I survived 8 months without a real vacation, I can’t believe it, yes I did survived! Our annual summer trip to Europe’s first stop was Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. My first impression of Portugal: not crowded with tourists because our SATA now Azore Airlines Airbus 330 plane was probably 30% full! It wasn’t the peak summer travel time but still end of August was not the low tourist season either. We were surprised on how empty the plane was on such a wide-body plane with 2-4-2 configuration. The two boys in front of us moved immediately after took off to the 4-seats row and completely lay flat LOL, who needs business class when you can do that right? It was a nonstop flight from Boston to Lisbon, flight time was little more than 5 hours, there were LED monitors on every seat but no entertainment system…what a waste! Without any movies, we tried to get some sleep so we could be fully recharged to explore Lisbon when we land. They did served dinner an hour into the flight and the food was just okay, I couldn’t even remember if it was chicken or pork hehe.
And before we land, there was “breakfast”:
I was looking around hum…shouldn’t there be any form that I need to fill out? Nope! No paperwork at all entering Portugal and the immigration was super easy and fast, welcome to Portugal! We landed at 7:55 AM local time thinking we almost have a full day to explore yay! However, things never happened the way we think that smoothly…..we were waiting at the carousel belt for our luggage seeing our fellow passengers one by one picking up their luggage and left except us. I was getting nervous about my luggage and I tried to comfort myself that it was a nonstop flight so it should be less likely for lost baggage! And the dreaded wait finally over after 20 minutes or so; we were almost the last ones; that never happened to us before! As soon as I stepped out of the big sliding doors, I saw the tourist information desk where I queue up to purchase the airport express bus ticket. Finally my turn and the lady said purchase in the bus…urg…then why do they have the airport express bus sign on their counter??? Blah wasted 15 minutes in line 😦 We walked out and across the street is where the airport express bus pick up passengers; there’s a lady there selling ticket, it cost €3.50 to get to the city center with several stops along the way. The Aerobus has two lines, one to the city center and another one to the financial center. Their website has the list of stops so find one that’s nearest to your hotel: https://www.aerobus.pt/en-GB/Home-2.aspx Another way is the metro which is cheaper than the Aerobus but I always prefer the airport bus because of dedicated storage space for luggage. I read that the Aerobus could get crowded so watch out for pickpockets when it’s filled with people! Thankfully, our bus was not even full so plenty of space for luggage and seating. The bus has a stop (Restauradores) right in front of our hotel, Avenida Palace, so it was super convenient!
The modern, air-conditioned bus with storage racks for luggage:
We arrived around 10:30 thinking to store our bags and start exploring the city but surprisingly our room was ready that early wow how great! Our room was spacious by European standards and I like the “palace” feel of it!
Their toiletries reminded me of my grandma; she loves the heavy flowery scents!
I made a lunch booking with da Prata 52 at 12:30 pm using thefork.com, 12:30 is considered early lunch for Portuguese LOL so the earliest I could ever find a restaurant open for lunch is at noon! With more than an hour to spare and we were super sleep so we decided to take a nap on our “king” joined by two twin beds. The power nap really helped and we were fully recharged to explore our first Portuguese city! I obtained a map from the concierge and it was easy to locate the restaurant since it’s right on one of the big streets “Rua da Prata”. I picked da Prata 52 because it’s a highly rated tapa restaurant in TripAdvisor and we were the only ones in the small chic restaurant…..did I say that 12:30 pm is considered early for lunch? The waiter spoke very good English and handed us the menu board:
We easily picked out the dishes right away, can’t wait to eat, we were super hungry!
Food, seafood!! We ordered the cuttlefish and grilled shrimps both in garlic and olive oil! Oh how much I missed Mediterranean shrimps, they tasted so good and fresh!
The cuttlefish on the other hand was a little bit salty for our Asian taste buds. I did read that Portuguese cuisines are on the salty side so I was expecting it… I also ordered the famous grilled octopus, curry fish, and pan fried duck. The curry fish was spicy, I like it. The duck was so fat, glad that it served with veggies! The most salty dish was the octopus, it got saltier by each bite! We just couldn’t finish it even by dipping it into the curry sauce trying to “wash” off some sea salts!
Our meal was okay, the ingredients were fresh but they were just too salty for us. It cost €44.05 (our 2nd most expensive lunch so trust me the rest of the meals are cheaper) and guess what…..cash only!!! There went 15% of the cash I brought for this trip, that made me start worrying about how credit card friendly Portugal is?
We walked out and continued down to the most famous square in Lisbon – Praça do Comércio.
I wasn’t expecting to see this many tuk-tuks!
The Rua Augusta Arch is the landmark of the square!
