Date of trip: July 7, 2017 - July 22, 2017
“Why Portugal?” It was the question of the hour. Lisbon had been on our minds and travel lists for some time. But for a honeymoon? The typical answer was something like, “Well, because it has everything–city, beaches, mountains,” even though we didn’t know much else about Portugal. And as it goes, we booked flights for cheap to a place we knew little about. And after spending two long weeks spanning the country from Lisbon, to Madeira and Porto in the north–with four day trips in between–we saw as much Portugal as we possibly could without completely losing our minds. No, we did not listen to Fado, eat salted cod fish or octopus salad, or follow a winery tour, but we came home with over 4,000 photos and so many stories to share!
Portugal is a small country, but we took planes, trains, and automobiles (and metros, tuk tuks, and electric cars) across the country because there’s so much to see and do. Mountains, world heritage valleys of ancient wineries, medieval villages, rugged, coastal bluffs and turquoise beaches, ancient Arabic cities, whimsical forests, and palaces and castles. Not to mention the country is ancient, dating back to the middle ages, and stands as one of the largest and long-lasting empires in world history (you know, after big names like Britain, Russia, and Spain, among others). With such an extensive history of ownership and reign over the world, it’s no wonder Portugal is home to ornate palaces, massive monasteries, and 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Our first stop of the trip was the capital of Lisbon, the city of seven hills. That would have been great to know before booking–kidding. However, we do seem to have a penchant for traveling to pretty places on hills. It’s a place of pearly, slippery sidewalks, old trams, tuk tuks, terraced restaurants with views, Spanish tiled roofs and pastel painted homes, bakeries, and French tourists. “Must be nice to skip, hop, and land in Spain or Portugal,” Chris said of the French. Lisbon’s cobblestone sidewalks sometimes smell of cod, and with supposedly over 300 variations of cod dishes across Portugal, that makes sense. (However, cod was and still is exclusively shipped from northern Europe).
Azulejos (Portuguese tiles with arabic origins) are everywhere–on water fountains, benches, homes, churches, the metro. Some date back to the 1500’s portraying battle and biblical scenes, some have floral motifs, and some boast modern, geometric patterns. They make art out of the city streets. We regret never making it to the national tile museum. We were too busy enjoying Lisbon’s custard tarts or chocolate mousse, taking pictures of narrow streets with balconies of potted plants, and drinking Hendricks gin–and DON’T forget the wine–all the wine–green wine, port wine, Madeira dessert wine.
We want to give a special shout out to all of our friends and family. You who made this trek across the ocean and all the shenanigans possible. We barely rested, and joke now that this trip wasn’t so much of a honeymoon as it was a massive reality check of unexpected and (at times) precarious adventures that reminded us that honeymoons aren’t real life. Thank you for donating and helping us kick off our marriage with a kick ass trip.
- Day 1: Cascais
- Day 2: Óbidos
- Day 3: Lisbon: Bairro Alto & Príncipe Real neighborhoods
- Day 4: Sintra: City Center, Quinta da Regaleira, Moorish Castle
- Day 5: Sintra: Azenhas do Mar, Adraga Beach, Convent of the Capuchos
- Day 6: Lisbon: Alfama neighborhood
- Day 7: Lisbon: Belem & Baixo-Chiado neighborhoods
Our departure felt like smooth sailing. We were treated to a ride to the airport by Robyn, Chris’ gracious mother. We were then helped by a quick thinking man named Zayor who saved us an estimated hour or two getting our boarding passes and checking our bag. We were walking to the gate in no time. We exchanged some dollars for euros, expecting a big fee, but saved more than expected. “When is it coming?” I asked. Chris asked for clarification, to which I replied, “The bad luck.” Our fortunes gave way to a delayed flight. We then sat on the tarmac for two hours due to storms, starting and finishing a whole movie before the plane took off. And a grandma who fell asleep on Chris’ shoulder and didn’t hear his plea to use the restroom. It never fails.
