In late March/early April of this year, I visited Portugal. Now I have finally to come round to writing about it, as I have been promising to.
First obvious question: Why Portugal? No reason in particular. Well, apart from it being cheap and convenient – as it happened, I only had to pay for the air tickets. I wouldn’t have gone otherwise – there are a few dozen other countries and regions higher up on my to-go list both globally (e.g. China, India), and even in the Mediterranean (e.g. Italy, Greece, Israel). But obviously I was not going to say no to this, so off I flew to Lusitania.
This post is split into two parts.
The first part recounts my general impressions of Portugal. There are quite a few of them, but this Tweet I wrote on my first day there can still serve as a tldr:
Ways in which Portugal is sunny Eastern Europe:
1. Low wages
2. Low low prices (1.5 Euro beer in Lisbon)
3. Russian pronunciation
4. People don't understand ingles (this is a good thing) pic.twitter.com/01OOBDFGt2
— ak (@akarlin88) March 27, 2018
The second part has more details and photos about the specific places I visited. These were unfortunately limited to just the Algarve and Lisbon. We did not visit Portugal’s second city Porto (famous for its port and vinho verde), nor Portugal’s ancient capital of Evora. Still, Lisbon and the Algarve account for approximately half the demographic weight of the country, so it’s a decent enough survey.
Now might also be a good time to mention that I will be going to Romania on June 1-11 for a friend’s wedding (two days in Ploiesti, three days in Brasov/Transylvania, and the rest of the time in Bucharest). Posting will be light during that period – hope nothing major happens in the world during that time. I will of course have an HBD-aware account of the Romania trip up in time as well.
The skin hues of the native Portuguese range from almost as dark as you would find in India, to as light as any in Europe (although the eyes are almost always dark).
On my flight from Moscow to Lisbon, we were accompanied by a children’s football team. I noticed they all tended towards the darker end of the spectrum. My admittedly very tangential impression was that darker skin was correlated with more blue-collar occupations.
The numbers of non-European foreigners in Lisbon and the Algarve (primarily Negroes and Indians) was approximately similar to what you see in Moscow (Central Asians and Caucasians), though far less than in London.
My understanding is that many of the Negroes were (1) displaced post-colonial elites, or (2) Angolans whose oil wealth has enabled them to snap up large chunks of the Portuguese economy. I gather that they are higher quality immigrants than is usual from Africa, and do not constitute much of a criminal factor.
One little known fact about Portugal is that there are many Indians – you see them almost as often as you do in Britain. The colony of Goa, which used to be Portuguese, was annexed by India in a two day war in 1961. Salazar cut off diplomatic relations with India, and allowed any Goans who wanted to emigrate to Portugal to do so – consequently, many Portuguese-Indians and Catholic Indians did just that, and today there are about 70,000 Luso-Indians in Portugal. They have integrated very well; I suspect they might be richer than the average Portuguese.
Relations between Portugal and India were only restored in 1974 after the end of the Estado Novo in the face of fierce conservative opposition.
One popular joke is that Portuguese is like Spanish but with a Russian accent.
I can see how the stereotype came about. On walking the streets in the glaring midday Sun, I often got a faint sense of deja vu – a feeling that I was in some sort of Mediterranean Russia, a presentiment that Tropical Hyperborea had immanentized while I was in the air over Mitteleuropa.
The dog of Faro.
Although Portuguese is considered to be one of the harder Western Romance languages, I found the basics of it very easy to pick up and to transition to very simple conversations (ordering tickets, ordering food, asking for directions, etc). I have some experience with Romance language, namely French and Latin, so picking up vocabulary was trivial; meanwhile, the zh’s and sch’s that tack on to the end of Portuguese words, while a formidable challenge to R1b subhumans, is of no relevance to people used to Slavonic languages.
Few Portuguese over the age of 50 understand English. Almost all Portuguese under the age of 30 do. Between 30 and 50, some do and some don’t.
From the time I flew in, I was getting strong California vibes – the sultry atmosphere, the surfeit of concrete and asphalt, the new buildings that look like large white boxes, the range of modest to luxurious villas that dot the inner Algarve.
Gare do Oriente central train station in Lisbon.
Thanks to EU convergence funds, infrastructure was, if anything, even more modern than in California.
Rubbish collection in Sines.
