Grateful for our few days off in The Algarve, we were really looking forward to some time in a big city again. We put in the coordinates for our hotel in Lisbon into Google Maps and off we went. Wait a minute, this says that the drive is 3.5 hours. I thought it was more like 2.5 hours. And why do we have to head so far east when we want to go north? The main north/ south toll highway, the A2 was closed from the starting point in The Algarve until about Ourique due to a raging forest fire. The drought in this part of the world is very evident with many dry river beds and scorched fields, especially with the epic heatwave we had been experiencing. So off we went with the Google Oracle as our guide, twisting and turning on single lane roads through Southern Portugal. No peepee stops here, there’s nowhere to stop. Finally we reached the apex, on top of a mountain we seemed to be in the highest point in Southern Portugal and found ourselves in the middle of a wind turbine forest. Another notch in the cap of the European Environmental initiatives. Wind turbines are a very common sight.
We were glad to finally reach the A2 again and found a service centre with ice cream bars and a clean washroom for a stop. It wasn’t long before we were crossing the Ponte 25 de Abril (a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge it was built by the same contractor) and into lovely Lisbon. Happy to be back in the land of walking tours and Uber, we gratefully returned our rental car and continued our journey on foot.
Lisbon is a beautiful city. The calçada sidewalks are stunning mosaics and an art form unto themselves and the beautiful tile works on many of the buildings create a distinctive Portuguese design element.
We booked a walking tour that started at the top of Avenida Liberdade at Parque Eduardo VII, walking along the very broad and tree lined Avenida through the Praça Dom Pedro IV and towards the elevator that would help reduce the climb up to the historic Alfama neighbourhood. It was a fun tour, full of historical information that I won’t bore you with, but we were glad to get a real taste of Lisbon. Alfama is extremely quaint and charming, mostly because it is still a residential neighbourhood. Locals hang their laundry and put their bird cages in the windows while tourists bustle by trying to capture it all on our iPhones.
At the top of Alfama we decided to hop in one of the many tuktuks (an import from Asia, the streets of Lisbon are overrun with tuktuk tour operators all vying for your tourism euros). Our guide chose one that looked the safest with a female driver. Never judge a book by its cover, because this woman was a maniac on the road and we were all holding on for dear life. Not to mention that she was hell bent on proving that she knew more than our guide. After a hair raising 30 minutes, we finally arrived in the upscale Chiado shopping area and bid farewell to both our guides with the intention of getting lunch.
We ended up at the historic A Brasileira cafe for Prego Rolls (Portuguese steak sandwiches) and Cokes. Don’t judge, Coca-Cola is the fuel that kept us on the move on this trip with just the right combination of sugar and caffeine. When we get home there will be a strict Coke moratorium. The cafe was ok. It was more about the historic wood-panelled decor than the food. We decided that we would take our Pastéis de Nata order elsewhere for dessert.
Just up the street, we found the Manteigeira – Fábrica de Pastéis de Nata. A bakery that only sells the ubiquitous Portuguese egg custard tarts. Everyone claims to have the best in town, and Manteigeira was no different. I’m not enough of an expert to definitively say which one is the best, but we gave it a real effort and tried quite a few at all of our Portuguese destinations. Truth be told, I don’t mind taking one for the team and continuing this quest for the perfect Pastéis de Nata. I’ll make that sacrifice for you!
Once everyone’s grumpies were sated by the delicious tarts we hoped in an Uber and headed back to the hotel so we could put our kids in the pool to cool off and recharge before dinner. As you know, the aforementioned Coca-Cola does have a very short energy burst that wears off quickly. The trick is to get the kids into a swimming pool before the effects of the sugar wanes.
Luckily, the hotel pool was very nice and had plenty of shade. I myself was off for a much needed mani/ pedi and missed the action. The Little Kid was swimming away and with her celebrity hawk eyes, spotted the one and only Pedro Pascal suntanning on the other side. Pick your franchise – Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Narcos – Pedro starred in all of them. Of course, the Little knows him from The Mandalorian. Our Friday night routine during Covid was to watch (and re-watch) the show being fans of the Child and Mando himself. I’m partial to that calm husky voice, thank you very much… IYKYK…. Anyways, with a boost of bravery from Monsieur, the Little ventured over and said hello. They had a lovely visit with Pedro (I call him Pedro now because clearly my family are so tight with him) who was extremely kind, gracious and even a little chatty. I was only a little jealous because I now had a much needed refresh on my fingers and toes.
Our favourite dinner was at Time Out Market. Seeing it on every list of things to see and do in Lisbon, I was expecting it to be like Granville Island Market in Vancouver so I wasn’t racing to get there. But we decided it might be a good option with the kids since its essentially a food court with plenty of dining options. It’s a food court alright, but with some of the best chefs in Portugal serving up signature dishes. You can get pizza, burgers and hot dogs too but they are gourmet all the way. The hall is several long communal tables surrounded by loads of food outlets. In the centre amongst the tables are beer, wine and cocktail purveyors so it feels more like a beer garden with much better food. Make sure to leave room for dessert as there’s plenty of sweet options like gelato and of course the best Pastéis de Nata in the city (or so they say… this jury is still deliberating).
Time Out Market is located down closer to the River. We decided to walk back to the hotel only realizing when it was too late that it was uphill the whole way. We hiked up into Bairro Alto up a flight of stairs that rivaled those on the side of Montmartre. With a full tummy and one or two pints of Sagres down, it felt a lot more like the Grouse Grind to me. Once at the top, weaving through the bar filled streets of Bairro Alto the kids finally convinced us to stop and call an Uber.
Back at the hotel, the kids headed off to bed and Monsieur and I found the bar to enjoy a nightcap. Ever since watching the Love Boat as a kid, I’ve always LOVED the word “nightcap”. It’s so seventies and sleazy.
“Care to join me in my cabin for a nightcap?” she said suggestively as the strap of her sequinned evening gown slipped from her shoulder, her feather boa dipping to the ground.
See? So why not? Here we were in Portugal where they MAKE THE MOST delicious nightcap ever: Port! It would be rude NOT to head to the bar for a nightcap, a glass of yummy chilled white port. So we did and it was delicious. The kids only texted us asking for the wifi password twice and to complain that the other kid was bothering them three or four times before we packed it in and called it a night.
The next day, still facing the continuing heatwave the kids decided to have a chill day in the hotel. Not wanting to miss a minute of Lisbon, Monsieur and I took off to explore The LX Factory. Located in an industrial area underneath the 25 de Abril Bridge, its a collection of old warehouse and industrial buildings that has been converted into artists studios, creative workspaces, unique shops and lively restaurants. We loved exploring the area and had fun checking out all the cool Portuguese art and design. In my opinion, LX Factory is a must-do when in Lisbon. Try to hit it on a weekday, sadly we were there on a Saturday and many of the smaller ateliers weren’t open on the weekend.
I figured out that this was in fact my fourth visit to Lisbon as I used to travel here on business for a couple of years. I was very glad that Monsieur loved it as much as I did. It’s a city we definitely want to go back to and spend more time. It’s full of history – like anywhere some good and some bad. But its a vibrant place with lots of young people building a life and solid communities of people that have made it their home for decades. Don’t underestimate Lisbon, it’s definitely worth a visit.