Lots has happened since we last spoke. Lots of good things that is. Like really wonderful things. First of all, we got married! It was filled with more love and happiness than I could have imagined. Friends, family, dancing, and lots of happy tears were all part of it. We do not have the official photos yet, but we have been reliving the whole experience through photos of family and friends. I will go into more detail on the wedding in a whole separate post. Just so much to share!
Then, we went on our honeymoon! In all honesty, I was conflicted about going on our honeymoon right away. I knew I wanted somewhere warm, and for late April and early May, that narrowed down our options. I also thought it would be nice to have a staycation and not worry about planning a honeymoon in the midst of planning of wedding. But I am so glad I was convinced otherwise. We got to treat it as something different from a vacation, still riding high from the giddiness of the special weekend. We are not exactly the lovey-dovey type, but we made sure we told as many people as we could it was our honeymoon. I don’t know what sort of reaction I was expecting from people when we told them, but I was surprised at the reactions we consistently got- pure joy....except for our flight attendant but that's another story. Other than her, everyone- male, female, old, young- was genuinely excited for us. A smile would spread across their faces and their demeanor would change to be more accommodating, more caring, more loving. It was surprising and really, really sweet. If only I could bottle all of that positive energy up and keep it for all of the days of our marriage.
Our honeymoon. How did we decide where we were going? Honestly, process of elimination. We’re not the real lounge-on-the-beach-forever type of people, so that ruled out many places. We only had 10 days (including travel), so we didn’t want to waste it on a plane getting halfway around the world. Although I wouldn't mind a trip to Bali one day. Like I mentioned before, I was in no desire of being cold, but I did not want to be sweltering either- especially if I was not near the pool. We don’t have money growing on our backyard trees, so lavish living was out of the question, but we wanted to be comfortable. We also wanted to embark on this new stage of our lives by sharing an experience together, so we wanted to go someplace where neither of us had been. Oh, and the cuisine had to be interesting and desirable- obviously.
So where did we go?! Portugal and Morocco! Or more specifically, Lisbon and Marrakech. We would have loved to venture to other parts of the countries and probably would have if we weren’t honeymooning, but we wanted to allow some time for rest and relaxation and general husband and wife hangout time.
Most of the planning was done in the weeks leading up to the wedding using suggestions from different websites like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Saveur Magazine, other blogs, and TripAdvisor. I also usually go for the Lonely Planet Pocket guides to tote around with me if I need a little info about a sight or need some general info (like tipping protocol, museum and site hours, transportation guidance). It can be a lengthy process because if you’re like me, you want to make the most of your trip because who knows when you’ll get to visit again?! I personally love this process, and I am fortunate that my husband trusts whatever plans I make. Too many cooks in the kitchen can make planning and committing to places a bit stressful if you know what I mean.
I did take my nice DSLR camera with me, hoping to capture all of the loveliness of Portugal and Morocco, but it was sadly underused. Not only did I grow tired after just one day of carrying it, but I realized that shooting food is a lot different than shooting landscapes. Basically, I have some learning to do in that department. The phone camera was easy to tuck away and pull out and keep safe from any pickpockets. Speaking of which, we felt very safe in both Lisbon and Marrakech even late at night, but like any big city with lots of tourists, pickpockets are rampant. Just use common sense, and everything will be fine!
I was going to do this in just one post, but I’m breaking it down in two parts, so stay tuned for Part II!
Part I: Lisbon, Portugal
I thought I would include some of the highlights- in no particular order- in case you plan to venture to either of these places. It just may save you hours of parsing through reviews and pictures on other sites.
Casa Amora Guesthouse: Like a bed and breakfast, but better. I think I saw photos of their breakfasts on TripAdvisor, and I was sold. But really, everyone at Casa Amora is so friendly and accommodating and the rooms are bright and clean. We showed up late afternoon and were greeted with a glass of port, homemade pastries, local cheese, and a frittata. I knew I had picked wisely. They are eager to give advice and go out of their way to make you comfortable. It is tucked slightly away from the main sights, but we loved how quiet it was because of that. The patio where you eat breakfast is beautiful- like a little secret garden. I want to eat breakfast on a patio like that everyday when I grow up.
