We prefer arriving early in the city in which our tour will begin just in case there might be a problem with the flight. Our tour would start the following day, so today was our day to explore Lisbon on our own. We began with the breakfast buffet. Breakfast buffets on our tours have offered a very wide range of foods, and this one was no exception. There were sardines, ham, cheeses, breads, yogurt, cold cereals, vegetable soup, eggs, hash brown potatoes, bacon, beans, granola, and more. The beverages were pineapple, apple, or orange juice, a selection of teas and coffees, as well as cappucino and espresso. For dessert there was fruit salad, whole fruit, and a Portuguese specialty called pastel da nata, which I’ll say more about later. Oh, I forgot to mention that there was a chocolate fountain, too.
We wandered outside to see that a market was set up along the length of Avenida Liberdade. Also, a classic car show was going on. Nick was in heaven naming each classic car that went by, and he was thrilled to tell me about every one. He also enjoyed chatting with the other car enthusiasts, of whom there were many. We learned that this was annual event. As for me, I was amazed that there were so many classic cars in Portugal.
Our Rick Steves tour book suggests three neighborhood “strolls:” we decided to do the closest one, called Bairro Alto and Chiado. Barrio Alto and Chiado are situated above Avenida Liberdade, so we hopped on the funicular. From the exit point, we found ourselves in a park that had a great view of the town below. Across the street was São Roque Church, built by the Jesuits in the 16th century. Along each side of the church were a variety of chapels. The chapel of St. John the Baptist was built in Rome, consecrated there, and then disassembled and sent to Lisbon. It is filled with precious stones as well as tiles, for which Portugal is famous.
Next to the church is the São Roque Museum, which we found to be extremely impressive. All of its contents, including paintings and sculpture, were more wondrous for us to see because they are at eye level and are well described in English.
We continued our walk, stopping into various buildings as described in our book, to see their tiles. Tile is a frequently used material for walls and flooring in Portugal because they keep dwellings cooler in the warm climate. We passed the remains of the convent, Convento do Cromo, which was destroyed in a 1755 earthquake. What’s amazing is that its front and the frames of its sides are still standing, but the rest is missing.
At this point, hunger set in. We passed a street of sidewalk cafes whose patrons seemed to be both locals and tourists. We joined them for a delicious seafood lunch. Then it was time for dessert. According to our book the best shop in town for pastel da nata is called Manteigaria, and it was within walking distance. The shop was jammed, but we learned that it always is. We worked our way to the rear, where we could see the bakers. One baker works the delicious pastry crusts into the molds, while another fills them with creamy custard. They are baked briefly at a very high temperature. The result is an absolutely delicious little custard pie that’s about three inches in diameter and is always served right out of the oven. Yum!
We took the funicular down to Avenida Liberdade and strolled back to our hotel for a rest. When it was time for dinner, I asked Nick to consult his electronic device to find a recommendation for a nearby restaurant. We walked to Quermesse Restaurante, a tiny restaurant filled with locals who were eating local food. My meal was risotto with codfish, shrimp and crawfish, while Nick’s was duck in a wine reduction with veggies (broccoli, zucchini and eggplant). Both were magnificent. We shared a dessert of melon with raspberry sauce, the perfect ending to a perfect dinner. By the way, the price of our dinner, with wine and water, was €33.
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