Struggles with Portuguese Food

In reflecting on my time in Portugal, I have realized something culturally different between this city and the other cities we visited. Portugal was by far the hardest city to eat in with dietary restrictions and preferences. Coming into this trip I knew that being vegetarian would put me at a disadvantage. European food culture puts a large emphasis on fresh meats and fish, so I figured I would have a much more difficult time finding options to eat in each of the countries. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that London, Paris, and Verona were all incredibly accommodating to not only my dietary preference of being vegetarian, but also my friends’ restrictions with gluten, nuts, and shellfish. Each city was similar to the US in their approaches. When going out to eat, restaurants had breakdowns of allergies, labeling for different preferences, and clear instructions on menus to let servers know if you had restrictions.

In my time in Portugal, I found that there were no standard approaches that restaurants had to address food restrictions and allergies. I found the culture in Portugal to be a little dismissive of the topic, almost like it wasn’t important enough for them to address. Even when speaking to our API host, Carlos, he said it wasn’t really a “thing” there. I quickly realized that the culture in Portugal just didn’t really have people that were vegetarian or have many allergies. It was frustrating walking into a restaurant and being scared that there wouldn’t be an option for me to eat, whereas in other countries, options were plentiful. I definitely felt like I was more of a burden in Portugal than in any other country due to my dietary preference.

Even when we had our group dinners, it was always made such a big deal with regards to my preference being vegetarian. My experience at group dinners differed greatly in other countries, as I was just another tourist who chose a different option on the menu. In Portugal, I stuck out like a sore thumb and it felt a little embarrassing when the servers had to ask me multiple times what I could/could not eat or when they accidentally gave me the wrong dishes which included meat. Overall, I think that Portugal is only just starting to become a popular tourist destination, and with time they will learn that restrictions and preferences are more prevalent in other countries. I defintiely appreciated how much their culture valued the foods they ate and the traditions they had. I just hope that they will become more open to tourists and offer some more options in the future for people like me.

Tour of Quinta de Bacalhoa

On our first full day in Lisbon, our group traveled to visit Quinta de Bacalhoa. This beautiful winery and palace tour was nothing like I had ever seen before. In other wineries we have visited such as at San Rustico in Valpolicella and Musee du Win in Paris, the tour consisted of talking mostly about the history and production of wine. While the tours were informational, I felt like I didn’t get a huge grasp on the cultural aspect of how wineries were different in each of these two cities. Quinta de Bacalhoa was an entirely different experience. Not only did we learn about the history of the winery, but we also learned so much about the owner and his love for art. We toured massive galleries of beautiful artwork from 15th century tiles to African voodoo sculptures. Each piece had a purpose and was explained to us in a story-like way. I could tell how much the owner valued artwork, and why it was such a huge part of Quinta de Bacalhoa. Our tour guide at this winery was a huge reason why it felt like Quinta de Bacalhoa was a completely different cultural experience compared to the other wineries we had visited. He was so passionate about this tour and making sure that we understood how much the winery valued the artwork inside it. Unlike at other wineries we visited, he spoke about the most interesting facts and didn’t overload us with information. He also let us have free time to look around at the artwork and different winery rooms, which I found very valuable from a tourist standpoint. He engaged us with questions and was very enthusiastic when we spoke. To be honest, I wasn’t that excited to visit another winery, but this tour guide made the experience something completely different then the other wineries we had visited.

In the second section of this tour, we visited the palace at Quinta de Bacalhoa. This palace was full of history and art, and I felt engaged the entire time being guided through it. Whereas I thought I would be less interested learning about the history of the palace, our tour guide made everything so exciting to listen to. He showed us the highlights of the palace and let us walk through each room after giving us some background information. This allowed us to explore our own interests and see everything that we as individual tourists wanted to see. He also was one of the only tour guides we had who let us stop for pictures along the tour, and even offered to take pictures for us.

Overall, this tour was unexpectedly one of my favorite activities we did in Portugal. I felt like I came out of the experience with new perceptions about Portugal wineries and palaces, and how different they are in comparison to other sites we have visited!

