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TravelAnton San Diego And The #FiftyPlusGoingTo Group Share Their Fondest Memories In Scenic Portugal

Anton San Diego And The #FiftyPlusGoingTo Group Share Their Fondest Memories In Scenic Portugal

Anton San Diego And The #FiftyPlusGoingTo Group Share Their Fondest Memories In Scenic Portugal
The ladies in Porto: Ina Ayala, Marissa Tambunting, Mela Gozon, Laurie Westfall, Lizette Cojuangco, Pops Fernandez, Marianne Po, Kit Zobel, Rose Anne Belmonte, and Ling Ling King
By Anton San Diego
By Anton San Diego
August 14, 2019
Finding themselves in a country where tradition and culture add to the charm, the "#50plusgoingto" group celebrate their friendships as well as create amazing memories in and around historic Portugal

From the formidable Belem Tower to the beaches in Cascais and Estoril; from ubiquitous baroque interiors and blue and white tiles to breathtaking sites and some of the friendliest people on the planet, Portugal had all of us enthralled. This Iberian country was the destination our “#50+goingto” group chose for its fourth annual trip. Committed to travel together at least once a year, we started off with Florence, then Venice, and then Hong Kong.

Portugal was a country we didn’t know much about, so it was natural that we asked many people for advice on what to do and where to go, eat, and shop. Our research paid off: by the end of the trip, we all left with wonderful memories of Portugal and a strong longing to return someday.

The Jeronimos Monastery serves as a backdrop to the group
The Jeronimos Monastery serves as a backdrop to the group

On this trip we welcomed three friends into the fold: Karen Santos, Marissa Tambunting, and PJ Pascual. We gorged on fresh seafood and arroz negro; shopped for charming ceramic plates; went sightseeing in Sintra; stayed overnight in Porto; and, most importantly, made priceless additions to our memories, that as with all our previous trips, are forever etched in our minds.

Carmo convent was destroyed by the great earthquake of 1755
Statue of Don Jose 1
Grilled octopus at Pesca restaurant
Lisbon’s version of Thailand’s TukTuk
 

Ina Ayala

With friends like these, travelling to foreign places will never be a bore
Castelo de Sao Jorge
Monument to the Discoveries
 

It was, for most of us, the first time to set foot in such a beautiful country. We were all smitten—and I can’t help but want to go back and be smitten some more.

Old World beauty abounds here: patterns everywhere! The Calçada Portuguesa (Portuguese pavement) stonework patterns on sidewalks, plazas, and atriums were so photogenic, as were the Azulejo tilework on their walls and ceilings. The tilework inside the train station in Porto was also unforgettable.

I loved the old shops around the hilly streets of Lisbon, with storefronts just as they were a generation or two ago. Shopping for gloves at Luvaria Ulisses in Chiado was a particularly novel experience. They’ve been at it since 1925; even now, there’s always a long line to get fitted for a pair of quality gloves.

What was the most unforgettable treat there for me? Aside from the razor clams and the bacalhau with potato chips, it had to be dessert at Santini Ice Cream where the coconut and green apple flavours were to die for! Another of my favourite dishes was the ameijoas a bulhao pato (clams in white wine) which I enjoyed at Cascais in Monte Mar, Solar de Presuntos, and at Ramiro.

I fell in love with Porto as we were sitting by the water at sunset, sipping white port and tonic while a street musician played classical music. I also loved Óbidos with its whitewashed walls, terra-cotta rooftops, and narrow cobblestoned streets filled with craft stores, and bars serving the popular sour-cherry liqueur Ginginja.

Our visit to Fátima filled us with peace and tranquillity, and gave us time to reflect and express our gratitude for the opportunity to travel, celebrate true friendships, deepen connections, and create new memories.

Lizette Cojuangco

This is my Portugal: Lisbon, Cascais, UNESCO world heritage sites, Porto; Óbidos enchanted me with its charming, quaint cobblestone streets and walkways, restored historical homes, buildings, churches, and the gastronomic array of seafood, drinks, and imaginative cuisine.

