As you may have noticed, there’s often a curious lack of Little Katie on our triplet trips. No, Anna and I are not bullies who exclude Katie. The culprit? Planes and BBs. For those unfamiliar with Katie’s quirks, BBs are a little bug which go by this acronym because they must not be named in Katie’s presence. Hint: you should “sleep tight” lest these little fellows “bite.” All on the same page now? Great.
However, we are moving on to a new chapter! We’re now voyaging beyond the range of Amtrak because Katie has conquered her phobias! (Well, with the help of a little on-board liquid courage.) And we are so proud. Not in a condescending way. It legitimately is crazy to be in a bouncing tin can zooming over the ocean. And the reality that you can pick up some new tiny roommates from a hotel bed is horrifying.
So we were so happy when Katie not only agreed to come to Portugal with us, but then was a superb traveler to boot. It turned she was the one who wanted to stay out the longest at night and was (mostly) up for anything (the notable exception being eating sardines).
When Anna started nagging us (yes, nagging — unfortunately none of us really enjoy the planning process) about booking a summer trip we decided to go with Portugal. Yes, I know we’re boring … we were just in Portugal last June, but Portugal fit the bill for many reasons.
- We already knew we love Portugal
- It’s cheap: one Euro will get you a beer, a pastry, or a coffee.
- It’s safe. Terrorists don’t seem to care about Portugal and the Portuguese are the most tranquil people ever.
- It’s a relatively short flight — best not to test Katie’s limits
This was going to be Katie’s first time in continental Europe! Isn’t that crazy? She’d never even been in a country besides Mexico that doesn’t speak English.
Eventually, after much planning disagreement, we finally stopped hanging up the phone on each other, got our act together and booked a week in Portugal: the first four nights in Lisbon and the last three in the Algarve region.
Obviously we flew Aer Lingus because God would never drop an Irish Catholic airplane. Plus, “please fasten your seat belt, we’re about to encounter some turbulence” sounds almost pleasant in an Irish brogue.
Little Katie, full of hopeful trepidation (well, and some drinks), and Anna, slightly weary with her seatmate’s antics. To get Katie across the ocean it took exactly:
- Seven drinks
- One pair of noise-canceling headphones
- Unknown recitations of the rosary
- One on-board donation to UNICEF
People always ask if, being triplets, we can read each other’s thoughts. Well, Anna said when the flight attendants announced they’d be collecting donations for hungry children, she immediately knew Katie would feel compelled to pull out her purse, given her precarious location in the sky. There’s really no arguing with her method though, because it worked. We all landed safely!
Katie and Anna flew together out of Chicago and I met up with them in Dublin for a short layover before we headed south to Lisbon. I always get a big kick out of meeting up with people as opposed to traveling together. It gives you something to look forward to. And there’s the exciting bit of uncertainty if you’ll actually end up finding them. Of course once you do, you pretend: “Fancy seeing you here! What are the odds?!”
Despite the aforementioned seven drinks, as you can see, Katie was upright and perfectly composed. Anna’s picture of Katie’s plane outfit is all in good fun. Europeans have such a reputation for being so fashionable — and then it turns out half of them are in track suits and fanny packs. For our first night we made the excellent decision to stay in our “treat night” hotel, the Memmo Alfama. Anna and I spent a night here last year and it’s truly our dream hotel. It has perfect views of the charming Alfama district, a pool, and a superb breakfast. Because it’s relatively pricey, we were the youngest people there. Since we could only afford one night there, we made it the first night knowing that we’d be exhausted from traveling. We didn’t have to feel guilty at all for spending the first day hanging out by the pool reading, sleeping, and ordering cheese plates. Side note: I like to buy a new book to read on vacation so that you associate that book with your trip. So the day before leaving I went to our neighborhood’s new bookstore, Books Are Magic, and picked up “We Are Never Meeting in Real Life,” which was meh. I also got a David Sedaris book and am now completely obsessed with his essays. I had to read multiple passages to Anna and Katie after laughing out loud while reading. Thankfully, Katie was just as smitten with the hotel as we were. The rooms were just as nice as the pool. In fact, this is the view from the toilet. Needless to say you have to be pretty comfortable with your roommate. I mean, there is a curtain but still …Katie and I did some tricep dips at the pool’s edge. I’m sure the older German and Swiss tourists were very impressed. We planned our trip to coincide with Lisbon’s biggest festival, which celebrates the patron saint of Lisbon, St. Anthony, and is a giant street celebration. As evening fell, the smoke from the grilling sardines on the street began to rise above the Alfama district.
