Sunday, October 31, 2010

I Love Lisbon

I had a friendship with Barcelona and Madrid, a steamy fling with Granada and Seville, and short but very heated romance with Morocco. But above all, Lisbon had my heart. I loved it as soon as I stepped out of the train station. Remembering fondly...

The Castelo de São Jorge...

where cats sunbath, and...

peacocks roam.

Its charming trolleys.

Even this young park goer took a special ride.

Its unique architecture, from its color-tiled buildings,

to its inviting squares,

to stunning details that appear everywhere.

It was just all so magical.

The Belém Tower, which has stood guard over Lisbon's harbor since 1520. I took the harrowing narrow staircase to the top.

Its Monument to the Discoveries pays tribute to Prince Henry the Navigator and the nation's leading explorers. I vow to explore as much in this life as possible: books, places, food, people, ideas. Learning, a lifelong process, which we should embrace and never take for granted its rewards.

I still remain in awe of it all.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Lisbon Eats, and How I Can Travel

Before a Lisbon tour, one of my favorite topics: the food!

I lunched at Oriente Chiado, an all-vegan buffet I'd read about on HappyCow. Lunch was 9.80 euros, not including drink (I choose free tap water) or dessert. I arrived just 20 minutes before it closed for the afternoon, but still found some wonderful items.

A sampling of quiche, couscous, grilled tofu in a curry-spiced sauce, pasta salad, beet salad, and more. Of course I had seconds! Seitan in a savory sauce was also divine.

Left for dessert were mango or chocolate mousse or coconut pudding. The winner: chocolate mousse, 3.40 euros. My sweetheart, a chef who is not shy when saying he doesn't like something vegan, said this was the best vegan chocolate mousse he's ever had, and that it could pass for the real, non-vegan, thing.

A couple from Denmark we met recommended Botequim, a local cafe we would have never found.

I asked for whatever they could come up with that was vegan: I like they way they think! For 6 euros, a bed of couscous with cherry tomatoes and capers, spinach, arugula and red leaf lettuce, and drizzled with olive oil.

To end, a glass of ginginha, a sweet liquor made from the sour cherry-like ginja berry, sugar, and schnapps. I also tried the port wine here too.

There was an enormous line outside of Casa Pasteis de Belém for good reason. They are the birthplace of pastel de Belém, these warm cream filled tarts. Sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar, just 0.90 euros each.

Both nights in Lisbon were rain-soaked, so I took advantage of dining in at the adorable Alfama Patio hostel I stayed at. This was my favorite place we stayed at, and I recommend it for location (in the historic, older quarter); price; hospitality; and all the fun events they put on.

Saturday night they offer a bbq with a dj, for 7 euros a person. Golden potatoes with paprika, a green salad with corn, tomatoes and onions, pasta salad, a few chips and a roll and what I didn't eat in the assorted meats I made up for in consumption of their tasty sangria.

Sunday night is their 2 euros per person pasta night (they use a meat sauce, so I requested vegetarian). My comforting pasta in tomato sauce with garlic, with a glass of sangria, 1 euro, savored under a fleece blanket by candlelight on their (thankfully) covered patio. Isn't some of the best food sometimes the most simple? I adore pasta nights at home (and so frugal too!)

For breakfast at the Alfama hostel, European-style pancakes with cherry jam (breakfast was included with our stay).

Sipping on a Lipton Andulicia tea (with citrus fruits and orange blossom) on my last night.

Grateful and blessed for my time traveling. We had a good laugh at the airport over some thinking we are rich because we travel (as I was reading my library book, wearing my $2 thrifted jeans and $6 second-hand sneakers, a clothing swap top and sweater). This is where we spend our money for the year. No anniversary, Valentine's or Christmas gifts (maybe something little for birthdays). If we need something, we buy it ourselves. I love you doesn't mean sending sweethearts to the mall for overpriced jewelry or gadgets we don't need. I have a 10-year-old-plus television set, an ancient cell phone no one would ever steal, I get almost all my clothes through swaps and second-hand stores, get $15 haircuts at SuperCuts, use the library extensively, brown bag lunch as often as possible and more, not only to save money for the future, but to indulge in my passion for travel. We also stay at budget-friendly places we find on and other sites (I recommend TripAdvisor as a source for reviews).

