Dona and Joe’s European Vacation: 2019 Version – Day 3-5

Sorry that we haven’t been able to blog for a few days—the touring schedule and its resulting exhaustion haven’t left any time for creativity. But it’s the night before we leave for Barcelona, so here’s a recap of what Dona and I (and sisters and in-laws, see below) have been up to for the past three days.

Christmas was relatively quiet, but we did want to get out for dinner. We had tried to make reservations for dinner prior to leaving the states, but each time we did the restaurant decided to close instead for Christmas, so we arrived here reservation-less. On top of that, tour guide Daniela (see Day 2’s blog), told us we’d have little hope of finding an authentic spot for dinner. So we headed out in the afternoon to see what might be open later. Along the way we stumbled upon a park that included lots of wild chickens, Muscovy ducks, and a most interesting memorial to Dr. José Tomás de Sousa Martins (7 March 1843 – 18 August 1897). He was a doctor renowned for his work among the poor in Lisbon, Portugal. After his death, a secular cult arose around his personality, in which he is thanked for “miraculous” cures.

The memorial shrine for Dr. José Tomás de Sousa Martins. Photo by Dona

Ten thousand steps later (Dona is using her app to track this) we had located a couple of hotel restaurants that would be open. Better than the tourist traps downtown, but you know…hotels. Upscale tourist fare. We thought it would have to do.

But on the way back to our AirBnB, we passed by the doorway of Sommelier, a place about a block from our flat, which we had assumed was a wine bar. As it was late afternoon, I suggested a glass. One of the interesting aspects of Lisbon (and many other old cities) is that the outsides of businesses don’t give much hint to what’s inside. Sommelier is a great example. It turned out to be a beautiful restaurant, which just happened to have a special Christmas menu. So we made a reservation and came back later, for what proved to be one of the most enjoyable evenings in memory. Seven courses, each accompanied by a hand-picked wine, and all amazing. Try Gambas a la Guillo, Oxtail and Veal Croquettes, Pan Fried Salmon, Filet Mignon, Port Wine Brownie, and on and on. If you’re ever in Lisbon, do check them out.

Thursday was our day trip to Sintra, to visit the Castelo dos Mouros and Pena Palace. I thought Lisbon was hilly. Both of these places were on the peaks of mountains, and even with taxis to near the entrances it was still a climb. Once inside the Castelo it got even more precarious, as Dona and I visited the outer walls. You get a real sense of how different life was centuries ago from trying to scale the narrow stone steps in a cold wind. This was something the guards and servants did every day back then. For us modern softies it was a once in a lifetime climb. The view, though, was worth it. The palace was nice too, and all the steps were at least inside. No one was particularly thrilled with the rooms and history, though. A matter of taste.

Friday we trekked to Castelo de São Jorge, which sits at the city’s highest point, overlooking everything from the Tagus River to inland as far as the eye can see. Lots more history here—parts of the castle date from the eighth century—as well as about a dozen live peacocks strolling the grounds. We went from there to the excavation site of a Roman amphitheater, and then back through the downtown streets, which were packed with tourists and locals. Tough to navigate, but that didn’t stop Dona and me from stocking up on souvenirs and gifts for relatives and friends.

From left: Brian (Joe’s brother-in-law), Carol (Joe’s sister), Lisa (Joe’s sister and Brian’s wife), Joe, and Dona. Photo by Mike (Carol’s husband—we’ll get him in soon).

On to Barcelona tomorrow morning, so it may be another couple of days before we’re able to blog again.

– Dona and Joe