In October I took my first ever trip to Portugal, to do a cycling trip with Blue Marble Travel (www.bluemarble.org). In the interest of full disclosure, I worked for BMT many years ago, although they did not ask me to write this trip report.
Lisbon’s Oriente train station was my first destination after flying in on Air Transat. A cab from the airport cost only 10 euros, including tip. Since I had gotten to the station much earlier than I had anticipated, I asked to change my train reservation, and that was done with no fuss at all. Two and half hours later, I was in Porto.
My accommodation there, Hotel Peninsular, had two main things going for it: proximity to the São Bento train station, and a decent breakfast buffet. It was not luxury accommodation.
A great discovery in the Ribeira district next to the river was Vinhos de Quinta (rua Fonte Taurina, 89). The proprietor, José Roseira, told me that he is part of AVEPOD, a 40-member association, dedicated to making Ports and/or DOC Douro table wines from estate-owned, estate-controlled fruit. I tried two different Ports, and they were both terrific.
The next day, thinking that we’d be using transit all day, and going into countless museums and attractions, my friends and I bought Porto Cards (www.visitporto.travel). For 13,50€ we got unlimited use of transportation services, discounted or free admission to a bunch of sites, and a phone card worth 1,50€. The card was useful, in that we never worried about having small change for the tram, but in the end, I’m not sure we used it as much as we thought we would. There were a few reasons for this.
On the day we got the cards, we started with a visit to Porto Cathedral, which was right near our hotel, and has no admission fee. After shopping at a stand outside selling all kinds of stuff (shoes, wallets, handbags) made out of cork, we decided to walk over the bridge from Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia, when we could have taken a tram. Our plan was to see a few Port houses, take transit back across the river, see some other places, and then go to the Casa da Música (www.casadamusica.com) for a concert. This last thing had to happen, because we had already bought the tickets online.
Our first target for Port tasting was Taylor Fladgate. It took longer to get there than we bargained for, it was a hot day, and by the time we found the place, it was lunch time. It so happens that a posh hotel, called The Yeatman (www.the-yeatman-hotel.com), and owned by Taylor Fladgate, opened a year ago. It also happens that they have a beautiful restaurant. We were not really dressed for such a gorgeous place, but we were given a gracious welcome, and seated right away at a table on the terrace.
Nearly four hours and eight courses of amazing food later, we finished lunch. We still made time for a quick tasting at Taylor Fladgate, and then had to make tracks for our concert. The concert hall is an interesting building, designed by Rem Koolhaas. After the concert we headed up to the bar, which is a fun space, and enjoyed some Portuguese sparkling wine that was very good, and only 12€ per bottle.
On my third day in Porto I headed out to the Fundaçao de Serralves, also known as the National Museum of Modern Art. Everyone in Porto just calls it Serralves. It was a Sunday, so admission was free until 13:00, which meant I didn’t need my Porto Card, although I did use it for the metro and the bus I took to get there. While the main building is interesting, the extensive grounds make this a must-see, especially on a nice day. The grounds are dotted with sculptures, and there are tons of beautiful spots to sit and relax. There is even a working farm. Half a day here would not be out of line.
That night’s dinner was at Vinhas d’Alho (www.vinhas-dalho.com), near the river. Good-looking space, and tasty food.
The first day of cycling on the Blue Marble Portuguese Explorer trip actually started with a train ride from Porto to Aveiro, where we met up with our bikes, and handed off our baggage. This being a food and wine-loving gang, our first stop of the day was for lunch in Águeda. Some of us ended up at Ribeirinho Restaurante, which was full of business people having lunch next to construction workers. We got cheerful service, and a very good lunch.
One of the curious/interesting things about eating in Portuguese restaurants is that there is a couvert, or cover. Bread is brought to the table right away, usually with butter, sardine spread, cheese spread, and sometimes olives. You will pay separately for everything you consume. For example, one roll might be 0,50€, a pat of butter could be 0,70€, then the plate of olives might cost 1,00€. At more upscale establishments (or ones with pretensions thereto), cured ham and some sliced cheese could show up. You are expected to keep track of everything you eat. If you don’t want it, you should decline it immediately. We took to guessing how many people had been offered some of the little plates that came our way before we met them.
