Portugal, for me at least, was one of the lesser known destinations on our travel itinerary. And I think having no expectations made me appreciate this city all the more. Lisbon is a port city, and I’ve come to realize that I am a sucker for port cities. It must have something to do with the way their cultural backbones are shaped over time by sailors and trade ships passing through. Port cities are always just a little more lively, a little more vibrant. While we were in Lisbon, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to my time in the Bay Area. I left my heart in San Francisco, and now a little piece in Lisbon, too.
We took a train from Cinque Terre to Pisa and from there we flew to Lisbon, arriving at around 3 PM. During the taxi ride from the airport to our Airbnb, our eyes were drawn to the numerous colorful, tiled buildings dotting the hilly streets of Lisbon. It’s an Instagrammer’s heaven here. Our Airbnb was up a HUUUUGE hill in the Chiado district of Lisbon; we definitely taxied it up every time. Lisbon is also referred to as the City of Seven Hills, and fittingly so. Prepare your calves for lots of uphill action if you intend to visit.
After dropping off our luggage, we went out to visit the São Jorge Castle. This was a castle built by the Moorish conquerors during the Medieval times and is pretty well preserved to this day. It also provides one of the best views of the city since it sits up high on a hilltop. I was glad we went in the evening since we pretty much had free reign in the castle walls.
After the sun set, we hopped in a cab to Bica do Sapato, a trendy Portuguese/Japanese restaurant overlooking the Tagus River. The interior is heavily influenced by modern aesthetics, with an interesting paneled wall whose panels rotate to switch between displays of artwork. We were given a seat by the floor-to-ceiling window with a beautiful view of the river.
We shared two entrees, which I don’t remember the names of, but were both stellar. One was some kind of pork I think? And the other was a salmon dish served on a bed of risotto and topped with slivers of green apple. The ingredients by themselves are simple, but combined create a novel variation on classic favorites.
Then, in true pig fashion, we each ordered our own dessert. Catherine’s was the winner. I want someone to look at me the way Catherine looks at sweets.
After dinner we went back to our Airbnb to catch some Z’s.
Because we are masochists, we decided to jam pack our day with not one, but TWO walking tours—one in the morning and one at night. We booked both tours through a company called Inside Lisbon. Our first tour was called the Lisbon Experience Walk, and they persuaded us to give them our money with a bribe of free pastries, snacks, beer, and lunch. We met at the Restauradores Square and were given a brief introduction to the history of Lisbon. She touched on the various influences in the city’s history, including the Moorish conquerors, and described the different neighborhoods that make up the city of Lisbon.
The first building that our tour guide pointed out was the one in the picture above. It was Lisbon’s first cinema built in 1931, and later converted into a hotel in 2001. The art deco feel is quite a stark contrast to the typical buildings you see in Lisbon.
Next, we were led to the little store shown below which sells ginjinha. Ginjinha is a sour cherry brandy that was originally invented by Portuguese monks as a medicine to cure the symptoms of a cold. They prescribed five doses of ginjinha for severe coughing. With that much liquor, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t feel any more pain either. Lol silly drunk monks.
Our tour guide led us to the monument below and touched briefly on fado, a Portuguese genre of music that originated in the 19th century. Fado literally translates to “fate.” The theme and topic of most fado songs are usually lamenting and mournful, kind of like the blues. They believe that fado was invented in brothels of Portugal, where the prostitutes would sing the sad tales of their ill-fated lives and men would come to watch. Now, girls train from a young age as fado apprentices.
We were then taken to a small little pastry shop for coffee and Portuguese egg tarts. They were good, but our tour guide told us that the best egg tarts are in Belem (a neighborhood of Lisbon) at a bakery called Pasteis de Belem. She also told us that the original recipe for egg tarts was conceived by Portuguese monks. Man, those monks really know what they’re doing.
Next, we visited the Catholic church in the picture above, known as Igreja de São Domingos. This church has a tragedy-marked history, suffering through two major earthquakes and a fire and inciting a massacre. The story behind the massacre is that there was a Catholic member of the congregation who claimed to see the illuminated face of Christ on the altar. A newly converted Jew said that he thought it was a trick of the candlelight. This led to the entire congregation beating the man to death and burning his body. And then a three day citywide massacre of all of the Jews ensued. Terrible and tragic…
Second food stop of the day was at Manteigaria Silva, a small market with an assortment of produce, fish, port, and cured meats.
