Portugal

Eating in Lisbon

Unlike Spain where our familiarity with Spanish cuisine guided us in discovering what to eat, Portugal was an adventure. Other than bacalhau and pasteis de nata, we knew nothing about the country’s cuisine.Our first taste of Portugal was at Confeitaria de Nacional for the iconic pasteis de nata. We had just arrived in Lisbon after 2 flights and a connection in Dubai. The pastry helped bring our senses and floating heads back to earth. It was all that it was reported to be — not too sweet and with a flaky crust.We thought it was good until we tried the version Manteigra, famous for its long lines especially at its branch at Plaza Luis de Camoes. Luckily, there was a stall at the Time Out Market where we grabbed a pasteis each before leaving. It was heavenly. The pastry was served hot (unlike Nacional’s which was cold) and the crust was both flaky and crispy. The custard was sweeter than Nacional’s but it was soooo oozingly good. I could have had another one but the line was really long. The best pasteis de nata, though, we would soon discover, was at Pasteis de Belem just across the bus stop for the Monasterio de Jeronimos. The lines trying to get a table inside and the lines at the take home counter speak for itself. Tita Cel lined-up to get a table while Rhoda was at take-out. By the time, we got our package of 6 pastries, Tita Cel was still 5 people away from the head of the line. There were just too many people and the wait staff looked tired and harassed. She ditched the line and we just settled eating our hard-won pasteis de nata somewhere else.Considering that we were able to eat the pastries about an hour later when we were at the Time Out Market (again!), the thin crusts remained crisp. The custard had just the right balance of milky sweetness and the taste of eggs. So utterly perfect! I kept one piece to be brought back to the hotel and be eaten the next day. The crust was no longer crisp , as expected, but not soggy and it was still very good. Another two thumbs up!Speaking of Time Out Market, we really enjoyed eating there as it was a fantastic place to get a good grip on delicious and tummy-satisfying Portugues food, both in its traditional and modern forms as created by some of Lisbon’s chefs and top restaurants. Curated by the writers of travel guide, Time Out Portugal, you can’t go wrong here. Henrique Sa Pessoa is a Michelin 2-starred chef and his roast suckling pig was the best pork I’ve ever head. The large slab of meat was so tender and the skin was so crisp. It more than made up for our disappointment with the cochinillo in Seville. It definitely gave a bang for the buck at 15 €.I partnered it with a plate of couscous with ricotta cheese which perfectly complemented the saltiness of the pork and helped cut it’s fatiness.Rhoda and Tita Cel had octopus with potatoes at Marlene Veira’s which was also very nice. I really liked the idea of having chefs run stalls at a fast food setting so you can get a sampling of their culinary creations minus the intimidation and prices of fine dining. Good job, Time Out!

Buffet Livre de Leao, just a few steps from our hotel at Rue 1 Disyembre, was our go to place whenever we wanted to eat without thinking much of where to go and what to order. The 8.99€ all-you-can-eat of salads, appetizers, rice, and grilled meats and fish was definitely good value. My favorite was the grilled Portuguese sausages. The place was always packed and one time, we had to wait for a table as almost half of the restaurant was taken-up by a large Chinese tour group. Really popular place.TIP: come either early or late.Portugal is famous for its salted cod fish called bacalhau and is said there are a thousand ways of cooking it. At Peixes Lisboa we were amused when we saw bacalhau espiritual on the menu. It sounded so enigmatic. It turned out to be flaked fish with potatoes in a creamy casserole. At a small restaurant at Alfama, we ordered bacalhau paradiso (since we had tried the bacalhau espiritual, might as well go all the way to paradise!). Both dishes were similar but the paradiso didn’t have any cream. We enjoyed this more as we could really taste the fish. Being so close to the sea, Portugal is ground zero for seafood lovers. Also at Peixes Lisboa, we had seafood rice which we didn’t expect to be a Portuguese version of paella. We thought it just be rice with a little seafood thrown in which were could eat with our bacalauh. Not so! We were amused when the friendly waitress brought out small plates, a crab hammer and cracker and put on bibs on the three of us. She then brought out a large pot filled with rice cooked in seafood broth and piled with shrimps, mussels, squid, and crab. It was really good and hearty.Just like Spain, many of the eating places such as cafes and restaurants were well-appointed with uniformed wait staff which made for an excellent dining experience. Food was always good and plentiful.Beside our hotel was a branch of Pingo Doce, a grocery with a bakery and hot meals section. I always dropped by just to see what was on offer. The meal for the day at 3.99€ is the most affordable and filling meal you can ever have. You get to choose any of the 3 viands, pastas, or rice. The servings are really hefty. They also have roast chicken and roast pork. I tried the latter and a pre-chopped piece was just .86€. The meat was tender and the skin crackling. Really good value. No wonder, there’s always a crowd. Pingo Doce is also a good place to buy food stuff you want to give away back. home such as pate and sardines. Many locals shop here so there’s always a long line at the check-out around 7-9pm.We enjoyed our meals in Lisbon. From what we tried, it seemed that Portuguese cuisine is heavy with sauces and meat. There are also different kinds of tapas and our favorites was a board of different Portuguese sausages served at the restaurant we lunched at in Alfama.The hefty servings means you shouldn’t order too much. We usually order a salad and two main courses or a tapas in lieu of a second main course. It could be a problem for the solo traveler as you wouldn’t be able to sample as much. Even the servings at the stalls at the Time Out Market and at Pingo Doce were big.

