All posts by Ginnelle Elliott

Covid Sucks

We had been doing everything right. We don’t eat in restaurants. We order take out and eat at home. We don’t go shopping. I order food, or I go into the grocery store alone. No play dates. No hanging out with friends. We always wear a masks or two.

The girls have been in person learning since August. The school has taken terrific precautions and have a full time nurse who makes sure things are enforced and if someone has or is suspected to have Covid, they are sent home and contact tracing begins. Maggie, my tenth grader, has been sent home three times because she was considered a close contact. We had her tested three times and each time she was negative. The test is nasty. By now, most people I know have had the test multiple times, but if you haven’t…it is gross. The longest q-tip in the world scrapes deep into your nostrils. It burns a little and the sensation lasts awhile, but you get used to it. I have been tested 6 times. I had it prior to my surgeries and every time Maggie came home with it too.

Then my priest was turning 50. I decided to celebrate him all week. We had a different cake every night. Decorations were literally dripping from every surface of our home. As a treat, I booked a weekend getaway to the beach. The hotel was at half capacity. We had all of our meals with room service. We rented bikes that were zero contact. They had them outside labeled with our names. We walked the beach alone. The point is, we had no contact with people. We arrived there Friday night. In the car, on the way to the beach, my priest was coughing. He said he thought he had allergies. It was the end of January, nothing was blooming. I told him he was nuts. The rest of the weekend, he had cold like symptoms. On the drive home, I said he needed to get tested for Covid. I never really thought he had it, but it seemed irresponsible to be sick and not get checked out.

On Sunday, the rest of us felt fine. As a precaution, I made him sleep in the spare room. Basically, I shut the barn door after the cows got out. We had been together in one room and car for the whole weekend. My priest went first thing Monday morning for the rapid test. They claim the rapid test isn’t as sensitive unless you have a high viral load, well my priest had a high viral load because he called me frantically with, “I am positive. Go pick up the girls from school now.” I rushed to school and the kids were shocked. They were deeply upset because we have known so many people who have got the virus and so many people who have died. It is very real to us and very scary. I isolated everyone. We wore masks inside the house and kept 6 feet apart with the windows open. My priest stayed in the spare bedroom and didn’t leave. He cried night and day. He kept repeating, “I can’t believe I gave my family a deadly virus.” Then he spent days trying to figure out who gave it to him. He never did.

By Monday night, Maggie and I were sick. I scheduled to get us tested the next morning. The rapid test confirmed I was positive, but Maggie was negative at that time. We knew she was sick, so we just continued to treat her like she had Covid. Then the calls starting coming from the South Carolina Department of Health (DHEC). They gave me advice and rules. They suggested that Pippa should be treated as positive too and to not wear masks in the house. I told them she was healthy and we were trying to keep her that way. They wanted me to test both kids on Friday (it was Tuesday). I scheduled their appointments. Poor Pippa was completely alone. She ate alone. We wouldn’t let her near any of us. At one point, she was so sad she asked if she could stand in the shower and we could kiss each other through the glass. We did that often and then I would have to disinfect the glass.

Maggie and I started to get worse. Each one of us experienced different symptoms. This virus is not easily explained. My priest was beyond exhausted but couldn’t sleep. He had brain fog (my brother claimed I had that the day I married my priest) that has persisted now for months.

Maggie had exhaustion, dizziness, stomach upset, headaches, muscle cramps. At one point, she thought she was having a heart attack. She started sleeping with me because she was so scared she was dying. I had insomnia, headaches, tightness in my chest, shortness of breath. Overall, we all felt like garbage. Then just when we thought we were in the clear, we lost our sense of taste and smell. Gone…completely. That was awful.

The people at DHEC called daily to track our symptoms. I told them how in January of 2020, we returned from a trip to the UK and my family was sick. I told them I was diagnosed with pneumonia. I detailed having a high fever of 103 for 19 days and not being able to stand up or leave my room from exhaustion. She wanted to know more. I told her everything, including that my doctors in the spring thought I had had Covid back in January of 2020. My priest was told he had bronchitis. Pippa had a lung infection and Maggie the flu. We were all treated with antibiotics and all stayed home a few days. I was the most sick and it truly took me months to recover. By the time the antibody test came out it was almost 4 months after I had been sick. It said I had no antibodies, so I figured I didn’t have Covid. DHEC figured I did. They had been hearing anecdotally for months, before the real outbreak, of weird flu like symptoms, that were not the flu. If DHEC is right, my family got Covid twice.

