w r i n k l e d
ADVENTURES IN TRAVEL, WRITING AND AGING GRACEFULLY
Is it lame that I’m writing from an oceanside American resort, surrounded by pasty Brits in Marbella, Spain? That a Spanish singer is belting out REM’s “Losing My Religion” while I contemplate a poolside slushy drink? Will you hate me even more if I say that for the second time this week, we are on holiday from our holiday?
This is the kind of place I usually avoid like the plague. Not that I have a problem with luxury travel or fancy resorts, but I could never understand why people would travel just to recreate the experience back home. I mean, what then, is the point of getting away? For that, Marriott Marbella Beach Resort, I really, really hate you. Except I also sort of love you.
But let’s backtrack.
Back in May, when I was frantically combing AirB&B in anticipation of this trip, I stumbled upon a funky little house in the tiny white town of Cortes de la Frontera. On a whim, I booked the house for an entire month. But knowing what we do now: Our preference for faster travel and larger cities, Chris and I were less than enthusiastic about hurrying to our little village. So we decided to break up the 6.5 hr. drive from Lisbon to Spain with a 2-night stop in Lagos.
A new friend had recommended a visit to Lagos and I’m so glad we went. It redeemed Portugal for the kids – in more ways than one. We booked a two-bedroom apartment at the newish Belmar Spa & Beach Resort and spent our days alternating between the three swimming pools, jet spa and beaches. We ate dinners at the hotel buffet (yes, I said buffet) and spent the evenings playing games and watching movies. The moment we arrived, the kids recuperated from their stomach flu. Their appetites returned, their cheeks grew rosier, hair shiner, toenails more buff. In a word, they were happy and healthy and glowing. The truth was that after two months of travel we were all exhausted and needed a break from the constant stream of cultural enrichment.
WHAT WE DID:
Ponta de Piedade - Lagos, Portugal
I really, really, really wanted to kayak around these amazing sandstone cliffs, but the waters were so rocky none of the boats would go out. The walk down was just breathtaking. It's one of the few touristy spots we've visited that is absolutely worth the stop.
Btw, if you stop here, don't bother with the shops and restaurants. All crap and overpriced. If you're hungry, just go up the street to Camilo beach.
Greetings from Algarve!
The water in these pictures look deceptively serene. Trust me, it was very, very choppy.
Camilo Beach - Lagos, Portugal
This is reputed to be one of the most beautiful beaches in one of the most gorgeous countries in the world. Believe the hype. Of all the beaches I've been to, this one is truly memorable. I will say, though, that there was black stuff all over the dense, wet, sand. Animal poop? Coral? Some sort of ocean mineral? I'm not sure. It was a little unsettling and made the very narrow beach and emerald water slightly less welcoming. But, you should absolutely go. See Ponta de Piedade, walk to the bottom, then get in the car and drive up the road to O Camilo restaurant for a seaside lunch on the balcony. After that walk down to Camilo Beach, take a bunch of pictures, explore the tunnels and rock pillars and go absolutely silent in the crazy, claustrophobic rock caves. If you want to swim, surf or sunbathe head 5 minutes to Porto de Mos beach.
Scenes from Camilio Beach
Praia do Porto de Mos - Lagos, Portugal
The Belmar overlooks this beach and while it's not as "famous" as Ponta da Piedade, I later learned that it's just as popular. It's wide with beach cafes, clean, white sand and fantastic waves making it popular with locals and tourists. Chris and I ran the cliff that overlooked the beach. It was a magical run with mountains above, surfers below, the sound of birds overhead. I returned the next day for an early morning hike and then joined Chris and the kids for some surf jumping. The kids preferred this beach over Ponta da Piedade, but imagine a country with such options!
When the kids got sick of the beach, we headed to the pool. Come to think of it, this little one never got sick of either.
WHAT WE ATE:
Restaurante O Camilo - Lagos, Portugal
Considering this restaurant is the only place to eat overlooking Algarve's most popular beach, it could have been as horrible as it wanted. But it wasn't. Great views, fresh seafood, generous portions, reasonable prices, and a smart looking dining space. Afterwards, hit the snack window for some ice cream cones and head to the beach.
Levante Restaurant/Belmar - Lagos, Portugal
I don't usually do buffets, especially in a restaurant that lacks this much atmosphere, but the food was surprisingly solid, the house wine delicious and the prices were great. They offer a different theme each night and provide enough fresh, healthy options for everyone to be happy. Shame on me, but we ate here twice.
WHERE WE STAYED:
Belmar Spa and Beach Resort - Lagos Portugal
Under $200 for a big, spotless two bedroom apartment with a fully equipped kitchen, two bathrooms, three balconies, overlooking one of three pools and views of the ocean? Sign me up!
The view from the balcony. Oona exhausted from so much fun.
We rolled into Cortes late, made later by an unknown time change and several wrong turns. Google maps couldn’t find our house so poor Chris was stuck driving forwards and backwards up and down the narrow cobble streets, rearview mirrors tucked in, the overloaded car struggling to chug up the steep climb. We finally called our host for directions. “Meet me at the petrol, mate,” he said. “You can’t miss it. All roads lead here.”
“I wonder what he’s doing at the gas station,” Chris mused. “Perhaps he works there?” I suggested. Little did I realize that in this sleepy little town, the petrol station was the local hangout. We find Saul sitting in a plastic chair under the eave of the gas station knocking back a vino tinto with a handful of expats. I don’t technically know what dungarees are, but my guess is that he was wearing them, along with a tank top, long hair, braided jewelry and a silver beard.
We follow Saul to the house. The kids and I unload the car as he shows Chris the particulars of trash disposal, water heater, Internet. “I’ve never had anyone stay at the house for this long and never with kids, man. I didn’t know if I should hide the knives. I put some juice in the fridge for them, kids like juice, right? Tell them to be careful going up to the deck so they don’t fall off the roof.” He is at once friendly, eager to please, and mellow. More laid back Aussie than former Londoner. The kind of big, gregarious guy who has interesting sex. He was traveling through India for 9 months when his mother called to say she had just purchased an almond grove in Spain and needed his help. He rolls his eyes as he tells the story, but 15 years later, he is still here.
“Feel free to move things around, burn some incense, make yourselves comfortable. And here, home grown,” he says, shaking a tin can on the top shelf.
