How I Found The Best Tuna Tartare and Other Portuguese Tales [Vol. 3: Lisboa]

Sintra Portugal Cristina Nogueras

It may have taken me over a year to do it, but I am finally completing my Portugal series!

If you missed my earlier posts, here’s my post about the beautiful Porto and the great region of Douro. Ok, let’s do this!

Lisbon Lisboa Portugal Cristina Nogueras

What better way to learn the history from a city than with a light show projected on the ruins of a monastery? The Lisbon Under The Stars show was only in town for a limited amount of time, but I really hope other places around the world are following suit and doing similar presentations as they are such a rich experience. We sat in the middle of these ruins, under the stars… it was magical.

Lisbon Lisboa Portugal Cristina Nogueras Time Out Market Lisbon Tuna Tartare

Time Out Market Lisbon

During this trip I had, what I still consider the best tuna tartare I’ve ever tasted, and still have dreams about it. It was from the Tartar-ia booth if you want to go taste it and tell me all about your experience!

It was a busy hall, tourists everywhere but in spite of my hate for crowds and overly touristy spots, I really enjoyed it. There is one now in New York City too, if you want to explore it (overpriced, in my opinion, but great views). For the one in Lisbon, you had to camp out a little bit in order to get a table but once you did, you were set. There are SO many good things to try that you can spend hours eating and drinking from different renowned places without having to leave the hall. Definitely, recommend stopping here if you don’t have a lot of time to explore Lisbon, but want to have a good food variety. 

I also took the opportunity in Time Out Market to purchase even more canned fish selections from a local shop. No regrets. Seriously, canned fish from Portugal > any other canned fish. 

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More food

Unlike other places in Portugal where we were able to make reservations the day of or just walk into excellent restaurants, I recommend you plan some special dinners ahead of time and make reservations. We, unfortunately, were not able to try some places on my list because of that same reason. Thankfully, Lisboa is full of culinary wonders and I still had an incredible experience. I did not write down every place we visited (sorry!) but I recommend you ask locals about their favorite places (your hotel receptionist, Airbnb host or random person at a bar!). 

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Our first night, we had a delicious dinner at Taberna da Rua das Flores, a small but cozy restaurant. They had a curated selection of small plates and I let the waitress recommend the best options for us. These crabs in steamed buns were absolutely amazing. We also had a goat cheese dessert that sounded kind of weird (not that common to have goat cheese in a dessert for me) but was actually really good! We did not have reservations and were able to just walk right in for an early dinner. 

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Of course, we had to try the famous pastéis de nata. We may or may not have had these for breakfast every single day in Lisboa. 🙂 We did not make it to Pastéis de Belem for the “authentic” ones but these ones from Fábrica da Nata were honestly really good (and right next to our hotel). It’s great to go to the “original” or “popular” spots but a lot of times when traveling, it’s about striking a balance between what you are told and what you want to discover on your own.

Sintra Portugal Cristina Nogueras

Sintra

If you go to Lisboa, Sintra is a must. I know of people going only for the morning, the whole day or even stay overnight. We ended up spending the day there and it was lovely. There are several transportation options but since there were 3 of us (hey, Lala!) and we were being lazy, we decided to Uber to and from Sintra. Not bad at all when you are splitting it.

Sintra Portugal Cristina NoguerasSintra Portugal Cristina Nogueras

Once in Sintra, we had the option to walk up all the way to the Palacio Nacional da Pena or choose from other methods of transportations. We were kind of winging it at this point and up for exploring, so we decided to walk all the way up… nobody really told us what this entailed. Let’s start by saying I was not quite wearing the best “hiking” gear. There were people rock climbing up this trail and I was wearing my white converse, jeans, and a cute top. It probably took us about 2 hours, but we made it. Barely. I would encourage you to explore your transportation options. 🙂 If you are not a big fan of crowds I would also encourage you to wake up super early and get there when it opens. 

