By Don and Linda Freedman

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PORTUGAL Spring 1997 (2)


Porto | Matosinhos | Port Wine | Coimbra | Nazare | Lisboa1
Sintra | Belem | Evora | Setubal | Lisboa2 | Cascais

The 11:05 sleek, modern train arrived in Coimbra at 12:21. Coimbra was our first stop in the Costa De Prata region, which is the area between Costa Verde and the Lisbon Coast. The region is a land of thick forests, rivers, streams, tranquil villages, abundant vineyards, castles, fortresses and flamboyant Manueline architecture. Here you will also find mineral springs and spas, Bairrada wines, culinary delights ranging from eel and shellfish to the crispy, tender roast suckling pig of Mealhada. Portugal's finest hand-painted porcelain, ceramics, glass and crystalware also come from this region.

We experienced all of these delights as fully as possible thanks to our internet friends, who greeted us and treated us like long, lost family. Their warmth, kindness, generosity and love will always be with us.

Isabel met us at the train station and we took a bus to the Hotel Tivoli, Rua Joao Machado. It is an extremely good-value four star hotel, located centrally in Lower Coimbra with easy access to transportation and the city sights. Our room had a sizable foyer with a large closet, good size bedroom with a Queen size bed, light wood furniture - tastefully decorated - air conditioning and cable television. The bathroom was nice size and up-to-date. This is a modern, well-equipped facility with a health club (massage available), Turkish bath, gymnasium and indoor pool.

Maria Antonia and Francisco greeted us at their home and together with Isabel, Paula, Julia and Fernanda we experienced our first true Portuguese home cooking. We sat down to a wonderful array of boiled meats and vegetables accompanied by assorted breads and excellent Bairrada red wine. We were too stuffed to move, but when Maria Antonia placed the most gorgeous rice pudding in front of me, I quickly caved in. And was I glad I did! Rice pudding is a favorite and this was the royalty of rice pudding. Of course, now that the flood gates were open, the fresh pineapple mousse had a very intense appeal as well. Thank goodness there was time left in the day to do some touring and work off the over-indulgence.

Coimbra sits on the northern bank of the River Mondego. Lower Coimbra is the commercial center, Upper Coimbra is dedicated to the students; on the way up are the twisting, medieval streets with their patios, arches, flowering window boxes and courtyards and at the top is the famous Universidade de Coimbra. Standing tall is the bell tower, symbol of the university and Coimbra itself. The students affectionately refer to the bell tower as "The Bitch" since the ringing of the bells signals the call to class.

Since Isabel is a student at the University, she was a wonderful guide. We started by taking a bus to the magnificent botanical gardens full of objects of art and exotic plantings. A visit to the Museu Academico de Coimbra gave us insight into the history and culture of the University and also of Portugal.

Our next stop at the Dr. Mouro Orphanage was a tremendously moving and heart warming experience. This shelter is home to one hundred twenty-five girls of all ages and races, who were either abused or abandoned by their families. The state and the city run this wonderful place where the girls live, play, eat and sleep under compassionate supervision. They receive normal education through university and attend church regularly. Dr. Mouro was a psychologist who loved children and dedicated his life to their well-being. Fortunately, his legacy lives on.

Isabel and Paulo were our internet correspondents and we were finally able to meet Paulo that evening; he had been working when we were greeted by his family earlier in the day. The apple didn't fall far from the tree! We relaxed and conversed in Paulo's apartment and then visited with his cousin Paula and her young daughter, Joana, who delighted in serving us delicious Port Wine and goodies.

The family suggested an Italian restaurant, Verde Moinho, Rua Dos Moinhos. It turned out to be a nice break from the steady diet of Portuguese cuisine. The pastas, pizzas and grilled meats were quite good and Francisco's red wine selection was excellent. This is a man who knows and appreciates good wine. Isabel and Paulo dropped us off at our hotel about 23:30 and we slept very well after a long but wonderful first day in Coimbra.

The buffet breakfast was served in the lovely restaurant Porta Ferrea in the hotel and was very good. Isabel, Paulo and Maria Antonia picked us up to continue our tour of the University. The New Cathedral and the square outside is where the fourth year students at the end of the academic year don their traditional black capes and burn the coloured ribbons of their faculties in the traditional Queima Das Fitas (Burning of the Ribbons) celebration. The entire city rejoices with the students and the Fado of Coimbra is played and sung everywhere.