The house as promised, is charming. Red brick floors, white walls, and a plethora of arched windows and doorways. Upstairs the master bedroom windows open to a large balcony alive with plants and tiny lizards, and a double hammock, which the kids instantly co-opt. From the shady balcony a staircase leads to the roof deck aglow with chili pepper lights, a surfboard emblazoned with “Surf Naked” hangs above the bar. There’s also a covered seating area and amazing views of the Serranía de Ronda Mountains. The kids adore the house. Oona spends hours in the hammock, absent-mindedly swinging while she hums a song or chattering non-stop as I try to read in the chair next to her. Isoo takes his breakfast up to the roof, peering at buzzards through his binocs between spoonfuls of cereal. On day two, we walk through the town with its white walls, mustard trim and terra cotta roofs and we’re dismayed to find that like our neighbors, many of the buildings are in ruins, walls crumbling, missing roofs and shutters, windows pitched through with rocks. We visit all three “super” markets, hardly larger than the size of a NYC bodega. Oona emerges from each one saying, “Yep, that one sells chicken with the feathers still on it.” There are four restaurants, an ATM machine, a church and a couple dozen tiny signs advertising a bar. We later learn that the bars sell little more than bottles of soda, drafts of Campo Cruz and a selection of five or so tapas dispensed from a food warming tray (usually some meatballs in tomato sauce, a mayonnaisey Andalusian potato salad, ambrosia salad, anchovies marinated in olive oil and capers, and some pieces of stewed beef). A mustard colored bullring anchors the town, though now only unchained for the annual festival. Every day Oona walks by the same old man and as we approach his house, she whispers, “I bet he’s there” and sure enough he is, sitting in a rocking chair in his linoleum tiled living room, the doors flung open as he watches the world beneath his long, stringy eyebrows like its an episode of small town Andalusian reality TV.
Isoo observes, “Why are these ladies so dressed up?” The women wear high heels, tight pants, deep cleavage, blouses embellished with studs and fringe, sunglasses with gilded sides. They tether through the cross walk of this arid, blazing little mountain town strutting like it’s a catwalk. Even thought it’s in the 80s, we are the only ones wearing short sleeves.
We were spoiled by Lisbon where English is taught in the 3rd grade. In Cortes, no one speaks a word of it. The butcher laughs when I pantomime my request for 3 chicken thighs. On the third day Isoo asks for quesadillas so I give the kids 5Euro and send them around the corner to the supermarket for supplies. They return excited and flush as fisherman with a prize catch. During lunch, the kids practice “Buenos dias, un, dos, chocolate, por favor, and gracias” and then armed with more Euros, run to the candy lady to purchase ice cream cones.
Early on, I round the corner and an Asian woman spies me from a distance and waves asking, “Hello there! Are you the ones renting Saul’s house?” Two days later I hear a knock and open the door to find Ikuko with an English language newspaper and a cable modem. Minutes later Saul rambles by the house to check to see how we’re getting on. We run into Alex at the candy lady. And there’s Sarah at the bar having a soda. The expat community is close knit. I am reminded of the time I lived in Korea.
View of Cortes from the winding streets above.
Isoo birding at the petrol station/hangout.
Isoo, ready for some meatballs at Bar Fuentes. Chris, man about town.
We are surrounded by many run down buildings, which unfortunately, is very common in Cortes. One morning there was a very dramatic teenage lover's spat in the alley between. It was like watching a telenovela.
The TV doesn't actually work and with no friends, it means that once again, mom and dad are the kids prime source of entertainment.
How'd you guess there was going to be a beaded curtain and a buddha altar?
The double french doors to the left open to our bedroom. We spend the majority of our time on the terrace.
The roof bar and deck where we eat and homeschool.
View of the Serranía de Ronda Mountains from the roof.
The kids returning from a solo adventure to the store. I couldn't help but discretely tail them.
But mostly it’s just us, hanging around the house. The kids love the easy, lazy pace, but Chris and I climb the walls. I mean, what kind of idiots rent a house in a town they know nothing about and have never visited? So we head to Jimera de Libar to swim in the river and hike the Sierra de Grazalema Mountains. We drive into Ronda, which I haven’t been to in 13 years. It’s still breathtaking. We view Puente Nuevo from the Parador and then take the path to the bottom of the gorge, Isoo stopping along the way to spy vultures and tits. After lunch we take the kids to a playground right outside the restaurant and meet a British family on holiday. The kids had a blast running around with Lily and Nicholas, and honestly, it was really nice to talk to someone other than Chris, the kids and myself. We were so loathe to tear them away from their new friends that we didn’t see much else, except a quick dip into the Museo Taurino. Afterwards Oona ran around the bullring, snorting and stomping and pretending to charge us.
Cortes no longer has a pool, but we'd heard we could swim in the river in Jimera. We hiked forever and found the river, but no one was swimming. We finally asked an old woman who said the water was clean, but probably too cold to tolerate. That never stopped Chris. Isoo hemmed and hawed about whether he wanted to jump in. Chris made his decision for him by pushing him into the mossy river.
Ronda - view from the other side of the canyon.
Isoo didn't even notice the canyon or the bridge. He was too busy looking at birds.
While I was trailing Isoo, Chris and Oona went off-roading. They decided to take a rickety, metal staircase used by the maintenance crew to climb UNDER the bridge. As Isoo and I tried to catch up, he kept remarking, "Isn't this kind of DANGEROUS?" Isoo and I berated them when we finally caught up, but Chris and Oona just stood there grinning. #fools
Leaving our mark on the wall by the Church of Santa María la Mayor, outside the old city hall. .
Toro! In Spain's oldest bullfighting ring, Plaza de Toros de Ronda.
WHAT WE DID:
El Tajo/Puente Nuevo Bridge - Ronda
Forty two years in the making, and having taken countless lives to build, the new bridge that connects the old and new towns are a thing to behold. Parking is a bitch in Ronda, so lot it near Alameda del Tajo and walk to the Parador for great views. Then cross to the old town and snake through the center to find the path that leads down the gorge. Nice views of the vineyards and farms below.
Alameda del Tajo - Ronda
A pretty shaded park near the Parador and bullring filled with tropical plants and iron fountains. A lovely place to rest and catch a breeze in super sunny Ronda.
Museo Taurino/Plaza de Toros - Ronda
The kids deemed this museum as being "fairly painless" due to it's small, manageable collection though the emphasis is on guns and duels over bullfighting itself. I would tell you why, but in order to keep the visit "fairly painless," I was not allowed to read any of the informational placards. So there you have it. Afterwards check out the bullring where you can take turns charging each other or just sit and smell a flower like Ferdinand.
WHERE WE ATE:
Bodega San Francisco - Ronda
Located right outside the city walls, this sprawling restaurant spans two buildings, an outdoor cafe, still more seating in the playground across the street, and serves an extensive menu of tapas items. The service is slow and unfriendly, but the portions are hefty and the food is pretty good. We found it through Tripadvisor, which means it was crawling with tourists. Seated next to us was another family who kept eyeing us throughout the meal and then later, followed us to the park across the street. We ended up spending the afternoon chatting and playing with them so all in all, a pretty successful lunch.
One of the bars at Bodgea San Francisco
Wednesday morning Oona and I woke up to discover that Chris had taken Isoo out for an early birding trip. We girls lazed about, swinging in the hammock, eating a big breakfast, checking the weather report and trying to decide how to spend the day. When the boys returned we sent them packing and loaded up the car for a totally spontaneous trip to Marbella. Our little house, while wonderful, does not have air conditioning and with temps in the 80s (and soon dipping), it seemed one of the few remaining days we could get to the pool. The kids were delighted by the surprise and thrilled to find that they could have burgers for dinner. I will admit that I, too, was thrilled by the Charlie’s American Sports Bar menu, rereading and savoring it like a great Dickens novel, lingering over words like “buffalo chicken wings,” “fried calamari” and “loaded nachos”. As for Marbella, while I have no need for golf courses, yacht marinas or luxury shopping, I loved the quaint cobblestoned old town with its lush bougainvillea and orange trees. We also drove around the bazillion dollar arab mansions, which was pretty entertaining (and such a departure from Cortes!). It was a great trip, but alas, we must return “home”, wherever, whatever, for the moment, that may be.
