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Portugal Babymoon

Several weeks ago, when I was a “mere” six months pregnant, Michael and I decided to cash in a plethora of credit card points. We had been given a lot of¬†points two years prior, from Mike’s brother (awesome wedding gift), and they had been atrophying. I was about 27 weeks pregnant; full of energy and still mobile (I write this post at 39 weeks, with a heating pad on my back, and wearing a belly band. Perspective.)

We’re adventurous travelers, but didn’t want to risk any unknowns relating to food, healthcare, and safety. We had an incubating baby to worry about! Our rules were thus:¬†no more than a 6 hour flight, no new vaccinations needed, safe drinking water, and advanced medical facilities nearby (just-in-case). Originally wanting to go to Morocco, we read horror stories of pregnancy food poisoning and the¬†US Department of State still warned of frequent anti-government violence, protests and demonstrations lingering from the Arab Spring. Japan has been on our shared bucket-list for over six years, but a fifteen hour flight was out of the question! Not one to lounge idly on a beach for weeks, I wasn’t quite ready to sip virgin¬†daiquiris¬†oceanside in the Caribbean. We needed a place chock full of history, fine weather and relatively close to NY airports. Portugal fit the bill.¬†Adding to the firmness of the final destination, my husband, obsessed with antiquity, had just finished a book on Vasco de Gama in the age of New World exploration.

Diving deep into the archives of Condé Nast Traveler, Departures Magazine, TripAdvisor and friends, we invented an itinerary focused on central Portugal: Lisbon to Sintra to Evora and finally, to Caiscais.

We landed in Lisbon at 6 am, entirely jet-lagged. Who is truly able to sleep on those red-eye flights? We hopped into a cab (they are so affordable in Lisbon) and beelined¬†to our hotel. Because it was Mike’s birthday, we treated ourselves to the¬†Olissippo Lapa Palace, an amazing property built in 1870 as a private residence and located on a hilltop overlooking the Tagus River. The oasis is in the Lapa Quarter, a favorite summer holiday destination for the English aristocracy. Nowadays, its more known for its quiet residences and dozens of embassies. Somehow, during those early morning hours, our room was ready and we both crashed.

Fast forward five¬†hours. It was only 11 am and we booked it to the¬†Mercado da Ribeira (also known as Mercado 24 de Julho). The great suggestion was from a friend’s brother who once lived in Lisbon. The area had been the city’s main food market since 1892, but in 2014 it was taken over by Time Out Lisboa magazine, whose management added stalls offering fresh food and traditional, local products. We snacked on meats from¬†Caf√© de S√£o Bento, piri piri from Miguel Laffan, and omigod the braised tuna with chives, honey and sweet potato from A Cozinha da Felicidade (my mouth is watering).

From there we just meandered. We wound the snaking streets of the Chiado discovering unique¬†boutique shops.¬†A Vida Portuguesa is a trove of¬†authentic souvenirs, nostalgic toiletries, artisanal oils, and handwoven texties. We visited not once, but twice. We also accidentally happened upon Santini’s, seeing a long line, and not realizing that this was THE iconic ice cream of Portugal. We waited beneath the shop’s¬†cheerful red and white stripes, and eventually tasted several flavors. Our favorite of which was probably the “marabunta.” We were told this meant ants! Skeptical of that, we were relieved to know it was basically stracciatella! ¬†Next door to the dessert madness was a recessed kiosk with an unassuming sign, Luvaria Ulisses. The itty-bitty glove shop, founded in 1925 by Joaquim Rodrigues Sim√Ķes, still operates methodically and traditionally.¬†Supple leather fitted and beskope¬†over fingers, just so.

After that first packed 24 hours, our next few days in Lisbon consisted of exploring the Alfama, the Bairro Alto, listening to live Fado music at Senor Vinho, a scenic outlook at Miradouro de Santa Catarina, retail therapy at Real Slow Retail Concept, and an incredible dinner at Via Graça.

