Lisbon. Oh, Lisbon! We don’t want to play favorites… buuuut… ok, you were totally our favorite. We liked Dublin and Paris a lot, but we LOVED Lisbon. While it took me two days to warm up to Paris, I fell in love with Lisbon in the short cab ride from the airport to our hotel. I was in love the second I laid eyes on all the colorful buildings and the tiled sidewalks. We enjoyed the laid back culture and of course the food (seafood for days). Lisbon doesn’t take itself too seriously and isn’t trying so very hard to be fancy. It’s charming and lively and knows how to have a good time. Plus, did I mention the colors?!
Let me back up and start from the beginning. We flew into Lisbon from Paris on an early flight, arriving around 9:30 a.m. and went straight to our hotel to drop off our bags. We were staying at the Holiday Inn Express (again using points), which was in a great location about a 20-25 minute walk from all the action, very modern, with big rooms and free breakfast. We even had a king bed(!!!) that was soft(!!!) — this is super rare in Europe. So anyway, we actually couldn’t check in yet, so the front desk recommended we walk down the street towards the main part of town for lunch. We had a quick snack at some random sidewalk cafe and then kept walking until we reached the River Tagus, which is, of course, gorgeous.
One thing about Lisbon: it’s hot. My phone said it was like 77 F, and I know what 77 feels like — in Cleveland it’s what I call “tolerably warm” because anything under 80 is usually wear-jeans-and-bring-a-sweater weather to me. 77 in Lisbon felt like 97. So we made a quick pitstop to buy me a new dress. Much better. But keep that in mind. For some reason temperatures just feel hotter in Lisbon than they do anywhere else. Or maybe that’s just me.
That first afternoon we had signed up for a food and wine walking tour, which Annie of MontgomeryFest had recommended (thanks!). We figured a food tour in Lisbon on our first day would be the perfect way to see the city and learn about the food and culture all in one fell swoop, since we knew nothing at all to start with and only had two days to spend there. (We also only knew about three words of Portuguese, all thanks to my mother who had lived in Brazil and used to drop random Portuguese words sometimes, but we were fine with English and a few “obrigados” everywhere we went.)
The tour was amazing and we had so much fun. We started with codfish cakes, which are kind of like fried crab cakes made with cod, and they are DELICIOUS. So delicious, in fact, that when the tour was over we went back to the little shop A Tendinha do Rossio on Rossio Square and ordered more.
We also had green wine (vinho verde), which is a regional speciality that is only produced in Portugal. Like champagne, it can’t be called vinho verde unless it’s Portuguese. It’s also slightly bubbly and of course, I loved it. Oh, and when they say “wine tasting” on this tour they mean “here is a giant glass of wine and probably you can have seconds.” There were SIX wine tastings. So needless to say the whole group was pretty tipsy by the end of the three-hour tour. Other things we ate were various kinds of cheese along with sweet marmalade that is made from quince instead of orange, Portuguese sausage, some brandy made with tart cherries, and various other kinds of wine. Everything was amazing. The only thing we didn’t like so much was the port. Eesh. That’s strong.
We learned a ton about Portugal that we didn’t know before, like that Portugal is the 3rd largest consumer of cod in the world — and they don’t even have cod in Portugal! They get salted cod shipped in from Scandanavia! This is a tradition that’s been around since back before Christopher Columbus, when there was no refrigeration and all the fish was salted to keep it fresh, and it’s still the way everyone likes it today. In order to cook the cod, it has to be soaked in a water bath for three days, changing the water frequently. It’s quite a process! I thought it was fascinating, and the whole tour was just great.
Our tour group was made up of some people from England, Australia, Canada and then two other American couples traveling together, about 16 people total. Ugh. You know that “ugly American” stereotype? We experienced it firsthand with these guys. They kept going on about their political views, and it was so embarrassing and uncomfortable. Our tour guide handled it well but it was awkward. Ugh. So, lesson one: don’t be that guy. There’s no reason to ever be that guy, no matter what the situation. Talking politics to strangers is NEVER a good idea, but it’s really, really not something you should do in a foreign country. No one wants to hear it.
So anyway, we love love loved our tour, and other than those few people, everyone else was really nice. Afterwards we a) went back to the codfish cake place to pick up some more, and b) decided more wine and beer would be a good idea, so we stopped at a sidewalk cafe and just watched the world go by for a while. It was a random Tuesday night and Rossio Square (the central square in Lisbon) was packed with people and everyone was having a great time. It was really fun. On our walk back to the hotel, we passed another sidewalk cafe where everyone was dancing, and it was fabulous.
Seriously, this is real life. It’s like a movie.
On day two it rained. And then it rained some more. We figured we’d seen a lot the day before and weren’t anxious to go out in the rain, so we hung out in our room until we got hungry for lunch. Then we walked up and down all the hills to the Bairro Alto neighborhood, which is a really fun area full of shops, restaurants, bars and, of course, more hills, and headed to Flower Power for lunch. It’s a super cute place that’s half flower shop/half cafe, with delicious food, so it was pretty much like my perfect place. I had a salad and Andy had meatballs, and then we split a piece of Lisbon’s famous flour-less chocolate cake, which is well worth the fame, if you ask me. They call it “the world’s best chocolate cake.” I’d say it’s kind of like a mix of cake and pudding, and it is amazing.
After lunch we made our way up and down the hills to Castelo de Sao Jorge, a castle that dates back to the 11th century. From there you have a clear view of the whole city and the river, and it’s spectacular, even in the pouring rain. It finally stopped raining while we were at the castle and there were peacocks running around all over the place that I could not stop taking pictures of.
Then we walked back down through Rossio Square, while I was still snapping pictures of every gorgeous tile on the side of every building and every pretty colored wall the whole time. I’m obsessed. Even the sidewalks are gorgeous in Lisbon. Pink sidewalks, for real?!
A lot of the buildings and streets have an old, worn, chippy feeling that I find so beautiful and sort of comforting in a way, like a well-worn blanket. You can really see the Moorish influence in all the tilework and use of color. It’s stunning and so inspiring.
For dinner we went to Fabulas Cafe. This is the kind of place you plan on being for a while. We had read reviews ahead of time saying the service is slow (slower than usual for Europe means really slow), so we were totally ok with it when that was true. We had nowhere to be. We ordered a cheese plate appetizer, with marmalade of course, and a pitcher of sparkling sangria, YUM! For dinner we split a smoked salmon sandwich and a giant bowl of cod risotto that was amazing. We really wanted another piece of chocolate cake but were just too full.
We were only in Lisbon for two days, but I’m sure it’s pretty clear by now how we felt about it. It is a magical place and we’re already talking about wanting to go back. Like, I want to go back today. Looking at these pictures makes me really want to go back and at least be able to take pictures with my camera when it’s not broken, since that happened like 2 days before we left for vacation. Thank goodness for iPhones.
We especially want to explore more of the Portuguese coast, to visit some of the smaller beach towns… and to eat more codfish cakes. As soon as we got home (after a quite unpleasant couple of flights) we went to the grocery store for cheese, marmalade and vinho verde. At least we can have a little taste of Portugal at home. I may also paint our house pink. Don’t tell Andy.