WHAT WE DID:
No caption necessary
Isoo playing a little beach "football" at the resort beach.
Plaza De Los Naranjos/Old Town
This pretty little square filled with orange trees, cafes and churches is picturesque, never mind all the aggressive restaurant hawkers. Even Isoo, who hated the bustling, crowded city of Marbella, admitted to finding it "pretty nice."
Isoo's sightseeing face.
Avenida del Mar
A rep at the hotel cornered us and gave us a sales pitch to join the Marriott Vacation Club. Once she learned we were jobless backpackers she cut her speech short. But she did suggest we drive into town, see Plaza De Los Naranjos, and walk this sculpture filled avenue before heading to Playa de Venus. I think we got the better end of the meeting.
Playa de Venus
Better than the beach at the resort (by far!), but not nearly as nice as the ones in Portugal. For 6Euro, you can rent a lounge chair and spend all day at this city beach. Lots of topless sunbathers, though the kids didn't notice. Also a bunch of (awful looking) touristy bars and restaurants. But the big draw for our kids was the monster trampoline.
WHAT WE ATE:
Chill/ELMED/ Charlie's American Sports Bar/Marriott Resort - Marbella
We mostly ate at the resort because we are lazy like that. The food was pretty good, with the exception of Charlie's American Sports Bar, which was freaking excellent! Totally hit the spot. Unreasonably pricey, but what do you expect?
El Reloj - Marbella
This place made me so fucking cranky. I did not want to eat here, but the kids and Chris were losing their minds and acting like assholes so despite my better judgement we sat down. I opened my menu and I swear, the most rancid smell came out of my menu. MY MENU!!!! HELLO! That should have been a clue. We had to move to another table. As Chris inexplicably ordered everything on the menu, I perused the online reviews and yes, was not surprised of reports of terrible service, bad food and unclean glasses, etc. While I admit to being fairly demanding, I think if Gandhi, Mother Teresa and the Buddha met here for lunch, even they would all have taken issue with this place. When I asked for specifics about the "chicken and rice" our server looked at me and said, "What do you mean? It's chicken. And rice. You retard." (By her tone, the "retard" part was implied.) After we ordered, Chris tried to hand her our menus and she actually said, "Don't give me that. I don't want it. Just put it somewhere" (which I guess explains why the menus smell so bad). And then she brought me a broken water glass. Not a cracked glass, not a chipped glass. A BROKEN glass. Like we were going to do some West Side Story rumble. Chris, trying to stave off a tantrum, ran to replace it and came back with a dirty glass. Sigh. Then Oona's ice cream float came (aka Strawberry Nesquick in milk). I took one bite of my rancid chicken and rice and threw down my napkin. I have never before gotten up and walked away from a table full of food. And not a peep or apology from our server. The location however, is great. Primo corner in the Old Town. That explains everything.
After our lunch fiasco, we walked around town with grumbling bellies because we could not pull the trigger on another restaurant. Marbella is crawling with tourist traps and servers who accost you on the street to sit down in their pretty, poorly serviced establishments. I had read positive reviews of one place, but when we got there, it was closed. The guy across the way "invited" us into his restaurant. I bruskly asked him to "wait a moment" while I read online reviews and only then acquiesced. It was not love at first sight, but by the end of the fantastic meal, we were best of friends. I realize that Marbella is like that: a transient town that depends on the deep pockets of tourists, and from what we've seen, most of these tourists are incredibly rude and condescending. I'm not surprised that the locals find us annoying, but it makes for uneasy relations in such a beautiful place. The solution? Come here, be nice, have the steak entrecôte and everyone will be happy.
WHERE WE STAYED:
Marriott's Marbella Beach Resort
This is not my usual kind of hotel, but one of the few that offered both Costa de Sol beach and pool. The dirty, small, poorly maintained beach isn't worth a visit, but the kids loved the grounds. We booked a two bedroom/two bath apartment, used the kids club, fitness center, pools and did everything from mini golf and giant chess to shuffle board and beach football. The kids loved it and honestly, it was a great break for all of us. One note: The guests, particularly the kids, were horrible: swinging golf clubs at the hedges to destroy flowers, pouring their drinks into the hot tub, 10 boys pouncing and then throwing a smaller boy into the pool, running and pushing along the deck. In Isoo's words, "Who raised these kids?" But the staff shines above it and the place is beautiful.
Happy, healthy and rested. And ready to see more!
Our typical day in Lisbon starts with a long run that stretches for miles along the Tagus River. After a shower, we walk the rolling and winding cobbled streets, getting lost in the blue tiled architecture, popping into the random art museum, sipping wine overlooking a miradouro, knick-knacking in the charming goods store, A Vida Portuguesa, and sampling the tinned fish selection at Conserveira de Lisboa. After that we finish off the day with a late dinner of heaping mounds of fresh seafood, endless glasses of port and some traditional Fado.
Oh wait, that would be fantasy version of Lisbon.
Instead, we got the kids version. The one that starts with long breakfasts, homeschooling and lots of negotiations.
"Seriously, an hour. That's all I'm asking."
"Can you do it in 30, mom? I really can't handle more than 30 minutes in a museum."
"If you give me 50, I'll buy you gelato afterwards. But you have to not whine and you have to actually look at stuff."
"No, I can't do that. I won't look at anything, but I'll give you 45. And I want 2 scoops of gelato. And I want you to make me pasta with butter and dill for dinner"
"No pasta, but we can go out for pizza. Two scoops, 45 minutes. Final offer."
It's like negotiating with terrorists, except, they play dirty and halfway through the dinner they wanted (and got), they turn to you and say, "Uh oh. I think I have to go home."
Let me backtrack. I love Lisbon. The sights, the food, the grubby romanticism. The history of exploration, the seashore location, the eager, friendly people. It's fantastic to be here. So much so that Chris and I are already planning our return, sans kids.
Frankly, I don't know what they're bitching about. When we arrived, it was 86 degrees. Balmy, sunny, perfect beach weather. We surfed, we biked, we took a ridiculously expensive, unnecessary and totally gimmicky ride in a tuk tuk through the Alfama. We went to a Benfica soccer match, and then bowling and to the arcade at the Colombo Mall. We had loads of gelato and went to the Pavilhao do Conhecimento science museum to ride bikes on a tightrope. Isoo went birding, Oona went shopping. We had pizza and I broke my no-cooking in Lisbon ban and made the dreaded pasta with butter and dill. And yet, they don't love Lisbon. Seriously, what is wrong with these people?
