Our final day in Lisbon started out just as drizzly as the previous morning at Pena Palace had been. The Percussive Tours group all huddled together underneath our hotel’s awning, trying to avoid the rain while we waited for our bus to pick us up and bring us to Belém, a district situated on the Tagus River that is famed for the invention of the Pastel de Nata. Pastéis de Nata are egg custard tarts that can be found in bakeries all around Portugal, and throughout the world. While the pastéis have gone global, the original recipe can only be found in one bakery, and that was our first destination of the day.
We arrived at Pastéis de Belém just ahead of the morning rush, and Jared ordered us all coffees and pastéis to sample as he told us the story of how the pastry was invented. Monks at Jerónimos Monastery during the 18th century found themselves in need of a use for a surplus of egg yolks as they were using the egg whites to starch their collars and nuns’ habits. Thus the Pastel de Nata was invented out of economy. Eventually a monk would start to sell their pastries just next to the monastery and all these years later, the original recipe lies only with the descendants of that very monk. Today people flock to Pastéis de Belém to taste original egg tarts, and for good reason. We all agreed that the pastéis we ate there were the best ones we tried during our trip by far.
There had been no wait when we arrived at Pastéis de Belém, but on our way out, the line was already queued up out of the door. Jared led us down the street a little ways to the very place we’d just learned about, Jerónimos Monastery. We weren’t so lucky with the line this time. All long procession of people were waiting to enter the monastery, and we promptly trekked down the street to join them. Thankfully, the exterior architecture of the monastery was beautiful and intricate enough to keep us entertained in the meantime.
When we finally reached the front of the line, we realized that the attendants were only letting in a certain amount of people at a time, using a one-out-one-in system. This meant that the interior of the monastery wasn’t at all crowded and we had plenty of space to walk around and enjoy ourselves. We got lucky enough to make it inside just as the sky started to pour out rain. Gargoyles began to spew streams of water into a central courtyard, but we stayed dry as we wandered through an arched walkway with masterful stone carvings.
Our bus was waiting to take us back to Lisbon when we finally left Jerónimos Monastery. This would be our last evening in the city, and Vince, Jared, Rachel, and I had a few more places we wanted to see before our flight the next morning. We started with another Catholic site, the Carmo Convent, which was just a couple of blocks away from our hotel. We climbed up a set of steep steps, bypassing the Santa Justa lift, and easily found the entrance doors where we payed a small admission fee to enter the site. The Carmo Convent, which was founded in 1389, was later destroyed in the earthquake of 1755. Its skeletal remains now stand as an archeological museum, and there was a definite feeling of strangeness as we strode through the ruined structure, finding only brooding clouds where the ceiling should be.
We had the rest of the evening to use as we pleased, and we mostly wandered around enjoying the atmosphere of the city. After walking through Commerce Square, we got gelatos back in the Alfama District, and then headed uphill stopping in art galleries along the way. Vince and I bought some escudo coins from an antique store, and we got to watch an artist hand painting a tile in another shop. He used a long stick to steady his hand while he worked. Eventually we’d all had our fill of shopping and we met back up with some other members of the group to get dinner and drinks one last time. The next morning we would be leaving Portugal and traveling to a country that couldn’t have felt more different: Morocco!
Naturally Morocco is a company we have used. You stay in the walled city of Taroudant in a ‘normal’ house and can help with cooking etc. It is a very green company. Recommend.
I’d go back to Portugal just for the pastéis. Nice post.