Thursday 21 June 2018

The Lisbon Adventure - Part 1

Arriving in Lisbon

We arrived in Lisbon around 8pm on an Easyjet flight from Gatwick. You can also fly to Lisbon with Ryanair from Stansted if you prefer although on this occasion it was far cheaper with Easyjet and to be honest I'd choose them over Ryanair every time. Usually as the flight lands I adjust the time but no need here as there is no time difference.

The metro took us from the airport to our hotel in the Saldanha district of the city. At just €27 per night for a double room the Residencial Ipanema hotel was pretty basic but perfectly acceptable for one night. Once checked into the hotel we headed outside in search of some food and a beer. The nearby Evolution Hotel was looking far more fancy pants with it's giant hand supporting the corner of the building, I doubt it cost €27 to stay there per night though!

We hadn't realised it yet but we'd just sat down at something Lisbon is famous for, one of it's many kiosks. These are scattered across the city serving food and drink and date back to 19th century. We ordered some beers and Super Bock arrived, we would be enjoying many more of these over the coming week. Super Bock is the best selling Portuguese beer, it's really refreshing, tastes great and is reasonably priced costing about €2 for a small glass.

It was late and we were feeling pretty knackered so didn't fancy stomping the streets in search of food. The kiosk had a small selection of sandwiches and burgers so tonight we ate here. My wife ordered a toasted sandwich and I ordered a cheeseburger, both came with crisps and cost around €5 each.

It wasn't exactly burger & beyond but it was nice enough.

The next day...

With luggage in hand we checked out of our hotel and made a really early start in a bid to see as much as Lisbon as we possibly could. Just after midday we'd be boarding our train to our next destination, Porto. As we made our way towards the Baixa district we were distracted by Campo Martires da Patria, a park which was also home to many birds.

This Rooster wasted no time in blasting out a "Cock-a-doodle-doo" as we passed by it.

Something I hadn't expected in Lisbon was the uneven and quite rickety pavements consisting of small flat pieces of stone. In places they were arranged in patterns like a mosaic, they looked quite beautiful. Be warned though, they're quite slippery when wet and if you have a suitcase on wheels things can start to get very noisy indeed. 

As we ventured further towards Baixa, the rumble of my suitcase provided the soundtrack for our journey as we passed snippets of street art and took in the local architecture. My wife walked silently beside me with her rucksack, I started to wish I'd brought mine along as well!

On R. Augusta the pavements widened and became more ornate. I didn't need to buy any linen from Casa Fraz√£o but I loved the signage.

Something we did need to buy though was some breakfast and as R. Augusta has a long line of outside seating running along the centre it seemed like an ideal spot away from the noise of traffic. Casa Brasileira had a fairly varied breakfast menu so we decided to eat here.

It wasn't just the breakfast menu that had lured us to this place though, it was the Pastel de Nata displayed in the window.

I'd recently tried some amazing Pastel de Nata in London so convinced myself the ones here couldn't be much better than the ones I'd already tried. How wrong I was though, these ones completely blew me away! A much creamier custard filling and finer crust, just incredible and at €1.20 each worth every cent. 

As tempting as it was to fill up on Pastel de Nata I was craving something savoury so ordered a set breakfast. At €8.50 it included a good coffee and a freshly squeezed orange juice. I started with the fruit and moved onto the other items.

The ham and cheese toasty was really nice actually, I popped the egg and bacon inside to make it even nicer.

Just around the corner we caught our first glimpse of the Elevador de Santa Justa, a cast iron elevator built in 1902 to connect the lower streets with Carmo Square. We didn't have time to join the queue of tourists waiting to use it as we had a train to catch in a couple of hours time. We had read though that you can get stunning views from many different points in the city so if it's views you're looking for then it's probably not really worth waiting for this anyway.

We did make time to quickly have a look around the oldest bookshop in the world though, Bertrand Chiadro. Opened in 1732 the bookshop has several rooms and a few spots where visitors can sit and read. 

Time wasn't on our side though so there was no time to read right now, we swiftly made our way to Oriente station where we would catch our train to Porto, 320km North of Lisbon. As an admirer of modernist architecture I was instantly drawn in to the beauty of the concrete structure of the station. Scattered around the edges on the upper floor were a number of food vendors in cute vehicles and down below a huge book market.

As we waited for our train to appear on the screen we discussed our concern that the weather forecast in Porto was two days of solid rain, Lisbon on the other hand was looking dry and warm. Then somebody came up and told us there was a train strike so we wouldn't be going anywhere by train today. With our train tickets already booked weeks ago and it being too late to cancel our Porto hotel we panicked. Should we try to get there by coach instead we wondered or maybe we could just book a hotel in Lisbon where the weather was looking much better anyway.

Despite others confirming there was indeed a train strike we headed up to the platform where the train was now displayed on the screen. We'd already decided though, we wanted to stay in Lisbon. On the platform we booked a hotel and wondered why we were even waiting for a train that wasn't going to turn up. about 30 seconds after taking this photo the train did pull into the platform!

Quite shocked about what just happened we jumped on the metro and headed back into Lisbon. We'd liked what we'd seen of Lisbon so far and with it having decent weather the thought of Porto soon faded away.

It was on our way to our hotel where we realised just how hilly Lisbon is!

