Exploring Alfama

The next day I am alone. The girls have decided to take a tour of the Douro Valley.

Maybe I should have gone, but city-hopping in Italy wore me out a bit, and I’m content to explore little niches of Lisbon. I decide this will be the day that I visit the cathedral and the museum of St. Anthony located next to the church that stands where he was born. We lucked out with our Airbnb location in the Alfama, because it is so close to most of the things I wanted to see in Lisbon…even if it means stairs and hills.

Cool tree heading down the hill. Women tourists in particular seemed to feel compelled to climb this tree and ask their husbands or boyfriends to take a photo of them playing the part of wood nymph. Fascinating.

There is a woman who appears to be Romani begging on the steps. I give her a coin and she thanks me. Maybe too profusely for my comfort, if I’m being honest.

The cathedral is beautiful, if sparse by Italian and French standards. There is a display that explains the history of the location – its use by Romans when they controlled the area, then as the site of a mosque when the Moors controlled Lisbon, then as the site of the cathedral.

View from Varandim Balcony on the front of the cathedral.

Leaving the cathedral, the Romani woman begs from me again. She either doesn’t recognize me, or she does recognize that I’m a sucker. I give her another coin. Because yes, I am a sucker that way.

Just down the hill, past the trinket vendors and the rickshaw and tuk-tuk drivers, is the museum and church dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua. I first stop at a restaurant next door (called “Dear Breakfast…” Not everything translates well, apparently) to eat and recharge my phone. The servers are cheerful, young, and friendly, and are happy to accommodate both my table-near-a-charger request and my make-my-avocado-toast-vegan-with-mushrooms-instead-of-egg request.

Yes, I had craft beer with my brekkie. As did our Founding Fathers. If it’s good enough for them…who am I to buck American tradition? Also, feast your gaze on my beautiful toast.

I know not everyone is as interested in church-y stuff as I am, so I’ll just add another slideshow below of the museum through which you may scroll at will. But I am going to add that St. Anthony was a follower of St. Francis, and I am partial to the Franciscan charism. St. Anthony is popular around the world, and the museum had many examples of artwork honoring him, along with an interactive slideshow of his life.

And then a French girl took my photo in front of the wall of flowers outside the museum…merci, French girl!

A very popular photo spot for obvious reasons.

On the way back UP the hill, I checked out the outside of this museum with plans to visit in the next day or so. Very fascinating.

I have my thoughts about this in relation to our current political scene, and if you know me well enough and want to ask, I am happy to share my thoughts with you over a beer. Or coffee. Your choice.

The famous Trolley 28 coming down the hill loaded with tourists.

I also decided I HAD to compare Lisbon’s beer, Sagres, to Porto’s beer, Super Bock. So I picked a cold one up, along with an impulse buy of a can of sardine paté since my traveling companions have been raving about it since their food tour on Day 1, with some crackers upon which to spread said paté. I took a cold shower, threw on my kimono, and sat with my delicacies next to our gorgeous view.

I ain’t gonna lie, the paté tasted like cat food smells. But also kinda good. Is that weird? That’s weird. Right? 😼

Took a nap. Woke up. Decided that yes, I WOULD do the touristy thing and go to a fado dinner. This place was owned by a family, overseen by the mother who was an older woman with an elegant, sweeping grey updo held in place by combs, a flowing grey-and-black kaftan, big silver jewelry, the floating gait of a dancer, and the posture of a woman in charge. She showed me to my table, then spent the evening gliding between this restaurant and another non-fado restaurant owned by the family around the corner, managed by her more waif like daughter – Audrey Hepburn to her mother’s Liz Taylor.

And here is my fado dinner experience for you to enjoy vicariously.

It is tremendously difficult to climb 1,342 stone steps with a belly full of bread, olives, wine (and more wine), vegetables, rice, dessert, and espresso. Just so you know. But I finally reached the front door to our apartment, and the girls were waiting on a bench eating pizza. We climbed more (yes more!) stairs to the apartment, shared highlights of the day, and crashed into bed.

(This was posted a week after my return home.)

Peacocks, Puro, and Piña Coladas

By the second day in Lisbon, Phoenix and Avalon needed a break from their itinerary, so I went out to run errands, then Phoenix and I got pastries and coffee while Avalon lingered at the apartment.

