Portugal – Planning Guide (Part 3, Lisbon)

Don’t forget to follow along on our map!

I’m feeling a little nostalgic as I write this last post about our trip. Tyson and I have been like two ships in the night lately, as work and travel have meant that we have seen very little of each other. Looking at pictures from Lisbon reminds me how much fun we had (and how much fun we always have when we’re together). So, as I work on this, I’m drinking an excellent 2011 vintage Douro red (a really, really good year – reportedly one of the valley’s best), and listening to Fado music – thinking about our best trip ever and counting down the days until he comes home.

Lisbon was wonderful. By this point in the trip, we were willing to admit that we were missing the kids a bit, so it was nice to have lots of distractions. We had a lot of “mosts” on this trip. The most expensive date we’ve ever been on. The most romantic date we’ve ever been on. The most stairs and hills climbed in a day. The most day-drunk in a foreign city?

We arrived in Lisbon in a crazy hurry. As I mentioned in the previous post, I had made reservations that night, a Saturday, at a very exclusive restaurant. This particular restaurant has 5-6 month wait list for reservations and I had read that it was well worth the money and the wait. Our table was reserved for 9pm, and because Tyson is an excellent driver and navigator, he managed to get us to our hotel by 8pm. I had called on the way there, and they said they would hold our reservation until 9:15. We had to park the car in a garage (we returned it the next morning…thank goodness we had the foresight to know that we wouldn’t have time that night), and then lugged our suitcases up about a million stairs. We took the quickest showers ever, got ourselves dolled up, and walked to the restaurant. Thank goodness it was fairly close to the hotel.

I fell in love with our hotel when I saw this picture online. This was our beautiful room.

I fell in love with our hotel when I saw this picture online. This was our beautiful room.

As you probably already know about us, we are foodies (and winos). We were very much looking forward to this night. We knew it would be pricey, but we decided that this dinner was our official celebration of our 10-year wedding anniversary. We were not going to pay attention to price, only taste. It paid off. We went to Belcanto, by famous chef José Avillez. There were 13-14 courses, we lost count. We had many bottles of wine and glasses of port. Each perfectly matched and hand picked by the sommelier. The food was like art on the plate and it tasted divine. We were in awe – many unusual and exotic pairings, all referencing traditional Portuguese cuisine. Tyson was very good at being sly with his camera phone (we are so gauche!).

The top spoon is a jellied olive liquor that is much better than it sounds. Below is a dried olive of some sort I think. Served on silver spoons resting on an olive branch. The glass is also an olive liquor - tasted like a good martini. We wondered where they stored all the special serving dishes?

The top spoon is a jellied olive liquor that is much better than it sounds. Below is a dried olive of some sort I think. Served on silver spoons resting on an olive branch. The glass is also an olive liquor – tasted like a good martini. We wondered where they stored all the special serving dishes?

"The goose that laid the golden egg."

“The goose that laid the golden egg.” Literally, a goose egg poached in gold foil with caviar and wild mushrooms. Also known as one of the most delicious and savory things I’ve ever eaten.

A dessicated and sugared raspberry topped with wasabi - a palate cleanser in between courses.

A dessicated and sugared raspberry topped with wasabi – a palate cleanser in between courses.

The square is a piece of suckling pig, a Portuguese specialty. It was unreal, it was so good. To the right is a Brussels sprout in a sauce, with roasted garlic, and below is a handmade potato chip in an edible, salty package.

The square is a piece of suckling pig, a Portuguese specialty. It was unreal, it was so good. To the right is a Brussels sprout in a sauce, with roasted garlic, and below is a handmade potato chip in an edible, salty package.

On the bottom is a frozen, gelled olive liquor (I think, it's hard to remember now) that was much tastier than we expected. On top is a treasure box filled with fruit and chocolate treats. This was to clean our palates before dessert.

On the bottom is a frozen liquor of some sort, I can’t remember now. On top is a treasure box filled with fruit and chocolate treats. This was to clean our palates before dessert.

This is a mandarin sorbet, kept in shape by a shell of frozen tangerine juice. Mine cracked before I could get a good photo. Notice the beautiful white port I enjoyed with it. Mmm.

This is a mandarin sorbet, kept in shape by a shell of frozen tangerine juice. Mine cracked before I could get a good photo. Notice the beautiful white port I enjoyed with it. Mmm.

Tyson's dessert was tastes of all the pastries and custards that Portugal is known for. So good.

Tyson’s dessert was tastes of all the pastries and custards that Portugal is known for. So good.

Our favorite bottle from the night.

Our favorite bottle from the night.

After our meal, walking back to our hotel, it was like we were in a dreamland. It was warm, the city was alive with people (there was even a symphony concert going on in the street across from the restaurant), and we had the haze of a nice buzz from delicious wine. This is so sappy, I know, but we held hands and traversed back through the streets. We lingered in the squares and looked in shop windows. We listened to street performers and slowly made our way back to the Bairro Alto, the neighborhood where our hotel was.

One of the MANY sets of stairs leading to our hotel.

One of the MANY sets of stairs leading to our hotel.

Lisbon at night.

Lisbon at night.

The next morning, we woke up excited to break our fast on the rooftop of our hotel. We stayed at the Monte Belvedere, a sister boutique hotel to our hotel in Porto. The Monte Belvedere is in a prime spot in the Bairro Alto, one of the hip neighborhoods in Lisbon. It is up on a bluff overlooking the Tagus river, and the views from the hotel did not disappoint. We ate pastries and sipped strong coffee enjoying the fresh open air deck and sunshine each morning.

The view from the rooftop breakfast deck at the Monte Belvedere.

The view from the rooftop breakfast deck at the Monte Belvedere.

That morning, we went to the site of the 1998 World’s Fair. I went to the fair briefly while living in France as an exchange student. I barely remember the trip to Lisbon, but going back to the Avenida da Liberdade brought back memories. There was a run benefiting a cancer charity going on that morning, so we were able to stroll on the sidewalk and window shop while watching the runners and walkers. This street is Lisbon’s version of the Champs Elysee, or 5th Avenue. One of the really beautiful and unique things about Lisbon is all of the patterned cobblestone streets, plazas and sidewalks. The Avenida da Liberdade is a prime example. Tyson took a lot of great photos.

