A tour of the Iberian Peninsula wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Portugal, and we’re glad we went. From our home base in Lisbon we took day trips by train to several of the surrounding smaller cities. Our first day trip city, Belém, is the home of the original recipe of Portugal’s famous pastries. Many bakeries try to replicate these bite-sized, custard-filled delights, but after trying both the original and the replicas we can definitively say that going to get the original was worth it. The small bakery that makes the pastries does so by the hundreds in order to serve the perpetual lines running out the door, but the pastries they dish out are always fresh and warm. Sprinkle a bit of powdered sugar and cinnamon on top, and the result definitely makes it into the top echelon of things we’ve eaten so far. Across the street from the pastry place is a church that houses the remains of Portugal’s most famous explorer Vasco de Gama, which was cool to see. The church and its stained glass windows were also beautiful.
The vaunted pastries and views of the church and tomb of de Gama
We also took a day trip to the city of Sintra, which like the Alhambra’s Generalife served as a royal refuge from the blazing Iberian summers. The summer palace is situated on a hill overlooking the city, so naturally we decided to forego the buses hauling people to the top in favor of making the ascent on foot. While not for the faint of heart, we appreciated the views of the city, the trees, and the general lack of people; it was nice to see lots of green stuff again.
The park and Moorish fort overlooking Sintra — hard to get a picture of the Palace with so many trees 🤷🏻♂️
Speaking of green stuff, Lisbon sets the new record for number of times we’ve been offered recreational drugs in a given city. During a lighthearted conversation with one of the many street dealers hanging around Lisbon’s main plaza, I learned that marijuana is legal in Lisbon as long as one doesn’t try to sell for profit (though the dealer didn’t seem too worried). We never saw anyone actually smoking in public, but we were still taken aback by the brashness of the dealers, many of whom would display their wares as you walked past them.
The highlight of our time in Lisbon was definitely the food. In addition to the pastries, one night we had dinner at La Flor da Laranja (The Orange Flower), a Moroccan restaurant that was actually just a woman’s house. The place was marked by a potted plant in the doorway, and to gain entrance one must knock on the locked door. For you Avatar: The Last Airbender fans, this place definitely had an Order of the White Lotus feel about it. The food itself was excellent (kebab and lamb tagine), and we were amazed by the voracity of this one-woman crew. We were the only ones in her house on account of eating early, but we couldn’t comprehend how she is able to run things when she has 8 tables of hungry customers.
While La Flor da Laranja was gastronomic highlight 1B, highlight 1A was Lisbon’s Timeout Market. On the site of the old Mercado Ribeira, the Timeout Market is a large indoor building split into two sections. One side is a traditional market where people can buy fresh meat, fish, and produce, while the other side is a gourmet food court serving international delicacies with Portuguese twists. The Market is curated by a group of Lisbon food critics and restauranteurs who also publish one of the city’s prominent food magazines. According to the explanation at the entrance to the market, “If it’s good it gets in the magazine, if it’s great it goes on to the Market”. Over the course of two visits we tried things from 7 of the 15 or so stalls. The winner (for me) was a traditional Portuguese Prego sandwich, consisting of tenderized, freshly seared beef sirloin on a slightly-sweet bun. We ordered ours with mozzarella cheese, tomato, and a basil relish, and it was delicious. The Market is also popular with locals, as crowded on a Sunday night at 10p as it was when we first visited for lunch during the week. One of my guilty-pleasure TV shows is Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods”, and the food nerd inside me was very happy to be able to visit one of the destinations featured on the show (though I’d say the Market is more famous for being delicious than bizarre).
Our stay in Lisbon was definitely the most low-key of the cities we’ve been to, which is good because we’re about to encounter the craziness of Barcelona during Mardi Gras before descending into the vibrant chaos of Morocco. We’re done with hostels until we leave Morocco (private bedrooms and bathrooms — AirBnb for the win!), but we ended our hostel run on a high note. Our Lisbon hostel was far and away the nicest we’ve stayed in so far, with a large living room and full-service bar in the hostel as well as a nightly 3-course, 10-euro, all-you-can-eat-and-drink meal cooked by “Mama”, the hostel’s original owner (though now more “grand-Mama” aged). A great place to meet interesting people before encountering some relative solitude for the next several weeks. Thanks again for reading — until next time!