Departure Day

Why is it that the weather on your last day is always the best? I guess you could call it ‘Sol’s Law’. I got up quite early, used the hotel lobby WiFi to add pictures to yesterday’s blog, checked out, leaving my bags with the concierge and set off under the brightest of cloudless blue skies to where I should have made my way last night. The trusty Blue Line from Parque took me to the river near the ferry terminal and the one major area of the city centre I hadn’t yet explored – Alfama.

Breakfast in a sunny square was good but maybe I should have waited to feast at one of the more traditional establishments that line the narrow streets of Alfama. I didn’t get to check out why there was a big poster for Jose Saramago, an author I like a lot. However, refreshed, I make my way up to the cathedral a fine edifice with imposing twin towers and more tuk-tuk operators than you could shake the proverbial stick at. They could probably have taken me up to the nearby castle but I preferred to saunter in the sun through the narrow streets and plunging stairways of the district.

I felt doubly bad about missing fado last night as I though all the shows would start around 22:00 (a friend told me the best ones do) but many of the bars advertised shows starting at 19:30 so I might just have stayed awake,

Alfama is a fascinating district with many souvenir shops aimed at the tourist market but also dry cleaners, bag wash shops, hairdressers (no – barbers) and minimercados with those dim interiors that reveal so many product lines to the intrepid. Also there’s a full complement of churches as befits one of the earliest settled parts of the city. My foot funicular took me along part of the route of the famous Tram 28. The queue to board was already long so I just snapped it and thought of San Francisco.

After an hour or so of exploring I found a view of the river through a break in the street and made my way down steps and steep and slippery cobbles to Santa Apolonia which is the eastern terminal of the Blue Line. I thought I’d have another look around Chiado so rode the two stops to the Baixa-Chiado station. This must be one of the deepest stations on the metro (Google confirms it as the deepest at 45 metres) as I had steps and then four long escalators before reaching the surface. It was much livelier today than on my previous Christmas Day visit and after a bit of sightseeing and window shopping my eye was caught by a barber shop with beer. It’s a really funky venue where you have a trim with a Lagunitas IPA (if trendy, Sagres if not) while your friends enjoy a drink and/or a snack.

Time to head back, pick up bags and make for the Red Line to the airport. That was the easy bit. The metro delivers you to Terminal 1 and you follow signs to Terminal 2 as that’s what it said on my boarding pass. In a large concrete desert is a little bus stand with a shuttle bus to T2 – you have to be sharp to spot it! This takes you to the distant, isolated terminal which is exclusively for Ryanair, EasyJet, Whizz and Norwegian. It’s not connected to any other part of the airport – no lounge! – and is very sparse and functional. I do recall a lengthy bus transfer when we arrived but nowhere else have I ever had rubbed in so firmly “Hey guys you opted for low cost air travel – this is what it feels like”. Once again the Priority Queue was longer than the Other Q as they call it and since we all had to go to the plane by bus it didn’t really matter. The flight was thirty minutes late leaving and struggled with a head wind but my faithful Data Cars driver was there to meet me at Stansted. He’s a Pakistani with an MBA from London Metropolitan University and the best job he can get is driving. We had a lengthy political discussion all the way down the M11 fortunately with shared views about most of the ills of the modern world.

Lisbon provided an extremely pleasant break over Christmas. There is much more to see and do and it would feel very different at other times of the year. Worth another visit? Definitely.

Dia de Natal a Lisboa

I had done a bit of research on places open to eat on Christmas Day – very few. However they included the highly-rated Ribadouro which was in walking distance of the hotel. So I walked off towards it to try to make a booking. Wrong! It doesn’t open until 12 but some chefs were lounging at the back door smoking and said if I came about three o’clock I’d get a table. So I went to the wonderfully named Praça de Alegria (Square of Joy) sat on a bench in the sun and planned a tour. I had explored the Baixa area yesterday so today it was the Barrio Alto, now my Portuguese may be negligible but in any language I knew it meant lots of up.

I made it up to the Mirador of San Antonio which had a convenient Christmas Market so I was able to have a coffee, a custard tart (OK pastel de nata) and find a bench from which to Skype my son and daughter-in-law post lunch in Hong Kong. We had a good catch up and agreed that Lisbon was a fine city, if hilly. As I looked from the mirador across the city to the Castel de Sao Jorge, I started to wonder if my plan to include that was sensible or even sane.

Having made it up to the Barrio Alto there was some up and down but undulating rather than the precipitous gradients I’d conquered earlier – even the tram wheezed a lot. It’s a grid of streets with some residential some commercial and a few of them open today. Relief came when I was able to buy a waiter’s friend (trusty Swiss Army left at home as I had no hold baggage this trip) and had a bottle of wine back at the hotel for later in the day – organic you see, no screw tops!

I gradually made my way back down to the riverside in time for a coffee in the trendy Chiado district.

There was a good display of old newspapers through the ages in front of the city hall which I admired prior along with a novel festive tree. I then had a flat walk across to the square before the ascent to the castle. A fortifying beer was needed to tackle that, rather spoiled by a persistent multilingual beggar – at least he knew Happy Christmas, Bonne Natale, Frohe Weihnachten and Feliz Navidad to address to various passers by. Oh delight! Just past the bar is a beautiful sight – an escalator. It took me two thirds of the climb leaving just the final scramble up to to the gates of the castle to see this notice.

I should have checked but thought maybe a castle would be open but if they can charge you for entrance then they’d have had to pay staff today. So I walked around the area, spotting a few stretches of battlements but missing out on the (supposedly) fabulous view across the city – well I had seen it from the other side.

The escalator was only up and just as I was contemplating hundreds if not thousands of steps down a small bus appeared which was headed down to the square at the start of the Avenida de Libertad where my lunch would soon await. I was a bit early, not a Raggett characteristic, so I had a beer in a padeleria where pastel de nata were just waiting to go into the oven.

So I walked up the opposite side of the avenue to yesterday and then crossed to Ribadouro where they were indeed able to find me a table, right beside a tasty tank full of lobsters.

They were a popular choice and the couple at the next table were battling their way through oysters, large prawns and a whole good sized lobster. They were a young Chinese couple, she severely elegant like the casino villainess in any number of dramas, he in scruffy top, joggers and trainers. Oh and have I mentioned that at least one in three of all people on the streets today is Chinese. Maybe it’s the Macau connection, maybe just that the Chinese are now the world’s greatest tourists. Anyway I decided that a lobster would be too far I accepted the suggestion of the traditional Lisbon Christmas dish of baked cod loin served with caramelised onions and pink peppercorns. I had read somewhere that many restaurants bring some plates to the table which you could be forgiven for thinking were freebie appetisers but which then get added to the bill. I was quite peckish so a plate of pata negre ham went down very well with a glass or several of a Lisbon white wine called Lasso. I managed most of what looked like a half a cod which was very tasty but an unusual Christmas choice for me. After a coffee, I made my way back up through the busy Winter Wonderland to the hotel to Skype the rest of the family, write a blog, read a book and enjoy some wine thanks to my newly acquired friend.