Lisbon, warts and all

We met with a bunch of friends in Lisbon to celebrate the New Year. Here are some of my impressions on this city.

Pastéis de Belêm and galões da máquina at Pastelaria Belêm

What I absolutely adored:

Pastéis de nata! These custard tarts are the most delicious pastries I’ve eaten in a long time. They can be found in pastelarias (pastry shops), cafes and restaurants. I read that the best of the best were the custard tarts sold by the Pastelaria de Belêm, called pastéis de Belêm. At the time I thought it was a gimmick to attract tourists but no, they really are the best of the best!

Food in general. We did not have a bad meal. Ever. Period.

Coffee. Nothing beats a galão da maquina first thing in the morning. A galão is espresso with milk served in a tall glass.

The tiles. Portugal is famous for its colourful tiles, a legacy of the Arabs that invaded the land many centuries ago. Many buildings are tiled from top to bottom. I read somewhere that it helped waterproof them. I was obsessed by the many patterns and colours, I had to buy some!

The locals. In general, people were very friendly and very polite, always with a smile on their face.\

Waiting for the tram

 What I liked:

Most people had at least some English, even taxi drivers. Although I speak a smattering of Portuguese, it was nice to be able to communicate in English (and even Spanish) when I drew a blank.

Taxis were reasonable. The bus from our hotel to the centrally located Rossio Station cost € 3.50 for both of us and the taxi fare was € 4.70. We cabbed it everywhere.

Walking. Lisbon sits on seven hills so walking can be a bit tough but it is such good exercise! Besides which, you feel you’ve earned a delicious dinner washed down with vinho verde after a day of walking.

Good public transport network. Buses, trams, trains and the metro take you anywhere.

What I disliked:

Cigarette smoke. You see people of all ages huddled up smoking outside buildings and in the street. Although taxis had a non-smoking sign, most reeked of cigarette smoke.

The state of disrepair of many otherwise gorgeous buildings. It’s such a shame. I noticed it had nothing to do with the current economic crisis but they’d been gently decaying for years.

You had to constantly watch out for pickpockets and were reminded of this by notices places in various locations. We had no bad experiences, probably because we were watchful.

Don’t miss

A shot of ginjinha, sweet liquor made with local tart cherries. It is sold in hole-in-the-wall type of shops and you’re supposed to down it in one. Some serve it in even smaller chocolate shot glasses, which you’re meant to eat with the cherry. I didn’t care for it myself but everyone else was obsessed with it

A tram ride, especially the number 28. The rickety wooden trams take you everywhere and are a lot of fun.

Have I mentioned the Pastéis de nata?

A shot of ginjinha to get the party started