Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lisbon Travelogue

Finally, our last stop - Portugal's capital city, Lisbon. Several people we know came here before us and had a lot of positive things to say so we were excited about spending our last few days on what would probably be a high note.  (Not that there had been so many low notes thus far!)

First off, we ditched the rental car.  It served us well in our more rural wanderings, but we definitely didn't want it in Lisbon.  This turned out to be even wiser than we'd guessed.  The apartment we reserved, in the Alfama, sat on a square which was literally completely impossible to access by car.  It had no fewer than five exits, all of which were stairs.  I could not possibly have been happier with this arrangement, although I did feel a bit bad because my father-in-law has a bum knee and I hadn't quite realized how stairsy the apartment was.  To top it off, we rented the top floor apartment (hey, it had two bathrooms and a view) so it probably wasn't so fun from his perspective.  For me, though, it was ideal beyond measure.  I think my tourist dream is a dense, lively city without a car in sight. Stairs, since they feel so cozy somehow, just add to the attraction for me. The Alfama might be the closest I ever get to this, and once I started to realize it, I couldn't wait for the next morning to get out and explore every nook and cranny in the daylight.  We ate in that evening with goodies from the grocery store.  The apartment was very tiny, but had two floors and two bathrooms, so it felt so private and awesome.

The next morning we split up from D's inlaws so everyone could enjoy the day at their own pace.  They left first, and we went out shortly thereafter.  Our first stop was a bakery a couple of corners away for breakfast.  I got a tea and pastry that I don't remember, and D ordered coffee and some kind of pastry they had to cut open and pour fresh hot chocolate sauce into.  Sadly, he didn't get to enjoy it fresh, because as he sat down he realized that he was beginning a nasty migraine.  I joined him on a bench outside after wrapping everything up and getting his drink repackaged to go.  We sat on the bench for a while as we waited for him to feel well enough to walk back to the apartment.  What really got me was that people walking past showed concern for him!!  He was just bent down holding his head, and that was enough for them to ask if he was okay.  I've seen friends barf in public in Germany and no one gave a shit except to mock how it must have been due to alcohol.  I don't care if it's ingenuine, it's really appreciated to be recognized in your suffering.

We spent the rest of the morning in the apartment, then ventured out when he was feeling slightly better.  We wandered the tiny stairs and alleys of the Alfama for quite a while.  People kept stopping to give us directions that we didn't ask for. It was very nice, but hard to fully appreciate when one of us was unwell. We somehow wound up in the immigrant-filled Mouraria neighborhood, where we saw several tempting restaurants including a Pakistani one.  D wasn't ready to try to eat, yet, though, and considering the crazy winding streets we never found it again.  By the time he felt ready, we were near the cathedral, where we ducked into some cafe that someone had recommended in our apartment's guest book.  You could tell right away when you walked in that it was the kind of generically, internationally hip place that the Lonely Planet likes to list - and sure enough, we checked and it was in there.  We ordered a small lunch and they brought the customary olives out.  D had some and claims to have immediately felt better, and now considers olives to be a sort of medicinal food. :)

In the afternoon we branched off into Baixa, a flat neighborhood with gridded streets that reminded us very slightly of Chicago.  For dinner, we met up again with D's parents and walked with them to Faca & Garfo, a restaurant off the super-well-traveled square at the top of the famous elevator - recommended to us by the Regensbloggers and also listed in Lonely Planet.  Sadly, it was closed because it was Sunday!  We were all hungry and didn't want to hash out some complicated restaurant-finding plan, so we ate at some very mediocre place across the street which seemed to be feeding off Faca & Garfo's closure (we saw many Lonely Planets in the hands of patrons there).  A little wine made us not really care, and we followed it up with shots of ginjinha (a local cherry liqueur) in chocolate cups at a streetside stall.

The next day we wandered up to the castle at the top of the Alfama, but the admission was a little steep considering our low-to-medium castle interest level so we continued onward, crossing back through Baixa and stopping for yet more pastries near Praça do Comercio, between the Baixa and the waterfront.  Pastries seemed to be more expensive in the Baixa.  We met up with D's parents again and took the bus out to Belém, where we were told to check out the monastery, the Tower of Belém, and the original bakery that makes pastéis de nata, the tiny flaky little custards we'd been eating all over Portugal.  The bus was a little extra crowded because the tram on that same route was for some reason out of service.  It wigged out my (suburban/rural) in-laws, and even though we'd all paid for multiuse public transit cards to make the round trip, when they came back to Lisbon (without us - we wanted to see more) they just got a cab.  The monastery was closed so we had to be content with the outside.  The pastries were delicious and the service was great.  The Tower of Belém was much cooler than I had imagined, just standing alone on the waterfront.  It didn't hurt that the sun was getting low and making it particularly attractive.

D and I wanted to see a bookstore on one of those "most beautiful bookstore" lists that always circulates on the internet.  According to a map it was near a giant bridge situated somewhere between Belém and Lisbon.  We got out at the appropriate bus stop, but could not find the place.  We asked tons of people for directions and no one spoke a lick of English.  Finally, after having gone past it already 3 times, we "found" it.  It had no signs on the outside and looked like a cafe from the street.  And was closed for Monday.  Portugal is really dead on Mondays...if you go there over one, don't plan anything for that day!!  It was still cool to see a very non-touristy neighborhood, especially with the massive, beautiful bridge looming overhead.  (See photos.) We ended the night at a restaurant of my father-in-law's choosing which smelled really awesome because they cooked with a wood stove.  The food was pretty small considering the prices.  That place in Estremoz remained the trip winner, as we all flew out the following morning.

I'd go again, and I'd stay in the Alfama again.  Loved just being there.  No need to sightsee.  Just be in the streets and eat the pastries and be there.

TL;DR: Walking around was our activity of choice in Lisbon. Don't plan anything for Mondays in Portugal. Olives cure migraines.  Look at the photos because when you just wander, the photos say more than could ever be written.
Lisbon Nov 2012


  1. re: olives, damon's probably on to something! they say the people in the Mediterranean are so much healthier and live much longer, and they eat tons of olives! olive oil = super good for you.
    re: that sad restaurant next to Faca & Garfo, there's totally places like that i've been to. i lived near this bakery that was EXTREMELY popular, with lines down the block on the weekends, and around the holidays they closed for luxuriously long amounts of time, and suddenly the coffee shop two doors down was PACKED and OUT OF ALL PASTRIES. i liked that shop already, so i was always like, "damn that bakery being closed!"


  2. Faca & Garfo AND the monastery were closed?! Dude, I'm sorry - it sounds like our recommendations were all busts. Sorry about D's migraine, although his olive breakthrough is pretty cool.

    Hey, did you manage to get any fresh, warm pastéis? Because they're all good, but at one place, they had just come out of the oven and were warm and almost liquidy inside. It was heaven.

  3. @Sara - come by, we have some chocolate cups and ginjinha at our house which need to be consumed before we move!

    @Sarah - they are serious about relaxing on Sundays & Mondays! We did have warm pastéis at the place in Belém and they were incredible. Man...hungry again.


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