One of my favorite perks of the job is traveling. Thanks to my role at Communication Links, I’ve been fortunate to see way more of the world than I otherwise would have. Of course, this all came to a grinding halt once COVID hit, but now that we’re clawing our way back to the “old normal,” I’ve been able to hit the road just a little bit once again.
Most recently, Mike Petty and I were in Portugal for a series of meetings with the Discovery Land Company team at CostaTerra. It’s Discovery’s first property in Europe. We were in the country for a week, primarily in Comporta, a small seaside town a bit over an hour south of Lisbon. Unfortunately for me, I spent half the time sick in my hotel room. I’ll spare you the gory details. Let’s just say I had food poisoning. Although I’m not entirely convinced that diagnosis is correct, it will suffice.
JR's Take on Portugal
Originally, I had planned on writing a travelogue, recounting the awesomeness of Portugal. Unfortunately, being pent up inside a hotel room for 60 hours put the kibosh on that. As a fallback, I recorded some of my fever-dream observations about Portugal, travel and my own cultural myopia. Click each topic headline below for some key takeaways from the trip.
I’m fine with long flights. I like the “alone time” to catch up on the four or five books I seem to be reading at any given moment. We left Newark on TAP Air, Portugal’s national airline. I bleed red, white, and blue. But I have noticed over the years that European airlines – British Airways, TAP Air, etc. routinely seem to have better customer service and nicer planes than our US carriers. Even flying in coach, they just feel a bit more civilized. US airlines need to step it up.
I find it a bit amusing how hit or miss passport control agents can be. It doesn’t matter where you go. Some have this “super-cop” mindset as if every visitor is a dangerous security threat (looking at YOU, Canada), while others couldn’t care less. Prior to my departure, I was told I needed a negative COVID test and a letter from the Portuguese Embassy in Washington, DC to enter the country. I was expecting some hardcore scrutiny. To my surprise, however, the agent who stamped my passport not only did not want to see ANY of my paperwork, he seemed genuinely annoyed when I asked if he was sure he didn’t want to take a look. So much for border security.
Leaving the airport was a bit chaotic even for someone raised on Phoenix’s speedways. The Portuguese have a serious infatuation with roundabouts and the more lanes, the more better…apparently. To survive, pay no attention to speed limits or common courtesy. Just say a prayer, hit the gas, and aim for daylight.
Overall, the Portuguese countryside in the Alentejo region reminded me of rural California. I’m not exactly sure which part. Let’s just say some place between Ventura and Monterey. It’s mostly rolling hills, very agricultural with pines and cork oaks. Pastoral is a good word. I like it. It’s nice, but it lacks drama.
All week…well, when I wasn’t in my room…I kept having serious 80s flashbacks. For instance, we once turned on the radio to hear “Your Kiss Is On My List” being sung in Portuguese. Later in Lisbon, I passed a group of girls on the street dressed like Bananarama, and I swear a member of Men Without Hats was walking up close behind. Another anachronistic bit of Portuguese life I spotted in Lisbon were groups of women – young and old – leaning out their windows chatting with one another while watching people on the street. It was a scene cut from a Cyndi Lauper video – or perhaps Hollywood Squares. I’m not sure if this is all part of some current trend or if the Portuguese are simply catching up. Either way, it was charming.
Speaking of being out of time, the architecture both in Lisbon and in Comporta was comforting to me in its traditionalism. Many…most…of the buildings had added modern touches, but they certainly honored the old bones. Even new structures kept the same lines and mimicked the building techniques of centuries past. The beauty of this is that everything felt perfectly in place, and it lent itself to the easy charm of the country.
Okay…I’m gonna ruffle some feathers. Sorry. I’m not a fan. I know. I know. I’m the gauche American, but seriously how much cured meats and bread can one eat in a day? And, let’s talk about this whole scrambled eggs and fish thing. WHAT. ARE. THEY. THINKING? First thing I did upon returning to Newark was eat an entire pizza. By myself. Oh…and to my friend whom I won’t name – Nah, dude. They don’t have tacos.
This was my biggest surprise. As a native of Arizona, I’ve picked up enough Spanish over the years that I can generally catch the drift of a conversations, even if my processor isn’t fast enough to participate. I THOUGHT Portuguese would be easy to pickup. Afterall, on paper a lot of the root words look similar to Spanish. But the language sounds NOTHING like Spanish. First time I heard it, I thought it was Slavic. It totally caught me off guard.
That's a Wrap!
So there you have it. That’s my take on Portugal. It’s a charming country. The people are incredibly warm and friendly. English is widely spoken in the more touristy areas. The beaches are great and Lisbon looks like a fantastic place to explore. I’d like to spend some time there when I’m feeling more myself. I’m sure there are many magical places and cool experiences I missed out on. But when I do return…I’m packing a lunch. See you out there.