Wednesday, 29 July 2015

24 hours falling in love with Lisbon

No two ways about it: Lisbon is a super awesome city.

In the middle of our lovely beachside holiday, the fam and I drove up to the Portuguese capital for one night and one night only. Plus part of the days either side, obvs. 

Chums, we had an absolute cracker of a time and all fell absolutely in love with Lisbon. Quote Mum: “It’s my new fave European city!” Yup, Lisbon has knocked Paris off the top spot. Quite an achievement.

From the impression I got, Lisbon is characterised by its beautiful and unique architecture packed up and down the city’s many hills: pretty tiled walls, colourful pastel houses, tiled street signs and big open squares around incredible monuments and fountains.

I also absolutely love the fact that the sea – well, technically a river juuuust about to reach the sea – runs along the city. You can smell the sea air, the gulls squawk overhead and there are even beaches and a marina too. In a capital city. How cool is that?

The Torre de Belém
And crossing the river is… The Golden Gate Bridge!

Yeah, I know. But this is actually the 25 de Abril Bridge. It turns out the bridge was built by the same architects who built the aforementioned famous San Francisco bridge. So there you have it.

On the afternoon we arrived, team Hosie decided to explore the old area of Bairro Alto. We wandered up and down the narrow cobbled streets, admiring the colourful houses and peering into interesting little shops and cafés.

We stumbled upon an interesting-looking place called Paletaria and were drawn in by their fruity signage. It turned out it was Paletaria’s opening day! What a great find. The little shop sells absolutely scrumptious and totally unique ice lollies made with 70% fruit!

I chose peach, Mum went for mango and the Shrimp decided on strawberry. Oh my days, they were ALL so delicious and super fruity. Ideal on a hot day too.

Continuing to explore the city on foot into the evening, we discovered Lisbon is also home to all the chain stores you’d expect, but alas, there was no time for shopping. Not when it was dinner time, anyway. Although I totally love that all the shops stay open well into the evening. That just doesn’t happen back in the UK. Shame.

After a lot of wandering and an inability to agree on what we wanted to eat (standard family issues, am I right?), we settled upon a restaurant called Em Alta Na Baixa. It was Friday evening and totally full – we got lucky. 

After a delicious dinner (and a glass of white wine sangria – potensh my new fave summer drink), the Shrimp and I bid adieu to the oldies (love ya, Mum and Dad) and went to meet up with some fellow youths. (I'm still a youth at 22, right?)

The Shrimp's friend Lucy just happened to be in town with a couple of her other girlfriends, and they took us to the coolest bar!

Guys, if you're ever in Lisbon, go to Park Bar. It's the most amazing rooftop terrace bar, named thus due to its location on the top of a multi-storey car park. From the street below you'd have no idea it was there, and sure, you have to walk up some slightly grimey stairs to get there, but it is SO worth it!

The view is shamaze.

As you can imagine, it was totally packed with a cosmopolitan, trendy, young crowd. So obvs we fit in perfectly.

And even better was that I thought the cocktail prices were really quite reasonable, especially when compared to Bristol's snazziest cocktail bars.

We sipped and chatted and admired the view before calling it a night. There was still a lot of Lisbon to see the next day!

With only a few hours left to see as much of the city as possible, we decided the best way to make the most of Lisbon was with an open-top bus tour.

And what a great decision it was! We went with Gray Line and had a marvellous time sitting in the sunshine, learning about the history of the city through our headsets and being effortlessly taken to all the most interesting parts of Lisbon.

The amazing monastery

It was ace, and as much as I love exploring cities on foot, there was no way we'd have had time to see everything we did had we been walking.

But we needed a sit down after all that exhausting, um, sitting. Ahem. So there was only one thing for it: Pastéis de Belém, whose custard tarts are so wonderful they warranted their own blog post.

And then it was time to head back down south to the sea.

Lisbon, you've stolen my heart. I'll be back, and I recommend you - yes, YOU - get yourself over there for a mini- (or maxi-) break stat.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Pastéis de Belém, Lisbon: (probably) the best Portuguese custard tarts in the world

I'll be honest with you, I'm not a huge fan of Portuguese cuisine. There's a laaaaatta seafood, which unfortunately me no likey, as hard as I try. Vegetarians need not apply in Portugal. I've been eating a laaaaatta chicken. 

However there's one Portuguese speciality I can fully get behind: custard tarts. 

Oh, how I love custard tarts!

The country's most famous pastry is ubiquitous up and down Portugal, tempting passers-by into every pastelaria and padaria. Well, tempting me at least.

I've never met a custard tart - or to use the Portuguese name, pastel de nata - I didn't like, but I know which ones I like the most. 

Ladies and gents, let me introduce you to the Lisbon institution that is Pastéis de Belém

Our lovely Portuguese friends took us there the first time we visited the capital city a fair few years ago, and when we went back to Lisbon for the second time last weekend, a trip to the home of Portuguese custard tarts was our number one priority. I know you don't judge. 

Pastéis de Belém is, perhaps obviously, in the area of Lisbon called Belém. Founded in 1837, the recipe for its famous custard tarts is top-secret. 

Tourists and locals alike queue down the street to pick up their takeaway tarts, but make sure you don't join that queue if you want to eat in - we briefly made that mistake before realising the error of our ways and making our way into the charming old restaurant. 

With its traditional blue and white tiled walls and simple tables and chairs, the interior is thoroughly charming. Seating a whopping 400 people, the restaurant is pretty huge, but that just creates a brilliant buzzy atmosphere. We had to wait a few minutes for a table, but then again it was a Saturday afternoon in July. 

You can look into the kitchen where trays upon trays of warm freshly-baked pastéis (the plural of pastel) de Belém are produced all day long at crazy speed. 

It was early afternoon so we decided to go for a lunch-slash-afternoon-tea stop, ergo justifying a big ole feast. 

There's lots on the menu from which to choose, both savoury and sweet snacks and small meals, but everyone goes for one reason alone. 

Dad went for some meat pastries, mum for a slice of pizza and the sis and I shared a big chicken sandwich on the loveliest soft bread. 

But let's get on to the main affair, shall we?

Enter, Pastéis de Belém. 

(Apologies for the strange lighting in the photos - we were in a room with minimal natural light. I took a few snaps of the ones we took away for the next day too, although they don't look as good as they did fresh from the oven.)

There are dusters of cinnamon and icing sugar on every table, so naturally I gave my tarts a generous sprinkle of the former. I love how every single piece of crockery and tablewear proudly displays the Pastéis de Belém logo. 

Oh my days. 

These were just *does stereotypically Italian finger kissing thing to denote deliciousness* (- why isn't there an emoji for that?)

The pastry on the outside is super crispy and flaky, the top is lightly caramelised just to seal it, and the inside is filled with the creamiest of custards, flavoured to perfection. 

Slightly warm, it is just heaven in a mouthful. 

And naturally, we had multiple. 

If you want to take some away though, the waiters are more than happy to give you a little box and bag in which to pop your custard tarts and save for later. 

They really are just the absolute best. It kills me that my pics nowhere near do these babies justice.

So essentially: go there, eat a custard tart (or three), let your life be changed.

Find out more about Pastéis de Belém here. Oh, and there'll be a lot more on the blog about our trip to Lisbon soon. Spoiler: it was awesome.
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