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.


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!


Algarve, Portugal, Cascais, Portugal, Lisbon, Portugal, Sintra, Portugal

Put Portugal On Your List of Places to See!!!

I can’t believe that we were in Portugal for less than a week! The days feel so long when you’re wandering the streets in Lisbon or when you’re exploring the caves in Algarve.  I feel like we did so much in just four nights. Please put Portugal on the list of places to travel to if you haven’t already.


Pena Palace in Sintra

Here’s the snapshot of our itinerary:

  • Thursday night- Lisbon (Lisboa to the locals)
  • Friday- Lisbon
  • Saturday- Sintra & Cascais
  • Sunday- Algarve (I’m not sure if it’s Algarve, or The Algarves)
  • Monday- Algarve

9/24/15 Thursday: My first night in Lisbon was on my own because Corey had a working dinner.  The nights here feel like the Bay Area with a cool breeze (layers needed), yet the neighborhoods feel like more like NYC.  The neighborhood Bairro Alto felt similar to the Lower East Side, full of shops, restaurants, and bars which you feel like you’ve earned the right to patronize after walking up and down so many hills.  On Sachi’s recommendation, I headed to Taberna Da Rua Das Flores and had an amazing octopus salad.  After dinner, I went back to the hotel for drinks with Corey and his coworker, Ali.

9/25/15 Friday: While Corey went to his meetings on Friday morning, I toured the neighborhood Belem, keeping a strong focus on the highest priorities- pastel de nata (egg tart)…sprinkle cinnamon and powdered sugar on top, and eat at the bar! This was the central reason for my travels to Belem, a slightly out of the way neighborhood.

After fueling up on the egg-custard tart, I walked about 5 miles through Belem towards Baixa (a neighborhood closer to the tourist center).  It was such a gorgeous day to check out the Padrao Dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries), Central Cultural De Belem (I only went into the gardens), Torre De Belem (Belem Tower) and the winding streets in the neighborhood.

At this point, I needed to cab to meet up with Corey since I was late after all this meandering. For lunch, we had frango y chips (chicken and fries) in Baixa- the neighborhood near Bloomberg’s satellite office. The chicken is a local favorite and the spot, Bonjardim Rei Dos Frangos, knows how to rock this dish!

After lunch, Corey needed to change out of his work clothes and I needed a catnap after walking so many miles in the morning. We regrouped at the hotel and then went out for the second part of our sight-seeing adventure.

We had to get to Castelo St. Jorge for an incredible view of Lisbon. The castle is on a hill above the neighborhood, Alfama. Then we walked all the way down through the ambling streets of Alfama, peering into shops and cafes.  We headed to A Vida Portuguesa, a lovely shop with items made entirely by Portuguese artists and craftsfolk.  We finished our shopping just in time for our dinner reservation at Cervejaria Ramiroliterally the best and freshest seafood I’ve ever eaten! The langoustine, percebes, and jumbo tiger prawns are still dancing in my dreams. The crab was also super tasty.  Before you go, I can teach you how to eat percebes now, and be aware that you might need to duck flying shells and bits of seafood meat as people are cracking open the treasures at this restaurant. Corey also mentioned that folks end their night by ordering a small filet of steak- that seems blasphemous to me, but to each their own.

Our night ended at Pensao Amor, a historic brothel turned into a dimly lit lounge with tasty drinks. Lisbon, thank you for such an amazing visit!

9/26/15 Saturday: We picked up our rental car and drove out to Sintra, the hometown of Pena Palace.  We rode in a Tuk Tuk to the top, a fun yet bumpy ride. The castle was the most colorful thing I’ve seen, and full of tourists snapping panoramic shots and selfies- we may have been guilty of a few of these ourselves (see below).  We both loved the architecture, the tiles, and the delicately crafted carvings in the castle walls.

Carry on to Cascais’ Old Town, a vacation spot right along the water! Being at this beachtown reminded me of being in Alicante, the town in Spain where Jamie Lynn studied abroad. We ate a tasty seafood lunch (yes, octopus for me again!) and then wandered through the streets buying up small souvenirs, and stealing shots of the locals.  We caught the sunset along the harbor of Baia De Cascais (bay), and along Praia Da Ribeira (beach).

Back in Lisbon, our last stop of the day was TimeOut’s Mercado Da Ribeira! It’s an marketplace with gourmet food right along the water’s edge.

9/27/15 Sunday: We got an early start to the Algarve as it’s about a 2.5 hour drive from Lisbon. The drive took us through Portugal’s countryside, complete with sea mist (fog), and pine trees growing atop the rolling hills. We didn’t have a set agenda for this leg of the journey but soon found that it didn’t matter. Just stop at as many beaches as you can, and you’ll feel full of life! Our favorite beaches were Praia Do Marinha and Praia Do Albandeira. Marinha has such breathtaking cliffs and was wonderful for jumping into the crystal clear aquamarine water. Albandeira had crazy rock formations and caves, yet the waves were too big for swimming (at least based on the rule “don’t swim in the water if locals aren’t in the water”).

I’m getting ahead of myself….The first stop on our trip was Ponta Da Piedade. This is a time where a picture is worth more than a thousand words. I must’ve taken the same picture so many times because I just couldn’t get over how beautiful it was at this look out.

We drove on to Praia Do Marinha….a must see when you travel to Algarve (so far everything feels like a ‘must see’ as you can already tell). We checked into Quintinha Village, laid out at Praia Dos Pescadores, and caught the sunset on our rooftop. We knew we wanted to visit the neighboring town, Ferragudo, where our friend, Sam, is from. She suggested we eat at Fim Do Mundo. This restaurant had the friendliest servers and we ate so well. Cheers to the “end of the world” and muito obrigada to Sam for this suggestion!

9/28/15 Monday: I couldn’t believe that we’d only been in Portugal for just four nights. Our last day- though half a day- still felt wonderfully relaxing and full.  Praia Do Albandeira is off the beaten path and was such a gem of a beach. I highly suggest visiting as there are very few tourists- we got there and only one other couple was laying out. Corey and I explored the caves and rock formations. The waves were pretty shocking which we attributed to the Red Moon (earth science?! don’t quote us on that hypothesis).

We had the itch to check out just one more spot, and made our way to Praia de Benagil.  While Corey laid out, I was enamored with the thousands of shells along the beach.  The restaurant, Cinco, looked out over the water and was a welcome meal after missing breakfast due to our excitement to get to the beaches. The drive to the airport was about 45 min but felt like a quick trip thanks to belting out Whitney Houston, and Michael Jackson (not mad at the Portuguese mixture of megahits with American tunes).

IMG_4558I’m not sure how to wrap up this post as I still can’t believe that I was just in one of the most beautiful places in Europe.

Girlcar definitely needs to add Portugal to the list, the Algarves does have an airport in Faro!

Shoutout to Sachi for being my personal tripadvisor! Your recommendations were top notch.

Shoutout to Sam for your Fin Do Mundo suggestion.

Shoutout to Erica and Brian for visiting Portugal to your honeymoon trip- can’t wait to gush about this place in person!