We found the more relaxed pace of life infectious, despite our hectic schedule that tried to squeeze in as many places to see.

Meeting gracious people in Lisbon, particularly two generous men and local drivers who showed us Portuguese hospitality, was an added treat. We were honoured to view the Pestana Palace in its raw, unfinished state, and to walk through a secret garden that fired up our imagination and made us wonder how the palace looked originally. We also were made privy as to how it will be converted into a seven-star hotel by next year.

Trams first appeared in Lisbon in 1873 and are still used today
Trams first appeared in Lisbon in 1873 and are still used today
Memmo Principe Real Hotel
Memmo Principe Real Hotel

Ling Ling King

I’ve been travelling with this specific group of friends for the past three years, and every destination with them has always been special. This year the destination was Portugal; for me, it was an Eat, Pray, Love kind of adventure with friends.

What to eat? The seafood in Portugal was excellent. I’m not a big seafood eater but the black paella from Solar Dos Presuntos was so worth every calorie that we went twice.

Where to pray? Fatima is a holy destination that I’ve had a chance to visit twice; it’s a must for pilgrims of the faith. What was there to love? Journeying with people you love, whether friends or family, make any destination that much more memorable.

Kit Zobel

Where do I begin describing what I love about Portugal? There was so much to see in only one week that left me wishing for more. This is a special country, a place that has retained its timeworn charm coupled with a cool contemporary vibe. It’s a great destination to travel to with good friends as I did last spring.

I love the beauty of the old and new: the weathered buildings decorated with gorgeous Azulejos, the traditional ceramic tile work that is absolutely stunning; the intricate iron balconies that frame the windows so beautifully; the graffiti and street art that gives these façades their edge and grit. One can spend hours exploring and being amazed with each new turn into the city’s quaint streets.

My favorite places to visit were Lisbon, Porto, Sintra, and Fatima. We ate the freshest seafood in Ramiro, Monte Mar, and Solar Dos Presuntos. We saw the most exquisite ceramics in Bordallo Pinheiro, Vista Alegre, and A Vida Portuguesa. We made friends along the way with locals who graciously took good care of us. But most of all, we made unforgettably fabulous memories, enjoyed endless laughter, and took countless photos to remember our journey by. It all ended much too soon but we will be back for more—either together or with our own families.

Heading to Fatima
Arroz Negra from Solar Dos Presuntos
 

Carmela Gozon

Portugal was a very pleasant surprise for me. Lisboa felt like the “old” Europe I enjoyed in my teens. People are friendly, accommodating and sincere. The food is delectable with an abundance of good restaurants like Time Out Market, Ramiro, Solar dos Presuntos, and DOP.

Our overnight stay in Porto was definitely too short, but we definitely have a reason to come back. When in Porto, stay in the centre of the city to walk and immerse yourself in its interesting culture. We stayed at A Brasileira Hotel in Pestana, which our group enjoyed.

Our Fatima trip by car from Lisboa was wonderful. We were blessed to hear Mass while we were there and enjoy the feeling of Mama Mary truly with us. Óbidos was another wonderful surprise, a small town situated higher on the hills which reminded me of Greece.

Portugal offers a different shopping experience; you’ll find linens and ceramics in A Vida Portuguese where items are handmade and done locally with pride. I enjoyed our trip and Portugal is top of the list of places to visit again.

Marissa Tambunting

Crabs at Ramiro restaurant
Claus Porto soaps
A Vida Portuguesa store
Time Out Market
 

The art of Azulejos is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Portugal. These beautifully glazed ceramic tiles decorate all sorts of structures, from church walls, to palaces, shops, ordinary homes, fountains, and train stations. It made walking through the hilly and cobblestoned streets of Lisbon, Porto, and the other towns we visited even more enjoyable.

The local fare was just as much of a treat. The build-up about Pastéis de Bélem was accurate: the little custard tarts are available all over Portugal, but the best I have ever tasted was in this pastry shop. The sardines are not to be missed either: Sea Me at Timeout Market serves them seared abura-age-style with just a little Japanese chili pepper, while DOP restaurant by Chef Rui Paula serves them braised with tomatoes and mushrooms on crusty bread.

