Today marks the end of week one in Portugal. Hard to believe it’s only been a week since we left England, where everything was familiar and we were surrounded by family, and now everything is so new and different that we’re both exhausted by the end of the day. Even yesterday, which we spent mostly in the car (a blessed break for our legs!), we were both completely spent by the time we got back. I don’t think I was this tired even when I was still working out six days a week! Funny how travel can do that to you.

Yesterday was a good day off, a bit of a break, both for our legs and from the hectic pace of house-hunting. Gabe’s colleague and sponsor from the university drove us up the coast to see some sights and get some lunch. It was a bit haphazardly planned, but a successful outing nonetheless.

Turns out the coast north of Lisbon looks a lot like the coast north of Santa Cruz, albeit 30 degrees warmer. Once we drove past the touristy areas just outside of the city, you could see the fog sitting on the horizon, huge wind-swept craggy rocks sticking out of the ocean, and vast expanses of hills jutting suddenly up from the sea. Many of the people we’ve spoken to over the past week have told us that San Francisco reminded them of Lisbon, and equally, we found that the Portuguese coast reminded us of Big Sur, or Mendocino. Go figure that we’d move halfway across the world to live in a warmer version of our hometown. No wonder we like it here!

We visited the westernmost point in continental Europe (along with busloads of tourists), which mostly reminded us of the west coast of Oahu (are we sensing a theme here? West coast, ocean, wind… hmm.) The wind and volume of tourists made us look elsewhere for sustenance, however, and we drove through many tiny towns in search of food. We’re quickly discovering that, as the brother of our soon-to-be landlord told us the other day, the Portuguese are far more interested in enjoying their own leisure time than in making money. So even though it was a gorgeous sunny Saturday, and we were on the main coastal route between Lisbon and Sintra, the next big tourist town up the coast, we couldn’t find a single place to eat.

At last, our sharp-eyed tour guide spotted a place packed with people, although neither Gabe nor I noticed it until we had parked and walked in. But packed it was, with a line out the door, even though it was (for us) the late hour of 2 PM. It strongly resembled a Bavarian beer hall: a long, low brick room completely filled with tables, harried waiters, and people talking at the top of their voices while enjoying wine, espresso, and large platters of fish, vegetables, and rice. We were without a doubt the only people speaking English in the whole joint, but between the noise, our hunger, and the language barrier, even that was largely silenced while we devoured our food.

Many of the nicer restaurants here automatically bring you a small plate of appetizers when you sit down. These usually involve olives, cheese of some sort, and bread, but yesterday’s also included parma ham, pate, and a soft almost cottage-cheese-like stuff that is really growing on me. They charge you for it, but it’s a nice way to whet your appetite, and for me, to restore some blood sugar gone dangerously low due to the lateness of our meals. (Trail mix and fruit only last so long, and I am eking out my last five or six Luna bars.)

The meal was amazing, if only for the sociological observation it provided while sitting there and looking around at everyone eating. Fresh grilled fish for Gabe, a big mixed salad for me, and our host had grilled cuttlefish — with the ink left in. He was thoroughly mortified by his black teeth at the end, and spent ten minutes trying all kinds of ways to get the ink off his teeth. The finale was passionfruit (maracuja) tart for Gabe and espresso all around, so strong that it left me dehydrated and jittery for hours, even though thankfully I’d ordered decaf. Overall, it was the most entertaining meal I’ve had in a while.

We continued our drive home, stopping in Mafra, a city about 30 km outside of Lisbon, where apparently one of the richest Portuguese kings randomly decided he would build a huge monastery and palace. Fueled by the wealth garnered from the New World, the project quickly went from a modest building for 13 friars to one capable of housing 330 monks, the king and queen, and over 40,000 books in its grand library.

Looking at all this splendor, I couldn’t help but feel sad to see such a blatant symbol of a country’s former might. Not so long ago, Portugal was the premiere power in the world, and today it is overshadowed by the rest of Europe, with only these very visible reminders left as evidence of its former glory.

But reminders they are indeed. The convent itself was impressive in its own right, particularly as there was a giant wedding letting out of the church right as we pulled up. (The groom’s suit was made entirely out of a spectacular white glittering material, which completely outshone the poor bride in her regular old white strapless wedding dress! I was disappointed that Gabe didn’t wear a suit like that for our wedding.) Once Gabe and his colleague started talking about the sheer physical feat of building such a place in the days before power tools and cranes, the true cost and effort involved became evident. Trust the engineers to add a new dimension to everything.

Then, because Portugal is nothing if not full of contrasts, we hopped onto the brand new motorway and drove by phalanxes of modern wind generators to get back to Lisbon. Surely these feats of modern engineering could seem no less impossible to the people who built that convent than theirs did to us.

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