A December 2002 trip
to Lisbon by billmoy
Quote: Lisbon is the cosmopolitan capital of Portugal. After its decline due to a cataclysmic earthquake in 1755, Lisbon has been gradually improving its overall standards of living while the nation has been a member of the European Union. The city is spelled Lisboa in Portuguese.
The World Expo ‘98 breathed new life into an area east of the old town center. New landmarks from the 1998 Lisbon World Exposition include the popular Parque das Nacoes (Park of Nations) and the striking Estacao do Oriente train station by my favorite architect/engineer, Santiago Calatrava.
Many of these superb photos of Lisbon and Belem were taken by my colleague and frequent travel companion, Chicago architect Marius Ronnett.
The Mercado da Ribeira, located near the Estacao Cais do Sodre by the Rio Tejo, was formerly the central food wholesale market of Lisbon. Nowadays it is a grand place to look for locally produced cheeses, wines, and handicrafts. There are also spaces for occasional performances. On Sundays, there is a popular Collectors' Market with many dealers selling items like old coins and phone cards.
A nice grocery store in central Lisbon is Supermercado Celeiro at Rua 1 de Dezembro 73, not far from the Elevador de Santa Justa. You can get some quick snacks or small packaged meals here.
There are several different passes you can buy (the one-day Cassis-Metro pass costs under three euro), so check out the one that will suit your transportation needs. These passes are available at major stations as well as the Praca da Figueira, though there is usually a line at this last spot. Lisbon is also an excellent city to walk around, but some of the many hills can wear you out.
There is a bus that runs between the city and the airport, but it does not run during off hours like at 6am, at which time you are basically stuck taking a taxi. Fortunately, the airport is not that far from central Lisbon, so the taxi fare will not be too exorbitant.
Hotel | "Sana Capitol"
Our decent-sized room with two twin beds had operable windows, a small TV loaded with many channels, a minibar, a hair dryer, and a manual safe in the closet (ask for the key at the front desk, for a nominal fee). The bathroom is showing a bit of age, as the cold-water faucet in the sink has a drip, and you must really slam the flush handle of the toilet. The toiletries are OK, with small soap bars typical of this level of hotel all over Europe.
Our breakfast was complimentary with our room, which was a special rate offered through the Internet. The breakfast room is hidden in a lower level, and apparently you can order lunch and dinner here, too, if you''re in the neighborhood. The breakfast buffet is vast, and you can eat as heartily or as lightly as you wish. There is even a small table with "lighter" versions of juice, yogurt, and jam. Otherwise, you can indulge in ham and scrambled eggs, various breads and spreads, sliced meats and cheeses, cereals, fresh fruits, and a good selection of morning beverages. Overall, the cold food selections are better than the warm ones here.
For some reason, it took forever to check out very early on a Monday morning. The clerk at the front desk said our credit cards were not reading on the device (we tried three different cards), so he had to "call it in" and he filled in some form manually. It was a good thing he dialed a taxi during this delay.
The Sana Capitol is a decent, basic hotel, so as long as you do not expect too much, you will have a pleasant stay here.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 29, 2002
Sana Classic Capitol
RUA ECA DE QUEIROZ 24
351 21 3536811
You can order your items to take away, or you can choose to eat them at the bustling stand-up counter or one of the tables in the vast string of interior dining rooms. Some may prefer the choice tables in the front room, but I found it to be a bit quieter in one of the back rooms. The atmosphere seems a bit less rushed here, so you may want to linger after a long session of sightseeing.
During the busy times here (and this seems to be all the time), it may be a bit tough to get your order across. You either have to crash your way through to the front counter, or sit in the back and wait for a waiter, when you can point to various items on a printed menu. Considering the crowds here, the service is reasonably fast and courteous.
I ordered a mini-pizza with cheese and ham; it was good, warm, and crispy. The Pasteis de Belem was as good as advertised, a bit chewy, a bit crisp, with a slightly sweet custard filling. The waiter hands you canisters of powdered sugar and cinnamon if you want to enhance the flavor, but they are quite good as they are. These small and flaky delicacies are indeed tasty, and after trying one you will want to order more.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 29, 2002
Antiga Confeitaria de Belem
Rua De Belem 84-92
Restaurant | "Beira Gare"
The first thing the waiter presents to you is a basket with bread and other small items. This is called the couvert and it is not complimentary! As we found out during a trip to Brazil (a former Portuguese colony), you are charged for every item you consume from this sort of basket--so if you do not really want any bread, do not break any! Otherwise, the prices here are reasonable, so the place is usually filled with families, couples, or solo diners who just want a simple but hearty meal.
