The mister and I just returned from an incredibly relaxing trip to Lisbon, Portugal. Frankly, we knew very little about this country and its capital city, other than the fact that they have a really good soccer team. Heading into Lisbon, we had very few expectations, given that we didn’t know too much about its culture or history, but the longer we were there, the more charmed we became by its people and its calm, laid-back pace of life. In all of my travels, I have never encountered a country with such kind and welcoming people. Even the guys who offered to sell us drugs as we passed by them on the street were not aggressive and seemed pretty harmless.
I was actually taken aback by the many instances of kindesss that I witnessed in this city. I saw locals stopping to help lost tourists find their way on more than one occasion. While wandering around the city, we stopped to glance at our map and an elderly man approached us and asked if we needed directions anywhere. And, while riding the metro, a woman noticed a lost tourist couple that didn’t know which way they were going or where they should get off, so she got out of her seat to get their attention and asked if they needed help. It was unreal to me! You would NEVER witness such kindness and helpfulness here in Paris, NEVER. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I myself would never go out of my way like the friendly woman on the metro to help a lost tourist. Only if asked would I point someone in the right direction. After living here in France for a couple of years, I think that I’ve adopted the less than sunny disposition of the frenchies. But, after receiving such a kind welcome from the Portuguese, I feel a bit inspired to be more like them and to bring home some of that friendliness with me.
Our little excursion to this Atlantic country was a much needed respite from the everyday drudgery and the relentlessly depressing weather that we’ve been experiencing for the last few months here in France. Instead of franticly running from museum to museum and from monument to monument and snapping photo after photo, we just allowed ourselves to get lost in this impeccably clean city. Noticeably absent from the streets was litter, dog shit and the stench of urine that pervades every nook and cranny of Paris, which was a welcomed change of scenery – I finally could breathe through my nose again and not have to look at the ground while walking (even if it was just for a few days)!
We decided to steer clear of the restaurants where tourists typically flocked to and opted to eat where the locals ate to get a taste of their unadulterated food, which is unpretentious and pure warmth for the soul. Seafood is king in this waterfront city, so savoring the fruits of the sea is an absolute must if you ever get a chance to visit. Octopus are cooked simply with olive oil and garlic, allowing its freshness to speak for itself. Fish are grilled to perfection, and cod, which is essentially the national fish, is prepared hundreds of different ways.
The one touristic thing that I did make a point to do was to visit Belém, which is home to the Belém Tower and used to be a major launching point for the Portuguese explorers of the world during the country’s heyday. The Discoveries monument (pictured above) was erected about 50 years ago to commemorate the death of Henry the Navigator, while the Belém Tower, a little further down from the monument was built in the early 1500s to protect the entrance into Lisbon. While in Belém, it is absolutely essential to eat pastéis de nata, which are little custurd pastries (pictured below on the right). These pastries can be found all over Lisbon, but the first pastry shop to churn out these pastries is Pastéis de Belém. The line is usually out the door at this place, but their pastéis de nata are definitely as good as everyone says they are, still warm and just the right amount of crispiness and sweetness…..mmmmm. I’m kicking myself for not having eaten more of these while I was there. Upon first glance, they looked like little burnt flans and I didn’t get the hype. But, after one bite, I can now see that the hype is very much justified.
Though I think the pastéis de nata from Belém take the crown for being the best in town, I also picked some up for the road (the last of which is pictured above) from a pastry shop that has been around since 1866. I was reluctant to eat the last one because it would mean the end of this deliciousness. Although, I did see online that there is a pastry shop in Paris called Comme à Lisbonne (=Like in Lisbon) that specializes in these pastries, so I might have to stop by there bientôt!