Monday, 23 February 2009

An Amazing Find With Truly A Bela Vista!

This past weekend, I found a restaurant/cafe with THE BEST VIEW around. Ok I admit, I didn't find it by chance, I was actually recommended to this place by one of my BES students who lives near the area (my students seriously rock with useful tips :D) and the area with no surprise to me is Guincho, my favorite beach area that I just recently raved about on here. And one of the reasons I gave for liking this place so much is that it's the best to watch the sunset here. What I didn't know though, was that the absolutely most perfect spot to watch it I had not yet discovered, until now!

I was instructed to turn onto a small road right across from the last old fort on the coast just after passing Cascais and right before you round the tip towards Guincho. I can't believe I never noticed this road before, but it's quite inconspicuous due to all of the surrounding roads being private for the rich mansion communities there. Driving a bit up a hill with nothing around, you finally reach a dead end where the prettiest little restaurant/cafe sits at the top of the hill. This is Restaurant Casa de Chá de Oitavos, a fine dining restaurant on the inside and acting as a tea house on their outside deck in between meal periods. After climbing the steps onto their deck, we immediately saw why this place was such a gem, we had a panoramic view of the ocean with the sun beginning to slowly set, niiiiiice :) As soon as we sat down, a waiter came came over to take our order for our espressos and recommended their scones for something to eat with them. Impressed with such prompt service, we were surprised when our order seemed to take longer than usual. But we then we found out why, we were presented with a basket of 3 fresh, WARM scones, along with a plate of assorted marmalades and butter. And the scones were DELISH, smothered in melted butter and peach marmalade, we were in heaven! I never knew Portugal could make such nice scones, it was like being at a hotel for afternoon tea! Except we had gotten coffee (still good) so next time we'll get their tea as it is a tea house hehe. And with such an incredible view with an incredible sunset in front of us, I couldn't have asked for more :) I am now completely in love with this place and I promise anyone who visits me will get this treat as well. I repeat, so in love, wouldn't you be too? :p

Portuguese Suspiro-For The First Time!

I have become a die-hard fanatic here of having a daily espresso, either in the morning after classes or late afternoon as a break from my database work. Since my sensitive stomach won't allow me to have coffee on an empty tank, I always get something to eat with my espresso. I always order one of two things then- a savory meat turnover (Folhado de Carne) in the mornings as brain fuel for the day and in the afternoons, an egg-custard pastry (Pastel de Nata).

But one afternoon last week, I finally decided to try something different for my sweet pastry. I went to one of my fave pastelerias situated on a busy corner by the park here where this time instead of sitting right down, I went up to the glass bar counter to browse their delectable assortment for something new. My eyes were drawn to the fluffy pink clouds of Suspiro (merengues), which I have tasted various types before back home but never had the ones they make in Portugal, which are quite popular actually. I told Julio-César, the Brazilian waiter who knows me, to bring one of the pink suspiros with my cafe then. The pink colored strawberry suspiro ended up being soooo good, crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside like a typical merengue with a maraschino cherry in the center to my delight. But this suspiro was definitely not on the lighter side for a dessert, it was quite rich with almost a cotton-candy flavor mixed into it as well and because it was so large, it was the first time I had to get something wrapped up to take home with me! It was just as enjoyable the next day too, but I think next time, I'll get it to share with Miguel :) Glad I decided to alter my addictive routine for once hahaha, and maybe I'll start doing it more often! Mmmmm, suspiro :p

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

TUNAS! And I don't mean fish!

As a former HS band geek from back home, I felt that I had to present Portugal's equivalent to our marching bands. These musical groups are called Tunas, found mainly at universities all over Portugal as well as in Spain (where they first started) and all of Latin America. Their origins seem to date back to between the 10th and 13th century, from medieval troubadours and minstrels who had to sing and perform to make money to live on or upon their return home after a long journey or vacation. The name name "tuna" then supposedly comes from the French roi de Thunes or "King of Tunis" which was the title used for leaders of such vagabond groups. But there are still several other argued theories as to the origin of the name, even specific to the Portuguese tunas. The first Portuguese tunas were organized in the 19th century in the famous university city of Coimbra after a visit from a Spanish tuna of Salamanca. The tradition of traveling university tunas (to raise money for survival) eventually spread to the rest of the country. Virtually every university now has an organized tuna, usually representing a specific major. There are non-university tunas for older members or alumni but they are a lot less common (more predominant in Spain).

