Lisbon was an easy three-hour train ride from Porto. And again, we got very lucky with our accommodations. Originally, we had planned for an Airbnb most of the nights and one splurge night in a fancy hotel. But due to a scheduling error *cough Anna cough* we had to reserve a small hotel/b&b for the first night in Lisbon.While we like Airbnbs, there sure is something special about a big white hotel bed and a luxurious shower. The anonymity is also a perk. The best part was the pebbled outdoor space with a tiny pool and tables where we ate breakfast in the morning.
They kept the common area stocked with fruits and homemade pastries. I made sure to sample every one. The absolute best part of Portugal was that our trip happened to coincide with Lisbon’s largest festival, the Feast of St. Anthony. We were also there for their Independence Day, but St. Anthony was the highlight. Some locals explained that no one there really cares about Independence Day like we care about the Fourth of July. However, for St. Anthony there are four days of street festivals. Homes and businesses set up shrines to St. Anthony, the streets are draped in colorful streamers and people feast on sardines and sangria until 3 a.m. Of course, there are also special masses and religious processions. And, because St. Anthony is a saint of matchmaking, people can get married for free in the church. I took this photo for Mom, since she loves St. Anthony. She swears by St. Anthony for helping her find misplaced items. (If praying to him doesn’t work, then Anna can usually find it. The joint effort is key.)
Why is something as simple as rainbow garlands so pleasing? I think the broken window theory should be expanded to include evidence that bedazzled roads reduce crime significantly. I’m sure by at least 50%. Our helpful b&b owner steered us clear of touristy spots and recommended this lovely neighborhood restaurant. Notice the bread basket? You’d think it’d be free, but in Portugal restaurants will put a breadbasket and delicious plate of cheese + olives on your table to tempt you. If you eat anything though you’ll be charged a few euros per person. Now this didn’t make much sense to me because why couldn’t you just say that only one person ate the whole breadbasket instead of getting charged by the number of eaters?See the Fado sign above my shoulder? Fado is traditional Portuguese music that we had grand plans to investigate. We’d hear it coming from restaurants but unfortunately never made it to a Fado show. All the more reason to return. I used to associate sardines with a depressing, lonely meal dad would eat when Mom wasn’t home to make dinner: a plain can of sardines, sometimes accompanied by a piece of bread. He’d crunch through his cold, primal meal boasting of all the calcium he was receiving from the bones. Meanwhile, we’d look on, very impressed that he was so brave to eat the little creatures, but also feeling sorry for his sad dinner. Imagine if he had been an eternal bachelor? How many sardines would he have eaten by now?! But now, after experiencing Portuguese sardines I think of them fondly as smoky street food for St. Anthony and beautifully packaged little gems. How cute are these babies? I still haven’t tasted sardines from a can, but I now love them just for their packaging. We picked up a few of these for Father’s Day. I mean, who doesn’t want to be this old Portuguese fisherman eating his goods? I know Dad would love to be him in another life. The Portuguese know how to make everything, even mundane things like fish packaging, delightful. Just look at these pink lemonade houses that rival the beauty of the tiled homes. When we asked Dad what color he would paint his Portuguese house he said, “yellow!” Isn’t that sweet? Oh did I mention that John T. makes an appearance in Portugal? Get excited. We sure were happy he joined us for our last few days in Lisbon.When we tired of Lisbon hills, we’d again rest by the water. Across the water is a statue of Jesus in the same style of the Jesus in Rio de Janeiro. There’s also a bridge that looks exactly like the Golden Gate Bridge, so it’s as though you’re experiencing Brazil, Portugal and San Francisco all in one spot. Lovely. Here’s the main strip of Lisbon. Kinda like Times Square, but way older and nicer. We ate pastel de nata every single day. Now we must track them down in New York City. Can’t believe we hadn’t heard of them before … or about Portugal’s pastry reputation in general. Just like in Italy where you enjoy your coffee at the stand-up counter instead of rushing around with it in a to-go cup, the Portuguese drink at the bar. In a foolish quest to be healthy we went with a smoothie instead of a pastel de nata. No, no. no. Always take the pastry. Lesson learned.St. George Castle overlooking the city–please refer all inquires about its history to Dad. Satisfied with our cursory tour of Lisbon, we retreated to the hotel for a timid dip in the chilly pool.
Well, breakfast first.This picture was taken solely for the chubby elephant on the statue behind me.We were very fortunate to walk past a military exposition in celebration of Independence Day. At first, we didn’t know if tourists were allowed to be wandering through their booths. Would they peg us as American spies?!But a soldier saw our uncertain expressions and explained we were free to walk around and read the signs, though they were all in Portuguese. One soldier tried to explain in limited English how they draw maps of the city. I refrained from asking why they don’t just use GoogleMaps–didn’t want things lost in translation. But he was very sweet and gave us each a pen from the Portuguese army.At this booth, a soldier spun me around in a pilot’s chair while he instructed me to lean forward or turn my head to one side. I was then supposed to tell him if the chair was still spinning and in which direction. Anna, who was watching with a few French tourists, informed me that I had usually been wrong. The lesson was to always trust the airplane’s equipment and not your inner ear because it’s easily confused about which direction you’re going in.Sorry Mom. Anna went through their maze and supposedly hit every target with the bb gun (even if she could barely lift it). This rock climbing wall wasn’t getting any visitors, so we bravely stepped up. I made it a bit higher than Anna, but we both failed at representing American bravery and chickened out before making it to the top. However, we got a group photo which made it all worth it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but how funny is the soldier hanging off the wall? After a rare non-pastry meal, we headed to our treat hotel! I love that in Paris or London we wouldn’t be able to stay at such an amazing hotel, but we could afford it (for one night, at least) in Portugal. My top two Portugal recommendations are 1. Go there during the St. Anthony festival and 2. Stay at the Memmo Alfama Hotel. From our room, we walked right onto the pool deck. You could spend your whole trip enjoying this view and be happy. I know these pictures look posed, but we were actually reading. Anna read Sweetbitter, a new novel, and I read a New Yorker article on communal housing in New York City. As the sun set, music and smoke from the grilling sardines rose from the streets. We drank bellinis and ate another cheese plate, wondering why the rooftop wasn’t jam-packed with tourists.
At night, we walked through an area packed with bars and clubs. We didn’t make it to a club but according to the guidebooks, Portugal isn’t as elitist and superficial as other cities when it comes to letting people in their clubs. Again, Portugal being the sweetest. Even better than a night club, we danced a bit in the streets to Brazilian music. The musicians were just some guys playing in the street. At first I was a bit confused; where was the tip jar? A local exasperatedly explained they were just playing for fun. We finally went to bed, in excited anticipation for breakfast the next morning.It did not disappoint. Although, with this view, I’m sure I would find dry toast tasty. Everyone, book your trip to Lisbon, reserve a room at Memmo Alfama and drink Rose by the infinity pool. And most importantly, take us with you!
More to come …