We spent our last two nights in this wonderfully atmospheric town. And while our experience with the cuisine wasn't that great, the town is beautiful.
From what we saw on our walk from the train station......
To the view from our hotel room......
To wandering the side streets......
Walking though the little streets in search of a snack or a meal was fun. everything just seemed to be tourist oriented food; even what was recommended by our hotel as being "really Portuguese".
To be perfectly honest, I kind of knew this. But I wanted the Missus to really enjoy Sintra after all the day-trippers had left, when the town was at its romantic best. Which meant staying in the town. It was a nice little break before our return.
Our dinner the first night was at Tacho Real. It was nice, but really nothing special.
Though walking around Sintra after the tourists are gone was wonderful.
The next morning we awoke and had a hefty breakfast and headed on our way.
Up the hill. Where the avenue became a smaller street......
Which gave way to a gate (where admission is paid), then trails, past an ancient Moorish Castle......
It is one of those places that is vividly unforgettable.
From the colors, to the restored rooms, to the view.
And yet, you never quite get the romantic beauty of it all until you climb up the neighboring hill.
It's quite an easy task....to let your mind wander; imagining the comings and goings, the intrigue, the stories that this structure could tell. Of how Amelia, the last Queen of Portugal, spent her last night before being sent into exile at the Palace.
The views are stunning and there are many trails on the park grounds.
We were glad we visited and stayed. We got to visit the palace and the park grounds before the buses of tour groups arrived.
We spent our last evening in Portugal walking around Sintra, picking out a little Wine Bar/Tapas place off the usual tourist trail.
A couple of glasses of wine, some small bites....it was a nice relaxed way to spend our last night....
It seemed that I had planned well. This was our third evening in Lisbon and we had pretty much seen and done all we wanted to do. We were itching to move on. We loved Lisbon's vibe, relaxed, yet a large city. we adored the history, the colors, the great mass transit system, but it was definitely time.
Our last evening was a Sunday and from what I had read, it can be rather slim pickins' on Sunday in the very Catholic city. So I had planned ahead. Hearing good things about a restaurant located in the tangled maze of streets that is historic Alfama, I made reservation for dinner at Santo Antonio de Alfama.
We'd already wandered through the winding, tangled streets of Alfama the day before, so we decided to leave early, just in case we unable to find our restaurant. Amazingly, I followed the graffiti and we found the place....waaaay too early. So we circled back and took the opportunity to visit the Sé, or Cathedral of Lisbon, which is a rather imposing structure originally built in 1150 on the site of a former Mosque. We arrived to late to visit the Gothic Cloister which lead to current excavations of Roman ruins. So we just walked around the large interior. I was really taken by the rose window on the west side of the cathedral.
After a short visit we decided to walk on back to the restaurant and just wait. The streets can indeed be confusing. The restaurant we had reservations at, Santo Antonio de Alfama is located at number 7 Beco de Sao Miguel. It's easy enough to confuse that with Restaurant San Miguel d'Alfama, which is also located at number 7 Rua de Sao Miguel. Yikes!
The restaurant is located right across from São Miguel Church, which was under going some construction at the time of our visit. We sat on the stairs leading down to the church and watched kids playing soccer in the streets. It was a nice relaxing moment in time.
The restaurant itself features a small and charming courtyard, though it was still a bit too cold to be eating outside.
At just before the opening time of 730pm....yes, this is Portugal, dinner starts at 730 or 8, we walked over and took a look at the menu and started to make a gameplan.
When the doors opened we entered. The interior is dark and warm, with pictures of actors, actresses, and other celebrities lining the walls. We were given an excellent table....well, for us it was perfect as it faced the window of the courtyard.
We were glad to have made reservations. Every table in view was reserved. We'd watch as folks walked up to the menu in the courtyard, then enter and try to get a table and were turned away. Even though the place was still half empty when we left, we found this typical of Portugal and even Rome. Folks are never rushed. Dinner is something to be enjoyed and savored.
As mentioned before, there's the selection of "appetizers" delivered. If you eat, you pay....and this being our last evening in Lisbon, we ate.
I'm not sure if you've noticed in my cooking posts, but the Missus minimizes gluten intake....I think it actually makes Her even more sensitive to it when She does have it, but whatever. On this evening She did enjoy the bread. Personally, I loved the fried potato skins. I'm not sure what they use as fertilizer for their spuds, and maybe I don't want to know, but these were really delicious.....yes, basically fried thick potato peels. A crunch on the exterior, meeting a moist potato interior, with just the right amount of salt. Sadly, this was second best item of the entire evening.
The best were the wimple roasted Padron Peppers.
Sweet, thin skinned, tender to the point of nearly melting in your mouth, with just the right amount of salt, this was very nice.
The Fried Runner Beans on the other hand were not so well prepared.
Greasy with mushy batter ruined the dish for us. This also lacked a proper amount of seasoning for our tastes.
The Missus did enjoy the Red and Yellow Pepper Soup with Prawn.
Which She said was lovely. The flavor of the yellow pepper puree and the red pepper puree were completely different, thus really keeper Her interest in the dish.
What didn't keep Her interest was the Pork Black Sausage with Sauteed Turnip Tops and Potatoes.
To me, the blood sausage was on the mushy side and veyr mild in terms of seasoning. It was also quite large, making for monotonous eating after a few bites. The turnip tops were ok, but really tasted like something I'd make at home. The potatoes were deep fried before being added to the greens and were delish.
I went with the Roasted Salt Cod with Roasted Potatoes and Sauteed Turnip Tops.
