Hear about travel to Lisbon, Portugal as the Amateur Traveler talks to Nelson Carvalheiro about the capital of his native country.
Nelson recommends we start in the old quarter where the people sing the music called Fado and where the people still live like they did 50-60 years ago. The kids still play football in the street in front of a church.
“Lisbon kept all the layers of the empire that were in this land: the Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and all the Christian kings. All this maze of streets up and down, Lisbon is a very hilly city, of history with 18th-century buildings. There is a whole lot of grandeur. Lisbon is a petite city. There are some streets close to the castle where two people can’t walk side by side.”
Lisbon has 300 days of sunshine per year so the city has trendy rooftop bars to take advantage of the weather and the sites. The city is dominated by a castle with its belvederes although Nelson prefers the view from the Miradouro da Graca. Lisbon also has almost 10 Km of riverfront with a riverwalk. After visiting the old town you can walk down to Belém where the Portuguese voyages of discovery sailed from.
Nelson says that Lisbon is a more affordable city than some other European capitals. “One of our main snacks is a pint of beer and a few prawns on a dish and it will cost you 3 euros”. He gives us a number of his favorite restaurants to try and dishes to eat.
The city has two UNESCO World Heritage sites: Jerónimos Monastery and the Belém Tower. The Belém Tower was built in the middle of the river to prevent pirate attacks.
Every city in Portugal has a patron saint and Lisbon’s is St Anthony. Nelson recommends coming for the Santo Antonio Festival in the middle of June when the whole city turns into one big street party.
DK Eyewitness Travel Guides – One of my favorite guidebook series
25 de Abril Bridge
Lisbon Travel Guide
São George Castle
Pastel De Nata
A Merendinha do Arco Bandeira
Santo Antonio Festival
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum
Sintra-Cascais Natural Park
Sintra Botique Hotel
National Museum of Ancient Art
Roman Theater Museum
The Independente Suites & Terrace
Luxury Hostels of Europe
Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler sponsored by DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. These colorful books are filled with great information and are one of my favorite guidebooks: I have 20 of them here on my bookshelf. You can learn more at DK.com.
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Chris: Welcome to the Amateur Traveler I’m your host Christ Christensen. We’ll be hearing from both sponsors later on in this program, but first let’s talk about Lisbon, Portugal. I’d like to welcome to the show Nelson. And I’m going to butcher Nelson’s name here, but his name is Carvalheiro. Welcome to the show. Your blog is of the same name, so for people who can’t tell what I’m saying, we’re going to put a link to it in the show notes at AmateurTraveler.com. Nelson has come to talk to us about Lisbon. Welcome to the show.
Nelson: Thank you very much Chris, Very happy to be here.
Chris: And you were recommended to me by Jodie Edinburgh, former guest on the show who I said I wanted somebody who knew Lisbon, and she said, “Nelson is your man.”
Nelson: It’s true.
Chris: What is your connection with Lisbon?
Nelson: I was a General Manager there for two hotels for years. Besides this I’m a Portuguese National even though I live in Berlin now. I know the city very well, and these places that I managed they were high-scale boutique luxury hotels and I’m a little bit of an insider of Lisbon and that’s one of the things I also talk about a lot in my blog.
Chris: And Lisbon is a place that I want to know more about. So, why should someone go to Lisbon?
Nelson: I think one of the main things is that Lisbon has been regarded until the few recent years as a Tier 2 or Tier 3 city. So, someone coming from the U.S. everybody goes to Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, London and then they do all of this. After they’ve done Tuscany or Costa Del Sole or Costa Brava, then they start to think about where else I should see and this arriving on maybe their fourth, fifth time to Europe.
The trend that has been growing lately is that most of these persons will travel from the U.S.; they don’t want to travel to these tier 1 cities in the first place. They want to go somewhere where nobody has even heard about it, especially for someone who doesn’t want to travel mainstream. So, the first reason that I’m saying you should travel to Lisbon is because almost nobody has ever been there for somebody from the U.S. And awkwardly, because it’s actually the first capital of Europe, which is actually closest to the U.S., they don’t have to travel all the way to Spain or anything. This is what we call “the Ocean Capital of the Western World.”
Chris: Excellent. And if we had, say, a week to visit Lisbon and the surrounding area, what would you recommend we do?
