You might be thinking we’re nuts to be out gallivanting around Portugal at a time like this…
With the virus still active around the world, including here in Portugal, we are exploring the country, connecting with friends, attending concerts, and learning more about the history and culture of this wonderful country by visiting local monuments, museums, and landmarks. Why, you might be wondering, do we feel comfortable enough to do that?
A large part of it is because we are impressed with how the government, in lock step with scientists and healthcare leaders, responded to the pandemic early on and how they continue to manage it. They communicate in a coordinated, consistent, and transparent manner with the public. As a result, Portugal has been praised by numerous foreign media sources for their quick and decisive actions that helped reduce spread and minimize the number of deaths. The Portuguese people are also to be commended for respecting and following the guidance of health officials, even when they staged a large-scale rally for worker’s rights on May 1. Portugal’s testing program is very robust and readily available for anyone who needs/wants a test, including antibody testing, which Won and I did (we are both negative for exposure). And, commercial entities know that if they do not follow the rules, their businesses will suffer or be fined/shut down.
Additionally, in the middle of May, as the country began to slowly lift the lock down in phased steps, the government deployed the “Clean&Safe” certification program for hotels and restaurants. This program requires a business to follow a strict set of hygiene rules and actions to receive and maintain the certification. This, in turn, demonstrates to their customers that everything possible is being done to protect their health and well-being.
Another important aspect is that Won and I have both downloaded a mobile phone app called “STAYAWAY COVID” to facilitate contact tracing efforts. It was developed in Portugal and made available on September 1. Since Prime Minister António Costa declared downloading the app a civic duty, more than 780 thousand people have complied. That’s pretty impressive.
Using GPS, the STAYAWAY COVID app shares randomly generated depersonalized identifiers with nearby mobile phones. These identifiers are stored for 14 days on your phone. The app does not access personal data or location data (geolocation is not used). The goal of the app is to break chains of infection and does not require 60% of the population to use it to be effective. However, the more people who do, the more likely asymptomatic people, in particular, will become aware of their own potential role in transmitting the disease and take the right actions to be tested and/or self-quarantine.
The app constantly monitors our risk level. You can see a screen shot of the home screen of the app that I took from my phone to the left. When someone receives a positive diagnosis, their doctor gives them an anonymous code to enter into the app. The code is only valid for 24 hours. Once entered, the app proactively notifies anyone who has been within exposure range (two meters) in the last 14 days. This notification enables those individuals to self-assess, quarantine, and/or seek medical attention. Once someone has used the code they will need to reinstall the app to start the monitoring process again.
With all that in place, we feel comfortable traveling within the country, staying at hotels, dining out (outside whenever possible), visiting landmarks and museums, and working out at our health club. I shared what our health club does to maintain a safe environment in my post titled “Friday to Friday.”
After we returned from our trip to the Algarve, we began to look forward to the musical event we were planning to attend that weekend. Mozart’s opera, Così fan tutte, was being performed by the Lisbon Metropolitan Orchestra. They were accompanied by six incredibly talented individuals singing the parts of the main characters while standing in front of the orchestra on stage.
The event took place in the Grand Auditorium of the Cultural Center of Belem (CCB). Tickets were €5,00 each, which we purchased in advance. The CCB is located just across the street from the Jardim da Praça do Império (Imperial Garden Plaza) and right next to the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Jerónimos Monastery). The huge fountain in the center of the park was on that evening! The first time we had ever seen it running. I wrote about this park, the monastery, and other nearby landmarks in my post called Belém – Fun, Fascinating and Fabulous. Check it out to see more!
Everyone wore face masks the entire time we were inside the building. In the auditorium, every other set of two seats was blocked off which meant no one was sitting immediately in front, to the side, or behind us. When the performance was over we all stood to applaud the performance, but everyone refrained from yelling “bravo/brava” as requested before the performance began. The ushers asked each row to wait until the prior row had exited so as to maintain social distancing. There were ushers stationed at every door to facilitate the process and it went pretty quickly, but we were still thankful we were at the end of row five. The evening was really enjoyable and we are looking to see what other musical events might be scheduled at the CCB in the coming weeks.
