Resides my heart, longing for me is sometimes an impulse for words, fingers lightly grazing the keyboard, assembling emotions impossible to embrace, but as if a compass which magnetically points one towards a destination, this wistful desire has landed our family in Lisbon, Portugal for the Thanksgiving holiday. As Andre Gide reminds us we cannot discover new oceans unless we have the courage to lose sight of our shore. So we followed our wish to a place we’ve never been, an incomprehensible land that has magically claimed my son, and this my friends is all I wanted for Christmas.
“Embrace uncertainty. Some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives won’t have a title until much later.” Bob Goff
I felt a strange sort of wistfulness landing in Lisbon after three long flights, extensive layovers, massive meal confusion, and sleep deprivation. The three of us must have been a sight, dragging fifty pound bags behind us, as if Linus in search of Charlie Brown, or in our case our beloved Anthony Oreglia.
There is a Portuguese word for wistfulness, it’s called Saudade, not unlike the Swedish term lagom, or Denmark’s popularized hygge, these words defy translation. I’ve heard it described as a deep longing for someone or something that is missing, a nostalgia of sorts, a joyful sadness. My sentiments exactly.
Saudade is the thread woven in and out of all aspects of Portugal, it calls to you, for me it’s the missing button on Tony’s dress shirt I’m compelled to repair, as if I can secure that which is missing with needle and thread. I believe saudade is the perfect word for our Portuguese adventure because not only am I overjoyed to be here, stalking my son as if he were a rockstar, but just beneath the joy lies the day of departure. I push it down but it’s unusually buoyant.
The taxi ride from airport to centre offers us our first glimpse of Lisbon, we pass the expected airport hotels, industrial warehouses, then tall palm trees poking out between abandoned buildings covered in graffiti. As we move closer into the centre, the change in energy is palpable, an array of remodeled buildings stand out in sharp contrast with boarded up structures, waiting for rescue, and renovation. It’s as if Lisbon is recovering from a massive face lift, she may be bruised, but remains ever so boisterous.
It’s more than my eyes can absorb, the colorful townhouses, beautifully tiled walls, porches draped in bougainvillea, and laundry-laden balconies. I’m enchanted by the quilt of terracotta roofs, but most memorable is this wrinkle-faced lady standing in the doorway of a small convenience store, her smile jubilant despite several missing teeth.
The plan is to drop our bags at the Airbnb in Largo do Conde-Barao and walk to our sons apartment located a few blocks away. Lisbon is spread across seven rolling hills, with winding lanes, pitched roofs, and canary-yellow trams that chanter up and down steep and storied streets. Let me emphasis the steep and storied streets! Our daughter Kelley caught a direct flight from New York, landing hours before us, and is enjoying a little catch-up time with Tony before we arrive.
Tony’s apartment is located on the fourth floor of a traditional Lisbon structure, we work our way up a challenging stairwell with low ceilings, but when you walk through the door the unit is unexpectedly modern, light, and airy. Our reunion is jubilant, oh how a child always fits so perfectly in a mother’s arms, the relativity of time narrows, as I struggle to reestablish my composure.
Portugal has a unique essence, a peacefulness if you will, and I allow this calm to come over me on our leisurely stroll down cobbled streets, towards a small cafe for lunch. We enjoy what Portuguese call green wine (made from green grapes), cheese, bread, Portuguese sausage, cod, potatoes, espresso, and pastries. Totally hit the spot.
The LX Market is our next destination, as we browse Livraria Ler Devagar, a refurbished publishing shop turned floor-to-ceiling bookstore, before stopping at a charming rooftop bar with spectacular views of the Tagus river, and Ponte 24 de abril bridge (a replica of the Golden Gate). There is a mutiny going on with my feet, so we uber back to our apartment to freshen up before dinner, and I slip into my less restrictive shoes, all regions appeased, carry on.
Dinner is deftly earned, after a challenging uphill hike to a charming hilltop neighborhood, which hosts an exquisite Wine and Tapas bar. We consume a sumptuous array of croquettes, cod, charcuterie, cheeses, fries, olives, and sumptuous breads. All this consumption of wine and food is indicative of my hunger for this adventurous child. I’m sure Christopher Columbus’s mom felt much the same.
A gentle rain is falling so we decide to uber home, Dante is not completely satisfied with appetizers for dinner, so he and Larry slip off to Popolo’s for late night pizza and beer. Struggling with the metric system much? We all slept well that night.