Nelson: Lisbon is quite a small town. The center of the city doesn’t have more than 800,000 people, so a week is a lot of time. I would recommend that you do something else besides these days, but I think we can catch on to that later on. The hard core of the city is the central part next to the river. Lisbon had a big earthquake in 1755, so all the city was reconstructed in the time afterwards. What happened was Lisbon kept all the layers of empire that were in this land; the Romans, the Visigoths, the Moors, and all the Cushing kings, so all these kinds of mazes of streets up and down, and Lisbon is a very hilly city, so it’s this maze of several layers of history, all with 17th century buildings.
When I hear it compared to a U.S. city, the closest city that I hear it compared to all the time would be San Francisco; hilly city, occasionally shakes, beautiful bridge. That seems to be, except of course, you have much more history than we have here; centuries more.
Let me tell you I’ve been to San Francisco and there is nothing like it. There are three or four things which match which is the bridge. Our bridge is a replica of the Golden Gate. Its as if somebody went there and took a photocopy of it and made it here. There are the hills, there’s the tram, but the ambiance, the feel, is completely different. San Francisco is a very big metropolis. There is a whole lot of American feel to it, there is a whole lot of this grandeur. Lisbon is a very petite city. There are some of these streets close to the Castle where two people can’t walk side by side. And they’re all cobblestone.
Chris: I haven’t been to Lisbon which is one of the reasons I want to do this show. But I’ve seen Macau, for instance, which has patterned their central plaza on the plaza of Lisbon and the interesting designs in them and such too.
So, you mentioned the castle, so I imagine we’re starting in the old town.
Nelson: The old town has the castle hill and all this way down towards the river and this is the old quarter where the old people sing this music called fado, which is world heritage. This is more of the hard-care, traditional Lisbon where people still live the way they did 50 or 60 years ago, and the kids still play football in the street in front of the church. You can still see them playing there, so this is really the place to go and see real Lisbon. And then you have the downtown area which is an ortogonal shape, a little bit like a new city with horizontal and vertical lines. This is the shopping center, and then there’s all these kinds of new parts with all the bars and all the trendy shops are, which is called Bairro alto and Principe Real.
Chris: The castle, this is – and I don’t know the Portuguese pronunciation – but it’s Saint George’s Castle is the English name.
Nelson: It’s this attraction but there’s really not much to see there.
Chris: Oh, interesting.
Nelson: There are some ruins and a nice Belvedere, but Lisbon is full of hills and there are like five or six more pretty Belvederes and you don’t have to queue and wait so long to get in the castle.
Chris: So, you would recommend instead of the castle, for instance, that we go to –
Nelson: The Belvedere Principe Real or the Belvedere de Graça, that’s a really nice one as well. Also, if you like drinking there’s a few rooftop bars in Lisbon which are very trendy now. Lisbon has 300 days of sunshine per year, so sundown cocktails that’s something of a trend that’s increasing lately.
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Chris: You’ve got us downtown, what are we doing when we’re down there. We’re not going to the castle necessarily.
Nelson: Yeah, we’re not going. So there’s little shops there so if you like to shop, there’s a few very good of these old vintage Portuguese shops which have some very, very interesting materials which you can take as a souvenir for somebody, a little bit of history.
Chris: So, what are we buying in the shop?
Nelson: Vintage Portuguese items, like these old bars of soap which are not on sale anymore. So e little tiles, some f0ood products, or some vinegars, some canned sardines. But if you really want to hunt for a bargain, there’s a flea market every Tuesday and Saturday morning next to the castle hill, and that’s where you can get these items in their raw state.
Nelson: And then afterwards Lisbon has almost 10 km of riverfront, so there’s a big river walk that you can make from this downtown area all the way to Belem if you have time. So, Belem is the second cultural center of Lisbon. This is where Jerónimos Monastery and the Tower of Belem are, which are both UNESCO heritage sites. And this one was the place where the old discovery ships sailed from when they went to sail the world.
Chris: Okay. So, this is Magellan and Vasco de Gama.
Nelson: And Bartolomeu Dias and all of these guys, yeah.
Chris: This is under the reign of the navigator.
Nelson: Infante Dom Henrique
Chris: And you can tell that I speak no Portuguese.
Nelson: There is this cluster of this downtown area, which I was speaking about. Then after this riverfront walk, there is this second cluster. This is where you have these long afternoons. People walking on the riverfront, people cycling. And this is where the second shop of the pastries Pasteis de Belem, this world famous Portuguese export.
