By: Megan Walker
I was fortunate to celebrate my 27th birthday in Lisbon, Portugal. Lisbon has always been high on my list of future travels, and when Russell and I moved to A Coruna, Spain, the logistics of going were too easy not to finally make the trip. The city was lovely with a beauty unique to itself, separating it from the rest of the cities in Europe we have visited.
In Europe, you’re taught to always look UP since the ceilings are often painted with historic tales by the hands of legends, but in Portugal, it also pays to look DOWN at the Portuguese Pavement. Sidewalks, plazas, and atriums are beautifully constructed with small stones creating striking images. The Portuguese’s use of functional art continues through their love of ceramic tile. Across the city, your eyes can feast on buildings and signs lain with brightly decorated tiles.
Our favorite way to see any city is to walk. Walk everywhere! And luckily for us, Lisbon offers the walking tourist some precious gems. Beyond the ceramic tiles and pavement, Lisbon is blessed with an abundance of “Miradouros” or look-out points. Situated high on a hill overlooking the Tagus River, Lisbon is the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine with friends and watch the sun slowly disappear behind the fiery red roofs of the city. We recommend heading to the Miradouro de Graca to enjoy the sunset or the Miradouro de Santa Luzia to look down over Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest district.
The Portuguese food was delicious enough to have us already planning our next trip back. For all the soup lovers out there, the traditional and simple Caldo Verde is a treat. The punch of flavor had me using all the powers within me not to lick the bowl! Don’t get too full though, you have some very fresh seafood waiting for you and the best part is it’s affordable! Walking around downtown Lisbon we accidentally stumbled upon the obscure Floresta de Santana Restaurant and over-indulged in heaps of fresh fish and wine. We ordered whopping portions of Salmon and Codfish, typical of the region, for 6 and 7 euro. We paired it off with a jug of wine for just 1.50 euro.
We had similar experiences throughout our trip. If you walk a couple streets off any main drag you can order a Menu of the Day, which includes a drink, first plate, second plate, dessert and coffee, for just 7 euro. Lisbon will have you walking around with full tummies and full wallets!
Take my advice and throw that diet to the wind, because you’re going to want to indulge in a piece of heaven called, a Pastel de Nata, also known as The Belem Pastry. These little treats have quite a reputation, and trying one was at the top of my to-do list. Although you can find them all over the city, I wanted my first Belem pastry to be from the famous Pasteis de Belem pastry shop. We arrived at the bakery just in time to see tour buses unloading a herd of senior-citizens at the front door of my pastry heaven. Even though I had accepted the fact I would have to stand in a very long line amongst other tourists, I hadn’t predicted I would be throwing elbows with a ruthless older generation. After a couple of sustained bruises, I received my two warm pastries much quicker than I had imagined. I sat in the park across the street and devoured the creamy custard of egg, milk, sugar, and cinnamon baked in a buttery flaky crust. After my first bite, I knew the battle had been worth it. For more information on the pastries’ history visit http://www.pasteisdebelem.pt/en.html.
Things To Do
Lisbon is home to a plethora of monuments and museums, including more modern establishments such as the Fashion Museum and Museum of Contemporary art. We decided our best option to see it all was to purchase a Tourist Card at the tourism office, one perk to being a tourist. For 18.50 euro, we received free and discounted entrance fees to the most popular Lisbon attractions as well as unlimited usage of the metro system. This includes the famous Tram 28 through the Alfama district and the train to Cascais Beach, which is about 45 minutes outside of town.
Unfortunately, Russell and I are stunted in the area of art history and critique. In Europe, we often walk out of museums feeling like we “missed the message”. So in Lisbon, we chose the Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, in hopes that the “coming of age” pieces might speak more clearly to us. After perusing the exhibitions, I wouldn’t say we found any answers, but we did experience a vast range of emotions from laughter to complete horror. We left the museum…stunned, yet talking about the pieces, which is more than the shared silence we usually experience. For that reason, I would recommend a visit to this unique house of contemporary art.
We spent the last part of the afternoon strolling down Rua Garrett, a street populated with upscale clothing stores, small boutiques, and some historic Lisbon establishments. We stopped for a beer at the iconic Café Brasileira with prime real estate for people watching and then stumbled upon The Bertrand Bookstore, the oldest bookstore in the world, open since 1732.
Every vacation has its saddest day…the last day. Like most final days, ours came much too quickly. Russell and I chose to spend the entirety of the day outside of the Lisbon center visiting the Belem neighborhood and Cascais Beach. Belem is probably most noted for its Belem Tower, built in the early 16th century at the mouth of the Tagus River. Visitors enter the tower daily for views of the river and to experience the impressive architecture of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just down the river from the Belem Tower you will find the Padrao dos Descobrimentos statue overhanging the river, and the Jeronimos Monastery, also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Belem has plenty for a new visitor to see and do. Slightly exhausted from the day’s events, we hopped on the train for a short ride out to Cascais Beach, where we sunbathed on soft sand, relished in the beauty of our afternoon haven, and reflected on the awesomeness of our trip. I couldn’t have asked for a better city to celebrate my birthday in!