18 October 2015

Lisbon Day 1: Tram-spotting and Rain Dodging

I've been in Lisbon for just over 24 hours and I'm really starting to like the city. Unfortunately, I'm not quite sure the feeling is mutual. Before I arrived, I knew that the weather wasn't going to be great — rain every day — but I was expecting intermittent light showers rather than the torrential downpours that plagued Saturday. Still, when I woke up in my Chiado B&B, it wasn't rainy yet and I could see the Castelo São Jorge in the distance.

After breakfast, I hurried over to the top of the Elevador Santa Justa (you can save €5 by entering the miradouro from the Largo do Carmo side) and snapped a few shots of the colourful cityscape. Although it was warm, I was starting to regret wearing a light summer dress, given how windy it was. By the time I made it to the Rossio square, the heavens had opened. It was tough work trying to hold my dress down in the wind, hold up my umbrella and prevent it from breaking, keep my DSLR out of the rain and navigate using my phone. Usually when I arrive in a new city, I like to wander freely towards a particular destination but the rain and Lisbon's many steep hills made navigational errors quite costly.

The queue for the famous Tram 28 was already pretty long and, in any case, I had hoped to take the tram up to the castle and there weren't going to be any good views from the castle yesterday morning. Instead, I walked down to Praça Do Comercio, a grand square down by the river, but it was exposed to the elements as it was pretty, so I decamped quickly to the cathedral to dry off for a few minutes.

I needed a change of strategy. I went back to my B&B and changed into jeans and trainers, which at least solved my Marilyn Monroe problem. Then, I made my way to Fábrica Coffee Roasters, a lovely café and roastery that even serves V60 and Aeropress. I felt a lot better after a Colombian Aeropress brew and a pastel de nata.

The rain still hadn't ceased, so I walked my way up the leafy boulevard named Avenida de Liberdade, dodging falling palm fronds and fallen branches, until I reached the Estufa Fría, a huge greenhouse filled with verdant foliage. They were also holding a special orchid celebration, but given my track record with the flower, I steered clear. I carried on walking up the hill until I got to Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, an art museum that is part of a complex of museums in a leafy park. I spent an hour or so in the museum, which covers classical, Oriental and European art.

It was well past lunchtime by this point, so I hopped on the Metro down to Cais do Sodré; if you take the Metro in Lisbon, don't forget to check out the awesome art in each station, like the bunny below. For lunch, I went to a tiny restaurant called Sol e Pesca. I hadn't had any sun at this point, so I figured that I might as well have some fish. Sol e Pesca specialises in tinned fish tapas dishes — a bewildering collection of these tins were on display. The waiter was very helpful, though, and on his suggestion, I ordered a cod fillet with olive oil and garlic, and some kind of octopus. With bread and a drink, this will set you back €10–15, depending on which brand of tin you choose (yes, there's a hierarchy). It's a cool little spot for lunch or a drink.

As if by magic, by the time I had finished my pesca, the sol had got its hat on. I walked straight down to the river to catch a glimpse of the Golden-Gate-Bridge-alike Ponte 25 de Abril. Note: if you want to walk along the waterfront rather than the train tracks, cut through Cais do Sodré station rather than walking west for a mile before the next rail bridge. I felt so much better once the sun came out. It was still pretty cloudy — the first photo below isn't taken in black and white, believe it or not.

I walked along to Praça do Comercio, which looked much better in the sunshine. I decided that it was a good time to go and visit the castle and as the Tram 28 queue was huge at every stop I saw, I ended up walking. It isn't too far but it's a very steep climb and not particularly well sign-posted. I had seen so many closed castle gates marked "no entry" that when I saw the real entrance, which was closed, I thought the arrow pointing to the ticket office was directing me to yet another gate. Twenty minutes later, I realised my mistake, but it turned out that despite the beautiful weather, the castle was closed because of bad weather. I don't know if this was a result of the earlier downpours or the still-fierce winds. I was a little disappointed, but followed a route in my guidebook that took me to several viewpoints, each of which offered spectacular views over the city and the river. My favourite was probably Miradouro Santa Luzia, but if you like superlatives, Miradouro da Senhora do Monte — the tallest — will probably float your boat.

I wound my way back down the hill to my B&B to recharge my batteries (and my iPhone), before heading back out to dinner. A friend had told me that booking is essential at a lot of Lisbon restaurants at the weekend, but a lot of them don't offer online booking (many don't have websites). Still, I was pleased to take a seat at the bar at Sea Me, a Portuguese–Japanese sea food restaurant. The sushi sounded — and looked — great, but I ended up ordering the shrimp risotto (€18), which was delicious and extremely filling. The friendly bar tender made me a G&T with a Portuguese gin called Sharish. It came with a triple-citrus garnish and was really good.

My final port of call was to a bizarre bar called Pavilhão Chinês on Rua Dom Pedro V. If you can imagine a 19th century grocery store decked out like a Chinese tea room, you're thinking along the right lines. The walls are lined with glass cabinets filled with vintage toys, and there are plenty of arm chairs and cosy nooks. The cocktail menu was extensive, if a little unoriginal. I went for a Cherry Sling (€9.50), which came with a super-long straw, maraschino cherry and Icelandic flag. It's a quirky and relatively quiet, if fun, place for an intimate drink.

It was then just a short walk down the hill to my B&B, although not before I spotted one last tram. Actually, I think this one was a funicular, but who's counting?! My first impressions of Lisbon are that it is colourful, quirky and fun. I'm just hoping that the weather forecast for tomorrow is wrong...

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