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Monday, July 14, 2014

A Long Weekend in Lisbon, Day 1


Three days is actually a really great amount of time when it comes to discovering Lisbon. I imagine if I lived in Europe, I would treat Lisbon much like we treat NYC and I would visit for a long weekend jaunt once or twice a year. Fly in, explore an undiscovered neighbourhood, revisit a couple of my favourite restaurants, shop a bit, eat a lot and fly back home on Sunday night, relaxed with a belly full of port and bacalhau. I love spending time in a great city without the added pressure of feeling like we have to see EVERY SINGLE AWESOME THING THERE IS TO SEE IN THREE DAYS.



make sure to take a ride on a funicular at least once

To prepare for a trip, I like to do weeks of due diligence and then just wing it. With all that intensive research, I kind of feel like I know the city already and then when we get there, I just start walking around and what I find is that I will keep turning a corner and bumping into something that I had been reading about anyway. I hate feeling like I have to carry around a map and waste valuable time actively looking for things because you often miss all of the incredible stuff there is to see along the way. Pinterest is your friend and if you want to check out my Portugal trip board, I think you will like it.

If I miss some churches or monuments, I will catch them on the next trip but look at this nifty little farmacia I found that sells all of this old fashioned Portuguese hand cream!


Day 1

The only affordable suitcase I could find that would fit the Air Transat carry on dimensions was a kid's bag although judging by the giant suitcases that I saw lugged onto the plane, I could have taken one of my 456 carry ons that were technically a bit too big. I do love this bag though.
Arrive in Lisbon on Friday morning. The airport is right downtown so it's either a €20 cab ride or about a 30 minute ride on the subway, most likely to the Baxia-Chiado station. You have packed wisely with only a rolling carry on suitcase so the subway is actually a great alternative to a taxi that has to navigate the endless one way streets and ever changing road closures. If you take the metro, you get on the red line, switch to the green line at Alameda and you are getting out at Baxia-Chiado because you have booked a lovely apartment in the charming Barrio Alto neighbourhood, right? You could always stay at a hotel but I prefer to live on a real street, in a real apartment so I can feel a little bit like I live there. We stayed in this apartment and it was wonderful but there are endless choices on airbnb in that neighbourhood so just pick one. Make sure to read the reviews first and as long as a place has lots of good feedback, you are good to go. If you insist on a hotel, fine, but try to stay in that area anyway.


hop on and off the tram 28 and explore the narrow, winding and often very steep streets along the route

people dressed as statues appears to be "a thing" in Lisbon


 The Barrio Alto is a perfect base of operations in Lisbon. Alfama is pretty but it's not central enough and it's just way too hilly. Uptown is too, well, uptown and I am not interested in shopping at Armani and Prada. Instead, you are a short walk to the subway and the famous tram 28 which will take you pretty much anywhere you want to go. You are right next door to the Baxia and Chiado neighbourhoods for good shopping and cafe hopping, the tram 15 that will take you out to Belem is one subway stop away and, at night, its the home of endless charming cafes, bars and restaurants and the best people watching in town.

You probably can't actually check into your airbnb apartment or hotel yet since you arrived well before the universal 2ish pm check in time, but you can most likely drop off your bag. That will allow you to go and explore the direct area, grab a coffee and a pastry and get yourself acclimatized.
the area around the Baxia-Chiado subway station
You have lots of options for your breakfast here:

Pastelaria Camoes was The Kid's favourite place to start the day and refuel throughout
You can go down and dirty at a place like Pastelaria Camoes and belly up to the bar with the locals that flock here for their morning espresso, beer and pastry. Very little english is spoken and my misguided attempt to speak Spanish with a Portuguese accent wasn't much help but with our customary pointing, gesturing and all around willingness to eat whatever is put in front of us scored us an amazing ham and omelet sandwich, some meat turnovers called rissois de carne, some pastry and a couple of rounds of fabulous espresso, all for a song.


