For the entire month of December, I was traveling, starting with Lisbon, Portugal.
When I was planning this trip to Europe many months ago, I asked around to see if anybody could come with me. I asked friends, family members, and my husband to come along, but nobody could get the time off from work, or they didn’t have the money. Not that I was necessarily desperate to have a travel partner, I just knew that it would be out of my comfort zone and I was a little nervous about that.
After Portugal, I’d be heading to Sintra, a town outside of Lisbon, then Paris, then Sweden.
I wasn’t really nervous for Paris, since I’m so familiar with the city, and I wasn’t nervous for Sweden, since I would be meeting my husband Erik there to spend Christmas with his family – but just the idea of leaving for another country all alone is a little scary, even if I have done it before. Also, this past year has been mostly about hibernating inside my house, so to get out of that zone so suddenly and intensely was a shock to my system. I cried on my way to the airport. My Uber driver noticed and handed me some tissues. When I touched down in Paris for an overnight “layover,” I could feel that I was on the verge of panicking, from exhaustion and being overwhelmed, but I was able to calm myself down by breathing, taking a quick shower, and focusing on the the task at hand: seeing my friend Laura from Ciao Amalfi! We had planned this reunion perfectly – I couldn’t get a direct flight to Lisbon, so I booked a connecting flight in Paris, and it just so happened that Laura would be in Paris at the same time! I was so tired that by the end of our apéro, I was having trouble keeping my eyes focused, but I’m so grateful I got to see her. We’ve only been in the same city at the same time about 4 times in the past 3 years that I’ve known her, but it feels like I see her all the time. She lives in Italy, so it’s been a long distance friendship from the beginning! And if you’re wondering how we met: we used to work together remotely for Paris Perfect. At our brief Paris meeting she gifted me one of my favorite teas from Mariage Frères, and I gifted her one of my Paris calendars that I designed last-minute for my Etsy shop (they’ve since sold out).
Wait a minute, HOLD UP – this blog post is supposed to be all about Lisbon! …Let’s get back to the subject!
Where I Stayed/Time Out Market
Lisbon was the part of the trip I was most nervous about because it was a country I had never been to before. But I shouldn’t have been very nervous because it was very easy to navigate. The metro system is pretty simple and rather small, and aside from getting out of breath dragging my massive suitcase up a very steep and roughly cobblestoned hill, finding my Hostel was easy.
I opted for a private room in the Lost Inn Hostel. It was way less expensive than a hotel, but I still got some privacy, which I value highly. They hand an awesome lobby/lounge area, a decent free breakfast every morning, and events and activities planned for every day of the week. It was also housed in an older building, so many of the walls were lined with painted tiles, which if you didn’t know, Portugal is known for their hand-painted tile tradition. In fact, I’ll have to do a separate blog post all about these tiles (called Azulejos in Portuguese), because I took way too many pictures of them!
The hostel was just a couple blocks away from the Time Out Market, which I had seen pop up a few times in my research. It’s a sort of classy food court, where local chefs come to share their cuisine. Many of the stalls offered local specialties, like salted cod, meat and veggie stews, and regional pastries. I was pretty hungry at that point, so I went to an authentic-looking stall and ordered a piece of Cod fish cooked with a crispy breading, served on a purée of chickpeas, seasoned with some cilantro.
Pastel de Nata (Custard Tarts)
Speaking of things to eat, if you go to Portugal, you must eat as many Pastel de Nata as humanly possible. They’re small custard tarts and they’re so tasty. They give you a little packet of cinnamon and you can choose how much to dust over the top. You can find them everywhere but a famous bakery in Lisbon that offers them is called Pastéis de Belém. There was a small line out the door when I arrived, and it was a bit hectic inside, but I walked out with three of the beauties and ate them all when I got back to my room.
I didn’t do a ton of meticulous planning before I came to Lisbon, which is quite out of character for me, so I wasn’t sure where to begin. I decided to visit the Jeronimos Monastery on my first afternoon because 1) It wasn’t too far away, and 2) I really enjoy unique architecture. I wasn’t in the mood for a history museum or shopping – I just wanted to look at something pretty and take photos of it, and that’s exactly what I did for a full hour or two. One of the main aspects of the Monastery is the large two-level cloister. I spent all of my time here, walking around it at least three times capturing different angles, seeing how I could use the sunlight to my advantage. I get a thrill out of trying to unearth interesting photographs from a place – crouching, leaning, stretching, moving an inch to the right or left, to get the shot I envision. I much prefer this process of photographing than I do staging and styling a scene. It’s a challenge to only work with what already exists in the environment. It really makes me hyper-aware of every little element in my surroundings – the angle of the sun, how the shadows fall, how people move through the space, how one archway perfectly frames some other element in the distance… It’s like an easter egg hunt where the prize is a dynamic photograph.
