PINK STREET...FRESH SEAFOOD...FADO MUSIC
Where do I even start?? Portugal may be my new favorite place to visit. It was such an epic trip. I'm still on a high from it.
I spent four days in Lisbon and it wasn't long enough. I had just enough time to make my connection at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. The first thing I noticed in the Paris airport was the high end shopping. Hermes was staring right at me but I didn't have time to stop. I'll tell you about my time in Paris on the next blog. I boarded the flight to Lisbon, which is only 2.5 hours from Paris. I arrived in Lisbon but my checked bag didn't. (Tip #1 - Always pack a carry on with your toiletries and a few outfits). I was ready to start my vacation so the checked bag was the least of my worries. (Tip #2 - Place an airtag in your luggage) I knew where my bag was and that it would eventually be in my possession again. The bag arrived at my hotel that night, after being rummaged through and some pills arbitrarily placed in the bottom of the bag. I felt violated a little. But, they were probably disappointed with my inexpensive and oversized clothing in the bag. Nothing was taken. (Tip #3 - Never check anything expensive). After flying all night and barely sleeping, I showered and was ready to hit the streets. I was invited on this trip by one of my friends. He put together a lovely group of people to travel with. (Tip #4 - Don't travel with just anybody).
First stop was Ajitama for a Ramen dinner. The ramen was good. The Supaishi Ajitama, a room temperature boiled egg topped with a spicy chili sauce, was really good. The place was intimate with a posh eclectic look. We liked it so much that we went again on the last night of our visit. From there, we jumped on scooters, instead of taking a Bolt, to Mambo's. (Tip #5 - Use Bolt instead of Uber). Mambo's is black owned with African cuisine. We walked in and instantly started dancing to Fela Kuti being played by the DJ. Mambo's is in a quaint alleyway called Green Street. We tried some African dishes, one chicken and one vegan. Both were very flavorful. We lingered for a little bit to have more drinks and dance in the entryway. We met the owner. And our picture made it to their wall of fame. From there, we walked to 45 Sao Bento. It was a bar/lounge with an upbeat party vibe. The drinks were terrible. But, the DJ made up for it. We danced and mingled with the partygoers. I even met Naky, who curates the African Lisbon Tour. We weren't able to schedule the tour during the time we were there but, I highly recommend it based on all the amazing feedback I've heard about it. I don't frequent clubs in the states. But in Portugal, I made an exception. This night was so much fun!
The next day, we went to Machimbombo for brunch. The place is so cute and so pink and also black-owned. We tried just about everything on the menu. The Mexecellent was excellent. The pink pancakes and matcha waffles were delicious. The Amuse-Bouche (French toast) was some of the best I've ever had. After an amazing brunch, we went up to the top of the Cristo Rei, also known as Christ the King, to see the breathtaking views of Lisbon. Cristo Rei is inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. The bridge near the statue resembles the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. We ended the day at Totale Pizza. All of the pizzas were tasty, especially the Engola Gay. And the Oreo tiramisu was bomb!
In addition to eating at black owned places, we did a half day walking tour of African History booked using Tripadvisor. (Tip #6- Book your tours in advance, if possible). The tour guide was Al. And he did an impressive tour of Lisbon, including slavery and the earthquake that destroyed the city. Alfama was the only part of the city left standing. According to Al, the first slaves were from Slovenia and Yugoslavia referred to as The Slavs, hence the name "slave". I have to fact check him but it sounded believable. Also, once slavery was abolished, the Portuguese slave owners were given reparations until the 1990s. Again. Sounds believable. The walk was long and meaningful. During one of the many rain showers, we stopped in Wines of Portugal. There I learned that not only do white and red wine exist, but so does Green Wine. Green Wine, also known as, Vinho Verde, originated in the northern region of Portugal. The green wine was delicious and very reminiscent of white wine. I was just happy to try something new that I had never heard of. Al suggested we go to Pensao Amor for some evening cocktails. Little did we know, we were being referred to sort of a sex club. There were 10 million clues when browsing the first floor, like naked women everywhere, oversized sex toys and sexual sounds coming through the speakers by the bathrooms. On the top floor there was a stripper pole, a mirrored ceiling, more paintings of naked women and a man painted in his underwear on the wall. And of course, the people we met inside were extra