Go Back  Fodor's Forum > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page > Sunshine, ginjinha and an angry peacock: A surprise birthday trip to Lisbon
Notices

Sunshine, ginjinha and an angry peacock: A surprise birthday trip to Lisbon

Reply

Jan 7th, 2013, 09:00 AM
  #1
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 2,981
Sunshine, ginjinha and an angry peacock: A surprise birthday trip to Lisbon

We just returned last night from a quick, four-day trip to Lisbon to celebrate mr_go’s 50th birthday. Given that it was a short (too short) trip, we won’t do a day-by-day report but will share some thoughts on the various things we saw and experienced. This will probably be a tag-team effort over a few days, depending on who is most easily distracted from work. Photos will be coming later, hopefully within a week.

Preface: The surprise

Sometime last summer, DD (age 19) and I began discussing what to do for mr_go’s 50th birthday in early January. We had no good ideas for “things” to get him and decided pretty quickly that what we’d like to do what we enjoy most as a family—travel somewhere and explore a place we've never been (of note, we also realized this potentially would be our one and only chance for the three of us to travel as a family during all of 2013). But given the holidays and work/school schedules, we would be limited to about 4-5 days.

So where? We are not really beach people and preferred a “city” trip to typical winter destinations in the Caribbean, etc. (at least for this event). Given that parameter, you have to go pretty far afield from Chicago in January to find a city that was “new” for us and where the weather would be “nice enough.”

Balancing weather considerations and travel time to get there, we identified three finalists: Lisbon, Barcelona and Buenos Aires. I did some research on each as time permitted over the next few months. Although it was clearly the best weather option, I eventually eliminated Buenos Aires—it would be more expensive to get there and would involve overnight flights on both ends of the trip….probably too tiring for a short trip squeezed in between holiday travel and being back and ready to work on January 7.

The other two involved a calculated risk re: the weather. Temps wouldn't be a problem, but rain would certainly impact the experience. More research….and it eventually came down to gut feel (we seriously could have gone either way, and I’m sure he would have enjoyed both equally as much). Lisbon it was. I booked flights back in mid-October and began looking into accommodations.

Then, there was the small matter of keeping this a secret so it would be a nice birthday surprise. We had to tell our respective families in the context of making other plans to get together for Christmas/New Year’s. And I notified his boss, so the few days off wouldn't be a big surprise. In the midst of all this, I also had to get some passport things done (mine renewed, his sent in for more pages). Somehow, though, we managed to keep it all a secret—with plans to tell him a week or two before so he wasn't heading off to Lisbon completely unprepared.

On the evening of December 22, we were at O’Hare—headed to Phoenix to see my mother for Christmas. As we descended the escalator into the underground walkway between the B and C concourses, he looks at a big United ad and says “Gee, I really wish I was going somewhere for fun.” DD and I smiled at each other. Once we were in the United Club, we handed him a gift-wrapped Lisbon book to break the surprise. I was a little nervous—in the time since booking, it became apparent that both his schools, Georgia and Northwestern, would be playing in New Year’s Day bowl games. He was clearly looking forward to those but would now miss them, as we would have to leave our house that morning. Fortunately, if there’s one thing he loves more than football, it's travel—so it was all well received
ms_go is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jan 7th, 2013, 09:04 AM
  #2
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 2,981
The basics

We stayed in an apartment in the Bairro Alto area of Lisbon (more on that later) and generally spent our time as follows:

Day 1 (afternoon): Walking in Bairro Alto, Chiado and Baixa to get oriented

Day 2: Igreja do Carmo, Castelo de São Jorge, Alfama, Sé

Day 3: Sintra: Palácio Nacional, Palácio da Pena, Castelo dos Mouros

Day 4: Belém: Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Museu de Marinha (maritime museum), Torre de Belém, Monument to the Discoveries, Praça do Império (gardens)

At least one more day would have been nice for a first visit, as we left quite a bit on the table. But we’ll take what we can get and now have a list of things for next time; surely we will be back as a jumping off point for visiting more of Portugal.

Thanks to everyone who shared input here:
http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...-to-lisbon.cfm

More to come, but I need to get back to work for now.
ms_go is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jan 7th, 2013, 09:21 AM
  #3
 
Join Date: Oct 2012
Posts: 716
Sounds like a wonderful surprise.
Golemtoo is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jan 7th, 2013, 11:28 AM
  #4
 
Join Date: Aug 2008
Posts: 1,704
Looking forward to this! I just booked a ticket yesterday for a long weekend in Lisbon for mid April.
Weekender is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jan 7th, 2013, 01:26 PM
  #5
 
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 2,478
I'll be in Lisbon in May and will eagerly read about your experience!
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jan 7th, 2013, 03:24 PM
  #6
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 5,397
I think you nailed it, what a great gift.
socaltraveler is online now  
Reply With Quote
Jan 7th, 2013, 03:32 PM
  #7
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,548
Signing on for the ride.
Nikki is online now  
Reply With Quote
Jan 8th, 2013, 04:28 AM
  #8
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 2,981
Thanks, everyone!

