Fishing for Socks in Lisbon

Mouraria, Lisbon

It all started, as many mistakes do, with one too many glasses of wine. I found a tiny little cafe near my apartment that served very cheap glasses of Setúbal moscatel as well as a delicious plate of baked cheese with oregano. They had no problem with me bringing friends to meet me for a late afternoon vino, nor with my self-carried corn cakes to hold dripping strings of piping hot cheese.

I walked home with a skip in my step, marvelling at the winding alleyways and cobbled wonders, the buildings that were long abandoned but now coming back to life. I felt fortunate that a conference brought me here but my lifestyle enabled me to stay longer and explore.

Losing my socks in Lisbon

When I got back to the apartment, I realized that my laundry was not yet fully dry. In true Lisbon fashion, there is no dryer in the place. Instead, a clothing line runs across the width of the two windows, from kitchen to living room, housing the laundry as it dries. As spring moves into summer and storms come though, I’ve watched from my window as other buildings have set up amazing contraptions to protect their drying clothes from the rain. Long sheets of plastic propped up on thin sticks of wood to keep the water away or tiny awnings fashioned from tarps that are unfurled quickly as the rain starts to fall.

Clothing lines along an alleyway in Mouraria, Lisbon
Clothing lines along an alleyway in Mouraria, Lisbon

In my case, I had no fashioned rainjacket for my clothing line. But a perpetual traveller like me has less clothing than most inhabitants of Lisbon. Worst case I could just hang them indoors. Of all the clothing, I held my wool socks in highest esteem. Ever since I got dengue, my circulation has not been the same. I’m constantly cold, and my feet are almost permanently clad in wool.

Until they weren’t.

Giddy from the moscatel, my socks slipped out of my hands and fell down to the ditch below. Now, I live in an area of Lisbon full of teeny passageways and many of them are gated and abandoned. This includes the place where my socks now resided. Looking down I saw a plethora of clothespins and other detritus from similarly clumsy people, left there for eternity. But I couldn’t do that to my socks. Of all the packing suggestions I have on my travel resources page, my socks are highly prized.

I did what any human in an age of new media would do: I posted a mournful status on Facebook. “It’s all fun and games until you lose your wool socks.” My friends found this funny. My feet did not. And then I was whisked away to Estoril for the World Food Tourism Summit, with only one pair of socks in my possession. AND THEY WEREN’T EVEN WOOL.


Despite having cold feet — literally, not figuratively — the conference went well. I enjoyed my time in Estoril, I met many colleagues that I had previously only communicated with online and my speech seemed to go over as I had hoped. I talked about the importance of storytelling in culinary tourism as a way to get people deeply invested in the food and not merely ‘liking’ a photo on social media. I also cautioned that tourism boards ought to research well before working with bloggers to ensure a good fit of both communication style and audience. (If there is interest, I can do a separate post about the speech and the slides. Yes, there was soup featured in them.) And the organizers of the conference made me a great speaker’s gift: cookies with my face on them. So while I cannot eat them due to the gluten, I can actually tell people “you can eat my face” and mean it. Thanks guys!

I digress.

Upon my return, I washed my sad and thin cotton socks and peered below at the bright green wool so far beneath me, dirty from many days of rain. Given that I cannot seem to find SmartWool socks here in Lisbon, I emailed my landlady asking after a key to the gate to retrieve them. Instead, she suggested I go see my neighbour.

Both of my neighbours look to be in their 80s. One gentleman is deaf and mostly blind, a huge lumbering man who spends his days at the window with giant earphones covering much of his head, peering out at the movement below. “He looks scary, but don’t worry – he is very kind,” my landlady told me when I moved in. She wasn’t mistaken. He now blows me kisses when I leave the house, waving at me upon my return. Across the hall from him is a lovely woman, also alone as her husband passed away years ago. “She has a tool for this,” my landlady assured me, “ask her.”

In my terrible mix of French and Spanish, I took her to my window and showed her my beloved socks below. Breaking into a smile she rushed back to her apartment and returned with the most intrepid of contraptions: a fishhook secured to a wooden stick, tied to twine, attached to an old electric cord, attached to another wooden plank that served as a handle.

Lisbon fishing
My neighbour is a genius.

Sadly the socks could not be retrieved.