We counted our blessings and agreed we were more fortunate than the woman behind us who was seated next to a man who desperately needed a seat more appropriate for his body. Both of them looked miserable as we embarked on our eight hour flight. And as it goes, sleep felt impossible but we did our best and in the morning we arrived safely across the Atlantic.
It was mid-day in Portugal. We deboarded the plane, jumped on a shuttle, and unloaded at customs. Our AirBnb host connected us with Bruno, a taxi driver that drove us into Lisbon. He shared with us water, a map of Lisbon, and insider tips, like where to see Fado and what day trips to take. From our experiences in Rio, I made a note to ask about the language. He explained that many Portuguese people now are learning or already know English, as it’s mandatory to learn at least Portuguese and English in grade school, if not French or another third language.
Bruno drove through a narrow street and parked the car near a corner store. He quickly stepped down into the store and showed us where the wine and water was–of course, the necessities. He led us up a bagillion flights of stairs to the top of our apartment as the three of us joked about Chris carrying our 50 pound luggage. Chris wasn’t technically laughing. Bruno handed us off to our host, Vitor, and wished us a farewell.
Vitor took more than good care of us, as he showed us around his old apartment which he had lived in for 17 years. He had beautiful brown eyes, a big white smile, and salt and pepper scruff on his face. He answered our million questions, gave us a metro card from his wallet, told us what restaurants to eat at in the neighborhood, and gave a quick lesson on how to pronounce the “Z” in Portuguese. We ended it with a courtesy laugh as Chris took his first head bonk into the low ceiling.
We walked to the closest metro station to fill our cards, and took four long escalators into the ground under an impressively large, domed, white-tiled ceiling. We bought a sandwich, juices, and an espresso at a snack stand in the metro. I saw the woman giggling at me as I scrunched my nose at the strong espresso.
By this time, it was nearly 3pm. We were more tired than we could feel, but wanted to at least rest near the water. We took the metro to the Cais do Sodre train station and planned to catch a train to take us 40 minutes west to Cascais, a popular beach destination. We knew from our research and from Vitor that the metro card was supposed to be good for all transportation around the city, including the train. To double check, I approached a metro worker and asked him plainly, “Can I use this to get on the train?” He looked at me and said flatly, “Hello, Good evening,” as if I didn’t give him a proper introduction. Stunned, I told him good evening and repeated myself. He said, “No” and turned away. (she blinks). Long story short, we asked two train employees what card to use, were told to buy another one, and noticed everyone else using metro cards. What gives?? We eventually made it to Cascais.
In true fashion, we opted out of sitting on the sand and walked up and down the beach, drank whiskeys, ate pizza, and sought after a mansion I had once stumbled across on Pinterest. Because 2017. That night we bobbed our heads all the way home, stopped at a corner store for breakfast items (travel tip), and ate bread, jam, and butter as a late night snack.
It was our first full day in Lisbon. But because museums and other fun oddities are usually closed on Sunday, we decided to hit the road again and bus ourselves to an old village an hour north of Lisbon, called Óbidos. The morning consisted of Chris passively and politely grumbling that Ali should take less time to get ready, and Ali saying, “I told you we’d be fine,” when we arrived 10 minutes early to the bus station.
We stood there looking at a parking lot of empty bus stops. A lone woman sat on a bench, waiting, and shook her finger at Chris as he neared one of the benches to look at the bus schedule. “These are for city buses,” I said. We walked a half circle to the other side of the metro, and spotted a greyhound. When we neared, a paper in the window of the bus said “C. Rainhas” the direction and location we needed. We stood in line, bought two tickets from the driver and hit the road.
We passed residential neighborhoods until the city gave way to smaller towns with windmills and clothes strung evenly from window to window, hanging out to dry. The landscape stretched out with rolling hills and occasional forests with tall trees with skinny trunks. An occasional horse and vacant building interrupted the green. From the highway and above the rolling hills and villages, we saw a castle on a hill with two stone towers at each end.
