We just got back from a fantastic long weekend in Lisbon, so I’m going to interrupt my series of road-trip posts to bring you my thoughts on Portugal’s capital while they’re still fresh. My main takeaway? Lisbon is gorgeous. With its tile-covered facades, blooming lavender-colored trees and the sparkling ocean just steps away, I could barely contain my delight as we wandered the city’s hilly streets. We’re already determined to plan another trip to Portugal — Any recommendations? Porto? Madeira?
Anyway, back to Lisbon: Gui and I arrived late Thursday night after our flight was delayed a couple of hours, checking into our hotel close to 2am Portugal time or what would have been 3am in Geneva. Deciding we had earned some rest, we slept in Friday morning and then joined the queue to ride the famous Tram 28 up through the city’s Alfama neighborhood. Now what I’m about to write may be controversial, but Gui and I are in full agreement: The experience is not worth the wait. We stood in line for over an hour (see the photo below) only to be loaded into a tram car without any available seats, and the way the tram is designed it’s basically impossible to see anything out the windows while standing unless there’s space in the rear section (there wasn’t). The ride was quite slow, as the driver continually had to wait for the tracks to clear, with lots of jerky starts and stops. After more than a half-hour onboard, we were still packed inside like sardines and decided to call it quits. Maybe we were just incredibly unlucky, but squeezing out of the tram into the beautiful spring sunshine we were instantly happier.
Muttering about how the tram was a bust, we walked down to The B Temple for a yummy burger lunch and then took the modern, less-crowded tram down to Jerónimos Monastery. I can’t remember if I’ve written about my love for cloisters before, but wow, this monastery’s two-story cloister takes the cake. It’s absolutely incredible. I had read that the line to get in can be crazy, but maybe everyone was still off waiting for Tram 28 because we walked straight in. We were also super excited to find the tomb of explorer Vasco da Gama inside the church. Afterward, we headed to the nearby Pastéis de Belém to try the famed custard pastry (delicious!) and then walked about 20 minutes to check out the Torre de Belém. By then the wind had picked up and raindrops were starting to leak from the dark sky, so we hopped back onto the tram and navigated to Banca de Pau wine bar for dinner. I would highly recommend this little restaurant, which serves wine and food sourced locally from Portugal (from our waiter’s cousin’s farm, to be more exact). The food and wine were delicious, the ambience relaxed and the service extremely attentive.
Saturday we woke up early and took the train to Sinta (~40 minutes) for what we feared would be a very rainy day but turned out to be just a bit gray (phew!). The multicolor Palácio da Pena is every bit as lovely as it looks in photos: The colors of the buildings are vibrant and the architecture is so interesting — even the interior is unique from the other palaces we’ve seen. The view of the palace emerging from the trees that you see below was taken after we walked up the steep path to the “High Cross” landmark, with just a few other adventurers at the top for company. Be warned, there is no viewing platform: You’ll have to get your husband to spot you while you balance on the rocks to get photos from the same vantage point.
During the train ride back from Sintra, we came across a flood of singing Portuguese football fans on their way to a game, which was quite something. After the team won later that evening, the city was full of the sounds of their songs and honking into the morning hours, bringing me back to the endless honking in Geneva after Portugal won the Euro Cup last year. The Portuguese sure love football!
The rest of the afternoon was spent doing some shopping, hiking up to Castelo de São Jorge to see the many peacocks and fabulous views of the city, and wandering the streets of the Alfama neighborhood searching for my favorite tile patterns (see the photo collage at the beginning of this post). We had an amazing Indian feast at Leo that night for a very reasonable price tag — if you’re interested, just make sure you make a reservation because there are only enough seats for maybe 12 people inside.
On our final morning, my wonderful husband took me to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo, aka the tile museum, which I loved — but not so much the 40-minute walk out there because we stumbled into a bit of a sketchy area. Catch the bus or one of the city’s many tuk-tuks to the museum if you’re a tile fan. We concluded our visit to Lisbon at Restaurante Bonjardim for traditional peri-peri and sangria before climbing into a cab to return to the airport. “The airport?” the cab driver asked us. “Are you sure you want to leave?” …We weren’t, but I had a group presentation the next day so my fanciful dreams of extending our stay weren’t to be had. Until next time, Portugal!