Portuguese Fado in Lisbon

FadoA popular evening past time in Portugal is to enjoy local cuisine with the national folk music, called Fado.  We included a night of Fado on the trip itinerary we lined-out before we left.  At that time, however, we had know idea that the experience would turn-out to be a trip highlight.

Our original plan was to see Fado at a restaurant that specializes in performances.  Guidebooks include a list of restaurants with Fado every night, mostly in the Chiado and Alfama neighborhoods.  However, at the recommendation of our hotelier, we decided to go to a traditional Portuguese restaurant, called Guarda-Mor, that focuses on serving good food, but brings in Fado singers once per week as a special treat to their customers.  We really lucked-out with the recommendation.  Our dinner was one of the best meals of the trip and  experienced an absolutely captivating Fado performance. Continue reading

Missing the Food in Lisbon (Part II)

In addition to the delicious food that we were planning to try in Lisbon, there were many other foods that we were given the opportunity to order and I’m so glad we did.  It’s fair to say that we did not have a bad or even average meal in Lisbon.  I would even venture to say that all of the meals were closer to excellent (especially all three of our dinners).  We tried to order appetizers, main dishes, and desserts as often as possible in order to take full advantage of of our meals in Lisbon.  So, it’s understandable that we have several great dishes to share!


We shared two appetizers that I keep dreaming about – grilled sardines and fried green beans.  We ordered grilled sardines on our second night in Lisbon.  If it’s not obvious yet, we both love seafood.  We saw a grilled sardine dish as a special of the night, but since we had already decided on our entrées, we asked if it could be an appetizer instead (it came with sides as an entrée).  I’m so glad we ordered this – five whole sardines, complete with bones, tails, and heads!  The aroma of the freshly grilled sardines hit us right away, and we could not try them quickly enough.  The crispy, salty skin and the fresh fish inside was perfect – there was nothing to distract us from the wonderful taste of the sardines.  We ate as much of each sardine as we could, starting with the head and going down to the middle of the tail.  After finishing, Ryan wished he had ordered it as his entrée, and I don’t blame him!

We were torn on which appetizer to order on our last night in Lisbon (at the Fado restaurant), but our waiter recommended the fried green beans, so we went with that.  Although a little disappointed that a seafood appetizer was not recommended to us, our anticipation grew as the plate of green beans was placed in front of us.  They were still hot and crispy.  They were surprisingly light, and not oily or greasy like most fried foods.  The green beans themselves retained their flavor and were not dried out at all.  Another excellent choice.  We noticed that every single table also ordered the green beans, so they must be a house specialty (try them if you go to Guarda-Mor!).  I wish we would have ordered a second helping!

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Portugese Castles, Both Old & New, in Sintra

Back in August, we published a post on planning a possible day trip to Sintra, Portugal.  Sintra is a short 35 minute train ride from Lisbon’s central Rossio station an offers sightseeing opportunities at a variety of castles within a short distance from the town center.  After comparing the attractions in Sintra to alternative activities in Lisbon, we decided to make the day trip.  In fact, we were so excited about Sintra that we went there the day of our arrival from the United States, despite our jet lag.  Our visit did not disappoint, although we left feeling we only scratched the surface of the city’s sightseeing opportunities.  Our fatigue led to a rather rushed tour of the Pena Palace (described below) and a longer than expected lunch pushed the caves at Quinta de Regaleria and the gardens at Monserratte out of our schedule.  We still thought the journey was well worth the effort.  Sintra offers very unique landscapes and an appreciation for Portuguese royals that is very distinct from experiences in Lisbon.

The train station in Sintra is about a ten-minute walk from the town center.  The walk provides some excellent views of the National Palace (as seen in the picture above).  We did a very thorough tour of the palace, using the provided audio guides.  Highlights included the Stag Room with it’s dramatically-adorned ceiling and Atlantic views, and an ivory pagoda on display in the Chinese Room.  Unfortunately, we needed to work a little bit to avoid a huge tour group by backtracking.  We were unable to avoid large crowds in the kitchens directly underneath the palace chimneys.

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Missing the Food in Lisbon (Part I)

Before leaving for our Portugal and Spain trip, Ryan and I did a little research on some food we wanted to try in Lisbon, and I wrote about it here.  Now that we’re back, we miss the delicious food we were able to eat for every meal.  We took full advantage of the proximity to the sea, and made sure to try everything I had researched beforehand.  Looking back at the pictures makes me envious of my Lisbon-visiting self, but I can’t wait to share the local delicacies that have made us add Lisbon to the “places to revisit” list!

First up is bacalhau, the nation dish of Portugal.  We made sure to try this several times, since they are reportedly 365 different ways to make it (we only tried four).  Bacalhau is my kind of fish – tender, salty, and full of flavor – and I loved it every single way we ordered it.  The traditional way, served with potatoes, was fantastic.  Both times we tried it this way it was covered in garlic and an oil and white wine vinegar mixture (that was not overpowering).  The combination of bacalhau with potatoes is perfect – the soft potatoes and the firm (but tender!) bacalhau made the dish interesting and delicious.  Also, both taste great cooked in oil and garlic. 

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Lisboa Card: Worth the money?

Lisboa CardSightseeing in Europe can get expensive very quickly.  We try and figure-out where we want to go before leaving for our trip and research potential ways to save money.  Before our most recent trip, we discovered the Lisboa Card, offered by the local tourism office, which includes free admission to many sights, discounts to others, and free access to Lisbon’s fairly extensive transportation network (trains, subways, buses, trolleys).  

Our preliminary calculations before the trip suggested the card would be about a wash, but perhaps pay-out with its convenience (instead of worrying about having money on hand to pay for transportation).  Our prediction was about right.  Here’s how we recouped our €39 72-hour card cost (savings are per person as of September 2012):

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