On taking it slow and exploring the local Lisbon
We walked for miles. Shoelaces tied tightly, ready to take the next step, ready to go exploring again. Jump on a tram, stroll down the high street, run up a hill, hike back to the hostel. Our feet were both our best ally and our worst enemy on that trip.
Street after street, from morning until night, we wandered through the colourful neighbourhoods of Lisbon. Alfama, Chiado, Barrio Alto, Mouraria, Baixa… Every corner held a surprise, every turn opening out to another spot that would make us stare in wonder.
The sun shone brightly, making us squint, the rays reflecting and bouncing off the buildings’ tiled facades. It was another beautiful spring day and life felt pretty perfect. I wanted to freeze that moment, make it last forever.
Standing in the middle of the Plaça do Comercio, we watched a guy blowing giant bubbles. Kids ran around chasing them as the breeze from the Ria swept them up into the air and across the esplanade. Somehow, the stress of the last few days and the bumpy night on the bus seemed to float away with the soapy spheres. In that moment I was completely relaxed and I realised how much I’d missed the great feeling of being on holiday.
I don’t know why I was so reluctant to return to this destination at first. I guess in my mind it was a place I’d already visited numerous times. And yet… I’m not sure I could actually ever tire of this city.
One thing I’ve re-discovered on this trip is the need to take things slowly, to stop to appreciate the small things. There were so many tourists rushing around from monument to monument, standing in eternal queues just to get to tick off a must-see/must-do item from their list. Our time in Lisbon was too precious to spend waiting around.
Like our guide Ricardo said, why pay for a view when Lisbon offers so many beautiful sights for free?
So that’s what we did. We wandered. There was nothing we had to do, nowhere we had to be, no hurry, no obligations. Just a few days of fun and exploring.
I wanted to walk further, discover yet another viewpoint, visit one more exhibition, see inside some of the many churches… preferably with fewer tourist trying to do the same. But time was limited, my energy was also limited (this was supposed to be a holiday, after all), and we were content to simply take it slow and see whatever we had time to see.
Coffee shops with their wonderful galaos, meias de leite and fantastic assortments of cakes and tarts, became our favourite interval between sites. We tasted some of the best flavours of Lisbon here.
Our favourites were by far the famous Pastéis de nata, though we were told that none could compare to the original Pastéis de Belém. We were told the recipe for these custard tarts is a state secret, and only 3 people know it: the chef and his two sous-chefs. Apparently, they never travel together and take every precaution to maintain this secret. Not sure how much truth there is to this statement but, if a cake is that important, surely it’s worth giving it a try?
These typical cream tarts were delicious anywhere in Portugal, and we’d tried and loved them before. But we kept hearing that none were as good as the originals, so we thought we’d better find out for ourselves.
We caught the bus out to Belém, though the tram would have also been an option, then walked to the famous bakery. The queue was long, but on this occasion we decided it was worth it. We joined the line and arrived at the front counter quite quickly, purchasing a pack of 6.
The delicious smell coming from inside was making our mouths water so we quickly decided they should be tasted then and there. We sat on a bench in the shade and opened up the box. One bite told us everything we needed to know. Yummy! They were definitely worth it. Let’s just say we didn’t stop after one bite.
From here we went exploring, but rather than heading to the more obvious Torre de Belém, the busy Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, or the Padrão dos Descubrimentos, we decided to visit the less crowded Berardo Collection Museum, a contemporary art exhibition, not far from any of the previously mentioned monuments.
Entry is free and we saw some great works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian, Joan Miró, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Donald Judd, Bruce Nauman or Cindy Sherman. As their website states “The Museu Coleção Berardo presents the most significant artistic movements from the twentieth century to the present day”.
It was indeed a complete lesson in art history, since I’m still trying to catch up with my cultured friends in that aspect. However, I’m slowly beginning to understand and appreciate some of these contemporary artists and I really enjoyed some of the works available here. It’s an impressive collection, and whether you’re an art lover or not, I’d say it’s worth a visit.
We wandered back along the waterfront as everyone was thinking of heading back to Lisbon. It was still relatively busy around the main tourist areas though.
‘Where else did you go in Lisbon?’, you might ask. ‘Is that all you did?’ Though much of our time was spend wandering the streets and enjoying cake, we did get up to a few more things in Lisbon too. But I think I’ll save that for next time.
Have you tasted the Pastéis de Belém? What museums have you visited in Lisbon?