Living La Vida Portuguesa – Our Seven Days in the City of Seven Hills

This was my third trip to Lisbon. When I left this genteel and surprisingly romantic city two and a half years ago, I never thought I would return and that too so soon. But circumstances had conspired to get Sunil and me back here and you weren’t going to hear any complaints from either of us.

The Lisbon skyline takes your breath away with its red roofs, pastel coloured buildings and the Castelo St George looking down on the city

Lisbon captured our imaginations from the get go. It’s faded past is evident in the gorgeous blue-tiled buildings that line the sweeping cobblestoned avenues. Its muted history echoes within its many crumbling churches and the imposing Castle St. George. Its locals are a wonderful blend of cultures who manage to convey their joie de vivre in spite of not speaking a word of English. And to top it all – the food and wine in Lisbon is amazingly cheap and tasty. These were all reasons enough for us to fall in love again and again with this often bypassed European gem.

The Rua Augusta Arch overlooks the Praca de Commercio on one side and marks the entry into the old city on the other.
Beautifully tiled streets now boast rows and rows of cafes and souvenir shops

Our first day in Lisbon felt strangely like coming back home. The cheap thrill of spending just 8 euros to get a cab from the airport to our airbnb apartment set the tone for the day ahead (take that Paris and your 70 euro cab rides!). The apartment was a joy to behold and convinced us that airbnb was the way to go. Seriously guys, why pay an exorbitant amount for a restrictive hotel room when for much less you can get a fully-equipped apartment in the neighbourhood of your choice?

San Sebastiao da Pedreira – our lovely neighbourhood for the next seven days.

The last time around, we stayed in a bed and breakfast in the heart of the old town – Bairro Alto. This time though we wanted a taste of living like a local. We chose a great one bedroom apartment in the neighbourhood of Largo de San Sebastio. Lisbon is a compact little city and most of it can be traversed on foot. So, while San Sebastio is as different architecturally from the old centre of town, it’s barely a few metro stops and at the most an hour’s walk away. However, with the uneven cobble stoned streets you may want to rethink walking all the way through!

Our one bedroom apartment came with a fully equipped kitchen. It had everything you could have wanted and a whole lot more – stove, oven, microwave, washing machine, dishwasher, Nespresso machine etc etc

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The plan for this blog was to keep a daily diary of what we saw and did and ate during our week in Lisbon. However, like all best laid plans, it fell by the wayside very soon. The next seven days seemed to pass by in a blur of walking, coffee stops, more walking, food stops, and more walking with some shopping and sightseeing thrown in for good measure. The best way to keep track of the days was through our photos. What follows is a photo blog of Lisbon and its charms that will keep us coming back.

Lisbon is an extremely user-friendly city. The metro lines are colour coded and simple to decipher. The trams and buses are cheap and efficient. There are now tuk-tuks to take you around the old city. Ferry tickets costing less than 3 euro get you to and from the other side of the river. And when left with no other option – do as the locals do – and walk, walk, walk.
Expo is the newer neighbourhood in Lisbon. Rebuilt from scratch for the World Expo in 1998, this area boasts a cable car ride above the river, a wonderful promenade lined with cafes and restaurants and the Vasco da Gama shopping mall along with multiple stadiums where exhibitions and concerts are now held.

With all the ups and downs and cobblestoned streets in Lisbon, the tram cars and elevators are worth their weight in gold.
Pretty tiled buildings with wrought iron balconies are dotted all over the city

And let’s not forget the food! Food in Lisbon is a marvellous blend of local delicacies and international favourites. There is a pastelaria or cafe on every sidewalk serving the best bread and pastries you could imagine. Some pastelarias date back to the early 1900s and have retained much of their old world charm (and some of their staff too :)). The desserts are a delight with most recipes being egg or custard based but I have to add that I had possibly the best chocolate cake in the world from Landeau – a cafe that serves only this cake and coffees and teas. There’s confidence in your product!