Cultural Differences in Verona

Throughout my time in Verona, I noticed some distinct cultural differences between the US and Italy. The first was that public attractions seemed to be a lot more popular in Italy. Each day we passed the Arena di Verona, there was a new activity in the square that anyone could observe or take part in. From dance performances to soccer matches, the square invited people from all over the city to spectate. In the US I rarely see public attractions that do not cost money. When there is a free public attraction, crowds are usually too large and security takes a lot of security precautions to make sure the event does not get out of hand. In Verona, people were very respectful and crowds rarely got out of hand. It was also interesting to see a large military presence in the city. In the US, there are a lot of cops but rarely do you see people from the military walking the streets and enforcing laws. In Verona, I saw people from the military almost every day walking around the streets and observing the public. 

Another cultural difference I observed in Verona was how professional tour guides responded to non-professional tour guides. While on a student-lead tour, there was a professional tour guide leading students to some of the same attractions we were going to. At one point, this professional tour guide stopped our student led tour and pointed her badge out to our tour guides, telling them that should not be guiding. This experience was definitely awkward but an interesting cultural experience. It was clear that tour guides in Italy are very proud of their profession and do not want people just guiding tourists without proper certifications. This experience also reminded me of our Blue Badge Tour in London where tour guides were also very serious about obtaining proper documentation to guide. I think that in the countries we have visited, especially In Italy, tour guiding is taken as a serious profession that not everyone can do. In the US, I feel like tour guides aren’t taken as seriously and there aren’t as strict certifications to become one. In the US, I have never experienced a tour guide confronting another tour guide about not being legitimate, so this was a very thought-provoking experience.

A Trip to Venice

After arriving in Italy, we had a quick turnaround going into our day trip to Venice. I was really excited to return to this city, as I hadn’t been back since my freshman year of high school! When we arrived, we went right into a 2 hour walking tour, later had some free time to explore, and finished with a group dinner. The tour itself was probably one of my least favorites on the trip. Unlike our tour at the Savoy, this tour guide was very unenthusiastic and talked too much about very small details. While I enjoyed some historical details he gave, I felt that it was too much at times because he gave little time for us to digest the information. Additionally the tour itself was very hard to maneuver through. With small alleyways and large crowds of people, it was nearly impossible for our group of 30 to stay together and see structures the was pointing out. His overall attitude was also a little bit off-putting. I wasn’t sure if this was a cultural difference between the US and Italy or just his individual personality, but I found him to be really rude at times and make insensitive jokes. It was interesting that he was so against tourists, yet that’s where his job is targeted toward. I thought about the tour a lot and how it compared to a duck boat tour in Boston. Every duck boat tour Ive been on, the tour guide made his very best effort to make the audience happy by sharing fun facts, cracking jokes, and just having a positive tone in his voice. The Venice tour guide seemed to do the complete opposite of all those things. This experience leaves me reflecting on whether the culture of tour guides in Venice is just very different compared to the US.

After we finished our tour in Venice, we were able to have a bunch of free time to explore the city. During this time, I noticed how much the tourism industry has taken over it. Street shops lined every corner, nook and cranny. Each holding the same goods of Venetian masks, glass beads, t-shirts, magnets, and other trinkets. You couldn’t walk more than 10 feet without seeing another one of these identical shops. It made me sad to think that the residents of Venice have to live with all of this around them, and I question whether it makes then despise the tourists who visit their home. One experience I had which I found was really interesting was this idea of no boundaries between the seller and the consumer. Anywhere I went in Venice, I was being approached by a vendor trying to sell me something. An example of this was when I was out to lunch, and a guy came right up to my table trying to sell me a rose. I definitely think that this would not be allowed in the US, and it just shows that there are definitely less boundaries for vendors in Italy.

