PORTUGAL Spring 1997
The 11:05 sleek, modern
train arrived in Coimbra at 12:21. Coimbra was our first
stop in the Costa De Prata region, which is the area
between Costa Verde and the Lisbon Coast. The region is a
land of thick forests, rivers, streams, tranquil villages,
abundant vineyards, castles, fortresses and flamboyant
Manueline architecture. Here you will also find mineral
springs and spas, Bairrada wines, culinary delights
ranging from eel and shellfish to the crispy, tender
roast suckling pig of Mealhada. Portugal's finest hand-painted
porcelain, ceramics, glass and crystalware also come from
We experienced all of
these delights as fully as possible thanks to our
internet friends, who greeted us and treated us like long,
lost family. Their warmth, kindness, generosity and love
will always be with us.
Isabel met us at the train
station and we took a bus to the Hotel Tivoli, Rua Joao Machado. It is an
extremely good-value four star hotel, located centrally
in Lower Coimbra with easy access to transportation and
the city sights. Our room had a sizable foyer with a
large closet, good size bedroom with a Queen size bed,
light wood furniture - tastefully decorated - air
conditioning and cable television. The bathroom was nice
size and up-to-date. This is a modern, well-equipped
facility with a health club (massage available), Turkish
bath, gymnasium and indoor pool.
Maria Antonia and
Francisco greeted us at their home and together with
Isabel, Paula, Julia and Fernanda we experienced our
first true Portuguese home cooking. We sat down to a
wonderful array of boiled meats and vegetables
accompanied by assorted breads and excellent Bairrada red
wine. We were too stuffed to move, but when Maria Antonia
placed the most gorgeous rice pudding in front of me, I
quickly caved in. And was I glad I did! Rice pudding is a
favorite and this was the royalty of rice pudding. Of
course, now that the flood gates were open, the fresh
pineapple mousse had a very intense appeal as well. Thank
goodness there was time left in the day to do some
touring and work off the over-indulgence.
Coimbra sits on the
northern bank of the River Mondego. Lower Coimbra is the
commercial center, Upper Coimbra is dedicated to the
students; on the way up are the twisting, medieval
streets with their patios, arches, flowering window boxes
and courtyards and at the top is the famous Universidade
de Coimbra. Standing tall is the bell tower, symbol of
the university and Coimbra itself. The students
affectionately refer to the bell tower as "The Bitch"
since the ringing of the bells signals the call to class.
Since Isabel is a student
at the University, she was a wonderful guide. We started
by taking a bus to the magnificent botanical gardens full
of objects of art and exotic plantings. A visit to the
Museu Academico de Coimbra gave us insight into the
history and culture of the University and also of
Our next stop at the Dr. Mouro
Orphanage was a tremendously moving and heart warming
experience. This shelter is home to one hundred twenty-five
girls of all ages and races, who were either abused or
abandoned by their families. The state and the city run
this wonderful place where the girls live, play, eat and
sleep under compassionate supervision. They receive
normal education through university and attend church
regularly. Dr. Mouro was a psychologist who loved
children and dedicated his life to their well-being.
Fortunately, his legacy lives on.
Isabel and Paulo were our
internet correspondents and we were finally able to meet
Paulo that evening; he had been working when we were
greeted by his family earlier in the day. The apple didn't
fall far from the tree! We relaxed and conversed in Paulo's
apartment and then visited with his cousin Paula and her
young daughter, Joana, who delighted in serving us
delicious Port Wine and goodies.
The family suggested an
Italian restaurant, Verde Moinho, Rua Dos Moinhos. It
turned out to be a nice break from the steady diet of
Portuguese cuisine. The pastas, pizzas and grilled meats
were quite good and Francisco's red wine selection was
excellent. This is a man who knows and appreciates good
wine. Isabel and Paulo dropped us off at our hotel about
23:30 and we slept very well after a long but wonderful
first day in Coimbra.
The buffet breakfast was
served in the lovely restaurant Porta Ferrea in the hotel
and was very good. Isabel, Paulo and Maria Antonia picked
us up to continue our tour of the University. The New
Cathedral and the square outside is where the fourth year
students at the end of the academic year don their
traditional black capes and burn the coloured ribbons of
their faculties in the traditional Queima Das Fitas (Burning
of the Ribbons) celebration. The entire city rejoices
with the students and the Fado of Coimbra is played and
The Museu de Machado de
Castro is housed in the Bishop's Palace. On display are
magnificent statues, pottery and paintings and the
basement houses the well-preserved Roman galleries with
artifacts from Roman and Visigoth times.