Luso was the end destination for this day, and our home for that night and the next was the relatively posh Grande Hotel de Luso (www.hoteluso.com), which has a whimsical, neo-Art Deco look to it.
Breakfast at the Grande Hotel de Luso starts at 08:00, and there is an extensive buffet. In a move of decadence, I treated myself to a Bellini (okay, two) when I discovered a bottle of sparkling wine next to the peach juice. More than one person decided to get on that train, and breakfast stretched into brunch.
Just up the hill from our hotel was the Buçaco Forest, which is home to over 700 native species of plants and trees. It’s a great place to hike, so we did just that. After a couple of hours in the forest, I wanted a swim, so I went back to the hotel. There is an Olympic-sized outdoor pool, plus a smaller one indoors. The hotel requires that guests wear swim caps, so I had to buy one for 4€. You know you’re being held over a barrel when a bottle of wine in a shop is only 3€. Still, I wanted to swim, so I ponied up the 4€, plus 1,50€ for a pool towel, and went out to the deck.
It had to be over 30°C, which was unseasonably warm for October according to the people we spoke to, but nice if you’re planning to lounge poolside. The water in the pool was bracing, to say the least, but it was just what I was looking for. After alternately sunning and swimming, I took myself off to the Maloclinic Spa Luso (www.maloclinicspa.com/termasdeluso) for an express facial.
The spa was lovely, and had great water features. My treatment was excellent, and reasonably priced (for a spa next to a fancy hotel) at 45€. Afterwards I was served tea, and encouraged to linger as long as I liked in the Relax Room.
We had dinner that night at the Buçaco Palace. It’s a beautiful building, with some charming design elements. Sadly, dinner did not live up to its surroundings. It felt like the kitchen is used to serving large, undiscerning groups who will be distracted from the food by the pretty room. The bright spot was the fact that the house wines are made exclusively for the palace, and were pretty good.
The town of Luso is known for the high quality of its water, and there is a spring in the middle of town where this water is freely available. On the morning of our departure we filled up our water bottles alongside the locals filling several huge containers each.
We were on our way to Coimbra, but part of the beauty of doing a cycling tour is the ability to veer off and explore, so we didn’t just get on our bikes and pound out 45 km. Penacova, about 19 km into the ride, is a little town up on a hill, and it has a terrific view of the Mondego river. We all trekked up, took a bunch of pictures, and cleaned out the supply of Sumol orange drink at the local snack bar. Shortly after our descent, we rolled up to O Cortiço Restaurante Churrasqueira (www.restaurantebarocortico.com), and had a standard Portuguese lunch: roasted chicken, rice, fries, and salad. The chicken was finger-lickin’ good.
When we arrived in Coimbra in the late afternoon, we took a moment to admire the riverside park before getting cleaned up. The park was huge, and looked like a great place to spend a few hours playing, reading, or walking. Our accommodation was the Hotel Astória (www.almeidahotels.com), which is an older place, right by the river. It is a gem of Art Deco design, and has Wi-Fi in the lobby.
Coimbra is home to one of Europe’s oldest universities, although the site started life as a fortress, and we were keen to see it. After a day spent climbing hills on our bikes, we climbed more on our feet in order to get up there, but it was worth it. We focused on St. Michael’s Chapel and the Biblioteca Joanina. A ticket to access them was 5€. Sadly, no photography is permitted in either spot.
Dinner was at A Cozinha. I tried chanfana, which is goat braised in red wine. It was delicious. Post-dinner, we had reservations at A Capella, a fado club. Fado has been called “Portuguese opera”, and there are two versions. Coimbra is home to the one that features only male singers. The fado canon contains songs that are generally mournful, and is described as having saudade, a word that defies direct translation, but references feelings of longing. These songs are laments for lost loves and other romantic troubles, plus social themes like political unrest. One of the keys to the music is a 12-string Portuguese guitar.
