Flying into Lisbon was a bit different than flying into either Norway or Germany. Gone were the orderly and no nonsense cultures of northern and central European countries and into the Latin world of controlled chaos. After having our flight delayed and getting in late to Lisbon we experienced our first labor strike. We picked up our bags and headed for the taxi line to only find it hundreds of people long and spilling out onto the sidewalk. This was a bit strange at it was 11:30pm. After waiting for about half an hour and not seeing a single cab come by to get people we started asking around what was going on. Apparently the taxi drivers union had gone on strike. We decided there had to be a better way to get to our hotel. We pulled up the Uber app and called one. After taking about 30 minutes to find where the Uber pick up was and having our first Uber driver cancel on us because we couldn’t find the pick up area in a timely fashion a 2nd friendlier Uber driver found us and we were finally on our way. On the way to our hotel our driver told us about Lisbon history, its great soccer team, its parks and for some strange reason all the good McDonalds restaurants that we passed. Welcome to Portugal!
Before getting into what we did in this amazing country, I wanted to let you know why we were here in the first place. We had purchased one-way tickets for almost every leg of our trip. We had found a great deal on TAP Portugal to fly from Munich back to New York with a connection in Lisbon. As part of this journey on this airline you could chose to do a “Portugal Stopover”. What this means is that you could stay in Lisbon for up to 5 days with no additional cost on your flight. The airline puts this in as basically an extended layover. When we found that out it was a no brainer, why wouldn’t we want to check out Lisbon for a few days. So we did and here we are!
Knowing that we were only in the country for 2 full days we had booked an all day tour for our first day to really get a feeling for the city and the surrounding area. We had found online a tour called “Lisbon and Sintra Sightseeing Tour by Convertible VW Beetle”. We were picked up promptly at 9am by Joao or John as he said it would be in English. He was standing next to the beetle. This wasn’t a new one, oh no, it was a maroon convertible version from the mid 1960’s. This was going to be a fun day.
First stop for the day was the Palace of Pena just outside the town of Sintra. Like the previous Neuschwanstein Castle that we had toured in Germany, the Palace of Pena wasn’t terribly old being completed in 1854 although structures had been in place on the site since the Middle Ages. Driving to the castle was pretty neat in itself. Neither Julie or I had ever been this far south in Europe, it was a totally different environment. It had the look and feel of Southern California. Warm and dry, a semi-desert environment with pine and palm trees. It was pretty great. Once we got to the castle (and having our beetle break down once we parked it) Julie and I got our tour tickets, got in line and went in.
This “tour” was again very different than the German tour. Gone were the security guards and in their place just small ropes. You were able to go into rooms and the items in the rooms were placed just out of arms reach. This castle also looked very different than the one in Germany. Instead of a medieval theme this one was very Portuguese. Everywhere you looked colorful tiles covered almost every square inch of the palace. Whites, blues, reds, yellows there was just a color explosion in every direction. It was beautiful and fun. After we wound our way through the castle we made our way back to the beetle and had to wait a bit for a replacement vehicle. During this time we were able to talk to John and found out that the English language is so prevalent in Portugal because of tourism of course but also because Portugal and England have the oldest treaty in the world (The Treaty of Windsor), which dates back to 1386. Finally our replacement beetle was here and we were off.
From the castle we drove the short distance into the town of Sintra. Sintra is one of the oldest, wealthiest, and most sought after places to live in all of Portugal. It is absolutely beautiful with the center of town boasting streets of 19th century architecture. John led us to a little restaurant called Tasca do Xico where we had two Portuguese staples, scrambled eggs mixed with small bits of chorizo sausage for an appetizer and seafood rice (fish, shrimp, oysters, clams in broth on top of rice). Both were great and we thought that we would end up making the egg dish once we got back home.
From Sintra we headed west along the coast to the most western point in Europe, Cabo da Roca (Cape Roca). Here we got out of the beetle and walked to a lighthouse located next to the cliffs that looked out towards the ocean. We walked around here for a bit taking in the scene. This place was packed as the lighthouse falls within the Sintra-Cacias Natural Park. There were tour buses, cars and just people everywhere. We were told that directly across the ocean from this spot was the U.S. State of Delaware. Above everything though the beauty of the place was just amazing. The blue sky, desert scrub environment, cliffs hundreds of feet high and the rough blue waters of the Atlantic ocean crashing below. We were sure glad to be here.