Sunshine…and brilliant blue skies

As noted, I knew that weather—and in particular, rain—was a risk. Wow, did we luck out. It was raining in Lisbon up through the day before our arrival; according to the caretaker for our apartment, it was pretty heavy on New Year’s Eve.

We did not see so much as a cloud until the last evening of our stay, after we were done visiting sites and taking photos, and even those late clouds passed over fairly quickly. What I’d read about Lisbon’s amazing blue winter skies was absolutely true! High temps were around 60F—not balmy, but a good bit warmer than Chicago. What more could we ask?

On the subject of weather, we also were very lucky with respect to our travel getting to and from Lisbon, with all four flights right on time. We all know that a lot could go very wrong with flights involving O’Hare and Newark this time of year (well, Newark was a bit of a chaotic mess, but that had nothing to do with the weather).
ms_go is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jan 8th, 2013, 04:39 AM
  #9
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 2,981
Accommodations

We usually collaborate quite a bit in researching and selecting places to stay, but this time I was doing it alone (DD was off at school and preoccupied by this point).

Two big decisions: area of Lisbon and hotel vs. apartment, priority on the former. After a lot of reading and research, I chose an apartment in the Bairro Alto neighborhood.

I suspect there isn't a clear-cut “best” area in which to stay, but we were very happy with the Bairro Alto. We are good walkers, and we found this a great, central location for getting everywhere we wanted to go. In fact, in central Lisbon, we never took taxis or public transportation, only trains to get to outlying areas like Sintra or Belém—and from here it was no more than a 10-15 minute walk to get to those trains.

There were some pretty good dining options within a few minutes’ walk of our apartment (one was literally right downstairs). With even more bars than restaurants, the area is a little “festive” late at night, and particularly so on Friday/Saturday nights. Aside from one specific screaming argument outside at 3 am, though, this didn't really keep us up (try as we may, we aren't the post-midnight party types). The Sunday-morning aftermath was a little amusing to look at:
http://onelittleworld.zenfolio.com/p...4064#h51ac4064

As an aside, we also were intrigued by the area of Baixa (I think) that is on the side of the hill leading up to the castle and also by Alfama (although it didn't seem quite as centrally located).

Our apartment is here, and we found it pretty much as advertised:
http://www.tripadvisor.com/VacationR...tremadura.html

Loads of space for three people. Recent and very modern renovation—in fact, some of the appliances were so high-tech we had to haul out the instruction manuals. Great plumbing/hot water and climate controls (not always a given in older buildings). Huge windows and nice views. With our better-than-expected weather, we were actually able to enjoy the roof deck a little in the afternoons. There’s a small grocery across the street and another larger one just a couple blocks away. We were very happy here and happy to recommend it, provided you can deal with the walk up (it is on the third and fourth floors) and the neighborhood is the right fit.
ms_go is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jan 8th, 2013, 05:50 AM
  #10
 
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 2,478
Wow...the apartment looks terrific!
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jan 8th, 2013, 07:11 AM
  #11
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 11,976
The apartment was incredible, LCI... ms_go nailed that one, right out of the park. And when she says "loads of space for 3 people," that's a real understatement. It was immense (and really well-furnished).

The Bairro Alto neighborhood
Honestly, if we'd never ventured more than a half-mile from the front door of our building, I still would have had an excellent time. The Bairro Alto is a tight little grid of narrow streets in the center of town, packed with dozens and dozens of small restaurants, bars, shops, cafes and the like. In each of them, you will find a nice mix of local Lisboans and Portugese, plus tourists from all around the globe. And everyone has come there to find some good food and good fun!

The tiny size of most of these establishments is the primary source of their charm. They're warm and inviting, like wandering into someone's home. Individually, there is anything and everything you could want... but taken together as a whole, it's sort of like a smorgasbord. Not feeling like the fresh seafood place here? Try the Indian place next door. Tired of this caipirinha bar? Go ten yards across the street to the wine & cheese place.

Just to the south of this grid of streets is the Praça de Camões, a large open public square that serves as a convenient meeting place and the unofficial dividing point between Bairro Alto and the Chiado area, with its high-end shopping, fashionable storefronts and historic coffee-houses.

