As I write, I’m currently busting out of my jeans. I’ve eaten my way through Barcelona and plan to do the same in Portugal. I spent three days in Barcelona with my best friend to celebrate her mom's birthday. We had fun eating tapas, watching an intimate Flamenco dance performance, and shopping. Shopping in Spain was everything.
While in Spain I squeezed in a lunch date with my friend Susanna, founder of Queen Bee Retreats. I met Susanna when I traveled to Europe for the first time four years ago. During our lunch, I had the pleasure of meeting Jelisa Difo, a community worker, yoga instructor, and so much more. Google these ladies!
Tapas, wine, laughter, more tapas, more wine, laughter, and fellowship and bonding sums up my time in Spain. It was the perfect prelude before I ventured off into one of the most liberating acts in my life: Solo Travel.
I love to travel solo. I am committed to keeping up this tradition once I am a wife and mother. It's a sacred tradition and reminds me of who I am without any attachments to the roles or responsibilities that I carry in life. I feel so free and grounded. When I travel solo there are no itineraries, no alarm clocks, just me. I do whatever I please without considering anyone else. I can sleep in late without being judged for wasting a day away. I dance freely to the beat of my own life’s drum in foreign places. This time I danced to Beyoncé's Renaissance album. Virgo's Groove was on repeat followed by Robert Glasper's Black Radio III. I enjoyed the beautiful Portuguese language which danced off my tongue. I always try to learn at least a few phrases in every country I visits native language, so I can communicate. In Portuguese I learned, obrigada / thank you, and bom dia / good day. It's very basic, but it helped.
Once I arrived in Lisbon, I indulged myself in everything from food to art, architecture, history, and culture. How could I resist freshly baked bread stuffed in the cutest tote bag delivered to my apartment door with the creamiest butter, orange juice, and fruit daily every morning? On the first two nights in Lisbon, I stayed at The Lisboans, a 15 boutique serviced apartment building. If I were to live in Portugal, this would absolutely be my home. My apartment had large windows with natural light. I laid on the comfiest sofa watching TV. This simple act was special. I don't own a TV at home, so I indulged without guilt. I had a nice size kitchen with a dining table that seats four. The next time I visit Lisbon, I will be staying here. I may even host a dinner party.
My First Night in Lisbon
Those who know me, understand my intense love for food and wine. My first meal was eaten close to 11pm at Prado Mercearia, a grocery store, deli, and wine bar that served tapas for the ravenous. This gem was located downstairs from my apartment. I enjoyed the freshest oysters garnished with citrus, snapper crudo, oysters with an amazing pistachio sauce. I ended my meal with the best flan that I have ever tasted. I drank three glasses of wine, but I didn’t jot down the names the sommelier served me. I know they were pet nats which I am totally into these days. Ooh, speaking of drinking. I drank Porto, which you can drink with dessert or sip as a dessert. I tasted several red and whites and the white was a winner.
Why did I travel to Lisbon? Well, it wasn't for the food, flan, or wine. It was for friendship. My friend Margo moved to Portugal at the height of the pandemic and has shared so much about how liberating life has been for her since she moved to Europe. Margo hosted me in Lisbon and helped me explore the city through her lens as a Haitian American expat. Margo is a food writer and journalist. I highly doubt she'll be returning to the states permanently anytime soon. She has built such a beautiful life in Portugal and has encouraged so many Black women to travel to the city. I encourage you to read her latest piece on Refinery 29: These Black Women Moved To Europe For A Better Life — Did They Find It? Like Nina Simone and James Baldwin, Black people are still traveling to Europe to just breathe and live their best Black lives. I am not saying that racism for Blacks doesn't exist in Europe. However, I can admit that I was the most relaxed that I have ever been in my life while in Portugal. I didn't quite feel like I was under surveillance or that my life was in danger even while walking late at night as a woman.
Two Days Later
Friday, I checked into my second hotel, Garam Lisboa Guesthouse. This hotel was cute and located in Quarter Janelas Verdes, in the Estrela district. Upon arrival, the staff greeted me with a glass of ginja, a Portuguese liqueur which tastes like a sweet brandy. The lovely housekeepers helped me carry my bags up to my room which was located right next to the supply closet on the second floor. This grew to be annoying as I heard the housekeepers banging against my door in the morning as they gathered fresh towels from the storage cabinet. My only complaint about this hotel is the disruptions in the morning. The housekeepers didn't allow me to sleep in. They were eager to clean my room early in the morning. I screamed, "no gracias" from underneath my covers praying they would go away, so I could just sleep. The first morning, they were literally waiting outside of my door sitting on the steps. They responded, "We were waiting." This drove me mad.
