Day 1: Lisbon
We arrived at Lisbon airport before six in the morning; Still no word from our AirBnB hostess. So, we proceeded to customs slowly, noshing on packed snacks along the way and arriving at a very overwhelmed customs. I felt sympathy for the obviously very stressed Americans thinking they were about to miss their connecting flight. To this, the agent on duty says, “It’s no problem,” before sauntering off. I make a mental note to be more like him and less like them (me).
We take the metro into town and get off at the Restaurantadores stop, deciding to walk a bit of the way. The city is hardly awake so we’re quite alone as the sun continues to rise and we make our way towards the Alfama.
We are now desperate for sleep; It’s early enough that a nap is reasonable, I justify. But first, getting in touch with the hostess. I’m overwhelmed. I need to find wifi and all the cafes are closed. As we make our way in that direction I spot sign indicating free wifi and take my chances…it works! I somehow connect and receive the text message stating we can go to the apartment right away.
We follow my directions up back alleys (Aside: How is it whenever I get the directions we end up on back alleys with ominous graffiti? ) and into the beginnings of the Alfama neighborhood before arriving at the tiny door on Rua Afonso de Albuquerque. We ring and ring the bell…she’s not there. After frustrated waiting, we decide to walk and find internet connection or at least coffee, when I spot a woman-young- walking in the direction we just came from. I yell out her name as we approach, hoping I’m right. I am.
We get a brief tour of the apartment and I’m in love with it. It’s got the typical European quirks-smaller-than-we’re-used-to kitchen appliances and bathroom, scary electrical outlet set up, etc…charm! She leaves, we eat then nap, and two hours later are ready for the day.
The Alfama is the Lisbon you envision: tiny winding streets filled with white-washed homes and some covered in Azulejo tiles, tiny restaurants smelling of fresh fish and french fries, and a lot of wandering folks. It’s the only area to survive the devastating earthquake that devastated Lisbon in 1755, so it’s Moorish character remains. We’re lucky: we’re steps away from the thick of it and thus it becomes our stomping ground for a few days.
The city is best seen by foot, in my opinion, and so we start walking and never stop. We (Luke) navigate first to a restaurant called Bistro Gato Pardo. Sundays are tough in Lisbon, many restaurants are closed, as are some sites. But this quirky, comfortable spot was open, thriving, and served me a huge whole fish with the very best olive oil poured over top in which I plunged each and every potato I had. Satisfaction. That, and the service was some of the best and kindest I’ve ever experienced.
After, we made our way to the Castelo Sao Jorge, after many twists and turns in the labyrinth that is the Alfama and the lower Sao Jorge area. The views from the ramparts are stunning and make the entry feel wholly worthwhile. I must mention also that archaeological sites > museums on your first day always; No pressure, lots of sun, and dozing on a bench overlooking a clay roof-topped city is never a bad thing.
We are gentle with ourselves this evening. By the time we leave the castle it’s late afternoon. We make our way to the central Pingo Doce supermarket (right near the Santa Justa Lift) and gather provisions for dinner: rice, tomatoes, prawns, parsley, lettuce, and beans. And we’re off.
Cooking during vacation is a serious game changer. It adds to the experience, pushing me to communicate in the local language to get products at least close to what I’m envisioning and makes us feel just a tad more “local.” We arrive back at our apartment and I get to work while Luke pours the wine.
The meal takes longer than expected, but what’s the rush? I hover over the rice, stirring and stirring as I add more tomatoes. Suddenly I hear music; Fado is bellowing out of the neighborhood clubs. At last, we sit down to our meal of sauteed prawns, tomato rice, and a big salad. We’re in heaven.
Bistro Gato Pardo
Rua de São Vicente 10, 1100 Lisbon, Portugal
12:00 pm – 10:00 pm
12:00 pm – 10:00 pm