w r i n k l e d
ADVENTURES IN TRAVEL, WRITING AND AGING GRACEFULLY
Where did I leave off?
Oh yes, Friday. We figured if we were going to go all the way to Belem, we should hit up all the sights at once. We got to Jeronimos Monastery just in time to get in line behind a dozen tour buses. After about 5 minutes standing in the near 90 degree heat, we decided we could live without seeing the interior and opted instead, to walk around the shaded side of the monastery. One day, when the kids are grown, they will say, “Oh Jeronimos. I went there!” and the only thing they will recall is the sensation of their sweaty little bodies pressed against the cold, ornate walls.
The last time the kids begged to go to an art museum? That would be never, but the Museu Colecao Berardo had air conditioning so we practically skipped through the extensive modern art collection. Despite the free admission, and tidy, well-curated exhibitions, the museum was empty the day we visited. While most visitors to Belem opt to take in the more historical attractions, the museum is definitely worth a stop.
Enjoying the free air conditioning, er, I mean, art.
Next, Pasteis de Belem for pastel de nata, the Portuguese egg tart pastry. While every bakery and kiosk in Lisbon sells these, this place reputedly does them best. The recipe, handed down from monks, is carefully guarded, with only three bakers at this huge institution privy to the secret. We had intended on buying a 6-pack, but the guy in front of us warned, “your kids will kill you if you don’t get a dozen.” We ate ours on a shady bench, sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar.
Isoo said it was good, but the best? Nah. He likes the ones from the Quiosque de Refresco in Plaza Luis de Camoes even better.
After a great lunch at Enoteca de Belem we headed to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, the monument overlooking the Tagus River marking the site where Portuguese explores like Vasco da Gama departed to discover India. We rode the elevator up to the narrow roof, the walls so high the children had to be lifted just to glimpse the view. It was a lot like standing in the middle of a sauté pan. From there we got an eyeful of the Belem Tower, a perspective we decided was "good enough". It was the second UNESCO sight we managed to skip that day.
That's Belem Tower in the distance. Who knows, we may get there just yet.
Anxious to get out of the heat, we cooled off with a quick tour of the Museu de Marinha. I had heard that they had a great section for children, but as it was nearly closing time, we were hustled through and didn't get much chance to explore. If you are a mad about boats or a maritime history buff, you will love this museum. But for us, it was a tough one since most of the information was presented only in Portuguese.
The Royal Barge, propelled by 80 oarsman to ferry Queen Maria down the Tagus River.
On the way out of Belem, we strolled the shady gardens and watched the changing of the guards at the pink tinted Belem Palace (home of Portugal's president though word has it it's seldom occupied).
At home we took ice cold showers, wrapped our hair in towels, blasted the fan, and indulged in more archeological appreciation a la Indiana Jones and Portuguese take out.
Saturday morning I joined the locals for a run along the Tagus. The once sketchy area of Cais do Sodré near the rail station has recently experienced a renewal. I ran the bike path up toward the 25 de Abril Bridge past tourists strolling with ice cream cones, people watchers in the waterfront cafes, shuttered nightclubs (the most popular of them, Club Lux, co-owned by John Malkovich) and fishermen reeling in the day’s catch. A group of tweens floated by on small sailboats as their instructors paddled around them in row boats shouting instructions. Despite the heat, it was a fantastic run; to be in such a beautiful city, doing something I loved, just for me. It could only have been made better if my running buddy, Lisa, was there to keep me company.
That afternoon we rode the 28 tram to Jardim da Estrela to meet our new friend, Cecilia. Introduced digitally by our mutual friend Hans, Cecilia, took time out of her very busy day to walk us through the leafy park and joined us for a coffee while sharing her tips on the city. I liked Cecilia instantly, not just because she so kindly and generously reorganized her day to meet us, but because she has a great spirit of fun and adventure about her. We had no doubts that her suggestions would be great as she was not only an expert on Lisbon, but also a mom with an 8 year old who could steer us toward family friendly activities.