And the Statue of King José I:
The bright yellow toned buildings surrounding the square caught my eyes the most! Right across the street is a little beach where tourists and locals hang out to relief the heat. The Ponte 25 de Abril (April 25 Bridge) can be seen there.
Does it look familiar? It was designed by the same architect as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco 🙂
We walked back to the square to the other side of the arch. When it comes to Portuguese architectures, the first thing come to my mind is ceramic tiles! Even the floor is covered with tiles!!!
We walked straight down on Rue Augusta and saw the famous Tram 28!!! That cutey antique electric tram, I wanted to hop into it LOL….but I am saving it for tomorrow! I will explain on the next post the cheapest way to transport around Lisbon and on those antique trams 🙂
We continued to mesmerized by the different colors of tile covered buildings.
In distance, we thought wow so many different colored tiles and when we walked closer, they were just fabrics haha got fooled!
As like many squares across Europe, probably tourist trapping cafes on the streets surrounding the square. Avoid those 🙂
The balconies were highly decorated:
Hum…what does this sign represent?
A lime green tile building, what a choice of color!
And this is probably the most famous elevator in the world that it has its own name – Elevador de Santa Justa. The queue there is crazy regardless day or night!
We were browsing around souvenir shops to compare prices. I thought price fixing is a crime in the US but not the case in Portugal LOL! We went in almost all the souvenir shops in between Praça do Comércio and Praca do Rossio and found the prices were very similar! Being more experienced (I shall say more picky) traveler, we were looking for something that is unique that we probably can’t find it in Amazon or eBay that will remind us of Lisbon or Portugal years later. We both liked the historical tram miniature (well not that mini, the mid-sized one). The price ranged from 17 Euros, average 14 Euros, and we finally found a shop on Rua Aurea that priced 10.5 Euros; the lowest we could find! The best thing about that shop is it takes credit card so I purchased a big bottle of cold water too! We had to carry one big bottle of water everyday to go out, it was still quite hot at the end of August!
More photos of beautiful buildings!
I mentioned on my intro post that Portugal is very hilly…..
So in order for the best views….some work out is required!
By my iPhone health app, we walked at least 8 miles per day, we burned off all the calories we ate 🙂
Magic bus? LOL!
Those stairs…..rewarded by great views!
And beautiful buildings along the way!
A green tram!
Besides the iconic yellow trams, those green and red trams are tour trams (not public transportation ones) like the hop-on-hop-off buses. I think the yellow trams are cuter don’t you think?
This one was fully covered with graffiti! This is actually the “Elevator de Glória” in case you want to save some energy from walking up those stairs!
We reached Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara. There are many Miradouros in Lisbon which translates to “viewpoints”. The Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara is a little park filled with vendors selling street foods and hand crafts:
The view looked better in photos (zoomed in) than in person! On the other side that hill is where the old town is known as the Alfama. On the very town of the hill is the São Jorge Castle.
Orange tile roof tops dominate the skyline of Lisbon which I preferred more than the tall raise buildings!
This shows you how much I had to zoom in:
The viewpoint is quite large compared to other viewpoints in Lisbon:
Walking back down was so much easier and hoping to find the entrance to the Carmo Convent. I had to stop for more building photos….a pink one!
Not only I stopped for buildings…
This corner house is so cute!
Too bad cars were blocking it so I couldn’t get a full photo of it!
We followed the signs and was able to locate the entrance to the Carmo Convent, a ruin of a Gothic church now turned into a archaeological museum. The church was destroyed along with the majority of the city except the Amalfa district by the deadliest earthquake in Portugal’s history on 1755. The city has been reconstructed except for this church. When I was researching on Lisbon points of interest, this ruin striked me the most by its left-over standing pillars and arches that I even dreamed about it one night! It cost €2.50 per person and of course cash only sigh! You couldn’t even see from the outside, it appeared to be a normal building like the rest and once you walked out of the back door, you’ll immediately see this!
The bare arches without any roof completely exposed to the blue sky and if I didn’t look it up, I thought it was designed that way. It was unbelievably that only the arches and pillars remained. Although, it was much smaller in scale than what I had dreamed!
Every corner was an excitement to photograph, I can imagined this would be a perfect backdrop for an engagement photo shoot with so many possibilities!
What are you looking at Jason?
After the ruin, I was looking at the map on the best route to get back down to the city center and we saw a road toward the back of the museum so we went and checked it out. It eventually lead to the “exit” of the Elevador Santa Justa with another great views of the city.