Avenida da Liberdade.

Avenida da Liberdade.

More cobblestones from our morning walk.

More cobblestones from our morning walk.

Beautiful plaza in Lisbon.

Beautiful plaza in Lisbon.

Cobblestone sidewalk in Lisbon.

Cobblestone sidewalk in Lisbon.

Shadows on the cobblestones.

Shadows on the cobblestones.

After spending approximately a million dollars on dinner the night before, we decided to eat sandwiches from a small restaurant adjacent to the above plaza for lunch. They were tasty and just what we needed. After we finished, the server, who could have only been about 16, offered us shots of ginjinha. Ginjinha is a magical sour cherry liquor that has no equal in the United States. It is traditionally served in chocolate shot glasses. We brought a bottle home and devoured it. We have yet to find it here to purchase…I need to do a little work to see if I can convince my local liquor store to order it for me. After lunch, we headed toward the Baixa (the low neighborhood), where the World Cup was being broadcast in Praça do Comércio on a huge screen in the square. There we found ginjinha being sold in chocolate shot glasses for about $3, including a free refill. This was obviously trouble for us. We nurtured a very healthy, strong day-buzz with ginjinha and beer purchased while watching the match. We soaked in the sun and cheered with the soccer spectators. So fun.

The Baixa, where we watched the World Cup.

The Baixa, where we watched the World Cup.

The big screen where we watched many matches over our three days in Lisbon.

The big screen where we watched many matches over our three days in Lisbon.

The square before it filled up with spectators. It is right on the Tagus river.

The square before it filled up with spectators. It is right on the Tagus river.

Go Netherlands!

Go Netherlands!

Chocolate shot glass with ginjinha. Cheers!

Chocolate shot glass with ginjinha. Cheers!

That afternoon we hiked up to the Castelo de São Jorge. We got there just as it was closing, so we vowed to go back the next day. It was nearly sunset at this point, and we wanted to make it down to the Alfama for dinner and Fado music, so we hustled on foot through old, narrow streets and neighborhoods until we made it to the famed Alfama. We watched the sun set from a beautiful overlook, and then set about finding a place to eat and listen to Lisbon’s famous Fado.

Sunset over the Tagus from the Alfama.

Sunset over the Tagus from the Alfama.

I cannot do justice to the Alfama in words. It is going to sound cheesy. Forgive me. I have never been a romantic, but I think the Alfama might have ruined me forever. Tyson and I have been together for over 13 years, but that night in the Alfama was the most romantic date we’ve ever been on. The super narrow, winding, glowing streets, the music wafting out of open windows and doors, the flower-scented air, the random street parties, and finally, the absolutely enchanting Fado music made for one of our best dates ever. I had chills the entire time the Fado singers performed. I wasn’t the only one. Tyson and I kept looking at each other asking “is this real?” There is something about listening to music this heartfelt and melancholy that makes you almost physically hurt, while at the same time you are completely entranced. If I could relive three hours of our trip to Portugal, this would be it. The Alfama and a night of Fado is not to be missed.

Alfama street.

Alfama street.

View from the top of the Alfama.

View from the top of the Alfama.

Random block party in the Alfama.

Random block party in the Alfama.

The beautiful Alfama.

The beautiful Alfama.

The lighting wasn't really this bright, just the flash. Anyway, our table for Fado in the Alfama.

The lighting wasn’t really this bright, just the flash. Anyway, our table for Fado in the Alfama.

Lights above our table in the Alfama.

Lights above our table in the Alfama.

One of the Fado singers. Hard to get a good photo, as it was quite dark.

View of one of the Fado singers from our table.  Hard to get a good photo, as it was quite dark.

I don’t have a good recording of the Fado that we heard that night, but this is very similar. Maybe Tyson and I can take Fado lessons (hey, I’m an alto!) and we can run away and live in the Alfama. Sigh.

The next day, we slept in a bit. We deserved it. We then hit the stairs and walked down to the Baixa to catch a bus to Belèm.

More stairs!

More stairs!

Belém is in the municipality of Lisbon. It is farther west down the Tagus. There is a large monastery there, and beautiful public gardens. It is best known for two things. The Torre de Belém and the Pastéis de Belém. The tower was built as a defense post at the mouth of the Tagus river to protect Lisbon. It is said that later, ships would be sent off in style with people waiving them off to sea from the tower. In the gardens nearby, there are beautiful tributes to Portuguese explorers.

Torre de Belém.

Torre de Belém.

Tribute to Portuguese explorers. Tyson was very frustrated with the two women taking a selfie in the corner...they were there for at least 20 minutes and we couldn't get a shot without them.

Tribute to Portuguese explorers. Tyson was very frustrated with the two women taking a selfie in the corner…they were there for at least 20 minutes and we couldn’t get a shot without them.

Jerónimos Monastery.

Jerónimos Monastery.

Door at Jerónimos Monastery.

Door at Jerónimos Monastery.

Jerónimos Monastery.

Jerónimos Monastery.

After seeing the sites, we were very hungry, and very tired. The non-stop pace of the last few days (not to mention the wine) was catching up with us. We knew we needed to try the renowned pastries from Pastéis de Belém, but we needed more than the one-shot espressos we’d been drinking the whole trip. So we picked up our pastries to go, and like the true American tourists that we were, we took them to Starbucks and enjoyed a delicious iced coffee to get ourselves moving.

Pastéis de Belém, a local custard pastry that is as good as its reputation.

Pastéis de Belém, a local custard pastry that is as good as its reputation.

After getting back from Belem, we took a quick nap, and then hiked our way back to Castelo São Jorge.We really wanted to explore the castelo and surrounding neighborhoods. When we got there, we found out that touring the castelo was expensive, and it wasn’t open for much longer. So we decided against it, and instead went to a wine bar. Winebar do Castelo was one of the highlights of our visit. We had an excellent cheese and charcuterie plate full of Portuguese delicacies. We also tasted many wines. I had the opportunity to speak with some French tourists in French, which is always a bonus. They went on and on about the quality of Portuguese wine, and we made recommendations back and forth. When we were leaving, a large group of traditional Portuguese dancers left the castelo and made their way down the street in front of us.

