Our past week was spent in sunny Portugal and while it was not a place I had ever thought of visiting when living in the US, we really enjoyed it (not to mention the food and wine) and we actually learned some new things!
Day 1: We arrived in Lisbon and headed to our apartment for the week where we got to drive our car into an elevator to park it on a lower level-interesting!
Then we ventured out to get dinner at a restaurant serving traditional dishes. We started the dinner with a Portuguese cheese board including sheep cheese which has a fairly strong taste. For the meal, we tried octopus (very good), duck risotto and fish and shrimp risotto along with some local beer, wine and port. For dessert, we tried a rice pudding and an egg yolk pudding cooked with bacon (sorry, we ate it before we thought about taking a picture) which was very good.
After dinner, we decided to walk around a bit and we learned the first lesson about Lisbon-what goes down must also come back up!
Day 2: On our second day, we headed out of Lisbon to Evora, about 1.5 hours east. As we were driving, we saw tons of storks nesting in the utility towers.
Once in Evora, we walked around the Praca Giraldo (open square with shops and restaurants as well as a church) and went into the church (note the wood and stone floor-different than many European churches that we have seen).
Next, we toured the Church of Sao Francisco, which had a lot of Portuguese tilework, statues and dolls. The walls were also rainbow in some places due to the stained glass.
Next to the church was the Capela Ossuary (the bone chapel) and a small museum featuring a special exhibit of nativities from around the world.
Finally, it was time for lunch and we decided to go all out with dishes traditional to this region of the country. We shared Seafood Migas and Black Pork Migas (migas basically referring to a type of stuffing dish and black pork being thin pieces of grilled pork), Sopa de Cacao (shark fish soup) and Acordas (cilantro seasoned soup eaten with bacalhau-dried, salted cod and egg). For both soups, there was regional bread and we couldn’t pass up some regional red wine as well. We finished it all off with Toucinho de Ceu for dessert (an almond pie that uses pork lard in its preparation).
After lunch, we walked to the Evora Cathedral and the town’s Roman ruins. We took a walk through the old town streets to the Aquaduct and then headed back to Praca Giraldo where we decided that all that walking entitled us to stop in a bakery and try a selection of pastries from the region including Queijada Evora, Queijada de Ceu, Pastel de Nata (egg custard pastry), Queijada de Coco (coconut pastry) and Pao de Rala.
On the way back from Evora, we stopped at Almendes which is a Neolithic stone site. The stones date from 4,000-6,000 B.C. There were also a lot of cork trees growing in this area- cork products are everywhere here.
Once back in Lisbon, we had another traditional Lisbon dish for dinner-Piri Piri chicken. It is essentially a roasted chicken that you eat with an oil sauce that is very spicy.
Day 3: On our third day, we went to Sintra which is just less than an hour west of Lisbon. We began at the westernmost point in Europe, Cabo Roca. It was very quiet and we had some beautiful views of the water and the rocky beach.
The rest of the day was spent walking nearly 29,000 steps (most of which were uphill!) as we visited the castles and palaces of Sintra. We began at Quinta Regalaria which had beautiful carved wood ceilings. The real gem of the palace area though was the gardens. They were immense and contained all sorts of grottos, caves and ornamental decorations and structures.
Next, we visited Monserrate. We walked through pretty tropical gardens on the way to this Asian/Indian style mansion which contained some elaborate stonework.
Next up was the Moorish Castle (Portugal has a long history with the Moors). There were a lot of stairs at this one, but we walked around the remains of the area which essentially added up to a wall with towers and saw a few archeological sites.
Last up was Pena Palace-another uphill battle getting there, but it was a very interesting style of building. It seemed to have some elements of Asian influence but was also somewhat European. It was home to the royal family but the rooms inside were very small with low ceilings, unlike other European castles.
On our way out of the palace park, we walked through an area called the Valley of Lakes.
If you have learned anything about us and our travels by now, you have probably guessed that by this point we were ready to try some local treats. So, we headed to old town Sintra which was mostly tourist shops but also contains Casa Puriquita-a little bakery known for its Queijada da Sintra and Travesseiro (which means pillow). If you recall, we also had Queijada in Evora but these were denser and more cinnamon flavored. The Travesseiro was a very light pastry with an almond paste type of filling.
And if you thought we were done eating, you are crazy! We headed back to Lisbon for dinner at a restaurant with lovely views of the city.
Here we had bacalhau a bras-dried, salted cod mixed with onion strings and shoestring potatoes-really delicious. We also tried a port tonic (made with white port) and a tawny port. If you have never had a port, I highly recommend it!
Day 4: Today we spent the first part of the day in Sesimbra (about an hour south of Lisbon). We began the day at Cabo Espichel, a lighthouse on the coastline. Next, we took a very windy walk through the coastal area to a dinosaur track site (if you see the large indentations in the rock to the bottom middle of the bottom picture- that’s them!).
Next, we headed to the Castelo Sesimbra- the remains of a fortress wall and a small church with lots of blue tilework and a graveyard.
After the castle area, we went to Urso and California Beaches and stopped for some Bifana for lunch (a very small sandwich with a very thin piece of pork-don’t worry, we made up for it later!).
After leaving the beach, we drove back to Lisbon to go to Torre de Belem (a tower which was often the last thing that explorers like da Gama would see when leaving Portugal) and the Padro dos Descobimentos (a massive sculpture celebrating the age of discovery in Portugal). And yes, if you think that bridge looks familiar, it was designed by the same people that designed the Golden Gate Bridge.
