Day 22: Obrigada, Portugal! (not you, TAP Airlines)

4:30am came awfully early, as we needed to drive back to Lisbon to catch a flight to London, and then on to Chicago. While it was dark and pouring rain when we left the apartment, Jim navigated us safely there with plenty-o-time to spare. Aaah, Lisbon Airport, we find ourselves together again.

Jim Series (from Belem)

Jim Series (from Belem)

Our tenuous relationship with TAP Portugal Airlines started to go downhill when it was announced there would be a delay due to mechanical failure. While it’s completely understandable that these things happen when large, complex machinery is involved, it is how an airline handles the situation that separates the men from the boys. And TAP could use a few etiquette lessons.

I will not bore you with all the details (just many of them), but I will say that once it was established the flight would be delayed the gate agents decided it was more important they sit at the desk looking pretty than answer questions concerned travelers had. Since Heathrow is a major transit hub, many passengers had connecting flights and would approach the desk to discuss options, but were, in a word, essentially told to piss off. We, too, had a connection but since it was a 3 hour layover, and since we were told the Lisbon-London flight would be “departing soon,” we decided to hold off on panicking.

However, when it became apparent we likely would not make our connecting flight we approached the desk to inquire what we should do. The answer? Stop bothering us with this triviality and wait until you get to London at some undetermined time to sort it out. In other words, your getting home is of little consequence to me, and I would prefer you were someone else’s problem. Oh, and piss off. But we pressed a little harder, knowing there were no more Heathrow-Chicago flights that day, and, grudgingly, were transferred to a Lisbon-Newark-Chicago routing. A few of the flight attendants on the flight to Newark appeared to be of the same disagreeable ilk as the gate agents, which to me indicates a systemic issue stemming from a culture bred at the company level.

Bird Series (from Sao Miguel)

Bird Series (from Sao Miguel)

Lastly, and in spite of dubious assurances from the extra-surly transfer desk agent who said getting our luggage transferred to the new plane was being personally handled by a supervisor and would most certainly be done within the 2+ hour time frame in which they had to do it, our luggage arrived to our home two days after we did. On a sunny note, at least it arrived.

This sour note leaving Portugal was an anomaly, however, in that everywhere else we’d traveled in the past 3 weeks we were met with super friendly, more-than-willing-to-help locals. We found the Portuguese would go out of their way to take care of their visitors, and it truly felt genuine and from the heart.  It is a beautiful cultural trait.

Jim Series (bus stop at SW most point of continental Europe)

Jim Series (bus stop at SW most point of continental Europe)

In spite of being small, the country itself has a little bit of everything to offer, from the sea, to farm fields, forests, rolling hills, deep valleys, and low mountainous areas, not to mention the cities, towns, villages, and sights along the way. The castles and cathedrals are clearly cherished, and much work has been done to preserve/maintain them for all to see. One of its largest exports, cork, is a fascinating product from start to finish, and I personally would love to see it incorporated into more products.

Language was a bit tricky for us (being quasi-Spanish speakers), in that Portuguese closely resembles Spanish in many, many ways but there are enough nuances to make it just/enough different. We didn’t want to offend anyone by using a Spanish word and/or pronunciation, so it would often give us pause while we scanned our brains for the right thing to say. More often than not, however, the person we were trying to communicate with would easily switch to English, probably partly to alleviate any further butchering of their language.

Bird Series (The Fig)

Bird Series (from The Fig)

The food was never something we warmed up to, exactly, but that is partly a personal issue as I do not eat seafood or game meats (Jim, however, enjoyed the seafood he ate). In all of the grocery stores we went into (of which there embarrassingly were many), one ubiquitous sight in the fish departments were the mounds of salted cod laid out onto big tables. It would appear cod is a national treasure, although I understand they have to import it from Scandinavia. The open-air cod is certainly pronounced in its “bouquet,” and can, shall we say, linger in one’s nose.

As for drinks, the wine (especially from the Douro Valley) is outstanding and we much enjoyed every single one we tried. We will definitely search more of that out in the USA. The fresh-squeezed fruit juices offered in many places were also delicious. Port is… not our cup of tea (and, close your ears, Ma, but reminds me of the time my girlfriend and I were underage and ordered Port in a bar so as to seem sophisticated and well over the age of 21). And the Portuguese coffee, well, maybe it’s an acquired taste? We certainly tried…

Jim Series (Lagos)

Jim Series (from Lagos)

This trip was arranged somewhat last minute (airfare was booked 15 days prior to departure day), and, as such, not a tremendous amount of research was done. We knew we’d be winging it once we arrived back to the mainland from the Azores (like we’d done in Sicily), and it worked in some areas and didn’t work in others. It worked in that we love the freedom to roam around unfettered, choosing how long to stay in each area. Where it didn’t work is that more research should have been done in terms of potential lodging, as we spent an inordinate amount of time trying to stay ahead of that. But in the end, there wasn’t a single place we stayed that I wouldn’t recommend.

And, lastly, the car. Miss Cleo (a Renault Clio) was a very comfortable ride for every one of the 2,683 km (1,667 miles) we put on her. Jim was able to squeeze out over 50 mpg with the diesel engine, in spite of an overwhelming majority of those miles being driven in 2nd and 3rd gear while going up and around narrow, twisty roads. To  my delight, Miss Cleo also had a special feature whereby she’d ding every time Jim went over the speed limit. This, of course, saved me a lot of breath.

In summary, Portugal, we thank you for being so accommodating and gracious to a couple of interlopers. We feel fortunate for having the pleasure of a visit, and wish you nothing but the best!


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