The traditional Tuna "uniform" is definitely more formal than a marching band uniform but can range from very classic medieval attire to a more modern black suit from the 16 and 17th century Iberian students attire. Portuguese tunas mainly use the modern version with a white collared shirt, skinny black tie and long, narrow coat. Instead of pants, girls wear either knee or ankle-length narrow black skirts with black stockings and conservative black pumps. The outfit is always completed with a large, ankle-length black cape wrapped around the entire body like a vampire or folded and slung over the shoulder when warmer out. Others like to proudly display their badges from previous Tuna festivals all over their capes for some added color to their black ensemble.

In Tunas, you won't see any of the musical instruments played in a normal marching band, string instruments are actually the main ones used, consisting of classic acoustic guitars, lutes and bandurrias for most Tunas around the world. However, Portuguese Tunas normally opt to use mandolins and a special Portuguese guitar (used in Fado music) instead of the latter two as well a tall bass. Tuna performances are usually done in an auditorium of the hosting university for the Tuna festivals or competitions scheduled all throughout the year or outside on the streets when raising money for the group. There is no marching involved but the groups will mark time together swaying back and forth to the music in a semi-circle with a someone usually banging on a rope drum or tambourine to keep everyone together. All tunas sing in their performances as well as incorporating flag work and rhythmic tambourine dancing, which makes is easier for students to join with no musical instrument experience.

My boyfriend Miguel happened to be one of these students and did the flag work for his Economics Tuna, called "ForTuna" which was the first Tuna I was introduced to on the first day of my first visit to Portugal 2 1/2 years ago and have been following and learning about them (Tunas)ever since. Now I know what you band geeks are thinking when you read about a "straight" male doing flag work or color guard hahahahaha and trust me, I gave him enough crap for it in the beginning :p But I came to learn that it's not really like color guard at all here, most Tunas only have one flag person (for holding their Tuna flag) and it's normally a male position and they can do some pretty challenging moves performing solo in front of the circle. Girls usually opt to practice the rhythmic tambourine dancing instead along with guys as well and these dances can be quite skillful and impressive to watch! The music Tunas play in general ranges from upbeat classic and modern songs to slow and moving Fado lullabies with vocalist and instrumental solos.

One of the most entertaining part of Tunas is the social celebrating involved before and after festivals and throughout the year and at Tuna dinners hosted at some (unfortunate haha) local restaurant. Though unlike regulated marching bands, drinking is a big part of the Portuguese Tuna culture hahahaha, combined with lots of wild singing and chanting toasts. But it's all in good fun and very rarely are there any problems caused by their celebrating. Beer is the Tuna drinking staple which flows like water at festivals and dinners. Some Tunas are found already half drunk (or worse) by the time they get on stage to perform. This may not make for a very skillful performance but it's certainly an entertaining one! Some "rules" are involved with drinking during Tuna dinners such as "Right Hand is Penalty" meaning one can only hold their drink in the left hand and if caught in the right, they have to chug the whole thing. Members will also be randomly singled out and are chanted on by the group to chug their drink with a traditional "initiation" song for being a part of the group. The drinking continues then after dinner and after the festival is over to celebrate awards and normally goes ALL NIGHT, the stamina that these kids have is incredible hahaha :p

After attending many dinners and festivals of my boyfriend's Tuna over the past year, I've grown to love and appreciate the unique differences these musical groups have compared to my background in marching band. At the same time though, I can also relate in their excitement and anticipation when waiting to perform or waiting to see if they won an award, especially since their Tuna is a smaller one like how my HS band was so I've come to share in their common experiences of triumph as well as loss and/or frustration when judging was believed to be unfair. I recommend to every American, especially you band geeks, to find a Tuna performance to watch if you visit Portugal, as an experience so significant to Portugal's culture is something not to be missed!

You can find a lot more detailed info about the history and traditions of Tunas on Wikipedia or in Portuguese on Wikipedia:

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

I'm Dreaming........of Sunny White Beaches

This week Lisbon has seen the first real sunny days for this year, FINALLY! It had been raining here at least once a day if not all day since New Years, and normally with only an average number of 45 rainy days per year in Portugal, this was a bit over the top! Anyhow, seeing the sun again is getting me anxious for the return of warmer weather and beach season!!

