Monthly Archives: February 2017

#thegetawayfkaCOMMIT #Lisbon

Lisbon, Portugal

After brunch and a browse around the Time Out Market (mostly a food/drink market with a few boutique shops), we took a cab to the Tower of Belém, which, instead of “bell-em,” is pronounced “buh-lime.”

I kept forgetting that I had a mini Polaroid camera (actually, it’s a Fujifilm Instax) and made sure to take a group photo here. As the photo taker was carefully handing me back my camera with the film sticking out, my finger accidentally hit the button and took a second photo. A minute of time revealed a double chin, after which HyeMi suggested that when it finished developing, a third one may appear.

Christina, me, Jenn and HyeMi with Portugal’s Golden Gate Bridge, officially known as Ponte 25 de Abril. The name commemorates the Carnation Revolution in 1974 and the day that the dictatorship, Estado Novo, was overthrown without the usage of violence. During the celebration, soldiers placed carnations in the barrels of their guns.

We then came across the simplest business idea, “wine with a view” – a compact stand dispensing wine, with foldable chairs and blankets situated by the river. Very little overhead involved.

The elaborate Jerónimos Monastery (or Mosteiro dos Jerónimos) and the fountain in Praça do Império in front of it. I didn’t get to check it out this time so, I’ll just have to come back again sometime soon…

Not too far from the monastery is the bakery, Pastéis de Belém, selling the pastel de Belém or pastel de nata (plural: pastéis de nata), an egg custard whose recipe came from the monastery itself. The Liberal Revolution of 1820 resulted in the shutting down of convents and monasteries and, as a result, the monks of this particular monastery sold the pastry at a nearby sugar refinery for money and survival. The same recipe is said to be used today and it’s so worth the wait. The lines can be long but they move pretty quickly and efficiently. You pay, they bag the already boxed treats, you bite into the extremely flaky and warm center treat, and you say “OMG,” all in that assembly line-esque manner. (That fish plate was in our lodging.)

Travel tip: We bought several packages (6 to a box) the day before we were flying out. Two of us put it in the fridge and 2 of us left it in a cool room temperature overnight. The pastries traveled well and after several days in the fridge at home and a slow heating in the oven, they still were fresh and crispy.

   

For dinner, we hit up a seafood restaurant that João had recommended – Cervejaria Ramiro. I knew this was the place to go to when the cab driver said “Good! Good!” with a thumbs up after I had told him where we were going. Even the cab driver for the ride back asked, “Did you girls just come from Ramiro? Very good, isn’t it?”

Jenn: “So, what do you recommend? What do most people order?”
Waiter: “Shrimp in garlic sauce, clams, tiger prawns, scarlet shrimp, rock lobster.”
Jenn: “Um, so we’ll take all of that.”
Waiter: “How many tiger prawns and scarlet shrimp?”
Us: “Um, 4 each? Is that enough food.”
Waiter: “Woooo yes…”

We should’ve known to cut it down when he made a face.

Waiter: “To drink?”
Us: “We’ll have the Sagres beer.”
Waiter: “Pidyo?? Pidyo??”
Us: “Uhhh…yes, pitcher?”
Waiter (smiles): “Pidyo!”

Me: “Uh, guys, I don’t think he said ‘pitcher.’ I remembered that ‘pidyo’ in Chinese meant ‘beer.’ He thinks we’re Chinese.”

It didn’t help that the table next to us had English-speaking Chinese (possibly Americans) who egged him on and excitedly shouted “PIDYO!!!” The waiter then came back to show us the rock lobster (pictured above) after fighting it out of the nearby tank.

Us: “Ooooo good! good!”

When we later got the bill, we saw that the rock lobster had cost us EUR 160. It didn’t occur to us that he came to show us the rock lobster not so that we could ogle at it, but to make sure we were okay with the size of it. Oops.

Travel tip: Skip the tiger prawns, but order everything else. Even the rock lobster. Also, try to make reservations. We made a 7pm reservation (which is considered early), and there was already a line of people who hadn’t made one. There were still empty tables inside but most seemed reserved.

#thegetawayfkaCOMMIT #Porto

Porto, Portugal

We were up at 6am to catch the 7am train to Porto. It’s about 3 hr each way from Lisbon and our car was luckily pretty empty so, we all got to sprawl out on the seats. Christina and HyeMi passed out immediately after ticket check and, as the guy came back around a short while later to check for new passengers, he momentarily paused to look at us and chuckle. 4 “proper” Asian girls with limbs sprawled out, 2 of us completely knocked unconscious. I’d laugh, too.

