Coming back from our recent Portugal trip, Marc and I both agreed that it has earned its spot as one of our favourite countries in Europe. I wish I had discovered it sooner! Lisbon, although a capital city, had a happy mix between a bustling city and a laid-back, relaxed atmosphere. Throw in some pretty coastline views, cobble-stoned alleys, azulejo tile-decorated buildings and great seafood, how can you not fall in love with this place? The relatively cheaper costs and lack of tourist crowds compared to other capital cities in Western Europe was a bonus!
Lisbon is very hilly, but it didn’t bother me much since the beautiful tiles plastered on the side of buildings served as a good distraction. These tiles, called azulejos, were introduced to Portugal by the Moors in the 15th century then artistically adapted to reflect the life and heritage of Portugal. From afar, the buildings seem to be covered in pastel-coloured paint, but up close, you see the varying intricate tile-work, as if each building was a different person with an unique personality.
Exploring Alfama District
One of the most memorable regions we visited was Alfama. It’s also the oldest district of Lisbon and one of the few areas that survived the devastating earthquake in 1755. Getting lost in this neighbourhood is easy, even for a great navigator like Marc!
Here, you won’t see perfectly preserved houses and streets because it’s where people live – where laundry hangs from balconies, the smell of grilled sardines makes you salivate and the echoing sound of Fado music brings out nostalgia even if you don’t understand the lyrics. Walking down the narrow cobblestone streets, you can’t help but feel as if you’re stepping into a time capsule, especially when an old-styled tram passes by…
Riding Tram 28
These historical carriages are a century old and all over the city. But the yellow tram 28 is the most famous since it rolls through popular sightseeing regions like Alfama, Baixa and Graça. Sure, it’s crowded, you may get stepped on, or accidentally get hit in the groin by other passengers (yes, that actually happened to Marc), but it was also cool riding the carriage as it lurched up and down the steep hills and navigated through very narrow streets.
Tips: Ride the Tram 28 early morning or evening to avoid the crowds. Tram 15 offers similar experience without the long wait to get on or the need to press yourself with others inside the tram.
Belém is a region west of Lisbon where I tasted the legendary Pastel de Nata at Pastéis de Belém. Is it bad that my biggest reason for going to Belém was for these custard tarts? *Oink.* I had high expectations since they have been selling these tarts for over 150 years!
It’s loud and chaotic inside the bakery but really amusing to see as well, especially the little old Portuguese ladies yelling over people to put in their orders. To bypass the long take-out line, we went to the seating area to get served. When they brought out two hot tarts, we sprinkled cinnamon and powdered sugar on top and devoured them in no time. Then we ordered six more to go. But I kept smelling them from the box, so I ate some more in the park across from the bakery. The best part about these tarts was that they didn’t taste overly eggy. Even Marc loved them and he’s usually not a big fan of egg tarts. Totally worth the trek to Belem!
Obviously there’s more to Belém than just Pastéis de Belém! My favourite was the Belem Tower (Torre de Belém), built to guard Lisbon from sea bound attacks. I loved the Manueline style, a style that coincided with the peak of Portuguese maritime power and used nautical themes like ropes.
Then there’s the massive and extravagant Jeronimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos). It was once populated by monks of the Order of St Jerome, whose spiritual job was to guide sailors and pray for the king’s soul. I couldn’t stop staring at the ornament details!
One of the main reasons I loved Lisbon was the seafood. Marc and I really got a good dose of omega-3’s from having fish every day. I loved the food so much that I documented everything we ate! See photos here 🙂
Thanks for reading et à la prochaine!