Friday, November 25, 2011


So I flew into Lisbon from Madrid (about an hour flight, minus the hour time difference, means you arrive about the same time you left) and stayed at the Clarion Suites near Marques de Pombal, a huge, trafficky roundabout at the northern end of the part of the city you actually want to visit. It was perfectly nice, especially considering I had prepaid for it through a summer deal and my one-bedroom suite ended up costing me about 40 bucks a night. Not a bad deal.

Lisbon is fantastic and easy to maneuver in a way that Madrid just wasn't. The metro is easy to understand, and everyone speaks English. Everyone DOES NOT in Spain, which sucks. But Lisbon is generally friendly and calm. Or maybe it was just my sister's absence that led me to stress much less.

The first afternoon I went down to the Baixa-Chiado area, which is a lovely little shopping district -- the shop Nicholas is frickin' adorable and I got my mom's Xmas gift there -- and tried to take the trolley thing up to the Castelo. But I took the wrong one, heading towards Estrela Park, cause I'm a moron, and realized it about halfway up into the Bairro Alto, which makes San Francisco look positively level. Finally I got the right trolley, but got off a little too soon and ended up walking to the Castelo. I got there just before it closed, and it was a truly lovely site. Kind of reminded me, in terms of the walk, of climbing up to Coit Tower in SF. But the Castelo is much more charming than Coit Tower and has equal views, especially since there's a Golden Gate-style bridge crossing the Tagus.

View from the Castelo:

Archaeology in effect at the "back" of the Castelo:

Touristy neighborhood around the Castelo. I thought I'd wait to buy postcards, but I should have got them there. Best postcards in the city. Also, a helluva lot of Pessoa paraphernalia. He's like their James Joyce.

I walked back down to Baixa-Chiado after the sun set and up to Restauradores where I had a roasted chicken dinner at a restaurant recommended in my guidebook. I think I was in somehow the wrong half, as it wasn't the chicken described in the book. Anyhow, I would avoid that area, if at all possible, if you don't like being harassed by the restaurant hosts trying to get you to eat in their restaurant. Really the only unpleasant thing about the city.

After that I walked back up the Avenida da Libderdade to my hotel and called it a night. It's a huge Parisian-style boulevard like the Champs d'Elysee, though less fancy, and I felt perfectly safe.

The next day I attempted to go to Sintra. It was gray out, and I walked down to Rossio to grab the train, but it was a week day so the drivers were on strike (to protest austerity measures? I don't know.).
This is the staircase at Rossio. Rocking, huh?

In any event, it started pouring so I grabbed the subway to Parque das Nacoes. The Oriente station is lovely, and right across from a nice mall, and on the other side of the mall is the park.


So I loitered around the mall, went down to Continente, which is like a Portuguese equivalent of Target, to grab some fruit, and found triple chocolate cereal just like the kind I had in London (different brand name but same thing) seven years ago. I bought my fruit and went to check out the park, in the drizzle, which is semi-abandoned and weird and would have been cooler if I hadn't just come from Valencia and their amazing City of Arts and Sciences.
I took pictures of the sky cable cars and the Tagus and the music garden, but, honestly, I only really liked these fountains:

So I went back to Continente, bought my cereal, and took it back to the apartment. I chilled at the hotel for a while watching TV that was canceled in the U.S. months ago (Chicago Code anyone?) and endless repeats of The Simpsons and Family Guy. It was nice to decompress.
This is just north of the Marques de Pombal roundabout. Not sure what's up, but I dig it.

Then I felt like a full-on lazybones (like right now, as I'm going to blow off Pilates), so I walked up to Campo Pequeno, a very pretty bull ring that, during the off season, is home to equally bloody spectacles like Panda goes to School: The Musical and Smashing Pumpkins concerts, I kid you the fuck not. There's also a mall underneath it.

Interesting note: people will tell you Portuguese bullfighting is more humane because they don't kill the bull. This is not true. Yes, they don't kill the bull during the match, BUT they kill it immediately after, so the bull still isn't getting out of this shit alive. Just a FYI.