The Museu de Machado de Castro is housed in the Bishop's Palace. On display are magnificent statues, pottery and paintings and the basement houses the well-preserved Roman galleries with artifacts from Roman and Visigoth times.

The University library (King John Library) is breathtaking. There are three large rooms decorated with engraved wood lacquered in red, green and gold. These rooms are connected by high archways bearing the insignias of the old faculties at the tops. The walls are totally covered by solid book shelves made of exotic woods and divided into two sections separated by a narrow balcony supported by elegant columns. Ladders which fit into the book shelves provide access to the upper levels. This library now functions as a museum with a collection of 300,000 volumes. Use can be obtained by special authorization.

Other highlights are the Museum of Sacred Art, the Grand Hall and the Private Examination Hall. The Museum displays artworks which have been donated over the years. The Grand Hall is the place where the most important ceremonies in University life are conducted. The highlight of the Grand Hall is the decorated, paneled ceiling and portraits of Portuguese Monarchs. The Panel of Tiles, a frieze of the portraits of former rectors of the University, and the decorated ceiling make the Private Examination Hall a sight to behold.

Maria Antonia directed us to Alfredo & Alfredo, Av. Joao das Regras 116-118, for lunch. We shared a feast of caldo verde (a kale soup with a flavorful light stock with potatoes and olive oil seasoned with a few slices of pork sausage), grilled fish, cabrito (goat) stew, pork and clams and boiled potatoes and cabbage. We enjoyed it all - including the delicious breads and the excellent Portuguese top of page
Across the street from the restaurant is the delightful Portugal dos Pequenitos (Tiny Tots Portugal) with its marvelous miniatures of monuments and typical houses of Portugal and its former colonies. Enhancements for children are farm animals, a playground and an area for climbing. A short 6 km. drive south from Coimbra is Conimbriga, Portugal's most extensive Roman site. The indoor museum has an excellent collection of artifacts and the ruins are quite elaborate. Unfortunately our inspection of the ruins was cut short by a thunder shower. Of course, that made for some interesting photo ops for Linda, the intrepid photographer.

Dinner at Maria Antonia and Francisco's house was heaven. Carapaus fritos (lightly fried small fish) crisp on the outside with sweet flesh inside, were a real treat. Isabel showed us how we could enjoy eating them the way we eat spareribs, with our fingers - great fun! These were accompanied by arroz de tomate (rice and tomato). Then the frango no churrasco (grilled chicken), served with batates fritas a inglesa (luscious homemade potato chips) and salada de tomate. Francisco selected a Bairrada red, Colheita Particular, which was fabulous.

There was a stupendous array of desserts. Maria Antonia assured us that it was a learning experience so we would be able to make informed decisions as we continued our trip. God bless her! There were pasteis de tentugal and pasteis de Santa Clara - filo type dough filled with egg mousse and pumpkin mousse, respectively, and pasteis de nata, previously described, shared the billing with queijadas, tarts filled with egg and cream and, of course, that perfect rice pudding and pineapple mousse. Oh yes, let's not forget the wonderful fresh strawberries and cherries. Wonderful friends, food and conversation made for a perfect ending to our second day in Coimbra.

On our last day in Coimbra we were off to visit Luso, Curia, Bucaco and Figueira da Foz on the coast. Our first stop along the way was at Montemor-O-Velho. We drove up to the castle which was part of a network of castles built to defend the area. There is a cute church and lovely grounds now used for open air concerts. From on high, one can view rice paddies as far as the eye can see. From rice paddies to salt pans on the way to Figueira da Foz, a popular family summer resort, which was once dependent upon deep sea fishing for its economy.

There are beautiful residential areas, a casino, lots of hotels and a gorgeous beach. Right nearby is the small town of Gala, our lunch destination. Restaurante Carrossel, Largo da Beira-Mar, was the superb choice of Maria Antonia and Francisco. There were six of us but Francisco ordered enough food for ten! It was a seafood fantasy come true.

