Óla, Lisboa

Lisbon, Portugal

With the threat of another ash cloud shutting down Europe’s airports having temporarily subsided, we boarded our flight for Portugal a little after 8 p.m. US Airways was flying a jet from what felt like 1980, with seats crammed into every space and no entertainment options (three old school televisions hanging from the ceiling). Still, the flight was cheap and left on schedule.

We arrived in Lisbon just about 6.5 hours later, at 8:25 a.m. local time, not having slept much thanks to the talkative family sitting behind us that was oblivious to the fact that maybe other passengers might want to get a couple minutes of sleep. At the carousel, my bag was possibly the last off – but thankfully made the connection in Philadelphia.

(Side note: props to US Airways! Their planes suck, they charge for headphones and beers, don’t give out any sort of amenities like eye masks or earplugs, but are cheap, arrive on time and get bags to their final destination.)

We hopped in a cab for the 20-minute ride to our hotel in Belém, a pretty, seaside neighborhood on the city’s outskirts. Our room at Jeronimos 8 was on the small side, but we didn’t anticipate doing much in it besides sleeping, so it was fine. Plus, the lobby had a lounge-like space and there were some recliners outside on the patio for us to chill out on.

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Battling jet lag and a line snaking out the door, we started our morning at Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, a bakery dating to 1837. It’s best known for the pasteis de belém, crispy pastry shells filled with custard cream, baked at 400 degrees then doused in cinnamon and powdered sugar. After demolishing four of them and some bicas (espressos), we were tempted to order another round but held off.

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Just down the block was Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, which was commissioned to commemorate explorer Vasco de Gama’s discovery of a sea route to India in 1498. The first monastery of many that we’ll visit in this country, it was impressive, with intricately carved stone columns (that Charlotte loved) and a serene cloister which monks used to cross in silence.

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A short walk to the shore, we visited the Padráo dos Descobertas, a monument inaugurated in 1960 on the 500th anniversary of Henry the Navigator’s death. Standing 150 feet tall, it features all of those textbook explorers that departed not far from here, including da Gama.

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Passing fishermen, we walked further to the Torré de Belém, a World Heritage-listed fortress that epitomizes the Age of Discovery (according to Lonely Planet). It was built back in 1515 and has survived the years to offer tourists like us panoramic vistas of the sea today.

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With the lack of sleep starting to catch up on us, we blazed through the Museu Coleccao Berardo, a free contemporary art museum with some bizarre exhibits, and the Museu Nacional Dos Coches, a sweet place with a huge collection of dank old school carriages, including some seriously blinged out rides.

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Back at the hotel, we decided to take a nap. It was around 5 p.m.

Little did we know that we wouldn’t awake until the following morning.

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