I never did get the name of the singer we heard, but he was incredible. He spoke English very well, and before each song he explained what it was about. There was something achingly beautiful about the way he sang, and it was profoundly moving, even though I didn’t understand the lyrics.
Breakfast at the Astória the next morning was great. There was tons of selection, and it was all really good. After the day’s cycling, we arrived in the main square of Leiria to find a frosh hazing ritual going on. It was obscene, as could be expected, but also very funny. University students in Portugal all wear the same outfit of white shirt, black bottoms, and black jackets, along with black capes. These capes are carried over the left shoulder when not being worn, and are covered in patches. These patches could be from a country to which the student travelled, emblems of support from parents and friends, or from scholastic courses. The students were happy to explain them, and seemed proud of the uniform.
Our group was split between two hotels, and I was placed at the Residencial São Francisco. A rather cheerless spot, but it was clean, and you’ve got to admire a place that fearlessly covers an entire bathroom in bubblegum pink tile.
For dinner, a few of us ended up at Liz Bar. Dinner was tasty, and it was made even better by the fact that we got to sit outside to enjoy it. There is just something about al fresco dining in October that seems like a real treat.
To begin our second week in Portugal, we set off from Leiria in the direction of the beach town of Nazaré, on the Atlantic coast. Along the way, we stopped off at Batalha (it means “battle” in Portuguese) to get a look at the monastery (www.igespar.pt).
Built as a tribute after a successful military campaign, Batalha is a great example of the Manueline style; Portugal’s distinctive contribution to architecture. The style is quite ornate, yet graceful, and while it looks like it repeats itself, it does so only to a degree. There may be a dozen ceiling medallions, but each one will be unique.
Entrance to the church and the Founder’s Chapel was free, but to access the rest of the site, it cost 6€. In my opinion, it was worth every bit of it. The word “wow” came out of my mouth more than once.
After my visit, I grabbed a quick lunch at the small grocery store next to the monastery. For 2,29€ I got a huge omelette sandwich, a mini custard tart, and a little container of peach juice. I sat at one of the little tables outside, and enjoyed a bit of people-watching.
Our hotel in Nazaré, Adega Oceano (www.adegaoceano.com), was right on the main beachfront road. As soon as I got in and stowed my bike, I changed into a bathing suit and got out to the ocean as fast as I could. You more splash than swim in Nazaré, because the waves are huge, and there is a strong undertow. The water was somewhat chilly, but after a hot day on the bike, it was exactly what I wanted.
There was a laundry spot, Lavandaria da Nazaré (rua Branco Martins, Loja 19), with an English-speaking owner, that took my cycling clothes, plus some other stuff, and gave it all a proper wash for only 3,20€.
Adega Oceano’s kitchen is known for its skill with seafood, so we had a feast of water creatures that night. It was unreal.
After laundry pick-up the next day, a bunch of us took the funicular (2,20€ for a return ticket) up from Nazaré to Sítio, a town that overlooks the beach, and had a tasty lunch at Taberna Taurina Afficion.
At dinnertime we found a place called Restaurante A Tasquinha (rua Adrião Batalha, 54), and loved it immediately. Carlos, the owner, was a dynamic man, who brought every guest a little welcoming glass of white Port. He ran the place with the precision of a drill sergeant, and the smile of a born entertainer. The menu was only in Portuguese, but it didn’t matter, because Carlos spoke excellent English (and French, as it turned out). He asked us what types of things we liked to eat, and then just had the kitchen make some dishes. Everything was delicious. Carlos picked a wine, and told us that if we didn’t like it, he’d replace it with something else for no charge.
From Nazaré we headed down the coast, and then turned inland. Our first stop was in the beach town of São Martinho, and it coincided with lunchtime. We settled on the terrace of Restaurante Carvalho, part of the Residencial Atlântica (rua Miguel Bombarda, 6), where the staff spoke good English, and the kitchen specialized in fresh fish. After devouring the house-made crab dip on bread, I had John Dory for lunch. While the plate was slightly overloaded, the meal was really good.