Monday marks the tradition of early morning coffee with Tony, rolling out of bed at the sound of the front buzzer, Larry and I scamper to the kitchen to boil water, press fresh coffee, and spend a few precious moments with our son before he heads off to work.
Our plan today is to stroll through the ancient barrios of Lisbon, by the time I hit 2000 steps we find ourselves standing in the middle of the magnificent Praça do Comércio, the grandest of Lisbon’s plazas, surrounded on three sides by attractive yellow Pombaline architecture, with the decorative Arco da Rua Augusta as the focal point of the plaza. Larry is compelled to touch the waves lapping against limestone steps, as I stand in the center of the Plaza, trying not to break out in song.
There has always been a human presence in this area dating back to 12th Century BC when the Phoenicians made this their home, followed by a Roman occupation, than the Suebi, the Visigoths, and around 714 AD the Moors conquered Lisbon before it was taken back by the Christians. The architecture in Portugal seamlessly blends these distinctive influences, the effect is candy to the eye, and I’m left with this pressing urge to go tile shopping.
After hours of hiking up gentle rolling hills we arrive at the Santa Catarina viewing point, an intersection that separates Bairro Alto from the neighborhoods of Principe Real, which face the River Tagus. This area is full of pastel painted houses, local restaurants with charming vistas, and inviting neighborhood pubs. Indiscriminately we stop at one for a splash of sangria, cod, and of course a hamburger for Dante. Then on to the RemarqueIt’s, Lisbon’s old town, known as the Alfama district, spread out on the slope between the São Jorge Castle (which we spent an hour touring), and the Tejo river.
Lisbon has a naive theatrical quality that enchants and captivates, but by night it is a fairy-tale city, descending over lighted terraces to the sea, like a woman in festive garments going down to meet her dark lover. – Erich Maria
For dinner we gather at the restored Time Out Market for local wines, pizza, octopus, meats and cheeses, ending the evening lingering over a perfectly aged malt whiskey at a local pub. Sitting in upholstered antique chairs with worn fabric, our feet resting on a shabby wooden coffee table, we reminisce about the days adventures, filled with anticipation for what lies ahead.
Tuesday morning we wake to a brilliant Lisbon storm, Tony joins us for morning coffee, as we marvel at the refreshing showers through the beautiful shuttered windows. The rain dictates our plans for the day, clearly destined for indoor experiences, which means monasteries, museums, and monuments. So naturally we head to the waterfront.
If one were to enter Portugal through the Port of Lisbon instead of the airport, located where the River Tagus and the Atlantic Ocean meet, you would land in a thriving port, located on the western portion of the Iberian Peninsula. Lisbon can not be separated from the ocean, it has 800 kilometers of attractive coastline, but it was the pioneering sailors in the 15th and 16th centuries that had a passion for exploration (remind you of anyone), and Portugal has cultivated a proud tradition of voyage ever since.
Belem Tower is a 16th century structure located at the mouth of the beautiful Tagus river as it gracefully spills into the Atlantic, it serves as both a fortress, and ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. Built during the height of the Portuguese Renaissance, its limestone walls reach four stories into the sky, a metonym for Lisbon. Throngs of tourist visit the tower every year, working their way up the narrow stairs, maybe to imagine how the guardians of this tower felt during a raging storm.
The tower was built on a small island in the Tagus river near the Lisbon shore to protect Lisbon’s port, but it is also the last symbol ones sees when heading out to sea, or returning from a journey. It reminds me of the Statue of Liberty, our colossal neoclassical sculpture on Liberty Island in New York Harbor, a beacon of hope for those entering the land of the free, and home of the brave.
Just up the street is a historic monastery, our next attraction, walking the halls of the Jerónimos Monastery, which began construction on January 6th of 1501, completed 100 years later, puts me in a wistful state of mind. King Manuel originally funded the project which was dedicated to Santa Maria de Belém. The monks of the military-religious Order of Christ provided assistance to seafarers in transit. The harbour of Praia do Restelo was an advantageous spot for mariners, with a safe anchorage, and protection from the winds on a day like today. This is the same location where the explorer Vasco da Gama and his men spent the night in prayer before departing to the Orient in 1497.