Yummy pastel de nata in the neighborhood. I noticed even a few of the Airbnb cleaning crews stopping in for coffee.

We wandered over to check out Castelo São Jorge. I was worried the 10€ entry fee would not be worth it, but it totally was.

COOL shade under mature trees, kiosks where you can buy a cold drink while you sit and soak in the view, and interesting things to see walking through the grounds.

And peacocks! With peacock babies!

A climb through the ruins of the old castle itself…

…and we were ready for an ice cream break.

(Sidenote: I sincerely hope that is only what my voice sounds like when I speak to peacocks…!)

So was this handsome lad.

We found a restaurant we wanted to go to and decided that the 30 minute walk would be perfect to give us a good appetite before dinner.

AT the CASTLE exit! The guard said it’s for stray cats so they have food, shelter and medical care. He said he’s told the administration that they need to repaint it and that tourists like it. I asked him if he liked it, too, and he smiled very big and said, “Yes, me, too.” ♥️

40 minutes later (of course uphill in the heat), we wondered if it actually WAS worth it…

Nice family park with lots of ducks AND dogs.

Finally reached the restaurant and it was SO worth it. Very friendly staff, great food, and we laughed all through dinner.

I recommend Puro! Only a few vegan options, more vegetarian options, but great food and super nice people working there.

We took an Uber back to Miradouro de Santa Luzia (Phoenix was spent on walking and agreed to walk the stairs 5x with me if we agreed to Uber), and bought a 15€ piña colada in a pineapple to share. Phoenix only drank a bit, so I drank the rest, because 15€, come on, I am getting my money’s worth! (If you know, you know.)

Avalon helped by eating the pineapple pieces…

Phoenix kept her end of the bargain and even did a 6th stair circuit.

The end.

Óla, Lisbon!

I read somewhere that when they found Ghislaine Maxwell, she was hiding away in a rural farmhouse on a 156 acre property that she had purchased in New Hampshire. She had wrapped her cell phone in aluminum foil, thinking that that would put FBI agents off of her trail. Silly, silly Ghislaine. If she had been smart, she would have hidden away in the Lisbon neighborhood of Alfama. Eighth century Moors planned labyrinthine streets that outsmart 21st century Google maps. Go figure.

After my 5th “rerouting” trying to find breakfast, I am no longer finding this funny. Especially when it turned out my 20-minute uphill walk could have been a 5-minute walk but for Google’s evil sadism that led me on a nonsensical route…

Also, remember how you used to roll your eyes when your parents said they walked to school in 6 feet of snow, uphill both ways? Ridiculous. Unless they were from Lisbon, then yes, totally uphill both ways, and 97 degree heat instead of snow. There are no downhills in Lisbon.

The above are just a couple of photos of the hills that are everywhere here.

Our first day in Lisbon day started in Porto’s famous São Bento train station…

…and 3 1/2 hours later our taxi driver was dropping us in Alfama (“That’s as close as I can get you…no cars allowed,” he said). As they dragged their big suitcases up the infinite stairs of the pedestrian-only Alfama walkways, the girls were regretting all their life choices (“I’m staying in a hotel next time!” “I’m packing lighter next time!”), but once we got to the apartment, the view was worth it.

Looks like the sea, but it’s the Tagus River.

Phoenix is a super-planner, so the girls* have had tours planned almost every day, and they hit the ground running with a food tour as soon as they got to Lisbon. I prefer free exploration, so I wandered off to find lunch and discovered this oasis around the corner from our apartment. Best vegan melt everrrr!

*I say “girls,” but one is in her 20s and one is in her 30s, which just shows you how OLD I am relative to them.

See that church across the way? That’s the church of Saint Michael. I accidentally ended up attending Mass without planning on it, because I went inside to take a look and then sat down for a few minutes because it was nice and cool, and suddenly Mass started and it seemed too awkward at that point to leave! Luckily it was a weekday so it was a short mass…

Post-lunch wandering I discovered what a perfect neighborhood we were in…our apartment is one (long, of course) flight of stairs below Miradouro de Santa Luzia.

Plus easy walking distance from the Cathedral, the castle, St. Anthony’s, and more. Phenomenal. Worth every step.