Last year, I spent many summer days out exploring the numerous amount of beaches, just within a 15-45min. drive from Lisbon; and with 11-12hrs of sun during the summer, you bet I was still laying out until 7 or almost 8pm at times :D Now after living in Miami (South Beach) with bath-like water temperatures, it was definitely a bit of an adjustment to Portugal's much colder waters. But there are plenty of other reasons to love the beaches in Portugal, the clear blue/green waters, the variety of big and small beaches with lots of waves or no waves, built in straw umbrellas, wind walls and volleyball areas for rent and all the friendly vendors walking around selling pão com chouriço and bolos de Berlim which are like sugared doughnuts mmmmmm. And here is my #1 pick for Best Beach in the area!

Guincho (pronounced "geen-shoo" with the g like "get")
This is by far my favorite stretch of beach in the area, it's the first one actually on the oceanfront when driving up north from Lisbon (as the city of Lisbon is set back in the Tejo river/bay area) and is situated in a beautiful area right below the Serra da Sintra mountains and surrounded by cliffs. Being directly on the coast gives this beach magnificent waves for surfers and wind surfers in which the winds have made soft rolling sand dunes that stretch far back from the water into the shady stone pine forests that make for great camping areas. The beach at Guincho is also one of the least crowded beaches around since it is just beyond where the Cascais train line runs up the coast from Lisbon that all the trashy tourists take. So you will have to have a car but the beach crowd that you will find here is either locals or upscale guests from the surrounding luxury beachfront hotels, one of them being the renown, 5 star Hotel Fortaleza. This hotel literally looks like a fort on the outside but the inside is like majestic castle with service to match and make you feel like a king or queen so anyone looking for great beach getaway or just want to stop by an upscale afternoon tea or cocktail hour, I highly recommend here :D

But if you're looking for something more casual to come to straight from the beach for an afternoon coffee or beer, there is a rustic hotel right up the sand dunes from the water where the inside is lobby/lounge is completely constructed all in petrified pinewood! It's quite a sight to see and the hotel also still boasts great service and a wonderful ocean view with your drink :) There are also plenty of moderate to upscale restaurants dotting the coast there, great for a fresh seafood lunch by the sea!

Besides all these wonderful reasons to spend a day at the beach here, Guincho is also great to come out to year around for its perfect location to watch an incredible sunset, which we did this winter parked on one of the cliffs while sipping wine. After the sun sets though, the cliffs become the equivalent to a "Lovers Lane" hehehehe so if you're in the area right now, probably would be a nice idea to end your "Dia dos Namorados" or Valentine's Day with ;)

For me, I think this sunny, Valentine's Day will be perfect to spend the day at my favorite beach for my favorite thing to do....lunch! :p

Monday, 9 February 2009

Portuguese. It Isn't Just Like Spanish.........

Portuguese is not an easy language to learn, in fact I repeat from an earlier post, it's pretty frickin HARD. After studying virtually every Latin-based language out there, I still find Portuguese to be the most difficult to get a handle on....and I've lived here over a year now! I am referring to Portugal Portuguese of course, yes, there are 2 main types of Portuguese, Portugal and Brazilian (not counting the African Portuguese from Angola and Mozambique and all the island dialects) like British and American English but even more distant from each other. The main difference between the two when you hear them spoken is that Brazilian Portuguese is a lot more relaxed and exaggerated, almost sing-songy in the voice (makes for great music) with their 'd's pronounced like 'g's (ex. "bom dia"="bom gia") while Portugal Portuguese is very closed sounding and almost muffled at times with many words clipped at the end or shortened for quicker speaking. This closed, "stiffer" way of speaking makes Portugal Portuguese infinitely more difficult than Brazilian to understand and speak.

Like most Americans, I myself had only heard Brazilian Portuguese spoken (in Miami and lounge music) before I came to Portugal, which if you are familiar with Spanish, one can easily tell that Brazilian has similarities to it in its sound. The assumption is made then that Portugal Portuguese will sound a bit like Spanish as well. HAHAHAHA....not at all folks. In fact, I believe the first way I described how it sounded (and my friends agreed when they heard it too) was like a TV that had gone fuzzy with the snowy screen. :p Others have also described it almost sounding a bit like "Russian", especially when people talk faster than normal (which is still fast). And English-speaking people are not the only ones who have a hard time understanding Portuguese, both Brazilians and Spanish find it difficult as well, most of them don't even try to make an attempt to speak Portugal Portuguese when in Portugal. Yet the Portuguese people can easily transcribe into Brazilian when in Brazil and can also speak mix of Portuguese and Spanish (called "Portañol" by them) when in Spain that is understandable to most Spanish speakers.

