Sunday, July 21: This Sunday morning, Cafe Piela’s in Sintra is as closed as it was Saturday afternoon. I’m disappointed because I have been convinced, by a taxi-driver I spoke with outside of Quinta de Regaleira, to take a taxi door-to-door from Sintra to my hotel in Lisbon. I don’t know how I will find such a taxi on this quiet Sunday morning without Manuel here to call someone. I get ready in a leisurely fashion, packing up my bags and dragging my feet because, after all, my heart is firmly anchored here in Sintra.
I walk down Sintra’s pedestrian street in search of breakfast and, finding a bustling cafe, I order an omelet and coffee inside where it’s warm. It’s quite chilly this morning, just as it was last night. By the time I finish and return to Cafe Piela’s, at least Anna Maria, the lady in charge of the Hospederia, is there. She doesn’t speak great English, but she understands enough to call Manuel on his day off and ask him if he knows a dependable and honest taxi driver. He does and he arranges for the driver to meet me in front of Piela’s at 10:30. Thank goodness for Manuel!
Manuel told me yesterday morning that it should cost me about 25 euros to take a taxi to Lisbon, so I get a little anxious as we are still on the highway when the meter passes the 25 euro mark. It ends up costing me 35 euros, but at least I’m dropped right at the door of my hotel, Pensão Londres.
The Pensão Londres sits on one of the seven hills of Lisbon, more specifically on the seventh hill, in the famous Bairro Alto, an area of historical and architectural interest. It’s surrounded by beautiful gardens, homey restaurants, markets and a vibrant nightlife.
I’m quite pleased with my room, with its warm colors, high ceilings and friendly staff.
After settling in a bit, I head out to explore Lisbon, making a stop at the Miradouro São Pedro de Alcântara for a panoramic view of Lisbon. I’ve been so busy on my trip that I still haven’t even taken time to read the Lisbon guidebook, and I feel more than a little baffled by what I’m supposed to see here. I really have no idea where to go or what to look for. The only thing I’ve heard of is the hilly and atmospheric Alfama neighborhood, but I want to save that for a full day. It’s noon by the time I arrive in Lisbon, so why venture there today when I have three full days ahead?
Just past the Miradouro is a very steep street going down to Praca dos Restauradores and Rossio, where I’ve been told lies the Tourist Information Office. The vintage Elevador da Gloria sits patiently at the top, awaiting passengers. I decide I don’t want to wait, so I just walk down the hill where I see some vivid street art on the walls.
The receptionist at Pensão Londres has drawn me a map to the Tourist Information Office, but I wander up and down the streets in Rossio, in just the spot where the map indicates, and there is no TI to be found. In my wanderings, I pass many beckoning cafes and pop inside Igreja da Conceicao Velha to check out the church. As it’s Sunday morning, a service is in progress, so I sit down in a back pew for a bit to observe.
When I finally find the Tourist Information Office, one street over from where my hand-drawn map has indicated, I decide I will buy the two-day pass on the Lisbon Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off bus. There are three lines on this bus, and today I decide to take the red line, or the Belém line. This is an hour and 50 minute line that goes along the coast of Lisbon. Belém translates as Bethlehem, but it’s really all about the nautical adventures and riches of the 15th and 16th centuries, when Vasco da Gama’s discovery of a sea route to India started the age of empires (Lonely Planet Portugal).
The bus makes a stop at the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, which houses the Museu Nacional de Arqueologia in its West Wing. I decide not to hop off, figuring I can come back another day. The monastery is one of the most prominent monuments of Manueline-style architecture (Portuguese late-Gothic) in Lisbon, classified in 1983 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the nearby Tower of Belém. It turns out I never make it back here, but I figure I have seen so many monasteries, cathedrals and museums at this point, that missing one won’t kill me.
I do, however, hop off at the Tower of Belém, a fortified tower of the Portuguese Manueline-style built in the early 16th century. It played a significant role in the Portuguese maritime discoveries of the era of the Age of Discoveries. The tower was commissioned by King John II to be part of a defense system at the mouth of the Rio Tejo and a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. The structure was built from limestone and is composed of a bastion and a four-story tower (Wikipedia: Belém Tower).
I climb a narrow spiral staircase up to the tower, where I can see the Rio Tejo, a marina, and the 25 de Abril Bridge, a suspension bridge connecting Lisbon to Almada on the south bank of the river. It was inaugurated on August 6, 1966 and a train platform was added in 1999. Because it is a suspension bridge and has similar coloring, it is often compared to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, USA (Wikipedia: 25 de Abril Bridge).
I hop back on the bus, where we pass by Campo Pequeno, Lisbon’s bullfighting ring, built between 1890 and 1892. The design was inspired by the bullring of Madrid, later demolished. The style is the neo-Mudejar, the Romantic style inspired by the old Arab architecture from Iberia. After an extensive renovation, it re-opened as a multi-event venue in 2006, designed to be used for various events apart from bull-fighting. It hosts a range of live acts and has seen many famous bands perform there. It includes an underground shopping center, restaurants and a parking lot (Wikipedia: Campo Pequeno bullring).
I complete the entire loop of the red line, and end up back in Rossio, where I stop at an outdoor cafe for a beer and a snack.
I eat some steamed prawns but it isn’t quite enough.
So I order a bread and egg soup, which is quite bland and heavy. I barely eat any of it because it’s simply not very good.
I climb back up the steep hill to Bairro Alto and return to Pensão Londres, where I relax for a while and work on my blog. I stay in for quite a long time, and after dark, I head out to Tapas Bar 52, which is directly across the street from the hotel.
The bustling atmosphere in Tapas Bar 52 is accompanied by the Doors singing “Riders on the Storm.” Photographs from Planet of the Apes, John Travolta doing his strut in Saturday Night Fever, Humphrey Bogart, and Citizen Kane crowd every inch of wall space. One sign on the wall admonishes patrons to: “Eat Less, Lose Weight, Don’t Drink, Die Anyway.”
On my table is a basket of bread, a cheese spread and a plate of proscuitto. I think how nice it is that the restaurant provides all this food before I even order. As I nibble on these tasty appetizers, I drink a glass of red wine and then place an order for Tortilha asparagus and Andalus mussels.
A big-bellied glum-looking bald man wearing what looks like a black karate outfit with too-short pants struts around acting like he owns the place. He is obviously the owner or the manager. He gives off a tough-guy aura. I decide he doesn’t look like a very friendly sort.
In the meantime, two girls at an adjacent table are complaining that they’ve been waiting a long time for their food. The waitress tells them that the restaurant is busy and they’ll get served when they get served. These girls have been here longer than I have, and I’ve already eaten most of my meal. The server’s attitude is insolent and downright rude.
When I get my bill, I’m shocked to discover it’s 27 euros. Most of my meals in Spain and Portugal have been 10-15 euros, including a glass of wine. When I look at the itemization on the bill, I find I have been charged for the bread, the cheese spread, and the proscuitto (5 euros for that alone), things I didn’t order but were on the table when I sat down. I figured since I didn’t order them, they were free, much like bread or olives are free at many restaurants. I don’t think it’s fair play to put food in front of you that you don’t order and then charge you for it!
When I go back to the hotel desk to pick up my key, I say to the receptionist, “I certainly don’t recommend that restaurant across the street, Tapas Bar 52.” He tells me, “If you had asked me, I would have never recommended it either. Try out Tapas Bar 28 next time. You’ll love it!” And then he proceeds to give me directions.
It’s the end of my first day in Lisbon, and I feel as lost as I did when I first arrived. I miss Sintra and wish I had stayed there another day. 🙂