One Month In Lisbon

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By Bill & Lise Howard

Lisbon Airport Arrivals Concourse, Portugal, 2008. Photo: Xuaxo via Wikimedia Commons.
Lisbon Airport Arrivals Concourse, Portugal, 2008. Photo: Xuaxo via Wikimedia Commons.

Our flight to Lisbon from Houston with a short layover at Newark was uneventful. We arrived in Portugal’s capital around 0830 and quickly made it through passport control and customs. After obtaining some euros from an ATM and retrieving our luggage, we walked outside and received some maps and other information from a tourist office. Then we boarded an Aerobus for 3.50 euros each. These are buses that take passengers from the airport, which is only six miles from the city center, to various places in downtown Lisbon. Our stop was the last one at Cais do Sodre. From there, the apartment that we had rented in an area called Bairro Alto was only a kilometer away.

Since we have T-Mobile as our cellphone service, we didn’t have problems with phone calls. If you’re located where you can obtain WIFI, your calls are not charged. However, if you’re not on WIFI, they’re only 20 cents a minute. We called the number for the apartment that we had rented and the manager met us there.

Before walking to the apartment we stopped by the metro station at Cais do Sodre and purchased a Viva Viagem card for each of us which costs ½ euro per card and is good for one year. One can load the card up with euros (called zapping) at the machine in any station and use it on public transportation around the city. It is good on all of the public transport in Lisbon which includes the metro, trains, trams, buses, ferries, and funiculars. We kept all receipts in case we had problems with the cards.

Lisbon Tram
Lisbon Tram

There were many small restaurants and other places of business located close to our apartment. A small supermarket was only two blocks away and a full service laundromat was less than that. Since we only had a washer in the apartment, we took our clothes to the laundromat for drying.

The next day, we decided to get acquainted with the city. There were tram and bus stops just a few steps from the apartment and a train station a few blocks walk. It is easy to find one’s way around the city because the schedules are on signs at each tram, bus, and train stop. You validate your card AFTER boarding the bus and tram. However, you validate your card BEFORE boarding the metro and train. Some train stations do not have turnstiles but, instead, have a validation machine outside of the station. It’s important to remember this because there were authorities on almost every train we rode who check people’s tickets. At the end of the day, we ended up at the Mercado da Ribeira, located in a 19th century building across from Cais do Sodre, which has a 75,000 square foot food court with over thirty food stalls which serve everything from grilled octopus to pizza.

Lisbon is somewhat like San Francisco in that it has a lot of hills to climb when walking. However, it is more like San Francisco on steroids in the sense that there seem to be more of them and they are steeper. In addition, the sidewalks are narrow and made of small limestone tiles of all sizes and tend to become slippery when wet so one has to exercise caution when walking especially when it is raining. In many places, the tiles have become loose which adds to the possibility of an accident.

Another thing about Lisbon that reminds me of San Francisco is the ubiquitous trams that one sees throughout the city. They are well over a century in age and resemble the famous cable cars that the “City by the Bay” is famous for. The funiculars, which resemble trams, were installed for the very steep hills and there are four of them which are as old as the trams. We rode two of them while there, the Gloria and the Bica.

On Sundays between 1000 and 1400, some museums and attractions such as Belem Tower, Jeronimos Monastery, and others have free admission. The Orient Museum is free from 1800 to 2200 on Fridays while other museums such as the Electricity Museum, Aljube Museum, and Museum of National Republican Guard are free all the time. Those who are 65 and over get reduced admission to most places and identification can be required. Since we were there for a month, we had several Sundays in which to take advantage of the free museums.

Bill & Lise with Tower of Belem in Background
Bill & Lise with Tower of Belem in Background

Lisbon offers so much to see that it’s impossible to list everything here. There is the Monument to the Discoveries and National Coach Museum in Belem and Tile Museum and Military Museum in Lisbon. There are many beautiful old churches in the city and its main cathedral is the Lisbon Cathedral which is the oldest with construction of the structure beginning in the 12thcentury. In fact, Catholic churches are as numerous in Lisbon as are Baptist churches in East Texas and I counted three in one block. Located about a kilometer from the Lisbon Cathedral is the Castle of St. George which is located in the Alfama district and dates back to the 6th century. Throughout its existence, the castle has been visited by Romans, Visigoths, and Moors.

If you like flea markets, be sure and visit the Fiera da Ladra which is open all day on Tuesdays and Saturdays. It’s huge and is located behind the National Pantheon or Church of Santa Engracia which was built in the 17th century. Many important Portuguese are buried there and there are tomblike monuments for Vasco da Gama and Prince Henry the Navigator. After visiting the flea market, go inside and take a tour of the building. If you can wait until Sunday morning, this church is another attraction that is free of charge.

