We aren’t exactly starved for sun in India. But there is something about the light in Portugal, in Lisbon in particular, that I am missing deeply as I write this from our airport hotel in cold, gloomy Frankfurt.
I am in love with Portugal. It is beautiful in a melancholic sort of way. To me its allure lies in its imperfections. The tired ode to an extraordinary history that once stretched all the way to the small town I grew up in. Mangalore, tucked midway between Goa and Calicut: Vasco da Gama’s first port of call on the Malabar coast. Street names echo surnames of some of my oldest friends. Albuquerque, Lobo, Fernandes, Pinto. No one here is familiar with Mangalore however, although everyone knows Goa. Even Diu!
There is much to love in this tiny strip of a country even without the allure of the familiar. First off, its warm, friendly, unpretentious people. The artful floor mosaics on pedestrian streets. The profusion of blue and white Azulejo tiles borrowed from the moors. The trams!
The quaint old shopfronts and antique bookshops around every corner. Lavish Manueline architecture rubbing shoulders with street art. The breathtaking monasteries that are UNESCO certified for good reason. The mournful strains of Fado streaming into our Coimbra apartment in the shadow of a 12th century Moorish tower.
We barely scratched the surface of what Lonely Planet terms Portugal’s ‘cinematic scenery’ in our four days in the Azores and on a day trip to the Douro valley. Another day trip to Braga (from Porto) has me determined to return on a road trip to exclusively explore the enchanting smaller towns someday.
Then there is the freshest of fresh seafood. And great coffee. All cheaper than anywhere else in Europe. The pastel de natas and the port were both far too sweet for our tastes. As were most egg based pastries and desserts. But a concoction of port and tonic (termed Portonic by Lisbon restaurants) smothered with ice and topped with slices of lemon was a delightfully refreshing discovery.
Most of all, I fell in love with the views. Marvellous perspectives every which way we looked in every city we visited. I doubt there is another capital city – barring Rio – that boasts more stunning views than Lisbon.
Stay tuned for more posts from Portugal (and Belgium!).