Posted by: canthold | November 23, 2007

Lisbon Part I – What is that – soup?

Lisbon from above.

I know that going to Europe was a Very Big Deal. It took a lot of preparation on so many levels. I didn’t talk about it much partly because I was too wrapped up in my daily grind to even notice something was afoot. Part of me, too, didn’t want to get excited because I was apprehensive about leaving my girls. I was terribly afraid that something would happen to me or them and my good-byes were going to be the last I ever saw of them. What a horrible thought, eh? (And yes, my ducks were in a row: Will with guardians listed – check; Temporary guardian paperwork with medical numbers listed – check; House somewhat clean – check.)

For all the Holding My Tongue, a lot went into this little ol’ week abroad. My husband and I bought all kinds of travel books and watched DVDs on the various cities and I made a grand effort to learn Spanish. And this wasn’t just the slang that I’m used to from growing up in California, this was the lisp and all Spanish of Spain. If you’re interested, download the podcast from Coffee Break Spanish. It’s awesome. Unfortunately, I’m a visual learner and the extra printed materials were more expensive than my cheapskate-self would splurge for. They would have definitely helped.

We threw Lisbon, Portugal into the itinerary after watching a DVD from Rick Steve’s. It looked so cool that we had to do it. It reminded us a lot of San Francisco. The funny thing that happened, though, was that Portuguese is so different from Spanish (it is but it isn’t) that all my Spanish efforts got flushed down the drain. First of all, I tried to learn some Portuguese and it took me two days to finally get obrigada (thank you) down pat. Also, everyone that we encountered spoke English and it was completely unnecessary to speak the language.

I am not of the opinion that foreign countries need to cater to Americans, but I’m not above using English as a common language when I need to. The Portuguese people were very friendly and never once seemed annoyed that we weren’t fluent.

We mainly used a travel book by DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. The Lisbon city guide was much better than the Top Ten Book. The unfortunate thing about this book, was that every time we did one of the walking tours we got incredibly lost. Some of the streets were not as apparent in real life as they were on the tour map. It was a good thing that the book also had regular street maps. All the tourists we saw traipsing around the city had this exact book that we did. Maybe not exact, because sometimes it was in another language, but all the same publisher with the same photo on the front. One of the times we got lost, another couple bailed us out because they had already done the walking tour.

The guide also introduced us to Portuguese coffee. They recommended to order uma bica. So my husband and I walked up to a stand – almost like a coffee kiosk – and ordered two uma bicas. The woman looked at us like we were nuts. Apparently uma is the Portuguese word for one. We were trying to order two one coffees. And as we discovered, these bicas were tiny little espressos. We didn’t end up trying them because the woman at the counter wouldn’t take our ten euro bill. It was too big for her. My husband and I looked at each other like what? In turn, however, we found a quaint little cafe and ordered dosh galao instead. These coffees were more like sweet cappucinos served in juice glasses. They were so good! They would float to the top of my Lisbon experience and I couldn’t get enough of them. No. Really. I didn’t get enough of them.

The next afternoon, my husband and I ended up on the Avenida da Liberdade at a cafe. The waiter spoke English, but we didn’t know how to order our little coffee treasures except in Portuguese. And our Portuguese sucks. In fact, my husband couldn’t remember the simple little word galao (the word for gallon, apparently – and missing the accent marks here, too) so he used another word instead. He tried ordering a galdo.The waiter looked completely confused and asked, “What is that – soup?” We said something along the lines of cappuccino and he brought us cappucinos doggone it. It wasn’t the right thing. I was bummed, but we got a good laugh out of it.

Stay tuned for more adventures of the Traveling Holders in Portugal and Spain…

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