the sweet magic of Portugal

Lisbon at duskBack in October, we took our second R and R trip to Portugal. Since the trip to Namibia we had revisited our ambitions and decided to trim the fat and keep things much simpler. Although this meant that much went unexplored, I am thrilled to report that our break was truly relaxing. (Disclaimer: my camera was stolen on the final day of our trip. I hadn’t downloaded even ONE photo of the hundreds I’d taken, nor had I kept a journal since my photos usually tell such a lovely story…sigh. The photos that remain are from Snakes’ point and shoot. Some pretty ones, but just imagine what was lost. Ouch. Or maybe let’s not and just enjoy what’s left.)river douro, porto

Lately, I’ve heard too many stories of parents spending the evenings of their vacations propped up in pillow-filled bathtubs or underneath bedcovers reading kindles or watching movies on iPads with spliced headphones so their babies can sleep. Having experienced varying degrees of this absurdity and defeat ourselves, I decided that if we have options, we are no longer renting hotels. With the help of websites like homeaway and airbnb, we were able to find some great apartments well within our budget.lisbon

Our first stop was a week in Lisbon. After a direct overnight flight from Luanda, we arrived predictably disheveled. We rented a place at the Baixa House. THIS is the way forward! They call themselves “serviced apartments”, which means that we had a gorgeous and comfortable 2 bedroom apartment that they straightened daily. While there to tidy, they also replenished our fridge with a simple breakfast of homemade yogurt, fruit, cheese and charcuterie. There were 3 mini-loaves of freshly baked bread hanging on our front door handle each morning. If only every day could start like this, nibbling at our leisure while paging through books to plot our course. Oh- AND there was a countertop espresso machine. Such a luxury! window shopping lisbon

Our itinerary was relaxed and it suited us all very well. Snakes had contacted a colleague at the Lisbon embassy and asked if they could recommend any babysitters. I know this sounds a little crazy, at least it did to me, but both ladies came very highly recommended from people that we knew personally. Both were college girls: responsible, confident and very friendly. Not really that much different than getting a referral in the states. Anyway, it afforded us a few nights on the town!


Our first night out, we set off for the Alfama district, famous for being one of the few survivors from the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755. The buildings are ancient; streets, narrow and twisty, connected by steep staircases which rise endlessly between buildings to alcoves and courtyards on the levels above. Illuminated by gas lamps at night, it is hard to believe that people live their lives surrounded by such romance and crumbly beauty. I felt like my heart had been wrung out then stuck to my sleeve, so eager was I to sop this all up with every crust of my being- this sweet delicious sustenance, stay with me ever!IMG_3566

We ducked into a cozy and packed fado place (20 people max) for dinner, drinks and music. I could feel life surging through my body. I couldn’t remember a time where I felt so alive, so present, so grateful for my husband, our daughter, my mom, my dad, my sister, my in-laws (OH! Lord bless and kiss my in-laws!) and everything and everyone that had gotten me to that exact point right then. And then. Just as the warmth of my aperitif began to spread to my toes, the cook stepped away from her duties behind the counter and made her way toward the guitarist. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath in. Her voice then flooded forth with the intimacy of pure emotion, a vast generational pool of yearning and sadness and loss. Fado music is a profoundly beautiful way to express heartbreak. The resonance hummed through our bodies, filling the restaurant and spilling out into those shadowy ancient streets just as others have done for centuries. I could’ve disappeared right then in a blissful poof. IMG_3543

Our Lisbon days were filled with hilly, glorious, rambling walks. We explored the city without much of an agenda, stopping at parks or plazas along the way to allow the Bushbaby to stretch her legs. A day in nearby Sintra, inhaling deeply the green and mossy air on our 5 mile hike (oops, wrong road) up the “hill” to the castles. Again, such beauty + such magic= such gratitude. Thank you, thank you, thank you life.

