Lisbon Notes – December 18, 2004 to January 8, 2005
Getting from the airport…there is an airport bus that goes from the airport to the downtown hotels. However, when we finally approached someone at the tourist info desk in the airport, they neglected to tell us of this option. They did not recommend the Tourist Taxi, to their credit, they said it was overpriced at 16.00 Euros and a regular taxi would be cheaper. They were right, the taxi ride cost us 8 Euros. We never did find out the cost of the airport bus since our return flight was at 6:00 am and they do not start running it until then. We took a taxi back to the airport.
Our luggage was lost on arrival. There is a central zone for lost luggage for all airlines. Take a number and wait your turn. We were number 85 and they were serving 54. It took us three hours to get served. They found that our luggage was lost in Amsterdam and would arrive at 10:30 that night, but not be delivered until the next day. They could not tell us what time and we were held to our flat until it arrived. We had made multiple calls to the luggage place, but they did not have a phone or radio contact with the driver that delivers. They finally delivered it to the fruit stand across the way, but we did not know until we called the landlady’s friend. We finally found it at 1:00. This seems to be a common occurrence since this office was the busiest place at the airport.
People smoke EVERYWHERE. Although I am a smoker, it felt strange to see them smoking in the airport, stores, in the mall, and in the subway. You are not supposed to smoke in the subway, but they do, though not on the subway itself. Non-smoking areas are small and not ventilated, usually right next to the smoker’s section. If you are a staunch non-smoker, I would think twice about a vacation here.
Most apartments do not have central heating. They get cold in the winter, sometimes colder than outside. The advantage of having an apartment for us was that it was cheaper than three weeks in a hotel. We were able to cook when we wanted to and we had ready access to making coffee or tea at our leisure. This alone cut down our expenses since the apt. was $40.00 a night. It was about 50 square meters with a bedroom, small living room, and a tiny kitchen. It did give us a place to separate from each other when we wanted some privacy. We found food in the grocery stores to be cheaper than in Budapest, where we live. We were also able to cook some foods that we cannot get in Budapest, like Italian sausage and sweet potatoes; things that you miss from living abroad for years. This was a plus in itself. It was also located two blocks from Figeroa Square, where many of the bus lines and trams stop. Across from our front door was a produce stand and there were two others within 5 feet. We enjoyed many of the fruits and vegetables that are not available in Budapest. I would highly recommend this flat for one or two people. For more than two, it is unsuitable. The landlady is a charming young woman who is working on her doctoral dissertation in sociology.
The streets were beautifully decorated for Christmas. The streets had loud speakers playing Christmas carols in English. Each street had different songs and decorations with the major squares having huge central displays of ornamentation.
Most of the stores were closed on the Monday after Christmas and New Years. I believe from the signs on the doors that this is usual to be closed on Mondays.
The transportation card is cheaper 8.30 Euros for five days, rather than 1 or 3 days. The card itself is .50 cents for the first time only. As you enter the tram or bus, there is a scanner. You just need to scan your card. Always get on at the front unless you see a sign on the larger buses to do otherwise. The metro is faster than the above ground transport if you have a choice and don’t care. Trams and buses are scheduled for every 6-15 minutes, but we waited over 30 on several occasions for a bus or a tram. This card is good on all elevadors too. They are fun to ride and the views are wonderful. St. Justa elevadore is a work of art in itself and the view is great, but it can get quite windy (and cold in the winter).
Bus 37 goes to the castle entrance if you don’t want to walk the hill after tram 28. It is recommended that you ride up and walk down. As you walk down, you will go through the Alfama section of the city. This district survived the earthquake of 1755 on All Saints Day when 40,000 people were killed and most of the city was destroyed. In this area is a store called Tradicoes at Rua de Saint Pedro 41 www.portugal2u.com We found some modern pottery here that we did not see anywhere else. Although many of their items are priced high, they are reasonable with the pottery prices. The cork products are available many places, so if this interests you, shop around.