My handsome date at Winebar do Castelo.

My handsome date at Winebar do Castelo.

Tasting, tasting. Mmmm.

Tasting, tasting. Mmmm.

Traditional dancers.

Traditional dancers.

Next, we wandered around and stumbled upon a cafe perched on a hilltop overlooking the city. We sat next to some Mormon missionaries, which was funny to me. I would have started up a conversation with them, but I was a little tipsy, and I figured they had no desire to speak to a tipsy former-Mormon American. Ha. We enjoyed a coffee looking out over the city.

View of the Castelo from the cafe on a cliff.

View of the Castelo from the cafe on a cliff.

We opted to give our feet a rest and take a trolly back to the Baixa. We had read a lot about these trollies, but we were wary because apparently riding the trolly is a good way to get pickpocketed. We decided to go for it anyway, and it was a lot of fun.

Look, we're on a trolly!

Look, we’re on a trolly!

Old, wooden trolly fun.

Old, wooden trolly fun.

Last night in Lisbon.

Last night in Lisbon.

We are now to what was our last night in Portugal. Being a big night for the World Cup, we headed back to the Praça do Comércio to watch another match. When France scored, the crowd fired flare guns into the sky and jumped up and down cheering (must have been some Frenchmen in the crowd). In my excitement, I pushed myself off the ground and dislocated my left shoulder. Luckily, I had both a steady buzz, and experience as an ortho nurse. I was able to reduce my shoulder into place myself. I had Tyson grab me another beer, and I watched the rest of the match without moving my left arm. I was able to tie it to my side that night in order to sleep. That along with a handful of ibuprofen got me through the night.

The next morning, due to a taxi not being able to find our hotel, we almost, ALMOST missed our flight. We made it on board without a minute to spare.

I mentioned in my first post about our trip that we almost went to Portugal on our honeymoon. I’m glad now that we didn’t. I feel like the addition of two kids, two busy careers, and two more discerning palates made us more appreciative of our trip than we would have been 10 years ago. Our lives are so busy, and our work schedules are so hectic that we rarely see each other. This trip was exactly what we needed to remind us that we’re more in love than we’ve ever been.

Obrigado, Portugal. We’ll be back.

Eastern view from the top of our hotel, Monte Belvedere.

Eastern view from the top of our hotel, Monte Belvedere.

I know that a few of you are planning trips to Portugal of your own. Let me know if you have any questions. I will say, that if we had more time, we would have loved to visit Óbidos. We heard lovely things about it, we just didn’t have the time. Next time, maybe.

3 Comments

Portugal – Planning Guide (Part 2, Porto and Douro)

Don’t forget to follow along on our map!

We spent our last night in the Algarve socializing with our fellow guests. In particular, we laughed and laughed poolside with a Dutch couple – drinking a bit too much and feeling the effects in the morning when we needed to hit the road. I had been nursing a bit of a cold since before we left, and that morning I was pretty miserable. Really, six hours rest in the car is probably what I needed. We ate one last amazing breakfast at Quinta de Cebola Vermelha and set out for Porto.

There were so many places we wanted to detour to on the way to Porto, but we had to get to our hotel in time for check-in, so we opted to only stop at one place on the way. Tyson had never been to Europe before, and he really wanted to see a castle, so we found a castelo on our route and planned to have lunch there. I should mention here that this was our first fight with our navigator Vicky. She sent us on a crazy dirt road where we past some very confused locals working their land – clearly not used to seeing tourists driving around. When we left the castelo, there was a clearly marked, paved road that led back to the highway. Thanks, Vicky.

Castelo de Almourol

Castelo de Almourol

Unfortunately for us, the Castelo de Almourol was closed for renovations (this was not mentioned on the website, bummer). The castelo is located on a little island in the middle of the Rio Tejo. There was a lone man offering tourists (we only saw one other small group) boat rides around the island. Due to time, we opted to just enjoy the view from shore. It really was a picturesque site. Beautiful river, wild flowers, and a medieval castle sitting on an island that is covered in cacti to prevent intruders.

There was a little cafe on the shore, and we opted to eat lunch there. It was easily the worst meal of the trip. The proprietress was surprised to be serving anyone, and the food was stale and what you might expect at a touristy snack shop. Worse, there were tons of stray, mangy cats begging (fighting) for scraps of our meal. Since the pork tenderloin sandwich I ordered was pretty much inedible, we fed it to the poor cats and cut our losses.

Rio Tejo

Rio Tejo

Castelo de Almourol

Castelo de Almourol

Mangy cats that fought for our lunch.

Mangy cats that fought for our lunch.

Before I talk about Porto, I want to mention the website where we booked our hotels in Porto and Lisbon. I searched for boutique hotels, and really looked for places that highlighted Portugal’s unique modern style and sense of history. Portugal is known for sleek design that while modern, references Moorish and European history. We found one company that owns a few small hotels, and we were not let down. The Shiadu Boutique Guesthouses have four small hotels in Lisbon, and one in Porto. These are city hotels, in old cities. The rooms are very small, similar to what you find in New York City. We could barely fit our luggage in them, but they were very well appointed, and made us feel fancy. In addition, they had great breakfasts, a well-stocked honor system bar, and extremely friendly and helpful concierges. They were also very affordable. I consider finding these guesthouses one of the major planning coups of the trip. As a side note, the concierge in the Porto guesthouse called her colleague in Lisbon to make sure they had reserved us the room with the red wall that I had admired on the website, even though we never asked for a favor. All around excellent customer service.

Our hotel in Porto was called Casa dos Loios. I recommend checking out the photos from their site. The hotel was full of gorgeous woodwork, original to the building, and a great outdoor dining space. The hotel is in the best possible location. The picture below was right around the corner. We were right next to a big square, good shopping, restaurants etc. We were able to walk everywhere we wanted to go.

