When I told my grandmother about our grand travel plans, she immediately wanted to connect me with some friends of hers. Lauren and Sam live in Mozambique but have a house in Cascais, where they spend a few months every year. My grandmother introduced us over email, and they gave us some tips about our time in Lisbon, and we planned to meet when they were in town in January. They invited us out to Cascais to go to the market and then prepare and have brunch together.
Cascais is a suburb of Lisbon: it’s about 20 miles west and sits nestled on the coast. If you get a sense of the ocean in Lisbon, that sense is much stronger in this town. It used to be a fishing village, but is now a upscale vacation town, with lots of Europeans making their way there to spend summers on the beach. It has the same cobblestone streets and brightly colored buildings as Lisbon, but was much more calm and laid back. I wonder if it would feel the same in the summer when it’s filled to the brim with people.
After taking the train from Lisbon, we met Sam and Lauren at the beautiful market in Cascais, and it quickly felt like they were an aunt and uncle, telling us about the town, showing us the newly refurbished market, and checking to make sure that we had bought all of the groceries we wanted. They told us why this shop was their favorite for olives and nuts and exclaimed excitedly over bright orange clementines. Once we returned to their beautiful apartment, we started cooking together: Jonah pitted olives and crumbled cheese for the pasta, and I chopped nuts and peeled clementines for the salad. In addition to learning about how they were connected to my grandmother (Lauren’s mother taught with my grandmother at a high school in New Jersey), Lauren and Sam educated us about Portuguese food, detailing their favorite wines, showing us the craft beers they had just found and bought to sample, and explaining the three different kinds of cheese we’d be having with brunch.
We were joined for brunch by another friend, Ari, and after enjoying a beautiful meal we laced up our walking shoes and headed to the water. They told us that this was the walk they did when they needed to think a problem through or clear their mind, and it definitely had the same affect on me. I found myself opening up to Lauren in a way that you don’t usually open up to someone you’ve just met; I think because the first couple of weeks in Portugal had been a challenge and she was such a comforting parental figure, something I really needed. We strolled and talked for a couple of hours. I peeled off my coat as the sun beamed down, and we walked along the cliffs, watching the waves crash gently against them.
Back at the house we enjoyed coffee, pastries, and gelato, and then Sam walked me, Jonah, and Ari to the train station where we headed back to Lisbon. I felt a small sadness that the day was coming to a close. Jonah and I went in not knowing at all what to expect, thinking we were going to Cascais just for brunch, but we ended up spending nine hours there. Sam and Lauren treated us like family – they even sent us home with a big bag of produce and a round of Portuguese cheese to try. I regret that I don’t think we’ll ever get the chance to repay them, or to explain how much I needed a day like this. To be far from home and feel like you are with family is one of those things that fills you up, that refuels you.