by Caroline

For the third summer in a row, people we love were in Europe, offering us a reason to visit and, even better, a place to stay. There is always a moment (sometimes quite a long moment) when, contemplating a trip like this (3 cities and 17 days), paging through guidebooks and counting up the number of restaurant meals, I wonder if we shouldn’t just stay closer to home: rent a beach house with family and friends, do more home cooking, spend less of the summer in museums. But I also know these opportunities aren’t going to come again, and I know we’re lucky that we can take advantage of them now. And we have become pretty adept at traveling in a way that minimizes the upheaval and maximizes family harmony and comfort (that is, we pack food). So for the third summer in a row, we counted our lucky stars, booked plane tickets, and packed our bags.

First stop: Sintra, Portugal, the small city outside Lisbon that Byron described as “glorious Eden,” and where my friend Ursula is living in a beautifully rambling home with her daughter, her Portuguese husband, and her mother-in-law. The house is perched on a hill surrounded by a big yard and lush gardens.

the neighbor's horses, grazing out the kitchen window

The boys quickly got used to the backyard chatter of chickens and geese:

feathered friends

And they learned how to use a familiar tool — the mortar & pestle — in a new way: to crack nuts. In the past, their nut-cracking has been with my dad, whose hickory nuts are so hard-shelled he starts them off with a good whack of the sledge hammer on the garage floor. Portuguese hazelnuts offer a much easier entry:

A familiar snack — yogurt with nuts and honey — was the perfect way to start our time away from home.