Days 33-35: Lisbon

Posted: August 22, 2014 in Lisbon
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What an awesome city… we’ve had a great three days in Lisbon and have enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Day 33: We started off with a visit to a giant flea market/outdoor garage sale (aptly named “The Thieves’ Market). They were selling a pretty wide variety of stuff from household bric-a-brac to touristy souvenirs and everything in between. I think one guy was even selling an outboard motor… After the Thieves’ Market we headed over to the National Pantheon – started as church back in the 16th century but never finished until the 20th century when it was completed as a sort of monument to dead leaders of Portugal’s democratic movement… It’s a really beautiful basilica style building (similar to the Aya Sofia or those types of churches) but pretty sparsely decorated inside and without all the church trappings (no chapels or crucifixes or the like). The outer terrace provides a great view of the Alfama area (where we were staying) and the river…

After the National Pantheon we made our way over to the Castle (of St. George I think but I can’t remember exactly and the Portuguese name for it escapes me at the moment)… Along the way we made a bit of a detour back to our neighbourhood to grab a quick lunch (fantastic fried beef sandwiches – basically a small dinner steak fried with a bit of tasty pan gravy on a couple of pieces of peasant bread – after 2 weeks of donors and kebabs – it tasted like manna from heaven). Then it was off to find the castle… which proved more difficult than you’d think considering it’s a huge pile of rocks at the top of one of the highest hills in Lisbon… Turns out the area we stayed in is a bit hilly (by that I mean hilly like the Himalayas… we’ve been doing our own bootcamp each day just going to and from the apartment).

Along the way to the castle we found a nice viewpoint overlooking Lisbon with a great old church… Of course we needed to poke our heads in and check it out (Marie is a fiend for old churches) – this one was pretty cool – your typical dark and atmospheric gothic style church.

We eventually found the castle (it took a while and we had a lovely tour of the neighbourhood along the way) only to discover there was a huge lineup to buy tickets to get in (and by this time it was getting close to closing time so we figured it wasn’t worth it for that day). So we headed back to the main street we’d found (the one where the iconic #28 tram runs) and decided to hop on the tram and take a bit of a tour of Lisbon… After forking over 8.55 euros for the three of us we clambered aboard with about 100 other people (in a tram built for maybe 60 people) and shook, rattled and rolled our way around the narrow streets and alleyways of old Lisbon… It was awesome… And I didn’t see a thing (after giving up my seat for an older woman I was caught in the crush of standees and gradually got pushed further and further to the back as new people climbed on) for most of it.

We hit the end of the line and piled out into a kind of empty commercial area and poked around for a bit then climbed back on the tram (for another 8.55 euros!) for the trip back to the Alfama area… This time we got seats and were able to see a lot more of the sights along the way.

After our tram ride, we headed back to Alfama and the area of our apartment to find something for dinner. We settled on a place with a fixed menu – you got a plate of fish and potatoes or grilled meat and rice… And for the first time in all our travels were told we couldn’t play cards while waiting for our dinner… We’ve heard of this happening to other people but have never had it happen to us… The woman tried to explain that it was some kind of bylaw (I looked online for it but couldn’t find anything)… They also brought out a nice block of cheese, some bread and some chorizo sausage (without us asking for us) and then charged us 11 euros for it all (this isn’t unusual and we could have said “no” but it was quite tasty)… The meals were excellent… but the no cards thing kind of took us aback a bit… Especially Marie who was winning at rummy for the first time in quite some time…

After dinner it was back to the apartment and off to bed as we’d had a bit of late start today and were planning to get up early to get in a full day in Belem tomorrow.

