Rattling americanos in Lisbon

BOA VIAGEM LISBOA ESPERA POR TI (Have a Nice Trip, Lisbon Awaits You)

IMG_7453

The first thing we were thrilled about was that the city of Lisbon was not very far away from our hotel in Estoril. The second was that it was cheaper and very easy to take the train rather than drive to the busy city. No parking problems, and definitely no driving stress. We chose well. Our hotel was not only fancy, it was just a few steps away from the beach (depending on who’s walking, or talking 🤪 ), with the train station right next to it, and only a thirty-minute train ride away from Lisbon. We bought a 24-hour return ticket and only paid six euros each! What they don’t tell you though, when you buy the ticket, is to make sure you sit to the right in the direction of travel towards the city. We only chose that side because of the morning sun and were rewarded with a lovely train route along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and as we neared Lisbon, we travelled along the banks of the Rio Tejo (Tagus river). Ooh-aah-ohh-wow! Yep, it was obvious who the tourists were.

We didn’t know where we wanted to start first once we reached Lisbon, nor did we have any concrete plans on anything special we wanted to see. The concierge at our hotel gave us a map and a few tips, but we ended up exploring it our usual way, by getting lost.

The final stop is at the Cais do Sodre train station. This not a spectacular building on the inside, even though there’s quite a few typical Portuguese mosaic panels (Azulejos) and artworks on the walls, but its plus point is that it sits next to the Rio Tejo, the watery introduction to Lisbon, and our orientation or focal point.

Another highlight is just outside at the front of the building, the most popular tourist attraction that squeaks, screeches, and rattles all day long, the one and only, rat-ta-tat-tat, electric americanos. These colourful historical trams haven been rolling, climbing and honking in Lisbon since the first one came over from America (Americano) way back in 1873.

The most famous one used by tourists and locals alike is the yellow number 28. It tends to get very full, but if you’ve managed to get at least a standing space, it is worth the noisy ride. They squeak, that ear-piercing metal on metal kind of squeak, around every curve (there are lots of these), or have to screech to a halt quite often when silly people cross in front of them. Then they honk. All. The. Time. As a “honk-honk-shake-rattle-and-roll-it-is-me” warning, or when a parked car has blocked the line. The rattling, well, it is what it is… 🤣 Ouch! It is quite amazing how those drivers manage to move through all those narrow and curvy streets without hitting anything!!

If you stand with your back to the Rio Tejo, beautiful Lisbon lays in front of you, and yes, get your knees ready because it’s only uphill from there! 🧗🏻‍♀️ 😉 Worried? No! Why? If our patellas did not pop in Porto, then they will not limp in Lisbon, so bring it on! Haha! Seriously though, the area between the Cais do Sodre station and the Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square) is very flat with an interesting and bustling waterfront promenade. Hmmm. Step to the right, step to the left, step back – one, two, three, now step to the right, step to the left, turn around and hop, hop, hop. Hee-hee! That’s what it felt like trying to decide which way to go as we did not want to miss anything. We zig-zagged. Promenade, little garden next to station, cross over to Duke of Terceira Square, back to Rio Tejo at the Commerce Square, promenade. And in-between all that, there was something fishy!

Keep your eyes peeled so as not to miss the Loja das Conservas, (photos below) a shop created by the ANICP – National Association of Canned Fish Industry, to highlight and sell the products from the Portuguese canning industry. An amazing shop if you’re looking for variety. There are hundreds of colourful cans stacked on two walls with information about each of the companies. There is a huge assortment and it’s difficult to choose only one tin to buy. We ended up with three. Oh, and there are also a few free fishy nibbles to try. This is not the only shop selling traditional canned fish in the area, but this one is more touristy, so tends to be more expensive. Whatever, enjoy and feel the holiday spirit!

The Commerce Square is probably the most important square in Lisbon. Eavesdropping on one of the guides, he said that at the last New Year celebration, hundreds of thousands of people gathered here to welcome the new year. There are two long archways on each side of the square where you will find restaurants, shops and…a beer museum. Slurp! We only looked, even though one of us was starting to get thirsty, lol. We bought a take-away snack instead, the traditional Pasteis de Bacalhau or codfish cakes. It was lekker, BUT the price shocked us though. Oh well, tourists we are…

