29 April 2009
Lisbon Is Langon
Well, not exactly, but it sounds so sing-song with Alyson’s last name, I just had to do it. While my first time through saw near perfect weather, our first two days were doomed to clouds, rain and darkness - none of which we had ordered. Fortunately, some recharge, cafe, long naps, movie time was in order. Combined with the soothing pace of life in Portugal’s biggest city, I’d say we did quite well.
We wandered for hours through Alfama, the old town. Cobblestone lanes, antique tram cars climbing the steep avenues, laundering hanging from the line, corner coffee shops, spectacular views of the sea, the cathedral and the old city fortress made for a divine post-overnight train morning. Lisbon is sort-of perched on two hills looking down on a central valley that now forms the heart of Old Town. No matter where you are the views are constantly changing but always incredible.
We took the oceanside tram along the water to Belem, home of Europe’s oldest monastery and burial site of Vasco de Gama, all around awesome explorer. The more I’ve learned about Portugal, the more I’ve realized it is “the little nation that could.” Now a nation of just 6 million, its empire was rivaled only by that of Great Britain (which is now home to just over 60 million).
We spent our evenings in Bairro Alto, the “hip” part of town. From dining to drinking, it is home to street after street of tiny cafes, Fado restaurants and small but happening bars. A few notes on these:
Food: We had arguably the best meal of our lives at Tona La Da Ca. I sadly have no idea what that means, but the food was out of this world. For about $17 each, we had bread, cheese and ham (obviously) a main of either fresh fish or delectable beef, a slice of the most delicious chocolate tart I have ever tasted and a bottle of wine. Beat that, western world.
Happening Bars: Drinks are super sweet. Stick with caiprihnas. They’re Brazilian and brilliant. Also, wine is naturally a safe bet.
Fado: It’s a national treasure and so it should be. While most fado joints are rather touristy, brave the crowds and kitsch, as the singers and guitarists are incredible. Alyson and I got sucked in for hours. Maria at Aldos is phenomenal. She comes right out of the kitchen mid-fish grilling to rouse you with her alto excellence.
Coffee Shops: Pois, Cafe in Alfama. Delicious food, great ambiance, all the day’s newspapers and an enormous library.
Croissants: We started every morning with one (and sometimes two) at Sao Nicolau in Rossio. Honestly and truly, it is the beest pastry I have ever had, and at $1.10 each, you’re full until 4 in the afternoon for next to nothing.
I LOVE Lisbon. Could definitely live here. The whole country reminds me of California, only with one tenth the number of people.