One year – July 2015 II

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All quiet in Praca do Comercio, but not for long…

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Wheelie good way to get around Lisbon?

If it’s Monday, it must be Lisbon without a plan.

Although we’d booked flights, accommodation and had Viva Viagem rechargeable travel cards to get around, we hadn’t come up with a cunning plan as to what to do during the week we were in Lisbon. Yes, we had had a few thoughts about where we wanted to go, but nothing had been set in stone as to what to do on any particular day.

Our first problem came within a few metres of Lisbon Dreams. As the temperatures were high and we’d already slathered Nivea Factor 50 suncream over any exposed skin (the rest was covered by SPF protective clothing) to combat the sun and the high UV levels, we decided to get a couple of bottles of water to stash in our day bags.

Problem was a) we’d forgotten how cheap bottled water was in Portugal and b) we’d put all of our loose change into the tips bowl at Terra on Sunday night, leaving us with €10 notes as the smallest type of local currency in our respective travel wallets or pockets.

Big mistake as we were to find out for the first time on that not so manic Monday. We were armed with two bottles of water and a €10 note at a mini market check-out early in the morning and faced with an operator who didn’t speak much English who had very little loose change in his till. He made it, but it wasn’t an easy task.

As we wandered into Lisbon city centre on what was to become a familiar route, we noticed a couple of things. There were more armed police around than there were during our last visit and they appeared to be stationed outside banks and high end jewellery shops or on street corners near such establishments.

The other was that there appeared to be a protest of sorts happening as signs and small crosses were placed on the pavement outside one of the larger bank branches.

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As we found out later, there had been a banking crisis in Portugal that we didn’t know about and the crosses and signs alleged more than we could gather from a short conversation later in the day.

Once in the city centre around Rossio Station, a decision was made to head down to Praca do Municipo for a coffee at Cafe Tulipa, a favourite haunt on our last visit to Lisbon. We’d visited the square before Michael Portillo (on one of his Continental Railway Journeys), but noticed that a set of alien-like sculptures had landed since our visit in September 2013…

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Where’s the packet of Smash? (an old joke relating to an old UK advert)

Once refreshed, it was time to revisit a surprisingly empty Praca do Comercio. Segways came and left and we decided to take a wander around an area we’d missed out on during our first visit – Alafama. Now you can head up the easy way on Tram 28, but we took the hard way by using our feet.

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Caroline took in the Se (pictured above) as we headed towards Alafama and then Castelo de Sao Jorge. The streets, gardens and rooftop views along the way had us stopping to take photo after photo and also sidestepping various street hawkers with hands full of sunglasses or selfie sticks.

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As it was lunchtime as we approached Castelo de Sao Jorge, we decided to have lunch as the castle appeared to be getting rather busy. Now we’re used to having curry dishes as we live in Yorkshire, but this was the first time that we’d had curry dishes for a lunchtime meal.

Arco do Castelo turned up trumps, even though their dishes were a few degrees milder than the curries we’re used to around home. What did impress us was that quality of their freshly cooked naan breads – probably the best naan breads that we’ve ever tasted in any of our visits into curry houses in Yorkshire, Tyne & Wear, Durham and Somerset.

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And so to Castelo de Sao Jorge (above). We paid, we wandered and wondered why there were so many young people in there wearing Minions t-shirts. It turned out that it was all part of an international summer school outing and the best way for those in charge to keep tabs on their charges was to look for those Minions t-shirts.

With the heat kind of getting to me, Caroline wandered around more than I did as I found some shade, drank some water and then tried finding an ice cream. I found one, but I didn’t expect such a palaver surrounding the purchase of just one Cornetto.

Yes, the curse of no change struck again, even though I’d tendered a €5 note this time!

One of the reasons why we like Lisbon is that it’s a relaxed and laid back capital city. There’s no rushing around like ants as there is in London for instance. Although it was now mid-afternoon, there was still plenty to see and do in a quietly relaxed manner.

Museu de Design e da Moda (Museum of Design and Fashion) is set in a former bank, is free to visit and plays host to loads of design classics of all kinds and has guest exhibitions down in the former bank vaults too.

After that, it was time to head back to Praca do Comercio and down to the edge of Rio Tejo to board a sightseeing boat as a means of getting a different view of some of the place we’d by now decided to visit the next day – Belem.

It was cooler too as we were under the shelter at the stern of the boat and the breeze on the river was a welcome relief from the heat we’d encountered so far. We did’t hear too much of the commentary coming from the speakers, but that wasn’t important as we used our eyes to view and made sparing use of our cameras.

The images captured on memory cards were of those sights that we were to see the following day, but the shots were taken from a totally different perspective and that alone made the river trip worth it…

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Once back on dry land, we headed back to Lisbon Dreams for a late siesta, shower and a wander out for an evening meal. We’ve eaten out at cinema cafes before, but The 39 Steps cafe bar at Cinemateca Portuguesa is probably one of the best we’ve eaten in.

The cinema itself had shown one of our favourite films a few days before – Casablanca – as part of a Bergman retrospective, but The 39 Steps was worth the visit on its own terms. Mains, desserts, fruit juice, beer and coffee went down well, so much so that we decided to visit the same venue again later in the week.

Tuesday was a one stop day – Belem. Tram 15 to Belem was crowded, so much so that both of us paid close attention to bags and wallets, especially after the pickpocketing warnings. First up was the Centro Cultural de Belem and the Berarado Collection contained within the Centro Cultural.

Whilst I visited the former and had lunch too, I gave the latter a miss thanks to the officious staff member who wanted to take my day bag off me. Caroline wandered in whilst I read a book on my Kindle and watched as several people wandered into the Collection with bags that were much larger than mine and infinitely more capable of hiding any potentially stolen pieces of artwork.

There had been mention made of depositing bags at reception, but it was near the ceiling on a left hand side wall near the entrance rather than being on a graphic as one entered the reception area!

The three other places to go in Belem are the Padro dos Discobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) as seen above in the top photo of the two just above this piece of copy and Torre de Belem.

As we were there after lunch, both places were very busy with tourists wanting to see the view from the top of each site or to take both proper shots or selfies with their phones. The lesson learned? Get there early before the tour buses or crowded trams as a means of getting the place almost to yourself – that’s what we’ll be doing on our next visit!

And the third place in Belem? Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, a consumer temple to pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) and their customary dusting of cinnamon.

They’re great with coffee, but one each just isn’t enough. Yes, you can get them over the summer in the Co-op here in the UK, but they’re not quite the same as those from Belem, even when you do the cinnamon sprinkling thing…

After catching Tram 15 back to Lisbon, a decision was made to eat early, so we went in search of a budgetary gem –  full-on chicken dinner at Bon Jardim, Rei dos Frangos in Rua Barros Querios near Rossio Station.

The establishment runs from three sites in the same street and there’s chicken, fries and salad galore plus a host of other choices too. There may have been three crabs in the tank inside the restaurant window when we arrived, but there were still three when we left after generous portions of piri piri chicken and one or two beers too.

A long post this one, but tomorrow’s about gardens & galleries in Lisbon plus a return visit to Sintra.

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About Keith Rickaby

Fiftysomething writer and occasional photographer who has worked in the tailoring trade and the outdoor/travel clothing, equipment and footwear game. Past lives include working as an outdoor instructor, managing three bands and doing PR work through an agency or my own contacts. Was a student in the mid-90s and whilst I'm originally from the North East, I'm now firmly based in't Yorkshire...
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