Manuel I selected the religious order of Hieronymite monks to occupy the monastery, whose role it was to pray for the King’s eternal soul, and provide spiritual assistance to navigators and sailors who departed from the port. The monks provided this service for four centuries, until 1833, when the religious orders were dissolved, and the monastery was abandoned. As a mother I get it, I’ve spent the better part of my life praying for the eternal souls of my wayward children, who eventually abandon their native residence for more appealing adventures.
After returning to our castle to freshen up, we enjoy a variety of appetizers back at the Time Out Market, before scouring the Pinko Dingo (local grocery store) for dinner supplies. Tony and Thalita join us for a simple pasta dinner, allowing for a relaxing atmosphere in which to converse, and linger around the table. Dante and Kelley end the evening on pink street, a series of modern drinking establishments, noted for it’s distinctive pink painted street. Larry and I opt to catch up on our sleep.
Wednesday found us back in the old part of town, exploring the unique shops, and enticing flavors of Lisbon. We meet up with Tony for lunch at a clandestine location. You literally have to be told about this restaurant, because there are no advertisements, or signage to designate it’s whereabouts. Tony leads us down an ordinary street, after passing through of simple wooden door in the middle of a nondescript building, we clammer up four flights of stairs, which opens to a tidy dining room, and enticing buffet, with an extraordinary outdoor terrace. As we feasted on generous portions of fish, potatoes, salad, and bread our eyes devour the colorful view.
After lunch Larry treats Kelley and I to a pair of hand-made gloves from a local leather shop no bigger than a closet, the woman takes hold of my hand and within seconds perfectly sizes the space between palm and fingertip. I choose a classic grey set while Kelley selects a duel colored pair of gloves with modern styling.
My adorable niece Malia is studying abroad this semester and is able to join us for the holiday. Dante waits for her back at the apartment and they meet up with us as we continue to explore Barrio Alto. Before long we are in need a spot of sangria, cheese, and Portuguese sausage. The swiftness with which I’ve adapted to this lifestyle is alarming, how does one return, because clearly I will no longer fit in any of my clothes!
After freshening up at the apartment Tony and Thalita host us for a night of Fado. In Portuguese, the word fado means fate, but you probably know it as a traditional Portuguese music genre. Its roots are in Alfama and Mouraria where you can still hear many fado performances today. Fado songs are usually connected to the feeling of saudade, a state of nostalgia and yearning for something or someone. Most of the lyrics are about broken hearts, and lost sailors at sea, seems oddly applicable?
We enter this rustic cafe, discreetly located off a dark side street, simple wooden tables (they’re actually repurposed doors) are clustered about the small room, with an eclectic assortment of chairs, and benches, creating a cozy atmosphere for this traditional Portuguese experience of fado, food, and wine. If you listen to the poignant music with your heart, it’s unexpectedly emotional, one I had to closely monitor, or be overwhelmed by tears.
The only thing that matters is to feel the fado. The fado is not meant to be sung; it simply happens. You feel it, you don’t understand it and you don’t explain it. Amália Rodrigues
“Happy Thanksgiving,” I greet Tony when he stops by for coffee. Today Kelley and I are planing on recreating a traditional feast in honor of our American custom, there will be ten of us gathering for dinner, three of whom have never participated in a Thanksgiving celebration. Larry, Dante, Kelley, Thalita, and I meet down at the local butcher to secure a turkey, the butcher has a reputation for being ornery, hence the need for Thilita who speaks the language.
We end up with a thirty pound turkey due to a mixup with kilos and pounds but nonetheless we have the main part of the meal. The men return home with our obese bird while Kelley and I walk a mile or so to the market all uphill, it took us over an hour to dig up the basic ingredients, and then we had to carry it all home. I’m not a doctor but I believe I overextended my elbow?
Kelley and I spent the rest of the day preparing our massive turkey, peeling potatoes, carrots, apples, and garlic, while adjusting recipes to accommodate our limited resources (please check us out at Dinner Unfiltered). We had to improvise a process for creating stale bread crumbs for the dressing, create a rogue for the homemade gravy, and then prepare a glorious apple pie without a pie pan. For the most part things went according to plan, after setting a simple table, Kelley and I found time to gussy up before the guests arrive. It was a most memorable Thanksgiving with all but five of my children (grandchildren) seated around the table. I feel physically and spiritually satiated.
Today, our final day in Lisbon, is one I have been equally looking forward to, and hoping would never come. Larry rented a car with a driver to transport our caravan to Sintra, a coastal region, settled by royalty through the centuries.