But even with the big difference in pronunciation here, I still thought I could transfer most Spanish words into Portuguese, by the same silly way many Americans try to make English words into Spanish by adding an "el" at the beginning and an "o" to the end, like purse to "el purso" (a favorite of mine hehe). So I thought all I had to do was change the "el" for the Portuguese "o" and add an extra "o" sound to the end to make the common Portuguese "oo" sound at the end end of words. Well, I was half right there, and that's where it ended for easy transfer hahaha. This is because Portuguese is actually more closely related to Latin than Spanish is, with many words in Spanish deriving from Arabic actually, due to its history of Arab rule, while Portuguese remained more isolated and refusing to adopt new words from other language influences. You can find then more similarities in Portuguese with French (both use verb+infinitive for continuous form) and Italian (both use an article and possessive to preempt a noun ex. "il mio Italiano" and "o meu Português") with all three having many cognate verbs.

But I was still stubborn in my learning and after much trial and error, I found that there are cognate nouns in both Spanish and Portuguese with just a small root change. An easy one to remember is:

-If the first letter(s) of a noun in Spanish is followed by an "l", it will be an "r" instead in Portuguese (normally). Some examples: playa >> praia (beach), plata >> prata (silver), obligatorio >> obrigatorio (obligatory)

There are other somewhat simple, ES-PT root changes such as "-n" in ES to "-m" in PT (en=em, con=com) but are not as straightforward since they tend to be mixed with the "ie" in ES to "e" in PT (quiero=quero, quien=quem, bien=bem).

This all may help you out for reading and writing in Portuguese but the pronunciation of these words after the root changes is quite significant and much more difficult to even come close to saying the word correctly! I am still amazed at myself for having managed to get to at least an intermediary level of Portuguese without any classes within 1 year of living here. I credit this from just literally being forced to use the language everyday for sheer survival, and I've also come to believe that's the only way one can ever learn well-enough such a difficult language. You will surely read more about future adventures I have with Portuguese and hopefully if you ever decide to visit (or move! *gulp*) here, you will be better prepared than I was and LEAVE YOUR SPANISH at the door! ;D

Friday, 6 February 2009

In Conclusion To My Intro.......

So now back to my reason why I came here, my desire to explore something different, which is what everything has been for me here since I arrived. The wine, food, language, culture, people, land, government, etc. are all different for me compared to the US, in both good and bad ways. I've been wanting to write about my everyday experiences here, especially for my friends and family back home always asking me about life here, but it is only now that I finally decided to create this blog. I have actually been writing for another blog since last July, called Catavino, part of Catavino Internet Marketing, which is an Iberian wine enthusiast website focusing on the wine, food, and cultural events of both Spain and Portugal. I am currently their main Portuguese correspondent, writing about Portuguese food, wine and culture through my personal experiences. Since my start with Catavino, I have expanded into becoming the database administrator for some of their other marketing ventures,, which is a worldwide wine blog database in which we currently have over 700 blogs inputed in 11 different languages. I am also working on a new database that will host information for all of the Spanish and Portuguese DO/DOC's.

Catavino has been my first attempt in writing semi-professionally; I never thought of myself as a writer before and have actually struggled in the past to write for required term papers and reports in school. I still have a bit of trouble getting myself started and as you notice, I tend to end up writing the same way I talk, A LOT hehehe, something I'm not always proud of. This being said, I created this blog not only to finally document my different experiences living and working here but also to practice and hopefully improve my writing skills- by making a goal to post to this blog on almost an everyday basis and most importantly, keep my posts down to a minimum of 500 words or less, short and sweet! The exception of course are these first couple "get to know me" posts and hopefully it wasn't too overkill for anyone and I'll actually end up getting some regular readers.