My Favorite Day in Paris

The second day in Paris was a huge improvement from the first day. It has also been my favorite day of the trip so far! I spent the morning and afternoon at the Eiffel tower, drove bird scooters back to the hotel, and finished the night with a group dinner at La Petite Chaise. It has been a dream to visit the Eiffel tower, and it definitely did not disappoint. A group of us went to a local grocery store by the tower, picked up some bread, cheese, and wine for lunch, and made our way over. Being able to sit in front of THE Eiffel Tower on the lawn, drinking wine and eating bread and cheese was an experience I will never forget. It was probably one of the best moments of my life. I was surprised to see that it wasn’t as touristy as I thought it would be and the crowds weren’t terrible. Unlike other tourist attractions we’ve visited, this one was very relaxed. Additionally, it seemed like there wasn’t as much security at the Eiffel Tower as there has been at other attractions. People were able to sit on the lawn at no charge and relax in a beautiful environment! 

After capturing some shots by the tower, a few of us decided to try out the bird scooters that we had seen so often around the city. They were SO fun. We rode them all the way back to the hotel which was about an hour ride. Not only was this such a great way to sightsee, but it was also something I could never do in the United States. We we able to drive around the streets of Paris for just 10 Euros and sightsee on our own. It was interesting to note that people found scooters to be just a normal way of transportation around the city. In Boston, I rarely see residents or tourists traveling via scooter so I wonder if this trend will ever make it into the states.

The last part of this amazing day was spent eating a delicious dinner at Las Petite Chaise! This has been my favorite group dinner so far on the trip as we spent a lot of time laughing, reminiscing, and eating amazing dishes. The whole setting felt very relaxed and the staff was incredibly friendly and helpful. I was a bit nervous heading into this dinner because I wasn’t sure what my vegetarian option would be, but the servers made my nerves go away when they spoke to the chef immediately upon our arrival. I loved having this dinner because it truly felt like we were being immersed into the French culture with a very long 3-course meal!

First Day in Paris

Traveling to Paris has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl, and was definitely the city I was looking most forward to on this trip. The first day we arrived in Paris we had a tour of Musee du Vin, headed to Point-Neuf for dinner, and ended the day with a river cruise tour. This day was probably my least favorite of Paris but it was still an exciting first day. At Musee du Vin, the tour was lengthy and I found that the information was a bit tedious and too detailed. However, I really enjoyed learning about the different techniques you can use when tasting wine and how to determine if the wine if fruity, flowery, etc. It was incredibly exciting to meet some members of the brotherhood on this tour and get to learn the historical “cheer” they do before tasting wine. 

At Point-Neurf I got to try my first French Omelette! We went to Cafe Le Nesle and had incredible service. Our server was really friendly and made our experience so enjoyable with his humor and kindness. I think this was the first server Ive had while abroad who genuinely loved what he was doing and gave us the best service he could. We got our omelets to-go and ate them on our way to the river cruise tour. They were absolutely delicious!

I think I went into the river cruise with a bit too high of expectations. With it being pouring rain it was extremely difficult to see out the windows of the boat. Additionally this was probably the worst of the tour guides we’ve had. You could tell she didnt care about what she was talking about and the entire tour was scripted. Since so many people were on the boat, I also had a hard time hearing her. I wonder how different my experience would have been if I got to sit outside and hear the tour from a different section of the boat. I think this type of tour was definitely comparable to ones that the United States has in cities like LA or NYC. These tours don’t require as much qualification, and they rely on a pretty basic script for each tour. Comparably to the Tower of London tour where our tour guide had a Blue Badge and very strong qualifications, this differed drastically.

London Day 3 & 4

Day 3 of London was definitely the busiest work day I think I’ll have while on this trip. I spent most of the day working on our group’s walking tour, and finished off the afternoon with a tour of Fuller’s Brewery. It was a pretty stressful day trying to get everything together for our tour, but it definitely made me realize how much tour guides have to work in order to be successful at what they do. At Fuller’s Brewery, our tour guide was so knowledgeable about the subject and really made it his personal goal to give us the best tour possible. He knew exactly which spots to hit, the main points of each one, and always made sure to answer any questions we had. I have been on tours in other countries, and I could definitely tell when they just don’t care as much or they don’t really have a plan as to what they are doing. Overall, Fuller’s Brewery   was a really cool tour and I learned so much more than I ever thought I could about the process and production of creating beer!

