Algarve, Portugal, Lisbon, Portugal, London, England, Sintra, Portugal

My Very Merry ‘Unbirthday’

IMG_9682Thirty-three is my favorite number.  It was on my basketball jersey for years.  Corey deems it lucky because he’s won money at the roulette table betting on double three.  I also turned 33 years old this past February.  It made this birthday special for me though I understand that this age isn’t a significant birthday when it comes to milestones like 21 or 30.  But Corey and Miya did find a way to celebrate thirty-three for me. They plotted together to ensure that she could visit London the first week of May which is why this post references my special unbirthday gift (only because it’s June and not February).  Cheers to celebrating unbirthdays like this for my entire thirty-third year and many more to come!


What better way to start Miya’s first day than with a good meal–lunch at Ottolenghi! We’ve both cooked with his recipes for the past few years so I wanted her to visit his restaurant in person.  The dessert display from the window is enough to make your mouth water.

* Miya brought Daniel Tiger along to show Daisuke what fun things were happening on Mama’s trip with Tia. Spot him throughout this post!*

We toured parts of our neighborhood and then walked to Brick Lane to see the graffiti art as well as the historical sites in Shoreditch.  Corey and Miya kept track of our steps and signaled when it was appropriate to sit down for a huge dinner at Lahore.


We rode the 341 bus to Westminster Abbey. I’m listing the bus number because we’ve never taken this bus from our house to this part of town.  The ride has a great view from Waterloo bridge when you cross over the Thames.  We walked to Westminster Abbey, which was closed (!), over to the Horses Guard, and through St. James Park to Buckingham Palace.  The flowers were in full bloom still!  Corey couldn’t get a word in edgewise as Miya and I talked the entire time we were together.  He hung out with Daniel Tiger a lot.

After learning that you need formal wear for afternoon tea at the Ritz (think ball gowns!), we opted for a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory afternoon tea where Mr. Wonka himself shows up with golden envelopes for the table!  It’s a pretty good gimmick.  You can’t use the prize in the envelope if you open it before returning for tea at another time.  We will be back with future visitors for sure.

From tea, we strolled Picadilly Circus, Soho, and Covent Garden.  There’s always something to see at Trafalgar Square like chalk artists and bubble magicians.  In Convent Garden, we were swept into shop similar to Sabon. The gentleman there must have been their top salesman as he got us to buy so many of their products in less than 15 minutes! We had a yummy meal at Kipferl before calling it an early evening.  Miya and I had to catch the first flight to Portugal the next day.


Once we figured out how to program our GPS in English, not Portuguese, we had a pretty smooth ride in the Algarve.  We had a rooftop lunch at Hotel Faro before heading out to Praia da Marinha.  It’s a gorgeous beach, and the sea breeze kept us cool even when there was little shade to be found on the sand.  At first, Miya wasn’t sure she needed to go into the water.  We were content relaxing on our towels and exploring the rock formations along the shoreline.  At one point, though, Miya sat up- “How could I not go into the water? I’m going,” she said matter of factly.  It was a good decision 🙂

Ferragudo is a beautifully small town, and our airbnb was on a cute street with bougainvillea climbing up along the tiled walls.  It’s easy to take a water taxi across to Portimao, a much more built up town with shopping promenades, and it’s also easy to stay put and have an afternoon coffee in the main plaza of Ferragudo.  We rested and showered before our night out on the town.

You can see our amazing meal at Fim do Mundo, where the staff were just as jovial and welcoming as I remember.  Get the clams and garlic sauce as a starter!  For someone’s first time to the restaurant, order the cataplana.  The sheer presentation of the dish is a fun experience.  The menu lists this dish for two or more people. If there are only two of you, ask for the half order, and choose a meat dish to share.  To help digest our food, we took an evening stroll to see other parts of the neighborhood-  where the taxi boats docked, how many different tiles we could find along the walls, and a small church atop a hill.


We took our time to drive out of Ferragudo.  We visited the Playa Grande, a longer flatter beach than Praia da Marinha.  It seemed a great beach for families with young kids as the waters were completely calm.

Miya expressed wanting to see Pena Palace, so we took the day to drive to Sintra and then took a tug tug up to the palatial grounds.  It was fun for me to see Miya’s architectural brain spring to life as she pointed out the columns, nooks, crannies, and influences in the art of the palace.  I love hearing about the connections she was making and I was conscious of how quickly I’d previously moved through the palace without taking note of the details she could see.  I had to remind her to take a break and eat something since she was so enthused by the palace!  I probably should have asked her to write some captions for the pictures below as she was able to explain so much!

We got into Lisbon later than we expected, and were pretty worn out from the long day of travel.  Ramiro Cervejaria wasn’t helping us out with dinner as the wait was over an hour.  We opted for roasted chicken and chips with a glass of complimentary port from our hotel–a quick recipe for getting a really good night’s sleep.

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View from our hotel. Thanks for the hotel points, Core!


It was strange that the three days could go so fast but feel so relaxed at the same time.  Dropping off the rental car was a breeze, and the cafe where we had breakfast was incredibly cute.  Erica and Brian suggested it from their trip, and one of the Leitaria locations was around the corner from Hertz.

Both of us enjoyed taking public transportation to the Tile Museum, or the Museu Nacional Do Azulejo.  Azulejo means ‘small polished stone’ and comes from the Arab word azzelij or al zuleycha.  I was absorbed into the color and glazed shapes of each piece, and the chronology of the museum was really helpful to when comparing eras.  There were also tiles in braille that described the various color schemes in a hands on way for guests.  We were in awe of the numerous boxes of tiles that filled one of the museum hallways.  There seemed so much more to add to the exhibitions but they had yet to be unboxed!

We arrived at Cervejaria Ramiro just a half hour after they opened, and were seated immediately.  I highly suggest lunch here as it’s much less of a scene than dinner.  The seafood was tasty as ever (crab, langoustine medium, and lots of buttered bread).  For the first time, I also ordered the prego sandwich to cap off the meal!

We did some final shopping around the corner at A Vida Portuguese and then had coffee and tea in an outdoor plaza.  It was a perfectly warm and breezy day, and we couldn’t have been happier.


Back in London, Miya had some more sights to see to ensure she had a well-rounded trip across the pond.  Our Kipferl breakfast of pan fried potatoes, streaky bacon and arugula salad was the perfect fuel needed for a day of walking.

First stop: St Paul’s Cathedral.  I can’t get over the mosaics every time I visit.  The Whispering Gallery was as far up as we could walk in the cathedral, but that was more than enough to hear about Miya’s challenging architecture classes at the University of Washington- full of all nighters, sketches and out of this world projects.  Miya’s vote was that we take everyone to see St. Paul’s Cathedral when they visit.

The South Bank and Borough Market are also highlights that we share with all visitors and this trip was no exception.  We shared snacks in the late afternoon, and Miya found some vanilla bean pods to for her homemade tea recipe.  IMG_1237

In keeping with the architectural theme of her vacation, our final two visits of the day were to Kings Cross St Pancras station and The British Library.  We sat under the train station’s arches and sorted how Miya would navigate her way to the airport the next morning.  Then I had to show her the facade of the St Pancras hotel before we went to the library as I really enjoy the treasures room.  It’s such a great sized space to see some amazing artifacts at the library.  You can do it all in about an hour.  Miya packed her bags back at home and we had Thai food at our local spot for her final meal.  The week was up too soon! But I know that a trip like this is one where we’ll relive the memories over and over again…for thirty-three years and beyond!

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