So, if you're keeping score, it's been four bacalhau dishes in three days, pretty good I think. The bacalhau was a bit too salty for me, the garlic almost burnt and bitter. The potatoes were good, though it could have done with a bit more olive oil and salt. The turnip tops were the same as the Missus.
The service was good, hitting a nice balance of being there at our table and leaving us alone to have a nice dinner. Figuring that dinner, with wine was over 70 Euros, I'm not sure this was really worth it. Still, it was Lisbon on a Sunday night.
Santo Antonio de Alfama Beco de Sao Miguel 7 Lisbon, Portugal
Funny, as we walked back....yes, now tram for us, we walked to and from Alfama. The Missus and I talked about how much we really enjoyed Lisbon the city, but maybe not the food. By far, my favorite two meals was a simple Bifana and a beer for breakfast and roasted suckling pig and a beer, also for breakfast. All our other meals were decent to good, but nothing really great. Our eating fortunes would soon change as we were headed to Evora in the morning!
Right across the street from the Monastery de Jeronimos is Praca do Imperio, a large well manicured public square that features a beautiful fountain and a nice view of the monastery.
Heading toward the water and crossing under Avenida de Brasilia, you get to the waterfront. You really can't miss Padrão dos Descobrimentos, the Monument to the Discoveries, which celebrates Portugal's glory during the Age of Discovery. This was where all those great sailing ships left from.
Originally, a temporary structure was built on this spot for the 1940 World's Fair. That structure was demolished in 1943. In 1958, a permanent structure was planned and in 1960, marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, the structure was completed.
By the way, that's Henry the Navigator leading the way at the point of the structure.
There are 33 figures total on the structure's West and East sides, which include Vasco da Gama, Alfonso the V, and Ferdinand Magellan. Sad, but true story of a recent conversation with a rather young, but highly educated young man. Chatting about our vacation, I mentioned the Age of Discovery; total blank look. I finally said, "you know Magellan, right?" "Of course, he's the person who invented the GPS, right?" Sigh.......
Anyway, Henry the Navigator is holding a sailing ship in his hands.......
It costs a couple of Euros to catch the elevator almost all the way to the top. You walk a couple of flights from there. It's a tight squeeze, but the view is wonderful. The photo of Jerónimos Monastery in my previous post was taken from there.
Here's another panoramic shot of Lisbon and the "25th of April" Bridge in the background (click to enlarge).
We had planned on taking the short ferry ride across the river to Porto Brandao, but having just missed the boat, we decided to just catch the trolley back to Central Lisbon to get something to eat. While walking to the trolley stop we noticed a promising looking restaurant called Restaurante Rosa dos Mares.
The server was very friendly and nice and there was a mix of tourists and locals in the shop. It was interesting, the locals ate in the back of the place while the tourists ate in the front.
The prices really weren't bad and of course the Missus wanted more sardines.
The Missus started with, duh, Caldo Verde (E 1.25), which She enjoyed....though I don't think She's ever met a bowl of Caldo Verde She didn't like!
For some reason, She really took to this simple potato thickened soup with greens.
Of course no real meal is complete without some Vinho Verde, right?
She also got here Sardinas Assadas, grilled sardines (E 6).
These were nicely done, better than what we had at Super Mario's. Moist, nice oil, rich, but not too fishy, good grilled flavor. There's something about the potatoes in Portugal.....it seemed like they had a more intense flavor. Maybe it was just being on vacation.
I got something called Bacalhao Rosa dos Mares (E 12).
Like they say, there's a recipe for Bacalhau for every meal of every day of the week. This was another one for the books. Basically nicely fried bacalhau topped withonions and peppers caramelized in vinegar. A tad too sweet for me, but the texture of the fish was nice and it wasn't too salty. The service was friendly, the Server helpful, and the food not bad.
Restaurante Rosa dos Mares Rua de Belem 2-4 Lisbon, Portugal
After lunch we headed back to central Lisbon, getting off at Praca do Comerico and taking a walk back to our room/apartment.
As with all trips to large cities, Lisbon had seemed so large upon our arrival, but was shrinking as every day passed. Still, we weren't too sure we'd be able to to find the restaurant where we'd be having dinner, which was located in the tiny, winding, streets of Alfama. One last meal in Lisbon before heading on to our next stop.
On our third day in Lisbon we took a little trip to Bethlehem, no not that Bethlehem, or even that Bethlehem...... Santa Maria de Belem, or just Belem is a district of Lisbon. Belem is translated as Bethlehem in Portuguese, but don't let the name fool you, it's not some quaint Biblical village. Rather , this is where the great explorers during the Age of Discovery, Ferdinand Magellan and Vasco de Gama set sail. Belem district is beset by museums, a large garden, and monuments galore. It is about three miles from downtown Lisbon, so hoofing it would be a bit far; even for the Missus. The Missus unable to resist a "good deal", decided that Sunday would be the day to go since admission to the museums are free on that day. I'm usually a bit wary of large crowds, but didn't want to miss stuff like this:
Or this (click on them to enlarge):
So we made sure to get to the #15B trolley stop at Praca de Figueira rather early, in relative terms since Jeronimos Monastery doesn't open until 10. We're glad that we caught the trolley from Praca de Figueria. By the time the trolley made it to Praca do Comercio it was packed solid and just skipped the stop with a crowd of unhappy people waiting.
Getting off the trolley in front of the Monastery de Jeronimos, we didn't enter right away, instead we walked over a block to the place I really wanted to visit, the legendary Casa Pastéis de Belém. If you're after the "original" Pastel de Nata, which you should call Pasties de Belem here, or be lynched, you need to visit Casa Pastéis de Belém. According to the story, the original pasties de Belem recipe was created by two nuns in Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Monastery of Jeronimos) and only served in the monastery until 1837 when this shop was established several priests. Since Belem was a central port, the fame of these egg tarts spread to all the Portuguese colonies across the world. If you know my twisted priorities, you'd understand how important it was to check this place out.
