Just six weeks in and we were welcoming our first visitors. My niece, Kate and her beau, Liam arrived on Saturday, February 29. Kate is my youngest sister’s only daughter. She and Liam flew in from Paris where they had spent the prior four days celebrating her 24th birthday. We weren’t sure how we were going to top Paris, but we were going to give it our best effort!
The weather, which had been glorious the entire week prior to their arrival, was very fickle throughout the weekend, but we didn’t let it spoil our plans and the sun finally came out in full on Monday, the day before they left. Neither of them had been to Lisbon and since we haven’t been here very long, it was going to be a sight-seeing and learning experience for everyone.
Won did a great job navigating to the airport without any assistance; however, once there it turned into a Keystone Kops episode with wrong turns, rerouting, dead-ends, missed calls, and frantic messaging (“We are at Door 3 near the Amoreiras billboard; Liam’s tall and I’m wearing an orange sweater”). Thankfully, they were smart enough to eventually send a Google locator signal and we all connected. We now know where Terminal 2 is as well as the difference between Terminal 1 departures and arrivals. Note to all future visitors: We’ve got it nailed down now.
Once in the car, and after Sweet Pea had finished jumping from back seat to front seat repeatedly to say hello, we got caught up on the latest and greatest. The last time we had seen them was at a family gathering in California two years ago. We drove back to our place and dropped off the pooch for a much needed nap (driving anywhere completely exhausts her).
We then headed to Entraguas a lovely restaurant on the coastline in Cascais with great views of the ocean. Neither Won, nor I had dined there, but it came highly recommended. Over a lunch of delicious fish entrees, we learned more about their current studies and future plans.
Liam is in the last year of his Maritime Archaeology masters program at the University of Southampton in the UK. He will finish his academic classes in June of this year and spend the following three months writing and eventually defending his dissertation. Kate, who attends the University of British Columbia in Vancouver Canada, just received grant money to shift from a maters to a doctorate in Forest Disturbance Ecology. Her research focuses on how climate change, wildfires and the bark beetle are negatively impacting the natural balance of tree life cycles in Canadian forests. This means she will be staying in Vancouver for another two years which bodes well for their relationship since Liam and his family are from Vancouver. Liam plans to return to British Columbia after defending his thesis in late September; however, we’re hoping to entice them back to Portugal for some rest and relaxation before he heads home to be begin working. Eventually, they both want to teach at the university level.
Kate and Liam have a great time together. They met while both attending St. Andrews University in Scotland. You can tell they are best friends by the way they laugh at the same cultural references and shared memories while always being aware of the other’s needs and comfort. They share a fun-loving, sweet, goofiness of character and both think and speak super fast. And, while it’s blatantly obvious that they are really smart, they don’t take themselves too seriously and are easy to chat with on a wide range of topics.
After lunch, we strolled along the promenade taking in the lovely views of Cascais.
Because our second bedroom is tiny and Liam is 1.93 meters (6’4″), we felt they would be more comfortable at a hotel, so we put them up at Clube do Lago, which is less than a five minute walk to our apartment. That evening we dined at home and discussed what to see and do the next day. Since Liam is studying to become a maritime archaeologist, we decided to start with the Portuguese Maritime Naval Museum in Belem. The museum is managed by the Portuguese Navy and occupies a part of the western wing of the Jerónimos Monastery.
The history of the museum is connected to King Luís I (1838-1889), an accomplished navigator who had a strong interest in oceanographic studies. In 1863 he began collecting items related to the preservation of maritime history of Portugal which eventually culminated in the Maritime Museum which was established in 1963.
The exhibits include historical paintings, archaeological items, scale models of ships used in Portugal since the 15th century, a collection of navigation instruments and maps, and several royal barges. We were all really impressed with the artifacts and learned a lot. Liam was able to explain certain types of boat building techniques.
After the museum it was time for lunch. We had done some research the night before and found a great little place called O Prado within walking distance of the museum. As we walked there we passed the famous Pastelaria de Belem. They are known for their pasteis de natas (a delicious custard-style pastry)! We agreed to circle back after lunch.
We popped into O Prado and were shown to a table at the back. As is nearly the case in all places Won and I have been to, the menus were in both Portuguese and English. Won ordered a fish and rice stew, Liam a pork dish, and Kate and I settled on the grilled hake (a delicate flaky white fish). I had had hake when we were in San Sebastian, Spain in 2018 and remembered how delicious and delicate the filet was. Imagine my surprise when they brought the WHOLE fish!! And, not just one, but TWO – each!