From there we embarked on a day trip to Belem, a name derived from the Portuguese word for Bethlehem.  Technically still in Lisbon proper, the area feels decidedly more religious and suburban. There are probably only four attractions you must see:

  1. Belem Tower¬†– an UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s probably the first and last medieval fortified tower on a river island that you’ll ever see.
  2. Jeronimos Monastery & Church Рbuilt in the 15th century,  it is one of the most prominent examples of the Portuguese Manueline style of uber ornate architecture.
  3. Pastéis de Belém Рits pastel de nata is legendary and worth the hype (and the line).
  4. Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art РAmassed by Portuguese magnate Joe Berardo, these gorgeous grounds have free wifi and are chock-full of modern and contemporary works by Picasso, Bacon, Warhol and more.

No time for jetlag with days this full! We slept and headed to Sintra. Because Sintra is about thirty minutes¬†from Lisbon in a hilly (spread-out) region, we thought it best to use a guide.¬†I highly recommend¬†Sintra Magik Private Tours. Our tour guide, Pedro, was incredibly friendly, knowledgeable, and open. He knew the right times to arrive at monuments before they became crowded, and even gave us tidbits of Portuguese history beyond “labels on the wall.” Our tour of¬†the Pena National Palace, and it’s Manueline architecture, was particularly memorable. We also received a quick run-down of cork manufacturing, visited Monserrate Palace, tried Quejo Saloio¬†at Restaurante Apeadeiro, and learned what locals REALLY think of Ginjinha¬†(the ubiquitous cherry liquor that tastes like cough syrup). The day ended with a stop where the ragged¬†cliffside meets the active ocean at Cabo da Roca, continental¬†Europe’s westernmost point. All of the above were, by far,¬†our most picturesque locations, and my camera tallied¬†800¬†pictures more.

So much nonstop action was becoming tiring, and our plan to retire in the Alentejo region for the night was a welcome respite. The geographic region physically encompasses about 1/3 of the country, and is filled with verdant plains, hinting at centuries-old farming traditions. Its pace is slow.

√Čvora is a beautifully preserved¬†medieval and Roman town. The enchanting place is dripping in history:¬†14th-century walls, winding lanes, looming aqueducts, elaborate medieval cathedral and cloisters; the columns of the Templo Romano, and a still-function town square (once the site of events relating to the Inquisition). Not just mired in the past, the city holds an attraction for university students and young families.

We took a fascinating wine production tour at Adega da Cartuxa, which was also paired with delicious olive oil tastings. Although the site is no longer the main production facility for the winery, the tour¬†tells the story of Eugenio de Almeida Foundation, which owns the Cartuxa, and has several social work and ecology projects throughout √Čvora. The most unique part of the short tour consisted of the “smelling hall” which challenged our olfactory senses, more than our palate.

In¬†√Čvora proper, we mostly walked. It’s small enough to see everything in a day, with the most intriguing stop being¬†Capela dos Ossos, a¬†small interior chapel located next to the entrance of the Church of St. Francis. Constructed by Franciscan monks in the late 16th century, it’s essentially a room filled with bones. Hundreds of bodies that were exhumed from the city‚Äôs graves line the chapel’s walls and are even incorporated into the architectural¬†patterns.¬†Afterward, a nearby nosh at ArtCaf√© is a must for refreshing snacks, chilled Gaspacho, and midday drinks. We splurged on one night in the Convento do Espinheiro Hotel & Spa, and used their gorgeous pool for the remainder of the day.

The next morning, we had delicious breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant, a converted wine cellar, and headed to Cascais, our final destination. Once a sleepy fisherman’s village, the area is now a vibrant coastal town with boardwalks, a casino (featured in James Bond) nightlight, and high-end shopping. Tired from the rest of the trip, we used our final days to soak up Vitamin D and lay horizontal at The Oitavos’ infinity pool. ¬†We also stuffed ourselves with Tiger Prawns at Mar do Inferno.