Chris: And I’m going to guess that we didn’t tell people when we introduced you that Nelson is more than a little bit of a foodie, so I suspect that we’re going to have more than a few types of food that we should try while we’re in Lisbon.
Nelson: Yes, definitely.
Chris: And we’ll get into more of why that is later on.
Nelson: Yes, certainly. So, as we’re I’ll start with this one. There’s a little custard that has a phyllo pastry no bigger than half of the palm of your hand. Its phyllo pastry and it’s got this custard in the middle, and it’s this national sweet. There’s this little shop which opened in the 18th century and it’s still opened today. It’s called Pasteis De Belem and this is where you can get your sugar fix. Food-wise, Portugal has the biggest exclusivity zone for the fish capture in all of Europe. If you count the territory of the national waters of Portugal, I think we are the third or the second largest country in Europe, even though the land-mass, we’re the tenth. So, fish and seafood is my utmost recommendation. The thing I love more about this is price-wise. I’m not saying that it’s cheap, it’s price-wise you can get amazing quality food, amazing quality accommodation and transport -wise exists and it doesn’t cost you the moon. It’s definitely 10% to 15% to 20% cheaper than Madrid and not even speaking about Rome or London or anything else.
So, here you can really get worth for your money and one of our main snacks is, a pint of beer and a few prawn on a dish and it costs you 3 euros, so $5.
Nelson: SO, it’s incredibly cheap and I’ll just name a few places which are my absolute favorites which I always recommend to everybody. I think the first one as to be Cervejaria Ramiro which is a Portuguese name for the brewery and Ramiro, of course, is the name of the guy. This is just one of these down to earth, very loud, very noisy, very busy environments where they open for mid-day and they serve seafood constantly throughout the whole day until the night.
Chris: You say, “Cevicheria.” Is that a place -?
Nelson: Cervejaria, from “cerveja,” from “beer.”
Chris: Got it. That makes more sense.
Nelson: It’s always full but if you go in the middle of the afternoon, it’s nice. Don’t ever try and go there after 8 o’clock, because you’re just going to wait for an hour and a half and it’s going to be a pain. So, either go for lunch or in the middle of the afternoon, and just order some prawns, some stone crab, a big crab, some barnacles, and drink it with what we call green wine, which is wine that is not fermented all the way to 12 degrees. They stop it at 9, 11. It’s made with this specific grape called alvarino and it’s very fresh. It’s a little bit fizzy it’s fruity, and it goes very well with seafood. So, go to Ramiro and have seafood and green wine.
Chris: You mentioned that they get busy, the first restaurant, after 8 o’clock. So, I’m guessing from that that the dinner hour is shifted later again, like your neighbors there to the east.
Nelson: Not so much. The Spanish are crazy. They have dinner at 11, 10 o’clock. This is not natural for any human being. In Portugal, we tend to keep our dinner time between 8 and 9 o’clock. If you go at any restaurant at 7pm, you’re going to be the first one there. But in this case, I really, really recommend it. Nobody wants to sit in a queue for an hour.
Chris: Okay, excellent.
Nelson: The second restaurant is called Point Final and it’s actually on the other side of the river. So, there’s the Tejo River (Tagus in english) and you need to take the ferry boat from the Cais do Sodre Station until Cacilhas. SO, it’s a 10 minute ride across the river. IT’s a beautiful ride. The boat has got this – it doesn’t have an open deck – but you’ve got these large windows that you can see the river and the bridge, and you can even put your hand out and get some surf in your hand. Of course, it’s like 1 euro 50 to cross the river, it’s peanuts. Then when you get over to Cacillas, you walk towards the ocean on this riverfront boardwalk and then actually Ponto Final is Portuguese for Final Destination, so you walk this riverside boardwalk until the end. It’s the one with the yellow chairs. And this place, you can have a table by the water, there’s no tide, there’s no waves.
There’s just this big bay of the river, and it’s something of a place that’s very amazing because you have a southern and western view and you can see the sunset there. So, my recommendation is if you want to go to this place, the best time to go there is between three and five o’clock because you can really get the most of this time. You can have a table by the water and you can look at Lisbon. One thing is that if you’re in Lisbon and you’re in the middle of the buildings, you lose the idea of what the whole city is. But from this place, you can have tremendous food but looking at the other side.