Garbage is thrown into labelled metallic bins, which would electronically move aside on the days when the garbage men would come round to collect them. Very SWPL.
Still, perceptions could be deceiving – in reality, Portugal is, of course, much poorer than almost anywhere in the US or Western Europe. The cars on the road were very old on average (as confirmed by statistics). Wages were low, as indicated by very low Uber fares, and as also confirmed by statistics – the average wage in Portugal is around €900, which is similar to Greece and twice lower than in Spain.
Fishing in the Algarve.
In the Algarve, fishermen still ply their ancient trade on simple wooden boats with just a motor attached and no modern navigation or fishing equipment that I could see.
My impression is that the material living standards of the Portuguese are lower than that of the average Muscovite, though modestly higher than that of the average Russian.
Portugal is also very good for white fish, but salmon is more expensive than in the UK.
The prices of most products was lower than in the advanced world – on average, prices are around 75% of those in the US or the UK (for comparison, Russia is about 50% cheaper). Some products were much cheaper – for instance, a pint of Sagres or Super Bock (their equivalent of Bud Light/Zhigulevskoe) was €1-€1.50 at most bars, and a litre flask of green wine (vinho verde) can be bought even in decent restaurants for €5. In contrast, it is very difficult to find any beer for cheaper than $3 in Moscow and cheaper than $1.50 in the provinces, to say nothing of London. It’s a safe bet that I would become a wine alcoholic if I were to live in Portugal.
2 bedroom apartment in a bucolic setting (see the horse?) in between Alvor and Portimão.
View from our central Lisbon apartment.
Housing prices are quite substantial – about 3-4x cheaper than in California, which of course still makes them rather stratospheric. My impression was that a modest villa in the Algarve or a reasonably central one room apartment in Lisbon (or one of the premiere tourist cities) goes for no less than $250k, which is about equivalent to Moscow, and more than in Brussels. Two of the apartments we stayed at via Airbnb – a 2 bedroom one in between Alvor and Portimão, and a small one bedroom one in central Lisbon just half a block away from the Russian Embassy – both cost around $250k according to their owners.
This is generally confirmed by statistics. I was told by an Uber cabbie that Lisbon has seen inflated interest from the global celebrity class in the past few years, so Portugal’s old draw as a quieter and less expensive retirement location for British pensioners has become outdated.
From my limited interactions with them, the Portuguese were kind and helpful, possibly to a greater extent than you would typically find in the UK (if not the US). But society was a bit more… haphazard.
As in much of the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe, there are plenty of aggressive drivers. This is backed up by the statistics – the level of road fatalities is similar to Hungary and Romania, and twice as high as in Spain. They park haphazardly, as in Eastern Europe. When we arrived at Sintra, the formally designated parking areas quickly filled up – no problem, the resourceful Portuguese continued to blithely park in all sorts of unlikely nooks and crannies, and there were no parking wardens to punish them for it.
Near central Lisbon.
While Spanish balconies are festooned with the national flag, they become replaced by drying laundry on crossing the Portuguese border. This reflects common stereotypes about the Spanish being more nationalistic and arrogant than the humbler Portuguese.
Urban art in Lagos .
There is graffiti everywhere, more so than in any other country I have been to (to be fair, I haven’t been in too many countries yet). Though there is also a lot of good street art of the sort that Fred Reed describes in Mexico.
Health & Safety inspectors and litigation lawyers of the sort that tyrannize the Anglosphere have evidently been told to BTFO. Portugal wisely avoids challenging Darwin, with the result that you can stride freely along Portuguese castle walls, a 10 meter drop onto sheer rock buttresses on either side and with just the original crenellations for company, without eyesores in the form of warning signs, guardrails, and other physical barriers breaking up the immersion. It is very Eastern Europe in this regard.
Typical street in Lisbon – many ads for Communist parties such as the PCP and PCTP/MRPP with their hammer and sickle logos.
Modern art in Portimão.
The Portuguese don’t much like their Salazar.
As in Spain, the Left has won in Portugal. Almost all the parties of note that actually win votes are Left or Center-Left.
The primary cause, I assume, is that the conservative authoritarianism that ruled over them mid-century provoked a counter-reaction that lingers to this day, just as the Communist experience was instrumental in the electoral triumph of conservatism in most of Eastern Europe. However, this reaction seems to have somewhat more muted in Portugal than in Spain, maybe because Salazar was less overtly repressive than Franco.