There are too many highlights to mention, but being in such fun company is what makes any trip truly special and memorable.

Rose Anne Belmonte

When I was in Portugal 11 years ago, the buildings looked run down and old, the colours were dull, there was lots of dirt everywhere, and I didn’t feel safe walking by myself. But today, with their rising economy, buildings are being restored to their original beauty. They’ve rebuilt structures with a tight monetary hand and how creatively resourceful they’ve been—they painted their buildings brighter and tiled the exteriors to enhance the beauty of Lisbon. The blues, reds, oranges, yellows, pinks, and greens made me fall in love with the colours of Portugal. When you walk around today, you feel the grandeur Portugal enjoyed as a world leader, prospering in its trade routes around East Asia in the 16th century.

Browsing through the flea market in Porto brought back childhood memories; but, for me, Fatima was the most special. The place was vast, peaceful, and quiet. All around I felt the fervent prayers of the people. I was in praise and gratitude for the blessings in my life. I prayed for sick friends and relatives and I left the place feeling more blessed. I’ve even seen some fruits in my life since returning home.

Karen Santos

Portugal is a jewel in the Continent, and you can feel its antiquity in every corner of its streets. Take a tuk-tuk to the Alfama, the oldest district of Lisbon, and do a walking tour of the city with Daniel who is so knowledgeable that it’s like being in class for Portuguese History 101. Wander through the district of Belem to see the Torre; visit the historic Monasterio Jeronimos with its uniquely Portuguese Manueline architecture; and don’t miss a chance to eat Belem’s famous custard tarts even if the queue is long. If you have time, visit the Berrardo Museum whose collection spans from the early 20th century to the present, showing different artistic movements in chronological order.

At the end of the day, Portugal is as unique as it is; what makes it so memorable was the wonderful people I travelled with—and that’s what makes a holiday absolutely special.

One of the magnificent churches in Porto
One of the magnificent churches in Porto
“#50+goingto” gang
“#50+goingto” gang

Jojie Dingcong

Portugal is a country that is exciting and moving toward a phenomenal change. I love its rich history: from its days as an empire during the mediaeval period, to its present modern evolution.

Lisbon, a city built upon seven hills, is my favourite vacation spot. I love the food that screams “Goodbye, diet!” From the suckling pig at Henrique Sa Pessoa at its location at the Time Out Market, to the yummy fresh oysters and just-mixedcocktails at JNcQUOI, to the sumptuous paella negra at Solar Dos Presuntos—it was all simply divine! Lisbon is a truly a haven for foodies.

Lisbon is also home to the Museo de Sao Roque with its majestic gilded altars, while nearby Belem has the Baroque-designed and Rococo-influenced Mosteire Dos Jeronimo—these two places are simply grand and glorious.

The highlight of my trip was, once again, my visit to Our Lady of Fatima. This majestic bastion of Catholic faith is my place of tranquillity, hope and prayer. I love this oasis of calm and joy.

PJ Pascual

Since I was new to the group, I was excited to join Anton and his friends. I have never been to Portugal and I’ve heard many great things about the country. I love the architecture, the cobblestone streets, and Lisbon’s history. Lisbon is such a romantic country. I enjoyed the food very much. Francisco, our driver, recommended an amazing place for dinner, although I forgot its name.

My favourite part of the trip was staying in Porto; I loved the city and the vibe. Hiking with Anton was memorable, and we navigated the city in an hour. I also loved Cintra, as I felt so relaxed by the sea.

On top of all that, I loved the company and my new found travel. Thank you, Anton, for making me feel welcome and loved. I look forward to all our journeys together.

Fatima’s Modern Cross
Fatima’s Modern Cross
The hills are alive in Lisbon
The hills are alive in Lisbon

Marianne Po

It was that time of the year again last April when our special group of friends go on a trip. This time we chose Portugal as many of us have never been there. We were seeing lots of pictures of friends who have visited lately and it seemed to be a favourite on many travel blogs as well.