Sintra Portugal Cristina Nogueras FoodSintra Portugal Cristina Nogueras Food

After exploring the palace and the Castelo dos Mouros, (crowds, crowds!) we were FAMISHED. We hopped on one of the little tuk-tuks and made our way down. Once back in town, we stumbled upon Tascantiga Sintra and had a feast for basically zero dollars. We ordered way more food than we could handle, but wow, it was the best reward after an unexpected hiking day. We basically lived on ham, cheese, olives, cod, and wine for our entire week in Portugal. My kind of diet, if you ask me.  

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There is a LOT to explore in Lisboa, so much that in fact, we barely made a dent on the list we had compiled prior to arriving. We were in a chill, exploratory mood and did not want to rush any of the wonderful experiences we were having. Sure, sometimes it’s fun to rush through places and activities in order to cover more things on your list, but most times I believe that doing less with more focus and intention is more valuable and enjoyable that skimming your way through a wonderful city such as Lisboa.  

For next time though, and for your own considerations, here are some places we did not make it to. Have you been to any? What was your experience like?

Food & drinks

To do & explore

  • Belem Tower
  • Praca do Comercio
  • Sao Jorge Castle
  • Tram 28 to Alfama
  • Monastery of St. Jerome

* BONUS! *

We did go to some other places in Portugal besides Porto, Douro and Lisboa. I don’t think we spent enough time exploring for me to share full-on recommendations but still wanted to share my experience briefly, just for reference. 

Fátima – I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school, so getting to see Fátima was truly special. We stopped there on our way from Douro to Albufeira. The day was gloomy so I don’t have great pictures, but it had a very solemn vibe. I had never seen people complete a pilgrimage so that was really impactful, especially the older folks that do so on their knees! Seeing such devotion and commitment in person is something truly special.

Albufeira Portugal Cristina NoguerasIMG_9844Albufeira Portugal Cristina Nogueras

Albufeira – If the Jersey Shore and Bourbon St. had a baby, it would likely be called Albufeira. It seems to be the place where all the Brits go for bachelor parties. Lots of fun, but not at all the “authentic, chill beach vibe” we were looking for. Still, we had a fun time, I mean, you are in a beach town in Portugal! I can’t wait to have the opportunity to return to the southern coast of Portugal for a proper vacation in such a beautiful area though!

I think that’s it! 🙂

Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions about my experience. You can follow me on Instagram @cristina.nogueras to check out my latest photos and more.

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New York, I love you.

Sunset on Manhattan

Today marks what would have been my 7th New York Anniversary. 7 years ago, on a day like today, I landed with my one-way ticket to JFK hoping for the best. I had no clue what was in store for me.

I left New York this past January and have not been able to gather my thoughts of what this has meant to me. To those close to me, you know that New York was sucking the life out of me, slowly but surely. No need to get into details here, we all know New York is expensive and demanding. As it was getting close to my last day in the city, I started seeing things differently, you may call it “graduation goggles”. The crowded trains suddenly felt poetic, the hustle and bustle felt energizing and little by little I started to notice the things I was going to miss. 

I used to compare New York City with a drug, you know it’s bad for you but you keep coming back for more. I expressed some of these thoughts during my 5th New York Anniversary post and I think you can sense in my words that I was about ready to go. New York City lifts you up so high, you are soaring, but then it can drop you so hard, the impact is undeniably sobering. I used to think that it drained you but it still felt so good but now I think you feel that way because you’ve forgotten what normal feels like. I danced with so many of these emotions for years. 

Now, New York City feels like an old lover. I know it was not perfect, there were certainly hardships along the way, but I choose to remember the good times and respect the bad times as they have made me who I am today. I go back and rejoice, feeling lucky to have called it mine for however long it lasted. Sure, there are many things I miss and maybe will always miss, but that’s ok. 

Thank you, New York. I believe there is strength in being able to thank someone, something, anything for the good it did, in spite of all the bad. A kind of broken beauty that requires patience and wisdom to be appreciated.

New York, I will always love you. 

How I fell in love with Portugal’s wine country and other Portuguese tales [Vol 2. Douro]

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro

I had already shared how I was not expecting much on the wine front from Portugal before our visit. Shameful, I know. You may associate port wine with Porto but did you know that the grapes are actually harvested in the Douro region? In fact, if they are not from there, it’s not technically port wine. The process may slightly vary by the producer but in general, grapes are harvested and transported to Porto where they are stored for aging and eventually consumption. Also, there is a LOT more to this beautiful wine region than port wine, we tasted plenty of other varieties that were just absolutely wonderful.

