Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: The Portuguese Connection (2012)

(Re-)discovering Lisbon

I woke up a little later than intended, at 0830. We had breakfast in the Executive Lounge, which had laid out a fairly creditable spread. We were ready to hit the tourist trail shortly after ten, once we had double-checked the route to the nearest metro station with the concierge. As we walked downhill towards the Jardim Zoológico metro station, the streets were very quiet and everything seemed to be closed on this Sunday morning.

After arming ourselves with day passes for the public transport system, we rode the metro to Parque, walked through the Edward VII park itself to the huge Portuguese flag at the top end, and in spite of the strong winds, enjoyed the views looking back down towards the city centre. We then made the easy walk downhill through the park to the huge Pombal roundabout and onwards along the celebrated tree-lined boulevard, Avenida da Liberdade.

BELOW: Parque Eduardo VII, Praça Marquês de Pombal and Avenida da Liberdade

On reaching the Praça dos Restauradores, it was an easy matter to find the Elevador da Glória street funicular and a great relief to see that, at this time on a Sunday morning in November, it wasn't overly busy. Despite being a self-confessed transit geek and despite four previous visits to the Portuguese capital, I had never yet sampled Lisbon's unusual street-running funicular railways. Bruce needed no persuasion at all: he had already found out from the guidebooks that the city's various yellow-and-white hill-climbing devices, together with vintage tram route 28, were regarded as unmissable attractions even for those visitors who counted themselves among the ranks of normal human beings.   In fact, we quickly learned two Portuguese words that were particularly useful for visitors to this part of the world: elevador (elevator, but also applying to a funicular) and miradouro (viewpoint). Happily, the normal routine was for an elevador to lead to a miradouro.

BELOW: Badly defaced Elevador da Glória and the Miradouro de São Pedro

After taking in the delights of the outlook dedicated to St Peter, we had a most enjoyable stroll through the narrow streets of the Bairro Alto district. Although practically every building was defaced with graffiti, the area wasn't as run down as I had feared it might be; on the contrary, it was all very photogenic.

BELOW: Strolling through the narrow streets of the Bairro Alto
We decided to return to the city centre without mechanical assistance and in due course found ourselves in the vicinty of the neighbouring squares of Restauradores and Dom Pedro IV (also known as Rossio). It seemed right and proper to spend some time strolling around both in the bright sunshine, viewing buildings such as Rossio Station, the National Theatre and  St Dominic's church.

This objective completed, we walked into the Baixa district in search of our second example for today of unusual public transport: the Elevador de Santa Justa.
ABOVE: Praça dos Restauradores and Praça Dom Pedro IV

This particular elevador was actually a genuine elevator, rather than a funicular railway. I had seen it before, but never travelled on it. The ride itself was nothing special - it's a lift, folks! - but the views from the top were certainly worth seeing. While perfectly safe, the walkway leading from the top of the metal tower to terra firma in the form of the hillside is perhaps not ideal for those of a nervous disposition. The main sight in the Carmo district is the eponymous convent that is practically next door to the lift's upper entrance. We managed to find a nice little neighbourhood restaurant in the square and had a very pleasant tapas-style lunch.

BELOW: The Santa Justa lift and the Carmo district
  A leisurely lunch gave us the opportunity not just to stock up on sustenance for the afternoon's explorations, but to relax and rest our feet for a while. When we felt ready, we again made our own way downhill and continued our walk through the Baixa district in the general direction of the Cais do Sodré station. Our objective was the third elevador of the day - the one known as the Elevador da Bica, which together with the Elevador da Glória has been designated a national monument. We were lucky enough to be able to stand in the front section next to the driver for the short ride uphill.
ABOVE: Elevador da Bica

Sticking to the principle established earlier, this latest elevador was meant to lead to the Miradouro de Santa Catarina. Unfortunately, our attempts to locate this viewpoint met with a spectacular lack of success and we proceeded to the next part of the plan, a ride on the section of the route of vintage tram 28 as far as the Basilica da Estrela.

As promised by Bruce's guidebooks, and as I knew first-hand from previous experience, the ride proved to be spectacular as the vintage vehicles lurched round tight corners and squeezed through improbably narrow gaps at speeds that did not seem advisable. I couldn't understand how the trams could possibly negotiate the steep gradients using wheel-on-rail adhesion alone.  
ABOVE: A section of tram route 28 and nearby sights

We had a look around the basilica and the small park across the street, then walked back along the 28 route as far as the Portuguese parliament building. Finally, it was a case of heading for the Avenida metro station, riding a train back to the zoo and taking the rather steep uphill walk back to the Marriott.

After a short rest, we made our way to the Executive Lounge for cocktail hour. Although it was a nice enough lounge, we both felt that the evening offering was nothing special. Rather than having seconds, we relocated to the ground floor and enjoyed a Martini in the very pleasant surroundings of the lobby bar before returning to the 15th floor for a room service dinner.

Sunday 11 Nov

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