There are too many memories that continue to play in my mind a month later. First, there were the hours spent at La Vida Portuguese, which sold gorgeous artisan products all made by local craftsmen at such affordable prices. Shopping and dining were definitely much more reasonable than other European countries.

Another highlight was the food! My favourites were the black rice of cuttlefish, scallops, prawns, mushrooms, and mussels and Polpo á Lagareiro (grilled octopus) with roasted potatoes a murro, and sautéed vegetables at Solar dos Presuntos, and the crab roe served in its own shell in Cervejeria Ramiro. The 24-hour roast pork belly from Henrique Sà Pedia with its crackling skin and tender meat was a definite must have, and was our only break from the endless helpings of seafood.

Our out-of-town trips to Sintra, Cascais, and Porto were just the right mix of seaside beauty and local culture. And, of course, Fatima is a definite must-visit for every Catholic Filipino who visits Portugal. It was by fate and not merely coincidence that we met Sister Marife, a Filipina nun who has lived in Fatima for the past 16 years. She kindly gave us a quick tour of the Cathedral, and took our names to pray for us. The whole feeling of just being there where proven miracles have happened was truly life-changing and almost surreal.

Laurie Westfall

The Portuguese cities of Lisbon and Porto took me back in time. With their cobblestone streets, wooden trams, and low-rise, mosaic-covered historic architecture, it was as if time stood still. There is a true respect for the country’s rich and colourful past. This is evident as Portugal celebrates everything craft and artisanal, from its old methods of crafting chocolate, to the aging and bottling of Port, to even the canning of sardines.

But what I loved best was its pace of life—slow and deliberate, with pauses to enjoy. You will see people around you who take time to enjoy the moment, and never seem rushed, whether it be strolling down the Baixa district, having a shot of ginja or a sip of port, enjoying a great crab dinner at Ramiro or absorbing the views in Miraduoro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara.

The food—crab roe at Ramiro; bacalhau, polvo, and pasteis de nata at Pasteis de Belem, Chef Silva’s bacalhau a bras at Time Out Lisbon, Santini coconut ice cream and of course, the amazingly delicious Gin and Tonics at Gin Lovers Bar at Embaixada!

The 25th of April Bridge built in 1966, connecting the cities of Lisbon and Almada. It was built by the same firm that constructed the San Francisco Bridge
The 25th of April Bridge built in 1966, connecting the cities of Lisbon and Almada. It was built by the same firm that constructed the San Francisco Bridge

I had to sit down and think about what the word “friends” meant and this is what came out. Being a friend means that you are the biggest support system. It means being able to share life, laughs, and love for the rest of your lives. It means not getting angry when your opinion is different.

When you have friends, you can call them up at any time and know you will have the help you need and at all times, a shoulder to cry on.

This travel group started from the idea of travelling and sharing special moments with people I grew up with. We made more of an effort when Anton had his accident a couple of years back, realising that life can be shorter than expected, so let’s make the most out of it.

“#50+goingto” at Torre de Belem, a16th century structure symbolising Portugal’s rich culture which has long served as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon
“#50+goingto” at Torre de Belem, a16th century structure symbolising Portugal’s rich culture which has long served as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon

I always get a little sentimental because these are the persons with whom I have shared moments of laughter, anger, and sadness with. Laurie, Kit, Anton, Mela, and Marianne—we all have different characters, yet we have listened to each other with so much respect. Sometimes we give each other advice; but most of the time, we just listen.

This year our group got even bigger—that means more chaos (the good kind, of course), more laughter, more stories, and definitely more photos! Never was there a wall where we didn’t find an opportunity to strike a pose. And Portugal—what a place! The scenery was worth every shot.

I love that, whenever we are together, we go back in time, we’re like first graders all over again—reliving moments and creating more unforgettable memories.

  • Words Anton San Diego
  • Photography Edwin Santiago and Anton San Diego

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