Getting “Hammered” at Porto’s Festival of Saint John

Porto’s Festival of Saint John

Perhaps you recall my recent mentioning of fish heads? Or of fish-head hats? Of smoking sardines or curly green wigs? Of jubilant crowds to parades floating past while the beats and their throats formed the songs that were sung on the streets with some lyrics I could not work out but so ever enjoyed? 

Does any of this ring a bell?

Ding ding?

Lisbon’s Feast of Saint Anthony

Quite serendipitously, I stumbled upon Lisbon’s Feast of Saint Anthony in late Spring of this year, to be precise. It was my first dabble into the Portuguese festival experience. And it was pretty bomb.

So when I learned — mid-way through our Rick Steves’ Heart of Portugal tour — that we’d be arriving in Porto the night of its patron-saint’s festivities, I could hardly believe my luck.

“You mean I get to partake in more merrymaking, à la portugais?” Sweet! But I didn’t believe Porto’s fête de Saint John could ever quite top Lisbon’s festal homage to its holiest Tony.

But then, it wouldn’t be the first time I was wrong.

Continue reading “Getting “Hammered” at Porto’s Festival of Saint John”

Lisbon Travel Packs the Unexpected

What do green wigs, sardine hats, music, beer, and Saint Anthony have in common?

Not much!

That’s what I thought anyway — at least until recently, when Lisbon reminded me that travel is full of surprises.

I arrived June 12th, on a slightly delayed flight from London, super excited to be back in Portugal after a five-year hiatus. It turned out to be anything but your usual Monday night.

The first hint something special might be underfoot was a message my Airbnb host had sent the day before my arrival, which I only noticed as my plane was taxiing to the gate at Lisbon Portela Airport: Continue reading “Lisbon Travel Packs the Unexpected”

Morocco Beckons: The Ancient Medina

“I’m almost half way to Fez, Morocco. My flight departed at 12:40pm — a delayed departure, so we should arrive in Fez around 4:00pm Central European Time. I’m not sure what time that will be locally, but I’ll find that out when I get there. This is a moment I’ve been anticipating most of my life…”

That’s how my November 28th mid-flight journal entry began.

I had departed Germany’s Frankfurt Hahn airport and was anxiously anticipating my arrival in North Africa, in the medieval Arab city of Fez. My journal entry continued with a brief synopsis of the background story that had led me to take this flight, and then proceeded along the following lines:

Because of these events, I’ve had an acute awareness, ever since, of how my life would have been different had I not been adopted. Would my father still be alive? Would I be living in Morocco? Would I be Muslim? Would I speak Arabic and French? Or would German be my mother tongue? Would I cover my hair with a head scarf?

The myriad might-haves are endless.

Would I have grown up in Germany and passed easily between two cultures: the Moroccan and the German? Or would I have left Germany as a baby and grown up in Morocco? What would my place in society be as a Moroccan woman? Would I have wanted to travel? What would my outlook on life have been?

Would I be the same person? Continue reading “Morocco Beckons: The Ancient Medina”

The Ten-Pound Note’s New Face (It’s not Mr. Darcy!)

Although the review in my handy Rick Steves’ England guidebook wasn’t exactly a glowing one, I decided to make the visit anyway. I had grown up on Jane Austen novels and their television and film adaptations. Besides that, I also thought the underappreciated 2013 comedic film, Austenland, was rather a hoot. So why not check out the Jane Austen Centre as well?

After all, it’s not everyday I get to visit the Georgian-Era spa town of Bath, which my guidebook tells me has more “‘government-listed’ or protected historic buildings per capita than any other town in England.”

In fact, I had only ever visited Bath once before, on my thirtieth birthday, to be precise. I had managed to escape from the seafaring toils of my then floating home and workplace, the RMS Queen Mary 2, by escorting a passenger tour from Southampton, where the cruise ship was docked for the day.

This May, almost exactly ten years later, I was looking forward to revisiting the lovely English city, including the Royal Crescent, which had left quite an impression on me the first time around.

The Royal Crescent is a Georgian-Era row of 30 terraced houses — the seven-year-long construction of which was completed just two years before the US gained its independence in 1776. (Back when it was still just an unruly colony.)

the-royal-crescent
The Royal Crescent

From the expanse of manicured green lawn within the embrace of the crescent’s arc, one enjoys a fine example of the beautiful symmetry you’ll find all over Bath.

Georgian architecture, incidentally, gets its name from the time span of its reign, which coincided with that of four successive “George” monarchs: George I, George II, George III, and George IV, between 1714 and 1830.

By Jove, that’s a lot of Georges! Continue reading “The Ten-Pound Note’s New Face (It’s not Mr. Darcy!)”

From Devil’s Drink to Frappuccino: The Coffee Scene in Italy is About to Change

Bear with me while I reminisce about my first. I remember it distinctly: that very first sip of coffee with milk frothed up by way of pressurized steam.

A cappuccino.

Some of my earliest recollections revolve around the time I learned from my parents that we’d be leaving our home in Wichita, Kansas, to move to Greece. The idea was very confusing to me. I was four years old and fairly confident that Greece was a blob in a frying pan, not a habitable location.

Spoiler Alert: I was wrong.

An Intro to Café Culture

We moved to Athens. Everything was so new and different. It was the first time I could recall having encountered something along the lines of café culture. In those days I was too young to have been able to form any such concept of lifestyles and how they differ based on culture — yet still, I had noticed a difference.

The streets were full of people. People out walking or shopping at local markets. People who enjoyed watching people. Lively social interactions were part of the daily street scene. Life in Athens was livelier and more pedestrian-centric than what I had been used to in small-town, USA. (Not that I was drawing on much experience at that point in time.)

Now back to that first sip. I think I was already five by then, and we were getting settled into life abroad.

I was with my parents and sisters in a public gathering place — let’s call it a coffeehouse or café — but I did not know what a cappuccino was. My parents had each ordered the frothy beverage, and it looked so inviting, so tempting, so… YUMMY.

I begged them to let me have some. Eventually they gave in and allowed me a sip. I carefully held the warm cup with both hands and drew it in. What I imagined as a sort of chocolate-infused liquid-marshmallow mix touched my lips, it approached my taste buds, and… and… Continue reading “From Devil’s Drink to Frappuccino: The Coffee Scene in Italy is About to Change”