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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Visiting Lisbon, Portugal


We visited Lisbon, Portugal for a week in late February 2012 and enjoyed it very much. We rented an apartment and explored the city on our own. As usual, I started by buying a copy of Lisbon travel guide to figure out the layout of the city and then searched for apartments on VRBO.com near Rossio, which is one of the main areas of the city.

We found an apartment called Casa Travessa that was located a short walk up the hill near Rossio, the busy central plaza. The apartment served as a very convenient base from which to explore the great city of Lisbon. When we arrived on Saturday, we were greeted by Maria, a friend of the owners, Jordan and Deb Kleber, who happened to be away in Italy that week. Maria gave us the key and  took us on a very helpful tour of the neighborhood --  how to get down to Rossio, the restaurant street, metro station, Rossio train station, and tram stops, etc. We found a welcome basket with bread, cheese, fruits, and vinho verde (green wine) to get us started. We shopped in Pingo Doce for milk, bread etc for breakfast and light meals and the apartment served as a great base for our daily excursions. Jordan and Deb had also sent us helpful information about the neighborhood and restaurants.

Before I forget, here’s some helpful advice -- get a €5 "7 Colinas" card from the Casa da Sorte store on Rossio that's good for 24 hours of unlimited tram and metro rides (and refill it every morning, the first time, you’ll pay €0.50 extra for the card itself). If possible, go to Belém and museums on Sunday when it's free. If you plan to go to Sintra, check the days when the Pena Palace and National Palace are open.

We did all the usual sightseeing in Lisbon  -- on Sunday morning, after buying the “7 Colinas” card, we took Tram 15E to Belém to see the Belém tower, National Coach Museum, San Jeronimo monastery), had lunch at Os Jeronimos restaurant and coffee plus the famous Pasteis de Belém (called Pasteis de Nata elsewhere), and then took the metro to see the Gulbenkian musueum in the afternoon. We rode the famous Tram 28E many times from Martim Moniz park nearby all the way through Alfama and Bairro Alto. We got off the Tram 28E to see Castelo San Jorge (the castle), Miradoro St Luzia, and Sé cathedral. We also took the Elevador Gloria funicular up to Chiado, to see the city from up there and also taste port wine at Solar do Vinho do Porto.  One day we took metro to the Oriente station and visited Parque das Naciones. We spent nearly each afternoon walking the plaza in Rossio, then down Rua Augusta pedestrian street to Praca Comercio and back. We had coffee and Pasteis de Nata each afternoon. We liked the area around Rossio a lot.

We took a day trip to Sintra by train from the Rossio train station and another half-day trip by train to Cascais (from the Cais do Sodré station) to enjoy the beach. In Sintra we saw the Pena palace and walked around the city. We also had a good lunch at the GSpot Gastronomia restaurant near Sintra train station.

There are lots of good restaurants in Lisbon. We ate meals at the Bom Jardim (slowly roasted chicken with piri piri sauce) and Cafe Tighelina nearby, and took the ferry across Rio Tejo to Cacilhas for a seafood lunch at Farol restaurant (shrimp in garlic sauce, Bacalhau à Farol platter -- bacalhau is salted cod, very popular in Portugal). We also ate at a small restaurant near the Castle called Claras em Castelo that was quite good.