You can also choose to go somewhere beautiful like the city's most famous cafe,  Cafe Brasileira where you will pay top dollar for your coffee but you can feel worldly and sophisticated and can pretend that you are an avant garde artist during the 20's just taking a break outside at one of their lovely outdoor tables, about to engage in a lively debate with the intellectuals of the day about the price of eggs.


If you want something that feels more familiar and safe than the first option but a bit cheaper and more casual than the second, you can also grab an espresso and a pastel de nata at a good quality chain cafe like Padaria Portuguesa. It has many outlets and this one on the Praca Luis De Camoes, is a bustling little spot with good coffee, nice pastries and a couple of little tables outside so if you want something dependable, you are never too far from one of these spots in Lisbon. The egg tart was very good, with a layered flaky crust that was much lighter than it's Toronto version and it was a bit less sweet as well, which I prefer.
So, after you have some coffee and a snack, it's time to have a bit of a walk about.

If you didn't take the subway from the airport, you need to make sure to descend into the bowels of the Baixa-Chiado station and buy a Viva Viagem card. The card itself is €.50 and for €6 , you can load it with a 24 hr pass. If you treat the card nicely, you can just keep loading it up every day but if you lose it or rip it, don't worry because you can just buy another one for €.50 . The card will get you on the subway, the trams and buses, the Santa Justa Lift, the ferry and it will get you a discount for the funiculars. Don't be alarmed by the million escalators it takes to get down into the station, just cross your fingers and hope to god that all of the ones carrying you back up are working.

You can explore Chiado and all of it's shops and make your way to the Santa Justa Lift. Make sure to stop in at Luvaria Ulisses to try on some of their gorgeous, handmade leather gloves. From the decor of the tiny shop to the manufacturing of their beautiful leather gloves, nothing much has changed since the shop opened in 1925. I was scolded by the woman who was fitting me when I tried to touch one of the gloves that she had laid out for my perusal. Only SHE touches the gloves. I have never been so happy to be treated like a naughty toddler with sticky hands instead of a paying, adult customer who is about to lay down €50  for the gloves she is currently poking with her little finger stretching stick.


If you like great little containers, notebooks and and things that will help put your life in order, make sure to also duck into Muji, which pretty much right next door. We don't have Muji here and so I have only seen their stuff online and I was like a kid in a candy store. You can use your metro pass to ride up the 147ft to the top of Santa Justa Lift because the view from up there is beautiful. It's even more beautiful in the dark so make sure you do that once as well.

don't forget to take a ride to the top after dark


By now, you are probably getting peckish and would like a little lunch, right? In Portugal, lunch is eaten between 1 and 3pm and god protect the person that gets between a Portuguese person and their lunch. They take it very seriously and it is generally their big meal of the day with most restaurants offering a daily special and you would be wise to go with that. It's always fresh and delicious and very reasonably priced. More touristy places will offer a prix fix lunch with three courses and touristy doesn't always equal bad, so if you are really hungry you might want to look for that sort of a place.

you can get these Pasteis de Bacalhau in every single bar, cafeteria and snack stand in the city and at about €1 a pop they make a great snack as you walk up and down the steep hills of Lisbon

We tend to just eat a couple of snacks as we go and have a more substantial dinner later on so if you are like us, I would recommend stopping for a bifana. A bifana is truly a thing of wonder and a Portuguese treasure. Thinly pounded pork cutlets are marinated in spices and white wine and then fried and piled onto a beautiful, white portuguese bun. You then slather it in down and dirty yellow mustard and/or hot oil that will be provided. It sounds and looks really simple and even a bit boring but it's anything but.
You can easily spend an entire day just exploring this wonderful, old area of Lisbon on foot and by tram


Sticking to the neighbourhood, you won't find a better bifana than the ones at  O Trevo and it's really cheap. Two ice cold beers and two bifanas set us back about €7 and, for the three of us, that is lunch. You can't miss it because it's right on the corner, beside the Padaria Portuguesa where you may have had a coffee earlier in the day, on the Praca Luis de Camoes. Funnily enough, it wasn't until I started writing this post that I realized this is the place that Anthony Bourdin raved about in his Lisbon episode of No Reservations.