My reward for post-lunch hill climbing was another beach town, called Foz de Arelho. Crashing waves on one side of the beach, and then a calm cove on the other. I swam in both.
Refreshed, me by the water, and my group by some beer, we headed off to our end destination of Óbidos, a walled town, on top of a hill. Albergaria Rainha Santa Isabel (http://www.arsio.com) was our hotel, and it was right on the main street. It was a small, quirky place, and we had the entire thing to ourselves for two nights.
Óbidos sits in an area with a microclimate that is very favourable to the cultivation of Morello cherries. With these cherries, two local producers make a liqueur called “ginja” (soft ‘g’). Up and down the rua Direita, bars and shops offer shots of this liqueur, served in dark chocolate cups. The idea is to down the ginja, and then eat the chocolate cup. A word to the wise: do not do this on an empty stomach, after a long day of biking, no matter how tempting it seems. I speak from experience.
Eight of us went to eat at Burgos Restaurante, where we enjoyed good food, and great service from Antonio.
I found Óbidos charming, and with plenty to do to keep me busy. One of the best things was the free Abílio museum, dedicated to the works of Abílio de Mattos e Silva, an artist who did costume sketches for operas, as well as paintings and graphic art. I visited in the morning with one person, and then went back for a second look in the afternoon with another person. In between visits, I shopped and found jewellery made with cork, had lunch at 1e de Dezembro Café Restaurante, and walked the ramparts that surround the town. The pathway, such as it is, is about one metre wide, and there is no railing, so if someone falls, they’re going a long way down. Such unguarded access would never be granted in North America. The views from up there were spectacular, though, and I’m glad I did the circuit.
We found an exhibit of pottery by local artists in the Municipal Museum, and even met some of the potters (http://paula-arte.blogspot.com). To end the afternoon on a sweet note, we visited the Óbidos Chocolate Lounge for a treat of rinette de chocolate de leite (hazelnut praline), caramelo com sal (milk chocolate salted caramel), and ganache poir (dark chocolate flavoured with pear). On top of yummy chocolates, there were some interesting design elements in this place.
Our final official group dinner was at the Pousada do Castelo, an inn that has been carved out of the ancient castle’s walls. The room was very elegant, and the service was polished. Some parts of the meal were really good, and the cheese and dessert buffet was a nice finish to the experience.
In order to get from Óbidos to Lisbon, the Blue Marble group first had to cycle to a town called Caldas da Rainha. From there, we took a train to Portugal’s capital city. We arrived at Rossio Station, and walked a short distance to Hotel Tejo, part of the eviděncia hoteis (www.evidenciahoteis.com) group. The location was next to a large local transit hub, and in a central part of the city, plus there was free Wi-Fi in the lobby, and a great breakfast buffet.
First stop after freshening up was a place called A Campesina (rua de São Nicolau, 51) for some lunch. This restaurant looked like many of the others in the pedestrian zone, however, there was free Wi-Fi (passcode offered by staff on request), and the servers spoke English well. I got a salada com frango, a salad with chicken (10,50€),that was really fresh and satisfying. Besides the higher prices, it was noticeable that we had arrived in a big city, because the population was much more diverse than we had seen in smaller towns, and there were lots of beggars.
Besides being a meeting point for all the tour buses in Lisbon, the Praça do Comércio is home to the Lisbon Welcome Center. I bought a 72-hour Lisboa Card (www.visitlisboa.com) for 36€, and paid 1€ to use the Internet for 15 minutes. The card includes local transportation, many museums and attractions, and where admission is not included, discounts are usually offered. Having the card meant not worrying about whether or not I had enough trips on a transit pass, but I’m not sure I used it enough to warrant the cost. Moving at a faster pace might have meant wringing more value out of the Lisboa Card, although I don’t think I would have enjoyed going on a forced march through Lisbon for three days for the sake of a few euros.
