Sunday, May 20, 2012

Paris with Brooke

Our last months in Lisbon were packed with fun with friends. We also took one last trip in Europe and decided to spend almost a week in Paris. Brooke joined us there and we rented a small apartment near the Notre Dame. It was my first time in Paris since 2000 when I went backpacking across Europe with a good friend. It was a much more enjoyable experience not staying in a youth hostel and having money to eat good food. Paris has had an explosion of gastropubs, small restaurants with really great food at affordable prices. We took full advantage of them. Below are some of my favorite photos from our trip.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Alentejo Getaway

We took advantage of a long weekend and visited the Alentejo region to the east of Lisbon one last time in April. It is a beautiful part of the country and home to our favorite style of Portuguese food and some of the country's best wine. Our friend Michel went along with us and a couple other friends met up later that weekend.

We started our trip by eating lunch in Taberna Tipica Quarta-Feira in the Alentejo capital city of Évora. It was a restaurant we had read about in our food bible, Boa Cama, Boa Mesa, and it did not disappoint. Tipica Quarta-Feira can best be described as a hole in the wall restaurant in which there are no menus, but you are guaranteed to eat delicious Alentejano food. The owner does not speak English, but I would recommend this place to anyone traveling to Évora who wants to have a great dining experience.

We spent the long weekend at one of our favorite guest houses in the region called Monte da Fornalha. We had stayed there a year and a half before when Brooke and MaryKay visited and we always wanted to return. It is a beautiful place set in a cork forest just off the highway between the cities of Estremoz and Borba. The home was once a blacksmith's shop, but it is now a beautiful guest house with large rooms where a great breakfast is served daily in the large common room.

We spent our second day there touring a famous regional winery called Herdade do Esporão. It is one of the pricier wines of the region at around €17 per bottle and not worth the money in my opinion, but it offered a nice tour and tastes of several wines.

When I was calling around to set up a wine tour, several of the smaller wineries told me that they would not be open over the weekend because they would be at FIAPE. It took a little while, but I eventually was able to figure out that FIAPE was the region's biggest agricultural fair, kind of like a state fair on a smaller scale. There were livestock shows, food and wine display booths, local craft booths, fair rides, food tents and a nightly concert. I did a little research and discovered that the headliner of the fair would be a Portuguese pop star named David Carreira. We looked him up on YouTube and decided it would be fun to check out the concert since it was near where we were staying.

It was definitely worth going to the fair as it was the biggest event of the year in the area and thousands of people from the region attended. We spent the afternoon sampling wine, food and other drinks, driving bumper cars and eating at food stands.

And the David Carreira concert was great. We quickly realized that he was responsible for the cheesy Portuguese hits we heard in Lisbon dance clubs. The concert drew a huge crowd and we had a great time. One highlight was when he tried to spray paint the name of the city on a poster and misspelled it, not realizing that the city adopted the Spanish spelling rather than the Portuguese way.

Two other friends arrived the next day and we had a great time and went to one of our favorite restaurants in the historical center of Estremoz called A Cadeia Quinhentista, which means sixteenth century jail. As the name suggests, the restaurant is located in the city's medieval jail. Not only is it a great setting, the food is delicious and one of the new arrivals was blown away by his first taste of the region's food.

The trip was a memorable last visit to one of our favorite regions of Portugal.