Another similarity between Lisbon and San Francisco—trolleys to help you navigate the windy and hilly streets.
We stopped in a cork store. Apparently Portugal makes the most cork in the world. The store had all types of items made of cork—bags, wallets, jewelry, furniture. It was pretty interesting.
Next up on our itinerary was a ferry ride across the river to visit a seafood market for lunch and green wine.
Our tour ended at the seafood restaurant. Catherine and I decided to ask the tour guide for some recommendations on things to do, as we had some time to kill before our evening tour. We also had made some very nice lady friends—Señora Cardenas, Diane, and Gaby—who wanted to accompany us on our Lisbon adventure. We decided to visit Belem so that we could taste the world famous egg tarts from Pasteis de Belem and visit the Rick Rec Monastery of Jerónimos.
The monastery was pretty impressive, as most European religious buildings are. We didn’t do a guided tour or anything so I can’t really tell you much about this building’s history.
Once we finished touring the monastery, we moseyed over to the waterfront to look at the famous 25 de Abril Bridge. This bridge is often compared to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge because of the similarity in color and the fact that they are both suspension bridges.
The whole area near this bridge was very lively and full of tourists snapping pictures. Street performers performed songs by pop artists like Taylor Swift on their violins.
After working up quite the appetite touring around, we headed to Pasteis de Belem. This was the highlight of Belem. Words can’t describe these little morsels of perfection. You’re just gonna have to take my word for it, or go and try it for yourself. Egg tarts, for those of you unfamiliar, are pastry shells filled with a sweet egg custard and baked to give them a crispy, flaky outer layer. These are the best egg tarts I’ve ever had (even better than San Francisco Chinatown’s!). As I mentioned before, egg tarts were supposedly the invention of Portuguese monks, and Pasteis de Belem was the first to capitalize on the recipe. According to our tour guide, only one person knows the secret recipe and it’s locked away in a safe like the Krabby Patty formula.
After a few hours of exploring Belem, we headed back to the heart of Lisbon for our evening Fado and Tapas tour.
We bid our new lady friends “boa tarde” (good afternoon) and headed to meet our new tour group for Fado & Tapas. Unfortunately, a lot of the spiel was the same in the beginning so we were a bit bored. It wasn’t like that for long though. We set off to the fado quarters of Lisbon, stopping at the mural below. At first glance, I thought… Adele? But no, this is Amália Rodrigues, a famous fado singer of Portugal.
We were led, once again, to the Ginjinha shop. I had another shot of ginjinha, which, if you’re curious, is not that tasty.
The picture below is an old advertisement for ginjinha, showing the healthy, plump girl drinking ginjinha while the emaciated one is drinking some lame tea. Catherine and I joked that I am obviously the ginjinha girl and she is the skinny woman due to both our body types and our drinking habits (or lack thereof).
Our tour guide led us to the less touristy part of Lisbon, Mouraria, where many immigrants tend to reside. There was a lot of cool street art in this neighborhood. The lady in the mural below with the red flower, Maria Severa, was a prostitute and the first fado singer to reach fame. She was known for having many lovers.
The graffiti below, our tour guide told us, was fairly new. There had been a wedding for two men in that same alleyway a week before, and this graffiti had been painted in honor of them.
We also got to check out a photograph art installation along the alleyways. A local had chosen elderly residents of the neighborhood as her subject and took candid pictures of them. It was pretty neat being able to get a peek into the daily lives of the locals.
We took a trolley to get to the fado restaurant. Thank god, because at this point our legs were dying from all of the walking we had done.
While walking by someone’s house, this little tile art caught my eye. It looks exactly like my pup, Rupert! Someone in Lisbon is also very obsessed with their dog.
The fado restaurant we went to was called Pateo de Alfama. The performances were entertaining for the most part. The food, on the other hand, was pretty meager and not at all what I expected when they lured us with tapas. I won’t even post a picture of it because it was such a sad plate. Instead, here’s a picture of me and Catherine to bring this post to a close.
Check out the video compilation below of our time in Lisbon. Next on the travlog series is Barcelona. Til’ next time! And remember—appreciate the little things always 🙂
5 thoughts on “Lisbon, I’m in Love”
Thank you!! 🙂
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Great post about Lisbon!
Thank you!! 🙂
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