News of the world

Some quick notes on my recent trip to Portugal:

1. This is a friendly, comfortable, scenic country with an obviously high quality of life. Most of us find it very easy to bypass Portugal with our European itineraries, which is completely understandable, since we invariably head for the obvious heavy hitters—England, France, Germany, Italy, etc., etc. But how many of us bother to go deep enough to get a look at ole Portugal? The only reason I was there was because my friends Ed and Ronda drove west one day while vacationing in Spain’s Costa Del Sol and found Portugal to be friendly, comfortable and scenic. And now, here we were, seven nights at a beach resort (off season) with breakfast, rental car and five rounds of golf thrown in—$400.

2. These folks know how to cook fish. Yes, there are chickens and steaks in Portuguese restaurants. But eating fish is where it is totally and gigantically at. One night, I had a steaming fish stew called fish cataplan, another night a grilled fish called a golden bream, and, for a mid-afternoon snack one day, grilled jumbo sardines. Every time, these creatures were cooked to perfection. My guess is that the Portuguese aren’t having much trouble getting their recommended intakes of omega-3 fatty acids.

3. There are a lot of fish for these folks to cook. We went to the big, regional farmers’ market one Saturday morning. The fruits, vegetables and cheeses were all richly flavored and significantly cheaper than comparable goods here in the western United States, and the fish market section was completely and totally bodacious. There were golden breams, silver breams, tuna, salmon, mackerel and cod, plus an amazing array of tentacled creatures like squid, octopus and cuttlefish. Either the Portuguese are over-fishing the absolute bejesus out of the Atlantic, or the Atlantic is positively teeming with bounty.

4. Fuel ain’t cheap. About $6.50 a gallon. Then again, if you stop and do the math … our zippy little rental car took 10 gallons to fill and got 40 miles per gallon, meaning it cost 65 bucks for us to get 400 miles. My old Chevy Tahoe, by comparison, had a 25-gallon tank and got 15 miles per. With gas at $2.50 a gallon, it cost $62.50 to motor 375 miles. A surprisingly similar cost-per-mile situation.

5. As we sat on the beach one Sunday afternoon, drinkin’ cheap wine and eating fine cheese, it was seductively easy to daydream, for a moment, about living in an apartment built into a cliff overlooking the Atlantic (about 200,000 Euros), a luxuriously modern apartment within walking distance of shops, cafes, clubs and beaches, and wondering what it might be like to live in such a place where you could be assured that not one nickel of your taxes that year would be used to blow somebody’s head off on behalf of an aggressive, oil-crazed empire.