Today I learned one of my new favorite quotes, but I learned it in Portuguese so this may be a bit off:
Tudo vale a pena quando a alma não é pequena.
This was exactly the mentality I was trying to have while visiting Belém, a suburb of Lisbon known mainly as the part of the city that used to guard the port into Lisbon and secondly as the departure point of Vasco De Gama as he set off to conquer India in the 1500s. Now, Belém is visited mainly by tourists to visit the famous Torre de Belém, the Presidential Palace, or the Pasteis de Belém.
I had visited Belém on my last trip to Lisbon and thought it was pretty mehr to be honest, so when I arrived this time and heard all the talk about how you “must go to Belém,” I felt pressured to try it again.
So I took a few hours on Monday morning, paid €1.70 for the thirty-minute train ride, and arrived in Belém…with pretty much the rest of the entire train who also got off at the Belém stop. It seemed like there were two groups of tourist motives – those who headed straight for the Torre de Belém and those who headed straight for the Pasteis de Belém. I decided to part left and go for the Torre as well, but upon arrival, I noticed nothing had changed except that this time there were were segways and selfie sticks.
It’s not that I don’t mean to give credit to a worldwide-known statue that represents something important to a country, but for the sake of making your Lisbon trip the most exciting it can be, I just want to say that a trip to the Torre de Belém is probably not going to much of a marker of your trip. So with this new tudo vale a pena quand a alma não é pequena mentality, here a few things I personally enjoyed 10x more than the Torre de Belém.
First off, you don’t have to go to pastel de Belém like everyone says you do
Bring up Belém to anyone in Lisbon and the first thing they’ll ask is, “You got the pastel de Belém, right?” Let me break it down for you in my very watered-down knowledge of cuisine. The pastel de nata is português for a vanilla cream puff with a croissant-y flaky crust. It’s sweet and cinnamon-y and perfect paired with a cafézinho (an espresso shot). With that being mentioned, the pastel de Belém is said to be the crème de la crème (literally), as you’ll notice from the ten-minute line of tourists wrapping around the building. This line, by the way, is only for take-away service; you can still get a pastel de Belém in the same amount of time or less if you opt for table service by simply walking in the restaurant like you own the place.
Was my pastel de nata in Belém delicious? Yes. Was my pastel de nata in Lisbon delicious? Yes. Did they pretty much taste the same? Yes. Perfect example of how good PR can work wonders. If I were you, I would not go to Belém just for the pastel. I even went out in Bairro Alto last night and when I told everyone I went to Belém, and they responded, “Oh my God, they have the best pastel de nata in Lisbon.” And I was like, let me keep it real up in here, “I didn’t think it was that different from the one I had down the street.” The entire bar went silent.
Practice your Portuguese at the Museu Coleção Berardo
Because I’m a linguist and love language learning, I get a little pissed off when I order my food in my intermediate Portuguese and the staff quickly responds back in English. It’s like, okay, I’m not struggling that much, jeezus. It’s like they don’t even care if I attempt Portuguese because they want to practice their English. Hit up the museum in Centro Cultural de Belém instead.
Try an abatanado in Este Oeste
Over the course of my three weeks in Lisbon, I learned that an abatanado was my go-to drink. 1) because it was one of the only drinks served in a big cup and 2) because any drink that costs €0.75 is a drink for me – especially when it’s 74 euro cents.
Walk North through the residential streets
It’s always interesting when you venture away from the city center; I found a high school, and these colorful houses.
Get a “menu sandes” at Padaria Portuguesa
Love this place, even if it is a Portuguese chain restaurant. Getting a whole-grain roasted vegetable sandwich with caldo verde soup and a natural fruit juice – like you can’t just get that for under €5 just anywhere, let alone $5 in the States. Big portions, small prices – that’s my new motto here in Portugal
Look at the map of when Portugal was a boss conquering the rest of the world
This map shows when Portugal was the true HBIC.
Check out the quote in the underground tunnel that reads “This moment will never repeat itself”
I’m a sucker for philosophical quotes as such, and I wish you could actually see what I’m talking about, but the tunnel was too dark. Also, may I also add that I find it so odd/interesting that non-English speaking countries allow English quotes on their own walls.
Take a selfie in front of this old Hollywood looking Belém sign
Old Hollywood, is that you?
Check out the President’s Palácio de Belém
If you take a short walk around Lisbon, you’ll notice how one building is bright yellow and the one next to it is baby blue, and the one next to that one is covered in Portuguese tiles – and they’re all topped with orange tile roofs. This city’s got color, so it might come as no surprise that the Presidential Palace is bright pink.
Take in the scenery in the Jardim de Belém
Right in front of the Jerónimos Monastery (another one of the top things to do in Belém) are the Belém gardens – a perfect place to relax with your bica (Portuguese word for a small shot of espresso) or catch up with your Lisbon guidebook.