September 24, 2018

4 Magical Days in Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal. My first trip to Lisbon was planned on a whim. My mom and I had plans to go somewhere else that didn't quite work out and we wanted to go somewhere new and different. I don't remember what I read or saw but I texted my mom one day and said, "How about Lisbon?" And a few weeks later, we landed in a city that I have since referred to as the city that spoke to my soul.

I can't really put into words what makes Lisbon so magical. When The Pilot and I were planning our biennial trip to Paris this year and realized that the likelihood of us getting on a flight to Paris on standby was slim, we shifted gears and decided to go back to Lisbon. We were planning a babymoon and I really wanted to go to a place we had been to before so that I could take it easy when I wanted to and wouldn't feel the need to constantly be doing something!

I admit I was nervous. What if I didn't love it as much the second time around? What if it felt different? But the minute we landed, I knew that wouldn't happen and I was so happy to be back in this place that I've been dying to go to back to since before I even left the last time.

We landed in Lisbon on a Monday morning around 9:30 after the most miserable flight I had ever been on. We were on a super old plane (no TVs ashtrays still in the armrests!) and the seat in front of me was broken and reclined so far back that I had no leg room...not fun when I was getting up once an hour to use the bathroom! I was so grateful when we touched down! Lisbon airport is a breeze and we cleared customs in no time and were on the metro to the Airbnb we had booked in the Santos neighborhood of Lisbon.

We got to our Airbnb by around 11 and luckily, were able to check in right away. The Airbnb was lovely and the neighborhood was quiet but I wouldn't recommend staying there. It was more out of the way I thought it would be. I wanted something away from the hustle and bustle of the main city but this was a little too out of the way. It was about a 15-minute bus ride from central Lisbon but the buses weren't very reliable and came pretty infrequently.

Exhausted from our flight, we planned to take a nap and ended up sleeping until almost 3:00! Normally, I would have been upset about this but we were on our babymoon and I knew I needed the rest, so I embraced the long nap, took a nice, long shower, and then headed out to explore!

Having been to Lisbon before, our agenda was pretty slim. I was 22 weeks pregnant when we landed and had felt pretty miserable up until that week. We almost canceled our trip a few days before because I was still so sick but I'm so glad we didn't because this trip ended up being exactly what we needed. Although, as we explored the city revisiting some old favorites, I quickly learned that on our first trip, we had barely skimmed the surface! Here's what we got up to:

Jeronimos Monastery. This 16th-century monastery is absolutely worth a visit. The cathedral and grounds are absolutely stunning. There isn't too much to do there other than to see the cathedral and the grounds but the grounds are stunning enough to warrant a visit.

Torre de Belem. The Jeronimos Monastery is in Belem, which is a neighborhood on the outskirts of Lisbon. When getting there from central Lisbon, you hit the monastery first and then it's a short walk to the Torre de Belem, a tower overlooking the water that was used as part of the defense system guarding Lisbon during the 16th century. I didn't go up to the top because the steps were narrow, slippery, and steep but The Pilot did and said the views weren't much different than from outside the tower. The architecture and intricacy of the tower are impeccable though and it's in unbelievable condition for being as old as it is!

Castelo Sao Jorge. The Tram 28 is Lisbon's iconic Lisbon tram line that takes you across the city and up the steep hills. It's also the best way to get to the Castelo Sao Jorge if you don't want to walk up a mountain. When you get to the top, you have to walk a bit to get to the castle entrance. There are street vendors and souvenir shops and a few coffee shops leading the way up the hill. It reminded me a little bit of Montmartre in Paris. As soon as we entered the castle grounds, I was shocked that we missed it the last time we were in Lisbon. The views of the city are unreal! The castle grounds are pretty cool to walk through too. We didn't spend too much time there because it started raining as soon as we got there and the castle is really just ruins, but it was pretty cool to explore!

Lisbon Under the Stars. This was a short-lived exhibit in Lisbon that has already ended so I was hesitant to write about it but since it was such an amazing experience, I had to! Hosted in the ruins of the Convento do Carmo, Lisbon Under the Stars told Lisbon's history - from the city's founding to the earthquake and tsunami that wiped out the city to Portugal's independence - through a multimedia presentation featuring art, music, and performance. I've never quite seen anything like it and I'm so glad we had the opportunity to go because it was incredible!

