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Lazing it in Lisbon; Notes and Rambling Thoughts from and Extended Stay

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Apr 9th, 2016, 10:36 AM
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Lazing it in Lisbon; Notes and Rambling Thoughts from and Extended Stay

First there was a ‘compromise’ decision: Let’s go to Portugal! Then came the Picking of Destinations; where to stay and for how long was carefully pondered over weeks. Well, truthfully, only by me as DH was happy to go anywhere as long as it did not involve France (I know…some people!), Spain again (We’ve had 3 consecutive vacations there) or anywhere cold.

When everything was said and done we had decided (read ‘he was informed’) to stay for a month in Lisbon. Other things and places will follow but let’s just talk a bit about Lisbon as I sit in our apartment one week into our stay.

DH and I arrived from different locations to LIS and met without problems in the baggage claim. He had visited with family in Switzerland while I stayed at home for 10 more days finishing up a few important things (you know, like going out to eat with all the girlfriends that I seldom get to see in new restaurants that DH is not thrilled about, hanging out with the extended family, binge watching 5 seasons of The Walking Dead, being ignored by the cats…).

I had travelled SJU to Madrid on an AirEurope cheap flight. This meant no individual entertainment screens and a single glass of wine served with dinner. So I read a trashy romance novel (selected specifically for the occasion), knitted half a scarf, and slept enough hours to survive a 3hr layover. This was the first time I was not arriving to Barajas in the ‘new’ terminal so that was a bit of an experience reminiscent of the old dark hallways of JFK. The walking distances in Barajas are just astonishing!

Eventually (should have turned on my Garmin watch and logged in the miles walked!) I found the connecting gate which happened to be in front of a 100 Montaditos restaurant. Yay! What to eat was easy (a tortilla with aioli and a morcilla with peppers) but then I had to make a quick, foggy brained, jetlagged decision: coffee or beer? Finally decided to be sensible and had the coffee. I can safely say that anyone that know me will agree that this was a highly uncharacteristic choice, but I still had a few hours of travel ahead of me. I bought a new (actual paper) book and sat by the gate to see the boarding of the Lisbon flight which I had decided not to take because it might be too tight. What can I say? I’m a flight wimp.

Somewhere I had read that Lisbon airport was small. I disagree. First, the plane lands halfway to Porto and you taxi for at least 15 minutes, and then you walk through a veritable shopping center with all kinds of luxury stores.

After waiting a good 20 minutes for the luggage, DH proceeded to the taxi line. It was very (VERY) long but it moved quickly. We were still happily catching up with each other so it took at least 5 minutes before we realized we were going to get scammed by the driver; no counter in sight. Oh well, we would survive the loss of what turned out to be 37E.

I had flipped-flopped between apartments for days; well really between areas of the city. The Baixa had been discarded from the get go, with its rows of touristy restaurants. The Alfama was supposed to be noisy and crowded. The Chiado? I have no interest whatsoever in upscale shopping; or non-food-related shopping at all. Then I got some recommendations for the very residential Principe Real barrio which looked intriguing; a decision was finally made.

We had rented an Airbnb apartment in the general Príncipe Real area, almost across from Praça das Flores. One bedroom, small office, decent kitchen, ample living space, dishwasher, washer/dryer combo… the whole 9 yards. The minus? It is a 3rd Floor (American 4th) with no lift apartment. This seemed like a ‘no biggie’ at the time, whoever, when combined with the –ahem- verticality of Lisbon, the enthusiasm begins to lag behind.

First impression was not great, the staircase was dark and the wall paint was peeling all over, we huffed and puffed up 4 flights lugging a heavy suitcase, thank God for the gym! We reached the apartment and it seemed like the previous occupants were in the process of being evicted (their luggage stacked on the stoop) and the cleaning lady (didn’t speak a word of English) was only beginning to do her job (beds unmade, garbage in the hallway kind of state). And this even though we were at least 2 hours later than we had originally announced (this was not a problem because the key to the apartment is left in a coded box so one can enter without assistance). Not exactly the beginning I had been hoping for.

We dropped off everything and escaped across the street to have our ‘Welcome Drink’ in a covered terrace with heater… Have I mentioned that is was cloudy and cold? It was cloudy and cold. Very much so.

We stocked up on a few basic groceries for breakfast and returned to the apartment. Now that it was clean, orderly and EMPTY, it was much nicer and looking exactly as the AirBnb pictures. Insert big sigh of relief. Okay, everything would be OK!