The other place that I recommend is a little, little eatery. It’s not very easy to find. I’ll try and guide you guys. There is a second square in the middle of the city called Rossio Square. So, this is in the back part of this downtown area. Once you go through this archway, which is really perpendicular to this Rossi Square into Rua de Sapateiros, which is called ShoeSmith Street and the first restaurant that you’re going to find is a restaurant called Merendinha do Arco. I can’t translate this but it’s a very, very nice place, and you’ll notice it because it’s going to stand – it’s a restaurant that’s in front of an 18th century animatographer – which was this prequel to the cinemas – which was the first one installed in Portugal in Lisbon, and it’s now actually a peep show.
So, it’s this beautiful 18th century building. There’s nothing graphic on the outside. It’s very, very photogenic, but you’ll see from the coming and going of men on the outside, you’ll know whether the restaurant is just the opposite. I’m recommending this restaurant because it has big long tables where you have to squeeze in to get your place and you’re sharing your lunch with somebody who just lives around the corner or businessmen or somebody from the bank which is also in this area. One of the dishes I recommend is cutlass, which is a fish that is in the shape of a sword. It’s very meaty and they just grill it and serve it with beans and rice. It’s really amazing. They’ve got also nice liquor in the end.
You go into this place and you get a feel for what it is to be in a very, very small restaurant in Portugal. This meal will set you back 10 Euros, and it’s just real incredible, fresh food.
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In terms of some of the sites you mentioned, you mentioned some of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites a couple of times already. How many different ones are there in the city?
Nelson: In the city, there are two. The Jerónimos Monastery and the Belem Tower.
Chris: Got it. Both worth visiting?
Nelson: Yes. Jerónimos Monastery is very nice. It’s this big, big monastery and you go in inside. Inside you may find some queues. In the Tower of Belém, not so much. You have to remember that this tower is actually in the middle of the river. It was this building built in the 15th century to prevent the pirate attacks of the Portuguese trade ships.
Chris: I was reading about some of the pirate attacks in the city; pirates taking 3000 females and children hostages and things. So, I can imagine why you would want something like that.
Nelson: Actually it’s a really funny story because we have the oldest country treaty of mutual defense which is between the U.K. and Portugal was celebrated in the 14th century, 13 something. but they were the biggest looters of the Portuguese ships coming over from India because from for Mr. Drake and Queen Victoria, Francis Drake was a big pirate, it was much easier for them to loot the Portuguese ships off of the coast of Portugal and actually sailing around all the way to India and coming back.
Chris: SO, you’ve had a more complicated history with the English, let’s say.
Nelson. Yes. With the English, with the French, and mostly with the Spanish. We’ve been invaded by them maybe 100 times in maybe the past 500 years. We’ve actually ruled by them for quite some time during the 17th century.
Chris: Well, I also think of in more recent history, the English and the Portuguese standing against the French and Napoleon armies. I know what Wellington said at the Battle of Waterloo is what he really missed his Portuguese allies, who he fought beside for many years.
Nelson: It was a very, very hard time because that was the time when the Royal Family escaped with all of the crown’s wealth to Brazil and Portugal was left without rule. So, we had the Napoleon army and we had the Spanish army ruling us again. But funny enough, there was all this history about descent and the connection with the English, but when we regained sovereignty of our crown; it was actually the British ships that let the French people go with all of their loot, so they were actually transported in British ships. History has this way of telling stories in a melodic and romantic way, but when you really go through the facts of it, it’s a little bit different.
Chris: You mentioned the summertime. When is the best time to come to Lisbon?
Chris: Spring and summer. And you have to remember that Lisbon is a small town with mall streets and hilly streets and it’s best seen from the outside. It’s getting a pair of comfortable shoes on and walking your way up the hill every day, which makes it a little bit hard to like. If you’re going in the winter if it’s raining – because it does rain a lot, and the temperatures don’t go below 5 or 6 degrees in winter but it rains a lot – if you have to carry an umbrella, and you can’t see the map and where the sites are, then I wouldn’t recommend it really. In Lisbon, the best time of it are spring and summer and the pinnacle being when the local Saint’s festivities happen, which is in June on the 12th of June.
Chris: Tell me more about that, because that was going to be one of my questions; festivals and good times to go from that point.
Nelson: Every city in Portugal has a patron saint, and Lisbon’s patron Saint is Saint Anthony and there is this big, big, big festivity which takes place from the night of the 12th to the 13th. So, this is the night where it’s a free for all in Lisbon, especially in this downtown area. All of the streets are closed off to cars, to circulation and everybody, literally everybody, brings out a charcoal grill to their back door and they start grilling sardines and they start grilling pork, steaks, and sausages, and you just walk and ask how much it is. People sell beer, and it’s just this big, big, big massive street party everywhere. Something like 2 million people are on the streets and it’s just crazy, but it’s a whole lot of fun.