The University library (King
John Library) is breathtaking. There are three large
rooms decorated with engraved wood lacquered in red,
green and gold. These rooms are connected by high
archways bearing the insignias of the old faculties at
the tops. The walls are totally covered by solid book
shelves made of exotic woods and divided into two
sections separated by a narrow balcony supported by
elegant columns. Ladders which fit into the book shelves
provide access to the upper levels. This library now
functions as a museum with a collection of 300,000
volumes. Use can be obtained by special authorization.
Other highlights are the
Museum of Sacred Art, the Grand Hall and the Private
Examination Hall. The Museum displays artworks which have
been donated over the years. The Grand Hall is the place
where the most important ceremonies in University life
are conducted. The highlight of the Grand Hall is the
decorated, paneled ceiling and portraits of Portuguese
Monarchs. The Panel of Tiles, a frieze of the portraits
of former rectors of the University, and the decorated
ceiling make the Private Examination Hall a sight to
Maria Antonia directed us
to Alfredo & Alfredo, Av. Joao das Regras 116-118,
for lunch. We shared a feast of caldo verde (a kale soup
with a flavorful light stock with potatoes and olive oil
seasoned with a few slices of pork sausage), grilled fish,
cabrito (goat) stew, pork and clams and boiled potatoes
and cabbage. We enjoyed it all - including the delicious
breads and the excellent Portuguese beer.
Across the street from the restaurant is the delightful
Portugal dos Pequenitos (Tiny Tots Portugal) with its
marvelous miniatures of monuments and typical houses of
Portugal and its former colonies. Enhancements for
children are farm animals, a playground and an area for
climbing. A short 6 km. drive south from Coimbra is
Conimbriga, Portugal's most extensive Roman site. The
indoor museum has an excellent collection of artifacts
and the ruins are quite elaborate. Unfortunately our
inspection of the ruins was cut short by a thunder shower.
Of course, that made for some interesting photo ops for
Linda, the intrepid photographer.
Dinner at Maria Antonia
and Francisco's house was heaven. Carapaus fritos (lightly
fried small fish) crisp on the outside with sweet flesh
inside, were a real treat. Isabel showed us how we could
enjoy eating them the way we eat spareribs, with our
fingers - great fun! These were accompanied by arroz de
tomate (rice and tomato). Then the frango no churrasco (grilled
chicken), served with batates fritas a inglesa (luscious
homemade potato chips) and salada de tomate. Francisco
selected a Bairrada red, Colheita Particular, which was
There was a stupendous
array of desserts. Maria Antonia assured us that it was a
learning experience so we would be able to make informed
decisions as we continued our trip. God bless her! There
were pasteis de tentugal and pasteis de Santa Clara -
filo type dough filled with egg mousse and pumpkin mousse,
respectively, and pasteis de nata, previously described,
shared the billing with queijadas, tarts filled with egg
and cream and, of course, that perfect rice pudding and
pineapple mousse. Oh yes, let's not forget the wonderful
fresh strawberries and cherries. Wonderful friends, food
and conversation made for a perfect ending to our second
day in Coimbra.
On our last day in Coimbra
we were off to visit Luso, Curia, Bucaco and Figueira da
Foz on the coast. Our first stop along the way was at
Montemor-O-Velho. We drove up to the castle which was
part of a network of castles built to defend the area.
There is a cute church and lovely grounds now used for
open air concerts. From on high, one can view rice
paddies as far as the eye can see. From rice paddies to
salt pans on the way to Figueira da Foz, a popular family
summer resort, which was once dependent upon deep sea
fishing for its economy.
There are beautiful
residential areas, a casino, lots of hotels and a
gorgeous beach. Right nearby is the small town of Gala,
our lunch destination. Restaurante Carrossel, Largo da
Beira-Mar, was the superb choice of Maria Antonia and
Francisco. There were six of us but Francisco ordered
enough food for ten! It was a seafood fantasy come true.
Our meal included sopa de
peixe (fish soup with noodles and assorted seafood),
fried cakes of cod, octopus and calamari, acorda (in this
case a mixture of bread, tomatoes and black beans),
carapau e polvo de escabeche (lightly fried small fish
and octopus), choro de linguas (assorted seafood and
noodles), caldeirada de buzios (assorted seafood and
beans), badanas de bacalhau com grao de bico (cod and
chick peas). The last three items were stews in an herb-enriched
tomato sauce. The white house wine, Bila, was excellent
as was the broa de milho (corn bread). You guessed it, no
room for dessert!