Across from these landmarks, is the Monastery of Jeronimo that boasts a sanctuary with ornate stonework, more of the statues and dolls found in the Portuguese churches and the tomb of Vasco da Gama (the famous Portuguese explorer).
And then, as I told you, we made up for our small lunch by eating a ton of Pastel de Nata (the egg custard pastry) from the famous (and the only ones with the original recipe) Pastel de Belem. You eat these little pastries with powdered sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top. They are very good and a little addictive. While these were our only ones from Pastel de Belem, we may have found another place in Lisbon that was our supplier several additional times!! But at Pastel de Belem, we also had a few pastel de carne, and for my Brazilian friends and family, it was very different from the ones featuring carne moida. It was more like shredded beef.
After our snack, we stopped by the Basilica da Estrela which had very pretty stonework and some very large statues near the ceiling.
On our way to dinner, we stopped at A Ginjinha which is a famous distributor of the popular Lisbon drink, ginjinha, which is made with sour cherries infused in liquor. The stand itself is just that. You walk up to a small open doorway with a counter (and the stickiest floor I have ever encountered), order your drink and then stand off to the side in the square to drink.
At dinner, we tried some grilled cod and Portuguese meat while the kids ate an Alheira sausage. The sausage is made of bread like stuffing and various meats, most of which are not pork. This particular version was fried on the outside, but we also tried one a few days later that was not. It was quite different and very soft, but it had really good flavor.
Day 5: Finally, we stayed in Lisbon on our fifth day. We started the day with a walk down from our apartment to a lower square where we stopped into the Sao Domingo church which had very pretty rose-colored ceilings and very dilapidated, worn walls.
Next, we took the famous Tram 28 to the St. George Castle area.
In this area, we stopped in the Cathedral of Lisbon (note the interesting door frames that you have to step through). Inside the Cathedral, they had a small dressing room displaying the vestiges of the priests and bishops.
After leaving the Cathedral, we stumbled upon the ruins of a Roman theater on our way up (yes, uphill) to the castle.
At the castle, we saw the gardens (with tons of peacocks in the trees-we even saw one flying), an artifact collection, archeological ruins and the remains of the castle itself (again mostly just walls and towers). They also had a periscope camera by which they give you an aerial tour of Lisbon.
In the afternoon, we walked around the Praca do Comercio and the Rossio district and then rode the tram around more areas of the city.
Here are a few of the sites from around the city including a store featuring all of the cork products you can purchase, the Christ statue overlooking the city, a massive elevator in one of the city districts and some of the many buildings with the tiled walls for decorative purposes.
I also really love this street that was right by our apartment with all the laundry. One day we got stuck behind this “trash truck”-guess it’s the only truck that can pick up trash that is small enough to fit the street.
And finally, who can resist this really cool store featuring cans of sardines. There were tons of fancy sardine stores like this around the city. The displays-cool, the product-not so much!
For dinner, we ventured to the Bairro Alto district and tried a selection of Portuguese meats and Acorda de Gamba (shrimp in stuffing dish-very good).
Day 6: On the sixth day, we again headed out of Lisbon to the north. First, we stopped in Fatima to see the church there that was built after three children saw a vision of the Virgin Mary. It is a massive compound featuring several sanctuaries and praying areas.
Next, we drove to Porto which is 3 hours to the north of Lisbon. Our first stop was lunch at Cafe Santiago where we had the famous Francesinha sandwich featuring sausage, steak and ham in a sandwich topped with a fried egg, cheese and a special gravy and surrounded by french fries. We also tried Portuguese beer, a green wine and some port. And we once again ordered Toucinha de Ceu for dessert (the almond pie cooked with bacon lard).
After lunch, we wandered the city seeing many churches including Santo Ildefonso, Santa Clara, the Cathedral of Porto, Sao Francisco, Clerigos Church and Igreja do Carmo. Our favorite was probably Santa Clara because we got a private tour. The church features lots of wood covered with gold leaf (sadly you could not take pictures).
We also walked down the narrow old streets to the Cais Ribeiro area near the water where you can get a good look at the Dom Luis I bridge (built by a student of Eiffel).
On our walk, we were able to get an up-close look at some of the tiles that you can find on so many of the building facades in Portugal.
We also stopped by many historic buildings including the municipal building, the stock exchange building and the Estacao Sao Bento (train station) which was very beautiful with all of its tilework.
And of course, no trip would be complete without stopping for some local foods like this massive bread (this was just one-quarter of the whole piece) called Broa de Avintes and a few pastries like this almond pastry and Jesuitas (puff pastry with a meringue top).
On our way back to Lisbon, we stopped in Coimbra for dinner at a restaurant located outside of a famous monument.
Day 7: On our final day, we spent the morning on the balcony of our apartment enjoying the sun and the view before wandering around a park area near the apartment which featured a statue for a famous doctor and hundreds of little stones carved with thanks to this doctor for watching over or healing loved ones (the doctor died in the 1800’s but apparently people still ask his spirit for protection of the sick).
After lunch at the restaurant with the nice views, we decided to hit up our Pastel de Nata supplier one last time for a few of the treats before leaving the city!
Portugal was a lot of fun, the food was great and we saw many beautiful places and buildings. We are definitely glad we visited and hope you enjoyed coming along for the ride. And if you are tired after reading this post, get ready because we have another travel adventure coming up in just a few short weeks. Until next time!