Chris: So, 2 million people on the streets but there are only 500,000 people in the city so everybody is coming in from the suburbs.
Nelson: Yes. Everybody is coming in from the outside and the suburbs and the whole city gets clogged. But it’s nice, it’s fun because the whole city has got their own little place and there’s Fado singing and you can dance, and you can have a beer. This goes on from maybe the middle of the afternoon to maybe late night in the evening. But it only happens once a year, on the night from the 12th to the 13th of June.
Chris: And then I interrupted you: You were taking us on a tour through the city.
Nelson: There are a few other places that I would recommend to go, especially if you are interested in museums. One of them is the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, which is this gentleman from Armenia who got exiled in Portugal after the Second World War. He was an oil tycoon. He was the one that managed to lease contracts between the British and the Americans in the Ottoman Empire. So, he was worth at the time $500, $600 million. He ended up getting sick and dying in Portugal and left all his fortune to this foundation. All his private collection of arts in this beautiful, beautiful, museum. If I have to recommend one museum, it’s this one. It’s museum which is very interesting.
A few other things that you can do: If you like to go around and discover a little bit of fine arts, this street art scene in the Bairro Alto and Principe Real area, there’s a whole lot of these little ateliers. Otherwise what I was saying before, if you’re going to Lisbon for a week, I would say you leave four days just to tour Lisbon. And I would recommend that you go to this nearby place which is called Sintra and cascais. This kind of place was always connected with the British again because of this history. Even during the Second World War, this is the place where the Allies and the Axis met regularly for lunch. They went to each other’s houses and they had some parties together. This was actually the place where Ian Fleming thought up his James Bond character, was in Estoril, in this area.
So there’s a lot of this Portuguese Riviera thing going on, so if you like this little bit more of a glamorous scene, I would recommend this area.
Chris: And where is that from Lisbon?
Nelson: Going west towards the ocean from Lisbon, it’s about a half an hour drive. You can ask for a cab. I think it’s like 40 euros. It’s really, really cheap. You can take the train which goes through the river and the ocean front, which is quite nice. If you want to stop to go to the beach on the way, you can do it because Lisbon is the only European capital with a beach. It’s also A World Heritage Place even though it’s not Lisbon City – that’s why I didn’t mention it before. But it’s this little town which is just a garden. It’s a big, big, beautiful Garden, and I also manage the hotel there, the Sintra Botique Hotel. This little city, besides being this big garden, it has five or six palaces which are just breathtaking in their arts, because you have Moorish tiles, this Renaissance and Rococo influences, some gold, lots and lots of art. So, if you like a day out from Lisbon, I would recommend this.
Chris: What is going to surprise me about Lisbon?
Nelson: One thing that has been consistent over the years is the friendliness. Every time I speak with somebody, it’s always the first thing they say: It’s the friendliness. You have to think about when you travel to France. When you travel to Italy or Spain, you’re going to have to massage your way through the conversations in the local language. In Portugal it’s the other way around. We do the work of trying to speak the visitor’s language. Everybody is going to know a little French, or know a little Spanish, or know a little English, and they’re always going to try and be nice to you. This is the big characteristic of the Portuguese, is this warm welcoming idea.
I think, in fact, the second thing that’s going to surprise you is that Lisbon is a city of light. I have one of my guests at one of the Palaces that I manage, and as I mentioned that Lisbon is a cinematographers dream because it’s got this maze of old streets and these 18th century buildings, and they’re almost all white. There’s these kids of rolling hills and you see the city going down towards the water, and it’s just very cinematographal. I can’t say that it’s a dreamy city, but you feel that this place is only like this and you can’t get this feeling anywhere else.
Chris: Excellent. Now, I’m a huge fan of history and Lisbon’s history goes way back to Phoenician settlements in – what was I reading – 1300 B.C or something like that. Where is the best place for someone like me to come in contact with some of the history of Lisbon?
Nelson: I know that I didn’t recommend the castle for a simple person, but for you it would make sense to go to the castle. Because this is Lisbon’s highest hill and all of the invading armies and empires, they all set barricades and settlements there. So this would be the starting point for you, for this. You get this feel in this old hill that there’s a lot of Roman, there’s a lot of Moorish, there’s a lot of Visigoths, there’s a lot of everything mixed together. You’re going to find that it’s a little bit hard to find something which is before the Moorish, before the Romans. And even the Moorish, there were beautiful Moorish palaces in Lisbon that were completely obliterated by the earthquake, so it’s much more of finding a very good history guide to guide you through.