Luso is an adorable spa
town with thermal waters at 27 degrees celsius, numerous
possibilities for lodging and lots of night life and
proximity to Bucaco National Park - a paradise. The
forest is luxuriant with century old trees - cedars,
laurel, strawberry and towering ferns. Abundant shaded
paths make walking and filling one's senses with the
sound of the springs and the aroma of the blossoming
flowers a delightful experience.
The spectacular Bucaco Palace Hotel, the former hunting
Palace of the last Portuguese Kings, is now a luxury
hotel and bottles its own wine under its own label. It is
served in the hotel's dining room and is said to be quite
The building is a
Manueline wonder of towers, turrets and staircases. The
incredible public rooms and the magnificent grounds are
breathtaking and surrounded by the forest, it is all too
beautiful to describe.
At the end of WW II, the
exiled Queen Amelia was dying in London. She asked for
permission to visit Portugal to claim some personal
possessions and to say goodbye to old friends and
servants. Granted permission, she went with an entourage
of ladies-in-waiting to Lisboa. She traveled to Bucaco in
a motorcade and spent a long week-end seeing old friends
in her beloved setting of the hunting lodge at Bucaco.
Shortly afterward she died and her last visit to Bucaco
is celebrated in fados still sung in Lisboa.
Curia is a low-key spa
town - a health resort. It's a place to go to mend the
body, rest and enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the
One of the best known
gastronomic delights in the Costa de Prata is the leitao
assado (Bairrada roasted suckling pig). Mealhada is the
capital of this culinary offering and Pedro dos Leitoes
is THE restaurant in which to indulge. Upon entering, one
is assailed by the aroma and the senses are captivated
Fortunately, soon after
ordering, the thick slices of perfectly roasted baby pig
arrive - juicy, tender, succulent - heaven! The sparking
wine of the region, Vinho Espumoso Gaseificado, is the
imperative accompaniment. Of course the queijinho (fresh
white cheese), the mixed salad, salada de cenoura (carrot
salad) and batata frita (homemade potato chips) are
wonderful as well.
It was with much regret
that we said our goodbyes to our new, dear friends and we
went to bed thinking about how lucky we are to be living
in these wonderful times.
We boarded a nice double-decker
bus at 13:30 to head southwest in Costa de Prata to
Nazare. It was a lovely, scenic ride through rolling
hills with olive trees, vineyards and small farms. It
seemed as if every house along the way had a blossoming
garden and grapevines. A contingent of ladies offering
rooms to rent greeted our bus at 15:25 on arrival in the
seafront village. After convincing them that we had
reservations at the nearby Hotel Praia, they wished us well and we were
on our way.
A pleasant porter met us
out front and took charge of our bags (not necessary, but
nice nevertheless). The receptionist greeted us warmly
and we were whisked to our room on the top floor. From
our balcony we could view the sea beyond the rooftops on
the two streets separating us from the shore. This is a
very typical three star hotel which offers basic, clean,
decent size rooms at a reasonable price.
Avenida Republica, the
beachfront promenade runs parallel to the long, wide
expanse of beach which sports a deep covering of perfect
sand. The sparkling white-capped ocean swells and the
bobbing fishing boats were a welcome sight. The fisherman
with their tanned, wrinkled faces, sat in small groups
along the low seawall and on benches exchanging their
women were everywhere - working, walking, shopping,
chatting, embroidering - yes, I said seven skirts! This
is a tradition started in the early 20's by the folk
group Ta-Mar. It seems that seven is a magic and mystical
number and with seven skirts the women felt that they
looked more attractive and elegant. It was a question of
harmony and of having a better silhouette with a thin
waist and large hips as the fashion dictated at that time.
The skirts are of different colours, patterns and fabric.
The one worn closest to the body is always white with a
lace hem. A lively coloured silk apron sits atop the
seven layers of skirts, with an equally colourful blouse,
a bright patterned head scarf and a black shawl. The
skirts have followed the fashion trends - longer or
shorter, new fabrics, colours and patterns. The tradition
continues much to the delight of the tourists peering in
as life goes on in the old way.
