Published: December 28th 2009December 28th 2009
Even though today was supposed to be a slow, early day (due in part to Matthew coming down with something last night - sore throat, fever, cough, headache), as it turns out we had our longest day yet out and about in Lisbon. I hold the metro at least partially responsible - day passes turned out to be just over four euros a person, so we wanted to make sure that we got our money's worth out of them. We started a bit later in the day - shortly before 10AM - so that Matthew could rest a bit after breakfast and get rid of at least the headache portion of this bug. He was successful in that attempt, and so we headed out toward the train station, making a quick stop at Estoril's tourist information office to find out which bus goes to Sintra (for our journey tomorrow). We took the train all the way back to Cais do Sodre, and there purchased a metro pass (which looks nearly identical to the train pass, the difference being that one has straight edges and the other has rounded edges).
There are four metro lines in Lisbon - Blue, Red, Green,
and Yellow. The Red line is fairly short, and Blue and Yellow seem to stretch on forever. We decided that we wanted to take the lines out to the end just to see what the far reaches of Lisbon looked like (and Yellow & Blue both end far enough away that they are not on any of my maps). The plan for the day was to stop and tour the Alfama, hop on the metro and go see a more modern section of docks and shops (end of the red line), hop back on the metro and track down Cafe Mexicana for lunch, and then ride the other lines out to the end and see what there is to see. We were able to accomplish everything on the list of things we wanted to do and we made it back to the hotel without anyone collapsing, so it was a successful day.
The Alfama area of town is spoken of in the guidebooks as being “quaint” and “old,” like a blast from Lisbon's past life. The guidebooks glorify this place a bit too much. As with any city whose streets date back to medieval or pre-medieval times, the buildings
are old and show their age, crowding around narrow alleys that have a chokehold on the past. Yet because Portugal is part of the EU, modernity is punching its way into the district, bringing with it cars and smog and gentrification projects. The result is a confusing maze of unnamed streets and alleyways crammed with cars and littered with piles of garbage and vie for a place on the street with the scaffolding and tools used to give certain buildings a new facade. Matthew and I were very glad that we decided not to search for the fado place last Saturday evening, because it was difficult enough to find our way out of the Alfama when we only had the rain and wind to contend with - if we had tried at night, we'd probably still be there.
Outside of the Alfama is the location of Lisbon's old Jewish quarter, which is not as old as most of Europe. Portugal did not officially get rid of the Inquisition until the early 1800s, and so Jewish history and culture was relegated to the shadows until after that time. We tried to find the synagogue, but to no avail - and
after traipsing around in the wind and rain and not finding anything, we decided to head back. We did, however, walk by the Se Cathedral, which I believe is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) in Lisbon. It was built in the 12th century when Christianity started claiming (re-claiming?) this part of the world from the Moors; the cathedral is apparently built over a mosque, but we did not go inside to check it out.
The ride out to the end of the Red line to see the more modern part of Lisbon was quite the change from the Alfama. The metro exited at Vasco de Gama mall, which is one of the largest in this area, built in 1998 and a beautiful gleaming metal and glass structure. Walking through the mall (which was packed with people akin to our malls in the weeks leading up to Christmas), we exited and walked down to the docks to take some pictures and then returned and headed to the food court. I had seen a Pizza Hut sign (and an advertisement on television) and so wanted a slice of pizza. It was good! Matthew says it's better than Pizza Hut at home. I don't know about that, I just know that it was nice to eat, even if I did embarrass Matthew by trying to walk and eat. Looking around, there are few people who carry food with them and eat on the run. There are also very few people who even carry coffee mugs! It is much more common to walk by bakeries or coffee shops and see people standing around the counter, quickly downing an espresso and maybe a small pastel de Belem. I have seen coffee cups in the gutters, so there must be some people who take their caffeine to go, but that number is small. As for people eating on the go, we only found a couple in the mall (other obvious tourists), and then I saw a couple later in the day as we walked to Cafe Mexicana. It's interesting the way that cultures differ.
We hopped the Red line back to the metro stop near Cafe Mexicana. I was expecting Mexican food, but that is not what we found here. The food was very good, but not Mexican food by any stretch of the imagination. (I have odd habits or “tests” that I run when I visit countries. I used to check out the Pizza Hut to see how it differed and compared. Now we go to “Mexican” restaurants to see what locals think Mexican food is - and while the food in all the cities has been good, it's usually nowhere close to what we'd see at home.) Matthew had “Portuguese steak” that was served with french fries, and I had fried swordfish served with tomato rice (each was good alone, but the combination of the two was wonderful). This was our expensive meal of the trip (meal + tip = 30 euros), and we do try to have one per city. This did not disappoint. And I can say that I actually had fish in Lisbon, because it would be a shame to come to a port city known for its seafood and not have fish at some point.
After lunch we took the Yellow line out to its end and found that we were out in a very residential suburb area, far away from the city center. We walked around the block and then hopped back on the metro, taking it to its connection with the Blue line. The end of the Blue line was also out in a very residential area, perhaps even farther than the Yellow line because there were still undeveloped areas around and one does not expect to see that in the city. After these little excursions we headed back to the train station, stopped at the market for more oranges (good for dinner - more vitamins, since now I feel a sore throat coming on, too), and then got on the train for Estoril. We had an odd experience on the train - this time it did not announce Estoril as a stop, and of course by this time it was completely dark outside so we could not see any signs or indications of where we were. We rode the train to the end of the line (just two more stops) and then back and got off, making our way back to our hotel in the dark.
Tomorrow we plan on an excursion to Sintra, a small town not too far from here. It is supposed to be beautiful and historic, so I am sure we'll have more great pictures to share by the end of the day.