Monday, March 19, 2018

Rediscovering Portugal

16th Century Torre de Belém (photos by Michelle da Silva Richmond)

Dawn is breaking as we glide above the sun-bathed Portuguese capital and I feel my heart skip a beat. Although I lived in Portugal when I was growing up and traveled often to Lisbon as a Pan Am flight attendant, I hadn’t been back in many years.
Lisbon revealed

Tucked comfortably on board a TAP Air Portugal flight, I feel the plane begin its steady descent as I prepare for what promises to be an emotional trip. I’m about to introduce my older daughter Kimberly to her “heritage” - my father’s country - where she has decided to have her wedding later this year.

I didn't sleep at all on the overnight flight so I’m a little bleary-eyed as we wind our way through the maze of fellow travelers going through the long immigration lines. I comment to the pleasant immigration official that apparently, this once “best-kept-secret” on the European continent has been “discovered.”

“Well, 500 hundred years ago Vasco da Gama discovered America, now America is discovering Portugal,” he replied.

I smile wryly to myself and overlook his distortion of history, as we head out to hail a readily available taxi for our short ride to our home for the night, the Hotel Tivoli Avenida Liberdade Lisboa, a place I knew well during my days as a Pan Am flight attendant. 
Luxurious Hotel Tivoli Lisboa beckons

A landmark since it opened in 1933, the Tivoli's central location, excellent services and amazing breakfast buffet still makes it one of the best hotels in Lisbon. Their bathroom amenities aren’t too shabby, either! 

Since we have only one day in Lisbon I decide to forego a much-needed nap and take Kimberly to explore the city I’m so eager to introduce her to. 
Tuk-Tuk transportation

Time is limited so we jump into an eco-friendly Tuk Tuk, piloted by our newly found friend Luis, from Ulisseia Tours who deftly whizzes us around the city’s main attractions. 

We start along the Tejo River to view the fabulously ornate Mosteiro de Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery) - resting place of some of Portugal’s kings, queens and illustrious explorers – and the Torre de Belém, the 16th Century monument to Portugal’s Age of Discovery.
Tomb of explorer Vasco da Gama

One Sweet Stop


An absolute "must" along the way is a visit to Pastéis de Belém, the renowned bakery, which has been drawing from the Monastery's secret recipe and creating the delicate custard pastries of the same name since 1837.

I’m shocked to see the line of customers curled outside the bakery and around the block, patiently waiting to get in. Apparently it has become a very popular stop on the tourist trail since my last visit but fortunately, our new friend Luis has an “in” and he’s able to jump the line and bring us our own “stash.”


I watch with delight as Kimberly unwraps the warm, delicate pastries, lovingly sprinkling them with the enclosed cinnamon and powdered sugar, as I’ve instructed. Her eyes light up and I know that she’s “hooked” with her first bite of this Portuguese "staple." 


Stepping Back in Time

The ancient Moorish district of Alfama is next on our tour and as our Tuk-Tuk jostles and bounces along the maze of narrow, cobble-stone streets past charming bistros and shops, we hang on for dear life, arriving just in time to catch a mesmerizing sunset from Lisbon's highest point - the Miradouro da Graça - one of Lisbon's oldest suburbs.
Ancient street in the Alfama district

A solo guitarist crooning Portuguese love songs serenades the sun as it melds into the horizon. I feel myself choke up and my heart swell with pride as I glance at Kimberly's  admiring gaze as she looks over the country of our ancestors.

I’m exactly where I need to be. I can’t wait to find the perfect wedding venue for her so that I can bring the rest of my family here to experience the country of the grandfather they never knew. 


Sunset over Lisbon