We spent the most part of the last two days outside, wandering the streets and soaking in the sunshine before the rain we’ve been promised begins to fall once more. Dangit! I knew I shouldn’t have bought those new sandals yesterday. I totally jinxed our nice weather.

As you saw, Sunday was our road trip up to Obidos, a little walled town about an hour’s drive north of Lisbon. We’d been told it was very pretty and quaint, but were totally unprepared for just how pretty and quaint it actually was. Almost every building had a rose, wisteria, or grape vine espaliered up the wall, all of which were nicely pruned, some of which were thicker than my torso and probably older than all of us combined. Their colors offset the red, blue, and yellow highlights on the buildings, and the bright blue sky of the warmest day we’ve had this year provided the perfect backdrop. I took a disproportionate number of photos for a town of its size, as every street we turned down had too marvelous a combination of blossoms, buildings, and fields in the background not to take another photo.

As usual, the main street running through town had lots of tourists and lovely little shops on it, but the side streets were Sunday quiet and largely deserted. We wandered around, stopping for lunch, looking in the ornately tiled churches, and peering over stone walls into charmingly overgrown gardens (why is it that my garden always just looks overgrown and not at all charming?) The whole thing was encircled by a medieval castle wall, which Gabe of course had to go up and run around.

Before leaving, we ducked down a set of stairs into a store that promised us hand-painted tiles, which was surrounded by yet another tauntingly charming little garden. There we finally bought our first set of Portuguese tiles to bring home with us in August. This entire time, we’ve been saying, “Oh yes, we must get some tiles before we leave,” but that time is now approaching, and as yet we have bought no tiles. So we picked out our house number in pretty blue numerals surrounded by leaves and flowers, and this time we actually purchased them instead of putting it off for later. Now we have some tiles to show for our time in Lisbon, even if we can’t decide on any others.

We left Obidos behind and continued on down the coast to Cascais, a very Santa Cruz-esque town closer to Lisbon. We had dinner at a greasy spoon cafe perched over a small inlet by the harbor, and watched the sun set behind the lighthouse. When Gabe and I had walked by that same point back in the fall, the waves had been so massive that they threw up huge sprays of water when they hit the retaining wall around the harbor — and soaked Gabe when we visited the Boca de Inferno further up the coast.

Now, the sea looked like a bathtub, calm and placid, deceptive in its peacefulness. Even the Mouth of Hell looked more like the Mouth of Purgatory, with no spumes of water reaching up to grab unsuspecting tourists. Disappointing, but fascinating in the difference between the two.

The entire coast was also far more crowded than we’d ever seen it before, as foreigners and Lisboans alike were flocking to the seaside on this first really hot day of the year. So we spent just long in Cascais to outwait the crowds, then headed back to Lisbon without having to sit in the long lines of traffic we’d seen leaving town when we arrived. There are benefits to running late.

Yesterday we again spent mostly outside, to make the most of yet another gorgeous day. We made a long, meandering circuit through town, via foot, tram, and numerous way points for shopping, coffee, and finally wine. We were joined at every point along the way by many, many tourists, especially on the tram.

As we made our rickety way around the castle, an older German couple got on, and immediately proclaimed a sleazy-looking Portuguese man standing next to us to be a pickpocket. He pretended not to understand, but they made their beliefs apparent by pointing at the large sign saying to watch out for pickpockets, after which he quickly made his way off the tram at the next stop. I was relieved, as I thought violence would soon ensue, and I really didn’t want to be a witness to that particular face-off.

We also saw many children and dogs on our tour yesterday, who seemed to be blooming in almost as great a profusion as the plants and trees. At the cafe where we stopped for coffee, we sat next to a chocolate lab puppy named Kafka, who despite being leashed to his owner’s chair still managed to wreak total havoc. He pulled apart plants, stood directly in front of passersby in hopes they might be his friend, and of course he ate everything in sight, just in case it might turn out to be tasty.