Portugal remains more socially conservative than Spain, and is one of the more race realistic countries of Europe. On the other hand, I assume that Jose Ricon’s observation that political correctness is less prevalent in Spain than in the Anglosphere likewise applies to Portugal.
The Portuguese love their roundabouts – they may be even more frequent there than in England. Though as a Portuguese Twitter user pointed out to me, their popularity is sooner due to their low cost of construction, which allows municipal heads and contractors to pocket EU funds designated for road improvements.
Vague Speculations on Corruption
On paper, corruption in Portugal is very low – lower than in Italy, and certainly lower than in Greece or the Balkans, to say nothing of the ex-USSR. Still, even ten days there was enough to see that the country isn’t quite Hajnal tier.
On our first day in Lisbon, we encountered a scammer in the Lisbon Metro, a shifty looking ethnic Portuguese fellow who wanted to “explain” to us how to buy a day pass (in reality: Just enough for one or two rides, with him pocketing the rest). Being well aware of such scams, we declined his services. Still, in Western Europe, such hustlers will invariably be Arabs or Negroes, not natives, as in this case. Portuguese – doing the jobs that immigrants do in other countries.
Another thing we noticed is that some restaurants have a habit of advertising cheap meal deals. However, when customers order said dish from the menu, it will be slightly different from the advertised product – and cost twice as much. In one case, we insisted on ordering just the advertised meal deal, without even opening the menu. I got the impression that the waiter taking our order looked a bit glum when we did that. We were slightly puzzled by the reaction, but a visit to the reviews section on TripAdvisor quickly revealed the reason why.
General impression – probably low levels of elite or “official” corruption, still many more “tricks” and petty scams relative to Core Europe, even though the latter is fast becoming much more “vibrant” in these matters.
From what I gather, this is one of the most typical Portuguese lunches (Lisbon, as I recall – around €6).
Incidentally, the English institution of fish and chips was really a Belgian-Portuguese fusion that was first marketed by a Sephardic Jew immigrant from Portugal living in London.
Never before appreciated that sardines could actually be made to taste good.
Ketogenic is easy with all the beef around.
Cataplana, an item of kitchenware that is is used to make seafood stews.
These are typically random oceanic critters – fish, crabs, mussels, shrimp – that are boiled in a tomato soup. Strongly reminded me of the Californian dish cioppino, which was developed by Italian fishermen who “chipped in” with their leftover catch into a communal stew at the end of the day. I assume the Portuguese variant has similarly humble origins, though since transformed into a respectable and more expensive dish.
Canned sardine shop in Lisbon Airport.
Did I mention you can’t separate the Portuguese from their sardines?
One of the highest rated but inexpensive restaurants in Lisbon is Cafe Mili, which is best known for its grilled sardines. Unfortunately, they weren’t in season, so I settled for the chicken curry. It came with $5 pitchers of vinho verde, and the Indian chef even threw in three sample glasses of port wine and some Portuguese liquors for free.
With all that said, at the end we were mainly going to Indian restaurants, of which there are many very good ones thanks to the diaspora. Portuguese cuisine was good to try out for a few days – but sardines and potatoes get old quick.
Just how Portuguese is this?
I did greatly enjoy the green wine (vinho verde), a slightly fizzy drink made from unripened grapes (so very cheap, even by cheap Portuguese alcohol standards). It is a genuine pity that it is only available in Portugal.
They have some specific soft cheeses, such as the queijo curado. It was not all that appetizing to me, though I am not any sort of cheese aficionado like Masha Gessen.
The Molotov Cake is apparently a Portuguese dessert.
Beirao was a liquor that is not worth writing home about.
Ergo for Mateus, though it appears to have been very hip a few decades ago – the debonair, pot-smoking English professor in National Lampoon’s Animal House had a bottle of it on his table.
Olive oil suffused with chilli, called piri-piri, is a popular condiment in Portugal. Really good for giving salads a kick; I am thinking of recreating it (needless to say, it isn’t sold in Russia).
View from the top of the Cathedral of Faro.
Faro is a scenic, touristy town with a population of 60,000. It is a popular weekend beach destination for Lisabonners, with cheap rail, bus, and air routes connecting the two cities.
Cathedral of Faro.
While Core Europe was economically and technologically progressing, Portugal after its early sprint under Henry the Navigator was in stasis, even though its culture continued to generate things of beauty.
