PortuGALs – Lisbon and Sintra

12 Oct

I have been wanting to go on a big vacation abroad for some time, but for whatever reason my international vacations have kept getting derailed at the last minute. This summer I was determined to go somewhere new, adventurous and off the beaten path and roped Emily, one of my best friends, into joining me. We initially planned on going to Morocco and almost booked our tickets before realizing that it was going to be Ramadan during our trip. Seeking to avoid an SATC2-esque disaster (which, shockingly I still have not seen) we decided to switch locales.

As the date of our August departure approached and with no destination in sight, we solicited friends and family for suggestions. Finally one afternoon we got together and made a very organized spreadsheet of all the places we wanted to go, and then eschewed all that planning to go to Portugal on a whim even though neither of us had done any research. The flight was leaving at the right time for the right price…it was as simple as that! Overall the trip was incredible and I strongly recommend going to Portugal over the usual European destinations of France, Italy and Spain.

Highlights from Lisboa

We arrived in Lisbon at 8 in the morning and thanks to some heavy pharmaceuticals I was well rested and ready to explore the city. We checked into our hotel, the fabulous Hotel Lisboa Plaza, which was conveniently located in the center of the city so we could explore sights and get around easily. The staff was so friendly and accommodating…they even gave us postcards and mailed them for us!

First we walked around the Alfama district which is very old and cobble stone-y, I can’t say much more than that since we chose not to pay for a castle tour which is the main highlight of the area. Instead we just moseyed around the narrow streets and took in the views, which were lovely.

Old tiled buildings in the Alfama


After walking around the Alfama to get our bearings and get into the Portuguese spirit, we had a light lunch and then headed to Belem district for some museums. We went to the Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art which had a really intense Andy Warhol experimental video installation, and an exhibit similar to a children’s funhouse which was amazing.

Doesn't the funhouse look fun?!

We then went to the Jardin de Belem, a former monastery with  a beautiful garden and church.

Jardin Belem

Inside the church

Vaulted ceilings

That night we headed to the Barrio Alto, the an area with tons of bars and places to eat and hang out. We walked around until we found a suitable place that looked popular and yummy to have dinner. There were very few hosts or hostesses at the restaurants in Portugal, instead we learned you had to jockey for position among the other patrons to get the head waiter’s attention and beg for a seat. Once we got the hang of this we were seated but it took many attempts and bruises to my ego before I pushed my way into being seated.

Finally seated for dinner in the Barrio Alto

Day trip to Sintra

Our second day in Lisbon we actually spent in Sintra, an ancient town less than an hour train ride away. Sintra has several Moorish and Europen castles and is so high up in the mountains that much of our day was spent among the clouds. Lord Byron referred to Sintra as “glorious Eden” and with the breathtaking views I can see why. There are several tour buses that take passengers up the mountain to the major attractions, but we decided to take a taxi to the top and work our way down since we wanted to go on our own pace. This proved to be a pretty boneheaded move since almost everyone had their own car or was part of a bus tour…we saw no one else walking down this cold wet mountain in sandals, but you live and you learn and we made it down in one piece!

The castles offered spectacular views and were such a thrill to climb, although due to the rain I was terrified I was going to wipe out and plunge to my death. I preferred the Moorish castle which had been there since the 1400s instead of the European style castle.

Taking a break climbing the Moorish Castle

View of the European Castle from the Moorish Castle

After our hike down the mountain in Sintra, we returned to Lisbon for the night. We went to a restaurant that I forgot the name of sadly, but the chef was having a private party and invited us to join in celebrating his birthday. Another patron (Victor!) offered to drive us home and gave us a few pointers for the next leg of our trip in Cascais.

Part 2 – Cascais

Part 3 – Douro Valley


6 Responses to “PortuGALs – Lisbon and Sintra”

  1. Lizzie October 14, 2010 at 2:52 pm #

    Nif these posts and pics are amazing!! Can’t wait to see part 2!!


  1. PortuGALs – Cascais « SpiffyNiffy - October 15, 2010

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  2. PortuGALS – Douro Valley « SpiffyNiffy - October 18, 2010

    […] Part 1 – Lisbon and Sintra […]

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    […] Mar Recently my Portugese traveling buddy Emily went to Paris for work, and generously sent me a box of Ladurée macarons.  Ladurée is world […]

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    […] post is written by Emily Behar, my fellow Portu-gal, during her recent trip to Istanbul. […]

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