Basílica da Estrela
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
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).
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.
Museo Nacional de Arte Contemporáneo
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.
Monastery of São Vicente de Fora
Tombs; Monastery of São Vicente de Fora
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.
Loved the all white of this temporary exhibit in the Museo Nacional de Arte Contemporáneo
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!
My favorite photo from Lisbon – taken somewhere near São Vicente de Fora