Porto, a street still decorated from the previous week's festival. This street is known for working class craftsmen who live above their shops.

Porto, a street still decorated from the previous week’s festival. This street is known for working class craftsmen who live above their shops.

We rolled into Porto in the late afternoon, and were immediately in a tense driving situation. It is the quintessential old European city, in which the streets are super narrow and hilly. The city is on the Douro river, so there are bridges criss-crossing every which way, and pretty much all of the streets are one-way. Vicky was unaware of the direction that traffic flowed on these streets and constantly told us to turn the wrong way. Add to that rush hour, pedestrians that don’t care about jaywalking, driving a manual on cobblestone hills and street names that all sound the same and you have the perfect storm. Portuguese cities also have this thing where certain streets are blocked and you have to have a special garage door opener like thing to unblock them. We spent a pretty long time finding parking, and then hauling way too much luggage to our hotel, only to find that we were illegally parked and having to schlep back and move our car. Needless to say, we were so glad for the honor-system bar and the crisp vinho verde awaiting us in our hotel room. We got some recommendations from the concierge and set out to enjoy vibrant Porto.

Tyson's shot of some of Porto's architecture.

Tyson’s shot of some of Porto’s architecture.

Porto is a really dynamic city. It is both a working class city that has hit upon hard times with Portugal’s economic climate, and a beautiful, art-filled city with history seeping out of every pore. Sitting at the mouth of the Douro River, it is where port wine is aged and stored, and as such, is home to fine restaurants, pastry shops and wine bars. Walking down any street, you are bound to see beautifully renovated azulejo-clad buildings, next to structures that look like they should be condemned. It is probably the most charming city I have ever been to. I think most Americans miss out on Porto – at least I have never met anyone that has been, and we only met one American amongst the many European tourists. Fun fact: J. K. Rowling lived in Porto and taught English there while writing the first Harry Potter book.

Porto

Porto

Porto Skyline

Porto Skyline

Porto Window

Porto Window

Porto train station, covered in azulejo tiles.

Porto train station, covered in azulejo tiles.

We asked our concierge to point us to a nearby restaurant that would have homestyle Portuguese food, that would be nice, but not so nice that Tyson couldn’t watch that night’s World Cup match during dinner. We went to Restaurante A Tasquinha. We were not disappointed. Tyson had bacalhau, probably the most famous dish in Portugal – a salted cod, and I had a braised pork. Both of our dishes were excellent (not to mention HUGE). We had house wine, which was equally excellent, and of course, finished the meal with port. As a side note, yelling bacalhau at each other throughout the trip became an ongoing joke between us. BACALHAU!!! After dinner, we wandered around the city, stopping in a square to watch more World Cup, and enjoying being part of the hustle and bustle of a summer evening in the city.

The next morning, Tyson went on a run while I lazed around and caught a few more Zs. After a yummy breakfast at the guesthouse (fresh squeezed orange juice, fresh pastries, cured meats and really good coffee), we set off to explore. We visited the cathedral, the train station that is covered in incredible tiles, lost ourselves in little streets and neighborhoods and questioned how much it would cost to buy a ramshackle townhouse and renovate it so that we could stay forever. We made our way down to the river (might I mention here, how the constant hill climbing was killing our calves…ouch!) and crossed on the “pedestrian bridge” that is really a sidewalk that is about 24″ across with cars racing by at high speeds trying to toss you into the river.

Azulejos in the Porto train station.

Azulejos in the Porto train station.

View of boats from the bridge over the Douro River in Porto.

View of boats from the bridge over the Douro River in Porto.

The cathedral in Porto.

The cathedral in Porto.

Porto in the morning.

Porto in the morning.

Lone fisherman on the Douro River, Porto.

Lone fisherman on the Douro River, Porto.

After crossing the river, we stopped to have lunch on the riverbank in front of the strand of port wine houses before making our way to Graham’s. There are many port wine houses to choose from, but our concierge recommended Graham’s because it is a little less tourist-heavy since it’s a bit of a climb from the river, and because they have really high quality port.

Let me tell you, we were not disappointed. Prior to this trip to Portugal, I had only had port a handful of times. I thought it was okay. Now, well now it’s one of my favorite things. We did a tour and tasting at Graham’s and it was really interesting, and delicious. The port house is on top of a hill, overlooking the Douro and the city of Porto. There are beautiful gardens and the buildings themselves are pretty and well kept. I think the tour that included the premium tasting was only about €15 each – well worth it (you could not get that many glasses of port of that quality for anywhere near that price). We bought a lot of port, and had to carry the heavy bags down the steep hills, a little tipsy in the heat. Oops.

On the banks of the Douro in Porto.

On the banks of the Douro in Porto.

View of Porto from Graham's.

View of Porto from Graham’s.

The cellars at Graham's.

The cellars at Graham’s.

Port Casks

Port Casks

Super delicious tawny ports.

Super delicious tawny ports.

Our tasting flight. Three rubies and three tawnies.

Our tasting flight. Three rubies and three tawnies.

A heavy bag of port to bring home.

A heavy bag of port to bring home.

One more scenic Porto shot...the view never got old from Graham's.

One more scenic Porto shot…the view never got old from Graham’s.

After making it back to our room, we took a little nap and then headed out to a British pub to watch the US vs Germany World Cup match. I can’t find the name of the pub now, but really the only reason we went there is because Portugal was playing at the same time, and that pub was the only place we could find the US match. Following the game, we got dolled up and went out to Cafe Majestic, a famous art deco cafe, for cheese, charcuterie, dessert and port. We then strolled through the city at night, enjoying the lights, stopping to watch more soccer on the big screen in the square, and people watching. A perfect European summer evening.

Cafe Majestic

Cafe Majestic

The next morning, we packed up and hit the road east to the Douro Valley. The drive wasn’t long, less than two hours to Vila Real, and it was beautiful, hillsides with the Douro down below. We spent the morning at a chateau called Casa de Mateus. We didn’t go inside, but we did pay to see the gardens and it was worth it. There were striking manicured gardens, as well  as a huge vineyard, orchard, vegetable garden and pasture. We were fascinated by a gardener who climbed on ladders tied together with rope to sculpt hedges way up in the air. It was a delightful stop, made better by the bag of cherries we bought on the way out (grown at the estate).

