Alfama District and Santa Rita – Lisbon

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On our last day in Lisbon, we decided to go on a free walking tour hosted by our hostel. She showed us around the Chiado district, where we got to try some Ginjinha or Ginja which is a typical liqueur in Portugal, especially in Lisbon. The liqueur is made by infusing ginja berries which are sour cherries in alcohol and adding sugar to it. The store A Ginjinha is famous for having cheap shots of these to try although our tour guide bought us a whole bottle to share. It’s actually pretty good! Sort of like a brandy and worth trying.

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We were also shown the Hospital de Bonecas or the Doll Hospital, which is a store selling dolls since 1830! They’re known for restoring and repairing wounded toys and even have a museum! Pretty neat.

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Then we started to take a little uphill trek up the Alfama district. Alfama is the oldest district of Lisbon and was an area that was not destroyed by the famous Lisbon earthquake. Along the way, we saw many beautiful graffiti art, including this one that showcases Fado, which is a music genre that originated in Lisbon in the 1820s. The music is usually linked to a feeling of melancholia, loss, or longing. There is often a man who plays the Portuguese guitar accompanied with a singer. In the Alfama district, you will find many bars and cafes with Fado performances.

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Also, the first thing I noticed about Lisbon was the amount of tile art on buildings. Almost all the buildings have at least a section of tile on the walls and it’s absolutely beautiful. I know tiles are very popular in the interior of buildings, but I have never seen so much on the exterior of a building. You will also see many “azulejos” which are painted, tin-glazed, ceramic tile work. They often show images of Saints and are placed in the front entrances to protect the inhabitants.

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Then we made it to Sao Jorge Castle. It’s a Moorish castle back in the mid-11th century. Today, you do need to pay an entrance fee to go in. We didn’t go in, but we were able to see the exterior which was pretty cool. It actually looked like a fortress in movies!

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We were then taken to a viewpoint to look down at the Alfama district. So beautiful! Sunny day and blue skies with white houses and red rooftops. After we went downhill and also saw the Lisbon Cathedral, which was not too special, although it is the oldest church in the city.

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Our last stop was at the Commerce Square, also known as the Palace Square. This is because the location used to be the Royal Ribeira Palace until it was destroyed by the Lisbon earthquake. I believe the buildings here today are government bureaus. There is also a significant statue of King Jose I in the center as well as the Arco da Rua Augusta, which is an arc that opens into the shopping streets.

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After the tour, we decided to head over to grab lunch at our tour guide’s recommended restaurant. It’s on Rua sao Mamede, very close to our hostel and was actually such a hidden gem. There was no sign on the outside saying Santa Rita, but only a piece of paper with the menu and the name printed on it. I would’ve walked past it without knowing a restaurant existed here! When we arrived, it was very busy with a whole group of policemen eating. We waited a few minutes and luckily got a seat.

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First, we had the Vegetable Soup which was basic and simple, but so delicious! It was a medium consistency and filled with carrots and greens.

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We then had the Portuguese Seafood Rice, which I am still dreaming about 4 months later. It’s like soup in rice, but it was so damn good! There was also so many shrimps in it and they were fresh and big! I could eat this every day. A must order! I believe it was only 7 euros and you could split just this between two and be filled.

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The Portuguese curry is also very well known, so we ordered the Portuguese Curry Cuttlefish. Holy, it was huge! We also got rice with it and we were beyond stuffed. The squid was tender and the curry sauce was so delicious! Portuguese curry isn’t very spicy, which I really like.

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This just looks like curry, but it was really the Portuguese Curry Shrimp. It’s basically the same curry sauce as the cuttlefish dish, but with shrimps in it. There were so many pieces of shrimps and they were so fresh!

At the end of our meal, we were in a food coma and could not even finish all our food. Pretty much all the entrees were around 7 euros, and we still had leftovers to take home. Definitely share the food here since you’ll be so stuffed! Santa Rita gives you such quality local food at such a reasonable price. They definitely don’t cheap out on the ingredients! Recommend to all visitors!

And that was our trip in Lisbon. Later the day, we took the plane back to Barcelona to meet up with K and E. A nice sunny trip before we hit the cold parts of Europe!

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Casa das Bifanas – Lisbon

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Casa das Bifanas is located in Rossio Square, and it doesn’t look fancy at all. We got drawn in because of the lady at the window preparing the bifanas or Portuguese pork cutlets. Don’t expect much service here though as they are extremely busy! Some people come here and sit at the bar and just order a soup or a bifana and then quickly leave, while others actually enjoy their meal here. Regardless, there are not many seats.

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First we got the Vegetable Soup. This was very simple with just some typical veggies like carrots in it. Nothing too special, but it still tasted pretty good.

