Back in action! (Lisbon, Portugal)

Hello again.

It’s been a while.

How are you?

I’ve been good, and busy (can you tell?). It’s been a summer of whirlwind travel and new beginnings. Specifically, a new job and title for me. Where to begin? Let’s start from where we left off, at the end of June.

The end of June transitioned quickly into the start of July, and catapulted me into Europe. I was able to visit the home country of my better half (that would be a Mr. José Baptista, and Portugal) for the first time since 2009. Yipee!

I had been in London for a few days seeing old friends (hey Molly!) and meeting new ones (hey Zé’s London MBA crew!). But on my last night in town, the night before I was set to fly to Portugal and meet his family and friends and see my own parents, I received a troubling call. José and his overlord boss had had a miscommunication, and he wouldn’t be able to make the trip. Sadness, sadness, and more sadness. He had been going through a bit of a rough period with work, and this was not helping. No light at the end of the tunnel. But with all things, the only way to go is forward, so onward we went…me, to Portugal, Zé, into a weekend filled with WhatsApp video calls.

I landed in Lisbon on Friday afternoon and, quick note on that: the plane was filled with three stag parties, meaning at least 30 British bros dressed in costumes. I found myself in row 16 sandwiched between a clown and a leather cowboy. At first I was dreading the flight but they turned out to be fantastic conversationalists and even bought my breakfast onboard. Big fan! Also, key learning is that Lisbon’s the new hot spot for stags. Watch out! Anyway…

Upon landing in Lisbon, I was greeted by Zé’s mother Alexandra and father Luis. I almost started crying when I found them at arrivals! Our meeting had been building up for such a long time, and it was finally happening—they were real!!

We drove around the city a bit and I got a little tour that refreshed all the memories of Lisbon that had disappeared since my last time visiting. Then we went to pick up Zé’s grandmother Neida, who took the bus 90 minutes from Leiria to join us in Portugal. With five of us in tow, we sat down for a light snack and some espresso (and a quick and interesting visit to the family office of ACVB architecture!), before the Baptista clan dropped me off at my hotel to settle in, unpack and freshen up for dinner that night. Zé’s friends in Lisbon were so sweet too, texting to make sure I was okay and all settled in. Though I was bummed out for Zé not being there, I was excited to be in Lisbon meeting the people he loves most in the world.

That night, Zé’s brother Pedro and girlfriend Rita picked me up from the hotel. More meeting of real-life celebrities! We cruised over to Casa Baptista, a lovely enclave with a bright and beautiful grotto outfitted with a range of tasty pre-dinner drinks and snacks. It was a lovely evening, and we sipped wine and chatted while dinner was being prepared. It was so nice but also bizarre to be with Zé’s family—I could almost pinpoint where each of his different mannerisms and quirks come from. We are our families, right?!

Dinner was a delicious seabass with black rice and avocado salad. Also on the menu was Luis’ fantastic wine collection, of which I got a hearty helping. It’s no rumor—Portuguese wines are really some of the best in the world, and I could’ve tried endless bottles if not for a thing called alcohol poisoning. After dinner, our evening was only just beginning. José is never giving me enough detail when I ask him what he was like as a baby, and I knew this would be the perfect place to probe. Out came the photo books, and the stories, and more stories, and more. I learned more in one evening about my own boyfriend than I had in 16 months of dating. A big thank you to Alexandra for that one. 🙂

The next morning, I had a long, relaxed breakfast at the hotel and video chatted with Zé. Alexandra had recommended some shopping spots nearby the hotel, so I went to check out a few and stretch my legs a bit. Around 2PM, the Baptistas picked me up from my hotel and we drove into the center of town (I hope I’m getting that right, as the B’s will be very disappointed if my geography is off, and I know they’re readers of this blog…!). We had a very nice lunch overlooking the sea, with a beautiful breeze and the sun shining over us. And of course, wine. It was a lovely day indeed.

The Baptistas had an event that evening and I was meant to meet up with some of Zé’s friends after lunch, so we parted ways following our afternoon lunch. Next celebrity meeting? Marta and Tomás, Zé’s friends from his days at INSEAD. Marta scooped me up from the hotel and we headed over to the house she and Tomás recently purchased, a super cute spot about a 15-minute drive from the house of Zé’s family. We were meant to have a quick drink and head out for some trendy drinks, but ended up getting so caught up in chatting (which really felt like catching up), going through wedding photos and taking in the beautiful sunset views of Lisbon from their porch. Even though we had to cut our evening short as some last-minute plans popped up for them, it was so wonderful to meet two people I had heard so much about. And of course, they sent me off with some delicious restaurant recommendations. One in particular sounded super tasty called Àgua Pela Barba, so I headed there after a stroll through the neighborhood (Bica). Àgua Pela Barba is a cool and vintage-y fisherman-style restaurant, serving traditional Portuguese seafood dishes with a bit of cosmopolitan flare—perfect for a Saturday evening. I had a delicious tasty dinner that I can’t recap for you due to lack of memory (what happens when you wait too long to write a blog post), but I know it involved a bit of ceviche and a bit more vinho verde. Shocker. Also, I was able to have a nice video chat with Mom and Dad before they headed out on their flight. I would be seeing them in just a few hours!

The next morning, I ate a quick breakfast and hopped right on the subway to get to the airport. Mom and Dad’s flight landed at 11AM, and I wanted to be on time to greet them at arrivals. On time I was, and there they were. I always cry some happy tears when I see Mom and Dad, because I was a previous visit-home-once-a-week kind of person, and now the opportunity to see them only comes once every few months, if I’m lucky (for the time being, at least). So I was happy, happy, happy. After getting the SIM cards sorted out, we headed over to my hotel to drop off their bags until they were able to check into their Airbnb they’d be staying in in Chiado. Then, we walked around a bit and found a cute spot near the hotel where we got some wine, some lunch, and some time to properly catch up for the first time since May.

Following lunch, Mom and Dad were able to check into their Airbnb, so I headed off to do some shopping in Príncipe Real while they settled in. A bit later that afternoon we met up again, and walked down to the waterfront to take in the sunset. And a beautiful one, it was! We were getting a bit hungry, and by that I mean thirsty for happy hour cocktails, so we walked over to Topo, which was a Zé recommendation and also one of the hardest locations I have ever had to find. Partly because it’s six floors up on the top of an unassuming shopping center. But Mom, Dad and I persevered and made it to the top for what made the juice absolutely worth the squeeze: epic views of Lisbon, including the illuminated Castelo de Sao Jorge (more on this below), fantastic light dinner dishes, and even more delicious wine (are you beginning to see a theme emerge here?). We got a few dishes to share (I don’t think that was the original intention, but dining out with me means dishes are shared whether you want them to be or not), and took in the views as the sun finally set. Zé recommendations for the win!

The next morning was Monday and our first full day together. We decided to spend it walking around Lisbon, checking out a few of the different neighborhoods, drinking all the espresso (thank you, Fábrica) and taking in the brilliant sunshine. Our big stop of the day was Castelo de Sao Jorge, or St. George’s Castle for my non-Latin readers (got you). It’s a Moorish castle occupying a very commanding hilltop (it can be seen from almost anywhere in the city) overlooking the historic centre of the Portuguese city of Lisbon and Tagus River. The purpose of the castle was to house military troops and in case of siege, the elite who lived in the alcáçova (citadel). It was interesting to learn about the castle, and alluring to take in the view of the city down below. And, in what seems to be typical Portuguese style, wine is served from carts at the top of the hill. Fantástico!

We headed home around 4PM to get ready for the main event of the week: the meeting of the Haydens and Baptistas. Dun dun dunnnn. Luis picked us up around 7PM and we headed over to Casa Baptista, where the entire Baptista squad was waiting: the crew I had met over the weekend, plus two new additions: Graça and Mariana, the long-awaited final pieces of the puzzle, who had been away over the weekend. The puzzle was complete! (Zé, you’re not being forgotten here, don’t worry)

Waiting for us at the house was another gorgeous spread of snacks and wine, good conversation, and beautiful weather. It was like the families had known each other for years—the company came together like a beautiful song. And speaking of songs, after a delicious dinner of fresh cod by Chef Alexandra, came the music. I had always known the Baptistas were a band of a family, but little did I know the talent level they are working with. Dad had been curious about the fado music of Portugal, but rather than play him a song or show him a description, Mariana and Pedro whipped out the guitar and the vocals for a live performance. The review? 10/10, would recommend. (As someone whose best and only vocal performances come in the shower, it was especially impressive) After filling the house with laughter and chats for a solid few hours, it was time to go. But, like a girlfriend living in a dream, the Haydens and Baptistas made plans to reunite again that week.