The São Bento train station featured blue-tiled artwork (also known as azulejo) depicting key events in Portugal’s history. According to a free walking tour guide, the widespread usage of tiles on buildings was for the same reason why your bathroom has them – to shield from the effects of humidity. Blue was the most accessible ink color. (Photo credit: HyeMi)

HyeMi read about a free city walking tour on someone’s blog that was to meet here in the Praça da Liberdade. We had some time to kill before meeting time so, we went to check out the historic bookstore, Livraria Lello, which JK Rowling frequented in her early days. The 4 euro entrance fee turned us away. (Apparently, you get it back if you buy a book, though.) Back at the square, we met the main guide and said our hello’s to the 3-4 other people also waiting. Then, another 50-60 people showed up and we were split into two groups of 30ish and told the tour would last 2-3 hr for the old part of the city. It was hard to hear because the group was so large. Our guide was thoroughly entertaining but, we didn’t make it past the first 15 minutes. We did manage to chat up an Aussie guy, a solo traveler in the midst of visiting friends and family, whom Jenn was initially suspicious of, whispering to us “Haven’t you ever watched Taken??”

There was a church or cathedral at the end of almost every block that the guide joked that if you ever felt the need to pray or confess, you’ll always have a church nearby to do so. Laziness could never be an excuse unless, of course, you got sucked into a Netflix hole and only left the couch to grab another bag of chips. (Pictured above: Igreja dos Clérigos. You can climb the tower there to get a panoramic view of the city.)

Up the block, the Igreja do Carmo. The planners of this city clearly played a round of Settlers of Catan with church pieces.

And, up the hill from the train station is the Sé do Porto (Porto Cathedral).

The Gothic cloisters of the Sé, adorned with blue tiles galore.

The terrace in front of the cathedral gave way to this awesome view of the city. I must say, Porto has no shortage of locations that provide amazing panoramic views.

And, yes, more building facades, a lot of which had laundry hanging off the railings. I often wondered if there was a community rule that every occupant must do laundry and hang them out to dry at peak tourist photo-taking times. I suppose the dryer market would never progress here.

Travel tip: We had planned to visit the Palácio da Bolsa but, it was closed for a bit due to private events being held there. So, make sure it’s open before you go.

Heading towards the Cais da Riberia.

We booked a 6 Bridges River Douro boat cruise at a nearby tourism office and had time to grab a quick bite to eat by the Cais da Ribeira. Knowing that “quick bite” isn’t really a well-known thing in Portugal, we came upon a cafe by the river with a maître d’ who had the look and attitude of a Real Housewife of New Jersey. We stressed to her that we had a 1:30pm boat cruise and only about 30-40 minutes to eat. She said “okay, okay, okay,” ushered us inside and sent a waiter to bring menus almost immediately. She then rushed us to choose what we wanted to order and even came by to check on us later on to make sure we had everything in good time. This is a woman who gets shit done. No doubt.

We took one of these babies out to see the 6 bridges, one of which is the Ponte de Dom Luís I (pictured above), a bridge designed by Théophile Seyrig, a partner of Gustave Eiffel. You may know Gustave from something called the Eiffel Tower.

The white Lego block at the very top is the Episcopal Palace.

The neighboring Ponte Maria Pia was also designed and built by Seyrig & Eiffel.

After the cruise, we took a funicular to the top level of the Ponte de Dom Luís I which is for the tram and pedestrians to cross. On the walk to the funicular, we passed a sign advertising bike rentals and featuring photos of bike paths without any city views.

Me: “Nice of them to include several photos of the actual paths and views of nothing scenic.”
Jenn (pointing to one photo): “And, here, you can ride a bike on the road…to nowhere.”

Bike rental company, I hope you fired the intern that put this together.

After the sky went back and forth between sun and clouds, the sun finally won its spotlight. Yep, delightful.

From the bridge, we took a cab to Graham’s Port Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia for lunch and a Port tasting (well, we only had time for one, haha).

Vila Nova de Gaia

Cheers to us!

Travel tip: Also, go for the Port tastings by the river (Taylor’s, Espaço Porto Cruz).

#thegetawayfkaCOMMIT #Sintra

Sintra, Portugal

We went on a day trip with Inside Lisbon which was great because we didn’t have to worry about renting a car and it was great having a guide take us through. After about a 1-2 hr drive, we reached Palácio da Pena at the top of the mountain. The gardens around the palace were really peaceful to walk through but, only because all the groups of tourists opted to take a very short bus ride up, completely bypassing the gardens.

Guide: “Olá, my name is Jeaux-oww-ohh but, you can call me John.”

Me: “What was our guide’s name again?”
Jenn: “Jo-ah? J-o-a-o.”
Me: “Sounds like 좋아.*”

*좋아 means “good” or it indicates “I like it” in Korean.

