I feel like I’m becoming ridiculous claiming so many places are a favorite, but after visiting Lisbon, I found yet another wonderful place that I really loved. In my defense, I love different things about most of these places. In Amsterdam, I had such low expectations that I was shocked at how beautiful it was and how live-able it felt. In Barcelona, I couldn’t get over the architecture, the food & shopping, or the seaside. In Santorini, it was the sheer beauty – white buildings with blue domed roofs contrasting against the deep blue water. And of course, we all know how obsessed I am with Istanbul and most recently, Jordan (everything from Jerash to the Dead Sea to Petra to Wadi Rum). So what was so special about Lisbon? It’s hard to say exactly – maybe it was the fact that I was out of a lecture hall, or the fact that it was walkable, that the food is delicious (and cheap!), that it’s various neighborhoods are adorable, that it stretches along the Tejo River to the Atlantic Ocean. Or maybe it was the emotional fado music that won me over. Regardless, it was another city that I have to add to my “favorites list.” Mostly because it left me thinking, “maybe I’ll have to go back.”
A couple of months ago, one of my Miami University friends reached out to tell me that she would be in Spain for a conference at the end of January. She was interested in traveling afterward, and even though it was a bit insane of me to join her after an intense 10-day training, I decided it was worth it. I’ve seen her at two or three weddings post-college and twice in St. Louis when she was passing through, but we don’t get to catch up very often. As we made plans to rendezvous in Lisbon, her colleague decided to join us, too. I met him a few years ago when they both stayed at my place in St. Louis during a cross-country road trip. All of us caught up again two years ago in St. Louis while they were in town for work. They are avid travelers, too, so I knew it would be fun to have a foreign adventure together!
[This is an oldie, but goodie. Don’t mind our glistening faces. We were cooling off after a dance party.]
Sadly, I found out a week or so before that my friend had to cancel her trip due to illness. I felt so bad that she was feeling so sick. I know how much she loves an adventure. Thankfully, her colleague was still coming, and believe it or not, he found someone else to take her place with only two days’ notice! (This kind of spontaneity is something I wish I had.)
I had a REALLY early flight on Saturday morning, which meant I arrived in Lisbon really early. Not quite as early as the boys who rode an overnight bus from Sevilla. Thankfully, our hotel had rooms ready for us. I decided to head out to the Gulbenkian art museum while they napped. Lisbon wasn’t very awake as I made my way across town at 9:30am, so I got to enjoy a quiet stroll and Metro ride.
[I passed this really stunning building on the way to Metro. Only two days later did I find out that it is a train station.]
[Calouste Gulbenkian gave Portugal his art collection when he died. He referred to this collection as his “harem.” He was from Armenia, and Portugal granted him asylum during WWII. His gift was an act of gratitude to the country. His collection spanned art from Ancient Egypt to the Impressionists. I have to say he had good taste. When I visit museums, I often look at the pieces and consider which ones I would put in my home. There were quite a few items in his collection that I would happily display.]
[Outside of the museum is a small garden. You know the “…” got the better of me, and I just HAD to venture to the left.]
[Glad I did! It was so pretty.]
After the museum, I went back into the city centre and stopped in a small, but lovely church before meeting up with the guys. They were feeling much more rested, and we were all ready for some lunch. I had SO MANY recommendations from Portuguese colleagues about places to eat and things to do. A few people recommended a place called Resto do Chapito. It is connected to a circus school, which is strange, but it was supposed to have good food (and the chance at a performance).
We had a pretty entertaining waitress (though, I don’t think she was trying to be), and after we managed to place our order, it was time for some proper introductions / catching up. I mentioned the fact that my college roommate loves the circus, since the restaurant reminded me of her. GUESS WHAT?!? The guy I met only a few minutes earlier told me that he KNOWS my college roommate, and he went with her to the circus in Shanghai! (It’s been several days, and I’m STILL not over this connection!) I know I say it all the time, but the world is SO SMALL. I’m continuously amazed!
[Our discovery required a photo to send as proof. Plus, this picture also captures the WHOLE FISH that came out on my plate when I ordered the special!]
[The circus tent…err, restaurant…was decorated with a large chandelier under the tent. Turns out, it’s made from used Nespresso capsules. What a creative way to reduce, reuse, recycle!]
After lunch, we roamed through the neighborhoods – winding our way toward the water. We peeked into a church along the way before stopping for some photos in front of the Praca do Comercio (“Trade Square”).
[I loved the vibrant colors we saw throughout the city. Here, they even painted the street pink!]
All weekend long, the weather couldn’t decide if it wanted to be rainy, windy, or sunny. So, we got a little bit of everything. Sometimes even within the span of a few minutes! Fortunately, this kind of weather makes for some lovely rainbows.
Lisbon still has old-fashioned trolleys riding around town. I couldn’t get enough of them! Seeing them go by felt like I was traveling back in time. And since I couldn’t tell at what point I should take a picture, I took too many. 🙂
When it started to rain a bit harder, we ducked into a cafe for the first of many Portuguese pastries – Pastel de Nata. (You may remember that we enjoyed quite a few of these the weekend I spent in Porto.)
We headed back to our hotel to rest before going to dinner. Our hotel was in a great location on Praca da Figueira – one of the main squares. All weekend long there was a market set up in the square. We witnessed an adult tap dancing performance that reminded me tap dancing is something I always wanted to learn to do!