Jerónimos Monastery was late Gothic in style but it was so different from anything I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a LOT of Gothic architecture, and studied it too! I learned later that the official style is referred to as Manueline. The variation in surface pattern alone was astounding. I don’t think there was a single column with the same decoration in the entire place! Various types of leaves and flowers, fantastical creatures, religious symbolism, and references to royalty all intermingled. It was designed by three architects in succession over a period of about 40 years in the 1500s. The monastery was occupied by a Hieronymite order of monks until the mid 1800s.
Neighborhood: Barrio Alto
On the morning of my first full day in Lisbon I found a cute breakfast place called The Mill within walking distance (it turned out to be an Australian-inspired cafe) and headed out bright and early. I had been awake since like 4 am anyway (thanks jet lag) so I was eager to head out by 7:30. To get to the breakfast place, I had to walk through the neighborhood known as the Barrio Alto. I saw a couple of the classic streetcars, climbed more hills than I would have preferred, and took a lot of photos. The breakfast was delicious too.
On my second day in Lisbon, I took a free walking tour of the Alfama neighborhood. The tour was quite long (maybe a little too long), but I learned a lot. Alfama is the home of a particular music genre called Fado, a soulful, often melancholy type of music that you can still listen to today in various Fado houses across the city, but most of them are concentrated in the Alfama neighborhood. Our guide said that REAL Fado houses would never charge an entrance fee, so that’s how you know you’re in a tourist trap.
The woman wearing a yellow crop-top in the mural above I believe is the “Queen of Fado,” Amália Rodriguez, a singer and “woman of questionable morals.” The mural also depicts the musicians, espeically interesting is the 12-stringed Portuguese guitar which is a quintessential part of Fado music. If you want to learn more, here’s a little video!
Alfama is the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon. It still has tiny, winding medieval-style streets and a quiet, village-like feel. Cities just aren’t constructed like this anymore, and it’s so cool to imagine what life was really like then, before cars and supermarkets and the internet. Although plumbing wasn’t a thing either – so medieval life was probably also very stinky.
The Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo)
After the walking tour, I took an Uber over to the Tile Museum, since there wasn’t a convenient public transportation route there. It was very cool to see a timeline of different styles and explanations for different methods of adding pigment. I wouldn’t say it was the most incredible museum I’ve ever been to but it was enjoyable.
After the tile museum it was time for some food. I did some research and found a small plate-style restaurant serving local specialties called Petisqueira Conqvistador. Sometimes it can be a little awkward to eat alone at restaurants, but a girl’s gotta eat! It’s just something you get over out of necessity. The restaurant was tiny and the food was really interesting. I liked being able to try many different little things without paying much money at all. I had some cod croquettes (they really like cod in Portugal), some soft cheese that I spread on garlic sweet potato bread, some marinated/pickled carrots, a potato and sausage soup that was somehow very light, and some Portuguese “green” wine. By the time I left I was actually feeling slightly tipsy, and when you combine that with likely dehydration and an intense wave of jet lag, I stumbled out of there in a strange stupor.
The mile I had to walk to get back to the hostel was torturous because I was so depleted of energy, I could have taken a taxi, but I had one more spot to visit on my itinerary that day and I did NOT want to miss it!! It was a shop filled with locally-made goods, but once I got there I was so sweaty and distraught that I just walked around the store like a zombie and didn’t buy anything. It was a nice shop though, called A Vida Portuguesa. I had walked 6 miles that day, had been awake since 4am, and according to my Health app, climbed 49 floors (Lisbon is quite hilly), so I was already pretty pooped. Every step back home was like lifting a bag of bricks off the ground, and I even stumbled a few times over nothing at all. Seriously – I’ve never been so thoroughly exhausted and honestly it was kinda scary.
I made it back to the hostel at a snail’s pace, almost cried about all the steps I had to climb to get to my room, then collapsed on the bed and didn’t get out again until the next morning.
So here’s what I learned – Don’t overexert yourself physically on the first travel day, especially when you’re out of shape and have jet lag. Also – jet lag and wine don’t mix well.
I’m going to do a separate post filled with all my painted tile (azulejos) photos. There’s just too many to put in a single blog post.