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€.”


(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…


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


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


And a shower with a demi-door…


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.


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…


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


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


 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.


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…


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


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…


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


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.

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