I took the girls to get tested on Friday. Maggie was positive, Pippa was negative. Pippa was about to celebrate her 11th birthday completely alone. It was heartbreaking. The rest of us were still feeling sick. Maggie was scaring me. My priest and I had been put on steroids for our lungs and some antibiotics, but Maggie was on nothing. The clinic didn’t expect her to get that sick. As a parent, watching your kid suffer is a nightmare.

We all slowly started to improve. After a week or so, I could taste a little and smell a little, my priest could too. It took weeks and weeks for that to return for Maggie. She was so scared we moved a twin bed into our room. She was certain she was dying.

I get really frustrated and upset when I see or read about people who just don’t take this virus seriously. At this point, I have no idea what the long term consequences will be on the health of my family. Maggie’s joints still randomly swell, making even walking painful. This is a healthy 15 year old with NO pre-existing conditions. Yes, your child might get a mild case and then again, they might not. This is not a risk any parent should take.

I know it sucks to take all of the precautions. I know it sucks to not have social events or gatherings…but you want to know what else sucks….dying. You know what also sucks….feeling sick and scared for months. We are all being stalked by an invisible bad guy. I say do what you can to keep you and your family safe.

We have been offered the vaccine, but on the advice of our doctor we are waiting three months from when we tested positive with Covid. We don’t want our immune system to go into overdrive thinking we are sick again. I just pray all of my people are safe and vaccinated soon. I long to hug my family….this is the longest time I haven’t seen them in my whole life.


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The power of convictions.

This has been a rough year. I have had a bunch of medical issues. I have had two surgeries and countless procedures, tests and doctor visits. My kids have been very sweet. They have been very worried and they are constantly praying for my healing. I have felt tremendous love from my squad. But Pippa is getting angry.

She knows that my immune system is compromised right now and she imagines that every person she meets has Covid. She says that way she remembers to stay 6 feet away.
A few months ago at school, she was playing in the park at recess. Two girls were swinging together on one swing. Pippa told them that wasn’t safe. One girl told her “the pandemic is fake.” Pippa quickly responded, “tell that to the hundreds of thousands of people who died.” Mic drop.

She came home annoyed. Annoyed that kids don’t care about safety or keeping their parents or grandparents safe. She cries almost everyday because she misses her grandparents and family so much. This is the longest time in her life that she hasn’t seen her people. She said she misses Papa kissing her and hugging her. She misses my mom’s cooking, especially her baked beans. She lists silly things like my brother playing toys with her, or my nephew dancing. Small things add up when you don’t see an end in sight.

Then last week it was too cold (50°F) to eat outside for lunch at school and Pippa was told they had to eat in the cafeteria. Pippa promptly told her teacher that her mom was sick and she didn’t want to bring home Covid to me. She said she needed to eat alone. I NEVER told her to do this. I NEVER suggested she should exclude herself from her class and eat alone. She did it because she is filled with love and she knows that our numbers here in South Carolina are through the roof. She knows many people who had the virus and were very sick. We know people who have died from the virus. It is very real to our family.

Her teacher, very kindly, gave her a quiet room to eat in alone. As Pippa got up to leave the cafeteria, two girls yelled after her, “Democrat.” The word was disgusting to them. Like my child was the worst kind of person. What could be worse than a Democrat, right?

I asked Pippa if she was upset by them yelling that out to her. Her response was perfect. “Why would I care? I believe in science and I love my mom. Their words can’t hurt me.”
I cried. Then I cried some more. I received an email from her teacher letting me know of Pippa’s choice to eat alone. I responded with how proud of I am of her to care so much about me and how awesome it was to have such strong convictions.

Convictions can lead you astray. We watched that last week when the Capitol was stormed. The world, and most certainly America, is in a very tenuous position. More people are dying daily for Covid-19 and even more people seem to still think it is fake. Almost every day I think about a news report about a man dying in South Dakota of Covid. The nurse who cared for him said that his last dying words were, “but this virus is fake.” Convictions are powerful and can be deadly. Parents pass along their beliefs to their children, but they shouldn’t pass along hate. Clearly, in some homes the word Democrat is evil or else the girls wouldn’t have launched it at my daughter like a weapon. It is fine to have a different opinion. It is fine to disagree, but how you disagree defines you. I have explained to my daughters that not everyone believes what we do, but that doesn’t make them any less human. We need to teach our children that convictions are wonderful and powerful, but when they are left unchecked or are used to hurt, they cease to be convictions and they become an excuse to be evil and ugly.

