A Perfect Day in Lisbon: Flower Scents and Beautiful Light
Special Birthday Trip
For my 35thbirthday, I decided that I would give myself a trip to Portugal. I had some British Airways miles stashed (see the end of this post for information on that), and a couple free nights from hotels.com, so I thought I’d treat myself. 35 is a big birthday, right?
My itinerary started out as just Lisbon, with a day trip to Nazare. But as the planning continued, I found a special opportunity to go to the Azores, somewhere I never even realized I’d wanted to go. And the return flight had a long layover in London, which I extended to a 2-day London experience. In all, it was a 10 day adventure of a lifetime. Happy Birthday, indeed.
My parents and a few close friends decided to give me experiences on the trip, rather than gifts, which was such a fun idea. So I booked my hotels and airbnbs, while looking forward to a day tour of Our Lady Fatima Church, my first surf lesson, a kayak ride, and finally a Broadway show in London. I feel so fortunate to have had these experiences.
First Day in Lisbon
I will be sharing each of those with you, but thought to start with the walking tour of Lisbon and a recap of my days in Lisbon. Lisbon is set on a wide river, the Tagus, just before it meets the sea. There is an open, friendly feeling, with both the scent of flowers and the faint scent of salt wafting in the air. Lisbon is also famous for its sardines and seafood – an aroma you cannot miss!
I took an early morning flight, arriving in Lisbon by 9 am. By the time I had the rental car organized, and headed to check in to my hotel, it was about 11. For the first three nights, I stayed at the Intercontinental in Lisbon. It was a mix of modern and classic charm, with exceptional service. They kindly organized for me to have an early check in. I did find the carpet in the room to be a little dingier than expected, but other than that, everything was top quality.
Having been up so early to get to the airport, my first order of business was a nap and meditation. After that, I headed out for lunch. I discovered an incredible array of vegetarian and vegan friendly restaurants, as well as many organic options. There were so many more that I wanted to try!
That first day, I tried PSI (Alameda Stú António dos Capuchos, Lisboa). I decided to walk, which turned out to be more ambitious than I anticipated. Lisbon’s cobblestone streets and steep hills made for quite a workout! I arrived around 2:30, and they were more than happy to seat me at a table in the sunshine. I ordered a burrito, prepared with their incredible sauce and wonderful fresh veggies.
Lisbon Free Walking Tour
From there, I rushed to join the Free Lisbon Walking Tour. It was lead by an ebullient local woman, who showed us the main districts of Lisbon. We saw an older neighborhood best known for it night life, especially for people drinking in the streets, called Barrio Alto. We also visited Baxia, the main cultural center of Lisbon, passing by a large mall on the way.
We saw a church that collapsed in the earthquake of 1755. This was such an enormous earthquake, that it wiped out large portions of the population and had a lasting impact on the future development of the city. It was after this earthquake that architects and rulers in Lisbon realized that the arch was a very stable structure to withstand the force of an earthquake.
Long relationship between Brazil and Portugal
Our guide was also quick to point out that the solution to every problem in Portugal is to send it to Brazil! The two countries have a long history, with Brazil only gaining independence in 1822. The two countries maintain close cultural and political ties, even after the independence.
Portugal was a leader in sea exploration. Because of Portugal’s exploration, Europe received spices and good from both the east and the west. Even though we hear more about Portugal in financial crisis these days, Portugal was a key player in establishing the global culture we enjoy today.
We ended the tour in the famous Alfama district. It’s the type of neighborhood from a fairytale. There are winding cobbled streets, with laundry hanging from second floor windows, and locals calling to each other from windows across streets. One charming touch in Alfama the resident profile, honoring and older resident’s contribution to the community. They seemed to be genuinely proud of their community and home.
Pastel de Nata
At the end of the tour, we stopped for some coffee and pastel de nada. This deserves its own heading. I thought I’d gone to heaven! The latte I ordered came with a generous sprinkle or sweet cinnamon, and the pastel de nata, a small custardy pastry now stands as one of my favorites. The combination of the rich, creamy, cinnamon-y latte with the custard-y dessert was divine.
I walked over 8 miles that day, arriving back at the hotel happy and exhausted. The next day, was I planned to tour our Lady of Fatima Church and Nazare. Stay tuned for the next parts of my Portugal and UK adventure: Our Lady of Fatima and Nazare, Cascais, and more.
Have you been to Lisbon? What is your favorite city to spend time in?
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