Journey In Food and Wine Tour: It is sort of tradition for us to take a food tour whenever we are visiting a foreign country, and this one was spectacular. Our tour guide is a real pro, not just about food but about history, so while you walk and eat and walk and eat, he fills you in on all of the nitty-gritty that you should have read about but didn’t. We were worried that by not going to Porto during this trip we would miss the wine and port experience, but this tour gave some ample vinho verde and port wine tasting. We even got to experience the melancholy fado during one of the stops. Two highlights were knocking on a local’s window for a glass of her homemade ginjinha (a cherry liquor) and stopping at a Mozambican restaurant for some bites. And that’s where I learned that Mozambique was once a Portuguese colony...who knew?
Journey In Sintra, Cascais, and Cabo da Roca Tour: We almost didn’t do this day trip because we thought we would see a few more sights in Lisbon, but we are so glad we ventured out of the city. This tour allowed us to see more than we ever could have had we tried to plan the visit ourselves with coordinating transportation, tickets, etc. Plus, we had a really knowledgeable tour guide who answered all of our questions- history related and current events related. Sintra is a picturesque town with large, beautiful homes and quite a number of palaces, big and small. The Pena Palace, which my husband was convinced was depicted in a Disney movie, was whimsical and bright. It is located in a beautiful park, with mini lakes, all sorts of flora, and if we hadn’t already had lunch plans, would have made a perfect picnicking spot. We then headed to Cabo da Roca- the westernmost point of continental Europe- and it was stunning. It reminded me of the grassy high cliffs of northern California, like near Point Reyes. Sigh. I want to go back there. The water is the most fantastic blue and the horizon just fades out. We lunched at a little place that gets the freshest seafood from right off the coast, so you never quite know what fish you’re going to get until you show up. Served with lots of “punched potatoes,” as they called them, and lots of Portuguese olive oil, it hit the spot. They dehead, debone, and fillet the whole thing right in front of you. We drove through Cascais, a real resorty sort of place right on the beach before heading back to Lisbon.
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos: An epic building with beautiful architecture. The entry fee is a bit steep, but one of the highlights was a room featuring a historical timeline that synched the happenings of the world with that of Portugal and Lisbon. Putting local history in a larger historical context made it so much easier to appreciate!
Museu Coleção Berardo: I have a low threshold for a lot of contemporary and modern art, especially when it’s right before lunch time, but it’s hard to turn down a free museum. Right near the Tower or Belem, the monastery, and the home of the pastel de nata (see below), it is a worthwhile stop. I was pleasantly surprised by how expansive it was, and the collection only seems to be getting bigger.
Castelo de San Jorge: So we tried to go to this castle, but it was closed for Portuguese labor day. Like everyone else who didn't realize that May 1st is labor day in Portugal, we ambled about the streets nearby, which for me, was quite lovely. But of course, I wouldn’t have minded seeing what this whole 11th century Moorish castle was all about.
Museu Calouste Gulbenkian: I really wanted to check out this art museum, but again, labor day fail. The ponds and gardens around the museum are so beautiful and you can see lots of local families picnicking here and feeding the ducks. It was nice to get out of the hub-bub of the city in the quaint gardens here.
Bairro Alto: More of a neighborhood riddled with local bars, cafes, and shops. Perfect for getting lost in the labyrinthine streets. It comes alive at night.
TimeOut Mercado da Ribeira: A modern and delicious twist on the food court. Part of the old food market was recently converted into a beautiful and clean market where you can get just about any Portuguese dish you want, and then some international dishes if you are craving something other than cured meat, sheep’s milk cheese, octopus, salt cod, and rice. It is a beautiful space, and unfortunately we had just eaten lunch by the time we arrived, so we did not get to indulge in all of the goodies. I did buy some great gifts at the little gift store pop-up there.
LX Factory: I thought when we left Philadelphia, we left hipster behind, but then we stumbled upon LX Factory. It is apparently the hip place to be. Weird art, trendy shops, restaurants, cafes, bookstores, and home of the BEST CHOCOLATE CAKE I have ever eaten. At Landeau Chocolate. Really. I need to get that recipe. And they serve it with a nicely paired glass of port. Exactly. The whole thing is perfection. We initially got two forks because we were going to do the cute honeymoon thing and split the piece, but after one bite, I told my husband that he would have to either get his own slice or not have any at all because the piece was mine. He knew the look in my eye and conceded. I should have known it was going to be good because that is they only thing they sell. Well, slices of that chocolate cake and things that go with that chocolate cake- like coffee and port. It was like a fluffy chocolate truffle and a dense, dark chocolate cake had a baby, a beautiful rich chocolate baby. There are lots of other things going on at LX Factory, but that chocolate cake made the whole world around me stop.