Our first stop in Sintra is a tour of Quinta da Regaleira, built at the end of the 19th century in the spirit of romanticism, but this isn’t the only palace in town, the neighborhood is stacked with mansions of the rich, royal, and famous. Not unlike Palm Springs, the Quinta do Relógio, Pena, Monserrate and Seteais palaces have made this their weekend retreat.
The Quinta da Regaleira boasts not only of an exquisite palace and ornate chapel, but a luxurious park that features lakes, grottoes, wells, benches, fountains, and a vast array of mysterious passageways with multiple entry points. The Initiation Well connects to other tunnels via a series of underground walkways, we had to turn on our cell phone lights to explore these dark passageways, trying to imagine the original purpose for such a mysterious labyrinth.
We end our time in Sintra enjoying pastries at Casa Piriquita before meeting up with our driver and heading out to Cascais for shopping and lunch. Our driver made a few unexpected stops for our enjoyment, one at the site of an interior lake, and finally a beer break at Cape St. Vincent, sacred ground in Neolithic times, also known as the most western tip of the known world.
According to legend, the name of this cape is linked to the story of the martyred fourth-century Iberian deacon St. Vincent whose body was brought ashore for burial. A shrine was erected over his grave, always guarded by ravens, and therefore named Church of the Raven.
Cascais is a coastal resort town, just west of Lisbon, known for its sandy beaches and busy marina. The old town is home to the medieval Nossa Senhora da Luz Fort, and the Citadel Palace, a former royal retreat. Nearby is the whitewashed Nossa Senhora da Assunção church, with glazed azulejo tiles. It’s sort of a blend between Santa Crus and Carmel with a twist of Monterey for spike.
We enjoy a relaxing lunch at a local cafe. I believe it was Tony’s third visit to this same establishment. Most everyone enjoys some variety of fresh fish, I choose the bass, baked in butter, and served with fresh vegetables. The seafood in Portugal is renown but the eyeballs staring at you from your plate is mildly disturbing.
Returning to the apartment, we rest up for our final evening, except Kelley, who finishes cleaning up the kitchen from our Thanksgiving feast. We head over to Tony and Thalita’s around five for a glass of wine, and then on to Taberna do Barata, Tony’s favorite restaurant for dinner. This is what you call a dining experience, the owner is warm, welcoming, and very theatrical.
Our evening starts off with our eccentric host performing a Sabrage, a technique for opening a champagne bottle with a saber, normally used for ceremonial occasions, and I believe our final meal together certainly qualifies. The wielder slides the saber along the body of the bottle to break the top of the neck away, leaving the bottle open, and ready to pour. There is no menu, you enjoy what you are served, and part of the experience is the mystery of what is to come next, pacing yourself is essential, because the food is more than plentiful.
“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” James Michener
On the way home we stop in at a local wine bar for a night cap, hoping to prolong our final evening, maybe we’re all overwhelmed with a sense of Saudade. Walking up to Tony’s apartment to retrieve our abandoned coats, we utter our final good-byes, reaching for my boy, holding him close, whispering, “I love you,” never gets easier.
We travel for many reasons, some of which involve discovery, a peek into the lives of our neighbor, but often there is something specific we are seeking, the wistful desires of the heart. If longing for me is an impulse for words, a way to embrace impossible emotions, than I have certainly touched on the sanctity of three things…my heart, my compass, my northern star.
I’m Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, we’ll sing our sorrows.
Lisbon, to me,
is the Lisbon of Pessoa.
Just like London is Woolf’s,
or rather, Mrs. Dalloway’s.
Barcelona is Gaudí’s
and Rome is da Vinci’s.
You see them in every crevice
and hear their echoes
in every cathedral.
I’d like to be the child,
or rather, the mother of a city
but I neither have a home
nor a resting place.
My race is humankind.
My religion is kindness.
My work is love
and, well, my city
is the walls of your heart.
― Kamand Kojouri
PS – Julie was aghast to learn I purposely dropped the eastern reference in the title in favor of the lone North which went well with the northern start symbolism at the conclusion. I call this a writers prerogative, but the truth is Portugal is North/East of California, bahaha.
Saturday – Day 7 travel home
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What a wonderful adventure! I love the way you describe your experiences, including so many of the emotions you were feeling. Thanks for sharing your travels. Lisbon is now on my bucket list!
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Good read and I love the beer dispenser.
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Wow this sounds amazing! I have always wanted to travel to Portugal and it seems that there is a lot of interesting + fun things to do there.
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