Tram 15 goes to Belem. This is where the Monument of Discovery, the monastery and the famous pasteleria is. Pasteleria do Belem.
The Lisboa Tourist office at Commercio Square is very expensive for souvenirs. The tourist office can be useless depending on the clerk of the hour, regardless of the location. We received different information regarding the same questions on three different trips in. The directions printed for some museums are outdated or misprints. They did admit that their maps are not very good either, especially the transportation one. It is always best to double check the maps at the bus or trams stops. Our landlady later told us they have a reputation for being rude to the tourists.
Many places you have to pay for your coffee and pastry at the cashier and then take your ticket to the counter to order it. Other places have table service with a bit added for the service. Watch what others do and follow their example. The best café latte I had was at the post office at Restarandures Metro stop. It was only 95 Euro cents. The Casa do Alentejo is on the street behind this post office. This has a magnificent tile collection. It was once a private club, but anyone can wander in and have dinner if you choose. We wandered all over the second floor to look at the tiles. Rua dos Portes de Santo Antao (no number given in our book).
There is a flea market behind St. Vincent’s Church on Tuesdays. On the hill going down on the left, there are two stands worth visiting. One sells ceramic tiles and the other pottery. Both sell new and they are cheaper than the tourist shops, but the quality is the same. They refused to bargain with the people next to me, so I did not try it.
El Corte Ingeles is worth going to for the food store in the basement. There are many foods there you do not usually see elsewhere. It is like Harrods food court only less expensive. If you live in Europe and can use PAL system DVDs, you will find some good buys here.
There are ATM bank machines everywhere, they all seem to be tied into MultiBanco. This means that regardless of the machine we used, we could only get a maximum of 200 Euros a day. Since our bank charges $5.00 per withdrawal, it hurt to have to take money out more than twice in a week. In Budapest, trying to cash a traveler’s check is a major hassle. I have not used them for years. The only exchange offices I noticed were the Western Union offices (2 in the city). The rates are not good, so I will eat the $5.00 charge that my bank charges me.
Although I found over 2 dozen Wi-Fi Internet cafes listed on the Internet before I left, the tourist office said there were none. Hard Rock Café has one that is supposedly free. However, when I went to use it, I found I needed to buy an access card from PTT, the phone company. They charge 5 Euro for an hour or 20 Euro for an all day card. This was the same wherever there were “free” wireless connection cards. I never did find any hotspots for really free access. Western Union has Internet access, but it is about 2 Euros for a full hour, but costs more if you get it in 15 or 30 minute increments. This is about the cheapest I could find. I only went to clean out mailboxes so nothing would bounce while I was gone. If I could have found a Wi-Fi café, I could have written my notes on my laptop and then just uploaded them. I also wanted to upload my photos, but needed the Wi-Fi place to do it from my laptop.
Discounts in Lisbon:
Some museums like the Puppet Museum are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so double check before you head there. The Azulajoz Tile Museum is closed on Mondays, but only opens again at 2:00 pm on Tuesday. My partner received a senior discount of 50% of admission (cost was 1.50 Euro rather than 3.00). I just by chance asked about a teacher discount and received the same 50% for teachers.
On Christmas night when nothing was open including the restaurants, we found lots of activity at the malls. The stores were closed, but the movies and some restaurants were open. My partner was given a 50% discount on his movie ticket for being a senior. If you are over 65 y.o. ask for a senior discount. Most places will give it to you and only ask to see a driver’s license or passport.
Gulbenkian Museum and the Modern Art Museum on the same grounds are free admission on Sundays. They will give you a ticket, collect the stub, but the admission is still free and the backs of the tickets are quite pretty.
The Cemetery of Pleasure at the end of the 28 tram line is a cultural experience. If you have ever been to Buenos Aires to find Eva Peron, you will appreciate this one as well. It would be worth taking the 28 tram from one end to the other. With your transportation card, you can hop off at any point if something catches your eye. There are many lovely places to stop and look at views or interesting sites along the way. The 12 tram is a circular route that will return to where you started. It is worth a ride around at least once.
