Quick, tell me what you know about Portugal! Here’s my list pre-Lisbon visit:
1. They speak Portuguese there.
2. It’s on the coast of the Iberian Peninsula next to Spain.
3. Christopher Columbus and a bunch of other explorers were from Portugal. Although I just Googled him and apparently Columbus was Italian. I’m a bad American.
4. Cristiano Ronaldo the famous footballer [soccer player] is from Portugal.
5. Nando’s! (Cheeky Nando’s!) Although I just Googled Nando’s and apparently it was founded in South Africa and peri-peri sauce is from Mozambique. Why is it Portugal themed then?!
6. Lisbon is the capital.
That’s basically the knowledge I had of Portugal before we went there. And now I’m happy to report I can add a few facts to my list.
7. Lisbon is super hilly.
As far as I know, Lisbon has great public transportation, but we didn’t use it, because I needed to get Fitbit steps (and also I suppose exploring a city on foot helps you truly see it). We walked from Avenida da Liberdade to Miradouro Sao Pedro de Alcantara to get a nice view of the city. Google Maps said it was a short walk.
What Google Maps did not say was that it was up a very steep hill. (Although I guess I should have inferred a viewpoint would have to be high up…) Most people waited and took the trolley up and down, but most people don’t have Fitbits that track flights of stairs climbed (and hills count as stairs). So we walked up and down.
This post is going to be very photo-heavy, so click to read on.
8. They like graffiti
Did you happen to notice the wiener graffiti in the first photo I posted? Here’s a close up. Way to keep the skyline classy, Lisboa!
9. They love seafood.
Since Lisbon is close to the coast, they are all about that seafood. We had it every day. The first day Stephen ordered garlic prawns from a tourist trap sidewalk cafe. They were sub-par, so I made it my mission to find quality garlic prawns and proceeded to order them every subsequent dinner. Mmm… prawns swimming in garlic and oil (have I mentioned I didn’t eat very healthily on our trip?). I’m happy to report the non-tourist trap restaurants really do garlic prawns right. One famous seafood place we went to even had this blue lobster in the tank. I wonder if he was on the menu — only 1 in every 2 million lobsters is blue, so he has to cost a pretty penny!
10. They also love egg tarts, or pastel de nata. This is something else I ate with practically every meal. The photo below was taken at Pastéis de Belém, where the famous custard tart was allegedly invented. Pro tip: Rick Steves was right, the pasteis de nata at Pastéis de Belém only taste better because they’re warm, and they’re not really worth the wait and hype when practically every bakery and restaurant has decent ones.
11. Vasco da Gama is buried in the Jerónimos Monastery. You probably recognize that name because it was the answer to a middle school history test question (What Portuguese explorer was the first European to reach India by sea, opening up trade between Europe and Asia?).
Jerónimos Monastery is gorgeous, and unlike the custard tart place, is worth the long queue to buy tickets and get in.
Umm… is that a grasshopper or a Glo Worm?
Had to get some bokeh effect!
12. Back in the day, the small town of Sintra was where the rich and famous went to escape Lisbon. Now it’s where tourists go to cram themselves onto buses that wind up steep cliffs so they can see an old castle and fairy tale-esque palace. We took a day trip there via train (and overcrowded bus). This is Pena Palace from the Moorish Castle:
It was built by German-born Prince Ferdinand, cousin of Bavaria’s “Mad” Kind Ludwig who built the Disney-esque Neuschwanstein Castle my parents and I visited 2 years ago. People claim Pena Palace is Disney-esque, but I got a more Fisher-Price feel from it (not that that’s bad).
Is this Neptune? Why is he so angry?
The palace was built on the site of a 16th-century monastery. This courtyard was the former cloister.
The Moorish Castle from Pena Palace. The castle is the other must-see in Sintra. Although honestly, you can see it from Pena Palace and save yourself the money and hassle of hiking around it. Since it’s so high up, it’s ridiculously windy and chilly.
Now you can say you know a little more about Lisbon and Portugal too!