Why is breakfast in Europe just…better?
This thought crossed my mind at the Valverde Hotel in Lisbon, Portugal. After a 36-hour flight and a late night arrival, I found myself in a salmon printed, high back chair taking breakfast. One sip of espresso was the best reminder; I had changed continents.
The hotel café was full of stylish travelers quietly reading or studying city maps. It seemed everyone in the room was engaged in something important. There was a sophistication that was fascinating and I so curious what each table was reading and planning for the day! But in European fashion, I sipped my espresso and refrained. My table was soon adorned with fresh squeezed juice and tiny pancakes that lay neatly on blue patterned china. I always admire elegant things done with seeming ease; this is breakfast at the Valverde (only one of the many reasons it is the #1 hotel in Lisbon on Trip Advisor).
When I arrive in a new city, I usually love to walk and explore on my own before being influenced by travel guides. Sometimes wandering feels like “wasting” a day; other times it is a delightful surprise. Lisbon was a delightful surprise!
Leaving my hotel, I started downhill and immediately noticed vibrant color. I saw tile-adorned buildings, cobblestone streets and bright yellow trolleys all offset by a bright blue sky.
My first stop was at Ginja Sem Rival for traditional wild cherry liqueur. Though it burns a bit on the way down, it was the best antidote for jet lag!
Continuing on, I noticed Portuguese men lining the streets, smoking cigarettes and carrying on conversations. Half the conversations seemed to be spoken in hand gestures, which I vaguely understood. I strolled across an eccentric square and came upon the Igreja de São Domingos, an ancient church that survived two massive earthquakes and a fire. The church is pink inside and there are signs of fire, which add to the history and pure beauty.
From there, I continued on until I met the water. I assumed this was the sea because of its vast size, but later learned it was the Tagus River. In the distance, I saw a bridge that resembled the Golden Gate in San Francisco and a replica of the famous Rio de Janeiro Christ the Redeemer in Brazil. But as guitar filled the air, it was so clearly Lisbon!
I sat near the water, listening to guitar and allowing time to slip away — until my stomach started to growl! It was time for lunch, so I followed a stylish group of twenty-something girls and the smell of bread to Time Out’s Mercado da Ribeira, which brings together some of the city’s best food and drink. My first course was fresh oysters and a glass of rose. My second course was prosciutto and cheese board. Delicioso!!
After a quick siesta and shower, I was off to the Alfama district in search of traditional Fado music. Alfama feels like ‘old Lisbon’, with well preserved medieval architecture, small winding streets and unique tile work. I followed the music, from strumming guitars to alluring violins, until I came upon a small restaurant with low ceilings and a dark interior that caught my attention. I took a seat at a small cocktail table just in time to see a dramatic woman wearing large bold statement earrings, a white silk top and red lipstick enter. Everyone starting hushing and demanding silence; the only movement was the slow reach for lighters and cigarettes flickered against the dark room. Soon music filled the small room; the dramatic woman was a fadista, who sang as though she expressing deep pain. It was truly beautiful.
At the end of my day, I ambled back to the Valverde after one in Lisbon. I was overcome by sound of guitar and the vibrant color of Lisbon. I fell into bed exhausted, but with a smile on my face — after all, breakfast awaits!