Monday, September 06, 2010


We took a vacation to the Iberian peninsula at the end of August. Our first stop was Lisbon, Portugal. We arrived on Thursday the 26th early in the morning and hit the sites hard. After checking in at the Hotel Príncipe Lisboa, we headed out to the water at the Praça do Comércio. This has great views of the water, the square, lots of people, and in the distance the Cristo-Rei statue.

We decided to walk toward the Baixa area, containing many restaurants, so we could find some lunch. We found a little place with outdoor seating and the menu looked very good, and cheap! We had sangria, salmon, cod cakes, pasta, a ricotta tart, and creme brulee. We decided to head out to Belém via street car and check out that area. We first went to the Belém tower. There is not much to this and it is expensive to go in. We just walked around the park for a few minutes then walked along the water down toward the Monument to Discoveries. After resting in the shade for a few minutes, we walked back across the street toward the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos to check it out. We realized this was mostly a large church that was free to enter, and the monastery (only a small area) was the part you pay for. The church was interesting and contained a few famous tombs. After a brief rest in the garden there we started walking to catch a street car back to the city center. While waiting, Kacey spotted something across the street; a famous bakery, the Pastéis de Belém. My research had not come across this place but hers had. We went over for one of their famous pastries, for which the store was named after. They were very good! A unique flavor and an interesting combination of textures.

Upon getting back to the city center, we walked toward the , otherwise known as the Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa, which is the Lisbon Cathedral. This is a very old church. There wasn't much that stood out here, but there was some interesting tile work and a few little chapels inside. Next we walked up the hill to the Castle of São Jorge. We got student discounts and walked around the lower ramparts for excellent views of the city! Kacey walked around the upper castle ramparts while I stayed with Nolan to play for a while (it was too many narrow steps). We were now ready to take the bus back down to central and find some food to eat.

We walked around for a few minutes and were bombarded with tourist restaurants. We tried a few alleys and found a collection of small, local places. We tried one that was not too pushy, had a decent menu, and offered to make Nolan a veggie and chickpea plate. It appeared to be an owner, a runner (both older), and their two wives in the kitchen. They were very nice, played with Nolan, and eager to speak english (typical of Portugal we are learning). I had pan-fried pork with fries and veggies, and Kacey had a fish. We also got olives and some vihno. All this plus some water was like €20! By time we were done it was getting late so we took the metro back to our hotel to turn in.

Since we saw so many sites in our first partial day we decided to take it a little easier on Friday. We decided to check out a couple sites near the city center and then check out the big aquarium. We started at the Restauradores metro stop and saw a funicular across the street. It looked like it might be the one that went straight up to our church, so we checked it out. Sure enough it was, so we took the funicular up to the São Roque church. This was a pretty elaborate church! There was a lot of gold, and there was a neat room in the back full of paintings depicting the life of one of the saints of the area. The ceiling was also unique to other churches we have visited. From here we walked down to the Baixa area to find some food. There was unfortunately not much food here but we did find a little local spot/bar serving some hot food for lunch. I got beef and ham with egg and cheese and rice, a little salad for Nolan, and Kacey got octopus, which was pretty good.

Now we headed out to the aquarium. This is not that close to the city center, and it is also not close to a metro stop. So we took the red line all the way out to Oriente and walked to the Oceanário de Lisboa. The aquarium is basically built on the water, pretty cool! Once inside, this was a pretty nice place, much better and bigger and cheaper than the Boston aquarium. Nolan enjoyed watching all the big sharks and other fish. After a few hours here, we decided to get back to town and maybe check out one more site, but it was already closed. For dinner we did the same thing as the night before and found another good, cheap place. This time we had a bottle of vihno (€3.50), bread, salads, water, Kacey had grilled sardines, and I had grilled chicken. And again it was like €20. They also loved playing with Nolan here and carried him around while we ate. Time for bed!

The next day our goal was to take the train out to Sintra to check out the palace and the castle. The train ride was only about 40 minutes once we found the train station (we walked by it a couple times, it is not marked and the trains are underground). We got some information and walked toward the city center. There were a fair amount of tourists walking around so we wandered some alleys looking for lunch. We finally found Tacho Real; it looked ok so we went on in. It was a little more expensive than we like but the food was ok. From here we went to catch a bus to go up the hill to the sites.

There is a tourist bus that takes you up, and this is pretty necessary (unless you have a car). The first stop is the Castle of the Moors. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, but we got in line for tickets. They had a combo ticket for this and the next stop so we bought it. It was expensive, but we were there so we went for it. Then we got a map and saw that we had to hike through the woods to get to the castle. The map made it look long, so we started to dread it with a stroller but once we got going, it was not too bad. Once there, though, we had to ditch the stroller. It is mostly some narrow, steep ramparts left on the cliff edges, so the views were great! There was also a view of our next stop, the Palace of Pena.

If you only have time to visit one stop, make it this one. This palace is great! There is a really nice walking tour inside (no foto) and lots of great views (you can see Lisbon from one lookout and the Atlantic from another). We took turns walking inside as Nolan was sleeping in his stroller and no strollers or backpacks are allowed inside the palace. From here we decided to get in queue for the bus to go back down and catch our train. Once crammed on the bus, we met a couple from Australia touring the globe; it was nice to talk in english for a while.

When we arrived in Lisbon, we were hungry so we stopped at a small, busy cafe close to the station. We considered take-out but he offered us a table in the back so we sat down and ordered a sangria (0,5L-€7 or 1,5L-€8... too bad there was only two of us). We both got fried fish and salads. The food was ok, but the location and price were right. It was time to go back to the hotel and pack up and prepare to fly to Madrid the next day!

Pictures from Lisbon

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