My road trip in Portugal, what to see and what to eat

Let me start this long-ish post with a strong statement: Portugal is a wonderful land. The food is awesome, the people beautiful and the rhythm of life is relaxed—just what I needed to recharge my batteries. My husband and I did a road trip in Portugal lasting eight days, from Porto all the way down to Lisbon.

cascais, portugal, road trip in portugal

Cascais waterfront, pano

Here are some of the highlights worth mentioning about our trip. The section at the end of the post shouts out my top 3 places where to eat during a road trip in Portugal. All the places we’ve been plus tips can be found in my Foursquare account, while the majority of the pictures are taken from my Instagram account. Franz has put together also a wonderful Instagram feed about this road trip. Enjoy!

Road trip in Portugal, places, checked in, foursquare

What to see in a road trip in Portugal

PORTO – Day 1

porto, portugal, panorama
Porto is a city that grew in me with time. The more I strolled around, the more it conquered me. It’ll do it with grace and calm, with the Ocean breeze and the Douro river lazily flowing by, the good food and the amazing wine. It’s quirky and serene at the same time. And it’s full of smiling people.


We rented a car and headed to Braga, but we stopped in Guimarães first. I particularly enjoyed the castle where I had a little accident with a helmet–you need to watch it!

Braga is a very lovely city. At the end of a desert road we took under a hot sun, we stumbled upon this forgotten church—Nossa Senhora Do Sameiro—a surprising hidden gem.braga, church in braga

We then climbed the hill to visit the Santuário do Bom Jesus, a cool oasis overseeing the town. Definitely a place to see when in Braga.


A cloudy and chilly morning jeopardised my impression of Aveiro. Its canals leading to the bay and then the Ocean reminded me of Amsterdam, but with the Venice gondola boats. We didn’t check the beaches but I’ve been told they’re very pretty.

My feeling is that Coimbra maybe had a huge exploit at some time between the Seventies and the Eighties, and the tourism is still living and surviving after that. The city centre is clung to a high hill, and the narrow alleys gave us some shadows to rest from the hot sun. The famous university and the cathedral are at the top of the hill.

coimbra, university square

Every time I’m in surrounded by white buildings on a white ground my eyes close down and I get blind! It took me twenty minutes to take this pano of Coimbra law school square, but it was worth my time! We also crossed the bridge and visited the Santa Clara monastery, which looks like it’s not as popular as the city centre among the tourists. In Coimbra I had the best food of the all road trip in Portugal—see below for details.

TOMAR – Day 4

tomar, templar town, mystery portugal

Despite its bright light and colourful alleys, Tomar is quite a mysterious place.

Founded by Templars, you can feel this vibe whilst wandering around the centre.

The Convent of Christ (Convento de Cristo), then, is literally the cherry on top.

We spent more than four hours in the convent, and we took so many pictures!

This place is very fascinating. In there I also had an idea for another side project of mine, which is taking pictures of fire extinguishers in public places—you may want to check that out!

We had dinner in a Medieval restaurant which was amazing.

Tomar definitely wins the “Best town experience” award of my road trip in Portugal.


Sintra is renowned for being such a gem. I can’t say it’s a lie, though it didn’t impress me as much as I expected. The town is pretty, but it’s heavily tourist-oriented. We skipped the visit of the Palace, which probably would make Sintra earn some more points in my chart, but Franz and I had better plans.
We crossed the Sintra and Cascais park – which is a huge protected green area, and we headed to the coast through a breath-taking panoramic road with typical fishermen and seaside villages.

Cabo da Rica, westernmost point of Continental Europe, portugal

This might be just another pic of sea and green meadows, but it’s not.

This is Cabo da Roca, actually the westernmost point of Continental Europe. Who knows how many explorers and dreamers have imagined what there could be beyond that horizon! 

Cascais is a lovely, relaxed town where people from Lisbon and surroundings typically go to sunbathe.

The vibe is the beach-holiday-mode one: I can totally picture myself lying under the sun on the beach at days, and strolling in the town centre while having an ice cream at nights.

There’s nothing super attractive about this city (ie museum, artistic point of interests etc), but if you want to feel the real relaxed Portuguese vibe, that’s the place to be.

