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PORTUGAL Fall 2001 (9)
Index of this travelogue

Lisbon Alfama

It was a smooth drive south on IP1 to Lisbon, where the last exit deposited us north of the city near the airport. The hotel, which was located in the south of the city near the Tagus River, had sent us directions that, on paper, looked quite easy. In reality it became a challenge but with the help of many fine citizens and an illegal U-turn (to the exceptional glee of the guy who suggested it), we eventually found our way.

In 1997 we had stayed at the Hotel Britania and the Hotel Lisboa Plaza which are part of Hoteis Heritage Lisboa, managed by a wonderful Portuguese family. We had been looking forward to our return to Lisbon to once again enjoy the warm hospitality, charm and character of these hotels. Since we were staying six nights, we chose to stay two nights in each of their properties, including As Janeles Verdes. It was well worth the effort of moving from one hotel to the other to enjoy the individuality and beauty of each. We will face a real dilemma when we next visit Lisbon because there will be a new addition to the family.

During the late 18th century, the Palaceta das Cozinhas (kitchen mansion), was built close to the walls of the King Jorge Castle, on the site of the former Alcacova Palace kitchens. The Palaceta, classified as an historic building, was in the hands of various aristocratic families and suffered neglect for many years until it was acquired by Heritage Hotels and transformed into the Solar do Castelo, a fourteen room boutique hotel. Obviously reservations will have to be made well in advance for this one.

Our first two nights were at As Janeles Verdes, next to the National Art Museum. The one word that describes the street, the green windows and door and the exquisite interior of the hotel is - romantic. We felt it the moment we arrived and it just got better. It doesn't hurt that the Tagus is nearby. When we finally got to our room and saw the sparkling view of the river through the ceiling to floor windows, we really appreciated that closeness. I say finally got to our room because we were mesmerized by the design and furnishings of the first floor parlors. The soft cream, beige, brown of the decor blended beautifully with the marble pillars and floors of the old palace.

Exquisite objects of art, paintings, mementos and books scattered about, took us back to another era. It was a dream to enjoy the wonderful breakfast in these rooms or in the garden at the rear.
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Our large room was rich in decoration, cheerful in attitude. The bathroom was special, beautifully designed in brown and white with top quality fixtures and all the basics and extras we could possibly want.

On the top floor is a marvelous library and an open terrace over the Tagus. The library is all wood, the ceiling the walls and the floor. Comfortable sofas and chairs are arranged around a fireplace with card tables, desks and a thoughtful big brass telescope completing the picture. The adjacent patio is furnished with comfortable outdoor lounges and chairs. As on the first floor there is an honor bar, a perfect place to relax before dinner at the end a day of touring.

When we visited Lisbon in 1997, it was as we just found Porto, under construction and renovation. In spite of the obstacles at that time we managed to see enough of the city to realize it was special. Much has been accomplished. The Praca Dom Pedro IV (Rossio) has been returned to its 18th century beauty with widened sidewalks, mosaic pavement, and restored central statue and fountain. More than ever it's a lively social square with crowded cafes and pastry shops in the shadow of the theatre and striking neo-classical buildings. The neighboring Praca da Figueira now has a 500 place underground parking lot.

Up on the hill in the Chiado quarter, there is more new parking beneath Largo do Camoes. All this parking was desperately needed. The metro has been completed, except for the final station in Praca do Comercio on the waterfront, which is scheduled to open in 2004. It seems that they keep finding archeological "obstacles" along the final link.
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Another major project underway since 1990 is the urban regeneration of historic districts. Regenerating means recovering and in several cases, starting from scratch in the creation of acceptable living conditions. In central Lisbon, the major designated areas are Alfama and Colina do Castelo, Mouraria, Madragoa, Bairro Alto and Bica. Along with Baixa (lower town), Chiado and Belem this constitutes the core tourist route. We spent three days of our Lisbon visit in these designated areas (progress is being made) and the remainder of our time in Sintra, Cascais and Estoril with our dear, sweet friends, Cornelia and Fabio from Switzerland.

