There is most of life, and then there is Portugal.
This is what I'm thinking as Elyse and I jolt through the streets, our cab driver gesticulating at us and peeping into the rearview mirror, swerving badly, the sunlight pouring onto the graffiti and overhanging vines, the F.C. PORTO flags and underwear curling over railings.
I should back up a minute. I've been dying for a trip, a new POV, a change of scene. And so, sitting at Elyse's dining room table in Clinton Hill in January, we book a $500 round trip ticket, confirm a wine tour, and die a little through our hoodie-up hangovers. It's a done deal.
Cut to 4 months later and 24 hours of travel (NYC to Madrid, quick pit stop for jamon x queso toast and a dank cappuccino, walk through the Riteiro, and a delayed/painful EasyJet flight) and we're in Lisbon.
It's heaven, from the jump.
We're staying at the Casa de Barao - a family home from the 1800s converted into a sleepy BnB - where our host has brought us pear tart and port wine in cut crystal glasses. This place is the most beautiful hotel I've ever seen; a lemon tree garden for breakfast, family library with palm fronds and leather chairs, and quiet hum of incense and candles burning, and cigarettes lit on the steps outside. Our room is on the 3rd floor, our terrace overlooking the ocean and lemon and rose dusted buildings, the floor an oceanic blue that's been scuffled by god knows how many drunk Americans (and here's two more).
We shower, drink a few glasses of port (it's only right) and wander down the street to Cantinho de Bem Estar for lemon, parsley, olive oil clams, and fried fish fillets with stewed tomato and rice, and our first carafe of vinho verde (are you there, God? it's me, Remy).
I'll take a minute here for a quick shout out to Elyse who has traveled thus far with an *101* degree fever and strep throat, but is never one to be put off from a fcking good time. We go to sleep in our hotel robes, like peasants in a gorgeous quarantine, and wake up on Wednesday ready to hit the ground running.
After breakfast in the lemon grove of my dreams (fresh squeezed orange - pineapple juice, homemade Lisboa loaves and strawberry jam) next to our chain smoking German friends (who woke us up at 1am to complain of a leaking shower), we head out for the day.
Lisbon is gorgeous -- a familiar but unfamiliar blend of Spanish, Parisian, and Brazilian (at least to my mind) that constantly surprises you with its landscape. The crumbling buildings, egg shell VW vans, pink, green, yellow floral tile, steep, never-ending curling hills and steps, the fizzy vinho verde -- this is the kind of place that makes you feel you've been in black and white forever, and now can finally become technicolor.
And the FOOD. The food, the food, the food. It cannot be emphasized enough, it will stay with me forever.
The first incredible meal happens at A Cevicheria in Bairro Alto (a hip neighborhood which feels like Paris x Spain fused), where we sip pisco sours (their speciality) on the street, nestled amidst motorcycles and some somber looking Brits who love the spot so much that they've returned on their second day. We sit at the counter and order a smattering of plates - BBQ octopus (with an other-worldy, almost scary delicious black mashed potato puree, and roast onion), tuna ceviche with keffir lime, tiger milk tapioca, and the Portuguese ceviche (with lupin beans and fresh tomato). Ever the curious and unabashed eaters, we're asking our waiter (an off season fisherman) all sorts of questions. Turns out the octopus is so perfectly taut because it's been frozen for 3 weeks and boiled for 2 hours, increasing the tension of the arms. And the drop of ruby on top of the Pisco Sours? That's a secret they won't tell. The food is both clean and opulent, and beautifully plated by the three chefs who thread around each other. We shout "Obrigado!" and head to the train to Sintra, where castles await.
I lived in Rome for a few months and have always loved train rides in Europe; it sometimes feels like the most authentic way to see the place. The sketchy highway advertisements, fellow travelers, and cheap snacks are all a portrait of the landscape. We zip along on a suburban commuter, and then take a tuk tuk to the mountain top where Pena Palace is waiting for us. The home of the last king of Portugal, this place is nothing short of epic. The lemony facade, watery tile, overhanging flowers bending into over the cliffs, jagged and scalloped wall edges into the forest below, endless kitchen with its endless copper pots (#YYF approved) -- the entire thing feels like "Sound of Music" meets William Sonoma days of yore. Elyse and I have what I like to call a "castle cappuccino" on the terrace, looking down into the green below. Kind of boggles my mind that we are in a country with so much history and competing influences, which you feel in the language (which sounds like a blend between Spanish, Italian, Russian and Celtic) and in the landscape (at once suburban, magical and decrepit).
I'm loving every minute of this place, which is objectively a traveler's paradise.
That evening we meander through some construction sites and winding steps (the steps never end) to Jesus e Goes -- a Goan restaurant on a tiny little street. It's here that we have 2 euro caiprinihas (one of my favorite things about this country is the Brazilian cocktails at every turn) and delicious curry fish stew, shrimp samosas and chat with chef Jesus about his stint on Netflix, and why his seafood curry is the best in the land (spoiler: he's very confident).
The next morning - Thursday - we shlep our luggage to the piazza and have pasteis de nata and cappuccinos. This delicacy falls under a RCP invented subcategory called "church girl pastries." This Portuguese speciality actually originated in convents; egg whites were used to starch habits and gowns, and - as waste as a sin - the leftovers were used to create these delicious little cakes which are as big as your palm and are made of slightly blistered egg whites, baked into a soft buttery crust. Needless to say, I ate them throughout the trip (we discovered they are more delicious in Lisboa than Porto, but more on that later).
I take a million distracting food pics, sketch in my travel journal, and we call an uber. It's time for the next leg of the journey: the 15:39 to Porto Campahna.