A Patch of Sky a personal travel journal

Lisbon: Day Two

The Tram

We had a much needed good night’s sleep and awoke on Wednesday at 8:00 to another cloudy morning. Our room rate included breakfast, so we ate at the excellent hotel buffet every morning, which kept us going until late afternoon most days.

My itinerary for day two had us catching a bus to the Azulejo Museum first thing, but neither of us were in the right frame of mind to start with a museum that morning. We wanted to spend more time walking in Alfama and decided to try our guidebook’s suggested tour, which started at Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte. The front desk clerk told us to take Tram 28 to get to the miradouro and kindly printed out a schedule and map.

Having read all about Tram 28 and its crowds and pickpockets, I had a lot of misgivings. But D is an optimist and convinced me we should give it a try. We walked back up to Sé, the nearest stop to our hotel, and, fending off the tuk-tuk drivers’ sales pitches, got in line behind about ten other people.

I could see that the tram was already pretty full when it pulled up. By the time the people ahead of us boarded, it was well and truly packed. I told D there was no way I was getting on that tram and that maybe we should just get a cab.

At that moment, D spotted another Tram 28 coming up right behind, with far fewer passengers. We let the first one pull away without boarding and were first in line for the second. I got a seat and D was one of only a few people standing. As we rattled up the street, I couldn’t believe our luck. Here we were, comfortably riding with plenty of room on the (in)famous Tram 28.

We were not far into our trip when the tram braked and we realized there was some sort of disturbance ahead. D craned to look through the front window and saw that the tram ahead of us had also stopped and appeared to be blocked by a vehicle ahead. Discussions ensued between our driver and the tram driver ahead, tram drivers and people on the street, people on the street and other car drivers trying to get by. Voices were raised, but with a tone of resigned frustration that suggested this was not such an unusual occurrence. “Maybe we should walk?” I asked D, looking dubiously at the steep hill ahead. “Oh, no,” he replied, watching the drama unfold. “This is too much fun.”

Tram 28 Traffic Jam Stuck on Tram 28

Eventually, our tram driver darted down a side street and came running back with the driver of the offending vehicle. Everything was sorted, and we were on our way again. We got out at Rua da Graça and walked up to the Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte, where we had another spectacular view of the city, from the Castelo to the Cristo Rei to the Ponte 25 de Abril. It seemed a popular starting point for a day’s tour; there were several tuk tuks parked up there, along with a few tour groups.

Minimum Wage Stenciled on a bench at Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte


Our walk took us downhill to the Mosteiro de Sāo Vicente de Fora. We spent a moment sitting in the courtyard where the bougainvillea and hibiscus were flowering against the white walls. The sun was just beginning to peek out from among the clouds.

Sāo Vicente de Fora Starting to get a hint of the sun at Mosteiro de Sāo Vicente de Fora

There were not many people at Sāo Vicente, so we were able to take our time absorbing the details of the azuljeos and strolling in peace along the white arches of the cloisters. One could spend hours examining all the panels illustrating the Fables of La Fontaine and reading the stories on the museum labels. From the top of the building, we had another beautiful view of the red roofs below us and the river beyond.

The guidebook walking tour was supposed to lead us to Castelo Sāo Jorge next, but we missed a notice that Costa do Costelo was closed off, so we backtracked and then abandoned the guidebook and just wandered for several minutes.

Door knocker A door knocker in Alfama

There were so many details to notice, so many narrow streets and corners that beckoned.

Alfama Cat Cat in a window in Alfama watching the pigeons gathered below

Without even meaning to, we ended up at the Castle anyway. We circled around to the entrance to find a huge line of people waiting to go in. We had no interest in waiting in a line that long, so we turned around and continued strolling down the now sunlit streets. Somewhere along the way, we stopped in a shop where D bought a couple of (probably overpriced) tins of fish to bring home.

Fish street art Street art near the Castelo in Alfama

The Aljube Museum was a priority for me, so we made that our next destination. Housed in a building that was used as political prison during the dictatorship, the Museu do Aljube – Resistência e Liberdade documents the period of the military dictatorship and the Estado Nova. The permanent exhibitions show how state power was concentrated through censorship, the establishment of the PIDE and torture of political prisoners (with training from the C.I.A.), the clandestine work of the resistance, the anti-colonial struggle, and the revolution. The exhibits use text, still images, video, audio, and three-dimensional scenes to powerful effect. It was deeply unsettling to look out the windows and see the back of the Sé Cathedral so close and to think about those who were held in the place we were standing. D was overcome and had to wait on a bench near the stairs while I visited the third floor.

