This is it! The day you’ve all been waiting for: John Tarleton arrives in Lisbon! Before he arrived, we ate—you guessed it—pastries.Really can’t stress enough the joy of a Portuguese pastry.We spent a few hours at the beach, though it was a bit chilly.
At long last, Dad arrived! After a layover in England and 24 hours of travel, he made it to Lisbon. While we would have loved having Dad there for the entire trip, it was also fun to anticipate his arrival, and then run into a familiar face on our doorstop.
We expected him to go straight to sleep, but he was more than ready to explore. What a trooper. We headed back to the Memmo Alfama rooftop to show off our find. Dad was similarly impressed, and instructed me to get the background in the picture. Interestingly enough, the same male waiter we had had two nights earlier was suddenly very chatty with Dad, even bringing him a free drink. Our guidebook had mentioned, “If you’re traveling with a male partner, people will expect him to do all the talking and ordering.” This seemed to be accurate. After drinks, we headed down to the labyrinthine streets of Alfama for dinner. Seeing these ancient streets through Dad’s eyes made it extra exciting. I don’t know if we were even eating at a real restaurant. We simply sat in some lawn chairs lining the streets and a man told us a few food options in Portuguese. We watched an older man grill our sardines on the other side of the narrow street, and then ate them with a pitcher of sangria. At the end, our waiter handed us a piece of scrap paper with our bill handwritten on it. Very charming, indeed. After a late start the next morning, we took in Lisbon from one of the many lookout points.
Rick Steves is Dad’s latest obsession and he kept his Portugal guidebook close at all times. We teased Dad about this infatuation, until we read Rick’s plea to travelers to “Be fanatically positive and militantly optimistic. If something is not to your liking, change your liking.”
Rick may have been wrong about Portuguese men not wearing shorts (they all do), but here he hit the nail on the head. Militantly optimistic quickly became our motto—because while 80% of traveling is pastries and infinity pools and sunsets, 20% is getting lost in the hot sun, not being able to figure out the metro ticket system, and feeling out of place. You have to be adaptable. Sometimes you have to force yourself to fight aggravation and remain happy when you run out of Euros and can’t find an ATM.When Dad got quickly frustrated over a confusing trolley system or banks being closed on the holidays, we in turn got upset with him. So after reading Rick’s words of wisdom, we’d employ them at every opportunity: “Daaad are you being militantly optimistic like Steve said?”
When you’re traveling you really want to enjoy your trip and have it live up to your expectations. It forces you to stay “militantly optimistic.” But why not remain “militantly optimistic” back home, too? (As Patrick said, “Live every week like it’s Michigan week.”)
Really though, Dad is an excellent travel partner and very flexible. He’ll eat anything, sleep anywhere, and walk anywhere.
Most importantly, he can tell you a Wikipedia synopsis of almost anything. You reap the benefits of his 60-something years of reading. “How’d Portugal stay out of World War II?” “Why does Lisbon have the same Jesus statue as Rio?” “Who built this castle?”
Sometimes he’ll exclaim, “I knew that when I was in the fourth grade! I really did!” But he’ll always tell you what you need to know.
In the words of a text from Anna, “I love getting coffee and just having Dad explain the world to me for two hours. I’m not being sarcastic. Do you guys realize how lucky we are that Dad knows everything about history and we can ask him any question?!”
Or as Sean says, “Everything smart I say is just copied from Dad.”
Now, while he can remember any historically significant date, he somehow never remembers his family’s birthdays or the name of the cat he sees every single day in our home. But that’s OK, because I can remember my own birthday and that the cat’s name is Tilly. And he can remember the rest of it for us.
He also takes some pretty good pictures, even if he ignores our directions to “get the shoes too!” In the main square, we stumbled upon a communal viewing of the Euro Cup. Portugal wasn’t playing that day, but it was still entertaining.
Here’s the beautiful sight of our little Lisbon apartment, where we’d immediately flop on the couch each evening after so much walking. Somehow there’s no garbage in the streets of Lisbon. This is the most “litter” we saw. Omelettes and salad for three, because we woke up too late for the full breakfast menu.
As we walked up a hill trying to find the castle, cute little boy scouts tried to sell us basil plants for St. Anthony’s feast day. People would just pat them on their heads as they walked by. JT never complains when he’s told to stop and pose for a picture. Can’t say the same for the one in the blue …
We traveled 20 minutes outside of the city for these pastel de nata, which are supposed to be the best in Portugal. They’ve been making them at Pasteis de Belem since 1837 and now have a constant line out the door. We ate our treats on the grass. While they were very tasty, the best part was watching this grandma with her grandson:
It’s a dark picture, but the little boy would go off to play with a ball, then come back to lay on his grandma’s soft belly (bottom left). It was so sweet. Sometimes she’d pretend to be annoyed that he’d woken her up, but then give him a big hug.
Afterwards, we got some cultural education and went to the Jeronimos Monastery. We saw the old dining room, but we couldn’t see the fun rooms, like an ancient kitchen or bathroom. For our last night in Lisbon, Dad took us to a “treat restaurant.” We had tried to go to “SeaMe” the day before, but it was packed. This time, we learned our lesson and went at 6:30 p.m. (very early for the Portuguese) when there were just three other customers in the place. Instead of giving us a menu, the waiter brought us to the front of the restaurant and had us hand-pick which fish we wanted to eat. The first big guy the waiter wanted us to eat weighed in at about 80 euro. It’s a lot of pressure to enjoy a $100 fish, so Dad and Anna picked out these two more wallet-friendly fellows.
Anna and Dad thoroughly enjoyed their special fish platter. Dad made sure to eat every single last scrap off the bones. He is so good at that. But if he’s traveling alone or if Mom isn’t home he says he’ll often skip meals because he forgets to eat. I’ve never forgotten a meal, but I do agree with him in that the main pleasure of a nice meal is enjoying it with others.
Now SeaMe sure knows a lot about fish preparation, but not so much about history. I don’t know all that much about St. Anthony either, but it seems unlikely that he once befriended a mermaid. On our last twilight walk home through Lisbon we strolled extra slowly to soak it all in. We even took a selfie with St. Anthony—but sadly it didn’t turn out.
We took a new route and enjoyed more smokey streets filled with diners who would spontaneously burst into song (or perhaps they were soccer chants?)
The closest we came to a picture of all three of us. Our last Portuguese treat: chocolate chip, mango, and basil ice cream cones.
The magic of our last night continued in Alfama where the party was bigger than ever. We realized these people were throwing coins at St. Anthony and then sticking candles in BBQ pits. Dad got competitive and tried to land his coins right in St. Anthony’s open book.
Though Anna and I left in the morning, Dad stayed in Lisbon and was able to participate in the more religious celebrations for St. Anthony (the parts that don’t include sangria and shots.) Being able to experience such an important part of Lisbon’s culture was truly the highlight. We were continuously amazed that the St. Anthony festivities have not been overrun with tourists. Why has no one made a movie set in this magical setting?
Here’s Dad and I throwing confetti from the street, celebrating our lovely Lisbon trip. This is what militant optimism looks like. We’re so lucky Dad joined us in Lisbon. We love Portugal and we loved exploring with him. Happy belated Father’s Day!