From Cabo da Roca we headed back towards Lisbon stopping at the famous Sta. Maria Belém Church. We then headed next door for one of Portugal’s most famous treats, the Portuguese Egg Tart at Pasteis de Belém. This is a small round tart dusted with cinnamon. As they are small you normally get a few with a coffee for a mid afternoon snack. The place was packed with the line out the door but as John knew the owner he stood by the kitchen door and before we knew it we were chowing down on these famous treats. At this point our day with John had ended. He dropped us back at our hotel and we thanked him for a great day. We had seen some amazing sights. It was a great first day in the country.
The next day we woke up, had some breakfast and got going. Today we would be exploring central Lisbon. Lisbon is a beautiful city. Like the Palace de Pena from the day before most every building in Lisbon is covered in beautiful tile. This tile work extends from the sides of the buildings to the sidewalks and sometimes the streets themselves. As the city is fairly hilly and as beautiful as the tile is, it does make walking a challenge, as the tiles can be a bit slippery. We walked from our hotel down to the waterfront taking in the views before walking over to the Lisbon Farmers market, the Mercado da Ribeira. We walked around looking at all the produce, meats and fish before hopping next door to the Time Out Market.
This was a pretty neat space. The Time Out Market was not so much a market as it was a food hall. The space was set up with food vendors in stalls on all four walls with large picnic table style seating in the middle. John from the day before had told us that if we ever saw black pork (aka pork cheeks) on a menu to get it as it was delicious. We walked around for a bit looking at menus before we saw a vendor that had it and ordered it. It came with mashed potatoes and cabbage and it was delicious! Next to us was a small Port wine vendor and as port wines come from Portugal we thought that we should have a tasting so we did. While we were tasting we talked to the vendor who said that most of the ports in the country come from around Portugal’s 2nd largest city of Porto which was in the north of the country. After trying all of the varieties of ports we decided that Ruby Port was our favorite. This tasted like a sweet red wine, almost like a dessert wine.
From the Time Out Market we walked around central Lisbon going up and down steep hills taking pictures and also stopping in for some gelato at Gelados Santini. From there we wandered up to a park, which overlooked much of the city and sat down on a bench. We thought it was pretty nuts that we were sitting here in Portugal because we were invited to go to Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany and just couldn’t find any flight fares that fit into our budget. Life is pretty awesome that way. That night we went out and wandered the streets until we found a restaurant selling some of Portugal’s national dishes of dried cod. While we didn’t necessarily like the dishes we were glad we tried them. It’s always good to try to live and eat like a local while you’re far from home. That night we packed our bags and relaxed before the long day of travel to come.
The next day we woke up, ate breakfast and checked our bags at the front desk. We walked down towards the waterfront stopping at the Santa Justa Lift. As Lisbon is an extremely hilly city there are a few elevators or “lifts” around the city. The Santa Just Lift is an elevator with a bridge at its top that has a great overlook and is a big tourist draw in the city. We hung out there for a bit before wandering down to a poke restaurant (sushi bowls) that we had found a few days earlier. After lunch we wandered down to the waterfront stopping by the big temporary Socca world cup stadium. We hadn’t realized it until the day we left but the beach soccer world cup had taken place just a few minutes walk from our hotel while we were in Lisbon and we had no idea that it was there. Oh well, it was still cool to see the small stadium that was built for the event. Our last stop before we left was a small wine cart that was right on the waterfront. As alcohol laws are a bit different in Europe there were a few vendors set up along the waterfront and one was a small wine cart called “Wine with a View”. For a few dollars you purchased a glass of wine and were given a seat to look out at the river. It was pretty nice and a great way to end our European adventure.
After finishing the wine we headed back to our hotel, grabbed our bags, called and Uber and headed back to the controlled chaos of the Lisbon airport. After going through 3 security checkpoints we made it to our plane and took off for New York City’s JFK airport. The flight went well and soon enough we were back in New York and switching planes back to our hometown of Rochester, New York. What a great trip!
Next up….Cruisin with the Carey’s best lists. We let you know our favorite destinations, drives and more from our travels!