Mmmmmwwwellll…check back with me in a couple of days on that…

Last Day in Porto

On my last morning in Porto, a black cat gazed past me with half-mast eyes and a glazed expression that clearly said, you don’t even deserve to be in my line of sight, traitor.

All I had done was say hello to the dog that was barking eagerly at all the cats in the courtyard from his balcony above. It doesn’t have to be like this you know, cat. Doesn’t have to be like this.

Tell that to the dog, sneered the cat, as she turned her face fully away from me now.

O Porto dos Gatos is a super fantastic vegan cat cafe on Rua Rodrigues de Freitas in Porto. A beautiful restaurant courtyard and a cozy kitty parlor are where cats reign supreme. (Finally, the grey and white one commented to me with a yawn as she readjusted her position in her kitty bed . I don’t know what’s gone wrong since Egypt, but at least someone aims to give us our due. She looked at me pointedly before laying her head back with an upturned chin to warm her throat in the sun’s rays just beginning to peek over the wall.) Plus an indoor restaurant with more traditional seating and no cats.

My “special ‘cat-chorro'” (a play on the words cachorro, dog or hot dog, and cat) was good but I was a little disappointed that it was just a variation on a francesinha. The orange cake with coconut and guava, however, was a treat!

Walked around a new neighborhood or two.

On my last afternoon in Porto, I found a little hole-in-the wall in the middle of a long staircase down to the river. Along with bacalhau (salt cod – or as my family calls it, the Italian baccalá), sardines are a specialty of this area, so I sat at a teetering little table on one of the wide steps, and ordered a couple of sardines, a cod fritter, a tomato salad, and a beer.

The preparation of the sardines was quite a production. There was a little charcoal grill balanced on the step in front of my table, and a man came out with two fresh sardines and a fan. He had to flap the fan quite a bit to get the coals going again.

My attempt to unobtrusively snap the grill production…it’s in the upper left of the frame.

Since I don’t speak Portuguese, I used Google translate to say to the waiter, “It seems like a lot of work for two little fish…!” He laughed.

The sardines were good and the beer was cold and I liked that this was a little hideaway with a few tourists but not overrun with them. No view, no fancy drinks, nothing but about 8 items on the menu and 4 small tables on the stairs.

Then a detour further down along the river where there were no tourists before heading back to the apartment.

(Oh, I passed Castro on the way back and stopped for a coffee and pastel de nata. It was just there, what could I do??)

On my last night in Porto, I attended church in the park. The people were the body and Wish You Were Here was the hymn and myriad seagulls flew through the sky like cherubim, and people partook of wine and bread and tortilla chips together on the hill and participated in the Liturgy of Sunsets in many languages but also one, and marveled at the mystery of our very own star disappearing again in a blaze of color, even knowing the magic of sunrise and sunset would happen again tomorrow, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

The congregation applauded.
Watching from the monastery
I brought Mateus rosé both because I see it everywhere and because my mom said my dad brought a bunch back from Portugal when he was stationed hete.
Monastery at dusk
I choose to believe this reads “Hi D-R.” That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.i

A Checklist

Do Laundry – Check

I always travel with a laundry line…good thing it’s a long one, needed to hold three people’s laundry this time!

Round 2 of Pastel de Nata and coffee from Castro (before and after souvenir shopping) – Check

Still cannot get over how good this is…

Take skycab down to the river – Check

View from the skycab

Get lunch at a cute little all-you-can-eat vegan buffet in the mercado – Check

Good stuff!


What are the odds?? So happy to see Serenity!

Walk back home to take a nap and then make another yummy vegan dinner – Check

Trying to use up groceries! Salad with mustard and red wine dressing on the left, pasta with vegan chorizo, chickpeas, carrots, green olives, vegan butter, and vegan cheese on the right…sounds odd but it was all tasty.

Make plans for the next day, possibly involving felines, botanical gardens, and sunsets – Check

Porto Ramble

I’m sharing an Airbnb with the adult daughters of a friend I’ve known since high school. Which means I’ve known Phoenix and Avalon since they were little sea monkeys in Mama’s belly. It’s worked out perfectly because Phoenix has planned a packed itinerary for them, so I get to do my own thing during the day and then we meet up at night for dinner.

But today they had no plans,so we spent the day wandering around Porto together.