On Saturday we went to Sintra. We were told it is the "Jewel of Portugal. No trip is complete without a visit." So we woke up early, skipped the homeschool and got ready to head to the train station. Four hours later, after many delays and wrong turns, we made it to the gloriously ornate castle grounds of Quinta da Regaleira. What can I say about Quinta da Regaleria? It is like walking into an Alice in Wonderland fantasy - complete with a castle turreted with mad bunnies and falcons and snails. The expansive grounds feature waterfalls with footpaths that lead through grottos and a tunnel through caves before emptying into the bottom of a moss covered well. There are flowers and sculptures and terraces galore. it's like walking into a fairytale (or less kind, like Disneyland in the 1800s). By the time we made it to Castelo dos Mouros, it was late afternoon; the temperature had dropped 20 degrees and the sky had grown dark. We hiked the steep, slick cobblestones up to the top, entered the fortress walls and forked over our $35 entry fee. Five minutes later, lightening filled the sky, and Isoo, biting his shirt, clutched my hand. We didn't even make it past the gift shop before getting drenched. There, we forked over even more money, purchasing three child size rain slickers (the only ones they had left) before sliding back down the hill, hiking into town and boarding a crowded train back to Lisbon in our steaming clothes.
Castelo dos Mouros. Kylemore Abbey. Lichtenstein Castle. You all owe me.
That night marked the start of fall. Oona goes to the window to play sweet and sour, calling "hola" to the strangers below. The once crowded streets filled with tourists wearing tank tops and sneakers, have visibly thinned. Now only a skinny trail of umbrellas snake the streets. The kids wake up with fevers and belly aches and for the next four days we stay close to home, Isoo and Oona subsisting on toast corners and ibuprofen, pots lined with plastic bags, and alternating between open and closed windows. By day we watch the Hunger Games movies, rub bellies, read, listen to the clanking of construction next door. Chris and I look dreamily out the window, like captive princesses. I sleep with Isoo, Chris with Oona so we can run the kids to the bathroom and check temperatures in the middle of the night. We leave the house only once, for a long planned excursion to The Lisbon Escape Game.
If ever you are in Lisbon, you must go. Chris claims it was the most fun thing we did in Lisbon. On this trip. Maybe ever. We arrive at the designated address to find a list of rules and a walkie talkie. In a word, it is a spy game. We search the corridor for a key, unlock the door, enter a room and once the door shuts behind us, the clock starts. We have 60 minutes to solve the riddles to unlock the door. Despite feeling horrible, the kids did great: opening drawers, turning over picture frames, finding secret boxes and unearthing tiny keys. Every once in a while the walkie talkie would crackle and Joao, the game maker, would offer up the time or a clue. It was really great fun even though we failed to complete the mission. Afterwards we chatted with Joao and he showed us the control room where he watched us on a video monitor (and probably laughed his ass off). He also revealed the secrets of the room and showed us how to get out, but I don't dare tell you. You'll just have to come to Lisbon and find out for yourself.
That night was Monday and although most restaurants in Lisbon were closed, Chris and I, so grateful to be out of the house, search the streets for dinner. Again the negotiations: “No seafood, early seating, within walking distance and I reserve the right to not eat anything”. We end up back at the tiny Taberna da Rua das Flores. When presented with the wine list, the older couple next to us points to their bottle and says, "you must get this." Turns out they are American, from San Francisco and on the last leg of a tour through Portugal and Spain. "Where are you from?" they ask. We say Chicago and they clap their hands and say, "We used to live there, too! Actually, not Chicago, but just outside, in Evanston." Of course. Just a few blocks away from us. Go figure.
Chris and I work our way through the bottle as we chat with our new friends. The kids hunch, glassy-eyed over their untouched plates until Oona bolts upright and says, “Uh oh. I think I have to go home." Just as compelling as the Lisbon Escape Game, is the Mystery of the Poo-Fart. A tornado whirled inside Oona’s belly, gathered force and despite her well clenched butt-cheeks, a tiny peep emitted. Was it merely a fart? Or a poo-fart? One can only guess. We run home in the rain. What can you do? The poor girl wasn’t feeling well and honestly, as much as we love Lisbon, it’s time to move on. Perhaps even two weeks is too long. We’re still trying to figure it out. Tomorrow we pick up a car, load our bags and head south. See you in Lagos.
WHAT WE DID:
Walked the Alfama/Visited Castelo de Sao Jorge
The oldest district in Lisbon, the Alfama is all twisty roads, steep staircases and lanes so narrow that only the 28 tram and tuk tuks can navigate its corridors. The best way to really explore though, is on foot. We walked to the top of Miradouro Santa Luzia and then toured the Castelo de Sao Jorge. The castle grounds are beautiful and best viewed with a glass of wine purchased at one of the kiosks, but the captured birds of prey available for photographing bummed out everyone.
Igreja de Santa Maria Maior Lisbon Patriarchal Cathedral in the Alfama.
Miradouro Santa Luzia
We're going to have to sneak into the Castelo de Sao Jorge at night and cut the chains to free these birds. Isoo was especially heartbroken. Let's not even talk about the costumed staff.
The bumpy ride through the Alfama in the tuk tuk. Don't let these kids fool you into believing they are miserable.
Carmo Archeological Museum
Housed in the ruins of a 1389 convent, this modest collection of religious artifacts is worth a short visit ("only 30 minutes mom!"). The mummified remains of a young girl and boy was the big draw for Oona. Isoo enjoyed sitting on the steps. I loved the gorgeous arches.
With rain in the forecast, we figured we'd give the kids a break from the cultural stuff and treat them to the indoor amusement park at the top of this shopping mall. We took the train across town and wandered around looking for the promised roller coasters and go-karts only to learn that the park had closed down. Agh! The internet lies! As a consolation prize, we went bowling and killed time at the arcade.
Pavilhao do Conhecimento
I am not the kind of mom that volunteers to chaperone field trips because kids museums bore me to tears. But Lisbon's science museum was pretty awesome. Split into three different areas: a Play Space for younger kids, a hands-on Perspectives section that explains general scientific principals and a Doing area where kids can make their own shoes, wire circuit boards and make paper airplanes fly. I don't really understand how any of this works, but man, was it cool.
We all took a turn on the tightrope bike. I knew I wouldn't fall, but it was scary nonetheless.
Isoo went Birding
A whopping 30 life birds. Read all about it here http://www.traveltobird.com/travelogue!
Sintra/Quinta da Regaleira/Castelo dos Mouros
How could one little town hold so many gorgeous sites? Quinta da Regaleira and Castelo dos Mouros are just the tip of the iceberg. We could and should have spent more time there, but the rain chased us away. Breathtaking nonetheless.
On the Regaleira's grounds. The view from one of the mansion's turrets.
Following the stepping stones into the grotto and through the dark caves (bring a flashlight or your iPhone!). The tunnels open to the Initiatic Well.
The well features 9 platforms, mimicking the Divine Comedy by Dante and the nine circles of Hell, the nine sections of Purgatory and the nine skies which constitute Paradise.
The majestic walls of Castelo dos Mouros. I have no idea how knights did not just fall off the low sides and down the steep steps after a night of drinking mead.
Was that just lightening that filled the sky? How high are we? And are those flagpoles all around us? We're gonna die!
A Vida Portuguesa
A well-curated general store with everything from Portuguese candies, kitchenware, pottery, soaps, fragrances and other knick knacks to traditional liquors and foodstuffs.
