Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Spain and Portugal Blog #2

I left off of the previous blog with a question which has since been answered (at least to my satisfaction).  I mentioned our Norwegian flight went directly over Iran and Iraq.  I have found that U.S. airlines do not overfly these countries and other carriers are mandated to fly higher than ground-to-air missiles can reach.

So now our troupe of 4 have reached our lodging (and the picture above is not it).  Pictured above is a "castle" inside the grounds of a natural park with extensive gardens which even included a couple Giant Sequoia trees.

We rented a 3 bedroom house several miles west of Lisbon in order to be out of the fray and still near the coast.  We had a full kitchen, outdoor barbecue, and even a small pool.  The owners were very accommodating and gave us some pretty nice wine.  He is a stamp collector and I promised to send him some stamps from Thailand for which he was very excited.  Coastal access from our place was a short car ride and some even walked it for exercise.  One lucky stroke of luck was when food shopping we stumbled on to the wine buyer for the supermarket who, in his knowledge of wine, guided our hanging out tongues to several really nice selections.  On subsequent shopping trips all we had to do was duplicate our list.

This area where we stayed was a virtual warren of small villages and narrow streets with an occasional connecting road between them.  Fortunately I had downloaded Spain and Portugal on my "Open Street Map" phone navigation which guided us through the labyrinth, although there was much discussion in the car about how far "300 meters"was, or where the "next right" was.  We named our navigation's voice Franchesca and alternately praised her when we got it right and cursed her when it was obviously our own stupidity.

This stretch of the Atlantic seemed somewhat rougher than my experience with the Pacific of California.  It was kind of fun to point out to sea and say "there's New York over there", but of course you couldn't even see the Azores 700 miles distant.

My housemates, determined to walk distances as they always are, took a long coastal trek while I drove further up the coast and then back down to a predetermined meeting up spot.  We ate a nice fish lunch, which we did on multiple occasions, overlooking the ocean.

Something I learned is that Portugal is the largest consumer of cod (fish).  Not fresh cod, but dried and salted cod.  More interesting is that there has never been any cod in the waters off Portugal.

Here's the (short version) cod story:

In the 10th century, the Vikings were the first to dry cod which enabled them to sail great distances landing in Greenland, Iceland, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and even as far south as Maine. In more modern times, cod was fished down as far as Boston and the Gorges Banks off Massachusetts was teaming with the fish.  Hence the name "Cape Cod".  It's no coincidence that this is the natural range of the North Atlantic cod.
Vikings "freeze dried" the fish since the climate was so cold.

Centuries later the Basques began bringing in cod and their fishing grounds were kept a secret, which turned out to be the Grand Banks off Nova Scotia.  The Basques, unlike the Vikings, had access to salt, and so, learned to salt the fish before drying which made it last longer.  Cod is the perfect fish to dry since it only has .3% fat and the fat is what degrades dried fish.  The Basques became rich from the cod industry and especially since Catholicism all but mandated people eat fish on Fridays.

So today "salt cod" is ubiquitous throughout Portugal, Spain, much of Europe and even Brazil.  It now comes exclusively from Norway and Iceland.  In Portugal alone there are no less than six grades of salt cod for sale depending on such things as how they are cut, the size and other factors I am not privy to.  I saw many cod shops in Lisbon but, alas, didn't buy any.

Lisbon for me was not as exciting as the first time I was there years ago.  It is very touristed and overcrowded and consequently I only spend an afternoon going there by train.  The picture above is the famous convent where the nuns used egg whites to starch their habits.  With the leftover egg yolks they made a tasty little treat of egg custard called pastais de Belem.  Belem being the neighborhood where the convent (and the pastry shop) are.  They are pretty damn good with an espresso!

Having enjoyed our time on the coast of southern Portugal we now ask Franchesca how to get to our apartment in the northern city of Porto.   To be continued in blog #3.

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