Since it was still before the 10 o'clock hour, when all the tourists and visitors would be hitting the area for free admission day, the place was buzzing but not crazy. We decided to do the "local thing" for a quick bite; order at the counter, then move over and eat at the counter standing up, which we'd grown fond of.
While waiting for our espresso and pasteis de Belem I took a walk around the rather maze0like interior of the shop.
Returning to the Missus we had a funny moment; the gentleman to the right in in the photo above was having some pasties with his wife. His wife grabbed the shaker of cinnamon and shook out a mushroom cloud of it on her pastry, causing the gentleman to cough and give her a rather dirty look. The woman could only laugh in amusement. He looked at me, I could only laugh and make the sound "poof", making the motion like a bomb exploding....he shook his head and laughed.
So how were these? Without a doubt the best we had on the entire trip! The pastry was served warm. Even though I read that it should be served cold; I disagree, these were wonderful warm. The crust was light and crisp, the custard wasn't too sweet and was relatively light....it seemed just perfect with a sprinkle (not a mushroom cloud) of cinnamon on it.
There's a reason this place goes through 10,000 a day and locals and tourists alike stand in line for these....they are delici-yoso!
Like most "legendary/cult" favorites there are stories about the the recipe. Supposedly this recipe is a closely held secret, known by only three people. According to Leite's Culinaria, the custard is made in a locked room! Unlike other places we've tried with "secret kitchens/recipes" (i.e. Crustacean) this place delivered. Business was really picking up when we left.
Casa Pastéis de Belém Rua de Belem 84 Lisbon, Portugal
After this, I was ready to get on that trolley and head back to Lisbon proper....but of course, we weren't leaving without seeing the Jerónimos Monastery.
If you're a fan of ornate and elaborate Manueline Architecture, there's no better example than Jerónimos Monastery.
I recall walking the arched walkways in awe. Eventually, it just seemed like so much excess, just over-the-top......then the Missus looked at me and said, "somebody had to pay for this....." Which was true, the monastery was funded with a 5% tax on commerce from Asia and the Orient.
I will say that the place is one big photo opportunity.
I did want to see the main chapel for one main reason. It was Sunday so services were being held. They did a nice job of handling things. We stood in line and some really nice attendants let us in a few at a time.
The interior of the main chapel is quite ornate. There was one thing I wanted to see. The great explorer, Vasco da Gama is buried here. His tomb is located in the lower choir area.
I remember writing a paper on Vasco da Gama when in elementary school, so this was one of those "meeting history" moments for me.
There's a bunch of museums in the area, but this was all we came to see. We had made some additional plans though.....
It seems that in recent years we're always travelling on the Missus's birthday, which She says is the "second" best gift She could get (the first being a Chanel something or other...). This year, I wanted to have a nice, a more fine dining type of dinner, something special. So I made reservations several months in advance at Assinatura, which seemed to be a rising star of a restaurant in Lisbon, supposedly elevating traditional Portuguese cuisine. This seemed like the perfect spot for us.
Getting there was easy, perhaps too easy, just a straight shot on the Blue line getting off at Marques de Pombal. Up the street and a few blocks later we passed the street Assinatura was located on. Over an hour early. It was breezy and there was a chill in the air, and we had time to kill, so now what? Well, it seemed to be the perfect time to initiate the "Lisbon Rule", whenever you start getting a bit confused and frustrated, it's time for some espresso and a Pastel de Nata. We walked up the street for a bit and found this shop near the Rato stop on the Yellow line.
It was warm and full of local color. This was a place to chat and take in the folks having a snack here. There were the three older women, dressed so primly, who sat by the front window, and were obviously locals who did this quite often, having quite the conversation. A gentleman and his daughter, stopping for a snack, talking in that animated, conspiratory tone that only fathers and daughters have, lively, tinged with laughter and teasing. After walking out of the shop, he hoisted her on his shoulder. And the quiet gentleman, beret tilted slightly on his head, who periodically opened the portfolio placed precisely aligned to the corner of the table, occasionally removing a pamphlet or a letter which he would open and read with what seemed like scrupulous detail.
We found this so refreshing....there was no texting, no iPads, no cellphones going off, no hipster, machiatic-soy latte-grande on my acai-kale drink thing going on. It seemed so organic and real that it felt like we had been beamed back to another time.
I don't remember much about the espresso, nor the pastries. What I do remember is really taking in the atmosphere which was priceless. Just the perfect break we needed at the right time.
Pastelaria 1800 Largo do Rato 7 Lisbon, Portugal
Fortified, we headed back to Assinatura arriving at about 720. There was already a line in place, of folks who had reservations! It seems that a good number of folks were with a large party who were seated downstairs near the kitchen at the Chef's table.
The dining room at Assinatura was just our speed; nice, but understated. The service during our meal was good, our Server, a very professional young lady really knew her stuff and managed her staff well. The timing was perfect, no extended delays. Just what you'd expect out of a restaurant of this caliber.
Assinatura has a regular menu and several tasting menus, three of which are "tasting menus", where you put yourself in the hands of the chef, which was fine with us. You can't mix and match, so we both had the same menu, the seven course (61 E), with one set of wine (35 E).
I have to say that things started out rather inauspiciously for us as the bread was cold and not particularly remarkable, though the olive oil from Alentejo was marvelously grassy and full bodied.
The amuse, which we were told was not "an amuse" since that is French, was a very nice pastry stuffed with wonderfully creamy and rich bacalhau. The salt cod really stood up well to this rich preparation.