Fulfilled, we headed back to Brooklyn at least 6 lbs. heavier and 2 shades more tan. Até mais!
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Three Days in Savannah

A few days before the long, Memorial Day weekend, my little family impulsively decided to book a flight down south. Savannah, Georgia is so wildly picturesque. It was impossible to take a bad photo with such gorgeous background props as Spanish moss, Federal and Victorian Regency architecture, verdant squares, sunny skies, and live oaks. I felt like a better (more zen) person, mostly because everyone was so kind (it also probably didn’t hurt that I was in ‘vacation mode’).

Case in point: at an intersection when the pedestrian crosswalk sign was OFF and the cars had a GREEN go signal, traffic still stopped for my husband and I to cross the street. Hours after checking in to the romantic and historic Gastonian¬†Bed & Breakfast, my husband I were approached to be filmed in a segment on “Romantic Georgia”¬†tourism. Basically, we’re silver screen celebrities in the state.¬†It was too magical!

We stayed in¬†The Gastonian, located just blocks from Savannah’s beautiful Forsyth Park, consists of two adjoining luxury mansions built in 1868. The experience feels like a charming time-warp, replete with communal breakfasts made-to-order daily, afternoon hors d’oeuvres, conversational concierges who are local experts, period style furnishings, and a perfectly manicured lawn. We slept in a room called the Julia Scarborough, named for the wife of a¬†nineteenth-century British-American businessman and cotton broker who became one of the wealthiest people in the southeastern United States. The inn was also incredibly walkable to everything in the historic district.

Must Visits:

  • Leopold’s Ice Cream – A restored¬†marble soda fountain with a storied family history, featuring regular and seasonal flavors, as well as classic sandwiches like Pimento Cheese and Olive.
  • Local 11 Ten –¬†Situated a block south of Savannah’s Forsyth Park, the restored 1950’s-era downtown bank houses a casual, elegant restaurant devoted to popular southern flavors using local ingredients such as fresh seafood caught from Georgia’s coast. We went crazy for the warm marinated castelvetrano olives with prosciutto, candied ginger, orange juice, and cornbread. Don’t miss dining¬†in front of an¬†historic Mosler co. bank vault.
  • Bonaventure Cemetery –¬†Though not Savannah‚Äôs oldest cemetery, Bonaventure is certainly its most famous and hauntingly beautiful. Quintessentially Southern Gothic, it has captured the imaginations of writers, poets, naturalists, photographers and filmmakers for more than 150 years. Part natural cathedral, part sculptural garden, Bonaventure transcends time. My husband and I were proud to visit during Memorial day and to pay homage to our nation’s¬†soldiers.
  • SCAD Museum of Art –¬†The museum’s collection of more than 4,500 pieces includes works of haute couture, drawings, painting, sculpture, photography, prints and more.¬†The museum building itself is a work of art, demonstrating a¬†commitment to historic preservation and adaptive reuse. Constructed in 1853, the original walls feature handmade Savannah gray bricks, forming the oldest surviving antebellum railroad depot in the country. In 2011, this National Historic Landmark was transformed into an award-winning, modern museum building by architect Christian Sottile, a SCAD alumnus. During our visit, we saw clothing¬†by¬†Vivienne Westwood and massive installation Xu Bing.
  • Congregation Mickve Israel – Originally founded in 1733, this house of worship is the third-oldest Jewish congregation in America. Forty-two¬†intrepid Jews set sail from England aboard The William and Sarah with little more than their beloved Torah (which the Congregation still uses annually in our anniversary Shabbat service). They arrived in Savannah, a border colony town with an innovative vision for religious tolerance, to start their lives anew in a land of freedom.¬†The story of its congregants is the story of America. Not to mention, the impressive gothic revival¬†architecture!
  • The Collins Quarter – This must be the best coffee in Savannah. Serving cold brew,¬†Toby’s Estate coffee, this concept cafe brings¬†Australia‚Äôs caf√© capitol to Georgia. The service is a bit lax, but the fresh fare is worth the wait. I humbly suggest a mint lemonade or a¬†lavender mocha.
  • Tybee Island – A small beach town, with an even smaller artist enclave, this island is a perfect Savannah day trip,¬†just 18 miles from the city. The barrier beach is around a 2 mile stretch and didn’t even feel crowded on Memorial Day weekend. Housed inside a vintage trailer at 1209 Highway 80, we stopped for delicious,¬†from scratch, gelato near the Seaside Sister, and then double-treated ourselves to cold drinks at the charming¬†Tybean Art & Coffee Bar.
  • Angel’s BBQ – This snug mom-&-pop offering is tucked away on a side street. The hours are simple, they remain open from¬†11:30 am until whenever they sell out of ‘cue for the day! The homemade sauces cleverly titled like, ‘Jedi Mind Trick’ and their collared greens with peanuts and mac n’ cheese are exceptional. My favorite taste of the day were the ‘Angel Drops,’ a¬†North Carolina vinegar-based sauce, made with Savannah Bee Comany honey ‚Äď sweet and tangy.
  • Red Clover – The best friend opened boutique¬†is¬†named after a unique bloom found in nature, because those who shop at the eclectic store¬†are just that. The nicely curated and sourced shop doesn’t breaking the bank!
  • Circa 1875 – Simply put, it’s an¬†unpretentious Parisian bistro and pub serving traditional French cuisine, with full flavor, and a friendly staff. Get a glass of wine.