Clube de Journalistas: We looked like two haggard travelers by the time we made it here (lots of missed turns and maps without street names are to blame), but I think the restaurant took pity on us and accommodated us, and we are forever grateful. They even gave us a glass of champagne that almost seemed to say, relax, “We’re going to take care of you here.” Little did we know that reservations made well in advance are highly recommended. Next time I would certainly try to make myself a little more presentable because I was the only one wearing Toms and a t-shirt. The service is top-notch and the food incredible. It is a fancier restaurant, but the food is all approachable and comforting. The only semblance of hoity-toity in the food here was little amuse bouche of corn foam. Homemade breads and spreads landed on our table to start. We shared the best risotto we’ve ever tasted with asparagus and black pork sausage (these pigs eat acorns and are free-range). I had sauteed baby squid in a delicate broth followed by the octopus with a rich sweet potato puree. Vinho verde was flowing. The dessert was epic, because at this point they had found out it was our honeymoon. A platter, about the size of our table came out with 8 different desserts, some small, some large, and all delicious. And then, the best part. The chef came out to greet us. We chatted for a while before he ducked back into his wine cellar and gave us an aged bottle of wine for which we could remember our visit to Lisbon. He didn’t seem to care that we were way underdressed, just that we were enjoying ourselves and that we were going to have a good marriage. Cheers to that!
Pasteis de Belem: The original place where the famous pastel de nata, the famous Portuguese custard tart, was made. Actually, it was made by 18th century Catholic monks of the nearby Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, but this is where the original recipe is now recreated thousands of times a day. I am not usually a fan of super eggy fillings, but these tarts have something special going on. I think it’s the extra crispy tart shell and the loads of cinnamon that goes on it. Anyway, I recommend spending a euro here, dusting it with cinnamon and sugar if you like, and then venturing across town to compare their pastel de nata to a newer one at Manteigaria Fábrica de Pastéis de Nata. Apparently hundreds of Lisbon bakeries compete in the annual pastel de nata competition to see whose pastry is the best for that year, and the Pasteis de Belem always refuses to participate because they know they are numero uno. I wished I walked around with that sort of confidence.
Manteigaria Fábrica de Pastéis de Nata: Because you ought to run your own little competition and see which pastel de nata you really like. Compared to Pasteis de Belem which makes several other types of sweet and savory goodies, they only make the pastel de nata here. It’s fun to watch the experts work while you eat your warm pastel de nata at the counter. Henry Ford would be proud of their assembly line. I personally had trouble picking a favorite, but I was surprised at just how different the two pasteles were.
Caffe Lisboa: Next door to the Michelin-starred restaurant, Belcanto, and by the same chef Jose Avillez, Caffe Lisboa serves slightly upscale Portuguese food. Think sheep's milk cheese, croquettes, fahrinhiera (a softer sausage mixed with flour), Bras Style cod (salt cod with eggs and olives), cod with tomato rice, and octopus with potatoes. Attentive service and delicious food. Good substitute for the Michelin starred place your wallet did not want you to make reservations for. If you’re lucky, score a spot outside in the quaint little plaza.
Gin Lovers Principe Reale: This is located in a beautiful unique shopping center, and their gin-based mixed drink offerings are quite extensive. Their menu includes gins from all over the world. My husband was quite impressed with the quality of drinks given we didn’t think the cocktail boom was as pervasive in Portugal as it is in the United States. It also features the Portuguese gin, Nao, in many of its concoctions, which has been aged for 3 months in Port wine barrels. Neato. It was flush with locals and seems to be a place for the well-to-do to socialize after work.
There are so many quaint spots to check out while wandering the streets. If you are not sure if the food is good and authentic, look for where more locals outnumber tourists. It is not always the most glamorous, but certainly delicious. That’s how we found some real restaurant gems that aren’t even google-able now.
The Lisbon people were incredibly friendly and so welcoming. Although we both studied Spanish in college, Portuguese has a whole other ring to it. We were able to decipher a lot of the written language since it was similar to Spanish, but the spoken language is really another animal. Luckily, most Portuguese people, if not all that we interacted with, understand and speak English. That said, a smile can go a really long way.