And just to be sure we didn’t forget where we were staying, there was a costume shop (complete with scary Halloween costumes out front) across the alley from our hotel entrance. I thought this was strange until the third or fourth time we passed a costume shop. Maybe the Portuguese really like to dress up?
Friday evening was one of the highlights of the trip for me – despite my exhaustion setting in from my really early morning flight. We went to a restaurant called Sr. Fado for an amazing home-cooked meal and a fado performance. There are only 22 seats in the restaurant. It’s so small and cozy. It genuinely feels like a home. There were two choices on the menu – seafood or beef (also known as pork). The staff was incredible. I heard the owner speak somewhere between 4-6 different languages throughout the evening. His step-daughter was a server, and she was hilarious. The mom was in the kitchen cooking away making fantastic dishes.
After dinner, the family performs a fado concert. They brought in a really great musician to play the Portuguese guitar. This guitar has 12 strings, and the owner explained that it can laugh, cry, and dance. I love that. He and his step-daughter spent time explaining fado and translating some of the poems they were singing. One of the things she said stayed with me. She told us that, “some people say fado is sad, but it’s not. Fado is life.” Similar to the Blues in the US, fado is a type of Portuguese folk music. It was definitely a passionate, emotional performance that I won’t forget.
We didn’t leave the fado restaurant until 1:00am, so we were moving slowly on Sunday morning. We took the tram to the neighborhood of Belem – approximately 3 miles away from the city centre. This neighborhood runs along the water and is home to several museums and the Monastery of Jeronimos – all of which are free on Sunday mornings. There were long lines to get into the Cloisters at the monastery, so we opted only for a peak into the church.
[This is where Vasco da Gama is buried. He was the Portuguese navigator who established the sea link between Portugal and India in 1497-1498.]
[We paid a visit to the Maritime Museum, where we got to see a bunch of model ships as well as some of these old boats]
[Everyone told us we HAD to visit Casa Pasteis de Belem – the birthplace of pastel de nata. They’ve been open since 1837, and they serve 20,000 or more a day – warm out of the oven. We purposely chose a table near the pretty tiled wall, because it would be a good backdrop for a photo. Of course, we were distracted by our delicious snack and completely forgot to take a picture. But, never fear…the scene can be recreated! I can’t remember what was happening exactly, but I clearly found it to be hilarious.]
[Just imagine whipped cream on top of our cappuccino and a beautiful pastry…]
[Our next stop was Cascais – a beach town a few more minutes’ train ride away from Lisbon. We stopped for a gelato at Santini before taking a walk along the water. I love that my server’s name was Flavio! The coconut flavor was quite possibly the best I’ve ever had!]
[The scenery was so beautiful, and I couldn’t help but think of my Barnacle when we saw these cages covered in little barnacles.]
[Is this the creepiest thing you’ve ever seen or what?!]
[Sand castles remind me of summer time…]
Sunday night was the Super Bowl. Last year, I was staying in a hotel in Paris for work without a way to watch the game. This year, I found out they were showing it at Hard Rock Cafe – less than 10 minutes’ walk from our hotel. We went out for Indian food before the game (which started around 11:00pm in Lisbon), but when we got to Hard Rock, we found that there were no more tables left. Since we weren’t biased toward either team, and we really envisioned a relaxing situation of watching for a bit over wings or nachos, we decided not to pay the cover charge and to head back to our hotel instead. The guys found a way to stream the game on the laptop, so the three of us lined up on the bed to watch. We made it through the halftime show before turning it off. It sounds like we missed an exciting ending!
[This screen appeared during the first commercial break, which meant we had to search YouTube looking for Super Bowl commercials on our own. Thankfully, people share their opinions about Super Bowl commercials on social media, so we had a few recommendations on which ones were good.]
On Monday morning, we took a mini tour of the central Lisbon public transit, since I took us to the wrong train station. The one positive of this debacle? Taking a photo in front of this beautiful fountain!
Once we made it to where we needed to be, we rode the train out to Sintra – the long-time escape for Portuguese kings. Unfortunately, we had terrible weather for our visit, which took away from the panoramic views we heard about. However, we did visit the quirkiest castle I’ve ever seen. It’s called Pena palace, and it’s one of three castles in the area. It’s the highest, the brightest, and the strangest. Rick Steves described it as “a crazy Neo-fortified casserole of Gothic towers, Renaissance domes, Moorish minarets, Manueline carving, [and] Disney playfulness.” Supposedly you can see both Lisbon and the Atlantic Ocean from this castle, but our view was obstructed by thick clouds. Bummer.
[Sooo…this creature is scary!]
[German-born Prine Ferdinand is the one behind this crazy place. His cousin was “Mad” Kind Ludwig of Bavaria who built Neuschwanstein Castle.]
[Despite his being crazy, it looks like he might have been a Tennessee Volunteer fan. (Go Big Orange!) This was good news for two guys living in Knoxville and me.]
[He might be a Tennessee fan, but he also has a creepy doll collection. Yikes!]
[A glimpse of the Moorish castle up on the hill. It was so rainy when we left Pena Palace that we opted not to go climb around the ruins of the Moorish castle. Next time…]
Alas, it was time for me to head back to reality – leaving these two to continue exploring for a bit longer. It was a really wonderful three days full of laughter and good conversation. I’m grateful for new friends (who are officially added to the Christmas card list).
Until next time, my friends…whenever & wherever that might be!