Shoes off, lounging in chairs facing the Tagus river, a pitcher of sangria nearby. This is how my fiancé and I found ourselves on a Sunday, our first full dayin the friendly and warm city of Lisbon. We’d been talking to a fantastic American couple, both living in London, where they originally met. As we were looking at moving to Lisbon and becoming Ex-Pats ourselves, we found it refreshing to talk to another couple that was so happy making a life outside the United States. I’ll call them Mark and Elizabeth. They were laid back, out-going and smart. Several hoursin their company had passed, with no end to the conversation in sight.
As none of us were in a hurry, and there were plenty of common interests, the conversation flowed naturally, with warmth. The topics ranged from Elizabeth’s graduate work, Mark’s work in finance, our work endeavors, writing, our love of travel, life in London, politics of Britain, Europe and the U.S., to growing up in the various parts of the U.S. that we each were from.
Sometimes all four of us would engage together, and at other times we’d reroute to talking in pairs. As I had my back turned against the sun, I would engage with Mark, who was directly on my left. He started telling me about a Turkish guy he went to college with who’s family is very well off and the elaborate wedding he was having at the end of the month in his homeland, which they’d been invited to attend. Elizabeth tuned in and said she’d been researching what to possibly give as a gift to a couple throwing such an extravagant event and had concluded in her findings that a gold coin was the most appropriate gift.
Then,out of the blue, they proceeded to invite us to join them at this wedding with the utmost sincerity. Mark said, “My friend is a wonderful person, I know he would say any friend of mine is a friend of his. I am 100% certain he would welcome you both with open arms.” Boy, we considered it, as that would be an unusually lavish and exotic experience. Alas, we had our own agenda, so we both thankfully and politely declined their generous offer. However, the offer was what touched us so much. It was confirmationthat despite having just met these folks a few hours before, we were spending time with friends that felt as we did:we’d known each other for a lifetime.
Hour by hour, the scene changed around us; people relinquishing their seats to continue their day of sightseeing, and others snagging the prime, unoccupied waterfront seats with glee. The water was relatively calm, with boats passing by transfixing my focus from time to time as I gazed upon their leisurely strolls up the river during pauses in the conversation. Yachts and motor boats of all sizes glided by, the buzzing sound of their motors varying from unobtrusive to loud and persistent. Regal sailboats also passed by, able to move steadily on course with the ample wind available.
Street musicians passed the promenade throughout the afternoon, entertaining the crowd for tips; most noteworthy a group of drummers that sounded almost like a marching band. I love street musicians; they add so much character and charm to any city. It means art is alive, well and respected. The bridge connecting the city of Lisbon to the municipality of Almada was stately and handsome in the background, as was the Cristo Santo statue on the opposite shore.
The bathroom situation at this café, was one that made us try to avoid it as much as possible. This was a very difficult thing to do, since we spent five or six hours there and consumed quite a few Sangria pitchers which went down like they were the elixirs of the gods. Each time one of us had to go, we literally wouldn’t see them for 20 minutes, as that was how long the line was. So, we all ended up finding our ways to the bushes and then laughing about our escapades at discretion and simultaneous relief afterwards.
It got to the point where we were the last ones there, by a long shot, the staff was cleaning up and putting away chairs. My fellow, Stan, asked if they wanted us to leave, and the staff politely said,“Yes, that would be great.” I guess we can take a hint, albeit after awhile.
So, the four of us stood up and made our way to a restaurant that was located on a small cobblestone sidewalk behind our hostel. This restaurant held an esteemed place in Stan’s heart and tummy as he had discovered it the year before on a trip to Lisbon for the first time. He had been raving about it ever since we booked out tickets, almost as much as any particular sight.
How much does he love this place? We’d eaten there the night before, our first evening in town, and here we were again on our second night. Relaxed and decompressed, ready for more. More what you say? Why did we come to this fine establishment for the second night in a row?It was the chickens spinning on a rotisserie, over a charcoal fire, slathered with salt, lemons, butter and a Portuguese hot sauce called Piri Piri.
Both the restaurant manager and the Grill Master (Stan made me capitalize his nickname out of reverence) recognized my man from his visit the year before, which has to say something considering how many faces they see in a year. The Grill Master has been working the hot charcoal bin for 25 years – thus our use of the word master. Whole roasted chickens are taken off the grill, glazed multiple times,doused in their homemade Piri Piri concoction, plopped on a plate and sent to customer’s tables.
Then, we are given more Piri Piri sauce in a small clay cup, with a little brush for dipping into the cup and slathering to our hearts content. Not only is the chicken cooked perfectly, it is mouth-wateringly delicious. Getting to deconstruct a chicken by hand or with a fork and knife is a ritual in itself, as is brushing Piri Piri onto the succulent, all natural meat on our plate. How could we not bring our new friends there to enjoy the experience as well?Glasses filled with wine and raised, we saluted both our new friendship and our good fortunes for such a wonderful day in another land.There was not a doubt in our minds that we’d all meet again somewhere, someday.
There were so many other amazing, surprising, enthralling, funny and interesting experiences we had in Lisbon. But this particular day is my fondest memory. It had everything I adore about travel: splendid scenery, relaxed atmosphere, eclectic people, tasty drinks, soothing sunshine, vivacious conversation and fabulous food. For this one particular day, life was divine.
Below is a gift for you my readers, give it a try – you will love it! Happy slathering.
Piri Piri Sauce Recipe
2 tbs olive oil
1 red bell pepper
3 fresh red chilies
3 garlic cloves
1 tbs sweet smoked paprika
2 tbs red wine vinegar
1 tbs lemon juice
¼ cup water