Lisbon and Sintra, Portugal

I love Portugal! Honestly, it is my favourite country in Europe, and it is SO under-rated. Would highly recommend that you go and discover Portugal’s hidden mysteries, I can guarantee you will fall in love with it.

We absolutely fell in love with the Portuguese people. Back in the day, the Portuguese were big on building boats, and sailing across the seas to discover new land. They had occupied a lot of countries, like Malaysia, Japan and Brazil, and had become very rich because of it. But then the British and the Dutch took over all of their land, and the Portuguese went back to Portugal, where everyone seemingly forgot about them! Today, the Portuguese people are so grateful to see tourists in their country, they are so happy that we have come to visit them, and they love to share their products and their stories. In all my travels through Europe, I have never met as welcoming a people as the Portuguese.

Lisbon

We flew from Casablanca to Lisbon. We stayed in a really chic apartment in Rossio – which is a very hilly area! Also has very narrow streets.

Sights/attractions:

Castelo Sao Jorge (€8.50 pp) – there is no castle, just the outer walls and 11 towers. The views were amazing! And we had a really amazing experience in the camera obscura, essentially it is a 360 degree view of Lisbon city with a periscope and mirrors. The image projects onto a massive lens-shaped canvas inside one of the towers.

ViniPortugal – Lonely Planet said there were free tastings, but they lied. We paid €3 pp minimum to load money on a card, and then you get to choose from a selection of wines in a wine dispenser. Ben and I tried about 4 wines.

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Se (Cathedral) – Paid €2.50 pp to go up to the treasury.

We walked up to Miradouro de Nossa Senhora de Monte (Belvedere Our Lady of the Hill). This is the most amazing viewpoint of Lisbon, it was such a steep climb, and it was so windy! Totally worth it, and lifetime achievement unlocked.

We tried to find the smallest bookshop in the world but it was closed 😦 Apparently, it’s only big enough for one person to stand in, so even the shopkeeper has to step out if a customer wants to check it out. It houses 4000 books despite its diminutive size. Instead we went to visit the oldest bookshop in the world – it was so well maintained and had a really wonderful vibe to it. I just wanted to curl up in there and read and never leave!

Chiado, Baixa and Rossio:

We did a free walking tour of Chiado, Baixa and Rossio with Joao (sounds similar to John, have no idea how to actually pronounce it). We walked up the Elevador Santa Justa (apparently it is one of the biggest tourist traps, people have to pay €5 to take the cable car from the bottom to the top for the panaromic views. We walked up the hill and got in for free. Apparently this was going to be the last time anyone will be able to do that though, as they are making it a paid attraction from now on). The walking tour finished in Placa de Commercio. Joao told us a lot of stories about the various statues that we passed by, it was very interesting and informative. The Portuguese have a very interesting history, steeped in confusion and discovery.

We walked through the same neighbourhoods on our last day in Lisbon, and we discovered the following oddities:

  • we discovered a strange store that only sold sardines, in what can only be described as the Willy Wonka of sardine stores;
  • we stepped into the Doll Hospital, kind of cool, but also a little creepy. They mostly do doll restorations now;
  • I saw the tiniest little glove store in a street – the Ulisses store, they have been making leather gloves since 1925. I have to say, I don’t think my hands have ever received this level of the royal treatment before. This lady had all of 10 pairs of gloves displayed in her store. I asked to try on one pair, she carefully reaches out for one of my hands, measures it with her eyes, and then runs off into the back of her store that is reminiscent of the Harry Potter wand shop. She comes out with my size, and grabs a tool that expands the fingers of the gloves. Then she seizes one of the regal pillows lying about, and places my elbow carefully on the pillow and then proceeds to dress my hand with the glove. I absolutely fell in love with the glove. It was made of calf-leather, had pure cashmere lining and was hand stitched in Lisbon. It was so warm, and I was really stoked to buy it, even though it cost €70. I know it won’t be wasted on me, as I use it every day, 9 months a year.

Belem:

Ben and I took a bus to Belem and joined a free Belem walking tour with Carlos, but it was really a struggle. Carlos likes to do the “walk and talk” which is not conducive for the hearing. Also his English wasn’t really good.

Carlos showed us a McDonald’s in a 14th century heritage-listed building. Such a travesty! I was quite surprised that McDonald’s had been able to set up shop in this heritage-listed building, but apparently they have adhered to all of the restrictions that come with running a franchise out of a heritage-listed building.

While in Belem, we visited the Discoveries Monument (€5 pp). We went up to see the 360° panoramic view. There is a pretty cool exhibition under the monument about monsters, which eventually science proved to be about conjoined twins. In front of the monument, there is a map on the ground showing all the land that the Portuguese occupied. I made sure to get a picture of Malacca.

Tower of Belem (€6 pp) – more amazing views. The tower was also used as a prison for high profile prisoners.

Monastery Jeronimos (€10 pp) – I don’t feel like this monastery was worth the entrance fee. I would not recommend it. It had two exhibitions inside, one was interesting, about the history of the world and Portugal, superimposed on the history of the monastery. The other exhibition was a bit boring, about this guy who contributed to the monastery. Otherwise, the monastery is pretty bare, and to my way of thinking, should actually be re-purposed to be a University. It just seems like a hunk of under-utilised space, other than the fact that it sees 500,000 visitors per annum paying €10 a pop. But who am I to judge. The building is gorgeous from the outside though.