The following Tuesday evening we had a picnic at the very top of Parque Eduardo VII in the center of Lisbon with our friends Jennifer and Mark. We had stunning views of the city all they way down to the river as we watched a spectacular sunset. What made this picnic even more special is that Eleven, a Michelin Star restaurant, prepared our meals for us. How did we pull that off?! Well, I’ll tell you…
A few weeks back, my Pilates instructor, Florbela told me about Fever. Fever is an urban events discovery app where we can easily find and purchase tickets to events and special activities in Lisbon and the surrounding areas, often at a discount. The app lets us set filters that align with our interests, but we have access to everything being offered so we are not limited. This is how we learned about the picnic. In addition to Lisbon and Porto, Fever is available in New York City, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, Seattle, Canada, Spain, France, Belgium, Brazil, and Singapore. It’s incredibly convenient to use because you pay through the app which also acts as the ticket when you arrive. An added benefit is that it is also helping us with our Portuguese since nothing is in English.
The cost of the picnic was €35,00 per person and the menu included cheese and sausages; mini quiches with spinach, raisins and Madras curry; melon with Alentejo ham; tomato heart gazpacho with ox and watermelon; homemade brioche sandwiches with marinated salmon and fresh cheese; Oriental roast beef salad with shimeji mushrooms and vegetables; and carrot and olive Madeleines. And, for desert? Individual apple tarte tatins with crème anglaise. We also received two bottles of water and one bottle of wine (our choice of red or white). All the food was loaded into large woven baskets by the restaurant to transport to the park. Superb!!
The picnic finally afforded us an opportunity to break in our new super-duper picnic basket! Jennifer had a good laugh at the difference between ours and theirs and made me take a picture!! LOL!
To give you an idea of how big Parque Eduardo VII is, I’ve pulled a photo from the Internet. We were sitting at the very top of the park in the half circle behind the really tall pillars (furthest from the river). The temperature that evening was perfect and the sunset beautiful.
Next up is a romantic sailboat ride on the Rio Tejo (Tagus River) at sunset when we’ll sail under the Ponte de Abril 25 and past Lisbon to see the lights of the city. It will be just the two of us (and the crew, of course!). We’re really looking forward to it. We would never have thought to do something like this on our own, and even if we had, I’m not sure we would have been able to figure out how to pull it off. We’re loving the Fever app!
Later that week, Mark was on a business trip so Jennifer, Won, and I met for lunch at Spot, the outdoor cafe at Hotel Fortaleza do Guincho Relais & Châteaux (Guincho is pronunced “gheen-cho” with a hard “g” sound).
Originally, the building was a military fort built in 1642. It was transformed into a hotel and restaurant in 1959 and totally renovated in 1998 when it became a 5-star hotel, joining the prestigious Relais & Chateaux brand at that time. It is perched on a cliff above the Atlantic and between the Guincho and Crismina beaches offering stunning views in every direction. The restaurant inside the hotel has received a Michelin Star every year since 2001. The great thing about Spot Cafe is that the food comes from the same kitchen. Spot has an extensive gin and tonic menu too. Jennifer and I both ordered one with mint and lime. Yummy.
Before we left, we asked if we could see the inside of the hotel and take a few pictures. The hotel only has 27 rooms making it very intimate and exclusive.
As Won was reading this post prior to publishing, he remarked that it sounds like we eat at Michelin Star restaurants all the time, which couldn’t be further from the truth! While we certainly wouldn’t mind if that was more of a regular thing, trust us, this latest spate was a total anomaly. On the other hand, there is always some place interesting to see or something fun to do around here.
And, speaking of fun…one of our favorite things to do is take Sweet Pea to the beach. We typically head to Tamariz Beach a 15-minute walk from our home. The hour before sunset is a magical time when the temperature is comfortable, the crowds are gone, and the tide is out.
As soon as her paws touch the sand, Sweet Pea takes off and runs just for the sheer joy of it. Then, without hesitation, heads straight for the water where she scrambles over the exposed rocks and wades into the tidal pools. It gives us such joy to watch her.
The only downside to such a perfect evening? Sand everywhere and a bath for Sweet Pea when we get home, but it is always worth it!! (And, just so you don’t worry, we put the starfish right back down where we found it, completely unharmed.)
While we recognize there is a risk every time we walk out our front door, we know everyone around us is making the same concerted effort as we are to mitigate that risk. I truly believe that people here understand their civic responsibility to keep themselves and others safe. So, until an effective vaccine is widely distributed, Won and I will continue to follow all the rules, which includes wearing face masks, even if it means I have to be seen in public with my husband and his wacky sense of humor!
Next week we plan to submit our paperwork to hopefully complete the registration process for our car as well as apply for our Portuguese driver’s licenses. These are big next steps…wish us luck!!
Until then, please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay in touch!
From Portugal with love,