Conserveira de Lisboa
It's like an altar to canned fish. A dizzying selection of canned mackerel, tuna, sardines, mussels, octopus, etc., all in cool, retro designed tins. Pick up a box, load up a half dozen cans and have fun sampling over melba toast with a bottle of Vinho Verde. The friendly staff is happy to offer suggestions.
Lisbon Escape Game
Voted #1 thing to do in Lisbon by Tripadvisor. Hello! I mean, above Torre de Belem and the Monastery or any of the other UNESCO sights. I couldn't resist and at 40Euro per game, it was a bargain. So much fun even though I felt utterly stupid and spazzy the entire time. Joao, and his co-creator and girlfriend, Ana, are absolutely brilliant. When I told Joao of his great on-line reviews, he admitted in his low-key fashion, that it hit #1 after the first 2 weeks. While the game has only been in operation for a couple of months, they've already hired an employee, which means Joao and Ana have time to work on a new game. Woo hoo!
Special Agent Chris accepting his mission. Despite their fevers, the kids were troopers (frankly, we wouldn't have gotten as far as we did without them).
Joao explain his inspiration for the game. The riddles that lurk behind this unassuming little apartment building.
Last but not least...
The kids did a lot of laying around trying to recover from the flu. (Chris lent moral support.)
WHERE WE ATE:
Cantinho do Avillez
Jose Avillez is the darling of Lisbon, the most celebrated and successful chef/restauranteur in town with six hot restaurants, a cooking show, a best-selling cookbook and his own line of wines. I had high hopes for Cantinho do Avillez, especially since I've had so many great meals in Lisbon, but this one just did not live up to the hype. When I asked my server what "DOP meatballs" were, she said DOP indicated organic grade meat. When I asked her what meats were used in the meatballs, she shrugged and said, "Oh, all kinds of beefs." I chalked it up to a language disconnect (mine, not hers, since I know better than to expect her to speak my language). When my plate arrived, I cut into the meatball to find it red and raw in the center. I called over one of the hipster, checkered shirt clad servers who looked down at my plate and arrogantly inquired, "Oh, you want it cooked more?"
I'm not terribly squeamish about food, but I suspected that among the "beefs" used was probably pork. So, yes, please cook my meatballs more so I don't get a heaping serving of trichinosis. I hate to say it, but this place has fallen into that trap of a chef too successful to adequately enforce quality control. And his staff, riding on the esteem of their chef, shows an unearned arrogance and condescension toward its customers. If I were Avillez, I'd be pissed. The food itself was unmemorable. The kids steak pregos were boring. The fried green beans, overbattered. My curry was too salty. Chris had a good, not great, pork dish. The only saving grace was that upon leaving, our original server stopped at our table to say simply, "I'm really sorry about the undercooked meatballs". Humility goes a long way.
Awaiting our lunch at Cantinho.
The most noteworthy thing about this little restaurant is its location in Carmo Square. Shady trees, live music, good people watching and great weather always makes for tastier paella.
I'm crying a little as I write this. The food is JUST. SO. GOOD. We arrived (as per usual) as the doors opened. Our server handed us an iPad with a digital menu complete with photos and item descriptions. We got prawns, oysters, clams and a giant crab. One of my favorite foods in the entire world is a fresh crab shell brimming with crab guts and roe marinated in Korean spices and mixed with rice. Their crab comes in a very close second. Chris and I gorged ourselves on the shellfish and the kids filled up on our desserts - Prego steak sandwiches (that's right, sammies for dessert). Perfect dinner. No wonder there are lines around the block at this institution. Hands down my favorite dining experience in Lisbon.
We walked by this place and couldn't resist checking it out because of the charming interior. They were closed, but they let us come in and have a drink while the staff got ready. Unfortunately, the food is just not very good. My cod dish had about 12 superfluous items on the plate. The roasted chorizo was hockey-puck dry. Everything was over battered, over dressed, fussily presented. Just too much crap on the plate with no rhyme or reason. Some people might be impressed by this, but I thought it was a mess. Less is more.
Restaurante Esperança Bairro
I miss Chicago style deep dish pizza so much I could cry. Dinner here made me miss it even more.
Pateo do Garrett
A perfectly located restaurant with a great view of Sintra and reliably horrible service. The chatty old guys that work here are a bunch of clowns. It took major nudging and 45 minutes to realize that they forgot to put in our order, which they then got wrong. Our server apologized and promised the kids free ice cream which he later downgraded to lollipops. Ugh.
I know it's sort of weird to go all the way to Portugal to have Thai food, but man, this place is good. The kids were too sick to go out so we searched for take out and this was one of the few places open on a Sunday. If you're ever in the mood to stay in and take a break from Portuguese food, this is a great option.
Roast suckling pig sandwiches. They would be magical with some red onions, chutney and lettuce, but they are insanely delicious just the way they are. The roast chicken isn't bad either. So good we had them two days in a row.
Santini vs. Amorino Chiado
These two gelato shops are just around the corner from one another in fancy schmancy Chiado. Santini is the famous one that everyone flocks to, but I just don't see why. Their gelato tastes watery. Amorino Chiado is by far the better shop with a creamy rich gelato. Yes, fewer selections, but so much tastier. And they scoop it like beautiful roses. No contest.
Where did I leave off?
Oh yes, Friday. We figured if we were going to go all the way to Belem, we should hit up all the sights at once. We got to Jeronimos Monastery just in time to get in line behind a dozen tour buses. After about 5 minutes standing in the near 90 degree heat, we decided we could live without seeing the interior and opted instead, to walk around the shaded side of the monastery. One day, when the kids are grown, they will say, “Oh Jeronimos. I went there!” and the only thing they will recall is the sensation of their sweaty little bodies pressed against the cold, ornate walls.
The last time the kids begged to go to an art museum? That would be never, but the Museu Colecao Berardo had air conditioning so we practically skipped through the extensive modern art collection. Despite the free admission, and tidy, well-curated exhibitions, the museum was empty the day we visited. While most visitors to Belem opt to take in the more historical attractions, the museum is definitely worth a stop.
Enjoying the free air conditioning, er, I mean, art.
Next, Pasteis de Belem for pastel de nata, the Portuguese egg tart pastry. While every bakery and kiosk in Lisbon sells these, this place reputedly does them best. The recipe, handed down from monks, is carefully guarded, with only three bakers at this huge institution privy to the secret. We had intended on buying a 6-pack, but the guy in front of us warned, “your kids will kill you if you don’t get a dozen.” We ate ours on a shady bench, sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar.
Isoo said it was good, but the best? Nah. He likes the ones from the Quiosque de Refresco in Plaza Luis de Camoes even better.
After a great lunch at Enoteca de Belem we headed to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, the monument overlooking the Tagus River marking the site where Portuguese explores like Vasco da Gama departed to discover India. We rode the elevator up to the narrow roof, the walls so high the children had to be lifted just to glimpse the view. It was a lot like standing in the middle of a sauté pan. From there we got an eyeful of the Belem Tower, a perspective we decided was "good enough". It was the second UNESCO sight we managed to skip that day.
That's Belem Tower in the distance. Who knows, we may get there just yet.
