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Thursday, October 15, 2015

James Went To Lisbon

Me and my sister decided that we wanted to replicate the success of previous weekend breaks to Bologna, Stuttgart and Brussels but this time go somewhere that would still hopefully be warm and sunny – Lisbon.

I’d actually done some research before we went this time, so we had an itinerary (what an oddly spelt word) and a plan of action.

When we arrived, it appeared that we had got onto the wrong plane and had ended up in East Midlands airport.


The first thing that we learnt about Lisbon was that it had lots of hills.  Lisbon likes a good hill – tall, steep hills.  7 of them, in fact.

We arrived at our Airbnb accommodation…halfway up the tallest hill in Lisbon.  At £55.00 each for 3 nights it was quite the bargain, though we soon realised why it was nicknamed the Doll’s House.  It was small – I only had a sofa bed and not the most comfortable one either, and with no sheet.  There was only one window so no way for air to pass through…I wouldn’t have wanted to stay there in the heart of the summer.  And I got a few bites.

That said, it was charming, it was a bargain and most importantly, it was in an excellent location – slightly away from the tourism hot-spots, yet just a 5-10 minute walk up/down hill to where we wanted to be.

We set off late Saturday afternoon for a random walk, to see what we could find.  We ended up walking through a rather shady district before finding a little café – Lisbon is fully of tiny cafes seating between 6 and 20 people.  We ordered two beers, paying €2.40 in total.  Yes…I paid 90p for a beer.  I cannot even get one in a shop in Bracknell for 90p nowadays.

I expected Lisbon to be reasonably cheap but we were regularly surprised.  Of course, there were the usual tourist trap areas with €5.50 beers, but as long as we stayed away from main squares then we rarely paid more than €3.00 for a pint, often less.

Another reason to stay away from the main squares were the regular offer of drugs.  Yes I know they are legal in Portugal.  No I don’t want a free sample (though I do wonder how many people took up the free sample of coke from every person that offered to them).  Time and again I was offered drugs.  It must be the hair.

In the evening we went for tapas.  Portuguese tapas.  It isn’t like Spanish tapas – they seem only to do a selection of cold meat/cheese, and chorizo cooked on a boat.  We ordered chorizo for two as they didn’t have anything else that was on the menu.  I would suggest that it was flambéed on our table.  But I might have made that word up, and instead it was flame-cooked in the oil or whatever was on the bottom of our porcelain boat.


It was good, but not a patch on Spanish chorizo.  In fact, Portuguese tapas isn’t a patch on Spanish tapas.  I didn’t regret declining the option of Ryanair’s patatas bravas though.

Then we were treated to a performance of Fado.  You were not allowed to talk through it.  We had to sit there in silence, for quite a lot of Fado songs.  A mournful, occasionally joyful music, with the woman singing and a guy on guitar.  Not my kind of thing, believe it or not, but it was impressively beautiful.


(Not my video and I haven't watched it).

We finished our Portuguese sangria (yeah not as good as Spanish) and headed off for a drunken night around Barrio Alto.  More cheap beer, some drunken pizza and apparently a taxi back instead of the hill.  The hill definitely was not happening.  My sister was probably the only person in heels – although we never found the gay quarter to check thoroughly.

Sunday we woke up with sore heads.  My first action was to go to toilet and whack my head straight into the overhead pillar.  Not for the first time but with quite some force.

Once we had gained some composure, we took the walk, uphill – steeply uphill, to the magnificent castle which overlooks the whole of Lisbon.

Without doubt the highlight of my trip.  This magnificent, historic structure towered above the whole of Lisbon, with amazing views over the whole of the city, in the intermittent drizzle.  Ahhh Hurricane Joaquim thank you ever so much.


I still wore shorts though.

There were many sections to the castle, and some very tricky steps to climb up to the high heights – and not especially difficult to fall from various areas at a significant height.  I now have an appreciation of how people could be scared of heights!

The castle also came with peacocks.  Now I’ve always wanted to be re-incarnated as a duck, but I’d definitely settle to be re-incarnated as a peacock.  Quite magnificent birds.



It is hard to put into words or pictures just quite how impressive and magnificent the whole structure was, and we spent probably not far from 2 hours there.  The below photograph is just a fairly small section of the castle.


Then, having not eaten and also craving a beer to shift my hangover, we set off for a highly recommended café near the castle – well aware that many places are 3 times the normal price in the area, only to eventually find it, and find that all 4 tables were occupied.

