For those of you not doubling down on your Portuguese these days like I am, this title means ‘Perfect days in Lisbon.’ Because that’s what we had when we visited Lisbon, Portugal from May 22-26.
We were there for the wedding of Pedro, Zé’s brother, and his fiancé (now wife), Rita. A beautiful couple that we were excited to celebrate. This visit came off the back of our four-day trip to Israel (see my previous post), and was a nice chance to spend some relaxing time with family and friends after the road tripping and sight seeing that we did in the Holy Land.
We landed in Lisbon around 9PM and, after waiting in a harrowing immigration line, were greeted by Luis (Zé’s father), just after 10PM. There was a birthday party planned for Fátima, a neighbor and close friend of the Viana Baptistas (or the VBs, as they are known in the Hayden family). I landed with a bit of a one-two punch that kept me from joining the VBs at the party, though: not only were we knocked out by the day, after having woken up in Arad to see the sunrise at Masada, but I was also greeted in Lisbon by a flurry of work emails that required urgent answering. Duty calls, after all, so I headed to the hotel to manage my workload so I could enjoy the rest of the time work-free in Portugal, while Zé headed home to party with the gang.
Jetlag had us both up around 7AM, and we headed down to breakfast (we stayed at the Marriott this time, as it’s closer to A Casa de VBs, as well as the wedding venue). Our plan for the day? Hit up the beach until our family and friends were out of work and ready to receive us. We picked up a rental car (just 22 euros/day—gotta love Lisbon) and headed south to the Nature Park of Arrábida, about 40km (25 miles) from the center of Lisbon. The beach there, Praia do Portinho da Arrábida, was scenic, and reminded of the reason I fell in love with the natural beauty of Portugal in 2010 when I first visited. We were greeted by fine white sand and turquoise waters, backed by greenery and limestone rocks, and a pristine blue sky above us. The perfect beach day.
One of my favorite things about Zé is that he is happy to sun tan for hours, without needing to be occupied. So we both spent several hours there on our towels, reading and chatting, with the shining sun above us. I couldn’t ask for a better way to spend a day.
Around 4PM we headed off, going for a quick, scenic drive around the nature park before heading back to the city. Like a newborn baby, I need to be fed about every two hours, so we grabbed some appetizers from the hotel lounge before heading up to the room and making ourselves fresh again.
Next stop? Happy hour with the cousins! Shockingly, after hearing so much about Zé’s cousins and even feeling like I knew them well, I had never actually met any of them in person (outside of João, who lives in Singapore). Ah, the struggles of living abroad. We met up the crew in an open square near the river, and enjoyed a few sunset drinks together. Zé’s cousin Ines had just gotten engaged a few days before, and Pedro was also there with us, so there was quite a lot to toast to (and yes, I did cry watching the engagement video after having met Ines five minutes prior. I am what they call ‘soft’).
Following happy hour, it was off to the VB’s house for dinner. We arrived at 8PM, and were greeted with a table filled with wine, cheese and appetizers (I knew I would fit in with this family when I visited their home the first time, and saw the spread of hors d’oeuvres). Unfortunately Rita wasn’t able to join us, but the rest of the VB gang was there in full force. It was so nice to see the family and catch up! We enjoyed a nice, long dinner together, followed by some guitar music and singing (of course). By the time midnight hit, we barely knew where the time had gone.
The next day, Friday, we had a similar morning routine: up at 7AM and breakfast at the hotel. We tried again to hit the beach, this time visiting one much closer to the city center, but it was far too windy for us to enjoy it. We spent a total of 10 minutes on the beach and bailed. After Googling the weather conditions at some of the beaches in the south with negative results, we decided to cruise to the beach at Sintra and spend our day at Bar do Fundo, a beachside restaurant with incredible, scenic food and delicious views. I mean, you really can’t beat this, can you? It was still a bit on the chilly side, but with sweaters on we were able to sit comfortably outside. We sipped wine and ate seafood there for several hours, before going on a walk on the golden and around the jagged cliffs of beach before us, Praia Grande.
On the way back, we stopped at department store El Corte Inglés (a staple in my life when I lived in Madrid). Why? We needed a baby gift for Marta and Gorda, the friends and new parents we’d be visiting that evening. We chose a (tiny!) grey sweater for baby António, and headed back to the hotel to freshen up.
