group of friends in a restaurant

Please welcome my second guest in my weekly Portugal travel interview series, Valerie Curtiss. She’s the lady in the middle of the photo and has a remarkable story to tell.

Who are you? Could you tell us a little about yourself, please?

I was born in England during WWII, and my name is Valerie Da-Silva Curtiss.  I am retired; was a medical transcriptionist and Quality Assurance Editor for 35 years.  In 2005 I had a stroke, and have actually recovered amazingly, I couldn’t speak, couldn’t write, and had to draw my “wants and needs” to communicate.   Now I write, paint, and love to take photographs and my passion for gardening shows up in all of those three, as I photograph flowers, paint them, and I was the garden columnist for The Whole Shebang, when I lived in Coos Bay, Oregon.  Now I live in a little town in Montana and I just started to blog about Portugal on my My Passion for Portugal pages.

When did you last visit / travel in Portugal and how long did you stay?
I visited in February and March of 2010, and stayed there for 3 weeks, and traveled all over thanks to my artist friend, Isaura and her husband who was kind enough to drive us all over, from north to south and east to west.
Did you come for business, pleasure or something else?
Pleasure, and to hunt down any record of my great great grandmother who came from Portugal, married my great great grandfather who fought in the Peninsular War and was injured at the siege of Badajoz in Spain.
How did you get here?
Flew from Missoula, Montana to Denver, to Frankfurt, then on to Porto. My advice if traveling to Portugal from the US is to circumvent Frankfurt if you can!  But that’s another story.
Whereabouts did you stay?
I stayed with my friend, in Ermesinde, a few miles from Porto,  but we stayed in a couple of hotels while traveling.
And what sort of accommodation did you have? How was it?
The best hotel we stayed in was the Hotel Sao Joao de Deus in Elvas, which used to be a convent,  an armoury and a hospital before becoming a hotel.  It was magnificently appointed keeping the traditions of the ancient building, and was situated inside right inside and part of the fortified walls of Elvas.
Courtyard inside the Hotel Sao Joao de Deus in Elvas
Courtyard inside the Hotel Sao Joao de Deus in Elvas. Photo by Valerie Curtiss
How did you get around while you were here?
By car, bus, and train.  We took the train to Lisbon and then traveled by car to Estoril, Cascais and Sintra.
What research, if any, did you do before your trip? 
I researched travel, read books,  and the researched places in Portugal like Evora and Elvas as they were supposedly where my great-great grandmother came from.  But we actually could find no record of her birth in the archives in Elvas.
Where did you find the most useful information?
The most useful travel info came from The Smart Traveler’s Passport, by Erik Torkells and Budget Travel, I read Rick Steve’s Through the Back Door books on Portugal.
What were you most looking forward to doing or seeing in Portugal?
The places where my great great grandmother came from, but we never made it to Badajoz, which was a pity as it was only six or seven miles from Elvas.  I am signing up to Volunteer to  teach Conversational English in Beja for two weeks, which is only about an hour from Elvas, and I hope to mange a trip to Badajoz from there.
Of the places you visited, which would you recommend to other travellers and why?  
If you love horses, visit the Lusitano horse breeding stable at the Alter Real Coudaleria in Alter Chão.  The Mogadouro area of Northern Portugal, the Northern coastline from Portugal to Spain is absolutely magnificent.  Visit the museums of the different areas and soak up the history of this fascinating land.
Is there anywhere you think people should avoid? 
The tourist areas, unless you are just planning on a sunny holiday, I would suggest going deeper into the countryside and mingling with the people and the traditional dishes of Portugal as each region has it’s own customs and atmosphere.
Did you pick up any practical or money-saving tips for travelling in Portugal that you could share with us?
Don’t change your money at the airport!!   Use your debit card to get funds, its cheaper.
Is there anywhere or anything that was a letdown? Why? 
No, I loved every minute of it, the people, the food, and the fantastic diversity of the landscape, oh, except for one dish – Lamprey, which is a delicacy, or so they say…. I guess I don’t have a taste for black fish swimming around in a black goupy gravy… but that is the only thing about Portugal I didn’t like, but it was my friend’s birthday treat and I actually to be polite ended up eating TWO pieces!
What about the food – did you try any local dishes? Any you’d recommend?
Everything I ate in Portugal was wonderful (except for the Lamprey) from the sausages in the Nor-Imperial Restauraunt in Palacoulo, to the platter of shrimps as big as a coffee table, followed by a whole fish cooked in salt we ate in the Rocamar on the way to visit the Pinta replica on Baione, Spain; or the roasted lamb cooked in a huge wall of brick ovens in Vale de Sousa, in Meneido, and my favorite of all was the mouthwatering Leitao Assado a Bairrada  – or roasted baby pig – in Mealhada, I could eat that daily – but would probably be dead before the month was out!!
Sausage room in Nor Imperial in Palacoula, Tras-os-Montes
Sausage room in Nor Imperial in Palacoula, Tras-os-Montes photo by Valerie Curtiss
Did you buy any souvenirs? What / Why not?
I did buy some egg cups in pottery shop at the Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro Museum of pottery in Caldas da Rainha because they were small. This town has the most beautiful park, and was one of my favorite towns.  I tried to keep my souvenirs down to booklets, linens, scarves and light easily packed items so I didn’t have to pay a baggage fee and have bags I couldn’t carry on.
Could sum up your experience of Portugal in a sentence, please?
In my short three weeks stay, I fell passionately in love with the people, the food, and the history of this country, and if the world was not in such desperate financial straits, I would choose to live there.
What would you do differently if you could do this trip over?
Take more videos, more photos, and would have gone to Badajoz, and be able speak in my limited Portuguese that I have learned since arriving back in the US.
Would you like to come back to Portugal? If the answer’s yes, where in particular?
YES, YES, YES.  I want to come back as a volunteer to teach the Conversational English class in Beja, but I have to raise $2500 to manage that, if anyone has any fundraising ideas, please share them with me!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
If I could win the lottery, I would have a house in Portugal somewhere near the western coastline, to spend part of the year in Portugal every year!! Love to you all, from a passionate Portugal fan!


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  1. There are baptism, marriage and death registration books available on the net but unfortunately not the case for Elvas or Évora.

    Part of the books were digitalized… like for Algarve…

  2. Lovely lady and lovely interview. Best of luck to Valerie.

    1. Author

      Glad you enjoyed reading it, Sami. I agree, her story is really interesting and inspiring.

  3. Yes, Valarie da Silva Curtiss is a most wonderful lady and best friend. Val has gone throuhg her share of hell but now she can go to her beloved Portugal for her heavenly trip. God Bless you Val, love the postings and photos and especially the beautiful writing!

    1. Author

      Thanks for commenting, Mo. Valerie does indeed seem like a special person and I feel privileged to share her story on my blog.

  4. She sounds like a lovely lady, and what a fantastic recovery she has made. I’m going to enjoy visiting her blog, I know, Julie, and thanks very much for your generous link to mine.

    1. Author

      You’re more than welcome, Jo. I thoroughly enjoyed Valerie’s story and I’m really impressed at her recovery and commitment to Portugal.

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