Honeymoon Part One: LISBON: The road in front of us is long and it is wide//we've got beginner's luck, we've got it on our side

by Stephanie Gilmartin in ,


PART ONE: Things to do

Have a look at those pasty legs! This must mark the first time I've worn shorts without tights since we moved back from London in February. So begins our honeymoon grand tour of Europe in... Lisbon. Since we're not gazillionaires, and we wanted a good long holiday (oh hello honeymoon diving package in Belize, £5k for one week without considering flights...), we are interrailing from Lisbon to Istanbul and AirBNBing it all the way (apart from in Thessaloniki, because no one's flat met my high AirBNB design standards there).

This is the first place we stayed, in a nice guy called Francisco's apartment in the Alfama district.  Everything was white, which I loved.  We quickly discovered that AirBNB is awesome because when you meet the host, you can ask them loads of questions like: where is good for dinner? What should we not miss? What's a totally overrated tourist trap? and they will answer, in abundance. Frederico told us no one in Lisbon goes out until 2am at the earliest, which is inconvenient if you have work the next day. He also recommended a cracking Italian restaurant nearby and a free design museum, on which more later, and where we should go for drinks. It's a much more personalised introduction, especially in a city, and it's really interesting to imagine how other people live in different places. I experienced this a bit in France, where my flat had no fridge, for example... yeah, it's pretty interesting.

I really wish I'd had my phone on me the first day in Lisbon , because  man, we walked a LOT, and I'd love to have seen the step-count on Google Fit. First, we went to the Mercado da Ribeira for breakfast, then to Mude as recommended by Francisco - it's a design museum set in a former bank, complete with vaults and everything. Nearby is the Praca do Comercio, or main square, which contains the self-appointed World's Sexiest Toilet - it costs a euro but you get to choose your own colour of toilet paper, as the above picture suggests, so obviously we had to go. We went up the elevador de Santa Justa, visited the castle, went all the way to the oceanarium, went on the gondolas and still managed back for dinner in Cafe Lisboa. Quite a lot to pack in to one day really - here are a few pictures.

A little bit of practical advice, first - Lisbon is maybe the hilliest place in the world, so travel light and wear comfortable shoes. There are several secret elevators that you only discover after you've walked up the near-vertical hill nearby - I can't find a full directory of them unfortunately, but certainly worth asking your host about before you pull a 20kg suitcase up a hill (sorry James). Some are free, others use the public transport tickets but public transport is dead cheap, you buy a reusable card and it seems to be the same for trams, buses, trains etc so it's quite straightforward. Unlike finding out where the trams go...

We got a tram one day, just to experience it, but it just meant a very long walk home because we failed to discover its route or timings etc. When you're on a tram, you realise that your romantic vision of the old Glasgow trams  is all fine and well, but you wouldn't want to get one to work in the morning.

Below is the basement floor of Mude - the old bank vault. There was a Christian Lacroix exhibition on, and you're not really allowed to take pictures, but how can you resist in a coolly-lit bank vault? It had the super-reinforced Chubb doors as well, and quite an eerie atmosphere, amidst all the locked drawers. 

This is probably the most iconic of the public elevadores - the Santa Justa one. You actually get better views from the Castle, since it's higher up, but this does have a spiral staircase and a rickety viewing platform in case you like having mini coronary arrests.

The castle was fine... if you like old stony ruins. To me, one rampart looked just the same as the next.

This peacock was the most interesting thing we saw, especially when he ran up a tree to harass several pea-hens who seemed to be hiding from him.

The oceanarium was pretty vast, and truth be told, I went for James because his birthday was the previous day. I promised not to post a picture of his face when he saw this giant freshwater aquarium (most anorak expression you've ever seen)...

...so instead I'll post one of this Sun Fish, the main attraction as far as James was concerned (though I'm not all that sure why!)

The next day we wanted to go the Cascais to try surfing, but all the lessons seemed to start super-early so we went stand-up paddleboarding instead (which we have previously done in London, but never on the sea). Luckily it was quite easy to get back into, and now I want to do it on bigger waves! You can just turn up, and it only costs 15 euros to rent a board for an hour.

On the final day, we went shopping (see below!), hid from the obscene heat and climbed the arch in the main square. We almost felt like we'd seen and done everything by that point. About 9.30pm, our train left for Madrid, and let me tell you, it was like sleeping in a washing machine. For the first three hours or so, I felt like I was being bucked off a horse and the rattling was so loud that I knew there was no way James was asleep either. We both managed to get to sleep around 1am I think, but it was far from a pleasant journey. Next time, we'd probably just fly (sorry Interrail).