Sailboat cruise on the Tagus. On one of our nights in Lisbon, we booked a sunset sailboat cruise on the Tagus River through Airbnb. Set up on a vintage sailboat, the 3-hour cruise was a perfect date night. We were able to get off our feet and see the city from the water. There were only about 8 other passengers so it was small and intimate and the boat had wine, cheese, and bread for us to nibble on. About an hour into our cruise, it started downpouring but we still managed to enjoy ourselves despite being cold and wet on the water!

When people think of good food in Europe, they always think of France and Italy, maybe Spain but I think Portugal really needs to be on the map for excellent European food. I have yet to have had a meal in Lisbon that I didn't absolutely love. Here are a few highlights of places and things we ate!

Pasteis de Nata. No trip to Lisbon is complete without feasting on these delicate pastries. Just before we went, Martha Collison (famously of The Great British Baking Show) had been in Lisbon and went on a mission to find the best pasteis de nata in the city. Having let her do all of the work, and having already tried natas all over Lisbon on our first trip, we made our way to her top pick, Mantegenaria and we were not disappointed. The pastry shop only serves pasteis de nata and coffee and they're one of the very few places in Lisbon that serve the treats warm. Top them with both powdered sugar and cinnamon and you're in for absolute divinity. Alcoa was a close runner-up but they weren't served warm. I would skip the insanity that is Pasteis de Belem (where they were created), as they were warm but the egg custard had curdled and they weren't very appetizing. If you're planning a trip to Lisbon, try out a few different places but I think you'll come to the same conclusion that Mantegenaria's natas cannot be beaten.

LX Factory. The LX Factory isn't necessarily a place to eat - it's more like an outdoor market with little shops and restaurants. It's got a really cool hipster, industrial feel and is definitely worth checking out. While I typically stick to local cuisine when I'm traveling, I was also entertaining pregnancy cravings in Lisbon and jumped at the chance to have tacos when we spotted a Mexican restaurant, Mez Cais, in the LX Factory. Built to look like a wrestling ring with luchador masks adorning the walls, this was a pretty cool spot with fantastic Mexican food!

Santini. If you like ice cream or gelato, you need to stop by Santini. Get the nata flavored ice cream and mix it with something delicious like chocolate-hazelnut. You won't be disappointed.

Ribeira Market. The TimeOut Ribeira Market was definitely a favorite during our last trip to Lisbon and worth repeating. I had some kind of bacalhau (codfish) deliciousness at a spot called Felicidade that was honestly one of the best things I've ever eaten. I keep a very short list of some of my all-time favorite meals and this was easily one of them. The Ribeira Market has just about everything you could want and is perfect if you're eating with a crowd since everyone can get their own thing. Bonus: There's a Mantegenaria AND a Santini ice cream shop there!

Pharmacia. On our last night in Lisbon, we went to dinner at Pharmacia, a restaurant located in the Museum of Pharmacy with exceptional views over the city. While the interior of the restaurant is gorgeous, we opted for a table outside to enjoy the views. I didn't realize until we got the menu that that Pharmacia is run by the same chef that I had raved over the night before at Felicidade, Susana Felicidade. The food was just as excellent as the night before and my only disappointment was in not being able to enjoy a glass of Vinho Verde alongside my meal!

Our second trip to Lisbon was even better than the first! I fell in love with the city all over again and it was the perfect spot for a babymoon! We learned on our first night there that Portugal recently passed a law exempting pregnant women (and women with children under 2, seniors, and people with disabilities) from having to stand in line. We didn't want in line for anything, cream shops, tourist sites, customs at the was amazing! As soon as I got on any form of public transportation, half the people would jump up to give me their seat. It was great!

I also really loved that we had been there before and could really just do one major thing a day and spend the rest of our time just being in the city, having long, leisurely meals and just enjoying each other's company. It was wonderful! Oh, and one of my favorite things was watching the World Cup in the Praca do Comercio. I always root against Portugal in the World Cup but I had to support the home team just this one time!

One thing I didn't include in this post is our day trip to Sintra - that deserves its own post so check back later this week for that!

Have you been to Lisbon or anywhere in Portugal?
If you took a babymoon, where did you go?

