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“Weekend trip to Lisbon - First time visit - Younge partiers” 2 of 5 stars
Review of Lisbon

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Lisbon, Portugal
St. Maarten
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3 reviews 3 reviews
Reviews in 2 cities Reviews in 2 cities
26 helpful votes 26 helpful votes
“Weekend trip to Lisbon - First time visit - Younge partiers”
2 of 5 stars Reviewed February 26, 2007

I wanted to write this review for potential visitors to Lisbon, Portugal. Specifically, I write this for young, fun, and party-going people seeking a place to travel to in Europe for a weekend.

Lisbon is NOT where you want to travel to for the nightlife or social scene. The people in Lisbon are generally unattractive (guys and girls) and unfriendly. Once they find out that you are American (or any tourist for that matter) expect to be ripped off at clubs, restaurants, bars, etc. They will try to charge you a cover-charge which they do not collect from any local party-goers. Once you are tagged as foreign, you will be ripped off and treated very poorly.

Having never been to Portugal, we inquired about the best places for partying. We were recommended by he hotel concierge to go to "DOCAS". So, the first night we went to Docas and had a very nice seafood meal at a restaurant called Peix Deux. After dinner, we ventured to the local bars/clubs and were truly disappointed.
DO NOT PARTY IN DOCAS .. ESPECIALLY AVOID:
1. Hawaii (low-class garbage club with meathead bouncers)
2. Cosmos (same deal as above)

These 2 bars were horrible and treated my whole group like garbage. They charged us cover charge while all the locals walked right past us. The bouncer threatened violence when I asked him why we were preferentially being charged to enter his club.

Second night was slightly better. We went to an area called "BAIRRO ALTO" which was full of people. Had a miserable dinner at some restaurant with traditional Portugese dancing. The people on the streets were thugs and trash. Every corner there is somebody offering to sell you hash, cocaine, and marijuana. This place (often hailed as being funky and trendy) is just a few steets full of low-class drunks. Not fun at all.

At about 4AM we ventured to the 'famous' Lux nightclub. This place was relatively better than the other places we went to in Portugal. However, it is nothing spectacular when compared to any hot nightclub in London or NYC. The club does not offer table or bottle service and the line-ups at the bar for drinks are ridiculous. The doormen are unfriendly (surprise!) and they also try to rip you off with a cover-charge once they discover you are a tourist! We were told that telling them you are a student at the American university in Lisbon helps.. I don't know. My advice is just not to bother going at all! lol It's really not worth the hassle.

The only nice thing about my visit to Portugal was my day excursion to "SINTRAS", an historic town with beautiful castles and a palace. I think Portugal is worth visiting for it's castles, beaches (only in summer), and coastal towns. Lisbon is NOT a city for young, fun people to go for a weekend. You'll have time to visit castles and tour small coastal towns when you're old and married. If you go to Sintras, make sure you unwind at "BINHOTECA", a nice wine bar. My group had some beautiful Portugese wine, cheese, and sausage. Don't forget to try Port wine! This winebar is located on one of the narrow little streets in the town.

Lisbon is not very safe from what I could see. On my train ride home from Sintras, a poor man was confronted by 3 youths who then smashed a full wine bottle over his head for no reason. There are drug dealers at almost every corner. There are few police protecting the party areas. As a tourist, I did not feel safe, especially when a bouncer at COSMOS nightclub (in Docas area) threatened my life. He pointed to his badge and gave me the impression that he was allowed to do as he pleased without any worry of police reprimand.

Overall, Lisbon was not a good selection for a weekend visit. I will not return to Lisbon until I have exhausted all of my other global location curiosities. The locals are nasty and rude, not to mention unattractive. I think that's why we find most Portugese people have left the country.

Take my advice and save yourself the time and money. AVOID LISBON! (at least do not go there for the nightlife! - go for the castles and coastal towns when you're old and grey)

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Sant Carles De La Ra
Reviewer
4 reviews 4 reviews
7 helpful votes 7 helpful votes
“Christmas Day in Lisbon”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed January 3, 2007

My husband and I (both in our early 60's) went to Lisbon for 36 hours, arriving the evening of Christmas Eve and leaving early on Boxing Day. It was a wonderful experience should anyone else think of doing this in the future. We stayed at Corinthia hotel just a little way from Placa Espangnol, which was first class.
Christmas Eve was quiet in the town until near to midnight when everyone started to go to Church, but the public transport was running until 1 am and there were one or two small restuarants open near the centre.
Christmas Day was very pleasant, in the morning we went to the Castle and were able to wander around the grounds with a number of other tourists and to see over the city. This is a good way to get an overview of the places especially if you have only a short visit.
Christmas Day evening the city came alive with people on foot and in cars all coming to the centre to see the lights. These are indeed a sight not to be missed, a massive Christmas "tree" in the main square near to the ferry terminal, some 75 metres tall with various light patterns. The square is filled with families listening to the carols and Christmas songs. There are chestnut sellers and suchlike too. Leading back into town there are a number of roads, again filled with coloured lights, the main pedestrian shopping street is lined with 3 metres tall "angels" supporting starry canopies. Many restaurants were open that evening and several of the hotels were offering a splendid buffet menu for about 40-45 Euro. Again on Christmas Day all the public transport was running and at 70 cents per journey the Metro was astoundingly good value.
At the airport the front of the building was covered with an illuminated mural of Santa Claus head and shoulders which must have been 30 or so metres high.
We were greatly impressed by the City, it's Christmas decorations, the cleanliness of the streets and the family attitude.

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Contributor
14 reviews 14 reviews
Reviews in 8 cities Reviews in 8 cities
67 helpful votes 67 helpful votes
“lovely lisbon”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed October 4, 2006

My husband and two children aged 7 and 16 visited portugal this summer (aug) we stayed for 4 nights and had a wonderful time
we stayed at the raddison hotel in lisbon, the hotel is in a excellent location and room and hotel were luxurious and spacious and clean, we had breakfast at hotel and light snacks which were at all times fresh and full of taste, food and drinks at hotel and reasonably priced.

while there we shopped in the restadores which has plenty of shops ranging from designer to value for money. plenty of restaurants and places to have a drink.

while there we visited the jardin zoolalogical which was a fun day out we watched dolphins perform a spectacular show and viewed various animals.

we also went bull fighting, not for the faint hearted I thought it was a experience i had never had however i found it quite cruel.

while there we went to watch a football match at local stadiium.

we went to a few clubs which played mainly brazillian , african, music tasteful surroundings.

weather was great , all this was only a 2hr flight away, we all enjoyed ourselves very much, food was gorgeous lots of grill meat and fish and seafood and fresh salad and lovely sangre la.

Getting around is easy, cabs are cheap and trams and trains all easy to use and quick.

great for famillies, couples,anyone really.

all in all a fantastic family break, do

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Budapest, Hungary
1 review
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“Reflections on Lisboa”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed February 23, 2005

LISBON STORIES

Christmas 2004 - New Year’s 2005

[Caveat Lector: These are musings from my scrambled notes of the 20 day vacation in Lisbon… we agree that it is one of the top three holidays we’re experienced. I hope you enjoy some or all of the tales.]

‘Twas on December 19th when 3:30 AM came earlier than usual… really, it did. However the alarm still rang, was cursed loudly, but eventually was obeyed. After a quick waking shower and mug of strong coffee, we taxied to Budapest Ferihegy Airport and our flight. We flipped up to wintry Amsterdam, where I experienced a thorough body search… of course, the Dutch are known for being amiable…this particularly friendly customs fellow only missed checking between my toes. We then raced through nearly the entire length of the long concourse, and hopped our flight down to balmy (?) Lisbon (Lisboa in Portuguese). We quickly carried off our carry-on bags, then awaited the one big checked suitcase. After a long wait at the carousel, we inquired at the lost luggage center… alas, it seems our delinquent bag had a mind of its own and wanted to spend more time in Amsterdam (not that we could blame it… great city). Thankfully, it changed its mind and joined us the next day in Lisboa. This was only a minor setback in nearly three weeks of pleasure in Lisboa.

Here’s some Tour site background data to tempt you:

Legend has it that Lisboa was founded by Ulysses name comes from "Olissipo", which has its origins in the Phoenician words "Allis Ubbo", meaning "enchanting port". But Lisboa has, of course, strong Arabic influences; it was, after all, occupied by the Moors for 450 years. In the 12th century the Christians reconquered the city but it was not until the mid-13th century that Lisboa became the country's capital. During the 15th century, with the beginning of the Portuguese Age of Discoveries, Lisboa developed into a spice and jewellery trade centre. The breakthrough for Portuguese expansion came in 1498 when Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India. This was indeed the beginning of a golden age, characterised by the Manueline architectural style, named after King Manuel I, with its typical decorative use of maritime motifs.

On a stroll through the streets of Lisboa, you can discover a city with thousands of years of history. You can admire its old houses, enjoy the freshness of its gardens and the beautiful panoramic views from its belvederes (miradouros). Each and every corner will confront you with the city's contrasts and traditions.

The historical quarters of Lisboa are generally in the city centre. Some still retain the old structures of Muslim and medieval origin, with courtyards where people usually get together. The typical features of these quarters are old houses, narrow streets, wrought-iron balconies, tiled façades and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. The best and most pleasant way to visit these quarters is by "eléctrico" tram.

All the above and then some were part of our adventure. By midday of our arrival, our taxi dropped us in City Centre where our hosts were waiting. For the first 2 weeks, we rented a cozy flat (about 250 sq ft cozy) from Marisa Pott, a lovely, dark skinned Portuguese woman who is finishing her PhD in Environmental Studies. A Bohemian flat, with a ‘squeeze in’ kitchen and ‘exhale carefully’ bathroom, the living/dining area ‘spacious’ by comparison, with untreated beams and posts, pine floors, light yellow walls, two wooden shuttered windows on the new world just outside. Ah yes, outside! We sat with our morning espressos and gazed out on a mosaic of rooftops, their curved tiles like golden brown baguette crusts, zigging and zagging across the hillside leading up to the 12th C. Castelo St. George high above us. The scene might be a cat burglar’s paradise, except he/she must step carefully to avoid impalement on TV antennae or head injury via satellite dish. Ah well, romanticism is seldom pure.

Marisa’s third floor walk up home is brightened by the sunlight streaming in the tall windows, as well as by the artwork of Carla Pott, Marisa’s sister. Carla seems to have a thing about anthropomorphic dogs… several brilliant acrylic splashed ‘portraits’ of whimsically attired canines adorned the walls- Carla reportedly has a gallery showing in New York- her work was very cheering. As was the availability (with Marisa’s permission, naturally) of M’s eclectic CD collection… waking up to her music, whether one of her Bach or Handel Oratorios, or Nina Simone (which I played a dozen times), John Coltrane, Dionne W, or one of the ‘local’ musician got the days off to a lyrical start.

After a shower in an unenclosed 2 foot square corner (somewhat typical in Europe), we’d hang the towels out the window- adding to the colorful displays hanging outside most of our neighbor’s homes- and gaze down on the cobbled steps leading down to the central Plaza Rossio two blocks away. Or we could peer up the steps to the winding lanes and more steps that lead to the Castle atop the hill.

Lisboa is sometimes called “The White City”, partially because many of the white buildings that ramble over the ‘Seven Hills of Lisboa’ (some say there are actually about 20), but it may be due to the pure, blazing white sunlight that pervades the city most of the days. It so happened that a sudden cloudburst pushed us back under the awning of our first of many sidewalk coffee pauses. After an hour, the white sun returned and was faithfully present the rest of our days.

After a great Cappuccino and the obligatory Pastais de Nata (a warm child’s fist size custard pie), off we went on our orientation walk about the center of Lisboa. As we crossed the large Plaza Rossio, my eye was caught by the Banco Espirito Santo, whose bank slogan might well be “If you can’t trust the Holy Spirit, who???” We wandered down the broad walking street to Plaza Commercio, built in the Middle ages to receive the ships docking at the Tagus River estuary… while on the way, I was politely, and quietly, offered a purchase of hashish (or something related) TWICE… by the same guy! Hmmmm. As we retraced our steps, it was getting dark and the amazing array of Holiday lights came on. The kilometer long pedestrian street was then blazing with bright blue lights hung on 15 foot tall tent-like frames which you stroll beneath… a dozen or more of these lined the way back to Rossio, where an even larger frame of light blue lights soared around the 30 foot statue of King Joao II in the center of the plaza. The plaza is book ended by the National Theatre and City Hall, with shops between… all of them were strung with strobe lights that flashed up and down the buildings. If one is prone to seizures, I wouldn’t recommend this scene. The streets spoking into the Plaza each had different Christmas lighting themes hanging brightly across them… stars, angels, bells, baubles, everything from snowmen to Santas... they were like jeweled necklaces fading to the horizon points down the avenues. We found these bright sights even in the suburbs. And all the time we were there, Christmas Carols (in ENGLISH) wafted from speakers on ledges. Truly pleasant Holiday sights and sounds each day.

Another day, we walked up and down the few blocks to the Cathedral, which is at the foot of the medieval Alfama district, the only part of central Lisboa to survive the great 1755 Earthquake and tsunami. Up to 30,000 may have perished. The remains of the Moorish built Castle of St. George (renamed, of course, after the Moors were evicted) sit at the peak of the Alfama. The Cathedral is a solid, Romanesque structure with understated elegance. A favorite sighting there was the side altar of St. Anthony of Lisboa (where he was born) who later was claimed by the Italians as St. Anthony of Padua. According to the legend depicted on the national seal, two ravens led the ship carrying St. Anthony’s body back to Lisboa for his final resting place, his real home! Despite the possible ‘ownership’ contention, he is the patron of Lisboa. In his small alcove is a charming tile mosaic in which he is preaching to very attentive fish… really, dozens of wide eyed, open mouthed fish are straining half out of the water to ‘hear’ some Good News from Tony.

In front of the Cathedral, we were able to grab the famous Electrico (Tram) 28, which wound us up and around to the Castle, frequently stopping and clanging it’s harsh bell at an offending parked vehicle blocking the narrow street. One needs to wait patiently, as the locals seem to do… the pace of life seems to support this attitude. It’s common to see people sunning at length in the parks, or lingering over a coffee or beer at a sidewalk café. Ah, the life. Signs on the little tram, which reminded me of the Little Engine Who Could (barely climb the Alfama), warned of pickpockets, but we saw no signs of suspicious characters at any time. Nevertheless, I felt more protected when two nuns climbed aboard. Be honest now, don’t you feel safer when you see Sister get on the airplane with you?

We enjoyed the Castle ruins and the temporary exposition of a well known artist Antonio Carmo’s colorful renditions of Fado scenes… Fado is the nostalgic, sad traditional music of Lisboa (similar to our blues)… I framed three reproductions that now hang in our small guest room. We then jumped back on Tram 28 and rode to the other end of the line, the Cemetery of Pleasure. Now, that’s a concept! It is actually a City of the Dead, not unlike Evita’s resting place in Buenos Aires. Narrow streets of elegant mausoleums, usually built like miniature chapels, with small altars within, situated on a high holy place overlooking the Tagus River harbor, the April 25th Bridge (longest expansion bridge in Europe), and the monumental Christ the King statue (reminiscent of Rio’s statue of Christ) on the opposite bank. Quite spectacular to see and wander about. We respectfully observed the coming of a ‘new resident’ as we left… a large limousine was loaded with flowers, and a large retinue of black clothed mourners was led by a priest in full attire. After this sobering experience, it was back on Tram 28 to find a new coffee and pastry shop before returning home to prepare for the next day’s surprises.

More LISBON Tales #2

Christmas 2004 : New Year’s 2005

First a flashback: How could I have forgotten the defining moment we experienced at the beginning of our winter holiday adventure? As we were waiting at the Budapest Airport, a positive omen, a vision of sorts appeared in the departure lounge. In strolled jolly Ol’ Saint Nick himself! I mean it, really… at least from the neck up, a dead ringer. From his fur fringed red cap, down his bushy eyebrows and rosy cheeks to his snowy beard! The real McCoy… but then I was a bit jarred by his leisure travel attire… over his bright red long johns he’d stuffed his jelly bowl belly body into a roomy pair of bib overalls, complete with a brightly embroidered Rudolph on the panel front. His sartorial splendor was completed with a pair of red and white checkerboard tennies, which are of course more comfortable that those heavy boots. He was not in a particularly jolly mood, but managed a smile as he handed out foil wrapped szaloncukors (Hungarian Christmas chocolates) after take-off. In any case, flying with Santa is almost as comforting as with the flying Nuns, don’t you suppose.

Now let’s fast forward back to the future in Lisboa. To put me in the mood, I’ve put on a CD of Amalia Rodrigues, the legendary Portuguese Fado singer… Fado is sometimes translated as ‘Nostalgia’, and is a mix of sweet and sad and somehow comforting folk music of Lisboa. This music was often heard over street speakers, alternating with Holiday tunes. Amalia’s voice reminds me of Piaf. They’re now together in the Beyond, so Edie and Ama may now be a headline duo in Club Paradise. Speaking of music, I read about a modern band Madredeus- four music men and one amazing lead woman singer- and was able to purchase the DVD film Lisbon Story (director Wim Wenders shot it in 1994). Madredeus is featured, and the film centers on experiencing Lisboa as a living, breathing being. The sights and sounds and sighs of people, places and music. I recommend a search for it at your favorite video shop.

OK, it’s time to try to share a sense of what it’s like ambulating around the big, but accessible L Town. Tain’t easy to keep your footing, let me tell you. The city is a true seaport, and even today you need ‘sea legs’ to be a well-balanced visitor. This is partly due to the fact that much of Lisboa is vertical, so the hamstrings get a work out. But a more prevalent sensation involved learning to keep my balance on the rolling waves of cream-colored limestone and coffee-colored basalt cobbles that cover the ground everywhere in the city… these cobbles are shaped like ‘dinosaur’ teeth, about 2 by 2 inches, which have been pounded into the sandy soil, arranged in many elaborate designs- royal insignia, many floral patterns such as fleur de lys, but mainly in serpentine wave-like curves on nearly all the sidewalks and plazas. We learned that an early 19thC Mayor ordered indentured serfs and prisoners to complete most of this enormous enterprise. Naturally, the cobbles became more and more uneven over time. For the first few days, I often was viewing more of the ‘floor’ of Lisboa than the tiled houses, churches and vistas of the flowing hills that pulled my vision upward. I felt like the drunken sailors after their first evening in port so it just added an authentic nautical feel for the city.

And now for a bit of the inside places of Lisboa- museums and churches, castles and casas. There is much to enjoy in this relatively small city. Here are some of our highlights:

The Castle of St. George- I mentioned this earlier as a landmark spectacle perched above our digs. Very early on, it was an important ancient settlement of the Phoenicians, Visigoths and Celts, then a Roman outpost (they brought their grapes and olives with them, thanks be), and eventually conquered by the Moors of North Africa, who built the first fortification. In the 12th C. the Crusaders “liberated” the city and changed the site into the monarch Alfonso’s palace, which did not survive to the present. However, he ordered the building of the Cathedral of Our Lady which faces the sea from a plateau just below. Only the great walls remain from the Moorish era. One can walk the walls and enjoy the spectacle of the city and the Tagus estuary. Marvelous panorama indeed.

Gulbenkian Museum- a fine arts gem, housing the eclectic collection of Gulbenkian, who was Albanian. The setting is a small park with lagoon and public statuary. There is quite a large collection of Egyptian, Arabic and Chinese pieces, but very charming small salons of paintings, mostly Impressionist (for example, Monet’s Melon and Blue Plate and Renoir’s painting of the lounging Mrs. Monet, who seems to be scowling at Mr. Monet who apparently spends too much time staring at fruit and dishes and splashing colors around, and too little time lounging with her… so pictures may be worth a dozen or more words). The highlight was the large collection of Rene Lalique’s elaborate jewelry- the most exotic I’ve ever seen. Splendid intricate lacework of silver or gold filigree with jewels aplenty… formed into Dragonfly, Centaur, Peacock brooches and hair ‘thingies’, y’know- Ryan has some fine photos of some of these in his on- line album.

Museu do Azulejo (Tile Museum) - King Joao II’s widow Leonor built the Madre de Deus (Mother of God) convent for the Poor Clare Order in 1509. It is located in the Alfama, the only district to survive the 1755 Earthquake/Tsunami. The original Queen’s private chapel and the larger convent chapel are simply exquisite… religious scenes in the usual blue and white tiles cover not only the walls, but the ceilings as well. In the cloister garden, there is a 100 foot long panorama of Lisboa, created by tile masters in 1738. It’s an important resource for historical accuracy of the cityscape pre-earthquake destruction. Tiles are one of the most significant characteristics of Lisboa to this day. The museum has more than 12,000 tiles in the convent itself, but also includes an array of smaller mosaics, altar screens, and a good number of modern artistic works as well. Curiously, we had some difficulty finding the restrooms at first, but finally noticed impressionist male and female tile figures pointing the way. Now that is class!

The visitor is well advised to hunt down another ‘tile treasure’, the Casa do Alentejo, originally built as a men’s club around 1900. Nestled on a side street near Rossio Plaza, its unassuming entrance leads you into a spectacular Moorish courtyard- red granite floor, imbedded with tiny cartoonish animal tiles, a small tiered fountain, and ruby marble columns supporting intricately scalloped arches that frame the tiled walls. Up the stairs, past the bronze statue of two embracing angels beneath a stained glass rose window, you’ll find a mirrored ballroom on the left. Turn right through the long hall covered by exquisite tiled scenes from a Camoes epic poem about Portugal- on the left is a roomy restaurant, tiled nature mosaics from floor to ceiling- across the hall you’ll find the billiard/smoking/reading room, complete with hunting mosaics and trophies on the wall. The two elders I saw there looked right at home; they may have been there since it opened.

National Museum of Ancient Arts- Part of the fun this day was a morning visit to the now famous Post Office coffee shop for the numero uno latte of the burg… then a final visit to Santos Domingos, the notorious Church where the Inquisition pronounced sentences- it’s a cavern of Romanesque solidity. In 1959, the interior was gutted by fire (some say it’s delayed poetic justice), but the roof and main altar were remodeled later- however, the walls are still charred with the soot from the fire, which gives it an eerie feeling, and perhaps an object lesson about extremism. After that, we retired to the corner Ginjinho shop for a shot of the traditional cherry brandy before setting out for the museum. Think of it as energy fruit juice. The proficient bartenders at the open air counter splash the drinks with great flair, always managing to plop 3 plump cherries in each little glass. So I observed the locals (many of them there much of the day) sip the sweet nectar, and followed suit, nonchalantly taking in the sights- shoe shiners, lottery vendors and general street crowd. Finally it’s bottoms up and the three cherry bombs hit bottom. And powerful they are. For awhile, my legs quit complaining, and a floating sensation helped me on our way as we searched for the right bus or tram to the museum, our final stop of the day. This museum is a somewhat hidden down river. I really wanted to see the Hieronymus Bosch triptych (a large three panel oil painting) of The Temptation of Saint Anthony. Coincidentally, this painting has a featured place in a book I was currently reading, Headlong by Michael Frayn. Bosch was ‘way out’ for his time, and his works reportedly sent hidden “warnings” to the tyrants of his time and messages of hope to the masses. His fantastic figures (flying fish people, etc.) and intense light/dark contrasts are mesmerizing. Dali may seem a bit tame by comparison.

The Monastery of St. Jeronimos- This large monastery dates to the 15th/16th Centuries, the age of Prince Henry the Navigator and Vasco da Gama, the Golden Age of Exploration and Colonization for Portugal. It is a prime example of Manueline Architecture (named after King Manuel I), a very busy style that incorporates natural and nautical- vines, flowers, ropes, anchors shells, fish, flora, and fauna are embedded and entwined in and around most of the visible columns, openings and corners of the long exterior. Inside, the cloister is more subdued, softened by the array of blue/white tiled historical scenes that wrap around the garden and arches of the monks’ portico. The Chapel follows this style, but has high arched ceilings which open the space. Vasco’s and Prince Hank’s burial vaults are prominent in the Chapel entry.

[One of the Monastery’s original purposes was to house homecoming sailors before their return to the sea. Later the monks were given the care of homeless boys. After the Golden Age, the monks had no patrons, so eventually they had to sell wares to exist. In the early 18th C they began selling the famous custard tarts Pasteis de Belem. These became so popular that the recipe has been protected until now… the locals say that there are only 3 bakers who are the keepers of this tasty treat. The current large bakery/cafe is only one block from the Monastery and its maze of tiled dining areas is nearly always filled to capacity. It is the custom to eat them warm from the oven; however, for those on the run, you can get ‘take-out’ in a fancy foil lined cardboard containers. Modern times… something for the busy soccer Mom or mobile MBA.]

A FEW MORE LISBON TALES #3

On two consecutive days, we commuted 45 minutes in a very comfortable train to the royal town of Sintra. It was so delightful we needed that second day. This well preserved old town is situated 1400 feet above sea level, with the Atlantic in view from the Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle ruins from their neighboring peaks on the highest ridge. Although the rugged sort can hike up to Pena, we chose the hop on/off bus. The palace, although elegant for such an eclectic complex, and visually striking in its majestic setting, draws very different responses. A little history: the monarchs had lived in the National Palace in the center of Sintra from the 15th C until 1910, when the Queen decided she wanted more ‘privacy’. Several different architects were needed to complete the Pena. Thus differing styles and materials- from dark gray stone to white marble to book ended parapets of flamingo pink and buttercup yellow- somehow all melt together in its mountain-top forest setting. Even so, some say it looks like the honeymoon house of Frankenstein and Barbie. While in Sintra, we toured both palaces, each filled with authentic furnishings and more elaborate tiles- the Magpie ceiling in one parlor, the Rose walls in another, and the sunny cupola’s rounded walls of Royal Crests- all hand painted tiles- were highlights of the National Palace. Sintra has a wonderful Toy Museum, packed with over 25,000 items from 1900 to the present. The collection of miniature tin soldiers is truly striking- hundreds of them arranged in battle scenes or royal celebrations. Of course there were lots of less aggressive toys and games. Remember Tiddly Winks? It was also fun to see the many language versions of games like Monopoly, Authors, and other card games..