It’s only a short ferry ride from Cais do Sodre across the Tagus River to Cacilhas and the Viva Viagem card can be used for this ride. Then one can take the bus (2 euros RT) up to the huge Monument to Christ. This 90 foot figure of Christ on a 270 foot pedestal was built in 1959 and was inspired by the one in Rio de Janeiro. After visiting this attraction, one can visit the Frigata D Fernando II e Gloria, a wooden hulled 50 gun frigate of the Portuguese navy which was built in the middle of the nineteenth century and is close to the ferry landing. A rusting submarine is located next to the frigate. Then one can walk from the landing along the waterfront and experience a nice view of Lisbon on one side while gazing at the colorful graffiti on the boarded up buildings on the other. If you want to kill some time, you can take a train ride through the area and back as there are several lines running from Calcihas.

Monument to Christ, Cacilhas
Monument to Christ, Cacilhas

The train ride to Sintra is about 40 minutes each way from the Rossio train station in Lisbon and there’s a lot to see. The Castelo dos Mouros is an 8th century Moorish castle and the National Palace, built in the 14th century, is the oldest surviving palace in Portugal. Close to Castelo dos Mouros is Palacio de Pena which was founded in the 19th century. These attractions and others make Sintra an enticing place to visit. For five euros one can take the circuit bus, No. 434, across the street from the train station, and visit all of these. However, be forewarned. Since these places are located in the mountains, it can be very cold and the weather in both Lisbon and Sintra can belie this fact. We didn’t dress properly and had to invest in hooded sweatshirts with a Portugal logo on the front.

Bill & Lise at Castle of the Moors in Sintra
Bill & Lise at Castle of the Moors in Sintra

Cascias is thirty kilometers from Lisbon and the trip takes only 40 minutes each way. Attractions here include the Santa Marta Lighthouse and Museum. Nearby, Boca do Inferno is a hole in a cliff where the sea waves come in, spray foam, and roar violently. We enjoyed the beachfront scenery when we visited this picturesque place as it is very colorful and attractive. It’s a quiet relaxing place to walk around in and shop. The train leaves from the Cais do Sodre train station but we caught it at the next station at Santos which was only a few blocks walk from our apartment. We took a couple of trips to this place. On one trip, we got off at Caxias and walked across the street next to the train station to the Fort of San Bruno which is a small fort built in the middle of the 17th century. After touring the place and snapping some photos, we walked back to the station in time for the next train.

Fort San Bruno, Caxias
Fort San Bruno, Caxias

Belem is only a few minutes from Lisbon and can be reached by train or tram and there are a lot of attractions to see here. They are all within an easy walk from the train station. The bus service in Belem is just as efficient as the one in Lisbon and your Viva Viagem card is also usable here.

No matter where we visit, we aren’t reluctant to ask the local people for directions and we did this while in Portugal. We always ask the younger people because they are the ones who are most likely to speak English. However, we found that French is spoken by a lot of the older people because it used to be taught in school until English replaced it. Since Lise is fluent in French, it helped us all that more.

When eating out, the waiter might place cheese, bread, and olives on your table before you order. Unlike the states, you have to pay for this if you eat any of it. However, if you don’t want it, tell him to take it away. Many restaurants are open from around noon until 1500 for lunch and then open again at 1900 for dinner. For lunch, always ask for the plate of the day (prato do dia) and the house wine (vinho da casa). It’s less expensive this way. Tipping is around 10% of the bill.

We found prices at the small restaurants in Lisbon as well as the other towns that we visited to be quite reasonable. We’ve had many lunches for less than ten euros each and all offered a choice of two or three entrees such as roast chicken, grilled sardines, or grilled codfish. Cafeterias at the museums also offered good food at reasonable prices. The cafeteria across from the Marine Museum in Belem and the cafeterias in the Museum of Ancient Art and Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon all have very good food.

We use credit cards whenever we travel and have no problems using them throughout Canada and the U.S. When we went to Greece, we found them to be all but useless as it was basically a cash economy. France was the opposite and we used credit cards throughout. However, we found Portugal to be somewhere in between. Most places accepted credit cards but some did not. At several places that did accept credit cards, their machines were broken. So my advice is to always carry a certain amount of cash and ask beforehand if credit cards are accepted.

A fado singer in O Boteko, Rua Dom Manuel II, Porto, Portugal. Photo: Neva Micheva via Wikimedia Commons.
A fado singer in O Boteko, Rua Dom Manuel II, Porto, Portugal. Photo: Neva Micheva via Wikimedia Commons.

There are several opinions as to the origin of Fado but one should listen to some of this music while in Portugal. It’s usually sung by a solo per performer accompanied by a couple of guitarists. The music is that of a melancholy nature and expresses love and sadness. There are bars and restaurants, especially in the Alfama district, where one can listen to this music. However, there is Fado at the Pharmacy Museum one night a week to a small audience with no advance reservations required. The price is 17.5 euros per person and a glass of wine is included. Get there early and you can tour the museum at no extra charge. This is where we listened to Fado and found it to be quite entertaining.

When you have something planned for each day, time tends to pass rather quickly. Our departure date arrived and we had to pack and bid farewell to Lisbon. An early morning taxi ride helped avoid the usual traffic on the way to the airport. It was an enjoyable vacation but we looked forward to returning home.

Bill & Lise Howard (USCG Reserve Ret.), Montgomery, TX

email: alpha00711@gmail.com

All photos courtesy of Bill & Lise Howard, unless otherwise indicated.