Our meal included sopa de peixe (fish soup with noodles and assorted seafood), fried cakes of cod, octopus and calamari, acorda (in this case a mixture of bread, tomatoes and black beans), carapau e polvo de escabeche (lightly fried small fish and octopus), choro de linguas (assorted seafood and noodles), caldeirada de buzios (assorted seafood and beans), badanas de bacalhau com grao de bico (cod and chick peas). The last three items were stews in an herb-enriched tomato sauce. The white house wine, Bila, was excellent as was the broa de milho (corn bread). You guessed it, no room for dessert!

Luso is an adorable spa town with thermal waters at 27 degrees celsius, numerous possibilities for lodging and lots of night life and proximity to Bucaco National Park - a paradise. The forest is luxuriant with century old trees - cedars, laurel, strawberry and towering ferns. Abundant shaded paths make walking and filling one's senses with the sound of the springs and the aroma of the blossoming flowers a delightful top of page
The spectacular Bucaco Palace Hotel, the former hunting Palace of the last Portuguese Kings, is now a luxury hotel and bottles its own wine under its own label. It is served in the hotel's dining room and is said to be quite good.

The building is a Manueline wonder of towers, turrets and staircases. The incredible public rooms and the magnificent grounds are breathtaking and surrounded by the forest, it is all too beautiful to describe.

At the end of WW II, the exiled Queen Amelia was dying in London. She asked for permission to visit Portugal to claim some personal possessions and to say goodbye to old friends and servants. Granted permission, she went with an entourage of ladies-in-waiting to Lisboa. She traveled to Bucaco in a motorcade and spent a long week-end seeing old friends in her beloved setting of the hunting lodge at Bucaco. Shortly afterward she died and her last visit to Bucaco is celebrated in fados still sung in Lisboa.

Curia is a low-key spa town - a health resort. It's a place to go to mend the body, rest and enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the surroundings.

One of the best known gastronomic delights in the Costa de Prata is the leitao assado (Bairrada roasted suckling pig). Mealhada is the capital of this culinary offering and Pedro dos Leitoes is THE restaurant in which to indulge. Upon entering, one is assailed by the aroma and the senses are captivated and impatient!

Fortunately, soon after ordering, the thick slices of perfectly roasted baby pig arrive - juicy, tender, succulent - heaven! The sparking wine of the region, Vinho Espumoso Gaseificado, is the imperative accompaniment. Of course the queijinho (fresh white cheese), the mixed salad, salada de cenoura (carrot salad) and batata frita (homemade potato chips) are wonderful as well.

It was with much regret that we said our goodbyes to our new, dear friends and we went to bed thinking about how lucky we are to be living in these wonderful times.


We boarded a nice double-decker bus at 13:30 to head southwest in Costa de Prata to Nazare. It was a lovely, scenic ride through rolling hills with olive trees, vineyards and small farms. It seemed as if every house along the way had a blossoming garden and grapevines. A contingent of ladies offering rooms to rent greeted our bus at 15:25 on arrival in the seafront village. After convincing them that we had reservations at the nearby Hotel Praia, they wished us well and we were on our way.

A pleasant porter met us out front and took charge of our bags (not necessary, but nice nevertheless). The receptionist greeted us warmly and we were whisked to our room on the top floor. From our balcony we could view the sea beyond the rooftops on the two streets separating us from the shore. This is a very typical three star hotel which offers basic, clean, decent size rooms at a reasonable price.

Avenida Republica, the beachfront promenade runs parallel to the long, wide expanse of beach which sports a deep covering of perfect sand. The sparkling white-capped ocean swells and the bobbing fishing boats were a welcome sight. The fisherman with their tanned, wrinkled faces, sat in small groups along the low seawall and on benches exchanging their fish stories.

women in 7 skirts,NazareThe seven-skirted women were everywhere - working, walking, shopping, chatting, embroidering - yes, I said seven skirts! This is a tradition started in the early 20's by the folk group Ta-Mar. It seems that seven is a magic and mystical number and with seven skirts the women felt that they looked more attractive and elegant. It was a question of harmony and of having a better silhouette with a thin waist and large hips as the fashion dictated at that time. The skirts are of different colours, patterns and fabric. The one worn closest to the body is always white with a lace hem. A lively coloured silk apron sits atop the seven layers of skirts, with an equally colourful blouse, a bright patterned head scarf and a black shawl. The skirts have followed the fashion trends - longer or shorter, new fabrics, colours and patterns. The tradition continues much to the delight of the tourists peering in as life goes on in the old way.

