Welcome to PSLetsTravel! Thanks for following along on our journey. It was a lot harder than I thought to sit down and dedicate the time to write this first post. We’ve been so focused on eating, drinking, exploring and enjoying as much sunshine as possible since we got here, but it was cold today, so I took it as an opportunity to catch everyone up (before more eating and drinking).
Wow, what a week in a fabulous city. I’m so glad I googled “warmest place to go in Europe in January” all those months ago and made Lisbon our first stop. It’s gritty, in an authentic, lived-in kind of way. The food is simple and fresh. Wine is cheap and delicious. The people are friendly and proud, and want to share everything they love about their city and culture with you. Honestly, there’s nothing we don’t like, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that everything is so affordable either. Like appetizers, entrees and a bottle of wine for 35 euros affordable.
We arrived in Lisbon before sunrise under dense morning fog, so we didn’t see much on the way from the airport to our apartment. But that didn’t matter. Our taxi driver told us as much information about the city as he could in that 20-minute drive. At 6:30 a.m. I love these people.
He dropped us off in front of our apartment building in the Alfama neighborhood – the oldest district in Lisbon, which, being the oldest major city in Western Europe (1200 b.c.) means this area is really, freaking, old. Most of Lisbon was destroyed in an earthquake in 1755, with the exception of Alfama, which was largely unscathed, so much of the original Moorish architecture still stands. Apparently the Moors were really small back then, because we could barely fit through our door. And this door is on the bigger side, as far as front doors go here.
This apartment was the first one I’ve booked using HomeAway, and what. a. find. By European standards, we have a ton of space – a large living room with a Juliet balcony overlooking the narrow lane below, a separate alcove for the ‘bedroom,’ and we even have a small closet. The kitchen could be wider, but Pat was thrilled to see a gas stove and oven. Chefs really geek out over the darnedest things. From our kitchen window, we can see a 17th century church, the Igreja de São Vicente de Fora (Monastery of St. Vincent Outside the Walls).
Here are some highlights from our first week:
Getting familiar with, and lost in our neighborhood.
Alfama sits on a hill overlooking the Tejo river and has stunning views from everywhere, colorful Moorish architecture, a ton of art, fado music bars and trendy cafés. The neighborhood was originally built outside the city walls of Lisbon, and as such, was a hub for drunks, prostitutes and thieves. Luckily for us, Alfama has now become one of the safest places in all of Lisbon, (with the exception of a few drunks, but hey, when in Europe) but it hasn’t lost its funky charm. It’s an incredible place to get lost. You could (and we do) spend entire afternoons walking its maze of steep, narrow streets, listening to little old ladies yelling at their grandkids while they hang their laundry on the lines, and trying to dodge the Tuk Tuks that come flying around every corner.
We’ve ventured all over this neighborhood and are finally starting to feel more ‘local’ (and a lot of pain in our quads and calves from all the hills and steps).
São Jorge Castle
Our second day, the goal was to make it to the castle at the top of the hill that overlooks all of Alfama. It looked like it was close to our apartment, and it probably was, but after a few wrong turns we ended up spending most of the afternoon trying to get there. On a positive note, getting lost here is just as enjoyable as getting where you’re going.
The castle is one of the main tourist attractions in Lisbon (n. tourist trap). It was the ancient seat of Portuguese power for more than 400 years, and the oldest parts date back to the 2nd century. The existing structure, however, is the result of a hefty restoration project that dates allllllll the way back to the 1920s. A little anti-climactic. But the view was the real deal, and a great way to get acquainted with our temporary new home.
Feira da Ladra – Lisbon’s Flea Market
The Feira da Ladra or ‘Thieve’s Market’ takes place on Tuesdays and Saturdays in Alfama, right down the block from our apartment. These types of markets have been in Lisbon since the 12th Century, and the name Feira da Ladra was first coined in the 17th Century. Most of the traders are gypsies, and they sell EVERYTHING. I’m not kidding. Keurig? Got it. Switchblade? Sure. Dolls, Batteries, a broken guitar, old U.S. army uniform? Yup. First-born child? Probably, for the right price.
It was complete chaos, but a ton of fun. Street performers were playing fado tunes, and the cafes lining the market were bustling with activity. We bought some produce and a few souvenirs, then settled in at a little Italian cafe to people-watch.
This cafe. Holy crap.
I realize how ridiculous it is that the food I’m going to rave about most so far in Portugal is from an Italian place, but it was incredible. They specialize in house-made focaccia, and it’s pure heaven. I had a cappuccino, and we split a prosciutto sandwich (standard, with cream cheese, arugula…but the BREAD. OMG.) and a “Rocha” sandwich (Portuguese pear and nutella).
You guys, I can’t even explain how good it was. But we’ve been back twice this week.
Parque Eduardo VII & Tram 28
We decided to really test our navigating skills and walked about 45 minutes to the northern side of the city to find the station where we could buy our metro card, and finally ride the tram (aka, give our legs a break). We stumbled upon several new neighborhoods along the way, and ended up at the Parque Eduardo VII, a beautiful park overlooking the entire city. It’s a perfect place to lounge in the sun with a good book…or a bottle of Vinho Verde – more on that later.
With metro card in-hand, we hopped on the famous number 28 tram. This little yellow engine that could is the poster child of Lisbon. It’s on every t-shirt, tote bag and postcard. Since the steep, narrow and windy route isn’t suitable for modern trams, these historic ‘Remodelado’ trams, dating back to the 1930s, have to get the job done instead. It’s as good as any white-knuckle ride, that’s for sure. I recommend eating lunch afterwards.
Baixa/Chiado Walking Tour
If you haven’t done a SANDEMANs tour yet, we highly recommend it. They are in 18 major European cities, and the walking tour was free (tip your guides!)! Our tour guide, Cecilia, was fantastic and showed us all around the Chiado neighborhood. She was four feet tall and kept yelling at the group to walk faster and have more energy. We were fast friends.
TimeOut Market Lisboa
We spent an afternoon exploring Bairro Alto – an older, residential area with narrow cobblestone streets, full of bars, restaurants and night clubs. It’s definitely the core of Lisbon’s nightlife ‘scene’ – not that we would know, we’re still not sure what Lisbon looks like after midnight #sleepislife.
The TimeOut Market Lisboa in the Cais do Sodré neighborhood was another happy accident that resulted from not knowing where we were going. A concept created in 2014 by the famous publishing company of the same name, this historic market hall is now home to 24 restaurants, eight bars and dozens of shops. It’s a collective of the best food in Lisbon, all under one roof.
“If it’s good it goes in the magazine, if it’s great, it goes in the market.”
I’m pretty sure Pat and I walked around in silence for more than 15 minutes, mouths open, probably drooling, before we found the happiest place on earth: A food stall dedicated to CROQUETTES. My obsession with croquettes runs deep and spans decades. If heaven doesn’t have croquettes, I don’t want to go. You get it.
They’re not very photogenic, but we ordered half a dozen of these magical little balls of cornmeal with goat cheese, game sausage, chicken, pork and beef. We went back immediately the next day. They make CROQUETTE SANDWICHES for God’s sake.
Looking for more deets on our Lisbon eats? As some of you may know, my fiancé, Pat, is a professional chef, and I am studying to be a certified sommelier. Later this week, we will be launching the ‘Braising & Bubbles’ section of the blog, devoted to all things food and wine. We’ll give you the down-low on where we’ve been eating, what Pat has been cooking, wine tastings and more on a weekly-ish basis. Check back soon for our first Lisbon food & wine round-up!
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