Our first full day in Lisbon was a Saturday, and our main plan was to visit the ruins of the Carmo Convent. Every good adventure should start with a good breakfast, so we walked into the heart of the Baixa district to see what looked promising. We landed at Casa Brasileira, enticed by the custard tarts in the window. These little delights, called Pastel de Nata, or Pasteis de Belem (on which more later) are Lisbon’s signature pastry for good reason. Flaky, buttery pastry, filled with eggy custard, just big enough for two or three delicious bites for €1 apiece. We ate ours sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar, standing up at the bar, with tiny lattes. Dan also ordered a tall glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice from one of the orange-squeezeer contraptions you see all through Southern Spain and Portugal. It tasted exactly like the juice from the oranges in our backyard.
After breakfast, we climbed up to the convent, which dates from the end of the 14th century. It was half-destroyed in the 1755 earthquake and never rebuilt, leaving its gothic arches open to the sky. Today it serves as a very visible reminder of that great cataclysm, and as an archeological museum.
This was a hot day, and we were both still pretty tired. We took the Iberian approach and had a midday siesta before heading out to dinner in the Bairro Alto district – a maze of twisty streets winding through the hills above our hotel. We landed at a great Argentinian place called Café Buenos Aires, where they let us take a reserved table as long as we agreed to leave by 10 p.m. This is when the restaurant finally filled up; it’s a late-night culture here. We ordered warm fresh figs with ham and melted cheese as an appetizer to share. Dan sampled the fantastic cocktails, while I enjoyed a berry mimosa and a glass of local rosé. Our main course was amazing, too: ravioli filled with pureed peas and mint, topped with salad greens, and big plate of grilled padron peppers with salt on the side. Yum. We struck up a conversation with the older couple sitting next to us, lawyers from Washington state. We continued the evening with them over a couple of bottles of wine on a patio overlooking the moonlit Castelo de São Jorge.
A lovely evening all around, though it involved far more alcohol than we usually attempt in one go. As a result, we did not get a particularly early start the next day for our visit to the castle.