Portugal 2006: Lisboa

Monday, 15 May 2006

We arrived in Lisboa about 9am after an uneventful direct flight on SATA. We were delighted to be able to get here without changing planes. Coupled with the fact our hotel had our room available only a few minutes after we got there (which was unexpected – we had only meant to drop our luggage and return), gave us most of the day to get oriented and do a few things. Which we took full advantage of.

The first order of business entailed getting a 5-day Carris/Metro pass, which enables us to use any bus or subway any time for our entire stay here. At 12,90€ this is a great bargain. And in hilly Lisboa, using transit is highly recommended. As you might be able to determine from our view (see photos below), we are staying very near the top of one of the seven major hills in Lisboa. Walking down is not a problem, but climbing back up can be quite strenuous, not to mention time-consuming. Electric tram #28 is already our best friend!

Lunch at O Pitéu was the prata do dia, grilled bacalhau with potatoes washed down with a very refreshing bottle of chilled vinho verde branco … yes, white wine! It is quite a light wine – only 10.5% alcohol.

We did our first major shopping at El Corte Inglés, which has been in Lisboa for five years now. We fell love with the store (which is huge in Spain) in Madrid three years ago. As expected, they had everything we wanted.

And, our first day in Portugal rated a perfect 3.0 on the Knowmark Weather Scale.

Tuesday, 16 May 2006

Our first full day in Lisboa found us quickly establishing our routine. Because breakfast is included at our hotel, we have our café e pasteis later in the morning. Today, we found a nice spot for this very addictive habit near the shopping centre in the Baixa district, which is the major shopping area in Lisboa. And, because it’s such a good idea (café e pasteis), we indulged again about 5pm in Graça, which is the area where we are staying (actually, Susan only had some water and a small bite of the mini pastel de nata that we ordered). There are pastelaria everywhere in Lisboa! It is easier to find a wonderful pastel in Lisboa than a baguette in many parts of France.

We set out later in the morning to get two things: more detailed maps for travel after we leave Lisboa; and a SIM card for our mobile phone. We took the E28 (electric tram #28) to the Chiado stop, which put us very near a large downtown [inside] shopping centre. We headed there because we knew there was a fnac there and that it would probably have what we needed. It did.

Back to Graça (partly on foot; partly on the E28) for a nice lunch at O Jaime, a small, neighbourhood restaurant serving comida regional. We had one of his prato do dia – the bifinhos e cogumelos (veal and mushrooms) – which was very good. Together with a small salad, homemade fried potatoes and some vinho da casa, it made for a wonderful repast. And, for 12€, a good bargain as well! We chatted (very badly, since our Portuguese is nearly non-existent) with Jaime about fado and futebol, because of the photographs on the wall. They have live fado (we’re not sure where they put the players, since the restaurant is very small!) on Saturday and Sunday.

Later, we explored some more via the great public transit system they have here, first walking down to the waterfront through part of the Alfama district and then returning (rather circuitously and precipitously – did we mention that it is quite hilly here?) on autobus route #12.

Dinner tonight was again chez Knowmark – this time we picked up a pre-fab mixed salad and a nice vinho Alentejo at the Pingo Doce supermarket to accompany the frango no churrasco – delicious barbecued chicken – that we bought as takeout from Churrasco da Graça. Dessert was a small glass of port and a small piece of very good chocolate.

Today only rated a 2.5 on the Knowmark Weather Scale, as it was a little too warm later in the afternoon and early evening. However, as we write this, with the balcony open to the night air, it is lovely.

Wednesday, 17 May 2006

We are experiencing some connectivity problems, so this entry is very short and sans photographs. The better part of the day was spent in Belém (which is about 45 minutes from our hotel on the transit system). What we will say is that the pastéis de nata is so good in Belém that they don´t even call it pastéis de nata – they call it pastéis de Belém! They claim to have invented it there and who’s to argue – it was incredibly good at the establishment by the same name (Pastéis de Belém) which was established in 1837.

It was fairly muggy today, so we can only give the weather a nice 2.0.

Thursday, 18 May 2006

We scouted out the location of our car rental (which is EuropCar), which we will be picking up on Saturday. This is actually a fairly long story (in time and distance, because of our failure to look to the right), which we will not detail here. After talking to one of the very nice people at EuropCar, we determined that the best course will be to take a taxi to the car from our hotel, rather than bring the car to the hotel through the very twisted streets of Graça.

And, because of our connectivity difficulties, we checked out some of the internet points that exist and found one that is not inconvenient. Shahen, on Rua Madalena, is reasonably priced and allows us to plug in our USB memory key. The USB connection makes it quite easy to upload a few photographs. Our pursuit of some improved internet connectivity also took us to the Cafe no Chiado, where we had a nice lunch – omeletas com queijo.

The highlight of the day was meeting Helena, our online friend from The Travelzine who recommended the hotel we are staying at. Helena is a lovely, gracious woman who kindly arranged to spend the evening with us. A drink in front of the opera house, Teatro Nacional São Carlos, was followed by a delicious dinner at Martinho da Arcada, which is the oldest café in Lisboa, founded in 1782. (For those of you keeping track, everyone had carne, washed down with a nice bottle of Herdade Grande 2003 from Estremoz. Helena suggested that we try a wine from the Alentejo region as it is one that we will not be visiting.)

Helena is very interested in history and knows a great deal about Portugal and Lisboa. She acted as our guide as we walked to the restaurant, telling us lots of interesting things about the area that we passed through. At dinner, she phoned her husband João (twice!) to get information for us about Porto. It was a great evening – muito obrigado, Helena!

It was a beautiful day (a perfect 3.0) in Lisboa.

Friday, 19 May 2006

Since we have the chance, we are making a small early post for today. Based on information from Helena, we went to the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, which is in the Lapa district. Last night Helena had told us that a new show – the Grandes Mestres da Pintura: de Fra Angelico a Bonnard – had just opened on Thursday morning. It is the final tour of the Colecção Rau, which is an amazing collection. We will write a little more about this later.

Then a leisurely stroll through part of the Lapa district (western Lisboa), which was an area we had not yet explored.

Since this is our last full day in Lisboa, we have to get organized for tomorrow – packing, planning an exit route, etc.

Another perfect 3.0 today on the Knowmark Weather Scale.