I traveled to Portugal with my husband and some friends for vacation this year. It was the first time in a decade that my husband and I traveled abroad together. William is a big extrovert when he’s around people he knows, so I knew he would have fun. I, however, was apprehensive, because I prefer traveling along so I don’t have to be on someone else’s schedule.

We arrived in Lisbon on the evening of May 17th. Once we secured a van for transportation (we had a lot of oversize bags due to fencing equipment), my friend, Kristan, drove us to our guesthouse, which I gave directions. It was stressful for everyone…we were tired and the streets of old Lisbon are very narrow. Add in a temperamental stick shift and our nerves were frazzled by the time we found the guesthouse.

After dragging our luggage upstairs via a skinny, antiquated elevator, we were starving. Luckily, right next door was a Michelin rated restaurant called Faz Figura Restaurant Bar. The food and service were wonderful! We really liked the champagne sangria cocktails….we drank two pitchers worth! We didn’t leave until around 11:30pm.

Tired, we climbed into our beds until breakfast the next morning.

The Sweet Lisbon Guesthouse was a great find. Yes, there’s a shared bathroom (one for each sex), but it was never an issue. The breakfast spread was adequate and the place was neat and clean. It was also close to most of the tourist attractions, so being able to walk instead of drive was a plus.

After breakfast the first morning, we walked to the Alfama district. The steep streets of Alfama, one of Lisbon’s oldest areas, are lined with shops selling traditional crafts and cafes. Passengers pack the historic no. 28 tram, which winds through Alfama on its way up to 11th-century São Jorge Castle (we didn’t get on the tram, but took a bus up). Views from Miradouro da Graça terrace stretch over the city to the River Tagus. In the evening, melancholy Fado music can be heard in some of the area’s long-running restaurants.

Let me backtrack a moment…after I walked out of the guesthouse to the street, the first “local” to speak to me was one who asked me, “Which way is the Camino de Santiago?” OMG, was that a sign just for me? I mean, I had just been telling others that I want to walk the last 100km of the Camino de Santiago in two years (while trying to quiet the voice in my head that said I couldn’t walk that far). And now, the first non-American to speak to me in Portugal was someone asking me the way? It has to be a sign!

At lunch, we met up with other friends, who traveled separately to Lisbon, at the Comércio Plaza and ate at the Ministerium Club in their outside seating. I had the most wonderful octopus! It was simple with just olive oil, lemon and shallots, but it was the best I ate on my entire trip.

Dinner that evening was at Alfama Cellars. Again, the food was fantastic! Plus, I can drink a lot of sangria…which is odd, given that I usually don’t like red wine.

The next morning, we departed for Elvas, 2.5 hours to the east.

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