Inside the same building as the Lisbon Welcome Center is Paço d’água gelato. I had been craving gelato for days, so I scratched the itch with 2 giant scoops for 3,50€. Fantastic.
To break in my new Lisboa Card, I went up the Santa Justa Elevator, designed by a follower of Gustave Eiffel. The number of passengers per trip was limited to about 20, in a car that likely could hold 30. The limit may be imposed for weight, but its main benefit to passengers is that everyone can see out as the car ascends. There is a spiral staircase from the upper level to a viewing platform that offers commanding views of the city. Mosaic sidewalks were common throughout Portugal, and Lisbon was no exception. It was really neat to see them from a height.
Walking over the bridge from the elevator, I found the Carmo Archaelogical Museum in what are commonly known as the Carmo Ruins, formerly the Church of Our Lady of the Carmo Hill. Aborted attempts were made to restore the church after the giant earthquake in 1755, and now it functions as an indoor/outdoor museum. With my Lisboa Card discount, the entrance fee was 2,80€.
Back down at the base of the elevator, I found myself in the Baixa-Chiado shopping district. There were lots of big name stores here, even a mall (with a Starbucks), but my destination was considerably smaller, and certainly more discreet. On the recommendation of a friend, I sought out Luvaria Ulisses (www.luvariaulisses.com), a tiny shop that has been selling handmade lambskin gloves since 1925. The only thing the store sells is gloves, which are produced in Lisbon.
The clerk who served me was friendly, and spoke English well. There is a process to buying gloves at Luvaria Ulisses, and it involves being sized up, placing your elbow on a little cushion while the clerk puts some talc in the chosen glove, places it over your hand, and proceeds to work it on. The gloves were butter-soft, and fit snugly. Every colour in the rainbow was represented, there were many styles for men and women, and prices ranged between 40 and 65 euros.
I made a quick stop at the Lisbon Cathedral, and on the way back to my hotel, discovered a great wine shop called Napoleão, which I would revisit later in my stay.
Of Lisbon’s neighbourhoods, the Alfama was the one that best survived the big earthquake. As a result, it retains many of the Moorish-style buildings, and the small, winding alleyways. It is not generally thought of as a safe neighbourhood after dark, however, we decided there was safety in numbers, and for our last group night, we went to hear fado at a restaurant there.
I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, and if I did, I would share it just to warn people not to go. Slow service, a slower kitchen, and a manager who seemed surprised that three separate tables would want three separate bills. The worst (funniest?) part of the meal came after we’d been there for over two hours, and most of us had seen food (most of it not good). Two people had ordered duck, and after being told the dishes would be out soon, we witnessed the owner of the restaurant drive up and hand two ducks, complete with feathers, to our waiter. It was hard to do anything but laugh at that point.
What ended up being the true lowlight, though, was the fact that two of our friends were assaulted and robbed as they left the restaurant later that night. We had noticed some unsavoury characters watching our group from a distance, and when our friends went off to the hotel by themselves, six thieves followed them. We were thankful that only a camera and passports were lost. After that, those of us remaining in Lisbon for extra time decided we would only go near the Alfama in daylight.
The town of Sintra is written up in all Portuguese guidebooks I have seen as a “must do”, if time permits. We had time on a Wednesday, so we took the train from Rossio station to Sintra, a 40-minute trip, the cost of which is covered by the Lisboa Card. It was about 4€ each way to buy the ticket separately.
Even if we hadn’t seen any sort of cultural site, we loved Sintra the minute we got there. There were lots of trees, lovely gardens, and a sense of calm peacefulness that was really relaxing.
While the guidebooks lauded the Palácio Nacional de Sintra to the skies, they neglected to mention that it is closed on Wednesdays. Fortunately, Sintra has more than one castle. For 5€ (return) we got a bus up (way, way up) to the Palácio da Pena, located inside the Parque da Pena (www.parquesdesintra.pt). Entry fee for the castle was 12€, and for another 2€ we got a shuttle from the park gates up (again) to the front of the castle.