Casa Brasilera just off Rossio Square is famous for its choriz pao and cheese tarts
The local chocolate cake. Soft chocolate sponge slathered with butter cream and doused with sprinkles. Just like eating something you mom made.
A Padraria Portguesa - a modern take on the ancient  pastelerias all over the city. We used to pop in to one every morning for freshly baked bread and a cup of coffee.
A Padraria Portguesa – a modern take on the ancient pastelerias all over the city. We used to pop in to one every morning for freshly baked bread and a cup of coffee.
The. Best. Chocolate. Cake. In. The. World. courtesy Landeau Cafe
Puddings and desserts in Lisbon tend to be custard or egg based. This one was a vanilla custard served with crushed Marie biscuits (yes Marie) and topped with a swirl of sweetened whipped cream.

Coffee or tea is available for less than a euro in most places and wine for a euro and a half. Special kiosks in public squares serve you options that range from port wine to iced tea if you so desire.

The kiosk at Praca do Camoes – our favourite little square in the whole city. Every evening saw us sitting here enjoying a coffee and a glass of wine.

Portugese cooking is surprisingly bland. One would think that spices would feature strongly in their local dishes but it isn’t so. Rice with beans and a grilled meat (either pork or beef) with fries is found across the board in cafes and restaurants to suit any budget. While we found the meats a bit meh, one can always ask for piri piri chilli oil or sauce that is stocked everywhere. It adds that much needed punch to any dish.

The prego is a popular steak sandwich in Lisbon. Thick slices of bread with a rub of garlic and oil sandwich grilled beef steak with a smear of piri piri sauce.

Food courts in shopping malls and smaller chains of restaurants serve up other favourites like pizzas, pastas, soups, salads, and stuffed baguettes. Japanese food is also huge in Lisbon and there is always a sushi place close to you. Another must do when in Lisbon is to enjoy the seafood. The prawns, lobsters, crabs, and clams are pure heaven and not too heavy on the pocket either. If you are more adventurous you can try snails, eels, monk fish, or razor clams. We weren’t.

A very interesting Pizza Carbonara. Bacon + egg + white cheese sauce on a thin wood-fired crust.
Even the food courts threw up gems such as this tuna and prawn baguette and deep fried Camembert. You haven’t lived till you’ve tried deep fried cheese.

That’s me at Farol ready to dig in to the best seafood we had on this trip.
The seafood platter for two that we ordered came with lobster, boiled prawns, crab pate, crab claws, clams in lemon sauce, and prawns cooked in garlic oil. All to be mopped up with crusty buttery bread. Sigh.

Lemon butter clams with bread.
Fresh prawns sauteed with olive oil and garlic. That’s it. Nothing else needed but a squeeze of lemon and crusty bread to lick the plate clean with.

We ate at some amazing restaurants (thanks to the food tour we did – more on that in the next blog). A few that stood out were Jesus e Goes run by a true blue Goan serving a short but delicious menu of Goan dishes such as prawns reichade, pork vindaloo and fish curry rice. O Fondue just down the road from our apartment deserved two trips to enjoy their eclectic offerings of grilled meats (horse or wild boar anyone?) and their awesome tapas. And one has to make the ferry crossing over to Cacilhas on the other side of the river Tagus to feast on the freshest and best seafood ever at Farol.

Prawns reichade at Jesus e Goes. A taste of Goa in Lisbon seemed just right.
The funky decor at Jesus e Goes.
The awesome tapas platter at O Fondue. You were charged for only what you ate. That salmon pate with bread and the shrimp salad was to die for.

In order to prolong the joy of our trip to Lisbon, we shopped for a whole lot of foodie goodies. Iberico ham and chorizo, goat cheese and Camembert, tinned sardines and venison pate, vinho verde and port wine, chocolate truffles and almond nougat – nothing escaped our greedy paws. Now all that’s left is to recreate those wonderful meals and re-live our perfect Lisbon escapade.



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