I am not sure where Pippa finds her strength. When she was little, I quoted Maya Angelou to her often. My favorite quote was “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” In kindergarten, a girl swore at her. She told the teacher. The next day in the playground the girl came at her again and she said the above quote to her. The teacher overheard and was shocked that this little girl was quoting a poet.
My hopes for Pippa and the world is that they don’t let their convictions lead them astray. How we disagree is the most important lesson we can teach our children right now. We need that more than ever….and a little more kindness.

Good News.

A month after my surgery, I received the news I wanted…I am clear of cancer. The preliminary report looked good, but because my doctor is the best, he sent my slides on to a Johns Hopkins melanoma specialist and he confirmed that the margins around my surgery are clear.

I am unbelievably grateful. I feel such a huge sense of relief. God is good and I cannot even begin to express my gratitude to the legions of people who prayed for me and reached out to me.

I will continue to need follow up care, just to be on the safe side….but today is a good day. Today I celebrate that I found the right doctor. Today I celebrate the I am well loved. Today I celebrate that I can grow old with the people I love. This has been an extremely stressful and scary time, but it was also a gift. It is wonderful to reflect on what is important to you and to be able to prioritize love.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Proverbs 17:17

Go see a dermatologist!

Last year while living in Portugal I went to see a dermatologist. I had a freckle on my lip that my kids thought was bigger than before. I am a red head. A red head who has an awesome mother that coated me in sunscreen since birth. I am old…and sunscreen wasn’t a thing in the 70’s, but she found the only one that existed, Clinique, and she spent a small fortune keeping me safe. As an adult, I always wear sunscreen, even in the winter. I wear swim shirts. I wear hats.

The dermatologist thought my lip freckle was just that…a freckle. She said to come back in 6 months, just in case. Well…I didn’t. We moved to South Carolina and I sort of forgot. When I remembered, I made an appointment with a dermatologist here, but it was 5 months away. Then coronavirus hit. I thought my appointment would be canceled. It wasn’t.

The dermatologist inspected my whole body and gave me a cream to remove any dangerous freckles on my arms and she said she wanted a biopsy of my lip. 6 weeks later a large chunk of my lower lip was biopsied. Then the doctor started talking about my prognosis. My follow up. Cancer. Melanoma. I really didn’t hear anything she said. I think I just blocked it out. My priest (who wasn’t allowed in the building due to COVID-19 policies) picked me up. I couldn’t talk. My lip would bleed every time I opened my mouth. I didn’t really know what to say, so I said nothing.

Fast forward one week and we are on a family vacation in the mountains. I was driving down the Blue Ridge Parkway and my phone rings. I am on Bluetooth, so the whole car hears: “Mrs. Elliott, the results of your biopsy came back. You need to see an ENT immediately. You will need surgery to remove atypical cells from you lip.” What? What does that even mean?

Then everything moved quickly. I was referred to an ear, nose and throat doctor who specializes in face cancer and plastic surgery. I am terrified, but also a little numb. I see the doctor three days later. He is fabulous. Truly sent from Heaven just for me. He was a professor at UC Davis and trained and worked at Johns Hopkins in plastic surgery. He is kind. He explains everything clearly. He wants my pathology sent to two different experts. He gives me his cell phone number and his personal email. He calls me the next day and says that he is working behind the scenes and he will be in touch as soon as possible. I feel relieved to have someone who is so attentive and caring.

My doctor has a meeting with the tumor board (sounds ominous) and they unanimously agree that I need surgery. He received the second and third opinions he wanted and my surgery is booked.

In my mind, this was going to be easy breezy. Just remove a pretty big section of my lower lip. End of story. I just kept telling myself it was no big deal. It was out of my control and in God’s capable hands. The surgery was more intense than I had expected. The incision was much bigger than I anticipated. The recovery is much longer than I wanted. I can’t speak for 9 days. If you know me, you know that this is almost an impossibility. I must stay still. I look like a creepy Halloween doll with stitches sticking out of my mouth and chin. My kids are scared of me. My priest is completely spiraling.

