The man & I spent a long weekend in Lisbon recently. Just the 2 of us; no kids. It has to happen occasionally.
I had been to Lisbon once before. The first time I really had no idea what to expect and was completely captivated by the place. It was January, cold and damp in the UK, and walking along the river in 15 degree sunshine was a real tonic for the soul. The city embedded itself in my head and I knew I’d be back.
This trip to Lisbon I more or less knew what to expect (which made me get all the more excited in the lead-up to the weekend), but the man didn’t and I purposely didn’t tell him much about it. I wanted him to discover it for himself.
Lisbon is not a place one necessarily passes through on the way to somewhere else. It’s not a hub like Paris or Berlin; you have to make a wee bit of an effort to get there. But the effort is oh so worth it. The city just sort of hangs there, at the mouth of a river, on the edge of the Iberian peninsula (the edge of Europe, really), peering outwards across the Atlantic. Geographically the situation is just so perfect – there are hills, hills and more hills (gym memberships are completely unnecessary in this city), and clearly marked “miradouros” (lookouts) everywhere allowing you to take in some truly spectacular views. And I must say that after the most dismal UK summer in millenia, the temperate climate which offered up 3 straight days of sunshine and 25 degree temperatures was very much appreciated.
So what is it about this city that’s already got me pining for another visit? Where do I start…? There are of course the usual characteristics that appeal to me… friendly people, simple fresh tasty food, higglety-pigglety parking on some of the narrowest streets imaginable (I’d hate to have to park there myself, but loved watching others attempt it!), some truly stunning scenery. But there’s more. As you walk around, there is art everywhere you look – whether it’s in the more traditional sense in Lisbon’s multitude of galleries & museums, or all around you on the pavements, in the metro stations, or on buildings. This urban art may or may not appeal, but it’s interesting, intriguing, and tells a story about the city’s history and the current state of the nation.
Portugal is famous for its “azuelos” (ceramic tiles) which adorn the front of many of the buildings. Some are in better shape than others. This building, in Chiado neighbourhood, was covered in gorgeous aquamarine blue tiles and was just totally eye catching.
The pavement/sidewalk paving is rustic, artistic and treacherous all rolled into one. Heels are a broken ankle waiting to happen.
There are tiny shops selling only buttons, or beads, or gloves, or tins of sardines still hand wrapped with 1950s style brown paper & string. Some of the street names remind you of what used to be sold there.
My Lisbon must dos:
- Wear flat, comfortable shoes and just walk and explore. You see more that way.
- Be prepared for very sore calves as a result of days of walking up and down all the hills!
- Visit the castle, soak in the absolutely unparalleled views & then walk around neighbouring Alfama
- Eat warm pasteis de nata (custard tarts) in Belem.
- Visit some of the tiny shops in Baixa. Buy some sardines, even if you don’t like them, just because the packaging is so retro & cool.
- Go joy riding at night on the number 28 tram. It’s ludicrously crowded in the daytime, but at night you can get a seat, open the gorgeous wooden framed windows, and enjoy a ride that reminded the man of the Knight Bus in the Harry Potter films.
- Stay at Zuzabed, the most welcoming, charming B&B I’ve ever stayed in. Uberhost Luis (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Roger Federer) and his team go out of their way to welcome you and make your stay memorable. Their love for their city is very evident, and infectious. Luis makes a great orange cake, which he delivered to us warm one morning for breakfast.
- Sit on one of the gorgeous marble benches and be at one with the world in Carmo Square (Chiado) – the most perfect little neighbourhood square.
Some other random photos I feel the need to share:
I mentioned I wanted the man to discover Lisbon for himself, and I really wanted him to like it; to see what I saw in the place. So did he? Well, you must understand that he is practically the most laid back person to ever walk this earth and it’s sometimes difficult to gauge his enthusiasm for things (unlike the kids and I who have been known to get rather OVERenthusiastic). But he liked it – I could tell from little things he said and did, from the way he told the parents about the weekend. In his mind it’s hard to dislike a city that has 2 very nice guitar shops within a block of each other!
Lisbon is just a cool place. It’s charming. Parts of it are slightly shabby, but that just adds to the charm. It has no pretensions; it just is what it is. I like that. It reminds me of someone.
So I wanted to make a cake, to capture the flavours and reflect the essence of this city that I’ve fallen for. The inside wasn’t difficult to envision – almond & citrus. It was the outside that left me a bit stumped. It would be cream with a bit of orange, but how to decorate it? Elaborate it? Jazz it up? I made the cake & filled it, leaving myself to mull overnight about how to finish it off. And in the end I didn’t really finish it off. It actually didn’t need decoration or elaboration. A slightly orangey, slightly sweet cream was enough and actually perfectly reflected Lisbon and the type of dessert or cake you’d find there. Simple, tasty, not overly fancy or sweet. Like Lisbon, it doesn’t need to be jazzed up – it just is what it is. And we liked it.
This cake is dedicated to the parents, as a thank-you for babysitting and allowing us to get away. I’ll make it for you the next time I see you.