As one would expect, Avenida Republica is lined with seafood restaurants; but a short stroll into the town yielded numerous, small neighborhood restaurants filled with local couples and families dining out. We stopped at the Fidalgo II in the Praca Souza at the north end of the beach for a snack of delicious bolinho de bacalhau (cod fish cakes, remember?) and a tomato and lettuce salad. All along the way, the vegetables were garden fresh and the olive oils and vinegars top quality and very flavourful. It was certainly pleasant to sit outdoors a stone's throw from the beach smelling the salt air.

One can't get lost in Nazare. The town is neatly laid out, the east/west and north/south streets forming an easily navigable grid. The runs of whitewashed homes are beautifully maintained by their pleasantly soft-spoken, somewhat shy occupants. Everybody shares a smile and nods hello and one feels right at home, not like an intruder.

It had been a lovely sunny day but the rain caught up with us so we dashed over to Restaurante Mario Peixe, Rua Branco Martins 14, which had been recommended by our waiter when we stopped for the cod fish cakes earlier in the day. It's a homey little family place where Mario and his wife welcome you with a smile and proceed to deliver huge portions of well-prepared seafood. The sopa de peixe (fish soup) with a pure fish stock and loaded with chunks of fish, clams and shrimp was a meal.

Naturally, that didn't stop us! We were in the mood for sardinha assada (grilled sardines) and shared a portion of perfectly charcoal grilled beauties with boiled potatoes and tomato/lettuce salad. Our favorite Portuguese restaurant in Toronto, Casa de Ramboia, told us that acorda de marisco was superb in Nazare. Now we can attest to that top of page
The Casal Garcia Vinho Verde was very good. It is interesting to note that most of the restaurants grill fish outside on large charcoal grills (which also tends to entice hungry pedestrians). We watched the beautiful sunset across the ocean as our first day in Nazare came to a close.

Linda, my tell-it-as-it-is sidekick, announced that our breakfast the next morning was uninspiring. Ah, we've been spoiled by those buffets!

Fortunately, the village marketplace is directly across the street from the hotel and we were able to indulge ourselves with fresh fruits and nuts. It's quite a large building, filled with wonderful fresh produce and fish right out of the ocean, with stands run by the kindly womenfolk.

The bus ride to Obidos took a little over an hour through pretty countryside with passengers hopping on and off in the small villages all along the way. The bus stops directly across the street from the gates to the old town. We immediately noticed the huge, well-preserved aqueduct connected to the town. And what a town! It is an enchanting, medieval, walled treasure. As we wandered through the maze of cobbled streets, squares and alleys, the whitewashed houses painted with blue or yellow stripes glistened in the sun. The weathered terracotta roofs are covered with bougainvillea and wisteria. It's really an amazing beauty, 300 years old, and the original street plan and arrangement of houses are faithfully intact. After the earthquake of 1755, it was restored on existing foundations. Although the houses are closely clustered, flowers bloom everywhere in the the gardens and on the terraces.

The castle with its striking Manueline doorway and windows sits high above the town and is now the elegant Pousada do Castelo. There are adorable looking manor houses and private homes that also offer accommodations.

Although ours was just a day trip, we couldn't help but think how lovely it would have been to stay overnight.

We visited St. Mary's Church with its spectacular 17th century azulejos in the main square, the center of cultural activity, which also houses a handicrafts shop where beautiful ceramic pieces of local design are manufactured by students whose training was made possible by EU funding.

Our lunch was a bica and pastry break before continuing on our way. It took us fifteen minutes to get to Caldas da Rainha which is on the way back to Nazare. The name of the town means The Queen's Hot Springs and, not surprisingly, it is a spa town. Surrounding the town are clay deposits which makes it one of Portugal's leading centers for ceramics.

In 1884 Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro founded his artistic pottery factory in Caldas. Today the original factory employs 240 people and a second has opened employing 110 additional workers.

Touring the factory with Barbara Cardoso was an enlightening experience. From design creation to mould making, pressing, first firing, painting, second firing, we didn't miss a step. The staff enjoys its work and is happy to share its knowledge and friendly greetings. Seeing how piles of clay are turned into beautiful works of art is inspirational and gave us a tremendous appreciation for the skills and knowledge involved in producing such work.

