Lisbon, Portugal – February 17, 2012
Leslie, Tyler, and I departed from Madrid at about 06:30. We arrived in Lisbon, Portugal at about noon Madrid time, 11:00 Lisbon time. It was an easy drive. We all found it odd that it seemed to be so much greener once we crossed the border into Portugal.
As we entered Portugal, we found ourselves on a toll road. There was very little traffic on the way. As we drove along, we noticed we were going through a forest. Leslie noticed the bark on many of the trees was missing to a height of about eight feet. That is when it dawned on me that they were cork trees. If we had not been on a toll road, we would have stopped to try to get a closer look at one of the trees.
We were about 30-minutes out of Lisbon when we came to the toll booth. A cool 27€ (US$32.95) later we were back underway. Heading north from the toll booth we soon found ourselves at another toll booth. Thankfully the charge was only about 3.35€ (US$4). That toll road took us onto and across the Ponte 25 de Abril (April 25th Bridge). The bridge is a little more than two kilometers (1.24 miles) long. It looks almost exactly like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Completed in 1966, I found out later that the builder of the bridge was the same company that built the Golden Gate Bridge. The name of the bridge commemorates the revolution of 1974. The revolution brought the 48-year reign of dictator Estado Novo to an end.
We continued our drive to the AC Hotel Lisboa. It is part of the Marriott brand. As soon as we checked in and dropped off our luggage, we took a taxi to Praça dos Restauradores (Restaurant Square). We arrived there and walked into the tourist information office. We went there specifically to buy a LisboaCard. The LisboaCards provide access to all public transportation. Also, they offer discounted or free access to many of the local attractions and museums. For 48 hours, one card cost 29.50€ (US$36). We thought that was a good bargain.
In the center of the Praça dos Restauradores is a large obelisk. Erected in 1886, it marked Portugal’s independence from Spain in 1640. While walking around the plaza, we were able to find a magnet for Leslie’s collection as well as a Lisbon guidebook. For lunch on the square, we opted for the Hard Rock Café. We must have all been starving, hardly speaking during the meal. We each enjoyed our sandwiches. We gladly paid the 54€ (US$65.90) and moved on.
We walked south out of the plaza. We immediately saw the Santa Justa Lift, our destination. Along the way, we walked by the train station and through Praça Dom Pedro IV.
Ultimately we arrived at the Santa Justa Lift. An apprentice of Gustave Eiffel built the elevator in 1902. At 45 meters (148 feet), the top platform provides some breathtaking views. This attraction was the first place at which we were able to use our LisboaCard. Because of the card, our ride on the elevator was free. The elevator car was spacious, probably ten feet by ten feet. We rode up with about a dozen other people.
Once the elevator car stops, one may choose from two circular staircases, each leading up two levels to the uppermost viewing platform. From the platform, the view of the Baixa District of Lisbon is spectacular.
Departing the elevator, we walked a couple of blocks east to the Rua Augusta, a pedestrian street with lots of shops, restaurants, and street performers. Along the way, we stopped at a small ceramic shop. We bought a little holy water font that is a reproduction of a 15th Century style. Leslie also purchased a beautiful dish towel. She plans to use it as a centerpiece on our kitchen table.
We stopped at a street café, Roman’s. We each had a drink and watched the world. Very near the café was one of the most unique street performers I have ever seen. The man wore clothing and makeup that made him appear to be a bronze statue. The amazing part was that his feet were about one foot above the ground. His left hand was on a cane that did touch the ground. Other than that single point, there were no visible means of support. I am not sure how he balanced himself in such a manner. On the ground in front of him was a poster size piece of paper. Among other things, it recorded three different records he held in the Guinness Book of World Records. The most recent of which was from 2003; he stood in his position for more than 20-hours straight!
We left him and continued our stroll along Rua Augusta to the Praça do Comercio (Commercial Square). That plaza is enormous and right at the edge of the Tagus River. To get into the plaza, we walked under the Arco da Rua Augusta. It is a striking architectural feature. In the center of the square is a giant bronze statue of Dom Jose I.
We spent a little time at the water’s edge listening to a local band. They were entertaining. We left there and walked to the Terreiro do Paço Metro station. From there we made it back to our hotel for a well-deserved nap!
For dinner, we went to the Restaurante zé Varunca. I came up with that idea based on a recommendation from the travel guide, Lonely Planet. The restaurant was a little off the beaten track. It was in kind of a seedy-looking part of town. In fact, without the guidebook taking me there, I probably would not have entered the restaurant. Boy am I glad we went inside!
The server brought us warm bread in a cloth bag to keep it warm. It tasted like sourdough bread. Then the server brought a platter of items from which we could select a starter. We chose the black olives. To drink, Leslie and I wanted the red wine. The server poured the wine into a ceramic pitcher and brought it to our table. The pitcher and the plates were all rustic, each one with the name of the restaurant.
The decor in the restaurant was a hunting lodge look. There were open beams in the ceiling. On the walls were several copies of publicity articles for the restaurant over the years. At the head of each table, on the wall, was a small mural made of tiles. They were each about two tiles by four tiles. Each depicted a different country scene. Hanging under the beams were old streetlight fixtures.
For dinner, Tyler had monkfish/shrimp soup. He and Leslie both thought it was tremendous. Leslie had lamb chops. I had lamb (very unusual for me) in rice with a rich brown broth. The dinner reminded us of what one might have gotten many years ago at a hunting lodge.
After dinner, the check was rolled up and placed in two shotgun shells, one 20-gage, and one 12-gage. We found that unique. Our server for the evening, Orlanda, said we could keep the rounds. Our bill came to about 55€ (US$67). I do not think any of us finished our main course. They were just too large. Like Lonely Planet, I recommend the restaurant.
Once back at our hotel, I realized I left my prized baseball cap at the restaurant. Leslie and I scrambled back to the restaurant to retrieve the hat. Reunited, she and I returned to the hotel for the night.