Food recommendations:

Hands down, food in Portugal is amazing! I recommend everything! But here are JUST A FEW of my favourites 🙂

For lunch:

Bon Jardim – 1/2 spit roasted peri peri chicken (it was so spicy, and nothing like Nandos!), mixed salad, cheese and bread, pineapple and port wine – this “dessert” was exactly as advertised, a massive slab of pineapple with port wine poured all over it. Not what we were expecting. I thought it would be like a piece of pineapple that had been stewed or caramelised with the port wine. Anyway, it was still delicious and we had a lot of fun playing with it.

Perola do tejo – grilled salmon (it was a massive cutlet!), beef and potatoes.

Tigelinha – I had the bacaulho (sp?) (salted cod), Ben had the veal. Both dishes came with a generous portion of fried potatoes. We ordered white wine, it was €0.75 pp!!

For dinner:

Parreirinha de Alfama – €94! – we had a very expensive dinner at this place, due to the fado performance! This place is one of the oldest fado restaurants in Lisbon, it is family owned, and the food was simply outstanding. I ordered the humbly named lobster rice, Ben ordered beef and potatoes (see a trend here?). I was a bit skeptical about the lobster rice, I thought for sure I would only receive a small medallion of lobster. I ended up with 1.5 lobsters and a whole saucepan full of delicious rice and sauce! The entree was divine as well, baked manchego cheese with a red wine reduction – it was amazing and probably very unhealthy for you 😬 the fado performance was incredible, there were three singers – one male (his voice sounded like hot liquid caramel), two females (one younger, another older – her voice sounded like a warbling crocodile), and two guitarists Their instruments are locally made, their guitars had 10 strings and a smaller body.

O Eurico – what an amazing dinner this was! Definitely a lot of meat though, there’s not a lot of veg to be found at this place. I ordered the prawns (turns out, it was about 600g of prawn and nothing else), Ben ordered the pork tenderloin and potatoes. We also ordered a half jug of sangria (red wine, lots of sugar and one slice of orange) and two desserts – creme brûlée and rice pudding. The creme brûlée was amazing, it tasted like it was 100% condensed milk (which it probably was).

For snacks:

Union Empanadas – €2.50 per empanada. Ben and I were just just walking through a random alley-way, and came across this random empanada window. We had a lovely chat with the guy, who explained that his empanadas were Argentinian with Portuguese flavours, and the recipes is his wife’s gran’s. His empanadas are made fresh. We chose the beef empanada, it was really good.

Antiga Confeitaria de Belém – this place is famous for Pasteis (pronounced Pastish) de Belem, founded in 1837. Apparently, these three pastry chefs know the secret recipe, and are not allowed to travel in the same bus, train, boat or plane together. Ben and I ordered 6 pastries between us, it was incredible! The pastries were still warm, and the pastry was so crispy and thin, but was still strong enough to hold that delicious filling. It wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet (like some pastries can be), it was just perfect. Each pastry costs €1.10.

Manteigaria – we had 4 Pasteis de Nata, they were so delicious and really gave the Pasteis de Belem a run for their money! These Pasteis’ had a distinct cinnamon flavour, and the pastry base was more buttery. It was really amazing. And we got to watch them make more Pasteis! They are really so efficient, and the Pasteis are so fresh and still warm. This pastry shop only makes Pasteis, so I guess they have no excuses for stuffing it up!

Ginjinha Sem Rival – we stopped by this hole in the wall to taste ginja, which is a sour cherry liquor that is only made in Lisbon. It was delicious, so we bought a 700ml bottle to take back to Australia.

Sintra

Ben and I decided to rent a car to drive through Portugal. It’s a smaller country than Spain and Morocco, we thought it may be worth trying to do an achievable road-trip. No regrets! It was an amazing experience, and I only wish we had had more time. We picked up the rental car from Lisbon airport and drove on to Sintra to start our roadtrip adventure.

We decided to spend one night in Sintra, but really, we just had a solid day in Sintra. We walked so much on this day -and all uphill in Sintra! We definitely made a great achievement, and our calf muscles were not thanking us. Ben was so lovely, he carried my bag for me half the time, I really struggled on the uphill but he had my back.

Sights and attractions:

Palacio Nacional de Sintra (located in Sintra main town) – we bought the combined ticket with the Castelo and the da Pena palace – €60 for 2 pax. The audio guide was so good! Ben and I realised that the true art of this Palace was on its ceilings – with the Swan room and the Magpie room, was really awesome.

We left Sintra main town at 1pm, and only returned to the car at 6.30pm. This hike up the hill to visit the Castelo and the Palacio Nacional de Pena are not for the faint hearted, it’s a serious hike uphill.

Castelo dos Mouros – this place is mostly ruins, but the main walls and ramparts are still intact. Great views.

Palacio Nacional da Pena – this Palace was amazing. Loved the vibrant colours of the main structures – red and yellow. The Palace also has lovely gardens you can walk through, but again a serious hike no matter where you go. Ben and I could have paid €3 each for a transfer bus, which takes you from the main entrance to the Palace door, but we walked the whole way. We walked 13km on this day alone, and walked up 104 floors. Serious leg work.

Food recommendations:

Culto da Tasca – We ate so much food, but it was so worth it because we were so hungry! Ben had beef (of course) with rice, beans, salad, grilled pineapple and chips. I had Indian prawn curry with rice and steamed vegetables. We also had a biscuit and cream dessert that was posing as a cookies and cream dessert.

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