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Published: November 2nd 2021
We immediately liked the feel of Lisbon and could not tell you exactly why. Could it be that Lisbon is nestled among many hills, which create natural divisions for little neighborhoods and each with plenty of personality? Or perhaps that it is next to the water, which is always a natural draw for us? Are we describing San Francisco? No....this is Lisbon and it's charm grabbed us immediately. As we drove across the bay on our way back from the lovely town of Evora, we drank in the scenery and found ourselves eager for our time in Lisbon to begin because it would be spent with friends. World Travelers Unite
Our first night in town would prove to be a great one, as we were having dinner with our retired travel agent Angeline and her husband John and two of their friends. You know it is a small world when friends are traveling in Lisbon the same night you are! They had just recently be on a river cruise in the north of Portugal on the Douro River. We were to do the same in just a few days and you'll hear more in the next blog. In our
opinion, when you find a great travel agent they simply become irreplaceable. We've been fortunate to have two who have been exceptional. (Angeline F. and Nadia E. - who specializes in Africa, Japan and Expedition Travel- who we still use. ) We found Angeline while we were living in Pittsburgh. She sent us on trips to France, Belgium, Italy, Iceland, Germany, Copenhagen, the Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Burma, India, Bhutan, the Philippines, Jordan, Egypt and Israel. Angeline was unique -- she knew when we were planning a 6 month trip we would need assistance with parts of it and we would want to do pieces of it independently. That is so hard to find! Angeline was amazing. She herself is an experienced world traveler and it was kismet that we should find ourselves in Lisbon on the same night.
But the real fun was just about to begin! First thing the next morning, we had a bit of breakfast and sat in our hotel lobby waiting for our friend Chef Brendan bvchef
to arrive from the airport. Flights from the U.S. arrive early in the morning and he'd flown from Seattle -- so we gave him use
of our room to clean up before we hit the town. Brendan was bound and determined to stay up as long as he could to adjust quickly. We'd done some research and provided Brendan a couple of options, so off we went to sample the original pastel de Belem in the bakery where it was invented! We are told that the recipe is held under lock and key. The secrecy must be something along the lines of the Coca-Cola of Portuguese pastries. Casa Pasteis de Belem had a line out the front door so we opted to run in the Starbucks next door and grab a cup of coffee to go with the anticipated custard tarts for which they are so famous. Dave slipped into line and it proved beneficial. The signage while in line was good so we were ready to order when we hit the counter. I felt like we were in that episode of Seinfeld with the soup nazi.... there was no time wasted in ordering. We shared a box of 6 of these tasty treats. We are happy with the original. As the days went on we realized every restaurant and bakery in town, in the
country sold these but everyone said these were the best and from the ones we tasted later we agreed. No one has been successful in duplicating the recipe. We were told of secret recipes with non-disclosure agreements and only 3 people have access.... it seems to have done the trick and no one can replicate them exactly since 1837, even though they have annual contests. These pastries have a thin delicate crispy crust that embraces a creamy custard.
As with all European cities, Lisbon is rich in history. After our sweet treat we were in search of an introduction to the local architecture so we explored the Monastery of Jeronimos. A beautiful church and monastery with beautifully stained glass windows. In addition, on offer was a beautiful exhibit of Egyptian artifacts and ancient art. We felt like we were in some sort of time machine as the last time we traveled with Brendan we were in Egypt and Jordan looking at the same type of exhibit. We cruised through there fairly quickly as it kind of a "been there, seen that" type of exhibit for us.
After that, it was time to head for the water.... When you
Travel Brendan set free
.... 1st night in Lisbon
approach the waterfront in Lisbon an eerie feeling takes over as you are standing there looking at the Golden Gate Bridge.... well not exactly. The same architect designed the bridge in Lisbon and even though it is NOT an exact replica it certainly is pretty darn close. The waterfront has a broad boardwalk with many food trucks who have set up tables, chairs and umbrellas to entice you to stop. Restaurants embracing indoor and outdoor dining. You can see musicians busking in the warm sun. The main attraction is the giant Monument to the Discoveries, which honors navigators, explorers and sailors from the past. It has turned into a tourist attraction with elevators to a scenic rooftop. The line was rather long, so we took a pass. Across the river on the hill is a small Cristo de Redentor which makes you feel like you are in Brazil. It is sort of strange viewing all of these together.
Almost immediately, we felt how great it was to be traveling with Brendan once again. Now we've adopted the name, The Masked Bandits because of a photo we took on the tram, which you can see below. Lisbon's Tram 28
The Masked Bandits
We adopted a new name while riding the tram in Lisbon.
Public transportation makes it easy to navigate in Lisbon, so we headed off on the metro to get to the other side of town where we wanted to catch the infamous Tram 28. Tram 28 takes you past many historical buildings, scenic views and tourist stops. Yes, the short line took 40 minutes for us to get the window seat we had our eyes on. We were told the left side of the tram was best so we let a couple of people go in front of us and we waited for the next one. It was decided we would ride it all the way around once to get a feel for the city and then head back to check out points of interest. It is a good thing we bought the day pass that allows you to ride the metro and the trams as we got half way through and they made us get off and catch the next one. While waiting for the second one to pick us up a young couple made a scene because they bought a ticket on the wrong tram, by accident, and wanted to use it on the 28. The
tram driver was having none of it. We started to give the kids the money to get them to move on as it was only 5 or 6 euros. Before we made the decision they gave up and took off.