friendly. It went over ALL of our heads. The next day, the tour guide to Sintra was surprised that we went to a place called Pensao Amor and translated the sex club's name. Pensao Amor was set in a former brothel in the red light district and the name roughly translates to "pension of love". The music decibel was low. The music selection was terrible. The drinks were good. The look was sparkly and cozy. But, after two hours, I was ready to go. Upon attempting to leave with one person from the group, I was yelled at by the security guard to go back inside. I was confused because when I'm ready to go, I'm ready to go! But the serious look in his eyes when he yelled for me to go back inside a second time gave me pause. I quickly turned around and ran up the steps. I looked out the window and saw a mob of men picking up chairs, benches and tables walking in one direction with angry looks and on a very intent mission. Then I saw police in riot gear. It was about to go down outside. Not gonna lie. I was a little scared. I didn't see any exits and I felt a bit trapped. I went to the top floor to warn the others that initially stayed behind. We rode it out on the top floor. Then we all attempted to leave. I walked out the front door first. I got about two doors down and the same security guard yelled "go back inside!". This time I didn't hesitate. I ran back inside to the top floor. My concern didn't go over well with the patrons inside though. They told me that I was in the best place so why worry. At the time, I didn't know we were patrons at the den of iniquity, as one of my travel friend's called it. Being locked inside a club with no exit doesn't feel like the best place to be. Once the coast was clear, we attempted to leave a third time. We saw police in riot gear running in one direction, so we ran in the opposite direction to a deserted street. Called an uber. And ended the night. I still don't know why a mob formed on Pink Street. We heard it was a soccer game the next day between Portugal and Belgium. Then we heard about turf wars. Between the sex club with the wack music and the angry mob, I wasn't down to party on Pink Street for the rest of the trip.
Al redeemed himself with a couple of good suggestions for places to eat. Time Out Market and Restaurante A Gina. There were perfect choices. Time Out Market is a food hall with many types of good food options. We visited Time Out Market multiple times. I had the Pateis De Nata (egg tarts) from Manteigaria, lamb chops, garlic rice and green beans from Pinoquio, sushi from Confraria and doughnuts from Crush Doughnuts. Everything was so fresh and tasty, especially the lamb chops. Time Out Market is the place to go to experience all kinds of foods from Portugal and beyond. Restaurante A Gina had authentic Portuguese fare. Cod is one of the country's staples. So we tried it both ways, lagareiro (baked) and minhota (fried). Both were ok. But, the garlic shrimp and seafood rice were on point. The seafood rice was a bit soupy when it came out. But once the rice absorbed the broth, oh my goodness. It was like a seafood paella with the best tasting seafood.
On the last day, we had a private tour of Sintra, Pena Palace, Cabo Da Roca and Cascais. Sintra looked like old Lisbon. It was compact and charming. At Casa Piriquita, we ate more egg tarts and were introduced to Travesseiro, a combination of puff pastry and a rich cream that consists of almonds and egg yolks topped with a dusting of sugar. Magnificent! At Bar Binho, we took shots of Gingja (a cherry liqueur made from ginja berries) and Liqueur de Pastel de Nata out of chocolate shot cups. The Ginja was not that good. The chocolate made it better. The Liqueur de Pastel de Nata was a less dense version of spiked eggnog. I liked it, especially with the chocolate finish. We walked the Pena Palace grounds but did not tour the palace. I would go back to actually tour the palace. And I would like to have lunch at Mar Do Guincho, which sits right on the water in Cascais. Cabo Da Roca is the western most point of Europe, the closest to the USA, and looked like a post card. While admiring the stunning view at Cabo Da Roca, we heard a live musician playing Fado music, which is a type of Portuguese signing that's expressive and melancholy. I would definitely go back to Sintra and Cascais to spend an entire day.
Lisbon has to be my new favorite place to visit behind Amsterdam. It's filled with culture, black history, great food and friendly people. It's inexpensive and walkable. It's not Americanized but the English language is welcomed. I ate. I drank. I danced. I learned. I experienced another part of the world. It's one of my most memorable trips ever!
A special thanks to my friend, Axel, for the invite, taking a ton of pics (I used a few on my blog), and for putting together such a dope group of people!
By the way, I have designed some travel inspired t-shirts. Click the link to purchase: https://www.etsy.com/shop/BagsStayPackedTravel