June 17, 2012: Lisbon Day One

We have three days to see Lisbon with today being the first one and the only day in which I am not working for the office.  Technically I should be on vacation tomorrow as well yet but as I am traveling pretty much all day on Wednesday that is effectively a day off so I will be working Monday to compensate.

Our morning started on the Madrid to Lisbon overnight train where we slept last night.  The girls did okay on getting sleep.  Dominica and I, like last time, were pretty exhausted this morning after having tried to sleep with basically no room at all.  The upside to this train trip is that the time shifts by an hour in our favor on the journey so that we got an extra hour of sleep.  The downside is that the trip is pretty short and we had to be up pretty early.

Dominica woke up and panicked about the time, thinking that it was seven, not six o’clock and that they had forgotten to give us our wakeup call.  But I reminded her that she was looking at her watch and that it does not adjust itself for the timezone and so it was actually six in the morning, not seven.  And then a few minutes later our six o’clock wake up knock came from our hostess.

I stayed with the girls while Dominica went down to the restaurant car to get breakfast.  Then when she returned I went down and ate breakfast.  Breakfast was pretty simple, scrambled eggs with mushrooms and a sausage that I skipped, plus some bread and, of course, coffee.  While I was eating my breakfast I overheard the couple sitting at the table next to mine mention “Upstate New York” and I thought that I even heard the word “Horseheads.”

Of course I had to say something so I leaned over and introduced myself.  They were, in fact, from Horseheads, New York.  So that started us on a conversation for a while.  It is amazing the people that you meet while traveling.

The train arrived at Lisbon’s Apolonia train station quicker than we had expected.  We got off of the train, found the WC and then set about trying to figure out what we were going to do about getting from the train station to our hotel.  At this point we had not looked up where the train station was, where our hotel was nor did we have any idea how the city was laid out.  Kind of flying by the seat of our pants on this one.  After over a month of continuous European travel we are kind of experts at this and we can pretty much figure this stuff out.

We ended up taking the Metro, which was pretty nice – a much smaller system than we have been using recently – from Apolonia to Marques de Pombal which is the big traffic circle in the middle of the city.  That went quite well and from there it proved to be a very short walk to our hotel.

The hotel was expecting us and they let us check in, it was not even nine in the morning, and even got us breakfast as breakfast was being served for another two hours yet.  It is odd arriving from the night train because you get in so early and suddenly you are just “in” a new city without any travel time involved, effectively.  So suddenly we were up rather early and ready for our day in Lisbon.

Our room here is quite nice.  We have a large bed for Dominica and I, a small bed for Liesl and they brought up a pack and play for Luciana.  Our room has a bit of space plus it has a large, enclosed patio area with lots of windows, a table and chairs, a full sized fridge, etc.  Pretty crazy amount of space and a really quirky but nice room.  This will work out really well for us.  No direct elevator access, though, which makes it pretty tough coming and going since we have to carry the stroller up and down stairs no matter what we do even though there are not that many stairs to climb.

Breakfast was nice.  Nothing crazy but the food was good and we liked the coffee.  Good coffee is very important to us.  We met a couple from Madeira – he is from England and she is from China but the both live in Madeira now.  We talked with them for a bit.

Once breakfast was done and we had settled into the room we set out to pick up the city tours to get an overview of Lisbon.  We got lucky that all of the tour bus companies in the city use the nearby Marques de Pombal so we just walked up there, bought some two day tour passes for the City Sightseeing Tours buses and hopped on the Red Line to get an overview of the city.

The Red Line took us through the heart of the downtown district and along the western waterfront.  We got to see a bit of good stuff.  Lisbon is really nice but from the tour it doesn’t have the oomph that we saw in Barcelona or Madrid.  The Atlantic Ocean waterfront is really nice and pretty much no city in Europe has that except for Lisbon so that is really cool.  Lisbon is one of the really rare “sunsets on the Atlantic” cities.  I hope to get to see that before leaving Lisbon.

We enjoyed the tour and get back to the starting point and then got off in the mid afternoon and took some time to do some walking instead of riding the bus which was wearing us out.  The girls get restless on the bus and each of the two runs in Lisbon from this tour company take an hour and a half which means ninety minutes of the girls on our laps squirming, screaming, yanking headphones, etc.  Luciana actually ripped the end off of one of Dominica’s headphones!

Instead we set off to see some of the city on foot – that is the best way to see the city anyway.  We decided to just walk straight down towards the harbour from the Marques de Pombal since it is a nice, sloping boulevard that is pretty much the heart of the city.