Now, I am at home in bed, not speaking, not moving and praying that all of the scary stuff has been removed from my lip. Praying the pathology comes back clear. Praying that I need no more intervention.

This is a cautionary tale. First of all, stay out of the sun. Second of all, even if you do stay out of the sun, get checked yearly by a dermatologist. They see more than you do. Third of all, don’t wait if you see something weird. Stay on top of your health. You are your own best advocate.

I know I will be fine. My doctor is the best. My priest however is not coping. He pressed his face to the glass of the surgery center until the nurses told him to go away. My kids catch him crying in his closet or the bathroom. Say a prayer for him…he needs it more than I do.

My priest and corona

My priest is constantly touching his face. He can’t follow Dr. Fauci’s sage advice. He itches his nose, touches his hair, his ears….he is a ‘grade A‘ fidgeter. I have kept him at home during this time. I do the shopping. I run any errands. Yesterday, I decided to throw caution to the wind and take my priest with me on my weekly trip to the grocery store. It was a huge mistake.

My priest was wearing a mask, but I kept catching him touching his face. I told him to remain calm. He said he couldn’t. Everything was itchy. Everything was on fire. He was driven mad and wild. I told him to leave the store. He was driving me crazy and I couldn’t get my groceries if I was worried about him. He said he wanted to help and refused to leave. He did not help except to make me feel itchy. It’s like when someone talks about lice and all you can do is scratch your head for the next hour. If I do say so myself, I had the patient of Job in that grocery store.

We got to the car and after pouring gallons of hand sanitizer on himself, he touched his face like a mad man. My priest admitted that COVID-19 restrictions weren’t for him. He was never going to the grocery store or anywhere else again. Finally, a wise choice.

Pippa’s search for bosom friends.

Any one who knows my youngest daughter, Pippa, knows she is a character. She is outrageously funny. She can be a little saucy. She has the best giggle and a really fast wit. She has me laughing out loud daily. She also doesn’t care at all if you don’t like her and she will never try to impress a stranger.

Last year in Portugal at the parent teacher meeting at school, her teacher told me she really wished Pippa would come out of her shell. She said Pippa rarely spoke. She certainly never made jokes or laughed in school at all. I was shocked; like knock me on the ground shocked. The girl she was describing was not my daughter. I could hardly wait to see Pippa and ask her why she behaved so differently at school. My mind was racing. Was she being bullied? Was she scared? Was she friendless? She had been home schooled for awhile, so I started thinking I might have made her a freak.

I questioned Pippa when we got home and her answer surprised me. She said, “mom, school is for learning. I don’t want to get in trouble for talking. I talk enough at home.” Let me be clear, I spent most of my life in elementary school in trouble for talking too much. I was put under the piano in kindergarten to think about my behavior. I just thought, “my teacher is mean.” I never stopped talking. My tap dancing teacher in third grade said I had verbal diarrhea. I was disgusted by her description, but it didn’t deter me.

I thought Pippa might want to make friends by being funny. She could certainly be the next Mrs. Maisel, but she doesn’t care. I think she might have a little fear of getting in trouble, but mostly because she wouldn’t want to miss recess, for what? Chatting to some kids…no thanks. When she meets people she quietly assesses the situation and them. Almost like Anne Shirley, from “Anne of Green Gables,” wanted a bosom friend, Pippa is on the lookout for bosom friends. When she finds them, she comes alive.

I will admit, I wish I was more discerning. I need to be like Pippa and take my time. To listen and pay attention to the people who will be my bosom friends. I really wish the world could meet the hilarious daughter I keep at home, but she’s not interested in impressing the masses and for now, I am realizing how lucky I am not to have to share.

Pneumonia sucks.

Maggie got the flu the week before school ended for Christmas vacation. She was completely taken down. Before I realized she had the flu, I let her sleep with me. I wanted to look after her and check her temperature during the night. It serves me right for actually caring about my teenage daughter. Then Pippa got sick. She didn’t have the flu, but a sinus and lung infection. We spent 10 days in London, UK running around like idiots. Everyone felt a little tired, but we refused to give in.