Day 4 of London was an incredibly exciting day as we did our student-run tour, had high-tea at the Savoy, and got to see Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey.  While the day started off a bit stressful, I think our student-led tour went really well! We did a tour called “London’s Big Break” and visited Warner Music Group, Royal Albert Hall, and Royal College of Music.   Visiting the Savoy was by far my favorite memory of all my time in London. I have never been to a 5-star hotel and it was definitely something that I will never forget. Every single detail in the hotel was perfectly planned out from the flower arrangements (the hotel has 3 florists on staff) to the bar menus (bartenders create new menus every season). There was staff greeting us with a smile around every corner and asking if we needed anything. At our high tea, the waiters would come up to us individually asking for our menu selections and would explain everything in detail when our foods/teas came to the table. I have never experience this type of hospitality in the US, and was shocked to hear that they have a 1:2 ratio for employees to guests staying at the hotel. I’m sure that 5-star hotels in the US have great hospitality but I think the Savoy definitely took it to a new level with their personal care. Even our tour guide was the best tour guide I’ve ever experienced on a trip. Her quick wit, interesting fun facts, and ability to easily navigate the hotel for our convenience made her so enjoyable to listen to and ask questions.

At the end of day 4, I was able to see some of the world’s most iconic attractions, Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. I definitely expected both locations to be crazy busy with tourists, but surprisingly they weren’t. In the US, places such as the Empire State Building or the White House are swarming with people. While it may have been a little rainy, I was still shocked to see that there wasn’t that many people and that the people there were actually very polite. They were such beautiful sights to see!

London Days 1 & 2

We started off our exciting adventure abroad in the beautiful city of London! I have never been to London, so I was really excited to see everything that it had to offer. On our first day, we spent time walking around the neighborhood surrounding our beautiful hotel, the Copthorne Tara Hotel, going out to lunch at Elephant and Castle, having orientation and our first class, and finishing the day with a group dinner at Maggie Jones’s. During lunch at Elephant and Castle, I could already see the sharp contrasts between restaurants in the US compared to the US. Whereas waiters int he US pride themselves in providing the best possible service to their customers in order to increase their tips, UK serves do not receive tips and act in a more cashier-type role. It was interesting to see this contrast during our first meal in London, as we sat ourselves, and went up to the bar to order our food and eventually pay. Overall I had a lovely salad with mixed greens, avocado, cheese, and other veggies, and I got to see two of my friends have their first legal drink!

The dinner at Maggie Jones’s was my favorite of the entire London trip. It was such an incredible and unique experience having a 3-course meal along side 30 other guests. I was really surprised to see how many waiters there were and how amazing the service was. Usually in the US, menus choices are not given beforehand and dinners take a lot longer with such large amount of people. At Maggie Jones’s, they brought each course at the same time  and utilized cards on the table to determine our menu selections and write any food restrictions/preferences we had.

With all of the waiters running around I really thought that at least one person’s dish would get mixed up or something wouldn’t come out in time (like most cases in the US), but everything was perfectly timed and correct. This has been my favorite meal so far as I enjoyed an arugula salad, veggie pot pie, and bread & butter pudding!

On day 2 of our time in London, we had an incredible day touring the Tower of London, exploring Borough Market, and hopping on the London Eye. The tower of London was so amazing to see and having a Blue Badge Tour Guide made it even more special. Not only was Sarah Woods highly informative and passionate about the history of the Tower of London, she also was able to put things into perspective about the tour guide industry in London. As a Blue Badge Tour Guide, she went through rigorous coursework to become registered to guide tours. I had never hear of this type of qualification for Tour Guides before and definitely think the US would greatly benefit from it. The Tower of London was really exciting to visit as we got to see the Crown Jewels, Traitor’s Gate and old torturing devices, and the main fortress with various old pieces of armor inside!

To finish up day 2, we went on the iconic London Eye and got to see all of London, which was absolutely breathtaking. We also were able to explore Borough Market, where I was surprisingly able to find a ton of unique vegetarian options from F-ish (vegetarian alternative to smoked salmon), goat’s milk ice-cream, and of my favorite: gnocchi!