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Trip Report Sunshine, ginjinha and an angry peacock: A surprise birthday trip to Lisbon

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We just returned last night from a quick, four-day trip to Lisbon to celebrate mr_go’s 50th birthday. Given that it was a short (too short) trip, we won’t do a day-by-day report but will share some thoughts on the various things we saw and experienced. This will probably be a tag-team effort over a few days, depending on who is most easily distracted from work. Photos will be coming later, hopefully within a week.

Preface: The surprise

Sometime last summer, DD (age 19) and I began discussing what to do for mr_go’s 50th birthday in early January. We had no good ideas for “things” to get him and decided pretty quickly that what we’d like to do what we enjoy most as a family—travel somewhere and explore a place we've never been (of note, we also realized this potentially would be our one and only chance for the three of us to travel as a family during all of 2013). But given the holidays and work/school schedules, we would be limited to about 4-5 days.

So where? We are not really beach people and preferred a “city” trip to typical winter destinations in the Caribbean, etc. (at least for this event). Given that parameter, you have to go pretty far afield from Chicago in January to find a city that was “new” for us and where the weather would be “nice enough.”

Balancing weather considerations and travel time to get there, we identified three finalists: Lisbon, Barcelona and Buenos Aires. I did some research on each as time permitted over the next few months. Although it was clearly the best weather option, I eventually eliminated Buenos Aires—it would be more expensive to get there and would involve overnight flights on both ends of the trip….probably too tiring for a short trip squeezed in between holiday travel and being back and ready to work on January 7.

The other two involved a calculated risk re: the weather. Temps wouldn't be a problem, but rain would certainly impact the experience. More research….and it eventually came down to gut feel (we seriously could have gone either way, and I’m sure he would have enjoyed both equally as much). Lisbon it was. I booked flights back in mid-October and began looking into accommodations.

Then, there was the small matter of keeping this a secret so it would be a nice birthday surprise. We had to tell our respective families in the context of making other plans to get together for Christmas/New Year’s. And I notified his boss, so the few days off wouldn't be a big surprise. In the midst of all this, I also had to get some passport things done (mine renewed, his sent in for more pages). Somehow, though, we managed to keep it all a secret—with plans to tell him a week or two before so he wasn't heading off to Lisbon completely unprepared.

On the evening of December 22, we were at O’Hare—headed to Phoenix to see my mother for Christmas. As we descended the escalator into the underground walkway between the B and C concourses, he looks at a big United ad and says “Gee, I really wish I was going somewhere for fun.” DD and I smiled at each other. Once we were in the United Club, we handed him a gift-wrapped Lisbon book to break the surprise. I was a little nervous—in the time since booking, it became apparent that both his schools, Georgia and Northwestern, would be playing in New Year’s Day bowl games. He was clearly looking forward to those but would now miss them, as we would have to leave our house that morning. Fortunately, if there’s one thing he loves more than football, it's travel—so it was all well received :)

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