When we returned from London, I had a massive headache. I thought I was jetlagged. Then when the headache got worse and didn’t go away, I thought I had a sinus infection. I sought no professional help. Clearly, I felt like I knew my body and was some kind of an expert. I was wrong.

One day while FaceTiming my mother, she told me I looked like crap and that grown women shouldn’t have a temperature of 103° for days on end. She forced my priest to take me to the doctor.

After multiple tests, X-rays and swabs for the flu, it was determined that I had a pretty severe case of pneumonia.  I was sent home with multiple antibiotics and an inhaler.  I couldn’t leave my bed for days….even when I wanted to.  My priest began to spiral.  He cannot cook.  He cannot clean.  He CAN buy pretty flowers and he knows how to order takeout.  Thankfully we have returned to the south and people took pity on us. Food was delivered by multiple people and I had offers of so much more.

The one thing I remembered most about living in the south, was the kindness of everyone when you need it most. I remember when Pippa was born and food was delivered to our home nonstop. It made us feel so loved. This time around, with pneumonia, was no exception. Our fridge was full, my children were fed and more importantly my priest was able to just look after me. I digress….

I had signed up to do a half marathon on Hilton Head Island way back in October. I had been training for the run and was excited about completing the beautiful and flat course.  When I returned from London, I had to resume my training. I took time off while we were visiting London because we were walking 25,000 steps per day while being educated by my priest about every historical fact ever known about London. Good times.

The day we got home, I went for short run of 3 miles with a pounding headache and what I believed to be a sinus infection.  The next day, I was scheduled to run 6 miles. I told my family that I wasn’t feeling very well, but that I was sure a good run would make me feel better. I left the house and thankfully instead of running in the woods, I went to a local track. Once I am determined to do something, there is very little chance that I will get deterred. I had set out to run 6 miles, therefore I would run 6 miles.  Around mile 2 I realized I couldn’t breathe very well. I thought it was because the day was very humid and I was tired and jetlagged. Finally at mile three, I quit. I got back in my car and drove home. My priest was shocked to see me back so quickly. I told him I didn’t feel great and that I just needed to take it easy.  I knew I had a fever for days, but again ignored it.  The next day I found out I had pneumonia. I am not very smart.

It has been 6 weeks now.  I have had two chest X-rays since and I still have pneumonia.  I am still tired and I still need to use the inhaler.  You know they say a summer body is made in the winter….well this summer I am going to look like how I feel…an exhausted slug.

Vagina pin

There is a town in Portugal famous for pottery. They make beautiful pieces, but they also are mostly known for penis pottery. Total pervy pieces of every profession in penis shape: penis doctors, penis chefs, penis tennis players, etc.  Penis mugs and penis plates abound.  
The town is called Caldas da Rainha and it is about an hour or so away from our home. My priest has a service there once a month and that finds the kids and I wandering the streets monthly. We hit the park and an awesome Italian restaurant, but we also window shop.
A few months ago, through a window of a closed shop I spotted a vagina pin. A delicate little piece of pottery that caught my eye. Maggie, my eldest daughter, hates everything to do with the pottery in this town. She thinks it is gross and she has made it an art form to avoid looking at any of it. When I saw the pin, I knew I had to buy it for her.
We went pass the shop many times, but the pin was always sold out. Last week, we popped in again and I finally asked the sales lady if they had any more vagina pins. She had one left behind the counter. She produced the pin and as Pippa put, “it is intense.”

The lady said it was such a cute piece.  I said I was buying it for my 13 year old daughter, who had by then vanished from the shop.  She wrapped up the pin and we left the store.  On the international day of the woman, I presented the pin to Maggie.  She was horrified.  She looked at the pin carefully and then said I was a sicko and not a normal mom.  I am well aware that I may not be normal, but I also thought that in 10 years, my daughter could wear her vagina pin and be proud that she is a strong girl and that her mom bought her a cool pin in Portugal that symbolizes her womanhood.  When she got home from school the next day, she said she told her friends that her mom bought her a vagina pin and they thought it was cool.  Maggie was still not convinced.    I sent a picture of the pin to my mother, who agreed with her granddaughter; she said the pin is awful.  

At least Maggie will have proof when she is older that her mom was a weirdo; the vagina pin apparently speaks for itself.



In too deep.