On the top of the entrance archway is a sculpted hand (not pictured), signaling that all are welcome. If only I could’ve taken that stone hand and slapped the current POTUS in the face with it several times…

The palace was built as an expression of Romanticism with domes inspired by Indian architecture and tiles by the Moors. The colors gave it a Disney World feel and I almost expected to find candy-making machines operating inside. Instead, we found most of the stucco work and frescoes to actually be drawn onto the walls in 2D and painted in such a way to give it a 3D feel. The restoration almost had me fooled.

Above another archway lies a triton who’s half-man and half-fish with land above him and the sea beneath, making this the “Allegoric Gate To The Creation Of The World.”

Definitely tile scenery worthy of a palace.

From the back of the palace, we could see Castelo dos Mouros and the view beyond. We walked along the edge of one of the turrets to get a better view and to see parts of the old monastery (destroyed by lightning and the 1755 earthquake) on which the palace was built.

João: “This part is a little bit more complicated because it’s narrower and it’s higher, okay? So, stick to your right [by the wall], okay?”
HyeMi: “Oh, Jenn, it’s not bad.”
João: “It gets worse, okay?”
HyeMi: “Don’t say that!”
João: “No, sorry! I’m being honest! Just for you to expect it.”

It really wasn’t scary (for anyone who gets vertigo or is slightly afraid of heights). But, we just found João’s responses and demeanor to be so endearing. Perhaps it’s the accent and his chill vibe.

We walked through the interior for about 30 min through a chapel, bedrooms and an entertainment room. But, of course, our favorite room of all was the…

…medieval Ina Garten-style kitchen. You could tell that we’ve reached our 30s when we talk excitedly about real estate, home decor, and kitchen goals.

We then headed into town where we were allotted about an hour to meander along the alleyways to souvenir shop and eat.

João: “Over there is Piriquita. It’s one of the oldest bakeries which King Carlos I visited many times. ‘Piriquita’ means ‘parakeet.'”
Us: “Awww.”
João: “Well, it was the nickname the king gave to the baker because she was short.”
Us: “Oh.”
João: “Yea. But, when you go there, order the ‘pillow’ and the ‘cheese.'”
Us: “What?”
João: “Well, if I say it in Portuguese, you won’t get it. Travesseiro and Queijada.”

He was right. Portuguese does not sound like how it looks sometimes. Add a bit of Spanish, add a bit of Russian flair, hold your nose for a nasally touch, and you’ve got it. Kind of.

#squadgoals

The white cone things on the left are chimneys for the Palácio Nacional de Sintra. Nearby this viewpoint, we stopped at an empty outdoor cafe for a quick bite and a cheeky glass of wine. We still had about 40 min and we thought ordering sandwiches would take little time. But, in true Iberian Peninsula fashion, it took 10-15 min for us to get our drinks and the full 40 min to get the sandwiches. It was literally cheese, ham, and sliced bread, toasted. The only technical aspect, I suppose, would be the toasting. Thirty minutes in, the cafe had filled up some more and the waiter became frantic.

Us: “We’ll just take the sandwiches to go.”

The waiter nodded his head ambiguously. Ten more minutes passed and we really needed to go. João was parked in a zone that only allotted an hour. So, we split up to conquer duties. HyeMi and Christina headed off to Piriquita to grab some pillows and cheeses, while Jenn and I confronted the waiter and paid the bill.

Jenn: “Um, we really need to go.”
Waiter: “Why didn’t you tell me before?”

Face palm. By the time we got the food, the waiter looked like he needed a cigarette break.

Cabo da Roca

On the drive to Cabo da Roca, Jenn, HyeMi and Christina all fell asleep and João kept peeking at his rearview mirror to make sure that there was at least one person still awake listening to him talk. Everyone awoke by the time we reached this westernmost point of Europe.

I title this piece, “Christine by the Lighthouse,” a composition by Jenn, the artist formerly known as JYP.

The area was covered in succulents, the most comfortable “grass” you could ever lay on. No lie.

Cascais

We ended the day at Cascais (pronounced Cas-kah-eesh) where we situated ourselves along the beach with seafood and beer. Oh, and ice cream at Santini.

We all passed out on the ride back to Lisbon, leaving João by himself with his thoughts.

#thegetawayfkaCOMMIT Portugal ed.

Some time in 2015, my friend Jenn had heard about an idea that her friend had been doing for a few years now. It was a trip with some close girlfriends planned entirely in secret by one chosen girl. The time of year, number of days, and budget were all agreed upon in advance and the location was not to be revealed until arrival at the airport. They called it The Great Escape.

So, after our Iceland trip, Jenn, Christina, HyeMi and I agreed to do the same. But, after having already stolen the idea, we couldn’t also steal the great name. Our placeholder became COMMIT, written in all caps. It sounded ridiculous but, it may have pushed us all the more to do just that. Commit, in all its abruptness and command. After a year, we finally settled on the more appealing The Getaway with the appendage “fka COMMIT” so that we would never forget.

