed to find two people who can take down more meat and cheese than le hubs and myself.
After lunch, we walked around – took in the beautiful city that is Porto – a city of bridges, so many bridges. We crossed the Dom Luis bridge, which links the Port wine houses of Vila Nova de Gaia with the downtown Ribeira district. The bridge crossing was incredible because it is a working bridge, so there’s traffic in both directions, with foot traffic on both sides of the bridge. No separator, nothing. Just a bunch of cars driving extremely fast, a bunch of tourists taking selfies, and honestly what could possibly go wrong?
We stopped at Ramos Pinto for a Port tasting. We chose Ramos Pinto because my Bubby had a Ramos Pinto poster hanging in her staircase that I have such a vivid memory of. Bubby had such impeccable taste, so I figured it was our best bet. Turns out I don’t love Port. But that’s OK. It was still fun, it was still important to do and it made me feel close to my Bubby.
We walked along the river back to our palace and took a nap! The blackout curtains were too good and we slept for a while before getting ourselves together for a drink at the hotel bar (darlings, I love a hotel bar) and then getting to dinner.
The concierge at our hotel recommended a restaurant called The George. We had a fine dinner there, but it was really rushed and a little big for it’s britches, in my opinion. We decided the concierge was probably getting a kickback. Harumph.
My actual meal was delightful – 3 HUGE Octopus tentacles, grilled over octopus Arancini, but le hubs didn’t love his, a brothy, ricey, thing. The broth lacked the flavor it should have had and it came with a prawn that required too much undressing at the table. Would I recommend it? No, probably not. Would I recommend taking the advice of a concierge? No, probably not. I’m bad at taking my own advice.
We were tired but managed to get ourselves back to the hotel bar (darlings, you know what I’m going to say..) and had a few peaty scotches to end the evening on the terrace of the bar. The stars were bright, the air was fresh and I felt like a million (tired) bucks.
We slept. And slept. And slept (the palace had the most incredible blackout shades). And when we woke up, we were ravenous.
So we walked back to Porto and ate lunch at Tapas & Friends, where we were able to sample some of the more local cuisine – more Octopus (darlings, I love Octopus almost as much as I love a hotel bar), sardines on toast (honestly, is there anything better?), cod cakes (I can say with authority that I’m over cod for the time being), the famous Francesinha sandwich (which tasted to me like a croque monsieur drenched in Chef Boyardee sauce, but listen we all have different palates) and fried potatoe skins, which I thought was genius – A. no waste and B. I am always here for a fried potatoe product. The latter came with “homemade garlic mayonnaise” – everyone here is so proud of their homemade garlic mayonnaise, and anywhere people are proud of their garlic mayonnaise, I am proud to be a friend.
We walked through a street market – full of antiques with questionable histories, fake Cartier love bracelets (I kind of wanted to buy one…) and lots of cork products. The cork! The ceramics! The tchotchkes! Can you make it through a new city without a street market full of tchotchkes? I certainly cannot.
We did Porto the way we do all travel – popping in and out of shops, bars, cathedrals (darlings, I love religious art, especially in Catholicism – I remember the first time I saw Jesus on the cross at the Art museum when I was little and just like every other morbid obsession of mine, I was both unable to sleep for days and also couldn’t get enough) and walking around until sunset.
We also stumbled upon a free photography museum, which was exquisite. Housed in a former jail, the exhibitions were largely by Portuguese photographers, mainly about life in Portugal. There were haunting images of the wildfires in the center of the country, (wildfires that happened almost exactly to the date of the wildfires we lived through in Sonoma County), an entire exhibit dedicated to life on a fishing boat, which I loved, and a lot about the poverty and gangs within the city limits of Lisbon. We learned so much about the social science of the country from this museum than we would have any other way. And at the very top floor (my THIGHS!) was a exhibit on the history of the camera.
We like to find places to watch the sunset. And so we took the advice of the bartender from the hotel (hotel bartenders are millennial concierges, don’t @ me) and we to the a little park in the middle of the city to watch the sunset. The vibe there was pure European youth. There was a cafe where we bought HUGE Super Bocks for 1Euro, found a spot on the lawn and sat with our beers to watch the sunset surrounded by people strumming guitars, writing in notebooks, making plans for the evening. This is where I felt the most joie de vivre on this particular trip.
That night we decided to take the advice of the Times and go petiscos hopping on and around Rua dos Caldeireiros. Our first stop was Trasca, which was also our favorite of the night – a cozy space where the stone walls are exposed, the decor is eclectic and colorful and the servers are lovely. We had sardines on toast (because of course) and this incredible Portuguese sausage roll – sausage, spinach and a whole egg, wrapped in the flakiest pastry you can imagine. I could have sat in there all night and sipped on vinho verde and eaten this delicacy.
Our next stop was Casa Marlindo where we sat outside and ordered cold Octopus (if you’re counting, this is three meals in a row) which was poached in olive oil and like the sexiest thing I’ve ever eaten. Le hubs deemed it “too slimy,” which was fine, because I ate all of it myself. We also had gizzards, which came in a huge steaming bowl of tomatoey sauce full of sherry and cream. If we had decided to sit there all night just to nurse this bowl of gizzards, I would be OK with it, but we left half of it because it was so much. I felt terrible, but how can you possibly know how large these portions are?? Probably a gratuitous order, but we also ordered padron peppers, doused in olive oil, grilled and salted and I have never tasted a more succulent of it’s variety.
Our last pesticos stop was Caldeireiros, which was the largest and seemingly most established of it’s kind. Unfortunately it was kind of a sour note to end dinner on. The service was curt and the food was bland, uninspired and did a disservice to the cuisine of the region with floury cod cakes and underseasons Gambas with garlic. It’s the only place on our trip that I truly wouldn’t recommend.
Our evening ended at The Royal Cocktail Club (another recommendation from our millennial concierge), which was inspiring. Although it looked like it was sponsored by Absolut, with all of the Elyx swag as decor (darlings, I may never escape, nor do I really want to, my past life in booze), the drinks were inspired, the mixologists were darling and were happy to chat with us about their methods, the city and what they love most about life. They didn’t give me a side eye when I ordered a mezcal negroni, in fact they shared a love of it. They had atomizers of different spirits behind the bar, one of which contained Laphroaig. Darlings, 2019 is the year of me wearing Laphroaig as a scent, who needs Chanel?!
But my favorite parts of Porto?
The fishermen at the river.
The TINNED FISH.
The Green Tiles.
All for now. Stay tuned for Lisbon.