Next up was an Octopus Terrine with Peanut Sauce.
There was also pineapple in this dish, which to our tastes was rather disjointed. The peanut sauce, was pretty much peanut butter and the octopus kind of had a chewy texture (we've had more tender octopus) which made for a kind of weird mouthfeel for us. The pineapple was too sweet without enough acid to cut through all of this and nothing stood out in terms of flavor.
Even worse was the Sardine.....
Which was so fishy, even the tomato couldn't cut it. Sadly, it was sardine season and this was probably the worst sardine we had during our entire trip.
Next up was a White Gazpacho of sorts with Bacalhau.
Unfortunately, nothing really stood out here. The salt cod was very mild, which I guess might be a good thing. The"gazpacho" was quite weak and didn't bring anything bold or acidic to the table.
The next dish was my favorite of the evening. It was swordfish with pea puree...which really doesn't sound that great......but it was possibly the best piece of swordfish, something I'm not fond of, that I've ever had.
The fish was so very tender and moist, meaty and perfectly flaky. The caramelized onions brought a perfect sweet-acidity. The prawns added an umami touch. But the one item on the plate that really surprised me in this combination of flavors was how the sweet and earthy pea puree just grounded the dish. Man, this was good!
Next up was another well done dish; what seemed like a homage to the Francesinha.
The crisp bread. the milky cheese, and that wonderful pork flavor that I associate with a good Bifana. This was a lovely dish.
After having a good share of tasting menus, I've found that dessert doesn't often live up to the savory dishes offered. This was an exception as the Missus totally loved it.
Along with dessert we were served a very, very good selection of three cheeses. Now if I was really on top of things I'd tell you what cheeses they were. All I can say is that they were really good with the aged Port I had!
All in all a good, but not great meal. I kind of think that if you're spending over two hundred bucks you'd expect a bit more, but perhaps that's just us.
Assinatura Rua Vale do Pereiro 19 A Lisbon, Portugal
Close to Rossio Station is a street full of somewhat touristy restaurants, with mildly pushy touts attempting to get you into their restaurants. This is Rua das Portas de Santo Antao. In one of the small side streets leading back to Praca dos Restauradores is one of the most well known and highly recommended restaurants in Lisbon, Bonjardim. There are actually two Bonjardim restaurants across the alleyway from each other....kind of strange. I read that the food at both places are the same so we just picked the newer looking one, sitting outside with a nice view of the graffiti.
Like most places in Portugal, there will be bread and other items placed at your table, if you touch, you pay. There was one item that looked especially good.
I just couldn't resist these Pastéis de Bacalhau, which were piping hot. Loved the flavor, not too salty, but wonderfully savory, light, moist, and tender, without too much filler. Very nice croquettes (4.8 E)
The Missus and I were still not super hungry after our morning pork-fest so we just kept to the point. Plus, we had dinner reservations at Assinatura. Bonjardim is renowned for their Frango Assado, roasted chicken, which borders on legendary. So how could I resist.....call it pollo ala brassa, kai yang, or whatever, I'm fascinated by different takes on spit roasted chicken. I ordered a third of a chicken, which wasn't very hot when it arrived.
The skin was rubbery, the flavor quite salty, but not bad. The meat was very dry, not quite what I was expecting. I loved the piri-piri sauce which I could probably drink. It was decently spicy with a nice kick to it.
The Missus had the chicken soup, which She said was delicious.
Overall, my most disappointing meal in Lisbon. I'd read about rather surly service, but our Server was decent if somewhat detached. Perhaps this was just a bad day/time.....
Bonjardim Travessa de S. Antao 11 Lisbon, Portugal
After lunch we headed back to Largo de São Domingos and decided to take some time to visit the church there.
This location has a tragic past which is reflected in it's somewhat spooky and haunting interior. Before the church was built, a convent as located here. This was also the site from where sentences were read out during the Inquisition. Even before then, an event called the Lisbon Massacre, where hundreds of Jews were tortured and killed. The site is marked by this memorial.
The church was rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake with material left from the ruins. Part of the church was destroyed in a fire in 1950 and you can still see the scorch marks from the fire on some of the pillars.
All of this adds up to give the church a somewhat eerie vibe.
Looking toward our left we noted the figure of two children in rather modern looking attire. This chapel had the most candles. We came to find out that this was a chapel to Our Lady of Fatima. The two children represent Jacinta and Francisco Marto, two of the three children, along with Lucia santos who witnessed the three apparitions at Fatima. Both children were victims of the 1918 Influenza epidemic. There are only two children because Lucia Santos was still alive when this chapel was constructed. She died in 2005 at 98.
The square itself is the gathering place for Lisbon's African immigrant community.
We spent a good amount of time in the church. Soon it felt like a good time for a nap.
As we walked back to our room, the Missus mentioned that the sky just seemed so much more blue in Portugal........
Man, is Lisbon quiet in the morning, at least on weekend mornings.
We were staying on Rua de Sapateiros, which I believe means Shoemaker Street. The skinny street ends at a gate. That's what it looks like from Rossio Square, which was dead quiet on this morning. Even the fountain hadn't been turned on yet.
It amazing what you see during quiet morning walks. We often miss things while walking in the hustle and bustle of streets like the usually busy with tourists Rua Augusta, a pedestrian only street crawling with restaurants trying to pull in tourists and folks trying to sell cheap sunglasses. This caught our eye on this morning's stroll.
One of our favorite things to do during early mornings is to visit the local market. I'd read about the Mercado de Ribeira (River Market) and thought it might be worth a visit. The front desk person had never heard of it and had to Google it. He gave us instructions on the kilometer or so walk to the market which was located almost across the street from the Cais do Sodre Station.
