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July 22, 2011


In Portugal, more common than hearing “Feliz aniversário”, (or in other words, “Happy birthday”), on the day that’s yours and yours alone, you will most likely hear “Parabéns!”, which is, literally, “Congratulations”.  As in… “Congratulations on surviving another year of life!”  “Congratulations on breathing for 525,600 minutes in the past 365 days!”  “Congratulations on……….

When speaking of the birthday of my one true love – the first birthday of his that we shared together, face to face – I should probably say “Parabéns” as well… “Congratulations on surviving almost one entire year living in the same house as me!”  Now, knowing myself better than anyone else, I’d say that’s quite an accomplishment!  I’m so thankful that I married the most patient man in the world, because being married to me gives him lots of opportunities to exercise this great quality!

It is also to be noted that I have moved to a city that has a recurring national holiday on the same day that America celebrates her own birthday... this same day coordinating perfectly with my husband's birthday, which falls on the day after every year.  Perfect for a bit of extra time to do something special.... especially this year, when "Coimbra Day" just happened to give us a 3-day weekend!  I think this aforementioned husband of mine was looking ahead and anticipating the high level of "overboard" that I could potentially rise to when planning a dinner party, picnic, BBQ, or something similar to celebrate the day, and perhaps this was what urged him to suggest a weekend away at a Bed & Breakfast.  At the first thought of not having to cook, I agreed.  Done and done... sign me up!

We arrived at the Casal da Eira Branca and immediately appreciated the warm welcome given to us by the cheerful flowers and charming houses across the street,

...and the even warmer welcome given by the "Dona da casa" (lady of the house), who actually greeted us at our car and shook our hands there.  Yet another moment of my life that felt like I was in a movie... For me, the charm of a personal, heart-felt, face-to-face greeting stands high above a knowledgeable concierge in a 3-piece suit, who greets you with a simple nod from behind a lectern covered with fliers for local restaurants.  This felt real, and there's not much better than that when you just want to get away for a little bit of this...

and a little bit of this...

It certainly was picturesque, with brightly colored accents and hydrangeas to liven the already cheerful location.  Overlooking hills and a bountiful natural landscape, this site offered us exactly what we wanted... a quaint area to rest and rejuvenate!

typical Portuguese cobblestone...



Our room was one of only a few, another perk of vacationing in small village Nowheresville...

... but it definitely was not lacking in the service department!  I tend to judge these "rural tourism" (i.e. Bed & Breakfast) places here, since most take more pride in their picturesque location than the quality of their beds, pillows, showers, etc.  I had almost sworn off rural tourism for good, admitting that I would almost rather have a weekend at home if it meant sleeping on our new memory foam mattress (seriously, go buy one today)... but thankfully, Casal das Eira Branca changed my mind!

Our room was quaint but wonderful...

with all new Ikea furniture and bedding, a personal refridgerator, wardrobe closet, lots of books and magazines in English, and complete with a personalized terrycloth robe for each of us!

Additionally, one of the reasons we chose this place was because they had a pool.  Too bad it was too windy to actually swim!  Instead, we lounged on poolside lawn chairs that had personal, adjustable sun protection.... brilliant, eh?
I also busied myself taking photos of the adorable bathrooms designated just for the pool area... check out that amazing mirror and those fun lanterns!

We went out to a restaurant (read: dinky diner) for some typical Portuguese food for dinner... the man of the hour is Portuguese after all!  Here's a shot of him looking handsome watching a soccer game on TV...

and displaying his dinner... just for the blog... 

... and we can't leave out the lovely, hand-painted Portuguese tiles that Portugal is famous for!

In the house where I grew up, it would be a crime if I didn't mention a great deal that I found during our mini-vacay as well... so without further adieu, I would like to introduce the work of Sr. Bordallo Pinheiro!  On our way home, we stopped in Caldas da Rainha, which is known for their pottery stores.  Bordallo pottery is famous in Portugal (and known to be very expensive!), and my dear friend Cristi introduced me, then perhaps caused me to fall in love with some of his stuff! He's famous for many different styles, but I like his solid color pieces best.  You can see that we have a set of round ivory plates that combine perfectly with these great charcoal grey colored platters/chargers we picked up...