As Janeles Verdes is a bit west of the city core, which gave us the opportunity to do some good walking. Just in case we were tired from climbing up and down hills, we headed down to Avenida 24 de Julho east to Cais do Sodre (the train station for Cascais, Estoril, Alcantara and Belem) to buy a 7-day pass good on all Carris transportation (metro, buses, street cars and funiculars). The cost was about 2300 escudos each and a passport is required. It was late on a sunny afternoon and we watched the waterfront activity as the nearby ferry and tour boats picked-up and dropped-off tourists and commuters. We noticed that a number of restaurants and clubs have sprung up along the waterfront, a new dimension to Lisbon's active nightlife.

We ended our abbreviated first day with dinner at Osso Porco on Janeles Verdes, diagonally across from the hotel. The deal here is all-you-can-eat ribs, after feasting on the house offered grilled sausage. There are two types of the meaty pork ribs, natural (salt) or sweet (honey). We ordered one of each but preferred the natural. They were grilled the way we like them - crispy, dry outside and juicy, tender inside, Three dipping sauces are served along with rice and beans, salad and a slice of potato pudding. This was not only a nice break from traditional cuisine but a heck of a delicious value to boot. There are only 22 seats and it filled up quickly; there must be line-ups at prime time.

Breakfast at As Janeles Verdes was special. To begin, the coffee was outstanding. The assortment of rolls, buns and pastries was top-notch and top quality as were the scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, meats, cheeses and jam.
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We walked east toward the Alfama, stopping at the mercado across from the Cais do Sodre. It is no longer the marketplace we remember. Much of the space is under construction to become a handicraft and art market, which will be a worthwhile destination upon completion, but even now there were stands and shops selling fresh fish, meats and produce. The main food terminal has moved outside the city.

Standing at the foot of Praca do Comercio with your back to the Tagus River is a thrilling experience. The huge square is bordered on three sides by the arcaded palace (now government offices), painted a soft yellow they are golden in the sun. Directly in front of you in the center is the equestrian statue of King Jose I and behind the statue on the north side of the praca is the magnificent triumphal arch, which opens into rua Augusta and the Baixa. The Castle of St. George looms high on the right atop Alfama and rising on the left is the Bairro Alto. By foot, bus, funicular and tram you begin your journey.

We planned to spend the rest of the day getting lost in Alfama (easy to do). Isabel had lived and studied here for a few months and suggested a family-run restaurant she knew met our criteria of good value, local home cooking. We took tram #28 up to Largo Santa Luzia to Farol de Luzia (Tel: 886-38-84) for lunch. Our friend is easy to love and as soon as we mentioned her name we had new friends. The owners and their staff were kind and sweet and we felt right at home with the neighborhood regulars. We both started with Alentejo soup (bread, olive oil, garlic, egg and coriander). Linda had her favorite lunch of fried fish filets and I had mine of grilled sardines. Both were half orders - large half orders - basic stuff done right; we would return with Cornelia and Fabio for dinner.
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Across the street the trellised terrace of the church of Sta. Luzia offers marvelous views and photo ops of the roofs of Alfama and the Tagus way below. We wound our way up to St. George Castle to once again appreciate the finest panorama of the city and the river. We folded up our city map and proceeded to head in the direction of the river - or so we thought. As we twisted and turned through the labyrinth of steep streets and stairways, always going the way that looked the most inviting, we could see why regeneration is underway. It is a daunting task. Time and neglect have taken a toll and the economic and social divides are complicated to resolve. Much has been done in the restoration of some homes and there is a great deal of construction underway. Even during the transition, it's a fun place to be.

Daily life revolves around the small neighborhood shops, restaurants and services, the laundry flaps in the wind, ladies chat with neighbors across the packed alleys while retired gents talk politics in small groups. Tram #28 winds its way through skinny streets just missing carelessly parked cars and daydreaming walkers, cars maneuvering into spaces, shouting, music, the smell of cooking, tourists gawking, dogs doing their thing. Alfama was once the place to live in Lisbon. The glory days will return. Keep walking and enjoying.

The sun was setting when we finally found the river and we found a bench to rest and watch a few waiters from a nearby restaurant taking a fishing break.

Directly across from Hotel As Janeles Verdes is Massas. The only reason we are writing about it is to suggest it be avoided. All you can eat pasta is what they offer. The very young waiters bring around large bowls of various types of pasta from which to choose; each pasta is worse than its predecessor.
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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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