At one point, a man came by with his toddler, who was making his ponderous, unsteady way toward the duck pond (which also included a black swan, whose constant efforts to either woo, chase, or herd two nervous-looking ducks gave us great amusement.) The father pointed the puppy out to the baby, whose eyes grew wide with wonder as he turned around and saw his new best friend. Kafka had of course already set his sights on this likely-looking small person, and they met in an eruption of cuteness and slobber. The father soon extricated his son from the tangle, leaving Kafka to wag his tail longingly after them.

Also in the park, we witnessed another slightly older toddler encountering her first butterfly. When her mother pointed it out to her, she ran and hid behind her leg, peering out at this strange winged beast that moved so erratically. She was clearly both fascinated and afraid, wanting to get closer but dreading to do so without the shelter of her mother’s leg. Her mom, trying to show her it was all right, walked closer to the butterfly, who of course flew away. The little girl ducked in fear, then immediately ran over to where it had been, looking around her wildly to see if it might be coming back for her. Clearly, all of these small animals have been cooped up inside for far too long.

Further along on our trip, after much walking and shopping and browsing, we stopped at the mirador for a drink before going home. There we witnessed many the odd duo, made all the more so by my extremely generous glass of vinho verde. Next to us sat two beautiful young ladies in their early twenties, who I noticed were dressed identically — baggy khaki shorts with pleats, flip flops, white tank tops, and grey sweaters. It wasn’t til I looked closer that I realized they actually were twins, or at least sisters. I thought it odd that they would continue to dress the same on their own, but hey, maybe it’s the thing to do.

At the next table over sat another duo of young women, these dressed like something straight out of The Breakfast Club. Both were wearing the big, square sunglasses that are making an unfortunate reappearance here in Europe. One girl accompanied these with high-waisted acid-washed jeans, white Keds, a tucked-in striped shirt, an awkward, blunt haircut, and a mannish brown briefcase — much like an outfit I would’ve worn when I was about ten years old. The other had the same bangs with a black bow in her hair, a short black skirt over black nylons, and a cropped black leather jacket. Both smoked cigarettes as if they were going out of style. I was fascinated by these two very well-thought out and painfully contrived looks that I thought went out of style when I was still a kid.

Continuing on my survey of our fellow customers, I saw two earnest looking tourists lighting up their pipes on a bench nearby. Now, I don’t believe I have ever seen a woman smoking a pipe before. At first I thought she was getting it started for her husband, who was rummaging in his backpack. But he turned out to be rummaging for his own pipe, which he proceeded to light up and accompany his wife. What a random thing to see!

Before any even stranger people could come by — or before we could drink any more — we made our way home for a short while before going back out again to try the sushi place that recently opened just up the street from us. It was nearly 7:30 when we went in, which is almost an acceptable time to eat dinner, but nonetheless the staff was amazed to see us. The waitress, who was eating a hand roll before starting her shift, almost choked when I walked around the corner of the cavernous downstairs dining room. I’m guessing they don’t get many customers for dinner.

Thus we were slightly dubious of the copious all you can eat sushi buffet, but it seemed fresh enough, so we dug in. It proved to be quite good, and so far hasn’t poisoned any of us — although I did have to point out that it would be hugely ironic if we’d made it through Morocco without food poisoning, only to be felled not half a block from our house in Lisbon.

So ended our luxurious day of sunshine, shopping, drinking, and eating. What a rough life we lead. From the start, I have always felt blessed to be having this experience, but all the more so now that the long, warm days of summer are back and our city is returning to its vibrant, open-air lifestyle.

I felt all the more lucky this morning, when I read a brief news piece about a Cuban blogger whose compiled works were confiscated by customs on the eve of their presentation in Chile. Although I stopped my academic study of Cuba after grad school, it remains near and dear to my heart, and I always pay close attention when I see it in the news.

This woman writes her truth, despite living in a country where the truth is actively discouraged, and I admire her deeply for doing so. It is one thing to keep a blog when you write about only sunshine, food, and travel, but it is another thing entirely to write a blog that speaks truth to power in the face of great adversity. As a writer and as a human being, I am humbled by her efforts and courage, and am reminded to enjoy the life I lead to the fullest.

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