Before dinner, we grabbed an espresso with Flor, another friend living in Lisbon, and caught up with her on the house she and her husband recently bought, how work has been treating her, etc. Previously I’d say it was so nice meeting or seeing Zé’s friends, but now they feel like mine too, so I’ll say it was so nice catching up with our friends. Can’t beat it.
After our espresso stop with Flor, we headed to Marta and Gorda’s house to meet little António, and were met by Miguel and Margarida (the most Portuguese names I’ve packed into one sentence, ever). It was a Friday evening well spent: catching up with friends, stuffing our faces with delicious sushi, and playing with o bebe (aka watching him sleep). More and more of our friends are starting to have babies, and it’s such so nice watching the people we love have such magical milestones and get to share these moments with them. ¡Saúde!
Saturday arrived before we knew it. The big day! We were sure to wake up on time that morning, setting several extra alarms. I had a hair and makeup appointment (thanks to Marta), and needed to be there at 9:30AM. Meanwhile, Zé had a haircut appointment and needed to return the rental car, so there was much to be done. After whizzing all over town, I reconvened with Zé at 11AM, with my hair and makeup done. An Uber dropped us off at the hotel, where we changed into our Saturday best before heading to the VBs. There, we were greeted by a group of people looking ready to head to the Academy Awards! Zé’s family (Granny included!), and Pedro’s groomsmen were there in full glamour from head to toe. Brunch was waiting there for us, so we picked at some food while we waited for the photographer to arrive. He snapped some photos of us, mixing and matching the groups of people and the scenery, and at 1PM we headed to the church, just three minutes down the road.
Interesting fact before we dive deeper into the day: the church, St. John the Baptist, is home to the skull of St. Brigid of Ireland, aka my patron saint and confirmation namesake. Represent.
We spent about a half hour welcoming guests, saying hello to some I’d met before, and greeting faces that were new to me. Mass started at 1:30PM, and when Rita walked into the church in her white dress, there was not a dry eye in the place (or at least in my row. Or at least on me). It was one of those moments that makes you feel small, and reminds you of the magic that is life. She looked beautiful, the church was gorgeous, and there was an incredible amount of love filling that room. The ceremony was also beautiful (I assume, because the mass was in Portuguese and my reading comprehension is still at that of a first grader. Luckily, Alexandra was kind enough to translate the readings into English for me). There were several traditions I especially enjoyed, like the siblings doing the readings, and the bride and groom switching places at the altar after reading their vows to symbolize the integration of the families.
Zé was in charge of bringing around the car the newlyweds would depart in, so he rushed off from the church about five minutes before the ceremony ended. The rest of us followed suite once the nuptials were officially over, chatting outside while the new couple signed their official church documents. When they exited the church, the air filled with loud cheering and rice in the air. Party time!
The reception was held at Quinta Do Torneiro, a nearby estate that houses several function rooms ornamented with antique tiles, high ceilings, a center courtyard, and a dramatic garden. Cocktail hour was the time when I was able to spend quality time with the members of the family I was previously only able to greet briefly, which was very nice. It was great to be with a family so closely knit: the affection and appreciation for each other was palpable. We enjoyed our tipples together, and stopping to take photos together (who am I to let a professional photographer down?) before heading in for dinner. The evening setting was beautiful, with that nice, dramatic garden out back behind us. The ‘youths’ sat at one long table, with the rest of the party guests seated at round tables next to us. We had a leisurely dinner (or as the Portuguese called it that day, ‘late lunch,’ which I know I will get made fun of for posting), lasting for a few hours, complete with speeches and toasts, desserts and espressos. Granny told me about the concept of ‘pyjama,’ or taking small servings of every dessert available on the table. A concept I can get behind.
Starting in the evening, we rotated between the dance floor and the bar, taking a breath for air only every hour or so. We had an early flight back to Singapore the next morning, so we called it a night just before 2AM. It was very sad to leave—being apart from family is hard, but saying goodbye to them is harder. We were incredibly happy that we had been able to spend time with family, visit with friends, and enjoy the experience of seeing Rita and Pedro get married. It was the perfect way to finish off a wonderful and memorable week, and a good motivation to get back to hitting the Portuguese lesson books (I promise, Zé!). But above all, it made me all the more grateful for my extended família. Lucky me, and lucky us.
Some photos from our days in Lisbon: