(I wrote a similar post after I visited Hawaii last November and wanted to continue the “tradition” since first impressions play such a major role when traveling. I’m going to write a separate first impressions post for Lisbon since I thought a capital city deserves its own write up.)
1.) I know Portugal is not Spain. I know from reading that the Portuguese people hate to be grouped in with Spain, seeing as how they have their own unique culture, language (so different from Spanish speaking wise), history and droves of other attributes. However, being in Portugal, so much of it reminded me of Spain, a country I had lived in for a semester six years ago. On our first night there, we walked down from the bed and breakfast to the village of Almoçageme in search of food. As it was southern Europe, restaurants did not open until 7 PM (it is better in Portugal since Spanish restaurants usually don’t open for dinner until 8 PM or later), and so we wandered aimlessly for a short while. At one point we passed by a group of elderly gentlemen sitting in a courtyard-like area, chatting away, no women present. In terms of the physical look of the men, I could perfectly imagine my Spanish host dad Diego sitting there amongst the group. The colors too on the buildings, bright pinks, yellows, and blues, were so evocative of a festa (party), so decidedly lush and vibrant Iberia. On a much less fun note, the heat I experienced in Portugal also greatly reminded me of Spain. My last few weeks in Seville were brutally hot (summer was just around the corner during the month of May) and so it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to me that early September in Portugal would be much different. Of course the Moorish buildings I toured and the Moorish architecture I saw was one of the best reminders of my semester abroad in southern Spain.
2.) Before traveling to Portugal I had read about its famous azulejos (decorative tiles). However, I didn’t know however how paramount they were. Everywhere you looked there were azulejos, whether you were in a public building, on a street or even in a private home. They are applied on walls, floors and even ceilings. Although I’ve never been to Holland I certainly have seen images of its famous Delft tiles. As pretty as I find them, Portuguese azulejos are much more striking simply because they go beyond the somewhat stolid colors of blue and white. The art of the azulejo was introduced to Portugal by the Moors in the 15th century and many designs I saw featured vibrant and striking colors of yellow, orange, red and green. My favorite azulejos were those that depicted a scene. It was simply amazing to see a scene from life in the form of tiles, especially since each tile was painted individually.
3.) At least for American tourists, Portugal is truly an overlooked country. Although compared to countries like France, England, and Italy, Spain is sometimes disregarded, but Portugal is often not even on the travel radar for many Americans, which is a shame since its sites and history are incredible. It’s also I feel a relative bargain even when taking into account the slightly higher rate of the Euro to the American dollar. While D and I never dined at expensive restaurants, we didn’t hold back either in terms of ordering food and drinks and none of our bills were ever above 50 euro. We never personally met any Americans there either. Although we heard some North American English being spoken, one can’t always assume they’re American since non-French speaking Canadians sound just about the same. The day we spent in Sintra, a city renowned for its many palaces and beautiful spaces, I was awestruck over all that I saw and experienced. The Moorish Castle there was probably one of my favorite things that I visited while there. Obviously excluding Spain, how many other European countries can boast historical ruins and buildings that date back more than 700 years and are of that of a people from an entirely different continent? I always thought Spain was the only country to see Moorish history and yet I was clearly mistaken.