LISBON – Day 6-7-8

If you ditch all the museums as we did (the weather was too glorious to stay indoor!), you’re a good walker and don’t have many days to spend in Lisbon, you may want to allocate two days for the visit of the city, and then use another day for Sintra and Cascais. 

S. Jorge Castle, training, no excusesIt’s safe to say that Franz and I have walked nearly every inch of the Lisbon city centre and beyond—Franz’s interesting Fitbit stats will be out soon!

Talking about having a relaxed holiday and staying active at the same time, this is a picture that well represents our state of mind about it. Being fit is not something I aim to look pretty, it’s a mindset. No matter where I go or what I’m doing, I always find a good excuse to let my body breathe through some sort of activity.

Since I recovered from my long-term injury I bless every single moment to shake my body. This endless staircase at S. Jorge Castle in Lisbon is one of those moments. It took a little more than one minute to climb it. It felt endless while approaching, but the feeling at the end was priceless. I’m so blessed to be able to workout again with no pain.

If you look for sightseeing spots, go to the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara as well as São Jorge Castle. I particularly enjoyed the visit of the castle, where we spent nearly an entire day. The ticket is around €8 and definitely worth every cent.

Lisbon Oceanário Aquarium

Another alternative place to visit in the city is the Lisbon Oceanário Aquarium, where adults come back kids again!

We had such an amazing time in there, and we also enjoyed an epic ice cream in a shop not so far from the Aquarium centre.

If you have some spare time, go and check Belém, on the west side of the city. There’s a monastery there which is beautiful from the outside. We didn’t visit it indoor though!

Not so far from there, there’s the Belém tower, that looks like those sand castles I was never be able to build on the seashore when I was a kid :)

We had a 7km walk all the way east to the city centre along the riverside, which was another great opportunity to see corners of Lisbon you’d never see if you stick to the city centre only.

What to eat in Portugal – my top 3

All the places where we stayed in, we visited and we had meals or coffee are recorded in my Foursquare account. There are also some tips you may want to check out :)

It’s worth noticing that despite all my food allergies I never struggled to eat during my road trip in Portugal. The food and the ingredients used in the Portuguese cuisine are very simply, genuine and me-friendly!

So here’s my top 3 of the places where we ate:

  1. Maria Portuguesa in Coimbra: hidden in a tiny alley, this historic tapas place made traditional Portuguese dishes. I enjoyed some stuffed mushrooms with cod that melted my mouth and my heart.
  2. Praxis brewery in Coimbra: These people craft their own beers, and they’re all delicious! I also had a veal steak with beer sauce that was the end of the world. I also had a beer pudding I’ll never forget.
  3. Mù Gelateria Italiana in Lisbon: it’s not easy for me to have a decent ice cream due to my food allergies, and also to not get frustrated by the usual tastes I can have (vanilla, banana, lemon). Here I was lucky enough to have plenty of choices between creamy-fruity options and fantastic sorbets (kiwi & banana, melon, pineapple & mint, etc).

While everybody mentions the Pasteis the Nata as traditional, worth highlighting food (it’s a yummy egg custard cake), I’d like to shout out the Bolo do Caco. Originally from Madeira, it’s a sourdough bread made with sweet potatoes and cooked on a special pan called Caco. It looks like it’s not hard to make, so I’ll try to make my own one at home. It’s very tasty and light at the same time.

Overall, this road trip in Portugal has been one of the best holidays of my life.

I’ve been in so many wonderful places and I feel so privileged to be able to wander around the world while working.

However I did feel the need to switch my brain off and have a ‘traditional’ holiday, with no stress or thoughts of any sort. 

A tourist guide at the Miradouro told a Spanish group of tourists about the story of those stones.

The pavement was built in 1400 and took a lot of time to complete since the stones are so different and varied.

No two stones are the same, just like the people in Portugal ❤️ 🇵🇹

To enjoy more pictures about my road trip in Portugal, check out my Instagram account!

What to see and where to eat in Madrid

I’ve just come back home after a week spent in Madrid, and I’d like to share with you my highlights of the trip; hopefully you’ll get some good insights about what to see and where to eat in Madrid.

madrid, what to see and where to eat in madrid

Team meetup

Since Automattic is a distributed company and we all work remotely, once or twice per year (considering also the Grand Meetup) we meet up and spend some quality time together. My team (that’s made of Happiness Engineers) decided to have our meet up together with a team of developers who work very close with us on a number of products. We all voted to figure out where our meet up would take place, and Madrid was the winner.

