Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I left my heart in Lisboa

San Francisco? Close - the Golden Gate's sister bridge in Lisbon! It made me feel right at home.
I guess I will start where I left off! After my weekend in Sevilla, I had three days at home before packing up again for Lisbon (Lisboa), Portugal the weekend of Nov. 11th.

We stayed in a very cool hostel called "Lisbon Calling"
Our hostel was very comfortable and my two roommates and I got to stay in a room to ourselves. As always, we met a number of nice people (all Americans, except for the owners) who all shared their travel experiences!
The square in front of our hostel the first night

The first night we made our way around the corner and up to Bairro Alto - supposedly the sight of the best food and nightlife in Lisbon. We went to a great local place for dinner where they only gave you three options - meat, fish, or vegetarian, but the food was amazing. The waitress, however, was less than thrilled with our lack of Portuguese skills (and even less enthused at our attempts to speak Spanish... we soon learned they do NOT like to speak Spanish here) and basically refused to serve us. We had to order everything through some locals sitting at the table next to us. In addition to ordering for us, they also told us a little bit about the Portuguese lifestyle, history, and culture. Definitely an interesting way to start off the trip!

The next day we ventured out into the city.

Praça de Comércio, one of Lisbon's main squares

We wandered down Rua Augusta, one of the main shopping streets in Lisbon. Everyone was roasting chestnuts for the recent holiday, and the air was filled with the sweet and fragrant nutty smoke.

One of the most enticing bakeries we passed - we stepped inside only to find it absolutely packed!
The colorful breads reminded me of stollen, and made me very excited for christmas

After walking down Rua Augusta, we decided to head up to see the Castle of São Jorge, which resides on top of Lisbons many hills. Lisbon reminded me a lot of San Francisco - it had the hills, the bridge, and the climate to match.

The Castle on top of one of Lisbon's hills
Walking up to the Castle was quite the hike! It was a difficult to find our way on the map because of the layout of the hills - just when we thought we were on the right road, it would take us up instead of down.

There was graffiti everywhere in the city - some of it was very cool and artistic, while others were just words.
Lisbon very much felt like a "2nd world city" - Portugal's rough economy could definitely be felt in the city, but it was still a very cool place regardless.
View from halfway up the hill

An example of someone's home in Lisbon - while the building may look in bad shape, they still have a satellite dish to enjoy a multitude of channels! As in much of Europe, a very interesting juxtaposition of new and old.

Once we were at the top, we got an amazing view of all of Lisbon, the Tagus River, and the Abril Bridge. As you can see from all of the pictures I took, I was obsessed with the bridge since it looked so much like the Golden Gate!

Some images from around the castle:

Three of the roomies at the top of the castle! Lindsey, Betsy and I

After the castle, it was time to head back down and towards Belém, another area of Lisbon. Our main objective in Belém was the Café Pastéis de Belém, home of Portugal's dessert of choice, the pastéis de nata. Although wikipedia calls pastéis de nata an "egg tart pastry," I would more consider it more like a personal creme brulee. So delicious!

The famous café - we were lucky to get our pastéis right out of the oven!

Success - sprinkled with a little powdered sugar and cinnamon, the warm dessert was absolutely delicious.
Betsy with her pastéis - I'm still trying to convince her to bake these for us here in Barcelona. (Don't worry, although they DID sell the pastries at Starbucks, we were just stopping here to sit down and eat! We ended up sitting next to a family from Canada that was "taking advantage" of the husband's layoff and wife's sabbatical and traveling Europe for three months while homeschooling the kids. The kids had no idea how lucky they were!)

After devouring our pastéis, we walked over to Santa Maria de Belém and the Tower of Belém.

The Tower of Belém
View of the river and bridge from the Tower of Belém... I mentioned I was obsessed with the bridge, right?
That night, we had dinner at another local place up the Bairro Alto. One of the people that worked at our hostel suggested it to us as a very local place where a lot of families ate. When we got there it was packed, of course, so we waited outside until they could seat us. An interesting thing that we have found in Europe is that they rarely give you a time estimate as to when you will be seated - instead, they say whenever people are done eating, then you will be seated. They never rush anyone away from a table. As frustrating as this can be at times, it is also nice to slow down for a minute and really enjoy good company and good food. Anyway, back to the meal. Again, being such a local place and not speaking any Portuguese (we shared NO common language with the waitress, she only knew french and Portuguese), we relied on our blackberry internet (sign of the times, eh?) and the man sitting next to us to help us translate. We ordered two types of fish - tuna and sea bass - and they were brought to the table with some potatoes and broccoli. Very simple food, but the fish was so fresh, flavorful, and perfectly done. The man at the table next to us brought over a book to show us, and it turns out the restaurant we were eating at was written up in a National Geographic book of 500 best places to eat in the world! Pretty cool for a 10 euro meal.

The next day we hopped on a train to go to a little nearby town, Sintra.
Our walk to the train station - I loved all of the colorful buildings.
Another view of the castle trying to find the train station! We got a little lost...
A café we stopped at for lunch once we arrived in Sintra. They had good food (and pastéis de nata!) and it was the perfect way to warm up on a chilly day.
A street we shopped along. It's always nice to go to the smaller towns where we can just slow down and relax without an agenda.
View of the town - the street wound in and around the hills. Very pretty.
Walking in the winding streets of Sintra
A local tile painter - he was very talented. He had signs that said no pictures allowed, but I finally convinced him to let me take one! (Someone will be getting Christmas gifts from here :) )

I loved Sintra - it was such a quaint little town. Definitely a welcome break from the chaos and excitement of Barcelona! Also a great place for some Christmas shopping!
We arrived back into Lisbon in time to take in the city lights and enjoy one last dinner in Bairro Alto overlooking the bridge and the river. It was a little rainy, but we still took advantage of the balcony seating in November!

City lights of Lisbon


Adeus, Lisboa!