Above Lisbon

More than six years have passed since my first flights into and out of Lisbon. I ask for a window seat every time.

As a pilot, I prefer to look out of the cockpit windshield, but if I’m sitting in the back, at least I can keep tabs on the world passing by outside. After dozens of takeoffs and landings at Lisboa’s Humberto Delgado airport (LPPT), I understand the runway layout (and I’ve flown in many times on a simulator), so I know when we’re taking off with a particular aspect to the departure. 

Lisbon’s topography feels like home to me now, and this morning, as we depart from Runway 21, I can guess what I’ll see, sitting on the right-hand side of the airplane. We’ll climb straight out and immediately pass the twin stadiums of Sporting FC and Benfica, their green and red signaling a rivalry that no one outside of Portugal’s borders understands. I worked with a airport maintenance crew for a couple of years that was fiercely Benfica—so by default they are my team. Fair enough.

Next, we’ll cross over the aqueduct that leads to the Mãe de Aguas. I’ve watched airplanes fly over on approach while traversing its length across the valley that leads to Alcântara. Now, I look out of my window and I see the green expanse of the Monsanto park, where I ran the marathon just four weeks ago. I now know it intimately, and I take pictures of its two lobes, its towers, its experimental vineyards.

We come to the Tejo next, and turn to the west. I look down, and there, glowing in the morning sun, sit the famous Descobertes and Torre de Belem monuments along the waterfront. I prefer them from this vantage point—they can be so crowded—but if you go early, just after sunrise, you will be rewarded with the lovely light that reflects off of their beautiful stonework.

We turn up the coast, and cross over the top of the airfield at Tires (Cascais), where I first became acquainted with aviation in Portugal. Just to the north sits the Serra da Sintra, peaked with its Castelo dos Mouros and the Pena Palace. I like the view from Convento da Peninha much better—its ruins provide a vantage point of almost 306 degrees, and it’s surrounded by hiking trails that the dogs love, and that are relatively untrod. Go for the sunset, and the glow from the ochre-colored walls will remind you of Pena, without all of the fuss.

Continuing northbound, we pass by the beaches and coastal towns. I know some by their distinct shapes, and some remain a mystery. I think you could live your entire life in Portugal and never visit every beach—but it would be a worthy goal. I mark our progress towards Porto, and see the high mountains of the Serra da Estrela rise out of the clouds. In a moment we’ll transit over Minho, and into Galicia, but I hang on to my view of Portugal to the very last.

For a light summer pasta dish, without all of the fuss, we turned to our friend Maria at the market, who had a surfeit of zucchini early in the season that she had on display. We picked two healthy squashes, and wanted to give her an entire euro but she wouldn’t take it. Back home, Stephen sliced them into thin coins, and tossed them with a ripe tomato, lemon zest, and some grated parmesan cheese. I twisted extra black pepper on mine, but you could try pink or green peppercorns, or a pinch of Aleppo pepper, according to your tastes. He tossed the whole bit with a splash of organic olive oil from Aldea, and eight ounces of cooked spaghetti noodles—though just about any pasta of your preference will do. Perfect with a Sauvignon Blanc from Minho, or another cool spot in Portugal.