Read Part 2 Here
Lisboa, A Cidade das Sete Colinas – Lisbon, the city of seven hills
Stepping out of the plane, I could not hold myself back from exclaiming “Oh this is perfect!” when I felt the cool breeze passing. Seriously though, comparing to the gray gloomy weather in Paris, Lisbon’s weather was heavenly. The afternoon sunlight was the colour of honey, the sky was as clear and as blue as it could be, the kind of weather that was not too cold nor too hot, just perfect for my family’s plans of visiting the city. This beautiful start of the trip made me that much more excited for my last trip of 2016.
Bài viết tiếng Việt: Phải lòng Lisbon (Phần 1)
We took the airport bus back to our accommodation, which was a small cosy apartment belonging to a tourist apartment agency. As soon as the bus left the airport and entered the city, my immediate impression was how elegant this city is. Although there are a lot of big buildings next to each other on the side of the streets, the green spaces, the wide open squares, and the big streets, all bring a very spacious feeling and not as crowded and compacted as in Paris.
After we finished unpacking and having dinner, we decided to take a walk around the city to enjoy a Lisbon night. Since it was during Christmas, the city was lit up with Christmas lights, with big Christmas trees in the squares, and all of that contributed greatly to the festive atmosphere.
The next morning, we started our first full day in Lisbon. Like a majority of tourists that come to this beautiful city, we decided, firstly, to take a city tour on foot. Perhaps since it was during Christmas, the city was really quiet and almost empty that day, with almost no shops being opened, except for a few gift shops that stayed open in hope of attracting some wandering tourists.
It was not until that morning walk that I got to observe all the sides of Lisbon. If one moment I was gasping in awe of the grandness and elegance of the buildings, of the fountains, the next moment when I took a turn into a small alley, I couldn’t help feeling a bit downhearted in front of run-down houses that, if no one was living in there, looked like they were abandoned for a while, another turn took me to an alley with houses with an ancient and quiet feel to them. I suddenly felt that walking around in Lisbon is like looking through a kaleidoscope, where every turn is a shake of the wrist, a turn of the tube, and the scenery in front of my eyes will always be a different one, with none resembling the others.
As I have written at the beginning of this post, Lisbon has a nickname of “The city of 7 hills”. This nickname came from a legend that said Lisbon was built on 7 hills: São Jorge, São Vicente, SantAna, Santo André, Chagas, Santa Catarina, and São Roque. Walking in Lisbon, it’s not hard to see streets that curl up and down, houses that undulates to the curve of the hills, rails that descends down the steep slopes.
This ‘ups and downs’ of Lisbon contribute to an image which, for me, is a specialty of this city: single carriage trams that are only 4-meter long originating from 1930, with furniture and windows made entirely from wood.
To be honest though, travelling in these trams was not the most comfortable experience. The streets in Lisbon are very curvy, with lots of slopes, sometimes there are small streets that would barely fit the tram, so as a result the tram is pretty noisy and shaky, I almost fell many times just taking my hands off the handles to take some photos. Plus, Lisbon is not too big of a city, so if you’re the type that likes to wander around for sightseeing, you can reach a lot of beautiful spots of Lisbon on foot or by bus. However, in between the limestone walls that are tinted through all the years, the houses cladded in ceramic tiles with porcelain blue patterns, the long cobbled streets, these old trams suddenly become very charming, like the final piece that completes a picture that is beautiful in its rustic and simple way. It’s not surprising that every time I heard the tram slowly approaching, my hands just automatically reached for the camera and took a bunch of photos.
That afternoon we took a train to the Belém Tower. A 10-minute walk from the station and we could start to see the beige-white limestone tower in the distance, resting way on the surface of the Tagus river. The Belém tower was built during 1514 – 1520 in tribute to the patron Saint of the city – St Vincent – and it was also part of the defence system of the Tagus river. The tower of Belém was recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage in 1983.
Beside the beautiful beige-white limestone tower, Belém has another specialty: Pastéis de Belém. “If you are in Lisbon, you have to try Pastéis de nata. And if you want to try Pastéis de nata, you have to visit Pastéis de Belém” – that was exactly my thought when I took a bite out of the thin and crispy tart, and enjoyed the silky smooth sweet custard filling melting on my tongue at Pastéis de Belém.
Tourists that have been to Lisbon always tell each other about the egg custard tarts Pastéis de nata which, for them, is one of the most exceptional treats of beautiful Portugal. In any bakery in Lisbon, be it on a busy street or in a small alley, you only have to peer through the glass window to see the egg custards tarts with its bright yellow custard dotted with the distinctive caramelised spots cuddled in the golden thin crisp tart.
A lot of people refer to this Pastéis de nata as Pastéis de Belém, which is also the most famous egg custard tart bakery in Lisbon. Founded in 1837, this bakery is introduced by a lot of travel guides as a must-visit place if you want to taste egg custard tart. The egg custard tarts here is made using the secret recipe of the Jerónimos Monastery, and since 1837 until now, the bakery still only use traditional methods to make these tarts. The bakery is located right in front of the Belém station, and it’s only a 5-minute walk to the Jerónimos Monastery (it was closed when we were there so unfortunately we could not visit the place).
Photo: Jerónimos Monastery
“Legends” have said that if you want to buy the tarts from Pastéis de Belém, you would have to queue for at least 30 minutes, but maybe because it was during Christmas so when I was there it was not crowded at all, and the whole process of queuing and purchasing the tarts only took me less than 5 minutes. When I took a bite out of the tart, I seriously thought that if I had to wait 30 minutes it would have been worth it. The tarts here are very consistent, and they are always delivered hot and crisp to customers. It was late afternoon, the weather is a bit chilly, so taking a bite and enjoying the crisp and sweet tart, I honestly wished that I could have wrapped up the whole bakery and bring it back with me to Paris.
My kitchen journey, from now, has an extra goal of conquering this succulent tart, so that when my cravings come up I can just sprint to the kitchen and whip up a batch, instead of sprinting to…my laptop to check the ticket price to Lisbon and dream about Belém.