Lisboa – a city to get lost in…

The train ride into Lisbon was comfortable and almost refreshing and the station was a mere 5-minute cab ride from downtown and our hotel. The check-in process took longer than expected and it was nearly lunchtime when we were done. We were soon ready to hit the town and get some chow. A quick look at Zomato was enough to figure out that we were close to some pretty good food. We ended up at the Praca do Comercio with some beautiful views, beer served in some uniquely shaped glasses and some very large portions of really good food. Praca do Comercio is the city square with large open spaces, number of open restaurants on the sides, some amazing architecture including the Arco do Rua Augusta, and views of the sea right across. It also is the starting point for a number of city tours and one of the ends of R. Augusta, the main commercial street of Lisbon. The square is also a hub of activities with children running around, some street performers and musicians.

In the evening we wanted to do sometime relaxing and decided to take a tram tour of the Alfama district, of the oldest districts of Lisbon with narrow steep lanes and several art shops and restaurants all around. Some of the streets are so narrow that pedestrians have to get into stores to let the trams go through. The trams themselves have to use a rolling connector to the overhead electric cables instead of a wideband, that would allow them to go faster because the lanes are too narrow. There are several churches to see, a few wonderful viewing points, and squares with statues. The small tram seated about 20 people, had a very friendly driver and crisscrossed so much that it never went too far from the city center but it seemed like a long ride. It was a good orientation to the city, though and I picked a few spots to walk back to. We chose to eat dinner at a tiny Italian place next to our hotel, it was delicious and as always it came with cheap good wine.

The second day in Lisbon was supposed to be bright and sunny and it started cloudy and rainy. We decided to stick to the original plans as the rain was more like a drizzle and there was the ray of hope of it stopping. An Uber to the Belem Tower took 20 minutes and while the drizzle continued the watchtower just off the coastline was an imposing sight among the clouds that hid everything else. The site itself is a collection of few oddities like the Sacadura Cabral and Gago Coutinho Monument, which looks like a glider landed in the wrong place. There was also the Padrão dos Descobrimentos which is the monument commemorating the land discoveries made by the Portuguese but looks a little bit like a communist icon, just constructed much better. The Belem tower itself is a medieval defense tower that also served as a lighthouse for some time. There usually is a long line to get in – at times could be an hour of wait or more. The rain helped and we were inside in a couple of minutes. There are some good viewing galleries and there is a very narrow spiral stair with 93 steps to the top. An electronic system guides people so only one direction movement happens at a time. The view from the top might have been nicer without the clouds, but it wasn’t too bad in with all the mist. We could see the outline of the bridge which looked suspiciously like the Golden Gate bridge. The statue of Christ the Saviour which looked equally suspiciously like the statue of Christ the Redeemer was hidden for the moment. A 2-minute walk from the tower is a small museum of World War 2 model places and other war artifacts. It also houses the War Monument for Portugal.

About a 15-minute walk from the Tower is the Jeronimos Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is a Cathedral and Gothic Monastery sitting next to each other. The inside of the Cathedral is spectacular and quite massive. It is not unique but the sheer scale, the sculpturing of the arcs, and the stained glass windows made it the most glorious cathedral we saw in Portugal. The difference in styles between the Porto and Lisbon architecture was easily noticeable. The Monastery had an entry ticket and a long line to get in, so we decided to give it and the exhibition inside a miss. Just outside the Monastery is a tram stop of the famous number 15 line that connects back to the city center. Just across from the tram station is the famous Pasties de Belem store selling the famous local specialty – custard tarts. It is easy to spot due to the large sign and the long line. It was only later in the last 2 days of the trip that I discovered how delicious they were. While this was a famous shop selling them, they were available pretty much everywhere. There was also the small matter of a beautiful large fountain and some lovely gardens just outside of the Monastery.

We went back to the Rua Augusta area to look for food. We found some awesome Portuguese fare a small place away from the tourist streets that seemed to mostly cater to locals. That was our first taste of codfish mashed with very thin fries. Over the next few days, I began to like that odd mix and it was everywhere. We spend the rest of the day getting some rest and then spending the evening out on the Rua Augusta. It’s a beautiful street with a lot of retail, many restaurants (most of them touristy), and a beautiful 120-year-old elevator to nowhere. There is a lovely viewing deck upstairs and you could walk out to another street uphill but that is pretty much it. It is now a tourist attraction and you could easily spend a couple of lovely hours in a queue and take a slow ride up this national heritage monument and then…wait for it…come down. Needless to say, I skipped.

A cab driver had spoken of the Time Out Market which was a hip upcoming food center for Lisbon. We took a cab up there and found it to be quite amazing. It was a large warehouse-like place with a very upscale food court setting and shared tables in the middle to sit in. Looked super chic but we just weren’t hungry enough for it and there was hardly any place to sit. We decided to take a stroll first and ended up at the waterfront to find a man playing some music and a lot of people just sitting and enjoying the water. After spending quite some time just enjoying the cool breeze, good music, great view, and the local vibe we walked up to a Mexican place just next to the waterfront. The food was just above average, the frozen drinks quite good and the gelato shop right next to it, quite outstanding. The walk back to our hotel, about 15 minutes along the water was amazing as we passed through the lit-up Praca do Comercio.

Thursday was a booked all day tour to Sinatra and the tour lasted a lot longer than expected and we were only back late evening just in time for dinner at Hard Rock Cafe. This trip was long enough to deserve a post of its own…

Friday was the last full day in Portugal and the plan was to just ease off and walk around, see a few cathedrals and squares and have some good food. There was some shopping to be done, a stunning ceramic plate was bought, footwear and of course some food. This was the time I truly tasted and appreciated the pasties of Lisbon. The travel event of the day was the visit to the Lisbon Cathedral which was just a 5-minute walk from our hotel but had been kept for the end. It wasn’t huge and had quite the aura but not as ornate as some of the others we had seen. But, for a small fee, we could walk up to the gallery to get a glimpse of the stunning stained glass windows and a treasure from a few hundred years ago. They included a diamond-studded gold ornament that would have weighed a few kgs and was kept in some serious security.

One of the things recommended doing in Lisbon is to just get lost in the Alfama district. While we didn’t get lost, we did come across some stunning viewpoints, photography sites, and art stores. We also came across a restaurant that was appropriately rated 1.5 on most rating sites and unfortunately we looked up the ratings after the first dish was served. A lot of other places in the area were much better, including the place we stopped to have dessert, just to make up for the disastrous first try. We also found a lovely wine place with a view, excellent cheap wine, and delicious fish cakes. In the evening we ate at another place we had considered for eating our first meal in Lisbon. It is an excellent outdoor place called Martinho da Arcada that serves food 18th-century style right next to the Arco da Rua Augusta.

Just as packing started it felt appropriate to walk up to the Port wine bar right across the road and buy a bottle of Ruby port – the best memory to carry back.

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