Belem and Pastel de Nata

Trip Start Jun 06, 2014
Trip End Jun 21, 2014

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Flag of Portugal  , Estremadura,
Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Last night was an optional tour to have dinner at a restaurant that featured Fado singers, a famous Portuguese music genre. Fado dates back to the 1820s and probably even earlier. It is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a characteristic sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia. Fado is sung by a man or woman, accompanied by two Spanish and Portuguese guitars. There were also four singers/dancers who performed Portuguese folk music and dances. It turned out to be a rather entertaining night. 

Today's tour took us to the Belem area of Lisbon. This area borders on the junction of the Tagus river and the Atlantic Ocean and is the spot where explorers left Portugal to sail to unknown parts of the world in the 15th and 16th centuries. The most famous was Vasco da Gama, who sailed around the coast of Africa and found his way to India, in search of spices. We learned that people in that time were desperate for spices (especially pepper) to use on their food because it lacked tasted from the smoking and drying they used to preserve it. There are several grand monuments honoring these seafarers in Belem. We also visited an interesting coach museum that contains original carriages used in the 15th-18th centuries; it might be the best such collection in the world. 

Nearby is the church and former monastery of Jeronimos. Sailors prayed here before they left and after they returned from the sea.  Construction started in 1501 and was completed 100 years later. Da Gama is buried there as well as the famous Portuguese poet, Luis de Camoes, and early Portuguese kings. The large monastery was in use until 1833 and is now a museum.

The highlight of the morning though, had to be the opportunity to eat some "pastels de nata", a famous pastry originally made here in Belem and sold throughout Portugal.  Basically a tart with a phillo dough-like shell filled with egg custard and preferably served warm.  To die for!  The recipe supposedly came from the monks in the monastery and remains unchanged from at least the 18th century. The most famous bakery is located near the church and makes an average of 15,000 tarts a day, 27,000 on weekends. I fondly remember them from our previous visit to Lisbon. 
We were supposed to have taken a private walking tour of Old Town Lisbon in the afternoon but our guide took ill and had to cancel. Being creative we decided to join the "hop on-hop off" bus tour leaving nearby and explore old town on our own. We have often taken these open air bus tours in other cities around the world as they are narrated and gives one a good overview of the city. You are free to leave the bus at any of its many stops, explore the immediate area, and jump on a subsequent bus to further explore. We got off at the stop for the old fortress overlooking the city and spent over an hour wandering about the site. Working our way back to the bus stop we did not know when the next bus was due so we decided to rest our feet, eat a few Portuguese snacks and drink some more sangria!  The sangria was all gone before the next bus showed up!

The group dinner was at the hotel tonight and we leave in the morning for Fatima and Porto where we will board our boat and begin our cruise on the Duoro River. 

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CJ on

Looks like sangria is becoming the beverage of choice. Be sure to bring back good sangria recipes.

Annette Landvatter on

Is there a possibility that we can re-create the custard filled tart, when I come to Seattle? Everything sounds so good.

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