Friday, 19th October 2007 – Lisbon, Day 1
Three facts stick in the mind after our visit to Lisbon:
- There are no flat surfaces in Lisbon – it’s always up or down.
- All statues of great navigators have a seagull permanently attached to their heads. It may be symbolic…
- It’s bad news when the bottom falls out of your custard tart… especially when the custard then splats onto the table.
That said, what did we get up to? Well… read on.
Having got in from work somewhat late the night before (as in around 23.15), I’d packed in a bit of a hurry (and then sat down to drink a bottle of Bollinger as given to us on our big day). Anyway, we got up at 7.30, showered, and headed off to do the airport run, leaving plenty of time for hold-ups – and promptly got there in just over an hour, way too early. Still, rather early than running around like the proverbial headless chickens, frankly! We checked in our bags with no wait at all, then settled to a coffee at Costa Coffee while we waited for the others. Angela was next to arrive, with Heather (who also drove and had an easy run) next. We’d about finished our coffees by the time Janice got off the Heathrow Express so we headed through security and went to the business lounge, where they soon found themselves short of cava, and we were soon very cheerful. The TAP flight left as on time as any flight from Heathrow ever does, and we settled in to take it easy.
A glass or two of wine, a strangely gooey sandwich and a nastily gooey raspberry jam (well that’s what the package claimed it was) filled mousse later, and we were landing in Lisbon, where the pilot reliably informed us it was a rather wonderful 28°C, as opposed to the 1°C it had been when we left home that morning. The flight attendants were cute, the wine was good and aside from the pressure in the cabin (which gave Lynne a sinus headache) all was well when we reached the baggage carousel.
We then waited an eternity for the luggage to appear – it may have gone via Madrid, given how long we waited – and then the text messages about next year’s racing season idiocy started (of which more in another post). Anyway, reunited with our bags, we headed for the taxi queue. That took quite a long time as well, and as there were five of us we had to get two cars.
The taxi driver dropped us off at the Hotel Açores, leaving us with advice to stay away from the market on the other side of the road after 10pm. Mind you, we nearly ended up having to stay there – I’d cancelled one of the three rooms we were holding when it turned out there would only be five of us (Irene and Stef couldn’t join us) but some bright spark at the hotel had cancelled the other two rooms as well! It wasn’t looking too promising, but eventually all was sorted and we headed upstairs to our suite (Lynne and I) and to the others’ room.
The universe wasn’t quite done with us however. I had attempted to book a table at 11, reputedly the best restaurant in town. An initial email confirmed that they had a table, but my second email confirming the booking clearly didn’t go through. It was beginning to look as if we were doomed with the advanced bookings. However, the receptionist made an alternative suggestion for a restaurant with a view, the Varanda da União. A booking was duly made and then we strolled out to enjoy the remainder of the afternoon with a coffee (or something) somewhere.
This involved crossing the somewhat desolate looking bus station and trundling into the metro station at Praça Espanha – the entrances are not that easy to spot from a distance, being marked with a discreet red M on a very short pole. Entrance located, the nice people at Carris sold us a 50 cent card (with some sort of electronic strip on it) and charged it up for use on all buses, trams (except the tourist trams), metro trains and elevators at 3.30€ per day with the option to recharged it if necessary. We immediately headed for the Baixa area of town and found the Café a Brasileira, one of Lisbon’s oldest cafés, where we promptly all ordered beer instead of coffee. It was very pleasant, and into the bargain we now had some vague idea where the metro from the hotel went… at least we did once we figured out there were two ways out of the Baixa station (including what may well be the world’s longest set of escalators on the Linha Azul exit towards Chiado). By then it was time to leg it back to the hotel and change for dinner – and OK, so it wasn’t 11, but it was very good once we found the place (not easy).
I had a starter of clams with garlic, or possibly garlic with clams given the relative quantities involved. I followed it up with a cataplana – a typical Portuguese dish, in this instance of seafood in a tomato and onion stew. It was excellent though incredibly filling. We had port to start, drank a vinho verde and a Douro red, and finished off with coffee and more port. It was an excellent find, with a great view, and very friendly and helpful staff. Eventually we tore ourselves away from the balcony views and staggered back to hotel before collapsing into bed.