Posted by: canthold | November 27, 2007

Lisbon Part III – ImPORTant Planning

My kids are highly competitive and I know that I’m to blame. It serves me well at times, but I’m certain it’s going to bite me in the butt one of these days. My latest trick to get them to sleep quicker is to tell them it’s a contest. Who can go to sleep the fastest? On the days I whip out this little gem, I’m usually home free. Unfortunately, I can’t over-use it or it won’t work anymore.

I have a light bulb upstairs that needs to be replaced and it reminded me of my trip to Lisbon, so I thought I’d write some more about it. Let’s have a little talk about Tweedle Beatles, I mean sidewalks.

I fell in love with the sidewalks in Lisbon. At first I thought they were just quaint little cobbled things. Then I was absolutely obsessed with the way they were made. They’re made of little blocks, not tiles.

Lisbon sidewalk

My husband and I arrived in Lisbon on Sunday morning and dropped our bags at the hotel since it was too early to check in. We set off to the water then walked up to the old part of town called Alfama. Using our trusty walking tours of DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Lisbon, we managed to wander around Alfama for hours. We knew that Sunday was a particularly off day for this city and banks and restaurants, so wandering was fine with us.

Of all the walking and back-tracking and exploring that we did, we noticed these tiles everywhere, but thought it was just this older part of town. This is where we had our first coffees and saw our first old thing, the Se (there should be an accent on that, but darned if I know how to make that happen. A se is cathedral. The Se is the city’s cathedral.

the Se

We also saw the Castelo de Sao Jorge, but didn’t go in. We made a lot of jokes about going up to old things and not entering, but I’m not entirely sure we missed anything. I have no regrets about skipping it.

Castelo de Sao Jorge

So, we walked around until our feet hurt and we found the walking tour, then made our way back to our hotel to check in officially. We got our bags out of a room that smelled of gasoline and the entire stay I half expected the whole building to blow. The building was in a great location and I’m very glad to have made our reservations ahead of time. I would have hated to traipse around the city looking for a place to stay right off the bat. But when our rickety elevator landed us on our floor and the lock looked like it had been pried or jiggered a couple of times, I got a bit worried.

Let me tell you that this hotel was not rated too highly, but it was in both of the tour books and offered through the online agency that my husband’s work hooked us up with. We saw photos of the rooms and the only complaint listed was that it could be noisy if you were located on the street. They never mentioned that the room would only be seven feet by seven feet! No joke. My husband is lying on the bed and he’s six feet tall. The room is only big enough for a smidge of space around the bed. We were shocked, annoyed, yet quite entertained by this quirky fact.

Small room!  

There was a nice view, however:

But look at that view!

Our stay included a complimentary breakfast, which consisted of cereal (that got soggy too quickly) with icky milk (I don’t know, but I couldn’t drink it) and rolls with butter and cheese. These were good and all, but when you’re watching your weight, bread and butter are not the ideal food choices. They had coffee and hot chocolate, that was a bonus.

In all, the room felt a lot like a bait and switch. It was the kind of room that makes Europe so quaint, though. I didn’t care about the size that much, I mean, who needs to move around? And we did pay extra for our own bathroom, (the paint was peeling so badly all I could think of was lead. And they do not know the meaning of low-flow. This was the complete opposite of that.) So if you’re ever in Lisbon…and you want a centrally located dive to stay in, check out the Duas Nacoes on Rua da Vitoria.

I can’t decide whether to squeeze another entry about Lisbon or not or just move on to Toledo, Spain. (There’s a doozy for you!) But I want to say, when you’re traveling, even if you’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-ready-for-spontaneous-adventure kind of traveler, you’d be best served by some advance planning. We spent Sunday in Alfama then made our way to Belem, where all the museums were, on Monday. The museums were closed on Monday, except for some museum (sorry! I don’t remember which!) that had some extremely strange modern art installations, by the way. We would have been better off switching those journeys. We were okay with missing the museums, but some people love that.

One of the highlights of this city was after walking around all day, we stopped for a drink at the Brasileira cafe on Largo do Chiado. The authors of our tour book must have loved this place because they have three photos of it, making it easy to recognize when trying to find a charming place for port (the thing to drink in Lisbon). Right next to the cafe were three men fixing the sidewalk. I stood and watched for a long time, I’m sure making them wonder what was wrong with me, because I was fascinated. Two men fit the blocks together like they were puzzles and made quick strikes with their tiny hammers when they needed to make one fit better. And one guy watched. (Therefore, it takes three men to fix the sidewalks.) They even re-made the design that graced the sidewalk of black and white. It was very cool. The last thing they did was fill the gaps with sand. They never used mortar and they were done in no time. I’d love to know how it compares with the American concrete sidewalks in cost and durability.

(By the way, I may have mislabeled the elevator in my previous entry. I’m just not sure.)


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