Lisbon, Portugal – Part 2

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Basílica da Estrela

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Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

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My best friend just sent me a message reminding me of something Ernest Hemingway used to say, “Write drunk, edit sober” and since I am home alone in a pueblo outside of Barcelona, I decided this was more of a command than a simple sharing of literary quotes. So here I am on my little Spanish foam rectangle (I’m really not sure what else to call it – “mattress” is too generous a word) with a small bottle of Jack Daniels and a carton of orange juice. I know it’s no glass of wine (which is how I imagine other people drinking alone) and you may raise your eyebrows in disgust or at least skepticism, but in a weird way it’s a reminder of home. Here in the land of wine, sangria, and gluten-free Estrella Damm Daura, drinking whiskey is almost like a trip to Starbucks, KFC, or the American Embassy (where I’ve also been, but more on that later).

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Basílica da Estrela and a view of the Portuguese flag at Castelo de São Jorge

Needless to say, I don’t drink alone how I think you’re supposed to and I realized on my recent solo trip to Lisbon that I don’t travel alone the way you’re supposed to either. Once I start walking the morning I don’t really stop until I’m ready to pass out at 8pm. Aside from my detailed google docs about local museums, hotspots, historical sites, and restaurants, I also write down street names, directions, opening hours and admission costs of everywhere I want to go in a little notebook that I keep with me at all times. This obsessive planning could be a side-effect of celiac disease though; I always do research on how food is prepared in the country I am visiting, what’s my best bet for gluten-free food, how to pronouce various words related to my dietary needs, and where to find organic groceries (because organic stores usually also mean gluten-free jackpot). Whatever the root of this need to plan my every move in new cities, I always walk fast, with determination, and always, always in the wrong direction.

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Museo Nacional de Arte Contemporáneo

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View of Lisbon from Castelo de São Jorge

So despite my copious amount of note-taking and preparing I always seem to spend half my time lost on public transportation or down side streets that I can’t locate anywhere on my map. Lisbon was no exception to this rule but I still managed to cover a lot of ground and even made it to a few free concerts and fell in love with Portuguese Fado music. Other than finding a concert during your travels in Lisbon, I would recommend the modern art museums in Lisbon, which were especially good, and the (free!) design museum located in the heart of the city. The tile museum was both a long trek and kind of a let down, while the castle was an uphill battle (literally) but absolutely worth it – even first thing in the morning. The cathedral is worth a quick look but in my opinion (and my Turkish roommate’s opinion as well) not nearly as impressive or awe-inspiring as Lisbon’s many monasteries, churches, and basilicas. As for eating gluten-free in Lisbon, I stuffed my favorite day bag full of Luna bars and prayed for the best but, just as in Spain, it turns out I didn’t have to worry.

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Monastery of São Vicente de Fora

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Tombs; Monastery of São Vicente de Fora

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Guess what’s for dinner? Silver display at the Museu Gulbenkian

Aside from copious amounts of cheese, cured meat, and olives available in the Iberian Peninsula, I’ve found that these countries (and much of Europe, really) take cooking and eating very, very seriously – which is both good and bad news for celiacs. It’s bad because they (be “they” French, Italian, Czech, Spanish, Irish, or German) enjoy nothing more than a warm croissant or a crusty, fresh-baked baguette and let me tell you, the smell alone is enough to make even the strongest-willed celiac crack (not that we do… because, you know, the next day would be awful).

The good news however, is that due to this passion for food, every chef, waiter, and barrista I’ve ever encountered has been able to tell me whether or not something I want to order either contains gluten or is prepared in a contaminated area. The “gluten-free diet” may be a foreign concept, but digestive and autoimmune diseases seem, to me at least, to be much more commonly understood than they are in the US. In America, if I say I have celiac disease, I get a blank stare from waiters until I explain I can only eat gluten-free foods. Here, it works the other way around. I spent my first month in Spain last year trying to explain I couldn’t eat gluten to very confused waiters until one of them finally said, “Oh! You mean your celiac?” In that moment I couldn’t help but thinking, man, these are my kind of people.

Between this collective knowledge of celiac disease, my knowledge of Portuguese that consists solely of “sem gluten” (gluten free) and “obrigado” (thank you), and these very helpful celiac dining cards, I never had any problems eating in Portugal. Breakfast can be the trickiest meal to sort out due to aforementioned love of fresh-baked gluten, but yogurt and eggs are always pretty easy to find. At lunch, I usually look for a hearty salad, and for dinner I’ve found that traditional dishes of meat, seafood, potatoes, etc. tend to be safe bets; they can easily be prepared without a gluten-containing sauce, as I’ve experienced many times.

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Loved the all white of this temporary exhibit in the Museo Nacional de Arte Contemporáneo

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Torre de Belém

If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s to never be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. I’ve only ever been met with politeness, great service, and good food in my travels and by double checking with waiters and even chefs about your food, you can avoid being ill for the rest of your trip. So go boldly my celiac friends, and travel your little hearts out!

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My favorite photo from Lisbon – taken somewhere near São Vicente de Fora

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Lisbon, Portugal – Part 1

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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.IMG_1329 (2)IMG_1111 (2)

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.

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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!

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