Won was thrilled! He loves a good whole fish. Me??? Not so much. I prefer not to look into the eye of my lunch or dinner. Egad. Oh well, I thought, here goes nothing. Kate didn’t seem put off by the challenge and dove right in. Eventually, I figured out how to dissect my fish and enjoyed it immensely, however, I think I burned more calories deboning and removing the skin than eating it!
After lunch we realized the National Coach Museum was practically across the street so we decided to take advantage of the proximity and walked over. Wow!! This was an amazing collection of coaches used by both royalty and other wealthy people of the 17th and 18th centuries. The museum was established in 1905.
After the stunning coaches, it was time for a treat and headed straight for Pastelaria de Belem for their world-famous pasteis de natas and they didn’t disappoint.
With the yummy pastries in our tummies, we walked back to the Jeronimos Monestery, bought tickets to see the beautiful cloisters and stopped in to see the Church of Santa Maria (which did not require a ticket). Jeronimos Monestary is a former monastery of the Order of Saint Jerome and was secularized on December 28, 1833 by state decree. The monastery is one of the most prominent examples of the Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style of architecture and was classified a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Within the church are the stone tombs of Vasco da Gama (1468–1523), and of the great poet and chronicler of the Age of Discoveries, Luis de Camoes (1527–1580).
That evening we dined at Villa Seboia, a local restaurant about a 10 minute walk from our house. After a small communication breakdown with our server, Liam finally received a delicious hamburger – minus the buns. Apparently they had run out?!?! With that behind us, he asked Won about his time with the Los Angeles Police Department and then we spent the next two hours laughing until our sides ached at all of his antics and experiences during that time.
By Monday morning the weather had cleared so we headed into Lisbon and started with the stately Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square). We walked along the waterfront taking in the vibrancy of the area and looked out across the Tagus River.
We stopped in at Timeout Market for lunch. Timeout Market is a large food and beverage hall with food stalls representing some of the most sought-after restaurants in the city. Fresh off an eclair tasting exercise in Paris, we decided Kate and Liam needed to do the same with the pasteis de natas, and since they had tasted the pasteis de Belem the day before, they tried two other options and discussed the qualities of all. They recommended I create a tasting sheet to capture notes so everyone who visits can track their own preferences and likes. I’ll get right on that!
We were all fueled up and ready to tackle the walk to Castelo de São Jorge. São Jorge Castle is a historic castle located in Lisbon. Human occupation of the castle hill dates to at least the 8th century BC while the first fortifications built date from the 1st century BC. We climbed the 1,345,689,339,447,203,129 steps to get to the top. OK…that might have been a bit of an over-exaggeration, but it nearly killed me!!! Did I mention it was on a hill???? Once we caught our breath and wiped the sweat from our brows, we could take in the views and they were worth the effort to get there. They were breath-taking! The entire time we were at the castle we were serenaded by the calls of about a dozen peacocks and peahens. Most were in a very tall tree, but there was one peacock that seemed to love having his picture taken.
On the way back down the hill, we happened across Pastelaria Santo Antonio, which had a sign on the outside claiming it had been named #1 in pasteis de nata. Well!! You just can’t pass up an opportunity like that, so we all got one and conducted our taste test. Personally, I thought this one was the best (excellent creaminess, a delicate, but balanced custard flavor, a flaky crust, and no cinnamon or powdered sugar needed), but everyone else thought the pasteis de Belem was better. Whatever.
We headed home to get Sweet Pea, drop off Liam at the hotel to get some homework done, and took off for Guincho Beach before the sun set so Kate could put her toes in the sand. My well-organized hubby pulled out an extra jacket and windbreaker from the trunk of the car so Kate and I were comfortable as we strolled along the windy beach. Sweet Pea played and ran her legs off and we all marveled at the power and beauty of the waves.
Another casual dinner at home that night while we discussed the highlights of our time together. Kate and Liam’s flight the next morning was at 7AM so they had an early wake up call ahead of them. We loved having them here and we truly hope they will come back for another visit. While we packed in as much as we could, it only just scratched the surface. Portugal is a beautiful and fascinating country with so much to see and do.
Won, Sweet Pea, and I slipped back into our regular routine the following day, and Kate and Liam sent a note to tell us they had made it back to the UK safely.
The next big milestone for us will be our interviews with Portuguese immigration on March 18. They will take place in the town of Braga located in the north of Portugal. This is a big one folks!! If we are successful, we’ll have our residency cards and can finally relax and exhale. Until then,
From Portugal with love,