Dec 19-Pastel de nata
For my last day, I ventured onto metro, on my way to Parque das Nações (Park of Nations), the former Expo ’98 site. The Lisbon metro was great, even though there were only a few lines-made it much easier to navigate. I also loved how each station was decorated in tiles in various styles and themes.
Once at Estação do Oriente (another beautiful Santiago Calatrava design), I once again lamented the fact that I was not able to book an overnight train from Lisbon to Madrid. It would have been awesome to leave on a train from this station. Wonderful place to people watch and photograph the changing shadows as the day went by. Unfortunately, I could not sit here for the whole day doing that. To actually get to the Parque das Nações, it’s a quick trip through the massive shopping centre Centro Vasco da Gama.
Then it was just a wonderful area that was completely revitalized for the ’98 Expo complete with gardens, concert halls, Oceanário de Lisboa, Torre Vasco da Gama, Ponte Vasco da Gama and colourful benches adjacent to Rio Tejo. I was quite impressed by how well-maintained this site was, in comparison to our Expo ’86 site in Vancouver. There were runners, families with strollers and this just seemed like a great place to have picnics in the summer. I would have loved to have gone to the Oceanário, but I also wanted to see Belém, as it was in the opposite direction of the park. In retrospect, I should have gone to Belem first.
There was another reason to go to Belém…there was Antiga Confeitaria de Belém (http://www.pasteisdebelem.pt/) [pasteisdebelem.pt] with pastel de nata. This place has supposedly been making pastel de nata since 1837 with a closely guarded secret recipe. I passed it on the tram and it was positively packed. I decided that I would go see the sights first or else I would have spent the rest of the day eating in there.
First up was the massive Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries), built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Henry the Navigator’s death. Honestly, this thing is massive and there is no comparison other than standing right next to it. The details on all the Portuguese personalities personified on the monument were also very impressive. I had to walk back quite a ways just to fit the whole darn thing in frame.
Next up was the Torre de Belém (Belém Tower) which was built in the Portuguese Manueline style with Moorish influences. I definitely learned something there-didn’t have a clue what the Manueline style was…apparently it’s the late gothic style of Portuguese architecture at the beginning of the 16th century. When I walked over to Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Hieronymites Monastery), this was also built in the Manueline style. That was it…I couldn’t take any more…custard tarts were calling.
Although crowded when I got to Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, I didn’t have to wait long to order or get my precious tarts hot out of the oven. I then found a bench and started on my pastel de nata. Delicious…absolutely delicious. I didn’t know what else to say. I had bought an extra one for Silvia as I promised that I would, but I was beginning to eye this one too. I had to get out of there…chances were very good that I could have spent a good fortune just eating in that place. I am certain that I will be back for more.
After a quick rest at the hostel, I strolled around the Baixa again and ran into Silvia along the way. We caught up with the day’s events and I picked up some small reminders of Portugal to take home and it was back to the hostel for dinner. The evenings menu: caldo verde with chouriço (kale soup-wonderful as usual), baked chicken with special potatoes (that’s what it said) and ice cream. The only thing that could have possibly made it better was if the chef had made his chocolate cake…but he did give me the recipe for his special potatoes, so I suppose that was fair. Awesome dinner as the chef and some of the staff from the other Lounge hostel had joined us for dinner and just lots of fun to chat with. There was also a lot of amusement as I was wearing my Threadless Communist Party t-shirt, which was quite the hit with the dinner crowd. This is the best t-shirt…EVER (http://www.threadless.com/product/383/The_Communist_Party). [threadless.com]
Silvia and I managed to roll ourselves out of the kitchen for an evening walk through the very quiet Baixa area, to get rid of some excess dinner calories. And that brought me to the end of my time in Lisbon for now. Next morning, I was on a morning flight to Madrid and my last city in Europe for this trip. Funny how time flies.
But my favourite things about Lisboa in no particular order: the incredibly welcoming, warm and friendly people; sunshine everyday with deep blue sky; pastel de nata; cobble-stone streets in the Baixa area and finding another city that feels like home…
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