Spending the night in a real life fairy tale castle is an experience that everyone should get to have at one point in life. The feeling of living through history is a truly unique one. However, while historic accommodations offer great charm and nostalgia, what they often don’t offer are hot water or a peaceful sleep. After a bit of a rough night (I’m still not sleeping much due to my back in jury, and Susete just couldn’t sleep in the uncomfortable bed), we were up before the sun catching the first available train back to our beloved Lisboa. We had a really amazing time in northern Portugal, and in Buçaco, but we had one final day before we go home, and it was only fitting that it was to be spent in the city that we started in.
Every single time…. it’s always the same…. I felt this way when I first arrived in day 1 of this trip, I felt this way when Phil and I finished our Alentejo tour, and I feel this way again now upon returning from the North. Coming back to Lisboa is like coming home. It’s just so familiar and comforting, while also exhilarating and inspiring. Lisbon is the city where I first tasted Portugal. Her food, her culture, her soul. Lisbon is the city I can walk around confident of not getting lost, yet also confident that I’ll always find something new. Lisbon has given me some of my greatest culinary experiences. Lisbon has a unique way of seamlessly blending history and tradition with modernity and innovation, without sacrificing either. Here we are, one last time before we return to our real home in Toronto.
As I mentioned already, as much as I get to know Lisbon, there’s always a new find. This time, I found a free museum hidden right in the heart of the Baixa (downtown Lisbon), underneath the Millenium Bank. After the bank bought the building it’s currently housed in, they had big plans to build out the interior, while also digging down under and building an extensive basement floor. However, what they found surprised them, and put a halt to their basement plans. Underneath the bank (and later found to be underneath much of the city), were layers upon layers of history. It started with fragments of pottery and glass, but excavations have since revealed multiple levels of separate civilizations that called Lisboa home throughout time. Under the current buildings were fragments from Portugal before the 1755 earthquake. Under that, they found evidence from the period of the Moorish rule. Under that, the Visigoths, and underneath that level, were not only fragments and pottery, but also ruined structures from Roman Olisipo (the Roman name for Lisbon). Wells, bath houses, and most prominently, tanks used in the production of garum, a kind of Roman fish sauce used for seasoning, that was exported from here to the rest of the Roman Empire and beyond. This evidence showed that this part of modern Lisbon was, during the Roman times, an industrial area. Digging even further down, they found ruined structures dating back to an Iron Age settlement, perhaps the Phoenecians, who came from the area around modern day Israel/Syria, and were the precursors to the Carthaginian Empire. The evidence found under this bank shows how far back people were living in Lisbon, and amazingly shows the order in which they lived there. What’s even more intriguing to me, is that this is only a small part of it. There’s evidence that this type of history would be found all throughout the Lisbon area if they were actually able to excavate it all, but you couldn’t just rip the entire city apart. Sometimes it’s just best to let history live in peace, and let our imaginations wonder about everyone that walked the land before us.
For lunch, before our underground museum adventure, Susete and I headed uptown to try out a burger joint in the recommendation from some local friends of mine. We went with no expectations (burgers in Portugal??) but this leap of local faith resulted in us having perhaps one of the best burgers we’ve ever eaten.
Dinner, on the other hand, was a different story. It was our last meal in Lisbon before returning home, and this time it wasn’t about new discoveries, it was about returning full circle. The first dinner we ever ate in Lisbon, when we came here on our first trip to Portugal, was at O Beco, the tiny restaurant hidden away in a tiny alleyway, with two old women cooking in a tiny kitchen…. putting out truly soul-satisfying food. That first meal was a big epiphany moment for me in my Portuguese culinary education, and to this day, it never disappoints. O Beco, located in the historic Alfama district, the oldest neighbourhood in Lisbon, gets to the heart of Portuguese cuisine. It’s simple, it’s humble, it’s traditional, and it just reaches right into your soul, gives it a big hug, and tells you, “everything is good in the world”. This first meal defined Portuguese gastronomy for me, and after this most recent 3 week research romp through Portugual’s gastronomic world, my last meal would bring it back to where it all started… eating dinner with my wife, in her home country, at the first restaurant that really captured my love for the food of Portugal. O Beco, the tiny old restaurant that makes us feel at home, in the city that’s our home away from home.