The wind kept blowing the fish hooks to the wrong side of the divide, and I just about lost it trying to hold my 80-year-old neighbour in the window as she leaned so far out that I thought she would topple forward. I could see the headlines: Canadian kills wonderful elderly neighbour by forcing her to fish for socks.

My landlady, who had come by to fix the clothing line, tried her hand. Wrapping the handle around a broom for extra leverage, she pushed the cords outward and retrieved my wool socks for me in a matter of minutes. I would share a photo of them with you but they’re currently on my feet and I refuse to take them off. Laughing, she wrapped up the fishing hook contraption and told me of other tenants who had lost items in that same ditch. Towels, clothes, all needing to be fished from below my window.

I’m sharing this story because, like the prior one about food, it showcases two of many similar interactions in these early weeks in Portugal. Friendly neighbours excited to see someone new in their beloved Lisbon, and strangers who insist I experience as much of the city as I can. The other day, I went to a restaurant near my house and sat down waiting to order with a former colleague from my New York lawyering days who was in town. Almost immediately the elderly gentleman at the next table foisted a plate of grilled sausage at us. “Please,” he said “I cannot finish it — you must try!” Looking at him, at the sausage, and then at each other, we both said “yes!” and grabbed a piece. By the end of the meal, we shared our gargantuan plate of grilled meat with him, and toasted each other with glasses of wine.

I arrived on April 1st and I am already sad to be leaving at the end of the month. It is the first city in Europe where I think “I could spend a lot of time here.” With delicious fresh seafood, a long and fascinating culinary history, and incredibly warm people, it has been a true pleasure to discover Lisbon.

If only they had more noodle soup.


ps. Finally, my Portuguese food maps are complete and in the shop!

Hand-drawn map featuring all the delicious Portuguese foods you love, placed around the shape of the country itself. Check it out here! While a bit more complicated than my map for Vietnam, we did include the Azores and Madeira on the maps. I am currently using the tote bag for my food shopping.

food map portugal
Sometimes I want to eat my food maps because I’m just so happy with how they turned out! <3


65 thoughts on “Fishing for Socks in Lisbon”

  1. “Oh my fair Lisbon, to the sock rescue!” Jodi, I really enjoyed reading your story and the beautiful use of adjectives winding their way from my old backlit screen to my old(er) brain. :-) Good luck with the TBEX talk with Derek, and enjoy Madeira!

  2. Great story Jodi!

    First, one cannot overstate the importance of Merino wool socks. Just needed to get that out of the way!

    Stories like these are awesome reminders of why we travel. This also reminds me so much of the people here in Brazil (colonized by Portugal of course). People are so open and friendly once you get to know them. Also, they all seem to share a common experience having had to improvise and make do without the resources that we (Americans) take for granted.

    Just when you’ve given up something as lost an old lady pulls out a homemade fishing hook – I love it!


    Dale Hampton

  3. I loved reading this, Jodi. I’m glad you were able to retrieve your socks! I’m curious to go back to Lisbon after reading this. I used to go to Portugal for family summer holidays when I was younger, so I mostly remember swimming pools and kiddie discos! :)

  4. This was such a good read! I know exactly how you feel, I have equally abysmal circulation (although, not from dengue I might add, just a born-with-it reason) and I treasured a pair of magnificent SmartWool socks travelling to Asia by train via Siberia over winter which during the trip, somewhere in China, one simply vanished. I searched high and low but somewhere in transit one had lost its way. I think losing them both would have been easier, still having the one was a constant reminder of what I had lost! I still have it now, I can’t bare to throw it!

    1. Glad you understand! A lot of people seem shocked that I’m cold all the time, but truly it’s a problem. I lose feeling in fingers very quickly now, and they turn white and blue. Always happy to have my socks …

        1. Yes they said it was possible and linked to the circulatory issues post-dengue but I have not confirmed it so I’m not sure. I planned to follow up with a doctor shortly. It seems quite likely given the symptoms and everything I’ve read. Thanks for the suggestion.

  5. Great post! I like to consider myself a jack of all trades, master of none inventor. Seeing the contraption that retrieved your socks is close to my heart. I enjoy solving problems with seemingly nothing. Because I’m away from my workshop when traveling, I don’t have access to the many tools and materials that help me fix anything. The hooks, twine, piece of wood and a broom handle is brilliant. Sometimes, it takes a scavenger hunt around town to make a device to do a simple silly operation. All the more fun, wandering around, talking to locals in the search for some obscure simple object to do an impossible trick. Many times, I don’t know quite what I’m looking for, but I’ll know when I see it.

