Day 1: to Lisbon
Not to be classified as the most interesting news, but we’ll be flying TAP Air Portugal for the first time. They give you a little treat on the flight. We’re a tad delayed starting out, but sure look. I grab a copy of Science Focus and read of our impending extinction to depress myself en route. I’m fairly certain I cop a lady discretely smoking an e-cigarette as we cruise the skies, despite the extremely obvious instructions not to do so. It sums up where the human race is situated, the direction we’re going and the fact we’ll never slow down or go back. Basically, we’re doomed to screw ourselves and everything else because as a race we can’t avoid our self-destructive behaviours, not even for two hours.
Despite my earlier moral high ground; we Uber our way to the Turim Terrero de Paco Hotel in under twenty minutes. The weather is warm. Fierce warm. After a short battle with technology we manage to check into our room having tried several tablets to sign electronically. The only option too, which begs the question; where would we sleep had it not eventually worked.
A brief stroll around is followed by a stop into the Delirium Café Lisbon for an 11% Garre Tripel to start me off. It packs some punch. I tone it down afterwards with a Super Bock to accompany my Piri Piri chicken and veg which is sublime. We top it all off with an ice cream and then bed with a beer. A lovely evening. I feel slightly guilty having a drink when Orla can’t. At nearly seven months pregnant she’s on the sparkling water and maybe the occasional single half glass of wine, which in this case she is saving for tomorrow, my birthday.
Day 2: Lisbon
Breakfast doesn’t start well with the queue for the first place we try being quite ridiculous. The staff are moving frustratingly slow too so we abandon ship and head for Fábrica Lisboa where we get some lovely eggs, Iberian ham and avocado toast. Washed down with a cappuccino which is really a latte but sure what can you do. Hot out again today, I’m feeling it somewhat so I can only imagine how Orla is coping.
We try for a tuk-tuk to Castelo de S. Jorge and are reluctantly accepted on our fifth or sixth attempt. Up the hill in a bouncy electric vehicle, maybe not the wisest move with child. The streets are beautiful and old, houses still occupied in the shadow of the castle. Old ladies washing their door steps and hanging clothes from their balconies. Only a street away from the tourist entrance to S. Jorge the narrow, cobbled walkways are empty but for the odd local selling port. We wander back down toward the coast and get a coffee with a view; paying dearly for the privilege.
My little birthday treat is a trip to Duque Brewpub which unfortunately sits atop all the steps in Portugal…..so many steps. We’re sweating by the time we get there. I really know how to treat my pregnant girlfriend. She forgives me after we cool down and we sample a couple of brews before I’m whisked away to the Time Out Market for dinner; a massive indoor food court with a dangerous number of options. It is rather difficult to focus in the moment.
Suitably fed we walk the couple of hundred metres to Crafty Corner where we’re greeted with a lovely Cork accent by the bar man. You really can’t go anywhere. We arrive back to the hotel to find a lovely birthday message from the Front of House staff and two pastéis de nata (those delicious custard tarts) on our table. What a beautiful gesture. I may have had several beers but that just strikes the right note with me.
Day 3: to Cascais
Having sourced our morning meal location last night we head back for a nice breakfast in Basilio. A little café next to the best pastel de nata place we found, you’ll go far to beat Café de Nata, though you won’t have to travel far for an alternative. Afterwards, on our second attempt, we secure a taxi to the train station and aim for Cascais. There are two of six ticket machines out of order and two sizeable queues to boot. We miss one train by minutes but thankfully they’re every twenty minutes so hopefully not too long to wait.
All going well so far we make it to Eurostars Cascais Hotel and get a great sea view from our room despite it being ready twenty minutes late. We walk down the promenade to Boca de Inferno and contemplate a beer or pastry or coffee or hot dog in the quaint collection of shops and cafés. The inferno itself is not much to write home about. Well, at face value anyway, as it appears to be an, admittedly dramatic, set of cliffs and rocks. As always, we forgot about the return journey, but are rewarded with a cool dip in the pool upon arrival from the heat.
Cascais has a bustling centre full of bars and restaurants. We even stumble upon what appears to be a ‘Little England’ type square with several pubs. It looks interesting but we veer off accordingly, wanting to avoid agro and all. We have ice creams in hand so none of the restaurant ushers are hassling us as they know we’re already fed. We’re full of some of the best pizza we’ve ever had. Wood fired in Il Siciliano by the busiest pizza guy on the planet. From the second we enter, and a long time before, to well after we leave he does not stop shovelling pizzas into and out of the furnace. We walk past several times to see him furiously wood firing them pizzas.
Day 4: Cascais
The Eurostars Cascais looks the part all over. A high quality hotel that has all the appearance of luxury. It is finished in the most hap hazard of ways though. Like someone never bothered to snag the place before clearing it for human consumption. Light switches that require multiple clicks to work, only illuminating your room on the tenth attempt, and toilets that don’t seem to be properly built in. The flush being either continuous or not at all. Motion sensor lights that switch off the second you stop moving, meaning you need to be in a state of constant flux to see what you’re doing. Our bathroom door is slightly too big for the space it occupies so it drags on the tiled floor with an unholy scraping. All in all, a strange house of curiosity and quirk.
Today we turn right instead of left and head for the cliff and coast walk toward Casa de Guia Cascais and a closed light house. The loose cliff rocks seem stable enough despite all the warning signs. But then you arrive below to a battered landscape at the foot, with huge boulders strewn about having come detached from the cliff face. A reminder to vacate if the weather gets rough or you hear even the slightest of echoed rumbles.
We make it back just in time to cool down in the pool under the midday sun. It’s busy but the pool is empty until I get in; Orla eventually joining, tentatively at first due to the relative difference between the air temperature and water temperature. It’s not long before the crowd mentality kicks in and most of the other guests join us. After that, it’s a day of floating between the balcony, bed and pool side. We aim for total relaxation, and probably don’t fall too short.