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The Fish Soup was much better and our favourite. It came with pieces of bread on top, which were delicious when soaked in the soup.

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Underneath there were loads of macaroni and pieces of fish. Very good and most tables had also ordered this!

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And then we had the Bifana or the Portuguese Pork Cutlet. This was so good! The bread wasn’t the softest, but the pork cutlet was well marinated and grilled to perfection. So tender and juicy! This is a must try in Portugal and the prices at Casa das Bifanas were very affordable.

Santini Gelati – Lisbon

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At night or even afternoon, head over to the Chiado district of Lisbon for some shopping and entertainment from street performers. Also try the roasted chestnuts at the street vendors.

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Walking along the streets, we found a bunch of people around this gelato shop. Some say that Santini Gelati makes the best gelato in the world! It began in 1949 and is one of the oldest gelato shops in Lisbon. We decided to go in and give it a try.

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They have a large menu of flavours, with some being sold out! They also have other desserts too, but most people come here for the gelato. You pay first and are given a receipt to hand over to the person who scoops your ice cream. The gelatos are a bit more expensive, but well worth it. Definitely really good!

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Here we have a Raspberry and Passionfruit, and a cup of just Passionfruit. The fruit flavour ones were basically like sorbet and very refreshing. Made of real fruit too! Delicious. There are seats inside too, but are always filled with people. I love the red and white themed decor. So retro looking!

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At night, if you have the Lisboa card or the one day unlimited transit card, you are able to take the Santa Justa Lift for free. It’s a elevator which is at the end of Rua de Santa Justa near Baixa and the Carmo Square. When you arrive at the top, there is a lookout area to see panoramic views of the city. It was surprising to find that Lisbon is actually quite dark at night. They don’t have as many lights like other cities. Therefore, I didn’t find the views to be amazing. I would make a quick trip here if you have the free entry card and if you have time. Definitely not worth paying just for this view though.

Pasteis de Belem – Lisbon

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After lunch, our hostel recommended us to visit Belem, which is the secondary local administrative unit in Portugal. It’s historically famous because of the number of Portuguese explorers embark their voyages from this area. Even Christopher Columbus stopped here! To get here, you just need to take the Tram 15E from the city center area and you get some nice views along the way. You’ll figure out where to get off just by seeing a bunch of tourists all disembarking the tram. We sort of followed some people, and we soon realized everyone was going to Pasteis de Belem!

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Pasteis de Belem is a pastry shop that existed since 1837. This shop is the birthplace of Pasteis de nata, or Portuguese egg tarts. They were created when Catholic monks of the 18th century used leftover egg yolks to create cakes and pastries for a living. My mom was pretty excited since she loves Asian egg tarts and she knew Portugal is famous for them.

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Other than Pasteis de nata, they also sell a variety of other cakes and pastries. But it seemed that everyone was just here for the tarts! We found a huge line up outside, but it moved very quickly. They also have seating inside, but we found that getting take out was the best and quickest way. They pack them for you in a little box.

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A terrible blurry picture of the Pasteis de nata, but I was too excited to just eat it. It’s slightly burnt at the top, but you can’t really taste any burnt taste. The filling is sort of like a creme brulee, or typical Chinese egg tarts, but the bottom was what surprised me! I’m used to typical solid tarts like in fruit tarts, or the flaky tart for some Chinese egg tarts, but this one was a crispy shell! Very layered, but you get a nice crunch as you bite into it. The filling is also much creamier than typical egg custards. You can also sprinkle some powdered sugar and cinnamon on top which gives it a nice sweet flavour! I would definitely recommend coming here to give them a try! One of the best egg tarts I’ve had and reasonably priced.

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A few steps down, and you will arrive at the impressive Jeronimos Monastery (also the monastery from where the monks made the pasteis de nata!) This monastery basically is a symbol of Portugal’s power and wealth back in the day when King Manuel I built it. It dates back to 1502!

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Inside, it’s very spacious, and you can definitely tell how old it is! It’s not as luxurious looking as some of the Italian or French churches, but definitely very large! However, the architecture is beautiful with each column carved with different items related to the sea. The monks here gave spiritual guidance to sailors and pray for the King’s soul and Vasco de Gama, a navigator and his crew, spent their night here before their voyage which was a success. Today, Vasco de Gama’s tomb is located here, as well several other important Portuguese figures. If you have a Lisboa Card, it is free entry, but even though we did not, we somehow entered for free…

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From afar the Jeronimos Monastery is huge! There are also various museums if you continue to walk further down. They have a maritime museum which showcases Portugal’s sea exploration, which is very well known.

