Portugal: bike paths lined with poetry & wine so good it rarely leaves the country

“The river of my village doesn’t make you think about anything.
When you’re at its bank you’re only at its bank.”

“The Tejo has big boats
And there navigates in it still,
For those who see what’s not there in everything,
The memory of fleets.”

Lines from “O Guardador de Rebanhos” by Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa (written under his pseudonym, Alberto Caeiro) Image of the Tejo And Lisbon Aquarium by Gwendolyn Alley.

Last fall, I wrote an essay for a contest to travel to Portugal to taste wine in the Alentejo Region and to write about it. I came in as runner-up but when winner Sonadora of the blog Wannabe Wino canceled a few days before, trip sponsor Enoforum Wines invited me to go in her stead and accompany their publicist Jo Diaz of Wine Blog fame; Sonadora went in January 2010 and posted extensively while there.

(In addition to traveling and tasting in the Alentejo Region,  I was also able to attend the European Wine Bloggers Conference. Read more about the contest and my entry: October 26, 2009 I’m a WINNER! Wine Predator to Attend European Wine Bloggers Conference & Enoforum Oct 30-Nov. 5!.)

Traveling in Portugal–exploring the scenic castles, discovering the delicious, flavorful cuisine, tasting the nicely balanced wines–was delightful and I jotted down as many of those experiences as possible and posted them as quickly as possible on my blog: I just didn’t sleep since my days were filled from dawn to well after dark! (I kept telling Jo, “we can sleep when we’re dead!”) Read about our whirlwind travels here.

I thought it would be easy to write about Portugal when I came home. I had lots of ideas for blog posts. But writing more deeply about Portugal and my experiences there proved problematic.

Writing about how and why Portugal impacted me and changed me is hard because my brief time in Portugal had a profound impact on me–and that surprised me. There are a number of reasons but one is that I had no idea that the Portuguese had such a reverence for two of the most important aspects of life to me: the land and literature. A bonus is they love to walk and ride bikes!

To write about Portugal is to try to express the importance of taking care of the land and expressing a love of life through the written word, through literature. Literature lives in the hearts of the Portuguese people–lit is not just a class they have to get through, literature and writers truly are revered by the Portuguese. Poets, playwrights, writers of all stripes are respected in a way I had never seen before–certainly not how we’re treated here in the US!

Likewise, living “green” and practicing sustainability is the way of life in Portugal. People who live and thrive in one place for so many generations learn this in order to survive there and not run out of natural resources. According to my host Delfim Costa of Enoforum Wines, unlike other European countries, Portugal’s priority was not colonizing. Instead they established a series of ports so they could keep exploring–and then return home again (and drink wine!)

Writing about Portugal in a way that honors it and really shows people why it is special is more difficult than I thought.

After our adventures in Alentejo, where we stayed in a castle with this view of the Roman Aquaduct, saw how closely people live to the land,  and enjoyed numerous meals of Portuguese cuisine paired with fabulous, affordable wines (most are under $20 US, around $10 in Portugal), Delfim drove us to Lisboa. We had a little time on our hands to explore and since our hotel was located on the waterfront near the Aquarium  that’s where we walked.

Inside the spacious aquarium, the best one I’ve ever seen or could imagine, instead of only interpretive text, the Portuguese chose to post on the walls marine-oriented poetry in English and in Portuguese.

Outside the Aquarium, we enjoyed walking along by the shore, the site of the 1990 Europian Exposition. Stalls which housed exhibits about various countries now were home to different restaurants featuring ethnic cuisines. The evening weather was mild and we saw plenty of people strolling and riding bicycles.

Our last very full day in Portugal was spent in Lisboa and the Palace at Sintra; our last dinner was in a restaurant featuring fado singers (Delfim interpreted the lyrics)  and incredible food. I would have enjoyed several days in each and I lapped up every moment: we even convinced the guard at Sintra to let us in after closing. I would have raced up the stone steps to the top if I wasn’t so concerned that Delfim and Jo would be worried.

We walked along the shores of the Tejo which greets the Atlantic near Lisboa and we saw under construction broad bike and pedestrian paths displaying roadways. As a cyclist, I was thrilled to see that Lisboa was making this move; I also knew that Lisboa recently hosted an Aeolian Ride (more Lisbon Aeolian ride photos here by Jessica Findley; I also plan to do a post about the Aeolian Ride there and in Santa Barbara in October). What better way to know a place than by traveling the countryside tasting wine and eating traditional meals or by getting out of a car to walk or cycle?