The caldo verde soup has green cabbage and creamed potato with one piece of sausage tossed in. This is a very popular soup in Portugal. It was good to have some soup after a cool time around town. I ordered leitao assado (roast-suckling pig), with a generous serving of lean and tender pork chunks with skin. The dish came with a side salad and rice. My friend ordered a plate of grilled sardines--the largest sardines I have ever witnessed. The fish are not deboned, so it is a delicate process to consume them. His dish came with boiled vegetables. If you have room, try flan or rice pudding for dessert.
I ordered a couple of inexpensive sweets to go. The powdered fruitcake-like cookie and small tartlet were good, but you can probably do better at one of the many bakeries in and around Lisbon.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 29, 2002
R. Primeiro de Dezembro
Lisbon, Portugal 1200
213 420 405
The cold items include many vegetables, salads, and the like. The warm items include selections of meats, seafood, and vegetables. I enjoyed a scooping of feijoada, a popular Brazilian dish with meats, black beans, and rice in a rich brown gravy. You can also get slices of meat freshly carved for you by the waitstaff. There is a selection of mouthwatering desserts (including the ever-popular flan) and beverages.
When you are finished with your food selections, the cashier will weigh your plate and ring up your price. My lunch, including a soft drink, was just over 10 euros. This is not cheap, but everything I selected was tasty and offered a quick-fix diversity of Portuguese cooking on one plate. A meal here is better than stopping at any of the numerous fast-food joints in the gargantuan mall, and less formal than dining at one of the finer restaurants.
There is plenty of indoor seating, some of which overlooks the atrium of the shopping center or the glass looking outside. Look upward, and you will see a thin cascade of water washing over the glass roof. Observe as birds dip their webbed feet into the sheets of water. You are very close to an outdoor deck (excellent views of the Parque das Nacoes here), but it seems you are not permitted to take your trays of food out there.
Nobre Buffet Tapinhas Bar
Av. D Joao II, Level 3
The staff of O Cacho Dourado is helpful, but very limited English is spoken here. The menu features many seafood dishes, but there are other selections for landlubbers. The dining room interior is simply but cheerfully decorated, and the clientele seems to consist of mainly boisterous neighborhood locals.
There are plenty of soups and interesting Portuguese dishes on the menu, so you may be feeling adventurous and want to try some local cuisine. Check out the cozido a portuguesa, a sort of boiled stew with a hearty mix of meats that is served with rice, beans, and vegetables. Cod is king in Lisbon, so be sure and try their version if you like fish. The desserts looked tasty in the display case; your best bets may be the rice pudding and flan.
If you are watching your budget, order some of the warmed, over-bar snacks. Items like the breaded chicken croquettes are not terribly imaginative, but they are tasty and inexpensive. Try some with a sweet sip of Guarana Antartica, a popular Brazilian soft drink akin to a fruity cream soda.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 30, 2002
O Cacho Dourado
Rua Eca de Queiroz 5
Attraction | "Parque das Nacoes (Part 1)"
This "invented city" seems to be wildly successful for the most part, as its multi-level Centro Comercial Vasco da Gama is quite a drawing card for locals of all ages. This shopping center was designed by Jose Manuel Quintela Fonseca. Even if you do not spend a cent here, go to some of the viewing platforms for excellent views of the Parque, the river, and Calatrava's Oriente Station. Once you escape past the alluring stores, food emporiums, and movie theaters, you can descend upon a wealth of entertainment options.
The brooding mass of the Atlantic Pavilion is now the site of major concerts and performances. Formerly the Utopia Pavilion, this indoor arena can hold 16,000 spectators. Designed by Regino Cruz and the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, its interior of exposed wood frames is visually more successful than its exterior.
The accomplished Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza Vieira, with Eduardo Souto de Moura, designed the Portugal Pavilion (built 1995-97) for Expo '98. It is a minimalist building, with blocks of boldly colored walls alternating with vertical elements. Its stern facade of creamy Portuguese limestone faces the dock and river, and there are plenty of folks walking, biking, and skating by here. The central space is sheltered by a thin deformed frame roof which has a "sagging" curve to it, giving it a simultaneously light and weighty look. Originally a staging area for ceremonies during Expo '98, it was to be used for government offices afterwards. Unfortunately, today the pavilion is vacant and is basically a monument for now.
