Lisbon, Portugal Trip Report - March '05

Apr 21st, 2005, 11:14 AM
  #1  
NHC
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Lisbon, Portugal Trip Report - March '05

My husband and I spent a week in Lisbon, Portugal. We went the week after Holy Week to avoid the higher prices and crowds. It turned out to be a pretty good time to go: Lisbon was not overly-crowded with tourists. The weather was a bit spotty in that it rained a few days, but the other days were warm and sunny. One thing that we used for our trip was a trip report here on fodors.com by drjames called “Lisbon Notes 3 Weeks in Winter” that was posted January 14, ’05. It has a lot of useful information.

ARRIVAL & HOTEL
Upon arrival at the airport in Lisbon we stopped at the tourist office in the airport and got a map and some travel brochures. Then we took the Aerobus, which is the airport bus, to the Marqués de Pombal bus stop. It cost 3E (pay on-board), and the ticket is also good to use for public transportation for the rest of the day (we also returned to the airport on the Aerobus, it is the same price). We walked around 3 blocks up to our hotel. This was a little tricky because it was raining, it was uphill (not very steep, though), and the streets are cobblestone, but it was fine. We stayed at Residencia Nazareth, which is between the Parque and Sao Sebastian metro (subway) stations. Residencia Nazareth is on the 4th and 5th floors of a building on Avenida António Augusto de Aguiar. Our double room was 46E per night (if paying cash. 50E for credit cards). The Nazareth is a budget accomodation. Our room was a fine size, with a double bed, desk, extra chair and mini-refrigerator. The bathroom was nice. It was clear that it had been recently remodeled, and had marble tiles and a bathtub/shower combination in addition to a nice-sized sink, and a toilet and bidet. The price includes breakfast, which consists of several types of bread, butter, jam, meat and cheese cold cuts, juice and a hot drink. The website says there is a personal tea kettle in each room, and I saw them in a couple of other rooms as I was walking by that were being cleaned, but ours didn’t have one. It didn’t bother us, though, so I didn’t mention it to the desk staff. There is a lift, but only to the 4th floor. We were on the 5th floor, so we had to walk up a flight, but the man at the desk helped us up with our luggage. If you are going to have lots of luggage or walking up and down a flight of steps each day would be hard for you, ask for a room on the 4th floor. The desk staff speak English.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
We bought a day pass for public transportation (all forms: metro/bus/tram) our second day there. But it turned out that we weren’t using our transportation cards correctly. There is a slot for inserting a card, but that is only for an individual ticket. For day (or longer) passes you sort of scan it on top where a picture of the ticket is displayed. We had to figure this out ourselves. We asked at the Oceanarium’s metro station, and the attendant did speak English, but she said that we had to “introduce” the card, which didn’t really help us, we didn’t understand what she meant. The initial card was 3,40E (.50 E for the card, and then 2,90 for a day). You can refill the card without having to pay the initial .50E again. The next day we added a 5 day pass for 11,65 (Note on PRICES: several things had gone up. Almost all of the prices in our guidebooks were outdated, which isn’t unusual, but many in drjames’s trip report from just 3 months earlier were also outdated, e.g. that report lists a 5-day pass as being 8,30, but it’s now 11,65). We tried to add the 5 days at the Parque metro station by our hotel, but we had to go to the Marqués de Pombal station to get this done, it apparently can’t be done at all stations, and we were unsure whether we could do it on the ticket machines at the station. I believe there is also a cheaper pass for the metro only. We saw only one metro station that displayed how long the wait was until the next train, although the waits never seemed very long. The public transport company Carris has a website with English: www.carris.pt.
Caution: Be careful on the subway. We witnessed two theft situations while we were riding. In one, a group of people surrounded a guy and took his wallet and then got off of the train. The guy tried to hold onto one of them, but they all managed to get out, and then the train pulled away. The second time we were waiting for the subway and the door opened, displaying a guy holding onto the neck and arm of another guy who had a knife in his hand. Apparently the man who was being held had tried to steal from the man holding him. We, and the others waiting near us, took a different car of the train to say the least!

We also took the suburban trains, Combois, to Sintra and Cascais. Their bilingual website is www.cp.pt. The prices are quite reasonable. The trip to Sintra took around 45 minutes and cost 1,30E. The trip to Cascais took around 40 minutes and cost the same (each way). There are sometimes different companies in the station, so you have to ascertain which one is going to your destination. When we went to Cascais, we tried to buy tickets at a window, but the woman pointed to the machines: apparently you could only buy tickets from the machine. Be aware that the Rossio train station is closed for renovations until June ’06, so to go to Sintra we were directed to the Jardim Zoologio stop instead to get to the Cais do Sodré metro that is attached to the Sete-Rios Combois train station; you can’t go from Rossio right now.

LANGUAGE
Several places we went there were people who spoke English, but there were also many people that we had to use gestures and such with to get information. Often it seemed that when my husband spoke Spanish he was understood (I read somewhere that someone said Portuguese people get irritated when Spanish was spoken to them, but that was not our experience at all), although we sometimes had trouble understanding the responses, as Portuguese in written form is very similar to Spanish, but spoken it is very different. We would often try to pronounce things and not be understood. But in general we didn’t have any problems, and especially in restaurants and tourist sites English was spoken.

MEALS
Our first night we went for a walk on Avenida Liberdade, which is one of the main streets of Lisbon, and decided to stop for dinner at a restaurant called Cervejaria Ribadouro on the corner of Rua do Salitre. They had good food. I had shrimp with garlic. My husband had veal escapole. Along with appetizers, salads and drinks, the meal was 50E. It seemed to be mostly tourists dining there. Our waiter spoke English.

We ate Japanese food at a restaurant near our hotel called Assuka, on Rua Sao Sebastiao da Pedreira 150. They have a website: www.assuka.com. We had seen it while walking earlier in the day and decided to go. It turned out to be very popular. We got there around 7/7:30 on a weeknight, and almost all of the tables had reserved signs. We sat at the sushi bar. I wasn’t sure what to expect, because none of the chefs were Japanese, and none of them looked older than 30. But the food was quite good. I had tempura, my husband had a sushi/sashimi combo, and along with tea, drinks and an appetizer it was 43E. You should probably make a reservation, or come fairly early (like 6 or 6:30). Their phone number within Lisbon is 213149345. The waiters spoke some English.

We ate Italian food at Ristorante Valentino on Rua Jardim do Regedor 45 near the Restaudores metro. The food was ok, nothing special, although it was nice to sit outside, and a few musicians came close to the restaurant and played for tips. It turned out to be a chain restaurant, I later saw another one in a mall. It’s fairly tourist-oriented. A dinner consisting of salad, two pasta dishes, an appetizer, drinks and two desserts came to 31E.

In the Alfama district we ate lunch by the Sé cathedral at a tiny restaurant called A Tasca. Rua Augusto Rosa 62, phone 218875551. They had quite good food, and there were primarily locals eating there. A cheese and ham appetizer that they bring at the beginning of the meal (I guess you shouldn’t eat it if you don’t want to pay around 5E for it), drinks, soup, salad, and two meat dishes that included “chips” (somewhere between American potato chips and french fries/British chips) came to 34E.

We wanted to have Rodizio while we were there, which is a Brazilian meal where you are continously brought different dishes, primarily grilled meat. The hotel recommended two, but they both turned out to be closed (one for good, one for remodeling). So we asked a shopkeeper close to where one of them had been, and he directed us to a different restaurant not too far by metro. The restaurant was called Adega on Campo Pequeno 79, phone: 217800453. The waiter told us that it was Portuguese specialty food, and we thought he had made a mistake because it usually is a Brazilian meal rather than Portuguese, but this was actually Portuguese food. I guess they adapted it. It was quite good, although I figure some foreigners might not like some of the food, such as pig’s ear salad, chicken stomachs, etc. They brought us many, many dishes, such as sausage, beans, lamb, etc. The waiter spoke English, and announced each dish when he brought it, at which time you could accept some or refuse it. You can have more, but we usually just accepted one serving spoon full of each dish. It was still a lot of food. There were also several desserts. It took 3 hours to complete the meal! My husband ate too much and got a bit sick, actually, so just pace yourself. Along with a liter of water, a soda, two small waters, and a 24E bottle of wine, the meal came to 65E. Quite reasonable. Without the wine it would have only been around 42E for two people and all of that food. They also have a regular menu, and the prices seemed pretty reasonable. Another cool thing was that they had FADO singers for part of the meal (this wasn’t until around 10 or 10:30). We hadn’t expected this. We had previously decided not to go hear fado due to the prices we’d seen for going to Fado clubs, but we got it here for free!

In Sintra, we ate at the restaurant at the Palacio Pena. It was fairly expensive, but pasta dishes weren’t too bad. We each had a pasta dish that cost 8,50 each, along with a 2,50 cover charge each that included bread, and two drinks (beware, the menu does not list drinks. A soda was 3E, while a liter of water was 3,50) came to 28,50E.

In Belém we ate lunch at the cafeteria of the Cultural Center (Centro Cultural de Belén), which had pretty good Portuguese food, and wasn’t too expensive.

We also occasionally ate at malls when we were there. The food was cheap, and although there were often the usual fast food restaurants there, they usually had a least a few restaurants with varied types of “regular” food.

The day we left we ate lunch at the airport. We were quite early because we had to check out of our hotel at 12, but our flight was at 4, so we didn’t really have time to do anything else. We were not able to check-in for our flight for quite some time, so we ate at the restaurant in the main area of the airport. Very so-so. Once we checked in and got our boarding passes we were able to go to the area past security, where we saw better eating establishments.

Tipping: In general we tipped 5% at restaurants, which is what we read was appropriate, as service charges are supposed to be included in the prices. We read that a 10% tip is appropriate at fancy restaurants.

SIGHTS

OCEANARIUM:
The Oriente metro station lets you off right next to the Vasco de Gama shopping mall, and then you walk to the oceanarium. There is a nice area with a walkway along the water with fountains.
The Oceanarium was 10E each. We enjoyed it. The building dips into the ocean and you can see many different types of sealife, including some really unusual ones! The exhibits are in both Portuguese and English, and they have a film about the oceanarium with English subtitles.

ALFAMA DISTRICT & CASTELO SAO JORGE:
This castle is above the Alfama district of Lisbon. We had read that taking the 28 TRAM was a nice tour of several of the interesting neighborhoods of old Lisbon. So we went to the Martin Moniz metro station, and then proceeded to have trouble finding the tram stop. There weren’t really any signs indicating where it was. Inside the station no-one was in the information booth, but there was a map of the immediate area. We finally found it, we just had to look at all of the surrounding bus stops. We were the first stop for the tram, which was good because it got full quite quickly. It is an old cable-car tram. It took a while to really get started because the driver had to keep stopping due to double-parked cars. He had to honk and then we’d have to wait for the drivers to come and move their cars. After having to do this about 3 times, things went more smoothly, but the tram got very crowded. It’s just a single car. So, it actually was rather difficult to take in much of the neighborhoods. The tram takes you up steep and very narrow roads. The driver did not call out any stops. We seemed to get to the top, but I wasn’t sure. The next stop started going downwards and went by the Sé cathedral, and I saw on the other side a bus stop for Bus 37, which I knew goes up to the Castelo. We got off there, because I read that it is still a steep walk up to the Castelo after the tram stop, but Bus 37 goes right there.

The guidebooks and trip report I read said that the castelo had free admission, but apparently they just started to charge. Admission is 3E. There are spectacular views from the castle area. You can see all around the city and across the water. There are steps throughout up to the castle and around it. The castle is not intact, but much of it is still there. They have a camera obscura presentation every half hour or so where you can see the town reflected onto a surface by a device formulated hundreds of years ago that works somewhat like a telescope. I recommend this presentation, it is free, and was in English (I think they do it in either Portuguese or English depending on who is attending). There is also an area on the grounds with birds, and we saw a peacock who displayed all of his pretty blue-green feathers. There is a restaurant, as well as a cafe there, but we did not go to them. They have ice cream vendors and the like there, as well.

After visiting the castle we walked down a bit to the Miradouro (overlook) Santa Luiza, which is a small square that has pretty old tiles and a beautiful view.

SINTRA:
[See what’s written above in the Transportation section about changes re: getting to Sintra].
Upon arrival in Sintra, we book bus 434, which is the tourist bus. It cost 3,60E for a day pass on that line. You can also buy a pass for all of the local buses for the day, which is around 7,50E. You buy the tickets at the tourist office inside of the station, which also has maps, price lists for local attractions, and so on. Several of the sights in Sintra are up on a mountain, so we decided to start at the top and move down.

Palacio Pena:
We started at the Palacio Pena. The bus drops you right outside of the entrance gate. The ticket office is across the road. Entrance was 6E. I had read that the fee included entrance to other sights in Sintra, but I saw no evidence of this. Separate prices were listed for other sights. Once inside, there was a shuttle designed to look like a cable car. People started lining up for that, I doubt aware that it cost more to take it. It is 1,50E to take that shuttle further up the hill to the entrance of the castle. I think the price is a bit high, especially after paying an entrance fee, but one can walk if they wish. It is not a long ride, but quite steep. The tickets are roundtrip, so you can use your ticket to return down the hill after your visit. After eating lunch at the palace’s restaurant, we began to walk around. It is really pretty up there, with beautiful views. There are many outside areas of the palace. To go inside, you must forfeit your camera to a check-desk, they are very serious about no pictures inside. Inside there is a beautiful multi-level patio, and then a sort of museum where you go from room to view to view the rooms of the palace.