Maggie started high school where my priest is the headmaster. Can you imagine the embarrassment? Apparently, I am more embarrassing than him. I hug her too much. I try to kiss her too much.  I want to have lunch with her in the cafeteria.  All disgusting things, or so I am told.

Last night, she told me that she told some kids at school that she is a vegetarian.  This was true for the first 3 years of her life and as various other stages in her 14 years.  She has never had red meat, but she does eat chicken and occasionally turkey.  Well, she started 9th grade claiming she is a full vegetarian.  I have no idea why, but I suspect it was because she had a friend at school who is a vegetarian and I assume she wanted to fit in as a freshman.   Well, she is a month  into school and she is drowning.

Lunch is provided at school and we live in the South so chicken is often on the menu.  It is pretty yummy by most accounts (I wouldn’t know, I am actually a vegetarian…not a fake one) but Maggie won’t eat it because of the lie she told on the first day of school.  She watches most of the other kids enjoying the chicken dishes while she is eating salad day after day or peanut butter and jam sandwiches.  I asked her why she  just doesn’t tell her friends she eats chicken, but she is in too deep.  The lie has grown and now she feels trapped.

I admit to laughing hysterically for a long time.  It reminded me of one of my favorite shows “Gavin and Stacey” when Pam lies about being a vegetarian and tries to keep it up for months (if you haven’t seen this show, watch it.  It’s very British and very funny).  I understand why she didn’t want me at lunch…I might reveal her little lie.  In too deep.  My priest told her she needs to come clean.  To not hid one lie by creating another.  She has invented a million ways to cover, but I have given her one week or I am just showing up with KFC and handing her a leg.

UPDATE:  Maggie told her friend she eats chicken now because her doctor told her too. Why????  Who cares, she came clean, but the best part is, the girl who she was a vegetarian for, told her she eats chicken sometimes too.   Go figure.

Portuguese Tourism Guide

I am constantly asked what I love about Portugal. There are way too many things to list, but I will give you an idea of what I think are musts and if you need more advice, just ask.

CASCAIS. This has been our home for three years. It is called the “Jewel of the Atlantic Coast” and for good reason. It is lovely. It easily warrants a full day (if not more) to explore. I love to walk along the promenade from Estoril to the center of Cascais. It is a wide and lively path on the ocean. The views are spectacular. This is a year round activity, but in the summer, the beaches are great for swimming. There is an inflatable water park in the summer (€7 per hour) and you can rent SUP to explore on. There are loads of cafes and restaurants that line this strip and are frequented by locals and tourists alike.

Top Sites/Food in Cascais according to my family:

  1. Cresmina Dunes and Guincho beach. Amazing walk on the sand dunes. Cool cafe to admire view (closed Mondays). Guincho is an awesome place to watch surfers (not great for beginner surfers). Great hiking trails along the coast, plus the Bar do Guincho has great food and was rated one of the best beach cafes in Europe.
  2. Castro Guimaraes museum is located right overlooking the ocean and it is magical. A very quick visit, but so worth it. The little bridge in front of the castle is the smallest bridge in the world that crosses the Atlantic Ocean (kind of a joke, but cool nonetheless). My kids love to swim in the castle moat, which depending on the tide, can be chill or they are almost pulled out to sea, either way, they love it.
  3. Marchel Carmona Park is right beside the Castro Guimares house and it is amazing! There are free roaming peacocks everywhere and chicken and roosters too. If you are lucky, the roses are in bloom and the smell is incredible. There is a small, but good cafe in the park that donates their proceeds to a charity for people with special needs. A great place to enjoy a coffee and pastry while the kids play in the extensive park.
  4. Boca do Infero (Hell’s Mouth) is a cool spot to view the ocean and some neat cliffs. If you have time, I would walk from the city center to here and then continue to this hip shopping and eating spot called Casa da Guia. It is probably no more than a 30 minute walk…maybe a bit longer, but you will be rewarded with amazing views.
  5. We love to grab a coffee on the Main Street at Sacolina (they only take cash). Maggie would eat daily (if we let her) at 100 Montadito’s (across from the Cascais train station). It is a Spanish tapas chain that offers 100 mini sandwiches for €1 each. They also have my favorite cider on tap- Bandito and tinto de Verano (wine mixed with a lemon lime soda—more popular with the Spanish than sangria). For sit down restaurants…hands down Lamassa in Estoril. It is the best handmade pasta in this country. I will dream of it often. They only have 6 tables. You must reserve. They open at 7 pm for dinner.
  6. Cascais market on Wednesday morning. It is an explosion of colors and sounds. The best fresh fruits and vegetables I have ever eaten. Plus, there are stalls that sell everything from clothing to pottery. I never missed a Wednesday.