We have brunch down by the river, buy some souvenirs, then happen across a teeny shop that specializes in pastel de nata. Our only other experience with Portugal’s famous pastry was one we picked up at the supermarket, and we were underwhelmed. We decided to give it another shot.

Oh. My. GARSH. First bite and my eyes rolled back in my head. Fresh, warm, creamy pastel de nata is BLISSSSSSSS. I am taking a class in Lisbon on how to veganize Portuguese food, and I really hope this is on the “syllabus…”

More wandering…Phoenix is on the hunt for a big market like she enjoyed in Spain, so we continue on through neighborhoods and parks to reach our destination….

…practicing Italian (“Dovremmo trovare una farmacia”), stopping at a pharmacy because Avalon and I forgot to apply sunscreen and are getting pink, and finally reaching the market.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the type of market she thought it was, it was more of a gourmet food court, but luckily there was a cute little cocktail bar – a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Avalon’s Blue Lagoon. Very pretty with the orange…my “adult slushie,” a passion fruit daiquiri, was amazing, though.

More walking…

…before going to have dinner and gelato (them) and coffee (me) to end the day.

Third Day in Porto

It’s like Russian and Spanish had a baby and named it Portuguese.

I attended Mass at the Cathedral in Porto yesterday. In Italy I could strain and get the gist of the service, but in Porto my brain is mush – it is stuck in a holding pattern, oscillating between trying to translate the sounds it hears as alternately Slavic and Romance. But I can tell where to insert some of the responses, so I do. At the end of Mass the priest switches to English to thank everyone who came to celebrate from different countries – and there are Irish, Korean, French, American, German, and Spanish, among others. On the way out he high-fives a toddler who has been dancing in the aisles throughout the service.

When we exit, the morning rain has vanished, the sun is shining, the square in front of the cathedral has become filled with people, and a busker is playing American folk songs beautifully on his guitar. It felt like when you leave the Church after a wedding and everyone is ready for the party.

It’s my 3rd day in Porto, but my activities have been extremely limited because I found out I had a close contact with someone who was positive for Covid. I didn’t feel ill at all, and daily tests have been negative 4 days out from last exposure, but I’ve only been able to go to the pharmacy to pick up COVID tests, the market for food (both fully masked), or take walks outside away from others. This is my second close contact exposure on the trip, and I’m counting my blessings I seem to have dodged a bullet both times.

Daily Covid test – negative again 🤞🤞🤞

Since I’m staying in one spot for the whole week and not traveling with others who are non-veg*n, it’s been easier to eat mostly vegan in Portugal. I’m not strict, especially when I travel, and I already ate a non-vegan dessert, but mostly it’s been vegan even at restaurants. Hooray!

Two vegan/vegan-friendly restaurants I enjoyed (before knowing about my COVID exposure…) were Árvore do Mundo and Essencia – both super delicious. Essencia is high-end, Árvore do Mundo is a chill cafe that reminded me of San Francisco.

Along with being vegan-friendly, Porto seems very LGBTQ-friendly. On the metro platform at the airport, there was a big poster explaining what it meant to be bisexual, then through the window of the metro we passed by a poster explaining what a lesbian was. Not sure if this was for Pride month or is par for the course, but I appreciate it. I’ve seen a few same sex couples walking around openly. I wish I had taken a photo of the posters,but I was focused on trying to figure out public transport at the moment…!

After Mass I walked around a bit, then went home to eat.

… before deciding to go port-tasting down by the river.

Living my best life…when I saw the pours I decided I’d better settle in with my book and make an afternoon of it! Port is already stronger-than-your-average wine. PS: Not a vegan experience. First of all I went with the suggested cheese, but halfway through I found out via the vintners’ website that port is somehow itself not vegan…but I enjoyed myself immensely, which is what I’m here for.
My view for the afternoon.

And a (slightly weaving, very smiley) meander back home when I was finished.

There’s No Place Like Rome

David is sleeping in at the hotel and I go two doors down for pizza and beer. I’m sitting at an outdoor table and an older woman sits at the table next to me. She is limping along with a forearm crutch. She sets a beer on her table and looks at me.

It’s too hot to eat anything,” she says in Italian.

Soooo hot!” I agree.

