Portugual Travelog: Lisbon (Day 5)

June 23, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Our first fully day in Lisbon started with breakfast at the hotel. Our hotel was really nice and breakfast was no exception. All sorts of pastries, cheeses, cold meats, warm eggs and bacon along with fresh squeezed orange juice and small pots of steaming delicious coffee. The people watching was superb - I became quite convinced that Ron Wood was staying there with his young wife and new baby. One's mind can wander.

On to the day! We decided to start by generally following a walk from Rick Steve's Portugal guide. We left the hotel and crossed Praça Camoes and headed north to Miradouro de Sāo Pedro de Alcantara. Lisbon is a very hilly city and it's full of miradouros or viewpoints. This one included a beautiful garden as well as a fantastic view of the city.


Nearby is one of Lisbon's methods for dealing with the steep hills - the Gloria funicular. It's a tram that goes back and forth up a steep hill.

 
 

We were going downhill so the tram wasn't as interesting as it would later become. We wound down through the streets of the Bairro Alto - the neighborhood our hotel was named for - admiring the tilework that we would see all over town.

 

 

We had planned on visiting the Church de São Roque but decided against it as the noontime mass had just started so we continued downhill past a fast food place to Carmo Convent.


 
 
Lisbon suffered through a truly terrible earthquake in 1755. It devastated the city and incredibly you see the effects of it still today all over town. The Carmo Convent was just one of the many buildings which were nearly completely destroyed by the earthquake. It was never fully rebuilt and now houses an archaeological museum. We entered not really knowing what we would find and were immediately astonished by the now roofless structure.

 

 
We visited the small museum here and found it very hard to leave. It was a powerful and beautiful space. As we wandered slowly through the grounds, I realized we were being quietly serenaded by a solo accordion making the experience even more surreal. As we reluctantly left, I glanced down a side street and found the source of the music. Was that Sinatra's "My Way"?

We continued on our journey - mostly continuing downhill and mostly following Rick's walking tour finally - finally arriving at Rua Garrett which was bustling with people enjoying the fine Saturday afternoon. There were open air cafes, street musicians and lots of people hurrying on to something very important. I found it quite intoxicating.

I grabbed a table and ordered a couple beers. We sat in the sun and engaged in some serious people watching while a very funky version of "Hey Joe" wafted over us. 


 

 
 
We finished our beers and continued on our walk. We reversed direction going back down Rua Garrett. We passed a very active outdoor book sale and a very small brass band before entering the Armazens do Chiado mall. It was PACKED with young people visiting the food court and we paused in admiration before continuing downhill passing from the Chiado neighborhood to the Biaxa in the process.



 
The Baixa neighborhood lies close to the River Tagus. The terrain is quite flat - especially compared to the rest of the city. As with the rest of Lisbon it was devastated by the earthquake of 1755. When it was rebuilt - by military engineers to withstand the next big earthquake - the streets were laid out in a simple grid fashion and all the buildings followed the same squat design. The result feels  completely different from the other neighborhoods. This is the pedestrian only Rua Augusta in the Baixa district. 


We continue to move towards the River Tagus, eventually arriving at the Praco do Commercio which is an enormous wide open area opening onto the River and a view up to the 25 de Abril Bridge. It is a hub for public transportation, tourists and the occasional man about town.

 
At this point it was time to start looking for lunch. Actually well past time. We reversed direction and started working our way back in to the Baixa looking for a place to eat outside that wasn't too touristy. We wandered through the Baixa for some time and were moderately successful eating outside and having Black Scabbard Fish and mussels. Little did we know it, but we were directly south of Praça de Figueroa. 

Praça de Figueroa is another main hub for public transportation with a Metro station, trams and lots and lots of buses. It also near the famous Confeitaria Nacional where we picked up a couple pastries.


Clutching our pastries like stolen treasure, we made our way across Praça de Figueroa to nearby Praça Rossio which is a bit calmer and more pedestrian friendly. The pastries all through the trip were fantastic and these were no exception.

After reluctantly deciding not to go back and get more pastries, we continued north generally heading back to our hotel. Unfortunately now, the hills of Lisbon were waiting for us but before we attacked that, we visited the amazing Church de São Domingos. It was also largely destroyed during  the earthquake of 1755 and was rebuilt in a way to make it obvious what survived and what did not. It was quite astonishing.

Next - and on Rick Steve's advice - we visited a Ginjinha joint. You walk in, pay your money at a little "snack" bar and you get a shot of ginjinha - a strong cherry liquor popular in Lisbon in a little paper cup. Despite my thirst I was a bit apprehensive at this new experience. I quickly pushed on.


We visited the Rossio Train Station - a beautiful building - and then started to look for the best way to climb the hill back to our hotel.

We made our way to the Gloria funicular that we had seen just that morning. We waited for it. We discovered it was too expensive and hoofed our way up the hill, leaving it in the dust.

 
Back to the hotel for a quick recharge and then we walked up the street to the Sao Roque church that we had skipped that morning. This is a Jesuit church with a wooden ceiling and numbered trap doors leading to what used to be crypts.
 
 
We then strolled through the Bairro Alto looking for a place for dinner. This area is a blast - full of activity, bars and restaurants. We scoped out a place for dinner before arriving back at Praça Luís de Camões and returning to our hotel.

With a bit of time to kill before dinner we visited the rooftop bar at our hotel. It is reputed to be one of the best views in Lisbon and we were not disappointed. However it was positively cold up on the 6th floor and we didn't stay too long.


We ate nearby that evening at a nearby wine bar. The food was simple and good - the waiter selected several Portuguese red wines for us to try (all delicious) and we had a wonderful time. The only problem was that our waiter was completely overloaded. We arrived to a nearly empty room and as we finished our meal, it was packed but there was stil only one waiter. This was the second time we had this problem in Portugal and we finally solved it by simply chasing him down and stuffing some bills in his hand.

We had a full day for sure visiting sights in the Bairro Alto, Chiada, and Baixa neighborhoods. Tomorrow we planned to visit Belem a bit down the Tagus famous as the port of departure for Portuguese explorers.


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