Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Friendly Little Lisbon (Country #9)

Well once again, after a rough start (British Airways cancelled our flight the day before) we had an amazing trip. Lisbon, Portugal would not have been high on our list of cities to visit were we not living in London, which is a mere $100 and 2-hour flight away from this historic, SUNNY city. Remember my friends, at one point Portugal ruled the seas and their sailors “discovered” all sorts of new sea routes and lands. At one time, they controlled half of South America and parts of Africa and India. It wasn’t until 1988 that Portugal finally gave control of Macau over to China, crazy. Prior to all this exploring and conquering, Portugal was under the rule of the Celts, the Romans, and then the Moors. Thus, there is some cool historic crap in this town.

I couldn’t help but feel comfortable in Lisbon. There was something familiar about the place. It reminded me of a combination of San Francisco (on a warm day and WTF there is  a mini Golden Gate Bridge as shown in the collage above), Naples (but cleaner), San Diego (mellow vibe and waterfront), and Capri (hills and red tile roofs). Perhaps it was the gorgeous topography with green hills and blue Taugus River, or the low crime rate, or historic castles, or the blast of vitamin D to my system – but I liked this place. I’ll just give you a few highlights......
Look - it's Dave. He is at Vasca Da Gama's tomb in this last one.

Hotel: We stayed at a place called The House, which I found at Trip Advisor (of course). It is a small, locally owned hotel with just a few rooms. We immediately got upgraded upon arrival. There is a rooftop patio overlooking the entire city - with an honor bar. We spent a good bit of time up there. The staff was just outstanding, and I think Dave had a crush on one of them. They recommended local bars and restaurants, made us dinner reservations, gave us directions and advice, and the owner even had breakfast with us one morning and told us about the history of the building.

Taking a break on the rooftop at the hotel.

Cool Lisbon/Belem Stuff: The Moorish castle and churches in Lisbon, the CATHEDRAL in Belem, and the museums and monuments in Belem were all super cool. Pictures speak louder than words.
Monastery cloister in Belem.

San Jeronimo Church.

Monument to explorers, and Dave.

Belem tower.
At the castle.
So freakin cool

Thanksgiving Dinner at Cervejeria Ramiro: This seafood restaurant was a haul from our hotel but WORTH it. There was zero English anywhere, oh mother we are in trouble. Luckily, the family sitting next to us saw us struggling. Dad spoke English and basically proceeded to order us all the best stuff on the menu, including barnacles and steak sandwiches for dessert – apparently that is a big thing there, steak for dessert.

Dave is so excited!

Sintra: We took the 30 minute train to Sintra and checked out the Moorish castle, gardens, and palace. We decided to hike up to the castle (shocker) and met an Aussie from San Jose along the way – small world. 

Dave thinks he's the Pope, or at least the queen.

At the castle, lots of climbing.

So stinking sweet.
Cascais: From Sintra, we took a bus to Cascais (why does mass transit rock in every European country, I love it), which is a small coastal town that is mobbed with tourists in the summer. We walked around, enjoyed the beach, and had more seafood for dinner. It was a nice day-trip for sure.

Saturday Dinner at Chao de Pedra: This tiny restaurant was recommended to us by our hotel, which generally makes me nervous. However, from the second we walked in I knew we made the right decision. It was crowded with locals, all cave-like and cozy, and none of the wines on the menu was more than $14. We had a cheese and pear appy, divine pork cheeks and beef for a main course, chocolate for dessert, along with a bottle of wine, and the entire bill was less than $40. 

Portuguese Champers at the Four Seasons: It had to be done. No description necessary, it was delightful……and very hot waiters I might add.

Favorite Oh Shit Moment: On the first day, we were looking for a place to have lunch. We got our courage up and tried to walk into a tiny, buzzing local place. And after several tries to open the door (pushing, pulling, looking for a latch, trying the other door), everyone was staring at us and we were so embarrassed that we walked away. Fun.

While the trip was cool - to be completely fair, we probably spent one day too many in Lisbon. Our flight got rescheduled for an early morning departure, rather than our original evening departure - so we had a full extra day that I hadn’t planned on. In hindsight, I would have scheduled another day trip in the area or something. I think we will go back to Portugal, perhaps to the coastal towns or the Port region next time though.


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