Il Gabriello and Il Gelato di San Crispino – Rome

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The Spanish Steps is another tourist spot that you should visit when in Rome. Just across the steps, you will find tons of luxury stores but also more affordable brands further down. The Rick Steve’s book had suggested Il Gabriello, but my mom had thought it would be too expensive. Minutes after persuading her, we finally ask for a seat and were told there are none. So apparently, you’re supposed to make reservations here! We ended up making a reservation for the next night, and it was the best idea ever! Atmosphere is lovely, and service was great! The restaurant is underground so it’s pretty cozy. A huge variety of wines here too, but they didn’t even give us any attitude when we just asked for water.

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Complimentary Bread

If I remember correctly, the bread was complimentary, which was a bit surprising, since many places we had gone charged us for extras. Water, however was charged since they don’t give out tap water. The assortment of bread was really good though! The loaf was alright, but the little buns were so soft! The bread sticks were also really nice!

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Smoked Salmon Salad

The Smoked Salmon Salad was so good! The salmon was really fresh and mixed with the greens, it was a nice way to start the meal. Really refreshing and light!

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Octopus Salad

This is a must order for octopus lovers! At first, I was worried the octopus would be tough, but it was so soft, yet still had a nice chew! It came with some potatoes and a nice light dressing. Absolutely delicious!

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Lobster Linguine

K got the Lobster Linguine which was a simple tomato based linguine and came with a large portion of lobster. Very fresh, and the linguine was cooked perfectly to al dente. Keep in mind that we had also ordered the primi sizes, which are supposedly smaller.

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Mushroom Risotto

E got the Mushroom Risotto, which he said was also really good. It looked really creamy!

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Seafood Paccheri

C got what I believe is the Seafood Paccheri. Paccheri are large tubular pasta. Again, it came with a nice tomato sauce, and came with a variety of prawns, shrimps, and a lobster claw.

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Grilled Lamb Chops

For myself, I didn’t go for the pasta but opted for the Grilled Lamb Chops. I sort of wish I had gotten the pasta after trying the others. Still, the lamb chops were pretty good. They were simple, and the sauce wasn’t overwhelming so you could get the true taste of the lamb.

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Seabass

A got the Seabass, and she was surprised to see it come as a whole. I guess we aren’t familiar with seeing fish as a whole in Vancouver, other than in Asian cuisine. No worries though, since A loves her fish and enjoys eating a whole fish. It came with a tomato sauce on the side which also had clams in it I think. She said the fish was very fresh and grilled nicely.

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Pistachio  Hazelnut Crepe

For dessert, we had the Pistachio Hazelnut Crepe, which I found a bit pricey for the portion. It was quite delicious though, with tons of Nutella filling and pistachio nuts on the top.

Overall, I highly recommend going to Il Gabriello. Good quality and authentic Italian food! Remember to make those reservations!

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After, we headed to see the Pantheon, and also stopped by Il Gelato di San Crispino, which is known to be one of the best gelato shops in Rome.

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Pear and Chestnut

They have really unique flavours here. Made from fresh fruits or the actual ingredients. Here, we got the double scoop of Pear and Chestnut. Pear was my favourite as it was sort of like a sorbet. Very strong in pear flavour too! We also had the Chestnut which K really liked, but I thought it was only average. Overall, really cool place to try out some flavours you might not find elsewhere. The quality of the gelato was also really good.

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Alice Pizza and Vatican City

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Day three in Italy was a trip to Vatican City. I’ve been here as well, and my deepest memory is losing one of our classmates in this busy square. Luckily, we found her somehow. Anyways, this time I understood so much more about the history again. I guess things just make more sense when you’re older. Vatican City is actually the smallest independent state in the world in area and population size. A size of around 44 hectares and a population of 840! The State is basically ruled by the Bishop of Rome or the Pope. First stop was St. Peter’s Basilica, which does not require admission fees. However, you do need to line up, but it moved quite quickly for us.