One book we have found very helpful is Lisbon: A Cultural and Literary Companion by Paul Buck and published by Interlink Books NY/North Hampton © 2002. Part of the Cities of Imagination Series.
You can easily get to Sintra as a day trip, but two would be recommended. From Lisbon at the Jardim Zoologica Metro stop there is a connection for Comboios. These small commuter trains run about every 15 minutes to Sintra. Tickets are 65 Euro cents for seniors with a passport or drivers license each way. Regular adults are 1.30 Euros each way. Get off at the last stop. There are two Sintra stops.
When you come out of the train station, turn left, follow the signs for the historical center of town. This is what we did our first day. We walked a lot!!! On the second day, we turned right outside the train station and next to Pizza Hut (ugh!) there is a bus that does the whole circuit of castles. It is number 434. A day ticket is 3.60. This provides unlimited hop on hop off possibilities. It goes to all of the castles, so you can take your time and then hop on the bus again for the next castle. Beware that the crowds get large. There was a lot of pushing and shoving to get on. The bus driver finally admitted people to a limit and then stopped letting others on. They do not come as frequently as you would expect considering the crowds. We had to wait for two buses to pass us by before we could get on. Due to the crowds, the driver refused to stop at some of the stops in between castles, though they are listed on the schedule and there were bus stops with people hailing him down. At the end of the day, if you are tired, you just take it back to the train station. There is less of a crowd at the end of the day.
The Regaleria Palace is 500 meters uphill, while the Palacio Palace is 1400 feet up very steep hills. I overheard someone say it took them 1 ½ hours to climb up the winding roads. The roads are also very narrow and you have to be on the look out for traffic at all times.
We went to the Palacio Palace and would highly recommend it. It is still quite a hike after the bus lets you off. Do not be turned off by the long line waiting to buy tickets. It went really fast. Seniors combined admission for the Palace and the gardens was 4.00 Euro and the regular adult was 6.00 Euro. There is a little shuttle which will take you closer to the top, but it is 1.50 Euro per person. There is a lot of stair climbing.
We also went to the National Palace. It is interesting, but not furnished as well as the other. It is more old world castle feeling since it was used in the 16th century. Portugal’s last King left the throne in 1910.
The Toy Museum was fun, but they claim over 20,000 toys. I believe this, but they should have stopped at 10,000. The exhibits are stuffed and it is difficult to appreciate many of the things since they are crowded in a small space. There are three floors and they really need more to do these gems justice. There are toys from all over the world. 3 Euros regular, 1.50 Seniors, no teacher discounts.
Restaurants are a bit pricier in Sintra, but many have fixed meals starting at 8 Euros. There are dozens of tourist shops.
Our third week, we rented an apt. in Bélem. This was only due to our first rental lady having to move back into where we were staying since the roof was being fixed at her other flat. We rented the Bélem flat from a friend of hers. She charges 50 Euro a night, 10 Euro per person a week for utilities and 40 Euro total for cleaning when you leave. Bélem is only 4 miles from downtown Lisbon, but can take over 20 minutes to get there due to traffic. The flat could accommodate about five people comfortably. Although it was a first floor flat, it did have a downstairs. On the first floor was a kitchen and living room combination. The room was very large with a sofa bed and a single futon. The kitchen had a stove with oven/broiler combination. The stovetop was gas, but the oven was electric. We used the broiler a few times for steaks since we do not have one in Budapest. The downstairs has a long hallway, with a huge bathroom. There are two sinks as well as the tub with shower. Two people could easily get ready at one time in this bathroom. There was also a very spacious bedroom with a very comfortable double bed. Off of the bedroom is a closed in sun room with a hammock. It was too chilly during our stay to try it out. The flat is located near the Hospital Militar, by two blocks. A bus that stops there going down the hill to the center and then trams and buses there into Lisbon downtown. We walked the hills back to the flat for the first three days, but then succumbed to the bus. It is quite a hike up at the end of a long day.
