Before I got on the plane with my two friends to Portugal a few weeks ago, I had really no real idea what to expect; because of work I didn’t really get to do much research beforehand. I guess my impression of Portugal was that it was like the forgotten middle child of the European countries, with no defining landmark like the Colosseum, Eiffel Tower or Buckingham Palace, or signature food such as Pizza or Paella, or even a reputation for vices like what you would find in Amsterdam. But even so, I jumped at the opportunity to visit the country that I knew probably had a lot more to offer than what I imagined.
Our trip took us to three parts of Portugal – Lisbon, the capital of the country on the southwestern coast, Porto, up in the northwest, and Lagos in the beach area of Algarve along the southern coast. We flew a red-eye flight on TAP, the Portuguese national airline, which was to be honest not the most comfortable ride in the world. Expecting the plane to have the amenities of most European airlines (with cushioned seats, and video on demand screens on the seats in front of you), instead we had an older airbus with extremely worn seats and no movie/music options. Needless to say, I was underwhelmed and feared at the end of the trip having to fly home on the same old creaky plane (Luckily for us, we had a much more normal/modern plane on the way back with all the comfortable amenities). So just be warned if you fly TAP, you might land on an older plane.
Once we landed in Lisbon, we headed to the apartment we booked through Airbnb. (Watch out for the cabs from the airport – they will cheat you. The cab from the airport to our apartment cost us 28 Euros. The cab back going the same distance at the end of the trip – 7 Euros) The apartment we got was fantastic. It was clean, in a great area right in the historical region of Alfama, and our host Ema was super helpful in getting us settled with tips about taxis, telling us where the closest supermarket was, and giving us advice on good places to visit. If you’re planning on visiting, please get in touch with me and I’d be happy to give you her info. The rate for her two bedroom apartment, one bathroom, living room with kitchen/laundry was 60 Euros a night ($85 a night).
Here’s an outline of some of the things we did the first day:
-After walking around the city we quickly figured this out so be warned – the city is extremely hilly. Make sure you know that before you come to visit if you’re with the elderly or injured.
-Several of the sights in Lisbon are free to all and/or free on some days (usually Sundays) making the trip very affordable if you plan ahead accordingly.
–Igreja de Santa Maria Maior Se or Se de Lisboa (Patriarchal Cathedral of St. Mary Major): One of the first of many churches we visited on the trip, the fortress looking building was free to enter. Several of the parts of the church you should check out are the room with the high adorned papal robes and hats and the gargoyles patrolling the church. Other parts of the church such as the cloister and treasury cost a few Euros to enter and I hear are worth seeing if you’re a history buff (we unfortunately didn’t make it in, opting to save the Euros for other parts of the trip).
– Fado – One of the quintessential Portuguese arts is Fado, a traditional singing performance consisting of a singer and a guitarist or two. You can’t visit Lisbon without going to a restaurant at least once with a Fado performance. Although you probably won’t understand a word their saying – much like opera – the delivery of the singing is what makes the music so moving. Times vary and there are definitely tourist traps that lure visitors in with their Fado. But we did find one small place with several locals called A Tasca do Chico in the Alfama. The food wasn’t great to be honest, but the atmosphere more than made up for it. There were rotating male singers (all of whom looked like regular schmoes off the street) along with two very talented guitarists. They sang three songs each with a half hour break in between, the time we spent talking to the others we shared a table with. It’s definitely a relaxing time and a good way to unwind after a long day of sightseeing and meet some locals. Grade: B-
– Pois Cafe: For a laid back, coffee house experience with a staff all fluent in English check out Pois Cafe. Just down the street from Se de Lisboa (see above), this bohemian style coffee shop offers a venue where one can lounge around in their cushy sofas and grab any of the books or periodicals along the walls – think of it like an Urban Outfitters with food. With a menu of sandwiches and salads, the place hits the spot if you’re looking for a quick respite. Try the Mozart Sandwich (Cheese, Prosciutto, Salad, and Balsamic Vinegar) and their flaky apple strudel. Grade: B
Where I stayed:
Emanuela Pendjer Mendes’s apartment through Airbnb.com
Beco da Lapa
Lisbon, Lisbon 1100
What I saw:
Igreja de Santa Maria Maior Se or Se de Lisboa (Patriarchal Cathedral of St. Mary Major)
Largo da Sé
1100 Lisboa, Portugal
Where I ate:
R. de São João da Praça 93
1100 Lisboa, Portugal
A Tasca Do Chico
Rua do Diário de Notícias, 39