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Trip Report Loving Lisbon

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This trip was just over five weeks total, including seven nights in Lisbon. Before arriving in Lisbon I spent a couple of nights in England (recovering from jet-lag and visiting family), and after Lisbon I spent three weeks in Morocco (I’ll post that report on the Africa board) and a few nights in Paris and London (plenty of reports on them already).

Flying and sleeping

The more I fly, the less I enjoy it, and the more time seems to get eaten by early arrival and security checks. For my Easyjet fight to Lisbon I found myself relegated to boarding group B despite an early arrival at Gatwick (I couldn't check in online because I had luggage). But I got lucky - an empty middle seat separated me from the Portuguese lady by the window - a long term resident of London, she was flying back to care for her 90+ year-old mother.

An uneventful flight was followed by a surprisingly slow line at passport control, but my bag duly showed up, and I had no trouble locating the airport bus, which delivered me downtown very close to my hotel.

The Residential Florescente, cheap but central, had good reports on tripadvisor and fodors. In fact, I thought it so cheap I had reserved a double. While the room came with a beautifully renovated bathroom, not only was it completely full of bed (acceptable), the noise from a bank of AC units came clearly through the window (NOT acceptable). I complained, but the hotel claimed to have no empty rooms. I could (and did) move to a single the next day. This was also full of bed (a smaller bed), and had a less-recently renovated bathroom, but not only was it quieter, its windows did not overlook the breakfast room.

I stayed at the Florescente in reasonable comfort until Nov. 4th, U.S. election day, when I moved to a studio apartment at the VIP Eden. Unquestionably bigger. Unquestionably more expensive (although I found a good deal on the Internet). Unquestionably equipped with CNN. But - the program +/- on the remote didn't work, the TV was small, the furniture scant and the floors in need of renovation. I did get my election fix, but I wouldn’t recommend the Eden, especially if you have to pay the rack rate.

I had compiled quite a list of places to visit - in Lisbon, in the suburb of Belem, in nearby Sintra, and even in Evora, a two hour bus ride to the east. While I made it to both Belem and Sintra, I found enough to do in Lisbon that I gave up on the trip to Evora. I have so much still to see in Lisbon, and enjoyed the city so much, it's high on my must-revisit list.

Oct 31st - History yes, Halloween, no

How can you not like a city that makes you smile? And why did Lisbon make me smile, while Madrid was a place I was eager to leave? I'm not sure, but I found plenty of buildings to admire, museums to browse, and food to savor. Public transport helped - metro, bus, tram, funicular, even an elevator! I took an occasional cheap taxi when a museum seemed hard to reach - for instance, part-way to the Palácio dos Marqueses de Fronteira the first morning to make sure I got there in time for the mandatory tour.

Although the Palacio's formal gardens were partly covered by staging for an upcoming wedding (great venue!) and off limits, the lavishly tiled interiors were well worth the trip. The guide ran through her descriptions in both French and English, although I think I was the sole Anglophone - in general I found Lisbon's tourists overwhelmingly French, leavened with a few Germans.

Originally a hunting lodge, the house became the wealthy family's main home after the devastating 1775 earthquake leveled much of central Lisbon. The walls of one big room were covered with tiles depicting the battles in the war against Spanish rule in the mid 1600s. In another room I admired some beautiful Indian embroidery, and I loved the library, converted from a former balcony.

By the time I made it back to central Lisbon - by bus the whole way, as the metro from Sete Rios wasn't working - starvation was setting in. I picked the first reasonable looking place with a reasonably large crowd, and although the shrimp bisque turned out to be a non-descript brown liquid containing a few bits of shrimp, I lucked into some excellent grilled sardines. These were much, much bigger than the canned variety, with crisp skin and succulent flesh.

I devoted the afternoon to the Gulbenkian Museum (www.museu.gulbenkian.pt/museu.asp?lang=en), very quiet and very well laid out. My favorite pieces included a large relief from Assyria, and Art Nouveau jewelry by Lalique. I spent some time admiring the ceramics and carpets, but skipped the paintings. More and more, I realize that I really enjoy arts and crafts, rather than fine arts.

My first night in Lisbon I ate to-die-for chicken at the no-frills Bonjardim, just round the corner from the Florescente, but this night I rode the funicular up to the Bairro Alto in time to claim the last unreserved table at the Fidalgo (recommended by several guidebooks). Here decidedly tender wild boar cutlets went well with a half-bottle of Dinas Quintas 2006.

If I hadn’t looked at a calendar I wouldn’t have known it was Halloween. Not a trick-or-treater nor a costume in sight. In Portugal the next day, All Saints Day, is the important one - and a holiday.

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