Prep and the Literature Project
So once the tickets were booked, I made a major effort to plan the hell out of this short trip. I bought a small pocket travel book which was very helpful, and watched a bunch of travel videos on YouTube to get a sense of the must-see and must-does in town. To get acquainted with the culture, I bought The Book of Disquiet, the most famous book by Fernando Pessoa, who is one of the most famous Portuguese authors. He apparently didn't write under pseudonyms, but under a dozen of what he called "heteronyms" which were entire different identities he created. It's a huge book - so let me be clear that I didn't get all the way through it - but I feel like chapter 60 pretty much sums it up: "Should you ask me if I'm happy, I'll answer that I'm not." The other super famous Portuguese author is Jose Saramago, who won the Nobel in 1998. His most famous books are Blindness and The Gospel According to Jesus Christ - both of which I'd read a few years back. Both are excellent, but also a bit odd. I started getting the sense of Portuguese suadade - which means something like sadness or longing.
Pessoa graffiti on the wall - they really love this guy.
A Chronological Summary
We caught evening flights out on a Thursday, and arrived at our AirBNB late that night.
- Day One: We woke up to pouring rain. We had a few breakfast pastries in the room while watching Moana, and then when the rain finally stopped we left for lunch and a quick trip up to the Castelo da Sao Jorge - which is super old (7th century BC), mostly in ruins, but has great views down on the city. Then we went back to the house for a quick naptime/happy hour break, and back out again to walk through the main plaza, Praca do Comercio to find dinner.
exploring the castle
views of the city below
- Day Two: We grabbed some pastries on the way to catch a street car to the west side of town, Belem, to visit an old monastery, Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, which was ridiculously ornate and beautiful, especially since the sun had really come out. We stopped over at the Tower of Belem nearby, an old fort on the river that may be the inspiration for the chess rook (or maybe I misheard that). Back home for nap time/happy hour on the patio in the sun (which is why we picked the airbnb in the first place). We went out that night hoping to find Fado, the classic Portuguese music, but failed - and just had some lovely tapas for dinner and called it a night.
The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos
the Tower of Belem
Day Three: We started the morning on the Tram 28 - Lisbon's most famous streetcar that winds through the most scenic parts of the city. Then we hopped off at a market that I was pretty sure Spouso would enjoy - he did - and then we trekked back towards the house. On the way, we stopped for a quick shot of Ginjinha, this cherry liquor that is apparently very classically Portuguese. We checked out of our hotel, meaning that we then had our bags in tow, so we took a cab to the aquarium where we hung out until we could head to the airport. Thankfully, at some point the kid finally crashed and got a quick nap in one of the quieter parts of the aquarium.
catching the streetcar
cone of meat at the market
at the aquarium
finally taking a nap
- Food: So Portugal is known for having great food, but I was not super impressed. Then again, I don't really like fish, so it's probably my fault. We had super fresh fish the first night which was good, but then the rest was not great. Their classic dish is Bacalhau - which is dried salted cod (like fish jerky), that's been rehydrated. It tastes like you can imagine it would, and it's everywhere. One of my favorite foods in Spain was their croquettes - little fried balls of yummy things. In Portugal, the croquettes are bigger, but sometimes filled with Bacalhau- which is not a fun surprise. The other food they are really known for is their pastries - these people have a serious sweet tooth. The Pasteis de Nata is a custard-filled tart thing, which is absolutely everywhere. It's fine - but often left my stomach feeling a little off afterwards.
trying the official Portuguese pastry
- Drinks: The drinks were fabulous. I already mentioned the super-sweet Ginjinha, which they actually served in a chocolate cup, as if it weren't already sweet enough. Other than that, the wine was fabulous, and the port was particularly fabulous. Happy hour was the highlight of the day.
- The Earthquake and Architecture: Lisbon's architecture is really defined by the earthquake/fire/tsunami that destroyed over half of the city in 1755. The parts of the city that weren't destroyed, like our neighborhood the Alfama, have narrow, twisty streets that often just turn into stair cases. The parts that were destroyed, were rebuilt on a grid with wide open boulevards - it's strikingly different.
wide boulevards in the rebuilt part of the city
- Hills and Trains: Lisbon was built on 7 hills, and is super steep. To get up and down the roads, there are huge staircases everywhere - quite a workout when you're also carrying a kid - but there are also streetcars and funiculars. We didn't get a chance to ride a funicular, but the streetcars are awesome.
- Cheap Travel vs Good Flights: As this was our first real trip, we were experimenting with the idea that we could hop over to another country for the weekend, cheaply and easily. Because we booked pretty last minute, the only reasonable flights didn't leave until 8pm on Sunday. That was a disaster on both ends. Even with a late check out, we were out of the hotel by 1pm, which meant we had 7 hours to kill while hauling around our suitcases. We went to the aquarium, mostly because we knew we could dump our bags in a locker. By the time we could finally go to the airport, everyone was done. Then, our flight got delayed, so instead of arriving at 11pm, which would've been late enough, we missed the last train, had to catch a very expensive cab back to the city, and didn't get home until nearly 3am. So - I think lesson learned - book early, insist on return flights in the afternoon.
- Telework: The trip was also an experiment to see if we could make a 3-day trip without taking leave by teleworking on Friday. I had planned to take the kid around Friday while Spouso was working from the hotel - but when the rain finally stopped and we could go - he didn't want to miss out and came along. I hauled my laptop around but then didn't want to open it - because hey - we're in Portugal - so I really didn't get much of anything done. So - not sure - I think we could make it work with a little more discipline - but probably shouldn't assume it's a full work day if we try this again.
- The Kiddo: So the kid mostly did great, considering how much we were throwing off his usual schedule. We tried to get home for a regular nap time, but were often pretty late, which really threw him off. He got tired very quickly, so we did a lot of carrying him around - until my back was just breaking, and I would try to put him down - which ended in a huge tantrum, and me picking him back up. He of course loved the pastries, but didn't try much of the rest of the food - so we need a better food plan for him next time. We did definitely plan to see sights that he would like - interspersing train rides whenever possible and avoiding museums - so he was very excited to see things. He was also really good in the cathedrals and learned to whisper - which I was pretty proud of. Obviously - traveling with a toddler is not the same as traveling with adults - so we missed about half of the schedule I had planned. We also didn't get a chance to go out for music, as I really wanted, so instead, I bought an album by Amalia Rodrigues, the Queen of Fado, which we listened to during nap time happy hours - which worked out ok. I keep reminding myself that maybe it's not the same as traveling with just adults, but it's still better than nothing.
quick family selfie in front of classic Portuguese wall tiles
So - with all that in mind - back by popular demand - a short travel film from our journey: