We have been meaning to ‘get to Portugal’ for many years, now, but we also wanted to spend a decent amount of time in a few places. I can tell you right now, that there is never enough time! Our three nights in Lisbon were a good start, though.
Tesouro da Baixa by Shiadu
Our boutique hotel, Tesouro da Baixa by Shiadu, was right in the middle of the action, within walking distance of so many things, and with a tram line and metro right outside for those things further afield (the public transport system in Lisbon is so convenient and simple to use). It would be easy to miss the hotel on the first visit, as its entrance is through the middle of a shoe store! But a few flights up in the elevator take you to the reception, lounge and breakfast area to be greeted by the smiling staff, led by John.
Tesouro da Baixa by Shiadu is a funky, retro/modern/old décor combination. Each room is unique in design and furnishings, and we chose superbly with our corner room on nearly the top floor. The 4m+ high ceiling is carved, painted and ornate with a lush chandelier. The intricate cornices, all moulded and painted with leaf designs, and a tromp de l’oeil centre, spread like vines growing into the room. Delightful shades of moss green, with gold, ecru and mushroom trim highlight the details of the room. One huge plus for us, especially considering the central and busy location in the city, is the amazing soundproofing. We had the windows open in the early evening for the air flow and feel of the city, and when we shut the double glazed windows and drapes, it was like we were cocooned in a recording studio!
We do love arriving in a new city in the early afternoon. It allows time for a bit of an ‘explore’ to get your bearings and time to plan the first full day. Our first priority is always provisions, and the Mercado da Figueira was just across the road, so we stocked up on some wine, chips and juicy grape tomatoes for snacks before going for a walk.
In the square near the hotel, Praça da Figueira, there is a tented providore market that springs up over the entrance to the underground on the last weekend of the month. It’s filled with candied treats, meats, cheeses and sangria to sample at tables in the middle of the tent. While it was enticing, we kept walking without a taste test, there were would be plenty of time for that over the next few days.
However, we probably should’ve stayed for some cheese and sangria, because where we ended up for our late lunch was very disappointing. Using the usually trusty Lonely Planet for guidance, we chose Bebedouro Wine and Food for our first meal in Lisbon. We ordered a Portuguese salad (which was a regular salad – tomato, lettuce, cucumber, capsicum) and a ‘roasted tuna on tomato with hummus’. This second dish was less than ordinary. ‘Roasted tuna’? Rubbish. It was tuna out of a can, with the blandest, most watery hummus I’ve ever tasted (and I eat hummus A LOT!). We should’ve heeded the fact that there was no one there, but we just thought it was because it was 4pm! So glad that this experience did not set the tone for our future culinary adventures in Portugal!
Walking off the disappointment and ‘beige’ food we headed to the waterfront, with our goal being the Time Out Mercado. Yes, this place is owned by Time Out, and is expensive, but, damn, it gives a good range of many of the city’s famous restaurants and providores under the one roof. We wished we had held off from eating at the previous joint, because all we could fit in was a shared plate of two gigantic sardines on a single piece of toast with a side of steamed vegetables and a beer. The veggies were carrots and broccoli, and they were a tad watery, but being doused in garlic and butter compensated.
On a roll, we hurled ourselves off the sugar-free wagon and grabbed a ‘pasteis de nata artesanais’ (Portuguese tart) from Manteigaria (recommended by our host, John). These were warm out of the oven, and still slightly, deliciously gooey in the centre. Wow! But such a sugar hit that I don’t need to tap that again any time soon.
Ambling back towards our digs we paused to watch the gay pride parade pass. This was no march, this was a river of rainbow clad people, dancing through the street and boogieing on buses. So we shook our tail feathers as they swept us along and waved and cheered them on as we took our corner towards home.
The No.28 Lisbon tram is one of the ‘must do’ activities listed in a multitude of guidebooks when visiting this city. The trick, however, is beating the crowds by going early in the day and joining the tram from one of the first stops. We were fortunate: this route began only metres from our hotel, so we got a seat and were grateful for starting this journey in the cool of the morning.
We sorted the payment by going with a transport ticket – one card for all modes of public transport; so easy and civilised. The cost is €0.50 for the cardboard card and then €1.50 for every trip (although, once tapped on, you are good for an hour, unless you change from above ground to below ground, and vice versa).