What we shipped in Madrid

Having a meet up is not like going on a holiday. Of course we had some activities planned to explore the city, have some fun and build up our team spirit (remember, we see each other a few times per year but we virtually work elbow by elbow on a daily basis), but we also worked on particular projects that could use some ‘human’ contact and attention to be pushed. In a nutshell, we took advantage of the fact that we were all gathered together to sit down and tackle sensitive areas of our work.

I love working remotely, and that is for sure one of the great perks that Automattic offers to its folks, however I quite enjoyed to spend time talking face to face with my colleagues, and brainstorming many aspects of our daily job that you don’t have time to discuss when chatting on Slack or Zoom.

We managed to ship a demo site for Sensei, a plugin that creates courses and lessons, and to start reordering and amend other plugin documentation that needed some love. We also spent time to talk about new stuff that we are exciting to develop and launch very soon.

The flat where we coworked

All of us (me included) had a hotel room where to crush at the end of the (long) days, a part from two colleagues who stayed in the apartment that we rented to cowork. The flat was literally 3 minutes away from our hotel, in the very heart of Madrid. We had really serious conversations in there, especially at lunch time.

Have to say the place we rented was pretty bizarre and eccentric. I felt like I was in one of Zafon’s book, and I liked it!

Madrid – the city

Madrid is a gorgeous city. It’s warm, lively and elegant. The architecture is very peculiar and elegant; old and modern fuse together in a beautiful, elegant blend. Did I say the city looks elegant?

I managed to visit the most important areas of the city, either by bike and by walk. I also went to the Prado museum, where, among the great statues and paintings exposed, I could admire a series of breath-taking Raffaello Sanzio’s paintings I haven’t seen yet. I’m a Raffaello fan, so I couldn’t miss them.

Mention of honour to the Metro Museum I discovered thanks to my colleague Richard, who’s very passionate about all things metro. It’s a 1950 closed metro station that’s been turned into a tiny museum. It was like jumping back to the past and feeling how the metro looked like a while ago. Even if the station is closed, trains pass by anyway and that creates a weird effect. It was funny and interesting at the same time – and the museum has a free entrance!

The activities

We planned some outdoor activities to do together, as well as some free time to let people choose what to see in Madrid.

We had a three hours bike ride across the city which was a lot of fun! Visiting a city on a bike is definitely the most efficient way to see a lot of stuff. Our tour guide brought us also on the highest tower in Madrid (El Faro de Moncloa) from which we had a beautiful overview of the city. It was amazing.

Bike ride tour Fitbit track.png

Here’s what my Fitbit tracked (+13km). The missing lines are because I forgot to un-pause the tracker after a stop.

Of course I felt off the bike twice, but didn’t crush on the ground (thanks, core muscles!)
The first time I felt I was taking a video whilst cycling, so I didn’t save it because this way there’s no proof that I’ve been an idiot!

We also went for a winery tour in the countryside. We visited three wineries and the summer royal residence (only from the outside), had a lot of wine and learnt more about the winery tradition in Spain. It turns out Spanish wines are very tasty and strong. I didn’t get drunk because I was wise enough to bring some food with me and eat a good amount of water between the tasting sessions.

One of the activities I didn’t particularly enjoy was the Flamenco evening. Don’t make me wrong, the Flamenco show we watched was very passionate and impressive (here are two snaps taken from my Instagram stories: Video #1, Video #2), however it lasted only one hour and then we were kindly accompanied out. They also provided a meal (as a dinner) that left me quite hungry. I’d say the value for money wasn’t very convenient, but we couldn’t know that – the reviews were quite good so probably that’s me being too fussy.

The food

Madrid is a foody city. Wherever you turn, there’s a place where you can have a bite. We had a number of very good meals, although we had some troubles to find restaurants that worked out also for our colleague Rachel who’s vegan. Spain is a country that’s heavily meat-oriented, if I you pass me the word :)

This is my top 3 places where to eat in Madrid:

– Restaurante Taj, an Indian place where my Tandoori lamb was one of the best I’ve ever had in my life!

Al Natural, vegetarian and vegan restaurant

La Botega de los Secretos, a bit pricy but the steak I had was gold.