As one would expect,
Avenida Republica is lined with seafood restaurants; but
a short stroll into the town yielded numerous, small
neighborhood restaurants filled with local couples and
families dining out. We stopped at the Fidalgo II in the
Praca Souza at the north end of the beach for a snack of
delicious bolinho de bacalhau (cod fish cakes, remember?)
and a tomato and lettuce salad. All along the way, the
vegetables were garden fresh and the olive oils and
vinegars top quality and very flavourful. It was
certainly pleasant to sit outdoors a stone's throw from
the beach smelling the salt air.
One can't get lost in
Nazare. The town is neatly laid out, the east/west and
north/south streets forming an easily navigable grid. The
runs of whitewashed homes are beautifully maintained by
their pleasantly soft-spoken, somewhat shy occupants.
Everybody shares a smile and nods hello and one feels
right at home, not like an intruder.
It had been a lovely sunny
day but the rain caught up with us so we dashed over to
Restaurante Mario Peixe, Rua Branco Martins 14, which had
been recommended by our waiter when we stopped for the
cod fish cakes earlier in the day. It's a homey little
family place where Mario and his wife welcome you with a
smile and proceed to deliver huge portions of well-prepared
seafood. The sopa de peixe (fish soup) with a pure fish
stock and loaded with chunks of fish, clams and shrimp
was a meal.
Naturally, that didn't
stop us! We were in the mood for sardinha assada (grilled
sardines) and shared a portion of perfectly charcoal
grilled beauties with boiled potatoes and tomato/lettuce
salad. Our favorite Portuguese restaurant in Toronto,
Casa de Ramboia, told us that acorda de marisco was
superb in Nazare. Now we can attest to that fact.
The Casal Garcia Vinho Verde was very good. It is
interesting to note that most of the restaurants grill
fish outside on large charcoal grills (which also tends
to entice hungry pedestrians). We watched the beautiful
sunset across the ocean as our first day in Nazare came
to a close.
Linda, my tell-it-as-it-is
sidekick, announced that our breakfast the next morning
was uninspiring. Ah, we've been spoiled by those buffets!
Fortunately, the village
marketplace is directly across the street from the hotel
and we were able to indulge ourselves with fresh fruits
and nuts. It's quite a large building, filled with
wonderful fresh produce and fish right out of the ocean,
with stands run by the kindly womenfolk.
The bus ride to Obidos
took a little over an hour through pretty countryside
with passengers hopping on and off in the small villages
all along the way. The bus stops directly across the
street from the gates to the old town. We immediately
noticed the huge, well-preserved aqueduct connected to
the town. And what a town! It is an enchanting, medieval,
walled treasure. As we wandered through the maze of
cobbled streets, squares and alleys, the whitewashed
houses painted with blue or yellow stripes glistened in
the sun. The weathered terracotta roofs are covered with
bougainvillea and wisteria. It's really an amazing beauty,
300 years old, and the original street plan and
arrangement of houses are faithfully intact. After the
earthquake of 1755, it was restored on existing
foundations. Although the houses are closely clustered,
flowers bloom everywhere in the the gardens and on the
The castle with its
striking Manueline doorway and windows sits high above
the town and is now the elegant Pousada do Castelo. There
are adorable looking manor houses and private homes that
also offer accommodations.
Although ours was just a
day trip, we couldn't help but think how lovely it would
have been to stay overnight.
We visited St. Mary's
Church with its spectacular 17th century azulejos in the
main square, the center of cultural activity, which also
houses a handicrafts shop where beautiful ceramic pieces
of local design are manufactured by students whose
training was made possible by EU funding.
Our lunch was a bica and
pastry break before continuing on our way. It took us
fifteen minutes to get to Caldas da Rainha which is on
the way back to Nazare. The name of the town means The
Queen's Hot Springs and, not surprisingly, it is a spa
town. Surrounding the town are clay deposits which makes
it one of Portugal's leading centers for ceramics.
In 1884 Rafael Bordalo
Pinheiro founded his artistic pottery factory in Caldas.
Today the original factory employs 240 people and a
second has opened employing 110 additional workers.
Touring the factory with
Barbara Cardoso was an enlightening experience. From
design creation to mould making, pressing, first firing,
painting, second firing, we didn't miss a step. The staff
enjoys its work and is happy to share its knowledge and
friendly greetings. Seeing how piles of clay are turned
into beautiful works of art is inspirational and gave us
a tremendous appreciation for the skills and knowledge
involved in producing such work.
