Portugal

This will be first of many trips to Portugal! I am a fan of these Iberian nations. Country of explorers and former colonial masters of equally great places like Brazil, Macau, Goa, Angola, among many others. Lisbon appears on several hot travel destinations. Remarkably affordable? Forbes and Lonely Planet say so! Our euros went a long, long way. And we ate well. Very well! Although it was a weekend trip, we managed to squeeze in two excursions (to Sintra and Fatima), was a logistical challenge, but super worth it.

10 – Beer and Great Eats at Portugalia
I was asking our tour guide for recommendations around Belem, and she eagerly told us about this restaurant by the Tagus river which served great beer and seafood. Portugalia certainly delivered as promised! This was round two of the delectable clam dish for us. Portugalia’s was better! We were trying to figure out what was different about it, and our ‘experienced’ palates say… soy sauce! Or something similar to it. We were feeling a bit carnivorous, so we ordered the Pica-Pau, which was quite tender, and ended up as my dinner for two evenings. Thank you to the gracious Portugalia waiters whose leftover food wrapping techniques made this dish’s safe transit to London possible.

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9 – Trams and Crazy Portuguese drivers
Lisbon has quite a few hills and the tram system has been around for more than a hundred years. Some are rickety and have a lot of personality! The trams are one of the city’s icons, and I love how they make going from point A to point B a scenic adventure.

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8 – Cobbled Stone Streets of Lisbon
Tiled sidewalks and pracas. So this is where Macau’s Senado Square gets its inspiration from. I love how artsy the sidewalks are, and the swirly patterns on most plazas. Art at our feet.

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7 – Monuments by the Tagus River
The Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) and the Torre de Belem stand proudly on the banks of the Tagus river. It was a bit of a walk going from one monument to another, but with the bright blue sky as their backdrop, these monuments gave postcard worthy moments.

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6 – Alfama
The Jewish quarter. Our free walking tour brought us to this old part of Lisbon. It was somehow reminiscent of the alleyways of Fez. I love how there are kids playing and running about, shirts and sheets hanging dry on clotheslines. The quiet corners promise the unexpected.

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5 – Fatima

We did a mini-pilgrimage to this sacred place, where the Virgin Mary appeared to three young shepherds. I wish I read up more about Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco before visiting Fatima. I wish we had more time to do some contemplation and prayer. I admire the Marian devotees who were on their knees, praying the rosary.

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4 – Dinner at Casa da India

We dined with the locals, elbow to elbow with other tourists who flocked this jammed pack canteen in Bairro Alto, serving amazing seafood and everyday Portuguese dishes. The clams were extraordinary, and the grilled frango… Me likely! Reminded me of chicken inasal from back home (minus the achuete). We would have missed this unassuming restaurant with a misleading name. o

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3 – Pena Castle in Sinta

If you’ve seen a few castles, you’ve probably seen them all… Until you you’ve seen Pena Castle in Sintra. This romantic and eclectic castle sits on top of a mountain. Heading up to the castle made me wonder how the royals from a hundred years ago managed to get to the castle. Those horses must’ve been mighty strong!

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2 – Jeronimos Monastery
This Unesco World Heritage site is probably one of the prettiest churches I’ve ever visited. This is the explorer’s Vasco de Gama’s resting place. It has a Gaudi-esque feel to it. I loved the cloisters’ Manueline style, which is unique to Portugal: an interesting mix of nautical, gothic, Italian, Spanish, and Flemish architectural styles.

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1 – Pasteis de Belem
After 72 hours, 7 egg tarts from four different places, I finally found THE ONE. The egg tart that rules them all! I was drawn by the long queue outside Pasteis de Belem. Like a moth to a flame, I fell in line and purchased 5 warm egg tarts. There weren’t any available seats nearby, and so I went to the Starbucks next door to quench my thirst with an iced citrusy drink. There was an empty table just outside Starbucks, where I happily settled in. I could practically hear Beethoven’s Ode to Joy as I ceremoniously took a bite of the pastel de nata. W.O.W. Amazeballs! Hands down. The best. Egg Tart. Ever. Sweetness level was just right. I loved the added texture of the crispy crust.

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These tasty delights were invented by the monks of the Jeronimos Monastery. Thank you monks!

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