A structure like Palácio da Pena is what happens when someone tries to build a permanent birthday cake. It was variously described as a “confection” and a “folly”, and I could not argue against either word. No pictures were allowed of the interior, so you will have to take my word for it that it was richly decorated, and rather impressive. The grounds around the place are massive, so this is the sort of thing that should be at the very start of any day, in order to see the majority of it. There is a restaurant on site. We did not eat there, although I had a look at the menu, and it seemed reasonably priced.
For our lunch we went back down into Sintra’s centre, and sought out Alcobaça Restaurante, which had been recommended by Fodor’s. (The same Fodor’s that had neglected to mention the Wednesday closing of the Palácio Nacional, I should point out, so we were showing ourselves to be rather forgiving and/or optimistic). The restaurant was great, with fast, friendly service in a charming room (cash only). I ordered bacalhau com natas (cod with cream), which was one of the most common dishes on menus in Portugal, although I had yet to try it. There was cod and cream, of course, plus shredded potatoes and cheese. It was Portuguese comfort food, and I adored it.
A short stroll up the street brought us to Piriquita Dois, a renowned pastry shop. We sat on the terrace and had queijadas (a sort of cottage cheese tart), and a Travesseiro (it means “pillow” in Portuguese), a filled pastry in which the dough is folded over seven times. Neither was overly sweet, and we really enjoyed them.
The Lisbon version of fado can be sung by both men and women. We had heard men and women sing the night before in a very casual, outdoor setting, so for a change of pace, we made reservations at Sr. Vinho Restaurante Tipico (www.srvinho.com) in the Lapa district.
This restaurant is quite well known, since one of the owners is Maria da Fé, a legendary singer. She was there the night we went, but she did not sing. Apparently, she rarely does these days, because she is getting older and fado is hard on her voice. The room was upscale, and service stopped while the singers performed. There were three different singers, two women, and one man. It was quite a different experience to hear fado indoors, since the music can be quite intense, and a low ceiling concentrated the effect. With all due respect to each singer I heard in Portugal, the man I heard in Coimbra was far and away my favourite.
Yet more hot and sunny weather greeted us the next morning, as we set off for more exploration. We got tram #15 from right outside our hotel to Belém, another neighbourhood of Lisbon (and home to another Starbucks, in case that’s important).
The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (www.mosteirojeronimos.pt) was a monastery, commissioned by Dom Manuel I, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built in the Manueline style, and it is a stunning place.
Next to the river we saw the monument dedicated to Henry the Navigator. We declined to pay for an elevator ride to the top, and kept walking along to the Torre de Belém, one of the main symbols of Lisbon.
My Lisboa Card got me in here, and we climbed up to the fifth level, which is the highest. The spiral staircase was narrow, crowded, and handled traffic going in both directions. This climb was not for the faint of heart. There was most certainly international diplomacy work going on as we navigated through the masses of tourists from a variety of different countries.
Hotels are some of my favourite places in the world, and I had spied one on the way to the tower, had popped in for a quick look, and had then decided it warranted further attention. It was the two-year-old Altis Belém Hotel & Spa (www.altisbelemhotel.com), and it appeared to cater to a business crowd. Arriving just ahead of the people in suits, we got ourselves a table at Cafetaria Mensagem, and ordered lunch.
Fortified, we carried on to the Belém Cultural Centre, and Museu Colecção Berardo, Arte Moderna e Contemporânea (www.museuberardo.pt). The permanent collection of modern and contemporary art was excellent, and free.
Our final cultural stop was the Museu do Oriente (www.museudooriente.pt), which houses a terrific collection of art and objects from Asia. We were impressed with the breadth of the collection. It was quite dark inside, which was tough on us, given how long the day had already been, and the how strong the desire was to nap. The museum was also quite compact, though, so we were able to get in a solid visit in about an hour.
Back in central Lisbon, we ate dinner at O Churrasco (rua das Portas de Santo Antão 83-85), which was near our hotel. I had cabrito assado, kid (goat) that had been marinated and spit roasted. It was delicious.