    1. Agreed Steve! It’s always nice when something simple (or a few somethings) solves the problem. It’s really not always complicated, and that’s part of what I love about Asia, the DIY style fixes for motorbikes, and often very fun ways of getting around problems. Of course not everywhere and new middle class loves its gadgets as we do, but I appreciate the kind of problem-solving that my neighbour has used.

  6. Your sock story reminds me of a similar clothing disaster – Puerto Rico, only bathing suit blown off the rail as it was drying, sadly flying around an abandoned part of the hotel property. No one seemed to know what to do. Even after lots of batting of the eyelashes, still no luck! We left PR, returned home to NYC and about a week later, the suit was mailed to us with a kind note. A little too late but I always appreciate the kindness of strangers!

  7. This is amazing. Also, between this and and the writing of Fernando Pessoa, the idea of a trip to Lisboa is starting to grow on me. Love your blog. I think I first stumbled upon it not long after you started it, and I love checking in from time to time and seeing how successful it has become and what a great writer you are. Cheers from SF!

    1. Thank you James! Lisboa is well worth a visit so I hope you make it here! Thank you for reading after all this time. I’m glad my words have continued to keep you entertained.

  8. Hi Jodi, As always total enjoy your posts. Would enjoy a post on the food summit.
    Also want to suggest a addition to your tees. A pair of warm wool socks, bet they
    Would go over well. In various colors.

  9. I felt the exact same way about Lisbon! I could spend a lot of time here! Love your stories and your photos. Thank you for sharing!

  10. Seems like you’ll have to go to my native Norway in search for some wonderful home knitted socks. I have several colourful pairs knitted by a variety of relatives and friends (and a few by myself), they’re great all year round.

  11. Brilliant story! Love to read stories that are real and sincere. Absolutely must put Lisbon on our list now. Your photos are gorgeous as well.

  12. I loved Lisbon too although I only spent a few days there. We met up with friends from London who were also travelling there at the same time as us and had Portuguese friends. We all went out for dinner at a local restaurant and had a very hospitable and delicious night. I hope you find other cities in Europe that you love just as much, there are some amazing ones and it is one of my favourite parts of the world (Granada, Edinburgh and Cefalu are other favourites of mine that I think you would really like)

  13. Such a funny post Jodi, but I totally understand! I too love my socks. I have a pair of mens’ socks that have the Union Jack on them and the socks & I cannot be parted. I have huge feet so I constantly have to buy them from the mens’ department LOL!
    Losing things are the mane of many a person and it’s surprising what and how they go missing. The other day, we found a pair of leather shoes in the middle of a field. You sort of wonder, was the person bare-footed or did they have another pair of shoes and just forgot the former! We call abandoned clothing “Clothes from the Land Beyond!”
    Great post.

  14. “It is the first city in Europe where I think “I could spend a lot of time here.”

    Wait till you come to Sevilla! Loved this story. I almost went to that conference but in the end was too busy with food tours. Great meeting you on Twitter though, and hope we get the chance to go on a tapeo one day.

  15. Charlotte Messervy

    I lost some SmartWool socks on my trip too! Luckily I packed a pair of Darn Tough socks as well. Do you know those? I actually think I prefer them to SmartWool (blasphemy, I know) but they are super comfy, made in Vermont, and have a lifetime warranty. Either way, I’m glad you got your good ones back (and a great story out of it)!


  16. This is the reason one should travel around the world. Where else one can get such an experience. Anyways, congratulations for getting your socks back.

  17. Hi! I´m an avid reader of your blog/instagram and I am heading to Lisbon on Wednesday! I was wondering if you could provide any restaurant names because those meals look delicious and I fully plan on eating my way through the city!

      1. Great! Thanks so much. Also if you have time you should check out a restaurant called Super Mario on rua duque 9. It was the only recommendation I had before I got here. We went last night and it was a little place where very little English was spoken but we had a 5 hour dinner of mostly vino verde, roast baccalau (sp?), and flan. All pescatarian/gluten free. Definitely worth a visit

  18. Now THAT is determination and love for your wool socks! I am glad you are enjoying Lisbon and have met some wonderful people. It almost sound like they could make great characters in a book.