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St. Peter’s Basilica is located at St. Peter’s Square. It’s a Late Renaissance Catholic church and was designed by architects including Michelangelo. It is one of the largest churches in the world and is known to be one of the holiest and greatest churches in the Christian world. I’m an atheist, so visiting these churches isn’t really my thing, but I think it’s worthwhile to just see the architecture here. It’s seriously magnificent..

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Here is the altar of the basilica, and Saint Peter’s tomb lies just below the altar. You’ll also be able to see the dome of St. Peter’s and it’s the tallest dome in the world.

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Then, we took a short walk over to the Vatican Museums. You need to pay for this museum, but you’ll see some incredible work in here. You’ll find Renaissance sculptures, paintings, and other artwork here. For instance, here is just part of the ceiling. If I remember correctly, this ceiling is completely flat, but the artist painted it so you feel like it’s 3D and sculpted. Seriously, how do people even do this!? Crazy.

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I’m not an art person, and I forget who did this painting, but its pretty impressive how you see paintings all over the walls. Seriously, you won’t find a blank wall anywhere in these rooms. My favourite rooms had got to be the Raphael Rooms, with my personal favourite – The School of Athens. I learned about this in school, and it was so cool seeing Aristotle and Plato in the picture. After the Vatican Museum, you can connect to the Sistine Chapel, which does not allow photography. The chapel is in the Apostolic Palace, which is the Pope’s official residence. It’s basically famous because of the frescoes, the ceiling and The Last Judgment created by Michelangelo. You’ll also find the Creation of Adam here! Michelangelo was definitely a pure genius.

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After an afternoon of arts, we looked for some afternoon snacks. We found Alice Pizza, just minutes away from the Vatican Museum. I believe the store is actually outside of Vatican City though. The pizza was so good! It’s not your normal toppings, but with toppings like arugula, zucchini, eggplants, and more. You’ll see trays of pizza and you just let them know how much you want, and they slice them up for you. It’s priced by weight. Luckily, we were able to snatch the last few slices, because people were buying them so quickly and I think they had just taken out their last batches. So get there early and be aggressive about what you want! Some of the best Italian pizzas I had in Rome.

Pompeii – The Buried City

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Today, it’s not going to be a food post, but a post about my travels to Pompeii! I was seriously so excited when I found out we were going to Pompeii. It’s sort of a childhood inside joke K and I had since I had learned about Pompeii in elementary school, and I remember coming home telling her all about it. We had thought the name sounded funny and were amazed that people were buried alive and all. And since then, it was always a place I wanted to go see. Anyways, we were in Rome, so we decided to take a train to Naples, then connect another train that took us to the city of Pompeii. It was out of the way, and expensive, but I knew we had to do this. For those of you who don’t know much about Pompeii, it’s an ancient town near Naples in the Campania region. The town probably existed back in the 6th or 7th century, but was destroyed and buried from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The town was then forgotten, until 1599, when they began to dig and discovered ancient walls. Pictured here is basically a road or street that horse carriages would go down along, with the houses on the sides. You could tell that the houses back then were already pretty structured!

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This is where the city center of the town was. Probably where it was most busy and where they had temples and such. It’s basically “The Forum“. In the background, you can see Mt. Vesuvius, although the mountain used to be fuller and higher. If you took the right hand slope and connected it to the top, that was what the mountain used to look like, until it erupted. People were basically buried alive, and it’s amazing how the structures are still in tact today. You will see a case of plastered victims as they have been able to preserve them.