Dinner was at Cantinho Lusitano selected at random from ones with the best reviews in the ‘Near Your’ filter in Trip Advisor. It was really good. REALLY good. The serve tapas/ración stlyle, though eating like this is sadly NOT a Portuguese thing! It was 7:00pm and the place was full but we were seated with the warning that we had to be done by 9:30pm, as if! LOL. We had the standard olive and bread plate, chouriço al vino (good!), Pica Pau beef (somewhat spicy – sweet – sour totally awesome sauce) with sweet potato fries, grilled octopus leg (yum!) and codfish fritters ‘Patatinas’ served with rice and beans that were good enough to come back for. So, even though I was in a jetlagged, not even showered yet, state I thoroughly enjoyed our dinner in this place and would gladly go back. Bill was under not even €40.

We went back to the apartment where I had a surprisingly almost full night of comfortable sleep. Maybe there IS something to all that hype about limiting alcohol during flights after all…

Next: Actual Notes on the Lisbon Experience
marigross is offline  
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Apr 9th, 2016, 11:09 AM
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Following with interest. Hoping Portugal will be next year, long overdue.
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Apr 9th, 2016, 12:54 PM
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Great start to your report!
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Apr 9th, 2016, 01:41 PM
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Looking forward to more - Lisbon is one of my favorite cities.

That sounds like a real rip off on the taxi, but I always take the bus.
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Apr 9th, 2016, 01:45 PM
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I'm here too.
I like the tantalising choice of coffee or wine.
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Apr 9th, 2016, 01:53 PM
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Hope you continue to be happy with the advice of the Principe Real neighborhood -- and that warmer weather is headed your way!
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Apr 9th, 2016, 01:56 PM
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I picked up 2 RT tickets last night to Lisbon for next month so I will be following your notes. (It was an error fare of $207 pp, BOS-LIS so i am not sure if the reservation will be cancelled or will stick.)
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Apr 9th, 2016, 03:15 PM
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I'm joining you. I love gritty Lisbon.
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Apr 9th, 2016, 04:34 PM
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A month in Lisbon, can't wait to read this
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Apr 10th, 2016, 02:22 AM
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Thanks to all!

Sandralist, yes I'm very happy with Principe Real, thank you for the suggestion.

Deb, I read about it. I really hope is sticks! We are really liking it.
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Apr 10th, 2016, 02:24 AM
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The problem with extended stays is that there is an underlying impression that you don’t have to rush to see things and the days slip away almost unnoticed while wandering aimlessly and sipping wine in outside cafés. Oh wait. Scratch that. Those are actually the good things. But one does risk actually not getting to see the sights.

But here are a few of my 100% biased, totally skewed, personal thoughts about Lisbon one week into our stay:

- When people say Lisbon is ‘hilly’, they are lying. Maybe not outright lying but certainly making the understatement of the year. Lisbon it is not hilly, it is VERTICAL. The only flat spaces in the city are the Praça de Comercio and a few streets in the Baixa.

- The sidewalks of Lisbon are all paved with mosaic-like small stones. They are set in beautiful patterns and are wonderful to look at however, said stones can be slippery in the rain. When combined with the vertical factor, walking around can be tricky. Shoes –sensible shoes!- are of the outmost importance. Excuse me now while I go send an email of appreciation to Sketchers regarding my not very pretty but extremely comfortable and non-slippery GoWalk2 shoes.

- The tilework in the façades…OOOHHH! I have never been a big fan of decorative arts in general and tilework in particular, but wow. That opinion was mostly based on the use of cheap tile reproductions back home. Lisbon has the real deal. Well, Lisbon is the REAL deal. The tiles are just so elegant! Most of the older buildings are tiled in shades of blue with a few greens and yellows popping around. Terracotta tiles make the perfect contrasting background. Some recently remodeled buildings are covered with gray/taupe semi translucent tiles for a very sophisticated and modern nod to tradition.

- The Portuguese seem to go for a lot of body contact. And take this from a Puerto Rican very used to touchy-feely, obviously not a problem for me but I could see a few people feeling that that their personal space has been invaded. You ask someone something on the street and they will gently yet firmly, almost intimately, place their hands on your shoulders or forearms for as long as they give you a very lengthy and detailed explanation.

- I had read in multiple places that most Portuguese are fluent English speakers. This is absolutely true. And most people in the hospitality business will also speak rudimentary French and German as well. However, as in ANY place, an introductory Bom Dia or Boa Tarde will go a long way to establish the goodwill that is indispensable for cross-language communications. Knowing Spanish will also take you very far along into understanding the conversations around.

- Vinho Verde is a good thing. Nothing else to add there. Well, just one observation: even when copious amounts of the cheap stuff have been drunk in lazy afternoons, there have been no evidence of hangover headaches. I’m sure we will further test the limits of this theory. BTW, the red wine is not bad either and better suited to this cold and wet weather we keep having.

- Why don’t we hear more about Portuguese cheese? Or maybe why have I not found out about this before? YUM.