After a little over a week, which included two more nights out, equally as captivating and life affirming as the first, we took the train north to Porto. Snakes had registered to run the Porto Marathon, his 13th! What a powerhouse, that guy. He did well, finishing with a time of 3:28. The Bushbaby and I cheered him on as the race wound its way through town and nearby our apartment, but unfortunately we couldn’t make it out to the finish line as it was not obviously accessible by public transport and taxis were scarce. I was bummed but happy to welcome him back with a nice dinner. (Another bonus to renting apartments!)IMG_3487

Our second week of vacation in Porto was spent much like our first in Lisbon, taking full advantage of the freedom to walk around and explore as we wished. Such a quality of life! Highlights were a day trip to Coimbra, a tour of one of Porto’s namesake cellars on the other side of the river and some crazy delicious pulled pork sandwiches at an out of the way cafe. Because it was the end of the tourist season, many Douro River tours were closed down and we didn’t get the opportunity to chug down the river and admire the vineyards lining the hillsides while sipping one of their many tasty varietals. Between this and the lost images from my stolen camera, I’d say it’s reason enough for a return visit.

IMG_3584*****POST SCRIPT EDIT***** I was just informed that it was actually his 15th marathon.



16 thoughts on “the sweet magic of Portugal

    1. I was hoping you’d see those! I always love it when I see a handmade present actually being put to use. And I have to say, I’m totally inspired to color block and stripe all of my little odds and ends into cute little leg warmers for chilly chile!!

  1. Pingback: First Stop Sweet
  2. What an amazing trip! It sounds like you found just the right fit of pace and place. Lovely! (And very resourceful to find a trustworthy sitter ahead of time!)

  3. You are an incredible writer… one of your many gifts! Thank you for sharing this beautiful post. I’m envious of your talent! We hope to get away after we recoup from the holidays. Sarajevo can be very claustrophobic! Happy holidays to you and your family!

  4. Sounds so dreamy! But oh, what a bummer about your camera! I’ve been to Portugal several times and liked it more and more each time. I think it would be an awesome post!

    1. The biggest bummer was actually the lost pictures…Lisbon was on our last bid list as a perfect (although consular) bid but I think it went to a borderposter…. harumph.

  5. Freedom to explore, take photos, feel safe, and walk under the night sky are so much more appreciated when they are taken away from a post’s precautions. So glad you got to experience all that and lovely Portugal and really breathe and be fully alive. Sorry to hear about the camera theft; such a bummer. But we know that that taste of freedom gained with an R&R is more delicious and even a crappy thief can’t take it away. Plus, now you do have to go back again! Hoping your next break of respite is just around the corner for you! Merry Christmas!

    1. thank you for the lovely and thoughtful comment NBN. We are only here for 15 weeks longer! There’s a chance we’ll squeeze in one last trip to Cape Town. I will never get enough of that place!- did you guys get a chance to visit when you were in Maputo?

      1. YES!!!! It is probably one of my favorite cities and we didn’t even scratch the surface, although we squeezed in absolutely as much as we could in three days. No one ever told me how amazing South Africa is and Cape Town is truly one of those hidden treasures to be discovered and enjoyed as many times as you possibly can. I would move there in a heartbeat to have the chance to try to know it well. My fingers are crossed that you get back there in the next 15 weeks. (WOW, is that it now??!! There is light at the end of the tunnel — YAY!)

  6. Ohhh I am so, so so sad for your camera but even with the P&S Portugal looks absolutely stunning! What a great R&R trip and I think you are soo right on the home stay thing. With a kid, nothing is better than having a whole apartment to hang out in when you’re inevitably going to be spending more time there than you’d like. Sounds fantastic. What’s the countdown now? 15 weeks I think I saw on FB? Ah, finally!

  7. Hello! We’re heading to Lisbon in May for training for hubs and my research on FB led me to this post. Small world! Or not really so much anymore, right? Anyway, my biggest question is now our son is 20 months hold and heavy. Haha! Do you remember using your stroller? I’ve read it’s not a stroller-friendly place and hubs will be in training, so my bad back would have to take on the weight of the baby in our Osprey backpack if a stroller is not do-able. Hope you’re well, and I know I keep saying this, but I DO have a new post in the works! I promise!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s