At the end of the tour we
visited the museum which just blew our minds. It presents
a history of the work produced by the company and how it
relates to the history of Portugal itself. Very
interesting indeed. We also visited the shop where
selected items can be purchased at special discounted
Back in Nazare, we walked
just down the street from the Hotel Praia to the
Restaurante Brisa do Mar, Av. Guimaraes 10, a pleasant
small room of white stucco, tile floors and a nautical
tile mural that dominates one wall.
The owner, a pleasant and
friendly man, was a mind-reader. He presented a fresh sea
bass on a tray and suggested that it would be perfect for
Exactly what we had been
planning to have! It was served on a large platter with
boiled potatoes and lettuce/tomato/onion salad. The
perfectly prepared fish, seasoned with butter, lemon and
pepper, had been cross cut in sections before grilling to
allow the charcoal flavor and the seasonings to permeate
the flesh as well as the skin. What a delight!
It was a nice evening and
we strolled around the village and along the shore
fascinated by the Seven Skirted Ladies still in the
streets chatting, sitting knitting or embroidering alone
or in groups, some working nut stands, others grilling
fish. Life going on at its usual pace.
Morning found us following
the previous day's routine of a bica and roll breakfast
at the hotel followed by a visit to the ladies at the
We bought a banana and a
blood orange and loaded up on roasted pistachios and
pumpkin seeds for the road. Today we were heading for the
monasteries of Alcobaca and Batalha.
Our 9:50 bus to Alcobaca arrived at
10:10. It is a short walk to the Cistercian Monastery
which was built in the 12th century. This work of the
Cistercian Monks is mind-boggling. The facade has a
handsome Gothic doorway, Baroque turrets and Manueline
decoration around the windows.
When we walked in, we were
awestruck by the size and simplicity of the chapel, the
largest in the country. The vaulted ceiling, pillars,
arches, floors and walls are all stone with no elaborate
art or decoration. This was true throughout the monastery.
They did not believe in nor want to show wealth in any
form. The magnificent carved stone tombs of Dom Pedro and
Dona Ines sit in front of the alter area. There are nine
small chapels surrounding the alter where the monks
prayed seven hours a day, one hour in each of seven of
the nine chapels.
The majesty of the
monastery is best expressed in the kitchen with its huge
chimneys and pantry. Under the kitchen runs a small
tributary of the River Alcoa and the monks devised and
built a clever way to access the running water for
fishing right from the kitchen! The Kings room portrays
the royal dynasties of Portugal with statues and tiles.
The huge cloister befits the scale of the edifice. There
are believed to be tombs in the walls of the cloister.
Our guide, Carla Oliveira, a student doing a paper on the
monastery, was extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic.
We made two stops on our
way back to the bus station. The first of course was for
bica and pastry. The second was at Lavanderia Bene to
have my jacket pressed. The lady beautifully hand-pressed
it while we waited and then absolutely refused any kind
of payment! She wished us a happy stay in her country and
was just pleased to have helped us out. The kindness of
the people of Portugal is something very special indeed.
The 13:00 bus to Batalha
arrived there at 13:25, a few minutes walk from the
monastery. This one was built in 1385 and is a fine
example of Gothic and Manueline architecture. The main
chapel, though not as large as the one in Alcobaca, is
quite similar in its simplicity. The pantheon of the
monastery is illuminated by the most ancient stained
glass windows in the country. Particularly striking are
the founders chapel and the unfinished chapel.
We made it back to Nazare
by 15:30. It was a perfect day for hanging out around
town and at the beach where we watched the men and women
working at placing fish on racks to dry in the sun.
In our wanderings the
previous day, we found a small place, seating about 40,
Restaurante A Tasquinha, Rua Adriao 54, filled with
locals enjoying their meals. Dinnertime found us seated
in the usual stucco and tile environment receiving the
same friendly treatment enjoyed by the regulars.
We started with a very
average vegetable and fish soup. We opted for two of the
appetizers they brought to our table, the olives and the
boiled shrimps. A platter of grilled carapau, boiled
potatoes, broccoli and salad along with an excellent
house red wine and rolls completed our meal.
Everything being served
around us looked and smelled marvelous. Next time we will
skip the soup. By the time we left, several people were
waiting their turns outside.
The morning we left Nazare,
we met the only other tourists we would encounter on an
intercity bus during our entire trip. They were from
California and told us they had stayed in a private home
during their visit to Nazare. Apparently they had
followed one of the Seven Skirted Ladies home when they
arrived. They found it very reasonable and clean and
enjoyed meeting the local family.