I had mainly no issues with my food allergies, thanks to my colleagues who looked after me ❤️
Macro-wise, I managed to keep track of my nutrients intake, and I indulged only when we had pizza one night (but I compensated having low-carb meals the day after), and of course I indulged a lot with wine :P

What particularly kept me on track was the early breakfasts, where I had scrambled eggs, Greek yogurt with assorted fruits, baked beans and/or turkey ham, and occasionally a couple of wholemeal slices of bread with honey. That kept me full and fuelled my working mornings, while at lunch and dinner I could have some bread, veggies and proteins (steak or tofu) without binge eating. Of course my appetite was huge as usual, but I walked a lot this week and that explains it all!

Fitbits steps over the last 30 days – Madrid is the last 7 days from the left

Overall, my meet up in Madrid has been wonderful. Our very own Donncha managed also to take some nice photo of myself, which is unusual for me! He’s so talented :)

Hope I didn’t miss anything important about what to see and where to eat in Madrid, but if you have anything to add to my list, please leave a comment below!

My mother is 60 and you wouldn’t believe it

Exactly what I meant in the title. My mother is 60 today, and if you look at her in the picture below you wouldn’t bet one penny that she’s already 60 years old.

my mother is 60, happy birthday mother

I can hear my mother saying: “Eeeeek, that picture makes me look so ugly!” Well, I really like this picture, deal with it, dear mother!

I hope I’ll age so well too, but I’m afraid I took more genes from my father side, my sister will get a better chance though :D

All right, now that we have all see how much younger my mother looks like, let’s celebrate her.

Mother, not mummy

My mother’s name is Patrizia, she’s the fourth of seven siblings.
I call my mother mother, all the times. Last Christmas she complained about that, she told she’d love for once if I call her ‘mamma’ (mummy).
I’ll phone her today and I’ll never call her mother. Promise.

The fact the I address her that way is a great sign of respect from my end, but since today it’s her birthday, I’ll make an exception. You don’t celebrate your 60th birthday everyday, do you?

My mother is…

My mother is 60, and is also a lot of many many MANY other things. She has a lot of hobbies and she doesn’t like getting bored. She often complains that she’s tired, but she’s always around making, cooking, saying, crafting, doing. What a pinball!

I resemble my mother

mother and I 1987

Mother and I in 1987. Mother was pregnant of my sister Sara. As you can see I’ve always been a smiling person.

Yeah, maybe I don’t look like her (you should see my sister, on the other hand! They look a lot alike!), but we have many things in common. We’ve fought a lot when I was younger, probably also because we’re similar in so many ways.

She (and my father) instilled in me the sense of the hardworking and dedication in everything I do. She taught me to respect people and always keep my dignity.
One of the greatest things I took from her is the compassion and sympathy she always shows towards the others. Without these, she couldn’t be able to be the amazing nurse everybody in my city appreciate. She lost her dad (my granpa) when she was 19. My younger uncle was only 8 years old when it happened, and probably (I think) that pushed her to be a nurse.

She’s been managing many wards at the city hospital, and every time she left a ward, people missed her. She can be very strict and tough sometimes (don’t tell me about that!), but without discipline and respect from the others, you cannot manage a hospital ward, or a family – or have loyal friends around you.
I treat everything that happens in my life with the same attitude my mother uses to run their wards – which is a good and a bad thing for me ;)

My mother is tech savvy

my mother with her sister, mother snapchat

My mother likes Snapchat

Even if she hasn’t quite understood what I do for a living, my mother is 60 and is not a tech klutz at all. Sometimes she may not get something specific, but she’s completely capable of using a mobile device or a computer by herself, keep them updated and solve everyday issues that may happen.

She likes selfies a lot, and I’m so glad when she sends them to me, so I can tease her :P

My mother is on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Telegram. We even have a family group where we chat on a daily basis (mostly about food!).

I’m not one of those kids that put a privacy filter on what they publish, so my parents can’t see them – I’m not a kid anymore! I thank the Internet and the social media everyday, because they shorten the distances.