The Vasco da Gama Tower, designed by the firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, anchors the north end of the grounds. It is the tallest structure in Lisbon at 145 meters, and has a viewing deck and restaurant with excellent views overlooking the Rio Tejo and the lengthy Vasco da Gama Bridge. The tower has the look of a sailboat and seems to be reminiscent of the two seaside Belem monuments. The north entrance gate (designed by Manuel Mendes Tainha) has a nice wooden look to it, and was originally the main entrance for Expo visitors arriving by car. Today, the gatehouse contains a funland emporium for kids. Sony Plaza is a gathering spot in this area.
(Continued in Part 2)
EXPO '98 area
Off the red "Oriente" metro-line
Santiago Calatrava, the great architect/engineer from Valencia, Spain, designed this station with a look that evokes and perhaps surpasses the grand image of train travel in the old days. It is the new transportation hub of Lisbon, as it is a connection point for the vast networks of trains, buses, and metro. As the end station of the fairly new red Oriente line on the metro, the Oriente Station is also the gateway to the Centro Comercial Vasco da Gama (shopping center) and the Parque das Nacoes (former Expo '98 site). You can access the Vasco da Gama via a pair of pedestrian skybridges, which sway gently as crowds walk across them.
The elevated levels of the structural "tree" awnings of the station (hovering over the long-distance train platform) are memorably exciting in the sun or when dramatically illuminated at night. The roof shelters of the white steel elements and the folded glass surfaces are akin to a string of faceted diamonds. Be sure to look at the interesting overall outline of the tops when you are away from the station. The main train station is also connected to auxiliary areas like a bus terminal and parking lots for cars.
The above-ground levels range from very nice to brilliant, but as a whole the Oriente may not be Calatrava's most aesthetically satisfying project. The concrete halls in the belly of the station are dimly illuminated and have been compared to a cave, albeit a very nice cave with ribbed concrete archways reminiscent of those at his earlier Stadelhofen station in Zurich. Perhaps the least successful parts of the design are the ticket booths and signage in the station, which seem to be a bit scattered. Some walkways also appear quite dark, so some people may be concerned with safety and security issues here. Other areas appear more festive, as there are many vendors occupying hallways during the Christmas holidays. There is a Sunday market held in one of the lower levels of the station; I wandered by one evening and there were many sellers peddling treasure troves of postage stamps.
Estacao do Oriente
Avenida D Joao II
On first glance, this device looks like some gloomy, top-heavy automaton. Raul Mesnier du Ponsard, a protege of Gustave Eiffel, engineered its Gothic wrought-iron design in 1902. It is not nearly as graceful as the famous Eiffel Tower, but its function and the city views from the top outrank its own visual appearance. The top level has a walkway that connects to the Chiado area, but this area has been closed, so the true function of the Elevador has been negated, at least for now.
The lift holds a good number of people, and there are a few benches, too, though it is more fun to stand and look at the views as you go up and down. Once you get off the elevator, there is a lower deck that you can walk around. Climb the metal stairs to the upper deck, and the views are truly spectacular, day or night. The vistas range from the Parque Eduardo VII to the north, the Castelo de Sao Jorge to the east, the basin of the Rio Tejo (Tagus River) to the south, and the ruins of the Convento do Carmo to the west. There is also a cafe occupying most of the center of the upper deck, but it is not necessary to make a purchase here.
I happened to be in town during the running of the Lisbon Marathon on Portugal Independence Day (December 1). I did not see any of the elite runners, but it was interesting to see the slower jogging dots scamper by from my vantage point in the upper level.
Elevador de Santa Justa
Rua do Ouro at Rua de Santa Justa
Attraction | "Mosteiro dos Jeronimos"
The monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Building, was begun in 1502. The main entrance is the south facade, which is practically a shrine glorifying Prince Henry the Navigator. The octagonal two-story cloister is justly famous for its original stylized use of rich details, many of which have a sea theme. The ribbed vaulting is impressive, and there is an eye-popping collaboration of Gothic, Renaissance, and Manueline elements. The rose gardens are lovely on a sunny day.
The adjacent Santa Maria Church is directly east of the more famous monastery. It houses the honorary tombs of explorer Vasco da Gama and poet Luis de Camoes near its entrance. Look up at the vaulting over the nave and aisles. The interior of the church is relatively somber when compared with the monastery.
The complex also houses the National Museum of Archaeology and the Maritime Museum. The Cultural Center of Belem and the Gulbenkian Planetarium are also near the monastery.