One last post coming on Lisbon, and then I'm excited to share some fun events since I've been back: my Farm Sanctuary walk in New York City, my latest clothing swap, and some other seasonal happenings.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Madrid, I Remember This

Hovering over a statue of King Charles III, Madrid's first billboard, the Tio Pepe sign, advertising a famous sherry for more than a century, at the Puerto del Sol.

A dark story behind this statue: bears once lived in royal hunting grounds outside the city.

Drooling over olives with red and green peppers at the Mercado de San Miquel.

Olives, bread, fruit, sweets: the perfect fare for a picnic in the tree lined Retiro Park.

Boaters enjoying a sail on the lake at Retiro Park.

A home Mrs. Bucket would admire: the Royal Palace (Palacio Real).

Imagine the candlelight suppers that are thrown here.

Doesn't everything seem more magical at night?

Enjoying toasted bread with grilled eggplant, tomatoes and olive oil at El Arbol Y La Tosta, just outside the park.

Savoring a soy cafe con leche, 2.50 euros, at Le Pain Quotidien at Plaza Mayor. Also find soy milk at Starbucks, where a cafe con leche will run 1.90 euros, plus a .40 euros charge for the soy milk.

Directly across from McDonald's and KFC, making a more humane meal choice at Maoz Vegetarian. The bowl came with refills: I choose olive pate, a spicy chickpea stew, carrots, couscous, and roasted cauliflower. With an orange juice and falafel, the cost was 5 euros. Find Maoz in the U.S. as well, including in New York City. Even non-vegetarian food blogger David Lebovitz sang the praises of Maoz.

Outside of Chocolatería San Ginés, a dog enjoying the canine good life of a mid-morning respite as his guardian lingers over the paper.

The good life it all is, indeed.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In Sweet Seville

A captivating city awaits.

The Plaza de España beckons a stroll.

At the Alcazar, a 10th-century palace...

gardens ask to be admired.

The imagination is awakaned.

Columbus shadows you. In the United States, Columbus Day seems to be just another excuse to have a department store sale.

The Virgin of the Navigators altarpiece, which contains the earlier known portrait of Columbus. From Rick Steves Spain 2007:

"Notice how the Virgin's cape seems to protect everyone under it-- even the Native Americans in the dark background (the first time "Indians" were painted in Europe).

"A model of Columbus' Santa Maria, his flagship and only one of his three ships not to survive the 1492 voyage. Columbus complained the Santa Maria - a big cargo ship, different from the sleek Nina and Pinta caravels - was too slow. On Christmas Day, it ran aground and tore a hole in its keel. The ship was dismantled to build the first permanent structure in America, a fort of 39 colonists. (After Columbus left, the natives burned the fort and killed the colonists)."

Th Cathedral, the third largest church in Europe (after St. Peter's at the Vatican and St. Paul's in London), and largest gothic church anywhere.

Inside lies the Tomb of Columbus.

"Columbus even travelled a lot posthumously. He was buried first in Spain, then in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, then Cuba, and --when Cuba gained independence from Spain, around 1900-he sailed home again to Sevilla. Are the remains actually his? Sevillans like to think so." The mural is St. Christopher, the patron saint of travellers. Thank you, Rick. I shall always bring you along as a tour guide in Europe.

Stunning views are to be seen from the top of the cathedral's bell tower.

Upon seeing this statue, I recalled the delight of being surrounded by books. I also pondered how different our society would be if we placed as much effort on expanding our minds and making the world a better place that we do on obsessions with vanity and trying to maintain a youthful appearance.

Flamenco shows entertain. My ticket was 17 euros (you can spend much more, or find a free show which I didn't research).

Dining outdoors amid the beauty of it all on a quiet evening. Tapas time at Levies: gazpacho, as it was everywhere, served pureed, this time with an ice cube, and sangria.

Spinach with chickpeas. I love the idea of smaller plates. Getting a massive plate of food has become totally unappetizing to me.

Cinnamon tea, the perfect ending for my time in sweet Seville.