- Tram 28 is not only used by tourists. Be prepared for feisty little old ladies to push you out of the way.


Next: Stuff we have actually done between drinking and eating
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Apr 10th, 2016, 07:04 AM
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No mention of port? Have you discovered the Solar do Vinho do Porto yet? Also, ginjinha.

I deal with the steepness with a transport pass...
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Apr 10th, 2016, 07:26 AM
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I like your style of writing, marigross ^^
Sounds like a fun trip.
I have just returned from Lisbon, you beat me to the trip report.
Looking forwards to more.
I agree about the tiles, the cheese and the wine.
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Apr 10th, 2016, 07:46 AM
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Thursdaysd, I have now googled the place and will promptly get back to you with an opinion!

I need to give Port wine a chance. I haven't tried ginjinha yet, is it more like a digestif?

We have now purchased transport passes but DH has it in his brain that resorting to them is a profound betrayal of his stoic Swiss upbringing. I figured that I could burn all those calories, work on those Lisbon Legs. But I might soon just give up on that and meet him at the top. He could then blame it on me and let his mounting-climbing ancestors rest in their graves.
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Apr 10th, 2016, 08:01 AM
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Saturday, April 2: What would be a First Day of Vacation without a Death March?

It started innocently enough ‘let's go for a stroll’ because, you know, we have time, no need to see all the city in a day. My infamous, record breaking, Barcelona First Day of Vacation Ultra Death March was very politely not mentioned but just barely hinted at with ‘But not too long, right?’

Our first stop was as Tease, a permanently full-to-capacity, small tea shop downstairs from us. We had our coffees and I had a savory pastry filled with creamed spinach. It was scrumptious, the crust was doughy enough to have bite but still a little flaky (usually indicative of massive amounts of fat, possibly even lard). Reminded me of the ones to be had in Greece, mmmm. Thank goodness I don’t have too much of a sweet tooth, I’m in trouble enough with the savory stuff!

As a random thought, it has been more than once in this week that Lisbon has made me think of Athens. I cannot quite pinpoint the similarities, but they are in there somewhere. Maybe the warmness of the people, the ups and downs, the slight grittiness of both cities…. I will continue to ponder this.

We headed out (and down) towards the river with the weak sun of early April warming the air just enough. After a lot of mapless wanderings we wound up in Mercado da Ribeira. This is a combination of a traditional food market (grocers, fishmongers, butchers, et al) and a Food Court on Steroids mega place.

The food market looked a little sad BUT (and this is an important qualifier) it was Saturday in the early afternoon. This means that all the early birds have taken their worms and only slim pickings are left behind. Saturday morning shopping for the full weekend and even Monday seems to be the norm in most markets as some specialty stores will not reopen until Tuesday.

I’m still trying to decide if we liked the food court experience (it is indeed an experience) or not. It was packed. Every single tourist in Lisbon seemed to be here. People were hustling for places on the communal tables and trying to get couples to scoot over two stools down so that they could fit in their parties together. The restaurant choices are extensive and go from the traditional Portuguese to Thai Woks by the way of Leitaõ (whole roasted pigs), Italian style gelatos, specialty Tartar, and ‘artisanal’ hamburgers.

We opted to have our first glasses Vinho Verde and some oysters as we were still full from our late breakfast. The glasses of wine €4 and that seemed to be the average price in the restaurants. We should have gotten a bottle, just like everyone else around us. I will give the market extra credit for the decent stemware. Oh yeah, we are in Europe! Real plates, glasses, cups and utensils everywhere! This makes me happy as I have to snobbishly admit that I extremely dislike plasticware.

Bottomline, is this an authentic Lisbon experience in the traditional way? Absolutely not. But it is quirky modern and an easy way to sample multiple dishes at the same time. And the people watching is unbeatable! Go there and have a drink.

Then we continued along the river promenade, passing a very cute café with great views of the Vasco de Gama bridge but even with windbreakers and heaters it was just too cold to sit outside. Dully noted for a warmer weather return. We reached the beautiful Praça do Comércio, its bright yellow walls contrasting the (briefly) bright blue sky and then wandered into the Baixa. Loved the elephant on the central statue.

We wandered through the Baixa, dodging overenthusiastic waiters annoyingly trying to get you into their restaurants. We are an odd couple –for various reasons- and it was funny watching the waiters trying to figure out in which language to address us. I also find it particularly curious that most vendors and waiters have not been able to place me correctly, addressing me in either Italian or French. I have always perceived myself as very clearly (lol!) Hispanic on the olive-whitish end of the spectrum and in Spain a lot of folks have correctly narrowed down their guessing to the Caribbean basin. DH is addressed in German most of time.