At the end of the tour we visited the museum which just blew our minds. It presents a history of the work produced by the company and how it relates to the history of Portugal itself. Very interesting indeed. We also visited the shop where selected items can be purchased at special discounted prices.

Back in Nazare, we walked just down the street from the Hotel Praia to the Restaurante Brisa do Mar, Av. Guimaraes 10, a pleasant small room of white stucco, tile floors and a nautical tile mural that dominates one wall.

The owner, a pleasant and friendly man, was a mind-reader. He presented a fresh sea bass on a tray and suggested that it would be perfect for two.

Exactly what we had been planning to have! It was served on a large platter with boiled potatoes and lettuce/tomato/onion salad. The perfectly prepared fish, seasoned with butter, lemon and pepper, had been cross cut in sections before grilling to allow the charcoal flavor and the seasonings to permeate the flesh as well as the skin. What a delight!

It was a nice evening and we strolled around the village and along the shore fascinated by the Seven Skirted Ladies still in the streets chatting, sitting knitting or embroidering alone or in groups, some working nut stands, others grilling fish. Life going on at its usual pace.

Morning found us following the previous day's routine of a bica and roll breakfast at the hotel followed by a visit to the ladies at the market.

We bought a banana and a blood orange and loaded up on roasted pistachios and pumpkin seeds for the road. Today we were heading for the monasteries of Alcobaca and Batalha.

Our 9:50 bus to Alcobaca arrived at 10:10. It is a short walk to the Cistercian Monastery which was built in the 12th century. This work of the Cistercian Monks is mind-boggling. The facade has a handsome Gothic doorway, Baroque turrets and Manueline decoration around the windows.

When we walked in, we were awestruck by the size and simplicity of the chapel, the largest in the country. The vaulted ceiling, pillars, arches, floors and walls are all stone with no elaborate art or decoration. This was true throughout the monastery. They did not believe in nor want to show wealth in any form. The magnificent carved stone tombs of Dom Pedro and Dona Ines sit in front of the alter area. There are nine small chapels surrounding the alter where the monks prayed seven hours a day, one hour in each of seven of the nine chapels.

The majesty of the monastery is best expressed in the kitchen with its huge chimneys and pantry. Under the kitchen runs a small tributary of the River Alcoa and the monks devised and built a clever way to access the running water for fishing right from the kitchen! The Kings room portrays the royal dynasties of Portugal with statues and tiles. The huge cloister befits the scale of the edifice. There are believed to be tombs in the walls of the cloister. Our guide, Carla Oliveira, a student doing a paper on the monastery, was extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

We made two stops on our way back to the bus station. The first of course was for bica and pastry. The second was at Lavanderia Bene to have my jacket pressed. The lady beautifully hand-pressed it while we waited and then absolutely refused any kind of payment! She wished us a happy stay in her country and was just pleased to have helped us out. The kindness of the people of Portugal is something very special indeed.

The 13:00 bus to Batalha arrived there at 13:25, a few minutes walk from the monastery. This one was built in 1385 and is a fine example of Gothic and Manueline architecture. The main chapel, though not as large as the one in Alcobaca, is quite similar in its simplicity. The pantheon of the monastery is illuminated by the most ancient stained glass windows in the country. Particularly striking are the founders chapel and the unfinished chapel.

We made it back to Nazare by 15:30. It was a perfect day for hanging out around town and at the beach where we watched the men and women working at placing fish on racks to dry in the sun.

In our wanderings the previous day, we found a small place, seating about 40, Restaurante A Tasquinha, Rua Adriao 54, filled with locals enjoying their meals. Dinnertime found us seated in the usual stucco and tile environment receiving the same friendly treatment enjoyed by the regulars.

We started with a very average vegetable and fish soup. We opted for two of the appetizers they brought to our table, the olives and the boiled shrimps. A platter of grilled carapau, boiled potatoes, broccoli and salad along with an excellent house red wine and rolls completed our meal.

Everything being served around us looked and smelled marvelous. Next time we will skip the soup. By the time we left, several people were waiting their turns outside.

