Aaaah Europe! Another year, another adventure, another gluten-free holiday before I buckle down and begin my job search in Barcelona. This short 3-day tour of Lisbon was different for me than all my other trips however for one notable reason: I was traveling alone… In a foreign country… For the first time ever. I mean, yes, I did master the Barcelona metro alone and go into the catacombs in Paris alone, but I always went confidently knowing that my friends, my study abroad program coordinators, and my wifi connection were all there to help if things got really desperate. This time it was just me, two incredibly heavy suitcases, two boxes of gluten-free Luna bars, and one sweet little Airbnb apartment located at the top of one very steep hill.
To say my solo vacation got off to a rough start would be an understatement. After sleeping just 1 hour on my overnight flight from Boston to Lisbon, I found myself sitting in a Portuguese Starbucks with all my worldly belongings (or so it seemed) ready for the world’s longest siesta. I should mention at this point that although I love a good Pumpkin Spice Latte as much as the next American female, I was only at this Starbucks (instead of say, a historic café) for three very important reasons: I needed to use their wifi to contact my Airbnb host, it was located just inside the train station right near where I was staying, and I knew they had a bathroom. Just in case.
While I was waiting I contemplated my decision to move – jobless – to Spain and wondered vaguely why my stomach was hurting so much, assuming it was from the flight, jetlag, emotional turmoil, etc. But then I realized it was probably because I had forgotten to take my much needed acid reflux medicine, and in almost that same instant I ran to the “just-in-case-I-need-it-Starbucks-bathroom” bathroom, and threw up. Anyone who thinks being a celiac and living a gluten-free is boring has clearly never tried traveling with me.
After receiving a message from my Airbnb host shortly after this incident, I took the most rejuvenating 3-hour nap of my life, ate some (gluten-free) quinoa salad I had bought at Starbucks, and finally, finally joined the wonderful world that is Portugal.
And it was AMAZING.
I went to Portugal for the first time last year on a short weekend trip to Porto and loved it almost as much as I love Spain. And sure enough, when I started walking around Lisbon for that first time that gorgeous day, I caught myself thinking that maybe I should’ve chosen this as the city to run away to. Then I overheard a couple speaking in Portuguese and the daydream ended. As beautiful as the language is (it sounds like Elvish to me), I had enough trouble learning Spanish and remembering which Catalan word meant “pull” and which meant “push”.
So I decided to enjoy Lisbon for the next three days and see as much as possible, starting with Carmo Convent right outside my front door. Ruined by an earthquake in 1755, this medieval, roofless convent is Portugal’s answer to Tintern Abbey and a must-see for some unexpected beauty. My plan was to then wander through the streets of Lisbon but just one block over I got distracted by a bio grocer full of fresh produce, a café, and gluten-free goodies to stock up on for the weekend! With my assortment of breads tucked safely into my purse, I made my way down one of Lisbon’s 101284799 hills and found one of the city’s oldest and best gelaterias – Gelados Santini. With sour cream and pistachio scoops in hand (cup, no wafer cookies on top) I made my way back to my little bed to sleep before the long day I had planned.
The next morning began with yogurt from the bio grocery and a seeded gf roll with fresh cheese my Airbnb roommate so graciously offered me. First stop – Praça de Comércio, formerly known to me as “that pretty yellow building square in Lisbon”. From there I went to a nearby metro station to buy a transportation pass good for the trams, buses, and metros all day long for only €6,00. The plan for the day was to get lost in Belém and see some of Lisbon’s most well-known attractions while I was in the neighborhood.
I skipped the line first thing at the Jerónimos Monastery and headed instead to the Centro Cultural de Belém, home to the Museu Coleção Berardo. The museum itself is a very cool modern and contemporary art museum with free admission and the cultural center also has a modern rooftop garden and restaurant that overlook the Padrão dos Descobrimentos.
After my artsy morning I hiked uphill to the Palácio Nacional da Ajuda because it was highlighted in so many guidebooks and maps. Many of these helpful tourist guides forget to point out however that this palace was never finished, abandoned, and now houses… nothing other than a tiny “museum” of the incomplete building. And also a café that serves a very interesting Portuguese dish that was (hurray!) gluten free. I don’t know if it is always prepared gluten-free, but at the Palácio’s cafeteria I enjoyed a very cheap lunch of vegetables, fresh salad, and what appeared to be a kind of Shepard’s Pie prepared with salted cod in lieu of meat and potatoes and cheese in lieu of… well, everything else. All in all, my trip was going very well and my gluten-free discoveries just beginning!