Then I had dinner at Pizza Hut (I know, I know) and went to bed.

The next day: Sintra!

Sintra is a fairly short train ride from Lisbon and totally worth it.
Look--a house that's also kind of a lighthouse. And it's inland!

Don't bother with any sights you don't have to hike to the top of the mountains to get to (or take a bus to if you're smarter than I am). I climbed something like 2,000 steps to visit both the Pena National Palace and the ancient Castelo dos Mouros. It's mighty tiring but both are very different and very worth it to visit. Might I suggest hiking boots, some water, and only going during the off-season like I did. I can't imagine the hell it must be in the summer or with major crowds.

View from Mouros:


The train--notice the car is fairly empty. A bunch of screaming children came into the car I was in, a camp group, so all the unencumbered adults left that car and scattered through the rest of the train. I've been a counselor in that situation before, but I felt no guilt about leaving.

Then I tried dinner once again in Restauradores, this time at Valentino, also mentioned in my guidebook, also not super worth the yelling hosts of that area. I did eat super early, though, so it wasn't so bad.

Sunday, my last day, was a bit of a waste of time. Don't let the abundant automatic correos (little post office machines) littered around town fool you--most of them are out of order and will not dispense the stamps you waited till the last second to buy. It may very well eat your three euros, so be very wary.

I took the train to Belem to check out the Torre de Belem and the huge-ass monastery (that's not very respectful, but it's fairly accurate).
This is cool. I should have paid the two euros to go in, but I decided to wait for the Torre de Belem. MIS-take.

The Torre de Belem, which is pretty but I'm not going to give you any photos of because I did not enjoy my time there, was a clusterfuck despite it not being the most spectacular day, probably because it's free to visit on Sundays until 2. It's small, empty, and there's only one narrow, winding staircase to the top that also is how you get down. No employee is manning this stair, and it's a dangerous, unpleasant thing to try to maneuver. If you are mildly claustrophobic, it's not worth it. The Torres in Madrid were much more enjoyable.

I did like walking along the Tagus, and I did enjoy walking through Jeronimos, the monastery, after services let out, which was also free. It was actually too big to photograph well and trolley cables get in the way. But I got a couple decent inside shots.
Why does taking pictures in church feel so blasphemous? Probably because it is.

I then headed to Pasteis de Belem because, well, the guidebook said it was the ur pasteis place. But I'm not really a pasteis girl. I'm a queijada girl, so I headed to the other side of the block to a place that literally had queijada in its name.

And the queijadas were mad shitty. HOWEVER, they had chocolate salame, and it was awesome! And then I realized they have salame everywhere, and that is a serious Portuguese dessert, but it was too late, and I lost my chance at salame.
So that sucked. But I'm going to make some for Christmas.

Anyhow, I took the trolley back to Baixa-Chiado, then went to a coffee joint where there's free Wi-Fi (which was a joy) and sat for approximately two hours just rejoining the world of the Internet and continuing to be horrified by Penn State at-large.

Then I walked back to my hotel, ate some McDonald's (I know! Shut up!), and got ready to go home.
Which I did the next day. Thankfully the cab was only about 10 euros 'cause Aerobus didn't run as early as I needed to leave.

So now I'm back in LA and going to Portland next week. Gah!
I'm really glad I went, but I really do prefer living in a place to traveling there. Travel is brutal, especially when you don't know the language. You just feel like you're go, go, go, go. When you live in a place, you find the right restaurants and don't have to depend on a book. You don't have to fit in all the touristy spots at once. You know when the train drivers are striking, you know where the good Wi-Fi spots, you can just relax. You can really experience a place.
But for $500 rt from LA, I had to do it, so that's that.

I'm just pissed I didn't get a Portugal passport stamp. Damn you, customs!

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In summing up, I wish I had some kind of affirmative message to leave you with. I don't. Would you take two negative messages?
-- Woody Allen