The bus dropped us off right outside the stone wall. We followed the crowd up some stairs and through a tall opening in the wall. It was the original entrance to the village. A man in medieval garb was standing and pointing at an old sign that we couldn’t read, while another man sat in the other corner of the gate playing a wok. Once inside, we saw the white traditional homes and Spanish roofs, cobblestone and fuchsia blossoms.
We were so hungry and knew the city would grow busier and busier. We dined outside at a small cafe near the entrance–Chris’ chicken came in a tiny cauldron and I ordered traditional cod.
After eating, we returned to the entrance of the village where wide stone steps lead up to the top of the wall. People had already begun climbing and venturing out around the village, looking down over the rooftops. It’s what you do in Óbidos!
We took our time, walking slowly (or fast, if you’re Chris) around the stone ledge. The views! I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. It was a relaxing start to our trip, and perhaps the most relaxing, slow paced day we had (until Porto Santos beach day). At the other end of the village where the wall meets a gate, we walked down to the narrow streets and wandered on our own away from the crowds.
Near the town square and old church we found a patio to sip on gin and caipirinhas, shaded and happy to rest. We watched a small girl swipe an orange from a heaping barrel. Her mother made her put it back. The drinks drank themselves and we were back to wandering.
Near the old castle we found steps that returned to the ledge and followed the other side of the village until we again reached the entrance gate.
The sun was high and our shoulders were pink. We toured the main drag of shops, happy to be in the shade. We found shots of Ginjinha (Ginja for short), Óbidos’ famous cherry liquor drink for 1 euro each. I enjoyed it, until Chris pointed out it tasted like cherry cough syrup. Chris found an ice cream cone, maybe two, and I sampled Portugal’s famous custard tart. It’s like thick pudding baked inside thin pie crust. It was delicious, but not my thing. Chocolate cake, anyone?
We found a bookstore (an old vegetable market, actually) selling books on shelving made of vegetable crates, and till selling oils, vegetables, and fruits. I browsed the shelves but didn’t see the coffee table book of my dreams. A marching band passed in the narrow streets as we slowly made our way to the bus station. What is this place?!
On our way back, Chris slept most of the way. I wanted to keep looking out the window and forever remember the moment. But I fell asleep too. Once back in Lisbon, the city was fast moving with tourists. We rested before finding a nearby brewery (Duque Brewpub). We sampled the beers and destroyed a yummy sandwich. The beer was not close to the standards of NE Minneapolis but we were appreciative and content with the familiarity. We walked south to Comércio Square and rested our feet on a ledge near the Tagus river.
We walked around not finding exactly what we wanted and then remembered a small, quiet bar across from our apartment. We sat at the dark bar watching the bartenders laptop stream Playing for Change youtube music videos. We drank cheap wine and Jameson, and ate big slices of chocolate and cream desserts. I imagine it’s how many people dream of ending their day.
It was our day to sleep in, waking late in the morning without an alarm. Chris snuck out early for a coffee and when we were set, we took the Metro to the M stop to find the suggested start point for Tram 28, the infamous tourist attraction. It was 11:00am at this point, and the WORST time to try to ride a tram. But we had to try. And yes, the line was stupid long so we left and we’ll forever be able to say we tried. The end.
Time Out Market–a modern food court–was next. Dried fruits, smoothies, meat, cheeses, beer, wine, and all kinds of food. The place quickly filled with tourists. I was hangry and stood in line waiting for Asian Labs to open so we could eat their yellow and panang curry. The food was yum yums and as I softened with my belly full, we walked to the river.
It was a busy day everywhere but we found reprieve and peace with a drink at a pop-up bar near the water.
Unwilling to walk around and get lost in the heat, we decided to bar hop. After all, this was a place of endless patios. We started with Noobai, a rooftop bar restaurant I found online. We walked 15 minutes to Noobai and found a seat in the shade looking out over west Lisbon. The waiter looked worried for me when I asked for vodka in my iced tea. “If it’s not good, it’s my fault, not yours,” I told him. He agreed.
We sat on a cushioned bench looking out over rooftops, the river, and the Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge. Chris said he was in his own heaven, sitting in a cushy, shaded corner spot drinking gin and tonics with the views…although he would’ve changed the music playlist. Also, my drink was not good but I drank it to save face.
