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Lisbon: Europe without the attitude or price-tag

Lisbon: Europe without the attitude or price-tag

Old Sep 10th, 2012, 07:33 AM
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Lisbon: Europe without the attitude or price-tag

We just returned from a trip to Europe, which began with 5 nights in Lisbon. We'd never been to Portugal, but it seemed appealing based on my research and all the comments here on Fodor's.

Thanks to Fodorites, we took the plunge and could not have been happier in Lisbon! What a wonderful place for visitors to explore. We found the people to be warm, hospitable, friendly and happy to have tourists there.

In fact, we may have liked it all the more for its 'underdog' status in Europe. This city has gorgeous architecture, and a rich history of which it is proud. We were sadly astonished to see how many beautiful old buildings in the city center were sitting vacant and untended. Signs of a stressed economy. Buildings which would be prime real estate in Paris, for example.

I need to review my travel notes and will post details shortly. For now, I wanted to say how much we loved Lisbon.

We stayed at the fabulous Hotel Avenida Palace. Beautiful interiors, wonderful service, and the best possible location for walking everywhere. The avenue was alive at nearly all hours, and it felt like a safe place. The Rossio (sp?) train station, also a beautiful old complex, is directly next door to the hotel.

Our double room included breakfast, which was served in elegant style, featuring an extensive hot and cold buffet, replenished frequently in the most gorgeous dining room. I splurged on eggs benedict every morning, with fresh croissants. (Vacation is not the time to diet, I figure!). I also ate my fill of proscuitto every morning. It is a rare treat for me here in the States, but they served platters of it there everyday. Also scrambled eggs, fresh crepes put out every few minutes, plus fruit salads, juices, yoghurt, sliced beef and cheese-- you name it. It was heaven, to start out days with such a great breakfast which basically kept us full till evening. (Our rate at the Avenida Palace was just 143EU, including breakfast. I had reserved several weeks in advance, with no-penalty cancellation and payment upon departure.)

We arrived from the States at 10:00am at the Avenida Palace, expecting to store luggage and wait the painful several hours before getting our room. But-- wonderful surprise-- the hotel had prepared our room for an early arrival and let us in immediately. Our first introduction to the amazing hospitality of Lisbon!

The first afternoon, we were delighted to find an international bike race was taking place directly under our hotel window. DH is a true bike fanatic, so this was a sign we were in the right place! We walked down to the Avenue and watched the bikers fly by on the cobble-stone streets. It was really amazing.

Then, we walked all around the neighborhood, getting acquainted with our new adventure and liking Lisbon more with every street. It has the feel of Europe, like I said, with historic architecture, small markets, high-end shops, restaurants and cafes, etc. But prices are so reasonable, and people are so friendly. They seemed to truly appreciate the business we brought them.

So, I will review my photos and my notes, and post more details about where we ate, what we saw, and our day-trips. For now, suffice it to say that we were enchanted by Lisbon!
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Old Sep 10th, 2012, 08:26 AM
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PeaceOut. I am so happy you enjoyed Lisbon, a city that we love despite it's tattered appearance in places.
I will look forward to your photos and notes.

Your remark made me want to comment on the hotel that we stayed in this last trip. We only spent one night in Lisbon last week before our trip out but we have stayed several times before.

On the first trip we stayed in Chiado. The building exterior remains intact but the interior has been renovated into lovely apartments. This time, as the last, we stayed in Baixa. Both places are owned by the same person. He has taken two buildings and transformed them. One is made into small luxury studio apartments and the other into a boutique hotel.

My point being that it made me very happy to see that some of these buildings, which were in such disrepair and abandoned, being brought back to life. You are correct in saying that this might not happen in Paris.

Anyway, I look forward to more.
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Old Sep 10th, 2012, 08:42 AM
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PeaceOut:

Happy to see that you enjoyed Lisbon as much as I did! Looking forward to reading all about it.
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Old Sep 10th, 2012, 08:45 AM
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Lisbon and Porto are outstanding locales. The Iberian Penninsula is a place well worth the time and effort to experience. Portugal's pousadas also are a treat. The hotel breakfasts seem to be the same awesome evert all over the country. This area is frequently overlooked as a destination and I don't know whether I think it should be crowed about or kept a secret..I/we love the place. The same thoughts are relevant to Spain. the whole penninsula is a must do!!!
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Old Sep 10th, 2012, 09:05 AM
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Waiting to hear what you think this 'attitude' is in the rest of Europe.
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Old Sep 10th, 2012, 10:47 AM
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Looking forward to your report as I am leaving for my first trip to Portugal/Lisbon in 33 days. Can't wait!!!
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Old Sep 10th, 2012, 10:49 AM
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woops make that 23 days. That's how excited I am, I can't even type.
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Old Sep 10th, 2012, 12:32 PM
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ttt, glad you enjoyed it
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Old Sep 10th, 2012, 12:57 PM
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Peace Out,

Lovely start – look forward to more. Portugal is lovely. I was there once in April. Particularly loved the soups and breads.

One thing that sets the country apart is its geographical insularity which makes its culture unique. It's orientation is outward toward the sea we were told. The Portuguese were adventurers with outposts throughout the world.
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Old Sep 10th, 2012, 04:00 PM
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OMG. I just wrote up all the details of our day-trips and restaurants, but it did not post. It disappeared! Waaaaa. Is it me, or is it my iPad?

I will write it again tomorrow, and will create it as a document first, so I don't lose it. Grrrrr.
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Old Sep 10th, 2012, 04:50 PM
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Try resetting your iPad.
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Old Sep 10th, 2012, 06:15 PM
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I do a soft reset every now and then. Mine is the original iPad.

I hit Submit, but it re-loaded the page without my post. Shoot.
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Old Sep 10th, 2012, 07:18 PM
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I don't usually post anything long from my iPad, 'cuz that happened to me once! So discouraging!

But we are all waiting patiently for your enthusiasm to return so we can hear good new news of a wonderful country (which we loved so much in four trips!)
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Old Sep 10th, 2012, 07:59 PM
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Thank you. Will do.
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Old Sep 11th, 2012, 06:19 AM
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Now, that's class! I filled out a comment form for the Hotel, and mentioned two workers in particular who had been extremely helpful-- Tonya (sp?) in the breakfast room, and our daily maid. Our final night at the hotel, a box of chocolates and a Thank You note was delivered by management.

Am writing my trip report now, on Word. Will post soon.
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Old Sep 11th, 2012, 07:27 AM
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So, here are my notes from our 5-night stay in Lisbon. Hope this trip report doesn't disappoint. It's relatively short and to the point.

Lisbon, August 2012

Full disclosure:

We are ‘accidental tourists’, who enjoy simply wandering the interesting streets we come upon. We prefer to see the architecture and outdoor art, and mingle on the streets and in the shops to get a sense for the local culture. We don’t have a daily agenda, or a list of must-see sites/museums, or must-eat restaurants.

We prefer to eat when we are hungry, not gear our entire day around a particular restaurant. We find a place that looks good, judging from its clientele and menu, and take our chances. Our first night, we were exhausted from traveling from the USA, and I was craving a club sandwich. What can I say? We ate at the Hard Rock Cafe, which was just a short block from our front door. It was delicious, if probably more expensive than local food. But our waiter was very helpful and he shared his tips about Lisbon with us.

I do my Fodor’s research, of course, and have a general feel for where we want to go. DH adds his ideas, and off we go, taking pictures at every turn. Lisbon must be one of the most picturesque cities we have ever visited.

We would be the worst travel companions! We believe vacation is for relaxation and catching up on our sleep. We choose a hotel carefully, as we feel it becomes our home in that city and is much more than just a ‘place to sleep’. Location is key. We sleep-in every morning, eat a huge breakfast, wander all day, usually just have a mid-day snack, and return to our hotel quite late after dinner.

We walked everywhere, except for cab rides up the hill to the castle, to the tile museum which is a ways outside of the central part of Lisbon, and to the train station other than Rossio.

We liked the tile museum, mostly because it is set in an historic convent complex. We enjoyed refreshments in their garden courtyard, and I bought a couple of ceramics for gifts.

Wandering through Alfama was fun. As was walking on Rua Augusta through Baixa to the river and Avenia da Liberdade. We actually weren’t following a map, so I can’t even say what neighborhoods we were in. We just followed our noses.

We noticed many gorgeous, historic buildings in central Lisbon, off the Avenida, which were sitting vacant and untended. These same buildings would be prime real estate in Paris, and looked every bit as nice, but the Lisbon economy is struggling.

The weather was consistently in the low 80s F, with sunny skies and a breeze. It was gorgeous.

If I were to characterize the cultural atmosphere in Lisbon, I would use these words: lively, young (but not rowdy), safe, hip, friendly, outgoing, warm, hospitable, energetic, happy, affordable.

We especially loved the narrow, winding hilltop passages, with multiple tables set in the middle of huge cobblestone stairway landings, which became very active at night. I have great pictures of these.

Day-trips by train:

1. Sintra was our first day-trip. We enjoyed its atmosphere and views, but it was pretty busy and touristy. We stopped for refreshments at a nice café, sitting outdoors on the main square. I didn’t get its name, but we only had drinks. It seemed to have a lot of business, and plates of lunch looked appealing, but we were not hungry yet.

2. We also took the train to Cascais, which we liked a lot. Very small town, lots of beach activity, and small shops. While there, we found a classy and expensive-looking beachside hotel with a café overlooking the water. We stopped for lunch there. It is pricey, with very disginguished-looking hotel clientele. Looked like a great place for a honeymoon:

The Albatroz Hotel in Cascai
Rua Frederico Arouca
100- 2750- 353 Cascais
www.thealbatrozcollection.com

3. Our third day-trip by train was to Estoril, which is just two stops before Cascais. We had enjoyed the Atlantic seaside, so we returned to that area. We ate at a very simple seaside fresh fish restaurant. I am not a die-hard fish fan like DH, so I wasn’t as wild about my swordfish choice, as it was different than I expected. But they had free wi-fi and DH liked his salmon and my dish, too. The diner next to me had the squid, which looked good.

“Baiuka Bar Restaurante”
Praia das Moitas
2765 Monte Estoril
www.baiukabar.com

Restaurants in Lisbon we recommend:

1. “Duval”-- DH had walked by this very nice-looking restaurant on a tiny street up the hill, across from an historic convent. We returned to it for dinner, and were very happy with it. It has a more contemporary feel, with excellent service and an inventive menu.

The chef was short-handed, because her husband/chef was in the hospital for surgery, but she still made time to come to our table and help us choose wines with our orders. Our waiter was actually from their other restaurant in the Algarve, who had been pressed into service, and he could not have been more friendly and helpful. We enjoyed picking his brain about his hometown Lisbon.

The chef sent a complimentary garlic sardine appetizer to us, to tide us over because our order was behind a huge party of 30.

“Duval”, Rue Nova da Trinidade No 11 H/K
1200- 301 Lisboa
www.fazgostoslx.com

2. "Sancho"-- This place was very near our hotel, and looked good, so we stopped in for dinner. Service was excellent and fish was fresh and good. I had prawns and DH had salmon.
“Restaurante Sancho”,
Travessa da Gloria n.o. 14
1250- 118 Lisboa
www.restaurantesancho.com.pt

3. We did NOT like “Restaurante Valentino”, although it is a lovely restaurant, outside seating, on a charming narrow cobblestoned street directly down from our hotel. It had been recommended by our concierge.

Our experience was not good—service took forever, and both our orders were delivered wrong. We had to wait a while for the new orders to be delivered. The manager apologized, but offered no comp drink while we waited. The food was mediocre, shrimp was scarce in our sauce, pasta was too al dente. We noticed other diners were also drumming their fingers on the tables, waiting for their food. Maybe it was an off-night, as our waiter seemed to be new, didn’t speak English, and required the assistance of the manager several times. The restaurant was full, outside and in.

http://grupovalentinorestaurantes.co...auradores.aspx
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Old Sep 11th, 2012, 07:57 AM
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PS. I forgot this funny story. People are always concerned about encountering pickpockets and other thieves, and we took precautions as anyone should.

So who was the only person in Portugal who tried to rip us off?
A cute little old lady who sold water and cold drinks from a cart on the avenue in front of our hotel!

I purchased two bottles @ 1EU/each. Gave her a 20. She gave me back a 10 and some coins. I confess to be dumb and usually just accepting the foreign change I am given, but this time the number of coins she gave me seemed slight.

I laid them down on her cart top, right as she gave them to me, for us both to see. Then she miraculously produced a 5 bill, as though she had meant to give it to me all along. I doubt it. I believe she did it on purpose to short me 5EU.

Look out for the little, grey-haired, smiling, cute old ladies!
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Old Sep 12th, 2012, 07:44 AM
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So no one really cares about my trip report? Haha
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Old Sep 12th, 2012, 07:59 AM
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For people who are not "accidental tourists," I hope PeaceOut doesn't mind my inserting into the report that the Gulbenkian Museum is one of the most astonishing museums one can go to in Europe, with a lovely garden to boot. Also greatly rewarding for art and history lovers is the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, the monastery in Belem and the earthquake ruined Convento do Carmo.

Contrary to Lisbon's reputation for being all about dried cod and grilled sardines when it comes to food, there is a considerable international influence to the restaurants in Lisbon, with wonderful Indian and African inflected dishes from Goa and Mozambique, and hearty Brasilian dishes, and some of the very best roast chicken around in addition to fresh grilled seafoods.

Rossio is a very good neighborhood, filled with life but not filled with tourists, and extremely easy to access transportation going in all directions.

Everything in Lisbon is a bargain -- including taxis -- and it is a joy to be there. The city has a very open, friendly feeling. Most Portuguese speak very serviceable English.
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Old Sep 12th, 2012, 08:03 AM
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caroline_edinburgh:

Where have you been in Portugal?

I feel the relaxed and open attitude of the Portuguese in Lisbon is particularly welcoming and gracious, with a democratic, egalitarian feel. Less anxiety about status and money than in some other countries. I found it striking. i enjoy being in other parts of Europe, but I found the unaffected style of the Portuguese urbanites very -- well, affecting! Climate was wonderful too. Prices, fantastic.
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