PS: You can check out my posts about our first trip to Lisbon here, here, here and here!

August 31, 2018

9 Books I've Loved This Year

I think it's finally safe to say that the reading rut I've been in for almost two years is over. Last year, I fell pretty short of my Goodreads reading challenge because I hated almost everything I read. This year started off pretty slowly too and reading one too many bad books followed by morning sickness that lasted well into my second trimester kept me out of the libraries and left me with no desire to read. It's why I haven't posted any book reviews since January!

But this summer, after finally unpacking all of my books from our move in December, I started reading again and finally have some good recommendations to share!

"A Gentleman in Moscow" by Amor Towles - This book was getting a lot of hype last year and I picked it up while in London and wasn't disappointed. Do you ever read a book that moves slowly but in an absolutely perfect way? That was "A Gentleman in Moscow." The book follows the long life of the aristocrat, Count Rostov, who is put under house arrest at a hotel in Moscow for being part of the aristocracy. Amor Towles' ability to craft such a beautiful story that never leaves the four walls of the hotel is remarkable. With a main character whom you grow to love more and more by the page, this book was one that I didn't want to end and can easily be considered a new favorite.

"Big Little Lies" by Liane Moriarty - I picked this up off of my friend, Carolann's bookshelf when I was in Hawaii. I hadn't read a book in almost two months and wanted a light, easy beach read. Honestly, I had avoided reading anything by Moriarty. Her books never really appealed to me but I loved this book. It was the perfect beach read and I couldn't put it down! I love a good mystery and this one kicks off with a murder but you don't know who was murdered or who the murderer was, which definitely made for a good page turner! I haven't watched the HBO series but I've heard good things about it!

"Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood" by Trevor Noah - I listened to the audiobook of Trevor Noah's book and wasn't disappointed. It was a fascinating, funny autobiography about Trevor Noah's life growing up in post-apartheid South Africa. I normally don't read books by celebrities because I've found that they all come across as extremely self-absorbed and have made me really dislike some of my favorite celebrities but Noah's book wasn't a "how I got here" story, it was about his life growing up and made for a good read.

"The Alice Network" by Katie Quinn - Historical fiction is easily my favorite genre and I'll read just about anything written about the First and Second World Wars. I'm not sure why but I'm really drawn to these books. I picked up "The Alice Network" at a local bookstore here in Baltimore and really enjoyed it. Told from two perspectives - that of Eve Gardiner, a young woman recruited to be a spy during the Great War, and Charlie St. Clair, pregnant and unmarried who lands on Eve's doorstep 30 years later, at the tail end of the Second World War. Unexpectedly, the unlikely pair ends up on a journey through Europe trying to find Charlie's missing cousin while the plot hints at a surprising connection between the two women.

"The Beekeeper's Apprentice" by Mary Russell - I love a good Sherlock Holmes story. "Sherlock" might be my favorite television show. This novel introduces a young, sprightly, American, Mary Russell who quite literally stumbles on a much older, retired Sherlock Holmes while walking through a meadow with her nose in a book. The two become fast friends as Mary apprentices under Sherlock. I felt like this book did the Arthur Conan Doyles stories justice, adding a female voice to the Sherlock Holmes stories while maintaining some of the originality of the ACD books. While I really enjoyed this and would recommend it, I'm not sure I'll seek out the other books in this series.

"Paris to the Moon" by Adam Gopnik - I picked this up in a Little Free Library ages ago for the title alone and surprisingly, I wasn't let down. Adam Gopnik is a writer for The New Yorker who decided to up and move to Paris with his wife and their 8-month-old son (something I am now trying to figure out how to do). Each chapter is an anecdote and a glimpse into their life in Paris. It was easy to read, enjoyable, and made me want to pack my bags immediately. I loved this book and recommend it to anyone who loves traveling to Paris.

"The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer - I reread this for our book club this summer and loved it just as much the second time around as the first. This is one of my favorite books of all time. I enjoyed the film but wish it had incorporated more of the letter writing, even just as a bit of background narration. If you haven't read this book, I highly recommend it. It's a beautifully written compilation of letters written by Juliet, a young writer in London and a group of friends she makes (via letter writing) in Guernsey, who tell their stories of living under German occupation during the war.

