Rick Steves' Europe: Episode # 101
Leaving Lisbon for the countryside, we eat barnacles in a salty old fishing town, march with pilgrims on the anniversary of a miracle, ponder the local Romeo and Juliet, sample university life, and rummage through the riches of Portugal's Golden Age.
- Read the script from the show.
Casa Pasteis de Belém
In Belém, the Casa Pasteis de Belém café is the birthplace of the wonderful custard tart that's called pastel de nata throughout Portugal but here is dubbed pastel de Belém. Since 1837, locals have come to this café to get them warm out of the oven (daily 8:00–24:00, Rua de Belém 84-92). Sit down and enjoy one with a café com leite. Sprinkle on the cinnamon and powdered sugar. If the to-go line is too long, there's plenty of seating and perhaps faster service (if you need a WC, this is an easy choice).
Ginjinha (zheen-ZHEEN-yah) is a favorite Lisbon drink. The sweet liquor is made from the sour cherry–like ginja berry, sugar, and schnapps. It's sold for €1 a shot in funky old shops throughout town. Buy it with or without berries (com elas or sem elas — that's "with them" or "without them") and gelada (if you want it poured from a chilled bottle — very nice). The oldest ginjinha joint in town is a colorful hole-in-the-wall at Largo de São Domingos 8 (just off northeast corner of Rossio, across from entrance of "eating lane"). Another ginjinha bar is nearby on the "eating lane" itself, Rua das Portas de Santo Antão, next to #59.
On May 13, 1917, three children were tending sheep when the sky lit up and a woman — Mary, the mother of Christ, "a lady brighter than the sun" — appeared standing in an oak tree. (It's the tree to the left of the large basilica.) In the midst of bloody World War I, she brought a message that peace was coming. The war raged on, so on the 13th day of each of the next five months, Mary dropped in again to call for peace and to repeat three messages. Word spread, bringing many curious pilgrims. The three kids — Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta — were grilled mercilessly by authorities trying to debunk their preposterous visions, but the children remained convinced of what they'd seen. (In 1930, the Vatican recognized the Virgin of Fátima as legit.)
Finally, on October 13, 70,000 people assembled near the oak tree. They were drenched in a rainstorm when suddenly, the sun came out, grew blindingly bright, danced around the sky (writing "God's fiery signature"), then plunged to the earth. When the crowd came to its senses, the sun was shining and the rain had dried.
Today, tens of thousands of believers come to rejoice in this modern miracle, most of them during the months of May to October. Fátima, Lourdes (in France), and Medjugorje (in Bosnia-Herzegovina) are the three big Mary sights in Europe.
In Coimbra, this restaurant, while a bit touristy, serves good food in a classic romantic setting, with entertaining dinner fado performances nearly nightly in summer from 21:30 (Fri-Sat only off-season). It's the place for an old-town splurge (daily fixed-price meal, closed Sun, facing the old cathedral on Largo de Sé Velha 15, reservations essential to eat with the music — ask for a seat with a music view, tel. 239-825-475).