Anxious to get out of the heat, we cooled off with a quick tour of the Museu de Marinha. I had heard that they had a great section for children, but as it was nearly closing time, we were hustled through and didn't get much chance to explore. If you are a mad about boats or a maritime history buff, you will love this museum. But for us, it was a tough one since most of the information was presented only in Portuguese.
The Royal Barge, propelled by 80 oarsman to ferry Queen Maria down the Tagus River.
On the way out of Belem, we strolled the shady gardens and watched the changing of the guards at the pink tinted Belem Palace (home of Portugal's president though word has it it's seldom occupied).
At home we took ice cold showers, wrapped our hair in towels, blasted the fan, and indulged in more archeological appreciation a la Indiana Jones and Portuguese take out.
Saturday morning I joined the locals for a run along the Tagus. The once sketchy area of Cais do Sodré near the rail station has recently experienced a renewal. I ran the bike path up toward the 25 de Abril Bridge past tourists strolling with ice cream cones, people watchers in the waterfront cafes, shuttered nightclubs (the most popular of them, Club Lux, co-owned by John Malkovich) and fishermen reeling in the day’s catch. A group of tweens floated by on small sailboats as their instructors paddled around them in row boats shouting instructions. Despite the heat, it was a fantastic run; to be in such a beautiful city, doing something I loved, just for me. It could only have been made better if my running buddy, Lisa, was there to keep me company.
That afternoon we rode the 28 tram to Jardim da Estrela to meet our new friend, Cecilia. Introduced digitally by our mutual friend Hans, Cecilia, took time out of her very busy day to walk us through the leafy park and joined us for a coffee while sharing her tips on the city. I liked Cecilia instantly, not just because she so kindly and generously reorganized her day to meet us, but because she has a great spirit of fun and adventure about her. We had no doubts that her suggestions would be great as she was not only an expert on Lisbon, but also a mom with an 8 year old who could steer us toward family friendly activities.
Sunday morning we made good on our promise and roused the kids for church. While I'm not sure how much the kids got out of the mass as it was conducted entirely in Portuguese, Chris and I, with our combined 12 years of Catholic schooling, managed to muscle through most of the rites and rituals. The kids were fascinated by all the kneeling and cross making and asked Chris what the Eucharist tastes like a million times (Chris's answer: water table cracker). I spent most of the time praying no one gets sick and everyone at home stays happy and healthy.
Post mass at Igreja de São Roque
After church we grabbed a very light lunch at the landmark Brasileira Cafe, the hangout of many great Portuguese writers and thinkers. The interior is gorgeous and there's great outdoor seating overlooking a busting Chiado shopping avenue. We stood at the counter and had an assortment of sweet and savory pastries. It's worth a peek, but if you decided not to go, the indifferent staff would not care one bit. We left hungry and a little frustrated, but figured we'll fill up on junk food at the Benfica vs. Arouca game.
Much to Chris' chagrin, we missed the first half of the game. A note about Portugal: You might as well leave your credit cards at home because everywhere we went we were told was cash only. Another note: Everything is closed on Sunday. And if you're running around the city looking for cash, most ATMs will be emptied by noon. Note #3: They do not serve alcohol at games. The only food they serve are ice cream bars and cold hot dogs topped with fried potato strings. Despite our grumbling bellies, we had a blast watching Benfica trounce Arouca 4-0 and the noisy (though sober) antics of the fans.
On Monday, we took Cecilia's recommendation and rented bikes and rode along the Tagus River to Parque das Nações, the fairgrounds developed for the 1998 World's Fair. Best advice ever. The modern, new-ishly developed area features hotels, a glistening marina, casino, waterfront restaurants, a shopping center, numerous space-age looking sculptures and buildings, cable cars, residential high rises and Europe's largest indoor aquarium. While I tend not to favor overly slick, architecturally glossy, hyper-developed areas like Parque das Nações (or Chicago's Museum Campus, for that matter), I did find it to be a fascinating contrast to the narrow, winding streets and ornately tiled buildings found in the rest of the city. We had lunch, and then spent hours in the Oceanário de Lisboa before taking in the views of Lisbon by cable car. By the time we made it home, Chris and I were exhausted from the 13 mile bike ride, but the kids (and their young legs) did great.
Close to Cais do Sodre are giant yachts and cruise ships. As we rode further north, we encountered long stretches of shipping yards like these. While not exactly scenic, the bike path is well marked and paved and remarkably safe. Isoo especially loved the freedom to race ahead.
Riding around the heart of Parque das Nações (aka, Park of Nations - note the flags).
Can you believe that beneath the canopy is a train station?
Outside of the Oceanário de Lisboa where we spent hours looking at all of the amazing sea life.
Cable cars overlooking Vasco da Gama Bridge (Europe's longest bridge).
The kids claim there's nothing to do in Lisbon, but we've gotten a lot of smiles.
Riding and photoging. The recipe for a perfect day: Lots of exercise, learning made fun and plenty of sunshine.
WHAT WE DID:
When I told our new Portuguese friend Cecilia that we had gone all the way to Jerónimos Monastery, but had not made it inside, she shrugged her shoulders and said, "Well that is like going to the Vatican and not seeing the Pope, but you know, that's OK." Clearly, it's not. Putting this one back on the docket. Stay tuned for the full report.
Museu Colecao Berardo
All of the 20th century modern greats are represented here. Five days a week. Just waiting for you to discover them. For FREE. When does that ever happen?
Padrão dos Descobrimentos
This dramatic landmark/sculpture is breathtakingly perched on the Tagus. Definitely worth seeing. Check out the marble rose fresco on the ground to understand Portugal’s impressive history of discovery, and then take the elevator to the top to get a true sense of the monastery’s scale as well as the parks and fountain below.
Museu de Marinha
All of the websites claimed that this is a great museum for kids, but when I asked the woman at the front desk where the children’s section was, she impatiently pointed to her watch and shooed me down the corridor. We never found it. Evidently we did this one wrong because we thought it was a snore. After the Titanic museum in Belfast, all other maritime museums pale in comparison.
The “garden of the star” is more like a big, leafy park than a garden. Located in a residential neighborhood across from the Estrela Basilica, the park has several play areas, a small pond of Muscovy ducks, trees filled with Ring-rose parakeets, an old-fashioned bandstand, and a gazebo where you can get snacks and drinks. On the first weekend of every month, the park hosts a series of stalls selling jewelry and handicrafts. Cecilia, who lives nearby, called this their version of Central Park. Her lucky kids grew up playing here. When we return to Lisbon, Chris and I agree we’d much rather stay in this area.
Estádio da Luz
The home stadium of the #5 seeded Benfica. Definitely try to catch a game, but eat first. And give yourself plenty of time to get tickets. We ordered ours online and was given the run around (literally, we ran all the way around the stadium) to pick them up at a nearby Megastore (near gate 4).
Oceanario de Lisboa
As someone who has a fear of water, aquariums usually fill me with dread, but I was entranced by the smart design. The aquarium is anchored by one huge central tank filled with sharks, ocean sunfish, stingrays and other marine life, and then encircled by smaller tanks featuring fish specific to the various oceans (Indian, Atlantic, Pacific, Caribbean, etc.), articulating the message of one planet, one ocean.