The morning we left Nazare, we met the only other tourists we would encounter on an intercity bus during our entire trip. They were from California and told us they had stayed in a private home during their visit to Nazare. Apparently they had followed one of the Seven Skirted Ladies home when they arrived. They found it very reasonable and clean and enjoyed meeting the local top of page
They were on their way to Obidos and we were off to a seaside resort, Hotel Golf Mar in Praia Do Porto Novo (Maceira), halfway between Nazare and Lisboa. The ride to Torres Vedras was two hours and from there a half hour taxi ride to our destination. We just didn't feel like waiting for the local bus and possibly missing the best part of the day.

The hotel sits twelve stories high on a cliff overlooking a sandy beach and sparkling ocean. The shoreline was beautiful with rocky jetties separating the sandy coves as far as we could see from our balcony on high. At the far south end of the beach, small fishing boats sat on the sand while others were out dotting the water. Behind the beach is a row of restaurants and shops built into the side of a cliff. To access that area from the hotel, it is necessary to go down several flights of stairs from the hotel entrance to a bridge below which crosses a river before it runs into the ocean.

The hotel is a huge complex but unfortunately it has been sorely neglected. The rooms - small, poorly furnished and not redecorated since the place was built, with old and tired bathrooms - were the worst. The potential is certainly there for the place to be a world class luxury resort and conference center. The public areas are massive and could be lovely and there are nice indoor and outdoor pools overlooking the ocean with a snack bar and an enormous deck for sitting, lounging and snacking al fresco. There is a golf course, tennis courts, health club, horseback riding and natural thermal waters a short distance away.

We went down to the beach area to check out the activity and enjoy the sunshine. We couldn't resist the carapau grilling in front of the restaurants and shared an order. The bica was good but the best was the dark chocolate-covered ice cream on a stick we had for dessert. By this time we had done enough sampling to have definitively determined that the ubiquitous OLA brand was the hands-down winner.

It was a nice, relaxing day at the shore and we finished off with a grilled chicken dinner at Pro-Mar. The only reason I mention the name is to suggest that you do NOT go there. The owner served us re-heated chicken, frozen fries and overcharged us. He had the nerve to tell us what a bargain it was when we questioned the price. Can't win 'em all!

We woke up to a glorious day, stimulated by the smell and the sound of the ocean. The buffet breakfast was just fair. We were the only ones in a dining room the size of a football field - strange feeling.


We had made arrangements for the previous day's taxi driver to pick-us-up and return us to Torres Vedras where we would catch the bus to Lisboa. He was prompt and very nice. At the bus station we were having some difficulty ascertaining which would be the best bus to take and where to buy the ticket. All of a sudden our taxi driver appeared and guided us to the right places. He knew it would probably be a problem and decided to come in to make sure that we were okay. He absolutely refused the tip I attempted to give him and wished us a safe journey. Again, that kindness!

The bus left at 9:35 and arrived at Campo Pequeno (just north of the central district) at 11:00. Our bus driver directed us to where we could catch a bus heading south to our hotel. As we walked toward the area, a tap on his horn to get our attention caused us to turn and find him driving alongside us and gesturing that we were going the right way with a thumbs up! It seemed as though making sure things went right for us was really important to the nice people we kept meeting.

Lisboa, the capital of Portugal, lies on seven low hills at the estuary of the River Tagus. The region, known as Costa de Lisboa, stretches from the Sintra hills in the north to Sines to the south.

We found the kiosk which sells the bus tickets. The man behind us in line suggested that we check our tickets and count our change carefully. We purchased what are called BUC x 2 for 150$00, which is good for two rides as opposed to one ride for the same price if you pay on the bus. We took the bus to the first stop on Avenida da Liberdade south of Praca Pombal, and strolled east across the street and around the corner to our home for the next three nights.

The Hotel Britania, Rua Rodrigues Sampaio, 17, is situated on a lovely residential street which runs parallel to Avenida da Liberdade. The location is fabulous, easy walking to the main areas with bus and metro two minutes away. The Hotel Britania is a gem! It is rated three star only because it does not have a restaurant; in every other respect this is a four star hotel with five star service.

The cosy lobby exudes European charm. The staff at the reception was bright, cheerful, knowledgeable and extremely helpful. While we were waiting for our room to be ready, we were offered coffee and chocolates in the newly decorated breakfast room.

Fifteen minutes later, we were guided through a lovely bright corridor with marble floors to our room on the third floor. We entered via a large foyer off which was a good size, all marble bathroom with all the amenities and then some. There was even a cellophane wrapped sponge and some adhesive bandages. Two thick white terry robes hung on the bathroom door.

