Very exciting to have brother Nick coming for a visit but he only had 4 days – and wanted to fit in a surf or two. Crikey, mate. Actually I’m very happy as living in the mountains means I’m just a bit too far from the sea to get a regular fix, and it was about time my soul and her natural habitat were reunited.
No time to waste. Let’s get started. He arrives in Lisbon in the evening. We, of course, head directly for Confeitaria Nacional.
We have scored a bargain rate at a new 4-maybe-5 star hotel opposite Rossio Station called the Altis Avenida. Room wasn’t ready but the bar is so groovy that we forgive them, and plus the bed measures 190×200 instead of the 140×140 that apparently old Portuguese bed makers think is adequate for humans. We are totally stoked about this, so happy in fact that we don’t even get cross about the complicated parking arrangements synonymous with any trip to Lisbon.
Off to dinner then. Barely 50 metres away is one of my favs, the Casa do Alentejo. Adeptly described by my friend Lawrence as a place one goes to for the tiles, not the food, the Alentejo nonetheless serves up reasonably good grub with expert service. And the surroundings are superb, whether you take the baroque ballroom, the pastoral Alentejana scenic tiles or the classic blue & white salons. Also has an antique English urinal in the Mens, worth seeing, so I’m told.
Por certo, fresh-off-the-plane brother wants fun now, so off we waddle to the Elevador do Gloria and up to Bairro Alto. As a vague memory of an outdoor rooftop bar in Bairro Alto fails to re-materialise, we momentarily find ourselves embarrassingly un-local and at a loss. But lo! Like a genie from a bottle came another memory and we huddle together ringing the bell of the Pavilhão Chinês.
Here’s what we like about Portugal, indeed about Lisboa. Anywhere else in the western world this out-of-this-world-wacky and unique über cool bar-of-the-bizarre would have been run by a 23 year old heir to a fortune coke head with supermodel sidekick and turned into the most pretentious and expensive place to swill a cider. It would have a 45-page cocktail list with distracting art nouveau girly pictures… oh actually this one really does. However, the waiters are mature and serious about their red waistcoat and bow-tie attire. The barman is from a Woody Allen film. Somehow the decor is beyond description. It has come from the terrifying mind of Luis Pinto Coelho, a collector of bric-a-brac, antiques and ephemera. Discovering that the place has been designed is a bit disappointing actually: it looks like the rooms of a person of wonderful obsession who has lived a long and varied life. Take your Dad if you have one handy.
The morning comes after what is described by The One (a new character in my life who will be introduced in due course) as the best night’s sleep of his whole entire life. Just as well because we have some serious touristing to do after breakfast. Bit of a whip-round Rossio, a gawk at the Santa Justa, the inevitable Tram 28 ride up to Castelo São Jorge and a coffee back at the Confeitaria. Top 5 essential-first-time-in-Lisbon stuff that was all mission accomplished before lunch.
But even still before lunch we made my first ever visit to the Museu Nacional Do Azulejo, just the thing to blow the unsuspecting visitor’s mind, as it turns out. Tiles you say? Not just the world’s most extraordinary collection of tiles but a history of tiles themselves from those who created and mastered the art – the Portuguese. In a 16th Century convent. An exceptionally exquisite 16th Century convent, devoted to Our Lady of Pleasures (!) with glamour, serenity and architectural majesty. And quite a nice cafe too. Where we had lunch.
We then had surfing to do so we piled into the car and shot out of town towards Ericeira. The Coxos Beach Lodge in Ribamar, Mafra was our destination. At first I thought it slightly presumptuous of the lovely Sofia to suggest that we would like the place because other Australians had liked it too. But not only was Sofia a spunk, she was right. The Lodge was just our cup of tea entirely. Smashing views of the sea, highly practical and slightly funky accommodation… it kinda reminded me of the south coast of NSW. So totally cool was the basket of bits for the morning, to which we would add our fresh bread from the fresh bread box, and thus have breakfast. Way cool.
Brother Nick hired a board downtown and while he surfed we played a little too hard at Praia do São Sebastião. Here’s the final shot taken with my trusty Panasonic Lumix camera before it was wiped out forever by a large slice of Atlantic Ocean. Donations are welcome (Support button to the right above and down below, thanksverymuch).
That night, we all had the prawn, which is only natural after a day of sunny & salty physical activity. Of course the Coxos people anticipated our every desire by providing a large marisqueira restaurant next to our house. We ate a lot of seafood and drank a lot of vinho verde, surely Portugal’s greatest invention. Another perfect day.
After the second best night’s sleep of The One‘s life we packed off to Mafra (that place with King João V´s outrageous palace). We satisfied our nutritional needs before moving up north to Peniche for more surf.
Baleal is a fine spot, without doubt. Reliable waves, crystal clear water and a well turned out surfing infrastructure for hiring or how-to. I was a bit daunted by the local’s steamers, but the water temp turned out to be just fine, and Nick survived in a spring suit for over an hour.
Souls well washed, we then headed for the woods of the beira litoral (that´s central Portugal to you, newbie) stopping in Leiria for nourishment Martin & Thomas style. We finally checked in at My House in Portugal with just enough light in the sky to shock the shit out of my poor brother who was left wondering the whole night how I could have bought such a monster… er, ruin.
Next day was a hotty so we headed over the Serra da Lousã for a swim, a nature hit and some castleage. Boys like castles don’t they? I think it makes them go all Errol Flynn.
Had to show off my newly found sneaky swim spot and we showed the locals how to do the Australian crawl. In the nuddy.
More castle followed, at Montemor-o-Velho. And then onto Tentúgal for, Pasteis de Tentúgal of course, but also for the Casa Armenio, a stupendous restaurant that does the meanest roast duck this side of Beijing. Another bottle or two of snappy Portuguese tinto and it’s time for another big sleep.
Thus the trip ends, as they always do, with a rush down the A1 to the airport and then with a woosh, my brother and his waves were gone. :´(