Determined to make it to more breweries, we walked 20 minutes to Cerveteca Lisboa. We shared a flight (enjoying the dark lager and mango IPA…still not on the same level as NE Minneapolis breweries) and even bought a bottle of Portuguese beer with a pretty label. “For Aly,” we said, our beer-snob cousin.
Up and onwards, we sought out a place called LostIn–a bar suggested to us by Bruno, the taxi driver. We found it down an alley on a cute little strip in the Príncipe Real neighborhood. The patio had the best view yet, though we couldn’t see it from our seats at the bar. The stone patio was surrounded by greenery. Colorful benches for two sat in rows facing the view like a movie theater. Each had it’s own built in awning or umbrella made of boldly pattern cloths. The bar provided red and purple fleece blankets to those who asked. We enjoyed a Portuguese cheese plate, and fancy drinks.
For dinner, we took our host Vitor’s advice and ate a traditional dinner at Sinal. I ate creamed cod, a traditional dish that tasted like the best cheesy fishy casserole ever, and Chris dined on pork tenderloins with collard greens and bread crumbs. All the sun and booze had made us sleepy. But we were on a mission to make it to Viewpoint of Our Lady of Mt.
We took the metro north two stops, and we climbed. Forever and ever, chasing the sun. “We’re close,” Chris said, right before turning a corner to the steepest steps. “You lied,” I whined. There were others behind me panting and stopping to laugh at the absurdity. I was mad I hadn’t brought my camera with me. I wanted to go slow and capture the narrow steps and orange sun lighting up the city behind me. Eventually the steps and the pain ended, right when the sky was at her best, hanging heavy and golden right over the horizon.
It was windy at the top. American hoodlums were sitting on the grass drinking beers near the edge of the hill. A group of young men sat under a shelter eating from a big pot of something. A few other tourists walked around, taking selfies of their dark faces and the sun in the background. We teamed up, using the tripod to get as many shots before the sun disappeared.
Chris hoped to wait for the darkness to come and the city lights to turn on. I had other plans, like, the opposite of that.
We walked back in the dark, winding down the hill and stopping once to dance to the music from someone’s kitchen (only I danced). We bought ice cream cones–caramel and orange–for 3 euros and slurped them as we made our final trek up the stairs to our apartment. That night we packed for Sintra and rested for an early rise.
Sintra was one of the reasons we were intrigued by Portugal. Of course we wanted to see the Initiation well, because Pinterest. But after doing more research, there was a lot more we wanted to see, so we packed our day bags and stayed one night.
We took an early morning train 40 minutes to Sintra. We got off at the first stop that had “Sintra” in it’s name, though it was one stop too soon. We walked the rest of the way (an extra mile) towards the touristy, old city center. At 9:00am, few people were around. It was probably the most magical moment we would have that day, knowing the crowds were coming and would distract us from the true allure that Sintra oozes.
In the quiet streets, we walked through the city, passing small cafes prepping for the day and quiet homes with overgrown gardens and potted plants. The Quinta da Regaleira was first on our list to see. We wanted pictures of the estate without a million people in the way. So we waited at the gate, watching as pick up trucks flew around the narrow bend of the road, beeping for the occasional biker. Eventually, 9:30am came around and the gates opened.
A handful of other early risers got in line with us, and after buying our tickets we set out to find some mysterious places to take pictures of.
Instead, we got lost on the property (Chris would say because Ali had the map). We wandered around a wooded area, following the same gravel path with narrow, stone stairways and passages among the trees. “Where are we?!” “I can’t remember if we passed this already.” “We did. I told you.” “Don’t be an ass.” “Ugh!” Then I scraped the side of my knee on one of the stones, and still have a scar. Whatever. Eventually, somehow, we back tracked and found a grotto that led us straight to the Initiation well. (Maps are difficult to read when there are above and under ground paths…who knew?)