They were on their
way to Obidos and we were off to a seaside resort, Hotel Golf
Mar in Praia Do
Porto Novo (Maceira), halfway between Nazare and Lisboa.
The ride to Torres Vedras was two hours and from there a
half hour taxi ride to our destination. We just didn't
feel like waiting for the local bus and possibly missing
the best part of the day.
The hotel sits twelve
stories high on a cliff overlooking a sandy beach and
sparkling ocean. The shoreline was beautiful with rocky
jetties separating the sandy coves as far as we could see
from our balcony on high. At the far south end of the
beach, small fishing boats sat on the sand while others
were out dotting the water. Behind the beach is a row of
restaurants and shops built into the side of a cliff. To
access that area from the hotel, it is necessary to go
down several flights of stairs from the hotel entrance to
a bridge below which crosses a river before it runs into
The hotel is a huge
complex but unfortunately it has been sorely neglected.
The rooms - small, poorly furnished and not redecorated
since the place was built, with old and tired bathrooms -
were the worst. The potential is certainly there for the
place to be a world class luxury resort and conference
center. The public areas are massive and could be lovely
and there are nice indoor and outdoor pools overlooking
the ocean with a snack bar and an enormous deck for
sitting, lounging and snacking al fresco. There is a golf
course, tennis courts, health club, horseback riding and
natural thermal waters a short distance away.
We went down to the beach
area to check out the activity and enjoy the sunshine. We
couldn't resist the carapau grilling in front of the
restaurants and shared an order. The bica was good but
the best was the dark chocolate-covered ice cream on a
stick we had for dessert. By this time we had done enough
sampling to have definitively determined that the
ubiquitous OLA brand was the hands-down winner.
It was a nice, relaxing
day at the shore and we finished off with a grilled
chicken dinner at Pro-Mar. The only reason I mention the
name is to suggest that you do NOT go there. The owner
served us re-heated chicken, frozen fries and overcharged
us. He had the nerve to tell us what a bargain it was
when we questioned the price. Can't win 'em all!
We woke up to a glorious
day, stimulated by the smell and the sound of the ocean.
The buffet breakfast was just fair. We were the only ones
in a dining room the size of a football field - strange
We had made arrangements
for the previous day's taxi driver to pick-us-up and
return us to Torres Vedras where we would catch the bus
to Lisboa. He was prompt and very nice. At the bus
station we were having some difficulty ascertaining which
would be the best bus to take and where to buy the ticket.
All of a sudden our taxi driver appeared and guided us to
the right places. He knew it would probably be a problem
and decided to come in to make sure that we were okay. He
absolutely refused the tip I attempted to give him and
wished us a safe journey. Again, that kindness!
The bus left at 9:35 and
arrived at Campo Pequeno (just north of the central
district) at 11:00. Our bus driver directed us to where
we could catch a bus heading south to our hotel. As we
walked toward the area, a tap on his horn to get our
attention caused us to turn and find him driving
alongside us and gesturing that we were going the right
way with a thumbs up! It seemed as though making sure
things went right for us was really important to the nice
people we kept meeting.
Lisboa, the capital of
Portugal, lies on seven low hills at the estuary of the
River Tagus. The region, known as Costa de Lisboa,
stretches from the Sintra hills in the north to Sines to
We found the kiosk which
sells the bus tickets. The man behind us in line
suggested that we check our tickets and count our change
carefully. We purchased what are called BUC x 2 for 150$00,
which is good for two rides as opposed to one ride for
the same price if you pay on the bus. We took the bus to
the first stop on Avenida da Liberdade south of Praca
Pombal, and strolled east across the street and around
the corner to our home for the next three nights.
The Hotel Britania, Rua Rodrigues Sampaio, 17, is
situated on a lovely residential street which runs
parallel to Avenida da Liberdade. The location is
fabulous, easy walking to the main areas with bus and
metro two minutes away. The Hotel Britania is a gem! It
is rated three star only because it does not have a
restaurant; in every other respect this is a four star
hotel with five star service.
