Monday, July 21, 2014

Lisbon has been an unexpected surprise

    Sometimes a city will surprise you, and so it has been with Lisbon.
    I don’t think of Portugal as a wealthy county in relation to other EU nations. Democracy came to Portugal while I was in high school, so the history here is quite different from most other European countries.
    In terms of per-capita income, Portugal ranks behind Greece and Estonia, and ahead of Poland and Lithuania. So the country isn’t rolling in money.
    The Lisbon airport was certainly unimpressive. The airport is mostly served by smaller planes which park on the tarmac. We had to take a bus into the terminal building.
    We resisted the urge to just take a taxi to our hotel, which is an easy temptation after a long flight into an unknown city. Instead we headed for the metro. The constant effort to save the $20 or $30 that can be so easily thrown away while traveling is what makes it possible to travel.
    We must have looked prosperous, because two French ladies gave us their unused metro tickets while we were waiting in line to buy our own tickets. My experience is that free metro tickets are always given to those who look like they need them the least, so at least we didn’t look needy.
    The Metro was remarkably clean and modern; certainly far better than the fine systems offered by Paris or London. It’s amazing how nice a metro can be in a city that doesn’t suffer the homeless to defecate, sleep, and urinate all over the common areas!
    Lisbon is a bit like San Francisco, with hills everywhere. Major roads are on various levels, and the sidewalks run up and down a bit like exit ramps. It can be confusing. But the city as a whole is very clean, modern, and pleasant to visit. It's one of the more pleasant places I've been.
    We stayed at a Novotel hotel, in the north part of the city. The downside of this hotel was that it wasn’t really within walking distance of Old Town Lisbon; there were few restaurants in the area and seeing anything required a subway ride.
    The upside was that it is a very nice hotel that I purchased through an advance-purchase special a couple of months ago for $52 per night. A huge breakfast buffet was included every morning, and we got one free supper as well. Thanks to the huge breakfast we did without lunch, and got by with just a snack for our first two nights.
    My biggest unexpected expense in Lisbon has been for some Augmentin. I’ve got a nasty sinus infection that simply will not go away. The cost in Lisbon for sixteen 875-mg Augmentin is about $12, which is pretty reasonable in my book. And the pharmacists were highly trained and did not need a pesky doctor’s prescription.

    On our first day in Lisbon we slept. That’s it. We managed to get checked into our room at 2:30 p.m. and went straight to bed. Lucy slept straight through to the next morning. I got up at around 8 p.m. and had a beer and mini-pizza in the hotel lobby and went back to bed.
Harry Potter was here?
    On Day Two we took a nap after our huge breakfast, followed by a visit to El Cortes Ingles department store and a visit to the old town, where we toured the Church of San Roque and the attached museum. We were mightily impressed, as virtually every surface was covered in gold leaf. Lucy noticed what looked like the Sign of the Deathly Hallows on one of the paintings in the attached museum, which suggests those novels may in fact be based on true events. I couldn't help but notice that the paintings seemed to have a much more vibrant style than paintings I've seen in other countries from a similar period.
    On Day Three we again visited the El Cortes Ingles department store, but still managed not to buy anything. We discovered that the little horsies on Ralph Lauren shirts are about 25 percent larger in Portugal than they are on the American version (we measured). We also saw some people wearing the grotesque Polo shirts with the one-foot-high horsey. Why? We also visited the Castle of King Jorge, atop Lisbon's highest hill.
    Sadly, we missed the Gulbenkian Museum, which is closed on Mondays. We return to Lisbon briefly before our return home, so it is on our list of things to yet to see.
    So the takeaway is that Lisbon is one of the most difficult cities to see in Europe. There is but a single train per day to and from Madrid, and it's an overnighter. But it's a great place to visit. I look forward to coming back for a single day before our return home. I was very surprised at how impressed I was with everything here.
    Tomorrow we head to Paris. Right now I’m off to sleep.

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