I waited 22 years for this! Lovingly and patiently diapered, fed, played, pampered and educated this child into my best travel companion. In December, for my daughter Rachele’s 22nd birthday, we took a trip of a lifetime and traveled to Lisbon, Portugal. Okay, I admit it was her birthday but my dream vacation. She is obsessed with traveling to Europe and I have always wanted to see the city that sits at the edge of the continent.
It was seventeen hours of traveling including layovers, but the charm of the city salves ones tired bones immediately. My daughter and I were greeted with such warmth and accommodation from everyone we met it was extraordinary. We stayed at the Palacio Belmonte, situated in the Alfama district; a stones throw from Castelo de Sao Jorge. Originally Frederic Coustols purchased the palace as his private residence, but Maria, his wife, convinced him that it would make the perfect bed and breakfast. With 22 million dollars in renovations, I have to stay Maria is right. The place is amazing. Every morning we woke up to the sound of a gentle fountain and opened our double wooden window doors to a stunning vista of fruit trees, blue sky and the Tagus River. After a white tablecloth and polished silver breakfast of our choosing, we explored the castle populated with 38,000 azulejo (blue and white) tiles, 13 stairwells and 400 doors and windows. But what is most interesting about the place is it’s owners, the Coustols. After a day of exploring the city, Rachele and I would come “home” and join them for tea in the Palace kitchen/office. We sat for hours learning about each others lives. They were charming, interesting and generous. I feel like I have a new pair of lifelong friends.
Unlike Paris that is dominated by grey stone facades, Lisbon has colorful buildings, azulejo tiled houses and lovely black and white multi-patterned cobblestone sidewalks. It’s not a big city, and even though the streets tend to criss-cross, it’s easy to navigate. The food is delicious, expect olives, bread and sausages placed on your table at every meal! And the Portuguese know how to party, my daughter met up with a friend, who was studying abroad, and they danced from midnight to 8am. It was her first time partying all night, she loved it. Scared me out of me out of my mind because her phone died and I didn’t know how to reach her. But was relieved to see her strolling up the old city streets in the morning as I rushed out thinking I would just walk the city till I found her.
The rest of the trip we stuck together, which was fine by her. In Belem, an outskirt of Lisbon, we visited the Monastery of Jeronimos and walked to the small town enjoying my favorite meal of the trip, an amazing Lobster rice and seafood dish. The most interesting venue was Palacio Nacional da Pena in Sintra. It once was the vacation home for Portuguese Royalty, it reminded me of Hearst Castle, with all of its curios, ornate furnishings and artwork from the 19th and 20th centuries. It is a must see, if you travel to Lisbon. We ran into the winners of a Travelocity contest carrying the iconic Gnome, made new friends and even got a walk through in their video. See if you can spot me in my yellow raincoat.
We only used public transportation during our stay, including a three hour train ride North to the city of Oporto. We stayed overnight at a bed and breakfast called 6 Only. It’s run by a very sweet young couple, Pedro and Marianna. In contrast to the Belmonte, 6 Only was small, more modern but comfortable. Oporto, unlike Lisbon, had more of a small town vibe. It bustled between 5 and 6 o’clock but by 9:30 the streets were barren. Our host suggested we try a classic Oporto sandwich called the Francesinha. It’s 2 slices of white bread, smoked ham, cheese, sausage, roast beef, smothered in a heavy white sauce and topped with a fried egg. Not our favorite, but we saw people eating them everywhere! What we did love in Oporto were the magnificent, heavily Rococo, gold-laden churches. One after the next, each more ornate than the last! And the most fun for a mom to do with her newly adult daughter? Share in some wine tasting, which we did. After a morning of full on tourism we crossed the suspended bridge over the Douro River into Vila Nova de Gaia. We spent a leisurely afternoon eating lunch and sipping port with other English speaking travelers from all over the world.