The area around the market was a bit gritty, there were many bars, and a couple of rough looking types, but it was daylight, and this was Lisbon, which seems very safe.
The market is located in a building with a distinctive Moorish style dome and has been in existence since 1882.
Having been to markets across the globe, I expected a hustling and bustling scene....but I guess for once, we were too early for everyone. Like I said, Lisbon is a late waking city.
Well, that was that....kind of disappointing, but still a bit interesting.
From here, we decided to catch the #28 tram to Alfama, the oldest existing and maybe the most picturesque of Lisbon's neighborhoods. We spent a bit of time trying to find the stop, so we went to the "Lisbon Rule". Whenever you start getting a bit confused and frustrated, it's time for some espresso and a Pastel de Nata. We found a little shop....there must be literally a thousand of these and had a very nice cup of espresso and a passable Pastel de Nata.
By this time I'd developed an espresso routine. Taste, then add preferably raw sugar until you get that balance of bitter and sweet. I actually preferred the espresso in Portugal more than what we had in Rome. I ended up mostly ordering Macchiatos there.
Anyway, one of the guys working here spoke excellent English and gave us directions up the hill to the tram stop. Like I said, the Lisbon rule, when starting to get frustrated, head for the nearest Pastelaria, it worked everytime.
We caught the tram, before all the tourists...though at this hour there weren't any and watched as it ambled up and down the hills.It's a neat ride.
We got off at the stop near the Church of Santa Luzia.
There's some really nice tilework to be found on the church. All done in the 18th century. This was really the first time we had a look at Azulejo, the famous Portuguese tilework up close.
Right on the other side of the church is the small square (Largo) of Santa Luzia. The views of the Tejo and Alfama are breathtaking.
Even with the morning sun blazing in your eyes. For some reason, the sky just seemed brighter in Portugal, Rome, and Malta.
It's really hard not to take a great photo here.......
You just have to follow the signs to really get around.
Alfama itself is a maze of interconnected streets which reminded me of the Medinas of North Africa. This area has been occupied since the days of the Visigoths. I was told that if "you really want to see "how Lisbon was, go here". And I'm talking about really old Lisbon. You see, on All Saints Day (November 1st) 1755, a huge earthquake, actually three earthquakes occurred while most of Lisbon was at Mass, followed by a tsunami. Alfama was one of the few areas spared. Lisbon was rebuilt, in a logical grid pattern. In Alfama, you get a feel of the rabbit's warren of streets, a practical defense against your enemies, the shade from the buildings built close to one another and the breezes directed from the streets kept things cool during hot weather.
The Castle of Sao Jorge - Saint George, you remember him, right? He's the guy who slayed the dragon is right through the gates. The story I read was that John I married an English Princess and since Saint George was a popular figure in both countries, he named this castle after him. Meanwhile, the other story goes that the Alfonso I enlisted the help of the Knights of the Second Crusade to aid in defeating the Moors. The knights prayed to Saint George who inspired them to victory. Nothing was opened at this time, and truthfully, we were just enjoying the vibe and colors too much to even entertain a museum or such.
There's a ton of graffiti in Europe. We kind of enjoyed the signs and graffiti in Alfama......
WE then decided to follow the tram tracks uphill and ended up in Graca District, which seemed more local and residential than Alfama. We followed a sign that said "miradouro" (of course) and ended up at a beautiful viewpoint.
You could tell how far we had walked from Sao Jorge Castle as we had a nice view......
THe Missus had seen "s church" earlier and wanted to find it. This turned out to be the São Vicente da Fora monastery. Which we eventually found......
Now this was Saturday and when I saw stands set-up right past the gate to the right of the monastery I knew we had found the Feira da Ladra, the "Thieves Market". No, it's not quite as romantic as it sounds. This was basically one gigantic flea market.
Reaching the end of the market we decided that finding the restaurant in Alfama that we had reservations for the next night might be a good idea. The twisting and turning streets seemed a bit confusing.
So we headed down those very streets, looking at various maps and a print out of the restaurant location. We started getting a bit frustrated.
So you know what time it was, right? It was time to enforce the "Lisbon Rule". We immediately stopped at a pastelaria...
And had a decent espresso and a Pastel de Nata. The really nice woman here sprinkled cinnamon on it, which I kinda liked.
And from here we got our bearings.....
We went from the obedient pooch.....
Past the raincoat mutt....actually, we saw several dogs dressed in jacket and raincoats....
And against all odds actually found the place. We then headed off in the direction we thought was correct and somehow ended up at the fortress like Sé (Cathedral) of Lisbon. Not quite sure how we made it here......
But we had.
It was then just a few blocks to Rua da Prata, a street we were familiar with, parallel to Rua Augusta and Rua de Sapateiros.
By this time I was getting a bit hungry. We had walked past a small restaurant with all type of pork parts displayed for the world to see in its window the previous day. This time, we decided to stop in.
The Missus, in Her typical way, took charge....She started asking the really nice guy manning the counter questions about the pork ear and other stuff.
In the end, the choice for Her was easy. After getting a taste of this She was sold.
And so it passed that I had suckling pig for breakfast......
The skin was crisp and not too hard nor think. Perhaps the meat was on the salty side, but it was moist, with a nice swine flavor. And it all screamed out for a "breakfast Sagres"........
But man does not live on roasted suckling pig alone..... there's also Chouriço, smoked pork sausage...in this case a whole deep fried version. Which was delicious as well.
You know, the Missus and I have been married for almost 15 years. After all that time affection and love are represented in sometimes different and subtle ways. Like when the Missus saved this for me......
