Falling in Love with Lisbon, Part 2

November 26, 2013

By Karen

My one evening in Lisbon was The Night of Two Huge Dinners.

Hotel do Chiado’s front desk probably caused the mix-up where a well-meaning couple from my ship stopped by on some unknown mission, only to leave me a note saying, “Sorry we missed you. See you tomorrow,” which was delivered to my room an hour before I was to meet an escorted “Dinner With Us or Starve” evening with We Hate Tourism Tours.

I didn’t know these people, so I took their message to mean the tour had come early and left me behind for no good reason.

So I dined alone in the deserted hotel restaurant, which had a spacious, windy terrace with a panoramic view of the city and Castelo de São Jorge on a distant hill.

After a martini, 4 delicious slices of brown bread and a big plate of scrambled eggs with chorizo to bury my disappointment, I was sipping an after-dinner chardonnay when I was summoned to the lobby.

My tour was waiting!

But if not for the persistence of Rodrigo, my WHTT guide, I would have been left behind for real. When Rodrigo didn’t find me waiting at the appointed time, yet the desk told him I was in the hotel, he insisted they search until they found me.

Happy but baffled, I joined 3 couples in Rodrigo’s 1990s-vintage van and off I went for dinner No. 2.

Rodrigo took us to Lucimar, where he’d celebrated his birthday. It’s the kind of unpretentious little place Anthony Bourdain would adore. Proprietor José Maria Simão worked out front with one waitress while his wife ran the kitchen.

Lucimar1

Lucimar was usually closed on Sunday, but Rodrigo’s favorite football (soccer) team, FC Porto, was playing against Sporting Lisbon, so Lucimar was accommodating some boisterous fans who wanted to watch on the big-screen TV. I didn’t notice them silently slink out when it became apparent Porto would win (3:1).

Rodrigo ordered for us, starting with carafes of Ermelinda Freitas vinho tinto — red wine — soon followed by vinho verde — green wine.

Next came a repeat of my hotel dinner: ovos mexidos com farinheira — scrambled eggs with strongly seasoned chorizo/sausage. Portuguese eggs have bright orange yokes, and a crumbly texture when they’re scrambled, and they’re delicious.

I took a few bites to be polite, not suspecting what was still to come.

My group was staunchly UnFoodie. Nobody whipped out a camera to photograph anything. We were all in the moment and to hell with social media. The pics here came from Lucimar’s Facebook or Foursquare pages. I don’t think they’ll mind.

Rodrigo kept the plates coming, and I didn’t say no to any of it.

Next, a familiar Bourdain favorite — morcela com ananás — blood sausage with pineapple. It was cooked and seasoned so beautifully, retaining a tinge of iron, I almost forgot I was eating a big scab.

We also sampled pão com queijo da serra e mel — bread with sheep-milk cheese from the mountains, with honey. I discovered I much prefer sheep cheese to goat cheese. And I didn’t meet a slice of bread in Lisbon I didn’t love.

Next came piano de porco com arroz de feijão — barbecued pork ribs with “humid” beans and rice. The ribs were succulent. Remembering Tony’s strategy, I didn’t let beans and rice take up too much tummy real estate.

Then chocos grelhados com tinta — grilled squid with ink, and boiled potatoes. Rodrigo said you could order it without ink, but he thinks ink gives it better flavor. It certainly didn’t taste inky, nor were the tentacles rubbery.

We topped this feast off with the most decadent dish of all, and one for which Lucimar is hailed throughout Portugal as a master: the Francesinha. This is Rodrigo’s description…

The famous “sandwich from Porto” includes beef, ham, fresh sausage, cheese, cheese, cheese, secret sauce/gravy!

Lucimar-franch

Here are some reviews of Lucimar’s Francesinha and, even if you can’t read Portuguese, I think you’ll get the gist that they are raves.

After this culinary orgy came desserts, including tarte de natas —cream pie…

Lucimar-tartedenatas

…And bolo de bolacha — dipped-in-coffee-biscuits cake. Rodrigo said he ordered this as his birthday cake.

You can see more Lucimar food porn at Foursquare.

When we finally waddled out of Lucimar, Rodrigo showed us Lisbon by night.

We drove through neighborhoods so dense you could reach out and touch laundry hanging from windows, and down wide city thoroughfares where modern new office buildings stand beside ornate, stately — vacant and crumbling — old buildings.

Rodrigo pointed out where his grandmother once lived and the park where he learned to ride a bike, as well as the college where he’s finishing studies to become an electrical engineer.

Rodrigo filled us in about Lisbon’s crippled economy. When he graduates, he fears he’ll be forced to emigrate because even with a college degree and a solid profession, Lisbon offers slim chances to earn a good living.