My recommendation is to start at this Castle Hill. Another museum that I would recommend to you is our ancient art Museum, which has a lot of the history of Portugal through paintings and has also these old settlement’s information there. I think you would be well-suited there, because street-wise everything is 18th century and even though you can look at a few marks and evidences in the landscape that, “Oh, this is Moorish, and this is Roman,” and there’s even a Roman theater which is still under renovation on the Castle hill, anything before that is going to be a little bit hard.
Chris: Okay, excellent. And in terms of getting around, I’m getting the impression that it’s a walking city: For some parts, that’s the only way you’re going to get through. And then public transportation, funicular, boats as appropriate to get around. We’re not going to want a car when you’re in Lisbon.
Nelson: No, no, no. Forget about it. When you land in Lisbon airport, it’s actually in the middle of the city.
Nelson: So, you need a cab ride from the airport in Lisbon to the downtown area takes you 15 minutes and 10 euros.
Chris: Well, that’s a nice change.
Nelson: Unless you’re going to go out of Lisbon, a car is the last thing I would recommend. Forget the fancy shoes; comfortable shoes. You are going to be walking a lot.
Chris: See, now, that part is similar to San Francisco.
Nelson: We don’t have funicular it’s the tram, the 28 tram, no I’m wrong. We have a funicular but it’s a very, very short one. One thing that I wouldn’t recommend that you do is take the hop-on, hop-off terrific bus because this bus doesn’t go anywhere on these narrow streets, and it’s just going – you might as well buy this ticket on the 28 tram and take it from where you are and because it goes on this loop, you just go around once and you can see the city from there. It’s more than enough. If you go out to dinner, you might have a little bit to drink and you’re full from your dinner. Do, take a cab home. It’s very cheap, so you don’t have to climb the hill and make it to your hotel room if you’re staying on top of the hill without the your breath.
Chris: Excellent. And any warning you would give when you’re going to Lisbon, besides wear flats.
Nelson: Lisbon is a pretty safe town, but it’s a capital city. So, one of my big recommendations is to – especially if you’re going on one of these trams which is over loaded with persons – just keep a very, very good eye on your belongings. As I said, you can walk the streets in the evening, but if you’re a little bit careless on this tram, you might lose your wallet or your phone. This would be the only thing that I would recommend, and bring a lot of appetite for seafood because you’re never going to be able to enjoy so much good seafood for so little money anywhere else in Europe.
Chris: Excellent. You’re standing at the prettiest spot in Lisbon. Where are you standing and what are you looking at?
Nelson: It’s a little bit hard for me to say this because I normally don’t give recommendations for people that cannot be replicated, and they always thank me through my blog or wherever I go.
Chris: As we try to also.
Nelson: But this hotel that I manage called Palacio Belmonte, it’s really on top of this Castle Hill. It’s really nice. We share walls with the castle and this place is very magical because it’s a 15th century palace built with Roman and Moorish heritage. This place has a 2 century before Christ Roman Tower. And on top of this, it also has an 8th century Muslim tower. On top of this Muslim tower, there is a room called Barthomelows Mao and this room – it’s expensive, it costs something like 1000 euros a night – but the room which is in the tower has five levels and it’s not a grand suite at the Ritz with 1000 square meters. I think it has maybe 100, 150 square meters, but it has a terrace which overlooks the whole district of Alfama where all the people are singing Fado. This room has a balcony. With this balcony, you can see the sunrise over the hill and this is one of the pictures I have taken on my blog which is sadly, most oftenly stolen and used in other content because it’s this beautiful, red sunlight photo taken from the top of this room. I took it when I was working there.
And for me, I’ve been working there for 3 years, and it’s a small place: It only has 11 suites. And this was something that I could never tire of was to go up to this tower and watching the sunrise over this little part of Lisbon, which is a little valley. You can actually here the guys playing music downstairs. You can hear the tram. You can actually have a conversation across the hill to the other guy because it makes this echo and this funnel noise, and you can see a big monument there on the back, and you see the little house, and you see a little bit of this still life, which is this Portuguese life. And there’s no skyscrapers, there’s no buses, it’s just this little bit of peace and quiet, the sun coming over this big bay that the towers makes next to the city. Even aesthetically, the view is unbelievably balanced from an artist’s point of view, and it’s just something that if I were to recommend the one place in Lisbon, the dream place, it would be this place.