The well was never used for water, but instead rituals of sorts, and is one of two on the property. We were glad to get shots without a bunch of tourists, though the occasional wanderer made for an eerie shot. We grabbed a bite to eat on the terrace next to the Quinta da Regaleira, bought a postcard of the inside of the castle (because time), and ventured on.
We weren’t far from the city center, and attempted getting on a city bus to climb the mountain to the Pena Palace and Moorish Castle. But the bus was full of tourists and continued to pass us. We called an Uber, which took about 15 minutes to arrive since there was traffic getting in and out of the city center. If you haven’t read our Sintra tips page yet, it explains why Sintra’s city center is a fucking nightmare in the summer. It’s an old city with streets made for golf carts, yet there are tourists driving cars and taking tour buses the size of whales up and down these roads.It’s unfortunately not sustainable and even worse, gave us a bad taste in our mouth. Our Uber stopped half way up the mountain. A police officer was directing people to either walk or turn around, since a parked car was blocking the traffic.
Despite the shit show, we ended up walking the rest of the way along the road and through hiking trails. It was relaxing away from the bustle, walking under the tree canopies and giggling about the irony of Sintra. You gotta go, but you can’t get around!
It only took about 30 minutes to get to the castle, where we (for the second time this trip) walked along the castle ledges, and climbed to the highest points to look out over Sintra’s green tree tops and scattered villages.
We could see the Pena Palace not far off in the the forest. Unfortunately, we needed to leave and get a taxi to our Airbnb for a 3pm check-in. We hiked all the way down to the city center (about a 40 minute hike) through the woods. A marked path took us straight there, and we were happy to not be stuck waiting for transportation.
We hailed a taxi and it drove us 6 miles into the forest to our secluded Airbnb. The taxi dropped us off in front of a big iron gate. An older Spanish speaking woman approached the car looking worried, and tried explaining to us that our host was not yet home–we were 30 minutes early, but couldn’t have planned for a perfectly timed arrived, now that we were at the mercy of this place. She kept trying to tell us the bed wasn’t made yet but THESE bozos couldn’t remember what “la cama” meant!
She had us follow her past a courtyard past their beautiful home covered in green vines and french doors and a blossoming hedge. Behind the home, a tiny, peeked cabin came into view.
We sat and waited on the tiny deck while the woman made our bed. Soon after our host came home and showed us around the property. She reminded us to use the doggy gate on our tiny deck, if we wanted to keep the shoe thieves away from our sneakers.
The rest of the afternoon, Chris slept in our lofted little cabin, and I read a magazine about Lisbon. We didn’t have cell service, so when we were ready to go back to the city, we had to knock on our host’s door and have her call a taxi for us.
Our taxi driver came quickly and spoke to us about politics on the way down. He said indeed the roads were overloaded and as part of some community board, he was advocating for more parking lots (among other ideas) to help the old city manage the burgeoning tourism. He suggested taking an electric car out of the city center on our second day in Sintra, to experience the “real” parts, and the beaches.
We wandered the old city that evening, found a place to drink, and a place to eat (we initially walked 15 minutes out of the city to a highly rated restaurant (Nau Palatina) but it was full for the evening so we walked back–and THEN we found dinner). We promise it’s not all glamorous.
For dinner, we sat upstairs in an old restaurant, next to the window overlooking the street. A young guy served us, and slowly turned into our favorite person of the day as we watched him enthusiastically serve us and others in the room. We ordered a plate of mushrooms and Portuguese sausages among other things, and drank green and red wine (green wine tastes like champagne!) Our cheeks became rosy as we sat laughing at our shenanigans thus far. We overheard our waiter say to another table, “I’m young. I have much to see,” adding that he had been to Holland and was going to the UK next.
When it was time for dessert, our waiter told us to order both of Sintra’s famous desserts, the pillow pastry and the queijada. He asked us where we were from. “Ah, up north,” he said. We were impressed.
He introduced himself as David. Feeling chatty from the wine I asked him about his pending trip to the UK, blabbering about our recent trip. Long story short, David became our new friend and we continued exchanging information, giving him our blog as a point of contact.