For our trip, we decided to rent a car in order to travel through all of our stops:

Porto -> Douro -> Fatima -> Albufeira -> Lisboa

I 100% recommend renting a car if you can, as it not only gives you freedom from schedules but you can also explore at your own pace and change things up as you go if you so desire.

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro quinta nova

For our stay in Douro we stayed at Quinta Nova Nossa Senhora do Carmo, which you can see in this photo. When looking at where to stay in Douro, I saw plenty of gorgeous quintas in the region but I wanted to make sure we could stay in a quinta that offered wine tastings and actually had a vineyard. Our stay was short but wonderful. Due to time constraints, we actually did not leave the quinta once we got there and honestly have no regrets.

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro quinta nova wine and cheese vacation

We began our stay with a wonderful spread of ham and cheese and started tasting some of the wonderful selections from Quinta Nova right away. Their reserva was one of our favorites and definitely affordable considering the quality and taste, says the girl that is happy with a $10 bottle of wine at the liquor store, but you get it. 🙂

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My favorite part was walking through the vineyards, just me and Brian. There was not another soul in sight and the weather was absolutely perfect, not too hot or too cold. This region is truly a beauty and the landscape is breathtaking, unlike anything I had seen before. It’s also very calm, the kind of vibes you have to stop for and take a moment to really take it in because it’s a magical experience.

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro quinta nova

Quinta Nova offers a delicious dinner with a chef’s menu and of course, dedicated wine pairings. Each course was a unique experience and everything was purely exquisite. Dinner wouldn’t have been completed without an excellent dessert and of course, port wine.

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The breakfast selection the next day was also delicious but the best part was enjoying it all with a morning view. I mean, how often do we allow ourselves to not only enjoy breakfast time but enjoy it with this kind of view. Good coffee, good food and knowing that the day can only get better. That’s what vacation should feel like.

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You can never have enough of something wonderful, right? I would have loved to stay longer in this region and explore further. If you have the time, definitely recommend you explore other quintas and even take a boat through the river. Even if you are tight for time and can’t stay for the night, Douro is not far from Porto and you can do a day trip to get a taste of the magic (it’s only a little over an hour drive).

Stay tuned for more of my Portugal series and feel free to message me if you are planning to visit and have any questions about my experiences. 🙂

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro quinta nova

How I fell in love with canned fish and other Portuguese tales [Vol. I: Porto]

I want to start this post by apologizing to Portugal.

I must admit, Portugal was our second choice for a trip that for months we had been envisioning as a Greek adventure. I’m pretty sure Brian and I were talking about doing our one year anniversary in Greece when we were still in Thailand for our honeymoon. Disgusting, I know. Timing, flights and curiosity slowly led us to consider Portugal more and more. First it was going to be a second stop in our trip but as we uncovered all the potential we decided we were going to dive in completely and we are so glad we did. (Don’t worry Greece, I’m still coming for you!)

I will be doing a series for every stop we made in Portugal in order to truly make it justice. I will be sharing what we did but also, a lot of recommendations I collected before the trip (and during it) that we were not able to discover.

Let’s start with the wonder that is Porto. Jetlagged as we were and with some time before we could check into our Airbnb, we did not miss a beat and found ourselves having breakfast by theriver. We had no set plans, just a list of choices. What did we do? We propped ourselves outside a local restaurant, drank wine and watched the people walk by. To be fair, we did walk in the church of Saõ Francisco on the way and explored some of its barroque beauty.

Let me tell you, Portuguse wines are so underrated. Maybe it’s because I am not a sommelier but when I hear people rave about European wines, it’s always French, Italian and Spanish wines… but Portugal? Not so much or at all. Sure, we hear all about the wonder that is Porto (the wine) but I was pleasantly surprised to see (and taste) all the different varieties they have to offer.