We went for a random walk, with no back-up plan and ended up in a random restaurant as hunger was getting the better of us.

We were treated to probably the worst meal I’ve had since I had a roast dinner at the Back Of Beyond (a Wetherspoons to the uninitiated).  For €43 in total, we had two beers, two grilled chicken dinners.  The chicken came with rice, which you probably know my thoughts on that, anaemic chips and even crapper chicken than Nando’s – small, dry, overcooked – one piece didn’t even have any actual chicken on it.  Why give me a chunk of fried bone?

Not to mention they charged us for the bread and butter – having not realised that the entre that is unfairly forced in front of ravenous stomachs wasn’t actually free.  Rude and forgetful service and an all-round unpleasant experience which really put a dampener on our moods.

The moral of the story – always have a back-up plan.

Then to top off my misery, we went to the cathedral.  I was overjoyed with religious fervour.  Thankfully it was only for a few minutes.

Then we sat outside in the main square, without any cannabis, and enjoyed occasional glimpses of sunshine…and the breeze from the river.  To continue our ultra-touristic day, we then paid €5.00 each to queue nearly an hour to go up a really old elevator, to the site of an old church which was knocked down in the 1755 earthquake.  I hadn’t realised that I was in an earthquake zone.  It was pretty pointless.


Much more research was completed for the evening meal – it had to be as according to Trip Advisor, many places we wanted to go to were closed on Sunday.  We ended up with the last table at another Portuguese tapas place, this time with no Fado, and again paying €43.00.


But this time it was worth every cent.  With glasses of gorgeous red wine for just €2.00 each, possibly the best wine I have ever tasted.  Even better than White Zinfandel.

As the rain started to pour, we got chatting to our table neighbours, who were from America.  One was a DJ living in Berlin – he was with his parents lived next door to someone who drives the dominator (the tornado chasing tank thing in America).  My two favourite passions covered at once!

And then we walked all the way back up the hill.

Monday wasn’t quite so successful on the tourist side.  It was threatening to pour down at various points, though never quite did properly.  We went to the Parque Do Naquos, or something similar, which was built for the Lisbon Expo, many years ago.

It wasn’t that exciting.  Were we not running out of funds, then we could have gone to the science museum, or aquarium.  Instead we settled for a cable car jaunt in the wind and drizzle, and a €2 pint of beer.

We then had an excellent chicken dinner, recommended to me by the one and only, Edible Reading, and followed that with a trip to Belem – at the other side of Lisbon.  We took the tram – Lisbon seems to be very proud of it’s trams, especially the rickety 1930’s trams.  This one was sadly just a modern, boring tram.

Belem wasn’t that exciting either.  We saw the tower jutting out into the estuary, and some other impressive buildings.  And then settled for a ride back to the centre, so we could go watch the football.


Ironically, the most upmarket place we went all holiday, was the English pub, which was showing the football.  With suitably over-priced beer like you would get in an English pub.

Football over, we hot-footed it to a steak restaurant recommended to us by our Airbnb host, and arrived to a fairly full restaurant in a slightly shady district - with the doors closed.  Last entry was 10pm.  It was 10:03pm.

Thankfully a waitress saw that we were lost souls without a back-up plan and let us in for a very good lump of sirloin.  I had 500g for just €13.00 – yet another bargain.  We made our way back, resisted the temptation of some Fado and set our alarm to wake up to get the number 28 tram.


Now the number 28 tram I was told was the way to explore Lisbon.  Lisbon has lots of steep hills, as I may have mentioned – and an very historic layout, with sharp bends and narrow roads that modern trams cannot fit down.  But the old-school 1930’s trams do the jobs perfectly, though are absolutely chocka-full all day.  So we got up early.

Again, it wasn’t that exciting.  But it was emblematic of Lisbon and I bought myself a little miniature tram to sit next to my Eiffel Tower, waffle shop and hippopotamus.

And then we went to the airport, via a strange codcake thing filled with very strong cheese.

Of course, the sun then came out.

I liked Lisbon.  I wouldn’t put it up there with must-visit cities such as Barcelona and Berlin.  But I do recommend it – unless you don’t like hills.

Also worth mentioning is that Lisbon Tinder wasn’t that exciting.  More productive than Bracknell Tinder – there are some cute Portuguese women, but they are not a patch on the Spanish.

Portugal is another country ticked off the list.  Maybe I’d go back in the future to another city, maybe Porto, but for now there are so many other countries to tick off the list that it will have to wait until I’m old.

Anyone know where I can buy some hashish?