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Published: March 26th 2018
Pastéis de Belém
At their home beside Mosteiro dos Jerónimos where they have been making them in the same way since 1837.
I had always wanted to visit Lisbon. However, I had never particularly wanted to visit as a group of eleven lads from Yorkshire, especially when one of them, the stag, was attired in a flamenco dancer’s dress. Which he pulled off very well and appeared far too comfortable; thus, the whole pre-wedding public humiliation idea kind of backfired.
I’m generally not a fan of forced fun, hence I try and go away somewhere for New Year’s Eve rather than going out and the ritualistic format of stag weekends doesn’t greatly appeal either. However, it was one of my best mate’s getting married, a lot of my other best mates were heading on the trip, some of whom I don’t see that often anymore, so there was never a question of whether or not I would go. But the feeling in the week running up to the trip was 50% excitement about finally visiting Lisbon and 50% dread that we would be drunken Brits abroad who everyone else would try their best to avoid.
To at least see a bit of the city, I arrived first thing Friday morning as everyone else arrived Friday night so
I had a day to look around. First stop was Belem where the first port of call was the most famous Pasteis de Belem café. I dwelled over a coffee and two of the delicious custard tarts in the hope that the vile thunderstorms would ease. They didn’t but it wasn’t far to run to the UNESCO recognised Mosteiro de Geronimos. There was a long queue of soggy people out in the elements trying to hang on to umbrellas as the fierce gusts attempted to rip them out of their hands. The plastic poncho sellers were doing a roaring trade. I bypassed this miserable line and went straight into the church attached to the monastery; no queue and free or long queue in driving rain then 10 Euros? Apparently, there isn’t a huge amount to see in the monastery anyway, but the church is incredible. Huge, grand, ornate, intricate, and best of all, dry.
The rain eased slightly for the stroll to the riverfront and the Torre de Belem. After my umbrella flipped inside out for the tenth time I gave up and wound my way to a fish restaurant in a boat yard. It was full
of happy old people – which is the mark of a good restaurant in my experience. Despite being just off the tourist highlights of Belem, I was the only non-Portuguese there, which appeared standard as the menu only came in Portuguese. I was aggressively encouraged by the old waiter to have tuna steak and a glass of wine. I went along with it to stop him shouting at me and it was a very good decision. The tuna was divine – as was the free custard tart he brought me with a coffee afterwards (I would end up semi-accidentally consuming five of the delicious morsels before the day was out).
A tram took me along streets lined with the famously colourfully tiled townhouses (must be a bugger to grout) to the Praça do Comércio. There I was offered “hashish, marijuana, cocaine” at least every 10 metres as I crossed the square to the edge of the mighty Tagus where you could now just about make out the giant Jesus on the other bank through the low cloud. From Belem I only saw his ankles. I strolled through pretty Baixa, more “hashish, marijuana, cocaine” was proffered and menus
were used as barricades by eager waiters to deflect me into restaurants. I gave them all the swerve and scaled the steps, the steep cobbled streets, then more steps, up to Bairro Alto where we had a great apartment booked.
We all did actually see a bit more of the city during a tuk-tuk tour the next day that had the larger chaps among us having to get out in order for the loud uncomfortable rattling vehicles to make it up Lisbon’s many cobbled hills. The tour took in many of Lisbon’s famous sights but we unexpectedly didn’t stop; we just drove past these sights and were told the name. An exception was Alfama. This is the oldest part of Lisbon as it survived the 1755 earthquake that destroyed most of the city and ruined Portugal as a major world power. Alfama is all hills and alleyways where we had a stroll and were sold homemade ginja (a cherry liquer) through a window by an old lady. Who then whipped out a brand new iphone to get a selfie with us for her Facebook page.
We spent each night touring the tiny bars and
generally standing outside for want of space, which it was surprisingly warm enough to do (as long as you had a coat on). All the lairiness I had feared didn’t come to fruition as I remembered that we were basically a decent set of lads. Seeing as most people now have wives and babies, my concern was unfounded that this would be their one weekend free of responsibility in the whole year thus they would go mental. The second night was more of a struggle as we were suffering from the first night, but we still managed to keep going until 4am.
The conclusions: Lisbon = great, though I must return and actually go inside a few things. Stag weekends = not necessarily as horrendous as they might have been.
PS. The photograph that inspired the title of this blog, taken on one of the city’s many viewpoints where some bird-of-prey fanciers were vying for your Euros, I have decided against uploading in order to spare you the nightmares which I now experience.
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