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More temples and such. Some other cool parts were the fast food stands, where you would see pots and holes on tables, where apparently, people placed food on. You’ll even see a bakery oven! As well, they have an amphitheater which looks like the Colosseum! On the buildings, you will also see many fresco paintings, which was really cool since I learned about that in high school. Another interesting sight was the brothels they had! You would see these stone beds and pillows in these tiny houses… haha

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If you’re planning to visit Pompeii, I would highly recommend you to bring a guide book, like the one I used by Rick Steves. Or you can also pay for a guided tour, but honestly, I was reading the guide book to my family, and we were learning the exact same things I overheard the tour guide speak about. Otherwise, if you just venture into the ruins on your own, you will have no idea what you’re looking at, and it won’t be as interesting. Overall, I highly recommend taking this one day trip here! You can get off at Pompeii Scavi by the train which departs from Naples. Warning though, is that the Naples station is not really luxurious. People are smoking inside and it’s known for pickpocketing, so be careful of that. If you have more time, you can also take a look at modern Pompeii, as well as train back to Naples and explore that city. I wish we did, since they have amazing pizza! Too bad we had to catch our train back to Rome. A must see in Italy though! I personally think this was much more interesting than the Roman Forums in Rome.

Ristorante Da Giovanni – Rome

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Our next stop was Rome! We arrived late at night by Ryanair and landed at Ciampino Airport, which is not their primary airport. Oh god… it was a nightmare in the airport. The arrivals was so small, but that wasn’t the problem. It was the fact that people were sleeping everywhere on the floor (waiting for layovers?) and the fact that people just smoked indoors. We were all pretty disgusted with the smoke just surrounding us. I have to say that the departure side is much better though and I had no problems with that. Anyways, we took a taxi to our hotel called Hotel Romae, which is just minutes away from the Termini station. A nice, comfortable hotel at a reasonable price and they even had Pantone chairs! How stylish. The next day, we were off to see the Colosseum. I’ve been here before, but I felt like I learned so much more this time around. If I remember correctly, we got the full entrance ticket, which gives you access to the Colosseum, the Roman Forums and Palatine. This was around 12 euros. We also paid an additional 9 euros for the Guided Tour, where the tour guide takes you underground and also to the third ring.

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The Roman Colosseum was the largest amphitheater of the Roman Empire and is also the largest in the world! This was where spectators could come watch gladiators fight animals. The guided tour was pretty cool since were were taken underground and could see where the elevators used to be to rise the animals up. This here is the underground structure called the hypogeum. It used to be covered by a wooden floor topped off with sand. Now, you can only see these structures, but you can imagine the tunnels and cages where the animals were kept.

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Since we bought the guided tour, we were also given access to the third floor. You get some nice viewpoints here.

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We then made our way to the Roman Forum. I think some of us were a bit disappointed with it just because it’s literally just ruins. Just looking at the place with no understanding really doesn’t impress you. We were lucky to have the Rick Steve’s Rome Guide book, and we instantly were much more interested. So basically, this area used to be a plaza and this was the center of the city. It’s where government buildings, marketplaces, temples ans such were located. Here, you will also find the Temple of Caesar, where Julius Caesar is buried. We also headed to Palatine Hill after, which is sort of an extra if you have time. We didn’t find it too intriguing. You’ll basically see what’s believed to be the residence of Augustus’ wife and also the Flavian Palace, which housed the Roman Emperors.

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At night, we ventured the streets, wandered into shops and ended up at the Trevi Fountain. It is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and obviously, it’s well known due to many films being filmed here. The fountain actually is located at the end of the road and is the terminal point for the aqueduct. Well in pop culture, we are often told that if you throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain, you’ll be coming back to Rome again in your life. I did this just 7 years ago, and here I am. I did it again this trip, so hopefully I’ll be back again! Do keep in mind that there are many pickpockets here, so grab on to your belongings!

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Spaghetti alle Vongole

For dinner, we went back near the Termini station to look for dinner. We ended up going to Ristorante Da Giovanni, which was recommend in Rick Steve’s guide book. It’s a family restaurant, but unfortunately, we were not too impressed with the food.  I got the Spaghetti alle Vongole, which is very popular in Italy. Basically spaghetti with clams made in the “bianco” way. This means with oil, garlic, parsley and white wine. Maybe, this is the traditional way, but I found it very bland. It wasn’t like “wow this is amazing”, but more like “it’s average.” Prices were definitely very reasonable at around 7 euros a dish though, and service was quite friendly. I guess if you’re just looking for something simple and cheap to get filled up, then it might not be too bad. Otherwise, I would skip this restaurant.