That night, David saved us. When no taxis were in sight and our Uber driver wasn’t able to find our well hidden, secluded, really good idea Airbnb in the woods, we returned to David 45 minutes later and asked him to call a taxi for us, and we were home in no time. If you haven’t read our tips for traveling to Sintra, we’ve included notes for how to avoid such debacles!
That night Chris slept soundly, while Ali did not, for she was busy swatting the mosquitoes from her face. One of them woke up with mosquito bites all over his arms and face.
On our second day in Sintra, we took the taxi driver’s advice. We taxied to the city center, rented an electric car half the size of a golf cart (from Go2Cintra), and sped away into the countryside. Sintra isn’t just a touristy city center with magnificent–and I really mean magnificent–palaces and castles. It’s a large municipality of forests and villages and beaches, some of the best in Portugal.
That day was one of the best for us. The morning rush had arrived and we were smiling as Chris sped out of town. The streets started to widen and the people disappeared. We passed more wooded areas, following the narrow road as it wound up and around and through open spaces, all lined by stone walls. We didn’t have windows in the car (they zip off on hot days), so the wind cooled us as we cruised the short 30 minute ride to the coast. We passed a few villages and a town with beautiful, spacious homes. Then came the mansions, the water, and then Azenhas do Mar.
We parked our car on a short hill near the beach overlooking the village on the cliff. White homes with Spanish roofs climbed up the side of the cliff, and the water. It was so blue. A few families were already splashing in mother nature’s little kiddy pool.
We sat on the patio of a cafe steps away from the sand and ate a sandwich (of course) and recharged on coffee. We sat listening to the waves, getting softly misted with the heavy ocean air, sipping our hot drinks and basking the morning sun. It was quiet. It was going to be a good day.
We ventured up the stone steps to the top of the cliff overlooking the town and the beach. The wind pushed us around a bit, but we stood for some time just looking at the ocean and the beach below.
Around mid-day we cruised south along the coast, taking in the sites of beach life along the way until we reached Adraga beach. Our Airbnb host and taxi driver had suggested separately that we take a day to rest at the beach and dine at the restaurant there, for they had the best seafood at the best prices.
We found a spot on the beach away from most others and near the rocks. We laid a sarong on the sand, and rested there under the sun. The waves grew bigger and bigger as the day went on. Chris grabbed some snacks from the snack bar to tide us over until dinner.
We sat for nearly three hours letting our appetites grow. The sun had dipped behind the clouds and the wind and waves were massive. We sat outside near the sand, dining on pork and fresh fish from Maderia, and the biggest glasses of red wine and Jameson we ever did see. We took one last, long stare at the ocean before we left.
We folded back into the electric car and drove 15 minutes to our last sight of the day; Convent of the Capuchos. By this time we arrived, around five in the evening, it was deserted. One person waited, lonely and looking at her phone, for a hop on and off tour bus to come find her, while two other people started on foot down the road (seriously, rent an electric car). Inside the convent, we found an old complex of buildings (just a few, if that much) with rooms and hallways that once was home to friars.
It was built literally within the rock and boulders of the area, purposefully crafted in harmony with nature. It was too old for me to comprehend (the internet tells me 1500’s). We toured the small complex of tiny doorways and rooms, with everything made of stone, from tables and fireplaces to sinks.
We climbed higher to a point said to be the resting place of one of the convents oldest members who lived in penance for a long, long time. Chris climbed on something (normal) and said he could see the beaches from where he stood. We continued on, passing a family with a dog trailing behind. But the dog stood there looking at us as the family walked away. And then we recognized he was our Airbnb host’s dog who we met that morning. (Don’t worry, folks, apparently it’s normal in Sintra and our host nonchalantly laughed when we warned her he was three miles from home). He must have been a monk in a previous life.
The convent was a great way to end our day of relaxation (Chris laughs at this because he drove the whole time. Thanks for driving, Chris!) We took one last drive through the sequoia, ferns, and ivy covered walls until we returned to the city. We dropped our tiny car off at Go2Cintra, was gifted with a tuna pâté, and ran to make it to the 6:40 train to Lisbon. It was a packed train. We sat on the floor half of the way there, writing about our journey thus far. The rest of the way into Lisbon, Chris slept as I watched the others around us, sleeping on each others shoulders. That Sintra. She’ll get ya.