While I never did get a chance to go for a bike ride, the importance tot he Portuguese of language, of poetry, and of staying connected to the land resonated within me.

On our last morning, we went  to the Jeronimos Monastery and saw the tomb of the famed Portuguese poet Luis de Camoes (1525-1580) who led quite an adventurous life, traveled to India and China by ship, and more which enriches his epic poem The Lusiads about Vasco de Gama on the voyage that ultimately connected Europe to India. He is such an important figure to the Portuguese that his birthday is Portugal Day and quotes from his work are commonly and prominently placed on decorative edifices in Portugal. Read one of Luis Camoes poems here.

Because Enoforum Wines recognizes that a wine is more than the grapes, that it includes the poetry of the people who make the wine and live on the land, Delfim bought me a copy of the epic poem The Lusiads as well as a collection by Fernando Pessoa.

The following words by Pessoa grace the now open pedestrian and bicycle path. Watch a video of Portugal’s Poetic Paths here:

“The river of my village doesn’t make you think about anything.
When you’re at its bank you’re only at its bank.”

“Through the Tejo you go to the World.
Beyond the Tejo is America
And the fortune you encounter there.
Nobody ever thinks about what’s beyond
The river of my village.”

“The Tejo runs down from Spain
And the Tejo goes into the sea in Portugal.
Everybody knows that.
But not many people know the river of my village
And where it comes from
And where it’s going.
And so, because it belongs to less people,
The river of my village is freer and greater.”

“The Tejo has big boats
And there navigates in it still,
For those who see what’s not there in everything,
The memory of fleets.”

“The Tejo is more beautiful than the river that flows through my village,
But the Tejo isn’t more beautiful than the river that flows through my village,
Because the Tejo isn’t the river that flows through my village.”

Read more about Portugal’s poetry lined paths http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/02/portugals-new-bike-paths-are-filled-with-poetry-video.php.

Portugal offers so much more than port! Beautiful landscapes, an extensive literary tradition, stunning castles, amazing food, bicycle paths lined with poetry, and more! Yes, more Portugal posts coming up!

A Tale of a Few Conferences: EWBC 09, NAWBC 08 & 09, plus tech tales from WordCamp SF 08, 09 & LA 09, MacWorld 09

I’m not sure whether Reno Walsh, one of the organizers for the Wine Bloggers Conferences, saw the video above yet where I talk about some of my experiences in a video by BKWine at the European Wine Bloggers Conference which I attended as a guest of Enoforum Wines, but he recently emailed me for feedback comparing the EWBC and the NAWBC. (You can also watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyp-TCJx7v)

As others might be interested in hearing some notes comparing and contrasting the various blogging and tech conferences I’ve attended in the past 18 months, I thought I’d expand a little, edit a little, and post those notes here–with an emphasis on the three Wine Bloggers Conferences I’ve attended of course.

Overall I suspect what’s MOST IMPORTANT to me and to many of my fellow tech oriented conference attendees is reliable wireless–being able to get on-line to tweet, blog, facebook, all that fun social media stuff when we want, are inspired or have the time.

The Wine Bloggers Conferences have failed on this three times now. Thankfully, at the EWBC, my host Enoforum Wines came through by providing Jo Diaz and I portable wireless devices which come with minutes. Jo used hers extensively; I had better luck getting on-line in my hotel rooms then she did–I admit I wasted way too much time on it, especially at the hotel where the EWBC was held. Too often I was trying to get on-line when I would have preferred attending the conference. I did end up paying for internet my last night in Lisbon: 12 hours for about $25 US.

At MacWorld in SF last January 2009 I found it was somewhat reliable around the Moscone conference center but my best bet was getting a press pass and getting online there–they knew enough to make sur ethat if anyone could get on-line it should be the press! I imagine they’ll ahve it dialed in for 2010–not sure yet if I’ll be there to see.

SF WordCamp 2008 and 2009 had PLENTY so we could all have as many windows open doing as much as we wanted all at the same time. Somehow they’ve been able to handle the needs of 700 tweeters blogging and bloggers tweeting; unfortunately, LA WordCamp did not quite have enough but the main problem was that we got kicked off if we didn’t upload anything after 10 minutes. I tracked down someone who could address that so the wireless worked much better in the afternoon.

IN DEPTH ED: At EWBC, I loved the day where we went on the cork forest tour with lunch and tastings followed by a visit to a cork plant. The day offered less drinking and tasting but lots of learning and camaraderie. This intensive, deep learning experience that really stuck with me, and others as well.