It took about 45 minutes to do the whole line. At the end, near the Cemetery Prazeres, all passengers alighted. Some took the same tram back (after tapping on again), and they were joined by the lone couple waiting at the final stop to board for a return journey.
We had a short wander through the cemetery before following the tramlines back to the centre of Lisbon. Kept stopping to take pictures of beautiful architecture and tile-clad buildings. We explored a bit of Bairro Alto and ended up back at Time Out Mercado, mainly because all of the restaurants I had short listed for a meal were closed on Sunday!! It was a good decision, though – we shared a vegetable soup and roasted cauliflower and hummus with a local white wine.
There was a convenient train station right next to the Time Out Mercado, so we caught a train to the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém. The scale of this place was enormous.
“The Jeronimos Monastery is the most impressive symbol of Portugal’s power and wealth during the Age of Discovery…It’s one of the great triumphs of European Gothic (UNESCO World Heritage Monument), with much of the design characterised by elaborate sculptural details and maritime motifs.” (golisbon.com)
The size of the church was more like a cathedral, with its roughly hewn sandstone forest of tree-like columns, majestic and quiet, and a perfect respite from the heat outside. The church itself was free to enter, but the cloister cost €10, and it was totally worth it. The cloister was unlike any we had seen in Europe in terms of its ornate carvings and beauty. A very peaceful place to sit and reflect, when the crowds were not too intense.
After our meditative time in the cloister, we caught a bus back to our hotel. It took us on an interesting ride through a residential area on the way back to the city centre. Public transport is so easy here! We have used all methods available…except the electric tuk tuks, which are hideously expensive and totally aimed at tourists.
Searched online for rooftop bars in Lisbon and discovered one directly across the road from us at the Hotel Mondial. Not only was it close, but there was no dress code, so didn’t bother changing out of jeans and shirts. The place was packed when we arrived. We approached a guy sitting on his own and asked if we could join him. We ended up chatting for two hours, and swapped details for another meet up before leaving Lisbon. Love the serendipitous meetings that only seem to happen when travelling! Our perch amongst the relaxed, gorgeous people of Lisbon was the perfect place from which to watch the sunset, for both the brilliant light bouncing off the castle and buildings, and the bright ball dipping below the horizon.
The next morning we took the No.12 tram from a nearby stop to the top of Castelo district; a short trip of four stops to the top of the hill. Well, almost the top of the hill! There was still a bit of a climb through steep, street art-decorated lanes to reach the castle, but it was below 20°C, so it was pleasant. The castle itself was not of particular note, but the views over Lisbon were magnificent! The tiny Castelo district within the outer walls of the castle were a compact community of laneways, banned to cars, which made for a delightful wander, looking at shops and planning possible meals in restaurants displaying tempting menus.
We ended up eating at a family run place right near the tram stop called Restaurante Frei Papinhas, sharing a salmon cutlet served with salad, with an additional side salad to get the veggie quotient up. Simple, fresh, beautifully prepared. Our accompanying beer was served in plastic glasses, which surprised me until I remembered that you can carry them out onto the street and keep going with your walk. Love Lisbon!
Jardim das Amoreiras
The Jardim das Amoreiras was the beginning of our evening of hanging with the locals. We walked the 2km from our hotel to the top of another hill in the city, and met up with our new friend, Gustavo, for a drink and earnest, stimulating conversation. This park was flanked by a gigantic aqueduct, providing us with a view of stunning, stone arches at least four stories high, softened by tall, green trees in the foreground. Such a civilised thing – a kiosk in a park where they serve alcohol, and people sit for hours and talk, while kids play in the playground and you are surrounded by nature in a city. They even provided us with a soundtrack to our evening – Bee Gees followed by Annie Lennox’s ‘Sweet Dreams Are Made of This’, anachronistic, but also perfect.
When the park kiosk shut at about 9:30pm, we meandered back down the hill towards our hotel on the lookout for a wine bar for further imbibing and eating. We passed on two places that looked great, but were already packed, and ended up at a third some time after 10pm. We bought a VERY nice bottle of red for the three of us as a gift to Gustavo for his company and hospitality in this cool city, and savoured it with a cheese platter. We called it a night and ended up back at our hotel just before midnight, which may not have been the wisest choice when an early start was required for the next morning to move onto the next leg of our journey, but who cares? It was worth it!
Next, on to Madeira…
Accommodation: Tesouro de Baixa by Shiadu