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If you walk across the Jeronimos Monastery and towards the water, you will see the Discoveries Monument. You will need to go on an underground staircase to reach this spot where the Tagus River is. This monument was built to commemorate the death of Prince Henry, a navigator.

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In front of the monument, you will see a drawing of the world on the floor. What I believe the pinpoints are, are locations that navigators traveled to. The only one I sort of was familiar with was Macau, which Portugal had power over.

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This is the side view of the Discoveries Monument which is basically a ship with the important figures of history, including Portuguese explorers.

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If you look out from the monument, you will see the 25 de Abril Bridge. My initial thought was “It’s the Golden Gate Bridge!” Actually, it is supposed to resemble that, although it is even longer than San Francisco’s. It is actually the longest central span in Europe!

Another important landmark to see is the Belem Tower, which I unfortunately only saw from afar. We were sort of too tired to walk further down to visit this fortress. It was built in 1515 to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbor and is very important to Portugal during the Age of Discovery. It was often the starting point for sailors going on voyages.

Belem is definitely worth visiting, given it’s only 15 minutes by tram. You’ll be able to walk through most of these landmarks in an afternoon if you don’t visit any other museums. A beautiful relaxing area to be on a nice sunny day!

Lisbon Travels

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Next stop was Lisbon, Portugal! I was excited to visit Lisbon since it meant warmer weather even in December! Sure enough, the weather was beautiful. Getting from the airport to the city is also very easy by metro. We changed lines once and we were in the Baixa district. We got out of the metro and was at the Figueira Square. The Baixa district is the city center and actually relatively new as it was reconstructed after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Today, they are known for their earthquake-resistant architecture. The city itself is actually one of the oldest in Western Europe

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Transport is relatively simple in Lisbon. Other than the metro, trams seem to be the most useful transportation. We only used the metro to go to and from the airport. The rest of the time, we walked or took a tram. The city itself is quite small, so you can get around by walking or taking a tram. The only precaution for walking is that the streets can get very steep! That’s when you want to take a tram. Lisbon really reminded me of a European San Francisco. Cable cars, steep streets, and sunny weather! We stayed at the Hostel4UΒ in the Baixa district, which I highly recommend. My mom was worried when I told her we were staying at a hostel, but I had booked a 3 bed private room, and she was so happy with it! We had individual single beds, a private bathroom, and individual lockers. Each morning, we would also get a complimentary breakfast buffet, which had the basic bread, ham, cheese, yogurt, fruits, and cereal. It even had a coffee machine that made lattes and cappuccinos. The total for one night in a 3 bed private room was only 49 euros, so definitely not bad since you also cut the breakfast costs. Extremely new and clean hostel!

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Our hostel was located on Rua da Madalena, and I had asked the reception where to eat. He gave me three coupons to this restaurant 3 blocks down, saying we would get three drinks for free. Off we went, but we were surprised to see that the restaurant was completely empty. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant and I can’t seem to find it online either. Anyways, we went in since we were starving, and the man gave us an English menu. We went for two tourist set menus, and one main entree. The tourist set menus came with a salad, entree, dessert and a drink. After ordering, he placed a plate of Croquettes on our table. We were confused and thought they were complementary. I’ve had croquettes back in Barcelona, so I found these to be terrible compared to the ones in Spain. They were burnt and cold! And to top it off, they were added to our bill, and they weren’t cheap. Be aware!

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Fish is highly consumed in Portugal. We were recommended the Cod Fish Rice, which was the best dish at this restaurant. Cod or bacalhau is the main type of fish that’s eaten in Portugal. Basically, it was like fried rice with shredded cod mixed with egg. It was so good!

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My mom wanted to try the Portuguese Grilled Pork since it’s popular in Macau, and the cuisine in Macau really originates from Portugal. However, we were very disappointed in the pork. The pork was thin but so overcooked. It was tough and I felt like I was chewing on plastic. The fries were also sort of weird, although they looked fresh cut.

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Lastly, we had the Curry Chicken with Rice, which was decent. Portuguese curry reminds me of the curry we get at HK-style cafes. My mom loves her Asian food, so I found that the flavours of Portuguese cuisine to be very acceptable for her, compared to other European cuisines, which may be strong in dairy.

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For dessert, we had the choice of seasonal fruit or Creme Brulee. The seasonal fruit were literally cut up fruits that were in this mini fridge… I have no idea how fresh those were, so I went for the Creme Brulee. It was torched and I honestly thought it tasted disgusting… Didn’t finish it, but I was full from my meal already anyways. We even packed up some food for later. All in all, I wouldn’t recommend coming here. The service was decent even though we were the only diners and the man was pretty friendly. I couldn’t get over how he ripped us off on the croquettes though, but I hear this happens a lot in Europe anyways. Food was just average. We would soon find much better and cheaper food!