Casa de Mateus

Casa de Mateus

Azulejo on Casa de Mateus

Azulejo on Casa de Mateus

Formal Gardens at Casa de Mateus

Formal Gardens at Casa de Mateus

Formal Gardens at Casa de Mateus

Formal Gardens at Casa de Mateus

The gardener was perched up here on two ladders tied together. Scary!

The gardener was perched up here on two ladders tied together. Scary!

We couldn't get enough of that brave gardener, so Tyson posed so we could secretly take more pictures.

We couldn’t get enough of that brave gardener, so Tyson posed so we could secretly take more pictures.

Formal Gardens at Casa Mateus

Formal Gardens at Casa Mateus

Baby grapes in the vineyard at Casa de Mateus.

Baby grapes in the vineyard at Casa de Mateus.

After the garden tour, we made our way to Regua, where we had lunch at a little restaurant on the water. Tyson ordered for us in Portuguese (as he did the entire trip, he is very good with languages), and we had a very good churrascaria meal overlooking the Douro. We had a carafe of house wine with our meal. It was unlabled, as it was locally grown. This is when we started to realize that there is no bad wine in Portugal. At least none that we had. We were served fabulous bottle after fabulous bottle. We arrived around 2pm, so the only other people in the restaurant were the owners and their son. After preparing our meal, they sat down and enjoyed their own meal at a nearby table.

Does it get any better than this?

Does it get any better than this?

View of Regua from the restaurant.

View of Regua from the restaurant.

We continued on about 15 minutes up the road to a tiny village atop a hill overlooking the Douro. At the very top of the village sat our vineyard guesthouse, Casa Cimiera (Summit House). Now everyplace we stayed on our trip was very nice, but this place is unmatched as far as getting a real feel for Portugal goes. It is a family home that has been converted into a guesthouse. They make their own wine and port, and they do it well. They have their own vineyard (as does everyone in the Douro Valley, every house has grapes growing in the yard it seems) and their own label that sells locally. The owners were on vacation when were there, but their son and his wife hosted us and a few other guests. They made a scrumptious meal of typical Portuguese foods that was served family style around a large old table for dinner, and an excellent breakfast the next morning served the same way. When we arrived, we were immediately brought into the parlor for a glass of the house port. Our room was the master suite, and the balcony had incredible views of the village descending down to the river and her beautiful gorge. We spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool with our fellow guests (btw, French Canadians are nuts – we had a good time with a group of Quebecois). Along with our new friends, we helped ourselves to the never ending stash of unlabeled wine until dinner was served. We bought a half case of the house red before we left. I wish we had just sold all of our clothes and filled our suitcases with it instead. We only have one bottle left, and we can’t get it here in the US. Anyone know a Portuguese wine importer?

The bar at Casa Cimeira, made out of a tawny port aging cask.

The bar at Casa Cimeira, made out of a tawny port aging cask.

The view from our balcony at Casa Cimeira. We could not get enough of this view.

The view from our balcony at Casa Cimeira. We could not get enough of this view.

The pool at Casa Cimeira (Tyson's feet, not mine!).

The pool at Casa Cimeira (Tyson’s feet, not mine!).

Unlabeled wine anyone?

Unlabeled wine anyone?

The bedroom part of the master suite at Casa Cimeira.

The bedroom part of the master suite at Casa Cimeira.

Inner courtyard at Casa Cimeira.

Inner courtyard at Casa Cimeira.

Loving on one of the two Siamese kittens that have run of Casa Cimeira's grounds (no mice!).

Loving on one of the two Siamese kittens that have run of Casa Cimeira’s grounds (no mice!).

So, maybe we overindulged that night. It was hard not to. We only had one night there (if there is one thing we could have changed about our trip, it would have been another night or two at Casa Cimeira), and we wanted to taste every delicious wine and port offered to us. The next morning at 5am, a baker’s van honked repeatedly outside on the street to deliver fresh bread for breakfast and woke us up. We were a little hungover, but decided not to waste the opportunity to enjoy the stillness of the morning and the sunrise to enjoy the spectacular views. We hiked down the scarily steep hill that the village sits on and took a lot of photos. They really don’t do the landscape justice. There is such a sense of history every direction you look. You can feel the pride of the people that have been making wine in this region for more than 2000 years (the oldest continuous wine making region in the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and you can only imagine how back-breaking the work must be in such a steep and rocky environment. Some of these photos are blurry due to my poor skill with a camera, low light, and being on a moving boat.

Terraced grapes and olive trees at Casa Cimeira.

Terraced grapes and olive trees at Casa Cimeira.

The sun is about to rise on the Douro.

The sun is about to rise on the Douro.

I'm not kidding, the Douro Valley is this beautiful.

I’m not kidding, the Douro Valley is this beautiful.

Young grapes.

Young grapes.

Backyard vineyard - a feature of pretty much every house.

Backyard vineyard – a feature of pretty much every house.

Azulejo Douro style.

Azulejo Douro style.

Good morning, Douro.

Good morning, Douro.

After breakfast (with homemade cherry preserves, freshly made from the tree in the courtyard, yum!), we drove down to Pinhão, which is the village on the water that you can see in the picture above. (Side note: stay somewhere on a hilltop, not on the water…the views are so much better!) We debated between taking the famous steam train tour that goes along the river or the boat tour that leaves from Pinhão. We opted for the boat tour because it was shorter and we didn’t have a ton of time. It was a little chilly that morning, and a little overcast, so we ended up having the boat to ourselves, unless you count the captain’s old dog who lounged on a beanbag chair for the entire trip. We paid for a 1.5 hour tour, which I think was enough. The views were pretty, but they really are better from higher up. What surprised me was how many olive and citrus trees are interspersed with the vines. I imagine they provide welcomed shade for the thousands of grape harvesters every fall. The terrain here is so steep, that all of the harvesting is done by hand. Additionally, a good portion of the stomping is done the old fashioned way, by foot. The villages have coops, and they gather to stomp the for hours after returning from picking in the hills for 12 hours in the sun. Some of the bigger towns have machinery to crush the grapes, but not all.