Chris: And now the place that I could actually afford to go to is where?
Nelson: Lisbon’s tourism has been on the rise for the last 4 or 5 years. There was a big boom in hostels, and very good quality hostels. Some of them have gotten “Oscars” for luxury, best hostels. So, when one of them is called, “The Independent.” And it’s on Principe Real . It’s a very nice 18th century building which was reconverted into a hostel. It’s got a rooftop bar, and it’s got a very nice restaurant on the second floor. It’s just in front of one of the Belvederes that I spoke about. So, very nice place. There are maybe 10 or 15 new hotels opening up every year in Lisbon, so you’re going to be a little bit spoiled for choice. And with this competition also comes low prices and affordability. If you can afford to stay at this Palacio Belmonte please do, because your whole experience of Lisbon is going to be different because it’s a private place and people can’t just come in for a cup of coffee. It’s private. If you can’t afford it, I would really suggest that you stay in this hostel called “The Independente” or you stay in a hotel called ValVerde hotel which is in this new area, de Liberdade and here you can get a very good feel of what this busy town center is. So, for somebody who doesn’t want to stay in the center, they can stay a little more safeguarded from all the buzz.
Chris: When you mentioned the luxury house – and we haven’t talked about that a whole lot on the show – one resource I would recommend for people would be Cash over at budgettraveler.org has a book about the top 50 luxury hostels of Europe. So, if you’re interested in hearing more about that, I would check Cash out and what he’s done on that.
But I’m still going to pin you down on this question: If I can’t afford to stay in the nice suite, where’s the second best spot to see Lisbon?
Nelson: Okay. I’ll give you two choices. One of them is this second restaurant that I spoke about on the other side of the river.
Chris: The one on the, the last restaurant.
Nelson: Yeah, the last restaurant. So, this is a very good place because you can see the whole of Lisbon.
Chris: With the yellow chairs.
Nelson: With the yellow chairs and tables. This is a really nice place because you can see Lisbon from the whole of Lisbon from the other side, and you can see the bridge. The bonus is that you can have nice food with it. The second place that I would recommend to you is a bar called “Park.” So, this is one of the trendy new places of these rooftop bars in Lisbon. It’s really on the top of the fashion shopping hill called Chiado This Park bar is, in itself, nothing special. Actually it’s called Park because it’s the last floor of a parking building, which was made next to a church. But if you pass on that, when you get up to the top floor, the view is just breathtaking. The most important thing about this is it is filed with this new life, new trendy people of Lisbon. So, if you’re into this, this is one of the best new places if you want to go out and meet somebody new. There’s all these new characters, new guys who are working in Lisbon and have their own businesses, and just go there for a gin at the end of the day or any other cocktail. This is another place that I would recommend to see Lisbon and the sunset, of course.
Chris: As we start to wrap this up, I’ve got maybe three questions left. But before I get to them, is there anything else we should know before we go to Lisbon?
Nelson: Lisbon is this very small space and if you are expecting anything with grandeur like you saw in the other cities in Europe, it’s just a little bit different. Portuguese people are really quaint and they don’t like to show off a lot, so what you’re going to see is these beautiful places through its simplicity and through it’s very, very distinct lines and colors. It’s not going to be gold leaf everywhere, it’s not going to be jewelry, it’s not going to be big, big buildings with 1000 ornaments or with 1000 statues, as is Rome or Vienna. This is a down to earth country, it’s a down to earth city, truly made to be enjoyed on the basic pleasures of life, which is walking through the streets, eating street food, drinking a beer, or eating prawns, or drinking some wine without too much of a fuss.
Chris: Okay. One thing that makes you laughs and say, “Only in Lisbon.”
Nelson: When I was taking the train in Lisbon, the ticketer had a little bit of an alcohol stench in the early morning. He wasn’t drunk or anything like this. It’s because this little liquor called Ginjinha and it’s this sour cherry liquor, fermented sour cherry liquor. It’s not so much like 18 degrees; it’s a little bit sweet. People just have it as a little shot in the morning. You have your breakfast and you have your coffee, and then you go out and before you go to work – not if you work in a bank or anything like this – but this little job, you have this little thing because it’s embedded in the culture. And this guy had been doing this for 50 years and you can’t just go there and say, “Hey there, Mr. John, you can’t do this anymore.” And you get this smell and you know what it is exactly: It’s this sweet smell from the liquor, and this only happens in Portugal.