The Haydens are an early crew (as in, asleep by 11PM, or 9PM for the parentals), so the next morning was a rough one. But we overcame our fatigue and hit the road for a day of adventure in Sintra. Sintra is a picturesque little Portuguese town set amidst the pine-covered hills of the Serra de Sintra, meaning it’s hilly and slightly cooler than other parts of Portugal. On our agenda for the day was the Palacio Pena, and the Castelo dos Mouros. After a terrifying tuk-tuk ride up the mountain that left no one feeling safe, we had arrived and were ready to go! (Mainly, we were thrilled not to be on that ramshackle tuk-tuk ride anymore)

First stop? Castelo dos Mouros, or the Castle of the Moors, is a castle that dates back to the 8th century to the invasion of the Muslim Moors from North Africa. But moreover, it played an integral role in Portugal’s road to independence, as it safeguarded the important trade town of Sintra, and the largely agricultural region around it, from attack by the Moors. The walk leading up to the castle was just as impressive as the structure itself: covered in cobblestone paths through enchanting mountain mist, it was lined with moss covered boulders that guiding the way along plaques and guide posts with information on the original purposes of the remaining buildings, and insight into life within the castle walls. So much learning!

Next came the palace. Palacio Pena, or Pena National Palace, tops a hill in Sintra, so you can see this Romanticist masterpiece from everywhere in the little town. Built by German architect Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Schewge, the palace exhibits a blend of Neo-Gothic, Neo-Islamic, Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Manueline architectural styles, decorated in yellow, purple and pink pastel colors. And the exterior is covered in allegorical carvings, references to Biblical stories and religious icons, and lavishly painted Portuguese tiles. The inside contains ornate stuccos, multi-patterned columns, Moorish-arched ceilings, and much of the original monastery’s chapel. Needless to say, it’s very cool to look at and walk around in.

We were completely exhausted from our trekking adventure, but in classic Hayden style, the hunt for cocktails is always on. Mom and Dad had a place in mind called Dona Maria, rumored to have the best sangria in the greater Lisbon area. What a treat at the end of a long day. Dona Maria has a beautiful terrace with a view overlooking Sintra, but the view is just as good from inside looking out through the big windows (it was a bit chilly for outdoor dining). The service was incredibly welcoming, and the drinks they serve are indeed epic. Mom and Dad shared sangria, and I accidentally ordered almost an entire bottle of vinho verde for myself (I thought it would be a small carafe…oops). We were planning to have a light snack, but were so happy with the setting of the restaurant that we decided to turn it into an early dinner, so we ordered some mains and kept the drinks flowing. Afterwards, we headed down to the city center and got back on the train (which we had to wait for after missing the train we wanted to take by 2 minutes!). We had planned to go for an evening tipple back in Lisbon near the Airbnb, but were so beat by the activities of the day that we decided to call it an early night, head back to home and get to bed early so we could seize our final day together the next morning.

I woke up a bit sad on Wednesday knowing it was my last day with Mom and Dad for a while, and I wanted to make it count. We headed out early for breakfast that day, picking a spot near the water for our eggs and coffee. It was pretty relaxed, and we ended up sitting for nearly two hours chatting and enjoying each other’s company before I flew back off to London. Another priority for me was seeing the Baptistas one last time, so after collecting my bags and saying goodbye to Mom and Dad (not without some tears of course), I took the train a few stops to meet Alexandra, Pedro and Mariana for a quick lunch and a goodbye before heading to the airport.

I was incredibly sad to leave my family (both current and new) that day, but happy to have had the opportunity to be with them all together. Zé not being with us was a bit of a dark cloud over the weekend at first, but I felt his presence the entire weekend and ironically felt closer to him leaving Lisbon as I had felt going there on Friday. I keep joking about meeting the Baptistas being like meeting celebrities, but it’s true! They were mythical figures in my mind until this weekend, and the fact that we had such a wonderful time together made me so happy and excited for the future. Combined with the fact that I was able to spend quality time with my parents, my heart could explode just thinking about it. I’m not sure when will be the next time we can all be together, but I know it’ll be a party for sure. Until then!

Some photos from my trip to Lisbon:

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