Disappointing hot dogs are the rarest of them all. But we found one at Roulote Hot Dog stand on the boardwalk. If not for the view, the cold Super Bock and the prospect of more beer later it would be a total waste. We had built it up so much it had to fail to be fair. It’s also the only bad meal we’ve had. I say bad, it was more bland than bad. We’re entertained by a stunt plane as we walk the rest of the cliffs; an old biplane trailing smoke, initially looking in trouble but ultimately in control. We make it to Boco de Inferno to get last orders and sit on some mildly uncomfortable bean bags to watch the sun go down….behind the wall. That will do for sunset. We’re fairly certain it made it down the whole way by nightfall, as usual.
Day 5: Cascais
Even early it’s warm on our lovely walk along the promenade to Cascais Marina and Praia dos Pescadoras for a freezing dip in the Atlantic. Orla can’t bring herself to get in properly it’s that cold, just paddling a bit while I save a local boys football from floating out to sea; approximately five percent hero. We do a bit of planning for Sintra tomorrow in Baía de Cascais over a coffee and underwhelming pastel de nata. Order is restored in the form of our veggie lunch in House of Wonders which is without doubt the best meal we’ve had in Portugal so far, and that says a whole lot.
Orla suggests we make an early move for O’Neill’s Irish Pub to secure a seat for the big match. A Portuguese man, with a special place in his heart for Ireland, sitting with us excuses himself to go home and watch the Formula 1 when his local has a higher priority sporting event coming up. He wishes us and baby all the happiness and health in the world. It is a genuine and beautiful sentiment from a lovely man. As the crowd begins to dramatically swell we settle in with a terrible pint of Guinness for the All Ireland Final. To be fair, the climate does not lend itself to Guinness. After about a third I swap it out for a nice cold Super Bock. The pub is full of the kind of Kerry fans that don’t generally shout for Kerry. Not quite fair weather fans but more begrudging another Dublin win. Who says Ireland is full of people who love to see others fail to achieve?!?
Day 6: Sintra
We take an early-ish morning taxi to Sintra where on our way we pass a 400 year old tree, unheard of in Portugal we’re told. We see the President’s Residence and spot the Palácio Nacional de Pena far off in the distance, our first stop in Sintra. It peeps out from the treetops majestically and towers over the surrounding area. The view of Castelo dos Mouros from Pena is incredible. The landscape is wonderfully dramatic with the terracotta rooftops of old houses, churches and castles dotted among the surprisingly green hills. Palácio de Pena is spectacularly perched atop an undersized hill with palace and rock almost blended together.
After a café e pastel de nata back in the old town of Sintra we stroll around to Quinta da Regaleira; A very Gothic looking palace and surrounding gardens. There’s an ‘Initiation Well’ and the whole place has links with the Illuminate, according to our tuk tuk driver who spends more time looking at us and chatting away than on the road in front as we tumbled down the steep hills toward the historic centre of Sintra.
We eat lunch with some Russians who seem like they think we’ve gate crashed their party in a public restaurant as we sit near them. That or they’re jealous of our food. We push on either way and take an Uber home, where our driver has the craic with us while showing us photos on his phone and friends of his on Facebook. Driving is his secondary concern, but we make it back safe enough and in frighteningly good time.
Our Uber back into town later that evening is a Tesla Model 3; a fairly high tech car for a quick trip and at a disgracefully low cost. There’s a moment of panic when I can’t open the fancy, hidden handled door. It all pales into context when I realise there won’t be a planet to embarrass myself on soon enough.
Day 7: Cascais
There are people sitting at the pool by 9am. By midday they’ll still be there, like lizards in the sun. An hour or two before the sun sets they will likely move on having spent almost half a day lazing in the heat. One couple seem to have been in the same position for almost three days by my estimation. Either they leave every time we do and just happen to be back by the time we are, in the same loungers, swim wear and orientation or they don’t do an awful lot. By Wednesday morning they have towels and their bags on the same loungers while they sit having their breakfast. I’m not sure why I’m so obsessed with them or their behaviour but it sort of makes me quite annoyed that this pair are so selfish and have such a sense of entitlement. No other guest can use that common facility while they are here, and that’s fine in their eyes.
I take an ill-advised high heat wander about the local area in the afternoon. Despite the dehydration it was actually quite lovely. The VIP Supermarcado provides the ingredients for lunch and I scurry back to Orla with my bag of shopping for an al fresco balcony meal. The balance of my day is spent lounging around the hotel, occasionally swimming and drinking coffee, it being a little too hot for us to venture too far.
We’re devastated when we head back to Il Siciliano for our pizza and it’s closed. We just get a shrug of the shoulders from the pizza guy inside as he catches our puppy-dog eyes through the glass door. I guess they need to clean the place at least once a week, still though. We source some food to just sustain us, utterly deflated at our absolutely insignificant problem. Afterwards we just sit by the marina people watching with an ice cream, contemplating our last holiday with two.
It’s time to return to our regular lives now. At the airport we get the priority treatment with Orla being pregnant and all. We’re brought to the top of the check-in queue by a member of the TAP staff because my ‘wife is pregnant’.
There’s a lot of confusion about when we’re taking off. The range is about an hour or so. We’re informed a few times we’re delayed for whatever reason and for however long before the pilot suddenly announces ‘eh, we’re actually going to take off now’. The whole process is categorised regularly as ‘not the fault of TAP’. It would be a lot easier was it not 34° C outside. Orla flows between being relatively alright and about to pass out. Some passengers are becoming very irate at the whole process. It brings out the good and bad in people as one couple offers us water while another genuinely pushes Orla out of their way to get from the bus to the plane. Good times.