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December 20-15, 2010
Written December 21 & 22
Friends and Families ,
This is the first part of our Great Lisbon Adventure.
Monday, December 20, Travel
The news has been filled with horror stories about the worst travel "chaos" in European traffic in ages:airports closed; roads impassable; trains stopped. And we had a pair of flights facing us, from Nuremberg to Majorca and Majorca to Lisbon. The thought "What ARE we doing?" crossed my mind.
Because local traffic had promised to be "iffy", we ordered Maxi Taxi to come and get us. As usual, the van was ready for our 9:00 AM departure. The roads were salted and OK, but our parking place was icy and the Maxi-mobile had a time getting out. Not a good omen.
We checked in at Nuremberg with no lines and hardly any fuss. We asked if the plane was on time and the Air Berlin staff said "Yes, so far it is." I think it surprised her as much as it did us. As it turned out, it was 20 or 30 minutes late, but that just gave us a bit more time to have our breakfast, Bavarian pretzels and sausages for Marianne and me but Alice and Chuck stayed with their own traditions.
The two-hour flight down to Ila de Palma in Majorca was completely uneventful and when we arrived the weather was warm and sunny. THIS was a GOOD omen! The departing plane, on Niki Airlines (race car driver Niki Lauder has a partnership with Air Berlin), was showing a half-hour delay but we were glad it was flying at all, after all the scary travel rumors. Again, in the end, the flight was an extra 30 minutes later, not because we were not ready but because the flight down from Munich had been delayed. One nice thing about Air Berlin/Niki is that they hold for inbound connections. Most of their customers are on vacation and being late is far preferable to being left behind.
The Niki flight to Lisbon was OK, enough. The closer we got to the Portuguese coast the thicker the clouds were below us. I suspect everyone on the plane knew that heavy rains were forecast for Lisbon and some of us were half-expecting to be turned around at the last minute. But, again the travel gods shone on us as the little Niki Airbus made a perfect zero-visibility landing. Thank goodness for Cat III instruments.
From the airport, it was a half-hour ride into the center of Lisbon. We had arranged for a two-bedroom apartment, very near the water in the "Baixa" part of town. The pictures on the internet made it look very inviting and the location seemed reasonably convenient. However, as we pulled up we (I , at least) had second thoughts. The neighborhood was "certainly a bit shabby.
The apartment itself, was as appeared in internet pictures, but we had failed to note the five story climb that, with suitcases, was more exercise that we had planned on. No elevator in this vintage building. Over the next few hours we discovered hot-water that sometimes wasn't, door locks that took time to master, and an absence of any telephone, or that modern convenience: internet connection. This last two would make calls back to America on Christmas Eve pretty expensive since the option that remained was our German mobile/cell phones. Oh well, it's Christmas.
After checking in, we headed out to look for some groceries and for a place to eat dinner. The day had been long and we were ready for some good food and drink. The grocery store was easy enough, just across St. Paul square, but restaurants in our neighborhood seemed scarce or scary. After a few blocks, we headed back to a place just across from the apartment, which we had passed over because it was empty, not a good sign.
As the last good omen of the day, the restaurant called Tosca, was a real find. It was Portuguese-equivalent of a Spanish tapas restaurant and specialized in good Portuguese wine and great "small dishes". Of course we didn't know what to order, so we just asked the owner to serve us. Financially, this may have been a mistake, but the food and wine were truly special.
All in all, we may have been the luckiest travelers in Europe on Chaos Monday.
Tuesday, Subway to an Art Museum
I (John) was up early scouting out our neighborhood. I went down to the Metro station near us and discovered that it was not just a subway stop, but a hub for trains, ferry boats, taxis, street cars and busses. I wandered through the commuter crowds realizing that Lisbon is a big city after all.
Back at the apartment, after another 79-step climb, I gathered our group and headed to the Calouste Gulbenkian art museum. We went via the Metro, after some amount of learning about the system and the ticket machines from a very helpful Metro company agent. The subway itself was quick and efficient, although we managed to get out the wrong station exit and wandered around for an extra half-hour. Oh well, another experience and a bit more exercise.
The museum itself was wonderful. John's favorite was the Asian art, including the carpet display. Marianne enjoyed several European paintings and the jewelry display at the end of our visit was also special.
After our culture fix, we took the subway back toward "Bairro Alto", the old part of Lisbon on one of the several hills the city occupies. We took the Gloria tram up hill, a fun ride in an ancient vehicle, custom made for the steep slant of the track. From there, it was lunch.
We asked around and ended up at a small hole-in-the-wall, but very authentic, Portuguese restaurant. The food was a mix of cod, grouper, shrimp + chicken + clams along with rice. All this came after the "couvert" of bread, cheese, and dried ham. Once again, we underestimated how quickly the bill adds up when we say "yes" to everything offered, but the final bill of 66 euros was reasonable enough.
From here, we headed downhill. We were not certain of where we were headed, but assumed that any road down was OK. Chuck and I left the wives to enjoy the shopping of Bairro Alto and we found our way home, just like we planned, proof that luck is better than skill. While Alice and Marianne shopped, we went to Tosca and checked in our email, using the offered Wi-Fi connection. A very nice internet cafe.
Throughout the day, we managed to miss the heaviest rains, but Marianne did catch a couple of good shots of dark skies behind sunlight buildings.
Dinner was a huge salad at home and an early end to another full day.
Tomorrow would be "Belem", an historic port town on the edge of Lisbon. But that's another story.
John and Marianne
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