Do you ever wake up and just know it’s going to be one of those days? This was one such morning. I’d gotten myself an extra pastry for my trip out to Sintra the day before but never ended up eating it, so it sat in my ICPhS tote bag on the floor next to my bed. I started to get ready for the day and pack my tote and discovered it was swarming with ants (shudder). Thankfully, Susanne had given me her ICPhS tote bag as well since she didn’t want it, so I just threw out the entire tote with the pastry and ant infestation along with it. Onwards and upwards, right? In my research, I’d spotted an interesting café that would make an excellent breakfast spot (Tartine), so I set off in search of it. I headed up through the chic Chiado district, which definitely felt a bit glossier and more upscale, with its wide boulevards and trendy boutiques. I successfully located Tartine only to discover, of course, that it was closed for a holiday for the next few days.
I still was determined to have something for breakfast, so I meandered up the street and popped into an Art Deco bar/café and grabbed myself a ham and cheese croissant. One of the first things on my list for the day was to catch the number 28 tram. This famed tram route starts in Baixa and climbs up the steep hill into Alfama (which is what most people ride it for) before it heads back down the hill and out into westward districts. I had read that this was a highlight of any Lisbon visit, so naturally I figured I’d check it out. I was warned that lines could get long, so try to get there earlier rather than later. Well, mid-morning certainly wasn’t early enough, as there was already a lengthy queue. I rather resignedly joined it and discovered that it was a very slow-moving line if only because the trams hold 20 or so people at a time and seemed to come every 15 minutes or so. So yes, in keeping with my day, I waited over an hour to board the tram (I had also annoyingly forgotten my headphones). About half of the wait was in the shade, but a good portion of it was in full sun. You may ask, why continue to wait? And indeed that thought did cross my mind several times, but there comes a critical time point when you’ve waited in line just long enough that you think you’ve already committed, so you may as well continue waiting.
At long last, I boarded the tram and managed to snag one of the last seats. We were soon whizzing along, alarmingly close to buildings and road signs. I stuck my head out as far as possible to see what I could. It wasn’t long before we had crested the hill, with lovely views of the Church of São Vicente of Fora and the river, though somewhat obscured by the heads of the other tram passengers. I made a mental note of the plaza as we continued onwards, past Lisbon Cathedral and back into the Baixa district. I ultimately didn’t get off the tram in Alfama, largely because I’d waited so bloody long to get on it. I ended up riding it past the city centre all the way out to Basilica de Estrela in the west part of town (I didn’t actually know where I was at the point). I had noticed number 28 trams going in the other direction, so I figured I’d hop on one and head back the way I came. Luckily, I only had to wait about 5 minutes before one arrived (with basically no line). From this I deduced a Lisbon tourist top tip: instead of waiting for an hour in Baixa, just hop a bus out to Estrela and catch a number 28 tram going back towards Alfama.
I was definitely pleased to have so easily gotten back on the tram (and managed to grab a seat near the front, so that when I stuck my head out the window, there were no heads in front of mine). We wound our way through the streets and back up to Alfama, where I hopped off to take in the view at Miradouro de Santa Luzia. It was a gorgeous day, and the sea of red-tiled roofs positively gleamed. I sat on an outdoor patio and sipped a lemonade, taking in my somewhat hard-earned view. From there, I made my way down the steps and into Alfama, the oldest district in Portugal (and one of the few areas that survived the great 1755 Lisbon earthquake that leveled most of the city). I wound my way through the labyrinth of quiet, narrow streets. I eventually spotted a few pieces of art on display with the caption that they’d been in part painted with coffee and red wine. Intrigued, I perused the little shop, which had a multitude of interesting and unique paintings, using a combination of Japanese ink and occasionally coffee and wine. The smaller paintings were only 5 Euros and the larger ones were 15, so I couldn’t help but grab a couple pieces. One of my favourite souvenirs when I travel is local art, something small and fun, not only because it supports local artists but also because it is so much more unique and memorable.
Happy with my purchases, I continued onwards and passed by Pois Café, whose name I remembered from my guide book so I popped in to get some lunch. It had a great kind of Bohemian quality to it, with couches and mismatched furniture, books and art and generally convivial atmosphere. I sunk into a comfy couch and ordered a glass of wine along with a leek and 3 cheese pasta dish (both of which were tasty).
Pois Café was just around the corner from the massive and imposing Lisbon Cathedral. Finished in the 13th century, this Romanesque style cathedral was an interesting combination of austere and ornate, with the area around the altar adorned with brightly-coloured paintings, in contrast with the cold stone of the rest of the cathedral. I didn’t spend long in the cathedral, as it wasn’t terribly extensive. I headed back to the apartment to take a break from the heat, which was thankfully not too far from where I was.
I lounged until later in the afternoon before heading back out again to catch a bus bound for the Lisbon Oceanarium (about 30 minutes away), purportedly the largest indoor aquarium in Europe. I did make a brief pit stop at Amorino, an Italian Gelato place I first discovered in Paris (and have now learned has a location in Chicago!) to get 2 delicious scoops of gelato. I’d pre-bought my ticket, to avoid any additional lines, so it wasn’t long before I was face to face to droves of fish. The big feature of the aquarium is a massive, 5000 cubic metre tank, teeming with sea life. It wasn’t long before I spotted a sunfish, the heaviest bony fish in the world. It wasn’t definitely odd looking (kind of like a large flat rock with wings). I also spotted several shark and rays (including a devil ray). Unsurprisingly, there were also droves of families with loudly exuberant children. Now I appreciate the value of educating children about ocean life, but I don’t necessarily want to hear the process. So I happily put my headphones in and enjoyed a musical soundtrack to my time wandering through the aquarium. I visited the penguins and, of course, the sea otters (who are always my favourite), the sea horses and moray eels. I enjoyed just sitting and staring up at the giant windows into the hypnotic traffic patterns of sea life.
Once I’d had my fill of ocean-y goodness, I hopped back onto a crowded bus headed back into town. I practiced my first position turn out, attempting to be as thin as possible with people squeezing by and jostling for a standing position. I eventually made it back to Alfama and enjoyed the low, warm dusk light filtering in between the buildings. I made a brief pit stop at a wine bar for a glass of sparkling wine before heading over to Cruzes Credo for dinner. I’d passed it on my walk up to the Lisbon Cathedral (just a few doors down from my lunch spot) and noted it, since it was also a name I’d recognized from my guidebook. When I arrived, they didn’t have any available tables, but the friendly (English-speaking!) waiter said I could order a drink while I waited outside. So I happily sipped my sparkling wine on the street and craned my neck up at the Lisbon Cathedral. I eventually got a table inside and ordered a cheese plate and toasted bacon and brie sandwiches. The waiter did warn me that the cheese plate was fairly sizable, but I assured him that I’d be OK. This is cheese after all. Everything was delicious, especially the chèvre and brie (I’m not going to lie, I did prefer the French cheese over the Portuguese cheeses). It was a bit of a slog, as I attempted to work my way through the cheeses, and I eventually gave in and asked for a doggie bag, wrapping up about a third of my foodstuffs to take with me to the apartment, which was only a short waddle home.