For our first dinner in Portugal, we went to Wine Quay Bar. This was a place we had seen mentioned in various lists and I really liked that it brought together a lot of Portugal delicacies in a “tapas” style menu. The cheese, meats and olives were superb but oh my goodness… the bacalhau. Not sure how you feel about cod (bacalhau) but I grew up with my grandma’s Puerto Rican “bacalaitos” (cod fritters) and to me cod has always been associated with fried greatness that you should not have too often. Well, Portuguese have been doing it right all these years (sorry, grandma!). The cod we had here was soft and full of so much rich, yet delicate flavor. I don’t think my description can do it justice. 

I knew canned fish was a delicacy in Portugal and I was excited to try it but to be honest, I never expected to fall in love with it like I did. There are currently about 12 cans of different fish varieties in my kitchen. No day feels special enough for us to dig in just yet. Brian wants me to add that he was not a huge fan of the cod but was obsessed with the spicy tuna that they serve (also in a can). The saddest part is that I could not buy the exact cod they had at the restaurant because they ran out. The waitress was telling us about how cod is not as abundant as it used to be. There are issues with over fishing and people respecting sea borders. Really a shame since a lot of people, like them, have grounded their business around cod.

You really can’t go to Porto and not experience a Porto wine tasting. Like I said, we did not have set plans but for this, I recommend you do a little research and look to reserve beforehand. We were lucky to be able to walk in and just get a spot in Cockburn’s Port and had a great experience. First of all, I didn’t know port came in whites! Refreshing to start the tour with a port and tonic, even though I realized once more that I just don’t like tonic.

Did you know that port wine has about 20 % alcohol volume? You feel it. It’s good.

Porto (technically Gaia) houses all the port wines for aging but the grapes are actually harvested in the Douro Valley region. Just like champagne is not champagne if it’s not from Champagne, France – port wine is also only port wine if it comes from this region. Lucky us, Douro Valley was our next stop! More to come on that in an upcoming post.

So yes, this is a Francesinha (missing the fried egg on top). It’s a signature plate in Porto that I feel I have no authority to criticize. Essentially, this plate is available in almost every restaurant that serves Portuguese food but I was being such a brat that I didn’t want to order it if it wasn’t from the places “the internet” said are the best. The way our day ended up flowing, we were not near the famous Cafe Santiago when it was time to eat so Brian convinced me to let it go and just order it where we were. It was alright. Plot twist, we ended up having the best Francesinha in Lisbon from a restaurant with a chef from Porto. I will share more on that when I write about Lisbon!

The whole thing was so silly and has really got me thinking about the way I want to travel. I don’t want to miss out on the good stuff that other people have discovered but I also want to take my own chances and discover for myself  the wonders that are out there. We worry too much about what other’s have lived that sometimes we forget to make adventures of our own.

This was the case for our anniversary dinner. We tried to get reservations in some of the popular places but they were all full. We ended up walking by this small and cozy restaurant that was playing live Fado – exactly what I wanted for such a special evening. I was hesitant to trust our anniversary dinner in a restaurant that was unknown to us but Brian ignited the explorer in me and we went for it. I am so glad he did, as our dinner at Terreirinho Restaurant was the most special dinner of our entire trip. Who would have thought?

And that, my friends, was the view from our AirBnb. It was affordable and with a great location, here’s the link if you are interested!

Here are some other food spots we did not get to try but totally encourage you to consider. If you do end up going to Porto and trying some, let me know what you think!

Any Porto food recommendations you think I should add? Let me know!

You can see more from my Portugal travels on my Instagram. 🙂

[Dinner] Sorellina’s Twist On Some Classics

Finally made it to Sorellina, a nice recently opened spot in Hoboken. Happy to report back that I was not disappointed! It was not too crowded, but then again, temperatures were below freezing so I would still recommend you check out Resy for a reservation, we had no issues.

We started off with some appetizers and if you know me, you know I can’t say “no” to burrata. In addition, we went for the roasted cauliflower and it was absolutely amazing. The charred onions and the breadcrumbs gave it the perfect crunch.

As for the main course, I went for the Cacio e Pepe Conchiglie. It’s not your average Cacio e Pepe as it has milk-braised pork and it features a different type of pasta. Still, I took a chance and it was very good. If you are craving Cacio e Pepe and are 100% set on it, order something else but if you appreciate what makes Cacio e Pepe amazing at the base and are open to exploring something different, go for it!