Regional Museum of the Algarve.
Come the late 19th century, things finally started moving forwards. At the turn of the century, the main industry in Faro was creating soda pop bottles.
Incidentally, even small Portuguese towns reliably have regional museums, which reminds me of a similar Russian institution (kraevedcheskie muzei).
Loja dos Objetos Inúteis.
Igreja do Carmo.
“They suffer no more.”
The church contains one of Portugal’s many bone chapels. Contrary to popular myths that the bones belonged to tramps, vagrants, and other undesirables, in reality you needed to furnish a considerable payment to have your remains interred in a chapel of bones. Consequently, this “honor” was mainly reserved for local notables.
The school or kindergarten with playing children just across from the chapel of bones provided an amusing contrast to the somber mood inside.
Quinta do Francês Winery
Quinta do Francês Winery.
Although it has a lot of specific alcoholic beverages, Portugal is pretty weak on standard red and white wines (though they do have a few interesting grape varies such as Trincadeira).
Case in point, the Quinta do Francês Winery – one of the most prominent in the region – was started up by Portuguese-French pair who retired to the Algarve to produce wine as a part-hobby, part business, and have only been selling in bulk for the past decade.
The heart of vinho verde country is in the north, around Porto.
The Algarve Coast
Fort of São João do Arade in Portimão.
This 16th century fort was constructed to protect the southern coast of Henry the Navigator’s realm. Unlike most historical monuments, it was leased out to a Portuguese multi-millionaire for his own use up until 2050 or so.
Really cool location. The buildings – including a discotheque – extend all the way up onto the sand.
And now from the other side (on a different day).
Deep Blue Sea.
Typical small coastal town in the Algarve.
This 5 star hotel looks like a luxury cruise liner stuck between the cliff faces.
Back to Portimão.
Portimão itself is a modest town of 50,000 that was once a center of the sardine canning industry. This history is reflected in its main museum, which was also once the town’s major factory producing canned sardines.
Film showing how the sardines were caught, cleaned, processed, and canned.
So yes, sardines… and Manuel Teixeira Gomes, Portimão’s most famous son, whose major claim to fame was serving a fleeting term as President under the Second Republic. Not much else.
The views around the beach are gorgeous, though.
Sagres & World’s End
This fortress was originally constructed under Henry the Navigator to secure Portugal’s south from piracy and to shield the naval expeditions leaving and entering Lagos.
Lighthouse of Cabo de São Vicente.
The original lighthouse was destroyed by Francis Drake in 1587, with the current version being constructed almost four centuries later by Queen D. Maria II in 1846.
There is a modernist but nice-looking monument to the construction workers.
Fortaleza do Beliche.
This fortress was built in the 16th century, and reconstructed in the 17th. I imagine the scenic path to the sea was used to resupplying the fastness.
One way that Portugal differs from many Mediterranean countries is that its churches tend to be tucked away behind a few buildings on central plazas, as opposed to occupying a prominent position in front of them.
Forte da Ponta da Bandeira.
Porta de São Gonçalo.
Statue of Henry the Navigator.
Many of the naval expeditions under Henry the Navigator departed from Lagos harbor.
Unfortunately, contrary to what I was told, there were no slaves on sale.
Castelo de Sines.
This most town of 20,000 people is best known as the birthplace of Vasco de Gama. It has not a particularly touristy place. The central fortress is run down, and the town’s main source of income probably derives from the industrial harbor and the coal power plant.
Statue of Vasco de Gama.
Not far away is the house where he was born.
Centro Histórico de Sines.
Despite this town’s relative delipidation, the local museum was surprisingly comprehensive and modern; its exposition ranged from Roman artifacts to records of its 20th century industrial development under Salazar.
Much more graffiti even than in Lisbon and the other touristy downs, and evidently much less upkeep, with housing prices to match. Can easily get a two bedroom apartment there for $100k. But would you want to?
Elevador dos Penedos Da Índia.
Presumably a failed attempt to create a landmark and attract tourists. But the views were good.
With almost three million people, it contains about 25%-30% of the Portuguese population (Porto has about as many). Perfectly amenable city, good transport links, nice architecture – it reminded me of Paris.