Citrus trees and flowers bordering the river.

Citrus trees and flowers bordering the river.

Terraced vineyards everywhere you look.

Terraced vineyards everywhere you look.

Even the overgrown hillside has remnants of terraces long abandoned.

Even the overgrown hillside has remnants of terraces long abandoned.

Olives, grapes and a wine house.

Olives, grapes and a wine house.

IMG_3014

DSC_0833

We did a tasting at another vineyard, and then settled at a waterfront restaurant in Pinhão for vegetable soup, tomato salad and crusty peasant bread. Finally, we hit the road for Lisbon. We actually departed later than we should have, and ended up very worried that we would miss our dinner reservations that I had booked six months earlier for a very fancy, exclusive restaurant, but that story is for another post.

Truly, if you love wine, and love immersing yourself in new cultures, you must go to Porto and the Douro Valley. In Lisbon I was practicing my French with a couple at the table next to us in a wine bar, and they said “Of course French wine is the best in the world, but Frenchmen who love wine, vacation in Portugal.”

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Portugal – Planning Guide (Part 1, The Algarve)

So our blog is basically defunct now, as Tyson and I haven’t had much energy to put into it these days. I’m posting now because I’ve had quite a few people ask for travel recommendations to Portugal after seeing pictures of our amazing anniversary trip on social media. We have both traveled a lot, but this was by far the best vacation we’ve ever been on. Every place we went, we wished we could stay longer, and we repeatedly talked about the logistics of picking up everything and moving to the Algarve. Here are some of the trip highlights with information in case you want to plan your own Portuguese adventure. This will be long, so I’m going to post it in a few parts.

We chose Portugal for a few reasons. We wanted someplace with great beaches, vibrant cities, good food and wine, and we wanted to be able to travel in style without totally breaking the bank. We chose not to go to lots of museums and churches, although you could certainly spend your entire trip doing that. We focused on finding gorgeous scenery, losing ourselves in picturesque neighborhoods, eating local delicacies, and drinking truly spectacular wine and port.

I’ve created a custom Google Map with most of our stops and the places I mention in the blog. Definitely check it out if you’re planning a trip. Click here for the map.

Arrival

We flew into Lisbon, arriving at about 8am local time. It is not a very big airport, and it was very easy to navigate. We chose to rent a car throughout our stay so that we would have more freedom coming and going, and because we wanted to see as much of the countryside as possible. Having a car was great in the Algarve and in Douro, but it was VERY scary driving in the cities, especially in Porto with all the windy one-way streets. Think driving in NYC except the roads are half the size, people drive twice as fast, and your navigation system has all the one-way street directions wrong. Also, all the cars are manuals, so if you don’t drive a stick, don’t even think about renting a car. Tyson is a great driver, and a professional navigator, so we did okay, and we will likely rent a car the next time we go too. If driving in the cities scares you, it would be totally feasible to rent a car, do the Algarve and Douro, and then take a train to Porto and Lisbon.

DSC_0174

Our little Fiesta. Not pictured, our cheeky navigator Vicky.

We rented our car through Portugal Auto Rentals’, an aggregator website. Our actual rental company was Drive On Holidays, and they were great. We rented for 7 days and it cost us €175, very reasonable. Gas is pricey though, so be ready. We also spent about €100 on tolls throughout the trip, something we hadn’t really thought about when deciding to drive. The company sent me a confirmation email telling us to meet them in the lobby, and there was a representative with a sign waiting for us. A shuttle took us to the rental site, where everyone spoke English and we were on our way. The car came with a navigation system that spoke in a cheeky British accent. We named her Vicky and had a love-hate relationship with her the whole trip.

The Algarve

We set off right away for the Algarve, where we spent the first three nights of our trip. On the four hour drive down, we stopped a little village, Aljustrel (just off the A2) for delicious ham and cheese sandwiches (ham is a specialty in Portugal, and even this cafe ham sandwich was very yummy) and strong coffee. We got lots of strange looks, the town clearly did not see a lot of tourists, as it was off the highway a few miles. I think the whole meal cost us about €4. We got back on the road and suddenly we were surrounded by endless fields of sunflowers. This was the first of many times that the natural beauty of this country took our breath away.

IMG_1113

Sandwiches in some little village on the road. Don’t judge, I’d just gotten off a trans-Atlantic flight!

10420205_10152978965419478_2462260501713302284_n

Sunflowers somewhere along the route in Alentejo.

We continued on to our guesthouse, Quinta da Cebola Vermelha (Guesthouse of the Red Onion). I had found this place researching online last winter and fell in love with the pictures, fresh breakfast on the patio every morning, and first class meals prepared by the owners at night. They cook a couple of nights a week and it is NOT to be missed. The owners are Dutch and they run the place with their two adult sons and Portuguese daughter-in-law. They are extremely kind and personable and very helpful in planning outings and making recommendations. It’s a small place with only 9 guest rooms. It has gorgeous gardens with olive and orange trees (fresh squeezed orange juice anyone?), lavender fields and flowers everywhere. There were no mosquitoes or bugs to be found, so we slept with our window open and the whole room smelled like orange blossoms and lavender. They run the bar on an honor system and it’s stocked with really good wines from all over the country. We met a lot of British and Dutch couples and had fun talking World Cup trash with them (the U.S. played Portugal our first night there). I can’t seem to find my receipt for the stay, but it was our most expensive place. When you add in the meals and wine, we spent quite a bit, but it was totally worth it. We didn’t want to leave.

Even the front door is pretty.

Even the front door is pretty.

DSC_0273

The window seat in our room. Can you smell the oranges?

Gates to the pool.

Gates to the pool.

DSC_0177

Relaxing by the pool felt so good after flying all night and driving all morning.