The Castelo de São Jorge (www.castelodesaojorge.pt) occupies a site that overlooks all of Lisbon. It was built in the 11th century, and is remarkably intact for a structure that old. It had become a bit of a theme during the Portugal trip for me and one of my friends to climb up and/or around any castle or battlement that we could, and Castelo de São Jorge was no exception. We walked up onto the ramparts, and went all the way around. At one point we encountered a peahen and her chicks sheltered in one of the many towers.
After immersing ourselves in history, we moved on to commerce by stopping at Napoleão (www.napoleao.co.pt)for wine and other epicurean gifts to take home. Christina, fully fluent in English and French, and part of the family that owns the store (it’s like 2 stores, since it is split between two buildings on opposite street corners), gave us samples of Port, and delicious gourmet spreads, and then carefully wrapped our purchases.
The afternoon was given over to the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, named for its founder, an Armenian businessman who moved to Lisbon in 1942. The museum was well curated, and featured some stunning pieces. At the end of the visit, there was a collection of glass and jewellery by René Lalique, and it was a highlight for me. The dragonfly broach was simply breathtaking.
Avenida de Liberdade is often called Lisbon’s Champs Elysée, after the grand boulevard in Paris. We strolled down this leafy road after the Gulbenkian, and stopped for a beer (Sagres Bohemia for me) at Servejaria to salute another long day of sightseeing.
For dinner we went up into the Bairro Alto district, to a place called Alfaia Restaurante (Travessa da Quiemada, 22). Overall, we loved this place, except for the fact that smoking was allowed inside. This was common in Portugal, and it was off-putting. We had a starter of clams in white wine, garlic and butter sauce. I had duck in pastry for a main, and it was tasty. To finish the meal, there was chocolate mousse, made in-house, that was divine.
Bairro Alto is the party district in Lisbon, so after dinner we walked up the street to a bar that was serving giant cocktails. Everyone was out, walking around, listening to music, and it was a lot of fun.
For my final day in Lisbon, I was on my own. Close to the Praça do Comércio I found MUDE – Museu do Design e da Moda, Colecção Francisco Capelo. Entrance is free to this design and fashion museum, which is housed in a gutted bank building that is full of marble, and Art Deco design details. The space and the exhibits were incredible, but no pictures were allowed.
Right on the Praça do Comércio, next to the tourist office, is Terreiro do Paço Restaurante & Bar. Every day except Sunday they offer a lunch buffet for 11€ at this cool place. There were six cold salads, soup, two hot dishes, rice, and a dessert table. The cold salads were the best part, in my opinion.
After lunch I walked a few metres down the arcade to Vini Portugal; a trade outpost that promotes Portuguese wines. They conduct market research by offering free samples of up to four wines, and asking that guests fill out a questionnaire.
For a little pampering, I stopped in at Skintuition, part of Wellness Chiado, inside what I was calling the Baixa/Chiado mall (FNAC, Starbucks, Body Shop). I got my eyebrows shaped for 7€, and had a 30-minute massage for 35€. Well worth it for the chance to relax.
Some friends from the bike trip had gone to Morocco for a few days, and they returned to Lisbon on the Saturday night. We had a final dinner together at A Lota (rua Jardim do Regedor, 15) in the Restauradores area. It was decent, if not spectacular. After some gelato, and a little walk, we turned in at the Hotel Tejo.
The next morning we got the Aerobus (3,50€) from a stop near our hotel, and rode out to the airport via a dedicated bus lane. We went through parts of Lisbon that I hadn’t seen, so it was like getting one last city tour.
Portugal was a great experience, and I am already planning a return visit.
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- 22 International Flight Question
- 23 In Search of Montalbano - the ups and downs of 10 days in Eastern Sicily
- 24 Driving from Viena to Frankfurt
- 25 Island hopping Croatia - into nature/hiking
In October I took my first ever trip to Portugal, to do a cycling trip with Blue Marble Travel (www.bluemarble.org). In the interest of full disclosure, I worked for BMT many years ago, although they did not ask me to write this trip report.