Now we start to climb. Up. Up. Up. Then, ta-daa, a church. Hallelujah! All those pews just waiting for weary feet 😇 😇 This is a very special Catholic church. This is where Saint Anthony of Padua was born, a gifted preacher, teacher and patron saint of lost things and small miracles. His birthplace is accessible for everyone to see, though the room is a bit tight, especially when there are a lot of people. The Church of Saint Anthony is right next to the Lisbon Cathedral and has colourful ceilings with a very attractive altar. It is also much quieter, so easy to while away for a few hours. We did not have the time, so up and out! Lisbon Cathedral was waiting hee-hee…

The Lisbon Cathedral, or Saint Mary Major Minster or simply the Sé de Lisboa (below) is the oldest church in Lisbon and has survived many natural disasters in its eight hundred and seventy-odd year history. During this time many renovations have taken place that is why there are so many architectural styles to be seen, like Gothic, Baroque and Rococo, to name but a few. To visit the cathedral does not cost anything, but if you want to see more, like the cloister and the treasury, then it costs a few euros each. It was worth every penny because the view from the gallery is awesome! It’s also quite something else being covered in bright rainbow colours while standing under the rose window! The sun shone through the window for only a moment, covering the walls, and us, in beautiful colours! Ooh, getting emotional here…

Outside the Lisbon Cathedral is a tuk-tuk “terminus”. One of us had to empty the bladder, hop-hop-squeeze, so we asked one of the drivers where the nearest waterhole was. A few minutes later he had convinced us to take a ride with him. The most hilly part was still to come, he said. Just then an americano came by, seeming to drag itself up the hill, honking and squealing as if to say, take-the-tuk-tuk! We took the tuk-tuk. A very expensive ride! A one hundred euro adventurous ride. Getting in and out was not something for short legs. The only way was to do a bum slide, then drop. Don’t ask. Besides, the beauty of Lisbon can NOT be enjoyed to the full when you’re being tailgated by an angry americano! The 28! Yep, he was one of those always in the way. Honk-Honk! LOL! No problem, he said. It is normal, he said. So we’re not going to get bumped or pushed out of the way then? Nooo, everything okay. Alrighty then. So we wobbled our way up to Our Lady of the Hill viewing point. What a breathtaking view over Lisbon! The weather could’ve been better though…too many clouds…BUT, no rain!

Next stop was the oldest neighbourhood in Lisbon, the Alfama District. WOW! We were gobsmacked! It is a maze of narrow alleyways, cobbled streets, old houses, little squares, restaurants, cafes and what else, lots and lots of stairs. It survived the big earthquake, with subsequent tsunamis and fires, in 1755, so has retained its cultural and historical heritage. We really enjoyed our time here!

We tuk-tuk’d our way through many other interesting attractions. At some we asked him to stop so as to have a closer look, bum slide drop, and others were enough to see in passing. Our tour ended at the Baixa Food Market. YAY! We were famished! We said good-bye to Mr. No Problem and followed the smells of food. It is not a big place, but there are more than enough choices of meats, cheeses and other traditional foods on offer. We had the typical fried sausage washed down with a sangria. Dessert was pastéis de nata. They were created in Lisbon, so, when in Lisbon, nom-nom-nom, then eat what the monks created so many years ago, custard tarts!

Lisbon can be seen from many viewpoints across the city. One can take a boat ride and enjoy the view from across the Rio Tejo, or use a tuk-tuk (pricey), or the trams, or go up in a lift. There’s a metal thingy, the Santa Justa Elevator, with an observation platform presenting panoramic views over the Baixa District and beyond. This lift is also used as an easier way get from upper Lisbon to lower Lisbon or vice versa. It’s very popular, and only twenty or so can use the lift at a time, so long queues.

Below are some very interesting buildings, statues and artworks Lisbon has to offer. Click on the photo for more information. Enjoy!

There are only two bridges over the Rio Tejo in Lisbon, the Vasco da Gama and the 25 de Abril. The latter is the one you see from most viewpoints, and also has the Christ the King Statue almost next to it, but it’s a bit arduous to get there. A fifteen minute ferry ride to the other side of the river, then another twenty minutes with a bus.. Too much hassle for us, and it was too late anyway. Hotel!!!!!!