Since I will continue to make regular posts on Catavino about food and wine related things, (check them out at I intend for this personal blog to be more about my everyday experiences here, learning about the culture, interacting with people, random observations and ponderings and hopefully some humorous recounts of some the things here to me as an American, I have found to be outragious, ridiculous and/or just plain weird. Don't be surprised though if my love of everything food and beverage related slips out from time to time ;) I hope who whoever ends up reading my blog then, finds it interesting at the very least and maybe learns some new things about this unknown country through my own eyes and words. Comments are always welcome, both good and bad- (come one, gimme all you got!) and if you have any questions about here that you think I could answer, I am definitely open to helping enrich people's knowledge of Portugal. Until tomorrow then, BOA NOITE A TODOS!

And What Do You Mean By That?

Of course there are various reasons within that answer, but they all have that common denominator. The main ones though are: food and wine, language, culture and love. It all started from my background in culinary arts and hospitality management with a special interest in wines and spirits, when I had first become interested in Portuguese wine during my work as a Master Tutor for the Wines and Spirits classes while attending school at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA). I had actually been inspired by the teachings of one of the Wines professors there, Professor Michael Weiss, who had a special emphasis on the region of Portugal in his classes. This was also the most difficult region for his students to learn, as both the language and the predominant use of unknown native grapes proved to be daunting, as I found out also when trying to tutor them on it. It challenged me then to become more acquainted and knowledgeable in the area of Portuguese wine so that I would be able to answer better the questions students posed to me in my tutoring sessions. Along with doing a thorough reading of the chapter about Portugal in our Exploring Wine textbook, I searched the local wine stores for inexpensive (being on a college budget) Portuguese wines to try. This proved to be both difficult and easy at the same time, for out of the couple bottles I found, all of them were some of the most inexpensive European wines you could find in stores. To my satisfaction also, these wines turned out to not be "cheap" at all in their flavors, with both the flavors and colors of them being quite unique and distinct to other European wines using common grape varieties. I had vowed after college, that I would attempt to learn the languages and go to work first-hand in the main wine-producing countries of Europe, with Portugal being one of my top choices.

Finding a job in Europe and trying to move here is very HARD. Repeat, H-A-R-D, like kids, don't try this at home kind of hard. It took me almost two and half years after college to make an attempt come to Europe and stay here (and legally). During that time before I came here, I spent a year and half in Miami Beach, which I believed to be one of the most international cities in the US and the closest I thought I could get to "living and working in another country". I worked various jobs there in the hotel/restaurant business with all of them never amounting to anything, either because of economic failure (new restaurants closing all the time) or poor/uneducated management. After being overworked to death and under appreciated (underpaid usually), I decided to finally cut my losses and return back home to Washington DC where I spent 4 months saving up money to go take a TEFL course in Barcelona the following January (2008) to become an English teacher. Not only was English teaching advertised as the quickest way get a job and live in Europe, but I also wanted to take a breather from the restaurant industry for a bit, I had had so much frustration and resentment built up already from failed opportunities that I didn't feel it would be wise for me to continue at that time. My original intent had been to stay and work in Barcelona, to explore Spanish wines first, but I realized that I had already fell in love with Portugal; both with the country and a special someone, after taking 2 vacation trips there the year before while in Miami.

Through the immense help and support of that special someone, who is currently my boyfriend, Miguel, I moved to Portugal in February of 2008, got a teaching job, an apartment, bank account and finally, after a long struggle to find the right information, a residency permit in process. I had begun studying Portuguese on my own back in college and by the time I moved here, thought I had had a decent enough understanding of the language, BUT BOY WAS I WRONG. Portuguese is REALLY DIFFICULT to learn guys, and I'll tell you more about that in a later post. After living here for a year now though, I have at least finally managed to get to the decent level in Portuguese that I thought I had originally, and without any classes! That's probably one of the best things you get out of living in a foreign country long enough, free language lessons everyday.

"Why Did You Decide To Come Live in Portugal?"

Hello my curious readers, I am sure this is the first question that popped into your head after you read the title of my blog. It has been always been the very first question asked to me, both by family and friends, as well as every Portuguese person I've met in the past year that I have been living here. Why, why, many people are perplexed as to why a young American woman chose to leave the comforts of the US and boldly go live in a country that (unfortunately) very few Americans know anything about. I will even admit myself that up until about 6 years ago, I didn't even know exactly where Portugal was located in Europe! Sad I know...... but I know many of you can say the same thing for yourselves. But anyways, my answer to the most frequently asked question is, when it all comes down to because of my undying need to explore something different. Find out how I explain this next.