Bodega Santa Cruz – Seville

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The previous night after dinner at the terrible La Tradicional, we saw that Bodega Santa Cruz had a lot of people having drinks and tapas. We decided to go back the next afternoon for a quick lunch. It wasn’t as packed during this time, and we were able to find a seat, contrary to how many say you must stand. What I really enjoyed about Seville was the fact that they spoke Spanish, whereas in Barcelona, they speak Catalan and I often cannot understand the menu. In Seville, I was really able to put my Spanish to use and it seemed to work! Glad that I could at least sort of order food and have basic communication with the locals.

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They have a chalkboard full of tapas, and most of them are only 2 euros, which is a pretty good deal. Almost all of the tapas also came with these little bread sticks. First, we had the Spanish Omelette, which is a very typical Spanish dish. I actually ate this in a sandwich at school a lot. It’s basically a thick egg omelette which is made of potatoes and then deep fried. I wish it was served hot, but I know that this is typically served cold.

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Next, we had the Russian Salad, which was basically potatoes and corn. It had tons of mayonnaise which made it tasty. This was a very basic Russian salad.

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Croquettes were a must order. They weren’t as fresh as other restaurants, but were still decent. These also came with some fries and mayo. Again, the fries were thinly cut, something that seemed typical in Seville.

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Someone suggested to order the Seafood Pancakes. They were sort of odd… They were basically a potato patty with shrimps in it. I believe they put the whole shrimp, still with shell in to deep fry, so we actually bit into pieces of shell. I guess you could technically eat the shell, but I found it a little odd.

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Patatas Bravas are also a must in Spain. This one came with tons of sauce. A mix of mayo and ketchup. These deep fried potatoes are always a pleaser.

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And lastly, we had the Smoked Salmon Molletes. Andalucia is famous for molletes, so it was no surprise that we were having molletes in Seville. Lightly grilled buns with cream cheese and smoked salmon. Definitely not as a good as Ciudad Condal’s salmon montadito, but not bad.

Overall, Bodega Santa Cruz was a very down to earth bar to grab some cheap tapas. Don’t expect amazing quality, but you’ll get to sort of experience some typical Spanish tapas at a local joint. Next stop, Italy!

La Tradicional and Seville Sights

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In Seville, we stayed at the Apartamentos las Cruces. It was located in the Santa Cruz neighborhood, which I later learned that it’s a typical tourist spot! It’ was the Jewish quarter back in the day and has many of the historical buildings here. Seville is filled with beautiful buildings. Here, the Seville Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world! And as a church alone, it’s the third largest in the world!

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This is the Main Door or Door of Assumption on the west facade. Very intricate decorations, although this door is not used for visitors. We were able to enter at a different door, and you’re able to see part of the church. The rest of it will cost money and also allows you to go up the bell tower I believe.

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Another must see is the Alcazar of Seville, which is the royal palace, and previously a Moorish fort. It’s the oldest royal palace in Europe that is still being used! This is the Courtyard of the Maidens and shows just some of the beautiful architecture of this palace. Today, the upper levels are still used by the royal family.

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The Torre del Oro or the Golden Tower is a military watchtower right by the Guadalquivir River. It was actually a prison back in the day too! Today, it is a military museum and costs admission to enter, so we didn’t go inside.

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Bullfighting in huge in Spain, although it’s not available in Barcelona. I guess one of my regrets is not seeing a bullfight during my time on exchange! The Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Sevilla is the oldest bullring in the world! Pretty cool! The facade outside is in a Baroque style and brightly coloured. Unfortunately, there were no shows during our time, but only a tour of the ring.

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Last but not least, I personally think a must see is the Plaza de Espana or Spain Square. We have a Plaza de Espana in Barcelona, but this is definitely so much more impressive! The plaza is located in the Maria Luisa Park and was built for the Expo back in 1929. It shows the Renaissance style of Spanish architecture and showcases a lot of tiles! Extremely beautiful with all the colours.

