So the time had come. Tickets were booked months in advance, so this trip was a long time coming. Three days of sun, sand and as much cured ham as I could possibly indulge in – all with my bestie Liz, in Lisbon!
It began on Saturday morning with a 3:00am taxi (turned out to be 3:45am late taxi. Safe to say my heart was my mouth!). Unluckily for me, London had decided to begin the first May bank holiday particularly chilly. So there I was, half asleep, freezing due to my anticipation of hot weather in Lisbon, playing “chicken” with a fox on the streets of Clapham. My luck turned however, when my taxi driver decided to play “chicken” with the rest of London’s traffic and got me to Heathrow in under half an hour – safe to say that woke me up.
Anyway! I boarded, put on my iPod and counted down the minutes until I landed in paradise and got to see my best friend again!
Now, as two girls who live day-to-day on a budget – me in London and Liz in Madrid – we opted for the hostel accommodation option. I was a little apprehensive, I must admit. At €9 a night, I expected the place to be from my worst nightmares – a fear, however, that was completely unjustified. The Shiado Hostel (http://bit.ly/1mBIRX9) was just fantastic. Very clean with great facilities, amazingly friendly staff, free brekky and the location could not have been more ideal. I later learned that Portugal has won “World’s best hostels” so many times that the criteria had to be categorised by continent – safe to say Portugal is continually bossing the ‘Europe’ category.
Obviously, the first thing we did (after being pounced on and nearly suffocated by Liz) was hit the beach! I am privileged to come from a country where no part of New Zealand is more than 128km (79 miles) from the sea – fact! This means living in London and Madrid can be quite suffocating at times. So as soon as we could, we hopped on a train and headed out to Estoril, Cascais (about 40 minutes from the town centre). Temperature was 27°C already and I was pumped to get my tan on.
After sweating up a storm for a couple of hours and trying to cool down in the Atlantic (so cold it literally hurt), it was time to dabble in my first taste of Portuguese cuisine. We found an absolute gem of a place, called Jonas Bar (http://bit.ly/1nnEMqS) just down from our sunning spot that was right on the water. Its menu was vast (and mouth-watering) but I was sold as soon as I sat down and saw our neighbouring diners chowing down on a huge stick of hanging meat. We started with a plate of cured ham and melon (of course) and opted to share the hanging meat skewer (we were in bikinis after all) and washed it down with a couple of cold Super Bock’s – Portugal’s signature pale lager. What a perfect start.
A few more hours of beach time and numbing dips in the ocean, it was time to head back as it was Saturday, and with Saturday comes Saturday night – and we all know what that means (dun dun dunnnnn).
We headed out into the renowned ‘party spot’ Bairro Alto – a hilly maze of restaurants, bars and houses. I started the night with a Mojito – extra-large. When it’s made well, I would definitely put it up there as a favourite of mine, and my goodness, this was made well. Liz started her evening adventurously with a Black Caipiroska – a sweet vodka cocktail.
Safe to say, this marked the beginning of the end. We stumbled (not literally…yet) across a great wine and snack bar selling glasses of wine for €2.20! Straight in we go. I treated myself to two glasses of red (hey big spender!) and Liz was on the white. We accompanied the vinho with – what turned out to be our dinner, mistake #1 – a selection of cheese, and of course, more cured meat!
We had a great pozzy in the wine bar. Right in the big window where we could watch the world pass us by and make up stories about the outside diners. This in turn not only made a lot of people uncomfortable, but also put us on show like a shop window display! We didn’t mind though. We were too busy enjoying ourselves at their expense.
As you can imagine, we laughed and drank into the night, venturing around Bairro Alto. One of the best nights out I have had in a long time. However, when Sunday morning hit, this “best night ever” had really taken its toll on poor Liz and, well, she needed to rest.
But we had planned to go on a free walking tour and it was something I couldn’t pass up on, so I was up an at ’em and ready for the day at 9:00am (as painful as that was).
To my utter relief, the walking guide actually came to the hostel to pick up whoever wanted to join so I didn’t have to try and find the meeting spot in my extremely hazy state. The guided tour company was called Wild Walkers (http://on.fb.me/SzmR6B) and it was absolutely fantastic. My guide, Hugo, escorted me to the meeting place where we waited for more to join, then ventured into the old part of the city, Alfama. It was hilly, hot and at one point I thought I might faint but I battled through and I am so glad I did. Hugo was brilliant – you could tell he was very proud of his heritage and he was extremely informative. This has my “highly recommended” stamp all over it. A bonus is the tour is “free” and is based on tips – you pay what you think it deserves, if anything at all! So it is a real fail-safe option.
After the tour and checking in with Liz, the solo day continued and the call of the beach was just too tempting to refuse. It was already 4:30 and still scorching! Almost routinely now, I spent a couple of hours dozing in the sun and waking straight back up with a dip in the water – then finished it all off with a cold pint of Super Bock and a plate of cured meat and melon! It was just bliss – reading my book (Pillars of the Earth) and sitting in the sun with a cold beer and good food while listening to the waves.
Sunday evening comes and Liz was back to her, almost normal, self. So we decided to go find a proper Portuguese dinner and really treat ourselves. After searching the labyrinth that is Bairro Alto, we found exactly what we were looking for. However – and I am kicking myself believe me – I cannot for the life of me remember the name, or location. But I will (hopefully with Liz’s help) track it down and add its location in the comments section!
Anyway, to the most important part – the food. Wow. We started with a Mozzarella ball wrapped in – yep you guessed it – cured ham! This was accompanied by salted asparagus and a lettuce salad, all dressed with pesto and oil. What a great start!
For our mains, we chose the restaurant’s own Risotto speciality, with shrimp and spinach (and not too creamy thank god), and a plate of a traditional Portuguese codfish dish called ‘Baaz’. I believe it was a take on the Portuguese starter Bolinhos de Bacalhau– which is bits of cod mixed with potato and olives. But this was served as a main and was just delicious.
This was all accompanied by two glasses of orange Fanta – scandalous I know. However, this all changed when a Brazilian admirer – I kid you not – had the waiter bring myself and Liz a glass each of Portuguese Green Wine. This semi-sparkling wine is called “green” not because of its colour, but apparently due to the fact that it is consumed while the wine is still young -within a year or two after its release. “Vinho Verde” is unique to Portugal and is not produced anywhere else in the world (thank you wiki). Funnily enough Liz and I had really wanted to try this but – understandably – never got round to it on Saturday night. So this romantic/presumptuous gesture turned out to be great…for us! For the admirer, an “Obrigado, adeus!”
Monday rolls around and it’s our last day (boo!). We made sure we were up early to utilise the time before our evening flights back home, and get some more sun! Back to the routine – sun, ice water, sun, ice water, then off to Jonas for, would you believe it, melon and cured ham! And of course the cold pint of Super Bock.
Cheers Lisbon. It was amazing, crazy and memorable. I will hopefully see you again soon.