Look how well the pieces fit with our super cheap 50 cent grocery store bowls that I score earlier this year too!

Of course we couldn't leave without a few other platters and bowls to match!  Normally, this tiny little store has only one small room with a table in back with discounted pieces due to defects... but we discovered on arrival that they had opened up an entire second floor that was entirely on sale!  These plates, without their tiny defects, were originally 11€50 ($16.50!!) per plate, but we got them for 3€ each!  The bowls and platters were 4€, I think, and overall we got out of there under 45€!  I'm thinking on our way back from the States, maybe we should stop there again and pick up some things to sell on eBay... maybe that's how we will be able to afford to travel the world and see more beautiful architechture like this in Caldas!

We had a fabulous weekend relaxing, and that was just the beginning!  We both worked on Tuesday, the actual birth day, and in fashionable Portuguese tradition, we brought a cake to the rehab center for Luis's Occupational Therapy staff to enjoy.  It's common in Portugal for the person to bring their own cake, treat someone to coffee, etc, to celebrate his/her birthday.  Since our dear American friends were out of the country on the 4th of July (the aforementioned city-wide holiday), we didn't do much to celebrate... but I decided I would add a bit of America's birthday to Luis's... and disguised it inside the cake!

[Interruptive side note]:  When making a flag cake like this one, block out your evenings for the course of a week and freeze each layer (even if frozen cake is kind of gross).  And whatever you do, do not make the cakes from scratch.  It takes an absurdly long time.  And don't think that one little bottle of food coloring is going to do the trick.  You will have to return to the store at 9 pm to buy more, and your blue will still look turquoise.  Not to mention you will fear death by food coloring poisoning.  Your white cake recipe will never look white unless it comes out of a box.  Period.  And it will probably never look as nice as your original inspiration.  Everyone will love it, though, and you will be proud... of yourself AND your country.  Even if every time you serve a piece you have to ask "Do you know which country flag this is?".  Every time.  And you will probably never make it again.  But at least you can say you did it once!  [End interruptive side note].

The O.T. staff and some others serenaded Luis with song, we drank champagne in the middle of the day, and all was well in the world.

We left to enjoy a great view near our secluded dinner restaurant...

Luis surprised me, as I didn't even know that one could access the "back side" of the city, but there are some great parks with even greater romantic spots to walk, sit and chat, and just enjoy each other!

After much weeping (me, not him), I agreed to forgo the idea of having a dinner party with our friends and we instead went to an Italian (!!!!) restaurant a bit outside of the city, nestled in this little forested area.  It was rumored to be one of the most delicious restaurants in this area, and it was our first time.  Good thing we arrived at 7.30 and not 8.00... we sure did beat the crowd! 

There wasn't a soul inside the restaurant at this time of night, as the Portuguese normally eat dinner much later.  We had to wait about 20 minutes for the serving staff to finish their own dinner!  It was worth it though... Feast your eyes on this gnocchi in cream sauce...

It was delicious. Better than delicious.  I have eaten real Italian gnocchi in Italy and it didn't even compare to this!  I forgot to shoot a photo of Luis Miguel's meal, but trust me, delish as well.  Pirates of the Caribbean III concluded our night, an entertaining conclusion to quite a delightful day!

I'm so grateful that you were born, Luis Miguel Coelho Santos Almeida!  Who needs a dinner party when I get to spend every day with you?!?!  Happy birthday once more, Love... and since I'm posting this a bit late, happy 11 months of marriage today as well!


  1. what a fun tribute to your husband on his BIG birthday! btw: I l.o.v.e. your white top! happy 11-month anniversary as well :-)

  2. Ah thank you for the post!! SO wonderful to read about your birthday adventures. I'm thinking of you on the other side, as I dip my toes in the big Atlantic Ocean.