GRAND TASTING: As I mentioned in the video, I loved the grand hosted tasting Charles Metcalf did at EWBC. This should be a part of every WBC. Since the next WBC is in Walla Walla Washington, maybe they should have someone who really knows Washington and/or Oregon and/or Canadian wines. Or hey, why not Metcalf and Portuguese wines? Metcalf was fabulously entertaining…and I’d love to taste more Portuguese wines!

SESSIONS: At the EWBC 09, I admit I was very jetlagged Saturday morning and trying to get on-line in my hotel room,  and so I missed the first morning sessions Saturday. I missed Friday’s sessions completely as I arrived Friday evening for dinner (about 11pm). I feel like I got more out of the conference sessions themselves at the NAWBC. I think they were more sophisticated, but then again I could have been too jetlagged to get much. I learned more from the sessions in 2008 but then I was still very new to blogging, social media, and wine back then (I’m still new but not nearly!)

SESSIONS 2 I missed Wine Academy of Spain Esteban Cabeza’s sherry, port and madeira tasting on Friday at EWBC as I was enroute but he kindly gave me a brief tutorial. These wines blew my mind.  The NAWBC should definitely consider having him do his presentation at the NAWBC in WA as these wines are unknown and unappreciated by many in the US.  I am still puzzling over madeira and sherry. Maybe if they were more appreciated here, good ones could be found more easily. (I just found an excellent Solera 1847 oloroso sherry from a local Henry Wine Group distributer. He admitted I couldn’t even buy it around here–I was able to buy it via a tasting at a local restaurant). It’d be great to have some American examples as well–I’d love to try Twisted Oak’s Pig Stai with a Port from Portugal.

KEYNOTES I loved the NAWBC keynotes in 2008 (Alice Feiring and Gary Vaynerchuk) and 2009  I enjoyed having a lunchtime keynote or morning like in 2009–Barry Schuler was unexpectedly brilliant.

BEST? I appreciated in 2009 just relaxing and enjoying the incredible dinner and wine and more intimate gathering and company at Pine Ridge after a long stimulating day instead of having a keynote! The meal at Pine Ridge was one of the best I’ve had in my life.

GIFT BAGS The gift bags at EWBC were slim compared to NAWBC but a lot of the stuff in the NAWBC bag was just “stuff” that I basically recycled.

BRINGING IT HOME 1: Since I live in California and can drive there and back, I’ve been able to bring lots of wine home, open bottles to taste with more leisure and samples.  At EWBC I didn’t know how to get any of the wines and bring them back. I went to a grocery store and was overwhelmed and didn’t see much that I had tasted. While in Portugal, I tasted all these amazing wines that now I can’t find in my hometown in California!

BRINGING IT HOME 2 One of the best things a winery did in my three conferences: Michel-Schlumberger gave bloggers who went there on the wine hike a 50% discount; most people on the tour took them up on the offer. I’d encourage the wineries to go even deeper with discounts knowing that we’ll tweet, talk, taste, blog about the wines. So in the gift bags, maybe have a coupon code for deeply discounted wines. Not everyone is swimming in free samples (or wants to be).

BLENDING: This didn’t happen at EWBC or NAWBC but I’ve noticed a lot of interest in blending and blending activities on twitter. I know some WBC participants went to Twisted Oak to do some blending before the conference and that sounded like great fun. I think it would be a blast to do a blending activity/exercise/tasting as an official part of a WBC and EWBC too. I think I would learn a lot about wine/winemaking in the process and it would be fun. We could do it as teams–not self-selected teams but random so we’d meet new people–then we could try and rate the other team’s wine and figure out what was in it!! It would be even better if we could get a bottle of the blend to take home (for free or discounted). Maybe a few of the area wineries would be interested in hosting something like that.

I sent along some other ideas as well but I think 1200 words is enough on this subject!

Green Drinks & Wine Blogging Wednesday #63 Prompt: Find Your Muse

wbw-newTonight, Wednesday November 11, from 5:30-7:30pm Green Drinks Ventura County will be held at Wine Essentials, 2390 Las Posas, Camarillo. It’s a free networking gathering for folks in green lines of business and activism.

In his prompt for the next Wine Blogging Wednesday, #63, Rob Bralow of Wine Post suggests: Find Your Muse. Here’s his guidelines for the November edition to be posted NEXT Wednesday, Nov. 18:

  • Choose a wine you know well and have enjoyed many times, but perhaps have not had the time or the motivation to write about OR a wine you have seen in your wine shop that you have been meaning to try.
  • Time how long Continue reading