"Next Year in Havana" by Chanel Cleeton - Like "Paris to the Moon," I picked this up for the title. I will read just about anything about Cuba. As a Cuban American, I'm always looking to read more and learn more about the island that is so much a part of me, but that I have never been to. This is easily the best book I've read about Cuba. Alternating between two perspectives, that of 19-year-old Elena living in Cuba at the height of the revolution, and 31-year-old Miami-born Marisol, Elena's granddaughter who heads to the island for the first time to scatter Elena's ashes. This book wasn't without a few problem points that I won't get into because of spoilers, but I felt like this story so closely mirrored mine and my families that it was easy for me to forgive. If you're interested in Cuba, I recommend this book. It's a wonderful story that feels very true.

"My Life in France" by Julia Child - I'll admit that I never knew anything about Julia Child until I saw the movie, "Julie and Julia" but I've had this book on my to-read list for ages and finally dove in. This story gave me so much life. Julia Child didn't become the Julia Child that the world fell in love with until she was in her late 40s and then went on to have a fabulous career. In a world of food photography and food bloggers, it was refreshing to read a book that doesn't use any pictures to describe mouthwatering foods that had me wanting to run to the kitchen with my copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." I loved reading about Julia's and Paul's fascinating life and appreciated just how seriously Julia took her craft. If you're feeling like you're in a creative rut, this might be a good read for you. Warning: Don't read it on an empty stomach!

Have you read any of these? What have you been reading lately?

August 1, 2018

Mid-Week Coffee Date

Hi friends. Happy August! I'm happy to see July behind me. Last month was brutal. I took on some extra projects at work and with my ever-growing pre-baby to-do list, just felt like I didn't have time for anything. It doesn't help that I'm super unmotivated to do much of anything these days. I blame pregnancy, but I'm pushing through. I haven't had the chance to post since my big announcement so I thought I'd ease back in with a coffee date and fill you in on what I've been up to!

If we were having coffee, I would be drinking Mommee Coffee. I found this stuff on Amazon and love it. I'm not a coffee snob but this is really tasty coffee! It's low acid, quarter caf coffee (also comes in half-caf and 3/4-caf) which is perfect for a soon-to-be mama who is limiting her caffeine intake but can't drink regular coffee because pregnancy heartburn is real.

If we were having coffee, here's what I'd share:

I'm officially in my 3rd trimester! I shared a little bit about our experience going through pregnancy loss in my last post so this feels like a huge milestone. I'm feeling surprisingly good at this point, if not a little run down but everything is looking good.

I have a mile-long to-do list of stuff I want to get done around the house before the baby comes and surprisingly, most of it has nothing to do with the baby. The list is things like...painting the laundry room, reorganizing the pantry, and hanging our bedroom curtains. It feels a little overwhelming and I wish I could take a week off to just work on house projects but unfortunately, I need to save that time for maternity leave.

I miss running. I haven't run a single mile in 2018 and I was fine with it until very recently. I always wanted to be someone who ran through my pregnancy but with my history, honestly, I was just too scared to run. I lived in a bubble my first trimester and I know that that's what I needed to do for my own well-being. I didn't feel well enough to even attempt to run until I was close to 20 weeks and by that point, I had a sizeable baby bump that I wasn't used to running with and I didn't like running the few times I tried to get out there. I hope that my return to running isn't impossible after being out of the game for a full year but I have every intention of running again as soon as I feel up to it and am cleared by my doctor!

I've finally gotten out of the reading rut I've been in all year. I'm 11 books behind on my Goodreads challenge (which I had actually set low this year) but I'm finally back to reading every day. Everyone keeps telling me I'll have tons of time to read on maternity leave so maybe I'll be able to catch up. Right now, I'm reading "Paris to the Moon" by Adam Gopnik, a New Yorker writer who moved to Paris with his 8-month-old son in the 90s. Let me tell you - if this doesn't set my wannabe expat wheels turning, I don't know what does!

I'm working on my recap of our amazing trip to Lisbon and will have those posts up next week! But I can tell you right now, Lisbon was an amazing choice for a babymoon...for a lot of unexpected reasons!

To all of you who commented on my post, thank you, I'll be responding soon now that I'm out of a busy July!

What would you share over coffee?
What's your coffee shop drink of choice?
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