The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos in Belem can be reached by "super" tram 15 (from Praca da Figueira) or by local train (on the Cascais line from Estacao Cais do Sodre). Note that the Carris/Metro transportation passes do not cover rides on the local Cascais train line. There is an admission fee to see the cloister (closed Mondays), but not the church.
Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Jeronimos Monastery)
Praca do Imperio
Lisbon, Portugal 1400-206
+351 (21) 3620034
Attraction | "Torre de Belem and Monument to the Discoveries"
The Torre de Belem, a UNESCO World Heritage Building, looks like a floating white chess piece along the waterside. It was formerly connected to the land, but due to beach erosion, there is now a small bridge that provides access to the tower. It is about 500 meters in front of the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos and served as a harbor fortress at the port. Constructed from 1515 to 1519, the Manueline-style tower was designed by Francisco de Arruda, who had developed some fortification designs in Morocco. Therefore, the Torre de Belem shows a bit of Moorish influence, with balconies, domes, and arched windows. One of the Manueline details is stone shaped to look like twists of rope. The artillery platform juts towards the sea and is protected by battlements. The simpler interiors include a "whispering gallery."
Entrance inside the Torre de Belem is free on Sunday mornings. It's closed on Mondays.
The modern Monument to the Discoveries was built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, regarded as the great "promoter of the Discoveries." The curvy concrete structure has a line of sculpted figures on each side, a veritable all-star lineup of great Portuguese discoverers and dignitaries leading to the image of Henry the Navigator at the forefront. It juts out into the water as if it will sail off at any minute.
Go to the top for some nice views along the Rio Tejo, including the Ponte 25 de Abril, which resembles the Golden Gate Bridge. There are some exhibits related to the history of Lisbon on display.
Belem Tower/Torre de Belem
Avenida Da Brasilia
Attraction | "Castelo de Sao Jorge and Alfama"
If you have the time, try to wander into and around the Castelo de Sao Jorge, which is set on a hill and can be seen from many points in the city (the Elevador de Santa Justa and the Praca da Figueira come to mind). The Visigoths built the castle in the 5th century and the Moors enlarged the area in the 9th century. The castle and nearby royal palace were strongholds for the Portuguese royalty from the 14th to 16th centuries. Some may scoff at visiting this castle, as it has been heavily restored over the years. However, you can get some very nice views of Lisbon from the top. Amaze your eyes as the walls and ramparts tumble down the hills, sort of like a Portuguese version of the Great Wall of China. There is free admission to the 10-towered castle.
As you wander down, you may encounter a miradouro or two. This is basically a level lookout perched aside the hilly terrain of the Alfama, some of which have cafes or other facilities. Two of the more notable ones are the Miradouro de Santa Luzia and Miradouro da Graca. There is a 2,000-year-old Roman theater along Rua da Saudade.
As you keep meandering down the hill, you may wander into the Se, the 12th-century Romanesque-style main cathedral of Lisbon. The heavier style of the Se (it had previously served as a fortress) is not nearly as elaborate as the frilly Manuelite stylings of the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos or Torre de Belem. You may run into many of the working-class folk who reside in this area, some of whom still fish daily as a way of life.
Castle of St. George (Castle of São Jorge)
Attraction | "Parque das Nacoes (Part 2)"
The Parque das Nacoes is vast, so a fun way of going from one end to the other is by riding the Lisbon cable car, whisking you overhead from one end to another. You can see various landmarks below, like the slender reflecting pool lined with the flags of many nations. The plazas have colorful sculptures by over 20 artists, including several mesmerizing rolling water "volcano" sculptures.
There is an information booth near the Atlantic Pavilion with good brochures. There is even a printed list of the architects who have contributed to the design of the Parque das Nacoes.
Other landmarks at the Parque das Nacoes include the Lisbon Oceanarium, designed by Peter Chermayeff. This is a squarish hulk sitting in the Doca dos Olivais along the Rio Tejo. Its glass and metal exterior is akin to something found at a launch pad. It is one of the largest aquarium compounds in the world, hosting over 450 species and 16,000 animals and plants.
FIL (International Fair of Lisbon) is now the major convention and exhibition center in Lisbon. Designed by Barreiros Ferreira and Franca Doria, the FIL is a huge megacomplex. The exterior design attempts to visually lessen the hulk by fragmenting it into colorful digestible pieces, with limited success.
The Parque das Nacoes has proven to have a lasting power as seen by its continued use as a popular destination for locals. Some parts are aesthetically more successful than others. However, when all the buildings are taken as a whole, the Parque das Nacoes is an interesting "new city" to visit as a counterpoint to the traditional old city of Lisbon.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 30, 2002