Chris: Finish this sentence for me, “You really know you’re in Lisbon when,” what?
Nelson: When you’re looking at the Belvederes, one of the towers, and you’ve had some seafood, and you’ve had some wine for dinner and you are looking at the city skyline and there is this melodic –
Chris: The Fado music in the background.
Nelson: The Fado music in the background, and I think it may be corny or a bit kitschy but if you’re somebody who’s listening to this, this is how we are. We are very sentimental, very touchy feely kind of nation, and if you’re not going there to let yourself loose and be influenced by this, then honestly I recommend somewhere else.
Chris: They can go to Spain, right?
Nelson: Yeah, of Course. For me, this is it. Standing on one of the Belvederes, maybe its sundown or any other part of the town and you just feel this enormous satisfaction within you because you’ve had this amazing seafood dinner, and you’ve had a little wine and there is somebody playing the guitar and singing in the background. It’s a very melancholic music and you just think about how beautiful life is and how beautiful this city is and how lucky you are to be with your significant other at this time. Or you think about what else can happen in your life and I think this is one of the best things that Lisbon has to offer.
Chris: Excellent. Last question. If you had to summarize Lisbon in just three words…
Nelson: Light, quaint, and youth, I think.
Chris: Youth, okay, Interesting.
Nelson. Youth, yeah.
Chris: Excellent. Where can people read more about your travels?
Nelson: They can go to my blog, NelsonCarvalheiro.com; this is where I post most of my journeys and travels. They can also follow me on Facebook or Twitter.
Chris: Excellent. And I promised that we would mention your connection with Food and Travel here at the end. Tell people a little bit about what you’re doing right now.
Nelson: I’m the ambassador for the blogging community for the Portuguese food Travel Association, so I make the connection between what this association is trying to do in promoting travel to Portugal through its food and the blogging community. Just recently we had five bloggers from India, Hungary, Brazil, U.S, and Spain. They went around the country for two weeks. We sponsored this whole journey, where they really get to see Portugal through its food. And the most exciting thing that I’m doing right now is I did a trip for four weeks earlier this year where I saw the whole of the country with a photographer and we’re going to launch at the end of the year, the Portuguese Travel Cookbook, which I’ve just finished writing this week.
Chris: Oh, excellent. Our guest again has been Nelson Carvalheiro, Carval- Yeah well. Thank you Nelson so much for coming on the show and telling us about your obvious love for Lisbon.
Nelson: Thank you very much Chris, it was a pleasure and if anybody wants to get more information, just send me an email. I’m always very happy to reply. If anybody wants to stay at Palacio Belmont and stay at the 1000 euro suite, let me know.
Chris: Give us a 10% discount or something. Excellent thanks very much.
Nelson: Okay. My pleasure.
Chris: I want to encourage you to go and check out PassportsWithPurpose.com. Passports With Purpose is a charity program that goes on every year at this time, supported by travel bloggers or podcasters like me. It’s a way you can support a great charity effort and while you’re doing it, get a chance to win valuable travel prizes. So, Passports with Purpose is something I’ve been involved with here for the last 5 years, so check it out. PassportsWithPurpose.com.
Last week’s Amateur Traveler question of the week on Trippy.com, which is at amateurtraveler.com/trippy3, if you want to participate, was what were the most unexpectedly good countries for wine? And I’d have to say that Ross Sparks from Colorado came up with Morocco and that did surprise me. “I love to drink and Morocco made it very difficult, but I had the change to try a lot of local wines at a western style upscale hotel bar. And while I was so surprised at how great the local wines were, I was going on a week at the time so that might’ve had something to do with it. We had a number of different places named from Cape Town to Spain, from Hungary to Switzerland, the country of Georgia and Armenia.” So check out all those answers at Trippy.com. AmateurTraveler.com/Trippy3.
Before we end this episode also, if you are interested in going on the 15 day trip to Morocco, we’re currently 3 short of the eight that we need to get that trip going. So, if you’re going to want to do that, you need to sign up in a hurry.
With that, we’re going to end this episode of Amateur Traveler. If you have any questions, send an email to host at amateurtraveler.com, or better yet leave a comment on this episode at AmateurTraveler.com. You can also follow me on twitter at chris2x, and as always, thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.