Leaving rural northern Algarve, Portugal, Danny and I travel along the highway toward Lisbon, one of the older capitals of Europe. We exit the main highway to follow smaller roads along the coast passing hills with an old church or a castle atop at the highest point, through villages, some industrial with truckers avoiding tolls or taking a rest. Soon the harbor at Setubal appears with cruise ships, tankers and ferries, for this city is still a busy port. The Romans gathered here to salt and barrel tons of fish to ship back to ever hungry people of Rome.

Crossing the river Tagus, Lisbon in all its glory comes into view. This vibrant city is awash in blossoming trees, flowers, shrubs … and tourists, especially in the downtown area. All sidewalks are tile, small (3 inches) black and white tiles in various designs. Many of the very narrow winding streets are cobbled. Watch where you walk! And Lisbon is hilly, great for walking until it’s not, but then there’s public transportation and inexpensive taxis if you venture into off-the-beaten-path areas.

We’re here in the city for culture, not vultures. The National Tile Museum — Museu Nacional do Azulejo — is housed in an enormous 16th-century convent with some of the nunnery’s own tile work still in place, especially in the chapel which is so gold-laden and ornate as to make you wonder about those religious vows of poverty. These elaborate wall pictures, many of which depict scenes in blue and white rather than more colorful geometric designs of, say, Moorish origin, are a unique Portuguese art form. The museum is filled with absolute wonders, from religious portrait to hunting scenes where animals are captured in motion, deer prancing, hounds chasing, cats staring. The top floor displays an 18th-century panorama of Lisbon prior to the devastating earthquake of 1755.

The National Museum of Contemporary Art  — the Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado — in an old monastery, has currently only one main exhibit, paintings by José Maria Veloso Salgado (1864 – 1945), an artist not known to either Danny or me. The best are portraits of his family and friends. Tucked into a warren of small rooms on one of the upper floors, many works by Jorge Barradas (1894-1971), are on display. Another artist unknown to us, Barradas worked on paper, board, canvas, in tiles. He was a sharp-eyed satirist and a brilliant draftsman. One could trace a timely history of his lifetime through his work in pamphlets, caricatures, illustrations, paintings, ceramics and ultimately watercolors that resembled weird sci-fi plants and animals.

Next, the natural history and science museum and gardens, the Museu Nacional de História Natural da Ciência and Jardim Botânico de Lisbon, is also housed in a former monastery and is surprisingly sparse with exhibits though Portuguese explorers were among the first sailing the world and returning with flora and fauna from all over the globe. The best exhibit here was an interactive physics exhibit. The gardens, on the other hand, are well-tended and afforded us views of a few birds including the blue-crowned parakeet. An unexpected bonus for the life list.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, is the private collection of the Armenian oil magnate accumulated over his lifetime. Think The Frick Collection in New York City or the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Calouste Gulbenkian lived in Portugal since WWII and willed his extensive collection to his adopted country. The collection is diverse: from ancient Asian art — rugs, porcelain, statues — to a modern major collection of Rene Lalique jewelry. Bejeweled dragonflies to die for.

From glorious sunny Lisbon, we land in glorious sunny Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland on the Irish Sea, a sprawling 18th-century city. As we taxi to our hotel on the harbor in Dún Laoghaire (pronounced Dunleary), the highway is lined with pink and red blossoming jacaranda and white blooming spirea shrubs. Spring has arrived in Ireland, too.

Unlike Lisbon where grand houses on the Avenida da Liberdade may be gold, peacock blue or even fuchsia, many Irish homes are white with dark trim; city buildings tend to be Georgian gray giving the city a more solemn and sober atmosphere.

Our room looks out over the water where masted boats in the close-in marinas sway in the wind. Farther out, different-sized ferries ply the waters. The jetty stretches for three quarters of a mile out into the sea. Lovely to be by the sea with warmish winds, wonderful briny smell and even a palm tree or two fluttering in the breeze.

Even better, we are only a few blocks from our friends, Ethna and Paddy, who moved back to this country after living in America for more than 30 years. So much to say, so much to catch up on. The next day we are joined by their friend Joan who drives us in and around this area describing historic details as well as tales from her own life of living here. There’s James Joyce’s Tower in Sandycove, one of 15 defensive Martello towers built along the coast to repel any invasion by Napoleon. On the rocks are swimmers, towels draped over their shoulders, awaiting the change in tide to make their plunge into the cold, cold sea. The Gutter Bookshop is named thus to honor Oscar Wilde’s “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” It has a wonderful collection of local and international books. Next stop is Finnegan’s pub, the oldest in Dalkey, a classic, wood-paneled, bevelled-glass pub with good Guinness and excellent food.

Every morning a little after sunrise I walk along the jetty joining a few dog walkers, runners and joggers. I watch as the joggers reach the lighthouse building at the end of the pier and toe-touch before turning and running back.

So even here I can get some morning birding in: herring and lesser black-backed gulls, common and sandwich terns, noisy jackdaws, a quartet of purple sandpipers, a pair of Eurasian oystercatchers, a solitary grey heron, dunnocks that disappear as they fly over the stone wall and land among the rocks, a few black guillemots, a lone guillemot and a singular northern gannet. These birds are like the city, plumaged in gray, white, black and brown. No lifers, but how wonderful to hear and see them every morning.

What’s Ireland without a day at the races? Off to the Punchestown Races we go, by bus from the quay on the Liffey River for an exciting (but cold) day of watching mad steeplechases and hurdles … betting with the punters, drinking with the bettors and even winning a few euros. Great craic!

Clellie Lynch is a regular Eagle contributor.