After spending one week in Romania, we headed out to see Portugal. The five-day trip was definitely too short, giving us just a quick taste of the country, and leaving us wanting more.
Our flight from Otopeni, Romania was scheduled to leave bright and early at 6 a.m., but it took us an hour to leave the airport. Our seats were at the front of the plane, right behind the three rows of business class passengers. There was about to be a small riot when the crew turned away passengers from using the front restrooms, reserved for the handful of business class customers (about 12 seats, but not all in use), while the rest of us (100 +) had to use the two restrooms all the way at the back of the plane…
Four and half hours later, around 9:30 a.m. local time, we landed in Lisbon. The airport seemed to go on forever, and so did the lines. We made the best of our time waiting in the meandering queue to passport check by learning the numbers in Portuguese, listening to the airport attendant call out the next available booth. When we finally passed the passport check, we waited some more for our luggage, and then proceeded to the car rental area. We used Sixt, as it was the cheaper car rental. The line was more like a cluster but then we figured out that there was a ticket system – which only worked intermittently. As we were waiting, I glanced longingly at the automated rental machines across the aisle belonging to Hertz, and I made a mental note to use them next time, saving precious time if not money. Two hours later, we finally got our turn in line and went on to the pickup area. After a while longer, we finally sat in the rental car and tried to figure out which way to go.
By the time we left the airport, it was afternoon and my patience was a little thin. We made it to our Air BnB in Bairro Alto around 4 p.m. Carefully, we navigated the narrow streets and sharp turns, following directions provided in limited English by our very sweet host, Ashot. We blocked the cobblestone street as we unloaded the luggage, and tried in vain to understand directions to the parking area. Ultimately, we loaded the host into the car to provide navigational help, while I parked myself by the front door of the apartment building. I tried my best not to occupy too much space, and got out of the way of other residents and passers-by. Luckily, everyone was very nice and didn’t mind us being in the way.
Our Air BnB apartment was at the top of three flights of narrow stairs, and once again, I swore I would pack lighter the next time…. The apartment owner, a very nice lady met us upstairs, but didn’t say much, as she spoke no English. The one Portuguese class I had taken in grad school fifteen years back didn’t seem to kick in…. But it all worked out, as our hosts graciously welcomed us, showing us around the small but clean apartment. After they made sure we knew where everything was, including plenty of maps and information on things to do in the city, the hosts left. We opened the living room French doors to a narrow balcony and took in the views of the cobble street below.
Of course, the next thing on the agenda, after a quick shower, was food. We wanted to find traditional fare, so we opted for a small and unpretentious mom and pop establishment, O Pocinho. The bacalau was dry and salty, but the fries and dorada hit the spot. When we were ready to pay for our meal, we hit another snag, as the restaurant only accepted cash. I worked my way to a main road in search for an ATM. The one I found at first worked with local debit accounts only, but luckily I spotted a brightly lit ATM at a bank just across the street. Fifteen minutes later, I returned victoriously, paid for our meal, and retrieved my husband.
Back at our apartment, we relaxed with a glass of wine provided by the host. We listened to the lively dance music coming from the club below us, and easily identified the newly arriving visitors by the sound of their roller bags rattling on the cobblestone road. We admired the Mona Lisa smiling from an apartment across the street under the moonlight, and then turned in for the night.
The second day came with a healthy breakfast: pasteis de nata (an amazingly delicious Portuguese custard/egg tart, dusted with cinnamon) and coffee! Fueled up, we set off to explore the city. Searching for a hat for David, we popped in a near-by store, and were greeted by a friendly wiener dog.
We passed the Bica Funicular, also known as the Elevador da Bica or Ascensor da Bica, a funicular railway line connecting Rua de São Paulo with Calçada do Combro/Rua do Loreto.
We admired the many old buildings ornate with colorful tile and a little too much graffiti. I understand the artistic merit of graffiti, but I think it’s a shame to have it cover up beautiful old tile. Everything in its place…
Lisbon has a lot of pretty parks and majestic trees embracing and anchoring the old city.
We loved strolling past interesting modern street artwork, like Bordalo‘s ‘Plastic Fox’ near the Cultural Centre of Belém.
At night, we were lured by the lively afro-jazz sounds coming from a bar on Rua de São Paulo.
We barely scratched the surface of this lovely city and I look forward to returning in the future and exploring it further. But our time was limitted and we still had to see Sintra, Cascais, and Porto, which all proved to be wonderful.