IMG_7203

Our walky-talky-clickety-click-snap-slurp-munch-munch day in Lisbon was over and we had not even seen half of what is has to offer. We were tired, but happy. We spent the night rubbing shoulders with VIP’s and drinking cocktails. Tum-di-dum. Shh…

Aveiro, the Venice of Portugal

The rainbow over the wine barrels of Quinta da Pacheca must have been a very good sign that all will be well because we reached Aveiro without any dramas (thousands of roundabouts do not qualify as a drama…yes??) or nasty surprises with aunty GPS and her mid-life crisis. We would have liked to spend another day sniffing sweet wine barrel vapours, but we needed some vitamin sea as soon as possible. It was still cloudy but at least the rain had stopped. Yippee-Yay-Yay! In all the years visiting Portugal, this was the first time we experienced such a lot of rain in one go. Typical in the north, we were told.  We wanted to take the more scenic route through the countryside towards the coast, but sight-seeing and raindrops are not best friends, so we used the highway with many tolls and high bridges…gulp! A few hours later we landed on the Praia da Granja beach (farm beach…BIG question mark) in Espinho, and only because we took a wrong turn. We used this “mistake” to stroll along the boardwalk (below) and enjoy a mini picknick . Oh happy day!

Aveiro is a more than one-thousand-year-old lovely city with canals, colourful Moliceiro boats (gondolas) and interesting bridges, and this is why it is mostly compared to Venice in Italy. Okay, we don’t know how busy Aveiro is during the holiday season, or if they too have thousands and thousands of tourists squish-squashing one another, but we found it pleasantly quiet.

Aveiro boasts many historical buildings in all sizes, architecture and colours, one more interesting than the other. The Cathedral with its impressive bell tower, the New Art Museum and the Municipal Building, and not forgetting the little tiny houses seemingly hugging each other, as if they’re keeping each other from falling over. There’s also a shopping centre next to one of the canals. No time to shop. We walked everywhere, and were so grateful that it was not a too hilly city! We did not take a boat trip, nor did we go on the little choo-choo. Per pedes it was, that is how we found a little shop selling South African goodies! Yoohoo! Biltong!

As almost everywhere in Portugal, typical blue azulejos tiles adorned a few buildings. The old train station, pictured below, is currently being renovated so should look even more amazing once finished.

Wonderful street art/grafitti donning the walls in and around the city (below)

Many hours later our sore feet reminded us that we needed to put them up, so we made our way to the Praca do Peixo (Fish Market Square). We were also famished! The Square is the nightlife hub of Aveiro with its many restaurants and bars. During the day visitors are also spoilt for choice at the many eateries where one can try traditional Portuguese food, be it meat, fish or otherwise, or eating standing, sitting or on the go. We felt for something fishy, but without having to take our shoes off hee-hee, so one of us ordered eel stew ew eww…uhm…sorry…yumm-yummy…🤥 washed down with a cold beer, glug-glug, and the other, the not so adventurous one, grilled sea brass. Hmmm…lekker! 😋

Okay, there was just one teenie-weenie little drama when we arrived at our hotel. The elevator was out of order so we had to use the stairs. We were on the top floor! Oh, okay! Thanks to their porter service we did not have to lug all our bags up ourselves, that’s why it’s only an itsy-bitsy drama 🤪😘

 

 

Porto, Palaces and Port Wine

ps: Pre-Lockdown Travels

One can never get enough of Portugal. We should know, because we have been visiting this beautiful country for the last six years already. This is where we escape to from the bleary winters up north, where we spend a lot of time when we’re here hiking along the cliffs of the Algarve, or exploring the vast countryside. This is where we have friends and where we feel at home. One of us always had one foot in southern Europe, had already set plans in motion to move when, !BOOM!, love happened. We met, we kissed, and then discovered that we both have the same dream, braaivleis, sunny skies and sea bouquets! Go figure! So when we left the snow-covered airport and set foot in Portugal for the first time so many years ago, it was love at first warm sea breeze for both of us, even though it was quite dark due to a horribly delayed flight. Bem-vinda!!

This year we needed to see the other coasts of Portugal, for personal reasons, so decided on a two week road-trip, starting from the city of Porto in the north, then closing off in our favourite area, the Algarve. What an amazing journey it was! So much to do, so little time!! 🤪 Oh, and we were still alive, just.