Last year, a large bird had taken a bath in the pool so we had jokingly promised Katie that in the evening a Pelican comes to the hotel to put on a show. Sure enough, he returned this year to splash around a bit. And, yes, he seems to actually be a seagull. Memory is a fickle thing. His charm was diminished the next morning when he came to eat off breakfast plates. When he left a butter container on the ground, Anna quickly picked it up so the hotel staff wouldn’t think the obnoxious Americans were flinging their butter on the ground. On our first night, we contacted our friend Ricardo, whom we had met the year before at a military expose. We told him we were back in town and he invited us to meet up with him and his friends at the festival that night. As you can see it was so packed that you mostly had to stand in one spot rather than shove your way through the crowds. Notably there was no police presence or crowd control. We kept waiting for a fight to break out, because inevitably people were getting pushed, stepped on and spilled on. But no. People really are just that much more peaceful in Portugal!
When we finally left the festival, I was so hungry that I pulled out a bag of chips from my purse as we squeezed through the crowds. A few seconds later, I checked my purse and my stomach dropped when I realized my phone wasn’t there! Anna said I should pray to St. Anthony — a joke I didn’t appreciate at the moment — who happens to be the patron saint of lost things. We went back to look for it, but it was pretty hopeless as you could barely see your own feet amongst the crowds. I have never lost my phone or wallet before, so it was mostly my pride that was damaged. In a subsequent root-cause analysis, the lesson learned is always to eat a proper dinner so you’re not fishing for chips out of your purse.
Immediately upon losing my phone, Anna and Katie reassured me I needn’t worry, I could use their phones whenever I wanted. Of course, it worked out that whenever we got into wifi zones they weren’t so keen on handing over their phone. I had to beg, plead and be on my best behavior if I were to get my hands on a phone. If I wanted to use their phone to message someone back, I was told that it’s better to not respond to people anyways. Keep them waiting! Remain mysterious! Very convenient advice, I must say, from someone who’d rather keep scrolling though their Instagram.
Whenever I saw someone with a phone, I immediately resented them. They had the world at their fingertips. They had contacts, a camera, Google Maps, social media, the time, an alarm clock! I developed a minor obsession with photographing Anna with her precious. [Editor’s note: For the record, 98 percent of the time Anna spent on her phone was Google Map-ing or Yelp-ing, since Anna is the only triplet who ever plans anything on the trips and has to figure everything out for everyone.)Of course, while I did mourn my lost phone, I had some perspective: Any problem that can be easily solved with money is not really a problem (unless we’re talking a pirate kidnapping issue because those ransoms are hefty).
There are perks to losing your phone on your first night in a foreign country; I was forced to take a technology vacation and really focus on Portugal — not what my friend ate for lunch on instagram. Also, because I didn’t have access to Google Maps, I didn’t have to do any of the navigating. Sorry Anna, guess you’ll have to figure out everything!Sure, I did miss coming home after being out all day and mindlessly scrolling through my phone — but hey, I had more time to read. Thank God for David Sedaris. Anyways, I survived a week without a phone. And so can you. Back to Lisbon. We stayed at the hotel until the last possible second, until it was time to check out. Then we headed to an AirBnB just a short walk away. Well, it was supposed to be a short walk, but the Alfama district is an actual maze and you can’t go anywhere without making a few false turns.
Despite our navigation issues, you can’t be cross when you’re lost on charming, bunting-adorned streets. No complaints here. Note that Katie packed everything in that one shoulder bag!We finally found our new home in this little courtyard. But all three days, when it was time to head home at night, our apartment seemed to move locations. It really kept us on our toes. It turned out to be a very charming home with all the necessary cute details — no fraying posters of Audrey Hepburn or New York City skylines like many AirBnBs.
We kept our whitewashed shutters open to let in the street sounds and festival music which lasted well into the early morning. And we took our necessary late afternoon siestas — because the hills of Lisbon are no joke. For once we joyfully did our laundry so we could hang it to dry in the window. And best of all we had perfect views of the street procession for St. Anthony — and of this perfectly coordinated group of neighbors. Oh, how I’d love to know what they were chatting about. Hopefully they didn’t see how many photos we took of them through the window. Finally, we heard the chanting of prayers as the procession of statues, priests and church members inched through the streets. We were thrilled by this quaint, historic procession. Sadly, Ricardo and his friends said that young Portuguese people do not often participate in the religious portion of the St. Anthony festival. Hopefully, the procession doesn’t die out. We also loved these ladies who watched from above, and later even brought their dog and cat to the window. Last year Dad walked in the procession, and we had planned to do the same. But once we realized we had a perfect view from the bedroom, we stayed put. Though I’d like to see Portugal in other seasons, going in June during the festival week is very special. Both years it was such an authentic, unique peek into another culture. More to come on our Portugal adventure!