In retrospect, I wish we had spent an extra day in Lisbon, and one less in the Algarve; we did not have time to cover the section of the city containing the Jerónimos Monastery, Belém Tower, and the Naval Museum of Lisbon.
Russian Embassy in Lisbon.
Our apartment in Lisbon was just half a block from the Russian Embassy, which at the time was adorned with flowers and messages of commissaration (this was immediately after the Kemerovo fire).
Portugal has relatively good relations with Russia for an EU country. It was one of the very few EU countries not to expel any Russian diplomats in March 2018 to signal support for Britain’s stance on the Skripal Affair.
Random fact: Zhirinovsky considers Lisbon his favorite city.
The metro’s scale is perfectly commensurate with a city of Lisbon’s size. It is functional, has an intuitive color scheme, and the trains seem to run reliably.
Centro Vasco de Gama shopping center, near the Gare do Oriente central railway station.
The eastern part of Lisbon is a newer, modernist area, with a cheap cable car connecting the waterfront.
The Water Gardens.
Pavilhão do Conhecimento.
While I don’t much like modernist architecture anywhere, in my opinion it goes especially badly in warm regions, since the heat makes the large, open spaces all the more oppressive.
To combat the heat, most of the buildings are painted bland white, robbing the scene of any vibrancy.
The historic part of Lisbon is much denser and more colorful, and more pleasant to walk in, with the inclines providing good exercise.
This used to be the 17th century Church of Santa Engrácia, which was converted into the National Pantheon in 1916 after the overthrow of the monarchy.
You can see the statue of Christ the King, a smaller version of the famous Christ the Redeemer monument in Rio, in the last photo.
Typical Lisbon alleyways.
Igreja da Sao Vicente de Fora.
We took the opportunity to light some votive candles there, or more precisely, to throw in some coins that lighted up a bulb on a wooden electronic board thing.
These electronic candles are standard throughout Portuguese churches. I am not too happy with this innovation. In my view, it robs this intimate ritual of some of its essentialism.
More scenes of Lisbon.
Santa Justa Lift.
Lisbon hosts the world’s oldest bookshop, which was founded in 1732.
I was genuinely surprised by this, since Iberia was always a relative intellectual backwater relative to Italy and the Low Countries. By the second half of the 18th century, per capita book consumption in Spain – which even then was more developed than Portugal – had declined in relative terms to almost the level of Poland, and was an order of magnitude lower than in Great Britain, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
The bookstore offers to stamp your books with its logo certifying you bought them from the world’s oldest bookshop.
Belvedere of Our Lady of the Hill.
This is considered to be the best vantage point in Lisbon. I recommend taking an Uber there an hour or so before sunset.
Estoril & Cascais
This fabled gambling den is where the deposed royalty and emigres of Europe frittered their savings away.
Doesn’t look too impressive in RL.
Can’t comment on the poker games because I was not allowed inside, since I was wearing sandals and it is against their dress code. First time I ever encountered this, and I have visited most of the upscale casinos in Las Vegas. None of them had this BS, but this dump does.
As I gather, this is something like Portugal’s Malibu – very nice area, little graffiti, this is presumably where the notables who gambled at Estoril lived (the even richer ones would have had chateaus in nearby Sintra).
Boca do Inferno.
Wiki: “The cave was the first to be depicted in moving pictures, in the 1896 British film A Sea Cave Near Lisbon, which shows waves breaking at the mouth of the cave.”
Sintra: Castle of the Moors
Castle of the Moors.
This castle was constructed by the Moors in the 8-9th centuries during their conquest of Portugal. Despite its formidable defenses, it was abandoned without a fight when the Portuguese liberated Lisbon in 1147.
The entire area, which also encompasses a monastery and several other palaces and chateaus, was acquired by Ferdinand II in 1838.
It is a vast area, and full of interesting monuments and places. It can either be explored by foot, or by an electric car or even horse that you can rent.
Views of and from the Castle of the Moors.
Sintra: Pena Palace
This fairytale construction was erected during the mid-19th century during the height of Europe’s infatuation with Romanticism.
After the overthrow of the Portuguese monarchy in 1910, the palace became a state museum.
More views of and from Pena Palace.
Interiors of Pena palace.
Quite luxurious, as is usually the case, though nothing particular stood out – my impression is that after you’ve seen a few European palaces, you’ve pretty much seen them all.
Even though the views at Pena are far more striking than those from Versailles or the Peterhof!