We had a fantastic view of the quaint streets and alleyways. Many of the buildings are adorned by graffiti, some drying laundry and others colorful flower boxes. Often could see our reflections in the store windows as we passed by on the tram. We were getting a good feel for the personality of Lisbon. We saw an interesting arch we wanted to return to but had a difficult time finding it on our way back. We did finally find it after a mediocre lunch. We were sad because surrounding the arch were several cute restaurants that we would have preferred to eat at. We were on a bit of a time crunch as we were on our way to a city tour. Off the beaten track city tour
At first, we weren't sure what we had signed up for but in the end were pleased it turned out to be good. The tour was through a
part of town where many locals and ex patriots live. Our tour started at the church and wandered through the park before we began quizzing our guide as we often do on private tours. Before the afternoon was over we understood the cost of rent, how much school teachers and nurses were paid, what healthcare and education cost for them in addition to learning about numerous political issues and crime. All in all it was just what we were looking for. Plus she took us to a shop where we were able to buy the kind of chopping board that Jamie Oliver likes to use.
A note about walking around in this fair city. When you walk in Lisbon and other cities in Portugal, the sidewalks are made of small ceramic tiles. While quite nice and quaint on one hand, they are not great for traction. Although we saw no precipitation while there, it left us to wonder whether or not the tiles were more slippery when wet....or dry. You could literally slide on parts of the sidewalks. The locals of course, pay it no mind and walk like it is nothing. As nurses, we envision hospital emergency rooms
Clams, clams, clams
Cooking Lisbon Class
filled with patients (especially the elderly) who suffer broken bones and the like every time it rains..... A culinary feast
On the 13th of October we wanted to take Brendan out for a celebration dinner. Why is that? Well, it is the anniversary of his leaving his small town in Ohio in 1984 and heading off to the Culinary Institute of America. With a recommendation from the front desk of our hotel we headed off to Horta dos Brunos. At first we thought we weren't getting in as they were fully booked but when our hotel concierge told them Brendan was a chef-- a table magically appeared! There are a lot of benefits to traveling with The Chef! It is always dangerous when three foodies with high expectations and wanting to celebrate head into a restaurant. For most chefs it would be a lot of pressure but as soon as the chef started talking with us we knew we were in good hands. He asked if he could order for us and the food began to appear when we said yes. A feast of six appetizers with white wine and when the red wine showed up we had
moved on to warm and crisp garlic bread and an amazing chorizo omelet. We thought we were finished with the meal when our entrees of grilled grouper and grilled tuna showed up. We were stuffed.. over the top. We hadn't had a second to breathe when a dessert tray showed up. Yes, the chef decided we needed to try all five of them. For all of you foodies reading this... the appetizers included fried sardines, samosas that were out of this world, butter beans, rabbit and octopus in olive oil and finally salted fried peppers. The restaurant chef was our friend now and very happy that our chef Brendan appreciated his culinary skills. Let's just say this guy rocked it!! Cooking in Lisbon... Cooking with the Chef!
When we travel, we enjoy taking cooking classes because food is one of our passions and it provides a wonderful glimpse into the culture of the city and country that we are in. We've taken cooking classes in Thailand, Bali, Jordan, Spain and several in Italy. Brendan found a great cooking class for us to take in Jordan and now he's done it again in Portugal! Bravo Chef! We had
a small group of six which allowed us to spread out in the kitchen. Part of the class was hands on and part was observation after going to the market together. Even though this was a morning class the wine was flowing freely. Certainly there was a nap in our future. We hope to have time at home in the next months to dust off recipes from old classes as well as what we have learned on this trip. We will be looking for friends to experiment on!
Cooking classes when you travel are a great deal of fun even if you don't like to cook. They are generally very basic and camaraderie abounds. Our instructor Filipe described the dishes we would prepare and asked if everyone was willing to try octopus. We'd just watched a wonderful documentary on octopus and it gave us pause but we eat a lot of animals we like so we were all in agreement to bring it on. Filipe provided tips on freezing the octopus which made it easier to work with as you could control the cutting as it thawed out. We all jumped in to chop onions, garlic and other spices
that would be used in our dishes. Into the oven the octopus went while we toodled off the local fresh market. It was a nice market with lots of fresh meats, vegetables and seafood displayed proudly. We never tire of taking photos in these markets as they take so much time and care to come up with creative displays.
During our class we were introduced to green wine which means it comes from young grapes and accompanied with bread, cheese, local olives and chorizo that they grilled in front of us on an interesting looking clay cradle. Step by step we assisted in making watermelon gazpacho which we must make when we get home. It is always smart to keep the wine glasses full when instructing students to chop, scoop, blend and mince..... no accidents happened. We think the chef may have been intimidated by having a fellow chef in the class as he seemed to seek approval from Brendan and confirmation that he was doing things right. We knew immediately he was not a trained chef when we saw him handle a knife, chop some garlic and onion. But-- no matter what, it was a great class and
he guided us while we created a fantastic meal to share. In addition to the octopus entree, we cooked fresh clams in garlic followed by a delicate risotto and for dessert a deconstructed pastel de Belem. All of this food was delicious and we felt accomplished by the end of the morning that we had pulled off such a fine meal. Although we were only in this lovely city for a few days, it treated us to sights, sounds, smells and fabulous food. Memories for a lifetime...... A short summary....
we have really enjoyed Lisbon and if we come back which is likely we will stay in one of those quaint hillside neighborhoods with lots of personality.
Thinking of Lisbon reminds us of Casa Blanca as they needed transit papers to Lisbon. Fond memories of a good movie and now fond memories of an amazing city. 3 pages of photos. (sorry)
Where we stayed: Hilton Fontana (free with points and a great location)
Restaurant: Horta dos Brunos
Cooking Class: Cooking Lisbon
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