w r i n k l e d
ADVENTURES IN TRAVEL, WRITING AND AGING GRACEFULLY
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.