Our home for the next 2 nights at a cost of €80 was the rather nice "Happy Reception Downtown" quite close to Bairro Alto, where there was lots to see and do. We were sent an email with codes to access the accommodation, there were good shared areas and the room itself was spacious and modern. Everything here is done via email so we didn't encounter any staff during our stay here but everything went really smoothly and you can safely leave luggage here before check in and after check out which is a real bonus.

So the itinerary for the week had changed dramatically and instead of travelling to Porto, here we were in Lisbon for the entire week. Suddenly everything felt more relaxed and we'd have far more time to explore this incredible city.

We hadn't walked particularly far before somebody stopped to sell us their €9 lunch menu. We wasn't planning on stopping to eat quite yet but the prospect of a vegan option sold the idea to my wife, so we stopped for lunch at Retiro Dos Sentidos.

I'd eaten many a menu del dia in Spain before over the years so was curious as to how it would compare in Portugal. A glass of wine was mentioned but we were given an entire jug, with the wine came some olives. So far so good!

Next a vegetable soup was served with some bread.

My wife's main course was a vegan sausage served with spinach. Not the most photogenic of meals but it tasted really good.

I had four options but decided to choose the octopus fritters and they were delicious, a golden crisp batter seasoned nicely and filled with octopus chunks. With it came an equally impressive tomato rice served with beans. I struggled to finish it and was mindful of there being a dessert.

Thankfully the dessert wasn't too filling, I chose flan and my wife chose a baked apple with cinnamon, with the desert also came coffee. As lunchtime set menu deals go we felt like we'd done well to stop here, it was definitely worth the money and the staff were friendly.

Next on our list was to try the local liqueur, Ginjinha. It's made using cherries and is served in a shot glass, it's also reasonably priced at around €1. We both loved it and knew this wouldn't be our last glass of this delicious liqueur, I was however distracted by something in the background.

Pies! I was still far too full up to consider eating one though.

You don't have to walk very far at all in Lisbon before a tram passes you. Riding a tram is the most popular tourist attraction in Lisbon and I wanted to ride one, I would save it for another day though.

As we walked around the area above Rossio station we noticed the stunning views from some of the higher parts of the city. There were long flights of steps to be found all over Lisbon, some restaurants had taken advantage of the views by offering outside seating on the steps.

All of this walking was thirsty work so we stopped for another Ginjinha. This time at A Ginjinha which was founded in 1840 and has been popular ever since. This place is open daily from 9am to 10pm and it can get incredibly busy.

It's possible to buy Ginjinha by the bottle here but most people stop by for a shot.

You can chose to have a shot with or without cherries in the glass and it cost about €1.30. We chose to have cherries in the glass but in hindsight you're better off not having them as you'll get more drink instead.

Our next port of call was Hospital de Bonecas which we were having problems finding. Getting slightly lost on the streets of Lisbon is no chore though as it's very easy to get distracted by the many pastelerias with their tempting window displays of cakes and pastries.

Quite a few places seemed to specialise in marzipan fruit, they're said to be more decorative than a taste sensation though.

We finally arrived at Hospital de Bonecas, The Doll Hospital. My wife and I had noticed it last year on an episode of Travel Man with Richard Ayoade and was keen to check it out. First you walk into a tiny shop selling everything doll related. The doll hospital upstairs is easy to miss as there's only a small sign behind the counter which mentions it, simply pay €2 and head up to the first floor.

The ticket price included a guided tour of the hospital where we were talked through the entire process and given a fascinating insight into the history of the hospital. The first room is where all the broken dolls are stored until it's their turn to be repaired again.

This is the operating table where the repairs take place.

If your cherished doll is missing an eye fear not, there are plenty of replacements available here!

The vast selection of spares filled an entire room, it was quite a sight seeing so many spare heads, limbs and even hair.

The rooms beside the hospital display vintage dolls and toys from around the world. Our guide continued to talk about these collections in detail.

Just when you think you've seen everything another door opens and the collections keep growing. You definitely get a lot for your €2 here, a fascinating place that's well worth visiting!
High up in the distance we spotted the 11th century Castelo de S Jorge, a hilltop Moorish castle and Royal residence. It looked like quite a trek but we were both up for the challenge.

As we got closer to the top we stopped for a much needed beer. The bar we'd stopped at was so relaxing we completely forgot our purpose and found ourselves at the bottom of the hill again, we never did get around to visiting the castle!

We took a walk along the Ribeira das Naus, this waterside walk is a nice stretch for a stroll. It has a small beach, some bars and restaurants and it's where you can catch ferries across the river to Barreior and Almada. The clouds were looking quite moody and dark so we weren't about to go swimming!

Further along we were greeted by these chaps.

The Bica funicular is one of three to be found in the city, all of which were designed by the Portuguese engineer Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard. He is also responsible for the design of the Santa Justa Lift. 

We ended our day in Lisbon at one of the kiosk bars with an empanada.

Over a sangria we planned the next day, we'd decided to get up early and spend the day in Sintra.

The distance we'd walked today was no surprise really but the floors we'd climbed were testament to just how hilly Lisbon is!

Click here for
Part 2 - A day trip to Sintra


  1. Take the tram up to the castle, then walk back down, stopping off at all the bars and snack places.
    Fantastic few hours out.

  2. Thought you'd been quiet for a while, and suspected a holiday might be the reason! I did warn you (last installment of Japan 3) that ginjinha was addictive stuff - we used to really look forward to our yearly bottle when the boss returned from holiday. :)

  3. Yes'! My favourite are your holiday posts! Looking forward to them all!

  4. Tesco has 660ml Super Bock for £2.