All the major museums are closed here on Mondays so we went to the second string objectives – the Castelo São Jorge and the Sé Cathedral, both way “up there” in the Alfama district.
Not wanting to walk, we decided to do the whole tourism bit and ride the famous 28E tram. It had a stop right around the block from our place, so after acquiring our daily New York Times, we went and got in line. When it arrived, it was already “standing room only” so we shoved our way in and braced ourselves as it climbed the hill up to the castle.
It wasn’t a fun ride – hot, crowded and tough to brace yourself against the incline. It stopped about 200 feet from the entrance to the castle, so we huffed our way up and at the top decided to just get some photos and head back down to the cathedral. On the way we passed one of Lisbon’s newest museums, the Teatro Romana. Closed unfortunately, we were at least able to peer though the fencing at the actual excavation site, a 2000-person theater from the 1st century AD.
The walk down from the castle through the old Jewish Quarter was pleasant. Tree-lined streets, tile-fronted buildings, nice views out across the city every once and a while
The Sé is a large on the outside, modest on the inside church. As big as many in Spain, but not nearly as lavish or ostentatious. Just a quiet, dimly lit reflective church. Built in 1147 on the site of the city mosque, it is undergoing a very elaborate renovation project that will highlight the various uses of the site, from Roman to Christian to Muslim and back to Christian. I had been looking forward to seeing some of the Roman excavations but unfortunately that area is currently closed.
Heading down we went in the direction of the Casa dos Bicos. Known as the “House of Points” due to its pointy exterior, it is a 16thcentury home built by Dom Brás de Albuquerque in the style of a house he saw in Ferrara, Italy. In addition to the unique façade, it is also built into part of the original city wall, and it incorporates unique elements of both Gothic and Manueline architecture. The latter is unique to Portugal and named for Dom Manuel I, the king who made Portugal rich by way of the spice trade. The style often includes references to navigation and maps.
We ate a nice takeout lunch of an assortment of pizzas from a place we found just around the block from our apartment. After a bit of downtime, we headed off to the waterfront to catch a harbor cruise. These are often a lot of fun, offering a completely different perspective of the place. The guy running the ticket kiosk was a genuine character, a friendly hard-seller and a Breaking Bad fan. We had a nice talk about the series and its production in Albuquerque.
The Yellow Boat cruise is owned by the same company that runs the trams and the buses. It cruises along the waterfront from the Praça de Comércio to Belem, about 5 miles down the coast. Depending on what you want to do, you can cruise down, spend 2 hours and come back or just cruise down, sit on the boat and return. It turned out to be a wonderful afternoon, giving us great views of the 25-April Bridge (comparable to our Golden Gate, and built by the company that built the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge) it recognizes and is named for the 1974 “Carnation Revolution” that brought an end to 48 years of authoritarian rule in Portugal. We passed by the Monument to the Discoveries depicting Portugal’s place in the Golden Age of Discovery – it celebrates the 500thanniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator, and we saw the Torre de Belem. Built by Manuel I in 1514, it was the launching point for many of the explorers who went out to establish the trade routes for Portugal. We turned around after discharging a few people and picking up some others. On the way back we got to watch some children from the BMW Sailing School learning how to sail tiny little boats, often it seemed ending up in the drink.
After the cruise, we decided to do something different and took the subway up to the fancier part of town. What a difference – no tourists, many fancy shops, a beautiful park running down the middle of Libertad Boulevard. Much like the Paseo del Prado in Madrid, the Champs in Paris, or Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona, this is where the well-heeled citizens go about their lives. As we continued down towards Praça de Rossio, it changed. First more regular people, then the hordes of tourists.
For dinner we made it simple, Pastels de Bacalao from a funny little place on Rua Augusta. The pastel is a cheese-filled Cod croquette and you order one of those and a small glass of wine for 4€. A nice change from a more formal eating arrangement.
Having some daylight left, we continued up Augusta and crossed over to Praça da Figueira thinking tonight we might be able to drop in at their outdoor market. Much like Madrid’s Mercado San Miguel, it was crushing on the weekend nights. Tonight was better – at least you could move. We each had a glass of wine sold by a producer from Porto. I went back later for a shot of Ginjinha, the cherry liqueur I had tried here a few nights ago. This version was much heavier on the cherry compared to my first sample. And considering I was now on a tour of the alcoholic beverages of Portugal, I went back to the Port vintners and tried a sample of their 10-year old “white” Port. It was exceptional.
It being vacation, the night cannot be complete without some local dessert. Tonight, it was Pampilhoagain, that stuffed phyllo dough tube. Tonight, one chocolate and one crema, and shockingly, the crema version was actually better!