Day 34: We decided (after Caitlin doing a bit more research) to buy a Lisboa card that would give us 48hrs of access to all forms of public transport and free or reduced admission to most of the major attractions (it turned out to be well worth the 31 euro cost per person). We headed to the nearest metro station with a Tourist Information booth (where we could buy the cards) only to be told by the woman that she was just closing (at 9:25am when their card brochures said the shop was open until 1:30pm… grrr). So we paid our 6 euros for one ticket each and piled on the metro to the next stop (as advised by the tourist info woman) – turns out we could have walked it in about 10 minutes… Keep in mind this is the same tourist information service that wanted to charge us 24 euros for a taxi trip that ended up costing 14… Not impressed so far but will give them another chance… Turns our third time was the charm and we left with our Lisboa cards in hand to head for Belem – a small “town” a few kilometres away from Lisbon – it seems all the tourists in Lisbon had the same idea. We missed the first tram to come along by a fair margin (it was way too full) and ended up waiting about 20 minutes for the next one. I think the people of Lisbon take their sardines a bit too seriously as they were doing there best to turn us into a tram full of human sardines…

When we arrived in Belem about a half hour later (a little wrinkled and squished) we headed for the Museum of Modern Art (Caitlin’s choice) where Marie kept up a running art criticism commentary – “looks like it was done by a kindergarten kid… oh look – preschooler’s art… I could have done that – If I had no talent or interest in beauty at all…” It wasn’t the best museum of modern art I’ve ever seen (and some of it was of the “I don’t want to get it” variety) but overall it was a nice way to start the day (mainly because we had it mostly to our selves for a good portion of our visit).

Then it was over to the Discoveries Monument – a huge tower built in the mid 20th century to commemorate all the explorers and discoveries in Portuguese seafaring history. It was cool. Except for the fact that 3 of the 4 sides were completely covered in scaffolding and screening so we couldn’t see it (not the first time we’ve commented that construction people should check with us before they begin restorations). We decided not to pay the money to climb the tower (fair-sized lineup) and headed over the Jeronimos monastery – a very cool gothic church and accompanying monastic buildings and cloister… The lineup was pretty long and brutal (no shade, blazing sun) but it was worth it.

After the monastery we headed over to a Belem pastry shop that apparently invented this pastry that Lisbon is famous for… They make 15,000 a day and have been making them since 1837. They are fantastic. Unfortunately, I was sharing mine with Caitlin and she almost bit off two fingers trying to stuff as much of my pastry in her mouth as possible. I was a little frightened. Marie had tried the pastries (from a different shop and clearly inferior) and didn’t really like them so she had something else… I have no idea what it was although it tasted pretty good.

After loading up on pastries we hopped back on the tram and headed to the Belem Tower – a defensive fort built to lob cannon balls at any shops foolish enough to try to and sail up the river without paying off the King or monks or whoever happened to be controlling Lisbon at the time. When we arrived, the line up wasn’t too bad. For some reason, though, they decided that no one could go into the tower until everyone had come out (at least we think that’s what happened but no one said anything to those of us standing in line). We waited a long time… The tower was cool but maybe not worth the hour we waited.

After the tower it was back on the tram for the ride back to Lisbon proper and then a metro train to the Rossio and Baixa-Chiado districts. These are supposed to be some primo shopping areas but we’re pretty shopped out at this point in the trip (and the packs are getting pretty full) but we did same some Ginjinja (a sort of cherry brandy like liquor) at the place that supposedly invented it back in the mid 19th century and we stopped for a drink at a local watering hole (the type where you come in, order something, knock it back while standing at the bar and then leave) – I’m pretty sure Caitlin and Marie were the first women the place has seen in quite some time… We also checked out a very cool 16th century church that was badly damaged by fire in the 1950s but is still standing and still being used as a church… It was very enigmatic to see what had obviously been a very ornate and elegant church so badly damaged by fire. It was quite poignant actually…

After a bit of wandering around, it was time to head back to our neighbourhood (Alfama) for dinner. While waiting for the tram to our neck of the woods we hit a liquor store and stocked up on some unique Portugal liquors (small bottles of Ginjinha and Port and 700 ml bottle of Licor Beirao – sort of a Portuguese Jaegermeister type herbal drink that Marie has decided is the next best thing to Black Sambuca). We also hit up a little Museum of Beer celebrating Portugal’s beer industry (it was cute but there’s no way we could afford to eat or drink there). Once we got back to our neighbourhood, we settled on a little place right across the street from our apartment. Food was good. Service was interesting – the old guy (who probably owned the place) was doing well until he lost it on his 17 or 18 year old grandaughter(?) for talking or texting on her cell phone… This set off an extended squabble that lasted the whole dinner and took a toll on the poor guy’s attention span. But the food was good.

