Portugal: Food, Folklore, and Moorish Influence Galore!

Jessica Zaksek is a senior Psychology student at Colorado State University. She is currently partaking in a Semester at Sea and will visit ports in various countries such as Russia, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Morocco and many more. Stay tuned to hear about all her adventures!

[Originally posted October 1, 2013]

I hope this entry finds you all healthy and happy! I am doing quite well! I had some free time and I thought I would write the entry for Portugal, instead of combining it with my experience in Spain. I only had two days in each country, so it was a whirlwind! I think that the time constraint also made me hyper-vigilant to my surroundings and experiences. Portugal was really amazing! I plan to go back very soon so I can see more of the country. I honestly had no idea what to expect, and I must admit that I found myself ignorant of the country’s history and culture. It made the entire experience so much more exciting and surprising. It may be small, with a population of around 10 million, but it has had a powerful influence on world history. You can find Portuguese culture and language in places such as Brazil, and even China!

During my stay in Portugal I traveled to Sintra and spent time in Lisbon, our port city, as well. In Portuguese, Lisbon is actually called Lisboa. Lisbon is the oldest city in Europe, which explains why it is such a cultural hub. The city has seven steep hills and trolleys. It reminds me a lot of San Francisco. They even have a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge! Most of the buildings were pretty old, and had fantastic iron work around the windows. The lamps were also a unique and fun feature of the streets in Lisbon. The sidewalk stones were shaped in a very distinctive manner, and I learned that they were created by pounding the stones into the ground with a wooden mallet. Apparently, this is a pretty laborious process! My favorite aspect of the city was the tile. On several buildings you could see walls filled with beautiful, old tile. Each building had it’s own unique tile design. It was unexpected because I did not know the Portuguese used tile. I loved how old the city looked. It gave it so much character and told such a rich story of times long past.

Strolling through the city, I realized quickly that the Lisbon itself as well as the surrounding areas were heavily influenced by the Moors. They brought their tile to the city and created city quarter names in Arabic.

Strolling through the city, I realized quickly that the Lisbon itself as well as the surrounding areas were heavily influenced by the Moors. They brought their tile to the city and created city quarter names in Arabic.

I was happy to discover that the food in Portugal is quite delectable and there is plenty to go around! Food has its own unique culture. I quickly learned that the Portuguese live to eat. Meals usually lasted several hours, which allowed for intimate conversation and enjoyment. I enjoyed getting to know some of my shipmates and eating delicious food. I had this amazing pastry during my cooking experience, which was covered in cinnamon sugar and filled with a tasty vanilla cream. The pastry dough was so flaky! The closest thing I can compare it to is a churro, but with filling. Another wonderful dessert item I enjoyed was a pastry filled with walnuts and apples. The outside of this pastry was coated in sugar and added just the right amount of sweetness.

The Portuguese also love their wine! Every meal I had was served with a glass of wine, specifically red. I learned that the Portuguese prefer red wine, because they feel it goes with everything. In restaurants we were often given bottles of wine and they were replenished throughout the meal. It made it very difficult to keep track of how much you had enjoyed already! Another great thing about Portuguese food was the cheese! It was so yummy! I had three different kinds of cheese. One was a hard cheese that consisted of a combination of goat and cow milk. The second was a softer cheese and the third was a goat cheese that was very spreadable. Bread was also served in abundance with every meal. I definitely enjoyed that!!

During the cooking experience I learned that the Portuguese pride themselves on food that is flavorful. When I tasted the olive oil I was pleasantly surprised by the volume of flavor it had compared to what I am used to. Dipping the bread in the olive oil created a fantastic culinary experience! The sausages I tried were also jam-packed with aggressive flavors. My palate was definitely pleased in Portugal!

At one of the last restaurants I dined in, they served kebabs(sliced meat grilled on a skewer), further reinforcing the Moorish influence on Portuguese cuisine. One funny aspect of this meal was the accompaniment of French Fries to the kebabs, which was definitely an interesting combination. I have noticed that a lot of meals in Europe are served with fries, no matter what the dish is.