On New Year’s Eve, we tracked down a small café away from the crowds and enjoyed a traditional Portuguese meal. It was time to bite the bullet, so I ordered the Bacalhau. It was a telling moment… when food shopping earlier, I spotted these large leather-like white sheets spilling out of containers in the fish section. Turns out it is dry cod, a staple in the cuisine. Although it was tolerably tasty, I think the bottle of Mateus Rose saved the meal. After a pastry and espresso, it was time to wander back through the Christmas lighted streets, complete with festive music, down to Plaza Commercio for the midnight concert and fireworks. The pyrotechnics were fabulous… great skyworks, with unique displays of rockets ricocheting around the eaves of the port enclosure, and a great 30 meter high curtain of showering sparks as a finale. The plaza was packed with thousands, sharing champagne and greetings, and no aggressive behaviors. The leave-taking was very orderly and polite, even though there was a huge traffic jam. The ‘Chief Merrymaker’ (self-appointed) was a happily high young man who ran up the center of the street, cheering and encouraging celebratory honking and shouting wishes of a Bom Ano Novo! He might well have quelled any possible road rage with his good humor.

We said goodbye to Marisa’s flat the next day, moving down river a few kilometers to Belem (Bethlehem) for the final days. It was a fascinating transition from the bustling city center to the ‘burbs. Except this suburb is located high above the river, overlooking the Christ the King statue on the other side of the longest bridge in Europe. Raquel picked us up and graciously toured us around Belem, and settled us in her sunny and spacious flat. Although Raquel’s flat was much larger and mod stylish (picture Mao posters, whimsical fish and animal sculptures, and brilliantly colored textiles and light fixtures), it was, shall we say, less convenient to the ‘action’… however, we increased our stamina from the daily mile walks up and down the hill. The walks were well worth it, since the Geronimos Monastery, Discoverers Monument, Belem Tower and beautifly riverfront parks at the bottom as our rewards. At sundown on several days, we watched the largest Christimas Tree in Europe come alive, the blue, gold and white lights building in stages from toe to top on the spectacular tree. Nearby colors shifted from green to yellow to pink in the plaza fountain. With the crisp ocean breeze flowing in with the tide, we adjusted our coat collars and were warmed by the excitement of sharing the moments with celebrating local families.

Our Bom Ora (Good Hour) neighborhood in Belem was quiet, but a bustling daily street market stretched for blocks just around the corner. While we were here, we learned to enjoy some of the local treats… like tomato jam, green wine, quince marmalade, tiny mandarins, fresh salmon and mackerel, the usual array of pastry and bread, and of course olives. The ground coffee is also very rich… it was on sale at Pingo Doce market, so we packed some back home.

We spent several visits at the Europe ’98 World Expo area, traveling by the newest Metro, which has brilliant ‘tapestry-like’ tiled station walls . Since ’98, this district has become a cultural Mecca with a dazzling transport station, a huge Mall (unique with water streaming down its curved glass roof) , high-rise twin apartment buildings (shaped like prows of ocean liners), a sport/entertainment arena, aquarium and large concourse of shops/cafes along the broad waterfront. The contrast with the old center is fascinating. A bit of background: Since Portugal entered the European Union a couple of decades ago, she has been the darling of the EU, garnering large subsidies to improve the country, which suffered from poverty, corruption, and revolutions at home and in former colonies. The Expo became their showplace. I highly recommend the Oceanarium… designed by an American, its four corner aquariums are miniature Atlantic, Pacific, Antarctic and Indian oceans, with indigenous residents… these ‘oceans’ feed into the “Global Ocean”, the central two story aquarium (5 million liters full) where the larger sea creatures live and play. Smaller aquaria have splendid collections of coral, anemones, tropical and exotic fish. It’s not to be missed.

One last out of town trip by train to Cascais… we enjoyed sun, sand, and sea in this resort town on the Atlantic. It’s an historical fishing village grown modern in many ways, but still retaining the nautical feel. We wandered along the waterfront, watching the emptying and cleaning of the lobster/crab traps, as the early catch was arriving on the colorful fishing boats. Men were busily offloading their goods and securing and supplying their boats for the next day. On the beach, we found treasure troves of scallop, clam and oyster shells, as well as hundreds of delicate periwinkles for our collection. An Aussie Shepherd entertained us with his frolicking and ball chasing- he was very patient with his people, trying to give them the ball over and over without success. They kept throwing it away; humans can be so dense. We ended the day in a cliff top park populated by peacocks, cocks, a black cat, and a 3-deep pile of turtles sunning in the lagoon.

