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PORTUGAL Fall 2001 (10)
Index of this travelogue

Baixa | Bairro Alto | Bica | Chiado

Everything was beautiful - the weather, the breakfast and the tree-lined quiet rua Rodrigues Sampaio and the Hotel Britania at number 17. Just off the Avenida da Liberdade, it is the perfect location from which to explore Lisbon. Let's put it into perspective. Once again stand in Praca do Comercio with your back to the River Tagus. Proceed north through the triumphal arch into Baixa, march straight up rua Augusta, the wide pedestrian mall that is the main shopping thoroughfare. The street is pure delight with its beautiful pavements decorated with mosaics, graceful, tall buildings on both sides with shops, boutiques and open air cafes. Street performers and vendors provide entertainment. Throngs of shoppers, sightseers and business people are milling about providing plenty of people-watching opportunities. It's hard to choose which east-west street to explore, many of which are named for the trades that were there - rua do Ouro (gold, jewelers), rua do Sapateiros (shoemakers), etc. Do them all but return to the center and keep heading north with the Castle of St. George on high to your right.

At the end of rua Augusta you will enter Rossio and gasp at the wide open square bustling with activity. The Rossio train station, Restauradores metro station and bus connections make this the hub of the city center. Slip a few steps east to the Praca da Figueira and, if you haven't already done so, have a bica at one of the cafes and admire the pigeons on the pedestal supporting King Joao I.

North of Rossio is the pretty, tree-lined Praca dos Restauradores, gateway to Avenida da Liberdade, which continues north to Praca Marques de Pombal. There is a wide, green promenade in the middle for easy strolling with cafes, fountains and benches along the way. On either side, wide lanes of traffic are bordered by tree-lined sidewalks. When it was built in the late 19th century, the avenue was a prestigious venue. In 1997 the buildings were looking worn and tacky shops were empty. Since then there has been a marked improvement; buildings have been renovated, new shopping areas created and the boutiques are flourishing. The avenue is home to many prestigious hotels up to and around Praca Marques de Pombal.

Rua Rodrigues Sampiao runs parallel to Avenida da Liberdade, east of it, beginning about halfway between Restauradores and Marques de Pombal. Just look for Cinema Tivoli, turn right (from the south) and rua R. Sampaio is on your left.

Hotel Britania is a special place. No wonder it is one of The Treasures of Portugal. Where else would you find a romantic novel, a kind of bedtime story, written by the hotel owner's wife, awaiting you in your room? Be sure to read "The Magic of Places, some romantic nonsense tell you the story of your hotel".

There is something about this place that is magical. The Britania is probably our favorite hotel. It was as though we had never been away. Well, almost. The supreme comfort we remembered from last time had been expanded and enhanced. The original art deco ambiance was restored and the hotel was classified as an historic building.
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They had knowingly selected the same room we had in 1997, which had been completely updated. The large, stunning marble bathroom was impeccably restored and the spacious bedroom with classical furniture had been decorated with attractive warm-colored furnishings. The entrance hall with marble floor and pillars with an elegant fine wood reception desk opens to a lively bar with a "colony" theme with the crests of the former colonies gracing the walls. In contrast, the adjoining lounge is designed for quiet relaxation and reading or watching a fire in the open fireplace. There were lots of books and magazines around for guests use. The marvelous breakfast buffet is served in the lounge.

The Gloria Funicular lifted us from Restauradores to the Gardens and Belvedere of S. Pedro de Alcantara, a great observation point with the city below and the King Jorge Castle on high across the way. If you prefer to walk up the steep hill, the treed gardens and benches offer a neat place to rest. This is a popular nighttime vantage point for seeing the lights of the city and the floodlit castle.

Going west on rua D. Pedro V, we were in an affluent residential area with the Praca do Principe Real at its center. A precious tree-filled park in the middle is the neighborhood social center, with an overhanging trellis providing a shady place where the locals play cards. Graceful stuary is spotted about and an open-air cafe provides refreshments. The park is surrounded by colorful mansions, shops and cafes. Seems like pretty nice living in the city center.

Rua de Sao Marcal took us south to a little romantic square called Praca das Flores where the inviting restaurants were filled with lunchtime lovers. We had just stopped for a quickie bowl of soup and corn bread or we'd undoubtedly have lingered longer in this adorable spot.
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Rua Nova da Piedade took us south to rue de Sao Bento, past Espaco Por Timor (the center created to protect the rights of the people of Timor) to Palacio de Sao Bento, where the Portuguese Parliament sits. It's a huge, white neo-classical building with high arcades and pillars above the center section that dwarf the guards in front.

Rue Poiais Sao Bento and Calcada Combro east, took us to the Bica funicular through the middle of Bica to rue de S. Paulo below. We are the only people who take a funicular down and then walk up! It was there ready to leave and our 7-day pass was burning a hole in our pockets. The Bica district is south of Bairro Alto. It was formed as a result of a landslide in 1957 that profoundly altered the profile of the Santa Catarina Hill, creating a small valley between todays rua das Chagas and rua Marechal Saldanha. The name Bica means "spout", which is connected with the abundance of water in those parts, which were turned into fountains. Historically the population is linked to maritime activities and Bica still maintains its very particular identity. The steep streets were replaced by steps and pavement and with no cars to contend with life spills outdoors with sardines being grilled for lunch or chicken for dinner. It is one big happy family with Bom Dia for everybody who passes by.