At one of the last restaurants I dined in, they served kebabs(sliced meat grilled on a skewer), further reinforcing the Moorish influence on Portuguese cuisine. One funny aspect of this meal was the accompaniment of French Fries to the kebabs, which was definitely an interesting combination. I have noticed that a lot of meals in Europe are served with fries, no matter what the dish is.

In addition to the cuisine, I was also able to enjoy some traditional Portuguese dance known as Fado, which incorporates folklore into its music. It was my favorite cultural experience so far in regards to dancing/ singing. I had a minimal understanding of it from cultural pre-port on the ship, but it wasn’t enough. Our tour guide explained that the primary theme of this style is “saudade,” which does not have a direct translation into English. The closest translation would be nostalgia or an intense longing for the past, and better times. Fado is the national style of music. The saudade in the music can be directed towards a variety of different things. You could have saudade for your grandmother’s pie or for someone who has recently passed. In many songs, the longing is for the times when Portugal was a wealthy, influential and powerful country. The other primary object of saudade is unrequited love.

There are two styles of fado. The first originated among the poor classes and marginalized individuals in Lisbon. Marginalized individuals included prostitutes, sailors and coachmen. Lisbon fado is usually sung in a very raspy sort of way and focuses on a longing for better days and times. The elite, for obvious reasons, rejected this form of fado. The second style of fado originated at Coimbra University. Men usually sing in this style and wear black capes, traditional to the uniforms at the University. The primary theme of Coimbra fado is love, whether it be unrequited or reciprocated. It is also much more lyrical and light compared to the Lisbon form. Classic guitars and a special Portuguese guitar are used to accompany the singing. The Portuguese guitar is in the shape of a teardrop, which I believe is very appropriate.

During our meal we got to listen to both styles of fado.  It was very unique and unlike anything I have ever heard. Normally, music in America rhymes and flows but fado sounds more disjointed and seems to tell a story. Their costumes were true to the period and were very intricate and beautiful. One of my favorite dances was the one using the special noisemakers. The women were spinning so fast, their skirts were billowing, and they were a blur on stage.

During our meal we got to listen to both styles of fado. It was very unique and unlike anything I have ever heard. Normally, music in America rhymes and flows but fado sounds more disjointed and seems to tell a story. Their costumes were true to the period and were very intricate and beautiful. One of my favorite dances was the one using the special noisemakers. The women were spinning so fast, their skirts were billowing, and they were a blur on stage.

Semester at Sea: Living on a Floating Campus

Jessica Zaksek is a senior Psychology student at Colorado State University. She is currently partaking in a Semester at Sea and will visit ports in various countries such as Russia, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Morocco and many more. Stay tuned to hear about all her adventures!

[Originally posted Sunday, September 1, 2013]

Hello Readers! 

This post is about my first few days on the MV Explorer and about adjusting to my new life. I hope that you enjoy it! Feel free to E-mail me if you would like to know more about my experience because my blogs are usually written at bare minimum. I hope all of you are doing well! 

Embarkation Day!

The day I stepped onboard the MV Explorer is a day I will always remember. It was the start of a new chapter and journey of my life. I took a shuttle to the Port of Southampton from Heathrow Airport at around 8:30AM. It was pretty gray outside and it was sprinkling. I stood in line, went through security and headed to the Gangway. Seeing the ship for the first time was a special moment as well. I looked up at this ship and thought, “Here is my new home!” I was so excited to get inside and see everything. Then I walked up the gangway and left my old life behind. I opened my mind to all of the possibilities and hopes for the journey. I felt like I was already becoming a different individual and throughout the first week I felt so many changes occur. I took one last look at the port and stepped over the threshold. The ship itself is beautiful and unique. There are photos all around the ship from past voyages. There is a campus store, a library, a student union, classrooms, medical center, workout center, pool deck, snack bars and even a spa! One of my favorite places on the ship is Deck 6 aft, where there is an outdoor dining space. I have definitely taken advantage of the nice weather to eat outside and soak up some rays. After spending the afternoon unpacking we had the chance to see the ship pull away from the dock. Because it is the 50th anniversary voyage, they had us grab some bubbles to blow as we began to sail away. It was really a special moment. Some of the parents had traveled to London and were there to see us off. They waved for a long time as the ship slowly began to leave. I turned around after a while and said to myself, “well, here we go…” I will never forget that moment with all the students onboard, blowing bubbles, saying goodbye, and turning their eyes to the ocean, ready to have the experience of a lifetime. The evening was spent at our Sea Meetings. We are the Bering Sea and I think we have a good chance of winning the Sea Olympics which happen later in the voyage. Our color is kelly green. We basically went over the logistics and rules of the ship. It was not the most exciting but it was needed and allowed us to get some good insight. I went to bed at around 11pm since Orientation was the very next day at 9AM. I know I say that this day was special a lot, but it really was. I was ready when we left the dock, ready for an adventure and open to change. 