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Picturesque Sintra

Only 40 minutes by train from the Rossio station, Sintra is magical. It’s as if you’re transported in some fairy tale kingdom of colorful palaces, enchanting gardens, mysterious forests. How can something so surrealy beautiful be just a skip and a hop away from the city?

We took the 9am train to Sintra along with a few hundred others. Fortunately, we were at the station by 8am thinking there would be an 8:30 trip. By the time the train rolled in at platform 3, there was a sizable crowd. We quickly got ourselves seats as the train was filling up fast resulting in a few people left standing.At the Sintra station, we paid a tuktuk 5€ each to the trip to Peña Palace. This UNESCO Heritage Site is in the highest point of Sintra so we thought it best to make it our first stop.It took about 10 minutes before we were able to take the shuttle that brought us to the palace. Many people opted to do the hike up.The palace is massive and walking along its exteriors os fun as there are awesome views. Rather than waiting for the shuttle, we opted to just walk down as it would be much faster. At the exit, a guy with an id hanging from his neck offered to drive us for the same price as a tuktuk. We asked to be brought to Quinta Regaleira. More of gardens than palace, the highlight was the Inquisition Well and the tunnels.We had so much fun taking photographs at the bottom of the well.The tunnels were fun too.

One of the tunnels led to a small area by the side of a road somewhere. So I guess you can continue your walk from there. We decided to go back up the well as Tita Cel was waiting for us on top.

From the well, we re-traced our steps down to some picture perfect towers.

Behind the towers was a path that led to the palace just a few meters down. Exiting Regaileria, we followed the sidewalk all the way down to the center stopping by Xentro for a buffet (10.90€).

It was just a few meters down to the Palacio Nacional de Sintra.This was a fun palace to explore as there were lots of interesting turns and passages that brought us to different rooms. The palace has magnificent ceilings, but this is the most amazing.It was almost 5pm by the time we left the palace. Outside, there was this group of students performing some Portuguese songs.We took a tuktuk to the train station in time to take the 4:50 trip back to Lisbon.

TIPS:

Be early. So you can see more sights. We took the 9am train and arrived at exactly 9:40 and stayed until about 4:30pm. We only managed 3 sights. The palaces are all gorgeous and you cannot simply rush just to get to more sights.

Stay a night or come back. We would definitely return as there is still so much more to see. I would probably prefer to just do day trips as it’s just 40 minutes away.

Use your Lisboa Card. We had a 48 hour card which meant free train rides and discounts on all the sights.

Choose your transpo wisely. There’s the circuit bus which is really cheap though you would need to wait for it. There are taxis and tuktuks too.

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Museo Nacional De Musica Lisboa

This wonderful museum right at the Alto dos Moinhos Metro is truly a gem. With its outstanding collection of European music instruments alongside a few from other music cultures around the world, it’s worth more than a cursory visit. Plus, it’s free with the Lisboa Card.We came just a few minutes after opening time, hence we had the place all to ourselves. I truly relished my time looking at the instruments carefully especially those from 18th-19thc such as the lutes, viols, and keyboards as it was my chance to see real specimens and not just pictures.

A hurdy-gurdy!

This is the piano that Franz Liszt brought with him to France while on concert tour which included Lisbon. After his concert, he gave it away to Queen Maria II.

I loved these small portable organs even if they were 19tjc forgeries of 16thc ones.

A pianoforte developed by Muzio Clementi.

Lutes and more lutes!

A bandurria!

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Fatima

We booked a taxi with our hotel for the roundtrip transpo to Fatima for 225 €. At 70 € each for a bus ticket, multiplied by 3, taking a taxi was the better deal. It would save us the trip to the bus station at Siete Rios and the walk to the shrine. We were promptly fetched at 2pm and drove through the highway flanked by fields of green. Edwardo, our English-speaking driver was pleasant. There were beautiful views on both sides of the road. The drive took an hour and a half with little traffic. Arriving at the shrine, I was awed by the sheer expanse of the complex. With everything painted white, it seemed to glow under the spring sun.

We headed to the information office just to help us get oriented on the structures that bordered the complex. Behind the office is a corner with candles of different sizes placed on trays. You get what you need and drop your payment at one of the boxes. Honesty system. Rhoda and Tita C took a a big candle and lighted it at the dedicated space to the left of the office. I took some plastic candle cup holders to give away back home.

The entire complex is very modernist except for the Church of the Blessed Trinity.

The Chapel of the Apparitions marks the place where the Blessed Virgin Mary first appeared. The exact spot is where her statue is placed. Many people were seated on the wooden benches praying silently, some including myself, with rosaries on hand.

