I left a rainy New York City for a wonderful week with some good friends in Lisbon, Portugal. It was my very first time visiting Europe, and I can say that it was an amazing spring break never to be forgotten.
I must say hotel breakfasts are one of my favorites parts of traveling – such a wide selection of fruits and pastries (and coffee served by waiters) are probably worth waking up for.
Our hotel room was nice; the bathroom came with a double vanity, its own radio, and a European bidet!! Unfortunately I never found the need to ‘freshen up’ to the extent where I had to use it 😛
We soon found a small cafe very close to the hotel that we ended up visiting several times – the breakfast pastries and cheap (BUT GOOD) coffee were very enjoyable.
Torre de Belem (Belem Tower)
After our early arrival at the hotel, we took a cab to the harbor to see the Belem tower. This stone fortress is supposed to be one of the iconic symbols of Lisbon, and I thought the tower standing alone against the water was a nice view. At this point, it still felt really surreal to think that I was in Europe, and the view of the water and the kind people trying to tell us directions in Portuguese just amplified the excitement. We marched on to find the famous egg custard in Belem, using choppy Spanish and hand gestures to communicate with the people on the streets, somehow managing the end the conversations by thanking the person with “Obrigado” (turns out if you’re a girl you have to say “Obrigada“… which I realized on the second day in Lisbon!!)
We stumbled upon a few more famous sites on our journey to find the egg tarts (which was pretty much the main goal of our first day)
We walked up some stairs to the Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art – I kind of wanted to go inside, but since we had a corporate dinner (as part of the school trip) we had to get back to, we just walked around the exterior of the museum, which was still quite nice; it had a very modern/zen vibe, with palm trees, geometric fountains, and modern architecture.
Next up, we walked by the Jeronimos Monastery, a temple for the monks of Saint Jerome and the resting place of some great figures of Portuguese history. The building was grand, and each of the columns were delicately carved. It was such a picturesque building from every angle!
They offer a wide variety of traditional Portuguese pastries, but the most famous of them all is the Pastel de Nata, a Portuguese egg tart. These egg tarts were totally worth the hike across the city!! They were different from the egg tarts from Chinatown bakeries – the crust were much more crispy, and the egg custard inside were almost like a flan, bouncy like jello… yet so soft.
Just look at that.
After another taxi ride (we found that it was much easier to find a taxi stand than to try to hail a cab in the streets), we arrived at Rossio Square, a busy area booming with tourists (and pigeons). Every single corner of the city was beautiful, with its coral walls and exquisite tiles everywhere.
Not far from the main square are long streets on stores, restaurants, and souvenir shops; the stairs and inclines along the streets gave off a very different vibe (and a booty workout!) compared to the flat streets of Soho or Fifth Ave. The buildings, while antique in style, were very clean and white.
For lunch, one of my friends and I walked into a small street to find a table at Taberna da Rua das Flores, a famous restaurant serving traditional Portuguese tapas. The soup and seafood/pork sausage were delicious, but we found the cod salad to be a bit too salty. As famous as the fish is in Portugal, I found the seafood dishes to be a hit or miss…
Some of the people in our group decided to go back to the hotel to get some rest, while me and another friend wanted to explore some more. We walked around the streets, looking around in some stores, and we also got some famous gelato at Gelados Santini!
Their coconut flavor is apparently one of their most popular – I got a small cup with coconut and hazelnut. Yum!
We eventually made our way to Terreiro Do Paço (or Praça do Comércio), where the statue of José I stands in a vast plaza. This area was rebuilt after an earthquake in 1755 – the openness of the square by the water felt really liberating – the streets were crowded yet everything felt much quieter and peaceful. The buildings were beautiful, especially the arch, on top of which I actually spotted some people…!
The whole area is accessible through the Baixa-Chiado subway station (the metro system is quite nice! As I often realize in many cities, the NYC subway really has to step up its hygiene game.) We rode the subway back to the hotel.
Everyone was dressed to the 9s, and we were served a three course meals with a delicious chocolate mousse dessert. Frankly, the creamed codfish was not something I would try again, the dinner was completed with several performances of traditional Portuguese singers – I realize that all the singers tend to have a particular type of husky, mid-range voice, which I found to be quite charming.
This concludes my first day in Lisbon! I was so drained by the end of the day with all the walking on top of a plane ride, but this is just the beginning of my journey…