Our visit to Vienna was cut short by our decision to quickly move to Portugal for what we thought would be a short “hunker down” period before resuming our European adventures. (Read about our brief taste of Vienna in an earlier post). As it turned out, this would be our last stop - for now - before we sadly had to head back to the US. Our short stay in the lovely coastal town of Cascais, Portugal, only served to whet our appetite for more - we’ll surely be back!
We chose to stay in Cascais because Nancy’s friends Jacqui and Jay had relocated there from the US and could not say enough good things about this beautiful suburb of Lisbon - just a short drive west of the city. Because our plans were made in haste, we spent two uneventful nights at an airport hotel in Lisbon, and two nights at the Cascais City Beach Hotel, before settling into a long-term AirBnB rental a 20-minute walk from the town center. The hotel had opened only 2 weeks before we arrived and the friendly staff and brand-new facilities were just what we needed to decompress from all the travel gyrations we had just endured.
Cascais was formerly a fishing village, but now it is a playground for the wealthy. As we sipped our coffee and tea at an outdoor cafe near the hotel we enjoyed a parade of luxury cars - one more beautiful than the next. We strolled through the town center to the sea wall and understood what draws people here.
The hotel staff recommended the nearby “A Nova Estrela” for dinner. Nancy sensed right away a great vibe when she saw the display of porcelain black birds on the ceiling. It was authentic Portuguese, starting with a local soft cheese - like a steamed ricotta - offset by spiced garlicky olives; a great accompaniment to the respectable house red wine. We each had a grilled fish dinner - Nancy gladly accepted the waitress’ offer to deftly de-bone her’s right at the table. We finished off with a complementary “Flor de Amendoa” almond liqueur for Nancy (who was glad she gave in to the gentle arm-twisting from the waitress), and a tawny “Porto” for Richard. The waitress - clearly the proprietor - presented the check in a lovely, hand-carved, wooden box, complete with a small instant photo she had snapped of us enjoying our meal. A truly amazing dinner for less than $45!
On our second day in Cascais we explored some more and discovered the beautiful “Casa de Santa Maria”, a museum that was once a luxurious private residence. Then we came upon the “Cidadela de Cascais” - an imposing fortress with a beautiful sculpture park. Our second dinner recommendation was at the nearby “Restaurante Casa Velha”, where we enjoyed another great dinner - this time a roasted chicken for Nancy and duck over rice for Richard. Again the bill was under $50 including wine.
There was much to see in this lively seaport town, but we needed to move on to our AirBnB apartment located just outside the town center, where we hoped to be safely hunkered-down and near our expat friends for at least the next 6 weeks. Richard managed to get a good deal on a floor-model Yamaha keyboard in a small music shop, that would allow him to pass the time a bit more creatively. A quick Uber ride got us to our 1 bedroom apartment that had a glimpse of the Atlantic from our second story balcony. We could see the little “VIP” Supermarket from our window and there was a great bakery on the corner that had the best meat-filled samosas. With all of the official sites closed, walking was the key to our sanity. We explored the breathtaking coastline every day. Just to the north of us was a picturesque lighthouse, and just to the south was the “Boca do Inferno” (The Mouth of Hell) - a natural chasm on the shoreline where the waves cause huge splashes at high tide. In between were grassy paths, bright with wild flowers, along the rocky cliffs where we saw a group of rock climbers practicing their sport.
With restaurants all closed at this point, we ate in; simple meals like roasted chicken with rosemary, Spanish omelets with potatoes and onions, or even experiments at perfecting home-made tarte flambée. We made pop-corn and streamed movies and read good novels borrowed from the Minuteman Library Network on our “Libby” app. We could see the lines forming at the VIP Supermarket from our window and timed our shopping trips accordingly. Our self-imposed isolation kept us from ever meeting up with our friends whose apartment we could literally see from ours. Still we were settling into a rhythm we thought we could sustain. But a tense ZOOM call with our kids and the following sleepless night forced our hand, and we decided to cut our trip short and head back to the US, as we described in a previous post. We vowed that we’d be back...as soon as it was safe and fun to travel in Europe again.
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Nancy McCabe &