After visiting the palace we walked down to the Castelo dos Mouro (Moors’ Castle), but decided not to pay another entrance fee and visit it. We caught the tourist bus from there back down to the main area of town. We walked around a bit, and had ice cream at one of the local cafes. We went to the plaza area of the Palacio Nacional, but did not enter. After that, we took the bus back to the train station, although it didn’t look like it would have been a long walk.

BELÉM:
We took Tram 15 from Placa Figueroa to get to Belém, which is just a regular local ride so it doesn’t cost extra (one transportation ticket is .90E) and is included in a transportation pass if you have one. The Combois suburban train also goes there, but I believe it would cost 1,30E to go that way. After getting off of the tram we walked to the nearby gardens across the street from the Monasterio de los Jerónimos. It is a pretty area with fountains, trees, and statues. After that we went to monastery. First we visited the church there, which has no entrance fee. It was very ornate inside. There were a couple of tombs not far from the entrance. We were trying to find out who one of them belonged to. There was no name listed that we could find. Later, we were looking in a picture book of Lisbon and found that it was Vasco de Gama’s. After that we entered the monastery, which has a 3E entrance fee. There is a spectacular cloister inside, as well as access to the top floor of the church, and several other parts of the monastery, as well as an exhibit on the history of the monastery’s order through the ages.

After that we wanted to go to the Monument of Discovery. However, it is on the other side of what basically is a highway. There was an information booth near the gardens, and we asked how to get across. She said there is an underground tunnel to get there. But, we could not find it. We asked again in a shop in the cultural center and the woman explained more where it was. We finally found it. There were no signs leading to it. It turns out that there is also a bridge over the highway near the tower. Once we got to the other side we took pictures around the Monument of Discovery, but we could not go inside due to the renovations. We then walked to the Tower of Belém, and paid the entrance fee of around 2E to go inside. It is right over the water, and has some interesting designs in the architecture.

We crossed bridge back to the other side and headed to where the tram stop was. We found a closer tram stop and waited. A 15 tram came, although it was an older-looking tram than the other Tram 15’s we had seen which were newer models. We got on, and then it went one more stop and stopped there, and everyone got off! I’m not sure what happened, or if it really wasn’t a Tram 15 and it had the wrong number posted on it, but we had to cross the street to get to the right stop.

CASCAIS:
Cascais is a really pretty beach town. Unfortunately, the day we went it was raining. When we first arrived it was pouring, so we headed straight for the mall across the street. We stayed there a little bit waiting for the rain to slow. It stopped after a bit and we went walking around. We went to their tourist office for info, and walked to the water’s edge. Their municipal building is designed with very old tiles, and is very pretty. The whole place was very pretty and charming, I wished that we could have been there on a nicer day. The rain kept starting up again. We ate lunch at the mall, and it was raining again, so we decided to head back to Lisbon. We were only there for a few hours, but I’m glad we went and saw it even with the rain.

CALOUSTE GULBENKIAN MUSEUM:
Our last day was a Sunday. Most museums are free in Lisbon on Sundays, so we went to the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. It has a very nice collection. It is a nice size, so you can view it in a leisurely fashion and see everything within a couple of hours at most. It is also has pretty gardens and a lake/creek. We ate at its cafeteria, which had pretty good food.

MARQUÉS DE POMBAL GARDENS:
These are quite pretty gardens up on a little hill. There are also some restaurants/cafes up there, although we didn’t visit them. A nice place to walk around.

INTERNET ACCESS
We asked at the hotel about where we could go for internet access. The man behind the desk said we should try the post office, but we were unable to find it. We ended up buying a wireless access card from PT Communications that was being sold at a nearby mall. It’s not the best price: 5E for one hour that must be used all at one time (or 20E for a day, 50E for a week). The best deal that we found was the PT Communications office near the Restaudores metro stop on Rua Aurea close to the Rossio train station. It cost 1,25E per half hour, although their yahoo access was spotty. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t and took a while to work. There is a Western Union internet shop diagonally across the road, which is more: 1,75E per half hour.

