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We had a week off work last week, and beyond a vague intention to have a break in Lisbon at some point, we had no firm plans.
Our plans accelerated on Friday evening, just hours after switching off our laptops, when a quiet drink on our terrace was disturbed by the appearance of a scuttling rodent. Long term readers of the blog will be aware that I am not exactly a fan of these things, so I quickly found myself safely locked indoors, booking a hotel in Lisbon for the following day!
We spent five days in Lisbon, a brief account of which follows. I do intend to write a more detailed account of our stay there, which will form part of a forthcoming Kindle book – stayed tuned for details.
SATURDAY: After arranging for our relatives to remove some plants from our balcony, with our beautiful peach tree believed to me the main attraction for the newly discovered vermin, we headed off up the A2 toll road to Portugal’s capital. Our planned arrival time was scuppered by the level of traffic approaching the main 25 de Abril bridge into the city. So after a couple of hours of traffic jam, we only had time to settle into our hotel and enjoy a light dinner, consisting of a Greek mezze platter (something we would never find down here in the Algarve), and a couple of very overpriced cocktails.
SUNDAY was exploration day. We purchased a one day public transport pass and boarded the clean and efficient metro into the Baixa area. I was delighted that, although it had been some time since I was last in the city, I instantly knew where I was, and had a rough idea of my way around.
After a scarily expensive toastie and iced tea, which reminded us instantly that we weren’t in the more affordable sticks any more, we set off on a wander to explore downtown Lisbon.
First stop was a free-to-enter design museum, which included some fascinating exhibits including iconic 70s furniture and HiFi systems. We then boarded the Elevador de Santa Justa, a huge vertical lift that, in seconds, takes you from the low-lying baixa district to Chiado and Barrio Alto, located on a steep hill above. We walked though Barrio Alto, Lisbon´s main nighttime restaurant and bar area, which is strangely quiet and residential during the day, and onto the pretty park at Praca do Principe Real, where we stopped at the Esplanada café for a cooling drink.
When we settled at our table, I was a little disconcerted by the guy sitting across from us, who kept catching my eye, but all was explained when I read my guide book and found the café described as a popular gay pick-up spot!
We failed to find our way into the very well hidden botantical gardens, and started to get hungry, so we decided on a picnic in the Parque Eduardo VII, which we reached via metro, stopping en route at the huge Corte D’Ingles department store for provisions. We enjoyed our picnic of cheese, bread, chorizo and bola de berlim (Portuguese cream donuts) in blazing heat….or at least I did – my wife ate most of her food standing up to avoid the ants….
Amazed at how much we had achieved in one day, we headed back to the hotel for a quick swim before dinner, which turned out to be a very quick swim due to the vast numbers of noisy children in the hotel pool.
Late in the evening, we ventured out, again by metro, to the completely transformed Barrio Alto district. Packed with tourists when we went into our chosen restaurant, these were largely replaced by locals by the time we left around midnight.
The noise and atmosphere carried us along and we visited several bars and drank numerous cocktails. By the time we stumbled out of a cab and into our hotel, people were already in reception checking out ready for early morning flights.
MONDAY was a bit of a write-off, after the excesses of the night before, so we enjoyed the TV in our room, a room-service pizza, and several overpriced but rehydrating juice drinks from the minibar. In the afternoon, we started to feel guilty about wasting our holiday time, so set off by metro to Centro Columbo, a shopping center described in our guidebook as the largest in Iberia, located next to Benfica football stadium.
I don’t know how much of our distaste for the place was due to the hangover, but we couldn’t get away quick enough. It was packed with people and almost impossible to find our way out of. Our shopping trip turned into a military operation to source a DVD, bags of popcorn and soft drinks. We were quickly back at our hotel, the only saving grace of the entire jaunt being a large tub of green apple sorbet which finally started to make us feel human again.
TUESDAY: Cautious of having squandered one day of our break, we were up early and headed off to the Parque das Nacoes, a huge area of Lisbon developed for Expo 98 and dedicated to leisure. We enjoyed views of the river and the stunning Vasco de Gama bridge whilst walking around and then headed to the large Oceanarium via the rather disappointing and poorly maintained water gardens.
The queue at the Oceanarium looked horrendous, but actually moved very quickly, and we were soon inside to look at the marine life in Europe’s second largest aquarium. We enjoyed the Oceanarium, but it was packed, and quite hard to get near the windows to the main tank. However, we were particularly taken with certain species, particularly the impossibly cute otters, who I swear were enjoying the attention, seadragons, and brightly coloured jellyfish.
For what its worth, although we enjoyed the oceanarium, I probably enjoyed the aquarium at the Algarve’s Zoomarine more, because what it didn’t have in sheer scale, it made up for in additional space to relax and enjoy looking at the fish. Had we visited at a slightly quieter time, I may have had a different view.
After a quick mobile lunch of crepes and waffles from Oriente station, we headed back to the hotel, aching all over from walking up and down the steep hills of Lisbon. It seemed like a good time to visit the hotel´s spa. After this we didn’t fancy going far, so took the chance on a local Chinese buffet restaurant, which was surprisingly good quality, compared to the disastrous meals we have had in similar establishments, such as the one I talk about here.
WEDNESDAY was our last full day in the Lisbon area, so we decided to venture a bit further to explore Sintra, Estoril and Cascais. Details of our explorations of these areas follow in next week’s blog post. Please come back and read it!