Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Portugal: Lisbon, Where Little Streetcars Climb Halfway to the Stars

A street in the hilly Alfama neighborhood.
  Portugal is a mountainous country; its capital, Lisbon, is a city of steep hills. Helping people get around in Lisbon are several forms of public transportation: buses, old-fashioned electric streetcars, modern light rail, sightseeing buses, funicular railroads and elevators. Of these, the streetcars are the most iconic and, if you can get a seat, a pleasant way to see the city.  Taxis, by the way, are inexpensive compared with New York and other major cities. When we arrived, the taxi from the airport to our guesthouse, Casa Amora, cost about $20 including tip, but on our last night in Portugal, a longer ride, from LX Factory on the riverfront, across downtown and to the airport, was only about $10 including tip.

A streetcar wends its way through vehicular
traffic on an Alfama street.
       The first thing we did in Lisbon was visit the Alfama district, the highest part of the city and home to the Castelo de Sao Jorge (St. George's Castle). We didn't visit the castle itself, settling for views of the exterior, because the area around it is the real attraction. Narrow cobblestone streets, sidewalk cafes and intriguing shops, much of it strung along an old streetcar line, the No. 28.
    Other neighborhoods in town include Baixa, which includes the gigantic riverfront plaza Praca do Comercio; Chiado, known for its chic international retailers; and Bairro Alto, with narrow streets from the 1700s lined with restaurants, bars and designer shops.
     Belem, however, well west of downtown and on the river, is the don't-miss area. It's home to a large contemporary art museum (you can see one of Warhol's Judy Garland portraits), the National Museum of Archaeology, the magnificent Jeronimos monastery, the quaint Belem Tower, the striking Padrao dos Descobrimentos sculpture (depicting Portugal's greatest explorers), along with a wonderful waterside restaurant. But for many the real attraction is Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, a bakery and cafe serving pasteis, the little custard tarts that are a Portuguese staple. Here the recipe is a bit different and they're said to be the best in the land. We were told to skip the long line for the bakery and instead find a seat in the large cafe area, but the little tarts weren't on our agenda.

Tourists can rent two-person, easy-to-park vehicles
for getting around in Lisbon.
   Between Belem and downtown is LX Factory, a group of old factory buildings literally in the shadow of the soaring 25th of April Bridge that have been converted into trendy restaurants, dessert bars, tapas bars, shops, a great bookstore (with some books in English), and a tattoo parlor where passersby can stop and watch the artist at work.
    About the only thing we failed to do in Lisbon was to take in a fado performance. It seems that at most of the fado clubs, the music starts very late, and that at most of the fado clubs the food isn't great. We had a reservation at a club one night, but we opted to eat and drink in the LX Factory area instead (dinner was at Da Praca, which must be one of Lisbon's liveliest restaurants). Perhaps with more research and planning, we could have found a fado performance to suit us. Fado would have to wait until Porto.
    We spent three nights, April 1-3, 2017, at Casa Amora in Lisbon. It's not far from a metro station and a streetcar stop, but the neighborhood is largely residential and there are few restaurants nearby. We did find two places worth mentioning. Banca de Pau (click HERE) on Rua Nova de Sao Mamede is a small-plates restaurant serving food and wine from the northernmost parts of Portugal. Just down the same street is Iiimpar Restaurante, a full-service restaurant which provided my introduction to Portugal's black pork. Jane had a quail appetizer and a charcuterie and cheese board. We found Banca de Pau on TripAdvisor, walked there and were told it was booked for the evening. We were pointed toward Iiimpar and had a very good meal there. A couple of days later, with a reservation, we were seated at Banca de Pau. Advice: if you're really hungry, go to Iiimpar.
     On our return to Lisbon, on April 18, we returned our rental car at the airport and checked into Tryp, an airport hotel. We took a taxi back to LX Factory to dine on tapas at Central da Avenida, a wine bar with well-informed and friendly servers. This was our last indulgence in the cheeses and ham of Portugal.
Aboard the funicular seen below.

A funicular runs from Praca dos Restauradores at the foot of
Avenida da Liberdade to the Bairro Alta district, one of three
such lines giving pedestrians a break in Lisbon.

You can get there from here: a directional sign in Alfama.

Streets become stairways on Lisbon's many hills.

The Tower of Belem, as seen during a cruise on the Rio Tejo,
which in English is called the Tagus River.

A monument to Portugal's many great explorers. It soars over
the Tagus River in Belem. Tourists visit the top for great views.

The huge Praca do Comercio on the riverfront. Tour
boats leave from docks across the street.

The cloister at the Jeronimos Monastery in Belem.

The refectory at Jeronimos.

The church at Jeronimos Monastery. We were there on a Sunday and tourists were
allowed in after the morning mass.

A waterfront restaurant in Belem. A sculpture pool separates the dining
terrace from the river, where a constant parade provides excellent
people watching.

A kiosk is the source for food and drink on this small plaza.

St. George's Castle presides over Lisbon's Alfama district.

A water course enlivens the middle of Lisbon's Avenida da Liberdade.

A riverfront cafe offers in-demand lounge chairs along with lunch
just downstream from more formal restaurants at Praca do Comercio.
We took a taxi from our airport hotel  to have our last dinner
in Portugal at this wine bar in the LX Factory complex. The use
of English reflects the international nature of the crowd
that LX Factory attracts.


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