There’s so much to love in Lisbon but for this post, I chose my top 7 experiences for my new favourite city of seven hills.
POSTED BY JENNIE
Of the 5 cities that we visited this summer, I find that Lisbon is most often on my mind. Maybe it’s because it was my first time to visit Lisbon and I had no expectations and no demands.
My No. 7 would be Lisbon’s Jacaranda Trees. The sheer surprise of seeing bursts of lavender flowers on tall trees against a stark blue sky makes the image so memorable. These trees, originally from Brazil are straight out of a fairy tale. Even if it was not the season for the trees to be in full bloom, we still caught a few. They bloom in late June, we were there on the last week of May, so the trees were just beginning to bloom.
Azulejos or the art of ceramic tiles is my No. 6. Azulejos decorate building facades, park benches, churches, houses and even classrooms. The dominant color is blue and white, and there are so many different designs. It’s only in Portugal, specifically in Lisbon and Porto where these tiles are so widely and imaginatively used. It’s so amazing that these tiles are hand painted and that entire buildings are covered with them. The purpose was to insulate the buildings from the heat while serving a decorative function, plus back then Portugal was so rich and had so much resources for beautification.
The photos above are actual hand painted tiles. In antique shops you can buy individual tiles taken from demolished buildings, but they’re quite expensive.
Our most memorable meal, Chicken Piri-Piri is my No. 5. We chanced upon a restaurant called Casa da India. This is where we had our first and last meal. Crispy, smokey, tender chicken piri-piri just off the grill is served with kale rice and french fries. We ate here 3 times and each time there was a line of both tourists and locals. Most restaurant staff in Lisbon speak English, but not at Casa da India. It’s difficult to communicate, especially because the restaurant is undermanned. Once seated though your food finds it’s way to you straight from the brazier where the fire is blazing and chicken is being roasted and basted with the secret piri piri marinade.
A church called Igreja de Sao Domingos is my No. 4. This church has been described as sinister and creepy. Creepy yes, but sinister maybe not. It’s creepy because of the burnt interiors, scorch marks on its massive walls and columns and the lingering smell of burnt wood – even if the fire that completely gutted the church happened way back in 1959. It is also called the Naked Church because it is very stark. Restoration work has been limited to the painting of the ceiling and some walls, other than that, it is as it was after the fire. The stone statues that survived the fire have been reduced to shapeless figures adding to the overall “creepiness.”
My No. 3 would be the many colourful household ceramics. I posted some photos on Facebook and so many of my friends had the same reaction as I did which was – “Wow, buy everything!” Plates, bowls, planters, tiles all so pretty, all so colourful but too heavy to take home! If I had more time I would have found a way to ship them but it was too much to think about. The Portuguese have a long history of ceramic art and even today it translates to modern pieces. I did get an oversized tile like the one below which I use as a cheeseboard.
Above, all the things I wanted to take home. Plates, bowls, pitchers, planters, fish and frogs!
Pasteis de Nata is my No. 2 and I always go back to that first time I bit into one. My eyes opened wide in surprise. I’ve only ever tried the egg tart available in Manila called Lord Stow’s so I wasn’t prepared for the real deal. The read deal has a flaky, crispy crust and a warm milky, creamy filling that oozes out. Oh my gosh! My favourite pasteis (pronounced pas-teysh) is from a place called Manteigaria in Bairro Alto. I prefer Manteigaria to the more popular Pasteis de Belem. I don’t know the recipe for Pateis de Belem but Manteigaria uses whole eggs and proper butter rather than margarine. In fact Manteigaria means butter in Portuguese because it was once a butter factory.
My No. 1 is the iconic Lisbon Tram. Lisbon trams are so much a part of the fabric of the city having been around since 1873. It’s still the best way to see Lisbon with it’s steep hills and narrow streets. Tram 28 has the best route, passing through the prettiest districts of Lisbon, but for sure it will be full. It is also notorious for pick pockets. There’s the green tram which is for tourists, it costs a lot more but at least your chances of getting a window seat is higher (and your chances of losing your wallet lower) and rides are unlimited for 24 hours.