Leaving Spain and the cities I had previously visited with my high school Spanish class, Lisbon was the first brand new destination of this trip. Flying in, I was struck by the red-roofed buildings covering the ground, and I was excited for the warmest temperatures yet. As it turns out, minus that first day, we were met with hazy and cloudy skies for the duration of our trip. But with no rain in the forecast, we made our way around the city and the surrounding area to take in the Portuguese culture.
The first order of business after dropping off our bags was to make our way to the famous Time Out Market. Half of the warehouse-style building was a traditional market where you can buy fruits, vegetables, and fish, and the other half was a 5-star food court. The food sold at the different booths was from all areas of the globe and adopted with a Portuguese twist. We had Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Thai food, as well as multiple desserts. My favorite (and Matthew’s too) was the traditional Portuguese steak sandwich called the Prego. We liked it so much we went back our last night to have it another time!
After being well-fortified by the previous night’s dinner at Time Out Market, we set out to the nearby town of Belem, where we had the original Portuguese Pastries, custard filled tarts that are famous around the Iberian Peninsula (picture 1). We had tried versions of the pastries in Lisbon, but the originals were far superior, constantly being made to accommodate the always-present line out the store door. This meant they were always warm and fresh :). Across the street from the pastry bakery was a monastery that we were able to explore a bit (pictures 2 and 3). It held the remains of Portugals most famous explorer, as well as beautiful stain glass and columns.
The second excursion we took was to Sintra, a town built with palaces for the monarch’s so that they could escape the summer heat. Heading off toward the Pena Palace (picture 1- sorry for the poor quality. The good photos are on my camera but I haven’t downloaded any of them yet), we opted to walk the STEEP hill up from the train station rather than taking a ride to the top. This was probably the best decision we made all day, as not only did it get the heart rate going (maybe a bit more than I care to admit), but we had great views of the city and got to walk around exotic gardens, which was really nice after being in many urban settings (picture 2). As we reached the top of the mountain and looked back down at the Pena Palace, we appreciate how much cooler Sintra really is than the lower cities, as we battled what I estimate to be 40mph wind gusts at the top of the hill. Even growing up on Lake Michigan in Algoma didn’t prepare me for the bone-chilling winds we would find at the top of the park. However the views, photos, and ability to say we went all the way to the top made it worth while (picture 3). The hiking and palace were definitely the highlights of Sintra, but the Moorish Castle (picture 4) and National Palace (picture 5) were also great sites we are happy we checked out.
Back in Lisbon, we enjoyed our relatively calm itinerary by wandering around the two different neighborhoods surrounding our hostel. First we went to Alfaba, the older part of town where we visited multiple incredible view points (pictures 1 and 2). My favorite part of the day was walking through their street market (picture 3). While some stands seemed very established and orderly (like you would find at Shanty Days in Algoma or at the Farmer’s Market in Madison, others seemed to just be people who grabbed all the junk from their house and put it out on a sheet. We saw doorknobs, new shoes, tiles, billiard balls, and even deodorant out for sale. While we didn’t find anything to warrant adding it to our suitcase, we enjoyed the variety that was there. The second neighborhood was Bairo Alto, where we visited the world’s oldest bookstore!! (Picture 4) I got one of you readers something there :).
Lisbon has been the spot of some of the most unique experiences we have had so far. We had dinner at a Moroccan restaurant recommended by a fellow traveler, where the whole restaurant is just in the woman’s home. She is the hostess, waitress, and chef, preparing fantastic food and mint tea for her guests. The evening she provided was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. I also went to an English speaking Mass on Sunday, that involved an African choir complete with chants and African drums. It was Southern gospel choir meets African ceremony, and definitely made it my favorite Mass I have attended thus far. More widely, much of Europe is enjoying Carnival right now, which is the week leading up to Lent where they celebrate with costumes, parades, street performers, and food. Matthew and I saw some performers in Lisbon, but we are hoping to experience more of this in Barcelona for Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday.
Overall, there has been a bit less to do in Lisbon than in other places we have gone so far (being a coastal city, the beach/surfing isn’t really an option right now). However this may have been a blessing in disguise as we were able to spend more time in our phenomenal hostel. Prior to Lisbon, we were starting to think there was no such thing as a perfect hostel; however Home Lisbon proved us wrong, with it’s clean bathrooms (and ample TP), full bar, buffet breakfast, and secure and open rooms. When we checked in, we were greeted with a free “welcome shot” of Portuguese liquor — I knew then that we were in the right place. Between hanging out in the common area and eating Mama’s famous dinner (home-cooked meal made by the owner of the hostel) we met and talked with people from Germany, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Brazil, the UK, and US. Hearing the different and similar view points about politics and world affairs that each brought to the table was incredible, and I would venture to say these conversations were overall the best part of going to Lisbon.
We are about to call it a day, now settled into our first AirBnB of the trip in Barcelona, Spain. We are already finding adventure as the stove quit working half-way through making dinner, so we had to improvise to get the job done (I’m glad all that time spent in cooking in college has finally come in handy!). After Barcelona, we are off to Morocco, Africa (God bless the rains!).
Peace, Love, and Red Portuguese Roofs,