Part of the wine selection and snack menu. Our host kept asking if we wanted a "little schnacky", something we still joke about.

Part of the wine selection and snack menu. Our host kept asking if we wanted a “little schnacky”, something we still joke about.

Enjoying something yummy before going to watch the US play Portugal in the World Cup.

Enjoying something yummy before going to watch the US play Portugal in the World Cup.

The first appetizer of our meal at Quinta Da Cebola Vermelha. Local goat cheese in a roasted fig, wrapped in cured ham and drizzled with a wine sauce.

The first appetizer of our meal at Quinta da Cebola Vermelha. Local goat cheese in a roasted fig, wrapped in cured ham and sprinkled with cracked pepper.

IMG_1126

Breakfast on the patio: coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice, fresh breads, ham, local cheese, poached eggs, yogurt, homemade jam, and a bowl of cherries.

Our first full day in the Algarve, we went to Tavira to walk around and lose ourselves in the little streets. They were setting up for the festival of St. João (John), so it was very bright and cheery everywhere we went.  The things I remember most about Tavira are the flowers that are everywhere you look (the air is perfumed with them), and the best gelato I’ve ever had (sorry Italy, it’s true). I think the flavor was peppered cherry pistachio, or “amazing heaven, I have to get seconds”. Something like that. We walked around for a few hours before heading to a beach closer to our guesthouse.

IMG_1161

Portugal is known for its azulejo tiles. They are beautiful, and they are everywhere.

IMG_1133

These steps were very scary and so steep! The view was worth it though.

IMG_2889

Public garden in Tavira.

IMG_2904

I would like to move here.

DSC_0247

Or here…

DSC_0238

The top of the castelo in Tavira.

DSC_0219

The view from the top.

DSC_0192

Decorations for the Festival of St. João.

We stopped at a beach, Praia de Vale do Lobo, on the way back, it was drizzling a little bit (very unusual for late June), but that didn’t stop us from napping in the sand for a little while.

DSC_0254

Every beach we went to was mind-numbingly beautiful, with very few people. Praia de Vale do Lobo.

We were starving on the way back, and our guesthouse wasn’t serving dinner that night, so we stopped at an Indian place on the way. It was very good, but more importantly, it introduced us to vinho verde…and we’ve never looked back.

DSC_0269

On the way home, we had to stop to let a shepherd and his sheep go by, you know, the usual.

We spent the next day beach hopping. When I was first researching places to go for our trip, I found a picture of a sea cave in Portugal on Pinterest. It wasn’t labeled, so I had to do some digging. That picture is one of the reasons we decided to make the trip. It took some work, but we found the beach, with the teenage boys who take tourist groups out on sea cave tours. The beach was again, incredible. I could have stayed there all day. The boat tour was cheap, €15 each I think. It was a little scary at times…what with a 17 year old driving like a bat out of hell and telling you to duck your head so you don’t smash it on the door to the cave, all while there are big waves sloshing the boat around. The views were unmatched though, and I would add this boat tour to our must-do list in Portugal. The beach is Praia de Benagil. It’s a steep climb, but it’s solid footing.

IMG_2936

View from the beach.

DSC_0383

Our buddy boat.

DSC_0400

It was pretty choppy, so this was the best picture I got of the cave that started it all. The picture doesn’t do it justice.

Edited to add this awesome picture Tyson took of my favorite cave.

Edited to add this awesome picture Tyson took of my favorite cave.

DSC_0362

Another cave. I think we went in 16 caves, and passed by many more.

DSC_0345

Cave holes.

DSC_0327

Orange is totally my color.

After a quick snack at the beach, we headed west, with our end destination being Cape St. Vincent. We were really hungry by the time we got to Lagos. We found a beautiful beach in the city, but for some reason, the restaurants close to it were closed. I was beginning to get hangry, so we opted to leave and find another beach. We stumbled upon Praia de Porto Mos and Antonio Restaurante. The restaurant is on the beach and our table was situated on an open patio with stunning views. It was there that we first tried one of Portugal’s specialties, sardinhas assadas (grilled sardines). They were a little salty for my taste, but very good, and something you have to try while you’re there.

Sardinhas Assadas at Antonio Restuarante on Praia de Porto Mos.

Sardinhas Assadas at Antonio Restuarante on Praia de Porto Mos.

Praia de Porto Mos, was lovely, and we would have liked to stay longer, but we were on a mission to make it out to the tip of the continent and back to our inn by dinner time, so we only took a short dip in the water and walk on the beach before heading back to Vicky and hitting the road.

Praia de Porto Mos

Praia de Porto Mos

On the way to the edge of the Earth, we spotted a gorgeous beach that we just had to check out. I really wish we had found it sooner, or had another day to spend there. We talked a lot about bringing the kids back to it. Praia do Beliche is a hike down from the road. There are steep stone steps, seemingly neverending, that go all the way down to the beach. There is a little snack bar wedged up against the cliff, but it was abandoned except for a few hippies selling glass pipes and handmade jewelry. The spectacular thing about Praia do Beliche was the caves. These caves are on the beach and an easy walk from the steps. There is gorgeous green moss that grows in a gradient up the rocks. I know that if our kids had been there, they would have dug for pirate’s treasure in the caves, heck, Tyson and I wanted to dig for treasure! In addition to the beautiful caves, you can see all the way to the edge of Europe from the beach. The views are breathtaking. It would have been very easy to laze the day away, taking in the scenery and playing in the sand.

View of Praia do Beliche from the parking lot.

View of Praia do Beliche from the parking lot.

Mossy rocks at Praia do Beliche from halfway down the steps.

Mossy rocks at Praia do Beliche from halfway down the steps.

 

Snack bar at Praia do Beliche.

Snack bar at Praia do Beliche.

Inspecting the mossy rocks at Praia do Beliche.

Inspecting the mossy rocks at Praia do Beliche.

Sea cave at Praia do Beliche.

Sea cave at Praia do Beliche.

"Door" to a sea cave at Praia do Beliche.

“Door” to a sea cave at Praia do Beliche.