The side view of the bridge that connects the elevator:
You can see that the elevator is just to the right side of where we were:
It appeared that there is a little park down there so we walked down and it turned out to be a bar….cozy place to relax on one of those beach chairs. You know me that I don’t drink so we used the restrooms there and took some pics.
Jason thought we could get down from there but no, it was a dead end so we had to climbed back up those stairs and followed the road to get down. To reward ourselves from those stairs, we visited one of the most famous ice cream shop – Santini’s Ice Cream Parlor on Rue do Carmo. Being an Italian gelato fan, I had to check this out to compare. People said usually there is a long line but when we were there it was no line although the shop was pretty full. They have the ordering process streamlined so I am sure they can get very busy. There’s a counter where you order and pay by either choice of cup or cone and the number of scopes. Then you take the receipt and give to one of the staff in this scoping counter and let him/her know your choice of flavors.
Those are the flavors and the reason they are highly rated or famous is that all are made from fresh fruits/ingredients, not artificial flavorings!
I picked mango, honeydew melon, coconut, and coffee.
Their ice cream is definitely made of fresh fruits, very rich in flavors but not creamy enough compared to Italian gelato. We both preferred gelato more 🙂
In Lisbon, we found many antique cars/trucks that have been modified or designed for specific use and often very cute in looking! Guess what this truck is selling?
Fado CDs haha!
We looked at the map to see which area we have not walked yet…..the square on the other side of Rossio Square, there filled with an open air food market.
We were walking around actually in search of a supermarket to get drinks and my favorite German chocolate – Ritter Sports but we didn’t even pass by one! We found that big supermarket is rare in Portugal’s old towns! The best we could find was very small with only limited choices of drinks and no sign of chocolate 😦 I made a dinner reservation a month ahead using thefork.com app to Solar 31 da Calcada at 6:30……when they open for dinner. Since it was still early, we went back to our hotel to drop off our drinks and rest a little. The hotel lobby lit up at night and is so grand!
The beautiful stairway:
A bowl of fresh pineapples welcomed us back to our room but it wasn’t cold. The mini fridge inside the room was extremely small that we had to remove the mini bar items in order to fit the bowl and one of our drinks in!
Getting to Solar 31 da Calcada was a little bit challenge even with google maps navigation, we headed the street downward instead of the narrow street going up. The street was very quiet tucked back from the city center and we finally found it and it has a sign on its door that said “reservations only”. That tells how popular the restaurant is! We were the first customers 🙂
We were presented with a menu that has translations in few languages: English, French, and I think Spanish. There’s also a separate one-page special of the day where it is only in Portuguese. I took my phone out and tried to translate with Google Translation LOL!
Then, the waiter who spoke great English stopped by to translate all and we placed the order. From our lunch earlier in the day, we were mentally prepared for salty food. We ordered the clams in garlic and olive oil and oysters for Jason.
The clams were cooked perfectly and the sauce was not salty at all! It was so good! Jason, being the seafood lover, was happy 🙂
Here came our fish soup, oh wow it wasn’t fishy at all!!!
This pic tells it all how much I enjoyed it LOL!
I really like their plates, they were very cute!
Our main course was the Arroz de Marisco (Portuguese seafood rice). This was our first Arroz de Marisco and got addicted, OMG, the ingredients were fresh and flavorful. The rice softness was just about right for Chinese!!! Guess how much this plate of seafood rice cost which huge chucks of lobster meat, clams, shrimps, and imitation crab meat?
€19 euros only!!! Forget about seafood paella, just remember those words: Arroz de Marisco!!!
Another main dish we ordered is the stuffed crab….it was UNBELIEVABLE!
The crab eggs mixed with crab meat and the cream sauce, oh heavenly! Each bite was so satisfying!
This is the first time we had crab prepared this way and it blown us away! We never have this type of crab before too, it has a lot of meat, yummy! The chef came out and had a quick chat with us asking how was the food. I told him I was expecting the rice to be salty for Asian taste bud but was shocked that it was just perfect! He said he agreed that Portuguese cuisine is on the salty side so he adjusted to cater international guests. It took a while for Jason to clean up that crab! We hardly get full by seafood but this time we were full! The total cost of the complete seafood feast? €59.35 ONLY!!! It would cost us at least twice that much in Boston and not even that fresh or good plus the additional 15% tips!
That meal left us a great impression of Portuguese cuisine! Our first day in Lisbon was pretty relaxing except for those endless stairs, we didn’t try to squeeze in too much. We got back to the hotel around 9 pm and I started to catch up with work due to project commitment but it worked out fine due to the time zone difference. Jason was devouring the cooled pineapples haha….they were good but can’t compared to the pineapples we had in Hawaii 😉 Can’t wait for the real sightseeing to start the next day!