There is nothing like the predeparture jitters as you are waiting to board your vessel!

All Abroad! There is nothing like the predeparture jitters as you are waiting to board your vessel!

First Day of School (Part One) 

My first class on A days begins at 10:50. However, breakfast is from 7AM to 8:30 AM every day. On the first day of school I woke up at 7:30 and headed to breakfast. I met up with some other people and discussed our expectations and class schedules. After a quick bite I headed to the campus store. The line was super long but since I had time I figured I would wait. It took about 40 minutes before I got in but it was worth it. I loaded up on SAS gear and got a much needed pair of flip flops… I left mine at the hotel in London. Unfortunately they did not have any sunglasses… Both pairs broke in the same manner upon arrival in London… they were in separate bags. Hopefully I will be able to purchase some in our first port. Anyway, I went a little crazy but I will definitely use everything I bought. After the bookstore I prepared for my first class, which was Anthropology of Food. That class will probably be my favorite out of all four. The first class was great and I really like my professor. She really encouraged us to talk to her and get to know her. She also has a lot of stories about previous voyages. This will be her 5th voyage on Semester at Sea. After this class I went to lunch and then spent the afternoon reading for that class. At 3:40pm I went to my Cross Cultural Psychology class in the Student Union. This class had a lot more students as it is a global lens course. I am looking forward to this course as well. The professor seems pretty interesting. The rest of my first day was spent reading my assignments and attending a seminar about traveling and how to make the most of it. They discussed how to be a traveler rather than a tourist. It was great to hear the faculty give their input. Another fun thing about the ship are the announcements. There is a two tone sound and then the announcements are given at noon and at 6pm. Today I thought a lot about my journey ahead. I felt a tiny bit homesick but at the same time I separated myself a little. It felt like I was living two lives. You definitely feel that way once you step on the ship. You realize that you are in for the long haul and you acknowledge that you will be a different person when you return from the voyage. My first day was a lot of fun and I spent the evening preparing for my next first day of school. 

I could get used to sunsets like this.

I could get used to sunsets like this.

First Day of School (Part Two)

That wasn’t a typo when I said that I had two first days. On the ship we have A days and B days and our classes are in block schedules. Today, on the first B day, I had class at 9:25AM in Introduction to Anthropology. I had the same professor as I did yesterday and I feel that both of her classes will be very enriching. What better way to learn about culture than through Anthropology? Right after that class I had Stress: Work, Technology, and Life. It was an alright class but not one of my favorites. I hope that it gets better because my first field lab is in that class. We will be going to WHO in Belgium. In Intro to Anthropology we will be going to an education center in South Africa. I am super excited for that as well! My second first day went pretty well overall. I was finished with class at noon so I had the whole afternoon to nap and read for classes. It was definitely a great day because of that. Even though I love my A days I think I like my B days because I am done so early… even if I have to start a little earlier in the day. While on the voyage we have slowly been moving our clocks forward. I heard that by the time we get to Russia we will have moved our clocks forward three hours. I am glad they are having us do it in chunks. The rest of Europe will be nice because we will fall back a few hours. 

I am thinking of all of you and sending you my love! Have a great week! 

-Jessica

So begins my next great adventure!

So begins my next great adventure!