They Grow Lemons in Portugal

One of the best and worst trips we’ve ever taken was the one over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday of 2000-2001.

It was one of those things where we were sitting around wondering where we could go real cheap at the last minute. I found some flights to Portugal leaving on Christmas Eve, arriving on Christmas Day.

Flying on Christmas sounds awful, but it was  great actually. We had the plane to ourselves and stretched out across all the seats and slept all the way there. It was supposed to be a seven hour flight, but since air traffic was so light, we made it there in five hours.


I’d wanted to go there ever since a relative of ours (a travel agent) mentioned, “Portugal is such a beautiful country, I don’t know why no one ever goes there.”

Portugal is also the bargain basement of Western Europe. Everything from hotels to transportation and goods is inexpensive. 


The people are friendly, helpful, and it didn’t matter that we didn’t know how to say more than about three words in Portuguese.


And there were so many lovely things to see.

Problem was, it rained almost the entire week we were there. And it was unseasonably cold. I had promised everyone sunshine. They grow lemons there, weather’s gotta be good, right?

Look at those mad kids!

We brought jackets, but they didn’t seem to keep us warm enough. Especially that night we got stuck at that castle.

We’d gone all the way up the mountain by bus to get to there. Mostly what I remember about the ride was looking out the window and seeing the tires right at the edge of the road, and then nothing. As in, steep drop that seemed to have no bottom. 

After touring the castle and grounds, we stood out and waited for the bus, the last one of the day. The scary part was there were way too many other people waiting in line. 

So we kept waiting for what would certainly be a fight to get on that bus. We waited, and waited, and waited. It got dark, it got cold, and this creepy fog rolled in along with some drizzle.

An hour and a half goes by, and no bus. 

All this time, no one in the crowd could (or would) speak a word of English. There were no phones and the castle and grounds were locked up at that point. 

When the bus finally did come, people were shoving to get in, but you know what? It was already full when it rolled up. Maybe two people got on, and the bus didn’t even make a complete stop when it did get there. I just remember the driver saying something to the stranded and panicked crowd as he drove off. 

What he said, I don’t know. 

One girl, a lone backpacker who looked as if she hadn’t bathed in a year stuck her thumb out to hitchhike. It seemed hopeless as there weren’t many cars coming this way. It was the top of the mountain, why would anyone come here?

But someone did drive by and she got out of there.

So we had some choices. Walk five or so miles back down the mountain, stay with these people and hope another bus was coming but risk death from exposure, or hitchhike.

We stuck our thumbs out and the next car that came along (tiny, tiny, tiny) stopped. We piled in there, all five of us, and left the rest of those tourists up there.

The driver was a skinny college-age kid, someone we could take down in a minute if he tried anything crazy.

He turned out to be a really cool guy who spoke great English and was a drummer in a local rock band.

The last day or so there, the weather had cleared up a bit and there was this amazing fireworks competition over the river. Three countries competed with back to back shows and it was all choreographed to classical music. I’d never seen anything like that in my life before or since.

Why was it one of the best trips?

Because of all the rain, we spent a lot of time in the hotel room watching cable news that was in English. Over and over they kept reporting that the American economy was “going down the drain.”

At that time, we had our savings in the stock market. All of it, and I was day trading with it like a gambler spinning a roulette wheel.

Get back home and what was our news reporting?

The exact opposite. We took everything out the market and by the end of that month, the market crashed with the dot com bust.

That trip saved these angry childrens’ college funds.

I just noticed Spanky’s giving me a thumbs down!

I wish I had a photo of the lemon trees. They are everywhere and this time of year, they are full of gigantic lemons.


14 thoughts on “They Grow Lemons in Portugal

  1. WOW! I know there is a real difference in the media coverage and all, but you were so smart to actual heed the warning. Some might have turned a blind eye….

    It seems to me that it was a good trip in another way — families need these kinds of crazy, messed up vacations to build some wretched memories so you can all appreciate the loveliness of your ordinary life. Plus, they say that a bit of conflict builds relationships…..

  2. Ah, from the thumbs of babes. Funny how a kid can sum up how they feel with one tiny gesture captured in the blink of a camera flash. I remember my son, at seven, had his eyes crossed in every picuture taken at a wedding. Uh… my second wedding. We still laugh about that….23 years later! Thanks for a very cool post!

  3. Writinggb, so true, conflict does build relationships.

    Michele, I wanted to go see the Fado, but we nobody else in the family was interested. I could hear it pouring out of different places, however.

    Groovy Mom, almost all of our trips start out like this. Everyone’s tired and hating on me for dragging them to another strange place. It usually turns around and is fun. Not this one, they didn’t recover and stayed mad at me the whole time.

    Awww, Julie. LOL.

    TP, what I didn’t mention in this post because it was getting too long is that we went from there to England for a few days to visit a friend. Their news was saying the same thing there as Portugal’s.

  4. When I was in Ireland there was a transportation strike, and buses and trains stopped running. So my friend and I decided that it was time to hitchhike. It was the best part of a three-month – hitchhiking around Ireland.

    We probably smelled as good as that lonely backpacker you saw, too. Three shirts for three months. Best. Trip. Ever.

  5. “hitchhiking around Ireland.”

    I can’t think of a better adventure. And three shirts totally rock for me. That’s my mantra, pack light.

    I have heard and read all the warnings about hitchhiking, but we have done it several times in moments of desperation and on whims. Last year in London we were asking a woman for directions and the next thing you know, she was driving us to where we needed to go.

    I have picked up hitchhikers too. Not in America because anyone could have a handgun, but in other countries?

    I’m not setting a very good example for my kids, I know that, but being overly cautious all the time is too boring for me.

  6. I have heard such wonderful things about Portugal… the investment in infrastructure, the single payer medical system, the layout of urban areas, etc., etc. It’s not the kind of place I typically would travel (seeing as how you can drink the water and there is likely reliable electricity) but it certainly looks like a dreamy vacation!!

  7. I’d love to see how the place has progressed over the last seven years. They were doing a lot of construction on the streets of Lisbon and the subway stations all seemed new or recently refurbished.

    The topography is breathtaking. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

  8. Pingback: Without a Guide « The Show Must Go On

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s