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crazy in chiado

No matter what time of day you pass Cafe á Brasileira, it’s packed. The infamous coffee shop in Chiado is one of Lisbon’s oldest cafes, having gained recognition as the favorite hang out of the famous – yet crazy – poet, Fernando Pessoa. A man who drank copious amounts of absinthe, Pessoa spent countless hours getting blitzed here, letting go with his creative flow, so to speak. In dedication, there is a bronze statue of him sitting outside the cafe and that’s where you want to be. Always full, it’s the perfect place to people watch. So stand at the bar, order a pingado, a pastry and check out the turn of the century interiors while waiting for a table to clear. Then plant yourself.  You won’t hear anyone spouting poetry at the top of their lungs, but the parade of people going by makes for its own fun distraction.

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piriquita, chiquitita

Among the cafes and pastelerias in Sintra, tiny Piriquita is a legend. It somehow manages to accommodate a non-stop bustling trade in the center of town while maintaining a relaxed and congenial atmosphere.  Most visitors opt to get their pastry to take away, but I sat at a table to watch the parade of people  – and a random pigeon that flew in looking for table crumbs – come and go. It’s also a bargain:  two cortado and two queijadas for a whopping 3 euro left me with enough change to try the almond pastry, travesseiros, and a walnut-topped mystery ball that tasted like farina soaked in honey. I got the feeling they would have let me nurse my espresso for hours, had I desired. But enough with the coffees and pastries – there’s still far too much to see.


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smitten with sintra

Sintra is hands down one of the most beautiful towns in Portugal.  A mix of sumptuous royal palaces and beautiful landscapes, it’s beyond picturesque; breathtaking views over the countryside stretch all the way to the coast. Primitive Iberians were so bewitched by the area’s natural wonders that it became a place of cult worship – christened Sintra, Mountain of the Moon, after the Celtic goddess. The summer escape for Portugal’s crowned heads, Lord Byron described it as “a garden of the earthly paradise.” Also known for its wine growing and marble quarrying, Sintra has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. However, the town’s real treasures are also its most unassuming: the many cafes – little oases of  daily repast – and their traditional confectionery, like queijada de Sintra, bite-sized cheesecakes made from queijo fresco, a kind of cottage cheese. Sightseeing has never been so restful – nor tasted so sweet.

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