We passed the Elevador de Santa Justa with its long line of tourists waiting to be transported couple hundred feet into Chiado and eventually wound up in Praça Rossio for another round of wine and even more awesome people watching.

The entertainment on the street merits a full description just because the list of incongruences was simply mind-blowing. I mean, we are smack in the middle of Lisbon and this group of 5 guys dressed as Native American (think full feather Cheyenne Headdress but purchased in the Party City Costume Department and pleather fringed suits) start setting up their sound system. Something didn’t quite add up with them and I perked up my ear. Sure enough, they were speaking Spanish with Central American accents. Then the panflutes / windpipes came out. And what did they start playing? Well, there was Zamfir and the Flight of the Condor of course, but then it got better: Abba’s Chiquitita (to the crowds great enjoyment and sing along chorus) followed by Journey’s Open Arms. What can I say, as ridiculous as it sounds they sold quite a few CD’s. They might be on to something.

Eventually we got up and started working our way up (and up, and up) possibly through the steepest and endlessly long set of stairs in Lisbon (I’m sure that we will find worse in days to come) behind the Rossio metro station and up to the church of Saõ Roque.

I mean, really, it would not really be First Day of Vacation without visiting a church, right? I’m going to make a disclaimer here so that my enthusiasm is put into perspective: I go into churches. I go into most churches I walk by. I love old churches. I go into a LOT of churches. The only thing I love more than old churches? Cloisters. I adhere to the ‘Leave No Cloister Unseen’ travel philosophy.

Igreja de Saõ Roque is a 16th Century Jesuit church with a flat wooden roof painted with faux domes. The chapels are outstanding. Particularly notable are the two alcoves that flank the altar with an arrangement of reliquary sculptures and containers. In the past, I have seen these images moved to the church Treasury so I’m not quite sure if this display was common centuries ago or if it is a Portuguese thing. But truly, all the chapels are magnificent.

We were starting to wear a little thin so we started to make our way back home via the Miradour de San Pedro de Alcantara. A place to be greatly enjoyed on a warm sunny day, which this was most certainly not. Matter of fact, it started to pour so we ‘had’ to dodge into Tapas 52 for a glass of wine while we waited the rain out. The music was a rather pleasant loungy jazz but people are allowed to smoke inside. Not nice. The food looked good, though.

We made it home to eat an absolutely disappointing pasta carbonara, one of my longstanding go-to dishes. I still don’t know where I went wrong with that one, it usually works well for me. Cooking can be a very humbling experience. But, it let itself be eaten with enough Alentejo wine to wash it down.

Next: Skip the prose and getting down to what we did
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Apr 10th, 2016, 08:16 AM
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Glad you found the Alentejo wine, one of the countries better new products. Lisbon is flat compared to Porto!
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Apr 10th, 2016, 08:41 AM
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Loving your TR!

Ginjinha is more of a liqueur than a digestif. Best drunk on the way home after dinner.

Do try the port place. It sells port by the glass at reasonable prices and has extensive descriptions. If you haven't tried port before it's a good place to start. My vote is for twenty year tawny, but yours may be different. (Personally, I don't consider white port to be port...) It's also right by a good mirador.

Consider Lisbon's transport options as part of your sightseeing. Not just the elevator but the funiculars and some of the trams.

Do you like spicy food? For cheap, good food with a kick go to Bom Jardim. Get the chicken and fries and add the sauce to taste. No ambience - think paper table clothes - but deservedly popular. (Travessa de S. Antao 11 - I think I went three times the last time I was in Lisbon, but it's just down the street from where I stay.)
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Apr 10th, 2016, 08:44 AM
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Thank you FuryFluffy

Bilbo, by the time we make it to Porto I hope to have worked up my Lisbon Legs!
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Apr 10th, 2016, 09:05 AM
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Thursday, we LOVE spicy food. Matter of fact if anyone has recs for places to try ethnic food from the old colonies, we would greatly appreciate them.

The ports I have tried are bit too sweet for my taste but I can always give it another try, you know, for palate developing / educational purposes.
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Apr 10th, 2016, 09:25 AM
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Sorry, confused aperitif and digestif... Port is also an after dinner drink. Ideally with cheese... Ideally with Stilton... Or nuts. Some people like it with chocolate. If you have found it too sweet you may have been drinking ruby. Try LBV and tawny, the older the better. I'd say try vintage but it's expensive and I don't think the Solar does it by the glass. Although port in Portugal is a lot cheaper than it is in the US.

If you're going to Porto the port wine lodges on the south bank have tours and tastings. Try Taylors, when I was there they had an elegant rose garden with white fluffy Japanese hens and a peacock. don't know if they still do, but they still have a restaurant. http://www.taylor.pt/en/visit-taylors/port-cellars/
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