The walk was really nice.  Lisbon is covered in a stonework design of black and white (that we were told is a symbol that the city is in permanent mourning following the devastation of the 1755 earthquake that destroyed the city) which are really beautiful and interesting with intricate designs all over the city but the stones are smoother than glass so even walking in shoes when it is hot and dry you risk sliding and falling down wherever you go.  We really enjoyed getting to see them all over the city.  Very unique.

The walk in Lisbon was much like a cooler version of the walk that we did yesterday in Madrid.  It is still warm but not real warm.  Pretty nice for walking around.

Near downtown, if you can call it that, there was a funicular that we had seen on the tour bus.  We decided to just take that and see what happened.

The funicular took us to one of the neighbourhoods up on top of one of the seven hills of Lisbon.  It was really neat up there full of older  buildings but it was really tough walking with the girls, especially with the stroller, so we quickly abandoned the idea and took the funicular back down.

We walked to the big square full of people and cafes and ate at a little place there on the street.  The food was good and we got takeaway custard tarts, a specialty of the region.

From there we walked to the Atlantic water front (technically the river but wide open right on the Atlantic) and checked out the squares there and found the Sunday market where artisans sells their wares near the water.  We did some shopping there for a while and then started walking back.  Dominica was tired so we grabbed the red line bus again that returned us to the Marques.

We got up to the Marques and had thought that we would be able to jump right on to the blue tour bus but it turns out that even though the official start of summer is only a few days away it is actually the winter schedule that the tour buses are running on so there is no blue line bus running yet tonight.

So we returned to the hotel for a while.  We relaxed a bit and then I went out in search of food.  I quickly discovered that there was actually a minimarket (funny enough the world minimercata in Portuguese is the exact same thing as a supermercat in Spanish – I think that something is lost in translation as these things are half the size of the quick mart at a normal American gas station) right next door and several restaurants on the corner!  We had no idea.  We thought that we were on some really quiet back street.  Lisbon is a hard town to read.

So while Dominica got the girls ready to go out I ran to the minimarket and picked up some supplies.  They had chocolate milk so we are saved.  Keeping Liesl stocked with chocolate milk is a major job while on vacation.  I got chips, drinks, etc.  Pretty good haul.  Really nice that we have a real fridge at this hotel.  That makes so many things so much easier when you have little ones.

I got back to the hotel and we all went down to the corner for dinner. They had a nice little esplanade out on the street so we sat there and we did our best to order some traditional Portuguese dishes.  We ended up with fried salted cod which had a ton of bones in it.  Everywhere in Europe eats fish with loads of bones.  It makes it so hard to eat here as an American unused to dealing with bones regularly.  Much like how they serve olives with the pits in them on everything.  Nothing like eating pizza and finding a whole olive on it – what are they expecting you to do with that?

Dinner was pretty good.  The girls were restless by the end so it was back to the hotel and off to bed.  This is the end of my vacation tomorrow, while we are still in Europe, I am back to work.  Only a few days left before we return to New York too.  It is so hard to believe that we are now in our final stop in Europe.  This is it, no more trains, no more hotels, no more switching locations.  The luggage has survived, just barely – nearly all of the zipper pulls have ripped off and the one piece of luggage is so scratched up that it cut my leg up pretty badly when I bumped against it and everything is looking pretty worn but they will be making it home with us.  No more new languages.  No more giving passports to hotels.  We are wrapping things up.

And maybe the most stressful thing – no more desperately searching for Internet access!

On this trip we have been to nine countries now.  Each of our girls have been to a total of ten different countries in their lives: America, United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Spain and Portugal in that order.  Additionally they have been to regions on par with national status such as England, The Alsace, Bavaria, Venetia, Tuscany, Piedmont, Catalunya, etc.  They have experienced several primary languages: English, French, German, Italian, Catalan, Spanish and Portuguese plus several closely tied languages like Alsatian, Bavarian, Swiss-German, Austro-Bavarian, Piemontese, etc.  Pretty amazing.  We truly have had a survey of western Europe.  The girls even got to hear a bit of Norwegian in two different regional accents!

First day in Lisbon is done.  Tomorrow we will be doing the blue line bus tour and hopefully seeing more of the city.  We will be fighting again, like we did several weeks ago, to squeeze in all of our sight seeing before three thirty rolls around when I need to work.  That is an hour less time per day than we have had since being in Europe because we are back to being one hour closer to home now.  Portugal is on the same time zone as the UK.

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