When I was at the uni, there wasn’t anything else, a part from the (expensive) phone, that I could use to keep in touch with my distant family and friends. Now it sounds like Italy is just around the corner :)

My mother is 60 and I miss her a lot

</tough reality moment>
My parents are not going to be here forever. At some point, they’ll die and I’ll be alone dealing with everything, and the world will fall down on me.
</tough reality moment>

I can’t believe my mother is 60 today, and I’m not there with her to celebrate. That makes me think on how many things I’m missing out about my loved ones, because they’re far away from me. I love living in the UK, but sometimes it gets tough.

She and my father are coming to visit me and husband next month, and I am really looking forward to it.
I know that shortly after we’ll find something to fight about, but that’s pretty normal, isn’t that? :D

My mother and I are not very vocal in expressing our feelings for each other – we just ask each other if we have eaten properly.

I couldn’t have wanted a better mother than her. I’m so lucky and blessed, and honoured to be her elder daughter. She looked after me and made me the proud person I am now.
I hope to be able to celebrate her next 60 birthdays, at the very least.

I promise I’ll take more selfies with my mother.

Happy birthday, mamma.

The time I baked a salmon, a huge one

My sister came to visit us in Reading. We had such a great time together and she was very pleased to be our very first guest in our new awesome house.

So on the Saturday morning we went to the gigantic Tesco close to our place as my sister and I love doing groceries together. There we had the crazy idea of baking a salmon on a salt crust.
Franz, she and I have already baked a big sea bass on Christmas Eve for our families, and it went very well.

Since there wasn’t a sea bass big enough to feed us, we went for a salmon. On the other hand, the smallest salmon available was 2.8kg. We said – why not? We can work out the leftover, can’t we?

So here I am, flexing my biceps with a fish.

I baked a salmon, big fish, big salmon, baking a salmon

This little 2.8kg fella was about to go to the oven under a thick coat of salt and herbs.
The salmon wasn’t very keen on going into the oven, as you can see from its and my expression below.

salmon, stef, big fish, big salmonsalmon, stef, big fish, big salmon

Eventually I baked the salmon, and my guests didn’t leave many leftover for the Sunday lunch. I managed to make some pasta with the salmon left, though.
They told me it was veeeeery good! Too bad I couldn’t taste it due to allergy alert 🚨

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Happy Father’s Birthday – a photo tribute to my dad

Scrolla in basso per il testo in italiano!
Happy Father's Birthday, dad photography, rome, castel sant'angelo

I want to wish happy father’s birthday today to my dad. Not only he’s a great runner and passionate about astronomy, but he’s also an awesome photographer.

This is a pic he took when we were together in Rome at Christmas. He hasn’t retouched it, so I’m publishing it the way he took it. Isn’t it an amazing pic?

Rome was as beautiful as always, but my father managed to get the best out of it with this photo picturing Castel Sant’Angelo at sunset.

Well, what was I saying? Happy Father’s Birthday*, daddy!

Taken at Castel Sant’Angelo, Roma

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*I rarely call my parents ‘mommy’ or ‘daddy’, but instead I call them ‘mother’ and ‘father’. They’re not quite happy about it, but to me it’s the highest sign of respect I can show to them, so they still live with it :)


Oggi voglio fare gli auguri a mio padre per il suo compleanno in maniera particolare. Non solo mio padre è un ottimo runner e un appassionato di astronomia, ma è anche un bravissimo fotografo. Se lo chiedete e a lui, vi dirà che è scarso in tutte le cose che ho elencato qui sopra, ma credetemi, lui è solo estremamente umile (e non si rende conto delle piste che dà ai giovani correndo, tra l’altro) .

Questa è una fotografia che ha scattato quando eravamo tutti insieme a Roma per Natale. La foto non è ritoccata, è esattamente come l’ha scattata, nuda e cruda. Bellissima, eh?

Roma era fantastica come sempre, per cui non è stato difficile per l’occhio (e la mano) di mio padre trovare l’angolo giusto e scattare questa straordinaria immagine di Castel Sant’Angelo al tramonto.

E insomma, cosa stavo dicendo? Tanti auguri e a cento di questi giorni, padre!

Scattata a Castel Sant’Angelo, Roma

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*Raramente mi capita di chiamare i miei genitori ‘mamma’ o ‘babbo’. Non mi piace, e preferisco chiamarli ‘madre’ e ‘padre’. Dopo tutti questi anni, ancora a loro non va giù, ma io continuo per la mia strada, perché questo modo di chiamarli per me mostra il massimo rispetto possibile :)