Lisbon is the perfect place to wander aimlessly, getting lost in the maze of cool hilly cobblestoned streets. Throw in a bunch of colossal stone churches, monasteries, tons of great Miradouros (viewpoints) skirting the city, inhaling some Pasteis de Nata’s and your stay in Lisbon should be complete.
Sintra, is the big kahuna day trip Portuguese town outside of Lisbon and easy to reach by train in 30 minutes. Just outside of the main town of Sintra are the castles. These landmarks (Palacio da Pena, Moorish Castle and Quinta Da Regaleira) are highlighted by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. They were really nice and the views and walks around the lush green setting surrounding the castles where a highlight. The castles, as Warren Sapp would say, “most definitely” lived up to the hype.
To get to the castles, you must navigate thru the main town of Sintra which is another European Disneyland-like clusterfuck town with massive hordes of package tourists and buses. Once you get out of the main town, a real outdoor treat awaits. It was also great exercise navigating around the huge hills of the castles all while taking in some pretty incredible views. I kept thinking to myself, if Tony Montana were to have a castle like this in Sintra and not opted to reside in Miami, he would have been protected from the wrath of Sosa. castles are must-sees.
Eating and drinking alcohol seemed to be the big activities in Lisbon. You ask any local for advice on what to do and their advice is rarely a visit to a historical site. They always seemed to steer us to a place to eat and drink. The seafood is amazing and so cheap. Barbie has been on a mission to devour every octopus caught in the sea as long as it’s grilled and then topped with garlic, olive oil and a bit of parsley. It is served with really soft boiled potatoes that you can crush with your fork into mash potatoes and mop up the garlic and olive oil with.
The signature desert that is ubiquitous in every eatery all around town are these tiny hand held warm custard egg tarts called Pasteis de Nata. They really taste great but make sure to down them in moderation as they could potentially give you the shits if you gorge on them. Too bad the loose stools index was put out to pasture as there were some short term fireworks when I failed to obey my mothers rule of ‘eat in moderation’. Instead, I leaned to my dads rule of ‘fuck it, eat what you want’ and proceeded to down some of these succulent bad boys every single day.
The go to place, and the undisputed king of Portuguese egg tarts is at Pasteis de Belem, a 15-20 minute tram ride outside the city centre in the riverside neighborhood of Belem. Going to Pasteis de Belem for a Pasteis de Nata is a very similar experience as going to the legendary Cafe du Monde in New Orleans for beignets. Same sort of atmosphere and serving style. The super sweet, freshly squeezed OJ on offer, was a great beverage choice to wash down the egg tarts. Barbie was not a big fan of the egg tarts but I thought they were first rate.
After downing a few tasty tarts in Belem, you can check out the inside of the massive monastery. We passed and opted to simply cool out in the nice green shady park across the street and watch the world go by with the locals. It was hot as shit outside. Not SE Asia hot, but hot, like really hot. From the comfort of the shady park, we just checked out and admired the impressive monastery architecture from the outside.
Our Airbnb was in the centrally located Chiado area. The narrow one-way street our apartment was located on reminded me of the TV show, The Honeymooners, where residents would converse and yell to each other right outside their balconies. You could almost reach over to the neighbors balcony across the street to borrow some butter or eggs. It was a real trip. Chiado is Lisbon’s most trendy neighbourhood where everyone meets for coffee, shopping or before dinner and a night out in the neighbouring nightlife area, Bairro Alto. It was the perfect place to be based and once again Airbnb comes thru with another amazing experience. I am convinced, you simply cannot get the same experience staying in a hotel room.
Our 4 days in Lisbon was the perfect amount of time. It is a very cool city to check out. We came, we saw, we enjoyed but really see no reason for a return visit in the future other than using the city as a jumping off point to the beaches. Now it’s onto the beaches on the west coast of Portugal. Because of our time constraints, we opted for the more laid back beaches and fishing villages west of Lisbon as opposed to the more popular but touristy beaches on the Algarve coast. If there is another visit in the cards to this part of Europe, we hope to check out the highly touted beaches on the Algarve Coast and Southern Spain.
Ate at the many seafood joints lining the streets and alleyways. But, Time Out Market @ Mercado da Ribiera was the ‘go to’ place. It was simply fantastic. A food hall with about 30 booths manned by some of the top chefs and restaurants in Lisboa. It was so good, we could have ate all our meals here. This is the place where Barbie had her best grilled octopus experience that was prepared by Chef Marlene Vieira. So good, that she did a doubleheader here. The big question remains, will Flashpacking Barbie pull the trigger on a triple header upon our return to Lisbon prior our flight out to Israel?
THRU THE BINOCS –
A weird quirk in Portugal is that you cannot pull a door open. You can only push it open. It’s one of those small things you need to get used to. So much for holding a door open for an old lady as its ergonomically impossible. Entering a bathroom was a challenge and in order to do so, you would have to possess Cirque du Soleil type flexibility. There could be 3 urinals in a bathroom and since the bathrooms are all tiny, when you enter by pushing the door, the door bangs into the guy pissing in the urinal closest to the door. It’s basically impossible to get around to the other urinals until the current pisser leaves.