We worked our way back up to the Bairro Alto, the high part of the quarter which along with Bica is included in the regeneration project. The Bairro Alto has always been a quarter linked with arts, literature, Bohemian life and a valuable heritage. Unfortunately, as in Alfama, it has been neglected and suffers from decay. Progress is underway.
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Besides the obvious renovation of buildings and streets (it's incredible to see the detailed work that goes into creating the small stone and marble patterned streets and walks), the economic base is being recrafted for the modern world. The area is predominently residential with shops for daily needs that coexist with its well-known restaurants, clubs and nightlife for Fado lovers.

New workshops where furniture and home decoration products are produced, fashion shops, many of which feature their own designs, have sprung up along with similar shops offering Portuguese arts and crafts. It's a little messy right now but the picturesque parallel and perpendicular streets will one day rival those of their elegant neighbor, Chiado, for chic shopping.

Largo do Camoes is the focal point between Bairro Alto and Chiado. Buses and trams run around like locusts while street performers try to harmonize. Rua Garrett, the main shopping street in Chiado, starts here. There is no shortage of designer fashions for body or home and it appeared no shortage of patrons. There's a multi-level enclosed shopping center with a Metro station within. The busiest spot in Chiado is the famous Cafe Brasileira; founded in 1920 it became a favorite meeting place for intellectuals. Today it was a resting spot for designer shopping bags.
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Cornelia and Fabio were due in very late tonight and would be staying at the Sheraton which is northeast of Marques Pombal. We took a bus on Av. da Liberdade to their hotel to leave a small gift to greet them and decided to just wander through the streets east and west of Av. da Liberdade. It was a revealing tour of beautiful homes and apartment buildings, divided by overpasses, small squares and hills into interesting neighborhoods.

We were on the west side of the avenue coming down rua do Salitre when we saw 6-8 people waiting on the sidewalk outside Tendinha do Saltre at #141. We poked our heads in to see the nine tables, each seating 4 or 6, totally filled, and smelled the delicious aromas from the rear kitchen and tables. Did we want to wait? We were quickly convinced by Ana, Alexandra and Cesarina, who were regulars here, that it would be worthwhile. They were so sweet. As soon as they were seated they told the owners we didn't speak Portuguese (no English here) and to take care of us. They made sure we got the table right next to theirs. They spoke English perfectly and we enjoyed chatting with them. There are many tiny, family-run places in the area that are open only for lunch, catering to the local business crowd. The three young women work for a nearby government agency.

The two ladies in the kitchen were dressed in matching blue outfits and seemed to be having a good time. One fellow was behind the long bar moving the servings from the kitchen to the bar for the one front guy to serve. The bar guy prepared all drinks, while the front guy took orders and cleared the tables. It was an organized circus. The place was very clean and the food outstanding at exceptionally reasonable prices. We nibbled on olives and bread while we waited for our platters of ultra-fresh, grilled, grouper, boiled potato and mixed salad. I had a Preta, a dark beer, which was super. Fresh, sweet melon and superb coffee finished a perfect lunch.
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East of Avenida da Liberdade is the restaurant strip, rua Portas de Santo Pintao. At #58 is Casa do Alentejo, a majestic palace that must be seen. The original building has a long history dating back to the end of the 17th century. In 1919 it was transformed into a casino and in 1932 was rented to the Gremio Alentejano, and became Casa do Alentejo. Today it is the social venue in Lisbon for people with Alentejo roots. The elders play cards, read and enjoy the Alentejo cuisine served in the restaurant. Because of its unusual eclectic beauty and well thought of Alentejo menu, it is a major tourist attraction. Since we would be going to Alentejo after Lisbon, we did not eat there.

The facade of the building is very plain and ordinary. Enter, walk up the wide marble staircase and into the pure Moorish-Hispanic world, a richly decorated central coutyard with high arches surrounded by windows and railings around the landing above. The furniture is made of wood and tooled leather and, as in the entire house, the shades of color harmonize with the setting. The are other small rooms on the main floor in art-nouveau style. The hall on the second floor abandons the Moorish style for neo-Doric. The largest salon in the Casa is the dining room, as beautiful as it is big. The gambling room is completely decorated with gambling motifs. In other rooms, the style becomes medieval and Gothic. There is much more to this eclectic mixture that will surprise and delight you.

It was time to do a little shopping, so we found our way to the Baixa shopping grid and crisscrossed our way through the throngs and managed to find a few small things to fit into our already bulging suitcases.

It was time for a grilled chicken dinner in the comfort of our room. We stopped by Bom Jardim, Travessa de Santo Antao 10, for one of their famous birds along with a bag of their crispy potato chips. This is living!
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to next pageContinue traveling along with us or choose a link from below

(1) Porto
(2) Porto
(3) Minho
Viana do Castelo, Ponte de Lima, Ponte de Barca,
Soajo and Arcos de Valdevez
(4) Minho
Vila Praia de Ancora, Moledo, Camarido, Caminha,
Vila Nova de Cerveira, Valenca, Moncao, Melgaco
(5) Douro and Tras-os-Montes
Pinhao, Regua, Sabrosa, Pedras Salgadas and Vidago
(6) Douro and Tras-os-Montes
Pinhao, Mirandela and Braganca
(7) Douro
(8) Douro and Beiras
Lamego, Britiande, Mealhada and Coimbra
(9) Lisbon
(10) Lisbon
(11) Lisbon and Coast
Cascais, Estoril and Sintra
(12) Alentejo
Monsaraz, Redondo, Elvas, Borba and Vila Vicosa
(13) Alentejo and Beiras
Marvao, Castelo de Vide and Belmonte
(14) Porto

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