I keep track of where we eat by photographing all of the receipts but the name of the place on this receipt is different from the name of the restaurant. After an hour of searching, I realized that the address was exactly the same as O Trevo which is the name that kept popping up when I would just search "best bifana Lisbon". So, don't just take my word for it, skip a big lunch and come here for an unbelievably juicy, delectable pork cutlet sandwich instead because Mr Bourdin said you should too.

this weird candy shop in the Barrio Alto is worth a look just because it's so weird and who doesn't love candy?

After a rest and a nap (because, like me, you might be an amatuer when it comes to drinking a little 375 ml bottle of vihno verde at lunch) back at your crash pad, it's time to start thinking about dinner. I like to totally immerse myself into the local culture on my first day, wander, find cool places that you aren't going to find on Trip Advisor and Four Square and that is how we found the place I am going to recommend for dinner. Of course, I have since reviewed it on Trip Advisor but I think mine is still the only review, so for now you are still safe to go there.

the sardines and the fried octopus were the specials of the day - take a translator or dictionary to decipher the menu
Make sure you go to Vasco da Gama for dusk/after dark because the local isn't very charming in the hard light of day

We ate here twice on our ten day trip, on our first and last day in Lisbon and when we go back, it will be our first dinner again


Have a nice shower, change your clothes and go out again in search of sustenance. We stumbled upon the Flor Vasco da Gama quite by accident but now that you know where it is, you can just hop on the 28 tram and go directly there. Once again, nobody speaks english but that's okay. Just sit at one of the order whatever the special is, some vinho verde or beer and enjoy the atmosphere. June is sardine season so we had GIANT sardines, perfectly charred on the grill but just play it by ear. Make sure to order the garlic clams and the grilled chorizo though because their clams were absolutely on par with the clams at O Ramiro (the #1 seafood mecca in Lisbon). The place is packed with local regulars, the odd dog looking for scraps, lively conversation, sporting events on the big tv and you can pretend you're a local for a couple of hours before going across the street, into the square, and grabbing a sugary, deep fried thing for dessert. You can't miss that carny looking kiosk and just take whatever they give you and enjoy.

They make churros but what we had was more like a beaver tail
  Return to the Barrio Alto where you should just bar hop, grab your drink and wander around until you like the look of another place until you are ready to go to bed. It's all very civilized, every establishment seems to just throw tables and out onto the road in front of their place and people take their drinks outside, they sit on steps with a glass of wine, meander up and down the street, cocktails in hand, chatting to friends they see along the way. This place,Cusek Wine Bar, makes a lovely G&T, by the way so if you find yourself passing by, stop in for a drink and some chocolate cake.


listen to some Fado too


A few things to keep in mind when in Lisbon:

we only paid for the things we opened, like these individual containers of fresh cheese
You will be charged for everything you consume in a restaurant. Unlike in most other places, the bread, butter, olives, etc are NOT free. You will be charged anywhere from €1.50 to €3-4  for bread and butter, some places charge for each item separately, some places charge a flat rate for a plate of starters. It doesn't break the bank but just be aware and if you don't want the bread etc, ask them to take it away when you sit down. 



The tram 28 is absolutely charming and really is the best way to get around and it's a tourist attraction for that very reason BUT it also can make you a target for pickpockets. We actually saw the aftermath of someone who had just realized he had been a victim. Now, that terrified looking man was also clutching a man purse with a giant MAP OF LISBON sticking out of it and had a big camera around his neck and was sporting hiking sandals. He might as well have worn a big tattoo on his forehead that said "TOURIST HERE WITH CASH IN HIS POCKETS FOR THE TAKING!"
Just be aware, keep valuables in your front pockets, keep your purse in the front and be mindful. Don't let it ruin your fun or make you paranoid, just don't be stupid.


All of the sidewalks are stone of some sort. They are lovely but bumpy and uneven and everyone wears cute flat sandals. Heels are not your friend here. The streets are also narrow and steep and your calves will get a great workout but just be sure to wear comfy, flat shoes and you will be fine.



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