Pretty station though! Lisbon Santa Apolonia.

Pretty station though! Lisbon Santa Apolonia.

PART 2: What to eat

Pictured above is the Mercado da Ribeira, where we spent an inordinate amount of time. Why? Nice decor, shelter from the sun, free wifi, and loads of top-quality food all in one place. You can have a starter and a main from different restaurants and there's nothing to stop you. There are several kitchens by top chefs, as well as cured meat and cheese, sushi, amazing cakes, seafood - and it's all very democratically priced so that even skint locals can afford some fine dining. In short, it's great. 

This was the 24 hour suckling pig with sweet potato puree by Henrique Sa Pessoa's kitchen. Total cost only 9 euros (and a stolen crisp from James...)

This was the 24 hour suckling pig with sweet potato puree by Henrique Sa Pessoa's kitchen. Total cost only 9 euros (and a stolen crisp from James...)

This was a cookie cake, which we ate along with a dulce de leche (or Dolce and Gabbana, as James pronounces it) tart - before breakfast. Because honeymoon. I can't remember the cafe name but it's in the Mercado!

This was a cookie cake, which we ate along with a dulce de leche (or Dolce and Gabbana, as James pronounces it) tart - before breakfast. Because honeymoon. I can't remember the cafe name but it's in the Mercado!

We spotted this gelateria before we walked up the super-steep hill to the castle, so we got some to fortify us for the walk. They had ace flavours like vanilla and basil, or finger banana and dark chocolate (which was by turns sour, fruity and chocolatey - really delicious).

On our descent from the castle, we found this wee wine bar where they let you taste several wines based on what you say you like (white and fruity and very very cold please). We both went for a glass of the middle one, and some cheese - the one on the right had a very salty tone to it, like a seawater wine, and it went well with cheese but was a bit too interesting for us on its own. The first two were really good and it was 5 euros a glass, so fairly reasonable. Really worth checking out if you go, and worth the hike up the hill. 

Cafe Lisboa... how do I even express my love for you? Another great example of Lisbon's dining democracy, Cafe Lisboa is Lisbon's theatre's restaurant, and is across the road from chef Jose Avillez's other top restaurant, Belcanto, the only one in the world with two Michelin stars. This is no poor relation, however. I had cod with tomato rice, and James has beef croquettes with tomato rice, which was hoovered up very quickly for somone who doesn't like tomatoes. James had a custard tart for pudding which cost a princely 1.25 euros, and I had hazelnuts three ways, which is also served in Belcanto. A mousse, ice cream and salted, toasted hazelnut sprinkle, it was amazing. James and I actually saw Jose Avillez the next day, walking down the street in his chef whites. I was too shy to get a photo with him but I admire the fact that he has four restaurants in Lisbon and you can still see him around the place (ahem yes I am looking at you, Jamie Oliver/Gordon Ramsay/all you global expanders who have bitten off more than you can chew).

We also ate in Taberna da Rua das Flores, a great little neighbourhood restaurant recommended by the Chiltern Firehouse's Nuno Mendes. Even James, who hates tuna, decided that he actually really likes tuna tartar, and their chocolate cake was amazingly rich.

We tried Esperanca  on Francisco's recommendation - it had lovely staff and a really delicious melted cheese and ham starter that would have been quite sufficient as a main course. 

Kaffehaus, just down the road from my new favourite shop, A Vida Portugesa, was a life-saver in times of need for minty lemonade - it's only 3 euros a litre, and a great comfort when it's over 30 degrees outside.

And what's that? You want to know more about the shops?

PART 3: Shopping

We didn't actually spend that long shopping (much to James' delight) but there were a couple of unique-seeming places I wanted to visit and I'm very glad I did. I got the most beautiful soft, pale blue leather gloves from Luvaria Ulisses, a tiny glove shop that looks unchanged since it opened in 1925. They look at your hand and fit your gloves to you using strange wooden tweezers to open the fingers, scented powder to put on your hand and a cushion for you elbow. It was quite an unusual experience and I can't wait for winter to wear my new gloves - they cost 49 euros which I thought was pretty reasonable for such lovely soft leather and such a lovely colour.

My other favourite was, as mentioned above, A Vida Portugesa. They stock products that are handmade in, or indigenous to, Portugal, and as such have the most gorgeous art nouveau-packaged toiletries and sardines, blankets and paper in brilliant colours and beautifully illustrated children's books.

They even sell a "lapis hemostatico", a magic stick which apprarently stops you bleeding when you shave! James can test it out then I'll report back :)

And so concludes our trip to Lisbon! I'll update as necessary when I have had a chance to upload more pictures from our voyage of a lifetime!