As one of the oldest cities in the nation, Savannah exudes old world charm.

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Escape to Capri

My good friend Meg¬†K. Adams, just went on a totally enviable trip to the Tyrrhenian Sea off of Italy’s coast. In short, she went to Capri! This island in the Gulf of Naples, is famed for its rugged landscape, upscale beach resorts and high-end shops selling handmade leather sandals and signature limoncello liqueur. Its skyline is a veritable rainbow of hyper¬†saturated greens, whites¬†and reds. However, it’s clear that blue is the predominate hue! Although Meg didn’t love Naples itself (she said it was pretty dirty and seedier than expected), she did contest to being able to find delicious fire-brick oven pizza at any side street – she chowed down in San Ferdinando, a southern district of Naples, on Via Partenope.

On the island of Capri, just about 12,000 residents call the limestone block home – yet as many as 20,000 visitors flock there daily in the busy season – doubling its capacity!¬†You might be familiar with Capri without even realizing it.¬†The Caprese salad gets its name from “salad of Capri” which is tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil with seasoning of salt and olive oil.

Capri’s most famous square is called Piazza Umberto I, but it’s locally¬†known as “La piazzetta” (the square) or ”a chiazz”. ¬†You can see it above with its gloriously strung festival lights. Meg stayed at the¬†Hotel Relais Maresca, whose name means Sea View. She says that it was wonderful. There are¬†fancier abides¬†on the island, but everyone¬†at the hotel¬†was so nice and the views were spectacular. Meg exclaims, “We slept out on our balcony for part of a night just because we could!”

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Featuring Aldo, Banana Republic, American Eagle, American Apparel, Baublebar and more.

Meg’s Packing Hints:

  1. Buy a converter and then immediately lose it and have to buy a hair dryer in the UK.
  2. Wear jumpsuits everywhere you go.
  3. Order a new swimsuit that you are completely uncertain of sizing. Don’t think to order until a few days before you leave so that if it IS the wrong size, you are completely out of luck.
  4. Walk so much you have to leave your shoes behind because they are now full of holes.
  5. Disregard the logical amount of clothing you need for your trip and just PACK EVERYTHING. Leverage your Midwestern charm at the airport so they don’t charge you for your bag being WAY overweight.

Shop Meg’s Capri Closet: