We surprise Mr. Wiz* and serenade him with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” in Spanish on the train to Lisbon. Known as one of the oldest cities in the world, Lisbon is the hilly, coastal, capital city of Portugal. It’s hard to believe that an earthquake and tsunami devastated it in 1755 and it had to be built anew.
After much research, Big A* and I settled on the H10 Duque de Loule Hotel. It is a little gem; an elegant boutique hotel in a historic building. The rooms are mostly white, with hints of the famous blue and white Portuguese tiles. The cozy lobby has wonderful window seats and interesting coffee table books to peruse, but the best spot in the house is the rooftop bar with a beautiful city view, our new meeting spot every night before dinner. We are offered a sparkling wine by the sparkling staff as we check in and waste no time heading out again.
This is a great walking city and we are in for more inclines and descents. We tour the gardens in the lovely Parque Eduardo VII and visit the trendy Rossio Square and the riverfront Palace Square. We take a stroll on the beach and watch the surfers. We people watch as we eat lunch at a seaside restaurant on the docks of Santo Amara. We visit Vasco da Gama’s tomb at the 16th century Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. We take the guidebook’s word that the largest collection of baroque tiles on record is at the majestic Mosteiro de São Vincente de Fora Church. We save some steps and ride the tram up the very steep route and enjoy the views of the Tagus River. At night, we listen to the hypnotic verses of the famous Fado music.
When JC* warns us to watch for the Gypsies, I am even more excited to finally see the Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest district. It’s a maze of medieval and Moorish alleys with little hidden nooks and crannies. We sit on the ledge at the 16th century Castelo da San Jorge (St. George’s Castle) and admire the breathtaking view. Armed with his New York Times 36-hour guide, Big A is determined to find a rooftop bar that he has read about it. I can’t help but laugh when he leads us to a parking garage elevator. We exit at the top floor and head to a door. We open it and wow! It’s a stunning oasis with comfortable seating, great music and amazing views of the city. We toast to feeling very cool that we found this private club.
We take a Viator day trip to visit the towns of Sintra and Cascais. There are only 7 of us in the van, including an English woman traveling alone who is the nanny to the Saudi Arabian Royal Family (a fascinating conversation follows). Our tour guide, Joaquin, is very chatty and not only shares his knowledge of the sights, but interesting information about the Portuguese economy and lifestyle.
Sintra boasts not one, but two castles that were both royal residences; very different in style, but each fascinating. The National Palace of Queluz, built in the 18th century, exudes the elegance and grandeur you would expect, with its impressive rooms and formal gardens. But, it is the Palace of Pena, built in the 19th century that has the wow factor. Set on top of a mountain in the middle of a forest, this flamboyant fairytale chateau displays its medieval and Islamic architecture proudly in bright colors.
After a stroll through Sintra’s charming hilltop town and a yummy lunch of petiscos (the Portuguese cousin of Spanish tapas), we head for Cascais, the Portugese version of New Yorks’s Hamptons. After a walk around this affluent coastal town, we are eager to sneak a peak at the lavish hotel featuring a room with the glass bottom floor, where you can watch the waves from your bed (like Brad and Angelina did when they stayed there), but Joaquin has other plans for us. It’s time for one last walk on the beach before we fall asleep in the van to the sound of Joaquin’s voice, regaling us with the continuation of his life story.
When I notice that I only have one set of vitamins left, I realize that it must be almost time to head home to… (we only moved to Texas in April, so forgive me if it takes me a minute to remember where home is). At the airport, we joke about which other flight we’d rather hop on, but after 46 days, it’s time to get back and see what trouble we can get into in Austin.
Pictured: Palace of Pena entrance.
*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.