Back in Lisbon, it was our day to explore the Alfama neighborhood, beholder of the classic Fado music and picturesque streets. I ate Chris’s leftover Subway as we walked from Baixa-Chiado to Alfama, stopping first to sip a coffee nearby the Lisbon Cathedral. It was the first time we deliberately tag teamed to get a picture–Chris stood on the corner waiting for a tram to come and I waited downhill for the tram to take the turn in the shadow of the cathedral. The tram driver saw me and gave me a smile and questionable thumbs up, as if to ask if it was a good photo or not.
After deliberating if we should join the tour buses streaming into the church, we decided to wander onward through the alleys of Alfama and stopped to buy a cork souvenir at a street market.
It was already reaching 90 degrees and the sweat was rolling down our backs. We visited the Church of Santa Engracia, which is now the National Pantheon. The inside was a cool reprieve from the heat of the day.
We followed the stone stairwells up many floors to the observation deck, stepping back out into the heat. From the top, we could see ships on the Tagus and rooftops abound.
Hungry and tired of walking, we sought out an Indian restaurant, Yak and Yeti, on the suggestion of a friend. Our feet were hurting and Chris was shaking from skipping breakfast. But the food made up for it and we sat there in the small restaurant, surrounded by pictures of India and brightly colored walls, watching a TV in the corner of the room. We couldn’t understand the Portuguese but recognized Trump and the French President, and something about North Korea. We trudged back, happy to take Indian leftovers home and steal a glorious nap before the evening.
That evening we met with a professional photographer for a guided tour through the Alfama neighborhood, an experience we found on Airbnb. Emanuele, Italian born with a nomadic soul, traveled alongside photographer wife before settling in Portugal, her home country. Emanuele guided us and five others–from countries like Romania and Hungary–through the streets, stopping at beautiful spots to take photos of us and share tricks of his trade.
In the brutal heat Emanuele led us up elevators and down alleyways, to outlooks and scenic patios, ending with a free beer at Martim Moniz square among popup bars, restaurants, and live music.
We had plans that evening to try and catch a Fado show. We made a few phone calls to local places. Some were booked, and others wanted us to come early. We opted to stay put in the square, content and interested in the cheap Chinese noodles and live music. We sipped on massive drinks–sangria and gin (a theme, right?)–and listened to what Emanuele called a Brazilian sounding band. Two young girls joined the band and sang their little butts off. The older one mouthed the words and watched closely over the younger one, taking the microphone as soon as she could. She was better (and knew it).
The appeal of the square faded when we needed a restroom but had nothing but paperless portables. We returned home, happy to keep to ourselves that night, away from the wanderers and the pulsing city.
That night Chris ran into the ceiling again, “102…” he exaggerated.
On our last morning in Lisbon, we woke up feeling rested for the first day in a while. Ali wanted to lead the troops to the Belem neighborhood, but mixed up right away and took the wrong metro line. We corrected ourselves and made it eventually to the train station. Confusion then ensued.
Our train was leaving west towards Belem in 20 minutes, however, another train was about to depart west. Chris used his quick wits to recognize the departing train was going west, but wasn’t stopping at Belem. We took it anyways, getting off at a place nearby and taking the next train in to Belem. In all, the whole debacle took much longer than expected, and by the time we reached the neighborhood, so had the many tour buses.
Another hot day was in the forecast. We zigzagged in the shaded parts of a garden to a bright corner cafe and munched on flaky, sugary pastries and coffee. The plan was to see the Jerónimos Monastery and the Tower of Belem–a UNESCO World Heritage Site–before the crowds. But we arrived right after a tour of 50 some people had gotten in line. Feeling like the magic of the place would be lost among the selfie sticks and bucket hats, we stood outside the gates taking in the sheer size of the Monastery and appreciating its intricate facade. We walked in the hot cement towards the water until the Tower, sitting in the shallows, stood in front of us.