Ride the cable car for great views of Parque das Nações. We took the 20 minute round trip tour, not even bothering to get off to get off the other side. Waaaaaaay less scary than the Dursey version.
While Lisbon has plentiful subways, Metros, trams, tuk-tuks and cabs, I strongly recommend you see Lisbon by bike. While the seven hills can be a challenge to walk, the bike path along the water is flat, safe and well marked. Bike Iberia, conveniently located near the Cais do Sodre train station, is just steps from the path. Make reservations or go early to avoid disappointment (we snagged the last four bikes of the day!). They have all sizes, including kids bikes. Prices include bike rental, helmets (mandatory for kids), locks, 40 lb. chains and maps. You can ride all the way to Belem to see the Tower, monastery and monuments, or go the other direction for the Parque das Nações, oceanarium and science museum. They also offer guided tours of Sintra and Cascais. Just do it.
WHAT WE ATE:
Pasteis de Belem
The Portuguese take their sweets seriously and the pastel de nata is the most important one of all (think apple pie to Americans). Pasteis de Belem produces other baked goods as well, but this is the big seller at 10,000 per day. Flaky on the outside, custardy on the inside, dusted with a bit of sugar or cinnamon and packaged in clever sleeves to tote home.
Enoteca de Belem
I'm ashamed to say that this tiny place was filled with tourists, but who else has the time and budget for such a big, lazy lunch? This was one of the few places both kids enjoyed and not just because it gave us respite from a day of sightseeing. We fought over the octopus and got a kick out of the multi-colored toilet paper display (see http://www.oonaswonderland.com/blog).
Louro e Sal
Lisbon is one of the best dining towns we’ve ever visited. We’ve been fortunate to have one wonderful meal after the next so the bar is set pretty high. While this place was fine, it just wasn’t great. The portions were skimpy, the sides an afterthought and the flavors, one note. But, of all the restos, our server here was the best.
A very casual build-your-own-salad chain restaurant. Even with all the great dining options in Lisbon, sometimes, after a long day of sightseeing, you get off the train and just want something clean, light and easy. Pick your greens, add 5 topping of our choice and take it home with some tasty carrot soup. We’ve been three times.
some Italian place
We had pasta and pizzas at an unremarkable Italian café in the square outside of the Oceanario. It wasn’t until we entered the Oceanario that we discovered the new, beautifully designed restaurant on the second floor. With views that overlook the little Jardins da Água and waterfall fountain, it’s the place to try.
Right down the street from our apartment, this place offers reliable Portuguese fare. It won’t rock your world, but your kids will find something to eat and it won’t break the bank. Think grilled chicken, squid cooked in olive oil, the requisite bread and olives (which every restaurant provides unbidden and adds to the bill). Lots of seating indoor and out and crawling with tourists.
Wine Lover B.A.
Most restaurants don't open for dinner until after 7pm so we stopped at this little bar down the street for a drink and a game of cards. The owner is very friendly and nice, even making crazy mocktails for the kids. The hang-out feel and ease of this place made me miss Ireland. So many afternoons wiled away just being together. I know the kids miss it, too. No one wanted to leave. Next time we go back and drink some more of that Verde Vinho and open up some cans of fish.
My first impression was not good. I knew the apartment in Lisbon was going to be small, but not this small, and certainly not this rustic. The pictures made it look cleaner, more modern, less crappy. But I was so distracted by the gorgeous tiled architecture, the bustling plaza and Raquel’s gregarious, chatty disposition that I hadn’t really understood the apartment until she and Ana had shut the door behind them and fled down the 3 flights of stairs.
By now Chris and the kids know that the best thing to do is get out of the way. He hustles them out so I can commence my obsessive cleaning ritual. As a Korean person who goes barefoot, I don’t just need the floors to be clean, but sanitized in case evil poop germs have come in on the bottom of strangers shoes. And how on earth do you expect to get the floors clean using a broom covered in dusty bunnies and enough human hair to make a voodoo doll? Or a mop so grey it makes the clean water dirty even before touching it to the floor? This is what I do: Take a gallon jug of water, cut out the top 1/4, fill it with water and vinegar and get on my hands and knees with a fresh cloth. Don’t forget the light switches, dish holder, knife rack. The inside of the fridge, the cupboard with the glasses that sit lip side down. Bookshelves, tables, the fan blades. I work backwards, careful not to track debris back into my freshly detoxed room. And the bathroom gets the royal treatment. Head to toe bleach. Now who’s the sparkly, shiny baby? And there’s more: A bowl for Chris’ pocket change and keys, another for Oona’s pony tails, a cup for the toothbrushes. Clothes on hangers. Isoo’s magazines on his nightstand, a Kindle on each of ours. A place for everything; everything in its place.
When it’s finished, I breathe a sigh of relief and look around. And there it is, the stained couch, the table with its peeling plywood veneer, the cheap stereo, a plastic push button phone hung on the wall as “art”. Still crummy and yet strangely familiar.
We take refuge in the city. Our tiny apartment sits on the border of the upper class shopping district of Chiado, and the Barrio Alto with its buzzing nightlife. From our windows we can see Praça de Luís de Camões, named after 16th century epic poet Luis de Camões, and beyond it, a slice of the the Tagus River.
The charming and historical 28 Tram ambles down the corner. The narrow, winding cobblestoned streets climb up and down the 7 hills, the ground floor doorways open to an endless string of tiny 16-seat restaurants and cafes, each one serving grilled sardines, steak sandwiches, and sweet prawns washed down with Sagres beer. Our first night, we do nothing but walk the streets until we end up at Pharmacia, a hip petiscos (tapas) restaurant located in the Pharmacy Museum and overlooking the Miradouro de Santa Catarina. The place is just achingly cool and the food is delicious. I’m surprised to discover that the handsome, young staff (like everyone else in Lisbon) speaks fluent English so my “obrigadas” and “holas” sound comical and pathetic in comparison. At 9pm the shutters rise and we glimpse bartenders polishing glasses, DJs setting up equipment. Shopkeepers linger in the doorway, taking a pause to smoke a cigarette before the onslaught of tourists and locals. After a month in the country, the hum of nightlife is infectious. The kids, energized by the lights and noise, take to the mostly pedestrian side streets and race up and down the hills. They are like puppies, chasing after the occasional car, trying to out race it to the top. We come home to find a long queue outside our door. The restaurant below us has opened and Oona stays up way past her bedtime hanging out the window shouting “hola” and waving to the people below.
The next day we head straight for the Mercado da Ribeira, the city’s largest marketplace and open for business since 1892. If you don’t mind your produce covered in fruit flies, this is the place to go. There are also rows and rows of fresh fish and meat stalls and flower vendors. But the real reason to go is the newly opened food court. Developed and curated by Time Out, the food court showcases stalls from 35 of the most respected restauranteurs in Lisbon. Not only are you guaranteed a great meal, it’s an easy, albeit pricey way to sample the trends of the Lisbon food scene.