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At night, we went to this busy street filled with restaurants. We went to La Tradicional, which was such a tourist trap! I can’t find the restaurant online, but it was on calle mateos gago.

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First we had Croquettes, which were still acceptable. It wasn’t the best ever, but they didn’t seem very fresh. The only thing I enjoyed were the fries. In Seville, I realized that their fries are almost like hickory sticks. They’re cut so thin and therefore, when deep fried, they are very crispy and crunchy.

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We also ordered a tapa size of Paella, which I was not impressed by at all. It was so dry and the seafood wasn’t fresh. It seems like a dish for tourists who haven’t tried authentic paella.

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I ordered a cup of Gazpacho, which is cold tomato soup and it was nasty! I’ve had a good cup of Gazpacho back in a local cafe in Barcelona, and it was so good! This one had such an odd flavour and was so strong in onions.

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The Seafood Salad was also such a disappoint. If Ciudad Condal was a 9/10, this would be a 3/10. The seafood was not fresh at all! The shrimps were so tiny and seemed like frozen shrimp. They even cheaped out on the imitation crab. It was just filled with tons of onions and green peppers. We didn’t like the flavour at all.

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The last dish was the Fried Calamari, which was also a disappointment. I guess it was one of the better dishes, but it was basically like eating batter. The cuttlefish was almost non-existent, and I’ve had plenty better in Barcelona or Vancouver. So disappointed.

Beware! Do not go to this restaurant. It’s so catered to tourists that they speak to you right away in English and offer you an English menu. Seville is pretty Spanish-oriented, so you can tell right away they are used to tourists at this spot.

Vineria San Telmo – Seville

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We only stayed a night back in Barcelona, really for my new travelers to drop off their luggage. And of course, we ate at Ciudad Condal once again! Everyone was totally satisfied! Next morning, we were off to Seville, the capital and largest city of Andalusia, an autonomous community. Seville is very south in Spain so we were able to enjoy some sunny weather! We stayed at Apartmentos Las Cruces, which is pretty neat since it was basically like a one floor townhouse for ourselves. Two queen size beds, huge bathroom and kitchen. We did have an issue with our hot water tank, but other than that, it was a very good deal and at a good location in the Santa Cruz area. We took a short walk out in a maze (the streets keep turning!) and we found Vineria San Telmo, a nice little bar/cafe. It has pretty high ratings on Tripadvisor! Service wasn’t too bad and there were English menus.

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Squid Ink Spaghetti with Garlic and Grilled Scallops

First, we had the Squid Ink Spaghetti with Garlic and Grilled Scallops, since many reviews suggested trying this. I did find that the spaghetti was a little too dry since there isn’t really a sauce. The pasta is very bouncy and chewy though!

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Fresh Grilled Foie Gras with Apple Compote

Next, we had the Fresh Grilled Foie Gras with Apple Compote, which is perfect for foie lovers. I loved the little touch of the flower painting too! I didn’t know that apple would go so well with the foie! A nice apple spread similar to apple sauce, paired with the foie that melted in your mouth. The outer layer is grilled to a nice crispy texture.

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Quail Eggs with Cured Iberian Ham

I think the Quail Eggs with Cured Iberian Ham was the most physically attractive dish! Essentially montaditos or bread with Iberian Ham and topped with sunny side up quail eggs. I still found the Iberian ham a little tough for my liking, but the quail egg was delicious with the yolk still runny!

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Duck Breast with Chutney and Yucca Chips

Finally, we had the Duck Breast with Chutney and Yucca Chips. The duck breasts were grilled, but I found the inside to be a bit tough. Not the best duck breasts I’ve had. The chutney sauce was nice to go with it, since it was a bit sweet and sour from the mangoes. Yucca chips are also known as Cassava chips, which are really sort of just like potato chips, but they’re a lot more crunchy.

Overall, I really enjoyed the dishes at Vineria San Telmo. Prices are quite reasonable, and they have a large variety of choices.

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!