The cosy lobby exudes
European charm. The staff at the reception was bright,
cheerful, knowledgeable and extremely helpful. While we
were waiting for our room to be ready, we were offered
coffee and chocolates in the newly decorated breakfast
Fifteen minutes later, we
were guided through a lovely bright corridor with marble
floors to our room on the third floor. We entered via a
large foyer off which was a good size, all marble
bathroom with all the amenities and then some. There was
even a cellophane wrapped sponge and some adhesive
bandages. Two thick white terry robes hung on the
The bedroom was large and
beautifully furnished. There was a hair dryer in the top
drawer of the bureau which was plugged into the wall
through the rear of the drawer, a safe in the closet,
fridge/bar combo, radio, cable television, air
conditioning and double glazed windows. Just perfect! The
Britania is truly a superb value three star hotel - a
There are a zillion little eateries in this area that
cater mainly to the business lunch crowd where one can
find anything from snacks to complete meals which can be
eaten standing or sitting at very fair prices. We stopped
in Adega Tio Pepe, Rua das Pretas 35-37, for bolinhos de
bacalhau and salgados (codfish cakes two ways) salad and
delicious draft beer. Directly east of Rua Rodrigues
Sampaio is Rua de S. Jose, with loads of these small
lunch places, which becomes Rua Portas de S. Antao, the
main restaurant street in the lower town.
The lower town is
comprised of the area from Praca Pombal down Avenida da
Liberdade to Praca dos Restauradores and the area just to
the south, the Baixa, with its offices, banks, apartments
and shops. The streets in Baixa form a grid and at one
time were divided by trades. Rua do Ouro and Rua da Prata,
the streets of gold and silver, are still occupied by
jewellery shops. To the east is Rua dos Fanqueiros,
haberdashers street, which is still the street for
textiles and inexpensive clothing. Rua Augusta is the
main shopping street right in the middle and leads
through a magnificent archway to the Praca do Comercio.
On three sides of the square are rose coloured government
buildings and on the south side marble stairs lead to the
The old town, Alfama, is
east of Baixa. It starts at the river and weaves its way
upward through archways, small squares, alleyways, low
doorways, steps, tile covered buildings, and always the
smells of cooking, to the top of the hill and Castelo de
Sao Jorge (St. George's Castle) and great views of the
city from on high. Along the way one encounters churches,
museums and best of all the street life.
The upper town is called Bairro
Alto. It is said to have a split personality since by day
it is home to employees of the business offices and
shoppers visiting its antique and art shops while night
will find its restaurants and clubs filled with patrons
dining and listening to the strains of Fado.
After lunch, we went to
the high point of Bairro Alto, Rua S. Pedro Alcantara
from which there are superb panoramic views which provide
an instant orientation of the city below.
Across the street from the
observation area is the Solar do Vinho do Porto, a cosy
establishment dedicated to the appreciation of Port Wine.
The environment is that of a first class lounge with a
huge selection of Port Wine offered by the glass.
Down the street is the
Praca Trindade Coelho and Igreja de Sao Roque famous for
its Capela de Sao Joao Baptista, inlaid with semi-precious
stones. The tile and stone work along with the gilded
wood carvings are fabulous. There is a stone mosaic that
stopped us cold; so perfect is the artistry, we'd have
sworn it was a painting. This place is a treasure.
It's always special to
wander through the streets of a big city for the first
time and take the pulse of the everyday life. Here in
Bairro Alto we went from those running hectically about
their jobs to Calcada da Bica Grande, a street built on a
stairway, where the neighborhood folks were busy
decorating their streets with bright, colourful crepe
paper and plastic streamers in preparation for the June
holiday festivities. All the neighborhoods vie for first
place in the annual decorating contest.
Charcoal grills were being
readied along with tables and chairs for the evening
street party with the proceeds from the food and drink
sales going toward defraying the cost of the festivities.
All the doors and windows were open with neighbors
chatting and working together like one big, happy family.
They seemed flattered that we were interested in learning
about their culture and eager to share it with us.
Our visit to the Alfama
neighborhood started in Largo de Sao Rafael, by the Tagus,
where there is one of the few genuine remaining parts of
the Cerca Moura (Moorish city walls) which was an
important part of the city's Medieval defenses.
Nearby is the former
Judiaria (Jewish quarter), remembered today only in the
name of the street which passes through the former ghetto.
This district encompassing Rua de S. Miguel and Rua de S.
Pedro is where the locals buy fish every morning.
The holiday decorations
were beginning to be hung and the final clean-up from the
morning market was nearly finished. Alfama seems like a
village within the city with its traditions and closely-bound
community. It's a fun place to wander up, down and around
and should one lose his bearings, he has only to head
down the hill to the river.
The government is
subsidizing the restoration of homes in the Alfama to
ensure that this Medieval part of the city endures. It is
hoped that most of the renovations will be completed in
time for Expo '98.
