Since the moment I arrived in Portugal, I was in love with the country. It fulfilled all of my notions of a bygone era in Europe, while still providing all of the necessary modern conveniences. Elderly Portuguese women were in fact feeding pigeons next to impressive, 17th century fountains, with fado playing from the corner markets... while we used our FREE 2G International WiFi Service (thanks T-Mobile!) to direct ourselves around the city, checking-in to our favorite tapas spots and speaking English with locals everywhere we went-- I'm almost disappointed that my days of studying Portuguese on Duolingo might have been too wishful for a deeper, immersive experience!
We technically spent three nights in Lisbon, but took a day trip to Sintra the morning after we arrived, and so didn't explore the city until the day before we returned back to the states.
We were staying at a very comfortable Airbnb in Bairro Alto, with a balcony overlooking the busy Rua do Alecrim. Our first night in, we left for an early dinner at Silk Club, a modern sushi restaurant with views of the city. Our second night, after a full day exploring Sintra, we had dinner in Belem at the Michelin Star Feitoria, where he finally asked me to marry him!
Looking up at the Arco da Rua Augusta
Our one true day for exploring Lisbon came the day after our engagement. I donned a vibrant orange dress from Anthropologie, a Woolrich hat, and of course my Viscata espadrilles, which allowed me to trek back and forth across Lisbon in style and comfort!
The promenade that leads to the Arco da Rua Augusta, and the Praça do Comercio is lined with shops of international brands, like any mall in the world. But in between these typical modern icons are must-see restaurants, bars and landmarks unique to Lisboa, like the Elevador de Santa Justa.
Praça do Comercio and Arco da Rua Augusta
There were a lot more tourists in Lisbon than I was expecting, but the city was fully capable of catering to them. Tuk-Tuk drivers were everywhere to take those needing a short ride across the city, perhaps providing complimentary cultural background on the neighborhoods and landmarks. While along the Rua da Alfandega, we spotted the very same Tuk-Tuk driver that we met in Sintra (hi Luisa!), and she suggested to take us to the Alfama district to explore further by foot the oldest and most iconic neighborhood in Lisbon.
Thankfully, Alfama had considerably fewer tourists, and the neighborhood was busy preparing for Dia de Portugal e de Camões, also known as Portugal Day-- a nationally celebrated holiday honoring the death of literary icon Luis de Camões, in June 1580.
Around every corner, a new cluster of alleys, buildings and cafes in Alfama.
Luis de Camões famously wrote Os Lusiadas, Portugal's national epic poem that celebrates Portuguese history, such as its explorations around the globe. Folklore tells of Camões surviving a shipwreck, swimming with one arm (and apparently, only one eye), holding his prized poem above the water for safe-keeping.
Alfama was the hub of entertainment for the evening, and although slow in the afternoon heat, that night was preparing to be an epic party, spilling into the streets.
The locals were constructing makeshift bar counters from old desks and plywood, so that every corner and every alley made one continuous bar. Sure enough, when we returned later in the night, people were crowded shoulder-to-shoulder, drinking, smoking, dancing, and overall having an extraordinary time!
Bolos de Bacalhau
In the meantime, we took the opportunity to partake in the festivities with the traditional Bolos de Bacalhau, or grilled salt cod with potatoes, a side salad, and olives. I really enjoyed the richness of the sardines, their meat flaking off their bones, with the saltiness deeply infused into the flavor.
There is no "fishiness" to these fish-- a complaint most Americans have about a culinary staple that feeds the rest of the world on a daily basis. Instead, it may be too salty for many palettes. Sardines are meaty, with an iron-like flavor, and are packed with Omega-3's. And because I love to geek out over learning new cooking techniques, I was stoked to find in George Mendes' cookbook, My Portugal, a recipe for salting cod the Portuguese way.
You should check out My Portugal, a cookbook by George Mendes
for his modern take on traditional Portuguese dishes!
We continued to wander the hills of Alfama, stopping for ice cream and iced coffee at little shops when we found them. I'm a big fan of ice cream, but Sean could be considered a dessert enthusiast, and even a donut connoisseur. When its hot and there's hills, something sweet gets us through the heat!
Sean admiring the vista from Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen.
Notice the flags on top the Moorish walls of the Castelo de Sao Jorge on the opposite hill!
When evening began to fall, we rushed to Hotel do Chiado for the Entretanto Rooftop Bar to catch the sunset overlooking the city. A DJ dropped some beats for his tiny audience of six, and we snacked on tapas until the DJ packed up-- our cue to leave as well.
Not sure where to go next, we wandered Chiado and Bairro Alto until we stumbled upon Grapes & Bites Hostel and Wine House. It was a lively location, even at 11pm, with a short line waiting at the door. We managed to get seated within 20 minutes, the two of us tucked in the back corner next to a wine wall, with a leg of prosciutto on display for guests to marvel at when the servers sliced the dried meat onto your plate. A live performer sang beautifully and the tiny room was brimming with happy people, no cell phones in sight!
Within a few hours we were on a long flight home to LAX, leaving behind an intriguing city full of color, energy, and history. Portugal has captured our hearts, and will forever remain a part of our lives! There is so much more to see in this country, we barely scraped the surface! I am so happy that Lisbon is the site of our engagement, and we can look forward to returning throughout our lives together as Mr. & Mrs.!
Be sure to read about our Perfect Days in Porto, and our magical morning in Sintra, coming soon to the blog!
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