This would have probably made for a nice "Breakfast of Champions" post if it weren't so long. Funny thing is, we realized later on, that the front of the shop didn't have a sign......
Oh well.....if you're on Rua de Prata, just look for the place with all the pig parts in the window!
I felt so satisfied after that wonderful bifana and a beer, that I didn't even complain when the Missus decided that we hadn't done enough walking for the day. She had decided that we needed to get on up to Chiado and Bairro Alto, Lisbon's bohemian and nightlife district. Luckily, the Missus didn't insist on climbing up that hill and we just walked past Rossio Station and the Avenida Palace Hotels.....
And catch a ride on the funicular, the Elevador da Gloria, using our Viva Viagem Card.
Which I was told has been snaking up the hill linking Baixa with Bairro Alto since 1885. A bunch of other tourists jumped on, the guy asking me "where is this going?" I told him, "up the hill....." He smiled and told me, "I really don't know where this is going, but it looks like fun...."
To the right of the funicular stop is the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcantara. One word I learned rather quickly was "miradouro" which meant viewpoint. Anytime we saw that word, we followed the signs..... usually ending in a wonderful sight like this.
This little park/garden was a nice place to check out the views of the city. It also helped to get us a little more oriented with our surroundings.
The narrow and rather congested streets down to Chiado are lined with Churches(of course), boutiques, and theatre's. This seems to be the place where the hip hang out.
At the end of Rua Garrett is a multi-floor mall. You exit head to the Sportszone and go downstairs to exit back in Baixa (thanks Rick Steves!). We did make a stop at H&M. We travel light. I personally had less than 6 kilos of clothes and shoes. My strategy is to pack light and if necessary, buy a jacket or something. Since there were Zara and H&M stores everywhere and it was in the 40's at night, I bought a hoodie for 10euros and the Missus a sweater for about the same price. We were set for the rest of the trip. We dropped by Pingo Doce and bought water....we were set.
We had booked our room at Lisbon Short Stay Apartments, which was basically a conversion. The room was decently sized with a kitchenette and there was even a washer and dryer on our floor. However, the place was rather dark and a bit funky, with kind of an industrial feel.
The staff was nice, but really couldn't provide a whole lot of information nor recommendations. Though they did provide a tiny map that included the metro routes which we kept the entire trip. It was time for dinner.......
There are a couple of things you need to know about eating in Lisbon and Portugal in general; folks don't eat until at least 730pm. You will be enticed by a bunch of "appetizers/bread/olives" put out in front of you. Note that these are not free, you will charged for whatever you touch; feel free to put them to the side and not eat. You won't be charged...we found that many places will ask if you want these and take them away if you tell them no. There are often two portion sizes offered on menus; dose and meia dose. We found that meia dose, literally a "half order" is usually enough to feed one as an entree.
We had dinner reservations for the next two evenings, so one this night we just wanted something simple and easy. We headed back up to Chiado, past some really touristy looking places, up stairs and a mildly steep climb. In a little alley on a side street we found a place I read about on Chowhound called Super Mario....really, it was named Super Mario.
Into that doorway past the little sign was a simple tiled restaurant.
Tables were simply covered with paper......this was just a nice and homey place.
As we peeked into the door, we saw three gentlemen having beers and pub grub. We weren't sure if they were "really" open, but the guys waved us in and pointed to a table and called out to the back. They also gave us bread with slices of pork on them....sharing their food with us! I really liked the folks in Portugal! We later offered to buy them a round, but they refused, telling our Server that they had to head home. We had lucked out....it started pouring right when we sat down.
We started off with a bottle of Vinho Verde....the verde doesn't really mean "green" in terms of color....it refers more to how "young" the wine is. This was light, slightly fizzy, and more sweet than dry.
The food at Super Mario can be best described by the locals who told us, "very typico......"
The Missus wanted to try Caldo Verde, a simple, but hearty soup thickened by potato, containing thin slices of kale.
For my first sit down meal in Portugal, it just seemed right that I had bacalhau. I hadn't had anything made with salt cod since I was a teenager. So I went with the Bacalhau Frito, fried bacalhau.
Nothing fancy, perfectly decent, salty, but not overly so, perhaps a bit too many bones for me. The rice....well, I never had decent rice in any dish in Portugal, that's just the way things went.
This was sardinhas (sardine) season, so the Missus would get that whenever She could. It looked fresh here.
The sardines were fresh, very nice....but man, those potatoes....in fact all the potatoes in Portugal taste, well, like really good potatoes.....possibly the best other than what we had in Peru.
We had killed the first bottle of Vinho Verde, with no problems, nor affects, so we ordered a second.
About this time a Korean woman who looked to be in her 30's entered the restaurant....this was pretty much a first for us. We always see Korean tourists traveling in tours or packs. This was the first time I saw one traveling solo. We shared a glass of wine with her. It just seemed like the right thing to do. She was very nice and indeed travelling solo. She told us, "I like to travel and don't have friends...." I'm sure she didn't mean literally. She was from Seoul and travelled all over Europe because, "I like to drink...." then telling us about how good Porto was. She had dinner at Super Mario's the night before and enjoyed it so much she decided to return.
While the food was nothing to write home about, we enjoyed our dinner at Super Mario. The service was nice, so was the vinho verde, and the Missus enjoyed he caldo verde. It was relaxed, the guys having drinks in the place were very warm and hospitable. It was a good first dinner to get things started.
Restaurante Super Mario Rua do Duque 9 Lisbon, Portugal
There was still fading daylight left when we finished dinner and walked down the hill. Lisbon seemed very safe, so we strolled around a bit, taking in a bit more......
We found a bakery run by Chinese and got some Pastel de Nata......
