We arrived in Lisbon from Evora on an express bus. The subway quickly took us from the bus station to where our hotel was supposed to be. (Don’t buy the books of subway tickets, the machines malfunction – we purchased 10, it popped out 7 good ones, and there was no one to help us).
The top-rated Let’s Go hotel had cancelled the reservation on us, despite our having put down a credit card. Unlike Faro however, no yelling would get us past even the intercom system at the front door. We were lucky enough to find another (more expensive) hotel not too far away.
Lisbon was almost entirely under construction. We heard this might be due to the cash infusion Portugal received when it joined the EU, but it’s been a while! Every central square was undergoing some sort of construction. Not much effort had been made to keep the city beautiful or accessible for tourists.
Lisbon’s tourist sites are not very well set up for the do-it-yourself tourist. Despite the fantastic subway system, most of them required train or tram to get to (or a coach tour dropping you off at each!).We saw the Mosterio Dos Jeronimos on our first day in Lisbon. This monastery, a 20 minute train and then a 20 minute walk outside downtown, is a UNESCO site. It is beautiful, but the memory that stays with us most was seeing a recently cleaned wall of an outdoor courtyard side by side to an uncleaned wall. Night and day! There is also a church that can be seen inside the monastery with some very, uh, vivid depictions of the execution of Jesus. Next we visited the Torre De Belem, another 20 minute walk in the rain. This harbour fortress is not much to see in this sort of weather. We snapped our photo of the outside and pressed on.
We wanted to see the Gulbenkian Museum, or the Arte Moderna Museum. Both were supposed to be open, but they were closed until 2007 or something. We saw the Museu Nacional de Arte Antigua instead, which had an interesting (considering it was cold and rainy and all the other museums were closed) collection of art, and a lot of cool pottery. It beat sitting in a cafe, although we did end up doing that, in the museum. The coffee wasn’t very good. Anyways…Wandering around the city, other highlights included buildings with beautiful azulejo tiles on the facade (although it was sad to see so many once beautiful buildings falling apart). We even saw a McDonalds with these beautiful tiles! The Castelo de Sao Jorge has great views of the city.
The Alfama district is great to get lost in – and despite all the warnings, we never felt threatened. This area has narrow, twisty streets with clotheslines everywhere! A street car to the top is a wild ride and will save a lot of effort climbing.Finally, we visited the Park of Nations, a modern shopping and commercial district built for Expo 98, 30 minutes outside the city (excellent subway links drop you right there). It’s worth the trip, if only to take a break from historical buildings with the ultra-modern architecture you’ll find there. There’s an aquarium and IMAX theater here, neither of which we checked out. (No time!)
Eating vegetarian is almost impossible in Lisbon (and more generally, in Portugal). We ended up with a lot of take-out pizza. We found one gem of a restaurant though (thanks to our trusty Let’s Go – which recommends you learn to cook your own food if you want to eat vegetarian in Portugal!) "Hell’s Kitchen". Foreboding name, but great veggie food.
There are many nightspots to check out Portugal’s famed singing, Fado. We wandered around for a while but eventually passed – most clubs were very expensive and seemed aimed at tourists.