Sintra is enchanting. If you have the time visit every castle, but don’t miss the hiking here too! I won’t list the castles because they are easy enough to find, just letting you know our favorites.

  1. We love Quinta do Pisão. It is a free nature park with trails that wind through cork forests. They have endangered donkeys and sheep grazing in the field. It has archeological sites dating back to the Paleolithic times. A must!
  2. Pena Palace and Quinta da Regaleira are both so unique. Pena for the architecture and Regaleira for the grounds. Love them both. Pena needs way more time than you think to see it because the grounds are enormous and they are not to be missed. This should take you a half day alone.
  3. Monserrate is very special. Pretty grounds and unique architecture, but my favorite part is the free old hunting grounds across from the palace with miles of trails. One of my go to hiking routes. Glorious.
  4. Eat at cafe Saudade! It is in the town center and have the largest and best scones ever!
  5. Cafe Da Natalia is a little out of the way, but apparently it is frequented by the elite in Portuguese society. I never saw anyone famous, but I did eat here weekly. Great homemade pastries and at lunch don’t order off of the menu…they have this mini buffet of Portuguese food and you just point to what you want and they plate it for you. It is reasonable and good. Try the fish of the garden, a green bean that they deep fry…yummy.

Lisbon is a city that has a little something for everyone. There are the obvious tourist sites that every guidebook will include, so I won’t bother mentioning those, I will just tell you what we love.

  1. The Estrela Park is a favorite spot. The kids would ride their bikes here and play in the park. It is a great spot to come and sit under a tree and rest your feet. It is also across the street from where my priest worked. If the British Cemetery and St. George’s church is open, it is a wonderful spot to visit. Close by is a great cafe with the world’s best salted caramel chocolate cake…Padaria Portuguesa. It is a small chain which serves up great deals of soup, sandwich and fresh squeezed orange juice for under €5. Don’t go one day in Portugal without fresh squeezed orange juice. It is cheap and it tastes like Heaven.
  2. The Prazares Cemetery is fascinating. The Portuguese have a very unique way of burying people in these little houses and my kids were transfixed. It is also the best place to get a seat on the #28 tram. It is the start of the line. The 28 is a must! Like a Disney ride as it winds through the city. Beware of pickpockets. Also right nearby are a lot of fabric shops that sell Portuguese patterns and linens. I love looking at them. Then you can catch lunch at the Campo D’Ourique. It is a hip, but reasonable place to eat. It is like the more popular Time Out Market, but less busy. Great food options for everyone. Love having lunch here…not open for dinner.
  3. Time Out Market is insanely popular and for good reason. It offers a great sampling of Portuguese food in a food hall setting. Everyone can find something they like and meet at a table to enjoy it. It has become very busy!! Get there early. My kids love the 100 Montadito’s across the street…less busy and cheaper but not Portuguese food.
  4. Port tasting in Time Out market. Really fun and a great chance to learn about the famous Portuguese drink.
  5. Drink Ginja often! It is a sour cherry liqueur sold in a chocolate shot glass. I have one every night. I might have a problem. It is sold everywhere for €1 a shot. The most famous spot for locals to get a shot (not served in chocolate) is called Ginjinha Sem Rival. It is near Rossini Square. You feel like a local when you come here.
  6. Around the corner from Ginjinha Sem Rival is the coolest church in Lisbon. It had a fire in the church in the mid-1950’s and they left the scared walls for all to see. It is so untouched and I find it mesmerizing. The Saint Domingos Church (Igreja Sao Domingos) is a must.
  7. The Carmo Convent is in ruins, but it is really worth going into. It has a small museum inside, but it is the remains of the building destroyed in the 1755 earthquake that is exciting to see. Right around the corner is a flight of stairs that goes up to a cafe called Bella Vista, if you go up those stairs you pass the restaurant and you are on top of the famous Santa Justa lift. No need to take the elevator and wait in line, just walk past the cafe and you are rewarded with a kick ass view. The elevator is reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower. It was designed by one of Eiffel’s protégés.
  8. The Tile Museum. Portugal is famous for its azulejos. This museum shows you everything you need to know about how and why tiles are so popular in Portugal. It is a great place to spend a few hours. If you contact the museum in advance, they will teach you how to paint tiles.
  9. The Money Museum. This is free and it really is a great spot for the whole family. Yes, your learn about money, but it used to be a church before the earthquake of 1755 and it shows you what happened in the city it shows you where they found bodies are they excavated years later. Fascinating stuff.
  10. Cork store…JS Cork. Don’t buy cork on the street or from a tourist shop because then it probably comes from China and it is fake. Cork is most abundantly grown in Portugal and North Africa. It is an amazing product. The bark from a cork tree is stripped every 7 years and used for everything from flooring, to insulation in the space shuttle. It is an extremely versatile product and completely waterproof. Buy it from a reputable source.
  11. Pizzaria Lisboa is owned by famed Michelin star chef José Avillez. Some of his restaurants take months to get into, but his pizza and pasta place is pretty easy to find a table if you book a day or so before or for when it opens for dinner at 7 pm. Get the bread service. It comes with truffle butter and a tomato and marscapone dip. The appetizer of eggplant parmigiana is great. Also the dessert of Chocolate x3 is lush. Pretty reasonably priced. You might notice I don’t recommend a lot of Portuguese places to eat. It is because they are heavy on the fish and meat and I am a vegetarian. If you dig on fish, you will love Portuguese cuisine.
  12. Tuk-tuk ride. My kids love this! They are everywhere in Lisbon and since it is such a hilly city, it is a fun way to get your bearings. They don’t charge a fortune and they speed through the hills making it like you are on an out of control roller coaster. Negotiate hard. You can get a good deal. Make sure you tell them you want to see the Afama district. It is the old Arab part of the city and retains its crazy winding streets. Many are very steep. Better to see it the first time by tuk-tuk.
  13. El Cortes Inglese is 12 story department store that always makes me happy. It is a Spanish chain and it has everything. While stunning at Christmas, I like it year round. It reminds me of an old fashioned department store from my childhood. They have taken a cue from the success of the Time Out Market and on the 7th floor they opened a food hall. Avillez has a small restaurant, along with other famous Portuguese chefs. Our favorite gelato shop Nannarella opened up inside as well. Best gelato in Portugal. They have another location in the city too.