We drove slowly around the Amoreiras Wall of Fame, an ever-changing art “museum” where graffiti is welcome. Much of it is biting social criticism and outrageously critical political statements, yet not much gets painted over as inappropriate.

Such unfettered negative public expression would be unimaginable in Washington, D.C.

I didn’t take any pictures because darkness + distance + movement = blur. But other people have captured Lisbon graffiti in all its brilliance.

The van climbed higher and higher until we reached the oldest section of wall left standing, built by the Moors at the top of the steep, narrow streets of Mouraria. We stood over the tightly-packed roofs of Alfama, which has streets so narrow no vehicles can get through, and only one person can pass at a time.

Our last, highest stop was at Graça, home to a serene little statue of Mary called Miradouro de Nossa Senhora do Monte (Our Lady of the Hill), overlooking Lisbon’s golden lights glittering beside the black, silent river Tagus, where my ship awaited.

Then Rodrigo produced a bottle of ginjinha — Portugal’s signature sour cherry liqueur — and we toasted our gracious host and his magnificent city.

He also played a fado CD for us. I’m guessing it was Amália Rodrigues, because Rodrigo mentioned she was extremely famous, but dead.

Rodrigo covered all the bases I could wish for, and it was nearly 2 a.m. when I returned to my hotel.

Without We Hate Tourism Tours, I never would have ventured out to see Lisbon by night on my own. We Hate Tourism helped me, as Bourdain used to exhort in his old No Reservations ads, feel more like a traveler than a tourist. We Hate Tourism takes you about as far as you can get from seeing Lisbon through an air-conditioned bus’s tinted windows with ugly Americans.

Bourdain and his crew couldn’t find a better local fixer for the sights and tastes of Lisbon than Rodrigo. I feel so fortunate to have spent one evening seeing Lisbon through his eyes — and his stomach.

My brief visit to Lisbon was stacking up to be so-so until Rodrigo peeled back a few layers and gave me a good sense of the city’s great nobility, pride, and generosity. I think we don’t hear much about Lisbon in the U.S. because it doesn’t clamor for attention, but suffers mostly in silence, with occasional outbreaks of grafitti.

I awoke Monday morning to a drizzly, foggy sailing day and took this picture from the bow of the ship that evening as Vision of the Seas glided down the Tagus, past the Monumento a Cristo Rei and under the 25 de Abril bridge, toward the sea.

Lisbon-Harbor

Adeus, Lisboa! I’ll be back!


Falling in Love with Lisbon, Part 1

November 14, 2013

By Karen

Lisbon has never been even on my short list of dream destinations, not because I have anything against Portugal, but because we hear so little about it. But that’s where Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas began its repositioning transatlantic crossing on Oct. 28, so off I went…

Bom Dia, Lisboa!

United Airlines’ inhuman scheduling resulted in a 23-hour odyssey from Richmond, Va., to Lisbon on Oct. 26-27, including what became the Layover from Hell in Newark Airport.

I’d flown from Richmond to Newark mid-morning, and night had long fallen when they announced my TAP Portugal flight to Lisbon would be running LATE.

But I give credit to TAP for hospitality (United should take notes). Each seat came with a little pillow, earphones to the seatback TV, and a big blankie. They also served an unexpected hot dinner (fish or chicken — is anybody stupid enough to eat airplane FISH?) and a continental breakfast.

During trip prep, I’d tried to master some key Portuguese phrases, like…

  • Por favor (please)
  • Obrigada (thank you)
  • Desculpe! (sorry!)
  • Bom dia, Boa noyte (good morning, good night)
  • Fala inglês? (Do you speak English?)
  • Ondé e a casa de banho? (where is the bathroom?)

As it turned out, I only used obrigada (a LOT). Most of the Lisboans I met spoke English and were amazingly cordial.

The driver Lisbon Taxis provided didn’t speak English, but this man met my 6:20 a.m. flight, waited an hour for me to get through Immigration, and was all smiles. He got me to my hotel (through solid fog) and, the next day, to the ship — at exactly the times and prices promised (his honesty and diligence meant a lot, as you’ll see).

As a woman traveling alone, this gentleman made me feel safe, and I considered him my first “friend” in Lisbon.

I could have taken the Metro to my hotel a lot cheaper, but I would have passed under Lisbon and missed seeing famous Rossio Square. Later, when I was exploring, I discovered the Metro would have entailed schlepping my suitcases up 5 long flights of stone stairs reeking of urine.

Hotel do Chiado stands on a steep, narrow cobblestone street 4-5 blocks from the Tagus River (and looks nothing like the pictures on its website). I had reserved my room months ago, but the front desk staff was apparently well-practiced in fleecing desperate Americans (and Brazilians, they told me), who typically arrive early.

It was about 8 a.m., but check-in wasn’t until 2 p.m. So after 24 hours on the road (with zero sleep), they suggested I roam the streets for another 6 hours.

