The breakfast buffet was bustling this morning…..hungry guests rustling newspapers filled most of the tables, white-aproned women carried porcelain pots of hot coffee and milk to each table, empty platters were quickly refilled…..after so many solitary breakfasts, it was a pleasant change.
The buffet, had all the standard fare…..scrambled eggs, ham, cold cuts, cheeses, rolls, croissants, fresh fruits and yogurt. It was good, but it’s becoming a bit mundane.
After breakfast, we started our tour of the city with a brisk walk to the Praça do Comércio, a large plaza next to the river that was the site of the Royal Palace until the 1755 earthquake. It’s now home to government offices, a wine tasting center and most of the city’s transportation connections.
We hopped on one of Lisbon’s trams…..very evocative of San Francisco’s trolleys…..and headed to the Alfama district. We exited at Largo Santa Luzia….walked up a steep stairway (did I tell you how much I hate stairs) to…..
We then started our walk up the hill to the Castelo de São Jorge (Castle of Saint George)…..an 11th century Moorish castle built on the highest hill in the city.
The views along the ramparts were amazing……from here, the city below seemed small. We spotted the Praça do Comércio, our hotel on Rossio Square, the 25th of April Bridge, the Christ-Rei…..the entire city was at our feet.
Inside the castle walls, there’s a museum housing artifacts that have been found in castle excavations. Pottery dating back to 600 BC has been found. As have coins….. conveniently cut into smaller pieces when change needed to be made.
We returned outdoors to wander the gardens just as a light rain turned to a heavy downpour. Feral cats seemed to materialize from thin air, in search of any type of shelter. We found our shelter in the cafe with a hot cup of coffee and a custard tart.
When the rains calmed, we left the castle and walked to the Museu Das Artes Decorativas, a 17th century home (more of a palace), restored in 1947 by Lisbon banker Ricardo Espirito Santo, to house his collection of 15th-18th century furnishings, tapestries and art….a peek into how wealthy Portuguese families lived in past centuries.
The rain was our constant companion as we returned to Praça do Comércio and began our walk up the streets of the Baixa district, though the Praça da Figueira (a plaza next to Rossio Square…..it was odd to find two plazas back to back but it wasn’t always so; the Praça da Figueira was the site of a hospital that was destroyed during the earthquake of 1755 and never rebuilt) and down Rua das Portas de San Antao…..restaurant row.
We were on a quest to find Restaurante Bonjardim, recommended by our friend Caryl. We walked down a street brimming with restaurants…..outside each one was a waiter accosting us as we passed, touting the superiority of his restaurant’s food, trying to entice us in….. unwilling to take “no” for an answer.
It was hard to get past this gauntlet of determined salesmen but we couldn’t be swayed from our goal. We finally found Bonjardim, on a small side street…..with no signage, no fanfare, no obtrusive salesmen…..needing only its reputation to lure in hungry diners.
We sat at a table on the sidewalk under a tent that almost (but didn’t quite) cover the area. Some rogue raindrops found their way to us but it didn’t matter. It was warm and we were surrounded by happy diners…..happy Portuguese diners…..we didn’t hear a word of English until our waiter came and determined straight away what our native language was (was it the backpack, the guidebook or do we just look American?).
The speciality of the house is roasted chicken…..so that’s what we ordered……with salad, frites and a local white wine. We nibbled on the appetizers (cheese, ham and olives) until the steaming chicken arrived. Our waiter told us we had to try it with piri-piri sauce. The piquant, hot sauce was on the table in a small crock. We brushed some on the chicken and found that, despite its heat, it was a welcome addition to the tender meat.
After dessert, we walked back to Praça da Figueira and waited to board the #12 tram…..it circles the Alfama district in a fun 20 minute ride. As this little tram worked its way up and down the hills of Lisbon, memories of San Francisco returned. But this city is different. People on the tram waved at friends along the way, laundry lines were strung from windows, shops selling groceries, tools and yarn lined the narrow streets. This is a city teeming with everyday life…..something we rarely see in San Francisco, where it seems the homeless are the only inhabitants.
Our coats, unable to absorb any more moisture, needed a break so we returned to the hotel to work on tomorrow’s plan.
With thanks to Rogers and Hart and to my Valentine of 37 years……
My funny Valentine Sweet, comic Valentine You make me smile with my heart