Exploring Lisbon | Day Two
We awoke on our second day in Lisbon to the unmistakable sound of rain literally pouring into our courtyard. Outside our front door, water sloshed down from the roofs above and streamed down the street. We weren't going to Sintra then, especially as thunderstorms had been forecast all day in that direction. Our plans in tatters, we made a mad dash for the Time Out market to enjoy lunch under cover. The choice of food was crazy, but the vibe inside wasn't to par with similar food markets in the likes of Berlin and Copenhagen. This was upmarket, slightly swanky and seemed at odds with the city that we'd witnessed so far. The small park across the street is much more interesting with its array pf palm and blossom trees. Feeling somewhat disappointed and a little damp, we were thankful to find the sun fighting its way through the clouds and hopped on a train over to Belem.
Despite falling in love with Lisbon, I feel like I need a second trip to truly get to grips with the city and find the local haunts. I'm not normally one to seek out the touristy areas, so it was a surprise to find ourselves in Belem. Located slightly out of the centre yet within easy reach, this district of the city is home to many monuments and tourist hot spots. We admired the exterior of Jeronimos Monastery and grabbed a pasteis de nata each from Pasteis de Belem (believe the hype - these are by far the best custard tarts we tried. Straight out of the oven, crispy on the outside and soft and gooey on the inside and come with a little sachet of cinnamon to dust the tops) before retreating to the tropical botanic gardens.
I'm always happy trawling around the botanical gardens when visiting a new city, but these gardens were perhaps my favourite that I've ever explored. Akin to the rest of the city, there's no false facade of polished buildings and manicured lawns. Everything's a little wild and decaying in a beautiful way. Entire sections (including the glass houses and a Lost World-esque garden) are locked and closed to the public without any maintenance, but that somehow made the place even more beautiful. My favourite colour combination dominated, putty pink crumbling buildings juxtaposed by wild greenery. Strutting peacocks, prowling cats and newborn fluffy chicks scurried through the undergrowth, ducks and geese squabbling over the oranges that fell from fruit trees.
I'm partial to an interesting tree (the lilac jacaranda trees and tropical pink trees had me constantly swooning across the city), and the tropical gardens were full of some of the most striking trees I've ever seen. Towering palms, exotic dragon trees and a staggering array of rare tropical and sub-tropical trees have found their home here. There's also plenty of colourful flowers, tranquil ponds and beautifully tiled terraces to discover. Don't be put off by the Trip Advisor reviews that slam how unkempt the gardens are - that's all part of the appeal.
The remainder of the day, we strolled around the hills of the Bairro Alto neighbourhood, admiring the miradouros (make sure you check out the view from Miradouro Sao Pedro de Alcantara in particular) and taking photos of the tiles. This area really comes to life at night, although it is completely dominated by tourism. Down every little alleyway you'll find hole in the wall bars selling mojitos in plastic cups to be taken away and drank while admiring the views, alongside delightful tapas restaurants with tables spilling out onto the streets. It's so packed later in the evening that my best advice would be to shun the typical local eating hours (residents don't seem to think about eating their evening meal until at least 9pm) and head out early to secure a table. We enjoyed delicious seafood tapas and sangria in a tiny restaurant down a side street that I probably couldn't find again - in my opinion these are the best places to eat. Throw out your guidebook, forget Trip Advisor and just scuttle through the doorway of whichever restaurant takes your fancy.