I asked the desk clerk to lock up my luggage somewhere, but he walked off and left it unattended in the tiny lobby about 15 feet from a glass door to the street while I freshened up in the banho.

I know crime waiting to happen when I see it, so I parked myself beside my luggage until the desk guy returned. It was tempting to go postal, but I decided not to be an ugly American and instead politely asked him when the shops would open.

He said, “Since this is Sunday, everything is closed. But we did have one no-show last night, so there’s one room available now. It’s a ‘slight’ upgrade from yours and will cost another 50€.”

Sold!

(American Express magically transformed that 50€ into $101 on my statement — when the euro was trading at about $1.33. Go figure.)

Here’s what an “upgraded” room at Hotel do Chiado looks like…

HotelChiado-room1

And for a hotel that boasts fantastic city views, this was mine…

HotelChiado-view

On the other hand, I think they gave me my first encounter with a bidet, not that I used it…

HotelChiado-bidet

And a shower with a demi-door…

HotelChiado-Shower

The shower’s back half was wide open, so I had to stand carefully to keep water from splashing out. On the other hand, this shower was palatial compared to the ship’s, so I’m not complaining.

With home base secured, I ventured into the supposedly deserted Sunday streets with my camera in search of sights and lunch.

Lisbon-street

EVERYTHING was open.

I walked the tiled, pedestrian-only Rua Augusta toward the Tagus, passing under the Arco Triunfal into the vast Praça do Comércio…

Lisbon-Praca

It teemed with tourists, all taking the same photo of Dom Jose I.…

Lisbon-DomJose

It was lunchtime as I strolled back Rua Augusta toward my hotel…

Lisbon-RuaAugusta

 I chickened out on the food stalls there, which had stacks of dough-covered mystery meats sitting in unwrapped piles on the counters. I did take a quick turn through the Museum of Modern Design that, in addition to much outlandish-looking Scandinavian furniture, had a 3-bowl like-new Tupperware set (with covers unwarped) from the 1950s.

My hotel occupied the 6th and 7th floors of a multi-story mall called Armazens do Chiado, which has a food court.

Lisbon-Armazens

The Armazens is the building at the end of the street

I’m ashamed to say I actually considered lunch at McDonald’s there because I had a big dinner coming (little did I realize just HOW big!) and “fast food” elsewhere consisted of heaping plates of ground beef patties with sides of sausage and French fries, topped with a fried egg.

Instead, I played it safe at Capri, a pasta bar with fixings and sauces. The cook and cashier spoke no English, but with much smiling and pointing, I ordered. When it was time to pay (7.90€ for more pasta and shrimp than I could eat, with beverage), the cashier suddenly seemed apprehensive, but beamed when I handed her a 10€ note.

Perhaps she’d had bad experience with Americans who think the dollar is universally accepted?

After refueling, I set off down the Rua Garrett toward Largo do Camões and was lucky enough to catch this candid photo of the famous Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa lounging amid tourists outside Café A Brasiliera…

Lisbon-Brasiliera

Nearby in Largo do Chiado, I caught Antonio Ribeiro, a monk-turned-poet and satiric dramatist who once lived there. He looked happy…

Lisbon-Ribeiro

I wandered into a gorgeous, bustling bookstore that occupied many rooms in an old building, and didn’t realize until researching for this post that Rua Garrett is a hub for Lisbon’s literary types.

Circling back to the hotel, I saw some unique buildings. This one with the ornate friezes in the façade is condos or apartments…

Lisbon-FriezeBldg

In Lisbon, tiles aren’t just for bathrooms. They slap tile everywhere…

Lisbon-TileBldg

That concluded my daytime sightseeing. I’m prone to sensory overload, so I’m not one to tear around, trying to see everything. I was perfectly satisfied making myself familiar with the Chiado.

Little did I know a few hours later I’d be totally Bourdaining and seeing more of Lisbon through the eyes of a local than I could have ever imagined.

BTW, a terrible storm hit Europe that weekend, and the rumor on the ship was that several hundred passengers missed the boat. The day I sailed, Oct. 28, Portugal made world headlines when a Brazilian surfer named Carlos Burle caught a 100-ft. wave.

Here’s video of it from the UK Guardian, and Burle talking to Anderson Cooper on CNN.

Here’s pure video of his wild ride.


I’m Baaccckkk…

November 13, 2013

Please stay tuned. I’ve been gone for 2 weeks and I’m still getting back into the groove of cruel life on land, knee-deep in leaves and with Thanksgiving looming, after 13 idyllic, mostly-balmy days spent crossing the Atlantic and soaking in the Caribbean sunshine.

I’m working on the illustrated story my totally Bourdainesque 24-hour “Layover” in Lisbon that preceded the voyage.

Coming soon!

Karen


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