Ah, the food, the people, the ambiance, the life. In Leaving Lisbon on September 1st to commence the Ultimate Train Challenge, I have already vowed to return. (It’s just a matter of when).
This post was originally published in 2011. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
After about 12 hours of travel from northern Sweden, I arrived in Lisbon on August 30th a little fatigued but very excited to meet my fellow Ultimate Train Challenge competitors, Michael Hodson of Go See Write, and Jeannie Mark of Nomadic Chick.
The setting couldn’t have been better: Lisbon Destination Hostel is – hands down – one of the coolest hostels I’ve been to. The poetry of staying in a train station (and amazingly not hearing any trains from inside the hostel) was almost too much for us, and the oasis of quiet amidst bustling downtown Lisbon was muchly appreciated.
We enjoyed a great dinner and strategy session our first night in a crowded hole-in-the-wall restaurant where nobody spoke English, and I fluked into ordering the best meal of our bunch: Arroz de Marisco (seafood rice).
The following day was largely a work and planning day for the three of us (a hazard of the occupation) in preparation for the Ultimate Train Challenge start. But we were rescued by a journalist named Célia, who was interviewing us for some articles she is writing, and who also kindly showed us some of Lisbon’s jewels. Being a co-author of the book Eat Portugal, she was instrumental in making our time in Lisbon a gastronomical event.
For example, we enjoyed a glass of ginjinha – a sour cherry brandy (cherries and all) that many Portugese brew in their homes.
Jeannie and I saw Michael off early on September 1st, as our own first day plans gave us the luxury of the day in Lisbon before boarding an overnight train to Madrid.
So we got together with Célia for pastéis de Belém. They are a form of pastéis de nata (which are Portugal’s famous custard tarts), and the ones de Belém have secret ingredients that even foodies like Célia can’t hack! This one establishment sells an average of 20,000 pastéis de Belém every day; a number which swells to over 33,000 per day during their busiest month of August.
After eating three – yes three – in a row, I know why.
Célia saw us off that afternoon after a great day of sightseeing, with promises to reconnect, and offers to stay with her if (when?) we return. I cautioned her – as I do to anybody who offers up their place to me – that she’d best be careful what she offers, since I’m the sort of gal who will actually take her up on it.
Our last dinner in Lisbon was at the hostel; a family affair with staff, some guests, wine, and three delicious courses prepared by an Argentian chef. When I asked what the special occasion was, I was told that this happens every night at the hostel.
I was assured, however, that most often it’s only a one course affair (only!), and tonight was a “tryout” of sorts for this chef (who, incidentally, was hired on the spot as soon as we bit into first course.
Between getting along famously with my Ultimate Train Challenge compadres, befriending Célia and getting her gastronomical “inside scoop” to Lisbon, and enjoying the welcoming vibe of Lisbon Destination Hostel, I know I must return.
It’s just a matter of when.