Following on from my previous blog post about my trip to Lisbon last weekend, this entry is going to focus on the culinary highlight of my visit, spending our Saturday afternoon in Belém.
Belém is a mere 25 minute tram journey away from central Lisbon and it is a mandatory stop if you are there for a weekend. As we had purchased a 24-hour public transport pass called the Viva Viagem for 6€, the tram to Belém was included. I remember my Portuguese language teacher explaining her love for Belém in our seminar class last year and that if we were ever in Lisbon, we had to go – the sites of interest and most importantly, that it is home to the famous and delicious, Pastel de Belém.
Out of all of these things, I think it’s these little pastries which attract the majority of tourists to Belém. And for good reason! These things are absolutely amazing. We were told by our tour guide earlier that day to expect long queues way out of the shop door to buy the pastéis, but that the queue actually moves quite quickly, so we shouldn’t feel disheartened and walk away. Sometimes the queue can reach all the way to the monastery; when I saw the distance between the shop and the monastery, I could only believe it if I saw it, that would be a pretty big queue!
After getting off the tram, we spotted the blue-fronted shop with the long queue outside no problem, and knew we had found the right place. We were having these things before we were doing any exploring of Belém. No excuses! After a few persistant queue-jumpers and squishers, I had a Pastel de Belém of my own:
I was initially quite worried I wouldn’t like the Pastéis de Belém because it is nothing other than a type of custard tart, and here’s the best bit, I hate custard! It would have been really depressing if I didn’t like it, and all this hype had been for nothing. Despite this, I wasn’t going to miss out on this important culinary Portuguese experience; while Carrie and Becca confidently bought two each, I opted for one, and they had already made dibs on who was going to have my leftovers if I were to decide I didn’t like it. The pressure was on. Unlucky for them, I loved it and in hindsight, I wished I had bought about ten. As there is so much demand, the pastries are flying out of the oven straight into the customer’s hands, and so they are still warm when you eat them. I don’t think it can get any better than that!
After accomplishing what was obviously the main reason for our visit to Belém, we had a stroll around the waterfront for the remainder of the late afternoon.
Another of the main attractions in Belém is the Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos). The monument was erected in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator and is a 52 metre-high slab of concrete. It’s shaped in the form of a shop’s prow, showcasing figures from Portuguese history.
We walked further along to see the Belém Tower which was built in the early 16th century. We didn’t go inside but it was beautiful to just sit, look at the architecture and enjoy the dimming light during the sunset.
Another point of interest in Belém would be Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. Interesting fact, it was actually the monks of this monastery that created the incredible recipe that is the Pastel de Belém, so it’s them we have to thank for! Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to go inside and visit, especially as we were exhausted by this point. It will definitely be on my bucket-list for when I go back in July though.
After spending a lovely afternoon in Belém, we managed to get on the very overcrowded tram back to the center of Lisbon, to finally check into our room in the hostel at about 7pm. When we arrived back at the hostel, the girl at reception asked us what we had done which had taken all day. She seemed very impressed by our determination to make the most out of our time in Lisbon.
A short rest was very much needed after everything we had done that day. I secretly wished I could have just tucked up into bed and be asleep by 8pm after so much activity. It was very tempting! But we had agreed to see fado live. For one night only in Lisbon, we couldn’t miss the opportunity. I somehow managed to get out of my nice cosy hostel bed, to go back out in search of fado. More on fado in the next enstalement and then we will get on to the highlight of the weekend: Sintra (yep, it just get’s better and better!)
Would having some Pastéis de Belém be on your bucket-list?