Monday, November 7, 2016

Obrigado, Portugal

The Lisbon airport is a monument to commercialism.

Departing passengers go through check-in and security and then are immediately greeted by stores and restaurants on both sides of them, completely surrounding and enveloping them as they attempt to reach their gate. TigerBlog has never seen anything quite like it, though he thinks it's pretty smart.

Plus, it gave him a chance to do a few things, including finally being able to find a hat for Sporting Club of Portugal, the team in the Portugese Liga NOS, the country's first division. It's the favorite team of Francisco, the tour guide for Princeton men's lacrosse during its eight days in the country that ended yesterday, when the team flew home.

The walk through the airport also enabled TB to get his second croissant of the day, a ham and cheese one that was pretty good.

Earlier Sunday he had a chocolate croissant at the cafe at the National Sports Center, where Princeton was playing its third and final game of the tour against the English national team. Princeton and England split the first two games, and Princeton then won 13-5 yesterday.

The National Sports Center features a 30,000-seat soccer stadium, which serves as the host for the final of the Portugal Cup.

Beyond that, it has field after field lined for sport after sport. There are grass fields and turf fields, tennis courts, a pool and even a golf course. There are soccer fields, of course, and fields lined for field hockey, team handball and rugby, not to mention one grass field that for the past few days has been lined for men's lacrosse.

There is a paved walkway that circles the park, with bridges that go back and forth over the stream that goes down one side. Each time Princeton was at this park, there were joggers, walkers and bike riders, many of whom would stop, watch the lacrosse for a few minutes and then move on.

When Princeton and England were practicing together Saturday, TigerBlog wandered around and saw a rugby game. It had to be have been some sort of high-level league. TigerBlog could tell that by watching, even if he doesn't know the rules.

When he got back to where the lacrosse field was, he could also see a field hockey game between two men's teams. They were also playing very seriously.

The practice started at 3:30 local time, which meant 11:30 Princeton time, which meant just about start time for Princeton-Penn football. TigerBlog followed the game on Twitter, checking in just in time for the blocked punt that started Princeton on the way to a convincing 28-0 win, for its first shutout win over Penn since 1978.

Each time TigerBlog refreshed the Princeton football Twitter feed, it was good news for Princeton, starting with the blocked punt for the touchdown and going from there. Even when Princeton wasn't scoring, it was getting stop after stop on defense.

TigerBlog got to his hotel room in time to see the end of the game on the Ivy League Digital Network. By then it was 21-0 and essentially over. 

It was a little weird, being 3,500 miles away, knowing that he would be returning to where the stadium was in a little more than 24 hours. One of TB's first thoughts when he put the game on the ILDN was about how his car was in the parking lot there.

It looked like it might be the perfect day for Princeton when Harvard trailed Columbia at the half before the Crimson rallied to win. The Tigers need Harvard to lose one of its last two, either at Penn or home against Yale, while Princeton needs to win out against Yale and Dartmouth to get at least a share of the title. 
Francisco has seen only one American football game and didn't like it. He did love what he saw of lacrosse. He tried to learn how to throw and catch, though he was slowed by a bad ankle, injured playing volleyball.

It doesn't seem like a more than a week has gone by since Francisco met the Tigers at the same overcommercialized airport when the trip began. 

The last night of any long trip, especially an international one, is always bittersweet. You want to enjoy, but your mind is also on packing, airports, check-ins, flights, logistics, that sort of stuff.

For their last dinner in Portugal for this trip, Francisco recommended a restaurant near the beach area, about a five-minute cab ride from the hotel (and about three minutes back, thanks to a cabbie who should be driving for a NASCAR team). There was a group of 11 that made its way to the restaurant, which opened out to the ocean.

Before they could order, they were deluged by food - empanadas, different breads, prosciutto, cheeses, things TB already forgot. Then it was a shrimp appetizer. Then it was the main dish.

The main dishes were huge. They're meant for two people, though three can make due easily. There was fish. Meat. Chicken. Rice. Potatoes. TigerBlog saw - and ate - the biggest mussels he's ever seen.

It was a total feast - and a nice final night in the country.

The trip to Portugal was a great one. It's a magnificent place to visit. The weather was nearly perfect, especially for Western Europe in November. The team got to see two very distinct parts of the country, the Algarve coastal region in the southeastern part of Portugal and then Lisbon, a quaint, charming city.

TigerBlog asked a few people on the trip what city Lisbon reminded them of the most. For TB, the answer was none. He's never been to a city quite like Lisbon. It doesn't really have a classic city design, with wide streets crisscrossing each other under huge skyscrapers.

It's a whole city of narrow streets, little shops, charming neighborhoods, pastries on every corner.

It was great there. The whole week was great. Portugal rocks. TB recommends it highly.

When Princeton's flight took off yesterday, it swept over the city, showing off those little neighborhoods once again. From his window seat on the left, TigerBlog could see the 25th of April Bridge, the one that the team bus had passed over each time it had to come back into the city from its hotel. The bridge is modeled after the Golden Gate Bridge and looks just like it.

Off beyond the bridge was the area where Princeton stayed. TigerBlog could see the ocean reach the point a bit to the right of where the hotel is, and he could pretty much see exactly where they had eaten dinner the night before.

Within maybe seven minutes the plane had cleared land and was out over the ocean, with the rest of the seven-hour flight in front of them and the memories of their week in Portugal behind them. 

TigerBlog only had his window seat because he switched with sophomore Dawson McKenzie. In the three games with England, McKenzie - whom they call "Daws" - had scored three goals and had seven ground balls.

His biggest lacrosse contribution, though, might have been Saturday before the practice with the English, back when the Tigers visited a school that at one time would have been described as an orphanage. TigreBlog asked Francisco about it, and he said the school has a good reputation for getting good educations for kids from that tough beginning.

It was on the field there that McKenzie and Strib Walker spent about 15 minutes with a little girl who looked to be about 12 or so. They taught her to throw and catch, though she spoke no English. She was pretty good. Then they showed her how to throw behind-the-back.

Who knows what her back story is. If she was at that school, TigerBlog's sense is it isn't good.

And here were Walker and McKenzie, making her smile and laugh and showing her the sport that they play at one of the greatest universities in the world. It was great to watch.

Shortly after that, it started to rain fairly hard, the only time all week it actually did rain on the Tigers. Some of the kids hid under some stone bleachers to get away from the water that cascaded down, and the Princeton players milled around near where the opening was.

TigerBlog took a lot of pictures in Portugal. His favorite is the one he took during that rain. It's of Sam Bonafede, a Long Island kid and Princeton junior who has the world at his fingertips. "Bono," as they call him, could be the perfect Princeton ambassador, always upbeat, always supportive. He's the kind of kid you look at and know that he's going to make a real difference in the decades to come.

And, in this case, on a rainy Saturday in Lisbon.

In the picture, he's next to one of the little girls, who is wearing a slightly oversized Princeton Lacrosse t shirt. He's kneeling down, arm around her. They're both smiling.

It's an amazing picture. They're two people separated by an ocean, and not just the literal one. And here they were, together, in a moment they'll both remember for a long, long time.

Yeah. Those are the kinds of kids you want to spend a week internationally with - and Portugal is as good a country as you can find to spend that week.

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