We slated three days to explore Lisbon, and while that was certainly enough time to see a lot of the city, four days probably would have been the perfect amount. On our final day we took a short bus ride over to the area of Lisbon called Belem. To get there, all you need to do is walk down to that main road by the river (see the entry in the last post about the road to find if you get lost), and hop onto the Number 28 Bus going west. (Note: Don’t confuse this with getting onto the streetcar Tram 28. The Tram is a popular attraction for tourists – one that we unfortunately didn’t get a chance to ride on, but if you get that 4th day in, it sounds fun. It looks kinda like riding the San Francisco streetcar).
The bus fare to Belem is only about 1.50 euro (which you can pay on the bus) and the ride takes about 15 minutes depending on traffic. The buses are also really comfortable. Once you get to Belem the first thing you’ll notice is the serenity. Coming from the hustle and bustle of downtown Lisbon, the peacefulness was a welcome break for us. Here are the three stops we made while we were in Belem:
-Portugal is famous for its pastries. In particular, the Pasteis de Nata is world famous and originates from Lisbon (there are variations of this desert in Chinese and Southeast Asian restaurants). This egg custard pastry is pretty much one of the main reasons people come to Belem. You can get them from any pasteleria in Lisbon, but if you want them fresh from the oven you’ll head straight to Antiga Confeitaria de Belem – which is exactly what we did once we got off the bus. Located just down the street from Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, you’ll see it right away because of the crowd congregated outside of the cafe. You have the option of waiting in line and getting it to go, but my suggestion is take the time, get table service, and have a seat inside (Note: There’s WAY more seating than it looks when you first walk in – just keep going back and back and you’ll find a huge room full of tables). While their menu is pretty extensive, the must-do is you have to order some fresh pasteis de belem (same thing as the pasteis de nata). They come out warm, golden brown, with a flaky crust, and a smooth, eggy, sweet custard inside. Covered with a little cinnamon, they are quite heavenly. Ignore the fact that eating them packs on the calories and justify crushing a few by telling yourself you’re getting a workout walking around Lisbon.
-The don’t miss landmark of Belem is the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos which is where we headed after stuffing our faces with pastries. The Jeronimos Monastery costs 6 euros to enter, but is free on Sundays. When you walk in, the first thing you’ll see are the coffins of Vasco de Gama, the man who navigated the route from Portugal to India, and Luis Vaz de Camoes, the great Portuguese poet. While the main nave of the church is quite amazing – the highlight of the monastery is the cloisters. As you walk around the cloisters, the plaza like area has highly decorated columns and an elaborate fountain in the middle. Within the cloisters are several exhibits including a room with a great timeline of the history of the monastery superimposed over the history of Portugal and the history of world events.
-After the Monastery, we decided to go down the street to the Museu Coleccao Berardo. Now this museum is free to all and houses an extensive collection of modern art. There’s not really a whole lot I can tell you about it (because I’d be describing a bunch of lines across a piece of paper), but it’s worth checking out if you have a couple of hours. However, if you’re pressed for time don’t bother. Modern art is modern art, and the exhibits there are things you could see easily in any U.S. modern art museum, and you won’t miss any “masterpieces”.
After spending our day in Belem we took the 28 Bus back downtown to grab dinner and head out for a fun filled evening. For dinner we grabbed a bite to eat at Solar dos Presuntos. Located north of the Rossio, to get there you have to walk by several tourist traps. Once you get clear of those, you’ll see the place. The restaurant has a vibrant feel to it, with photos of celebrities (mainly Portuguese ones we think, but Ted Kennedy was definitely up there) on the all the walls (for you D.C. people – think Mei Wah. For everyone else, just click on the link) and the hustle and bustle of the coming and going of waiters carrying whole fishes to tables left and right for customers to inspect. Once we were seated, they immediately placed on the table a delicious array of chorizos, cheeses, olives, and breads (which they refilled consistently). The wine list was handed to us – on an IPAD (yeah, that was pretty cool) and we each ordered a dish that was very good (grilled squid, goat, and shellfish bean stew to be exact). Be warned: the menu may not reflect what they have on that day. My buddy wasn’t able to get either the scallops or the pork on the menu because they were out of it for that day. It’s also not the cheapest place in the world, you’ll pay a pretty penny for a good meal, but you’ll leave more than satisfied. Grade B+
To top off the night we headed to the Bairro Alto. This area is hopping with clubs, bars and restaurants. On Friday and Saturday nights, people spill out into the pedestrian only streets and mingle with their libations. There’s a bar scene for each kind of crowd, but it all becomes loud and jovial as the drinks get consumed. It’s not as crazy as Bourbon Street in New Orleans, but there’s plenty of ridiculous drunkenness to be seen as the clock hits the early morning hours. We had a great time and went to far too many bars for me to remember specific ones (that and the several Super Bocks, Sagres, and Caipirnhas lead to that memory loss).
What I saw:
Mosteiro dos Jeronimos
Museu Coleccao Berardo
Praça do Império
Where I ate:
Antiga Confeitaria de Belem
Rua de Belem, 84 84
1300-085 Lisboa, Portugal
Solar dos Presuntos
R. das Portas de Santo Antão 150
1150 Lisboa, Portugal