December 5, 2005
Our "Official Day One" starts early. I wake up at 0430 in order to be out the door by 0500 and at the airport (via a short taxi ride) by 0530. Perfect! Mel's bag is the absolute last onto the conveyor and I don't see her emerge from the customs area until about 0720(ish). I swear I didn't start sweating through contingency planning until about 0700..."Who do I ask about her flight? If I e-mail her, will she be able to respond? Did she e-mail me to report a flight change? Did she take my money and run? Hm...that really wouldn't get her very far..."
Thankfully, she DOES finally emerge through the large double doors. We spend some time in reunion mode (that means hugging and kissing in front of everyone else in the terminal, by the way) before making our way back out to the taxi stand for the return trip to the Marriot (checkout isn't until noon).
The Marriot will be the only standard hotel of the trip - and I only chose it to stay close to the airport the night before Mel arrived. After checkout, we jump into yet another taxi and set off for Esplanade da Liberdades and Residencial Dom Sancho I, our lodging for the next two nights.
Dom Sancho represents the class of hotel we plan to spend a great deal of time exploring this trip...the hostal. Half hotel and half hostel, it tends to split the difference in price as well as service. Dom Sancho is clean, the breakfasts are simple but free (with STRONG Portuguese coffee), the room is decently sized and quiet, and the mattress is firm. It's cheap, ideally located, and impeccably clean. We'll consider this the standard for the rest of our trip.
After check-in, we break out the guide book and a map, and set off toward the old city (down near the water) under a cloudy sky and light rain. It's right around 1300 (more commonly referred to as "lunchtime").
We like the idea of minimalist travel so there isn't always a lot of room for guide books. Mel picked up Lisbon's 25 Best (a Fodor's Citypack) along with Lonely Planets Europe on a Shoestring. Generally speaking, we tend to lean pretty heavily on the Planet (although they've lead us astray in the past - but thats another story, isnt it?).
Since lunchtime has come (and nearly gone...these folks don't keep the incredibly odd hours of the Spanish), we swing by a restaurant (La Caffe) recommended within the Lonely Planet and enjoy a great lunch...not exactly traditional Portuguese fare, but we can't have everything, can we?
Walking further down Avenida da Liberdade, we come across Praca dos Restauradores and the first of many squares (with statues...of course) we'll visit throughout the city.
Praca dos Restauradores sits at the base of Avenida da Liberdade. From here we can go west to Bairro Alto, south to Baixa or Chiado, or north (back up Liberdades and toward the newer city). We keep heading south and skirt the edges of Praco do Rossio (Fodors tells us this is the city's main square). This also takes us by the old Rossio train station - an impressive facade, but currently out of service.
The Praca (square) itself is fairly impressive. It's scattered with fountains and statues, paved with a waving pattern of stones, and surrounded by interesting buildings.
As we wander through around the Rossio area, we can't help but notice the Elevador de Santa Justa - a 1902 construct designed (apparently) by Raul Msnier. We take a lift to the top and are treated to some fantastic views of the old city.
It also provides me with a bit of orientation. We reach the bottom and set off in the direction of Praca do Comercio and the harbor, passing through the heart of Baixa in the process. Being near Christmas, we discover a phenomenon that will haunt us throughout the rest of our vacation: the sudden explosive growth of "Christmas fungi" - lights, ornaments, and tress that obscure otherwise spectacular views.
The hike up to Sao Jorge is just that: a hike UP. We stop off at Santa Lucia for some more great views of the city (and some of Portugal's famed green wine - vinho verde...) and then swing over to Se Cathedral before making our final assault on the castle.
We time our arrival perfectly (if completely accidentally...) and get great day and sunset shots from within the castle.
After completing our tour of the castle, we wind our back down through Alfama, enroute to our chosen restaurant for the evening, located in the middle of Bairro Alto. Bota Alta means "old boot" (correction by a commentor below: "high boot" - but I like "old boot" better. Is accuracy REALLY all that important?) in Portuguese...but don't let that dissuade you from visiting. We're guided here by our Fodor's book - and for good reason. The food (traditional, simple Portuguese dishes) is great, the vino verde is great, and the walk to our last stop of the night (Adego Do Machado - a fado place) is short. We notice quite a few other couples asking for the international menus and thumbing through guide books of their own. I guess it pays to impress the right people, huh?
By the time we hit Adego, we're pretty worn down...not the best condition for enjoying fado (traditional Portuguese songs performed by local Portuguese artists). We do, however, enjoy the excellent sangria before heading back for Dom Sancho. Unfortunately, the lure of interesting night photos prevents us from managing a reasonable bedtime:
We pause briefly to reflect on the irony of locating the Communist Party headquarters in the middle of a fashion district:
Do ya s'pose these neighbors talk much...?