Praca do Comercio, right
at the riverfront, is a huge square in the center of the
city. Martinho da Arcada, the oldest cafe in Lisboa, sits
on the north side of this square. Here we enjoyed
fabulous pasteis de nata - the flaky crust with cream
filling, cinnamon sprinkled on top - served slightly warm,
alongside bica as good as it gets. A perfect afternoon
The center of the Praca do
Comercio is under construction for the new metro lines
being built to meet the needs of Expo '98 and the future.
In fact, much of the city is torn apart due to this
construction, the renovation and restoration of
significant buildings and new building construction and
As we passed through the
archway into Rua Augusta, we were confronted by a throng
of people as far as we could see. THIS is a shopping
street. Wide, long, beautifully built with all the fun
and excitement of a world class shopping experience.
After the earthquake,
tidal wave and fire destroyed most of the central part of
Lisboa in 1755, it was rebuilt by the Marques de Pombal
into the city of today. It seems that Pombal was a fiend
about organization and neatness thus the grid pattern of
the Baixa, the arrangement and naming of the streets by
trades and saints, balconies on the first floor of the
buildings on north and south streets and no balconies on
the east and west streets. In fact it was compulsory at
that time that stores would be on the ground floor with
apartments above. (Roman ruins were discovered under this
area and now a manhole cover is removed, one day every
year, for the pre-arranged tours of the ruins beneath the
streets of the Baixa.)
At the north end of Rua
Augusta we entered Praca de Dom Pedro IV known as Rossio.
Once again heavy metro construction work dominated the
square; there are three lines being built. This area is
famous for having three historical establishments that
serve ginja, a cherry liqueur, in special glasses.
We walked south on Rua do
Carmo, also a nice shopping street, off which is the
Eiffel style Santa Justa elevator to the Bairro Alto. As
Rua do Carmo turns toward the right it becomes Rua
Garrett (also known as The Chiado) where many shops were
destroyed in the fire of 1988. The buildings, with wooden
reinforcements to provide the flexibility needed to
withstand earthquakes, were totally vulnerable to the
destruction by fire fueled by that same wood. Now the
street is struggling to find a purpose. With the old
shops destroyed, high-priced boutiques have attempted to
take over but failed to make a go of it here and many
shops sit vacant.
Turning north again,
Rossio runs into Praca dos Restauradores. The striking
Rossio train station, in Manueline style with great
windowed horseshoe-shaped doors, is where the trains
depart for Sintra and Leira. It is also the beginning of
Portas de S. Antao - restaurant heaven!
Walking up this street was
not easy. There are restaurants of every category, many
with attractive window displays, and the opening of a
door elicits tantalizing aromas. It was still a bit early
for the evening meal so the outdoor tables were empty
except for a few people who were savoring their pre-dinner
Port selections. At the north end of the street, we made
reservations at Solar dos Presuntos.
The owner of this
restaurant is the chef for the city football team. Both
levels of the restaurant have displays of football and
team memorabilia. In addition, the main floor walls are
covered with photos and caricatures of famous Portuguese
people. A big open kitchen adds to the informal
Right from the start, the
service was very pushy and unfortunately continued
throughout the meal. We remembered that we were in a big
city, tourists beware, restaurant area. We carefully
refused the unwanted appetizers and accepted only the
bread and olives for which we knew we would pay. We didn't
know how much we would pay, because this restaurant did
not show those prices on the menu.
The waiter brought over
two slices of octopus pie which we declined but he
insisted that we should take it because it was "on
the house". It happened to be quite delicious and we
did enjoy it but that did not mitigate our displeasure
when the bill arrived and included a charge for said
offering. When we questioned him, the waiter said that he
never said there wouldn't be a charge! We chalked it up
to experience - but YOU learn from ours!
We shared a half order of
arroz de marisco (pieces of lobster and shrimp flavoured
with tomato and cilantro). The lobster was tough, stringy
and probably previously frozen. As a main course we
shared a full order of cabrito arrosto (roast goat) which
was tender and tasty. The latter dish is normally served
with boiled potatoes and rice. We asked for a substitute
for the rice and were given an awful, inedible creamed
spinach. Linda was let-down by this because she loves
When the bill arrived, in addition to the octopus pie
surprise and the charges for bread and olives, there was
also a small cover charge, which was not indicated on the
menu but apparently to be expected at first category
restaurants. Their government rating may be top category
but they get a failure from us as far as food, service
and integrity are concerned.
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