The crust was just wrong and the custard was too sweet and eggy. These were the worst of our time in Lisbon.
We headed back to our room, opened the window..... the immediate area was very urban and dark. We watched the street scene below. Folks heading home, dodging the drizzles, then the next wave of folks heading out for the evening.
I'd come to find that Lisbon sleeps and wakes late. I woke to folks laughing and yelling a couple times during the night....the last at 330am. Still, we were exhausted and the sleep did us good! We'd be having another full day tomorrow!
I'm going to try to do a better job in getting these posts done. This means that the posts will probably be rather long and jam-packed, I hope you don't mind.....
So this year we decided on Portugal, Rome, and Malta. Why? I'm not quite sure. Things usually start out as just throwing out a couple of places. We had given thought to heading back to Istanbul and perhaps the Greek Islands again, but in the end decided not to. And based on the recent happenings in Istanbul, we probably made the right decision. It was while having some linguica (Portuguese Sausage), that the Missus came up with Portugal. We also wanted to visit an island. If we had gone to Turkey, I'm pretty sure we would have headed to Cyprus. The previous year we had visited Rhodes and I was fascinated with the story of the Knights of St John, who were driven from Rhodes by the Ottomans, ending up in....you got it, Malta. So Malta it was. The Missus wanted another destination and somehow that ended up being Rome. After that, it was all about planning.........
Which is how we ended up getting off our flight in Lisbon. We'd come to find that it's really easy to get around in Lisbon. We bought a Viva Viagem card which covers all matters of public transport. You can charge it up by trip, by day, or do what we did, called "zapping". We loaded 15 Euros on each card and needed to add just 2 Euros added for the rest of our trip. The metro "red line" goes from the airport and intersects with all the other metro lines. We transferred to the green line at Alameda, getting off at the Baixa-Chiado station. I admit to being less than impressed as we walked out of the metro station. There was a ton of construction going on so the sidewalks were all dug up. The thin sidewalks and small worn streets and the aged buildings gave the place a dated urban look and feel. We were staying on Rua de Sapateiros street just a short walk from the metro station. Sine these were short stay apartments, I expected no sign and got none except a call button on a doorway on the rather dark street.
At 930, it was much too early and our room wasn't ready, it wouldn't be so until after 2pm, so we had a rather long day ahead of us.
I wasn't getting a real great vibe from the city. Though things started lifting as we passed a strange looking tower like object one block over. This was the Santa Justa Elevator. We really hadn't noticed it yet, but Lisbon, like Rome is built on 7 hills. The climb up these hills can be rather steep. This elevator, completed in 1901 links the Baixa district with the Bairro Alto district, and provides some great views for folks who decide to take the ride up. Even though you can use the Viva Viagem card to pay for access, we just never went for a ride....too many folks standing in line, plus the Missus would usually rather walk up the damned hill!
My dark, dank(it was drizzling off and on), and gritty opinion of Lisbon totally changed as we walked through the gate at the top of Rua de Sapateiros which opened up to lovely and bright Praca da Rossio (Rossio Square).
With the bronze fountain at one end, crowned with a column with the statue of King Dom Pedro IV, it's a wonderful bit of open space. Strangely, the Missus was most taken with the stone designs on the ground. She read that looking at these designs can actually make you seasick!
Close by was Rossio Station, which we were told was a representation of Neo-Manueline style, popular in the late 19th century.
We really weren't checking out local architecture though. We usually follow a certain pattern when arriving in a new town/city. Find our hotel, stow our luggage, and find water. We were told that there was a outlet of Pingo Doce supermarket close by and we were trying to find it. After walking around in circles for a while, I stopped and asked a young man having a smoke outside the back of a shop. He looked at what I had written, laughed, and displayed his name tag.....it said "Pingo Doce". It was right around the corner....we'd actually walked right past the rather discrete entrance to the market!
While in the market, we decided to have a cafe express (espresso) and a small pick-me-up snack. This would prove to be a rather important event. You see, the snack we had was a Pastel de Nata, a Portuguese Egg Tart.
Ever had an Egg Tart with Dim Sum? Does this look familiar? Portugal, along with Spain once divided up the world. Their reach extended to Macau and it's quite apparent that the Pastel de Nata evolved into the standard issue dim sum egg tart....which by the way, is not a favorite of ours. Thus we really weren't too excited about trying Pastel de Nata.....but damned if this wasn't too bad, even if it was from the counter of a market! The crust was light, crisp, like filo. The filling wasn't too sweet, nor was it too "eggy". It was the perfect foil for the espresso. From this point on, the Missus would make it a point to get Pastel de Nata, until She flamed out.
Energized by caffeine and sugar we headed back across Praca da Rossio to Praca da Figueira.
And up the street to the side. Here there were a couple of charcuterie shops and especially pungent shop.
It was a shop selling that iconic Portuguese ingredient; bacalhau, salt cod. I'd read that there are 365 different recipes using bacalhau, one for each day of the week. I was later told that there are actually exactly 1,095 recipes using bacalhau....one for each meal of the year!
At the top of the street we passed the Church of Sao Domingo, which we visited later on the trip. This area, called Largo de Sao Domingo is the gathering place for immigrants from Portugal's former African colonies.
Also located in the square was a place I just had to try......even though it was 1030 in the morning.
A Ginjinha is a well known "bar", I use the term loosely as it's basically a counter, that sells shot of the sour cherry liqueur called ginjinha. Mildly sweet, with a bit of a burn at the end, you can't leave Lisbon without trying one. I got mine without cherries, the Missus with....it turned out to be a bit strong for Her. But She enjoyed spitting out the cherry pits like everyone seems to do on the sidewalk in front of the place. I've heard that folks start drinking this stuff for breakfast, like at 7 in the morning.....