I’ve been a devotee of the Virgin Mary so praying the rosary at Fatima was such a privilege.

Inside the spacious Church of the Holy Trinity are the tombs of the three children. Jacinta and Lucia’s on the left and Fernando’s on the right. Just like at the Church of the Apparitions, everyone was really quiet. No one was even taking photographs of the tombs.

It’s the peacefulness and serenity of the entire complex that makes it so attractive. Makes you want to imagine how it was when it was still the woods before the entire place was paved and modernized to suit the huge crowds that continue to come during the apparition’s anniversary. Perhaps, for the non-believing tourist, Fatima isn’t much. There are far more interesting religious structures in Lisbon such as the Igreja de Sao Roque. However, for a devotee, going to Fatima is a pilgrimage to one of the most spectacular moments in salvation history and the role that the Blessed Virgin Mary plays in our lives.

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Hello Lisbon!

We landed at the Lisbon airport almost 1pm. Immigrations was a breeze as there were many counters open and the line ahead wasn’t that long yet. All-in including luggage claim and the long walk from the gate where we deplaned to immigrations took less than an hour.

Bought a Vodafone travellers sim (20 €) at the booth at arrivals while Rhoda bought the Lisboa cards we were going to use much later in our trip and also booked a taxi (23 €) to our downtown hotel. Was surprised to have a distinguish-looking white haired gentleman pull-up in a Benz.

After checking-in at Hotel Americano Inn Rossio just a few steps away from Rossio Square, we headed to Confeitaria Nacional for some pasteis de nata for our first taste of Portugal.

After years of Lord Stowe’s Portuguese Egg Tarts, it was time for the real thing, the original, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It was crustier and the custard was heavier. So perfect with a cup of strong coffee on a cool afternoon.

We ditched Google Maps and just strolled the Baixa and Chiado areas starting at Praca de Commercio.

I loved the wide open square and the esplanade by the sea.

We headed up to the Chiado neighborhood for the oldest living bookstore in the world, Livreria Bertrand, where Rhoda bought a copy of Jose Saramago’s “The Tale of the Unknown Island” and had it stamped saying the copy was bought at the oldest operating bookstore in the world. How cool is that!

Unfortunately, there aren’t much English-translated books by Portuguese authors. Found 2 books on fado but were all in Portuguese.

We made our way to the Convento del Carmo which was unfortunately closed for restoration work.

Plazas, beautiful buildings, cobbled streets, and the cool spring weather made for a really nice time just wandering the streets and finding something interesting such as a beautiful building

an outdoor cafe, or a nice view.

Also, it wasn’t as hilly as I thought it would be.

After all that walking, we had dinner at a buffet! The Buffet Livre de Leao was just a few steps from the hotel. For 8.99 euros, we had our fill of salads and grilled meats. My favorite was the Portuguese sausage and roast pork.

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A First Timer in Europe

After 16 hours of flying and a 6 hour layover in Dubai, we (my sister, tita, and I) finally landed in Lisbon.

“It’s your first time in Europe?” asked the immigration officer.

“Yes!”

So many firsts for this trip: first time to take an Emirates flight (nice plane, good food, excellent service), first time to get a Shengen visa, and first time in Europe. Yeah! I wanna say that again with a fist pump in the air. It’s my first time ever in Europe! Last year, it was a bit disappointing that after a USD 1300 flight and 15 hours, landing in Baku in Azerbaijan, I was still in Asia. Heading to Turkey after, the closest I got to Europe was crossing the Bosphorous Strait and setting foot on the European side of Istanbul. So, this time, it’s the real thing! I really am in Europe!

This trip was the most heavily prepared for in all my years of travelling. With just 14 days including the 3 for the conference (the primary reason for this trip), I had to make sure everything was so well-thought of so as not to waste time and money. So here’s what I did.

1. For first time visits to any place, I always craft an itinerary just so I get a bird’s eye view of my trip. We were doing Lisbon-Madrid-Granada-Seville-Lisbon. Yeah, too many places but I so much wanted to go to the Museo Nacional del Prado to see Velasquez’s Las Meninas and Madrid was just an overnight train ride away. Granada also deserved an overnight just so we could relive Washington Irving’s magical Tales of the Alhambra. The Google Trips app was so helpful in planning my itineraries as it indicated the walking time to one sight to another.

2. Bought all the museum and sight fees online to save us from the long queues at the ticket booth. Also, some sights such as the Alhambra and the the Royal Palace in Madrid have limited slots, so I needed to make sure we had reservations on the days we were there.

3. Budget! We’re talking Euros where the exchange rate is 1 Euro to Php 58. Surprisingly, pricesreally wasn’t that exorbitant as I found out, at least with food.

4. Typed “what to wear in Europe” in Google and discovered the following donts: shorts, rubber shoes, and baggy clothes. True, my first impression on seeing the locals was: “so fashionable” and that included the little old ladies having their pasteis de nata at Confeteria del Nacional or the bookworms at Livreria Bertrand.

So for the next 2 weeks, I get to find out if all my preparations were all right. In the meantime, I’m gonna enjoy every minute of this trip.

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