Museu do Aljube The museum is located in Alfama, very close to the Cathedral

We needed something quiet afterward, so we crossed the street and paid a brief visit to the Cathedral to see the large rose window. Across from the Cathedral, we sat for a while at the quiosque for a restorative café and a sandwich.

Quiosque Cup Take some time to sit and have a café at a quiosque

Parque das Nações

Our afternoon itinerary was to take us out of the center city to Parque das Nações. We made a quick pit stop at the hotel and then crossed the street to the Alfândega stop to catch bus 794 to Oriente. I think we were the only non-locals on the bus; as we rode past shops and tall residential apartment buildings, I regretted more than ever my lack of Portuguese, which kept me from eavesdropping on the ladies who were out doing their errands. (Is it really eavesdropping if a lady at the back of the bus is shouting a conversation with her friend at the front of the bus?). The ride took more than a half hour, but it was interesting to see, if only from a window, a non-touristed part of the city and to note that even among the tall, utilitarian modern buildings, there was a quiosque (and a foosball table).

We stepped out at Oriente. Even though D walks past Santiago Calatrava’s Oculus every weekday, he did not recognize the architect of the Estação do Oriente. I don’t know if that says more about D’s powers of observation or how Calatrava’s work has developed over time, but personally, I prefer the relatively restrained Oriente Station to the Oculus, which seems to be trying too hard. We walked quickly through the mall and out towards the Pavilhão de Portugal. Even though I had seen photographs of the building and thought I knew what to expect, to see in person how the huge concrete roof seems to balance so lightly made us gasp.

We walked towards Oceanarium, past children playing in the grass, and bought our one-way tickets for the Telecabine. No long lines here–we hopped into our gondola and set off.

Telecabine In the telecabine at Parque das Nações

This was a touristy activity and one we enjoyed thoroughly. The gondola gave us amazing views of the Vasco da Gama bridge and the Pavilhão de Portugal, where we had just walked. After the ride, we found a bench where we could just sit and people watch for a few minutes. It was a quiet afternoon, with mostly families and young people enjoying the sunshine. We walked through the gardens where, unfortunately, the only plants I could confidently identify were the banana trees, past kids practicing their skateboard tricks, and back through the mall, pausing for a quick browse in FNAC.

We had ridden on a tram and a bus so far that day, so why not try the metro to get back? We tapped our Viva Viagem cards and caught the red line. As we sped through a gleaming station in our odorless train car, D leaned towards me and said, “It’s amazing that people who come from other cities in the world aren’t terrified to ride the subway in New York.” I know New York’s subway system is much older and larger than Lisbon’s, but we were impressed by how quick and reliable the Lisbon metro was, and how well-marked and clean the stations were. At Alameda, we transferred to the green line to Baixa-Chiado, following the signs with ease.

Cheese, Please

That evening, we weren’t in the mood for a full, sit-down dinner, and D was eager to return to the outdoor market that our guide had taken us through the day before. So after dropping off our bags and changing, we strolled back to Praça da Figueira. We bought a couple of cups of vinho branco and started with a plate of ham and cheese from another booth–the soft sheep’s cheese and a sheep-goat cheese that I liked better. We pounced when we saw a table free (there was more of a crowd at night). After another glass of wine, we tasted a couple of samples from a booth selling cheese from the Açores and bought a wedge of vacuum-sealed Queijo Sāo Miguel to take home. I also ordered a sandes queijo to split, choosing the bread that our guide had pointed out the day before.

Sabores dos Açores “Cheese, Gromit! We’ll go somewhere where there’s cheese!”

I have since identified the bread rolls as a bolos levedos, but I don’t think they’re going to be easy to find in New York. Which is a pity, because after tasting the way the slightly sweet bread complements the melted, toasted cheese, I began to fantasize about quitting my job, buying a professional-grade raclette, finding a supplier of Açores cheese, and setting up a food cart in Washington Square Park where I would make a fortune selling cheese sandwiches to hungry N.Y.U. students. The only danger is that I might eat all my inventory.

On the way out of the market, we browsed some of the stalls that were selling non-food products like shoes and jewelry, and on a whim, I picked up a pair of earrings I liked. Our day of two halves of Lisbon, the old and the new, was done.