The public library in Bélem is worth visiting if you are a lover of children’s books. The whole first floor is a children’s library. The second floor is the adult section. You will not find anything in English, not even newspapers, but they do have one computer with Internet that you can sign up to use for a half hour at a time. The children’s librarian speaks adequate English to assist.
From Bélem, we took the commuter train to Cascais, a beautiful little beach town. The ticket was from a machine: 1.30 Euro regular one way and 65 Euro cents Senior ½ price ticket. It took about 40 minutes to get there and it is at the end of the line. Trains run about every 10 minutes all day long. The town is wonderful with many little shops and restaurants, but my favorite part was strolling the small beach area and collecting an amazing variety of seashells. If I had known, I would have brought a baggie with me, but I utilized my jacket pockets instead.
The cultural center is small, but they did have an interesting art exhibit which was free. They also have restrooms. To the right and around the corner is the entrance to a park. The park is huge and magnificent. There is a large pond with swans, ducks, and dozens of turtles. As you wander through the trails, there are peacocks and peahens roaming freely and being very used to people, do not move from your path when you walk by them. There is a children’s playground in one section, an open field in an another, and many little walking trails through what feels like little sections of a jungle. There are spectacular statues in various areas and water fountains with surprising statues as well. There is a children’s zoo of various kinds of birds, which needs some attention. There is also a children’s library at the other end, but we did not venture there. In little openings on the trails are picnic benches and tables for warmer weather.
There are a few restaurants to have a meal or coffee overlooking the beach and the boats moored in the water. You can watch the men baiting their hundreds of crab traps getting them ready for the days work.
On our return trip to Bélem, we did not pay close attention to the schedule and our train by-passed our station and did not stop until the next one. We had to take a bus back to Bélem from there.
From Bélem, we decided to go to the Oceanarium at the Expo 98 site. We had to take a bus to one metro, take this metro to the end, then switch to a second metro to the de Gama Center. The ride took us an hour total to get there. I was not enthused about the Oceanarium having been to the one in Monterey, CA a number of times and to the New Jersey State Aquarium shortly after its opening. My partner received a 4.50 Euro discount on his 10 Euro ticket and I received a 1.50 Euro teacher discount. As soon as we entered, I was enthralled. The set up is wonderfully designed. In the center and from all areas, you see the huge aquarium of the global ocean. The aquarium is done is such a way that you can see the different varieties that like to swim higher and lower in the water’s depths by having viewing areas on two levels. In each of the four corners, there is the Atlantic Ocean, the Antarctic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the Indian Ocean. Each has its own species of fish, plus birds, and in one case a pair of sea otters. There are many break-out areas with scientific information that is quite interesting and written in English and Portuguese. One such area has an on-going movie about the care and feeding of the animals. It is well worth the time to watch. This scientific center works in cooperation with Monterey Aquarium in CA as well as some others.
From here, we returned to the de Gama mall to see a movie in English with Portuguese sub-titles before wandering home again. We retraced our route taking one metro to the end, then switching lines to the second metro. We waited for our tram back to Bélem for over 20 minutes before we realized that it stops running at 7:30 pm. We had to take a different tram and was on this for 3 stops before it stopped dead and we waited 15 minutes for it to move again. It turns out there was an accident on the tracks. There were seven other trams log jammed ahead of us waiting to get through. It was difficult to find alternative routes to get back, but finally made it back to Bélem. We then looked for the bus that would take us back up our hill. It was now close to 10:00 pm and we were too tired to hike it. No bus came and we finally opted for a taxi to the hospital and then walked from there.
One thing to be wary of is the time that different lines stop running. Some stop as early as 5:30 pm while others stop at 7:30 or even as late as 11:00. They all stop fairly early for a large city, but this is the same in many cities.
The Monastery in Belem is well worth visiting. The art museum is not unless you are really into Portuguese art. Discounts at both for seniors.
Ryan James, Ed.D.