After dinner it was back to the apartment… We left just before 9am and didn’t get back to the apartment until well after 10 and most of the day was spent walking (on the cobblestone roads that Lisbon is famous for). Our feet were pretty done in… And we have a full day of stuff to do tomorrow as well…

Day 35: We got up bright and early and scarfed some yogurt and fruit for breakfast (excellent foraging again Dad!) and then headed for the castle that had been too busy earlier. We beat the lineups and headed right in to see some stunning vistas of Lisbon – definitely one of the most scenic overlooks you’ll ever find with the river in the background and the white and tile buildings with the red tile roofs… Very pretty to look at. I still think they should section off a part of the city and let you fire cannons from the castle into the area. After all they’ve got all these old cannons lined up pointing to various parts of the city and the river… I’d pay to do something like that 🙂

The castle is very interesting – it’s the real deal in terms of having been built to defend instead of as a fancy royal residence. The walls are huge. The murder holes would actually have worked and the overlapping walls, turns and curtain walls are all still intact. And it’s all situated at the top of a very scenic hill providing 360° views of the city… Well worth a visit – especially right after it opens when the hordes haven’t arrived yet.

After the castle it was off to the main cathedral – a 12th century Romanesque church with a gothic addition. Your usual dark and spooky kind of church designed to put the fear of God into the worshippers. We paid a couple extra euros to see the cloister – this was quite interesting as they’ve actually dug up the central courtyard of the cloister and exposed the Moorish and Roman structures that were covered over when the cloister was built. It was very interesting to see the layers of history. We also visited the treasury of the church and a particularly elegant library and audience room where the Bishop would meet important guests.

Before we hit the church though, the tram bypassed the stop for the church and deposited us right in front of a very good port, wine and liquor store that did tastings… We tried a few ports and green wines and other liquors and in the end I settled on a bottle of 20 year old port (that you can’t find in Canada because they aren’t allowed to export it) – I’m looking forward to tasting it again when we get home. At 45 euros for the bottle it’s one of the more expensive liquors I own… But nothing compared to the 2000 euro bottles of port we’ve seen in some places.

After the church we headed back to our apartment to drop off our purchases from the morning and to have lunch at the place we’d eaten at on our first day – 3.5 euros for a pork sandwich and a glass of sangria… Yummy! We also stopped and bought some linens from a great old guy across the street from our apartment – he spoke absolutely no English, loved Caitlin and Marie and chattered away non-stop the whole time we were in his shop…

Then we headed to the Chiado district (kind of an upscale shopping area) to check out a Museum of Design that Caitlin was interested in (actually pretty interesting) then made our way over to a ruined convent (damaged during the 1755 earthquake and then ripped by fire) then stopped for a drink and to listen to an impromptu music show, then explored the Bairro Alto area (one of the more rough and tumble neighbourhoods now converted to a whole bunch of bars and restaurants for the tourists). We eventually found ourselves back in Rossio where we’d been the day before (not exactly sure how that happened) so we headed back into Bairro Alto to find a place to eat dinner and settled on a place with outdoor seating that provided blankets (a nice touch) – It was still in the mid to high 20’s but Marie and Caitlin were freezing after the high 30s and low 40s weather we had in Turkey… I was comfortable…

After dinner we made our way back to a tram stop and headed back to the apartment to pack and get ready for our flight to Madrid and the last couple of days of our holidays…

Lisbon is a beautiful city full of interesting and friendly people. The architecture is beautiful without being pretentious. The food is simple and down to earth and very tasty. There’s lots of history and a melting pot of culture and no shortage of little alleys and interesting squares to explore.  In short, it’s a great place to visit… In fact, it’s the kind of place I’d like to live for 6 months or a year to get more of a feel for the place. We’ve walked our feet off (even after all the walking we’ve done on this trip we’re all hurting) and have had a great time… We’ve had very full days and there’s a still a bunch of things we’d like to have done if we had more time. Kudos to Caitlin for talking us into to adding it to the itinerary for this trip!

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