For a while, I thought Spain was my favorite country. Its color, history, and exciting culture drew me in, from Barcelona to Granada. Then I discovered Portugal. While some might view Portugal as Spain’s quiet, boring little sister, nothing could be farther from the truth. Portugal has a personality that is distinctly its own, filled with quirky cities, excellent food and wine, and some great music.
Portugal is known for many things, most notably its wine, called Port. Port is a heavy, sweet, red wine that is excellent as a post-dinner refresher. Kosher Port is hard to find in Portugal itself, but is available at many kosher wine shops worldwide.
When I visited Portugal, I stayed in its capital city, Lisbon. Unfortunately, I only had two days there. The city demands more time spent exploring, as does the whole country. The small size of Portugal means that you can easily see all the major attractions in a week long trip. Still, even a two-day trip can yield a lot of gems in this wonderful city.
On my first day in Lisbon, I went for a walking tour of the city. Many compare Lisbon to San Francisco, and I can see why. This capital city is colorful, vibrant, hilly, and also has a bridge that looks remarkably like the Golden Gate. There is also a fun graffiti scene, encouraged by the local government to attract tourists, and to avoid painting and refurbishing old buildings. Vibrant murals are instead created by talented local artists, injecting a shot of whimsy to the city. At night, the streets are alive with young revelers bar-hopping, hoping to catch some fado, local Portuguese blues music. The songs are usually sung by locals, and the price is the cost of a drink to listen to some heart-stirring, emotional tunes.
Lisbon has a lot to offer with its laid-back vibe, colorful streets, and fascinating history. While there is not much by way of a Jewish presence there today (and even less options for kosher food), Portugal has a rich Jewish heritage stretching all the way back to 482 CE. After the Inquisition in Spain begun, many Jews flocked to Portugal as a safe haven from certain death. Unfortunately, the Spanish Inquisition was followed by a Portuguese Inquisition, leading to many the Jews fleeing to other European countries such as Amsterdam and France. A large number stayed, and practiced their faith in private. During World War Two there were efforts among the Portuguese to absorb any Jewish refugees, though the appearance of German forces in nearby France put an end to that. Currently, the community numbers some 500, half of whom are not permanent residents. Still, its wide-reaching and interesting history is a draw for anyone looking to explore the Jewish roots of this area. Portugal is home to many beautiful and exciting sights, such as Sintra. Check back tomorrow for some more photos and a history of this fascinating “Disney Portugal.”