Our plane landed in Porto tilting from wing to wing. We all screamed in terror 😱 as we were thrown from left to right, right to left. Those plane wings were literally mowing the grass patches on both sides of the runway! Then it suddenly screeched to a jittering halt. Hallelujah! Amen! Breathe out. Breathe in. Woo! Woo! Woo! Clap! Clap! Clap! Happy cry. Laugh. Kiss-Kiss. Hug. OMG! We were safe!  😰 Apparently Porto is a very windy city, but personally??? Methinks that the pilot made a boo-boo…

The Hotel (an 18th-Century former Palace)

Okay, so we get our rental car and make our way to the hotel. Easy peasy despite heavy traffic and rain. We were met by a very friendly car valet and a dashing doorman. Bags and parking sorted. Service at its best! We were escorted to reception and could not stop oohing-aahing and omg-ing at the amazing interior surrrounding us. We had just stepped into a two hundred and seventy year old former palace and national monument, and it seriously felt like being whizzed back to very posh times gone by. Mirrors everywhere! Oh no! Quick! The wild hairs on two tired heads were discreetly patted down, or tamed, and a bit of lippy applied before we sat ourselves down to check in. YAY! What a lovely surprise! We were upgraded to a fancier top floor suite facing the Douro river. The view from our window was absolutely amazing! Birds and boats by day, and sparkling lights at night (see photos below)

The interior, as mentioned, was jaw-dropping! Everything was tastefully decorated and it oozed eighteenth century feel in every nook and cranny. We spent both nights of our stay sitting on elegant and comfy couches eating delicious bar food and slurping one or three of the best port wines on offer. The bar food was more like that found in a fancy restaurant and cooked to perfection. One of us had the traditional Bacalhau (codfish) and the other one had grilled salmon. Important though, was the sweet and tingly port wine. Hic! There was also a beautiful young singer who sang some soulful and jazzy melodies in her soft yet powerful voice. Obrigada Carol, you are amazing!

Below are some photos of the exterior and gardens of the hotel. There is so much to see and admire! Unfortunately we did not have much time to sit down and relax at the pool or use the spa facilities, but there will be a next time for sure, God willing.

Porto – City of Surprises and older than JC (300BC)

It was raining. Again. We decided to explore the city anyway. Our hotel had a free shuttle service into town, so we used that instead of bothering with a bus. At first look you think, dab and grey. Then you look closer and all the walls start staring back at you. Walls filled with blue and white mosaic tiles, telling you stories of the past. Walls colourfully painted or sprayed with graffiti. Walls coated with oddities to create an artful mural. Walls lined with freshly washed clothes hanging out to dry. Wonderful walls that say: Hi, look at me!

Porto is also a city with a lot of steps and stairs and is quite hilly. Up, down, down, up through tunnels, interesting passages and narrow alleyways. To explore it is to have no knee problems or heavy lungs hahaha! We are grateful to be fit but…phew!…it was quite challenging at times. At least there are a lot of places all over the city to sit down and catch your breath. We spent at least eight hours exploring, so yeah, we deserved all that sweet-tasting port wine. Shhh! Oops!

Porto is also called the city of bridges, Cidade das Pontes. We ambled across the lower part of the busy double-decker Dom Luis 1 metal bridge over to the other side of the Douro river, and back over the upper part, over the arch. Going was not as adventurous as walking back, OMG! By then it was raining cats and dogs, with a wind velocity so scary that the acrophobic one thought we were going to be blasted off the bridge. See how high it is?? And this just after getting off a swaying cable car! So yeah! There was a lot of scary African screaming going on, especially every time a metro train came rolling by! Why oh why did we not use the tuk-tuk or a boat! 😝🤣

There are also a lot of interesting buildings, churches and statues all over, especially in the older part of the city. The higher you climb, the better the view!

The Douro river divides Porto City and Vila Nova de Gaia. There is a lot to see and do on both sides of its banks. There are also a lot of eateries and wine cellars here. Hic!

As we mentioned before, it was mostly a rainy day, but even through a camera lens filled with raindrops, the beauty of Porto could still be seen.

If you don’t like getting wet, there are also a lot of interesting buildings to escape into and explore from the inside, like one of the many wine cellars, sip-slurp-slurp-numm-hic. Or there’s a modern, made to look like an old traditional Portuguese restaurant serving freshly made Bacalhau balls with a glass of wine. Some say it’s a tourist trap and way too expensive, but hey, it’s your choice if you want to spend the money or not. It was full so we walked around the upper gallery, admired and left when the rain eased up a bit. The chandalier was spectacular though!

After many hours spent on our feet enjoying the sights and sounds of Porto, and after hanging ourselves out to dry for a few minutes heh-heh, we would relax in the lounge downstairs and enjoy the ambience, talk to fellow guests, and always holding a glass in our hands. Shhh! A well deserved end of day after being blown away by the life and uhm…wind of Porto. Live, learn and enjoy! Bottoms up! Cheers! Prost! Saúde!