Sunday morning we made good on our promise and roused the kids for church. While I'm not sure how much the kids got out of the mass as it was conducted entirely in Portuguese, Chris and I, with our combined 12 years of Catholic schooling, managed to muscle through most of the rites and rituals. The kids were fascinated by all the kneeling and cross making and asked Chris what the Eucharist tastes like a million times (Chris's answer: water table cracker). I spent most of the time praying no one gets sick and everyone at home stays happy and healthy.
Post mass at Igreja de São Roque
After church we grabbed a very light lunch at the landmark Brasileira Cafe, the hangout of many great Portuguese writers and thinkers. The interior is gorgeous and there's great outdoor seating overlooking a busting Chiado shopping avenue. We stood at the counter and had an assortment of sweet and savory pastries. It's worth a peek, but if you decided not to go, the indifferent staff would not care one bit. We left hungry and a little frustrated, but figured we'll fill up on junk food at the Benfica vs. Arouca game.
Much to Chris' chagrin, we missed the first half of the game. A note about Portugal: You might as well leave your credit cards at home because everywhere we went we were told was cash only. Another note: Everything is closed on Sunday. And if you're running around the city looking for cash, most ATMs will be emptied by noon. Note #3: They do not serve alcohol at games. The only food they serve are ice cream bars and cold hot dogs topped with fried potato strings. Despite our grumbling bellies, we had a blast watching Benfica trounce Arouca 4-0 and the noisy (though sober) antics of the fans.
On Monday, we took Cecilia's recommendation and rented bikes and rode along the Tagus River to Parque das Nações, the fairgrounds developed for the 1998 World's Fair. Best advice ever. The modern, new-ishly developed area features hotels, a glistening marina, casino, waterfront restaurants, a shopping center, numerous space-age looking sculptures and buildings, cable cars, residential high rises and Europe's largest indoor aquarium. While I tend not to favor overly slick, architecturally glossy, hyper-developed areas like Parque das Nações (or Chicago's Museum Campus, for that matter), I did find it to be a fascinating contrast to the narrow, winding streets and ornately tiled buildings found in the rest of the city. We had lunch, and then spent hours in the Oceanário de Lisboa before taking in the views of Lisbon by cable car. By the time we made it home, Chris and I were exhausted from the 13 mile bike ride, but the kids (and their young legs) did great.
Close to Cais do Sodre are giant yachts and cruise ships. As we rode further north, we encountered long stretches of shipping yards like these. While not exactly scenic, the bike path is well marked and paved and remarkably safe. Isoo especially loved the freedom to race ahead.
Riding around the heart of Parque das Nações (aka, Park of Nations - note the flags).
Can you believe that beneath the canopy is a train station?
Outside of the Oceanário de Lisboa where we spent hours looking at all of the amazing sea life.
Cable cars overlooking Vasco da Gama Bridge (Europe's longest bridge).
The kids claim there's nothing to do in Lisbon, but we've gotten a lot of smiles.
Riding and photoging. The recipe for a perfect day: Lots of exercise, learning made fun and plenty of sunshine.
WHAT WE DID:
When I told our new Portuguese friend Cecilia that we had gone all the way to Jerónimos Monastery, but had not made it inside, she shrugged her shoulders and said, "Well that is like going to the Vatican and not seeing the Pope, but you know, that's OK." Clearly, it's not. Putting this one back on the docket. Stay tuned for the full report.
Museu Colecao Berardo
All of the 20th century modern greats are represented here. Five days a week. Just waiting for you to discover them. For FREE. When does that ever happen?
Padrão dos Descobrimentos
This dramatic landmark/sculpture is breathtakingly perched on the Tagus. Definitely worth seeing. Check out the marble rose fresco on the ground to understand Portugal’s impressive history of discovery, and then take the elevator to the top to get a true sense of the monastery’s scale as well as the parks and fountain below.
Museu de Marinha
All of the websites claimed that this is a great museum for kids, but when I asked the woman at the front desk where the children’s section was, she impatiently pointed to her watch and shooed me down the corridor. We never found it. Evidently we did this one wrong because we thought it was a snore. After the Titanic museum in Belfast, all other maritime museums pale in comparison.
