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Trip Report Easter weekend and restaurants in Lisbon

When we planned this quick trip to Lisbon for Easter weekend, I had not considered the multitudes who would be doing the same! Wow, what a lot of people visiting Lisbon and the sights, many high school and college students. Public transport was extremely crowded. It took 30 minutes to get a ticket for the train to Sintra.

Our apartment was located in Bario Alto, which I would not do again. Interestingly, this apt was only several blocks from my previous apt in Chiado but there was a world of difference between the two. With regard to the location, BA is a top spot for bars and night clubs so there is a fairly constant stream of night activities and music. While Chiado has lots of clubs and restaurants, the area seems quieter. Our apt was on Rua do Rosa and you would have thought we were on a major highway. The noise from cars, motorbikes, delivery and garbage trucks was very loud. Fortunately, the apt had solid doors that closed the windows and then an interior door which closed off the area to the bedrooms.

We were on the first floor which meant one flight of stairs. I hadn't thought about this as I packed my bag and I always run right to the max with regard to weight. The bag was so heavy that we had to summon another tourist from the street who was beefy enough to carry it up. What a prince!

I'm always mentioning the advantage of renting an apartment over a hotel, so I wanted to highlight the difference between the apartment we had in Chiado and BA from a comfort/amenities perspective. Chiado: completely fitted out as though the owners were expecting friends to stay over. Fully furnished kitchen with fruit basket and wine, bottled water, coffee, spices, lovely dishes, candles, hand towels and utensils. Bathrooms complete with soap, shampoo, lots of towels, creams and flowers. Living and dining room all decorated as if someone actually lived there. Bario Alto: an obvious renovation that the owner does not live in. No provisions in the kitchen other than dishes and utensils. Bathrooms contained one towel and one hand towel per person - no face cloth, no soap, shampoo or anything else. Spartan furnishings and really no personality to the place. In addition to the traffic noise, the building was very bad for sound. We could hear conversations and music from down below, plus the kid running back and forth in the apt over ours. Fortunately everyone went to bed at a decent hour so we managed to get a good night's sleep for the duration.

On our first night out, we met our friends at the Solar so Vinho do Porto. This place is sort of a "love it or hate it" establishment. There are lots of extremely critical reports on a number of forums so I wanted to share our experience. When we went in, the place was not particularly crowded but all the settings were occupied. The comments from other visitors is correct - you may not move the chairs even though they are not being used! So if you have a setting of four chairs and only two people in that group, too bad, you may not move the chairs or sit in the empty chairs. We were told that we would have to wait for a table to empty to be seated. Fortunately our friends are Portuguese and were conversant with the managers (which may have helped us get really good service).

We waited about ten minutes, took a table and were immediately given menus. The servers returned and asked if we wanted any appetizers. We chose the Serra cheese which is a very soft fragrant cheese that has the consistency of a baked brie but is not warm, it just stays very soft. I would recommend it.

We wanted to try some of the dry selections of port but you could not buy what we call a "flight" or just tastes. You have to buy full glasses of wine. After we expressed our apprehension about liking port, the lady made a recommendation, then brought us two different types of dry port and four empty glasses for us to try each of them. We enjoyed the wine, the appetizers and overall ambiance of the Solar do Vinho do Porto. Everyone in the bar seemed to be taken care of and having a nice time. I recommend you get there early or be prepared to wait for a table but it's worth a try to taste some interesting versions of this regional specialty.

Dinner was at Cervejaria Trindade. It's set in an old building that has religious history to it and is complete with sermon lecturn in the middle of the restaurant. It was very good that we had made a reservation. We arrived around 8 and there was a line out the front door waiting for tables. This was the day before Good Friday; many people were not working the next day and it was apparent that the locals were going to one of their favorites. We had one steak, two bacalhau dinners, shrimp in garlic, beer and two bottles of wine. Total was 90 Euros for four. This place is certainly not fancy but puts out consistently good meals at a reasonable price. Even when they are busy, service is dependably attentive. The tiled walls and wood work add to the historical interest of the restaurant, but it's very loud and the lights are kept on full blast so there's little ambiance.

Dinner the next evening was at Ribadouro at Av da Liberdade 155. This is another local favorite mainly for seafood. Again, there was a line forming soon after we were lucky enough to get a table. No reservations here, first come first served. It's very busy, very loud and again lighting is on full blast so no real ambiance but terrific food. We had the large crab platter for three, one pork/potato dinner, two cocktails, two bottles of wine, two desserts and after dinner appertifs. Total was 120 Euros for four.

Next day was spent in Sintra. We arrived around lunchtime and headed for Paris Cafe. Customers were mainly locals, in fact we saw several of them later at their shops. It's an upscale Italian restaurant with an elegant decor including chandelier in the center of the room. It's not terribly large, probably 20 tables which provides a more intimate setting. We had the smoked salmon ravioli and porcini tortolini with a bottle of wine. Total was 24 euros. In Sintra town center there are lots of very poor restaurants that cater to the tourists. The food, setting and service were all very good at Paris Cafe and we would highly recommend it. Sintra. Rain. Shopping (first for another umbrella). Fast forward several hours returning to Lisbon.

Relax 30 minutes and head out to hail another taxi (that story later). We were having dinner at Faz Figura at Rua Paraiso 15 in the Alfama district and of all the restaurants, I was really looking forward to this. The food here is quite good - we actually had our Thanksgiving dinner here in 2009. The restaurant overlooks the water with good views for all tables. It's exquisitely decorated and everything about this place is really 5 star. Great service, wine selection and ambiance - yes finally soft lighting as the sun set across the water. We had the sirloin steak and the pork cataplana (cooking pot). Both dishes were fantastic. We had one bottle of wine and two desserts and our total was 60 euros. Dressy casual to dressy and generally need reservations.

Now back to the taxi story. This was the worst experience I've had with taxi service in Lisbon. We were subjected to a disgraceful 50% of our taxis trying to and/or succeeding in ripping us off. Friend got hers right from the airport - 3 euros tacked onto her ride for one piece of luggage. (Suggestion: lift your bag into the trunk yourself.) Mine tried to take me from the airport "out to see the water" on my way to the apartment and I told him we were not going that way. It amazes me sometimes how naive I still am when it comes to this stuff. Next evening we're on the way to dinner and I knew it was only a 7-10 minute ride at the most and after 20 minutes, I'm really stewing and I just knew it should have taken so long. My friend mentioned that we were going to Sintra on Sat and that we we'd be going to the Rossio train station. As we pulled up in front of the restaurant he said that it was just a 10 minute walk from our apartment and I couldn't resist saying "well if that's the case, why did it take us 20 minutes to get here when Rossio is right across the street?" He just stared at me. I wanted to really blast him but our friends were waiting in front of the restaurant and I opted not to make a scene. When I checked the map, it was clear that he had really taken us miles out of the way to get the fare increased. He must have felt pretty smug for pulling that off!

But I figured out a way to keep it from happening again. On the next cab rides, I made sure to check out the map in advance and I knew where we were going. I would lean into the cab and say "we need to get to ABC, can you get us there in 5 minutes?" Invariably they would take it as a challenge and say yes. And then they would get us there in the appropriate time. If you can, you'd be really wise to check out a map and get your bearings before you hail that taxi.

Even with the rain, crowds and cheating taxi drivers, we had a great time over Easter weekend in Lisbon. Best wishes to you all who enjoy that city as much as I do.

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