A Ginjinha Largo de Sao Domingos 8 Lisbon, Portugal
Fortified, we decided to head on down to the Rio Tejo, the Tagus river. But not before stopping here.......
For what else? Pastel de Nata.....the place was really hopping and just as is typical in Portugal, folks eat and drink standing up.
The Pastel de Nata here was the second best we had on this trip. The crust was light and flaky, the custard not too sweet, but rich. The espresso helped ward off any side effects that could have lingered from the ginjinha.
I'd come to learn that Confeitaria Nacional was once the royal bakery and is still run by the same family since they opened in 1829. We'd end up revisiting again since it was so close to where we were staying.
Confeitaria Nacional Praca da Figueira 18B Lisbon, Portugal
We ended up walking down Rua Aurea, "gold street", dodging the passing showers, to Praca do Comercio, the huge open square right across the street from the Tagus.
Unfortunately, the statue of King Jose I and the Arch were both undergoing maintenance and thus covered and surrounded by scaffolding. Regardless, we crossed the street and took some photos of the Tagus.
I was starting to get hungry and had a place in mind. So we headed back up to the Rossio area via the pedestrian only Rua Augusta......
Right across from Rossio Station was a restaurant I'd read about.
There are tables in this rather small restaurant, but the Missus and I walked up to the counter where all the locals were lined up. We'd eat standing up....this just seemed like the right thing to do.
There was just one item that I wanted here and the really friendly guy behind the counter knew exactly what it was.......he smiled and pointed to what the guy next to me was having and said, "you want that!" And he was right.....
He also asked, "beer?"....heck why not? It was noon somewhere in the world, right? Here in Lisbon it's usually Sagres. I did notice that in places like Porto and Sintra, folks preferred Super Bock. Sagres is really light and easy to drink.
What about the bifana? Well, it did seem kind of odd that folks enjoyed their sandwich with yellow mustard, but what the heck. I gotta say, this was simple, yet so good. The meat just ooozed porkiness. It looked tough, but was fairly tender....man the flavor was so good.
The bread was paired nicely with the pork; not too dense, slightly yeasty, but without interfering with the star of the show. The anti-pork Missus even loved this; though the yellow mustard grossed Her out. She preferred the spicy piri-piri sauce, basically a chili oil.
We watched the guy cooking the pork for the bifana on the way out and noticed that it was indeed fried. But it looked like it wasn't fried at a high temp. The next morning we walked by Beira Gare and found out an additional flavoring component; in the pot where the pork was fried up was a huge block of lard........
Even though we had some pretty good meals in Lisbon; this humble, but super tasty sandwich was my favorite.
Beira Gare Rua 1 Dezembro 5 Lisbon, Portugal
As we left the restaurant, the Missus told me, "it's time you paid off that pork, let's get going...." Like we hadn't already walked enough!
Postscript: After getting home I saw a rerun of Anthony Bourdain's Lisbon show. I cracked up, during the end of the show he's having a bifana....from Beira Gare....with yellow mustard!
For those who hung in till the end. Thanks for reading!
After an almost 24 hour trip, we made it home last night. Tired, but still excited over what we saw and ate, the Missus even more so over the weight I lost.....all that walking.
So while my internal clock gets adjusted and I catch up at work, here's a few clues as to the third country we visited. It was one with a close tie to Rhodes, which we visited last year....I know, I still have to get to those posts.
Though a small country, there's a ton of history here......the kinds of stuff I used to read as a kid. Knights, castles, a walled city, invading Turks!
The narrow streets and hills totally reminded me of San Francisco.
We visited one of the cathedrals in the city. Later that evening as we were passing by, we heard music emanating from the Cathedral.
We peeked in and saw several vocalists and an orchestra rehearsing. Instead of shooing us out, we were welcomed to sit and watch.
The next day we inquired about the concert and were told it was free!
So that evening we attended the performance that had an interesting history. It had only been performed once in the last hundred years! Where else can you attend a concert in a historic, 450 year old cathedral by the national philharmonic and choir for free?
We were especially surprised by the food. We hadn't hear much about this country's cuisine and was pleasantly surprised. Because of it's history, the chef's here seemed less burdened by too much tradition and we had dishes with quinoa and black rice. Still, the traditional and local food was excellent. I was especially surprised by how delicious the Fried Rabbit Liver and Melon salad was.
We also spent a couple of nights in a village where 70% of the country's fishing boats are located.
The colorful traditional blue and yellow fishing boats are still adorned with the "Eyes of Osiris". We found out that this boat design goes back to Phoenician times.
Of course the seafood was excellent.
The traditional items like Horse Stew were excellent as well.
We loved the people here. Much like the folks in Portugal, they are warm and friendly....and some, like the baker who we found down a small flight of stairs tending a 168 year old wood burning stove have large personalities.
We ordered a pizza with traditional ingredients that was very good and got his life story to boot!
All in all, it was a fantastic visit.
Even though the country is small, there's a ton of history. We managed to snag reservations for a UNESCO protected site that allows only 60 visitors a day. It was amazing.
Soon we headed back to busy Rome.
Sadly, Michelin starred Metamorphosi had to cancel our reservations because of some special event. We ended up having a wonderful meal anyway. Here's the fried lamb's brains.
We ended our trip in a town outside of Lisbon. The setting was almost out of a fairy tale, King's, Queen's, castles, and even a palace on top of a hill.
Since it was highly recommended that we take the bus up the mountain, the Missus decided that we should climb walk up.
We had quite a time!
I'll need a couple of days to regroup and recover. So until then, Cathy's still in charge. See you again shortly.