Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lisbon

We left for Lisbon last Friday night after Brad got done with work. I thought it would be nice to go then instead of early Saturday morning. The flight is direct from Heathrow and is about 2.5 hours. Not too bad. 

On top of the baggage drama, we had a flight delay, a longish wait at customs and a VERY long wait for a taxi at the airport. I don't think we got to the flat until midnight or so. The flight also just felt so long after a long day. If it was just Brad and me, that would have been no biggie - we'd just sleep in the next day. But it was hard on Charlie and took him a couple of days to recover from it. Because you know regardless of the bed time, he was up at 7:30! 

When we were in the taxi on the way to our rental, Charlie got upset. Even though I'd been telling him we were going on vacation to Portugal, he seemed to think that since we were flying we were going back home to Richmond. He kept saying he wanted to go to the house. I asked which house, just to see - sometimes when we see a stone house here he asks to go to Nana's house. Her house has stone on the exterior. 

He said the house with the pink door and brought up Zoe and Ringo. Brad and I had just been talking on the flight about how we had both been homesick and really missing the dogs. It was a weepy Spooner moment. Anyways. :(

We stayed in a one bedroom apartment in Lisbon that I found on VRBO.com. A very nice guy named Joe who lives in Riverside, California owns it. Before our trip he sent me about 10 emails with different tips - itineraries, restaurants, side trips, etc. VRBO is such an awesome web site. I highly recommend. 

After realizing at airport check in that the only clothes/supplies we had for Charlie were the ones on his person or in my carry on bag, shopping for him was the first priority the next day. Well, after we found the closest pastry shop. 

Google told me there was an H&M in the shopping district of Lisbon (Chiado) so that was promising. There was also a Zara across the street and they have way cute kids' stuff - though pricier. 

Both were strategically located next to Starbucks and what a life saver that was. Make mine a double bartender. 
We did a blitz job of shopping and while H&M felt kind of overpriced and not very cute, it was enough to get us through a few days. And we found the all important swimsuit. I tried not to think about all the adorable things I had bought him back in London for the trip. Sniff. 

Brad and Charlie also picked up some Portugal soccer gear at the Nike store and we checked out the city some more. We rewarded ourselves with a long afternoon nap back at the apartment.

When we woke up it was raining again, but we left the apartment in search of dinner. After walking around for a while, we were all grouchy and cold and wet. Not my favorite vacation memory. We ended up in the Alfama area of Lisbon at a restaurant I found on Tripadvisor. 

The food was good and we had the best 8 Euro bottle of wine I think existed in the world. Was it so wonderful because we were exhausted, traveling with an overtired 3 year old in a foreign city in the rain? We'll never know. I forgot the name of it.
Sunday was better, it only rained in short bursts so we decided to ride some cable cars! They go all over the city and it's a great way to tour. 
We got off at one stop next to a beautiful park and had some pastries and coffee overlooking the duck pond. There was a big playground that Charlie enjoyed until he slid down a wet slide and there goes one of his 3 pairs of pants. Ugh.

Later that afternoon we toured Castelo St. Jorge, which was about a block from the apartment we rented. It was amazing, with views of the city and the water. We watched some of the cruise ships that frequently dock in Lisbon. 
While we waited in line for tickets, a man playing music for tips saw Charlie staring at him and invited him over to play. Charlie thought he was pretty hot stuff! 
A few minutes later, though, a security guard came to fetch us so we could cut in line because we had a child. I guess the castle doesn't see may kids? Whatever the reason, it was awesome to avoid a 30 or 45 minute line! 

After touring the castle, we found ourselves in Alfama again, walking through the winding paths looking for dinner. We stumbled upon a little basement restaurant that was advertising Fado singers performing that night. Fado is traditional Portuguese folk music and a big tourist draw. We knew there would be music over dinner, but that was the extent of our knowledge.

They had room for us without a reservation so we went in and sat down. After we ordered, the waiter told Charlie that he must be quiet during the music or they would have problems. He said it in jest, but I kind of wasn't wild about the waiter talking that way to my child. I knew Charlie was going to love the music.
And love it, he did. He sat mesmerized through most of the first lady's performance. Towards the end he stood up because I think she was blocking his view of the guitars! She sweetly walked over and sang to him and we thought that was so nice. But as soon as she was done, she picked him up, plopped him in his chair and told him to stay put. I guess she didn't like him stealing her thunder. I didn't like her picking up my son.

Overall, Charlie did great, though, and we got to hear most of the music. It was perfectly quiet in the restaurant during the singing. Like, I was scared to cut something on my plate for fear I'd make a noise. They are very, very serious about their folk music, I tell you what. It is not background music or something to accompany your dinner. Your dinner accompanies the music.

Monday we took the train to Sintra, but I have a special rant-y post all planned for that.

For the most part, I really loved Lisbon. It is charming and still a little rough around the edges - not polished to a high shine like most tourist destinations. Apart from pickpockets in the touristy areas, it was very safe. The #1 crime there seems to be... graffiti.

There was graffiti everywhere we went. On every building. Maybe it never gets cleaned off or it gets put back up the minute it's cleaned. Who knows. There was a parking garage near the castle where each level was painted by a professional graffiti artist, so it may also just be quite popular. Most of what we saw on the street, though, is very far away from artwork. Some is political, mostly about the financial crisis. Greece seemed to get its fair share of graffiti.

There is also quite a bit of construction going on all over the city. I feel like Lisbon is trying to catch up with all the tourists that want to come visit, so there is lots of building and improvements going on. I imagine the cruise traffic alone is driving some of it, as the waterfront is not much to look at right now.

I also thought the food was really good My favorite part was at the beginning of each meal - they bring you out a platter of cheese, salted meat (like parma ham), olives, bread and butter and a sardine dish. You eat what you want and that's what you pay for. For dinner, there was lots of fresh fish, but by far my favorite was the whole grilled sardines. They were amazing.

There were pastry shops on every corner and we indulged regularly. Cinnamon, coconut, cream filled - all flaky and perfect.

Lots of good wine, too, though we had no idea what to order since we'd never really had wine from Portugal before. I thought we'd be drinking Spanish wines. But no, they have their own, they just never leave the country. All small production family stuff. The Vinho Verde (green wine) was really good with the seafood. It was like a sauvignon blanc.

As for taking a child to Portugal... I don't think I would take a child as young as Charlie there again. There isn't a whole lot of green space or parks, though he did enjoy the castle and the cable cars.

The cobblestone sidewalks and streets are very challenging/almost impossible with a stroller - not to mention the steep hills. We ended up leaving the stroller at the apartment and just carrying him a lot when he got tired of walking.

I also didn't feel like we saw many children there and it felt like the restaurants weren't terribly welcoming to us because we had him. I think older kids would probably enjoy the city more.

So that's kind of the gist of our trip. The apartment worked out well - Charlie slept in the living room and we were in the bedroom. It had a crazy shower, but the washer/dryer made up for it. It pretty much saved us from having to buy any more clothes for Charlie.

At the end of our Lisbon adventure we took the train South to the coast! More on that later...


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