We drink our beers and she asks where I’m from. Her brother’s daughter is studying in LA. No, she’s never gone to see her. Last year she was hit by a car and was in a hospital bed for three months, then a wheelchair for another three. With physical therapy, she’s been able to get around with the crutch, but can’t travel more than an hour or two by train before it becomes uncomfortable. Yes, yes, she does like to travel, only been a few places, but she always comes back to Rome. Yes that’s right, Rome is where her heart is.

We finish our beers and she wishes me a good day, shakes my hand, and we agree the conversation has been a pleasure.

These are my favorite things about travel.

“Hey, guys, I feel like I’m in a dream, I can’t believe I am here in Rome with you!”

Matteo is soaking wet from a post-workout shower. Still the same hilarious, outgoing, now-24-year-old trying to figure out his place in the world. His latest plan is to move to Dubai to become a physical trainer.

For now.

We meet my mom and Gary for dinner. Gary just arrived and is still a bit jet-lagged after a very turbulent flight. Conversation is animated and punctuated by laughter, as it always is with Matteo.

Funny guy!

Matteo makes plans to meet me at an open pharmacy tomorrow morning to help me get my necessary COVID test for entry into Portugal. It’s already sweltering at 9 am. Finding the pharmacy is bananas because Google maps does not understand Italian streets. But I find it.

No Matteo.

He’s still in bed, but he rushes to get dressed and meet me. We go through the DMV-like process of getting my test (he has dubbed himself “my manager”), talking and laughing and I am “always breaking his balls” about something, but that’s what he likes about us. We like our freedom and we can give each other shit.

We get a cold drink, he suggests a place to buy something for my son and helps me pick it out, then it’s goodbye until next time…

David is still tired, so I walk alone to meet Mom and Gary for lunch – they are headed to Ischia the next day to visit the family of their most recent exchange student, and have about four weeks left in Italy after that. Lucky ducks! The lunch is delicious,though we are showered in dust and pollen by the wind and the current of passing cars.

We wish each other fun new adventures, and I walk back to the hotel.

It’s better today, Signora!” a shopkeeper says to me in Italian, standing in his doorway as I walk past.

Yes, there’s more wind! It’s more fresh!” I reply.

He smiles, stretching his arms out slightly, turning his palms forward and lifting his chin to catch the breeze.

Ciao!” I say.

“Ciao,Signora!” he calls back.

These are my favorite things about travel.


We caught the train and ended up in Florence.

I could tell you about how the last time I was in Florence with my son, we got ripped off by a cab driver, and even though this time the cab driver was a grandma, she ripped us off too.

I could tell you about how the last time I was in Florence with my son, it was hot as bleep, the hottest day we’d ever experienced in an already hot summer, and that when David and I got to Florence this time the same thing happened – 104° one day.

I could tell you about how when I was in Florence with my grandmother when I was 25, she was very excited about all of us receiving Eucharist at the Duomo, and it was then that she found out I had not yet had first communion and just about keeled over from heart failure; and I could tell you about how I planned to attend mass in the Duomo this time in memory of my grandmother, but it was so hot I rolled over and went back to sleep instead. I think she would understand.

I could tell you about how women who don’t sweat at all wear satin on the hottest day of summer in Florence, and they have a special walk that says, I am so above all of you that I can wear this ice blue satin gown and chunky magenta sandals and walk through Florence as if I am on a mission to get to my next photo shoot, because perspiration is for peasants.

I could tell you about how on our last night, David decided that he wanted to climb the hill to Piazza Michelangelo and look out over the city, even with heat and humidity and mosquitoes and tourists, and I’m glad we did.

I could tell you about how on our last night in florence, David and I stood at the base of our stairs debating whether to get involved in an emergency we heard occurring in the apartment downstairs, and how I decided we needed to knock, and David talked gently to a girl who was going into anaphylactic shock to help calm her down while I helped the mother say the key words she needed to say on the phone to get the ambulance to take her seriously and reassured her that I had a backup EpiPen if necessary; and how out on the street two Italian women graciously took over the situation and spoke to the ambulance on the phone and helped calm the girl until the ambulance arrived, and how David and I stood with the Italian women on the street, after the ambulance had swept the girl and her mother and her sister away, talking about the whole experience.

But I’ll just do a photo dump instead.