|Gare do Oriente, Lisbon|
* As odd as it sounds, I spoke the Galician language for the first time while in Portugal. Galician and Portugal were once the same language in the Middle Ages, and are still extremely similar today but have distinct vocabularies and very distinct accents. Still, I had mixed success getting my message across in Galician: some people understood me no problem, others replied in Spanish or English, and others were utterly confused.
|Church of Santa Maria de Belém, Lisbon|
* Something that really struck me about Portuguese was how often I caught myself thinking I was hearing Americas in passing; the accent is quite nasal, there’s lots of SHs and ZHs, and plenty of the Ls are of the “dark” L variety (think “bill” and “ball”).
|Gare do Oriente, Lisbon|
1) Es and Os at the ends of words are raised to Is and Us; so leite (“milk”) is said like “LAY-EE-tee” [ˈlej.tɨ] and the city of Porto is pronounced like “POER-too” [ˈpoɾ.tu].
2) When S and Z sounds come at the ends of syllables, they’re palatalized or turned into SHs and ZHs; so pastel (“pastry”) is said like “pahsh-TEHL” [pɐʃˈtɛɫ] and the city of Lisboa is pronounced like “leezh-BOE-ah” [liʒˈboɐ].
3) Vowels are nasalized when they have the tilde ~ over them or when they come before an M or an N: so maçã (“apple”) is said like “mah-SAHNG” [mɐ.ˈsɐ̃] and sempre (“always”) is pronounced like “SAYNG-pree” [ˈsẽ.pɾɨ].
* Moving on from language, I have to say I loved the streetscapes of Portugal. So many roads throughout the historic quarters still bear pairs of tram rails and are crowned with a net of electrical wires above, meaning pictures of the cathedral, for example, almost always are crossed by a grid of power lines. Although in Porto and Lisbon only half a dozen trolleys still run, the cities have left the existing infrastructure as-is—a wise, future-proof decision.
|Tram 28, Lisbon|
* I’m slightly synaesthetic, and for me Portugal has always been a, uh, yellow country—sunny and hazy and warm. All three expectations were met during this far-from-cloudy Holy Week, but the country was far less dreamy or magical than I had imagined. This in no way detracted from the beautiful, crumbling neglect of tiled Porto or the prehistoric attraction of grand, pasteled Lisbon.
|Porto from above|
* I’ve almost only ever seen aerial photos of Porto from friends on Facebook—like from lookout points, church towers, or bridges—and wasn’t ever really enthralled with what I saw. But I love-love-loved Porto on the ground, from six feet up: most houses aren’t necessarily as ship-shape as those in the old town of Sevilla, for example, but their ornate, often hand-painted azulejos or tiles give them a quiet dignity and contrast wonderfully with the crumbling paint and plaster.
|Pastéis de Belém and an espresso, Lisbon|
* Pastries were better in Portugal, too. I couldn’t get enough of the pastéis de nata—little tiny custard-filled pies with flaky crusts—as well as the bolas de Berlim—jelly donuts dusted with sugar and filled with custard.
* Despite feeling all too comfortable in a Portuguese café or bakery, I felt really lost in a restaurant…as in, had no idea what to order, when to have lunch or dinner, or how much things should cost. Part of the problem was the language barrier (chicken is pollo in Spanish, polo in Galician…and frango in Portuguese…ugh) but a lot of it was just being so used to eating in Spain where I get a 10€ all-inclusive daily set menu for lunch and then nibble here and there for dinner at night.
* But despite the differences, I was never too far from some good cured ham. Jamón in Spain—presunto in Portugal. Learn it, love it, live it.
|Torre de Belém, Lisbon|
* After a year being away from springtime Andalucía, I finally found orange trees in bloom, and drank deeply in the wonderful aroma of the azahar or orange blossom. Called flores de laranjeira (“flowers of the orange tree”) in Portuguese, I found some on the south side of Lisbon’s cathedral and within its hilltop castle. Simply the best.
* Not having cellphone service was refreshing but at the same time it was extremely frustrating when trying to coordinate travel/dinner plans with new acquaintances. How did we ever live without them?
|Pena National Palace, Sintra|
* Portugal was just different enough from Spain to feel foreign and push me out of my comfort zone, yet still eerily similar as a southern European/Iberian nation that I wasn’t disoriented or stressed out.
If you’ve been to Portugal before, what were your initial impressions of the country? Can any linguistic-y person who speaks Portuguese confirm or deny my comments about the language? Join the discussion below!