As much as we enjoyed the neighborhood, I have a feeling that someone in their 30s might enjoy it even more.
mr_go is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jan 8th, 2013, 02:18 PM
  #12
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
Posts: 1,690
What a great place you found to stay! I love it when the neighborhood, the rental, and space all work out like you imagine. Good report.
willowjane is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jan 8th, 2013, 05:15 PM
  #13
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 9,369
Beautiful apartment! Looking forward to hearing more.
(As an aside re BA, while the flight is long, the same time zone means no jetlag which is great.)
yestravel is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jan 8th, 2013, 09:02 PM
  #14
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 1,995
So happy to be getting the rest of the story! We love Lisbon and Portugal, so thanks forall the info.
taconictraveler is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jan 9th, 2013, 03:38 AM
  #15
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 2,981
Thanks willowjane, yestravel and taconictraveler!

yestravel--I considered that about Buenos Aires, although it was the combo of long flights and cost (several hundred $ more per ticket) that squashed that idea...this time.

The angry peacock

For those who don't frequent the lounge and didn't see it there, here is the story of the angry peacock (or peahen, as was actually the case):

http://www.fodors.com/community/fodo...-in-lisbon.cfm

One of our funniest travel moments ever!

We'll try add a few other things sometime today.
ms_go is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jan 9th, 2013, 07:42 AM
  #16
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 11,976
For those already familiar with the peacock story, but who might not have seen the photo, here it is (in all its ferocious glory):

http://onelittleworld.zenfolio.com/p...c9a0#h5145c9a0

The restaurants
We generally saved time and money on this trip during the daytime, eating breakfast in the apartment and stopping for quick sandwiches and snacks at lunchtime. At night, we stayed right in our own neighborhood for supper.

Our first dinner was about 3 or 4 blocks from the apartment, at Cantinho do Bem Estar. With glowing recommendations from Chowhound and the New York Times, this simple establishment had maybe 8 or 9 tables total... and they had to move tables and chairs around Rubik's Cube-style to let diners sit along the back wall. A man outside the front door, wearing a Chicago Bulls hat, ushered us inside and we found ourselves seated at the last remaining table (even though it was only 8:00, very early by Lisbon standards). Portions were generous, bordering on immense. ms_go enjoyed a huge plate of fresh prawns in a fragrant saffron sauce; DD could barely make a dent in her delicious slow-cooked veal in coriander sauce; and I feasted on a large, whole broiled cod. All of that food, plus a bottle of the house white, set us back only 56 euros. Not bad!

Dinner the second night was at 1o de Maio (1st of May), just around the corner from the apartment. This was also a tiny, homey place with a menu in Portugese only. While there, I overheard the waiter translating menu items in four different languages. ms_go and I went for grilled octopus and squid (respectively), while DD enjoyed a roast pork dish. It was decent, unpretentious fare and along with the house white and a Coke it was under 50 euros.

On our third night, we didn't feel like a full meal. So we ducked into a cozy neighborhood winebar called Grapes & Bites for some wine, cheese and cured meat nibbles and live music. More info to come in the "Drinking & Celebrating" section (stay tuned). ms_go considers this to be her favorite meal of the trip, even though it was not really a restaurant.

Our last dinner was at As Salgadeiras, literally next door to our apartment building. It was a slightly more upscale place, but seemed worth the extra cost. The atmosphere is very warm and comfy. I enjoyed a delicious grilled grouper dish, ms_go had the 'Minho-style' octopus, and DD had a terrific beef fillet served with a creamy peppercorn sauce. I don't remember the cost of this meal... perhaps ms_go can recall.
mr_go is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jan 9th, 2013, 08:25 AM
  #17
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 2,981
Dinner at As Salgadeiras was about €105.
http://assalgadeiras.no.sapo.pt/en/index.html

The bill at Grapes & Bites was about the same. While it wasn't really a "restaurant meal," we had plenty to eat over about 2.5 hours there--large cheese and meat platter, octopus salad, stuffed peppers and some sinful chocolate thing for dessert!--in addition to the "drinking and celebrating" part.
http://www.grapesandbites.com/
ms_go is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jan 9th, 2013, 09:19 AM
  #18
 
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 2,478
All the meals above sound great and definitely the kinds of places I'd like to give a try. Thanks for posting the links to the restaurant and wine bar.

A question for you. From their website, it looks like Grapes & Bites might be a good place for an "aperitivo" drink. When mom and I travel we like to have a glass (or 2) of wine before dinner. Based on your experience would you say Grapes & Bites may be a good spot for that?
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jan 9th, 2013, 09:43 AM
  #19
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 2,981
LowCountryIslander, I'd say so. Not everyone was eating or spending 2+ hours there like we did!

They have a HUGE wine list (see the website...nine pages of reds, alone!). Servers can make recommendations. You'll probably end up wanting to try more than one glass
ms_go is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jan 9th, 2013, 10:30 AM
  #20
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 11,976
LCI: I'd agree with my LW, with one caveat... it's a small place with live music. When we were there, it was a guy & his guitar playing acoustic versions of 70s and 80s rock hits. Fine by me, but I'm pretty sure my mom would like it less.
mr_go is offline  
Reply With Quote
 



Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On



All times are GMT -8. The time now is 10:42 PM.