During our last days, I thought about how intriguing it is to be immersed again in another language setting. Although we seldom had trouble communicating in English, it was interesting to observe the communication behaviors of the Portuguese. At our first flat, the walls and ceilings were ‘thin’ so we heard more interchange than we wished… especially after midnight. It was hard to tell whether the couple was cussing or discussing issues… in either case, the volume was up. However, loudness may be subjective since the Rossio Square day timers seem to be just as hearty in their discussions… that may be partly due to the influence of the 2nd or 3rd Ginjinha brandy they’ve just downed. Portuguese in print is quite similar to Spanish, with a pinch of French for flavor. But hearing it is a different matter… our ‘Spanish’ ears recognized very little. Along with the usual gesturing, local folk sound like they are half whistling, half coughing. They seem to be speaking with one cheek full of pebbles (a la Vito Corleone/Brando) and the other stuffed with sponges. Sharp/soft mingling. An equal mix of mellow drunkard and jungle cat. Unlike Hungarian which uses lots of hard tone consonants, Portuguese is both melodic and dramatic. English seems so tame by comparison. Don’t get me wrong… I was often captivated when overhearing their chats… I mean this as a compliment… listening to them was a enjoyable street concert. For the full impact, one has to observe non-verbals as well… even in the sharper exchanges, the final effect is softened by the hand on the arm, the twinkling eyes and the grin gradually curving beneath crinkling brown eyes.

Portugal is now a truly multi-cultural nation. Since 1975, nearly a million refugees from former colonies in Africa and Asia have been integrated, a remarkable feat since those non-native groups now represent more than 7% of the population. Now you’ll find Brazilian, Angolan, Goan, and Mozambican arts, food and other influences. They seem to have settled in and are contributing to the human quest for lives of value in their ‘new’ country. There’s that word “value” again… it shows up a lot on the political stage these days. Would that we truly value our diverse and splendid traditions and qualities across the globe… those differences make our common human need for lives of dignity, peace, health and spiritual growth more exciting and inviting, after all. So, vive la difference! Portugal provided us with many of those moments of communion.

Travel can become pilgrimage to new holy places. As Miriam Beard puts it so well, “Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.“ I wish you many happy and meaningful journeys and lessons of living in the days ahead.

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Charleston, South Carolina
Senior Contributor
40 reviews 40 reviews
Reviews in 23 cities Reviews in 23 cities
54 helpful votes 54 helpful votes
“Lisbon and Sintra in February”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed February 12, 2005

My husband and I just returned from a week in Portugal. It was an enriching experience filled with chance encounters and scenery that dreams are made of. It was chilly with just a bit of rain, much like we have in the South right now. We spent 3 days in Lisbon, 2 and a half in Sintra, and 1/2 day driving around the beaches. Our package included 6 nights at the VIP Lisbon Hotel. The only redeeming features there were it was clean, had hot water, and was near bus routes and a very nice shopping mall with a food court and piano player called the Saldanha Atrium. The hotel had no charm and the breakfast was just short of terrible. We enjoy walking and explored by foot. We went to the Alfama first. It is a colorful area with very narrow, hilly streets. The views from the Castelo de Sao Jorge are worth the walk up. The newer Pantheon is wonderful and on Saturday mornings there is a large flea market just behind it that is interesting. The arch in Praca do Comercio is particularly lovely lit up at night. Belem was our favorite city district and there is much to see and do there. The monastery is not to be missed. The architectural elements are very beautiful. The coches museum is remarkable. We had a good lunch on the main street and delicious pastries at the famous blue shop. Two large pastries and coffees were 2 euros. A deal! I would spend two days in Belem to see everything. The Lalique collection made the Gulbenkian worthwhile, otherwise you see so many fabulous antiques in the castles that it pales in comparison. A chance, fun find was the Pavilhao Chines Bar on Rua D. Pedro V, 89-91. They have amazing collections of things, lots of art deco, and a fine menu book that we bought for a reminder of our visit. Driving a rental car was not as bad as we expected, but I think we were smart to pick it up at the airport instead of in the city. I requested an automatic drive which was not quite the same as one finds in the US. We stopped off to see the Palace of Queluz on the way to Sintra. It was one of our favorites. We strongly recommend the Cozinha Velha Restaurant found next to it in the original cook house. Impeccable service and a buffet with an assortment of main dishes and desserts made the price worth it. Sintra will steal your heart and make you plan a future return trip. We stayed at the Residencial Sintra and really liked it there. The house was quaint and the staff extremely accommodating plus they were easy to deal with by email and answered lots of quetions about the area for us. Breakfast was adequate plus they have beer, wine, and sandwiches available for purchase other times of the day. Cheese is delicious in this town! We had our favorite meal of the trip at the Topico Restaurant. We had their special for lunch which was a sort of stew made of what looked like a type of green butter bean and pork with a broth that smelled like olives. Go there! The Pena Palace is magnificent in all respects. I was glad we were not there during the high tourist season so that I could stand for a bit and take it all in. The gardens at Monserrate are lovely. Wish we could have seen inside the house. The Regaleira Palace and gardens are exceptional, too. The drive out to Cabo da Roca and around the beaches was dramatic.

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