Jenn, as the first planner of the trip, handed us wrapped packages in the cab en route to Newark. We ripped it open to reveal a passport holder and guide book to…[cue in squealing]

Lisbon (Lisboa), Portugal

Our 7 hr flight, 5 hours forward in time, and almost 2 hr waiting at passport control were justified by the beautiful 60°F degree weather. We were lucky to get an early check-in at our “hotel” and opened the door to find our dream apartment, complete with dream balconies and dream views. For anyone staying in Lisbon for a few days, I highly recommend staying at Edifício Ex Libris which is like a glorified Airbnb since someone comes in everyday and cleans the apartment.

The view from our front balcony started our love affair with building facades and our hobby of taking photos of it. I know, super exciting times.

Exhibit B.

A Streetcar Named “F.U.”

Lisbon reminded me a lot of Madrid, except smaller with trams, more modern, and almost everyone spoke English without making you feel guilty for not knowing Portuguese. Passing through certain neighborhoods or alleyways easily gave me flashbacks of specific areas in Madrid. The fact that some Spanish friends messaged me while I was here even confused me as to which year it really was. Unfortunately, it really is 2017 and Trump is actually president. To the other girls, Lisbon was like San Francisco. Lots of hills, trams, warm yet sometimes chilly weather, and a bridge reminiscent of the Golden Gate Bridge.

We took Tram No. 28 from Praça Luís de Camões, got off too early, and stumbled upon Miradouro de Santa Luzia, a viewpoint in Alfama that revealed amazing views of the city that only got better which each subsequent place we visited. There was also beautiful tile work that depicted Praça do Comércio before the earthquake of 1755.

Travel tip: We were able to pay on the tram. It was about EUR 2.90 per person.

Further up was another viewpoint at Largo das Portas do Sol.

Voila! From here, Jenn was able to negotiate a tuk tuk ride to Elevador de Santa Justa from EUR 5 pp to EUR 4 pp. The guy didn’t put up much of a fight. He then gave us somewhat of a tour as he drove us to the elevator, and even suggested that he drive us to the top where we can access the viewpoint via a walking bridge, thereby bypassing the elevator ride and skipping the likely long lines at the bottom. Perhaps he deserved the extra euro per person.

From the walking bridge, we paid EUR 1.50 pp to walk up some stairs towards this view of the city with Castelo de São Jorge in the distance and River Tagus (Tejo) to the right.

And, a view of Igreja do Carmo (or what’s remaining of the church after the earthquake) and Praça Dom Pedro IV, also known as Rossio Square.

We overloaded on textiles, soaps (had no idea this was a thing here), cans of pâté, and pine cone ceramics, all in one store – A Vida Portuguesa. Then we took a band album photo while eating candied walnuts by the storefront.

Later, we chilled at our apartment before heading out to dinner which we had around 7pm every night. (And, by the way, at 7pm, we pretty much opened up every restaurant because 10pm appears to be standard dinner time.) We debated on a good hashtag to use for all “The Getaway” trips and also one to use for each individual trip. Given that all we could think of for a whole year for a trip name was COMMIT, our creativity with hashtags was no different.

Me: “So, let’s use #TheGetawayfkaCOMMIT for the main hashtag and…#PortuGals” for this trip?”

[Immediate scoffing.]

HyeMi: “How about…#TheGetaway2017 or #TheGetawayPortugal?”
Me: “Nooo, we need to be more creative. Although, didn’t we use #NYUgnomes for our Iceland trip? Should we just use that to group all the trip photos together into one hashtag?”
Jenn: “No. That one’s done and dusted.”
HyeMi: “#PortugueseGnomes? #Portugal2017?”
Me: “Wait, did you say ‘done and dusted’ or ‘dumb and dusted’ because both of those work.”

[HyeMi tries to use #dumbanddusted. It survives only one post.]

HyeMi: “Let me see what ‘getaway’ translates into in Portuguese. It says ‘cai fora.’ So, #CaiFora2017? Wait a minute…’cai fora’ actually means ‘get out!’ Ugh, I’m just going to translate ‘vacation’ into Portuguese. #ferias2017.”

That, too, survived only one post. In the end, we just went with #TheGetawayPortugal. Whomp whomp.

And, exhibit C.

Travel tip: Grab breakfast at Tartine, lunch with a view at Pharmacia and/or IBO Restaurant (Mozambique fusion), and dinner at Cervejaria Ramiro (make reservations in advance) and anything owned by José Avillez (Mini Bar Teatro, Cantinho do Avillez, Bairro do Avillez). At Mini Bar, try the secret “Epic Menu.” The cocktails (similar across the restaurants) were probably the best I ever had, particularly the Primo Basilico.