Heading southeast from the seaside town of Esposende we now call home, our first stop was Celorico da Beira, specifically Solar de Queijo, famous for cheese, sausages, wine, and honey. Of course we tasted and made a purchase; what else can you do when the church (and most of the town) is closed? We then drove to Lageosa do Mondego and  arrived at our lodging for the next two nights, Casa do Brigadeiro.

Part of the joy of traveling is meeting new people and exchanging ideas, and nowhere on our travels have we encountered a more hospitable man than Casa do Brigadeiro’s host. Angolan-born journalist Fernando Pereira painstakingly restored his hundred-year-old family residence, updating it for hotel use. We were greeted in the bar with homemade cake, a glass of port, and lively discussion about Portugal and its colonies’ past and future. That’s something that just doesn’t happen in a chain hotel, and they don’t look like this, either.

Bar Counter 2The next day found us visiting the castle in Trancoso, where we complimented gatekeeper Maria on her excellent English. Not a surprise, since she was born in South Africa. As we were about to leave after a chat about the virtues of small town versus big city life, she said, “Don’t forget to try our sweet sardines!” Not what you’re thinking: they’re pastries. In the seventeenth century the nuns of the Order of Santa Clara created them. We heard varying explanations why they did, from giving hungry townspeople a treat while they waited for long periods before fisherman arrived with real seafood, to a way to make money for the convent.

Castelo do Trancoso

In the castle-packed day, we also covered those of Marialva and Rodrigo. At the latter, we found both a tea room and a gourmet shop selling coffee, spiced, and chocolate-flavored almonds and chestnut jam. But the biggest delight was encountering a young mother and her Spanish husband on vacation from Madrid. When we heard her speaking English, we joined in and discovered she was born–of all places–in Brooklyn, and not just anywhere in Brooklyn, but in Park Slope, where my father was born and raised.

Historical sites can be thrilling, but connecting the dots with other travelers gives special meaning to every journey…in life.

Castelo Rodrigo