As much as we wanted to stay at Praia do Beliche, we needed to continue on that afternoon to make it to what was once considered the edge of the Earth, Cape St. Vincent. The drive was beautiful, wind swept dunes and sheer cliffs made for stark vistas. Surfers from all over the world come to Portugal for epic waves, and there were surf hostels and Volkswagon Eurovans topped with surfboards all around.

When you first roll into Cape St. Vincent, you notice the food trucks and the vendors lining the drive and parking lot.  There are a lot of beautiful hand-knit ponchos for sale along with the usual touristy knick knacks. I would have bought a poncho if I had thought there would be enough room in the suitcase to take it home. Next, as soon as you step out of the car, you notice the strong winds. It’s literally the tip of Europe, and it is WINDY. There are steep, rugged cliffs all around, and lots of signs warning tourists to stay back. Our guidebook told a story about a Polish couple falling to their deaths in front of their kids a few years back. Of course this meant nothing to Tyson, who insisted on climbing over the guard rails to take photos. I was terrified, and it kind of ruined the cape for me, I’m not going to lie. It was very beautiful though, and one of those places where you feel so small and insignificant compared to the grandeur of Mother Nature.

Looking down from Cape St. Vincent.

Looking down from Cape St. Vincent.

Lighthouse at Cape St. Vincent.

Lighthouse at Cape St. Vincent.

Northern view from Cape St. Vincent.

Northern view from Cape St. Vincent.

After seeing the cape, we hightailed it back to Quinta de Cebola Vermelha for dinner, which I mentioned above. The next morning we left for Porto, our longest drive of the trip. I’ll talk about Porto in my next post, it’s an incredible city. I’ll keep updating the map as I update the blog.

Adeus para agora.

-Joy

 

 

Leave a comment

Happy 5th Birthday, Daphne!

Dear Daphne,

Today you are five years old. That is very big. You surprise us every day with how much you can do and how much you know. 

Image

You are learning to read and write. You can sound out a lot of words, and you can write all of your letters and numbers. You can count to 100. You can do basic addition and subtraction and you know a lot of words. We love watching your mind work and seeing what a little smarty you are.

ImageYou love arts and crafts. You really enjoying creating and making – you are so creative, we love seeing what you come up with. There are artists on both sides of your family, and we think you will carry on that tradition. You spend a lot of time writing letters, drawing pictures, painting, and constructing. Santa brought you a Lego set this year and now you have a whole new way to create.

ImageYou have a spirit of adventure like no child I’ve ever known. You are NOT afraid and you like to go higher and faster! At Mac’s birthday party, you went on a very tall waterslide that went super fast. A lot of the older boys were afraid to go on it, but not you. You played on it for hours, wanting to go upside-down and backwards (you backed down from that wish when we said it might be too dangerous). To encourage your fearlessness, and maybe direct it in a positive way, we have promised you that you can start back in gymnastics lessons. You are so excited about this, that you wore the leotard you got for Christmas for three whole days. You especially want to learn how to vault. We’ve watched YouTube videos of vaulters and I know you envision yourself flying through the sky like those girls.

ImageWe love you so very much, Daphne Jo. You are a challenge and a joy to parent. You keep us on our toes and keep our hearts full. Enjoy being five, sweet girl!

Love,

Mama

Image

 

2 Comments

Christmas Surprise!

The kids thought Christmas presents were over and we were just going to get dressed for the day. Santa sure is sneaky!

1 Comment

Oh Man, We’re Behind. Cormac: 20 – 24 Months

Hey Little Dude,

We are so behind on your monthly posts. I’m really sorry about that. Things are pretty busy here at Chez Schindler. We just posted a year in pictures of your second year, so here I’ll just post more pictures of your last couple of months.

You’re really not a toddler anymore. You’re much more sure footed than you were just a few months ago. You try very hard to keep up with the big kids and you’re able to for the most part.

 

 

 

We’ve gone on lots of trips since we posted last. We went to Louisiana to visit Uncle Dan, Aunt Dawn, Parker and Bennett. We also flew to Ohio for your Great Grandpa McVicker’s 90th birthday. You met lots of our family that you had never met before. In July you flew with Daddy to Washington for his family golf tournament and then you guys met me in Nevada to see the Kramers and to go on a camping trip with a bunch of my college friends and their families. Phew, we were busy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think the biggest difference between now and our last monthly post is how much you are talking. You speak in complete sentences and you are very funny. Some of your favorite things to say are “I do it by myself!”,  “I need help!” and “I’m hungry”. You are ALWAYS hungry. Unless it’s meal time, and then you usually don’t want to eat. Your favorite food is fruit. You like all fruit, but cantaloupe is probably your favorite. You also love spaghetti and pretty much anything full of carbs and cheese.

 

You are getting to be a pretty big boy. You don’t take bottles anymore, although you still love your “ba” (pacifier). We’ll work on dropping that habit in the next couple of months. You sleep in a big boy bed now and you usually sleep through the night. Most of the time you even lay down awake and go to sleep all by yourself.

 

 

You have lots of likes and dislikes now. You love rocket ships, airplanes, helicopters and pretty much anything that can fly. You love balls, bikes and scooters. You love accessories like hats, shoes, bracelets and necklaces. You are not a fan of toys that make noises and move by themselves. You don’t like dogs other than Pilot. You’re a real little kid now, not a baby at all.

 

 

 

Daddy has to work today, so we’ll be celebrating your birthday with a big rocket ship party on September 7th. We’ll try to make a post with all the pictures of that special day. We love you so much, Macky. You are so much fun and you light up all of our lives. Happy Birthday!

Love,

Mama

 

 

2 Comments

A Look Back: Cormac’s Second Year in Photos

Happy Second Birthday, Cormac!  As per tradition, here is a visual look at how you’ve grown over the past year (Click here for a link back to your first year of photos). You sure have progressed from a crawling, babbling baby into a running, talking toddler!  Mommy, Daphne and I sure love watching you grow up, Little Mac…

We’ll start with the picture with which we ended the last series, from your first birthday:

Happy Second Birthday, Mac!  We love you!

Love,

Daddy

4 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.