After lunch we walked along the Tagus River where Isoo got in a little urban birding and then we hit our first sight, the grossly ornate Igreja de Sao Roque. Built in Rome in the 17th century, disassembled, shipped to Lisbon and then reassembled, it features a series of eight gilded chapels in the Baroque style. Walking through the small, adjacent museum, I was mortified to discover that the kids are completely ignorant of all things religious. (I see a mass in their future.)
Dinner that night was at teeny Taberna da Rua das Flores. Chris and I loved the seafood heavy Portuguese menu, but the kids, Isoo, especially, eyed it suspiciously. If there is promise of dessert, Oona can usually be counted on to find something to eat. Isoo on the other hand, will dig in his heels and go to bed miserable and hungry. That night they grumbled of the heat, the food, the size of the apartment. They longed for the familiarity and space of Ireland.
The next morning we awoke to 86 degree temperatures so Chris and I ditched our sightseeing and home school plans and packed the kids for the beach. We rode the Metro to Cascais and then took a cab from the station to the famed Guincho Beach for a surf lesson. While I had taken a swim class in preparation for this trip, I worried the rough waves might be too challenging for a novice swimmer, much less a first time surfer. My suspicions were confirmed when we arrived to find that the Women’s International Pro Surf Competition was taking place on the beach. It was nothing like what you see in the movie, Blue Crush. Rather, it’s a very quiet, serious affair, with more press than spectators. We got to see 21 year-old, Aussie, Laura Enever take first place for the day.
This is Enever before hitting the water.
Despite her fear of sharks, Oona rocked her first day on the surf. Her instructor, Mariana, said she was a natural. Isoo did great as well, but Chris threw out his back and as a consolation prize, ended up lounging on the beach with me. We spent the rest of the afternoon jumping the huge waves and searching the beach for jellyfish. No surprise that it remains the kids' favorite day in Portugal thus far.
Double trouble: Oona on the left. Isoo on the right.
The kids did great, but some of the others weren't so lucky. We saw many surfers return to the shore with broken boards.
By the time we got back into Lisbon, it was time for dinner and we were all exhausted from a long day in the sun. The night before I had double locked the door and left the key in the lock. That morning, in our hurry to catch the train to Cascais, Chris forgot to take the key out of the lock, and instead, grabbed the spare set before shutting the door which locked automatically behind us. The kids, hungry, hot and sandy, sat on the stairs while Chris and I used knives and screwdrivers borrowed from the downstairs restaurant to try to push the key out of the keyhole from the outside. Suddenly, our crappy little apartment didn't seem so miserable anymore.
We finally called the not so happy landlord, who called in an emergency locksmith. Chris waited on the steps while I took the kids down the street to dinner. I don't think Oona even tasted her grilled chicken, lamenting again and again that she would not be able to sleep without her Snuffy. The locksmith arrived, donned his little flashlight hat, took one poke at the keyhole and voila, Oona and Snuffy were reunited. We won't even talk about the expense.
That night, whatever gratitude we felt dissipated. Think 1990's East Village, sandwiched between a subway and a night club. And it's summer and you have no air conditioning. And you have two kids who must share a tiny room, with an even tinier bed. Lying in my little tomb, sweating my ass off, listening to the throb of the music at 2:30 a.m., it dawned on me why this crappy little apartment was so familiar. It was reminiscent of every NYC apartment I ever had in my 20s. No closets? Check. Windowless bedroom? Check. A second bedroom with a view of an airshaft? An oven without a temperature dial? Rooms so small you can't even open the doors all the way? Cheap lighting? Stuccoed walls? Check! Check! Check! My favorite architectural touch is the placement of the bathroom in the kitchen. Lest you get bored while sitting on the toilet, you can look out the glass paneled door and watch Chris make the morning eggs.
In my sleepless stupor, I decided it would be a great idea to spend the entirety of the next day sightseeing. On the docket? The UNESCO appointed Jerónimos Monastery, two museums, the Belem Tower, a palace, and several monuments. I mean, what sleep deprived child doesn't want to stand in the heat looking at a monastery, right?
The saving grace was that Isoo saw a real live Rose-Ring Parakeet and Oona ate her weight in cinnamon sprinkled Belem pastries. Thank god for birds and pastries or this whole trip would be fucked. (We may have to put that on a T-shirt.)
That night was a Saturday. Oh my god. Ok, Lisbon. I get it. I will sleep when I am dead.
WHAT WE DID:
Praça de Luís de Camões
This square, right on our doorstep, separates Lisbon's two liveliest districts, Chiado and Bairro Alto. It's known as "the meeting place" and is deafening at night.
Igreja de São Roque
By the looks of the modest exterior, you'd never suspect the orgy of gold embossed splendor inside. Eight chapels, each more ornate than the next, and if that's not enough, check out the painted wood ceiling. We also visited the small museum attached. Not really my thing, but enjoyable nonetheless.
Moana Surf School
We took the Metro 40 minutes to the town of Cascais and then cabbed it another 10 minutes to Praia do Guincho. Ask your driver to drop you on the north end of the beach or just walk the 10 minutes across the sand to Moana Surf School. After some light stretching and a short introduction, everyone hit the waves. Isoo and Oona got their own teachers, but Chris was left to fend for himself. He claims they had better instructors in Maui, but the waves at Guincho were bigger, better and a sure thing. Price includes all equipment, including the wet suit.
WHERE WE ATE:
Located in the Pharmacy Museum, this restaurant serves petiscos (sort of like tapas, but more generously proportioned). The bread comes with vials of olive oil and salt, the drinks (like my LSD) are very therapeutic, the staff dress in lab coats, and the decor is inspired by retro medical equipment. All very kitschy fun. The food is great and I had my first taste of ginja, the traditional Portuguese cherry liquor. Mixed with whisky it tasted very much like a Manhattan. It was the perfect first dinner in Lisbon - ideal weather, kids happily running on the front turf, and the Miradouro de Santa Catarina.
Mercado da Ribeira
Clams in a rich cream sauce, black pig potstickers, tempura herbs and vegetables, prego (steak sandwich), seaweed and raw seabass. Forget Sbarros. I'd rather eat at this food court.
Taberna da Rua das Flores
We got there early and was charmed by what we thought was a tiny hole in the wall, until a half hour later when the place was packed with guide book carrying tourists. Nonetheless, the food was inexpensive and outstanding. And by outstanding, I mean Oona wouldn't even sit down to eat her clams. I had two orders of the scarlet prawns and went to bed with my hands smelling of shellfish. Delicious.
Bar do Guincho
Right next door to the Moana Surf School, this casual surf shack serves fresh salads and decent burgers. Wash it down with an ice cold draft or some fruit juice. Friendly service and of course, a fantastic view of the beach.
Oona contemplating her surf career over lunch on the patio of Bar do Guincho.
Casa da India
One of the few places in the touristy Barrio Alto that’s filled with more locals than tourists. The old guy in the window is the hardest working chicken grill master in town. The prices are great and the food is straightforward and hearty. We’ve been twice: The first time for the sardines, grilled simply with a little salt and served with salad and boiled potatoes (very Portuguese). The next night we did take out of grilled chicken with rice and fries. Hands down the kids’ favorite restaurant in Lisbon.