Brian went with the Bucatini Genovese and he was also very pleased although I must be honest and say he kept trying to eat off my plate. 🙂

Overall, I definitely want to go back and try different plates to keep tasting their unique flavors and fusions.

Have you been yet? Any recommendations?

[Lunch & Dinner] Charlie Bird

If you know me, you know I have a slight obsession with Charlie Bird‘s farro salad. Why obsess over a salad, you ask? Because it’s delicious, fresh, intriguing and somewhat guilt-free.

Charlie Bird NYC Farro Salad Beaches & Brie

This salad helped me appreciate pistachios in a brand new way because YES, it has pistachios! The parmesan shavings on top just add another level of saltiness greatness, making each bite come to life a bit more.

I have yet to recreate this salad at home but NYT Cooking and All Day I Eat have some great ideas on how to start!

Charlie Bird Cacio e Pepe NYC restaurant Beaches & Brie

Another Charlie Bird favorite? Their Cacio e Pepe. Creamy but so good, I mean, just look at it! They also have a prix fix lunch menu during the week where you can get a small plate (think: farro salad)  AND a pasta for $32. Not super cheap, I know, but it’s worth treating yourself to a nice lunch if you are in the area, especially if it’s a nice day out and you can take advantage of their outdoor seating.

gnocchi Charlie Bird Beaches & Brie

The gnocchi is also another solid option. Try starting with the burrata option, another great pick, but NEVER as a substitution to the farro salad. Promise?

charlie bird burrata nyc beaches & brie

[Thailand] My Friends, The Elephants

elephant jungle sanctuary cristina nogueras beaches & brie thailand

I can’t remember who was the first person to tell me to watch where I was going to see elephants in Thailand, I just remember knowing that I needed to educate myself instead of just showing up somewhere random. I knew I wanted to see these beautiful animals, I just wanted to do it responsibly so that I wasn’t contributing to their pain.

Through research and personal accounts of people living in Thailand, I found The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. The elephants in the sanctuary have been rescued from riding camps or other places where they were treated unfairly and abused. There, they are provided with everything they need within a safe space. Some may argue that they are still not in ideal conditions, but it’s better than what they had before. Also, as one of the volunteers argued, they have been captive for so long, they are not fit to survive in the wild on their own. Elephants are not meant to be ridden, it’s not natural for them.

We arrived to the sanctuary on the back of a mini truck, well aware that we were in for adventure and that we were going to be in the throws with the elephants.

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We started by changing our shirts and wearing the traditional karen clothing so that the elephants would feel more familiar with us. In order to really win their friendship from the start, we fed them lots of bananas. Literally banana after banana, after banana… they can really eat!

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We walked around and brought them sugar canes for them to eat. Again, impressive to watch these beautiful beasts eat. This one even tried to eat my GoPro.

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I must admit I was a bit scared. They are beautiful, yet intimidating beasts. They were gentle and friendly and to me, it was scary to think they could be so friendly that they could hurt me without realizing so. For example, being together on the river, a quick playful roll could have basically killed me. Maybe it was just me being cautious, but those thoughts were always in the back of my mind.

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Still, I was able to enjoy and admire them up close and in their natural habitat. We literally got into the mud with them, I went in barefoot to a pile of God knows what. I legit probably stepped on their poop more than once but hey, I did not come all the way to Thailand to stay clean and watch from afar, right?

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The mud made jumping in to the river 10 times more amazing. Sure, the elephants still pooped on the water there, but hey, at least I could clean myself! It was really an experience like no other. The closeness with nature (think walking barefoot through the jungle) and the majesty of these animals (think huge elephant running around like a puppy) was just absolutely incredible.

elephant jungle sanctuary cristina nogueras beaches & brie thailand

elephant jungle sanctuary cristina nogueras beaches & brie thailand

This day really made me want to continue exploring ecotourism. It was interesting, yet not surprising, that the group was composed of people like me from around the world (mid/late twenties all the way to mid/late thirties) hungry for meaningful experiences that do not cause harm and help you learn about the awesome world we live in.

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