A line of tourists waited in line to squeeze themselves through narrow steps leading to the top. I read another blogger who suggested skipping this part, as it’s not worth the wait. Instead, we sat in the grass under a tree, watching hawks selling selfie sticks, hats, and sunglasses. “Let’s not wander around in the sun today,” we agreed.
Chris took charge and got us a taxi (our first of the trip–we were on our honeymoon after all) to Campo de Ourique Market, west of the busy city. The market was nearly empty, besides the market workers, prepping their food behind clean, sleek counters. It was definitely an upscale market, selling olive oils, wine, bread, flowers, crafts, etc. Two white haired women sat at the step of the bakery, speaking harshly to one another in Portuguese and watched us silently as we passed.
At the outskirts was a small fish market. An older man stood behind the coolers of iced octopus and fish. A father and young boy swept the brightly lit room. It smelled like the sea. Finally away from the crowds, we were relaxed. We dined on fresh iced tea, penne, and risotto, and watched as the quiet market became a lunch spot for locals. A boss mother breastfed her infant, and corralled two young boys to eat their lunch.
After enjoying the peace and quiet, we wandered towards Basílica da Estrela. On the way we saw the aftermath of an accident, where a tourist tram side swiped a moving van. The jam packed tram stood still in the road as the driver and another man angrily assessed the damage of the tram. Yikes. More reasons to take a taxi or tuk tuk! Once at the cathedral, we stood inside as quiet as possible so to not disturb the service, admiring the height of the ceiling and golden leaf details on the smooth wooden doors.
We didn’t stay long, and decided to drink (sorry). We hired a nearby tuk tuk–the first of the trip–to drive us up the hill to Park Bar, a rooftop bar on top of a parking garage. We took a graffitied elevator up to the top parking level and followed the music to the bar. The rooftop was hot, of course, but we found a tiny sliver of shade and enjoyed the views.
Afterwards, we packed for our trip to Madeira the next morning, and rested.
That evening I had a strict itinerary–visit Carmo Convent, a Gothic church ruined by an earthquake in 1755, and drink at the terrace bar overlooking parts of the city, Topo Chiado. We had deliberately waited to visit the convent in the evening to avoid the harsh light and busy crowds. We wandered around under the exposed ceiling-less nave, being held up by arches and flying buttresses, like skeleton bones.
In the nave and old apse chapels was the Carmo Archaeological Museum with seriously old relics, like the mummy of a small girl and arrowheads from ancient Lisbon. Chris stopped to wonder out loud, “Should they even display her?”
As fate would have it, on our last night in Lisbon I found an azulejos picture book in the museum’s gift shop to add to our collection.
Upon the advice of the Lisbon travel magazine our Airbnb host offered to us, we followed the alley behind the convent to find Topo Chiado, a terraced bar overlooking the highest point of the city and the Santa Justa Lift. We drank wine and whiskey and ate bread, butter, olives, and of course dessert as we watched the golden sunset on the orange rooftops. A pigeon swooped overhead almost taking my head off.
That night we grabbed one last liter of water from the corner store. At this point, the man working the counter knew our faces and what we were there for. We even came to recognize the old woman who walked passed our door every evening. That night she sat with crossed arms on the stoop across from our apartment. I wanted badly to take her portrait but didn’t have the nerve or the Portuguese to ask. When we reached the top of the stairs, I got the nerve and ran back down hoping she would still be there. The lights of the stairwell went out right in time for me to sneak behind the closed door, put my camera up to one of the holes, and snap a photo of her as she spoke to someone above me.
I read some of my azulejos book that night and journaled about our last bits of Lisbon. Chris took care of us and made sure we were charged, packed, and ready to go come early morning. Lisbon had been good to us, but we were ready for some greenery and wide open spaces. Little did we know, we would be getting a whole lot of that, and then some.
Want to keep going? Find “Part II” of our Portugal trip to Madeira Island and Porto, here!
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