The bedroom was large and beautifully furnished. There was a hair dryer in the top drawer of the bureau which was plugged into the wall through the rear of the drawer, a safe in the closet, fridge/bar combo, radio, cable television, air conditioning and double glazed windows. Just perfect! The Britania is truly a superb value three star hotel - a real find!!to top of page
There are a zillion little eateries in this area that cater mainly to the business lunch crowd where one can find anything from snacks to complete meals which can be eaten standing or sitting at very fair prices. We stopped in Adega Tio Pepe, Rua das Pretas 35-37, for bolinhos de bacalhau and salgados (codfish cakes two ways) salad and delicious draft beer. Directly east of Rua Rodrigues Sampaio is Rua de S. Jose, with loads of these small lunch places, which becomes Rua Portas de S. Antao, the main restaurant street in the lower town.

The lower town is comprised of the area from Praca Pombal down Avenida da Liberdade to Praca dos Restauradores and the area just to the south, the Baixa, with its offices, banks, apartments and shops. The streets in Baixa form a grid and at one time were divided by trades. Rua do Ouro and Rua da Prata, the streets of gold and silver, are still occupied by jewellery shops. To the east is Rua dos Fanqueiros, haberdashers street, which is still the street for textiles and inexpensive clothing. Rua Augusta is the main shopping street right in the middle and leads through a magnificent archway to the Praca do Comercio. On three sides of the square are rose coloured government buildings and on the south side marble stairs lead to the Tagus River.

The old town, Alfama, is east of Baixa. It starts at the river and weaves its way upward through archways, small squares, alleyways, low doorways, steps, tile covered buildings, and always the smells of cooking, to the top of the hill and Castelo de Sao Jorge (St. George's Castle) and great views of the city from on high. Along the way one encounters churches, museums and best of all the street life.

The upper town is called Bairro Alto. It is said to have a split personality since by day it is home to employees of the business offices and shoppers visiting its antique and art shops while night will find its restaurants and clubs filled with patrons dining and listening to the strains of Fado.

After lunch, we went to the high point of Bairro Alto, Rua S. Pedro Alcantara from which there are superb panoramic views which provide an instant orientation of the city below.

Across the street from the observation area is the Solar do Vinho do Porto, a cosy establishment dedicated to the appreciation of Port Wine. The environment is that of a first class lounge with a huge selection of Port Wine offered by the glass.

Down the street is the Praca Trindade Coelho and Igreja de Sao Roque famous for its Capela de Sao Joao Baptista, inlaid with semi-precious stones. The tile and stone work along with the gilded wood carvings are fabulous. There is a stone mosaic that stopped us cold; so perfect is the artistry, we'd have sworn it was a painting. This place is a treasure.

It's always special to wander through the streets of a big city for the first time and take the pulse of the everyday life. Here in Bairro Alto we went from those running hectically about their jobs to Calcada da Bica Grande, a street built on a stairway, where the neighborhood folks were busy decorating their streets with bright, colourful crepe paper and plastic streamers in preparation for the June holiday festivities. All the neighborhoods vie for first place in the annual decorating contest.

Charcoal grills were being readied along with tables and chairs for the evening street party with the proceeds from the food and drink sales going toward defraying the cost of the festivities. All the doors and windows were open with neighbors chatting and working together like one big, happy family. They seemed flattered that we were interested in learning about their culture and eager to share it with us.

Our visit to the Alfama neighborhood started in Largo de Sao Rafael, by the Tagus, where there is one of the few genuine remaining parts of the Cerca Moura (Moorish city walls) which was an important part of the city's Medieval defenses.

Nearby is the former Judiaria (Jewish quarter), remembered today only in the name of the street which passes through the former ghetto. This district encompassing Rua de S. Miguel and Rua de S. Pedro is where the locals buy fish every morning.

The holiday decorations were beginning to be hung and the final clean-up from the morning market was nearly finished. Alfama seems like a village within the city with its traditions and closely-bound community. It's a fun place to wander up, down and around and should one lose his bearings, he has only to head down the hill to the river.

The government is subsidizing the restoration of homes in the Alfama to ensure that this Medieval part of the city endures. It is hoped that most of the renovations will be completed in time for Expo '98.

