Lisboa, the capital of Portugal, is divided into two districts, Baixa and Belem. Of the two, Baixa is considered the “real” heart and soul of Portugal. Nevertheless, Belem is the district where one can find a UNESCO monument and the icons of Portugal.
Driving into the city centre of Lisboa is out of the question. Traffic is bad, parking is expensive and hard to come by. Instead, go with the tram which is fast, convenient and inexpensive.
City of Pickpockets – Beware!
Lisboa is notorious for pickpockets. Having been warned by friends and families who had visited, we were on high alert. The number 1 rule of self travelling is not to look like a tourist. But, there’s no way we could camouflage that fact. We don’t speak Portugese and our skin colour are way too obvious.
On our way to the tram station, while waiting for the traffic light to turn “green man” at a busy traffic junction, we had our first encounter of Lisboa’s pickpocket. Lucky for us, we met an amateur. He was caught in action by us while fumbling with the zipper of our sling bag. After a brief moment of stunted eye contacts, the man just walked away nonchalantly and waited right in front of us for the “green man”! No guilt, no running away at all. That’s quite peculiar. And the crowd around just shrugged off with a “oh, an amateur pickpocket who failed…tsk tsk” look. That’s really an eye-opener!
Anyway, that brief encounter was a “good” start for the day. It prepared us on what to expect while on the street of Lisboa so as to to keep our valuables safe.
Jeronimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jeronimos)
Our first stop in the Belem district was to the famous Jeronimos Monastery. Built in 1502, Jeronimos Monastery is the monastery of the Order of Saint Jerome; and is a UNESCO World Monument. It is by far the grandest monastery we had seen in Portugal.
The most eye-catching of the facade of the monastery had to be the rich carvings on its entrance.
Inside the church hall, the sheer vastness of the place, extensive carvings on the pillars, colourful stained glasses plus the dimness of the place was so well balanced that it brings a sense of peace and calmness.
Jardim da Praca do Imperio
Facing Jeronimos Monastery is this little garden great for enjoying a quiet takeaway lunch or simply to laze around or have an afternoon nap.
Discoveries Monument (Padrao dos Descobrimentos)
On the other side of Jardim da Praca do Imperio is the Discoveries Monument, an icon of Lisboa. The Discoveries Monument features world’s explorers in stone, and is to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator.
For unblock view of the Tagus River and Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge, take the elevator to the top of this monument. Otherwise, take a relaxing stroll along Tagus River, and discover the many restaurant near the marina.
Pasteis de Belem
For us, we already had our eyes locked onto Portugese egg tarts, the snack that’s synonymous to Portugal. And what better place to have it other than the world renown Pasteis de Belem!
We were warned by friends, families and the internet of queues snaking round the street and hours of waiting in line just to get a bite on these popular snack at this bakery. We were mentally prepared to brace ourselves for the queue. To our surprise, it was low season and bus loads of tourists had yet to arrive (that’s the beauty of working against the norm). So, the picture above…..that’s our queue! Only 5 people before us. 😀
The bakery had huge seating area with nostalgic decor. The air here was filled with heavenly aroma from these freshly baked egg-tarts.
Read about Macau’s version of Portugese egg tarts: Senado Square (Largo do Senado) – UNESCO Historic Centre
The moment we sat on our table, we couldn’t wait to sank our teeth into this tempting tarts. Crust is fluffy and crispy with the right amount of butter, custard surface is slightly-burnt to give it that sweet caramelised taste. As for the custard filling, perfect sweetness and a silky soft “melts in the mouth” texture. Go with a cup of coffee, it was the perfect heavenly match. Comparing the ones we tried in Macau, Pasteis de Belem won hands down.
With a satisfying lunch, we took a tram to the Praca do Comercio, the gateway to the Baixa district.