After checking into Garam Lisboa Guesthouse, I immediately made my way to Praça de Comercio in front of the huge statue to meet Naky who hosts the African Lisbon Tour. There were at least 20 travelers from around the world who attended this tour. I would have to write an entire article about the African Lisbon tour. It was heavy and full of the complexities and truths of the transatlantic slave trade. I knew Portugal's role in the slave trade and the exploitation of Black bodies and labor that influenced slavery throughout the world, but I learned so much more about African's experience in Portugal. This country being the first to engage in the African slave trade is one of the reasons why I wanted to visit Portugal. I wanted to return to the place where my ancestors were forced into an experience that changed the trajectory of our lives for centuries. My first full day in Portugal I went straight to the water. I felt the presence of my ancestors immediately. I will never forget that. I am getting emotional while writing this still. I thanked my ancestors for their sacrifice. I am still unpacking this tour. I highly recommended it. It’s a four hour walking tour that requires vulnerability, comfortable shoes, and openness to process all that will leave a mark on your life forever.
I had the pleasure of meeting a group of amazing women of color on the African Lisbon tour. We started a WhatsApp group chat that is still going strong. I hope to stay in touch with these driven and free women. That is reason #99 why I love traveling solo. You truly find your people. The independent ones who enjoy their own company. The reserving just a table for one regardless if they are partnered or not. I love that for us. We're just built differently.
On Saturday, I did absolutely nothing but roam the streets of Lisbon and process the tour. I treated myself to a hot stone massage on Sunday at Lumiares ($100 cheaper than it is in the States). I had a light dinner at its rooftop restaurant. I ate tuna ceviche and drank a delicious cocktail while I listened to the rain. Fall in Portugal consisted of gray skies, turned into misty rain, followed by a warm mist that just hugs you. Most days I was greeted by the sun and humidity which guided me through the city.
Monday, October 24
I took a 45 minute train ride to Sintra. I visited a castle for the first time in my life. The views of the clear skies and colorful castles brought tears to my eyes. I have never seen anything so scenic and beautiful in my life. I caught a minor case of vertigo because of the altitude. I stayed in Sintra for about four hours, ate lunch, walked around and visited the News Museum. I left the umbrella that I borrowed from my hotel at a restaurant there. I am patiently waiting for that charge to hit my account any day.
On Tuesday, I slept in and visited the LXFactory where I shopped for gifts to bring home to my family and friends. I purchased a gorgeous gold plated ring, candles, sea salt, berbere, and olive oil. I ate a delicious cod fish cake stuffed with cheese.
During my time in Lisbon, Margo introduced me Tabernáculo by Hernâni Miguel. We had drinks at Social B and saw an amazing live show there too. My favorite restaurant was Sofia’s Place. The owner is Cape Verdean. She was one of the loveliest people that I had the privilege of spending time with that week. The menu at her restaurant was filled delicious meals including sea bass with black rice and the most delicious tuna pastels that I couldn’t stop eating. The pastels were golden, crispy, made with cornmeal and the tuna was well seasoned. Sofia's staff were the sweetest too. They felt like home. I highly recommend Sofia's.
My second favorite restaurant was Oficio. The food experience was just next level and the restaurant interior was aesthetically pleasing. I ate skate fish for the first time. It was extremely buttery and taste like a slow dance.
My experience in Lisbon was invigorating. I would love to spend the summer to write, spend time with Margo, and just experience the country a bit more. There is still so much that I didn't see including visiting Porto and the other Black and POC neighborhoods in the country.
Now, that I am back in America I have gained a greater appreciation for my country. This is always the case when I travel. America is beautiful and complex like Portugal. Since I first wrote this piece, there have been several mass shootings in America. I can admit that I immediately felt anxiety once I landed at Logan Airport in Boston. I am grateful for my life in America. We are free. We are brave. However, It is a country that I have a difficult relationship with, but it belongs to me. America is mine. I crave more peace for myself and our world. I am working on creating my own peace within. As I travel more, I am learning that travel is a temporary fix. You can only run away for so long until you have to return home to yourself.
Until the next flight, where shall I travel next?
Here’s a list of a few of my recommendations for those inquiring minds:
All of the Places I Ate
Bohemio da Ribeira
Cantinho do Aziz
All of the places I visited