Praca do Comercio, right at the riverfront, is a huge square in the center of the city. Martinho da Arcada, the oldest cafe in Lisboa, sits on the north side of this square. Here we enjoyed fabulous pasteis de nata - the flaky crust with cream filling, cinnamon sprinkled on top - served slightly warm, alongside bica as good as it gets. A perfect afternoon treat!

The center of the Praca do Comercio is under construction for the new metro lines being built to meet the needs of Expo '98 and the future. In fact, much of the city is torn apart due to this construction, the renovation and restoration of significant buildings and new building construction and redevelopment.

As we passed through the archway into Rua Augusta, we were confronted by a throng of people as far as we could see. THIS is a shopping street. Wide, long, beautifully built with all the fun and excitement of a world class shopping experience.

After the earthquake, tidal wave and fire destroyed most of the central part of Lisboa in 1755, it was rebuilt by the Marques de Pombal into the city of today. It seems that Pombal was a fiend about organization and neatness thus the grid pattern of the Baixa, the arrangement and naming of the streets by trades and saints, balconies on the first floor of the buildings on north and south streets and no balconies on the east and west streets. In fact it was compulsory at that time that stores would be on the ground floor with apartments above. (Roman ruins were discovered under this area and now a manhole cover is removed, one day every year, for the pre-arranged tours of the ruins beneath the streets of the Baixa.)

At the north end of Rua Augusta we entered Praca de Dom Pedro IV known as Rossio. Once again heavy metro construction work dominated the square; there are three lines being built. This area is famous for having three historical establishments that serve ginja, a cherry liqueur, in special glasses.

We walked south on Rua do Carmo, also a nice shopping street, off which is the Eiffel style Santa Justa elevator to the Bairro Alto. As Rua do Carmo turns toward the right it becomes Rua Garrett (also known as The Chiado) where many shops were destroyed in the fire of 1988. The buildings, with wooden reinforcements to provide the flexibility needed to withstand earthquakes, were totally vulnerable to the destruction by fire fueled by that same wood. Now the street is struggling to find a purpose. With the old shops destroyed, high-priced boutiques have attempted to take over but failed to make a go of it here and many shops sit vacant.

Turning north again, Rossio runs into Praca dos Restauradores. The striking Rossio train station, in Manueline style with great windowed horseshoe-shaped doors, is where the trains depart for Sintra and Leira. It is also the beginning of Portas de S. Antao - restaurant heaven!

Walking up this street was not easy. There are restaurants of every category, many with attractive window displays, and the opening of a door elicits tantalizing aromas. It was still a bit early for the evening meal so the outdoor tables were empty except for a few people who were savoring their pre-dinner Port selections. At the north end of the street, we made reservations at Solar dos Presuntos.

The owner of this restaurant is the chef for the city football team. Both levels of the restaurant have displays of football and team memorabilia. In addition, the main floor walls are covered with photos and caricatures of famous Portuguese people. A big open kitchen adds to the informal environment.

Right from the start, the service was very pushy and unfortunately continued throughout the meal. We remembered that we were in a big city, tourists beware, restaurant area. We carefully refused the unwanted appetizers and accepted only the bread and olives for which we knew we would pay. We didn't know how much we would pay, because this restaurant did not show those prices on the menu.

The waiter brought over two slices of octopus pie which we declined but he insisted that we should take it because it was "on the house". It happened to be quite delicious and we did enjoy it but that did not mitigate our displeasure when the bill arrived and included a charge for said offering. When we questioned him, the waiter said that he never said there wouldn't be a charge! We chalked it up to experience - but YOU learn from ours!

We shared a half order of arroz de marisco (pieces of lobster and shrimp flavoured with tomato and cilantro). The lobster was tough, stringy and probably previously frozen. As a main course we shared a full order of cabrito arrosto (roast goat) which was tender and tasty. The latter dish is normally served with boiled potatoes and rice. We asked for a substitute for the rice and were given an awful, inedible creamed spinach. Linda was let-down by this because she loves creamed top of page
When the bill arrived, in addition to the octopus pie surprise and the charges for bread and olives, there was also a small cover charge, which was not indicated on the menu but apparently to be expected at first category restaurants. Their government rating may be top category but they get a failure from us as far as food, service and integrity are concerned.

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