MOVIES
My husband and I are movie buffs, so we were happy to find out that virtually all of the movies shown in Lisbon are in original version with Portuguese subtitles, so we could go and see any English language movies we wanted. The prices were the cheapest we’d seen in Europe, as well. On Mondays movies are cheaper, around 3,80E. The regular price is around 5E-5,20E. Some theaters assign you seats (and have ushers to lead you to your seats), while others have open seating.
For TV-addicts, there are many English-TV shows with Portuguese subtitles on, although many of them are old shows. The hotel subscribed to a movie TV station, as well.

BANK MACHINES
I knew when we went from Drjames’s trip report that there is a 200E limit on bank machine withdrawals per day. This is still the case, so keep that in mind.
NHC is offline  
Apr 21st, 2005, 12:10 PM
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Beautiful report, thank you.
BTW I love pig’s ear salad and chicken stomachs...
lobo_mau is offline  
Apr 21st, 2005, 03:13 PM
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NHC. Thank you so much for the enjoyable report. We will be going to Portugal next week and will end the trip with Lisbon.
It disappoints me somewhat that everyone that writes a report after traveling to Portugal seems to enjoy the trip so much, but not many reports are written.
Thanks again for posting.
Sher is offline  
Apr 21st, 2005, 04:16 PM
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Thanks so much, NHC, for your report. I found it interesting and informative. We will be in Portugal in a few months and I am always checking here for reports and comments - yours was very helpful.

You are so right, Sher. There is so much written here about other places in Europe, such as Italy and France (and we have been very appreciative of that since those places have been our destinations for quite a few years) but very little about Portugal which will be a first time visit for us. We are looking forward to our trip!
Marianna is offline  
Apr 21st, 2005, 07:24 PM
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Marianna. There are relatively few posts about Portugal compared to other parts of Europe.
Those that have posted have been very helpful.
We leave in one week. I have never posted a trip report. I am considering it after this trip just to get more information out on what we know will be a lovely country.
Sher is offline  
Apr 21st, 2005, 07:41 PM
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I agree, there is not enough writen about Portugal. We have spent a total of about 30 days there and enjoyed it a great deal. Here are some images for Portugal travelers:
http://www.worldisround.com/articles/108338/index.html
bobthenavigator is offline  
Apr 21st, 2005, 07:57 PM
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NHC: Thank you very much for your report. My SIL and BIL have vacationed in Portugal many times (they live in the UK) and finally purchased a condo in the Algarve region. We hope to get there at some point but know very little about what to expect. Marianna and Sher, please post a trip report - I'd love to learn more

seetheworld is offline  
Apr 21st, 2005, 07:59 PM
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bobthenavigator: You photos are outstanding! Thanks so much for sharing...
seetheworld is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2005, 06:57 AM
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I really enjoy 'Brewery Restaurants' in Lisbon: There's a seafood restaurant on the corner of the Sagres brewery building (street level); I also have dined at 2-Portugalia restaurants, the newest on the Quay about 300 m west of the Cais do Sodre ferry terminal (if you walk there, be sure you are on the river-side of the fence). Great food served with large mugs of cold beer!
NEDSIRELAND is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2005, 09:35 AM
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tHANKS. A couple of more notes to add to the ones I have already.
Sherry
Sher is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2005, 10:05 AM
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Thanks for the dining suggestions! That's my next little job - researching places to dine in Lisbon, Cascais, Sintra, and the Lagos area. Any recommendations will be greatly appreciated!
Marianna is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2005, 10:26 AM
  #12  
NHC
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I'm glad this report proved helpful!

Lobo Mau, I can see from your email address that you live in Portugal - enjoy those chicken stomachs and whatnot!

Yes, I noticed there wasn't a whole lot of recent, in-depth info on this board for Lisbon when we were planning except for drjames's report. Lisbon and its environs weren't overrun with tourists while we were there, but there were a fair amount, so people are obviously visiting (which also probably explains some of the jump in prices). I'm not sure why more reports and info aren't being posted on here.

Have fun all of you who are visiting soon!
NHC is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2005, 11:16 AM
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Marianna. We are not going to Lagos, chose to go North instead.
If we have any memorable meals, I will be glad to tell you.

I was also wondering if the person who recently rented a car from Carjet in Portugal had posted any feedback?
Sher is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2005, 12:16 PM
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NHC, I am a regular at Taberna in Campo Pequeno square. Next time you were in Lisbon, let me know and I'll introduce you to the wonderful (and tasteful) world of disgusting food

To Sher, if you wish to share a table for a black coffee while in Lisbon, just email me and I'll reply back with my telephone number.
lobo_mau is offline  

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