Belém is just outside of Lisbon and it is home to the most famous pastel de natas bakery in the world, Pastéis de Belem. I really don’t like these egg custard tarts, but I am probably the only one. The bakery is in the Main Street and people cue outside to buy the tarts…DON’T CUE…go inside. There are over 400 seats inside and you almost never have to wait to get a table. A bit of advice…put cinnamon on top of the pastry. That’s the way the Portuguese do it.

  1. Do visit the Jeronimos Monastery. The Manueline architecture is very unique to Portugal and it is captivating.
  2. The tower of Belém is a symbol of Lisbon. Maggie always thought it was lame to be the image of Lisbon because it isn’t very big, but it was a defensive fort and it is in a great location. It can be insanely busy!! You might wait a long time, so plan it early in the day.
  3. The Coaches Museum. This is my favorite museum of them all. It has been recently redone and it gives you a look at all of the types of coaches used by everyone from Royalty to commoners before cars. They are beautifully displayed and it is a real treat to step back in time and see these magnificently preserved vehicles.
  4. Discoverers Monument. This is well worth a visit if you like a good view. The monument itself is free to see. It is located on the water in Belém. You only pay to get to the top, up a tiny elevator. Once there, there is a small viewing platform that offers an amazing view. You can pass on this, if it is really busy.


If you love surfing, or think you might like surfing…this is the beach. It is 20 minutes outside of Lisbon and it is one of my favorite places to swim and walk. It is a long and wide beach filled with cafés and restaurants. There are trails that let you walk from Carcavelos past other great beaches like Oerias and the Oerias Marina. There are multiple surfing schools here and they even offer boogie boarding lessons. If you have time, park here and walk a few miles along the coast towards Lisbon. They are fortresses and castles and clear blue water to keep you occupied.

I have covered some of my favorites, but I will write another post about things a little further afield soon. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. I hope you fall in love with Portugal…I did.