The “garden of the star” is more like a big, leafy park than a garden. Located in a residential neighborhood across from the Estrela Basilica, the park has several play areas, a small pond of Muscovy ducks, trees filled with Ring-rose parakeets, an old-fashioned bandstand, and a gazebo where you can get snacks and drinks. On the first weekend of every month, the park hosts a series of stalls selling jewelry and handicrafts. Cecilia, who lives nearby, called this their version of Central Park. Her lucky kids grew up playing here. When we return to Lisbon, Chris and I agree we’d much rather stay in this area.
Estádio da Luz
The home stadium of the #5 seeded Benfica. Definitely try to catch a game, but eat first. And give yourself plenty of time to get tickets. We ordered ours online and was given the run around (literally, we ran all the way around the stadium) to pick them up at a nearby Megastore (near gate 4).
Oceanario de Lisboa
As someone who has a fear of water, aquariums usually fill me with dread, but I was entranced by the smart design. The aquarium is anchored by one huge central tank filled with sharks, ocean sunfish, stingrays and other marine life, and then encircled by smaller tanks featuring fish specific to the various oceans (Indian, Atlantic, Pacific, Caribbean, etc.), articulating the message of one planet, one ocean.
Ride the cable car for great views of Parque das Nações. We took the 20 minute round trip tour, not even bothering to get off to get off the other side. Waaaaaaay less scary than the Dursey version.
While Lisbon has plentiful subways, Metros, trams, tuk-tuks and cabs, I strongly recommend you see Lisbon by bike. While the seven hills can be a challenge to walk, the bike path along the water is flat, safe and well marked. Bike Iberia, conveniently located near the Cais do Sodre train station, is just steps from the path. Make reservations or go early to avoid disappointment (we snagged the last four bikes of the day!). They have all sizes, including kids bikes. Prices include bike rental, helmets (mandatory for kids), locks, 40 lb. chains and maps. You can ride all the way to Belem to see the Tower, monastery and monuments, or go the other direction for the Parque das Nações, oceanarium and science museum. They also offer guided tours of Sintra and Cascais. Just do it.
WHAT WE ATE:
Pasteis de Belem
The Portuguese take their sweets seriously and the pastel de nata is the most important one of all (think apple pie to Americans). Pasteis de Belem produces other baked goods as well, but this is the big seller at 10,000 per day. Flaky on the outside, custardy on the inside, dusted with a bit of sugar or cinnamon and packaged in clever sleeves to tote home.
Enoteca de Belem
I'm ashamed to say that this tiny place was filled with tourists, but who else has the time and budget for such a big, lazy lunch? This was one of the few places both kids enjoyed and not just because it gave us respite from a day of sightseeing. We fought over the octopus and got a kick out of the multi-colored toilet paper display (see http://www.oonaswonderland.com/blog).
Louro e Sal
Lisbon is one of the best dining towns we’ve ever visited. We’ve been fortunate to have one wonderful meal after the next so the bar is set pretty high. While this place was fine, it just wasn’t great. The portions were skimpy, the sides an afterthought and the flavors, one note. But, of all the restos, our server here was the best.
A very casual build-your-own-salad chain restaurant. Even with all the great dining options in Lisbon, sometimes, after a long day of sightseeing, you get off the train and just want something clean, light and easy. Pick your greens, add 5 topping of our choice and take it home with some tasty carrot soup. We’ve been three times.
some Italian place
We had pasta and pizzas at an unremarkable Italian café in the square outside of the Oceanario. It wasn’t until we entered the Oceanario that we discovered the new, beautifully designed restaurant on the second floor. With views that overlook the little Jardins da Água and waterfall fountain, it’s the place to try.
Right down the street from our apartment, this place offers reliable Portuguese fare. It won’t rock your world, but your kids will find something to eat and it won’t break the bank. Think grilled chicken, squid cooked in olive oil, the requisite bread and olives (which every restaurant provides unbidden and adds to the bill). Lots of seating indoor and out and crawling with tourists.
Wine Lover B.A.
Most restaurants don't open for dinner until after 7pm so we stopped at this little bar down the street for a drink and a game of cards. The owner is very friendly and nice, even making crazy mocktails for the kids. The hang-out feel and ease of this place made me miss Ireland. So many afternoons wiled away just being together. I know the kids miss it, too. No one wanted to leave. Next time we go back and drink some more of that Verde Vinho and open up some cans of fish.