    Also, yes please post your speech and slides. Would love to know more!

  19. Would love to hear about your talk at the conference! I’m glad to hear it went well. And of course I’m always amused to hear about your adventures around the world. I’d be equally upset if my favorite pair of socks decided to disappear on me too. ;-)

  20. I enjoyed reading this! Reminded me of the many times I’ve locked my keys in my car. One time I rigged a metal coat hanger to go under the car window and come up inside and was able to pull the lock over. That device your neighbor had looks awesome in a sort of “whatever I can find to make something useful” kinda way, I love it! Lisbon sounds and looks really nice, like it has a lot of hidden treasures to be discovered!

  21. I’ve never seen anything like that contraption before. Are you sure you aren’t neighbors with Macgyver?

    I agree on the smart wool socks, there’s nothing like them. I never thought i’d care about socks before them. Unfortunately, I lose them just as fast as regular socks.

    1. Her husband built it for her, but unfortunately he passed away. She keeps it wrapped in this beautiful saffron-coloured cloth, tucked inside a cabinet for safe keeping. Really crazy tool, I agree! :)

  22. I want to visit Lisbon so badly now. :) For all that you’ve described with the community and the seafood and just about everything else. Hope you’ve replaced your wool socks since then…

  23. Hahahaha, congrats for getting your sock back. We all love wool sock.

    It’s the first time I came across your blog. I enjoyed this post so much. It’s more than losing sock story. What a friendly neighbour Lisbon has.

  24. What a fun story! Stories inspired by the most mundane things are often the most interesting. My wife and I are planning on visiting Lisbon at the end of the year to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. I enjoy reading stories like this because they give me a good sense of what a place and its people are like. Love your words and pictures. They have so much atmosphere. Thanks for sharing. :)

    1. Thank you! When you go to Lisbon, please head to Ze da Mouraria for lunch – HUGE portions (for 2 should be “for 5”), and go around 1pm if you can since it gets crowded quickly.

  25. Jodi, you have a real talent for storytelling. You brought us right into your apartment – we were leaning out the window fishing for socks with you. I enjoyed reading about your neighbors and your adventure. Glad you got the sock back!

  26. I can’t believe a lawyer can write this type of cool posts. Really I am inspired . and tell me one thing how much fishes have you caught ? :)

  27. Wow I feel great to see you writing about my beloved city. I totally love Lisbon and although I’m not living that far away, I somehow feel far from the culture and Lisbon’s way of life (I mean,…. I’m in Sahara Desert…). Portugal has a lot to offer, and exploring such a historical country is an unique experience. Search for Historical Villages of Portugal and try to visit them, as I’m sure you’re gonna love it. Big hug (Lisbon style) all the way from Ouarzazate.

    1. Thanks for the comments Joao! I actually drove from Marrakesh to M’hamid and spend a great day in Ouarzazate as well. I will definitely enjoy exploring Portugal when I return – sadly my time is now coming to an end here.

  28. I’m glad you got your socks back! and the other poor souls left by their owners in vain were saved, thanks to your enthusiasm and willingness to rescue them they got their hero! haha and I love your writing. :)

  29. Such a lovely story! It evoked so many feelings in me… I’m from Portugal and lived many years in Lisbon, and this was such a common daily event. I can’t remember how many times I had to knock on my neighbors’ door to retrieve some lost item of clothing. Actually, I felt lucky when it were only socks… :D Anyway, I never thought about that as a special or memorable event, until I read your article and kind of missed this quirky interactions that seem to only happen in Lisbon. I’m glad you got your socks back without killing anyone, and had a good time in Portugal! ;)

  30. Trang (Mae) Nguyen

    Hi Jodi, I greatly enjoyed your stories about Lisbon and hope we will soon get to experience the warmth of the town. My husband and I are thinking of moving there for a “sabbatical” of writing and hiking for 2-3 months. I have been reading around and found nothing but lovely endorsement. So thanks very much for the info! By the way what neighborhood did you stay in Lisbon? Any recommendation for a nice, quiet part of town, preferably with lots of green?

  31. I initially wanted to read your post because it was about Lisbon….I’m heading there in February. But the story about the socks was even better than I expected….especially when I realized they were SmartWool socks. THEN I understood why they were so special. Your neighbour came to your rescue! Loved the story. Signed, Jan, a fellow Canadian.

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